Yesterday Samsung announced the new Galaxy S4 smartphone. It has been called the iPhone killer, while this seems to be the news item most outlets are reporting. The real interesting thing that happened during the launch announcement was their introduction of a line of heath devices along with the phone. Is this Samsung’s attempt at jumping ahead of Apple in the iHealth arena? There has been a lot of speculation that Apple’s alleged iWatch is going to be a health monitor that connects to iPhones. This wouldn’t be the first time that Apple wasn’t first to innovate, take the original iPod for example. They took the mp3 player and made the iPod, one might argue they are the same, but history has shown us that to the consumer they were not. Will this be a similar circumstance? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain. Consumers seem interested in self quantification and Samsung has decided to enter this market with the launch of their new flagship smartphone. Check out some of my earlier posts on self quantification here and
Wired is reporting that there are several new devices about to enter the market that track the a cars fuel economy. Griffin has the CarTrip and Automatic has what they are calling “Your Smart Driving Assistant“. These devices plug into your cars OBD port and are meant to show the driver just how they are spending their fuel dollars. This is a natural extension of the self-quantification phenomenon I’ve talked about earlier here. The Fitbit or Nuke Fuel have shown that people want to know how much they are moving around and to some extent augment their activity in a positive way based on this feedback. The premise is drivers will want to do the same sort of thing to their driving and potentially save some cash in the process. I’m sure that some auto enthusiasts will certainly enjoy a smartphone app that captures this data easily, but will the average consumer find this useful? I would guess that the answer is no. For a while now, most cars have been able to report fuel economy information back to drivers, albeit sometimes in a hard to decipher format, and this has not changed overall fuel consumption. If the data were presented in a more easy to read and actionable from will this help? Perhaps… Some early assessments of feedback mechanisms in hybrid cars, have shown that drivers can augment their habits when confronted with an easy to understand graphic, like the Ford leaf graphic used in some of its hybrid models. Overall I like the idea, I’m just not sure that it’s different enough from what’s currently already available in cars.
With all the reports of Apple making an “iWatch“, I began to think about my first impression of the iPhone. I remember watching the live stream of the event on Apple’s website. As Steve Jobs slowly unveiled the feature set and form factor of the the iPhone, I thought, this is what I have been waiting for. It was a mashup of a phone and a computer that before then, only lived in my imagination Somehow Apple had gotten into my dreams and created what I wanted. The problem with an iWatch is I’ve never really thought about having a watch do much more than tell time. When I was a kid, I had a Casio databank watch that allowed me to store contacts and phone numbers. Admittedly the cool factor was lost on some, but the usefulness was clear… I always had all my friends telephone numbers on me. Since this was before cell phones, it was a big deal. What would I want an Apple wrist wearable computer to do? Since testing out the UP band I can say that I would like a fitness tracker, and vibration alarm built-in, maybe a heart rate monitor? I may also like to have a more fully thought out sleep tracker. I can also see an iWatch extending my iPhone screen for texts and other alerts. These are all good combo uses of an iWatch, but what functionality would truly be revolutionary? What set of features would make this a market changing, must-have device? I guess we will have to wait and see, I hope they have something groundbreaking waiting to reveal. Apple needs a big win to reclaim their place as an innovative company post Steve Jobs. I hope they can do it.
After watching this training video showing first responders how to safely extract occupants from a Tesla Model S without being electrocuted. I started to think about how EV’s might react in an accident. It became clear that EV’s are nothing like conventional vehicles. A gasoline powered car crash can be a violent event and one that sometimes ends in fire. However, most fender-benders don’t usually end in a car engulfing fire. Will the rise of EV’s change the severity of accidents? Meaning, will lower impact speeds cause more loss of life, due to the high voltage, when compared to the same type of crash in a traditional vehicle. When EV’s first entered urban areas, an unexpected side effect was a higher rate of pedestrian accidents. Since there isn’t an engine in the EV, they were much quieter than traditional vehicles. This was an unanticipated but an easily remedied problem. EV manufacturers added sound back to the vehicles in the form of speakers and digital cars sounds. Will the rapidly increasing number of electric powered vehicles begin to uncover a new threat posed by this technology? Have the current EV manufacturers tested their vehicles with enough rigor to ensure safety from electric current in accidents and other non-standard conditions? It seems like Tesla has thought about this issue and is taking the initiative to instruct first responders. As with any new technology there are always growing pains and unforeseen issues. As consumers we expect that they are worked out before the products make it into our homes and lives. I guess only time will tell.
With SXSW only a few days away there have been a few news items detailing the event, mostly about what celebrity will be attending and which company will be throwing the greatest party (I vote Spotify). One particular TechCrunch post about Sidecar caught my attention. Sidecar is a startup company with an app that allows you to share a ride. It’s somewhat like Uber (I have a post about what Uber is here) but the drivers are anyone with a car and a Sidecar account. It’s an interesting mashup of technology and shared resources. There have been a few of these ideas in the past couple of years, most of which have been mildly successful. The reaction of the incumbent businesses they threaten is the reason for their mild success. In the case of Sidecar, they are promoting free rides to and from SXSW parties. It’s easy to see why this is a good idea. It will get them noticed by the SXSW illuminati and it will also get them noticed in a new community where they’re launching, in this case Austin Texas. The outcome however, was not as expected. In response to the promotion, the Austin government has issued a statement declaring that any non-licensed driver picking up passengers for a fee will have their car impounded. I can see their position, they don’t want a bunch of regular people driving around their city, wait a minute… that’s exactly what everyone is doing anyway… What is the real issue, could it be lost revenue on taxi licenses? Or perhaps pressure from the incumbent taxi cab companies? Or is it a public safety concern? I’m sure it’s a mix of all of these. My guess is that disruptive ideas such as Sidecar will always be met with this sort of resistance.
In a few cases, the incumbent companies recognize the new technology and try to emulate it, like in the case of Zipcar. Zipcar is an on-demand car rental service, with no central location. You use an app to locate a car on a city street and the app unlocks the car and allows you to drive it. When you are done, you park it where you are (within a certain area) and you’re finished. This type of disruptive concept at first was dismissed by the incumbent rental companies. That is, until it started making a dent in their bottom line. Instead of lobbying for regulation or pressuring local governments into levying fines, they began to offer a similar service. Hertz has launched Hertz On-Demand, to offer this type of convenient car rental to their large customer base. I’m not sure how this scenario will play out, will Hertz have the ability to compete with an agile startup? Will Zipcar have the ability to outlast a market leader in their field? Either way, I like that way both companies have chosen to compete. This could be a good lesson for the city of Austin, especially when they are host to a conference devoted to innovation and technology. Perhaps next time, instead of imposing fines and legal threats, the Austin government can find a way to embrace new ideas and work together with innovative companies to provide mutually beneficial solutions…Or does that only happen in the movies?