Tuesday, May 31, 2016

At what point does something officially become a trend? For Hearables the time is now.

Until recently, the market for wearable technology has been primarily focused on the wrist, but now the focus seems to migrate to the ear.  First Hearables have already arrived, and the category holds the potential to become a dominant one in the wearables market.

Hearables are more than your old Bluetooth earbuds, used for calls or music.

The current generation of Hearables have built-in basic sensors that enable fitness and activity tracking features. The new generation is going one step forward and will include more advanced sensors to monitor temperature, pulse and heart rate and hence evolving into digital health devices.

Hearables have one other significant advantage over the wrist wearables  - the natural use of voice interactions.  With personal assistants such as Cortana, Siri and Alexa now on the market, the era of speech-recognition technology is upon us. True, they still have a long way to go to match Samantha from "Her".. but the journey has started.

Couple of notable Hearables - in the market or still in the doing

Bragi Dash are the most well known Hearables, on the market. They have raised over $3 million on Kickstarter in 2014, and have become the reference point for just about every other company currently trying to enter the Hearables domain. The Dash it's a stand-alone media player with 4GB of storage; a fitness tracker, a heart-rate monitor and step counter, along with a general-purpose hands-free kit. Features like touch controls and audio transparency increase their appeal. Dash is selling for $299

"Here" earbuds from Doppler Labs have introduced augmented audio, a new branch of Augmented Reality that lets you remix how the world around you with sounds. Here earbuds are designed to improve your audio experience of the world - be it in the office, on the street, in the bus, subway or an aeroplane. You can choose to focus on conversations while in a noisy coffee place, to remove the noise of the air conditioner in the office or hear the street's noise and the cars approaching while walking downtown.

Nuheara has entered the competition this spring, with its IQbuds.  The product combines ideas from Bragi's music and fitness-focused Dash with Here's "active listening" experience. Currently on Indiegogo where it has raised over $600.000.

Pilot, the real time translation hearable from Waverly Labs' - has fired up the internet just couple of weeks ago. The company says the earpiece "will be out by Spring 2017" following the launch of an Indiegogo campaign and mobile app in 2016 and will cost $299.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Romanian Start-ups in the IoT domain

If you think global start-up hubs, Romania is probably not the first country that comes to your mind. But the country's troubled past and years of economic hardship has given rise to a culture of self-sufficiency and resilience which is spawning a flourishing start-up tech sector.

The national statistics are still modest, but growing. Online database RomanianStartups.com currently lists 295 start-ups, 576 founders and eight accelerators/incubators.

Some of them are taking a chance with the Internet of Things - either as enablers, engagers or enhancers.

DeviceHub from Bucharest  is a cloud service that allows makers and companies to easily connect their Internet-enabled hardware projects to a dashboard for data gathering and data analysis, remote control and sending alerts based on events or triggers. It can be integrated with any kind of hardware, and is designed for smart metering, fleet management, medical industry, home automation, automotive and wearables.  On mid-March, it was announced that the company is receiving funding from  Krakow, Deutsche Telekom’s Innovation Hub for the CEE region. The company will also receive Krakow’s mentors, and access to a market of 150 million Deutsche Telekom Group customers across Europe.

uRADMonitor from Timisioara is developing solutions for environmental pollution monitoring. The uRADMonitor is a plug-and-play, low power, self contained radiation and air quality monitoring device, connected to a centralized server. While the pollution levels are measured and centralized automatically, the user can check the readings online or get relevant notifications by email.  You can back up the project on indiegogo.

Neveli from Cluj-Napoca enters the eHealth sector. It developed a digital healthcare platform that connects to activity trackers, smartwatches, scales, blood pressure monitors and other personal health tracking devices and offers a consistent way to analyse, monitor and manage the data.

Pocketo from Bucharest is building a development board which due to it's small size and power management solution is optimized for wearable prototyping. The board has a wifi module, a bluetooth low energy chip, an accelerometer, a vibration motor and a powerful micro-controller.

3Deva  from Buharest is creating VR hardware - mobile adapters, HMDs and ODTs. Their first products, 3Deva Vizor series are smartphone adapters that enable the visualization of the content in 3D. Viiwok is an ODT (omni-directional treadmill) which permits the player to use own body as a control controller to browse virtual environments.

Do you know any other start-ups in Romania playing in the IoT domain?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

In search of the IoT gold mine…

It's clear that IoT has been hot these last few years.

In the consumer domain we have few obvious winners so far:

- An interesting category has emerged: Fitness bands and smart watches where the early winners are being slowly displaced by some bigger players who were just waiting to see which category is worth investing in
- An unexpected cool and sexy thermostat that came out of nowhere really
- And a bunch of established Technology players who are all aiming to be the one enabling this new world (and capture a good slice of the IoT market value irrespective of who the ultimate product winners are)

A quick look at any crowdsourcing sites and you will see that there are many hopefuls who would love to join /replace those early winners.
But so far, I have not yet seen an offer that would make me say,
              Wow !
              YES !
     I have to have it !
  I can't leave without it !
      Where do I sign ?
Don't get me wrong, I love the IoT promise of intelligent appliances and gadgets that makes my life easier and even solve the problems I didn't know I had.

Unfortunately the use cases proposed are either:
- So focussed and narrow that they are not addressing something important enough for me to bother experimenting further
- So generic and incomplete that I am not yet sure what they stand for (even if they appeal to the geek in me)
It's also fair to say that the Consumer IOT ecosystem is still fragmented and that there is no elegant way to easily manage a range of gadgets from different providers even if by working seamlessly together they would offer a much more compelling story.
Have a look at a recent Financial Times article from Tim Bradshow to sympathise at his attempt to make it all work together.
In my mind, a specific category of IoT gadgets will only make sense from a business point of view if the potential market value is big enough.

In practice it means that

a) Price and margin are high to generate enough value despite relatively low expected volumes
b) Volume are high to generate enough value despite low price and absolute margins
c) And of course the best case scenario of high volume and high price/absolute margin
If we believe that the value of any IoT product is positively correlated to the value of the problem solved or opportunity realised, then the biggest opportunity should be for IoT products addressing companies biggest problems (B2B case).
==> That would explain why the IoT revolution was initially harnessed by utility companies for instance, implementing smart meters to save (them) money
But of course there are things that money can't buy (easily ?), like good health or long life, which could explain the success of fitness bands and smart watches that promise to coach you into living a healthy life (quantifying-self movement, Consumer case)

The success of Nest thermostat is a bit more complicated to explain.
- Saving yourself some money makes sense of course and would appeal to our rational side but when was the last time you bought something just because it was a rational things to do ?
- For me, Nest thermostat are successful because the product appeal to both our rational side (saving money) AND our emotional side (beautiful object, easy to use, so "cool" that you can show it off to your friends when they visit home (we are clearly getting in the Apple territory here ;-))
Another way to think about the value of the IoT world is by looking at the network effect around IoT:
For instance:
- Owning 1 Philips hue light is fun at first until you slowly forget you have it and stop using it
- Having your full house set up with home IoT gadgets that seamlessly talk to each other to solve your personal problems would deliver so much more value to the owner that they would be in use continuously
So, if you are one of the thousands small IOT companies that want to become the next unicorn (companies with 1+Bn$ valuation), then I would suggest you focus on where the money is and aim to either solve a problem that other companies would handsomely pay for or aim to solve a life & death type problem for individuals.
Alternatively, ignore everything I said, just follow your passion and solve a problem that matters to you, with a bit of luck it will also matter to other people.
If you are an established (read big) Technology player, please stop this pissing contest and collaborate with your competitors to makes the life of your customers & consumers easy by ensuring that your IoT products / systems work with everybody else's, you'll be amazed by how much faster IoT adoption would take off that way.
At the end of the day an IoT product is just an enabler to something bigger and that bigger thing is what will make your company successful...

It's my first ever blog, so thanks Sanda for the opportunity and I look forward to reading what you think and any advice or suggestions to make this a more interesting blog.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Finnish Start-ups: IOT Gadgets

Finland might be a pretty chilled place to live, but right now is on fire. At least its home grown tech startups are.

A pocket size desktop that aims to change computingSolu

The Finnish startup Solu is in the process of creating the world's smallest computer, an ecosystem of apps and its own operating system. The unit is a small square-shaped touch screen computer that can be used anywhere. The build-in screen also lets you use Solu as a touch based input device when it's connected to a bigger display  With it's wood-based chassis, the device is light, attractive and environmental friendly.

//read more on Yle.Fi 

Digital wearables at your finger - Oura from Oulu and Moodmetric from Helsinki

"Oura Ring helps you to recover from your mental and physical load so that you can optimise your performance. Recovery happens mostly when you are sleeping, so sleep monitoring and sleep quality improvement are the main features of the ring," says Kari Kivelä, co-founder, CTO and Head of Design for Oura.

"Emotional intelligence is thought to be even more important than IQ. Becoming aware of your emotions and the emotions of others builds your emotional intelligence. You will perform better at work, at home," says Niina Venho, the CEO of Moodmetric. Medometric is a modern digital mood ring invented by PhD Henry Rimminen and designed by silversmith Vesa Nilsson.

//read more on Yle.Fi

Locating life (or tracking your treasures in real-time) - Yepzon from Tampere

According to Yepzon, Inc.’s CEO, their product can help people track what matters most to them via smartphone. Designed for belongings, this locator and correlating app can help find lost children with autism and elderly patients with dementia.

Smart Sensor and analytics-based optimization solutions - Enevo from Espoo

Enevo has a solution built on smart sensors and analytics that optimizes the logistics for waste management and recycling industry. The firm's latest innovation is Enevo ONe, which can yield up to 50% cost savings by substituting 'static routes' for waste collection trucks with 'smart' pick-up schedules. The solution uses the wireless sensors that gather fill-level data from waste containers and generates an'ideal' route for the fleet that is factoring in truck availability, traffic information, road restrictions, etc.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Launched today: the new Microsoft Display Dock that transforms your Windows 10 mobile into a PC

Celebrating today an important milestone for myself and my team - as we have just launched the newest mobile accessory from Microsoft Mobile Finland - the display dock (previously known as Continuum dock) 

See comments and video from the the launch event:
The Verge - Microsoft Launch Event October 6th 2015 - The Microsoft Display Dock

And check HD-500, Display Dock product pages from here.

It has been an amazing journey with a truly exceptional team!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Wearables: the quest for killer app

In 2007 the consumer electronics industry was reaching a plateau in consumer spending. Apple introduced the iPhone and smartphones became quickly mainstream. Since then, the smartphone and tablets have generated almost 10 years of continuous and aggressive growth and in 2013 overtook the other CE sales. But the category growth is slowing down and the industry & analysts are expecting that will reach plateau in the coming years, mirroring the static CE revenue. 

The quest for the next big thing has started, with the industry’s high-profile candidate to this position being “wearables”. Analysts are predicting enormous market growth, with revenue over $30 billion by 2020.

Endeavour Partners conducted at the end of 2013 an internet-based study that concluded that wearable devices (and more specifically the activity trackers) are achieving mass-market status in US. The study however revealed also the so-called “dirty secret” of wearables: most of the devices fail to drive long-term sustained engagement for a majority of users. 

The criteria for success for any new product or service goes well beyond initial market adoption. “Products and services that provide utility but fail to have a meaningful impact on users’ behavior and habits -- end up failing in the market”  [Endeavour Study]   In other words – the successful products must have a certain degree of emotional attachment.

It has been argued that there are few main blockers that need to be solved for the wearable to really take off and reach mainstream adoption.
  • They must achieve independence from the phone, being able to provide value to the user also as standalone devices.
  • They must become items of style & fashion. A piece of wearable tech it is after all the most personal “device” we can have.
  •  The “killer” application is still to be found

The first two are related to hardware and design and the problem is an engineering one, well-defined, even if the solution is not straight forward. The third one is however much more difficult – as we are not able to yet give to engineers a specification to fulfill.

On the other hand, the most successful wearables on the market to-date have been the ones where the consumer value is basically generated by the service, rather than by the hardware itself. Fitbit is the current market leader in fitness trackers. It has been the first activity tracking complete solution (hardware+service) where the hardware might even be seen even as an “enabler” or “accessory” to the service.  An essential one, but nevertheless an enabler. 

It is a clear indication that solving item #3 and finding value generated consumer services is essential in driving (and maintaining) wearables to mass-market adoption.

Fitbit's (and all activity tracker’s) growth is powered by the “quantified self-trend”.
“What’s measured improves” ~ Peter Drucker

An extension of this paradigm might generate other potential “killer” apps for the wearables – which can become tools to increase our personal productivity.  

Activity trackers - to improve our wellness productivity and satisfy our physiological needs
Payment trackers – to improve our financial productivity and satisfy our safety needs
Social trackers – to improve our relationship productivity and satisfy our love needs
Education trackers – to improve our self-improvement and satisfy our self-esteem and self-actualization needs.

The devices can collect specific domain data, track it, measure key metrics and eliminate noise to
support habit formations and goals accomplishment.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

IoT productivity revolution. Re-modelling of the workforce

Giving  the developments in the technology and the expected implications of IoT in business and society - we are [most probably] at the early phases of a new productivity revolution.
The industrial revolution brought with it significant social changes – urbanization, new social classes, new working class, changes in family structure. 
Is IoT and digitization going to generate a new productivity revolution, impact the society and re-model the workforce?
As in the past, technological innovation will make some of the jobs redundant. But will also create new ones or will reshape the workforce dynamics and structure.
The workforce is already undergoing a massive change. It has been called Gig Economy, the rise of creative class, the e-conomy, with “e” standing for electronic or entrepreneurial. Employees are leaving the traditional workplace and opting for freelancer or entrepreneurial life. While the economy has unwillingly pushed some people into independent work, many have chosen it because of greater flexibility and possibility to focus on more personally fulfilling activities.
 The work is becoming more digitized and more global
Working across geographies in real-time is becoming the new status-quo. Certain professions are at the foreground of the transformation - with the journalists and software engineers being the first ones to heavily enter the world of digital-global-freelancers. These are the first professions and activities to be impacted (and potentially benefit) from the fact that most information work is already digitized.
With the growth of the industrial IoT, the digitization and connectivity is extending to previously analog tasks and processes. Machines can be controlled remotely, processes are automatized, and the need for on-site workforce is decreasing.
In all productive revolutions, skills greatly determined the quality of life.  The digitization & globalization of the workforce means that potentially any skill can be employed real-time from any location on the globe. Where you live & where you work does not matter anymore - as long as you are “connected”. What matters is the quality of your work. The skills you can deploy. A reverse of the urbanization could even be possible, as the need to live close to the “factory” disappears. Maybe the next step in our societal evolution is a world of “highly connected villages”, with people working from home, and a life where the separation between work and life time is not well-determined? 
Will consumer IoT applications offer us the chance to improve certain skills and consequently enhance our competitiveness?