Tag Archives: google

🔮 The future of innovation, startups and the world. That’s all.🔮

The end of the year approaches and with it comes tales of the future and past.

I’ll reflect on both in the next week or so I suspect but this week’s newsletter looks at innovation, the business of looking into the future, how Google is trying to reinvent it and why startups succeed even against the largest of companies and all the resources at their disposal.

The future is..

The world exists as it does because people make it so. Without people’s imagination of what is possible we would still be stuck in a cave somewhere.

Large companies dominate industry and yet for the most part, they come and go as the world changes around us.

Large companies of course don’t willfully disappear and are continuously looking for ways to stay relevant. They fail because the change happens just outside their perspective of the world. The new way is being adopted by people they just don’t see in their day to day running of the business. If they do happen to see it, it is too small, irrelevant, not our market.

With great information comes.. timing.

With the increasing amount of information available, there is an increasing ability to see these new potential markets (and the companies attacking them) before they get too large to be disruptive.

This suggests that large companies should focus on honing their current market and watch for new potential markets that either threaten or expand their current offering.

The issue becomes more about timing. Buy a company in a new market too early and it will wither on the vine, wait and it becomes too expensive to buy and risk becoming the dodo yourself.

The increasing trend in accelerators, which back early stage companies that show potential, has increasingly seen backing and sponsorship from large companies as it provides information about market traction outside a large companies typical view.

All of this protects and potentially reinvents your existing business. In theory. Buying companies is a messy business and can take years to see results. This therefore slows down innovation rather than accelerating it. So if you bought the company too early, the market moves on leaving the now acquired company behind.

X marks the secret lab.

Whilst Google has also adopted the above approach for their core businesses. They also have Google X, Google’s secretive labs, which takes a completely different approach to driving innovation. It aims to build entirely new businesses distinct from the existing business and in completely new areas.

It is also kept separate from the existing business so culturally different – though at this early stage, it is unlikely to be a culture which leads to successful businesses so as a project shows potential, Google spins it out of the lab.

Timing is again important.

This is something Google seems to have got right as each phase of a business requires a culturally different approach. For years, Microsoft was great at filing patents and less so at turning those patents into successful businesses.

Nevertheless, it is rare that an idea itself translates immediately into a successful business. Often, ideas circle around a big new opportunity from different angles. Finding your way to that successful opportunity is often a journey filled with hard decisions that are so risky that only those completely blinded by love for something or whose startup’s very survival is on the line can make.

The early success of Waymo, Google’s self-driving car suggests this is not always the case though.

For a deeper look into Google X, its successes and failures, the Atlantic has a deeper look and is well worth a read here.

Declining innovation?

The Atlantic article also looks at creativity and suggests it is in decline in the USA  due to a massive reduction in R&D and a smaller numbers of labs like Google X. The numbers certainly show a huge decline, but I would interpret it differently.

In this case, I think the world has changed from a place where secret labs, universities and governments create most innovation to an ecosystem supportive of startups (both from government, academia and large companies) that in turn now drives most innovation. An industrialisation of the corporate lab.

That doesn’t mean labs either in industry (with companies hiring academics as is typical now in the US) or within universities themselves (as typically happens here in the UK) should no longer be funded. Attacking innovation from different angles is also important.

I have a preference for the UK approach as it allows both greater interaction with future academics and also gives access to a wider range of companies. The US approach sees much better funding for academics though.

The future is bright.

The next decade is going to see astonishing transformation on our lives. Greater I believe than the decade just past.

Just a few of the big things coming include AI, which will transform how we interact and use technology; virtual (and augmented) reality, which could disconnect our kids completely from the real world but also make information even more accessible and usable; human augmentation and gene manipulation which is going to open up a whole range of ethical questions but make us live longer and better lives; robotics, which hopefully will not turn us into a sedentary race and quantum computing that might allow computers to be creative (which should be challenging) but will certainly deliver capabilities that are impossible today.

🤖Smart assistants enter the workplace and Google restructuring.🏢

This week sees Amazon take Alexa into the workplace. There may be opportunity but is it the right time? I also look at Google and how its responding.

Home is where the tech is.

How we interact with technology is also changing. For just over a decade now, the mainstream audience has been interfacing with technology beyond their fingertips thanks to the launch of the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect.

In the past these technologies would have built its foundations in the workplace before moving to the home. But today, the home is often where more advanced technology lives rather than the workplace. This, in turn, has led to a rise in people using your own devices in the workplace.

Smart assistants have also started from the home but Alexa, Amazon’s smart assistant is not exactly portable and whilst it has taken off in the home in a relatively short period of time, usage in the workplace has been limited.

There is no doubt all the major players competing in this space see its potential to completely change again how we interface with technology. Alexa stops you being glued to a screen and instead has you asking a question out loud.

It feels more natural.

All this competition stokes innovation and Amazon clearly sees an opportunity to stake its claim on the workplace, this week announcing Alexa for Business.

They have announced connections into email (Exchange/Outlook), CRM (Salesforce) and HR (Concur).

This is the first baby steps and they need to figure out how to deal better with much more ambient noise in today’s open plan offices.

Even at home, Alexa struggles to hear when there are other noises present.

The bigger issue is the device itself. With powerful computers already present, what is the need for an Alexa box on every desk?

Amazon need to release PC and Mac versions to really make headway otherwise I can see it being limited to meeting rooms, where you can ask it to contact somebody, turn on/off the lights, project a laptop screen or possibly save a note.

With the exception of projecting a laptop screen, which is still more fiddly than it should be, the rest is hardly compelling. Oh and Alexa can’t actually do that just yet anyhow.

More useful, would be to be able to answer questions about projects underway in meetings, which will come as more integrations are built.

But I think the real power will be at your desk to analyse data or get small tasks done quickly. Assuming, the ambient noise issue can be resolved.

I guess Amazon needs to release some airpods ?.

African elephant (Loxodonta africana), silhouetted, Zambezi River area, Zambia.

On the desktop, Siri and Cortana should really be ahead. But apart from having a huge existing user base due to being pre-installed on Windows and MacOS, in reality their capabilities are poor today. Under investment and poor usability so far and little noise to suggest that is going to change anytime soon.

The elephant in the room is Google. If they integrated Google Assistant into the browser, that would make quick headway into the workplace. They have lagged behind Amazon when it comes to partnerships, which is going to be critical to success.

First they are getting their house in order. Google is restructuring its hardware back under one roof.

A few years ago it decided to keep Nest, which makes smart home devices as a separate business but has now changed its mind.

Given the overlap between the two divisions this is hardly surprising. In addition to creating efficiencies it should also allow it to better compete with Alexa.

I’d expect to see Nest devices with built in Google Assistant at some point soon, giving them another way into the home. Nest has been slow in updating its hardware in recent years so soon may be a little longer than they would hope.

Time will tell. Meanwhile, the competition is not sitting still.

👓Who to watch in 2018 and is the web dying? 💀

The latest and greatest companies to watch out for in the next twelve months. Tech not yet the holy grail in education and a look at the future of the web. Are we already seeing its death played out in slow motion?

Lists ahoy

This week saw the first of the companies to watch lists with Bloomberg listing its top 50 companies to watch in 2018 and Linkedin listing its top 25 disruptive companies in the UK – though there are some US companies in there as well because they are hiring a lot in the UK and how can Uber and airbnb not be mentioned?!

Whilst the LinkedIn list seems to propagate the view that big raises means success and fails to really give any further insight on what actually makes the companies interesting, the Bloomberg listing looks at why each of the companies listed are going to have an eventful (both positively and negatively) 2018. Worth a read.

Reinventing schools

Silicon Valley has been very anti the current education services offered in the US – given the overall poor results compared to the rest of the world, there is probably something to those complaints.

Throwing money and tech at the problem does not seem to have worked though. AltSchool, which raised $175m is pivoting away from building schools to deliver tech to existing schools instead.

Not that their tech seems to be anything noteworthy right now. Parents at the school praised not the tech but the attention of teachers and small class sizes – an age old way to deliver high quality educational services. If only this approach wasn’t losing them a lot of money. More here.

Future gazing the web

Andre Staltz has written an excellent article looking at the dominance of Google and Facebook on the web, how the web has changed and looking forward to how the web evolves into a Trinet of Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Thought provoking stuff and one that suggests we regress back to the world of AOL-like walled gardens. Anything is possible but I just don’t see this happening. Whilst the article triggers a healthy debate I feel it is a massive oversimplification.

All ecommerce will not end up going through Amazon – Alibaba for one is a huge future competitor. I suspect governments would step in and regulate if Amazon started to become the conduit of all ecommerce.

Ignoring this even, history suggests that innovation will happen outside the major ecommerce platforms. Shopify, BigCommerce etc. which provide engines to thousands of ecommerce vendors backed by open Internet standards will out-innovate Amazon etc. in specific niches.

Businesses using Facebook have already seen the control it has on their ability to communicate resulting in greater importance being given to email, push notifications and mobile apps.

The web as we know it is of course going to evolve. The rise of mobile has been the major reason for Facebook’s increased dominance and the reduction in Google’s own power.

One thing is already certain. New interfaces are coming, whether it is voice , virtual reality or something else. With it is likely to come the next Facebook (or Google, or Microsoft, or IBM).

One dangerous outcome of the Internet becoming controlled by an oligopoly of corporations is the likely increase in an underground Internet or the dark net as has been popularised in recent years. Last week saw the new release of the next generation Tor network, which has powered the dark net. Four years in the making, it offers better encryption and makes it easier for services to hide themselves more easily. I suspect the various government bodies are actively looking at it and countering already. More here.