Month: May 2014

Google’s self-driving car and the future of the taxi

Another week, another cutesy PR video, and another one of the Big Four’s moonshot projects gets a little closer to reality. While most articles that were circulating on the reveal of Google’s self-driving car dealt with it’s rather cartoon-like appearance or the multitude of regulations that will need to be negotiated before a concept like this becomes viable, The Irish Times looked at how self-driving cars could revolutionize the taxi industry in big cities.

Detailing a report by Lawrence D. Burns, former VP of R&D at General Motors and now a Google consultant, it was suggested that, if such a project becomes viable, it could reduce the cost of running a taxi service by almost 90%, significantly reducing wait times in the process.

The researchers found that Manhattan’s 13,000 taxis made 470,000 trips a day. Their average speed was between 10 and 11 mph, carrying an average of 1.4 passengers per trip with an average wait time of five minutes.

In comparison, it is possible for a futuristic robot fleet of 9,000 shared automated vehicles hailed by smartphone to match that capacity with a wait time of less than one minute.

Assuming a 15% profit, the current cost of a taxi service is about $4 per trip mile, while in contrast, it was estimated that a Manhattan-based driver-less vehicle fleet would cost about 50 cents per mile.

The fact that Google invested $250m in Uber just last year only makes this a more realistic vision. Imagine a fleet of 9,000 Uber / Google self-driving cars whizzing up and down New York’s streets ferrying people around for next to nothing. It’s all very ‘Minority Report‘, but I like it!

Posted by Rob in Google, Tech, Uber

Can Apple’s ‘iWatch’ catalyze wearable tech growth?

If industry murmurings over recent weeks are anything to go by, it looks as though Apple’s much touted ‘iWatch’ could see the light of day sooner than we might have thought. While such wearable devices are hardly a brand new concept, Apple’s entry into the space could act as a catalyst to help finally push this product category into the mainstream.

Although Samsung’s Galaxy Gear may have been met with a resounding ‘meh’ on its launch last September, and Nike seem to be cutting their losses with their Fuel Band (although this was always a fairly niche fitness product anyway), it is important not to underestimate the ability of the Cupertino powerhouse to impact the success of an early stage product category. I have always believed that if the iPhone 5 had shipped with NFC as was predicted by many at the time, NFC cardless smartphone payments would be the norm today. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and NFC has still not reached its full potential.

While I remain sceptical of the consumer utility of Google Glass (would you really wear a Glass headset all day for the handful of instances that it might come in handy?), I feel that smart watches offer much greater value to the common user. If someone out there can distil the essence of your smartphone into a standalone device that means you don’t have to carry around your phone everywhere you go, it could be huge.

It is also encouraging to see some companies out there already doing some really cool things with wearable tech in the real world. Take the Ushuaïa Beach Hotel and the Hard Rock Hotel in Ibiza for example. Both have recently introduced a system of smart wristbands that allow guests to abandon their room key cards and credit cards, and avail of a whole host of other hotel services with the swipe of their wrist.

One thing is for sure, this is a space with some serious opportunity for growth and innovation. Your move Apple.

iWatch patent 2

Some of Apple’s smart watch patent designs: image courtesy of Fast Company

Posted by Rob in Apple, Apple Watch, Wearables

What does Twitter’s new mute feature mean for brands?

Twitter announced this week that they are launching a new ‘mute’ feature so that users can block incoming Tweets from an account that they follow without actually unfollowing them. While this might be a handy feature for users (there are some serious serial Tweeters out there), what does it mean for brands?

A lot has been spoken recently about the fact that brands are continually being marginalised on Facebook by an algorithm that basically forces them to pay to reach their own followers. But could this new feature from Twitter be just as harmful?

While Facebook take it upon themselves to filter out companies’ marketing messages as they see fit, Twitter’s new feature is more of a user-orientated approach. Instead of a faceless algorithm, it is the customer themselves opting out of hearing from you.

The key take-away here is that you need to actually provide value to your followers / customers via social media. They are unlikely to unfollow you if you’re saying something meaningful and not just posting meme’s and ‘inspirational’ quotes, so brands beware. All this feature really does is make it slightly easier for followers to actively ignore you.

twitter mute

Image courtesy of Mashable

Posted by Rob in Facebook, Social Media, Twitter

Media usage trends paint a bleak picture for old media

This hardly comes as a surprise but, if this report by Ofcom on media usage published last week  is to be believed, then the falling attention of users towards newspapers and TV is not going to stop any time soon. As eyeballs shift to digital media and smartphone and tablet content consumption continues to grow unabated, old media is increasingly being marginalized.

Ofcom researchers asked consumers which media (Newspapers, Radio, Web, TV, Mobile) they would miss the most, then segmented the results by age. Newspapers don’t even seem to be on the radar of those under 35 and only 13% of 16-24 year olds claimed that they would miss TV the most. As is clear from the below chart, this shift to digital is very much generational. It may be be just the beginning, but it is clear that digital consumers are slowly but surely taking over the most coveted media demographics.

While the results don’t come as much of a surprise, it should cement the need for players in this space to urgently look at their long term strategy if they have not already done so.

Media Usage


Posted by Rob in Media, Mobile, Old Media

Snapchat live chat & video could be a game-changer

This could be massive. In what was quite an unassuming blog post yesterday to announce their new live chat feature, Snapchat casually threw in that they are also adding a live video aspect to the service too. This move makes a heap of sense as the company grapples with ways of giving users a more valuable service. Sharing vanishing selfies will only interest people for so long after all.

By going in this direction, the company is clearly trying to branch out from their relatively niche focus and become a platform where users can interact with each other in a more meaningful and rich way. If they can eek out a place in the younger generation’s world as an alternative to Skype or WhatsApp, then turning down Facebook’s reported $3 Billion advances could turn out to be a very savvy move in the end.

Posted by Rob in Mobile, Snapchat, WhatsApp