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Home automation opens up IoT market for telcos: Ovum

Home security is set to become single largest growth sector for internet service providers and telcos in the burgeoning internet of things (IoT) ‘connected home’ market, according to a new report by analyst and consultancy firm, Ovum.

“Home security provides the biggest medium term opportunity for service providers, but this opportunity requires a cohesive strategy in order to expand beyond the 5-10 percent of the market that buys traditional security and home automation services,” said the report, Home Automation: Overseas Successes & Australian Opportunities, which was produced in conjunction with NBN Co.

According to Ovum, the Australian Security Industry Association estimates that around one million households in the country have remote security monitoring systems, out of more than eight million households nationally, leaving “significant room” for growth in the domestic security market.

David Kennedy, research director at Ovum, said home security will be one of the “big ticket” market sectors that will help shape the nation’s connected landscape in the future.

“There is no single killer app in the future but rather big ticket categories such as security and energy control,” he said.

Another significant market that has been identified in Australia, according to the report, is household energy management services and hardware. In 2012, Connection Research estimated that this market in Australia was worth approximately AU$13 billion annually.

“Given the ongoing focus on energy efficiency as energy costs become a larger share of household budgets, this market too is sure to grow,” said the report.

For Ovum, home automation services present ISPs and telcos with an opportunity to “grow incremental revenue and encourage customer attraction and retention”.

While these markets are highly competitive, the report said the revenue opportunities are significant, citing figures by Telsyte estimating that device sales alone in the home automation market would be AU$160 million in 2014 and rise to AU$917 million by 2017.

However, the report added that unless the tech industry as a whole developed compelling IP-based automated home devices, the full potential of the IoT market may not be reached.

“The biggest challenge to growth is the nascent state of the ecosystem for connected home devices and applications. To grow this market the ICT industry must create innovative products that widen the appeal of connected home technology to the mass market,” the report said.

The report follows multi-billion dollar investments by the likes of Google and Apple into expanding IoT device portfolios.

In June, Apple unveiled a new network protocol called HomeKit, allowing developers to integrate connected, automated home devices such as lights, smoke detectors, and security systems. Also in June, Google allowed its recently acquired smart home device company, Nest, to pay over half a billion dollars (US$555 million) to purchase cloud-based home monitoring service company, Dropcam. The internet giant paid US$3.2 billion for Nest itself in January.

IT research agency IDC said it expected the global Internet of Things IoT market is expected to grow by more than AU$5 trillion over the next six years, reaching a valuation of US$7.1 trillion by 2020.

Samsung offers its Tizen OS to original Gear smartwatch owners

In a move unlikely to win any friends at Google, Samsung is giving users of its Galaxy Gear smartwatch a choice to switch from Android to the company’s Tizen OS.

This comes after a recent report that Google executives are unhappy with Samsung over the Korean company’s effort to push Tizen on its smartwatches instead of Android Wear.

Samsung introduced the Galaxy Gear in 2013, running a variant of Android reconfigured to work on a watch. Since that time, Google has released Android Wear, its own version of Android created specifically for such wearables. While most Samsung watches are powered by Tizen, the company does sell the Android Wear-powered Gear Live through the Google Play Store.

According to Samsung, Gear owners who switch to Tizen will get access to 140 Tizen apps and have the ability to store music and play it back through Bluetooth headphones. It also includes the standard Tizen customization features, such as the ability to choose different icons, fonts, and wallpapers.

Oracle hopes to make SQL a lingua franca for big data

Oracle is hoping to turn heads in the crowded data analysis market with Big Data SQL, a software tool that can run a single SQL query against Oracle’s own database as well as Hadoop and NoSQL data stores.

The software is an option for Oracle’s Big Data Appliance, which incorporates Cloudera’s Hadoop distribution, said Neil Mendelson, vice president of product development, big data and analytics.

There’s a lot of experimentation going on in enterprises around so-called big data, but certain factors are impeding customers from moving these projects into production mode, namely a lack of integration between Hadoop and other systems, difficulty obtaining the right talent and concerns about security, Mendelson said.

Big Data SQL takes advantage of the core skills any Oracle database administrator has, he added. “You get to use the full dialect of SQL.”

You also have to buy big into Oracle’s technology stack, however.

Big Data SQL’s full benefits require an Oracle database to be installed and running on the software company’s Exadata database machine. In an implementation, Exadata and the Big Data Appliance would share an interconnect for data exchange, Mendelson said.

In addition, Big Data SQL is only compatible with version 12c of the Oracle database, which was released last year. Most Oracle database customers are still running versions 11g and earlier.

But customers get benefits in exchange for the investments Big Data SQL requires, particularly the ability to use the Oracle database’s advanced security features within Hadoop and NoSQL stores, he said. Security rules set for data in 12c are simply “pushed” into those other environments, Mendelson said.

Oracle over time will add support for using Big Data SQL with other hardware systems it sells, according to Mendelson. The software is set for general availability within the next couple of months, with pricing to be announced at that time.

Big Data SQL isn’t an attempt to replace the SQL engines already created for Hadoop, such as Hive and Impala, which Oracle will continue to ship with the Big Data Appliance, he said. “We’re really solving a wider problem.”

One big challenge facing data scientists is simply the overhead of moving data among systems, he said. Big Data SQL allows various information stores to be queried in place with minimal data movement, and queries are made more efficient using Smart Scan technology from Exadata’s software stack.

At a quick glance Big Data SQL might appear to simply be another take on federated querying, which has been around for quite some time. It also has its disadvantages, said analyst Curt Monash of Monash Research.

“Federating query across systems involves a network cost, always,” he said. “Often it also leads to a query being planned by an optimizer that isn’t ideal for all parts of the query,” Monash said. “If the performance advantages of moving the data are large enough to outweigh those considerations, it usually would be even better to move the data before you start.”

But Big Data SQL “is data federation with some predicate pushdown,” Monash said. “A predicate is, for this purpose, part of a SQL statement. Rather than do everything at the central processing location, which can be a cluster itself, you push down some of the predicates to where the data is stored.”

“That’s the whole point of Exadata,” Monash added. “A lot of the filtering is done locally, so that the network impact isn’t as miserable as it otherwise could be. This reduces the objections to data federation. It’s a good idea, just as Exadata is a good idea.”

But it would be an overstatement to call Big Data SQL a breakthrough, Monash said.

“These are all well-known ideas, which Oracle seems to have now implemented for its own particular walled-garden environment.”

Oracle is expected to discuss Big Data SQL further during a webcast on Wednesday featuring Andrew Mendelsohn, executive vice president of database server technologies.

New Relic’s analysis service goes live

Building on its successful platform for monitoring the performance of IT systems, New Relic now offers a service that collects and analyzes app performance data to provide more information about how effectively businesses are serving their customers.

New Relic previewed the service, called Insights, earlier this year, and it was tested by over 6,000 New Relic customers. It is now available as a full-fledged commercial offering from the company, starting at US$250 per month.

New Relic’s speciality has been in the field of APM (application performance management), which involves collecting vast amounts of operational metrics potentially useful in monitoring system performance and debugging issues.

Although New Relic hasn’t traditionally pursued the market for general use data analysis software and services, it found that its customers “really wanted to use data to make their businesses better, but didn’t know how to do it. They saw us as a potential vehicle for them,” said James Gochee, New Relic chief technology officer and senior vice president of products.

Insights provides metrics on how an organization’s Web applications and websites are being used by their customers, using operational data already collected by New Relic’s software agents that are embedded directly into the Web pages and applications themselves.

Quizlet, which provides online learning tools, is one early user of the service. The company, whose website gets 20 million monthly visitors, was able to better understand how users traveled through its site and, as a result, redesigned it for easier navigation.

For the launch, New Relic also issued an app for Insights that can be run on Apple iPhones that provides access to all the metrics administrators have created within Insights.

This story, “New Relic’s analysis service goes live” was originally published by IDG News Service .

Samsung suspends Chinese supplier over charges of using underage workers

Samsung Electronics has temporarily suspended business with one of its Chinese suppliers, after a labor watchdog group accused the factory of hiring five underage workers.

The South Korean company said Monday its own investigations uncovered evidence of the illegal hiring at the supplier, Dongguan Shinyang Electronics. Local Chinese authorities are also looking into the matter, it said.

“If the investigations conclude that the supplier indeed hired children illegally, Samsung will permanently halt business with the supplier,” the company said in a blog post.

New York-based China Labor Watch alleged last week in a report that the supplier had been hiring “child workers” to help assemble Samsung products.

A month ago, China Labor Watch sent an undercover investigator to examine the working conditions at the factory. Located in the Chinese city of Dongguan, the facility builds and assembles covers and components used in Samsung phones, according to the labor group.

Their investigation found that the factory had hired five workers under the legal working age of 16 to work night shifts lasting 11 hours each day. Two of those workers were 14 years old with the other three aged 15.

“Each shift is a daily struggle for these children,” China Labor Watch claimed. “Tired, they must face high quotas and strict management, with supervisors frequently yelling at them.”

The findings countered Samsung’s own recent audits, which claimed that none of its Chinese suppliers had been found hiring underage workers.

Samsung demands that all company suppliers use ID checking scanners to verify the ages of its workers. But China Labor Watch’s own investigation found that none of underage workers at Dongguan Shinyang Electronics had undergone ID checks.

In its Monday blog post, Samsung said it had last audited the factory on June 25, and found no underage workers. The company’s follow-up investigation, however, found evidence of the illegal hiring that took place on June 29.

Dongguan Shinyang Electronics did not answer phone calls on Monday. China Labor Watch said the factory had forced the five underage workers to return home, following the group’s report.

This story, “Samsung suspends Chinese supplier over charges of using underage workers” was originally published by IDG News Service .

Android One May Boost Google’s Dominance in India

Sundar Pichai kicked off Google’s rapid-fire announcements at its annual conference on June 25 with one that hits close to home. The Android chief, a native of India, lamented the slow adoption of smartphones there and said Google would embark on an initiative to help the country along.

Pichai said the project, called Android One, is designed to help local hardware manufacturers build better, cheaper smartphones that’ll enable more people in emerging markets to afford to participate in the information revolution. Here’s what it’s really about: Google doesn’t want to lose its grip on Android like it has in China.

One piece of the Android One plan — the part Pichai most strongly emphasized during the presentation — is to compile up-to-date lists of tech specs for affordable smartphones. This should eliminate the need for smaller, low-margin device makers to pour money into designing a new smartphone from scratch every nine months to keep up with the industry’s pace, Pichai said. Google is working with Micromax, Karbonn and Spice in India on the first Android One products to debut in the fall. Pichai said he’s been testing a Micromax phone designed as part of the program, which has a 4.5-inch screen and features important to Indians, such as dual SIM cards, FM radio and a swappable memory card for less than $100.

“I’ve been using this phone for a while, and it is really good,” Pichai said on stage. “When I go back home to India and other countries like that, it is exciting to see the impact phones have on people’s lives, but it’s disappointing that only less than 10% of the population has access to smartphones. We want to change that.”

Graph of active Android users

IMAGE: BLOOMBERG

Surely, Google would also like to minimize the chances of having to compete with software makers in each country on Android, which the Silicon Valley giant gives away to device makers. So Android One phones will run on the base version of the mobile operating system without modifications. The phone manufacturer and the customer’s mobile carrier will be able to set devices to automatically download preferred apps, such as those popular locally, through Google’s Play Store, and to keep the system constantly updated.

China is a model for what can go wrong when Google doesn’t exert some control over what companies can do with Android. Google doesn’t offer an app store in China because it avoids doing business in the communist country. So many competitors have stepped up to fill in the holes. Samsung Electronics, Xiaomi and other phone makers have their own app stores in China and often modify the versions of Android on their devices to promote their offerings. Chinese Android users make a habit of installing various app markets to access games and other software that are exclusive to each one, said Jenny Lee, a managing partner at venture firm GGV Capital in Shanghai.

Software downloads comprise a big business that Google has ceded in China, the world’s largest mobile market. Chinese search giant Baidu bought 91 Wireless the country’s most popular third-party store, for $1.9 billion last year. Alibaba Group said this month that it will acquire the shares it doesn’t already own in UCWeb, which also operates an app store, and — in a nice bit of one-upmanship — that the valuation is bigger than 91 Wireless. Sky-Mobi, a publicly traded app store operator in China, gets promotional help from the the largest mobile carriers, and that has helped Michael Song, its chief executive officer, to become a “local king,” he said in a recent interview.

Google’s hold over the Android software market in India may be slipping, too. The Google Play Store faces challenges from 1Mobile Market and others that cozy up to local developers. Microsoft’s Nokia X smartphone, which runs a modified version of Android without Google’s apps, frequently appears on top-seller lists at Flipkart and Snapdeal, India’s largest online retailers.

“Android One is ostensibly about expanding access to smartphones, but is really about increased Google control,” tweeted Jan Dawson, an analyst at Jackdaw Research.

India is a logical place to start the Android One project. True, Pichai probably has a soft spot for the country, having grown up in the southern coastal city of Chennai. (He’s the subject of Bloomberg Businessweek’s cover story.) But more important, it’s one of the fastest-growing smartphone markets in the world. Smartphone penetration is at just 10% there, and shipments were up 186% in the first quarter compared with the same period last year, according to research firm IDC. Meanwhile, China’s growth was 31% as the country begins to approach saturation.

“We can bring high-quality, affordable smartphones so that we can get the next billion people access to these devices,” Pichai said at the conference yesterday. “We are going to be launching this around the world, but we start this journey in India.”

Don’t expect Android One to come to China anytime soon. There’s only room for one king.

Songza confirms it’s been acquired by Google

Songza has confirmed that Google has acquired the streaming-music startup, according to an emailed statement to VentureBeat.

Songza creates music mixes based on a variety of themes and factors, such as your mood or the local weather forecast. The mixes come from a combination of algorithms and human curation — making it similar to the recent Apple purchase, Beats Music. Rumors of acquisition talks with Google appeared last month, with the price set at $15 million.

For now, Songza founder Elias Roman said no immediate changes are planned for the streaming service. However, Songza’s technology could be useful to Google, which has both its Google Play All Access music service and the forthcoming YouTube music service.

Full statement from Songza below:

I’m thrilled to share some news that wouldn’t have been possible without the help you’ve given us over the years in telling the Songza story: Songza is joining Google!

We can’t think of a more inspiring company to be part of in our quest to provide the perfect soundtrack for our users.

No immediate changes to Songza are planned, other than making it faster, smarter, and even more fun to use.

Dropbox Buys E-Commerce A/B Testing Service Predictive Edge, Shuts It Down

Dropbox has made another acquisition: Predictive Edge, a startup that had built a way to personalise e-commerce offerings, along with dynamic pricing, for marketers to send out to users and run A/B tests around them.

The service will be shut down, and the founders will be working on something different, as they note in an announcement on the site:

Predictive Edge is joining forces with Dropbox!,” the company writes. “Going forward we’ll be focused on solving problems outside the world of A/B testing. As of today, you can no longer sign-up for our service, and we’ve informed current customers that our product will no longer be supported. Many thanks to you all for your feedback & support, and here’s to a new chapter!

A new — and intriguing — chapter. The founders note that they’re not continuing to develop this product, and it’s tempting to wonder how and if any of that technology will be applied in whatever they tackle next. Hu’s LinkedIn profile notes that he is now “building Mailbox at Dropbox.”

Predictive Edge was working in what is an emerging and growing area of e-commerce: dynamic pricing, used by the likes of Uber for surge pricing, but also e-commerce sites to present different prices depending on who is doing the looking.

This is Dropbox’s 17th acquisition, with five of the last six of companies focused on services for enterprises — if you were in doubt about how Dropbox is laying the groundwork for a more concerted push to drive more sales from business users.

Predictive Edge was started in 2010 by two graduates from Stanford and one from the University of Pennsylvania: Kevin Liu (from U Penn), Steven Wu and Marty Hu (both from Stanford), and it was part of the university’s StartX accelerator.

It’s not clear how much money Predictive Edge had raised, or the financial terms of this deal, but Great Oaks was the startup’s lead investor, with another backer being Zach Weinberg, a co-founder at Flatiron Health, among other things.

Android Wear first impressions: The most useful wearable interface I’ve ever used

No messy interface buttons. No superfluous features I’ll never use. I’ve only spent a scant few hours with Android Wear, Google’s new smartwatch OS, but much of what I’ve seen so far gives me hope for the entire smartwatch category.

LG would appear to have the most simple Android Wear device in its G Watch. It doesn’t have a circular display like the Moto 360 or a heart rate monitor like the Samsung Gear Live. But simplicity is the basic operating principle behind Android Wear, and my G Watch test platform does a great job of staying out of the way while the OS does its thing.

It all comes down to voice control. When the watch is performing its basic watchly duties—and the G Watch always shows its clock display unless you set it otherwise—you see just a static screen. But the device’s microphone is always in a ready state, and is quick to respond to “OK Google” voice commands.

Need to do some quick math? “OK Google… what is 20 percent of 132.58?” The answer appears directly on a card on the watch.

math

Need to figure out a tip? You can have an answer in seconds. Except everyone will know how much you tip.

 

Need to know a baseball score? “OK Google… who won the A’s game last night?” A card showing the score quickly appears on screen.

Need to reply to a text notification that appears on the watch? Hit a big, bold interface button, and start speaking. Your reply will shoot back to whomever texted you. Voice recognition appears to perform more accurately than on my HTC One. I have pretty much joined the rest of the U.S. population under 55 who no longer makes voices calls, so quick, accurate and phone-free texting is an epiphany. To this extent, voice texting on the G Watch has been a win so far.

But there are two drawbacks.

First, just like on Google Glass, voice replies send automatically. You have to deliberatelycancel a reply if you don’t like what speech recognition picked up. Second, your voice replies—and in fact all your Android Wear interactions—are far from inconspicuous. All your texting content, Google searches, and everything else that really drives Android Wear can be fodder for public scrutiny.

send a text

Unfortunately, everything you input can be heard by those around you.

 

Maybe I’ll be the first to say it: If Android Wear really takes off, “OK Google” could become the techie douchebaggism that makes us all forget about Glassholes.

But let’s not dwell on negatives as there are other great features: The G Watch includes a built-in step-tracking function, and your daily step counts can be summoned with a quick voice command.

And I am loving the note-taking function. If you have a random thought throughout the day (an idea for a new screenplay) or just need to save some critical information (the number of your parking space) you can say “OK Google… take a note” and then voice whatever you need to save. Your note will be sent as an email to your Gmail account. It’s a wonderful feature, though I’m interested in an option that sends Android Wear notes to a note-taking app instead of email.

So those are some of the deliberate things you can do with “OK Google” voice commands. Anyone who owns an Android phone should already be familiar with them (here’s an entire list of commands), but trust me, they really come alive when they’re accessible on your wrist.

Unfortunately, in the few short hours since activating Android Wear on the G Watch and writing this article, I haven’t gotten a vivid impression of the other Android Wear promise: Contextual alerts sent from other Android apps. For instance: The Google Now cards that appear on my phone aren’t miraculously appearing on the face of my G Watch. I’ve received Twitter notifications—and replying and favoriting on the G Watch is awesome—but I’m really looking forward to much more contextual information slipping in and out of the Android Wear interface.

Of course, The G watch isn’t even a shipping product yet. Nor have app developers had any chance to build software yet. Nor have I mastered all of Android Wear’s interface settings. But the good news is that everything I’ve played with so far suggests a device and an operating system that’s easy to use, and packed with utility.

I love the fact that I don’t have to dig through app drawers. I love the focus on ready information, and quick voice replies. Android Wear keeps wearable tech simple, and that’s what this so-often-confounding product category needs.

IT Outsourcing Provider Infosys Gets Facelift With New CEO

Last week’s announcement that SAP executive Vishal Sikka would be taking the top spot at Infosys may be an indication that the Indian outsourcing provider is capable of making fundamental changes in an attempt to regain its prominence in the offshore IT services industry. After all, Sikka will be the first non-founding CEO in the company’s history.

“Something needed to change — and fast,” says Phil Fersht, CEO of outsourcing analyst firm HfS Research. “He is new blood. He has youth on his side. He gives them the immediate facelift they were craving.” (Disclosure: SAP is a client of Stephanie Overby.)

In recent days, the Bangalore-based company also announced a dozen new executive appointments.

But it will take more than a few new faces to transform Infosys. While these executive appointments are important, says Thomas Reuner, principal analyst within Ovum’s IT services practice, what’s required is a complex orchestration of changes in a very competitive environment.

IT outsourcing, IT outsourcing, IT offshoring, Indian outsourcing, Infosys

Founded in 1981, Infosys became the face of India’s booming post-Y2K IT outsourcing industry. New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman credited Infosys co-founder and former CEO Nandan Nilekani with inspiring his 2005 business best seller, The World is Flat.

But in recent years, Infosys has struggled to keep pace with its Indian and western rivals. “Despite a pretty decent financial performance in the market over the last 18 months — though lagging its major Indian counterparts — it was still abundantly clear that Infosys was struggling to break from its legacy past and make the changes necessary to rebuild company morale, reinforce strategic direction, and reinvigorate the whole company culture,” says Phil Fersht, CEO of outsourcing analyst firm HfS Research.

“The firm was getting squeezed and executives continued to leave the firm at a frequent clip — some voluntarily, but most forced out,” Fersht says. Infosys had come to be considered an old school offshore outsourcing provider by some.

New Infosys CEO, Vishal Sikka, Has His Work Cut Out For Him

Sikka is well-connected and well-liked by CIOs, say observers. But he will have his work cut out for him, most immediately in improving the deal pipeline at Infosys. “His first task is to fix the sales engine,” says Reuner.

Infosys has been overly dependent on smaller projects rather than large outsourcing relationships. “If you depend on discretionary spending, you’re in trouble when you encounter economic headwinds,” Reuner says. “They need a healthy percentage of their income to be predictable. We haven’t seen them win many large deals of late.”

Infosys also needs to further strengthen its platforms strategy, according to observers. “You only need to look at the acquisitions made by the likes of Accenture and IBM over the last couple of years to realize that cloud-based platforms that underpin analytical, consultative value-add services are the long-term future of services.” Infosys’ recent investment in its end-to-end Edge platforms were a step in the right direction. But “they’ve been struggling to execute on that,” says Reuner. Sikka’s technology product background could help.

Software executives, however, can struggle to make the transition to services. Consider Leo Apotheker’s short stint at hardware and services firm HP. “While we laud the bold approach Infosys is making by putting a technology products innovator at the helm, the firm is still primarily a services business with a services culture,” says Fersht.

“However which way we look at this, services is about people first. The CEO needs to understand what make millennials tick, how to develop training programs, how to keep wages low and morale high, how to develop succession plans and ‘up and out’ models that work, how to inject analytical and creative thinking into its staff.” Sikka must make the company’s front-line employees happier and stabilize the organization, agrees Reuner.

At the same time, Infosys needs to embrace increased automation. “This is more of a threat to current IT services and BPO delivery models, where advances in robotic automation software are enabling clients to reduce their already offshored services by a further 20 to 30 percent by replicating manually operated processes in robotic software solutions,” says Fersht.

“As robotics become more mainstream, because of client requirements, those providers with strong ability to replace labor with robotic process automation are going to be at an advantage.” Last year, Infosys struck a revenue-sharing partnership with robotic automation provider IPSoft, an indication that it recognizes that need to accelerate its automation option, says Reuner.

Time Will Tell if New CEO Will be Capable of Transformational Change

Sikka doesn’t take over until August. So it’s too soon to say whether the new CEO will be capable of making such transformational change. “Stabilizing the company is one thing,” says Reuner. “Catching up with peers who put in stellar results quarter after quarter is another. Even if you fix the internal problems, you still have the competitive pressure.”

While co-founder N R Narayana Murthy has officially stepped down, he could remain involved in decisions behind the scenes, which could thwart turnaround efforts, adds Renuer. “I don’t see him just playing golf.”

“Sikka needs to balance the realities of the present world with the one we’re moving into. Infosys isn’t IBM; isn’t at the sheer size and scale that it can throw all its eggs into the cloud basket and take its eye off the ball with its existing business. Infosys needs to keep one foot firmly planted in the reality of today’s business, while also developing for the future,” says Fersht.

“Vishal needs to take a pragmatic view of the pace at which Infosys can really change and evolve,” says Fersht. “Coming up with the big vision is one thing. Executing on it is another.”

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