The Future: Now brought to you by Google

Google has never been shy about it’s intention to reshape the world. This month the company unveiled two projects that illustrate a long-term ambition to go beyond strongholds like search and mobile, and to be a major player in the emerging transportation and renewable energy industries. Leveraging a considerable war chest and influence, Google’s is asking people to imagine a future that to some may sound, well… a bit like a Jetsons episode.

Google has been testing a fleet of revolutionary cars that drive themselves with the use of software, GPS, and a system of cameras and sensors. Spearheaded by Google engineer Sebastian Thrun, who co-invented Street View, the program’s seven vehicles (mostly modded Priuses which always have a human on hand) recently traveled 1,000 miles on major highways and city streets without any human intervention and 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. Continue reading “The Future: Now brought to you by Google”

A GPS to navigate your supermarket

It’s easy enough to use GPS to get from your house to a supermarket, but how about a GPS that can locate the products you want once you’re in that supermarket?

Today, midwest supermarket chain Meijer launched a mobile application called “Find-It,” which helps shoppers navigate the shelves of four of it’s biggest Michigan stores. The program includes a database of 100,000 products and also directs consumers to the supermarket’s most enticing promotional offers and sale items.

The app runs on the iPhone, iPhone Touch, and Android devices, and was built by Point Inside– a company that until now built its business on apps mapping interiors of large airports and malls throughout the country. Point Inside’s maps utilize interactive touch screens, and typically help consumers find specific stores, as well as rest rooms, escalators, and various interior points of interest. Continue reading “A GPS to navigate your supermarket”

Did Google abandon net neutrality?

As a former Google employee, I always took the “Don’t Be Evil” mantra as a sincere gesture to be taken with a grain of salt.  The slogan was a reminder of the company’s humble and idealistic beginnings, but not an iron-clad indication of its post-IPO mindset.  After all, a corporation open to accommodating censorship in China is willing to put practical limits on principles that hit the bottom line too hard.

Many long-time Google advocates were surprised and disappointed with last week’s Google/Verizon net neutrality proposal, and I was among them.  While the company defends the move as a necessary practical decision given political realities, it in many ways marks the completion of Google’s gradual transition from wunderkind start-up to new-millennium corporate superpower.   Continue reading “Did Google abandon net neutrality?”

The evolution of America’s Internet activity

Nielsen released new statistics this week on Americans’ online behavior that confirms the growing dominance of social networking while illuminating strong differences in computer and mobile activity. This data gives powerful insight into patterns in consumer behavior and how advertisers fit into that equation.

According to the report, social networking now accounts for 22.7% of total U.S. Internet time, an impressive growth from its 15.8% share in 2009. Online gaming also moved into the number two spot at 10.2%, overtaking E-mail which had the steepest decline in share– retreating from 11.5% to 8.3%. Other emerging categories include Videos/Movies, while those like Portals and Entertainment seem to be waning.

In stark contrast, Nielsen’s survey indicates that E-Mail is still the dominant online activity for mobile, accounting for over 40% of time. Portals came in second for, followed by social networking at a close third. The biggest mobile growth sectors are Music and Videos/Movies (20% growth each year over year), while News/Current Events and Sports each dropped precipitously. Continue reading “The evolution of America’s Internet activity”

Library of Congress breaks the iPhone tether

Want to override your iPhone’s system controls? Now there’s an app for that. Thanks to Monday’s Library of Congress ruling allowing the “jailbreaking” of iPhones, users can now legally override Apple’s operating system to allow third party applications. In weighing certain exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the LOC gave four basic “fair use” arguments for siding with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and against Apple:

1. Jailbreakers are modifying a device they own for private, noncommercial purposes
2. Operating systems customarily enable third party programs and doing so on the iPhone doesn’t infringe on exclusive Apple copyrights
3. The amount of recoding performed during a jailbreak is negligible– 50 bytes of code out of a total of over 8 million
4. Jailbreaking doesn’t devalue Apple’s firmware or iPhones in the marketplace and might even help it by allowing users a wider variety of app choices

The Library of Congress’ explanations confirm what is apparent to most– that Apple’s real reason for exerting absolute control over it’s iPhones and App Store is to strengthen it’s bottom line without regard for what consumers want. Despite a respectful tone, the LOC’s message to Apple is clear: there is no legal basis for this kind of exclusivity, and we won’t do your dirty work by agreeing to this logic. Continue reading “Library of Congress breaks the iPhone tether”

Bynamite offers fresh take on hyper-targeted ads

For those who want to take Internet privacy matters into their own hands, there is a new service called Bynamite that aggregates information advertisers have collected about you in an easily managed personal profile. In addition, the site allows you to delete or add interests and send updated preferences back to ad networks and opt out of networks that don’t provide users with control of their interests. Bynamite purports to represent the consumer without profiting from information sent back to ad networks, and it operates via a program you download that automatically attaches to your browser.

What sets Bynamite apart from many privacy watchdogs is that the service generally embraces hyper-targeted advertising and has no qualms with sites like Google, Facebook, and Amazon that collect a wealth of information on its users. Rather Bynamite seeks to educate consumers on how advertisers view them and empower users to tap into the potential monetary value of their personal information. Continue reading “Bynamite offers fresh take on hyper-targeted ads”

Apple’s Gripgate saga deepens

Few things are as unnerving as an organization publicly improvising a PR strategy in the face of unexpected calamity. With BP, it took weeks to strike a sincere apologetic tone and admit wrongdoing. During the 2008 election when the Bristol Palin pregnancy story broke, it took the McCain camp a few days to refine the story of how the vetting process unfolded.

By most standards the Apple Gripgate saga that has Silicon Valley buzzing since the iPhone 4 launch is a mild calamity, but it looks to be getting worse. Consumer Reports unleashed an in-depth scientific test this week indicating the iPhone 4’s antenna is flawed in a way no other previous iPhone antenna has been, and is prone to dropping calls when the phone is gripped in the lower left corner. The reviewer would not recommend the phone and openly calls for Apple to provide consumers with free phone coverings (which does fix the problem) or some alternate solution.

Perhaps most alarmingly, the report calls Apple’s credibility and honesty into question. Continue reading “Apple’s Gripgate saga deepens”

Who killed the Kin?

After 48 days of courting teens with a device built for social networking, Microsoft killed the Kin mobile phone this week due to poor sales.  The product included an innovative feature which aggregates content from various social networks in one hub, but received complaints from some users for lacking instant messaging, easy access to apps, or the ability to upload photo and video to Twitter.

Although the online and television campaigns for the Kin captured the youthful energy of the demographic it pursued, there were bumps along the road.  Microsoft got flack from conservatives for a lighthearted scene in one of its Kin commercials, a clip of a male teen taking a photo under his shirt and sending it to a female who laughs when she receives it.  Although seemingly benign, the scene was deemed by some as an endorsement of teen sexting. Continue reading “Who killed the Kin?”

Google wins big in Viacom vs. YouTube ruling

After three years of legal wrangling, Google has emerged victorious in a $1 billion Viacom lawsuit claiming the video site knowingly profited from copyright infringement.  ThoughViacom has promised to appeal, the decision is a huge win for Internet Service Providers and a setback for media content providers.

Interestingly, the case revealed that YouTube’s execs welcomed copyright infringement internally in the early days even while they were prepared to fight it.  In employee emails submitted to the court, YouTubers lamented that site traffic could nosedive if users followed the site’s policy of only uploading user generated material.

Google owes its victory to a shelter clause in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act which requires ISPs to police infringement only by responding to specific claims  from copyright holders. The sound logic behind this is that an ISP like YouTube can’t be expected to scan every upload for possible infringement.or accurately identify all infringing content. Continue reading “Google wins big in Viacom vs. YouTube ruling”

AOL launches “Cambio” – Will tweens tune in?

In the midst of cutting its losses on social network Bebo, last week AOL launched a new music venture called Cambio– a partnership with the Jonas Group and production company MGX Lab to deliver exclusive video content for artists like The Jonas Brothers, Demi Lavato, and Jordin Sparks. The initiative is part of a new AOL content strategy under CEO Tim Armstrong and president of Media and Studios Davis Eun (both ex-Googlers) to reorganize the company around high-quality TV-style content.

Cambio programming features an array of webisode style shows like “Nick In London,” which follows Nick Jonas as he joins the cast of Les Miserables, and “Cambio Cares” where stars ask fans to get involved in humanitarian efforts. The site also includes “Cambio Connect,” a daily MTV inspired news and updates webisode hosted by ex-MTV VJ Quddus. Continue reading “AOL launches “Cambio” – Will tweens tune in?”