Posts Tagged ‘james dyson’

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Wearable technology: they say it is the next big thing. What are you going to wear today? Oh I think I will don my T-shirt that helps my breathing, my pants that make me more virile, and my new shoes that count how many miles I have walked in a day. What about you? Oh I am planning to wear my new suit. Samsung has made its first big move, and it seems as revolutionary as a new TV for the 21st Century that can show colour images. If this is the latest example of technology that is set to change the world, and turn some of the world’s biggest companies into something much bigger, then I have this new concept you will love; it is called sliced bread. Yet for Apple – the company that for a very short while was the biggest firm in the world last year – we can draw a quite different conclusion. Samsung’s half-hearted step into the world of smart watches shows that once again a spectacular opportunity awaits its US rival.

Did you ever read Douglas Adams? You may recall that some of the regular jokes in his ‘Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’ series were those that described humans as so primitive that they still thought digital watches were a smart idea. For a while, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s digital watches seemed like a step towards a future envisaged by Isaac Asimov and Aldus Huxley. As an aside, if you took an exam in the early 1980s – and yours truly took many – and you shared the examination hall with engineering students, then every hour, on the hour, beeps rang out across the room. That was in the days when engineering was on its way out, and James Dyson’s dream of creating an engineering-led revolution seemed as likely as the idea that one day our digital watches might be replaced by telephones.

The new Samsung watch was released yesterday. It looked as elegant as a brick tied to a wrist, as useful as a spare appendix. It can make phones calls if you lift your arm up, it can take pictures, check emails and receive texts, but it can only do these things if you have your Samsung smart phone with you.

In other words it can do some of the things a smart phone, can do, though presumably not as well, but only if you have your smart phone to hand. This begs the question, of course: why not get your smart phone out of your pocket? Are the timesaving benefits of being able to look at your wrist over taking a phone out of your pocket so significant that it is worth spending all that extra money on a smart watch?

But that does not mean smart watches are not a good idea. They need to be better. For one thing they need to be standalone. Sure, they should be connected to the Internet or indeed the Internet of things, but if it needs a control box on your person to make the smart watch work, it does rather defeat the purpose. For another thing, if you are going to wear one of these things, they need to look smart not merely be smart.

They say first move advantage is crucial. Well, not if the first mover move is like this. The only thing likely to be moved as a result is profits turning to losses. This is why design is so crucial. And this is why getting the user interface and the functionality right is so vital.

Samsung’s launch yesterday does not show that it has caught up with Apple. It does not show that the company is more than a follower. What it does show is that no one can yet do it like Apple has done it before.

Maybe the next Samsung watch will be a big improvement. Maybe the Apple watch will be as exciting as wearing a damp squib on your wrist; there is no way of saying for sure. But there is no reason, no reason at all, to think Apple has been knocked off its perch as the greatest innovator in consumer electronics. There are plenty of reasons to think, however, that Apple’s growth has merely hit a temporary lull.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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‘We won’t sue you if you don’t sue us,’ said Google last week – or at least it said words to that effect. It was revealing its new policy to patents, and if you are one of those who believe patents are killing innovation, maybe this is one of those occasions when a company need to be heralded for doing the right thing.

‘Don’t be evil,’ says the Google mission statement. Of course not everyone agrees that patents are weapons used by the dark side, but there are reasons to think patents do little good other than to protect those with money rather than those with bright ideas. Not that Google has completely gone against patents; its new policy applies to open systems.

The thing about innovation is that it does not occur in a vacuum – unless your name is James Dyson that is. Innovation does not usually occur when people shut themselves away from the competition. Most of the really bright ideas are just a tweaked version of someone else’s bright idea.

And when you start slapping patents down, the ability to build upon each other’s ideas is thwarted. Companies can innovate by building upon their previous patents, but as soon as they look beyond their own corporate walls, the danger of lawsuits is ever present. Take the story of flight. The Wright Brothers were not shy in coming forward with patents, and the evolution of flight – or so some say – was held back by one or two decades as a result. See: Terence Kealey and his book ‘Sex Business and Profits’, for example.

Or see, for example, the new miracle product graphene: Miracle graphene product shows problems with patents

“At Google,” said Duane Valz, Senior Patent Counsel, “we believe that open systems win. Open-source software has been at the root of many innovations in cloud computing, the mobile web, and the Internet generally. And while open platforms have faced growing patent attacks, requiring companies to defensively acquire ever more patents, we remain committed to an open Internet—one that protects real innovation and continues to deliver great products and services.”

So what has Google decided to do? Well, it calls it: The Open Patent Non-Assertion (OPN) Pledge. Mr Valz added: “We’ve begun by identifying 10 patents relating to MapReduce, a computing model for processing large data sets first developed at Google—open-source versions of which are now widely used. Over time, we intend to expand the set of Google’s patents covered by the pledge to other technologies. “We hope the OPN Pledge will serve as a model for the industry, and we’re encouraging other patent holders to adopt the pledge or a similar initiative. We believe it has a number of advantages.”

He added: “Our pledge builds on past efforts by companies like IBM and Red Hat and the work of the Open Invention Network (of which Google is a member). It also complements our efforts on cooperative licensing, where we’re working with like-minded companies to develop patent agreements that would cut down on lawsuits…And, in addition to these industry-driven initiatives, we continue to support patent reforms that would improve patent quality and reduce excessive litigation.”

Well, and this time there is no irony in this statement, good for Google. It is at least trying to live up to its mission statement.

©2013 Investment and Business News.

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They used to talk about the bells of Shoreditch. You might recall the words ‘When I get rich, say the bells of Shoreditch’. Better than the oranges and lemons offered by the Bells of St Clements.

These days the area is more known for its roundabout,  or silicon roundabout as it is called. For this has come to symbolise an attempt to create a rival to California’s Silicon Valley in the east end of London. The UK government has come together with Tech City Investment Organisation to try to realise this dream.

On Sunday, a Vice President of Facebook – Joanna Shields – who also happens to be Managing Director of Facebook Europe, Middle East and Africa, was chosen to be the new head of the Tech City organisation.

She will start in January.

As a dotcom star, her credentials are impressive. Ms Shields has been a President at AOL, responsible for social and communications businesses, and previously served as chief executive of Bebo. She has also been Google’s Managing Director for Europe, Russia, the Middle East & Africa.

On the news of her appointment she said: “Throughout my career I have had the privilege of working with great entrepreneurs and innovators to create thriving new businesses and industries. The seeds have been sown in East London for a dynamic and successful cluster: we have the infrastructure, the technology and the talent, now we need to accelerate the growth. I am looking forward to leading the Tech City Investment Organisation in the next phase of its development. With the right boost now, there is no reason why we can’t make London the number one location for tech in the world.”

Bold words indeed! If her stated objective can be realised, then for once we would have to cast aside cynicism, and say “well done”.

But right now there are critics. For one thing, Facebook has not been paying much tax in the UK. It’s been in the media this week. Last year the company apparently only paid around £2oo,000 tax from sales of £20.4 million. It’s an embarrassing one for Ms Shields to explain away. She admits she has received some pretty stroppy emails on the subject, but suggests that now it’s different. Since the government is actively promoting the area, its tech occupants will be happy to have their tax domicile in the UK. It’s a kind of quid pro quo. “We do this,” says the government, “you reciprocate.”

But there are other criticisms. James Dyson, for example, says that all the government is doing is forcing up rents in the region, making it all but impossible for other companies to operate. Those are companies which produce real things, things you can see and touch; things like… I don’t  know… vacuum cleaners perhaps.

And that brings us to another criticism.

What does Facebook produce? Some say nothing, literally nothing, it produces ether. It trades in a kind of Ponzi scheme, in which its one real asset is popularity, and it’s popular because… well because it’s popular.

For that matter, these same critics might say the same of AOL, Google and Bebo. So goes their critique: how can a woman who has excelled in selling ether do something real, like create a hub to power the UK economy?

Then there is the anti-London argument. ‘Why London?’ they ask?

And finally, the anti-immigration brigade can always be called in to support the ‘no to silicon roundabout campaign’.  For the Cameron government plans to allow certain rules making it easier for budding tech entrepreneurs in silicon roundabout to migrate to the UK.

Some of the criticism may be fair. Most is off the mark.

On the topic of immigrants, hubs like London’s tech city need them.  For that matter, so does Silicon Valley, which to a certain extent was built by immigrants . Not literally built, but the ideas and the social network, and Silicon Valley’s culture was built by them. But the US is tightening up on rules regarding immigrants – really tightening up.  From Uncle Sam’s point of view it’s a highly dangerous move. After all the US is a country of immigrants. It is they who made it so dynamic. It is no good bringing up the drawbridge and expecting the US to continue to enjoy economic dominance. So the mistake in the US is the UK’s opportunity, though no doubt the ‘Daily Mail’ will try to stop it.

As for the argument that Tech City is based on vapour ware companies, well that is surely wrong. You would hardly expect ‘Investment and Business News’, which exists solely because of vapour ware, to agree with that.

The thing is that the UK does produce excellent designers in tech. Remember Jonathan Ive? He’s the man behind the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. Even Steve Jobs recognised how crucial he was to Apple. He still is crucial, of course. Then there is ARM, the chip company that designs the chips that sit in so many mobile devices, including Apple’s products. ARM grew out of 1980s computer company Acorn.

The UK’s problem is that it has failed to convert design brilliance into creating British companies that shake the world. For Tech city to be a true success, it needs to create some of the can-do spirit that encapsulates Silicon Valley; the real dynamism that sees investors willing to consider most ideas, and a culture immersed in the idea of innovation.

Silicon Valley was not deliberately created. It created itself. But that is no reason to think that trying to create something similar in London, one of the most important cities in the world, isn’t a dream worth pursuing, or indeed is an unrealistic dream.

©2012 Investment and Business News.

Investment and Business News is a succinct, sometimes amusing often thought provoking and always informative email newsletter. Our readers say they look forward to receiving it, and so will you. Sign-up here