2013
12.31

The analysts are forecasting a big year for NFC (near-field communication) in 2014, but I say simply look around. This trend is evident in the fact that NFC is everywhere we go. Case in point: New Year’s Eve.

In Sydney, Australia, residents will be kicking off the New Year with connectivity. A mobile app is available to the public that uses NFC and allows users to connect with family and friends at midnight. Talk about a staying connected!

More so, celebrators can also submit a text message through the app for the opportunity to have it projected onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons during the night’s festivities.

How do you get this app? It is easy. Roughly 1,100 phone boxes and lanyards (worn by retail staff at Telstra stores) have been ‘tapified,’ as Telstra says. Residents simply need to tap an NFC-enabled smarphone to download the app.

I am excited to see this display of NFC so open and readily available to the public. More than a year ago I had an opportunity to try out Samsung TecTiles—and I was pretty excited to trial sticker-sized NFC in my own home. At the time, I concluded it was fun to configure these tags and place them around my home—but it does take some creativity on the part of the user what you use the TecTile for because the options are almost limitless.

Well, I am happy to say since that time multiple industries—think retail, food and health, industrial and medical, and more—are beginning to implement NFC for the consumer. All you have to do is interact!

Beyond the New Year’s example, a more common example you may come in contact with in 2014 is in the retail sector. No, I am not just talking about at the register with mobile payments. The retail industry has a big opportunity to incorporate NFC in product labels, interactive displays, smart posters, loyalty cards, and more. Consider this: With the tap of your phone on a product label you could receive nutritional information, recipes, and coupons. Now, that would be valuable to an on-the-go consumer.

And this is certainly just one example of where you may encounter NFC in 2014. Keep your eyes peeled. I do believe we will see more NFC all around us in the year ahead.

Interested in learning more about NFC and interacting with it? Join me at the 2014 Connected World Conference in February where we will explore a new world of technology, including NFC, as we display tags that attendees can tap throughout the conference.

Want to tweet about this article. Use hashtags #NFC #retail #NewYearsEve

2013
12.27

Tuesday is the only day of the week when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office publishes its weekly Gazette listing the inventions for which patents have been granted during the prior week. With Tuesday, December 24th being Christmas Eve, the USPTO gave a large number of people and companies an early Christmas gift.

Patents for vehicular control were prominent, as well as a wide range of control system processes, all of which incorporated sensors to provide real time monitoring of human and machine performance. Sensors were ubiquitous especially in patents covering system monitoring services.

Apple-watchers were rewarded with two patents quickly picked up and reported by the technology press outlets. The first, 8614693, covers touch and hover signal drift compensation. “Hovering,” a near contact interaction with smartphone screens initially introduced by Samsung, is purportedly improved in various ways by the technology described in the patent, primarily to stabilize and improve the user – device interaction. An example of stabilization is helping people with physical conditions that result in shaking hands to make legible entries in the near contact, or hover, position. Stabilized hovering eliminates the high degree of accuracy required by the touch of a finger or stylus to the screen when typing in information.

The second patent awarded to Apple, 8615290, covers a seamlessly embedded heart rate monitor for smartphones, and potential use in smaller devices such as the iWatch, where the form factor better fits the intended use of the monitor (worn on the wrist with direct contact to the pulse).

My favorite this week is 8615319, for an interactive knitting and crocheting system. What catches the eye is that at least one of the needles has an embedded motion-based wireless sensor that interacts with a computer-based application, providing immediate feedback for incorrect movements. Patented by a woman in Thunder Bay, Canada (a city of about 100,000 people on Lake Superior noted as the shipping gateway for Canadian malted barley used by brewers worldwide), it appears to be a self-contained training device for people wanting to learn how to knit or crochet.

I certainly wish the patentee all the best for success getting to market, but I wonder about the adoption rate given the nature of the traditional way these skills are learned. My mother instructed my sister, as did my wife’s mother with her. They in turn instructed their daughters. Apart from the instruction, what I observed was the mother – daughter bonding that took place over the hours spent at the task together. There was a lot more going on during “instruction” than learning to knit. Of course, this is only a personal observation, but one that seems to be broadly anecdotal. Can a device provide what Mom passed along to Sis?

This is to me a good example of the limits of technology applied to a social learning situation. Smart devices and applications can teach skills, and bridge communication gaps between people so that skills can be learned together. Smart devices can afford an instantaneity between people that acts to promote the shared knowledge of things. Can it, however, enable a unique bonding experience where the skill is secondary to the passing of a mother’s wisdom to a child?

What do you think?

2013
12.17

Could 2G Get a Boost?

Here we go again. The U.S. carrier pot has once again been stirred up this week with talk of acquisition rumors. And while we all get prepared to break out the debates around whether such a move is good/bad, let’s take a step back and examine the big picture for a moment.

By now you have certainly read news from The Wall Street Journal that came out over the weekend suggesting Sprint executives could be working towards a bid to acquire T-Mobile. Shades of déjà vu certainly are at play here—it was just a few years back that AT&T tried (and ultimately fell short) in its attempt to acquire its GSM counterpart.

It’s hard to speculate on a rumor, and I am certainly not going to comment as to whether or not this is indeed true. But what I do want to address is the fact such talk, whether speculation or fact, starts up the debate about why such moves are good/bad for the market. Those on the con side obviously hold close the argument around competition, i.e., consolidation ultimately leaves the customer with fewer options. While those in the pro camp talk about a need for spectrum, the debate about 2G/3G/4G, and more; and how the only way for carriers to continue delivering relevant services to clients into the future is to find more spectrum, e.g., through acquisition.

Let’s focus in on that ‘G’ debate specifically. Of course any time we talk about carriers the talk instantly turns to how bigger, better, stronger mobile operators move us all closer to that perceived utopia of 4G LTE. But I think that should a Sprint/T-Mobile marriage ultimately ensue it could put a great deal of focus on 2G.

Think about this for a moment. Which carrier is most often associated with the rally cry around keeping 2G connections strong in the world of connected devices/M2M? T-Mobile. And earlier this year Sprint made a lot of press around its partnership with module maker u-blox for long-term CDMA network support. With the news, Sprint made a big statement that it is indeed committed to the 2G CDMA network for M2M customers and that it expects to maintain its 2G network “for the long term.”

Spend any time with John Horn, president of RacoWireless, and you realize that not only does he want his company to be “the easiest to do business with” but that the 2G opportunities in M2M remain very much alive and well. It is no coincidence that his company formed a service agreement with Sprint earlier this year, to complement its long-standing relationship with T-Mobile. It all falls under the umbrella that 2G opportunities remain vibrant in M2M and those that are willing to make the commitments could be in for a long prosperous run serving customers who crave this connection speed.

Naturally this all rivals carriers like AT&T, which in a June 2012 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said it would work to redeploy spectrum to support 3G and 4G networks and that, “We expect to fully discontinue service on our 2G networks by approximately January 1, 2017.”

Such topics get the market riled up around the “2G Sunset” and how the industry must prepare. In a whitepaper published by Aeris Communications, the company called the sunset “a major issue for the M2M industry because such large numbers of GSM/GPRS devices have been deployed.” Aeris cites numbers in its report, saying that to maintain service, an estimated 10 to 12 million 2G GSM devices must be replaced in a little more than three years.

Going on, Aeris suggests that if you consider there to be 200 “working days a year” that would leave the industry with a task of replacing more than 17,000 devices per day. The assessments made by Aeris go much deeper, and I would encourage you to check out more here.

As customers you must all prepare. Could that be migrating to 3G HSPA or the big leap to 4G LTE? Or perhaps it’s a move to 2G CDMA (2G GSM is the focus on the “sunset” after all). Perhaps a Sprint/T-Mobile combo makes the migration that much easier and cost effective. Or perhaps it’s all speculation at this point and/or any proposition never gets far along in the process.

In any sense, it’s all about the network and even chatter about carrier consolidation simply stirs up the pot and reminds us all about that certain sunset on the horizon.

2013
12.13

I’ve spent a fair amount of time as of late blogging about the importance of making wearables “worth it” for consumers. The idea of these items being both fashionable and functional, in my opinion, will be the only way this market continues its momentum. This past week some great examples of this level of thinking came to light.

I attended a wearables conference in Los Angeles where the speakers covered a broad range of subjects related to the future of this technology. While I would say the event had some rather strong attendance, it felt like an intimate group—not a bad thing for an emerging market by any means. What I mean by that is the wearable group seemed to be in that initial phase of building momentum, with much of the talk catered around the idea of how can we grow this market as a group.

During my time at this event I had some very positive conversations around the matter—one of which was with a company called Revolutionary Tracker. I sat down with cofounders Carrie Schwarz and Matt Kassin and the pair described to me the vision behind creating their smartwatch. While the market for smartwatches continues to breed new players, all of which are trying to one-up each other on the types of alerts and displays they can add to our wrists, I applaud the efforts of Schwarz and Kassin to develop a watch that is targeting a specific niche: positive family relationships.

Allow me to explain. The initial vision for the product was to develop a device that would appeal to children (it also is targeted at the elderly). The functionality centers on helping parents find a way to keep that peace of mind with their children during events like going to the amusement park (where they tend to get lost), or for simply making sure they have gotten home from school safely and securely.

This is certainly nothing new and we have seen watches and other devices targeted at children, but I think what Schwarz and Kassin have done to stand out is to focus on the concept of family first. They explained how the watch can be used as a way to simply keep in communication with the entire family through blasts out to social media or through alerts to say, for example, “tonight we are picking up Chinese for dinner, what would you like” or “please be sure to lock the door when you come home later.” In essence it makes this more than simply a device “for tracking” which makes is more appealing to those who will be wearing it—the kids.

Plus the two came off to me as being so genuine as to why they are in this market, that you cannot help but like what they are doing here.

The form factor is appealing to children too. The watch has that cool look and feel that I would have wanted to wear when I was younger, all with the option to customize it with some great icons and graphics that bring the personality of the child to the surface.

So we have checked both boxes with Revolutionary Tracker (fashion and function) already, but let me add one more useful application: tracking for disability. To me it is a nice coincidence that this company is based in New York. I recently wrote about the efforts being done by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (from New York) calling for the DOJ (Dept. of Justice) to create and fund a program to provide voluntary GPS tracking devices for children who have Autism or other developmental disorders. I think this is a perfect match; here is a device I think has that “cool” factor for the child to wear, and that function that provides nice peace of mind to parents.

Schwarz and Kassin told me they have reached out to Schumer. I do hope they make the connection, as I believe this is precisely what Schumer is calling for and this could be a nice product for him to further his case on the matter.

Making wearables worth it is no easy task. For all the great devices designed around fashion and function, you have two or three that make me scratch my head. I think this one falls in the former category of the two. I encourage you to check it out. They also hinted at some big announcements coming in February. I do hope they build on that momentum and take part at our Connected World Conference, to get the message out to even more people. Good stories go viral all the time.

2013
12.10

Creating a Connected World

In addition to snow flurries across the country, this is also the time of year we are privy to a flurry of predictions from the analysts about what is to come in the year ahead. Not surprising, a number of reports have crossed my desk recently predicting 2014 will be the year of M2M and IoT (Internet of Things).

From IoT at the enterprise to wearables, the future of M2M is bright, according to many of these predictions. But I say, rather than just looking at these predictions, take a look also at the recent announcements in the world of M2M, as these tell an interesting story about what is to come as well.

One area I find particularly compelling is that OEMs (original-equipment manufacturers) are making more announcements about adding connectivity to products. Consider specifically today’s licensing partnership announcement between M2M provider ioBridge and energy-management specialist Schneider Electric.

With the help of ioBridge, companies like Schneider Electric can easily create IoT offerings, ultimately providing both consumers and enterprises with products that are connected to the Internet. Robert Mawrey, CEO at ioBridge has some thoughts on the subject, saying this announcement signals a move toward “Internet of Small Things,” or a focus on little things that will ultimately have a much bigger impact.

That’s a great point and it underscores what really needs to happen to move M2M and IoT forward and highlights why the agreement between ioBridge and Schneider Electric is such a major step.

In my opinion, for M2M and IoT to gain even more momentum, many of the major OEMs need to add this type of connectivity to products. We are already seeing this start to happen, but still other OEMs need to get on board as well. The good news is as price points continue to come down, it seems more global manufacturing is looking at the Internet of Things.

Another announcement comes to mind that also signals more interest in M2M and IoT in the manufacturing world. Back in November, Ayla Networks and Murata Americas announced a partnership to enable manufacturers to bring connected devices to market quickly. Murata Americas is producing intelligent Wi-Fi modules containing the Ayla Embedded Agent Software, and when integrated by manufacturers into their products, these modules can turn industrial, household, and consumer products into connected devices.

As these types of partnerships continue to develop, we will likely seem more “things” connected to the Internet, which will ultimately propel M2M forward and help to create a more connected world.

2013
12.06

It sure is a fun time to imagine the possibilities these days. Jeff Bezos envisions a future where hundreds of mini drones zip around our airways delivering us our books and DVDs. Elon Musk wants to reinvent everything from the EV to cross-nation transportation to commercial space travel. And hundreds of other visionaries have who knows what up their sleeves.

The great thing about such lines of thinking is, these days nothing is really out of the question. Sure, it would take a miracle for the FAA to approve an army of Amazon drones taking flight on national airways. And yes, commercial space travel doesn’t seem feasible. But it’s pioneers like Bezos and Musk who continue to challenge us to think: Why not? Maybe drones won’t become mail delivery pods, but they are being used in many other interesting ways. 

Gartner may have turned some heads when it predicted earlier this year that roughly 50% of the companies that will deliver upon the firm’s estimated $309 billion level for IoT (Internet of Things) by 2020 would be start ups. But it is not that far-fetched of an estimate. Just look around at the products coming to market these days.

More and more these ideas are being birthed by many and women who have nothing more than an entrepreneurial spirit and some venture capital (or a Kickstarter campaign). And such stories are the most awe-inspiring, in my opinion.

This past year alone I have had the pleasure of interviewing some of the most awe-inspiring entrepreneurs and innovators who simply don’t view the world in the same way as the average person. Take the folks at ube for instance. Speaking with Utz Baldwin and Glen Burchers  earlier this year about what inspired them to create an intelligent platform to control it simply boiled down to the reality that Wi-Fi had become so ubiquitous and the price of giving any “thing” an IP address was so low that the bigger question would be: why not?

In the December issue we profile 10 pioneers in the space (including Musk). We had the pleasure of interviewing doctors who saw the smartphone as a tool to help monitor patients with Tuberculosis; a man who loves the game of tennis so much that he worked and worked on a racquet that uses sensors and microprocessors in order to improve the performance of these athletes; just to name a few. 

Even some of the big “brands” have come from humble beginnings. Take Under Armour, for instance. The company perhaps most well known as an apparel maker and which is making a big push into IoT as of late, started from the basement of the founder’s grandparents. While it is still a ways behind chief rival Nike, don’t tell me they are not paying attention.

A recent report published by The Economist suggests that businesses should be prepared for an explosion of IoT-related data. I agree, but furthermore suggest that businesses should be prepared to find their stiffest competition coming from the “start-ups” that realize all the wonderful things that they can accomplish thanks to the ubiquity of technology these days.

We have long had an affinity for the start up here at Connected World. They are the tinkerers, the makers, the doers of the M2M/IoT world. It’s the very reason we have dedicated space at the Connected World Conference this coming February for a start-up pavilion. We have some exciting things cooking to feed the entrepreneurial spirit of this segment—details to come soon. Who knows what is to come, but don’t rule out anything.

2013
12.05

If there is one thing Ron Montoya, consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com, can say for sure that he has seen during his five-year tenure covering the automotive sector it’s that the car companies have put more cell connections in cars than ever before. While on the surface this fact might seem a bit overstated, Montoya’s point hits at the heart of what is going to change the way we live every day.

Montoya spent some time on The Peggy Smedley Show this week talking about tech, cars, and what’s next with the carriers and OEMs (original-equipment manufacturers).

Montoya, like most of journalists covering the automotive space, believes all of these connections will ultimately create a huge difference, especially from the standpoint of consumers who don’t want to lose their cellphone experience when they step into a car. Consumers want to continue to have the same experience from the home, to the car, to the office.

What this means is that OEMs have a huge opportunity to establish an entirely new relationship with car buyers unlike ever before. For example, says Montoya the mobile connection can allow OEMs to send car updates.

Looking into the future this means OEMs can have realtime traceability, better remote management, and even improved brand awareness through a very unique customer experience. Both parties benefit from these connections.

So this begs the question: Who will own the relationship as more connectivity enters the vehicle? As Montoya sees it, consumers might be forced to establish a relationship with both the carrier and the OEM. In many cases he says once the trial period is over the car buyer will have to worry about making payments to the carrier. But in his mind, dealers have a great opportunity to benefit here in that they can make contact with consumers to make appointments or scheduling services, or to send updates. Therefore, consumers should expect a bit of a full relationship with all the parties including carriers, OEMs, dealers, just about everyone going forward.

Montoya says consumers are going to be the beneficiaries of all these new services. He says we are already seeing it through such things as Google Maps as consumers don’t have to update their navigation systems. He points to Wi-Fi hotspots for kids in the backseat; OTA (over the air) updates and even location services (to locate a car via apps on a smartphone that establishes a connection with a parked car).

So is Montoya really right? The fact is if all of the aforementioned occurs, consumers are going to be bombarded from a variety of players.

The OEMS are going to create a host of new business models, which include upfront revenue and pay-per-use models. The carriers are going to create new business models, which include bundled subscriptions, incremental services, add-on services, all equaling additional revenue. Customers are going to get some savings, enhanced productivity, and on-the-go experiences. Let’s not muddy the discussion by talking about how the platform companies will figure into the consumer-connected car.

More importantly, the bigger discussion should be on driver distraction. Is all of this connectivity in the car creating a heavier cognitive distraction? Montoya says it clearly is a definite concern. He says driving requires a lot of our senses, and all of these extra things create more of a workload on our brain and eventually drivers will miss things. He admits that hands-free is good start—but drivers may still be disengaged from what is going on in front of them. The driver might still be looking ahead, but their mind is focused elsewhere.

While it’s clearly a tough balance with tech and distraction, Montoya raises the question of whether tech should be applied at certain speeds, and therefore limit specific function of a vehicle. And the debate continues.