Tag Archives: google

🤖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.

✈️?️Travel – what’s new becomes old becomes new again

This week the focus in on travel and whether we are seeing the beginnings of a new disruption to how we go on holiday.

Travelling back in time

Back in the last dotcom bubble, the travel industry went through huge disruption as aggregator websites like Expedia, Lastminute and booking.com all changed the way we bought our holidays.

The idea of the package holiday came under threat in the mid 2000s as people started to book their flights and hotels both separately and online. The result was the merger of Thomas Cook with Airtours and Thomson with First Choice. The big four became the big two.

A large part of the profit for the aggregators came from selling hotel rooms. There is very little money in selling flights. For many years, hotel websites have been very poor experiences. Difficult booking systems, different currencies and not always clear information about the rooms themselves. You could do better going to the big travel websites previously mentioned.

Now the aggregators are under investigation for “clarity, accuracy and presentation of information”.

First it is the challenge Google originally had with placing ads at the top of its search results. How transparent are the big travel sites being when they are paid extra to promote hotels to the top of search results?

Another aspect is the oldest sales trick in the book – scarcity and social pressure. “Only two rooms left” and “three other people just booked this room” are all ways of increasing the pressure to make a quick purchase.

Travel is normally a considered purchase taking more like days than minutes. Partly this is due to the need to involve other people in the decision process. I wonder though if with the increase of smartphones this decision time is decreasing. This could in turn be fueling the growth of “secret sales” type platforms.

Finally, there always seem to be hidden charges around when investigations happen and this one is no different. Things like additional taxes or booking fees etc.

Government investigations though are slow and cumbersome and by the time they actually conclude the markets have moved on. In this case the shift is already starting to happen.

Hotels were never keen on giving away at least 15% of their revenues to the big travel websites and have slowly been overhauling their own internet presence using cloud based platforms like Triptease to provide better booking experiences without the large investment needed previously.

If you no longer need to go to the major aggregators to get the best price or information then they have a real problem.

A modern day online approach would be to create exclusive content to allow people to better identify the right hotel but these companies have never been publishers and I doubt it will scale as well as the old model in any case.

There is the old tried and tested model of being more and more specialised. Smaller hotels, hotels targeted at different age groups etc. Though this still suffers over time if its better to go to the hotel directly. Maybe they can create better quality loyalty programmes than the hotels themselves allowing customer to not stick to a single hotel chain.

Finally, they may instead opt for the full service approach offering end-to-end service taking away the hassle of organising a holiday or adding trips/experiences at the destination. All things that hotels themselves will find difficult to deliver on. For now.