The Cons of Expansion: Is Google Fighting Battles on Multiple Fronts?

  • Google is engaged in a war on many fronts with large rivals, suggests Om Malik. Google’s Android, YouTube, Books, Music, Google+, Google Ads, Nexus 7 and Google Wallet compete with comparable products from Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and others.
  • Moreover, Google no longer has a monopoly on top talent, as many Googlers are being lured away to work in start-ups.
  • By trying to expand into so many areas, Google may be risking its core search business.
  • “As Google tries to expand into new territories it is leaving its core search vulnerable — not to another rival’s technology, but to end-users,” writes Malik for GigaOM. “The injection of Google+ into search results seems to be a growing point of dissatisfaction.”
  • “In my years of following the company, I came to understand that what separated Google from many of its competitors was its audacity,” notes Malik. “When I look at the first day of Google I/O, I am left impressed by Google Glass. The product itself is too nerdy and it still has ways to go before it becomes an everyday product. Nevertheless, it represents a bit of old Google. It represents the kind of things the company needs to do in order to leap forward of its rivals.”

Google I/O Conference: Chrome for iOS, Cloud Computing and More

  • At its Google I/O developer conference on Thursday, the company announced that Gmail now has 425 million users, including government agencies in 45 states and 66 of the top 100 universities in the U.S.
  • “Google also announced that over 5 million businesses have now ‘gone Google.’ This, says Google, includes a number of large companies, including Roche, KLM and others,” reports TechCrunch.
  • Sundar Pichai, SVP Chrome and Apps, says Google Chrome now has some 310 million users, compared to 160 million last year. “Pichai says there’s every indication that Chrome is now the biggest browser in the world,” notes AllThingsD.
  • The company demonstrated Chrome used across multiple devices while retaining the same settings, bookmarks, and tabs. Chrome will be available on the iPhone and the iPad.
  • Google Drive is being used by 10 million users. The demonstration highlighted the ability to scan through documents with OCR, and showed Google Drive apps for diagramming, faxing and creating presentations. Users can access the same document on a smartphone, tablet or Chromebook, and documents can be edited offline. Beginning today, it will be available for Chrome OS and iOS.
  • In a move to compete with Amazon, Google announced Compute Engine to provide infrastructure as a service by accessing Compute Engine’s virtual machines. In one example, a customer was able to access 771,886 cores for their app. The company claims this will provide 50 percent more computing per dollar than other providers.

Google I/O Keynote: Android 4.1, Nexus 7, Nexus Q, Glasses and More

  • Google kicked off its I/O event in San Francisco yesterday with news that it has activated 400 million Android devices, up from last year’s 100 million. The company claims to now be activating one million devices per day.
  • Android 4.1 (“Jelly Bean”) was introduced. Highlights: triple buffering of graphics pipeline allows parallel performance of CPU and GPU resulting in 60fps performance, voice typing works offline, and voice searches receive spoken answers.
  • Google Play has more than 600,000 apps and games, with more than 1.5 billion downloaded each month. Apps are available in more than 132 countries.
  • The Nexus 7 is a 7-inch tablet manufactured by ASUS that runs Jelly Bean and includes a 1280 x 800 display, Tegra 3 quad-core CPU plus 12-core GPU, front facing camera, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and 9 hour battery life. The $199 tablet can be ordered online for mid-July delivery.
  • Nexus Q is a new social streaming device and the first CE product Google has completely built from the ground up. The $299 Android device is controlled with your smartphone or tablet and features a Galaxy Nexus processor, HDMI, dual-band Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, and supports NFC.
  • The keynote also included an astounding demo of Google Glasses with live streams from skydivers via Google+ Hangouts. Glasses have camera, processor and “a lot of memory to store information.” The product also has a gyro, accelerometer, compass, touchpad, microphones and speaker.
  • Google Glass Explorer Edition is available for pre-order only to U.S.- based developers who are physically at Google I/O at a cost of $1,500. It’s expected to ship early next year.

Impact of Simpler Software: Are Teens Web-Addicted, Digital Illiterates?

  • Former Disney technical director and Nickelodeon animation supervisor, Sang-Jin Bae, thinks kids have become “digital illiterates.”
  • He describes the students who come into his animation classes at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts as falling into three groups: “There are the pure geeks who love technology,” he explains. There are those trying to understand. And then there is the biggest group: “Those who couldn’t care less.”
  • “The kids I have, and that is roughly two dozen of the brightest young digital artists a semester, often have no idea what Microsoft Word is,” he says, noting a dumbing down of essential computing skills. “They can’t tell a Mac from a PC. And forget Excel. They will not use email. It’s a constant struggle to have them simply stop SMSing me.”
  • To make matters worse, software developers are creating simpler versions of their products. He cites Windows 8 as an example. Even AutoCAD’s Maya, a professional tool, has a hair animation function that has been re-designed for the “non-techie.” Apps like Instagram also cater to these digital illiterates.
  • “It has gotten to the point now that if it takes something basic like a password, they can’t figure it out,” suggests Bae. “Application developers are in a race to the bottom.”

Newly Detected AutoCAD Worm Sending Designs and Blueprints to China

  • Researchers have discovered the presence of a worm now known as “ACAD/Medre.A” which is designed to steal AutoCAD documents such as designs and blueprints and send them to email addresses in China.
  • While the worm has been centered mainly in Peru and neighboring countries, it is not restricted there.
  • Written in AutoLISP, AutoCAD’s scripting language, this worm has been spread through infected AutoCAD templates.
  • “After some configuration, ACAD/Medre.A will begin sending the different AutoCAD drawings that are opened by e-mail to a recipient with an e-mail account at the Chinese Internet provider,” wrote Righard Zwienenberg of Eset in an analysis of the worm’s activity.
  • “I don’t think it’s an APT. It’s kind of an uncontrolled attack,” suggests Dimitry Bestuzhev, head of Global Research and Analysis for Kaspersky in Latin America. “It’s hard to say who the target is, and it doesn’t seem to be government sponsored.”
  • “When it’s a targeted attack, they try to limit the propagation to machines they care about, and that’s not the case with this,” he adds.

Report Details How the Television Industry has Weathered the Digital Storm

  • Needham & Co. released a report on Friday — “The Future of TV: the Invisible Hand” — that helps explain how the television industry has so far weathered the digital storm that has affected other media segments.
  • “TV offers one of the best price/value ratios of any consumer product,” note media analysts Laura Martin and Dan Medina in the report.
  • For the average U.S. monthly cable bill of $75 a month for 135 TV channels, “consumers pay about 30 cents for every hour of TV they watch. Compared with other forms of leisure time, this looks inexpensive.”
  • “Today, the Internet content creators cannot create perfect substitutes for TV content, owing to the enormous content costs,” write Martin and Medina. “For example, broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — typically spend $2 billion to $3 billion each year, equating to about $2 million to $5 million per hour of prime-time programming.”
  • “The primary reason that TV networks can commit to these enormous production budgets is because the business model of the ecosystem raises money before anyone knows which channels and shows will be hits,” adds the report.
  • More than three-quarters of network revenues is derived from the upfront advertising market. “Advertisers this month agreed to shell out $9 billion for prime-time commercials on the major television networks,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

New Sony Set-Top Boxes Feature Google TV, Available Later This Year

  • Reviews for Google TV have been less than complimentary. Hands-on reviews from CNET and Gizmodo have commented on its “kludgy integration,” and “overly complex and buggy software.”
  • “What makes sense works poorly, and what works well shouldn’t be available at all, pulling together all the worst possible parts of using Android together and putting them on the biggest screen you own,” suggests Gizmodo.
  • Forbes questions the wisdom of the two-sided remote and notes there may not be enough third party content deals yet to make Google TV attractive.
  • Nevertheless, Google is rolling out Google TV in the UK next month. And later this year, it will be available in Canada, Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Mexico and the Netherlands on two new Sony set-top boxes.
  • Rather than provide an overly complex system for users who want to watch everything, everywhere, anytime; most users would settle for a curated a la carte selection that matches their interests and use patterns.
  • The question is whether Google can attract sufficient developer support to create the apps that provide that kind of experience. We’ll see if there are any significant Google TV announcements at the I/O Conference on Wednesday. If not, there will be more interest in an Apple TV.

Facebook Hides Third-Party Email and Changes Account Default Settings

  • Over the past week, Facebook introduced a new Timeline feature that creates an @facebook email address while it also hides your existing email address.
  • The new settings options make it unclear which address is being shared with the outside world. This change was made by default meaning millions of users may likely be using their new addresses.
  • This is part of a major effort by Facebook to replace existing communication systems and increase the “stickiness” and use of Facebook.
  • So how does Facebook describe the change? “As we announced back in April, we’ve been updating addresses on Facebook to make them consistent across our site,” explains the press release. “In addition to everyone receiving an address, we’re also rolling out a new setting that gives people the choice to decide which addresses they want to show on their Timelines.”
  • “Ever since the launch of Timeline, people have had the ability to control what posts they want to show or hide on their own Timelines, and today we’re extending that to other information they post, starting with the Facebook address,” adds the release.
  • One can only imagine how Facebook will use your email contacts (and perhaps even the messages too)!
  • Additional details are provided via Inside Facebook.

Trend: Are Mobile Platforms Poised to Overtake Traditional Computing?

  • A look over time at the evolution of computing platforms shows PCs overtaking mainframes and minicomputers, and the coming ascendancy of mobile.
  • This year Android will surpass Windows in number of devices shipped, while iOS is expected to pass Windows by next year.
  • This week’s Microsoft announcement of Surface may indicate an abandonment of the software giant’s business model that has worked for more than three decades.
  • The industry is re-integrating with single companies now working to create operating systems, stores, service, and product design.
  • Apple was the first to go down this path. And it has both Google and Microsoft following in its footsteps.
  • “Whether Microsoft or Google will be successful in their integration efforts remains to be seen,” writes Horace Dediu for mobile firm Asymco. “The challenges are immense as the value of the existing chains are enormous and the bonds that tie the company to them very strong. Breaking these ties will seem like value destruction and corporate antibodies will be set loose to kill the transitions.”
  • The post offers compelling charts that graphically describe the changes afoot.

Is the $20 Billion Opportunity in Mobile Advertising Really a Mirage?

  • A recent study projects that mobile advertising will become a $20 billion business in the future.
  • However, Monday Note questions that assumption given the challenges of mobile advertising — such as smaller screen size, diminished attention spans, and privacy concerns.
  • Even location-based ads may not offer the opportunity some believe. “Do we want barkers on our devices?” asks the post. “Is this the game changer for mobile advertising, yet another kind of spam?”
  • Monday Note examines the ineffective approaches to mobile advertising thus far and suggests the future will require more than simply resizing content to fit a different screen.
  • “If the industry hasn’t cracked the mobile advertising code after five years of energetic and skillful work it’s because there is no code to crack,” suggests the post. “The ‘$20B Opportunity’ is a mirage.”

Facebook Team Analyzes Extensive Data in the Name of Social Science

  • MIT’s Technology Review reports that Facebook has amassed “the most extensive data set ever assembled on human social behavior,” that includes private conversations, family photos, records of trips, births, marriages, and deaths.
  • The social network also has personal profiles, “Likes” they have chosen, and in certain apps and websites the songs listened to or articles they read. To give you an idea of the scale, Facebook cataloged some 5 billion songs listened to in only five months.
  • Facebook’s Data Science Team is charged with analyzing all this information to advance both the business and social science generally. They research how people behave so they can influence them to the benefit of their advertisers.
  • “Our goal is not to change the pattern of communication in society,” explains Cameron Marlow, Facebook Data Science Team. “Our goal is to understand it so we can adapt our platform to give people the experience that they want.”
  • For example, last year Facebook found that rather than the six degrees of separation we have from one another, among its then 721 million people only four intermediate connections were needed. They have built a “gross national happiness” index by measuring words and phrases that signal positive or negative emotion. They are looking at why some ideas and fashions spread and others do not.
  • “In April, influenced in part by conversations over dinner with his med-student girlfriend (now his wife), Zuckerberg decided that he should use social influence within Facebook to increase organ donor registrations,” notes the article. “Users were given an opportunity to click a box on their Timeline pages to signal that they were registered donors, which triggered a notification to their friends. The new feature started a cascade of social pressure, and organ donor enrollment increased by a factor of 23 across 44 states.”

Speaking with NUads: Interactive Advertising Coming to Xbox Live

  • This fall, Microsoft will introduce “NUads” — advertisements made possible by Kinect in which viewers can interact by using their voice or hand gestures.
  • “Advertisers will be able to ask viewers to answer multiple-choice questions by speaking ‘yes’ or ‘no way’ out loud, or by gesturing,” reports AllThingsD. “The results will appear in real time on the screen, so subscribers can see how others are voting.”
  • Companies to first sign up for the NUad program include Toyota, Samsung Mobile USA and Unilever. The ads will appear on the Xbox Live dashboard and within select TV apps. At least initially, you will not see them embedded into games.
  • Xbox advertising has grown by 140 percent from last year. Advertisers are drawn to this demographic because it is a segment of the population that has been hard to reach.
  • “It’s increasingly challenging to reach these people, because they are spending so much time on our platform,” explains Ross Honey, GM of Xbox Live Entertainment and Advertising. Xbox Live users spend about three hours per day on the system. “Advertisers see that time and they know they need to connect with users there, because they aren’t anywhere else,” notes Honey.
  • The post includes a video featuring sample NUads.

Unreal Engine 4: Next-Gen Game Development About More Than Games

  • At last week’s E3, the highlight of the show was the first public showing of Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4, the game development platform that will power the industry’s next generation.
  • The previous version, Unreal 3, has been used by a variety of developers in more than 150 games since 2006 including “Borderlands,” “Mass Effect” and “Gears of War.”
  • Unreal 4 will not only be used for game development, but for film storyboarding, architectural visualization and medical/real world simulations.
  • “There is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of our engine team and our studio to drag this industry into the next generation,” says Cliff Bleszinski, Epic’s design director. “It is up to Epic, and [founder] Tim Sweeney in particular, to motivate Sony and Microsoft not to phone in what these next consoles are going to be. It needs to be a quantum leap. They need to damn near render ‘Avatar’ in real time, because I want it and gamers want it — even if they don’t know they want it.”
  • In the past, a single floating ember could slow a scene down. Unreal 4 can portray millions of particles when given sufficient hardware. Moreover, it can display photo-realistic lens flare, bokeh distortion, lava flow, environmental destruction, fire, and detail in landscapes. (See samples in the Wired article.)
  • Kismet 2, Epic’s new visual scripting tool, allows non-programmers to create and script game elements. And unlike current engines, Unreal 4 allows one to see changes instantly. The engine is filled with a variety of tools that will shorten production schedules and costs.

Antitrust Probe Launched Involving Cable Companies and Online Video

  • The Justice Department is examining whether cable companies are hampering competition from online video providers. Specifically, it is looking into Comcast’s data caps which limit the amount of data subscribers can download.
  • Comcast has set caps which impact how users view online video from services such as Netflix and Hulu. Moreover, it has favored its own Xfinity online video service by excluding its use from the caps.
  • This may violate a provision not to “unreasonably discriminate” against competitors agreed to in Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal. Comcast has said Xfinity is treated differently because it uses a private network instead of the public Internet.
  • The investigation is additionally looking into whether requiring a cable subscription to view online video may be considered anticompetitive.
  • “The Justice Department also is investigating the contracts that programmers sign in order to be distributed on cable systems,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “Some contracts include so-called most-favored nation clauses, which make programmers give the biggest cable companies the best price they are offering anywhere, among other conditions. The Justice Department is questioning whether there are legitimate business reasons for such terms or whether they are intended to stop programmers from experimenting with other forms of online distribution.”

WWDC: Powerful MacBook Pro with Retina Display Takes on Ultrabooks

  • Apple’s new top-of-the-line MacBook Pro, introduced yesterday at the Worldwide Developers Conference, is almost as thin as the Air, as powerful as a desktop and features the highest resolution screen ever seen on a notebook.
  • “It will likely take rivals a year or two to catch up,” says Forrester analyst Frank Gillet. “Anybody can go buy the processors from Intel, but even the track pads from these companies can’t match Apple. Apple has more discipline and control over every aspect of these machines, so it’s tough for the other guys, the Windows guys, to compete.”
  • Apple’s MacBook Pro with Retina display features a 15.4-inch display with a 2880×1800 resolution. This compares to the regular 15-inch MacBook Pro which has a 1440×900 resolution screen.
  • In addition, it has an 2.7GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core processor, up to 16GB of RAM, up to 768GB of flash storage, an Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics cards built in, two Thunderbolt and two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, and an HDMI port for connecting to displays for HDTVs. However, there is no optical drive.
  • “The only thing that you could argue against the MacBook Pro with Retina display is that it’s heavy compared to an ultrabook, at about four and a half pounds,” Gillet said. “But it isn’t an ultrabook. The MacBook competes with ultrabooks, but there isn’t an ultrabook on the market that fully matches the Air right now.”
  • Pricing starts at $2,199 and can run up to $3,749 with added options.