Businesses that once relied exclusively on face-to-face, physical communication are turning to digital technology to make their services more accessible to customers. From small retail storefronts to medical professionals to technology firms that host client operations in the cloud, it’s difficult to find any business not using digital technology to communicate with their audiences.
The interactivity of mobile applications, websites and other technology holds too much potential for businesses to ignore.
Business in the Cloud
The cloud is a virtual space to share and store information. A host of companies provide cloud infrastructure and management services for businesses, and customer interaction management services like Zipwire are becoming more popular for small- and medium-sized companies. Using the cloud to hold and secure company communications is a major benefit, considering that many companies either lack the information technology acumen or staff to handle it themselves. Using the cloud helps reduce the stress on internal IT systems and saves from overspending on IT maintenance.
Doctors See the Benefit of Online
Anyone who’s struggled to find a doctor or book an appointment needs to know about ZocDoc. The free online healthcare-booking company developed mobile applications that let patients search for doctors and book appointments from the palm of their hand.
ZocDoc also lets patients register ahead of time to save time filling out a half-hour’s worth of forms at the office. The app aggregates available appointments from thousands of doctor’s offices, identifying slots that become available due to cancellations. Some users say they’ve been able to book an appointment, map themselves to the office and walk right into their appointment.
ZocDoc claims its objective is to provide easier access to qualified doctors, reviews of medical practices, wellness advice, and information about how people can maximize their healthcare benefits. Not sure if the doctor accepts your insurance? ZocDoc solves that problem, too.
Drones for Delivery
A bag of fresh socks. A couple of paperback books. A chew toy for the dog. In the era of online shopping, not everything needs lengthy shipping schedules or visits to the post office. Why bother, when a robot can deliver it for you?
Amazon, Google and UPS are among the companies that have announced plans to develop door-to-door drone delivery services. The idea is to use small unmanned aircrafts, about the size of a toy helicopter, to deliver small items from shipping centers directly to customers’ homes or businesses.
In some metro areas, it’s completely possible, especially with America’s appetite for instant online shopping gratification. Amazon unveiled its plans for AmazonAir in December, though it hasn’t yet been launched. It will soon.
It’s not “A Brave New World.” This is the business world we live in today.
On May 15, 2014, the FCC voted to move forward with considerations on a proposal for new rules known as “Open Internet” rules – the new name for Net Neutrality. If you are a provider of Internet services, nothing has changed. You still get to do business exactly the way you have been. If you are a concerned citizen wondering how you can compete and prosper in a world where ISPs charge for the “fast lane,” you still have time to make your case.
Back in 2010, I wrote this article to help get the discussion going. Right now, the FCC’s current ruling should highly motivate all interested parties to get into the discussion. Here’s a way to think about it.
An Excellent Place for a Tollbooth
There’s still an ongoing battle between Level 3 and Comcast (update: since the article was originally written, Level 3 and Comcast have settled their dispute). It’s a good example of the kind of issues that are intended consequences of the Net Neutrality debate. Netflix uses Level 3 to deliver its videos to customers. It pays Level 3 for bandwidth. If you are a Comcast customer, you pay Comcast for bandwidth. In theory Level 3 is getting paid and Comcast is getting paid and everything should be fine. However, in order for your Netflix movie to arrive at your Comcast-connected home, the bits have to pass from Level 3 to Comcast. If you’re Comcast, this is an excellent place to put a tollbooth.
Up to now, Level 3 and Comcast have had an arrangement that allowed each company to send bits bidirectionally. The arrangement was made back when both companies sent about the same amount of bits to each other. But now that Level 3 is sending more bits through Comcast than Comcast is sending through Level 3, Comcast wants to be paid. This is the nature of the current battle in its simplest terms. But, like I said, it’s a smoke screen.
The clich description for the public Internet (courtesy of Al Gore) is the “Information Superhighway.” It’s a reasonable metaphor for the way information travels around the Internet. Even engineers like to call bunches of bits getting from place to place, “traffic.”
People vs. Bunches of Bits
In the physical travel world, you can get from place to place several different ways. You can walk, ride a bike, take a car, take a bus, take a train or fly. Of course, while some places are only accessible by air, we all know that remote locations very often require us to use multiple modes of transportation. Now, imagine that people are bits.
The physical transportation world also has a fairly well defined class structure. It is segmented with modes of travel that efficiently meet the needs of each constituency – and it is economically segregated. You are about as likely to find an Upper Eastside Socialite in the lounge at the Port Authority bus terminal waiting for a bus to South Carolina, as you are to find a single mother of six on welfare in the Admiral’s Club at JFK Terminal 8 waiting for her first class seat to the Vineyard. It happens, but not often. Most of the time, modes of travel – air, train, bus, car, bike, feet – are a function of economic class, means and emergent need. To keep the metaphor going, imagine that Comcast is Cathay Pacific Airlines and Time Warner Cable’s basic broadband service is Amtrak and Verizon’s low-end DSL service is Greyhound.
How would we expect the economic landscape to look in a world where, instead of one Information Superhighway, we’d have web of public and privately owned Information Super Toll Roads? Would we expect people who could only afford Greyhound bus service to do business with companies in Europe or Asia? Would we expect people who could only afford Amtrak train service to compete with people who could deliver merchandise overnight via air? Would organizations that own toll roads make it just a little too expensive to compete with them? Would organizations that own airlines charge competitors for extra bags and bigger seats? Keep asking travel questions – they all apply!
A Look to the Future
It is hard to be optimistic about a future world where there is a low-powered free and open Internet and a web of private toll roads owned by non-governmental organizations that inherently compete with their customers. The specter of such a world bodes ill for innovation, entrepreneurship and, in some ways, even the doing of digital life. That said, regulating pricing for Internet Service Providers will seriously dissuade private investment in the infrastructure we need to move America into the Information Age.
This line of thinking begs for the question: Will a plurality of Internet under-classes evolve? Want a current day analog? Look at the prepaid mobile phone business. It’s huge, and so unstructured that even the service providers don’t know who is using their products or how they are using them.
Back in the day, phone companies charged us for making calls, but receiving a call was free. This was a function of technology, not desire. As soon as cell phones hit the market, we started paying for time used (bandwidth) both coming and going. What’s happening with Net Neutrality is a fight over exactly the same issue. Now, we pay for the bandwidth we use on one end. If this goes the wrong way, we (you and I) will pay for bandwidth both coming and going. On a personal level, this is not onerous. However, at the enterprise level, if we were to govern America for the best possible GDP (as opposed to governing for corporate profits), it has the potential to be a huge problem.
I am NOT advocating any government involvement with the Internet. I think government has proven that it has no business being in any business. However, this is not a debate you can leave to others. Get your elected officials on the phone. Take a few minutes to learn about the issue. This is the moment that we have to step up and become architects of our digital future. Become part of the solution… America needs you!
According to numerous sources inside Yahoo, CEO Marissa Mayer has ordered up two under-the-radar initiatives – well, not to me and now you! – that could potentially get the company back into algorithmic search as well as search advertising. The internal code names for the efforts – which are not actually being done together, though they are in tandem – are borrowed from sports. In this case, basketball and baseball: Projects Fast Break and Curveball, respectively. Sources said the plan is being done as part of a contemplation of how Yahoo can accelerate the end of – or actually end – its longterm search and advertising partnership with Microsoft. Currently, Yahoo only has control over the search experience, but Mayer clearly wants more purview over the business.
Read the full story at re/code.
Apple lost its e-book antitrust trial last summer, but so far it hasn’t had to write any checks as part of its punishment. Now a plaintiff’s lawyer wants to deliver a bill: He says Apple should pay $840 million in damages. Steve Berman, an attorney representing consumers and 33 states who linked up with the U.S. government’s case against Apple, says Apple’s actions caused e-book buyers to spend an extra $280,254,374 after the introduction of Apple’s iPad and its iBooks Store. Berman says Apple should have to pay triple that number, and if you want to read his argument, you can find it below, via a letter he filed in court yesterday. For context: Apple ended 2013 with nearly $159 billion in cash on its books, and generated profits of $13 billion in its last quarter.
Read the full story at re/code.
As if it could have ended any other way, Amazon managed to once again set sales records this holiday season. Amazon announced on Thursday that more than 1 million Amazon users became Prime members during the third week of December, and on the biggest shipping day of the year, more Prime items were shipped than any single day in the past. Amazon customers also ordered more than 36.8 million items on Cyber Monday alone – a jaw-dropping 426 items per second – including more Kindles than ever before. How many Kindles, exactly? We still have no idea since Amazon refuses to share any actual numbers. But speaking of tablets, Amazon says that more than half of its customers shopped using a mobile device this holiday season.
Read the full story at Boy Genius Report.
The 2014 International CES (January 7-10 in Las Vegas) kicks off in a little more than a week. We’ve seen tons of great new tech in the past year, and we’re about to see a whole new wave of what’s going to dominate 2014. Whether you’re heading to Las Vegas with me or following the show at home, here’s what to keep an eye out for.
Wearables are here.
We’re becoming exo-digitally enhanced humans and we’re incorporating our digital world more and more into our physical world. Through gadgets like Galaxy Gear and Google Glass, we’re never more than a gesture away from accessing anything we want in the digital world. And with rumors that both LG and Samsung are working on fitness trackers, this trend is only going to get bigger. Wearables are no longer the future; they are the present, and every company wants a piece of that pie. Speaking of pie (and fitness trackers)…
Expect big things surrounding consumer health care.
Think The Quantified Self. Think The Smartphone Diet. LG and Samsung’s gadgets might not make it to market for months, but it’s already a huge area with many companies vying for your dollars. From Jawbone to Nike and beyond, there are tons of awesome trackers out there already. With companies like Qardio and Omron and Mio and Vancive and Withings showing off amazing new products at CES, you’re about to have more choices than ever when it comes to tracking your health and quantifying your progress. And that’s to say nothing of companies like HAPI (makers of a smart fork that helps you eat better) that are helping make us healthier in other ways.
You think cutting down injuries by 90 percent and saving us $450 billion annually won’t get the attention of every major automotive manufacturer? There were a few companies showing off driverless cars at last year’s CES, and we can expect to see far more this year. Ford just announced a self-driving Ford Fusion and Volvo is dedicated to getting self-driving cars on the road by 2017. As more companies develop driverless cars, the technology will improve and the prices will go down, making it easier for all of us to get one of our very own (if we so desire).
From treating concussions to drawing blood to protecting sporting events, robots are making our lives safer, healthier and easier. Technology (and robots) are changing the way we live and revolutionizing healthcare and other industries. Expect even more robots in January. Robots from companies like Robstep, makers of the Robin-M1, helping make major cities less congested and travel within those cities easier than ever. Or from companies like TOSY, who put on a great show last year with its dancing robots, and is back this year with the brand new DiscoRobo. There’s also Innvo Labs, maker of PLEO rb, your very own pet dinosaur. Robots are everywhere.
WiwWiwWiw (What I Want, Where I Want, When I Want) Video
Think Aereo, think Netflix’s TV disruption, think mobile apps (like this one from FiOS) that let you watch live TV on the go. Couple all that with major strides in amazing and affordable internet speeds like Google Fiber. Now think about all the companies that will follow suit in the worlds of free broadcast TV, original content online and mobile apps letting you stream live TV and you’ll see exactly where WIWWIWWIW video is headed. We’re already streaming in very different ways than we were a few years ago. Hulu began as a web-only platform; now, half its users stream exclusively on mobile. A year ago, Ultra HD content was a rarity; now, Amazon is shooting all its original content in 4K, and Netflix is doing the same with its flagship original series House of Cards.
Can’t Attend CES?
I’m looking forward to seeing you at the 2014 International CES this coming January. If you can’t make it, we can bring the Shelly Palmer Best of CES Roadshow to you. Available in 2 hour and 4 hour formats, I will do a virtual tour of CES crafted specifically for your company. The Shelly Palmer Best of CES Roadshow offers deep insights into consumer behavior and industry trends. It will help you identify and understand key technologies and services on display at CES this year, differentiate the offerings, and create action items and strategic take-aways you can use to move your business forward. The Shelly Palmer Best of CES Roadshow is offered from January 20 through May 30, 2014. For pricing and availability, please contact Alexis Palmer Zinberg: +1 212-532-3880.
If you’re itching to shed that old, embarrassing Yahoo username in favor of something a little more age appropriate, we’ve got good news. Mayer and Co. have just opened up a wish list to request inactive usernames. Plug in your five moniker requests (in order of preference) by August 7th, and if you’re first in line for an account that hasn’t been used in over a year, it’ll be yours by the middle of the month. Once the search giant sends a message to your inbox, simply click the included link within 48 hours and the re-purposed account will be yours. After the initial period, folks will be able to add usernames to a watch list, and will be alerted when they become available. Worried that password recovery messages sent from other services to reused addresses could be a security issue? Yahoo is too.
Read the full story at Engadget.
Artificial and natural knowledge researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have IQ-tested one of the best available artificial intelligence systems to see how intelligent it really is. Turns out-it’s about as smart as the average 4-year-old, they will report July 17 at the U.S. Artificial Intelligence Conference in Bellevue, Wash. The UIC team put ConceptNet 4, an artificial intelligence system developed at M.I.T., through the verbal portions of the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence Test, a standard IQ assessment for young children. They found ConceptNet 4 has the average IQ of a young child. But unlike most children, the machine’s scores were very uneven across different portions of the test. “If a child had scores that varied this much, it might be a symptom that something was wrong,” said Robert Sloan, professor and head of computer science at UIC, and lead author on the study.
Read the full story at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Google has extended its Street View imagery to the top two viewing decks of the Eiffel Tower for the very first time, giving users a breathtaking view of the Parisian skyline from the famous French monument. The Eiffel Tower is the most visited monument globally – some 7 million people visit and ascend the monument each year – but Google is now opening the iconic structure up to absolutely everyone on the Web. Google employees took the Street View trolley, an image capturing device that looks exactly as you would expect, to both the second and top floors to capture the entire circumference of the viewing decks with all-new 360-degree photographs. The results are breathtaking and still trigger an inevitable sense of awe; it was the highest monument in the world for 40 years, although that title is now held by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – a building which Google has also scaled for its Street View image library.
Read the full story at The Next Web.
Tech culture is a funny thing. If you track tech news, releases and new ideas closely enough, you’ll notice there’s a very apparent trend that pops up all the time:
- Some company has a truly original idea.
- Every competing company copies that idea.
It’s funny and sad at the same time, and it’s the same thing that happens every time there’s a truly unique idea in the tech world.
A Truly Original Idea
The most recent example of this has been the ability for tech-happy smartphone owners to upgrade their phones far more often than once every two years. T-Mobile made a big splash in the mobile market last week when it announced ‘Jump,’ which would give customers two mobile upgrades every year for an extra $10 per month. (As a refresher to the new way T-Mobile sells smartphones since they no longer have mobile contracts, you can catch up here.)
Jump is a great idea! A truly original idea. People love upgrading their phones and hate having to wait 20 months two years for a new gadget. (Let’s put aside the fact that you don’t save a much money by constantly upgrading your phones and you no longer have back-up phones to give someone or use in case of emergency. It’s still a very original idea.)
… and the Rest Shall Follow
You know what’s NOT original? The fact that AT&T just announced an almost identical program: Next. (All Things D notes that AT&T issued a memo teasing Next before T-Mobile announced Jump, so it’s unclear whose idea came first. The bottom line is still the same: derivative ideas.) Next would be slightly different from T-Mobile’s plans in a few ways: You’re eligible for an upgrade every 12 months, not six; you don’t need to put a down payment on your device; and there’s no additional monthly fee. It would be more forgivable of a copycat if it was better, but the numbers don’t add up. T-Mobile’s not scared, either, as an executive said it’s a “poor imitation” of Jump.
Want to hear a funny story? Verizon’s reportedly planning the same type of program, called VZ Edge, which would launch in August. The plan is almost identical to Next, which means it, too, is a slight derivation on Jump.
It’s just that type of copycat culture. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sprint announce something similar, except Sprint seems to be doing its own thing over there, with Unlimited, My Way essentially giving you unlimited everything forever and ever.
Not an Isolated Incident
Think back to the biggest tech breakthroughs of the last few years: iPhone, iPad, etc. Every major breakthrough has been imitated and copied and modded and tweaked by just about every company under the sun. I’ve just never seen it happen as quickly as we’ve seen phone carriers do their thing this week.
And this isn’t the last time we’ll see this type of behavior this year. The Pebble Smartwatch was last year’s Kickstarter darling, and recently hit store shelves. You know who else is interested in the smartwatch business? Oh, just about everyone: Google. Apple. Mozilla. Microsoft. TomTom. Sony. Dell. It’s amazing. For a while, I seemed to be posting a story about a new company wanting to enter the smartwatch business… and I know we’ll see the same thing once Google Glass becomes more prevalent.
Innovation breeds competition, which helps create better products for all of us to buy and use. I’d just like to see more unique ideas, rather than everyone piling on whichever bandwagon is hot this hour.