Bull Session

Google I/O 2016

May 25, 2016          

Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the myriad products launched at Google I/O 2016.

To begin with, this summer the latest and greatest version of Android, the master platform for much of the Google software ecosystem, will make its debut. No longer just a mobile device OS, Android supports wearables (Android Wear 2.0), virtual reality (Daydream), and even automobile interfaces. In addition to the many flavors of Android, Google also showcased Allo, its AI-powered messaging app; Duo, its FaceTime competitor; as well as Google Home, its voice-activated product for the smart home.

Jon:
Welcome to Episode 157 of The Digital Life, a show about our adventures in the world of design and technology. I’m your host Jon Follett and with me is founder and co-host Dirk Knemeyer.

Dirk:
Happy digital day Jon.

Jon:
Happy digital day Dirk. Wow, that alliterates like crazy doesn’t it?

Dirk:
Indeed.

Jon:
For our podcast today, we are going to discuss the various product launches at Google’s I/O 2016 conference. Which is their big product launch every year. Before we get into the specifics of the Google announcements, I just want to make a note that in previous episodes we have always covered the Apple events until they became so boring that they weren’t worth covering. I thought a little piece of analysis that you did probably about six months ago, just sort of stating that Apple was going to get overtaken by one of it’s more innovative competitors, I think is probably worth at least mentioning that that day may have come with Google I/O 2016. Your thoughts on that?

Dirk:
Yeah, I mean, I think the day came a long time ago but now we can all agree. Now, it’s not just obvious to me and the small number of people but any thinking person obviously sees that as Apple has huge announcements over going back to small-sized phones as an option in contrast to Google’s panalopy of new technology announcements and innovations. The only thing left is for Google or I guess I should say Alphabet to surpass Apple in stock price. That’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.

Jon:
Yeah, just from a market perspective, let’s also take note that the Apple stock took a little bit of a beating as its returns were no longer as spectacular as in previous quarters. Let me just say, they’re still the largest company on Earth so kudos to Apple for holding on to that. At the same time, it is quantitatively as well as qualitatively obvious that as far as innovation goes in the technical sphere, Apple is getting outflanked.

Dirk:
For sure, it’s almost like the days before Steve returned to the company in the mid-1990′s. The Apple product portfolio is stale and flaccid compared to the new innovations and directions being taken by competitors. It feels like they would need something that seemingly came out of left field as a Hail Mary to, from my perspective, get back into the conversation of the future of digital products and lifestyle. I think they are the present to a gradually diminishing degree as well as the recent past.

Jon:
Yeah, I’m on board with that. With that preamble, let’s take a moment to savor the Google product announcements. Let’s start off with their Android operating system which is more and more becoming their master platform for the Google software ecosystem. Which is basically Google everywhere, Google in your car, Google on your arm, and now Google virtual reality. Right? The VR system built on top of Android N which is the unnamed new OS shipping in the summer.

Daydream is sort of splitting the difference between Cardboard and Oculus Rift. Right? They’ve got this reference design for a headset which presumably will incorporate a VR-enabled phone. If you’ve ever tried Cardboard, which seems completely ridiculous and reminds me of the 3D glasses that you’d get at the old school 1980′s movie theater where you strap on this piece of cardboard with the funny lenses and all of the sudden there’s this headache-inducing experience known as 3D movies. Cardboard I thought was going to be that but actually there’s some New York Times applications that are actually kind of enjoyable … using Cardboard. I was really surprised.

This is the bottom up approach to VR which means that it’s accessible to people in a way that Oculus Rift frankly is not with such a high price tag. Where it’s probably going to appeal to a certain strata of folks. Let’s start with Daydream. Are you daydreaming of Daydream, Dirk?

Dirk:
You know Jon, no, but I think that Daydream’s on the right track. I mean, VR is still at a stage where bleeding edge early adopters might find it exciting and interesting but it’s not particularly practical or sustainable or something that can be like a core part of a normal person’s lifestyle. It ain’t there yet. Google is starting to move it closer with Daydream by virtue of usability and simplicity and integration.

That goes back to the Google roots of the company. Certainly Google wasn’t the first search engine by a mile but what they did is they took the idea of search engine as sort of the powerful central point of a giant platform of crap. They removed the crap and so the search engine is the important part.

What they’re doing with Daydream is moving down the path of having the technology be more usable, more accessible, and more able to be integrated into someone’s daily life and environment instead of being some gigantic thing strapped to their head. Which is how the most popular VR technologies have been manifesting so far.

I’m heartened and optimistic about Daydream as the Google foray into VR but for me VR technology ain’t there yet. I’m happy to sit on the sidelines and let other people burn a lot of money and energy dallying with the latest and greatest stuff that thirty years ago would have been in a Sharper Image store. Then when it gets to be something really practical and interesting, I’ll get into it more in my own life. Daydream is a path down VR as integrated part of A Digital Life and that’s great. It shows that Google’s thinking about the problems in the right way as they generally do.

Jon:
Yeah, I think VR not withstanding, there’s the other aspects to this Android OS release which includes Android Wear of course. We all know that we’re now covered with other digital objects like watches or fitness trackers or what have you. Android Wear I think provides some autonomy for your Android-powered Google smartwatch.

I haven’t really found that object yet that’s got me excited about smartwatches. Frankly, I kind of like not having anything on my wrist. I suppose if I’m jogging or something that might be the occasion for me to put on a smartwatch of some kind that could track all of my calorie-burning activities. It’s just not there for me yet. It’s interesting that Google is folding the smartwatch or the wearables into its larger platform. Which also includes of course the ability to be used by automakers as part of Android for Auto. The ability to have tendrils into all these aspects of how digital is becoming part of all of our environments, I think that’s … Strategy-wise, I think that’s pretty spot-on. I know that a lot of companies are trying to do the same thing but Google seems to have the ability to actually execute on a lot of these things.

I think this new Android release, Android N, but they’re going to crowd source the naming scheme so be prepared for some sort of thing that would appeal to your sweet tooth, some kind of candy. I think it’s just going to further entrench Google as one of the top competitors in any sort of mobile ecosystem going forward.

Dirk:
Yeah, it certainly shows that they’re keeping pace. The big problem with Android and the thing that I feel Google has to sort out and change before Android can really supplant Apple and iOS, I think is required is to get closer to the Apple model of curated garden instead of the open model of wild west. The open wild west model is one that goes back to the days of Microsoft and the idea that it’s just sort of this clumsy, cluttered, disorganized, chaotic, stew of software and stuff. That’s not consumer-friendly.

There’s a lot of reasons why but I think at the core of Apple’s success and Apple’s ascension over the last twenty years is hitting the sweet spot of let’s make this easy for the every man or woman to come in and get what they want in a safe environment that’s usable and accessible and intuitive. Android ain’t that. They’re still on their old model.

I don’t think that Google with Android as a platform is going to reach their full potential until they figure that out, until they get out of the chaos mode. You know whether it’s Android itself or some future platform that the next latest and greatest that replaces Android down the road, I think that’s going to be sort of the nexus of where Google needs to solve it, to own sort of the personal computing ecosystem for a real majority of people.

Beyond that, going back to the devices as you were talking about, I’ve talked about this on the show a whole bunch. Right now, there’s too many devices in the personal computing ecosystem. We’ve got our laptop or desktop main machine. We’ve got our iPad tablet device. We’ve got our smartphone. Now they’re proposing to bring watches in at a little different level but still in that ecosystem where things like the Fitbit or these sort of complimentary IoT devices. Brass tacks, there should be no more than two personal computing devices that cover all of the use cases that people need within their ecosystem. There may be other accessories off that. I have my laptop. I also have a big monitor that the laptop plugs into. At the end of the day, the laptop is the computing device. Right? Right now, the market is trying to make four different devices fit in. Again, the personal computer, the tablet device, the smartphone device, and the watch-like device, and that’s two devices too many. It’s why watches are flailing.

I think there’s a great opportunity for innovation for the company that really nails what are the two devices. In the long term, it’s one device because the nanotechnology, the miniaturization will get to such a point that we have one thing that is the personal computing thing with accessories coming off it. Pushing that onto the farther out shelf, in the nearer term, the company that can solve for here are the correct two computing devices in people’s ecosystem to solve these use case in sort of the best hybrid way, that’s what we really need. Trying to solve at the watch level is putting one more unnecessary device into the stream. It’s just strategically wrong.

Jon:
Yeah, I struggle with that. Don’t forget, there’s also all the legacy devices that … In your example, there’s four sort of current devices and types on the marketplace. My drawers are filled with the detritus of Apple upgrades and wearables that were not so wearable anymore and headphones and lord knows what else, a virtual treasure trove for the garbage pit.

Dirk:
Right.

Jon:
Next up on our list of Google announcements are their Allo AI powered messaging app with chatbot. Everybody has a bot. Everybody wants to chat.

Dirk:
Doing the bot.

Jon:
Everybody’s artificially intelligent. With each iteration, we get more impressive, slightly better usability, and the ambient interface, the beyond the screen I’m just going to talk to the computer. That gets a little bit closer. Man, these increments, they’re going to kill us all.

As you pointed out before, it’s in part you’re still sort of making yourself fit with the UI’s. The interface isn’t made for you, you’re conforming to the interface. You know that that’s sort of early adopter problem. In every instance where I’ve encountered that with previous technology, it was always a sign that it’s slightly immature and that ultimately I was making myself work for the technology and not the technology work for me.

We can have high hopes for Allo and for the AI-enabled chatbot but my guess is that it’s going to be a couple more iterations before we start really getting these chatbots working. In the mean time, I’m going to forget all of their names. I’m like the mouse-pointer click which doesn’t require a name. You have to speak to Siri and you have to speak to Alexa and now Allo and whoever the other chatbots are. It’s like you have a whole AI family that you’re going to have to interact with for a while. I don’t know what they do about that but the code words for starting these up are almost going to be as bad as password management.

Dirk:
I’m waiting to get Brutus the chatbot to come in and really rough me up a little bit. The chatbots, listen from a Google perspective, to get back to our main thread, it’s good that Google’s working on this stuff in a way and at a level of competence that they’re comfortable publicly sharing what they’re working on and that they’re working on this stuff. It remains stupid. We talk about artificial intelligence a lot on this show, and AI, and those things are worth talking about. They are a big part of the future of the digital life but for me for the foreseeable future, I think most of the time when I talk about AI, I’m going to be referring to artificial ignorance as opposed to artificial intelligence.

Jon:
That is super clever. I’m going to have to remember that. Why are you so skeptical of AI?

Dirk:
Because it’s dumb. You know, it’s the shit I talk about on the show all the time. It’s when I’m in the car and I ask Siri to do something for me, it comes back with a list of Google results. I’m driving the car. I don’t want to scroll through a list of ten results to sort it out. I just want it to figure it out. As I deal with Alexa and I say “Play my iTunes library”, Alexa shoots me over to Amazon and plays something that I don’t want. I say “Play this album”, it plays the song instead. I mean it’s rubbish. It’s a whole bunch of rubbish. When you have a Watson that is trying to beat the Go champion and they put up a bajillion man hours on it and millions or tens of millions or I don’t know hundreds of millions of dollars … Okay, sure they can crack it. For these more common use cases that massive amounts of money aren’t being put behind, it’s still artificial ignorance. The future is exciting but it’s going to be clumsy getting there.

Jon:
Right, the present is a beta test. Listeners, remember that while you’re listening to the show, you can follow along with the things we’re mentioning here in real time. Just head over to thedigitalife.com, that’s just one “L” in the “The Digital Life,” and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody, so it’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while you’re listening, or afterwards if you’re trying to remember something that you liked. If you want to follow us outside of the show, you can follow me on Twitter @JonFollett. That’s J-o-n-F-o-l-l-e-t-t, and of course, the whole show is brought to you by Involution Studios, which you can check out at goinvo.com. That’s G-o-I-n-v-o.com. Dirk?

Dirk:
You can follow me on Twitter @DKnemeyer. That’s @D-K-n-e-m-e-y-e-r, or email me at Dirk@GoInvo.com.

Jon:
That’s it for episode 157 of The Digital Life. For Dirk Knemeyer, I’m Jon Follett. We’ll see you next time.

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Jon Follett
@jonfollett

Jon is Principal of Involution Studios and an internationally published author on the topics of user experience and information design. His most recent book, Designing for Emerging Technologies: UX for Genomics, Robotics and the Internet of Things, was published by O’Reilly Media.

Dirk Knemeyer
@dknemeyer

Dirk is a social futurist and a founder of Involution Studios. He envisions new systems for organizational, social, and personal change, helping leaders to make radical transformation. Dirk is a frequent speaker who has shared his ideas at TEDx, Transhumanism+ and SXSW along with keynotes in Europe and the US. He has been published in Business Week and participated on the 15 boards spanning industries like healthcare, publishing, and education.

Credits

Co-Host & Producer

Jonathan Follett @jonfollett

Co-Host & Founder

Dirk Knemeyer @dknemeyer

Minister of Agit-Prop

Juhan Sonin @jsonin

Audio Engineer

Michael Hermes

Technical Support

Eric Benoit @ebenoit

Technical Support

Brian Liston @lliissttoonn

Original Music

Ian Dorsch @iandorsch

Bull Session

The War for The Smart Home

May 19, 2016          

Episode Summary

On this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the war for the smart home. When it comes to the ongoing battle for consumer IoT dominance, there are many big players involved like Apple, Samsung, Google, and Amazon; connectivity providers including AT&T and Verizon; and innumerable device manufacturers such as Withings, D-Link, and a host of others.

On the consumer side Amazon has some unexpected market leadership with its Echo product and rivals are beginning to take notice. For instance, Google recently open sourced its networking protocol for IoT devices, OpenThread — which is used by Nest — in the hopes that other companies will get on board.

Companies are approaching the smart home from multiple vantage points — HVAC, lighting, television (entertainment) — but Amazon seems to have the upper hand so far with Echo and its voice UI, Alexa, as the interface for the IoT goes beyond the screen.

Resources
Google’s Nest Open Sources OpenThread to Snag More IoT partners, Take on Amazon

Cover photo: "Miracle Kitchen" series by Bob Lerner for Look Magazine

Bull Session

Designing Embeddables

May 12, 2016          

Episode Summary

On this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss designing embeddables in light of the news last week that the U.S. Patent Office approved Google’s patent for electronic lens technology, which is implantable directly in the eye. Of course, the company has already developed cutting edge tech related to the eye, including smart contact lenses for detecting diabetes and Google Glass. However, unlike either of these previous efforts, once equipped with these embedded cyborg lenses, in theory you would never need glasses or contacts again. These mechanical eyes could also give you superhuman abilities — to see at great distance or view microscopic material, and document it all by capturing photos or video.

However, privacy and security would, no doubt become major issues as the transmissions from your electronic eyes could be hacked or even used by law enforcement for tracking. Social acceptability will be another issue as well. As we saw with Google Glass, the always on nature of the digital recording and transmission can be a problem, breaking current social norms related to privacy.

Resources
Google wants to inject cyborg lenses into your eyeballs

Bull Session

DNA as Data Storage

May 5, 2016          

Episode Summary

On this episode of The Digital Life podcast we discuss how bio-inspired technology is beginning to intersect with information technology in big ways. With the exponential increase of digital data, we face an ongoing problem of information storage. Today most digital information is stored on media that will expire relatively quickly, lasting a few decades at most. Because of this, we require new methods for long-term data storage, and biotech might just have the answer. DNA could be the storage media of the future: It can last thousands, even potentially tens of thousands of years. And the tech industry has taken notice. For instance, last month Microsoft agreed to purchase millions of strands of synthetic DNA, from San Francisco based Twist Bioscience to encode digital data. Of course we may be years away from a commercial DNA storage product, but the potential for a revolutionary, even disaster proof media is there.

Resources

Twist Biosciences
DNA Storage at Microsoft Resarch
Microsoft experiments with DNA storage: 1,000,000,000 TB in a gram

Bull Session

Smart Cities and Sidewalk Labs

April 28, 2016          

Episode Summary

On this episode of The Digital Life we discuss Google's Sidewalk Labs and its radical plans to design a smart city from scratch. Sidewalk Labs wants to work with cities to build applications that solve big urban problems and accelerate innovation around the world. However, in their pursuit of these solutions, the company is seeking autonomy from many city regulations, so it can build free of the many constraints that come with the design of streets, parking, and utilities.

Sidewalk Labs already has two solutions in progress: Flow, a transportation coordination platform in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation; and LinkNYC, kiosks with gigabit fiber connections delivering WiFi, USB charging, free voice calls, and a tablet for access to the Internet.