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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 19:53

If you know what to look for, those endless rows of corn that paint the Midwest in summer are full of a lot more than just cattle feed and future Doritos. They’re full of data.

Now, it’s not news that data science can and should be applied to agriculture. The field of precision agriculture has received a lot of attention over the past few years thanks to advances in sensors and computer vision technologies, and Silicon Valley venture capitalists are now lining up to fund startups that can apply the power of predictive models to all that data. Last year, agri-business giant Monsanto bought a San Francisco-based startup called Climate Corporation, which crunched weather, soil and all sorts of other data to power crop-insurance models, for $930 million.

But the story of Mankato, Minn.-based company Farm Intelligence is still interesting. For one, it proves that you don’t need a Silicon Valley connection to make it big in the data business. It also highlights just how much data we’re talking about when it comes to quantifying the farm. Hint: It’s a lot.

The way Farm Intelligence works, according to CTO Steve Kickert, is by working with corn and soybean farmers to help them make better and more timely decisions. It analyzes sensor data, data from other precision agriculture tools, aerial images, government data and weather data to try and figure out what’s going on in the field. It might notice that plants aren’t high enough or some are missing, for example, perhaps suggesting the presence of disease or some environmental stress. It might recognize the telltale signs of aphids.

Like a loudspeaker over the field, Kickert said, “The crop is actually talking to us.” And then Farm Intelligence talks to the farmer via visualizations and alerts telling them what it has found.

If the numbers are any indication, the product, which is delivered as a cloud service and is only a few years old (it’s actually an affiliate of an older company called Superior Edge) seems to work. Farm Intelligence is managing about a million acres of land right now (most of its users have at least 1,000 acres), but Kickert expects that number will be well into the eight-figure range soon enough. And as the technology advances, it’s figuring out ways to capture even more data about each one of those acres.

“We’re getting wider as well as taller, so to speak,” he said.

Already, added Scott Colestock, the company’s director of cloud operations, “we expect to be at petabyte scale at the end of this growing season.”

Maps of soybean production and land use in Brazil. Source; USDA

Maps of soybean production and land use in Brazil. Source; USDA

If the company can expand out of the United States and into, say South America, which produces a large percentage of world’s soybeans, its total acreage and data volume could skyrocket. Kickert stopped short of saying Farm Intelligence will outpace Google should such an expansion happen, but he does think the company could have more data than a lot of other more well-known companies.

That’s why when Kickert joined the company in 2013, one of his first orders of business was to move the company’s infrastructure into the cloud where it could scale at a moment’s notice. Now, all of its computing infrastructure is running on Amazon EC2, but it’s using a provider called Zadara to manage its growing cloud storage infrastructure.

However, while the scale of Farm Intelligence’s operations (and likely the whole field of data-driven agriculture) might be impressive, its underlying mission is the epitome of the knowledge economy. Like everyone from fertility prediction app Ovuline to music data specialist The Echo Nest, it’s taking advantage of easy access to data and cheap (easily outsourced) computing power and storage capacity in order to put information into the hands of people — farmers, application developers, hopeful mothers — who don’t want to bother with any of that.

“Our primary and, frankly, only goal is to help the farmer … increase the yield they’re getting on their crops,” Kickert said. Some of the techniques for doing that have been proven in academia for years, so now it’s just a matter of commercializing them into a product that scale across thousands of individual users.

“We’re not trying to invent the science side of it,” he said, “as much as we are trying to help the farmers access that.”

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user rsooll.

Author: "Derrick Harris"
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 19:39

Google is apparently experimenting with making the home screen of its Chromecast streaming stick a bit more useful. A Reddit user unearthed some mentions of a weather forecast in the HTML source of Chromecast’s home screen Tuesday, which suggest that the screen could soon show the current weather as well as a one-day forecast for a user’s current location.

chromecast weather homescreen source

The code also contains links to icons used to display the weather, which look like this:

Chromecast weather icons. Background simulated.

Chromecast weather icons. (Background simulated.)

Further investigation of the Javascript code used to render the Chromecast home screen reveals that Google may actually be experimenting with a number of topics to be displayed at the home screen, which also includes a mention of personal photos.

Third-party developers have been experimenting with adding weather forecasts and other information to Chromecast ever since Google opened up the Chromecast SDK in February. It only makes sense for Google to explore this kind of functionality as well.

This post was updated at 12:54pm with an image of the weather icons.

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Author: "Janko Roettgers" Tags: "Chromecast"
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 19:38

Well this is disappointing. Google is telling a local Austin news station that it plans to open signups for Google’s fiber-to-the-home service this summer, putting off the launch of the service until “later this year.” KXAN, an NBC affiliate, also looked at some of the permits that Google has filed to see where it might be planning to lay fiber first.

Google must apply for right of way in areas where it wants to dig and string fiber. So far, the map included with the story shows the current permits filed for areas south of the Colorado River (which is confusingly called Lady Bird Johnson Lake). Delays aren’t unusual for Google’s gigabit network deployment, but it is nice to have a new deadline. When Google said last April it was bringing fiber to Austin it had planned to connect the customers by mid-2014 and open up the signups sometime around the first of the year. It doesn’t seem like the date has slipped too far, and I was wondering what the holdup was.

Meanwhile for folks eager to get a gig today, Grande Communications is offering gigabit access for $65 to select neighborhoods where it has existing network infrastructure while AT&T is offering a 300 Mbps service that it plans to upgrade to a gigabit network later this year in two service plans (the cheaper one lets AT&T serve ads based on where you have surfed). The other incumbent ISP in town, Time Warner Cable has promised to boost speeds to 300 Mbps in Austin this summer as well.

Google isn’t even offering service in town yet, and already parts of Austin are getting better broadband. That’s cool.

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Author: "Stacey Higginbotham" Tags: "AT&T, Austin, fiber, FTTH, Google, T..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 19:00

Along with the Samsung Galaxy S5, the company’s Gear Fit wearable goes on sale this week. I was impressed by the design when Samsung showed it off and a review unit is on the way so I can take a deeper dive with it. Well, not literally; the Gear Fit is water-resistant, not waterproof.

gear fitOne particular aspect of the device bugged me as soon as I saw it, however. Maybe these pictures will illustrate the problem.

Note how all of the data is displayed horizontally across the device display? Now think about how you wear and read a traditional watch: Everything is shown vertically or in portrait mode because that makes the most sense when on a wrist with your elbow bent for reading the watch.

Here’s an example showing the difference between a standard watch and the Gear Fit. As you read the watch, the traditional timepiece aligns nicely for reading while the Gear Fit requires a head tilt to read.

Gear Fit next to watch

 

Thankfully, Samsung appears to understand the problem. SamMobile says the company has the Gear Fit working in a vertical mode, at least in a Samsung retail store in its home country of South Korea. That suggests a software update will soon follow the Gear Fit hardware launch to align the information in a more comfortable reading orientation, making for a better end-user experience.

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Author: "Kevin C. Tofel" Tags: "Gear Fit, Gear Fit, Samsung, Samsung, sm..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 18:37

As the use of mobile devices continues to climb, the use of dedicated apps is also increasing — but is this a natural evolution, or should we be worried about apps winning and the open web losing? Chris Dixon, a partner with venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, argues in a recent blog post that we should be concerned, because it is creating a future in which the web becomes a “niche product,” and the dominant environment is one of proprietary walled gardens run by a couple of web giants — and that this is bad for innovation.

Dixon’s evidence consists in part of two recent charts: one is from the web analytics company comScore, and shows that mobile usage has overtaken desktop usage — an event that occurred in January of this year. The second chart is from Flurry, which tracks app usage, and it shows that apps account for the vast majority of time spent vs. the mobile web, an amount that Flurry says is still growing. I’ve combined the two charts into one (somewhat ugly) graphic below:

Apps vs. web

If apps are winning, is the web losing?

The implication of all this is obvious, says Dixon. Mobile is the future, and what wins on mobile will win the internet — and “right now, apps are winning and the web is losing.” Not only that, but Dixon argues that the problem is likely to get worse, as more companies realize that an app gives them much more control over the user experience than a website. And with less and less investment in making the web experience better on mobile, it will continue to deteriorate, which in turn will push users even further towards the use of apps.

“The likely end state is the web becomes a niche product used for things like 1) trying a service before you download the app, 2) consuming long tail content (e.g. link to a niche blog from Twitter or Facebook feed).”

Why is this worth getting concerned about? Because the app economy creates an environment in which “the rich get richer,” Dixon argues: popular apps dominate the user’s home screen, and therefore get used more, get ranked higher in apps stores, etc. and make more money. The result, he says, is a future “like cable TV – a few dominant channels/apps that sit on users’ home screens and everything else relegated to lower tiers or irrelevance.”

In his own blog post on the topic, Union Square Ventures founder Fred Wilson said the mobile app explosion is already having an impact on innovation. In a recent meeting, Union Square partners looked at their portfolios and “there was a palpable sense that the wide open period of innovation” that existed in 2004 or even 2008 was not as present now, thanks in large part to the rise of native mobile apps.

“It has gotten harder, not easier, to innovate on the Internet with the smartphone emerging as the platform of choice vs the desktop browser.”

Is the open web becoming less relevant?

Open sign

For me at least, this debate brings back memories of a classic Wired magazine cover story from 2010, co-written by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff, with the alarming headline “The Web Is Dead.” There was much criticism of the piece at the time — including some from me in a post here — because of the way it described web usage, and also because it didn’t really distinguish between using native apps and apps that were built from open-web technologies like HTML5. That said, however, the future that Wired described — in which users primarily engage with digital content through dedicated apps from providers like Facebook and Twitter and the New York Times — has largely come true.

As a number of commenters on Dixon’s post and at Hacker News have pointed out, the Flurry chart doesn’t break out how much of the app activity is game-related, and this inflates the numbers substantially, given all of the Flappy Bird and Dots and Candy Crush behavior we have seen over the past few years. You can see that in this chart that tech analyst Ben Thompson shared in a guest post on Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg’s blog, in response to the Flurry data:

app-time-spent

Thompson notes that there are a number of reasons why we shouldn’t panic about the “death of the web,” including the fact that in many cases mobile usage is additive — that is, the size of the pie continues to grow. John Gruber, meanwhile, says the distinction between apps and the web is in some sense almost meaningless, since most apps (including Facebook’s) are just web content in a different wrapper. He also notes that WhatsApp, Instagram and other success stories could never have happened with just the web.

Thompson and Gruber are right on many of those points. But while Thompson says writing is still relatively open despite the trend toward apps, and that “the web is like water — it fills in all the gaps,” I am left wondering how much writing and other content creation is occurring now inside walled gardens that could be outside of them. Even the New York Times has said that it sees its future being driven primarily by multiple segregated apps for its content. Is that a good thing?

Dixon and Wilson aren’t the only ones who are concerned about this trend: although his focus isn’t necessarily on innovation per se, the web’s creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee has talked a number of times about his fear that the open web will be smothered by walled gardens or “closed worlds,” and proprietary services that make interaction difficult if not impossible. In a piece for Scientific American in 2010, he said that if this continued unchecked:

“We could lose the freedom to connect with whichever Web sites we want [and] the ill effects could extend to smartphones and pads, which are also portals to the extensive information that the Web provides.”

Berners-Lee’s concern, not surprisingly, revolves around links — the whole purpose of the web being to link things together in interesting or relevant ways. How does that happen with apps? The answer is that it doesn’t. Even app makers whose entire business is content, like the New York Times, seem to include links begrudgingly, if at all. It may be imperceptible, but the loss of that kind of connection could have very real repercussions — and they likely won’t become obvious until it’s too late.

Post and photo thumbnails courtesy of Shutterstock / noporn

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Author: "Mathew Ingram" Tags: "Apps, Chris Anderson, Chris Dixon, Faceb..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 17:40

Lyve Minds, the personal media startup founded by former Apple exec Tim Bucher, is opening up pre-orders for its Lyve Home device on April 22nd, according to a newsletter sent out to subscribers Tuesday. Lyve Home, which helps to back up photos and synchronize them across your devices, will sell for $300, and the company just previewed some of its functionality in a stylish new YouTube video. Lyve Minds was previously known as Black Pearl Systems, and Bucher told me all about his plans at CES.

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Author: "Janko Roettgers" Tags: "Black Pearl Systems, Black Pearl Systems..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 17:29

Parents of preschoolers, get your credit cards ready: Sesame Workshop launched a new subscription video service called Sesame Go Tuesday that offers kids access to full-length, ad-free episodes of Sesame Street on the web as well as on mobile devices for $4 a month or $30 a year.

This isn’t the first time Sesame Workshop has been embraced digital distribution. Sesame Street clips are already available through the PBS Kids offering as well as on YouTube, and kids can watch some full episodes on Netflix, Hulu and elsewhere. Sesame Workshop SVP of Worldwide Media Distribution Scott Chambers told me that the non-profit likes to experiment with different platforms. “Our general approach to life is that we don’t build all of our experiences in one place,” he said.

Sesame Workshop was also one of the launch partners for YouTube’s paid subscription service. Chambers called paid YouTube channels “a great experiment,” but added that his organization is still measuring the impact it has been having. “It’s been moderately successful” so far, he said, which didn’t exactly make it sound like a big money-maker. YouTube’s free channels, on the other hand, have been a huge distribution platform for Sesame Street, to the tune of more than 1.3 billion video views and close to one million subscribers.

Sesame Workshop’s standalone subscription service follows a bigger trend of kids-focused content offerings, ranging from Netflix’s Just for Kids service to niche services like Movile’s Play Kids service. But it’s also an interesting example for unbundling, since Sesame Go offers access to episodes currently airing on TV, but doesn’t require a subscription to a cable offering. Kaltura co-founder and President Michal Tsur, whose company is powering Sesame Go, told me that she could see more media brands strike on their own with niche offerings, and that subscriptions will play an increasing role in this space. “We are moving away from ad-based monetization,” she said.

For Sesame Workshop, part of going alone was also the ability to experiment. The service offers viewers access to 30 minute long episodes of the show, which may work better when kids want to watch the whole thing but parents don’t have an hour to spare. Chambers told me that these shorter versions have originally been produced for Australian TV, and that this is the first time viewers in the U.S. have access to them. Sesame Street had always been about experimenting, he said, adding: “Back in 1969, we used a new platform called television.”

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Author: "Janko Roettgers" Tags: "Children's television series, Elmo,..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 16:47

It was only a matter of time before the over-the-top messaging apps got tired of upturning the mobile carriers’ SMS businesses and developed ambitions of becoming carriers themselves. WhatsApp is getting its own prepaid SIM card on Germany’s E-Plus, which combines unlimited WhatsApp usage with a small bundle of traditional mobile voice, data and text messages for €10 ($13.80).

WhatsApp CEO and co-founder Jan Koum announced the partnership at Mobile World Congress in February, but TechCrunch and German media spotted the launch of the service on E-Plus’s website on Monday. The deal isn’t your typical mobile virtual network operator deal because WhatsApp isn’t supplanting E-Plus’s brand and selling voice and data directly to consumers. But the partnership is unique in that the prepaid service seems to focus on WhatsApp as the primary mode of communication. As WhatsApp rolls out its planned voice services this quarter, that focus could become even tighter.

WhatsAppiPhone

We’re starting to see examples of messaging and social media companies working closely with carriers around the world. WhatsApp’s future corporate parent has led that charge. In the past Facebook penned deals with carriers like Orange to exempt its social networking traffic from customer’s data plans in its North African and Eastern European markets. And as part of its internet.org initiative, Facebook is working with Globe in the Philippines and Tigo in Paraguay to provide free or subsidized Facebook access to their customers.

In some cases OTT apps are becoming true MVNOs. In the U.S., TextNow started out as an IP messaging and VoIP provider targeting customers with iPod touches and other data only devices. But thanks to a wholesale deal with Sprint, TextNow has become an all-IP mobile carrier.

 

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Author: "Kevin Fitchard" Tags: "E-Plus, Facebook, Germany, messaging, MV..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 16:17

Elementum, a startup that wants to revolutionize the stodgy world of supply chain management the way Salesforce.com did customer-relationship management, announced some new headline-name investors Tuesday in Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of Box; Dave Duffield, who founded PeopleSoft and then Workday; Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo, and others. Another new investor, Jim Davidson, co-founder and managing director of private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, now joins Elementum’s board.

The company did not disclose the amount of the investment.

With Elementum’s Transport app, companies can monitor and manage their transportation network and view each route and shipment.

Supply chain management, or SCM, is a key technology that helps manufacturers and other companies make sure they have product to build and deliver when it’s needed.  Traditional SCM players include Oracle and SAP, two companies that have already seen — and thus far withstood — a lot of disruption.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company, initially spun out of Flextronics, has logged just north of $60 million in venture funding since it was launched two years ago by founder and CEO Nader Mikhail, a Flextronics veteran. Previous investors included Lightspeed Venture Partners.

 

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Author: "Barb Darrow" Tags: "Box, Elementum, elementum, Flextronics, ..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 15:55

SurveyMonkey is the world’s largest survey company and collects more than 1.5 million online survey responses every day. However, this huge volume of data presented challenges for the company’s business intelligence and site engineering groups. Typical website metrics tools were unable to provide the scope, depth and granularity of information that they required. They needed a more flexible way to drill down into data and associate online customer activity with business results.

They now use Splunk to pull all logs and other system information into their central SQL server data warehouse where it is shared via reports generated using SQL server reporting services (SSRS) and made accessible via SharePoint.

The company uses Splunk to track user activity to determine where visitors come from, such as survey pages, search engines or affiliate links. Seeing the origin of customer conversion across multiple channels allows them to optimize their marketing efforts and maintain customer satisfaction.

SurveyMonkey was able to eliminate three different analysis tools and the separate licensing costs for each with Splunk. In addition to immediate ROI, Splunk also helped to streamline metrics collection and analysis since the data is now accessed from a single solution.

SurveyMonkey also uses Splunk for SEO across their global sites. They look at page view volumes from different countries to estimate traffic spikes and determine where to devote resources to support country-specific domains.

Read more about how SurveyMonkey is using Splunk to gather business intelligence, in-depth metrics tracking and superior customer insights.

Author: "Gigaom" Tags: "Uncategorized, SSRS"
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Date: Saturday, 05 Apr 2014 22:16

Google is working on yet another TV product dubbed Android TV, the Verge reported Saturday. Android TV will consist of a much simpler interface than its predecessor Google TV, and screenshots shown by the Verge actually bear a striking resemblance to Amazon’s new Fire TV, which the online retailer launched this week.

Google has been cooperating with third-party developers to bring apps for services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora and Vevo to the platform, but apparently also plans to support an extended list of Google services, including most notably Hangouts, which suggests that an Android TV product may include a camera for video chats in the living room. Also included is extended support for Android-based games.

android-tv-theverge-1_1020

It’s been an open secret in the industry that Google has been working on a more defined set-top box experience ever since Google TV failed to gain traction. The company reportedly showed partners a box with a camera and gaming capabilities at CES in Las Vegas in January of 2013.

A year ago, we also reported that Google was working on ways to simplify its Android-based Google TV platform to concentrate on devices that didn’t include HDMI pass-through, and resembled more closely competing products like Apple TV and Roku. I’ve since learned that select partners had access to developer devices in the following months, but that plans to launch such a device in time for the holiday season got scrapped, possibly in part due to the success the company has seen with Chromecast.

However, the timing of the leak, and the advanced work with partners, may suggest that we may get to see Google’s Android TV soon, after all. A launch at its Google IO developer conference at the end of June seems like a likely option.

The fact that Google is building another box after its failure to take Google TV mainstream may seem confusing at first, but it’s actually consistent with how the company’s thinking about TV devices has evolved. After tightly controlling Google TV specs down to the look of the remote control, Google transitioned Google TV to become part of the main Android project last year.

The company even quietly gave up on the Google TV brand, and instead has been encouraging consumer electronics manufacturers like Hisense to use Android for their own TV experiences, offering them access to Google services to enhance these experiences. In that context, an Android TV would represent Google’s very own take on how an Android-based TV device should look like, as opposed to a platform that it tries to get the entire industry to adopt.

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Author: "Janko Roettgers" Tags: "Android TV, Android TV, Google, Google, ..."
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Date: Saturday, 05 Apr 2014 17:30

At first glance, few technologies feel as unsexy as voice. From a user’s perspective, little has changed since the days of Alexander Graham Bell. Most see voice as a mature technology that simply connects people in real-time across a distance. But voice is experiencing a wave of innovation that will fundamentally alter this definition.

During Mobile World Congress, Jae-woan Byun, the CTO of SK Telecom, condemned current voice offerings as “boring for users” but promised a “second tsunami” that could change everything.

The first tsunami was about messaging. It swept away SMS volumes and revenues and resulted in the kind of valuation that Facebook placed on WhatsApp. Thanks to the elimination of the historical limitations that telephony placed on voice, we are already sensing the shockwaves of the next tectonic shift.

Voice will be:

Available every “wear.” Voice is fast becoming a primary interface for wearable technology. Voice will soon become ambient, with audio sensors embedded into our environment: cars, living and workspace, and fashion accessories. Conversations will follow us from home to car to office — jumping automatically from device to device.

Private and secure. Encryption of voice will become the default, not the exception. Layered security models will include voice biometrics as a standard component. And for our most private conversations and transactions, speech will continuously authenticate us – not simply at the outset of a conversation.
Smartphone-native. Today, the dialer application on a smartphone replicates 1970s touchtone telephony. The ability to tap, swipe, wave, drag, point, rotate, shake and talk means that powerful new features will be simple and easy to use, in the same way that the iPod made mobile music easy.

Imagine rotating your phone to landscape orientation to turn a 1:1 call into a conference call. Apps will allow easy customization of the voice experience. Your CRM app will handle calls from clients; another will intercept calls when you are roaming and it’s 3 AM; and another will manage calls from the “burner” number you put in an ad to sell your car. Powerful new services will be so easy and intuitive that we won’t even notice a learning curve.

Voice technology

Application-embedded features. Beyond caller ID, inbound voice calls carry little context today. Increasingly, voice calls are originated within apps and web pages and are thus full of useful metadata. Moving forward, voice calls will come complete with context, such as where the user is stuck in a business process, allowing organizations to build and continuously refine a fit-for-purpose voice experience.

Beyond the “call.” Sadly, we are still replicating the patterns and limitations of 1876 telephony with the idea of a call today. We either schedule calls with fixed timing, length and attendees or blindly interrupt people. Future voice communication will mirror the more fluid activity streams on Facebook, Yammer or Google Hangouts. We will invite others into a call as needed, allowing them to jump in and out of conversations seamlessly. Outside calls or cold calls will come with a “conversation request,” where the caller pitches the receiver on why he or she should answer and invest their time.

Augmented memory & total recall. Voice is about to become recordable by default, and in many contexts and corporations, it already has been for decades. We are moving beyond simple record keeping to active knowledge management via voice. Similar to how we search our email for past conversations and threads, we will be able to do that with our voice conversations too. Essentially, we will be able to jump to the 15 seconds that mattered in that last call and have perfect recall of all our conversations.

Your intelligent voice assistant. Basic AI technology has offered voice command control for over a decade, and Siri and Google Hotwording have taken that experience to a new level. As intelligent assistants continue to improve and adapt, we can see a future where they join us during the call. They will interpret questions and offer answers, content and ideas in both spoken and visual form. This will help us perform various administrative tasks, like scheduling a meeting, querying past correspondence or adding a task to your to-do list.

Accessible to all. The next generation of voice services will not only have high-definition audio, but also customized acoustic profiles to us individually and our environment. We don’t all speak the same languages or dialects, so automated real-time subtitles and translation will become commonplace. One in five people have significant hearing loss, and end-to-end digital cloud-centric hearing aids will remove the “analog gap” for hearing-impaired users.

Voice intersects with a long list of hot topics: the internet of things, search, location services, wearables, security, connected car, big data, quantified self and beyond. As analyst Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz recently tweeted: “It’s kind of ironic that voice is one of the next big things in mobile.”

I would say Evans is partially correct. It’s not just mobile. Voice promises to be the next big thing in communications, period.

Martin Geddes is co-founder and executive director of the Hypervoice Consortium. To learn more visit http://www.hypervoice.org, or follow him on Twitter @martingeddes.
Image from Shutterstock/SergeyNivens and Thinkstock/Fuse

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Author: "Martin Geddes, Hypervoice Consortium" Tags: "guest posts, mobile phones, phone calls,..."
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Date: Saturday, 05 Apr 2014 16:51

A lot has been written about Hadoop vendor Cloudera’s recent $900 million financing round from Intel and a number of institutional investors, but there has also been a lot of confusion over just where all that money is going. Cloudera CEO Tom Reilly came on the Structure Show podcast this week to explain why Intel is so interested in the company, why it raised so much money and just how much it’s getting.

Here are the highlights of the interview, but anyone who hasn’t read our previous coverage of the partnership, or who’s interested in hearing all about how Cloudera plans to expand internationally en route to an initial public offering, will probably want to hear the whole thing. Especially from an investment standpoint, there’s no such thing as too much information when assessing a market where Cloudera and Hortonworks are raising hundreds of millions in capital and talking about billion-dollar revenues, and where larger vendors such as Pivotal and IBM making strong plays, too.

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First things first: How much cash does Cloudera have?

“Suffice it to say, when all’s said and done, of the $900 million, we expect roughly 60 percent of that’s going directly to Cloudera, which will be in our bank account for us to invest, grow the business and do all the things I told you earlier,” Reilly said. “We’re adding more than half a billion dollars in cash to our books.”

The details of the secondary financing — Intel did spend a significant amount of money purchasing stocks from existing investors to reach is 18 percent ownership stake and board seat — should be finalized in early May, he added.

Big data needs big capital

“We raised a significant amount of money because we’re going after one of the largest enterprise software markets that is growing at one of the fastest rates,” Reilly said. “We are both transforming an industry and disrupting an industry, so there is a lot of work to do.”

Among those things are investing in engineering, community growth and scaling Intel’s business internationally, including being able to service existing Intel customers in India and China.

All the additional capital will also help Intel get its business in order and not rush toward an IPO, Reilly explained:

“We are going to [go public], we will be there, hopefully as soon as possible. But what’s nice is this funding gives us flexibility to make sure that we enter the public markets when we are ready — when we have our systems and processes down, when we have our governance to be a well-governed company, when we have the right predictability and visibility, when our whole ecosystem of partners is kicking in.”

Tom Reilly (left) at Structure Data 2014. (c) Jakub Moser / http://jakubmosur.photoshelter.com

Tom Reilly (left) at Structure Data 2014. (c) Jakub Moser / http://jakubmosur.photoshelter.com

Why Intel is betting so big on Hadoop

“[Intel has] been investing in a lot of performance-enhancement capabilities riding Hadoop on top of their servers and chips. The reason is because Intel predicts that Hadoop is going to be the No. 1 application that is running on Intel servers,” Reilly said. “Today, Intel has 94 percent share in the data center, so I think they have good insight.”

But investing approximately $740 million in secondary shares and direct funding to Cloudera, upping its valuation to more than $4 billion? It’s because Intel wanted to make a statement to its shareholders, its partners and the entire IT industry that it’s going to be a factor in the Hadoop space.

“Intel’s desire in this relationship was for this to be a strategic relationship. They didn’t just want to put in, I would call it pocket change or small money and just say we had a normal partnership,” Reilly explained. “That level of importance drove them wanting to have a good ownership stake and a board seat, so that’s how we came about to their ownership level and that drove the amount of dollars.”

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Author: "Derrick Harris" Tags: "big data, Cloudera, Cloudera, Hadoop, In..."
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Date: Saturday, 05 Apr 2014 16:00

If there was ever a good time to spring clean your iOS devices, this weekend would be it.

First of all, the week started out with world backup day on Monday. Just last week Apple reported that 85 percent of devices are now running iOS 7 but by my count 49 percent of apps in the app store have not been updated yetWithin just 72 hours of its release, 18 percent of devices jumped on to the 7.1 update. Perhaps they were looking for a little crash relief. That, and it is spring after all.

If you did update to the latest iOS version, and are still experiencing some difficulties that none of your attempts to reset your device have remedied? Then perhaps it is time for a fresh start.

Getting stuff off your device

 

Getting stuff off your device

Photos and videos - Before you start erasing and resetting your device, it is always a good idea to copy your photos and videos off of the device first. On OS X you can use iPhoto, Aperture or the Image Capture utility to safely remove your photos. On Windows you can use Windows Explorer or the Windows Photo Gallery. This takes care of items in your Camera Roll, but what about all your other files?

iTunes File Sharing - Apps that you use on your device may allow you to access their content by through File Sharing from within iTunes on your Mac or PC. Simply attach your device via USB, launch iTunes and click on the Apps tab associated with your device. On the bottom of the screen you will see a section titled File Sharing. Here you can select each app one at a time and manually offload all of their shared content.

Third-party tools - As for all of the other stuff you may want to copy off of your device, consider using either Ecamm’s PhoneView for OS X, DigiDNA’s DiskAid for OS X or Macroplant’s iExplorer for both OS X and Windows. All three apps can copy your contacts, voicemail, call lists, music, movies, and other data on your iOS device onto your Mac. Using such an app was how I have been able to backup and restore my Minecraft worlds.

iCloud and iTunes backups - It is also a good idea to perform one final backup before you start over. With iCloud backups you can perform your backups from almost anywhere. Unfortunately you cannot access the backup files. When you perform a backup using iTunes, the backup files are stored locally on your Mac or PC. Using tools like addPod’s JuicePhone for OS X, or Macroplant’s iExplorer (mentioned above), you can browse and extract files from your devices’ iTunes backups.

Erase all content and settings

Erase all content and settings

Don’t restore from backup - To truly start over fresh, after performing the Erase all Content and Settings operation from within the General settings, you would not restore from either an iCloud or iTunes backup. Instead you will set up your iOS device as a new device. Just keep in mind that this will remove all data from all apps as well as the apps themselves.

Choose a different device name - In order to keep a lifeline to the backups you have stored in iCloud, you will need to name your device differently. This can be done on the device from within the About section of theGeneral settings on the device. If you name your device the same name as it was before, then you will likely overwrite your previous backup. Sometimes it is a good idea to retain a backup for a few days following a reset. Keeping multiple backups however does come at a cost, and that cost is iCloud storage space.

Review your iCloud storage - All iCloud accounts come with 5GB of storage space for free. To check how much space you are currently using go to the iCloud section of the settings and tap on Storage & Backup for iOS, if you are on OS X click on the Manage button from within the iCloud settings of the System Preferences, then Manage, and finally for Windows launch the iCloud Control Panel app in order to click on the Manage button. What you will see in addition to how much space your backups take is how much space other apps are using. For any apps that you are absolutely sure you will not be using anymore, you can remove their data from iCloud.

Replacing old apps with new ones

Replacing old apps with new ones

Apps not on this device - Within the App Store on iOS, you can access all of your prior purchases from theUpdate tab. By scrolling down, you will reveal a search bar at the top of the screen that you can use to search your list of purchased apps. Searching within the purchased apps section of the iOS app store is limited to the name of the app only. Not the developer’s name, not any keywords that the developer has set, and certainly not the description. Once you find the app you are looking for you can download it onto your device by tapping on the cloud with an arrow pointing through it.

Hide the bad apps - As you begin to add apps back onto your device, you may come across a few apps that you regret purchasing, and have vowed that you would never install again. For such apps, you can hide them from your previous purchase list. You will first need to log on to your account from either the Mac or PC version of iTunes. Then go to the Purchases section of the iTunes Store and select the Apps tab. Mouse over the icon of the app you want to hide and click on the little “X” in the top left corner. This is of course reversible from within your account settings, just in case you suffer from ‘hiders’ remorse.

Version history and reviews - Before you rush to add your old apps back on to your device, consider looking at how often your favorite apps have been updated. At the bottom of the app’s description you will see a section titled Version History. If the app has not been updated in the last year, check the recent reviews and see if anyone has been having issues with the app on iOS 7. It may surprise you how many apps have fall into this category. Of the 2,313 apps in my personal iTunes library, only 1,176 have been updated since iOS 7 was launched. And Looking at data from 148apps.biz, 383,602 of the 1,539,342 apps that have been available on the app store are no longer active.

Becoming an app shopping genius - With the announcement of iOS 7 in June of last year, Apple pulled the Genius feature from the app store. A feature that attempted in part to find apps similar to the ones you already own. What you can do instead is take a look at the Related tab within the apps description on the store. If that does not produce a list of comparable apps worth trying, you can turn to online services like AppShopper,AppAdvice and apptap to help find a good replacement for your outdated app. Even with their help, app discovery is still a big problem facing the App Store.

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Author: "Geoffrey Goetz" Tags: "App Store, backup, erase, iOS, reset"
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Date: Saturday, 05 Apr 2014 15:00

Next-generation user interfaces will be one of the keys to the emerging wearables markets, to the increasingly connected smart home, and to moving technology and devices further into the mainstream. But launching new types of user interfaces can be tricky, particularly if they’re using new forms of inputs and senses, if they’re for brand new types of devices that don’t have a long history on the market, and if they come from a startup.

Case in point: last week Nest decided to halt the sale of its new Protect smart smoke alarm because it found a flaw in the sensor and gesture-based UI. It turns out that the function that enabled users to pause an alarm by waving at it could also be unintentionally triggered by other types of movement. The fear was that if there was a fire and the alarm was going off, a nearby movement could falsely pause the alarm.

Nest Protect

Nest took the device off the market while it fixes the flaw, and has disabled the feature on Protects already out in the market. Nest sold to Google earlier this year for $3.2 billion, so the company has enough money to survive and fix such an event. If it were a little startup, though, and the Protect was its first product, the same might not be true.

New user interfaces like gesture recognition and voice control are only just emerging. At one point touch interfaces for screens were new, but now they’ve been largely embraced by most device makers and they rarely have issues. Kinect has pushed gesture and voice control forward considerably when it comes to mainstream users, but other big companies and startups are trying to take gesture and voice control UIs to the next level, like Google with Google Glass and Apple with Siri.

Moderated by: Om Malik — Founder, Gigaom Speaker: Tony Fadell — Founder and CEO, Nest Labs

Tony Fadell — Founder and CEO, Nest Labs

But the issue with new markets and new technologies is that there’s not a long history from which to learn. Designers have to build the products with the new UIs and rigorously test them — sometimes it’s not until the customer has been using them for months before an issue emerges. Users can be particularly sensitive to new UIs when they’re on the body or in the home. It’s a different world than just building a slick UI on a cell phone or laptop.

Nest has been a pioneer in taking unloved devices and developing new ways for humans to communicate with them. And Nest will likely fix its smoke alarm gesture flaw and get the product back out onto the market soon enough. At the end of the day the industry will be better for it, because it will contribute to the body of knowledge for this emerging connected home and new UI market.

Enabling people to have a better connection and a better experience with devices is the future of gadget design, and new types of UI will be crucial to creating these beloved experiences. But getting these new UIs onto the market and widely embraced will likely take a few hiccups.

Gigaom throws an annual two-day experience design conference called Roadmap, which we’re hosting on November 18 and 19 in San Francisco this year. Check back in the coming weeks for when we’ll be announcing speakers and more details.

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Author: "Katie Fehrenbacher" Tags: "Google, Nest, Protect"
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Date: Saturday, 05 Apr 2014 12:45

After years of focusing on flagships for growth, the budget Android market is showing strong signs of life. Perhaps the best example of that is the Moto G, a no-contract handset selling for $179 that provides a better than expected experience and feature set. How much impact can such a phone have? Quite it bit if you look at the U.K. for a recent example.

Moto G home screen

Thanks to the Moto G, Motorola has gone from virtually no share there to 6 percent of the overall market in just half a year according to Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. That kind of growth is impressive a phone at any price range. While hundreds of millions already have smartphones, there’s a big market for the billions that don’t, which is why companies that can offer value handsets with solid performance have huge sales potential.

It’s not likely that many budget phones will run a 64-bit version of Android soon, however. Intel is trying to advance the platform for its chips, releasing a 64-bit kernel for Android this week, according CNet. Apple’s iOS 7 has already been re-written to support 64-bit computing and the company’s A7 chip is obviously capable of running the software. Android has no such support yet although I expect that to change — or hear news of progress on this front — in June at Google’s I/O developer event.

Clearly, Intel isn’t waiting for Google. Instead, the chip maker is pushing the software boundary on its own, likely because it must keep up with Google’s ARM chip partners such as Qualcomm, Samsung, and Nvidia to name a few. By throwing resources at Android’s software development, Intel stands a better chance to power more smartphones in the future.

A recent Android phone that Intel isn’t powering is the HTC One M8. Like its main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S5, the new HTC flagship uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset. I recently spent a little time with review unit of the HTC One M8 and so far, I’m impressed overall.

HTC One M8 in hand

The phone is superbly built with premium materials and is a smidge bigger than it’s predecessor. Wireless performance is excellent both on Wi-Fi and Verizon’s LTE network. HTC’s Sense software is less overpowering than in the past and the phone runs the latest version of Android (4.4.2).

A few new features are definitely welcome, such as the ability to tap the display twice to wake the handset. Stay tuned for a full review, including thoughts on the Ultrapixel camera, which has impressed me at times but has also left me wanting more on occasion.

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Author: "Kevin C. Tofel" Tags: "64 bit, Android, Android, Galaxy S5, Goo..."
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Date: Saturday, 05 Apr 2014 07:00

It has been an eclectic week and I had a chance to read a lot of cool stuff. This is a distillation of what I read — the very best, at least I think so.

Author: "Om Malik" Tags: "Om Says"
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Date: Saturday, 05 Apr 2014 00:04

The yellow blobs of slime mold normally grow in dark forests, not on computer chips or on gelatinous squares shaped like the United States. But through his research, University of the West of England professor Andrew Adamatzky has shown that the mold can, and should, be grown elsewhere because of its potential in computing.

Physarum polycephalum is a brainless mold that’s sole purpose is to build transportation networks for the nutrients that sustain it. As it expands in search of food, it sends out slimy tubes that continue to branch out until it finds a food source, at which point it forms a blob around the nutrients. Its slime tubes then continue to grow and split until the mold forms a network of tubes to transport the food throughout itself.

The key to Physarum polycephalum’s computing power, however, is its ability to form the most efficient and optimal network.

Nature’s urban planners

Adamatzky first used the slime mold to map British motorways in 2009 —  showing that the M6/M74 should’ve been routed through Newcastle (if the mold was the designer). In 2010, Japanese scientists also proved that the slime mold could be used to model the rail system in Tokyo. Since then, Adamatzky has used the mold’s networking ability to model transportation networks throughout the world, and also bring the mold into the world of computing.

Physarum polycephalum, a type of slime mold, creates an optimized model of Canada's transportation network. Photo from: Adamatzky A., Akl S. Trans-Canada Slimeways: Slime Mould Imitates the Canadian Transport Network. IJNCR 2(4):31-46 (2011)

Physarum polycephalum, a type of slime mold, creates an optimized model of Canada’s transportation network. Photo from: Adamatzky A., Akl S. Trans-Canada Slimeways: Slime Mould Imitates the Canadian Transport Network. IJNCR 2(4):31-46 (2011)

To create the models — in this case for the U.S. — Adamatzky placed oat flakes on the 20 most populated urban areas and then started the slime mold in New York. You can watch below as the mold spreads itself over the agar, a gelatinous substance derived from algae that is commonly used in science labs, in search of food. While the video shows it happening in 46 seconds, the mold actually takes between three to seven days to form its network on about 4 inches of agar.

It turns out that the slime mold agreed with most of the nation’s interstates.

“We found that interstates 10 and 20 are responsible, at least from the slime mold’s ‘point of view’, for connectivity of the USA transport network: when these interstates are removed, the network becomes separated into western and eastern components,” Adamatzky said.

Physarum polycephalum, a type of slime mold, creates an optimized model of the U.S. interstate system. Photo from: Adamatzky A., Ilachinski A. Slime Mold Imitates the United States Interstate System. Complex Systems 21 (2012) 1-20.

Physarum polycephalum, a type of slime mold, creates an optimized model of the U.S. interstate system. Photo from: Adamatzky A., Ilachinski A. Slime Mold Imitates the United States Interstate System. Complex Systems 21 (2012) 1-20.

Because it’s a self-repairing, living creature, it can also model emergency situations. So if a road was cut off due to flooding or an accident, the mold could also be suddenly cut off at that point and its resources redirected in another optimal way.

“By understanding how living creatures build transport networks, an urban planner would probably modify their approaches towards urban development and road planning,” Adamatzky said.

And while we may not see a petri dish of slime mold on an urban planner’s desk anytime soon, there are more practical applications of the mold when it comes to computing. Adamatzky wrote a book in 2010 where he defined the concept of Physarum machines: programmable, amorphous, living computing devices. Because the mold is sensitive to light and certain chemicals, the mold can be programmed to travel certain ways while still finding the optimal network.

A slimy future for computers

The network, like the transportation model one, isn’t limited only to nutrients. Adamtzky and fellow researcher Theresa Schubert have shown that the slime mold tubes can carry dyes and even conduct electricity. The mold acts like self-mapping circuits, complete with logic gates where the slime mold is forced to make a decision to get one result. It’s the same way a computer does logic, by taking an input and creating an output. In the case of slime mold, the logic gates can even be used to separate two colors of dye within the system before combining the two as a single output.

Slime mold grows on a circuit board. In this picture, it is not conducting electricity, but it does show that the mold can grow on substances other than agar. Photo from Andy Adamatzky

Slime mold grows on a circuit board. In this picture, it is not conducting electricity, but it does show that the mold can grow on substances other than agar. Photo from Andrew Adamatzky

Another use for slime mold would be turning it into microfluidic devices, which manipulate liquids on a very small scale and are used for things like delivering controlled-release drugs.

“Indeed slime mold can transport only bio-compatible substances, but even with such limitations, microfluidic devices made of slime mold would find some applications in, for example, biological sensors or lab-on-chips,” Adamatzky said.

In their most recent study published last week in Materials Today, the pair showed how the network can be manipulated to form logic circuits that don’t need electricity, are very simple and inexpensive to reproduce. Since the slime mold computers are self-growing and self-repairing, they could be used in anything from soft-bodied robots to hybrid wetware like devices used to detect certain molecules.

“Ultimately, we can make an all-soft, self-growing and self-repairing computing device from the slime mold,” Adamatzky said.

Correction: The article was updated April 5 to reflect that Adamatzky first published a paper in 2009 detailing the use of slime mold to map British motorways.

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Author: "Biz Carson" Tags: "Andrew Adamatzky, Andy Adamatzky, biolog..."
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Date: Friday, 04 Apr 2014 22:40

Amazon is has a new twist in its plan to enter the grocery market with a new hardware product introduced Friday: Amazon Dash, a combination barcode scanner and voice recorder that syncs up to the shopping cart on Amazon Fresh.

After connecting to Wi-Fi and linking to a valid Amazon Fresh account, the Amazon Dash can scan the barcodes of items and automatically add that item to a shopping cart. Users can also say a general name of an item, like “carrots” or “eggs,” and the Dash will send the corresponding product to the cart as well. Users must approve the items within the cart for delivery, and then the shipment will show up to the door within 24 hours.

Screenshot from fresh.amazon.com/dash

Screenshot from fresh.amazon.com/dash

Amazon Fresh has had an iPhone and Android app, available for iPhone and Android, that has this exact functionality, but it seems that Dash is designed to be kid-friendly and straightforward. It also shows that Amazon is taking this grocery business seriously.

Right now, Amazon Fresh serves the San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle areas. Amazon Dash is available for free via invitation.

Check out the video below:

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Author: "Lauren Hockenson" Tags: "Amazon, ecommerce, technology"
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Date: Friday, 04 Apr 2014 22:23

Citus Data, a startup focused on turning PostgreSQL into a scale-out analytic engine, has developed a developed a columnar data store for the popular open source database. The company is open sourcing its extension for single-node environments, although it’s offering a distributed version as part of its CitusDB software. Citus already supported interactive SQL queries over Postgres (on which its technology is based), Hadoop and MongoDB, but columnar stores are faster for certain types of queries. Also, the compression features of the ORC file format that CitusDB uses can cut disk space by more than half.

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Author: "Derrick Harris" Tags: "analytic database, Citus Data, Citus Dat..."
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