Friday, June 30, 2017

3 Reasons Why The Best Business Ideas May Fail Miserably

By Mayur Ramgir

We’ve all heard the expression “innovate or die.” But there are endless examples of companies that made cutting-edge ideas a priority, yet their can’t-miss products – and sometimes the businesses themselves – died untimely deaths anyway.

“People often don’t realize that a product can be smart and work well, and still fail when it hits the marketplace,” says Mayur Ramgir (, president and CEO of Zonopact Inc., a software development firm that specializes in innovative business solutions.

Don’t get him wrong. Businesses that encourage employees to innovate have the right idea, says Ramgir, who also is the author of Unbarred Innovation: A Pathway to Greatest Discoveries. But they can’t assume their breakthroughs will succeed on merit alone. The development process must take even the tiniest possible customer pushback into consideration.

He says mistakes companies make include:
  • Not caring about price. Many innovative companies neglect to do a cost-benefit analysis from the customer’s point of view, Ramgir says. Even if a product has more benefits than what is currently on the market, people won’t buy it if the price is too high.
For example, a thermostat with built-in Wi-Fi that can be programmed remotely and saves energy is fantastic. But if it costs $300, and you can get a programmable thermostat with fewer bells and whistles for less than $50, the customer base could be limited.

  • Ignoring optics.  An idea may be wonderful and beneficial, but still look bad to consumers, Ramgir says. Remember the Segway, the two-wheeled electric vehicle for scooting down city sidewalks? As nifty as it was, the Segway never took off. There were several reasons, Ramgir says, but one of those is that in a time of obesity worries, health-conscious people didn’t want to be viewed as lazy by riding a device that eliminates the need for walking.

  • Disregarding social norms. A product will fail if it makes people feel uncomfortable. A good example is Google Glass, the head-mounted computer system that arrived with a huge splash in 2012 – and then belly flopped. Turns out, the possibility that someone could discreetly take photos or videos of you during a private moment – even in a public restroom – was too creepy. And the product was banned from venues that didn’t want any recording going on, including movie theaters, private clubs and casinos.

Ramgir urges innovators to think of their ideas like “a piece of a puzzle that has to be just the right shape – on all sides – to fit into people’s lives.”

“If your idea is too expensive, makes the user feel uncomfortable or makes others uncomfortable,” he says, “it may never succeed.”

Mayur Ramgir ( is an award-winning author, speaker, innovator and entrepreneur. Educated at Georgia Tech, MIT, Oxford and the University of Sussex, he currently serves as president and CEO of Boston-based Zonopact Inc. Ramgir’s book, Unbarred Innovation: A Pathway to Greatest Discoveries, was published in 2016.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Digital Experience Part 10

By Bayle Emlein

It turns out you can get There from Here. Not only that, once you’re here you’ll be able to park. For under $2,000 I can guarantee you a parking place just about anywhere you go. Actually, it’s Espin bikes than can do that for you.

For less effort than it would take you to drive to work in San Francisco and less expensive than parking downtown in any city, you can ride an Espin bike. (A couple of years ago I heard about someone buying his own parking place in San Francisco. For $82,000. Yup, those are 3 zeroes after the comma.)

Technically, an Espin bike is pedal assisted. That means you can just leave the battery off and ride it like the old-fashioned kind of bike. With the battery, which takes around four hours for a full charge, you have 25 to 50 miles of battery assistance for hills (aka San Francisco) and just for when you’re tired.

The recommended weight limit is 250 pounds and the rear rack can hold up to 55 pounds. Demo rides are available in San Francisco (corporate home) and Los Angeles, which has more hills than you’d think if you haven’t tried walking or biking in the county. Check the Espin website for appointments if you’re on the west coast and want to try out an ebike.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Digital Experience (continued)

By Bayle Emlein

Long gone are the days of a mail order dwelling from Sears and Roebuck.

The process of buying a home has joined every other aspect of complicated modern, digital, connected life. Nowhere is that more true than in the greater San Francisco (a.k.a Silicon Valley) area.

Enter Reali, the agency/app that uses 21st Century tools to solve this 21st Century problem by connecting buyers and sellers directly; by asking just 1.5% in commissions--rather than the 5-6% of the final sale price traditionally required by real estate agents–Reali saves money for both buyers and sellers. And given the price of homes (you don’t want to know), that could be enough to buy a year’s supply of low-fat gluten free frappuccinos (frappuccini?) for all parties.

Whether your change in dwelling is dictated by choice or need (new job, new kid), do check out Reali as a way of taking the pain out of buying and selling a home.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

More from Digital Experience

By Bayle Emlein

VAVA had two new products to show off at the spring Digital Experience Expo. The VAVA Dash Cam and the VAVA Voom 22 wireless bluetooth speakers. Even if the speakers didn’t look cool and sound even better, I’d want them so I could say, “Vava Voom” all day and well into the night, and still make sense.

Dash cams have moved into the everyday utilitarian space. Not yet required (for insurance purposes) on autos in the US, they still document road events handsfree. The VAVA dash cam has 360° swivel and an 140° wide-angle lens to capture events inside or outside the car. My favorite ploy for quieting the kids is to let them know the camera is pointed at them. Another cool VAVA feature: dual parking modes. Either record constantly or automatically switch on when unexpected activity is detected.

Since being parked is the most hazardous step of my drive in The Big City, I’m very interested in this feature. Wonder if they have stickers for my car that warn folks who cut parallel parking just a bit to close to Don’t Even Think of Brushing my Bumper, the way home and store security cams warn that you’re on Candid Camera.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Uber Needs Driverless Cars

For the past eight years, Uber’s chief executive officer and cofounder Travis Kalanick played the role of disruptive entrepreneur with wild abandon—and to great effect. The company has revolutionized ground transportation in many of the world’s cities, often ignoring existing regulations, the concerns of entrenched taxi companies and many of its own drivers, and commonly accepted levels of decency in the workplace.

Now Kalanick has been ousted, and his successor will be forced to stick to a much more predictable script. Uber’s next CEO will have his or her hands full with important blocking and tackling, such as repairing relations with drivers, filling key executive positions, and leading a wholesale makeover of the company’s hard-edged culture.

“Travis has forced the board’s hand,” says longtime technology consultant and author Geoffrey Moore. “For now, the only thing they can do is become a kinder, safer, more predictable Uber.”
That’s fine for the current shareholders, mostly Silicon Valley venture capitalists, who pushed out Kalanick. But Uber has plenty of disrupting to do if the company is going to be a great stock for public investors, says Arun Sundararajan, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and author of The Sharing Economy.

If the privately held company were to go public in the future at anything approaching its current valuation of around $60 billion, taking a bite out of the $40 billion a year global taxi business would be table stakes. To provide much upside, Uber would need to achieve Kalanick’s real goal: to create a service so ubiquitous and convenient that consumers would not bother buying their own cars. By tapping into the $10 trillion that people spend on new and used cars each year, Uber could become more valuable than Google or Facebook, which have become two of the world's 10 most valuable companies by disrupting the much smaller, $500-billion-a-year advertising business.

"Yes, Uber's priorities need to shift in the short term to address threats to its human-driven car business," says Sundararajan. "But they also need to keep their eye on the big prize. It's not hard to imagine Uber becoming the world's first trillion-dollar company, if Apple doesn't get there first."

Trouble is, creating this post-ownership ground transportation economy can only happen with self-driving cars. Uber lost more than $700 million last year, in large part because of the payments it makes to drivers. If the company’s business model is challenged while serving almost exclusively urban markets where there’s plenty of demand, Sundararajan doesn’t see how the company could afford to maintain an anytime, anywhere fleet of cars for consumers in rural and other underserved areas.

“To get the scale they’ll need to satisfy public investors, they’ll need to expand beyond the cities. But that can only happen after we get to totally autonomous cars.” Needless to say, that’s a long way off, he says (see “What You Need to Know Before You Get in a Self-Driving Car”).

For now, playing it safe is undoubtedly the smart move. By improving its brand and improving relations with drivers, Uber can reverse recent declines in its share of the ride-hailing market, and generate tens of billions in annual revenue by taking share from the $40 billion global taxi industry.

The company is already starting down this path, as part of a 180 Days of Change initiative that resulted from the sweeping internal investigation that led to the short-lived leave of absence that preceded Kalanick’s ouster. The company has won praise for announcing that Uber riders will soon be able to give tips to drivers. But there’s much farther to go.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Virgin Mobile Goes All Apple

Apple will soon start selling wireless plans from Virgin Mobile USA, the first new carrier offered by the iPhone maker's since 2013, the companies said on Wednesday.

Virgin Mobile USA, a subsidiary of Sprint (S.N) that licenses its name from the Virgin Group co-founded by Richard Branson, struck the deal as part of a broader revamp of its business that will see it ditch Android phones in the coming years and become what it claims is the first iPhone-only network.

Virgin Mobile USA will first be offered in Apple's stores then online. Apple currently offers AT&T , Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, the last of which was added in 2013.

Branson, wearing an Apple Watch on his left wrist and traditional watch on the other, told Reuters in an interview he sees similarities between the Apple and Virgin brands because both advocate for human rights and other social causes.

Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts "has been tremendously supportive of this and loves the proposition," Branson told Reuters before a launch event in San Francisco. "We were knocking on (an) open door."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Tech giant Samsung Electronics plans to hold a launch event in New York City for its next Galaxy Note smartphone in the second half of August.

The person, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter and so declined to be identified, said the Galaxy Note 8 will sport a curved screen that is marginally larger than the 6.2-inch version of the Galaxy S8 smartphone and feature two rear cameras. The Note 7 was equipped with a 5.7-inch curved screen and one rear camera.

The person did not elaborate further on the phone including pricing. A Samsung Electronics spokesman declined to comment.

Samsung is intent on continuing the premium Note series despite the costly collapse of the Galaxy Note 7, which it was forced to scrap roughly two months from launch in October due to fire-prone batteries. The incident, one of the biggest product safety failures in tech history, cost the firm 6.1 trillion won ($5.4 billion) in operating profit and hurt its credibility.

The firm disclosed its preliminary findings in January that different battery problems from two suppliers caused the fires, which was corroborated by two other independent probes. The firm implemented several steps including a new set of battery safety checks to avoid repeat incidents, which analysts said is helping it win back consumer trust.

Strong initial response for the Galaxy S8 smartphones that began selling in April indicate the firm is recovering quickly, with some analysts forecasting the device to set Samsung's internal sales records and push the firm towards what is widely expected to be its best-ever profit for April-June. There have been no battery fire incidents reported for the S8.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Customer is Always Right

Customer-Centered Culture Could Eliminate Reputation-Ruining Fiascos

By Robin L. Lawton

Whatever happened to the attitude that “the customer is always right”?

The airline industry has been taking its hits lately, thanks to several mishandled passenger interactions: pulling a doctor off an overbooked flight in Chicago, a dispute over a carried-on stroller in San Francisco, a couple booted off a flight in Maui when they put their baby in a seat purchased for his brother. But we’ve also heard call center employees go off on customers, read about store employees using racial slurs and seen deliverymen literally drop packages on front porches.

Any time an employee behaves badly, the scene is likely to be captured by at least one smart phone – and it will go viral. And yet, it happens again and again.


It could be that company policies are unclear about priorities, says customer strategist and executive coach Robin Lawton, author of Mastering Excellence: A Leader’s Guide to Aligning, Strategy, Culture, Customer Experience & Measures of Success (
Employees are then left to decide, sometimes on the spot, if it’s OK to go against guidelines to satisfy the person in front of them, and whether that will lead to disciplinary action – perhaps even dismissal – later.

“Take that decision-making into the real world, with stressful deadlines, cranky consumers and other frustrations, and there’s no telling which way it could go,” Lawton says.
It’s up to company leaders to set the standard for excellence with an unambiguous customer-first goal, Lawton says. And he offers these tips:
  • Know what your customers want. Ask a dozen people what they want from their grocery store, their cable provider or their airline, and you’ll probably get a dozen different answers. And those answers often are counter to what the business thinks should take precedence. “No matter what bias the organization has, the customers’ priorities are what counts,” Lawton says. “Figure it out and build a robust product that makes the most people happy.”
  • Don’t overlook the needs of the casual consumer. Businesses often focus on pleasing the people they think are their most valuable customers – those with power that comes from their position, personality, purse strings or proximity, Lawton says. But those viral videos and Yelp reviews aren’t coming from the folks in first class with the warm towels and free cocktails. “These four ‘power p’s’ can inadvertently lead us to satisfy the wrong customers,” he says.
  • A new slogan or updated mission statement only goes so far. When management identifies issues like quality, leadership, productivity and competitiveness, training often is used to initiate the change. The problem is that only a fraction of those trained actually use what they’ve been given. “There seems to be an assumption that providing people with hammers and saws will enable them to build a house,” Lawton says. “Without changed thinking, clear purpose and sufficient support, we cannot expect knowledge or tools to create desired outcomes.”

There’s both an art and a science to creating a customer-centered culture, Lawton says.
“Of course, the customer isn’t always right,” he says. “But if you treat them well, in the end they won’t care about that. They’ll only care that they were heard and satisfied.”

Robin L. Lawton is an author, customer strategist, motivational speaker, consultant and executive coach ( He coined the term “customer-centered culture,” and his “C3” methodology has enabled numerous organizations to achieve significant growth. He is a popular speaker at management conferences, and his work has been referenced by authors and experts in areas such as business excellence, leadership, customer experience and innovation. Lawton is the author of Mastering Excellence: A Leader’s Guide to Aligning Strategy, Culture, Customer Experience & Measures of Success and Creating a Customer-Centered Culture: Leadership in Quality Innovation, and Speed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Smart Speakers

If you'd never heard of a "smart speaker" before last week, it's understandable. So far, smart speakers have mostly been the domain of early adopters, who aren't afraid to risk a little cash on a new gadget.

But now that Apple has unveiled its smart speaker offering, the HomePod, mainstream consumers are much more likely to pay attention.

Smart speakers are home digital assistants, using voice-recognition technology to deliver internet content in an interactive, hands-free way.

Users might ask their smart speaker for a weather report while doing the dishes, or tell it to stream kids' music while trying to wrangle a toddler.

Of course, most new smartphones can already do those things, since they have built-in voice-recognition software like Apple's Siri or Google Assistant.

But Apple, Google, Amazon and even Microsoft are still betting on smart speakers, and their motivations go well beyond simply selling more gadgets.

For all four companies, a smart speaker in your home serves as a platform to make money in other ways.

"Apple will want to sell you Apple Music as a service, and other services likely are to come," said Bob O'Donnell, president of consulting company TECHnalysis Research. (Apple is touting its HomePod as a powerful hi-fi speaker above all.)

"Amazon obviously wants to do commerce-based services, and Google wants to do search and other kinds of things, potentially, where they can deliver advertising and other kinds of services," said O'Donnell.

Monday, June 19, 2017

MSFT Xbox One X

Microsoft Corp. announced a worldwide release date of Nov. 7 for what the company said will be its smallest and most powerful video-game console ever, the Xbox One X.

The device, which will be priced at $499, is designed to work with a new generation of 4K television sets that offer greater picture quality as well as games that offer ever-more-realistic scenes of car races and fantasy worlds. Microsoft made the announcement Sunday at an event in Los Angeles before the start of Electronic Entertainment Expo this week. The new console will also be compatible with older Xbox games and accessories.

Microsoft and rival Sony Corp. are trying to update their video-game machines more frequently to phase out the notion of upgrading once every seven years or so -- the rate at which companies traditionally have released a new generation of consoles. Microsoft’s latest machine is designed for the high-end gamer who wants the best features and performance and who owns a TV capable of displaying the most advanced graphics.

“They are trying to attract people who want to be able to use the advanced features of TVs they’ve invested in,” said Brian Blau, an analyst at Gartner Inc. “Not everyone will want that if they can get a good experience on the less-expensive console.”

Microsoft has previously stumbled by pricing an older Xbox too high. Initial sales for the Xbox One when it debuted in 2013 were hurt by the $499 price tag, and only picked up after the cost was cut. Sony faced similar issues in 2006 when it released the PlayStation 3, which cost $500 to $600.

“Price has played an important role in the launch success,” said Mike Vorhaus, president of consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates. “The guy with the less expensive box has done very well. I expect that will continue, absent some amazing paradigm shift.”

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Happy Father's Day

Congratulations to dads everywhere. Father’s Day is your special day to bask in your patriarchal grandeur, secure in the knowledge that your kids, family and friends spent $8 billion more on Mother’s Day than they did on you.

Eight billion dollars. That’ll buy a lot of neckties.

The numbers come from the National Retail Federation, which has projected that U.S. Father’s Day shoppers will spend an average of $134.75 this year, up 7 percent from $125.92 last year.
But that’s a whopping 41.4 percent less than the record-smashing $23.6 billion spent on moms for the most recent Mother Day’s in May, according to the federation’s calculations.

Why the massive difference?

Ana Smith, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based retail federation, said there are a couple of key reasons: “There are more women in the U.S. than men. Therefore, the chances are higher that more people will celebrate and spend on Mother’s Day compared to Father’s Day.

“If we look at just the numbers, 85 percent of consumers surveyed planned to celebrate Mother’s Day versus Father’s Day (when) only 77 percent are planning to celebrate the occasion.”

But then, Smith said, there’s also this: “If we dig deeper into emotional factors, consumers tend to spoil moms more since mothers tend to guilt their children if they don’t celebrate the holiday with them compared to fathers.”

What?! Sacramento-area fathers, aren’t you offended?

“Well, not really,” said 49-year-old Pete Walker of Carmichael, who last week was patiently waiting for his family to finish shopping at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights. “My wife’s work is never done, with the house and the kids and her own job. … I think she deserves at least one day to be spoiled.”

Steve James, 38, a Roseville father of two out with his family at the nearby Westfield Galleria at Roseville mall, was likewise favorable to the idea of mom getting loads of presents and love on Mother’s Day.

“She deserves it … and I mean that for my wife and my own mom,” he said. “I’m not keeping score. … If I can take it easy and enjoy a nice day with my family on Father’s Day, I’m going to be happy.”

Relaxing or attending a special event on Father’s Day is a common gift for dads this year, according to the NRF. Its annual survey found that 27 percent of dads want to receive a “gift of experience,” such as tickets to a sporting event, concert or some other outside-the-home experience.

For fathers who simply want to sit on the couch on Father’s Day, TV networks tout dad’s day in their marketing of major sporting events, including Sunday’s final round of professional golf’s 2017 U.S. Open Championship from Erin, Wis., and Sunday’s running of the FireKeepers Casino 400, part of NASCAR’s 2017 Monster Energy Cup Series, from Michigan International Speedway.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Smart Speakers

Are you excited about the better sound quality promised by Apple's new high-end HomePod smart speaker?

If so, a new poll suggests you're in the minority of US consumers.

Morning Consult polled 2,200 adults between June 8 and 12 about what features matter most when buying a voice-controlled smart assistant. Thirty percent of respondents said price mattered most, more than double the 14 percent who said the accuracy of the device's voice recognition was the top priority.

That's not to say features like audio quality and compatibility don't matter. It's just that price trumped the rest.

That could make it hard for the HomePod, which is scheduled to go on sale in December for $350. Amazon, in the smart speaker business since late 2014, sells its Echo for $179.99. Google's Home speaker, introduced last year, sells for $129.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Digital Experience - Still More

By Bayle Emlein

Looking for a new, smarter phone? Of course you are.

As soon as the box for the new model arrives, we’re all shopping for the next exciting features. Coolpad, distributed by Cricket in the US, addresses the drive to use our telephone-shaped devices for everything including voice communication. The Coolpad Canvas screen is so sharp graphic artists will be tempted by the 5.5" drawing surface. And at MSRP prices under $50, you can afford to outfit the whole family.

At the time of the Spring Digital Experience show in San Francisco, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 chip was standard hardware, providing plenty of power to operate all features seamlessly. The operating system, essentially Android Nougat, did the same in a familiar interface. What’s not to like about these phones?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Digital Experience - Continued

By Bayle Emlein

At last, 3D printers are simple enough and affordable in the mass market. Because of 3D printers from Monoprice, “just because I want one” is good enough reason to get one.

The MP Select Mini comes out of the box ready to go. The analogy to automobiles is apt: at first just the fact that you could make the technology work was enough; then people wanted to be able to use the technology on their own, without a support team, hours of research and training, or investing a year’s income. The next steps in product innovation will come from what seems like random playing around and going down lots of roads to nowhere.

Monoprice 3D printers gives each of us the chance to be on the front edge of the wave. Besides designing tchotchkes for conferences and trade shows, I’m interested in figuring out how to develop a pair of shoes that really fits my feet and my notion of cute. In the meantime, get yourself a 3D printer and become a leader the next development in human tool making. A leader, of course, has followers and supporters: Monoprice offers a support team for users of its products.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wonder Woman

In the weeks leading up to the premiere of Warner Bros./DC Entertainment's "Wonder Woman," the internet was peevishly aflutter with think pieces and armchair analyses of the studio's alleged mishandling of the movie's marketing. People who didn't have vast reserves of experience in launching multimillion-dollar media campaigns charged Warner Bros. with intentionally trying to tank "Wonder Woman" by failing to promote it, a paranoid web of assertions that didn't take into account certain quotidian factors such as the film's release date and production budget. In the history of cinema, no one has ever purposely botched the launch of a $150 million franchise.

Like most internet controversies, the premature nattering about the promotion of "Wonder Woman" turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. After a robust pre-launch campaign that incorporated everything from on-site promotions at South by Southwest and WonderCon to a Nascar integration to a TV-heavy paid-media plan, "Wonder Woman" opened last weekend to an impressive $103.3 million in domestic box office receipts. That marked the all-time most lucrative opening for a movie directed by a woman -- Patty Jenkins also wrote and lensed the 2003 Charlize Theron drama "Monster" -- and put "Wonder Woman" on a pace to rake in as much as $300 million in stateside sales.

As is generally the case with blockbusters, TV did a lot of the heavy lifting. According to estimates, the studio thus far has invested $24.8 million in national TV inventory, which is within shooting range of the initial outlay for Warner/DC's 2016 release, "Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice." The comparable TV spend for that film, which introduced Gal Gadot in the Wonder Woman role, was $29 million.

Much of the "Wonder Woman" dollars have landed at the Big Four broadcast networks, with the movie's TV campaign beginning in earnest during CBS' coverage of the 2017 Div. I Men's Basketball Tournament. Along with the standard trailers and 30-second cutdowns, Warner Bros. also sprung for a custom spot featuring "Supergirl" star Melissa Benoist and Lynda Carter, who wielded the golden lasso in the 1975-79 ABC/CBS live-action "Wonder Woman" show. That particular execution aired on the CW during the May 22 season finale of "Supergirl."

Monday, June 12, 2017

Father's Day Gifts

If you were planning to get your dad another necktie for Father’s Day, you might want to reconsider.

According to a new poll by Ebates, electronics is the most wished-for purchase by fathers, at 18 percent. Power tools came in second at 15 percent, with tickets to a sporting event a close third (14 percent).

Fortunately for fathers, their spouses and kids are in general agreement, with 15 percent believing the man of the house wants to be gifted with power tools, while 14 percent voted for CE.

But if thoughts of 75-inch 4K TVs are dancing in their heads, dream on dude; the majority of respondents (62 percent) plan to spend less than $50 on a Father’s Day gift.

Yet 30 percent of those polled said that dads are under-appreciated and nearly a quarter believed he’s “the glue that holds the family together.” But sadly only one in 10 pops expected their families to do something special for them on June 18. So show your dad and the tech industry you care and get him something nice (and expensive).

The survey was conducted on behalf of Ebates by Propeller Insights and fielded among 1,000 adults. The cash-back shopping platform is a subsidiary of leading e-tailer Rakuten, and a sister site to and FatWallet.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Honda Self-driving Cars

The president of Honda Motor Company has said his firm will aim to develop fully self-driving cars by around 2025, amid increasingly fierce international competition to produce autonomous vehicles.

“We hope to establish technologies (for fully automated cars) by around 2025,” President Takahiro Hachigo told reporters earlier in the week at the company’s research and development center in Tochigi Prefecture.

Honda is now aiming to develop fully automated “level 4” cars that require no steering wheel or brake operations under specific conditions such as the time of day, location and type of weather. “Level 4” cars are just one step short of “level 5” vehicles, which make driving completely autonomous with no restrictions.

Japan’s third-largest automaker by volume is struggling to gain a competitive edge in self-driving technology over its global rivals.

Nissan Motor and U.S. electric vehicle maker Tesla are already selling their respective “level 2” cars, which offer automation of multiple functions including control, acceleration and steering.

U.S. automaker Ford Motor and German carmaker BMW are aiming to produce fully driverless cars by 2021.

Honda currently aims to launch self-driving vehicles that can drive and switch lanes on highways by around 2020, the year of the Tokyo Olympics.

“We will take (our self-driving cars) to local streets after realizing (self-driving) on expressways,” Hachigo said.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Smart Speakers

Competition is heating up in the global market for AI-powered smart speakers, as more global tech companies introduce new devices to rival forerunning voice-activated home speakers -- Amazon’s Echo and the Google Home.

This week, US tech giant Apple unveiled HomePod, the firm’s first voice-activated standalone speaker running on Apple’s artificial intelligence software Siri. It is equipped with Apple-engineered audio technology and advanced search algorithms.

The $349 Apple HomePod, available in black or white, will begin sales starting from December, initially in Australia, the UK and the US, Apple said in a press release.

Given Siri, already available on iPhone devices, currently supports more than 30 languages including Korean, Apple’s smart speaker is widely expected to hit other international markets in the near future.

Apple’s foray into the AI-powered home speaker segment comes as many competing tech giants around the world are also launching their own products with aims to grab a share of the growing market.

Amazon’s Echo, released in 2015, currently dominates markets like the US where home speakers are growing in popularity. According to market research firm eMarketer, Amazon will capture 70.6 percent of all voice-enabled speaker users in the US this year.

The remaining portion will be shared among smaller players, such as Lenovo, LG, Harmon Kardon and Mattel, it said.

Despite Amazon’s dominance, the smart speaker market is still considered a worthwhile investment due to its growth prospects. According to eMarketer, 35.6 million Americans are expected to use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month this year, marking a 128.9 percent growth from last year.

“Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with the technology, which is driving engagement,” Martin Utreras, vice president of forecasting at eMarketer said in a statement. “As prices decrease and functionality increases, consumers are finding more reasons to adopt these devices.”

Eyeing this growth, not only Apple but also other tech giants including Samsung Electronics and Microsoft are preparing to launch smart speakers of their own this year.

Microsoft and Harman Kardon, a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics, are slated to release a voice-enabled speaker that plays music and handles everyday lifestyle tasks like managing calendars and checking for traffic this fall.