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In the run-up to the Mobile World Congress, thoughts on the “Internet of Everything”, and mobile ecosystems

February 18th, 2014 |  Published in Mobile World Congress 2014

MWC 2014 logo

▪ The Mobile World Congress: zounds, what an event!

▪ The “Internet of Humans”

▪ Mobile ecosystems

▪ Endnote: my thoughts on the privacy “thing”

 

▪ Introduction

My working year is bracketed by two events I attend : the Mobile World Congress in February and LeWeb in December. I spice up the year a bit with other events. Last year I added DLD Tel Aviv and “Brain Tech Israel”, and last month I added Davos. I also attend a few events like the IBM Watson/Cognitive Computing workshops plus some neuroscience/artificial intelligence events. I think everything is related and that schedule provides me perspective and a holistic technology education. Call it my personal Theory of Everything.

Yes, sometimes feel I am going through a mental miasma with all this overwhelming tech. The talk-of-the-town at Davos this year was Erik Brynjolfsson. He and Andrew McAfee recently published The Second Machine Age, a sequel to their smash hit Race Against the Machine, a book that was a pretty bold effort to make sense of the future of work.  Andrew’s sessions were “sold out” as it were, totally packed. In his personal session … where he discussed the themes laid out in The Second Machine Age …. he talked about how the new services like Facebook and Twitter, the disintermediation of old systems of distribution via iTunes or Amazon, and smartphones and tablets, have given us the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments. We are blowing past previous limitations and going into new territory. And mobile was setting the pace.

And it’s not just the sheer physicality of all this stuff. It is also the breadth and speed of the change bearing down on us. Which is why the hardest thing about all this technology is the pace it seems to drive us: the inability to breathe deep and relax, quietly metabolize what has happened/is happening. Last year at MWC we inserted some “white space” in our lives and “metabolized” and generated 15+ posts. We’ll do more posts this year.

But first, an overview of MWC and two areas that will dominate this year.

 

▪ The Mobile World Congress: zounds, what an event!

 

It’s starting to be a “mobile only” world.  As the folks from Forrester Research said at their recent presentation on the future of mobile: “companies need to realize that mobility is the new front end for almost all engagement systems. Apps are increasingly context aware, fed by the cloud, sensors, history and social data. That requires companies to reconsider how they deploy apps for customers, partners … but especially employees around this enhanced form of engagement”.  Bravo.  Mobile apps from companies can’t just log data, they need to harness all the power of mobile and social to help people get specific jobs done in any particular industry.

If only I had brought my phone

Ok, in the past year or so it seemed that mobile innovation was replaced by financial engineering, mergers and acquisitions, and evasion of regulations. American tech firms flocked to Ireland in order to avoid regulation, or just concocted whatever they needed to avoid regulations … anywhere.

But if we have learned nothing else it is that every smartphone-addict and Google-whacker is continually evolving their thinking by making the most of today’s digital tools, and “out-thinking” will continue to evolve as new tools enter our lives. That is the marvelous cognitive landscape we face.

And the mobile element is just eye popping. Last week the big news was from Benedict Evans … the mobile industry guru at Andreessen Horowitz … who crunched the numbers and determined that Apple now sells more computers than all Windows PCs combined.

Think of that number and its illustration of the scale of mobile. Apple limits itself only to the high end of the mobile market but still sells more units than the whole PC industry. The tasks we used to conduct on PCs are now being carried out on an ever-expanding variety of other devices, pretty much all of them mobile. And this trend will only accelerate. What share of the world’s “computers” will Apple ship when it unveils its (still rumored) iWatch?

Which is why this marvelous convergence of diverse technologies and applications and the “what is possible” makes attendance at events like the Mobile World Congress (MWC) mandatory.

It’s easy to get distracted at MWC what with 73,000+ attendees (and potential clients/customers), 1,800+ exhibitors … spread out across 240,000 square meters … and the highest number of CxOs at any technology event. Plus panels and keynotes. But those panels and keynotes are in the background, not the main event.  MWC is a proper trade show – most people are here to do business, network, discuss deals, meet with press, and socialize.

NOTE: I may need amend my “in the background” comment given Mark Zuckerberg and Ginni Rometty are the keynote speakers this year.

But the folks from GSM Association (GSMA) … the organizers of MWC … make it so easy to navigate. If you are in the telecom-media-mobile-technology space, this is heaven:

▪ You start by hitting Barcelona airport where there are “fast track” registration booths to pick-up your conference badge and conference materials, with a crackerjack GSMA staff that can resolve any problem you might have, make scores of suggestions concerning how to cover the event, where to take a eat/drink break, accommodations etc.

▪ If you are staying at one of the hundreds of participating hotels, you’ll find a MWC “welcome package” there, too

▪ By now of course you have downloaded the conference interactive agenda apps on your phone(s) and tablet(s), you have pre-selected sessions/panels, and explored the exhibitor list to set up your networking contacts/meetings, all via your MWC personal account. And you have most likely been emailed by other attendees who wish to meet you.

▪ Oh, and you have set up your Mobile World Live TV account to stream the stuff that you cannot fit into your schedule.

▪ At the event hall a bevy of GSMA personnel are spread about to guide you/get you where you need to be

▪ There are recharging stations galore for cell phone, laptops, tablets, etc.

▪ There are common meeting areas for a networking “meet & greet”, a nap, a break, etc. (each usually filled with the day’s newspapers, magazines, etc.) … as well as scores of private meeting areas.

▪ Food/drink (mini-outlets and full restaurants) abound so you are always just a few steps away from refreshment and so do not miss the beat of the event, miss a connection, miss meeting a contact

▪ Many of the vendors have private meeting areas which … if you are nice … they will let you use even if not directly related to them. Many have their own coffee/snack bars …and quite a few have full bars as in alcoholic refreshment

▪ Last year an extra: a few vendors had video facilities to do short video clips to instantly Tweet

▪ Plus Wi-Fi connections throughout the complex although our team always comes loaded with Spanish mobile SIM cards.

 

   … and gadgets, gadgets, gadgets!!

For me, it is also a place where I learn new personal tech that I adopt. For example, it was at MWC that I first learned about:

▪ Nest, the now famous “learning thermostat” recently acquired by Google (see my comments below). I installed them in my homes and they work perfectly.

▪ Wireless rechargers for my phone and tablet, now officially launched by WiTricity.

▪ Wireless door locks and light sensors, pioneered by Z-Wave. Security plus the ability to provide remote access for family, friends, and James Clapper (he loves Greece)

▪ … and my favorite, the MyScript Stylus (click here for a video). It converts your natural handwriting into digital text in real time and a calculator module which enables the resolution of mathematical equations converting symbols and digits.

Bad news

The “Internet of Things”. Or is it the “Internet of Humans”?

 

Last month Google announced it had entered into agreement to buy Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. The deal closed earlier this month.  But a fast closing was expected after the Federal Trade Commission terminated its review of the deal meaning there were no antitrust issues to be dealt with.

The acquisition brings Nest Labs products such as the “Learning Thermostat” (of which I happily own two) and the Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector into the portfolio of Google.

NOTE: Google will have an enormous presence at MWC this year although it will be a bit stealth. A friend at Google informs me they’ll have a reasonably big hospitality space but private and fully enclosed, and  not marked on the floor plan.

I view Nest as a move by Google to calve an iceberg from the Apple glacier, Nest being a smaller entity but similar in its structure of innovation and process of product creation. I think Google strongly desires to understand what makes Apple tick, but is stymied by that company’s culture of secrecy. Nest, with its Apple-like products made by large numbers of former Apple employees, is something Google can observe as a substitute, in hopes of solving its inability to develop and manufacture physical products that are simple, appealing and widely useful.

Some pundits ask if Google can keep its hands off, and just observe for long enough to learn something that justifies the price. Many such knowledge-based acquisitions fail to achieve their goals, mostly due to post-acquisition integration problems. The expertise for which a company is being acquired represents a part of its collective knowledge that gives it a competitive advantage. This expertise is often embedded in company routines and social capital far different than the acquiring company and how it carries out its operations.

Yes, there will be competition. The technology behind its products has gotten cheaper and start-ups are ready to get in the hardware game, Spark being just one. But in my estimation the Google/Nest collaboration will go smoothly.

Yep … yet ANOTHER piece of that marvelous Internet of Things (IoT) …  clunky word, and a bit of a cliché … the vast network of connected devices that communicate with each other to relay information. That information is usually captured by sensors. As sensors and transmitters become cheaper, more and more everyday items are becoming part of the IoT.

The IoT has a lot of promise. The data it generates can provide insights into many aspects of our lives that haven’t had data in the past. The applications that run on top of the IoT will be varied and many will have a large analytic component. Just like the value of Internet itself wasn’t really understood until it was in place, I suspect that we’ll all be surprised at how fast the IOT becomes a part of our lives and how much we value it.

 

Although one suspects as does Olaf Swantee … CEO at EE and always a favorite at MWC … that all these devices that range from sensors in everyday objects such as fridges, heating systems, traffic signals, vehicles and street lighting to remote healthcare and automating industrial and manufacturing processes are nothing. One area that hasn’t received much coverage is how we as human beings will become part of the “Internet of Things”. And MWC will be stacked this year with sessions and vendors on every device imaginable, the “Internet of Everything”.

And the human body itself is about to become the next “connected device”. We are already seeing this in a small way today, with wearable technologies such as wristbands and watches recording and monitoring things like fitness, heart rate and other health-related uses. And in many ways it’s a natural evolution of the computing interface – from the earliest punch card programming to the keyboard, to touchscreens and now gesture control. We are entering a hybrid age where the boundaries between man and machine will become increasingly blurred.

IBM in its most recent report predicts that when you factor in the human element there will be one trillion sensors embedded in humans and machines by 2020. And we already have some examples, like Google’s announcement that it is testing a smart contact lens for people with diabetes that would measure glucose levels in tears instead of the conventional finger prick blood testing.

However, there is that dark underbelly. All those connected computers, tablets, smart phones, toasters and toilets … registered on the network and allowed access to the Internet … presents an unprecedented opportunity for hackers.

We already know about connected refrigerators used to send spam. It was possibly the first validated case of the IoT being hijacked for spam purposes. Baby monitors can be taken over so that a hacker can not only watch and listen to you, but talk to you. And you can be unknowingly watched and listened to through your Smart TV. Your car? It is vulnerable to hackers these days. There is even a search engine that focuses on finding connected devices and allows you to search what it has found.

Clearly, we have a real problem that needs to be addressed. A refrigerator sending spam is a nuisance but doesn’t do any real harm. A child predator spying on your children as they play in your home is a much bigger and more dangerous issue. Having a hacker take over your car and cause it to crash can be downright deadly. There is even suspicion this has already happened.

There is one huge issue that has no easy solution although MWC will be replete with security vendors and the GSMA has set-up two special areas that will run sessions all day, each day, with mobile security specialists.

My point is not to pointlessly scare you or to suggest that the “Internet of Things” is bad. It is meant to make you aware of the risks you take as you connect more and more devices to the Internet. Organizations are working as hard as ever to patch security flaws once they are found, but the hackers seem to to be a step ahead. But MWC will be a fountain of protective information.

Mobile ecosystems

 

Mobile ecosystems

A major takeaway of the Samsung/Apple patent disputes: physical objects have retained their power in the digital age. The battle wasn’t centered so much on technical innovations but design patents — specifically, the physical look of the iPhone/iPad lines versus that of the Samsung Galaxy lines.

And so we learned a hard fact of the mobile industry. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops are more than just vessels and delivery mechanisms for digital content. In the digital age, physical devices also serve as emblems of the complex, software-based goods and services they bring to life. They are simultaneously expressing the ecosystem, content, and brand values in one powerful statement. Companies with vast digital ecosystems need simple, straight-forward ways to express their brands, and it just so happens that physical devices, which serve both a functional and symbolic purpose, perform this task exceptionally well. Apple was the first to understand that as the world becomes virtualized, there arises a parallel need for impeccably designed and masterfully engineered physical products.

Unlike earlier versions of the Internet, the mobile Web is a halo of information that follows us almost everywhere, an increasingly meaningful part of our most minute interactions with the physical world. It is an infinitely complex, dynamic system fed by billions of users and a growing variety of hardware and software programs that generate, transmit, and structure data. These continuous streams of data are already transforming business on many fronts.

There are three parts to mobile devices: hardware, software and ecosystem. In this ever changing mobile world the realms of possibility shift on an almost monthly basis. The increasing sophistication of handsets and their ability to connect to more devices than ever before has given rise to perhaps the most complex yet beneficial development of them all – the mobile ecosystem.

The worldwide market for smart connected devices continues to be a battleground not only for device makers, but for the companies that create the operating systems and ecosystems that power those devices: most notably, Google, Apple and Microsoft. Each of the companies currently offers two major OS choices: Android and Chrome for Google, MacOS and iOS for Apple and Windows and Windows Phone for Microsoft.

And there promises to be a doozy of a development next week.

If app availability is the make-or-break factor in the success of any smartphone operating system/ecosystem, then Tizen—the secrecy-cloaked OS that Samsung is expected to unveil on a new device next week at MWC – could leap from the gate fairly strongly. A few well-publicized app-writing contests have already led to more than 6,000 apps crafted specifically for Tizen.  And new technology will allow it to run huge numbers of existing apps written for Google’s Android operating system, which powers the majority of the world’s smartphones.  According to OpenMobile … who we are meeting at MWC … there will be tens of thousands of apps able to run on the Tizen platform.  OpenMobile makes an application compatibility layer that will let existing Android apps run on Tizen devices.  Samsung is expected to open a Tizen app store after launching its Tizen smartphone.

By developing its own operating system rather than relying almost entirely on Android, Samsung hopes to give users a unified experience on devices ranging from phones and netbooks to in-vehicle systems and smart TVs.  It is the world’s leading smartphone maker and also the main user of Android.  Duh. If Tizen becomes a credible alternative to Android, it could threaten Google’s long-term ability to continue steering users to Google products and gathering the data that fuels the Google advertising juggernaut.

It’s all about ecosystems.  People experience phones largely through their favorite apps, not the underlying operating system. The leading app stores, Apple’s App Store and Android’s Google Play, each have more than a million, a milestone they passed last year. And that huge lead is part of the reason the Windows Phone OS hasn’t taken off and the BlackBerry OS has all but collapsed.

It’s the reason for the dramatic increase in the number of business productivity apps: content, communication, task management & calendar, mobile forms, etc. Which is why ultimately Samsung, and all the other Android OEMs, are challenging with larger tablets. But the battle will be apps. The iPad is the uncontested leader in tablet optimized apps and I don’t see any evidence that is changing anytime soon. For larger Android tablets to have a strong case as more productivity devices the way the iPad Air is the tablet optimized Android app ecosystem will need to grow dramatically.

The mobile world is a challenging entity that is usually explained  using telecommunications technologies or mobile revenue models. As David Murphy … the guru behind Mobile Marketing magazine … likes to say “it is a messy cake with technology acronyms as icing”. But we have moved beyond core structures of the mobile ecosystem and into concept and content design and elements to help people communicate “mobile-y” as we move further and further into a “mobile only” world.

Surveillance bad jokes

 

  • … and just a personal note on “that privacy thing”

Edward Snowden’s revelations this year brought to everyone’s mind Aldous Huxley best known text, Brave New World, published in 1932. The title comes from Miranda’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Oh, wonder! / How many goodly creatures are there here! / How beauteous mankind is! Oh brave new world, / That has such people in’t.”

I used Huxley as my lead-in to a presentation I made last fall to an EU Commission committee on surveillance and technology vis-à-vis their discussion on data and the safe harbor rules. Huxley was the subject of my first monograph in college and I kept my interest in his work.

In that presentation I noted that Huxley’s dystopia is a totalitarian society, ruled by a supposedly benevolent dictatorship whose subjects have been programmed to enjoy their subjugation through conditioning and the use of a narcotic drug – soma – that is less damaging and more pleasurable than any narcotic known to us. The rulers of Brave New World have solved the problem of making people love their servitude. I think our runaway infatuation with the sleek toys produced by the likes of Apple and Samsung – allied to our apparently insatiable appetite for Facebook, Google and other companies that provide us with “free” services in exchange for the intimate details of our daily lives – might well turn out to be as powerful a narcotic as soma was for the inhabitants of Brave New World.

But we have always known what was happening. In a recent essay, Evgeny Morozov noted that back in 1967, The Public Interest (then a leading venue for highbrow policy debate) published a provocative essay by Paul Baran, one of the fathers of the data transmission method known as packet switching. Titled The Future Utility the essay speculated that someday a few big, centralized computers would provide “information processing … the same way one now buys electricity.” Baran was straight, to the point:

“Our home computer console will be used to send and receive messages-like telegrams. We could check to see whether the local department store has the advertised sports shirt in stock in the desired color and size. We could ask when delivery would be guaranteed, if we ordered. The information would be up-to-the-minute and accurate. We could pay our bills and compute our taxes via the console. We would ask questions and receive answers from “information banks”-automated versions of today’s libraries. We would obtain up-to-the-minute listing of all television and radio programs … The computer could, itself, send a message to remind us of an impending anniversary and save us from the disastrous consequences of forgetfulness.”

It took decades for cloud computing to fulfill Baran’s vision. But he was prescient enough to worry that utility computing would need its own regulatory model. He wanted policies that could “offer maximum protection to the preservation of the rights of privacy of information”:

“Highly sensitive personal and important business information will be stored in many of the contemplated systems … At present, nothing more than trust-or, at best, a lack of technical sophistication-stands in the way of a would-be eavesdropper … Today we lack the mechanisms to insure adequate safeguards. Because of the difficulty in rebuilding complex systems to incorporate safeguards at a later date, it appears desirable to anticipate these problems.”

As Morozov noted: “Sharp, bullshit-free analysis: techno-futurism has been in decline ever since.” 

And on the really serious side, where are we? Robotic assassination campaigns directed from the Oval Office. Cyber espionage programs launched at the U.S. president’s behest. Surveillance on an industrial scale. The current crop of sensors, munitions, control algorithms, and data storage facilities have helped make the targeted killing of American adversaries an almost routine affair. The process will only get easier, as these tools of war become more compact, more powerful, and more precise. And they will: Moore’s Law applies in the military and intelligence realms almost as much as it does in the commercial sphere.

For decades, U.S. political scientists have wrung their hands about an “Imperial Presidency,” an executive branch with powers far beyond its original, Constitutional limits. And so, it is here.

 

We’ll be in Barcelona for 7 days: the weekend pre-events, the show, and then post-events. We hope to have 12-15 detailed posts coming out of the event. We’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

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"The mind that lies fallow but a single day sprouts up follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous culture."
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