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Google Glass: It’s not an enterprise product, get over it

26 May

As the niche, developing wearable computing market continues to spin, it will still be some time yet until consumers will embrace this new branch of technology.

When Google Glass was announced in 2012, it was shown off in all kinds of leisure activities — from photo taking to video filming — and a range of personal activities that would bridge the gap between handheld devices and the real world. There was even the occasional skydive, suggesting anyone with Glass can go anywhere and do anything.

But Glass was not pitched to the enterprise or corporate world, and has yet to find its niche within the walls of business. And it likely won’t — at least for the near future.

Google Glass is far from a refined product and has a way to go before it will have any meaningful impact in the consumer space. But while Google continues its public, paid-for and lengthy beta-testing process, it only has the consumer in mind.

It’s an experiment that, like other services it has built on over time, could eventually be developed further to include business-minded types. But even then it would have to be, particularly at this early stage in development, a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) requirement rather than an IT budget spending all-out endeavor.

Yes, you can search things on the go. With developer support you could argue that it could boost e-commerce on the shop floor. Maybe it could act as a second or even third display for number crunching. All of these suggestions banded around ZDNet’s New York bureau this afternoon seem rather weak, do they not?

There’s no doubt that Google Glass could be big business for the search giant, but in turn how it reflects on other business remains at best minimal, and unlikely to dent any significant usage in the enterprise.

By creating apparently more problems than Glass actually solves, the primitive device has seen a significant amount of controversy and concern surrounding whether Glass could breach privacy, record people, invade people’s personal space, and all the encompassing features that defines a “glasshole.”

Developers: App makers hold the key to Glass’ success. Its current bare-bones approach to search and access to its own product range circle isn’t enough to bring in the business crowd — even if you’re a Google Apps company. Until there’s a hearty ecosystem that developers can plug into, there’s little point in even taking on the platform. The ecosystem can only thrive with users. It’s a one-way street, which becomes a symbiotic relationship.

There is a case that if enterprises fling open the doors to Glass and develop their own internal apps for the device, there’s a case in point. But again, there are very few reasons why at this early stage in development

Android: Glass supports Android, also iPhones. Android is creeping into cubicles across the land, but it’s still void of any measurable enterprise-grade security. Some Android phones have been certified with FIPS 140-2 government-grade security thanks to the mobile manufacturers themselves — such as HTC — but that’s no thanks to Google. Glass will have to reconsider its position on taking security less than seriously if it wants to make any meaningful impact in business, thanks to the Android factor.

(There is an argument that iPhones and iPads were not pitched to the enterprise either, but the business customer chose Apple after it began to bolster its security and functionality.)

Privacy: Government is a crucial enterprise player, at least in terms of security above other major business sectors, even finance. With varying levels of security clearance in the same office — some with higher access than others — the last thing you’re going to want is documents floating around on camera that may or may not be currently filming away. Unless Google tackles this very basic privacy problem, Glass will remain a problem child in the workplace.

The ‘stand out’ (or lack of): Normally with any enterprise-based product, feature, or service, there’s a pitch. Google isn’t marketing Glass as an enterprise product, nor should it. There’s very little in terms of value that the next-generation specs can actually offer ordinary workers. It doesn’t boost productivity. It’s a gimmick. Consumers love gimmicks because it’s something they can choose to use a product or feature when they like.

For the enterprise, it’s a core part of the workflow. Glass doesn’t have one single feature or productivity factor that stands out and screams, “use me.” If there were, we’d be harping on about it. For now, or at least until Google Glass 2.0 begins to embrace the worker population, there’s little to offer in terms of ‘stand out’ quality.

Cost: Considering all of the above, the cost of the device alone is an enterprise turn-off, but also the very fact that the weak reasons that could be thrown in Glass’ direction to justify even a small rollout across a corporate base. There may be some industries that may benefit from Glass, but if those benefits are limited to having something within your immediate eyesight rather than fetching your smartphone from out of your pocket, frankly you need to get less picky, more productive employees.

You don’t need a million reasons to justify Glass. You just need one, and there don’t appear to be any.


US government orders removal of Defcad 3D-gun designs

10 May

The US government has demanded designs for a 3D-printed gun be taken offline.

The order to remove the blueprints for the plastic gun comes after they were downloaded more than 100,000 times.

The US State Department wrote to the gun’s designer, Defense Distributed, suggesting publishing them online may breach arms-control regulations.

Although the files have been removed from the company’s Defcad site, it is not clear whether this will stop people accessing the blueprints.

They were being hosted by the Mega online service and may still reside on its servers.

Also, many links to copies of the blueprints have been uploaded to file-sharing site the Pirate Bay, making them widely available. The Pirate Bay has also publicised its links to the files via social news site Reddit suggesting many more people will get hold of the blueprints.

Cody Wilson, who founded Defense Distributed, told the BBC that the genie was out of the bottle.

“Once people heard what happened, Pirate Bay has exploded. I’m sat here watching it now, seeing the downloads go up and up.”

The Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance emailed Mr Wilson a document demanding the designs be “removed from public access” until he could prove he had not broken laws governing shipping weapons overseas by putting the files online and letting people outside the US download them.

Explosive force

Mr Wilson said that Defense Distributed had complied with the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) rules. He said the rules were pretty convoluted, but he believed his project was exempt as Defense Distributed had been set up specifically to meet requirements that exempted it from ITAR.

“Our gun operations were registered with ITAR.”

He said the letter was unclear in that the Office was conducting a “review” yet at the same time he had to remove the files.

“They are stalling, they are going to make this review last as long as they can,” he said. “They are getting a lot of political pressure.” He added that he had taken legal advice about what to do next.

“We’ve also had offers of help from lawyers from all around the country,” he said.

He welcomed the US government’s intervention, saying it would highlight the issue of whether it was possible to stop the spread of 3D-printed weapons.

Unlike conventional weapons, the printed gun – called the Liberator by its creators – is made out of plastic on a printer. Many engineering firms and manufacturers use these machines to test prototypes before starting large-scale production.

While desktop 3D printers are becoming more popular, Defense Distributed used an industrial 3D printer that cost more than £5,000 to produce its gun. This was able to use high-density plastic that could withstand and channel the explosive force involved in firing a bullet.

Before making the Liberator, Mr Wilson got a licence to manufacture and sell the weapon from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Bureau told the BBC that any American could make a gun for their own use, even on a 3D printer, but selling it required a licence.

Mr Wilson, who describes himself as a crypto-anarchist, said the project to create a printed gun and make it widely available was all “about liberty”.

New Silicon Valley in the Andes: Promise and paradox

27 Mar

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of an exclusive four-part Crave series on Ecuador’s plans to transform itself into a new hub of science, technology, and innovation. Read part 1, “Plotting the next Silicon Valley — you’ll never guess where.”

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, Ecuador–There’s a small group of solar panels set up next to a giant tortoise hatchery that’s currently under renovation here. It wasn’t many decades ago that these remarkable gentle giants — which never stop growing and can live to be 150 and the size of a kitchen table — didn’t need help from humans to survive in their native habitat.

Ironically, it is the other species humans brought with them to this remote volcanic Pacific archipelago that have endangered these tortoises. Dogs, pigs, goats, rats, and even ants all prey on young tortoises here, making it virtually impossible for them to survive their first few years in the wild. Instead, they’re raised in facilities like this one near the Charles Darwin Research Station.

There’s plenty more paradox to be found on the Ecuadorian mainland.

The great strides made in the last five years toward modernizing this country after decades of instability have largely been financed by Ecuador’s significant oil resources. Yet, as the country’s socialist president, Rafael Correa, begins his third term in office pushing forward on perhaps its most ambitious project — a planned city of science and innovation dubbed “Yachay” that aims to be part Silicon Valley, part Dubai, and part Shenzhen, China — his administration has opted to lock up one of his country’s richest oil deposits.

Rather than extract the hundreds of millions of barrels of crude beneath Yasuni National Park, one of the world’s most biologically diverse rain forests, Ecuador has instead asked the world to pay it to not drill there. The scheme falls somewhere between crowdfunding and ecological blackmail, but demonstrates a certain amount of audaciousness from a government that also defaulted on a huge chunk of its global bonds after declaring the international debt to be illegitimate.

This is the kind of comfort with paradox that is required of a government hoping to force a small and, until recently, backwards developing nation into a leadership position in the world of science and innovation. But after hearing the pitch and seeing the progress, it’s clear some important people outside Ecuador are ready to file this Yachay thing under “so crazy, it just might work.”

In addition to support from South Korea and CalTech, the Murdoch Developmental Center in North Carolina’s research triangle area has expressed interest in a partnership, as have a few European institutions, according to Rene Ramirez, Ecuador’s minister of higher education, science, technology, and innovation.

Cynicism and broken promises

Then again, like many other developing nations, Ecuador is no stranger to cynicism and broken promises. Editorials in Ecuador’s media have accused Correa of being wasteful with public funds; the daily newspaper La Hora called Yachay a “farce.” In response to the first part of this series, Martin Pallares, a former Knight fellow at Stanford University and a journalist for Quito’s El Comercio newspaper tweeted this about the project: “Hope it’ll happen but I’m afraid no (Silicon) Valley will pop up in a country run by a President who has banished checks/balances.”

Correa has had a thorny relationship with the press, bringing defamation suits against muckracking journalists who have criticized the president, including allegations of corruption. A handful of journalists were convicted and received harsh prison sentences, only to be pardoned by Correa. The confrontations between the government and the press landed Ecuador on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ most recent “risk list” alongside Syria, Pakistan, and Iran (nearby Brazil also made the list).

And, of course, there’s also the aforementioned cold shoulder given to international investors, giving the wider, capitalist world plenty of reason to smirk at such an ambitious project from such a small and relatively isolated nation.

Yet the team behind Yachay seems willing to put in the work to sell their vision to the world, convinced they’ve got something to offer.

“It is a City of Knowledge in order to build a country of knowledge,” Ramirez tells me on a visit to his ministry’s office in the capitol of Quito. “Yachay is linked to the areas of knowledge and the strategic industries that we are hoping to develop in Ecuador.”

When the team behind Yachay talks about the project, the paradoxes that make up today’s Ecuador combine into a more holistic vision in which the contradictions cancel each other out and disappear as if part of an algebra problem. For example, the work done at Yachay will center around a handful of areas, including renewable energy that could (in theory) reduce the temptation to drill the rain forest, preserving its biological treasures to assist in research into another of Yachay’s focus areas — pharmaceuticals.

The idea would be “not only to produce [generic drugs], but mainly to link it to an area where we have a competitive advantage in Ecuador,” Ramirez explains. “We have nearby numerous ecosystems which make this country the most megadiverse in the world.”

Of course, the mega-biodiversity Ramirez speaks of is of less value if it’s spoiled by pollution and other environmental impacts of oil extraction, so he talks not only of developing more clean energy tech at Yachay — he claims that only 40 percent of Ecuador’s energy demand is met by fossil fuels, a number he says will drop to 6 percent by 2020 — but also of making improvements when it comes to exploiting all those liquefied dinosaurs and other hydrocarbons.

21 Mar

The BlackBerry Z10 may be launching at the end of the week, but that hasn’t stopped the U.S. military from seeking alternative devices and potentially exiting as one of BlackBerry’s largest customers.

Electronista reports that as part of the mobile device testing program at the U.S. Department of Defense, 650,000 Apple devices will be ordered.

Based on the publication’s “well-placed sources,” once the government’s sequester is over, the DoD will be ordering 120,000 iPads, 100,000 iPad minis, 200,000 iPod touches and approximately 210,000 iPhones, although specific models “were not shared.”

Most of these devices will find themselves “headed to the battlefield, afloat, and to associated support commands,” and approximately half will be used at the Pentagon. Almost half a million old BlackBerry models are currently in use within the department, but as there is no backwards compatibility with the BlackBerry 10, the iOS devices are intended to replace these models.

Since these BlackBerry devices would have to be replaced eventually anyway, perhaps it is the case that the Department of Defense is willing to move to an older and more tested OS to save money and time — especially as Electronista’s sources say that “some of the needs can’t wait,” — which would further push military officials to switch their preferred mobile devices. In addition, it has been suggested that the BlackBerry 10 was scrapped off the testing list as part of cutbacks, and therefore the BlackBerry 10 operating system couldn’t go through the necessary security checks.

Recently, reports that BlackBerry’s new BlackBerry 10 operating system failed to gain security clearance for U.K. government use were exposed as inaccurate, according to the government department responsible for issuing the certification.

UK Met Office: 2013 ‘very likely’ to be in Top 10 warmest years

21 Dec

It is very likely that 2013 will be one of the warmest 10 years in the record which goes back to 1850, and it is likely to be warmer than 2012,” the Met Office said on Thursday (20 December).

Next year was expected to be between 0.43 and 0.71 degrees Celsius warmer than the long-term global average of 14 degrees (1961-1990), with a best estimate of around 0.57, it said.

The forecast is based on Met Office research, as well as data from the University of East Anglia, the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Rising temperatures could be due to the natural variability of the climate and global warming from increasing greenhouse gas emissions, said Dave Britton, a Met Office forecaster.

A warmer global average temperature does not necessarily mean every region of the world will get hotter, as regional climate variability produces different effects in different parts of the world, he added.

Eleven of the 12 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001, according to data from the World Meteorological Organisation.

Last year is ranked the warmest on record, having been 0.54 degrees above the long-term average, while 2012 is ranked the ninth warmest, with a rise of 0.45 degree Celsius.

Rising global temperatures

Most scientists blame increasing temperatures on man-made greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, and say they can lead to rising sea levels and extreme weather events such as superstorm Sandy that hit the US east coast in October.

Last week, a leaked draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that global average temperatures could be more than 2 degrees above average by 2100, and could reach 4.8 degrees.

Low-lying island states and other countries vulnerable to rising sea levels, floods and hurricanes have been putting pressure on developed countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions and keep the rise in temperatures to within a limit of 2 degrees this century.

Global carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high in 2011, led by China, the International Energy Agency said in May.

A UN conference aimed at curbing emissions ended this month with little progress.