News reaches the outpost in rural Ireland that Xiaomi, ‘China’s Apple’, fresh from launching their extraordinarily gorgeous steel-clad Android phone which at the top of the line retails at a similarly astounding €86 / $116, has now launched a $13 fit-band, which also looks really lovely. It appears from firstreviews that the Chinese are figuring out how to do power and style (learned, perhaps, from making stylish things on behalf of those who wrote the book on design) as well as cheap, and that’s set to make some serious waves.
It made me think about the politics of technology, which I do quite a bit anyway. Connected people, and connected commerce ecosystems are clearly on the way. Being able to control those ecosystems gives enormous power. And one suspects that the Chinese are more interested in power than in profit, as while profit is currency limited, and therefore politically relative, power is a political absolute. In other words, if the Chinese can dominate the smartphone / tablet business, and by extension the people instrumentation business, that would undermine American attempts at technological hegemony, and create a strong platform for China. Therefore while Apple seeks to preserve its position as a premium brand with premium margin for premium profits, Xiaomi is playing a different game entirely.
(reminder and disclaimer – I work for IBM, but these are personal comments)
Almost three years ago, in Febraury 2010 (yeah, I know – three years!) the Economist ran a supplement called “The Data Deluge“, about Big Data and how it was transforming businesses all over the world. In the middle of the supplement was an article called ‘Clicking for Gold‘, in which there’s a quote from Tim O’Reilly, who says that companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook ‘…are uncomfortable bringing so much attention to this because it is at the heart of their competitive advantage. Data are the coin of the realm. They have a big lead over other companies that do not ‘get’ this.’ For the intervening time, I’ve been quoting this to telcos all over the world, and they nod their heads, and – for the most part – don’t do much about it.
Spent an hour or so reading a great report on the “State of the Internet” by Analysys Mason for the Internet Society. It is a rebuttal to those who think the Internet is falling apart, needs fixing including the proposed shift to ‘sending network pays’.
The document is an excellent primer of the state of the internet today, the crucial role of IXPs and how historically three forces, technology, investment and changes in traffic flows have collectively met the challenge of the exploding use of the internet.
A good case in point, caught the tale end of a report on my local NPR station about how researchers at MIT and elsewhere that uses an algebraic equation to reconstitute dropped packets thereby removing data congestion bottlenecks. The results are very impressive to quote:
Testing the system on Wi-Fi networks at MIT, where 2 percent of packets are typically lost, Medard’s group found that a normal bandwidth of one megabit per second was boosted to 16 megabits per second. In a circumstance where losses were 5 percent—common on a fast-moving train—the method boosted bandwidth from 0.5 megabits per second to 13.5 megabits per second. In a situation with zero losses, there was little if any benefit, but loss-free wireless scenarios are rare. [source]
Looks as if the internet will be around for a couple more years after all.
There’s a strange dilemma in telco. Worldwide demand for its core product is skyrocketing, and all that the industry can do is complain about it. When you step back from it, it’s quite bizarre. It’s like a spoiled child, given everything they could ever want, with no restrictions, and over-protective parents decrying any attempt at discipline. Then, when the child has to fend for itself in the big bad world, she is totally unequipped to even consider the threats and opportunities that presents.
Yesterday I watched a TED talk on Lessons from Death Row, where a death penalty lawyer talked about how death sentences were reducing in number because death penalty lawyers were intervening earlier and earlier in the process. It was easier to avoid the sentence than to correct it, was the logic. Mr Dow went a step further, however, and said that intervention should happen even sooner – before the murder was committed – because the stories of these guys on death row are 80% the same – broken homes, juvenile justice, and so on. Appropriate, early intervention could save the lives of these people, and of course their future victims. In essence, he was saying that everything was predictable.
Telcos around the world – and you know who you are – have a habit of being really not very useful. Matter of fact, they get into a habit of deliberately constructing cumbersome, poorly priced, stupid products that some people use only because they have to, because there’s no alternative. Innovation in telecom is almost entirely redundant – over and above core connectivity and network engineering, there is almost nothing that the industry has come up with in the last fifty years that anyone could call innovative. Text messaging happened by accident. Mobile telephony should have taken off ten years before it did, except that the telecommunications industry was the one doing it.
Imagine for a minute all iPads were 3G enabled. Now, imagine that no data plans were sold with them. Next, all users get free access to the iTunes app store. Now, everything is an app. Connectivity is an app (for random browsing). Bundles of call minutes could be sold as an app. Text and instant messaging too, if anyone still pays for that stuff. All other apps would have access bundled with them in a 3G context, in the same way as books for the Kindle have access bundled with them. Telcos become infrastructure providers for consumer electronics and applications (media) providers. The end.