Google Drive is gearing up to be the answer to all your data and backup needs.
Soon, Google Drive will be able to automatically backup all the files residing in any folder on your computer that you point it to. The backup would include your computer’s desktop, files residing in your documents and all other possible locations on your computer.
This is a big change as it will mean that will no longer have to place files only in a specific ‘Drive’ folder on your computer, as you need to today.
All of this comes via an app called Backup and Sync. The app is the latest version of Google Drive for Macs and PCs, and is integrated with the Google Photos desktop loader.
From what it sounds like, this new app will replace the currently existing Google Drive app and the Google Photos backup app for computers.
The change, however, is only available to consumer users for now (those who use Google Drive for personal everyday things), and not to business users. Google is recommending that business users who have been using G Suite, for now, stick with the Google Drive for Mac/PC until the new enterprise-focused solution, Drive File Stream, is made available to them.
Drive File Stream will come with another approach altogether, which will allow users to access huge corporate data sets without taking up the equivalent space on their hard drives. The feature will definitely be something that business users will look forward to.
Once the personal version of the app goes live, users will be able to sign into the uploader via their Google Account, and then select which specific folders on their PC or Mac that they want continuously backed up to their Google Drive. It is not yet clear how much more users will be able to do with this expanded storage. The assumption is that users will be able to open and edit some common file types within Drive. It is, however, not clear that users will be able to sync those files back to the computer using the drive as an intermediary.
Another question that arises is that of the storage limit. The expanded backup will quite certainly count towards your Google storage limit too. Given that, the new app will be a quick and easy way to hit the 15 GB data storage limit that free accounts currently enjoy from Google. Users can then rent additional space from Google, which will cost them USD 2 a month for 100 GB, USD 10 for 1 TB, and USD 100 a month for 10 TB.
The new feature is definitely a smart move on Google’s part. It is a handy feature that users have been demanding from Dropbox for a while now.
Dropbox (like the Google Drive) currently required users to save files in a particular folder on their computer for them to back up. Microsoft’s OneDrive is another cloud storage service which lets users automatically back up files from their computers, but even for that users have to save the file in a particular folder, or prompt them to be saved on OneDrive while saving them in the first place.
Google’s new feature is likely to be popular with consumers looking to keep copies of their photo, video and music libraries. Given the ransomware attacks that have not faded from the memory of millions of users around the world, Google’s service might come as a relief to many.
The service was to be available from the 28th of June, but Google has postponed its release, “based on your valuable feedback, we’ve decided to delay the launch of Backup and Sync while we make improvements to the product“.
The service can be expected to be available in a few weeks’ time.
For the average Indian, Amazon might be just another retail site she would go to, to order a new pair of shoes. She might find Amazon’s services a little more flattering than those of other e-com sites, and the prices (at times) a little lighter on her wallet.
But when she’s ordering that shoe on the website, what she perhaps does not realize is that Amazon is not just a retail outlet, but it’s actually an empire built on a humongous network of services and products.
From Amazon Web Services, which hosts a considerable chunk of the internet, to cloud computing, to tech research and development, to new product, to a NetFlix competitor on-demand streaming platform – Amazon is most definitely a lot more than just an e-retailer.
While most of this has so far been focused on the West, but from the looks of it, Amazon might be expanding deeper into other markets – especially the Indian market – and not just by the means of retail. It has many, many things up it’s sleeves!
After much ado, Amazon finally received a clearance to operate its e-wallets in India. The global retail giant recently received a Prepaid Payment Instrument (PPI) license from the country’s federal bank.
This implies Amazon’s imminent entry into a market that is highly competitive, and post-demonetization, is growing by leaps and bounds.
The market currently is dominated by Paytm, which has over 200 million users. What makes this even more interesting is the fact that Paytm is backed by Alibaba, a Chinese retail giant that is colloquially referred to as China’s Amazon, and is Amazon’s biggest competition in the South-Asian markets.
Up until now, Amazon operated on the PPI licence issued to reward points management and gift card provider Qwikcilver, in which Amazon had invested USD 10 million in 2014. This dogleg approach limited all that Amazon could offer in India.
But with the new license Amazon should be able to offer more point-of-sale transactions. This could possible change how Amazon has been approaching the e-wallet up until now, where the e-wallet has only been a functionary element, to facilitate the transactions on their retail network. With this new license, they could expand into the e-wallet market in a manner of making e-wallet an integral part of their retail network, and not just an element to add functionality.
“We are pleased to receive our PPI licence from the RBI“, said Sriram Jagannathan, Vice President of Payments at Amazon India. “Our focus is providing customers a convenient and trusted cashless payments experience. RBI is in the process of finalizing the guidelines for PPIs“.
Amongst other significant competition that Amazon can expect will be PhonePe, the e-wallet of Amazon’s biggest Indian competitor Flipkart. Currently, PhonePe accounts for 5% of Flipkart’s transactions. MobiKwik, Oxigen, PayUMoney, M-Pesa, FreeCharge etc., are amongst other popular wallets in the country that Amazon can expect a competition from.
Lately, Amazon has been working with nit and grit to expand into the Indian market, not just by the modes of increased retail, or widened reach, but by the means of different products and services.
One of the products that Amazon has quite been focused on is the Prime Video, its on-demand video streaming platform.
The Indian market has finally been opening up to the idea of TV via the internet. It has not been too long from the time when we used to have dial-up connections, the ones that were so slow that watching a video on it was more like a dream, and it involved endless buffering.
In the last few years, the presence of faster internet has helped get people get used to the idea of streaming things over the internet. And Amazon clearly wants to cash in on the opportunity.
Just last year, NetFlix, the on-demand streaming giant entered the Indian market, and was lapped up by the hitherto-deprived Indian citizenry. This was after HotStar, backed by the hyper-popular Star Network made a place for on-demand streaming in the everyday life of an Indian user. Hotstar basically did so on the back of sports, mostly cricket, until the younger generation in the country discovered that it was easier to watch various seasons of their favorite shows on the app instead of downloading them off of pirating platforms.
Coming back to Amazon – well, the Internet giant seems to finally have its catalog ready for the Indian user.
They’ve been working to bring uniquely-Indian content, for the picky Indian viewer. To be able to do that, they have been working on partnerships within the Indian entertainment industry. Recent notable ones include the exclusive online rights for Kabir Khan’s upcoming title The Forgotten Army, which Amazon will be marketing as an original.
Amazon has also partnered with various stand-up comedians in the country for the rights to stream their content.
This is in addition to the companies having signed deals with Lionsgate and BBC to acquire international titles for the Indian audience.
It partnered with Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan for exclusive access to all of his Red Chillies Entertainment’s titles last year. The company is also reportedly in talks with Aamir Khan for titles from his production house.
Others include a deal with Paramount for streaming rights of recently released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Star Trek Beyond, and 10 Cloverfield Lane, in addition to titles from Paramount-owned Transformers, Indiana Jones, Mission: Impossible, Madagascar, Shrek, and Kung Fu Panda franchises.
“India has one of the richest and most vibrant entertainment industries in the world – Amazon is energized by the talent and the passion of India’s film industry and is excited to be making multiple Indian original shows already, with more to come“, said Roy Price, Vice President and Head of Amazon Studios.
Now that Amazon seems to have the content – national and international – sorted, it is the mode of delivery that they are expanding on.
Amazon also recently launched its Fire TV Stick in India at INR 3,999, with additional discounts for already existing Prime subscribers. This is Amazon’s Chromecast rival, which enables you to watch Amazon Prime content not just on your laptop, or mobile, or tablet, but stream it onto your television, and watch it like the good old days – leaning back on the sofa.
The Fire TV Stick also offers a range of additional services, which include built-in apps such as EROS TV, Netflix, Gaana on the device, which are other popular on-demand streaming platforms in the country.
The device will also reportedly support voice-enabled commands. Amazon says that it will understand Hindi dialect and accent swiftly, which is something that could prove instrumental in giving them an edge over the rivals.
The company, in the past, has said that they intend to launch the Fire TV, the full-fledged TV box and other services to India, soon. But they might not be coming as soon as we might like! The Fire TV Stick is certainly an indication to cement Amazon’s intentions in the regard though.
In other news of the company expanding into new forums on an international platform, the company recently acquired a patent for an on-demand clothing manufacturing warehouse. The patent speaks to a new order of clothing retail altogether, where a customer’s clothes will be made only after he has placed the order. This would enable the retailers to offer a lot more customization on their apparel, as well as develop newer options in far more dynamic a manner, depending upon the market demand.
The patent is for a computerized system, which would include textile printers, cutters and an assembly line. It would also enable cameras designed to snap images of garments, which would provide feedback on alterations needed in subsequent items. This would help to increase efficiency since this would enable the goods to be manufactured in batches based on factors such as the customer shipping address, and further customizations.
“Once various textile products are printed, cut and assembled according to the orders, they can be processed through a quality check, photographed for placement in an electronic commerce system, shipped to customers and/or stored in a materials handling facility for order fulfilment”, the patent reads. “By aggregating orders from various geographic locations and coordinating apparel assembly processes on a large scale, the embodiments provide new ways to increase efficiency in apparel manufacturing”.
Amazon had filed for the patent back in 2015. We are not sure of what exactly are they planning to do with this patent in the immediate future, but it clearly is an indication that the e-commerce giant has its sights set on being a giant player in the clothing industry.
Amazon already has quite a clothing and apparel selection that it retails for other brands, in addition to about eight of its own brands, making everything from kids clothes to women’s dresses to dress shirts for men.
What’s more interesting is that such technology could also have applications in footwear, bedding, curtains, towels, and others including but not limited to paper, plastic, leather, rubber and other materials.
Not too long ago, Nike, in the U.S., had running what they called NikeiD, a program to customize sports shoes for their buyers. It allowed the customers to choose shoe type, colours, and the likes, and it took Nike 3 to 5 weeks to deliver on the shoes. With a patent of the kind that Amazon has acquired a process of this kind can be made speedier, and more diverse, making more options available for the end customer.
With innovation in fields as diverse as these, it looks like Amazon is concentrating on making itself a part of the user’s everyday life, in more than one manner. Amazon is trying to be the source for all that one can use in a day, from shopping for a wide range of products, to clothing, to groceries, to using the Amazon e-wallet, to coming back home at the end of the day and having your entertainment needs met by Amazon itself, and all of that possible on a device made by Amazon.
You don’t need to be Batman to order a supply drop from Alfred, courtesy Amazon Prime Air facility. Three years ago Jeff Bezos coolly pulled out a drone supply initiative from Amazon, which most critics were quick to dismiss as a publicity stunt. The drone-delivery system looked straight out from a Philip K Dick novel, and the drone technology was still unwieldy and costly to built. Not today. The airspace is filled with drones, so much so, that countries like India are trying to regulate their use while forming regulations for it. Amazon is determined to push through government regulations and start drone delivery services in near future.
The company showcased its first public test flight showcasing its “Prime Air” drone delivery system at MARS, a private Amazon tech conference in Palm Springs, California, where the drone delivered a sunscreen. The company has been privately developing its drone-delivery services in the relatively quiet area of Cambridge England, where the team has been simulating real life scenarios incurred during real life drone deliveries, while the company waits for Federal Aviation Administration, who just like their Indian Counterparts, are still to formulate rules for the drone flying in the urban populated area.
Drone flying is still viewed as an amateur fun activity which can act as a nuisance to the defense and civilian aviation. The stereotype is mostly because of its military use in the gulf theatre, which is still imprinted on the public imagination.
Drone delivery will be done from select Amazon points which will house the delivery drones. Once you place the order, select “Prime Air” 30-minute delivery and your packages would be fed through a conveyor system to the drones for delivery. The drones are equipped with censors allowing them access to real-time information about the environment and obstacles such as birds and other drones etc using “sense and avoid” technology. At the landing point, the drone would land on a safe zone signified by a prior placed amazon logo mat, delivering products in no more than 30 minutes. After dropping the package, the drones will head back to their recharging station allowing them to recharge for a new delivery.
The essence of this type of delivery system is time-management. The drones can deliver object that can be crucial to save someone’s life, such as medicines and life saving equipment, however for the time being such thoughts are just pipe dreams. The company has been doing real-life test for long-and various factors such as drone battery ,payload weight and range come into play. In case of any contingency, the drones are armed with various responses, they are figured to avoid certain ubiquitous obstacles such as clotheslines and trees. They have even being programmed with a dog barking sound to alert the others.
But fear not, we believe Moore’s law and it would take probably just a year or two before we see them flying in our neighborhood. With Google and UPS also in the race to claim a substantial part of this pie, we should be seeing real time manifestations soon.
Google. Hyperlocal. No Surprise.
Google, Hyperlocal, India. Big Surprise!!
Well, Google has finally stepped into the mushrooming hyperlocal services market – in India!
The search giant of the world has quietly launched a new delivery and home services app for India. The app is called Areo and is currently operational in Bengaluru and Mumbai.
The app covers a range of services including food delivery, home maintenance, fitness, electrical repairs, etc. – things an average Indian needs and uses around home. Hence Hyperlocal.
The app is not the service provider though. Like many others before it, Google’s Areo is but an aggregator of the existing services in the market. It works with local on-demand players like UrbanClap, Zimmber, Freshmenu, Box8, Holachef and Faasos, powering the reach of these partner firms by booking appointments, scheduling deliveries, and even enabling payments for them – all online.
“We are constantly experimenting with ways to better serve our users in India”, a spokesperson for Google said in a statement. “In this case, Areo makes everyday chores and ordering food easier by bringing together useful local services like ordering food or hiring a cleaner in one place“.
Google declined to comment upon how it got into this market. The start point though, can simply be attributed to two things – the growing success of Google Shopping (in international markets), and the aforementioned mushrooming of aggregated and lifestyle services.
Another clue: The idea to launch this in India can be traced back to over a year ago. Reportedly Google approached Zimmber’s CPO, Siddhartha Srivastava about 9-10 months ago.
Srivastava said that “The search giant was keen on firms that own the delivery model and have a strong technology base“.
“We have invested very heavily in honing our technology integration for this platform over the last 5-6 months, which is a cost for us”, Srivastava expanded. “We expect 10-15% of our revenues to come from Areo. That will be a cheaper marketing strategy for Zimmber. If they market Areo as they have done for other services or products in the past, the revenue growth (for us) could be higher“.
The service has been online and operational as a pilot program (only on Android for the moment), for Google employees for about three months now with Google actually footing the entire bill for the pilot service for its employees!
One must acknowledge that what Google has made quite a smart choice about how it has chosen to go about the idea. What Google has done is to hit a double-volley with the same shot: Instead of trying to build their own system for what is certainly quite a dynamic market, it has made use of existing resources and service providers (who are not only hungry for additional revenue, but would also give up their antique Standard Heralds bequeathed to them by their maternal uncles, for a chance to be listed as a Google partner).
But that’s not the smarter of the choices I was referring to.
The smarter of the choices made here is that Google has recognized that the market it is entering is not just a dynamic one, but also a very disorganized one. Far too many players already exist in the Indian hyperlocal services market and there is no convenient way for most users to chart through the mush, to try to identify the best option for their needs.
This problem of the unfathomable plenty, has caused the market to suffer the only known outcome of confusion – abstinence. Through the last year many players have shut down operations, while some others have consolidated their operations.
It is the potential to organize the market and make money while doing that (something that’s Google’s bread and butter anyway), that Google is banking upon, and hopes to take to the bank (okay, that one just felt nice rolling off the tongue. Not every word needs to have a point!)
Areo could potentially be a breath of fresh air for the user, and the suppliers, alike. While this would pose serious competition to players like Zomato, Swiggy and Amazon-backed Housejoy, it would also open up more avenues for the partner firms.
The immense, almost immeasurable fillip towards making their services available via the search giant’s platform, is bound to gain traction. The fact that it comes from Google will help it obtain instant credibility and should also open up a much larger audience.
There’s another implicit ploy that I can sense… Areo would also enable Google to compete with Facebook’s (recently launched) competing venture called MarketPlace.
This is not the first time that India has been a testing space for Google. In the past, Google has tested new products like YouTube Offline, Google Maps Offline and more recently, YouTube Go.
“Increasingly, we realise that we can try things in India — it’s a quick test market — if it works, we can take it outside. Our experience with YouTube Offline worked well in India and we transitioned it to other countries“, Google CEO Sundar Pichai had said some time ago.
eBay is one of the founding pillars of the startup – and it thus knows the criticality of pivoting at the right time, and the harmlessness of swallowing one’s ego for larger gain.
The multinational e-commerce megabrand that facilitates online consumer-to-consumer and business-to-consumer sales, sold its India business to Flipkart – an e-commerce player that has time and again proved to be the bigger of the two, in the Indian market.
Despite the drubbing, in a demonstration that shareholder value superceded any such emotional bondage, like “hard feelings”. the sale happened as a part of a larger, USD 1.4 billion deal.
The deal includes multiple funding rounds, starting with the first purse of USD 500 million that eBay is currently putting into Flipkart. The deal also includes an exclusive arrangement in which eBay merchants outside of India will be able to sell to Flipkart shoppers and even more interestingly, Flipkart sellers can sell to eBay shoppers outside of India.
Even though rumors about the deal had been making rounds for a little while now, it’s official mention did come as a surprise to most of the world. Primarily because eBay also owns 5% stake in Snapdeal, which is a competitor to the both, Flipkart and eBay India.
Intriguing, this move might just be part of eBay’s larger plan to line up all of it’s resources against global arch-rival, Amazon. Clearly they’ve been reading Sun Tzu’s Art Of War and are embarking on a long-standing desire to challenge Amazon, by strengthening the biggest of it’s competitors.
So, the decision to wind up their own India business, and the decision to invest in a rival to Snapdeal, a company they already have stakes in, to then join hands with Flipkart… where exactly is it coming from?
“The process started almost a year ago with us looking at the Indian market and seeing who was winning and who was losing and what the next few years were going to be like. We were evaluating both eBay India and Snapdeal“, said Devin Wenig, eBay’s CEO.
Well, the Indian market is indeed a very strong commerce market. There is growing wealth, tech adoption increasing and getting better by the day, too much demand for goods and thus a manifest supply-demand imbalance; thus making the market quite a dynamic place for any company to be in.
However, what is also true is that in the last couple years, there has been a boom of sorts in the Indian e-commerce market; the market has now become “overheated”, if you will.
Simple economics explain the tug-of-war. There are far too many companies in the market right now, and there is thus over-investment of funding, to a large degree; a lot of the companies are running on their funding and not on profits, and that makes for a bad dynamic for any market.
So, something had to happen. Consolidation is the best of those “some” things; a few players joining hands to stand against the bigger one.
“Flipkart had a very strong close to last year and they are starting to pull away. So if we are serious about the market, I want to invest in — and be partners with — those that are going to win,” said Wenig.
“…there weren’t going to be 10 winners, but maybe only one or two. And Flipkart — given all of that — was the natural party to align with“.
As far as going up against Amazon is concerned, eBay has been doing that for years now, in the international market.
The two e-commerce giants started going toe to toe first in the American market, back when the e-commerce boom had just started.
Today, in the India market, Amazon is the bigger player, even though it has been around for only about five years; its competitor Flipkart has been around for twice as long. And eBay, who came to India before either one of these was even born, today seems to have receded to the back of a dark, forgotten alley of the Indian marketplace.
“Putting the eBay India business with Flipkart will make it a bigger business, they’ll co-populate their inventory, share their buyers and just have more scale,” said Wenig.
That is true, two giants sharing resources are always better than one. But what’s in it for Flipkart, in addition to eliminating competition?
Well, Flipkart’s war chest has been drying up slowly over the years. This deal gives them more investment, for starters, and that too quite a big one.
In addition to the obvious, it also gives Flipkart a candy for their sellers – their sellers suddenly and unexpectedly have access to the global markets, and can now export inventory around the world. And Flipkart gets rich without doing a thing!
As for the interest in Snapdeal is concerned, Wenig said: “I would say we still own five percent of Snapdeal and it’s not like we’re giving up on them“. That said, Snapdeal’s on the market right now, looking to be bought out in entirety. The word on that is not confirmed yet, but it does seem like their time in the market is limited.
So, eBay’s seemingly conflicted interests may not remain so for too long.
Microsoft is buying Deis, a small company that specializes in Containers – a modern way to develop and deploy software.
What’s Microsoft going to do with this acquisition? Well that’s the question we’re going to help you answer!
Simply put, this seems to be an act of self-improvement – one that is aimed at “sponsoring one’s weakness“.
The undeniable fact is that when one thinks of cloud computing services, Microsoft’s Azure does not ring up any major recall.
Despite a lot of efforts on the part of the Silicon Valley’s biggest IT giant, towards upgrading their cloud computing services and it’s appeal, Azure hasn’t really become one of the top players. Amazon, Google and even Dropbox have held the podium for a long, long time.
So this acquisition may be one of Microsoft’s steps toward climbing that vaunted podium.
Microsoft, over the time, has bought into many renowned companies and start-ups, so as to either boost its sales or improve its efficiency. This new buy of Microsoft has got to do with the latter, i.e. increased efficiency.
Thanks to Deis’ proprietary technology, Microsoft may now be able to live up to consumers’ expectations by providing Azure with the smoothness and heightened efficiency that they (users) have come to enjoy from Microsoft’s competitors.
Well, Deis is a San Francisco based open-source tool provider that enables teams to create and manage applications on the Google-backed Kubernetes platform. The company also specializes in containers.
Containers can be considered as one unit of cloud computing, and what Google’s Kubernetes does, up until this point, is that it allows many containers to be compartmentalised – to the extent that multiple containers can be managed on a single cloud instance.
While all that jargon is prone to go over your head, all that you need to know is that it means increased efficiency for the Cloud. Deis even claims to take this one step further.
Deis has in the past, claimed that it can make it easier for companies to use Google’s Kubernetes for their own purposes. This is a management specialization which is poised to save space and increase efficiency.
Now that we know what Deis is and what they do, we shall return to our topic at hand: Microsoft buying Deis. How will it help Microsoft?
Well, for starters, the tools provided by Deis will make Azure function better with a better consumer interface. Microsoft is undoubtedly expecting (or is it, hoping) that the acquisition of Deis will help consumers to work better with Microsoft’s existing container portfolio including Linux and Windows Server Containers and Azure Container Service.
Whatever the case be, Microsoft seems to be making a strategic and planned investment here. Software containers, at this point, are pivotal and are touted as the new building blocks of cloud-based applications. Thus, they are somewhat, a necessity as small to big businesses are turning to third-party public clouds – like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services – to run their applications.
So, in a time where the market is turning to third-party clouds, being able to make them run in the most reliable and efficient manner is critical. This is Microsoft’s next step in precisely that direction.
As far as what Deis is getting out of the equation – well, they get a broader customer base.
Deis has been contributing extensively to the Helm, Workflow and Steward open source projects and intends to continue doing so. But now, working with Microsoft, the company would be able to take their service to a much wider and more heterogeneous audience.
Gabriel Monroy, the CTO of Deis said: “From our new home at Microsoft, you should expect nothing less. We will continue our contributions to Workflow, Helm, and Steward and look forward to maintaining our deep engagement with the Kubernetes community. The future of open source infrastructure at Microsoft is very bright”.
The deal was made behind closed doors and hence no financial information is available except for the name Deis was bought from the parent company, EngineYard.
The deal, however, does mark a change in Microsoft’s approach to the market. Microsoft had for years, established itself as a closed-source proprietor of software and hardly considered the open source market to be a market worth investing in. That felt almost like Microsoft was refusing to move with time.
However, Satya Nadela’s introduction into the company has changed that. From acquiring massive cloud computing exhibitors, to a time when nearly a third of all machines in Azure run Linux (the popular open-source operating system favored by many developers over Windows), it’s quite a change.
It would be interesting and important to see which way the company continues to move.
“At Microsoft, we’ve seen explosive growth in both interest and deployment of containerized workloads on Azure, and we’re committed to ensuring Azure is the best place to run them”, said Microsoft’s Executive VP for its Cloud and Enterprise Group, Scott Guthrie.
With that change of approach in mind, buying Deis is a smart move for Microsoft. “…the Deis team brings a depth of open source technology experience — furthering Microsoft’s commitments to improve developer productivity and to provide choice and flexibility for our customers everywhere”.
Amazon, the American retail giant that has lately been scampering ahead with technology R&D of many shapes, was all set to open a cashier-free convenience store in the U.S. But it’s run into a bit of a glitch.
Amazon has, for a while now, been trying to build stores that would let customers simply walk in, pick up items, and then walk out. The customer would be automatically billed to her Amazon account, without any need to wait in line, get things billed or swipe her card, in the regular tedious way of shopping.
A store was supposed to open early this year, but, due to some technology related quirks, they’ve had to put the launch on hold for a bit.
It turns out, the store – dubbed Amazon Go – currently only functions properly if there are fewer than 20 shoppers inside it at any given time. Put any more people inside, and the shopper-tracking technology breaks down. Perhaps because the system finds it too difficult to concurrently follow that many people.
In addition to dealing with the number of customers flowing into the store, another problem this store-of-the-future seems to be having is that of tracking items that have been moved from their proper place on the shelves.
So you pick up that soap bar, put it in your cart, and later change your mind and put it back on anther shelf in another aisle, then the item gets lost and the system is no longer be able to track it.
These quirks, natural as hiccups may be in new technology – after all, no one expects these things to work smoothly from day one – come as a setback to Amazon, at this late juncture in their plan. Amazon had been intending to open the store by the end of March, this year. But from what it looks like now, Amazon’s back at the drawing board on the technology front – trying to iron out the kinks. And that may take a while.
Having established themselves as the world leader in the online retail world, Amazon has been keen to expand into retail stores, for which, this technology is critical to set themselves apart.
Clearly, Amazon wants the stores to be attractive for reasons other than just the brand’s name or the prices on offer.
Amazon’s expansion drive kind of came to the fore when they opened their brick-and-mortar bookstores – five of which are functional right now, and five more of which will be functional soon. Their plan to open a furniture store that would use augmented reality to help shoppers visualise is another element of their ambitious expansion plans.
This next-generation of technology-enabled retail stores would have really served to distinguish the company’s retail strategy.
That said, we at Chip-Monks have always held Amazon in the highest esteem for their tenacity and their amazing ability to deliver. Believing in Amazon’s potential, we would be willing to take bets on the store being up and running to the public, before the end of this year, perhaps in just a few months.
These guys have always been the kind who, when they see a problem, usually buck up and get it sorted out.
Amazon, Go, create the store of the future! Come on, we have our fingers crossed!
Amazon has never really been a tech megabrand, but more like a business that has developed so many wings, that the scope for exploration is immense.
It is within this scope for exploration that Amazon has decided to venture into new territory – Augmented Reality enabled furniture stores.
Sounds unimaginable, right?!
A friend gasped when I mentioned this to her – “What would it even be about?!“, she asked. Well, hence this article
Amazon’s intent is to enable customers to use AR technology to see objects in the particular (and sometimes peculiar) setups of their homes or offices.
The giant has already taken its online business of books to an actual bookstore in the past, and more recently, has experimented with the idea of a high-tech grocery store. This could be the next step for the ambitious giant.
So, imagine this now: You walk in to a store to buy furniture. Now, you like a chair, and would like to see how it would look against the backdrop of the curtains in your living room. But there’s also another couch that you have your heart on. It could go better, but you are not too sure about how the rounded-off edges would look against the square table.
If only you could transport it back, and see how it looked. Well, Amazon wants to let you do just that, except, with AR.
Thus Amazon’s objective is a canny one – to increase the impact on the buyers, and AR is an extremely innovative way to go about it!
What Amazon’s tech is going to do is to let the customers witness the virtual appearance of the product in the desired place – thus making it easier for the enthralled (and suddenly excited) customers to press the Buy button, there and then.
Now that sounds exciting, doesn’t it?! I know where I’d want to shop for my next home!
But wait, Amazon is not done yet. They’re not only thinking of innovating the furniture market, but also innovating the electronics market.!
The idea of coming up with electronics stores similar to Apple’s has also been doing the rounds. While some of Amazon’s electronic devices are already sold in their book stores, Amazon’s electronics stores are reported to be meant for heavy emphasis on the hardware items of Amazon’s own stockpile – such as it’s Echo speakers and services like it’s Prime Video.
Now that sounds fun!
Amazon’s plans however have not yet been drawn up; the ideas are still making the rounds. But knowing Amazon, we can be quite sure that when they get to it, they are quite certainly going to make the best of it.
Amazon’s idea, also, is not the first of its kind, with IKEA already having walked in this direction four years ago.
It does however, reflect on Amazon’s drive to explore domains beyond the usual.
But exploring beyond the usual also comes with its own drawbacks, the major one of which is that your idea might never even make it to the real world. And that could also happen to Amazon’s current muse.
Even though the idea of an AR furniture store is certainly quite amazing, working such a venture out is bound to have many layers of difficulties. This also means that there is a chance that the said venture does not make it to an actual outcome, depending upon various factors.
That said, we at Chip-Monks certainly hope that Amazon does succeed. That store would be so cool to shop at!
In all of this, what is for certain then, is the intent of Amazon to not restrict itself to a web-based company that sells you things. They are working on innovation as much as the big Silicon Valley guys.
Amazon has surprises awaiting us in the future.
Slack where all work communication happens for most of the 21st-century organisations, dominates not only the enterprise setup, but also today’s startups, has some competition brewing.
Google and Amazon both are vying to take on Slack and carve out sizeable pieces of the burgeoning work space.
Amazon, last month acquired a startup called Do.com and converted it to Chime.
Just two days after this acquisition, Do.com on its official website announced that it had been acquired and would discontinue its service entirely on all platforms including its web, mobile and Apple Watch apps by the end of February. While Do never disclosed the name of its buyer but a hawk-eyed reader brought it to the attention of a news house that the company’s LinkedIn profile now mentioned that the startup was “now a part of Amazon Chime”. A similar change was noticed on the profile of Do’s employees as well, thus confirming the acquirer.
To add spice to the story, as soon as some of the tech websites published the news of Do being acquired by Amazon, Do quickly removed all the evidences that pointed towards this conclusion – the official blog post from Do that announced its acquisition was removed and the LinkedIn profiles that had given away the secret were also modified. But the cat was already out of the bag.
Amazon officially launched Chime on February 13th, as part of it’s Amazon Web Services’ cluster.
All this hush-hush and coyness reminds me of our Bollywood celebrities who attempt to keep their relationship status under wraps. Amazon and Do are now trying to conceal this association from the world as there is no official announcement at Amazon’s end and no one knows what part of Do.com was acquired and at what cost. Curiouser and curiouser!
What does Do actually do? And how is it going to help Chime?
Do.com was a startup that had created a platform that aimed increasing the productivity of meetings by providing services like managing advance notes made in preparation for the meeting and even generating notes for absentees.
Amazon Chime too, is defined in a similar fashion per Amazon itself – “(it is) a secure, real-time, unified communications service that transforms meetings by making them more efficient and easier to conduct.”
So, making meetings hassle free and more efficient is what Do will do for Amazon Chime.
Moving on, while Amazon doesn’t want to talk about it, Google on the other hand, is out there conjuring up major updates to Google Hangouts.
Google is trying to make Hangouts a more business-friendly product and considering that Hangouts already does a lot of what apps like Slack use to dominate the scene, there is clearly a need for Google to up the ante and tom-tom it’s wares and make Hangouts’ presence felt.
Accordingly, Google announced some changes to Hangouts at the Next Conference in San Francisco.
Google has bifurcated its workplace tools, dubbed as G Suite into two separate apps: Hangouts Meet, a videoconferencing app, and Hangouts Chat, a Slack-like messaging app designed for teams to interact professionally.
Hangout Chats’ new prime feature is all about group messaging – and to be yet more specific, team messaging. Chat has also incorporated threaded conversations without which any messenger app looks barren and which Slack hasn’t been able to perfect as yet.
Additionally, to make things easier and more efficient, Hangouts Chat will now be able to perform advanced search and be able to filter conversations by file types.
What’s more, the update also enables users to create virtual chat rooms which would be a one-stop place to hold group conversations. No points for guessing this one, just like Slack!
And obviously you can’t take out Google from Hangout Chats as the former’s services are deeply entrenched within Chat as when you share a file with a room, all of the members automatically get access to it.
All the G Suite customers who apply for access will be able to enjoy this new feature. But, for starters, Hangouts Chat will only be available to companies in Google’s Early Adopter Program, and as of now there are no clear indications as to which features will cost money and which ones will be free of cost.
Hangouts Meet, the other sibling is all about making your meetings hassle free.
With just a click, you’ll be transported into a meeting – be it an audio or video one.
Meet is combined with what Google likes to call a digital whiteboard, dubbed as the Jamboard, that enables users to easily collaborate and view Jamboard displays remotely.
Google claims that this rewritten version of Hangouts meeting experience will be lighter on the processor and would not gobble onto your laptop’s battery life either.
What I love the most about all this, is that the whole thing would work without any plug-ins and due to the cut down in size will load “instantly”. It use to irk me to have to download plugins on every new computer and click pop-ups to confirm Trust alerts. Hopefully, they’re gone now!
The reason why Hangouts has been bifurcated is because Google wants to take better care of its enterprise customers. Google does claim though, that these major changes to Hangouts are not aimed at overtaking Slack.
As per Prabhakar Raghavan, the Head of Apps Engineering at Google, Slack already integrates with Google Drive. “We don’t intend to take away from that” he said during a panel discussion at the conference.
However, that doesn’t negate the fact that a lot of what the new Hangouts does, is to showcase it’s wares better, and enables users with a lot of the frill and benefits that Slack users have enjoyed for a while.
Look out Slack, sleeping tigers are rousing!
Amazon’s game streaming world, Twitch rolled out a social network tool called Pulse which allows the streamers to post and engage with their community about their favourite games instead of taking the conversation outside Twitch.
For now, Pulse supports media content from Twitch, Vimeo, YouTube, Imgur and Gyfcat, but in the near future other formats will also be incorporated.
“We are working to make sharing easier and will expand our support of additional types of content in the future,” wrote Twitch in a blog post.
Pulse lets users post messages, photo and video for their friends and followers. Rings a bell? The format does sound similar to Twitter as Twitch enables content creators to run contests, conduct polls, push memes, and even ask/answer questions to keep followers hooked even while not streaming.
To say that it’s a total replica of Twitter would be wrong as characteristics like “@” mentions or hashtags are nowhere to be seen on Pulse. But this doesn’t mean that they can’t be incorporated in the near future.
Pulse is implanted into the Twitch homepage and it’s mobile app, and like Facebook, other streamers on Pulse can also comment on and react to your posts. Not resembling Facebook is the fact that, on Pulse, the posts as of now will be displayed sequentially.
Interestingly enough, Twitch has planned it all out as it has considered providing control to broadcasters regarding the moderation of comments on Pulse. If a broadcaster wants, they can also restrict the reactions to only their friends or to their subscribers only. The broadcasters also have the power to delete comments.
The company introduced Pulse in a blog post as working on the basis of an algorithm to explore content as per the user’s interests.
“Our goal is to connect viewers with the content that they’re most likely interested in”, Twitch spokesperson Sheila Raju wrote in a blog post. “Going forward, we will be working to determine the best way of surfacing posts to do just that”.
Pulse in essence, is an extension of Twitch’s Channel Feed, that was launched last year in December under beta, and is supposed to eventually roll out to everyone later this month. The fact that it is being rolled out to everyone in itself confirms the success of the feature in its beta phase.
Additionally, Twitch also rolled out IRL at the fag end of last year. IRL is designed for people to share real life experiences instead of video games.
Pulse will appear on the front page of Twitch and all the posts from Channel Feed will make their way to Pulse as well. The idea is to retain all the viewers even when their favourite content is not being streamed and also an opportunity for streamers to reach a larger number of users via their posts.
“This will allow you to not only interact with followers and viewers you regularly engage with, but also with those who might not visit your channel page as frequently”, Raju wrote in the blog post.
Just like Twitter, Pulse is also open to content from both Channel Feed or Broadcaster Dashboard and viewers or users can also post videos, pictures etc from their front page.
Pulse is Amazon’s maiden attempt into the sea of social media, however it is not something out of the blue as Amazon has been toying with Twitch’s social scope for the last few months. The only question that remains now is whether Pulse would be able to make a dent in the world of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, or not.
Though Twitch’s user base cannot be underestimated, given that there are already 100 million monthly viewers spending 106 minutes daily watching live gaming – which is expected to rise with Pulse keeping users hooked onto Twitch and not fleeing to Facebook or Twitter to discuss their favourite games.
So, this may just be the start of a new journey for Amazon, and Twitch.
In what we consider as natural evolution, Amazon’s Alexa devices are soon going to be able to make phone calls and work like intercoms.
These devices would basically be upgrades to Amazon’s already existing Echo and Echo Dot, which are hands-free, voice-controlled devices, enabled by Amazon’s own Artificial Assistant (AI) based assistant Alexa.
In obvious competition to Google Home, the upgrade clearly wants to go past playing music, controlling smart home devices, providing information and reading the news and audiobooks, that Alexa is currently used for.
Amazon is said to have been working on new Alexa powered devices will be able to make voice calls, based on voice commands. It would also be able to connect you to another Alexa user, working quite like an intercom.
There are details that still remain unclear.
Details like whether people will sync their own phone number and contacts with the device, or create a new device-specific phone number, are still unknown.
So while there is obviously a lot of straightening out to do on what appears to be just a rough plan for now, we must commend Amazon for it anyway. This is so simply because from what we hear, Google was also considering a similar thing for their gadgets, but Amazon seems to be doing it first.
Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot have been quite hot in the market in the last year, and they have been going head to head with Google Home, in theory. But the truth be told, Amazon needs to work a little more on giving the consumers reason to use the devices in a manner more closely related to their lives. While some features such as music, or weather updates, work just fine with Alexa, there are things that are needed to carve out a wider market. These new communication features might be a start in that direction.
These come in addition to another major change that Amazon just brought to Alexa enabled-devices – which is of not having to enable a skill first.
Until now, basically, you had to first enable a skill on Alexa for it to work. To do so, you had to either go to the Alexa website or it’s app, open the Skills menu and dig through the catalog until you fond a skill you wanted to try. Then you’d need to open the skill page and tap the yellow button that said Enable. This was in stark contrast to where all features work out of the box, no setup or enabling required.
Now, all you need to do to use a skill is say, “Alexa, open [skill name].” We must mention that it is not perfect yet. You still need to know the name of a skill or what you’re looking for to be able to use it, but it is a great first step, and we expect more to be on the way soon.
From what we know, for now, the new devices are still in beta testing, which means that if all goes well, we could expect some news on them in the next few months.
You’d Be Surprised To Learn What Shook Amazon’s Cloud Service And The Internet Last Week
You might be familiar with Amazon primarily for its online retail website that sells almost anything and everything you could think of.
However, Amazon also owns, manages and runs a gargantuan suite of services called Amazon Web Services, one of which is a web hosting service called Amazon S3, which stands for Simple Storage Service.
The Amazon S3 acts as a storage facility for some of the largest websites and platforms in the world.
As an aside, would you believe, that all of Netflix, AirBNB, BMW and even a lot of NASA’s stuff is housed within the AWS?! In fact till recently, AWS also played host to all of Apple’s iCloud data (you’ll recall our article from May 2016 citing Apple’s imminent movement of iCloud data to Google’s servers, from AWS).
Clearly AWS has succeeded over competing platforms, thanks largely to it’s reliability and scalability (and not so much it’s pricing). Well, the reliability meter just plummeted recently.
Last week, a lot of websites in the U.S. suffered outages as the key supporting structure – that of storage via the Amazon S3 hiccuped.
So, what exactly happened and why is this even making the News?
To understand the magnitude of the problem, it is essential to know the nature of service provided by Amazon S3, and S3’s importance to various websites.
Going back to AWS’ client base, we need to add more to the list for you to get the proper perspective. Amazon S3 is used by more than 120,000 prominent domains across the world including some major websites like Quora, Giphy, Instagram, IMDb, American Airlines, Imgur, and Slack.
So when the Storage backbone goes down, you can about imagine the impact of the outage to the developed world, which forms a significant portion of AWS’ client base. While some websites went completely offline, some faced slowdowns and others broke partially with only a certain subset of services being unavailable.
As an example, in case of Slack, the users couldn’t upload files to their group chats for some time but the chat was working as it were. This clearly points out to the fact that the impact of the problem wasn’t consistent nor the outage comprehensive.
For the initial hour, Amazon’s status dashboard wasn’t even showing a problem. This in turn is slightly amusing because the dashboard itself relies on the S3 for its functioning. But later on, the company did acknowledge the issues and moved in swiftly to address the issue. They later explained the reasons for the outage in a detailed post.
S3’s subsystems obviously play a vital role, but one of them more vital than others, as one particular subsystem “manages the metadata and location information of all S3 objects in the region” (as Amazon said).
In the absence of this subsystem, services that rely on it can’t undertake even basic data retrieval and storage tasks.
Amazon explained that the S3 itself is constructed in such a way that it can afford to lose many-a-server at any time and still function normally; but that didn’t cover the eventuality of the critical hub that held all the location information for all the other systems, itself getting knocked out of commission.
Well, the kicker in the story is that the mishap that caused the subsystem to tumble, shaking the internet was due to…. a small typo!
“Unfortunately, one of the inputs to the command was entered incorrectly and a larger set of servers was removed than intended”, Amazon said. “The servers that were inadvertently removed supported two other S3 subsystems”.
What’s hidden in the sub-text there is that something as simple as an unfortunate typographical error could cause servers to be removed altogether. Imagine – a muscular error or plain haste in unchecking a box that ought not have been unchecked (or something as mundane as that) causing a denial-of-service of such magnitude!
I’d hate to be that poor soul whose muscular infraction caused the hullabaloo! I just hope he’s not been sent to dredge Lake Michigan using a bottle cap!
Anyway, back to the story. This web of problems (pun unintended) ensnared the S3 as it faced trouble while handling the massive restart.
The company in this regard explained, “S3 has experienced massive growth over the last several years and the process of restarting these services and running the necessary safety checks to validate the integrity of the metadata took longer than expected”.
Since this outage that started around 12:35 pm Eastern Standard Time (in the U.S.), and impacted primarily American companies, the mid-day crisis managed to create huge ripples in the Internet Ocean.
Thus people commented, and reacted, and re-tweeted and second-guessed with gay abandon.
Dave Bartoletti, a Cloud Analyst with Forrester, said, “This is a pretty big outage…AWS had not had a lot of outages and when they happen, they’re famous. People still talk about the one in September of 2015 that lasted five hours“.
Amazon, however quickly began mitigation efforts and were able to claw back from the outage in fairly record time, once they were able to identify and climb aboard the offending server.
Being a customer-centric brand, they even put up a public apology openly acknowledging the issue – “We want to apologize for the impact this event caused for our customers…We will do everything we can to learn from this event and use it to improve our availability even further”.
I can almost sense the calm serenity that surrounds the sea prior to a storm, in that statement.
Knowing Amazon as well as we do at Chip-Monks, we know that their services are top-notch and they have almost never been responsible directly or indirectly for such an outage prior to this incident. We also know firsthand, that Amazon (and AWS’) first and foremost mission is their customer’s sanity and continuity of business. So, I am ultra-confident that Amazon would have learnt from this, and already have taken steps to prevent anything or anyone from having such fundamental access and hence the capability to sink the ship, ever again.
We at Chip-Monks are extremely unbiased as we are as a gang, yet we can unequivocally, and unanimously agree say that we swear by AWS, it’s processes and it’s systems. They already are well structured and possess multiple redundancies for everything; and this outage while unfortunate and avoidable, would’ve taught them what 20 years of boardroom discussions couldn’t. And AWS would be better for it.
Siri’s had several brain transplants!
It wasn’t done in a day or a week or over a few months. Almost since the day Apple introduced its voice assistant back in October 2011, Siri has undergone an almost continual series of brain transplants that shifted its silicon-powered mind from pure Artificial Intelligence to AI powered, in part, by machine learning.
Apple recently shared its perspectives on artificial intelligence and where it fits in the Apple ecosystem, which is, apparently, everywhere.
Another question the team at Apple ponders on is how AI can be grown while respecting users’ privacy. In particular though, they focused on how the introduction of machine learning could transform its now five-year-old digital assistant.
Machine learning is considered a toolset within AI – it’s a way of building Siri’s ability to respond to conversational queries. Siri learns concepts by being fed endless numbers of examples. In other words, Siri will understand how you might ask a question about direction, not so much by having every possible permutation of mapping questions, but by recognizing what a map question sounds like, based on all the other examples it’s been fed.
In Siri’s case, the core technology behind the assistant is 100% different than what consumers encountered on the iPhone 4S five years ago. It has gone from a rules-based system to machine learning and voice recognition.
Most users were oblivious to the changes, which might be considered a kind of victory, while others, Apple said, noted a distinct improvement in Siri’s ability to understand natural language.
Apple’s interest in artificial intelligence didn’t spring forth out of the ether in 2011. Almost 25 years ago, a relatively simple form of AI appeared on Apple’s Newton, the first PDA. That groundbreaking product ultimately failed, but it had its moment.
I remember when a former publication, PC Magazine, lauded the mobile device for its trainable handwriting recognition. Apple continued to work on AI-infused technologies for years, but the introduction of Siri in 2011 served as a sort of inflection point, quickly becoming the most visible part of Apple’s AI work. Even so, Siri is far from alone in Apple’s current AI strategy.
Earlier this month, Apple CEO Tim Cook told the Nikkei Asian Review that AI is “horizontal in nature, running across all products“. More importantly, it’s already being used by Apple “in ways that most people don’t even think about“.
Behind the scenes, Apple’s AI works to manage product battery life based on usage patterns and what Apple has learned broadly about battery usage to manage power consumption at a component level. The facial recognition in Photos is also powered by AI. It’s even at work on the iPad Pro to ignore errant swipes of hand or Apple Pencil.
Sounds simple, but to do something like that, the system must understand the user’s intention, which can vary.
New Brain, Better Thoughts
When Apple started using machine learning, they saw a dramatic improvement in Siri’s speech recognition, especially accents and also vastly improved was Siri’s ability to understand speech in the presence of background noise.
Even so, Siri suffers from the same issue as other voice assistants: It can’t hold a conversation.
Yes, Apple spends lot of time building personality (ask Siri if it’s AI and it’ll respond, “Sorry, I’ve been advised not to discuss my existential existence”) and cultural intelligence into the AI, and Siri can fake it — to a point.
Ask Siri if you need an umbrella today and it’ll give you the weather forecast and if you immediately ask her “What about tomorrow?“, it’ll know you’re still talking about the weather and possibility of rain and give the right response.
Context-wise, it’s impressive, but Siri still falls far short of the give-and-take necessary for an actual conversation.
However, it’s worth remembering that Apple introduced the term “voice assistant” to the digital lexicon (much like it did Personal Digital Assistant decades ago), and it takes that term seriously.
I can almost hear the mirth running around in your head, but I’m serious. There’s a lot that that Apple’s doing for Siri and it’s ability to help you.
Future versions of Siri may do far more than just engage in time-burning chit-chat. A true assistant can be proactive. The current version will tell you, based on traffic conditions, when you need to leave to make an appointment. Eventually, Siri might start to connect the dots on, say, the state of the phone and how far you must travel and tell you to charge up before you leave. Of course, Siri’s ability to grow may be somewhat limited based on one of Apple’s core principles: user privacy.
Google’s impressive intelligence and increasingly proactive nature is largely based upon its Knowledge Graph and what it knows about you (and billions of other people) and the relatively persistent user profile that travels with you from Chrome login to Chrome login. Apple on the other hand, does nothing of the sort. In fact, Apple insists that its brand of AI doesn’t need to build a profile of you to work and they don’t have an economic incentive to do so.
Apple can get away with ignoring your personal data because it’s not trying to deliver contextual advertising to you. Of course, Apple sells hardware while Google sells (recent hardware releases not withstanding) primarily contextual advertising driven by user data.
Apple sells millions of iPhones, iPads and Macs each quarter and has an exploding services business, which means Apple can get away with ignoring your personal data because it’s not trying to deliver contextual advertising to you.
While Google’s intelligence and AI-powered responses come from Google’s servers, Apple generates most of Siri’s intelligence locally. The company trains the AI in the cloud, where, Apple said, it’s getting 2 billion queries a week, and then delivers that intelligence to each Siri-hosting Apple device (these are the occasional brain transplants). Those devices then apply that intelligence to your locally stored data.
More interesting, though, is that Apple also does some machine learning on your iPhone. Apple believes it has the advantage here over competitors because it designs its own chips and contends that it’s significantly ahead of others in the mobile technology space,
Unlike Google and Amazon (parent of the voice assistant Alexa), Apple designs both the software and hardware – a strategy it believes gives it an advantage, including the ability to do neural processing at the silicon level on devices as small as the Apple Watch.
Apple’s approach to AI ‘is a laudable’
“I think that there’s real-world proof about being able to go do distributed machine learning without every node in the cluster having access to all the data”, McClellan added, noting that it is quite possible to do consensus-based artificial intelligence with more anonymous data.
Even as McClellan gives Apple high marks for its approach to data, he wonders about Apple’s lack of participation in the newly formed Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, which counts IBM, Google, Facebook and Amazon among its members: “It feels like Apple should be more open, in general”.
How far Apple will go without being more open and joining other companies in their efforts to keep AI technologies from getting away from their masters, and how smart an AI can truly become without building customer profiles, are fair and open questions.
For now, at least, this is the path Apple chosen for its brand of AI, and one thing is clear: The Siri you’re using now will undergo further brain transplants and be far different that the Siri you use five years from now.
Budding Author? Amazon’s Simplified It’s Self-Publishing Process For Your Next Paperbacks
Over the last few years, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program has almost single-handedly made self-publishing ebooks a mainstream thing.
This program (and the relatively cheap Kindle devices) has enabled writers to reach markets that they would never have reached before.
Actually, the capability to self-publishing a paperback is not something that is new to Amazon’s KDP program; it’s been around for a while now. The process to do so however, has been quite messed up and clunky, with hiccups strewn across various parts of the design program.
Authors had up until now, been forced to use a different design program for both the formats of publishing (digital and print). So if the author wished to get printed copies of their already published e-books, they would have to compile the entire thing again in a different format, with different tools.
Amazon has now decided to move to a single point of entry for both formats, using an updated version of Amazon’s CreateSpace system.
Authors no longer need to spend any extra money up front for print runs, as the KDP will debit the printing fees from resulting book sales. While the 60% royalty passed on to the author for each book sold, is approximately 10% lower than the highest ebook royalty, but it is many folds higher than the royalty offered to most authors by publishing houses.
There’s another saving – authors will no longer need to worry about running out of copies since the books will be printed on demand (and undoubtedly be shipped expeditiously thanks to Amazon’s mind-bendingly big logistics infrastructure).
While the feature set of the older version of CreateSpace was much more robust, including physical proofs and author copies, the new beta KDP process will eventually catch on, quite certainly.
There are many reasons for that, primary being that this new feature will not only help authors, and Amazon, reach customers who prefer their books on paper, it also has the potential to streamline a lot about the publishing industry in general.
The power of publishing a book and bringing it to a market, has mostly resided with the publication houses till now – simply because they command and control the army of resources necessary to get a book to it’s audience across continents and oceans.
This painless integration is a boon, in many ways, and we’d only get to see it’s power in full glory as more authors turn to using this facility to bring out their stories in Print.
While the market of ebooks has been growing exponentially, many of us admit that we still prefer the more traditional format of paperbacks. So, Print has shown an incredible resilience to the digital onslaught, and with this self-publishing capability gaining more muscle, it will be interesting to see how many new authors find their ways into reader’s hands.
Are you one of those budding authors waiting to express yourself? Don’t wait any longer – type away!
Apple Refocuses On Artificial Intelligence, Having Dropped Its Foray Into Automobiles
Apple, the world’s tech giant has been trying to shift its focus to Artificial Intelligence (AI) for a while now – from hiring new talent to shelving their long-rumoured foray in automobiles, the company seems to be going all-in for AI.
One of the first major things that Apple did was to practically kill its much-talked-about Project Titan, scaling back on the long-rumored and totally not-top-secret plan of bringing self-driving car for the masses.
While the company did instead start working on a self-driving system – rather than the whole car, a system that can be sold to carmakers for use in their own vehicles – a significant number of people were taken off of the project and reassigned to other parts of the company’s business.
In addition to that, the remaining Titan team was asked to produce something feasible by the end of 2017 (to justify their own existence, I guess), dropping quite a bundle of pressure on them – to deliver, or be busted out.
Rumours of the ‘Apple Car’ have been in the wind for a couple years now, but the truth of the matter is that there didn’t seem to be a tangible outcome that would be out anytime soon.
Behind-the-scenes rumours of the project claim there was mostly chaos and not much direction (which might be stemming from the lack of progress/achievement in the necessary research and prototype), and various reports quoted unnamed sources stating that the project was an “incredible failure of leadership”.
It was only when industry stalwart Bob Mansfield came over to lead the team that the project began to take better shape. It was he who reportedly proposed and internally sold the idea of not building a Tesla-competitor, instead concentrate on a creating technology platform that could be sold to third parties.
One the other hand, Apple’s accomplishments in the AI world have been far more successful.
A fairly-everyday manifestation of their AI work is personified by their personal assistant Siri, that comes installed on all Apple devices, and has become almost a part of many users’ everyday lives.
When it came to the world, back in 2011, Siri was groundbreaking and ahead of its time, but over the years it has not been able to stay upto speed in certain areas. One of the debatable reasons could have been of Apple not putting in enough research, manpower or even being able to bring on the best of the talent on board.
But then the time came and Apple heard criticism of Siri harking that it (Siri) has fallen way behind other automated assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s Assistant.
Apple geared up to change that fast. Not a brand that is known to shrivel away from spending on the best of the talent, Apple recently hired Russ Salakhutdinov, a Carnegie Mellon University professor, to head up a team working on artificial intelligence. He is a hugely respected expert on Deep Learning and is exploring smart ways for computers to learn about the world.
His research work over the years has been funded by Google, Microsoft, and Samsung.
One of Apple’s other significant steps towards shoring up it’s AI initiative was highlighted when it acquired Seattle-based machine-learning company Turi for USD 200 million.
Turi specializes in machine-learning and is likely to boost its product’s AI capabilities. It is unclear for now what Apple is doing with Turi, but the Turi’s resources and expertise could help boost Siri and it’s intelligence significantly.
In addition to these, Apple just also joined Partnership on AI, an artificial intelligence research group that includes Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.
Formed in September, last year, the group was intended to be a means of supporting research, establishing ethical guidelines and promoting both transparency and privacy when it comes to AI studies.
With these milestones, Apple, a company that is known for its closed doors culture and secretive plans, seems to be showing signs of opening up in the name of improving research efforts around machine learning.
What is quite clear at the moment is that when Apple looks at the automobiles market, it has two questions to answer: what role does it exactly see itself playing? And how much auto industry know-how does it need to succeed?
The field is quite new for Apple. What then, can be useful to look at is how Apple has entered new fields before.
With the iPod (music) and the iPhone (cellular), it hired a bunch of people with extensive subject knowledge, yes, but it also relied heavily and quite smartly (one must say), on partnerships.
Should Apple consider having a car-making partner then? Or like Mansfield seems to be thinking, will establishing a technology platform that can be sold to third parties, be the path to follow?
I, for one, can’t say. I know there’s focus on AI from every part of the tech world, and I’m sure that technology will make that climb to that stratosphere soon. But the one thing I do know, is that whenever Apple enters a market place, it brings it’s absolute best game (or it doesn’t enter it at all), and that forces every other organism in that space to up it’s own game too, or be drowned out.
And Apple does things ethically, with you and me in the center of their thought process. With IoT and connected devices in the mix, and AI and Deep Learning thrown in too, our personal information and our lives’ stories should not be put on the auctioning table. Apple’s own approach (and inputs to the Partnership on AI) will help ensure that, to the maximum degree possible.
So, it’s a good thing then. Apple, AI on!
Business, like war, is no domain for the faint hearted.
The footnotes of commerce are littered with evidence of trickery and sleights of intrigue – meant to outsmart rivals.
Right from the moment, when Greeks knocked on Trojan doors with their horse, to the Bell-Edison rivalry, achieving objectives has often involved guile. Now, even as you read this article, Amazon is trying to conjure another trick – and from what we’ve learnt, it’s not a bad one at all, for Amazon.
As every Nolan fan worth her salt would know, every magic trick consists of three parts, or acts.
The Pledge: The magician (the high gods of Amazon, in this story) will show you something ordinary – playing cards, a bird or in this case, an App.
Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. You may think it is, it may even appear to be just like a regular everyday example of the object.
But of course… it probably isn’t.
The mobile app Amazon just showed you is made to connect retailers to their customers. In the app there’s a “place card” service that the retailers (i.e. Amazon’s competitors) can use for newsletters and like. When you the app’s user, click the link on the place card, you’ll be transferred to what you assume is the store’s page.
The Turn: Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You’ve bought into the act. Captivated. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. Well, you are.
The clickbait link that you just tapped on takes you to a site that looks like the product’s page on the store’s site. And from there you’d make your purchases, as normal.
Thing is – it isn’t the store’s site! It’s Amazon’s page, made to look like the store’s page. The company has just managed to trick you into using its services instead of the actual retailer/store.
Thanks to the lookalike page, you and every other such customer thinks that Amazon, the retail behemoth is simply helping the store (i.e. its rival) in a magnanimous gesture.
Actually most times, you won’t even realise that you came via Amazon. Such is the sleight of hand!
The Prestige: But you wouldn’t clap yet, if this were a magic show. Because disguising something isn’t enough – you have to make money out of it. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.
The secret impresses no one. The trick is to use it for everything. The company is luring you not to use just its pages, but its other services as well – particularly Amazon Payments.
Since the e-retail giant takes a cut out of every transaction made through the payment solution, it is a gold mine; if it ever starts running.
Every trick needs an audience. And they must be willing to watch or buy-in to the act. Only here, there might be some snags.
Amazon is masquerading as other retailers – big and small, and once they know about this, they might not be so sure about signing up or being part of Amazon’s platform (which is a key starting point for this charade to play out) in the first place.
So, shrewd as Amazon be, it does need retailers to masquerade as. And they may or may not agree to have Amazon as a doppelgänger. American brands especially, may just agree if such a charade helps their bottom line too. But that has a some riders too.
According to some sources, an unconvinced Macey executive said, “it all depends on who gets the customer data. If Amazon takes any of our data, it’s a no. We have to watch out for that“.
Others might share that sentiment. Some others might not like what is in the box (app) for them.
This service is still in its developmental phase, so the others might have still time to figure the trick and seeing if they want to be passive participants to the trick or if they want to call the bluff.
Well, all this is worth watching closely.
That said, I am a little disappointed in Amazon, guile or not. Trust is a big thing – and it’s built on something I though Amazon had aisles full of – ethics. And if they can decide to fool me for a few pennies’ worth to fill their Amazon Pay pond, what else are they using their sheep’s clothing for?
Huawei’s Mate 9 phablet will be the first phone in the world to have Amazon’s Alexa voice service preinstalled, the company said here at CES.
Alexa is quickly becoming the default voice interface for controlling connected homes, and we’re seeing a lot of Alexa-aware gadgets at CES, including ones in Ford vehicles and Amazon Fire-powered smart TVs.
The U.S. version of the phone will come out in the last of January for USD 600, with the Alexa service arriving in February.
Recently, Amazon’s Vice President, Steve Rabuchin showed a video of a Mate 9 owner interacting with Amazon Echo multiple times throughout a typical workday. The Mate 9 version of Alexa turned on the bedroom lights, started the coffee maker, read back the first appointment of the day, requested an Uber ride, warned that snow flurries were forecast, and even ordered dog food for delivery when the owner returned home.
Alexa appeared to be “always listening” in the demo video, with the Mate 9 owner talking to it on the bedside table without pressing a button. However, at no point did the owner ask it to set an alarm, send a text, or interact with any other phone functions. Does it nudge us to infer that at least initially, it won’t be a true alternative to the Google Assistant?
Rabuchin didn’t close the door on adding those capabilities later. “Amazon Alexa on the Mate 9 will be available later this year, and this is just the beginning of the collaboration between our two companies“, he said.
The Mate 9 will be sold on Amazon, B&H, Best Buy, and Newegg.
The Mate 9 is a big 5.9 inch phablet with a big battery. At CES, Huawei made sure to call out its dual cameras, which allow for enhanced digital zoom and better low-light performance, and its Kirin 960 processor, the first to use ARM’s latest Cortex-A73 cores.
It is, by all measures, very fast!
Priced at USD 600, the Mate 9 puts itself among rarefied competition, including flagships from Apple, Samsung, and HTC. While the long battery life will also be a plus and its huge screen may prove a sales benefit, the 1,920-by-1,080 screen resolution may feel it’s a step down.
In what could be called a major victory for Alphabet Inc., Apple has reportedly decided to move parts of its cloud business over from Amazon Web Services (AWS) to Google, in a bid to diversify its infrastructure in data services as well as to serve a portion of its iCloud needs.
The magnitude as well as the impact of this move is significant as it is a major flag post for Google. While it currently falls behind Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure in cloud services however with its recent growth, is now becoming more of a competitor to the other two.
Google’s been vying for a bigger slice of the Cloud Services pie for a while now. AWS is the Goliath to beat, and Google’s been whittling away at AWS’ portfolio bit by bit.
Just last month, Google scored Spotify’s business – the music streaming service announced it would shift away from Amazon Web Services and move most of its services onto the Google Cloud platform.
The competition is also incensed by the fact that Dropbox moved large parts of its data from AWS to its own servers to save money and improve efficiency.
Amir Efrati from The Information first revealed the news of Apple’s possible migration. His speculation is that the change of dynamic from AWS to Google might take a year but like the current AWS-Apple alliance is unlikely to be a major income generator for Google. But it’s a key win, nonetheless.
A report from CRN last week cited sources as saying Apple recently signed on with Google ahead of its departure from AWS in a deal in the neighbourhood of USD 400-600 million.
While it’s not definitive yet if Apple will actually move its data cloud or not but an AWS spokesperson was quoted as saying “It’s kind of a puzzler to us because vendors who understand doing business with enterprises respect NDAs with their customers and don’t imply competitive defection where it doesn’t exist“.
This statement from Amazon seems to suggest that either of the involved parties in the said migration may have leaked information about the monetary aspect of the deal, with Amazon betting their horses believing it is Google.
A reduced dependence on AWS was something Apple insiders have been hinting at since the start of the year, but the alternative then being looked at was an in-house solution which would have taken around two years to complete.
During a recent investor conference call, Apple’s CFO, Luca Maestri stressed the importance of fiscally-responsible data center operations in light of a quickly expanding iCloud user base. That also suggests a viewpoint that perhaps Google is being used on a temporary basis for smoothening the transition between moving from AWS to Apple’s own servers.
The company currently has plans to build three data centers scheduled to open over the next two years, including a USD 2 billion “Global Command Center” located at the failed sapphire production plant in Mesa, Arizona, with two more facilities slated to open in Denmark and Ireland for European customers.
A contrasting viewpoint developing suggests that perhaps Apple may be looking to enhance its infrastructure capabilities and by that logic having Google cloud in addition to AWS, Azure and its own servers makes for a very marketable and shrewd move.
It’s also possible that Apple is only looking at some very specific services on the Google cloud.
Apple’s cloud strategy shift has also changed the existing paradigm in the market, since we now have two rival companies collaborating upon a major venture, in addition to how this move is influencing a range of other companies as well.
Akami, another Internet infrastructure provider, has been forced to revisit its strategy since more and more of its self-perceived customers such as Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have decided to move to in-house servers. This increase in the “do-it-yourself” efforts has led to a decrease in the revenues for Akami.
Google is hosting a major cloud event, Google Next, in San Francisco, and while there is no clarity if Google will talk about recent events or not, but if they wish to do so, then that is certainly the right platform for it.
We’ll keep our ears open and let you know what we learn.
Apple is planning to shift to Google’s Cloud Platform for its iCloud data storing needs.
I know that sounds a little weird given how Apple had distanced itself from Google once Google started becoming the benefactor of the Android ecosystem, and especially after Apple shoved Google Maps off it’s iPhones and iPads and replaced it with it’s own version of Maps (which crashed and burned subsequently).
However, as proved by the the continued reliance on Samsung for key components for Apple’s products, Apple always places business interests as primary drivers of alliances. So, moving to Google for storage is not that weird, after all. Apple needs storage, Google has it, simple.
Where Does Store Stuff Right Now?
Currently, Apple uses Amazon Web Services to store the data that the users put on their iCloud accounts. About 782 million people use iCloud to save their data – with such a large user-base.
Apple is apparently not scaled to support the data storage needs on its own iCloud Centre, hence it leases the hardware and capability from third-party data services, such as those of Amazon.
The data that the users save will still remain saved somewhere, right?
Then how does it matter where the data is being stored?
Well, the answer to that one is simple, and yet complicated at the same time. So here it goes:
Let us start with a simple one:
How much does the storage currently cost Apple?
According to figures released by Morgan Stanley, a well-reputed global financial analytics firm, Apple spends about USD 1 billion annually on Amazon’s services alone, which hosts only a fraction of its iCloud storage services.
Apple’s change of plans was first reported via Twitter, by The Information’s Amir Efrati.
Efrati, a former WSJ journalist with a deep interest in the internet, said that Apple’s move to Google Cloud will take about a year to process.
What lends more credibility to the lone Efrati report was AppleInsider’s discovery that Mac’s IMTransferAgent service was routing certain outbound data requests through to Google’s servers in Asia. What this really technical description basically means is that on Apple’s Mac computers running OS X iMessages attachments were being routed to Google instead of the norm of Amazon.
Another notable point is that the deal with Google doesn’t, for now, seem to be a money-making a venture like it has been for Amazon.
The shift, with the involvement of money might change things for Apple as a company with access to huge amounts of personal data, and the iCloud users that trust Apple with their data. How the company manages to swerve through this one would be interesting to watch.
That, however, is not the only opinion out there. CRN reported that Apple’s deal with Google might have cost it somewhere in the range of USD 400-600 million.
The deal, as per CRN, might have already been signed upon, ahead of time, before Apple departs from Amazon’s services.
This change also comes in the beginning of the year, with Apple perhaps planning to move to a less costly in-house solution for their growing user base of the data saving services, or well so was the speculation back then.
“Then we’ve got data centers“, Apple CFO Luca Maestri said, stressing the importance of data centres that are fiscally responsible. “Data centers is a growing expenditure for us, because as we mentioned in our prepared remarks, our install base of customers and devices is growing, and it’s growing very significantly. And the data center capacity that we put in place is to provide the services that are tied to the install base“.
The switchover to Google might however not be permanent. It could also just be Apple leaning for some support while it weans itself off of Amazon’s services.
It is reported that Apple has plans to build three big and new data centres that are destined to open in the next two years. Amongst these would be the “Global Command Center” located at the failed sapphire production plant in Mesa, Arizona, along with the other two centres located in Ireland and Denmark for the European iCloud user base.
These new centres will reportedly cost Apple a whopping USD 4 billion, if they go as planned.
Is it a simple market tactic, of moving to the one who charges less?
We highly doubt that. It certainly isn’t competitive defection, and people at Apple, as well as, surprisingly, those at Amazon, have us believing that. “It’s kind of a puzzler to us because vendors who understand doing business with enterprises respect [non-disclosure agreements] with their customers and don’t imply competitive defection where it doesn’t exist“, said the AWS spokeswoman in an emailed statement sent to CRN.
What is for Google in the deal, if say it is not charging money, or not charging enough money?
Well, the answer to that is two words: your data.
Google has been for the past two decades one of the biggest source of information and storage for the globe, only behind AWS and Microsoft Azure. It has almost set itself out on a mission to acquire more and more data. This deal would give Google the access to Apple’s amazingly huge user base that uses the iCloud.
It can’t, of course, use any of that information, but having it is enough for the time being. “Google is laying a lot more fiber in a lot more areas, so they have a lot more reach [than other cloud players]“, Michael Fraser, CEO of InfiniteOps, a cloud vendor that works with Google and other public cloud vendors, told CRN.
In short, Apple’s speculated move to Google might change the way the data works for Apple users.
A tiny thought on why is Apple signing a deal with a company that is its biggest rival in the smartphone market?
Let us just say it doesn’t really matter to either of them, as long as they are extracting what they want out of the deal.
Apple, the Silicon Valley giant, is currently facing heat from the FBI and the stand-off has led to involving courts and lawyers, with much debate spilling over into various online platforms and even the corridors of power.
On February 16, 2016 United States Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym issued a court order that was served to Apple to help unlock an iPhone 5c. It asked the company to provide “reasonable technical assistance” to the federal agency to unlock the iPhone. Not a big deal right? Security agencies must do this all the time! Then why did this one get caught in the eye of this massive slugfest? Why have Apple and FBI locked horns?
It’s about user privacy. Read our earlier article to now why Apple’s reticent about providing FBI with unmitigated support in breaking into users’ phones. You should know Apple’s side of the story too.
First, why is the said phone important?
The iPhone 5c in question was used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, and FBI wants the data from the phone in order to further their investigation.
The iPhone 5c in question belonged to Syed Rizwan Farook, who on Dec. 2, 2015, with his wife Tafsheen Malik, killed 14 coworkers in San Bernardino, California. Later in the day, both died at the hands of the Police. They had however destroyed their personal phones by then and the iPhone in question is Farook’s work phone.
The only way for the FBI to gain access to the data is to break into the device in question. To add to this is the fact that the phone was not “owned” by Farook, but by the company that he worked for; it was only “used” by Farook as a company employee. As per the law, the actual “owner” of the phone has the right over the data within in, and not the user. Farook’s company has granted FBI the permission to access the data on the phone, and thus, FBI is firm and correct in its legal standing since the rightful owner of the property has allowed them access.
They however can not access the data because Farook’s company does not know the passcode to the phone, which is where FBI needs Apple’s help.
This also seems quite ordinary right?
It of course happens all the time; security agencies break into the devices owned by suspects and get the information they need. Has it never happened with Apple before?
Of course it has! For breaking into a user’s device by circumventing the security settings, Apple uses special tools that never leave the Apple headquarters to mitigate the threat of the tools being used maliciously.
The devices that need to be broken into are provided to Apple, Apple does its work back home in the secure confines of their headquarters and provides the recovered data to the agency (or whoever has requisitioned the legitimate requisition) in a flash-drive.
What’s the concern now, especially when even a court order has been issued demanding that Apple help the federal agency break into the phone?
Well, with the latest iOS upgrade, iOS 9 or above, the security settings on the phone have changed and breaking into the device is no longer a walk in the park, even for the guys back home at Apple.
If Apple chooses to help the FBI, they’ll need to write a program that allows the Feds to punch in “n” number of PINs, until they have the device unlocked. This would circumvent the time-delay security feature that kicks in if you punch in the wrong PIN, or the possibility of the data being destroyed via the self-erase feature after ten wrong PINs. The said program, if written, could also enable the agency to enter the PINs remotely using a computer program.
Why is Apple denying to help the FBI with their investigation then?
The company says that such a demand is unprecedented, where the federal agency is basically demanding that the people who have worked so hard to ensure the complete safety of the device now work to break the same security system.
To add to that it could also put consumer data at risk from cyber criminals, hackers, and it also gives FBI a permanent “backdoor entry” into the device, using “brute force”.
But, FBI says Apple is being asked to write the program only for one phone, then how does consumer data stand in risk, is a good question at this point!
On February 16, 2016 United States Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym issued a court order that was served to Apple to help unlock an iPhone 5c. It asked the company to provide “reasonable technical assistance” to the federal agency to unlock the iPhone.
The court has gone to the length of stating that the procedure be done at Apple’s location and the Feds be granted remote access to it. The problem however is that if such a program is written, then there is a chance, even if it is a miniscule one, that it might make its way out into the world and fall into the wrong hands quite easily.
That is a risk that exists with virtually everything that is supposed to be a top-secret – if one person makes a key to circumvent the system, it will not be long before that key makes its way out of the system and into the wrong hands.
That is the primary argument on Apple’s side. However, that’s not all there is to it.
There is a lot more to add to their argument. Tim Cook, the CEO, wrote an open letter to all his customers, stating that the court order set a dangerous precedent, and that Apple has already filed an appeal against it, demanding that it be scrapped. “The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge” read the letter.
He has been standing up against the order since the start, and has, along with his company, been facing FBI’s heat, and that of many other who are on the other side of the debate.
The silver lining in this is that he is not alone in this one. Companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Google and Twitter along with many others have all openly come up in support of Apple’s stand, and this is to a point where they might now be showing their support in court.
Another issues is that of “how many”, and where exactly does the buck stop! Currently there are about 12 cases that are similar and involve Apple devices such as iPhones or iPads.
If the company complies with the one order then it shall have to do so with the others. In a parallel case going on in New York involving a drug dealer and an Apple device, the judge ruled that Apple does not have to help unlock the device, and it can’t be asked to do so.
Let us go back here and question Apple’s legal standing for a minute. How is Apple choosing to violate a court order?
What the company says is that software is a part of protected speech and thus what the court order is asking it to do is directly in violation of the American Constitution. “The government’s request here creates an unprecedented burden on Apple and violates Apple’s First Amendment rights against compelled speech” they said. They added that the court order is asking them to do something against which the Congress has already rejected legislatures.
So, not only is the matter high-profile, it could also lead to a political debate.
The Apple vs. FBI battle has been going on for almost a month now, and does not seem to heading to a conclusion anytime soon.
Tomorrow, the Apple lawyer, Bruce Sewell, will appear before a Congressional Judiciary Committee over the matter. The argument he plans to present has already been made public, and goes so:
“Encryption is a good thing, a necessary thing” Sewell will argue. “We have been using it in our products for over a decade. As attacks on our customers’ data become increasingly sophisticated, the tools we use to defend against them must get stronger too. Weakening encryption will only hurt consumers and other well-meaning users who rely on companies like Apple to protect their personal information.”
We’re going to follow the case and see where it goes from here, will keep you updated.
On March 17th, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, gave Time magazine an exclusive interview regarding the FBI stand-off, discussing an average man’s privacy, America’s security policies and what’s at stake with the encryption key battle.
For the rest of the article, I am going to refer to his Time magazine interview, appropriately quoting from therein.
Before we proceed with this, let us quickly get a recap done , of the entire Apple vs. FBI battle so you’re on the right page.
In the first half of February this year, FBI requested Apple to help unlock an iPhone 5C that belonged to the San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan. Apple refused to adhere to this request on various grounds, the chief of these being that of “user privacy”.
Given such blatant denial of assistance, FBI triggered the escalation channel – a U.S. Court, and the two organisations have been involved in court battles ever since.
Narrating the receipt of the FBI request, Cook said: “We have a desk, if you will, set up to take requests from the government. It’s set up 24/7 – not as a result of this, it’s been going for a while – and the call came into that desk, and they presented us with a warrant as it relates to this specific phone.”
Contrary to public belief, the company did help the American Federal agency, until matters got to a critical juncture – where Apple believed that user privacy was being threatened and could impact more than just this one case.
“We gave them some unsolicited advice – we said, take the phone to the home or apartment and power it, plug it in and let it back up. And as it turned out, they came back and said, Well, that didn’t work.”account on the phone,
The agency had also decided to change the password of the iCloud which made it impossible for the phone to back up to the cloud, which it otherwise would have done automatically.
Boxed in by the security features of iOS, but really caused by their own ineptitude (this is Chip-Monks saying it, not Apple or Time), FBI then ‘asked’ Apple if they could code up a special version of iOS 9, that would bypass the “self-destruct” security functionality, so that they’d be able to break into the phone by “brute-forcing” the device by running hundreds of millions of password combinations till they stumbled upon the correct one.
All recent versions of iOS allow a maximum of 10 failed passcode attempts before locking the “intruder” out of the phone.
This is where the company put its foot down, refusing to assist the federal agency in its errands anymore.
Regarding the decision to not help FBI, Cook said: “Lots of people were involved. It wasn’t just me sitting in a room somewhere deciding that way, it was a labored decision. We thought about all the things you would think we would think about.”
The decision, when it came, was a firm “no.”
FBI then sued Apple, and decidedly did not under “the seal” (i.e. away from public-disclosures, which it is allowed to do in sensitive matters) as it easily could have. This morals-vs.-ego issue thus became a deliberately public spectacle.
Ever since, this matter has been drawing the public attention in a way that no other case in the past has. After all, it is the people’s beloved Apple, one of the biggest smartphone companies in the world, that is involved. To top that, Apple has a reputation for taking its user privacy very seriously.
Support has been flowing in from all directions: AT&T, Airbnb, eBay, Kickstarter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Square, Twitter, Cisco, Snapchat, WhatsApp. Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.
And it’s not just the big tech companies that are backing Apple on this, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, along with retired General Michael Hayden, former head of both the NSA and the CIA spoke in support of the company.
Let’s just say, the debate around the world has been heated, with the support for Apple has been overwhelming.
“It’s not that one side has life and one side is your financial information or your photo or whatever” he said, talking about the entire idea of user privacy and security. “Think about something that happens to the infrastructure, where there’s a power-grid issue. Think about the people who are on a medical device that depends on electricity … these aren’t fantasy things by any means.”
The Apple-FBI standoff, in short, is not about All Writs Act or one phone. Behind this one argument is the future of user privacy.
What Tim Cook in saying (reference his interview with the Time magazine) is that today it is one phone, but tomorrow it will be a hundred, and then more, and then every phone.
He is circumspect of where that buck will stop, if at all; and he is not alone in that fear.
While the debate is obviously multi-sided, and FBI is firm and perhaps correct on its stand (for this specific matter), what’s to see now, is which way the argument goes and what happens in Court.
Twitch.tv is a live video streaming platform that focuses on video games and e-sports.
Twitch as a gaming platform has over 55 million monthly visitors, making it a revolutionary game streaming website. Companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft have approached Twitch to acquire them however there’s now sign of a winner.
Google began it talks with Twitch to make a deal for a billion dollars however the deal did not go through due to an antitrust compliance issue.
Antitrust law – a law that forbids any business from monopolizing a market and restricting free trade, is applicable to all businesses like transportation, manufacturing, marketing and in this case technology.
Google has already been embroiled in a number of lawsuits in connection to antitrust issues in the US and Europe. Mean while Google felt concerned that if this deal went through they would have put Twitch in control of YouTube, which is the world’s largest video site on the Internet and as a result, both companies could not reach a consensus on a break-up fee (an amount paid by one company or the other in a scenario that the acquisition does not go through).
The reasons for Google being interested in acquiring Twitch were simple:
Amazon.com is the world’s largest online retailer. They started as an online bookstore and later diversified into selling CD’s, Video’s, DVD’s, MP3 downloads/streaming, software, video games, electronics, apparel, furniture, food, toys, and jewellery. Amazon also produces consumer electronics like Amazon Kindle e-book readers, Kindle Fire tablets, Fire along with being a major provider for cloud computing services.
Amazon has always invested in their growth and has constantly added things to their growing content line up. They jumped at the offer when Twitch was on the table for sale again and pegged the price of the deal at USD 970 million in cash.
Amazon does have a lot of products under its hat, but it could not provide its users with on demand videos. Amazon has always shown a keen interest in games through Amazon’s Game studio and with this deal going through, Amazon could add that feather to it’s hat.
The deal between Twitch and Amazon does feel less idyllic, but Amazon can offer Twitch resources and reliability towards their faithful following which in turn would help them build their brand in the video gaming world.
Shear, CEO of Twitch was quoted explaining why Amazon was potentially the best fit for Twitch – “One of the things that really stood out about Amazon was their approach to acquisitions. We will be a wholly owned subsidiary and I will remain CEO. They have a long term vision about how to create big opportunities in the future by investing today”.
This will give Twitch a chance to grow as a single entity, growing under the wings of Amazon, while making a name for both in the growing gaming industry.
Let’s see how this cookie crumbles. Seems like it won’t be too long.
Amazon’s latest offering, the Fire smartphone, has been generating a lot of buzz lately. Given its set of unique features and a relatively fresh approach to the evolving use of smartphones, it certainly packs enough to provide stiff competition to existing Goliaths like the Samsung Galaxy S5, Apple iPhone 5s and HTC One M8.
But does it?
We took a look at how the Amazon Fire stacks up against the Samsung Galaxy S5 which is where the Fire’s first salvo ought to be.
In terms of Screen Size…
The Galaxy S5 boasts of a 5.1 inch Super AMOLED touchscreen and a 1920×1080 resolution; in comparison, the Fire Phone’s 4.7 inch IPS LCD touchscreen packs in 1280×710 pixels, a significant difference. In real life too, Samsung’s lineage in making screens proved to best the Fire’s – it is brighter, clearer, and issued more dynamic colours.
Advantage: Samsung Galaxy S5
Next in line, Processors and OS.
While both smartphones possess quad-core processors, the Galaxy S5 features the slightly advanced Snapdragon 801 at 2.5Ghz against Amazon Fire’s Snapdragon 800 at 2.2.GHz, giving it an improved performance. Further, the Fire Phone runs on Amazon’s heavily tweaked version of Android, known as Fire OS 3.5, whereas the S5 features the standard Android 4.4 KitKat.
Advantage: Shared. For the audience and the purpose that either phone proposes, the Processors and the OS equate. I’d actually say, the Amazon Fire is slightly ahead on this one.
Considering the Cameras,
Statistically, Galaxy S5 wins by a few megapixels at a 16 megapixels as compared to Fire’s 13 megapixels resolution. Yet, real-world tests yield that the Fire’s rear camera is a very good performer, doing well across most light conditions. The optical image stabilisation is efficient and effective, helping capture low-light images with better detail than many competitors, including the Galaxy S5!
Lets not forget too, that Amazon’s product has four front cameras, at 2.1MP each; albeit four of them are sensors for Dynamic Perspective and that’s where Amazon Fire wins hands down. This unique feature, absent in Galaxy S5, is designed in such a way that the 3D image on the screen aligns itself depending upon the user’s angle of viewing. Also absent in Galaxy S5 is image recognition which is heavily used in the Fire phone’s Firefly app that enable users to draw up information on practically anything by merely snapping a picture.
Advantage: Amazon Fire
The Fire’s 2,400 mAh battery is more feeble than Galaxy S5’s 2,800 mAh battery; adding to the woes are Fire’s four power-guzzling front cameras that power the Dynamic Perspective. The battery clearly is an Achille’s Heel for the Fire.
Advantage: Samsung Galaxy S5
A look at the Other Goodies:
The Galaxy S5 boasts of fingerprint recognition and a heart rate sensor, which sort of evens the score. Samsung also claims that Galaxy S5 is waterproof and dust resistant. The Fire doesn’t do well on either of the above. It has it’s own bag of tricks, but in the real world (i.e. for those of us who’re on the Non-Amazon Shopaholics Club), the phone seems to be trumped.
Advantage: Samsung Galaxy S5
A few more points are furthur knocked off when you consider the richness of App Stores. Amazon’s is pretty bare at this point. Samsung of course, has Google’s supermarket, the Play Store, and even one of its own called Samsung Galaxy Apps (for whatever it’s worth). The Fire’s licked on this front.
Advantage: Samsung Galaxy S5
Finally, the Cost. Both phones cost about about the same. No dice there, either way.
Verdict: The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a better tool for today’s world, especially in India (where Amazon is not a daily staple). It works better for work or play. Just don’t mind the overloaded OS, crammed with things that Samsung decided to saddle the phone with.
For Amazon, we at Chip-Monks would like to say its a phone we enjoyed having, for a few days. Well done, but you need to do more. Soon!
Years after the immensely successful launch of Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2006, the e-commerce giant is now challenging yet another domain. Amazon just lobbed out its own answer to Dropbox and Google Docs, and it goes by the name of Zocalo.
Unusually named, Zocalo is a secure online storage service which allows companies to store, access and collaborate on documents over the internet.
Amazon describes Zocalo as a fully managed, secure enterprise storage and sharing service with extensive administrative control and feedback capabilities.
Not only does the service let users securely store data and documents, it also facilitates online collaboration on a variety of document formats such as spreadsheets, presentations, webpages, images, PDFs and more.
And keeping Amazon’s key initiative of any-device-anywhere alive, Zocalo is designed to work on a laptops, tablets, as well as on a range of mobile devices in both the Android and iOS ecosystems.
At the business end of things, Zocalo provides easy integration with an organization’s existing corporate directory. The administrator has all the functionality necessary to manage users and their capabilities. She can also administer such as limiting the storage space available to a user as well deactivating accounts etc.
Interestingly enough, Dropbox which ruled the cloud storage scene up until till now, is in fact renting storage space on Amazon S3, which is a part of AWS.
Now, with Zocalo entering the picture and offering users 200 GB of cloud space at USD 5 a month, which is nearly one-third the cost of Dropbox’s services, the prognosis for Dropbox doesn’t look so good.
And then, there’s the fact that the services offered by both are nearly identical.
Not one to hold back – Amazon uses every tool from their vast arsenal. So, not only are they offering reduced prices but they’re also providing the service free to existing customers of Amazon Workspaces! This will get them Zocalo free of cost, including 50 GB of storage space per user. This can be upgraded to 200 GB of space at a minimal amount of $2 per month.
Indeed Amazon seems serious about Zocalo and is enabling it with all that is at their command. Dropbox does have one point of advantage though – it’s available to individuals as well as organizations, whereas Zocalo is currently only pegged for organizational (enterprise) use.
Let’s see how this pans out. It’s going to be an interesting year.
The e-commerce giant, Amazon has taken the plunge into the increasingly competitive realm of smartphones with its latest offering, the Fire phone.
And while it comes loaded with features which outdo all competition and could potentially put it at the top, they can also be viewed as a double-edged sword.
Amazon Fire is an Android based smartphone which features a 4.7 inch touchscreen, an HD display and is powered by a quad-core 2.2 GHz processor with 2 GB of RAM. The rear camera with a 13 megapixel resolution and a powerful lens also doesn’t disappoint.
Amazon Fire comes with a never-seen-before feature, Dynamic Perspective, making 3D phones a reality. Equipped with not one, not two, but four front cameras (one on each of the four corners of the front of the phone), the 3D image on the screen will allow align itself depending upon the viewer’s angle of viewing.
Amazon has designed it in such a way that tightly aligns Dynamic Perspective with an effortless shopping experience. But with a 2,400 MAh battery, one wonders how long it could possibly last with such heavy duty works constantly on the run.
However, the fun doesn’t end there, as this swanky phone packs in another handy little tool called Firefly. With this feature you can capture anything from phone numbers to music and pull up information on the same. According to Amazon, a user can use Firefly to take a photo of a retail product – such as a book, DVD or CD – and the device will then find the item in Amazon’s database and provide details and purchasing options.
So looking beyond the frills and fancies of Amazon Fire, what it basically does is make buying things easier. Priced at $199 when taken with a two-year contract with AT&T and at $649, off-contract; makes it a pretty expensive phone and not one customers would buy before thinking not once, not twice but at least four times.
While established mobile phone manufacturers (Apple, Google, Nokia, Samsung and even Sony)are slowing down on the hardware front and are aiming to capture the Apps market for their respective operating systems, Amazon has thrown its hat in the ring with an announcement to launch their own, home grown mobile phones this year.
They have not yet given any definite date for the launch of the phone, however it should be in the third quarter, as they plan to launch a less expensive and a stripped down version for the masses at the end of 2014.
They have been working on this project for some time now and have given feelers that the real differentiator for their phone would be the 3D interface, which will be “way more integrated with the user interface than the iOS 7″.
Amazon says that their phone will also boast of a strong integration to the Amazon products and services for ease of their loyal customers, like the front facing camera will be integrated with their customer service module to enable customer video chat.
The design of the phone is along the conventional lines of the touch-screen smartphones from Apple, Google and Samsung. The Amazon phone has a glass screen and a glass back, which is held by a “soft touch” bezel.
The phone will be powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, with a 2 GB RAM running on a customized version on Android, called Fire OS. The phone will sport a 4.7 inch screen with a slightly lower pixel density of 720p HD resolution. The volume rockers and the SIM slot seem to be similar to the iPhone.
Amazon is said to have incorporated a 13 megapixel rear camera and a front facing camera. The front facing camera will be integrated for use with Amazon customer service. In addition to these two cameras, the phone will have 4 low powered infrared cameras, which will enable the 3D interface interaction.
The four cameras and the sensors will track the user and the position of the phone across the three axes to adjust the screen interface enabling parallax effect. The Amazon team wants to use the 3D interaction to increase the quality of interaction of the customer with the products in their stores.
If they can pull it off, they could use the feature for their benefit. Initially the 3D interaction will be limited, however the team is working furiously with their developers to come up with apps and interfaces across different interactions.
One such app would be the Map app where the position of the phone in the hand will dictate the interaction between the user and the Map app.
It will also feature Amazon’s Mayday customer service feature.
We are yet to know what this phone will be named as and not too much is known on the Apps included in the phone and how effective would their 3D interface be.
Lets wait and watch.
When Apple came out with their iPad in 2010, it was a revolution of sorts in the world of consumer technology, and they sold about 30,000 units on the first day of launch!
Catching the entire industry by surprise with this launch, Apple enjoyed a first-mover advantage for two complete years. In fact, in 2012, Apple was said to have owned 53% of the tablet sales.
The remnant 47%, while lost to other brands, could not really be considered tablets, in the same playing field as the iPad.
Then the red-faced competition caught up. Somewhat.
Consequently, Apple’s market share for tablets is said to have declined to about 36% in 2013. The lost share has been lapped up by Android, whose cumulative share has increased to 62% (was 46% in 2012), with Microsoft having about 2% (up from 1% in 2012).
Analysts at Gartner (a leading information technology research and advisory company) had previously predicted that the iPad would have more than half of the tablet market, but the latest is that the Android Tablets sales number for 2013 have outsold Apples range of iPad tablets nearly by two folds.
If we take a closer look at the report, we see that if manufacturers are to be considered in isolation (not the OS driving the tablet) then Apple still leads the pack with 32% market share. The other 4 major players are running on Android; Samsung was at 19%, Asus at 5.6 %, Amazon at 4.8% and Lenovo had to be content at 3.3% market share.
A massive market share of 31% went to “others” which is referred to the inexpensive locally-grown brands running Android. These are inexpensive options available for the first time users who are also price sensitive and unsure of what they need from a tablet – except perhaps a screen larger than their phone’s.
iPads and a few Android tablets (Galaxy Tabs) hold aspirational value for the users, however are not opted for, because of the higher price point they are retailed at. This is where the inexpensive local brands have the advantage and thus the large market share of 31%.
They offer decent, if not parallel features at a fraction of the costs.
Thing is, iPad or not, the majority of all tablet users are yet to use the tablets for professional work – and are still substituting the tablet’s big screen for their phone, to enhance their entertainment experience.
iPads range from USD 400 and above, while inexpensive Android tablets are available at around USD 100. These offer the apps for social media, e-books, browsing, and tolerable gaming and media experience. With the users having access to the Android Play Store, the choice becomes a no brainer.
It has also been quoted that “The Android tablet is becoming highly commoditized this year, it will become critical for vendors to focus not only on the device experience and meaningful technology, but will also have to look into factors like the price and hardware, so as to ensure brand loyalty and improved margins”.
There are also some regulations, which have come in from Google, where they want to reduce the fractured sales of Android versions, and are limiting manufacturers using Android, to release their device running on Android version which can be a maximum of two versions older than the latest Android version in the market. This may not impact the major manufacturers, however it will take its toll on the 31%.
All said, tablets will continue to be an effervescent market for at least the next 2-3 years, and Apple’s monopoly may soon not exist, if the Android clan plays it right.
Apple and Google are enticing game developers in a myriad of ways with a view to ensure that top-tier game titles arrive first and exclusively on devices powered by their respective operating systems. In trade, they are offering advertising opportunities and promoting these games by giving them premium placement in their respective App Stores, website home pages and Featured Apps lists.
Last year, for the launch of “Plants Vs Zombies 2” publisher Electronic Arts Inc (EA) struck a deal with Apple, basis which Apple promoted the game by giving it prominent space in its iOS App Store, in return of which, EA gave Apple a two month window of exclusivity.
This is similar to deals between manufacturers and telecom operators when launching a new phone or tablet in a country; where a select operator(s) receive exclusive sales rights for a stipulated period of time, after which all other telecoms can launch the phones on their own networks.
Predictably, neither Apple nor Google have acknowledged or provided any specifications on their exclusivity efforts. However, the Head of Kongregate said, “When people love a game and it’s not available on an alternate platform, they’ll change platforms. The level of attachment a person has to a game can exceed almost anything.”
Does this mean that youth will now have two phones – an Apple and another Android?
Historically though, OS-biases aside, Apple has always been a favourite with game developers, because it is easy to develop games for Apple’s iOS software and also because Apple does not have a fragmented ecosystem (OS and device capabilities) that the Android OS suffers from globally. Then again, Android has gained more popularity in recent years and has captured more than 75% of the OS market thus leveling the playing field between the two giants.
Another reason for this battle between the Silicon Valley giants could be the money that was spent on mobile apps last year – approximately USD 16 billion was spent worldwide, of which over 70% was on games.
With the handset market now showing such a lucrative earn-rate as well as growth rate, both Google and Apple already find their App Stores to be even more profitable than even device sales and OS licensing fees!
Back to the battle, with millions of apps on both the App Stores, discovery has become a significant challenge. Game Developers are now feeling the pressure to stand out from others in the pile of hay and looking to find ways to have the end customer try their wares; thus when companies like Apple and Google offer deals promising a surge in the daily download of their apps, almost any developer would consider it fairly seriously. This, despite the fact that Apple does not offer money to the Game Developers in exchange of exclusive rights, only marketing and promotional assistance!
Seeing Apple and Google rolling in all those big bucks, Amazon too, is showing keen interest in striking deals with game developers so as to push the appeal of its Kindle family of Android devices.
While its apparent that OS platforms are hoping to increase the gaming quotient on smartphones, however there’s not much to differentiate the deals or the opportunities. Hence like all innovations, this one too, is easily copied and will cease to be effective.
Let’s see what the next battleground would be. We’ll keep you posted.
There is nothing like the smell of paper and the rustle of pages. The experience of flipping through classics is so intimately comforting, yet no one could have guessed there would come a day when electronic devices and “readers” could actually replace the physicality of books.
Stephen Hawking said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”. That seems to hold true in this age of perpetually changing technology. Practically everything in the world is going digital; books needn’t be an exception. In fact, certain surveys show that e-reader and tablet users are increasingly becoming more frequent readers than those who don’t own either device.
Are these gadgets really making the paperbacks obsolete? Let’s find out.
First, some basic questions: What exactly are e-readers
An e-reader is a portable device that is designed primarily for the purpose of reading digital e-books and periodicals; meaning it optimises legibility (two things are primary for that – easy to read i.e. minimal eye strain, and matt screens that don’t turn into mirrors when used outdoors), portability and has the necessary battery life to support exactly purpose. Simply put, they are primitive forms of traditional tablet devices but offer a much better reading experience due to screens built primarily for one purpose along: reading.
Tablets by definition, are more capable, expandable multipurpose devices. They typically have faster processors, are supported by large universes of Apps and tote much more definitive screens that are capable of higher refresh rates – all of which are aimed at making them more suitable for interaction and creation, not just consumption (unlike e-book readers). Yet they too are another medium to read books; though they often lack the purpose-built screen and easy manoeuvring characteristic of e-book readers.
One common ground of these “digital readers” though is that of storage capabilities – A single e-book reader or tablet is capable of holding the digital equivalent of hundreds of printed texts with no added bulk or measurable mass.
Popular e-reader devices and tablets include Kindle, Nook, iPad, Nexus tabs, Sony e-reader and a few more.
Why Digital Readers
Be it Amazon’s Kindle, Noble’s Nook or Apple’s iPad, each of them is an extremely capable reading-friendly device.
But the question arises, why would you want to do so? In one word: Convenience.
All of us who love to read know how gut-wrenching a decision it is, to decide which books to carry on person, or how to carry them around when away from the abode.
With the advent of Digital Readers, you can migrate and store all your books in one device by investing less than one Saturday morning!
We also need to consider the evolution of consumption – searching within the book, referencing online repositories (Google, Wiki etc. is a click away), and most importantly, zoom-able images, embedded videos, interaction), all make a strong case to move to digital.
Another reason being sustainability. The world has grown to be more environmentally conscious than it was just ten years ago, and about time too. Lesser trees being cut for paper and lesser energy invested in printing, transportation, shelving etc. Hence, going digital equals going environment-friendly.
And no mould! No cleaning the room too, once done reading. Wow! That singularly convinced me
And then there’s the acquisition side of things – granted book stores are loads of fun, however traffic isn’t, and one doesn’t always get the best prices in brick-and-mortar places. e-Coms imply wait times too. That’s where App Stores have a huge advantage – surf/browse from your bed or during the ride to work, click, pay, download – all done in under two minutes. ‘Tis the era of immediate gratification, isn’t it!
If you’re a bookworm, you’ll revere the atmosphere and joys of bookstores and libraries. These majestic places wouldn’t even exist without books. Imagine that!
Another potential downer for e-readers is the cost for buying digital books. Most book lovers are used to borrowing from libraries, buying from second hand stores etc. Buying best sellers at retail e-com rates may be cheaper than retail rates in stores, but there isn’t a great platform available for renting books online.
Wait, I got another one: You can’t break your books, nor do they run out of battery!
In summary, digital readers have plenty of features that enhance the reading experience, and no doubt they been grabbing plenty of eyeballs (literally), however they also have some undeniable disadvantages; due to which many are still apprehensive of switching to gadgets for a good read.
Will a digital reader replace a physical book – we believe the jury’s still out on this one; and we hope not too. But we would not be fair if we discount the ease and benefits they offer.