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Google I/O Highlights

Last week, Google hosted its annual I/O developer conference. It’s here where Google lays out its plans for world domin…..errr….the future of Android…

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Google I/O

Last week, Google hosted its annual I/O developer conference. It’s here where Google lays out its plans for world domin…..errr….the future of Android and Google’s various services. Some might call this year’s conference a bit muted, maybe even boring but remember, this is a developer focused event, not necessarily a consumer facing event (although many announcements will affect Android owners). Gone are the skydiving Google Glass intros and free hardware. Nowadays, Google prefers to (ironically) be like Apple and focus on software and platform rather than flashy hardware announcements which are now reserved for the fall. Regardless, there were still many announcements worth mentioning. Here are the top announcements of Google I/O:

Android

Although Apple has the revenue numbers when it comes to smartphone dominance, Android is king when it comes to sheer volume of devices. CEO Sundar Pichai revealed that the number of active Android devices exceeds 2 billion. This includes any device running a version of Android including smartphones, watches, and Android TV.

Android “O” beta is now live for developers and those curious tinkerers who want to be the first to experience the next version of Android. The usual caveats remain however, only install the beta on a secondary phone because there are bound to be bugs and potential for bricking your device. There are several improvements including a native picture-in-picture mode, improved notifications, and a revised Settings menu. There are notification dots on the home screen icons that show details of the notification if long-pressed. There is also a new feature called Autofill with Google with lets you use saved usernames and passwords on Chrome with new apps install. It makes it easier to set up new phones without having to keep remembering what your username and password for each app is. For example, if you install the Facebook app, Google will pull your Facebook credentials from Chrome (provided you stored them in Chrome) and automatically populates the Facebook app with those credentials.

For the more techie folks reading this article, Google is also making Kotlin an officially supported language in Android. Up until now, most Android development was done using Java.

Finally, Google unveiled Android Go, which is focused on optimizing Android for low cost, lower spec devices. These optimizations including quick settings for data management and highlighting Android Go optimized apps in the Google Play Store

Google AssistantIO

Google initially launched the Assistant on the Pixel and Pixel XL last year. Many reviewers admit that the Assistant is generally superior to other AI assistants out there so far including Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Android Nougat brought the Google Assistant to non-Pixel phones although that hasn’t stopped companies such as Samsung from pushing their own AI assistant. One of the most surprising announcements of Google I/O was that the Google Assistant is now on iOS as a standalone app. It’s available right now in the App Store and offers many of the same functionality that it does on Android. Unfortunately, because of Apple’s walled garden approach, the Google Assistant app doesn’t have access to the Calendar or Reminders. It also can’t replace Siri when you long press the Home button. However, there is a widget available that gives quicker access to the Google Assistant.

One of the more exciting announcements about Google Assistant was Google Lens. Lens will allow the Assistant to analyze the world around it and display information about what you’re looking at. The example shown at the presentation was using the Assistant to look at Wi-Fi login credentials and automatically joining the network (which is helpful for those default logins that have long, complicated passwords).

Google HomeGoogle Home

Google Home also released last year to generally favorable reviews. While many reviewers praised the integration with Google’s venerable search engine, it lacked some of the more practical and useful applications of a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo. This year, Google Home is getting major upgrades in usability with the highlight feature being the ability to make phone calls directly from Google Home. By default, it will use a private number but users will be able tie their own mobile number to it. Unfortunately, only outbound calls will be supported so incoming calls will still go to your cellphone only. More updates include the ability to control various streaming services such as Hulu, HBO Now, and SoundCloud in addition to being able to use Home as a regular Bluetooth speaker. Finally, Google Home will be able to display information to any Google connected screens. For example, you could ask Google Home for directions and it will send it to Google Maps on your phone.

Google Photos and VR

Google unveiled a new feature to the already great Google Photos app called “Suggested Sharing” which can recommend people to share photos to who are also in the photo. So if Google recognizes your mom in a photo, it can recommend to share the photo with her. That can either be creepy or amazing depending your viewpoint. There’s also Shared Libraries which allow families to collectively store pictures similar to what Apple does with iCloud Photos. Fortunately, Google Photos will allow much control over which photos get shared to avoid any embarrassing moments. Google Photos will also have the unique ability to remove unwanted items in a photo. The example shown during the presentation was a picture of a of a kid playing baseball but was behind a fence. Google Photos could digitally remove the fence so that the kid was clearly seen. It was a very seamless example that used to be reserved for the realm of photo editors like Photoshop. The fact that Google could do this with a simple photo app shows the strength of their machine learning capabilities.

On the VR front, Google announced that Daydream headsets are coming that don’t require a smartphone. Hardware partners such as Lenovo and HTC are making self-contained VR headsets that simply require the user to put on the headset without fiddling around with extraneous cords or needing a beefy (and expensive) PC or smartphone. The headset is able to track its surroundings with something called “WorldSense” which is derived from Google’s Project Tango augmented reality effort.

Google’s announcements all center around artificial intelligence and machine learning, computing fields which Google is steadily making strides far beyond many of competitors such as Apple and Microsoft. According to The Verge, “[Google CEO Sundar Pichai] was quick to hammer home the point that his company’s future depends on artificial intelligence, specifically the machine learning techniques that let algorithms learn on their own and improve over time. This technology underpins everything from its Assistant and search to Google Photos and the AlphaGo system”. Now on the surface, that seems like Terminator or i-Robot waiting to happen but in reality, Google’s advances in AI could certainly lead the way for some innovative solutions in other fields besides consumer technology.

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Tech Trends Changing The Way We Do Business

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Whether you’re an established name in the business world or you’re just making your start, you ignore the march of technology at your own peril. For companies with even the smallest footprints, some of the tech trends emerging today may be life-changing. Here’s a brief tour.

Cleaner Materials, Packaging and Standards

With just a few stubborn exceptions, most folks in America and throughout the world agree: Life on Earth can’t continue if we keep squandering our resources. Developments in more energy-efficient production equipment save us cash money on our utility bills all the time and bring us ever-closer to true energy independence. The materials being pursued are lighter, stronger and cheaper base materials to make products more durable and inexpensive to manufacture. What about some of the other exciting opportunities in new packaging and packing materials? Besides looking potentially awesome, these outside-the-box ideas help us remove lots of the more harmful chemicals and plastics from our supply chains. This action will keep them out of the hands of our clients and customers — and out of the environment for good. Tech trends that include better technologies, plus social pressures, let us design less wasteful and more appealing products and packaging all the time to ultimately help raise our shared definition of excellence.

Crowdsourced Design and Troubleshooting

Maybe it was inevitable, but modern technology has given businesses something they just didn’t have in decades past: the opportunity to get their customers to do some of the work. We’ve all had to become citizen journalists, the needs and wants of our globalized world mean we’ve also had to become hobbyist creators in our own small ways. Plus, it’s just really fun to take part in the creation process! Kickstarter was the first company to take “democratized creation” — to borrow/turn/re-coin a phrase — mainstream, but that kind of crowdsourcing is just the tip of the iceberg. Current tech trends has made product creation a more social process from nearly top to bottom, letting brands from all types and sizes a chance to engage with their intended audience. This allows brands to gather valuable feedback about the development phase of product design. Engaging directly with the most creative minds in your audience also lets you iron out any kinks as they crop up and effectively “rev” a brand-new product for a more confident official rollout.

Direct-to-Consumer Delivery

Nobody likes the middleman. There are growing tech trends of brands working to engage directly with you through smartphone apps and push notifications. It’s also why we’re seeing more subscription-based and home delivery services pop up all the time. It took a tech giant like Amazon to throw down the gauntlet in the home grocery delivery space, and more are continuing to lead the way as consumers demand more convenience from the products they want most. For example, Marketview Liquor will not only help you find the best wine for the season, they’ll also deliver your wine right to your door. The whole point is that customers know how to do research. If you’ve made yourself visible and your presence suggests a superior product without the hassle of brick-and-mortar shopping with the middlemen, and if you provide truly measurable incentives like cheap or free shipping for repeat customers and discounts for recurring deliveries, they’ll probably choose your expert wine curation or your hand-selected ski bindings over those offered online by a more faceless corporate brand every time. For the faceless corporations, all of this works for you, too. A major point here is that each of the tech trends on this list are, in their own way, leveling the playing field. The little guy, more each day, has the means to compete with “known quantities” and familiar retailers.

Hobbyist Home Production

We’ve talked a little bit about how crowdsourced design like Scooterboard can help lead to more thoughtfully designed products in the run-up to a major product hitting the market. Thanks to 3D printing and other technologies, the very act of producing some of those projects is also vastly more open and accessible. Today, you can pick up a 3D printer with limited capabilities for around the $300 markConsider the nearly countless advantages of allowing consumers to print their own “OEM” replacement products — or even modifications to existing products. Then there’s this: What if you don’t need to ship them a product at all? This is one step beyond even direct-to-consumer delivery: It’s a state where consumers could purchase blueprints for general product types, add their own features and embellishments to then build it right in their home using 3D-printed components in a variety of plastics and metals. This is the future. It’s not quite here yet, but it’s coming. If you sell a physical product yourself, how might you take advantage of this situation?

Apps and Subscriptions

Information powers our lives. But information isn’t a physical product. Apps have changed everything about how we consume products and do business. Back when there was a physical counterpart — a CD, DVD or even a thumb drive — to the software we used, you paid once and had access to a “finished” product for a year or so. Some of us even remember waiting in line for Mac OS X Tiger on DVD! Now that “app culture” is here, it means consumers expect a constant drip-feed of new products and user experiences. That means subscriptions. Those colorful little squares on your smartphone are now windows. You can open and look through some of those windows for free, but the view you enjoy takes a lot of hard work to maintain. It’s a rich garden full of features with diligent developers trying to keep features bloat and bugs at bay while refreshing the UI often enough to keep you interested.

App-based subscriptions have had a shaky rollout, with even seasoned fans giving their favorite developers “the business” for pivoting to a subscription model instead of sticking to the pay-once-and-receive-updates-for-life model we’ve all been enjoying until recently. Smartphones are nearly indispensable in our personal and business lives. Now, those of us who use them will need to be more selective about the companies we do business with, and become patrons of the ones who truly excel in their field. For business, it’s a huge challenge as well as an opportunity. Apps like Ulysses and Weather Atlas are now available via subscription, ensuring their talented coders a chance to eat and their users in getting new products as soon as they’re ready. Even websites like Medium and The Atlantic are trying out new membership platforms to monetize information and business in a world where technology has delivered users from advertisements. Publishers still need a revenue stream however.

Your primary product may not be an app at all. App culture is a tech trend that gives you an opportunity to turn your presence on somebody’s Home Screen into a money-making, brand-expanding opportunity. Make yourself indispensable.

Technology, Business and Destiny

To say technology will let us achieve our dreams would be a flowery statement. We’re all still trying to make sense of most of it, but it’s clear that there are exciting tech trends in front of us all — most particularly for excelling in business. For the many reasons touched on above and lots more, it’ll pay off in the end to stay informed about new technologies as they emerge. If you’re not, somebody else definitely will be.

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Scooterboard By InMotion Adds An Edge To Rideables

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scooterboard

After almost 3 years of product development and testing, the Scooterboard by InMotion has entered production, thanks to an impressive Kickstarter campaign where they were able to reach their funding goal in a mere 48 hours. The Scooterboard is a cross between a scooter and a skateboard, and the resulting product is a lightweight, front-axle steering rideable that is both easy to learn, is safe, and is sporty. Here is everything you need to know about Scooterboard.

scooterboard

The Scoop on InMotion:

The Scooterboard is the brain child of CEO Rose Wang, founder of InMotion, a company based out of San Diego, CA (You can read her full interview with Owner’s Magazine here). Formed in 2014, InMotion has been testing multiple prototypes and gathering user info from people all over the country, using that to tweak each iteration into what is being produced today. Thus, the Scooterboard is a product that is based solely on user feedback, merged into the creative idea that InMotion had. After three years of testing and re-testing, the final result is this unique rideable that caters to just about everyone.

Specifications

The Scooterboard weighs about 22 lbs, can carry up to 264.55 lbs, and has a top speed of 15.5 MPH, which it accomplishes through its 250w electric motorized rear wheel. It runs on a rechargeable, interchangeable lithium battery mounted on the undercarriage of the Scooterboard’s rider platform. Charging time is around 2.5 hours, which will grant its user about 7.5 miles of driving range. The included charger is equipped with an intelligent over-discharging system, which will cut off the power supply once the battery is full. The Scooterboard also has regenerative braking, a useful feature that pioneered the way for Hybrid Technology to be successful and gain traction (get it) in the motorized vehicle industry. How it works is that braking will generate kinetic energy, which will then be stored and reused as battery life.

There are two driving modes for the Scooterboard: Casual, and Power each of which changes riding experience drastically. Casual Mode keeps the motor quiet, the speeds smooth climbing and the brakes soft. It’s a mode for the leisurely rider to cruise easily. Power Mode is a different beast: Engine noise is heightened, acceleration is faster, and the brakes are firmer. Late to work? For a date? Want to feel more wind under the raw open-air of electric rideables? Use Power Mode.

scooterboard

scooterboard

Ergonomics

At first glance, the Scooterboard looks exactly like a spruced up, aggressive scooter, but that’s exactly what it isn’t. The Scooterboard sports three wheels instead of two, thanks to a front-axle, fork mounted steering system. The standing platform is sandpaper textured to avoid slipping in dry and wet weather, and gives the user a firm, planted feel when riding. On the single, ergonomic handlebar, there are two switches for acceleration and braking. Both are conveniently located right next to each other, but are situated where the thumb controls the brake, whereas the index finger controls the acceleration. Both are pressure sensitive, similar to the pedals on a car, or the handlebars on a motorcycle. There is also a mechanical brake in the rear wheel. Step on the rear wheel cover plate to brake via a small hidden brake pad. At 22 lbs, the Scooterboard is easily transportable, and the front handlebar folds down, allowing the user to carry it like a suitcase, or pull it along like a carry-on.

scooterboard

Rideability

With the unique concept of such a vehicle, rideability should be at the forefront of priorities. After all, being unique means it hasn’t been done. For a product such as the Scooterboard, rideability should be a special experience, but it should also be attractive and intuitive. The Scooterboard does just this by combining the best qualities of two popular terrains, the scooter, and the skateboard to allow its rider a fun, sporty platform that is also easy to learn (users claim it can be learned in a single session), practical, and convenient. To do this they crafted a single handle that curves like a cane right under the single handlebar. That allows for a perfectly balanced center of gravity. No other rideable on the market has employed this design, yet it works brilliantly with the Scooterboard’s ergonomics. The feet are planted sideways like a skateboard, or a snowboard (for the snowboarders, with the fork-mounted steering system, carving is possible, and encouraged), and steering is done in one of two possible ways: tilting the handlebar left or right, or by leaning the body. Leaning allows for sharp turns, and even full U-turns in small spaces, a useful feature not found in many other electric rideables. For novices, leaning to steer is a skill that takes some practice, but once attained is immeasurably helpful. For those wanting to get on the road right away, the handlebar exists to easily compensate. It is easy to use, and the mastery is almost immediate. Together, the handlebar and the lean to steer system combine to create a useful method of steering that is as useful as carving on a snowboard, without the months of learning associated with carving. It can be employed to take quick, sharp angled turns, and control speed which, on the Scooterboard, is surprisingly sharp. On a flat, level plain, the Scooterboard can hit top speed in about 4 seconds.

With the motor turned off, it can be kicked off manually. Conveniently, there is no resistance from the motor when it’s off, so users can kick off and enjoy a manually powered vehicle post shut-off.

Learnability

InMotion prides itself in the fact that its product has a very low learning curve. Users agree that through intuitive adaptation, riders can be comfortable on a Scooterboard by the end of a first session. There are a few things to get used to, however. 15.5 MPH may be drab in a car, but on a vehicle as small as a Scooterboard, the speed can be intimidating, especially for beginners. The lean-to-steer system has the biggest learning curve, there is a feeling associated with the vertigo of being close to falling that users have to overcome to fully utilize this method. But regardless, the Scooterboard can be driven any which way, however the user is most comfortable. CEO Rose Wang said herself that during conceptualization, she wanted to:

create a unique and accessible vehicle that is easy to learn and more affordable. With Scooterboard, we want to make the e-board culture more inclusive so that more people can participate in the electric vehicle movement. We want to challenge the e-board industry to innovate with inclusion in mind so it’s not just a cliché. E-boarding is a fun and awesome experience that’s good for the environment – why wouldn’t we want to get more people involved?”

The Scooterboard by InMotion is now available for pre-ordering here for $649.00 (early bird pre-orders currently receive $50 off the full retail price of $699.00). Because InMotion wanted to keep prices low, they will be working closely with distributors and retailers. There are currently two colorways available: the one found on the final tested prototype of a sleek black and blue, or the more enigmatic, bold black and green.

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Tesla News on Hurricane Irma Response

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Tesla came to the rescue by unlocking the full 75 kilowatt-hour of energy within the car’s battery pack once a Tesla owner immediately needed about 30 more miles to escape their mandatory evacuation zone during Irma. When Tesla realized that an additional 15 kWh jolt could give 30 to 40 more miles to other car owners, the company temporarily unlocked more Tesla vehicles in that region so they could reach safety. It became Tesla news when the company assisted in many escapes during Hurricane Irma.

Hurricane Irma striked Florida for 11 days, receiving a record as the longest-lived Atlantic hurricane since 2004 with Hurricane Ivan. The storm left traces of tree debris, destroyed buildings, and even 26,000 bugs that were caught in the hurricane. Irma has devastated Florida with trails of wandering trash and floods, concluded Irma’s impact as the strongest storm in Atlantic history. Donations and help were given towards the tragedy, one of the most unexpected came from entrepreneur Elon Musk and Tesla.

Tesla is unlike other car manufacturers. The company is enabled to limit their battery capacity in its vehicles through a software. The Tesla Model S and Model X cars have a capacity of 75 kWh but are restricted to no more than 60-70 kWh. Tesla owners typically have to pay $9,000 more to unlock the extra 15 kWh of battery power, but in the time of need, Tesla came to help by offering all customers a temporary upgrade to escape the dangerous hurricane. Although most state laws demand customers to bring their cars into the dealerships to collect upgrades, Tesla has neglected traditional routes by deleting the third-party to connect with the company directly. Creating sparks of Tesla news and attention, the company is praised for being unique and away from traditional values. 

The CEO of Fetch Robotics, Melonee Wise commends Tesla’s act of courage during Irma. “One of the major benefits to being first to market is not only the ability to move quickly and decisively, but to offer a certain level of innovation and creativity that might not be available within a more established industry,” says CEO Melonee Wise.

Tesla is giving a prime example to other companies by doing their part in a time of disaster. To implement a sense of community and trust during tragic times will do more than just create sales. While Tesla is shaping that company culture gradually. What drives Tesla is innovation, their core branding is represented in how different they are from other manufacturers. “As a new, disruptive force in the automotive space with no established revenue base or embedded infrastructure to cannibalize, Elon Musk was able to completely reengineer the way cars were produced, serviced, and sold.” says Skywire Networks CEO Alan Levy. Tesla’s reply to immediately help during Hurricane Irma, further instructs the dependability of the company as a whole. Tesla is able to respond to their customer’s needs instantly.

Carbon Robotics CEO, Rosanna Myers emphasized on the issue that other companies face: don’t bite the hand that feeds you. “While disruptors can do what’s best for the customer. Tesla unlocking range to save lives is a prime example of how that agility is shifting the landscape.”  CEO Rosanna Myers also speaks upon a bigger topic trend: all major companies need to be software-centric. “Customers now expect continuous upgrades and improvements to their hardware, but a lot of old-school execs barely know how software works,” explains Rosanna Myers. “As we move to a world of connected devices, they’re being left in the dust.”

Among their activities, Tesla’s hurricane Irma response gave them copious amounts of praise, as they should. The bold act became the biggest Tesla news, for fans have more reason to purchase their cars. Their immediate reply to help can be used as an example for others to reshape company values. 

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