Google Pixel Event: Transition from “mobile first” to “AI first” strategy

On 4th October, Google announced a range of hardware at a special event conducted in San Francisco. Artificial intelligence is the most important development that takes place in the consumer technology space. Google’s equation for new products seems to reflect the same – software + hardware and then integrate it with AI. Here are some important highlights from the event:

Google Announced Pixel 2 smartphone – a 5 inch and a 6 inch display version. The phone is powered by a 12 Megapixel rear cam and an 8 megapixel front cam. There are a lot of exciting features in Pixel 2 like activating Google Assistant by squeezing your phone, Google Photos capabilities including Lens, as well as virtual- and augmented-reality capabilities and finally you have a male voice to Google Assistant. The Pixel 2 phone will be available in three colors – “Just Black,” “Clearly White” and “Kinda Blue”. The 5-inch Pixel 2 starts at $649, while the larger 6-inch Pixel 2 XL will cost at least $849.

The most interesting announcement that we felt interesting was the Google Pixel Buds – a wireless headphones that is going to rival Apple’s Bluetooth-powered AirPods. The most interesting feature is that it can do an instant translation for a variety of languages. When the user speaks her native language, an English translation is provided from the phone’s speakers. So, next time if you stuck in another country, just put up your Pixel Buds and start conversing. The Pixel Buds come in the same three colors as the Pixel phone and cost $159.

Google also debuted the Pixelbook – a brand new laptop powered by Chromebook. It has a 12.3 inch screen that’s meant to function both as a laptop and a tablet. Priced at $999, it’s also the first laptop to have Google Assistant. You can also purchase a stylus for $99 that lets you interact with your laptop.

Google also announced Home speakers – Google Home Mini, a smaller version of Google Home speaker and a high-end smart speaker called Google Home Max. Google claims that the Home Max offers deeper bass powered by dual 4.5-inch woofers, and it’s 20 times more powerful than the original Google Home. It shows that Google clearly intends to compete with Apple’s HomePod and Amazon’s new Echo. The Google Home Mini will cost $49 whereas Google Home Max will cost $399.

They also showed off called Google Clips – a new clip-on camera that can take photo and video remotely and synchronizes what it captures instantly with a connected phone through an app. Well, GoPro’s share did fall when the announcement was made.

Google also redesigned the virtual-reality headset Daydream view that works with the Pixel smartphone. It has better lenses that will increase the image clarity and field of vision.

If we look at brand new Pixel 2 phones, Google Home Mini, Google Home Max, Google Pixel Buds, and Google Clips camera, everything is powered by Google Assistant. It’s clear, the future is going to be AI driven and Google has already made its moves.

Another interesting point to observe is that there were more female presenters for the event. There were four when compared to last year’s two. Google was embroiled in controversy earlier this year when former company engineer James Damore wrote a manifesto arguing that women are underrepresented in tech because of “biological causes” rather than bias and discrimination. Looks like Google is just getting started.

Impact of Smartphones on Leadership

When Ahmed Ali Shah conquered parts of Northern India in early 18th century, he appointed Nadir Shah to administer these provinces. Nadir was provided full autonomy and the intervention by the Ahmed Shah was minimal. Nadir Shah had the trust of his leader and he enjoyed full autonomy with respect to his provinces. Had he possessed a smart phone back then, he would have poked by Ahmed Shah to update on a day to day affairs every evening. This would have restricted Nadir Shah’s freedom of decision making and hindered his leadership potential.

Around 30 Crs. of Indians possess smartphones and it will exponentially increase due to the advent of companies like Reliance Jio. Benefits in terms of access to information and entertainment are palpable but the impact on psychology is not. The ready-made availability of data is making our brains weaker. Instead of recollecting the stored information, we could easily access the data through Google. This reduces our cognitive abilities and decreases our brain’s potential. Excessive usage of smartphones makes a person emotionally weaker. 9 out of 10 students in an Australian University felt stressed when their battery is about to die.

On an average, a person checks his/her mobile 110 times per day. This phenomenon not only impacts their leadership skills but also makes them ill mannered. 90% of the people felt that using a mobile in public place is considered rude when asked in 1999. Now, let alone public places, it’s common to use a mobile phone even while a person is talking directly to you. This is called Phubbing i.e., the practice of ignoring your companion in order to pay attention to one’s mobile device. The empathy levels are slowly going down due to the intrusion of smartphones in our life. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that 2 out of 4 students were 50% less empathetic than they were 30 years ago.

Undegitised.me is the campaign began by Lior Frenkel to address the issue of mobile addiction. The campaign persuades people to not to use mobile atleast for a certain period of time. It will nudge the users to eventually get out of their addiction. The campaign was a great success. Of course, when a study shows that 57% of women in U.K chose to give up sex rather than their smartphones for a week, these campaigns assume more importance.

There was a time when Marco Polo used to travel across India without access to any device. All the decisions were based on his knowledge, courage and intuition. Smartphones have increased our dependency on others and the internet. Cautiousness while using the mobile is the need of the hour.

The Evolution of WhatsApp

WhatsApp – the instant messaging platform is one of the most popular apps with a user base of 1 billion in 180 countries. Starting as an alternative to SMS in 2009, today WhatsApp has revolutionised the messaging platforms. It now has the support to send and receive a variety of media: text, photos, videos, documents, and location, as well as voice calls. Let’s have a look at the business model of WhatsApp and how it became popular:

It all began in 2009, when two former employees of Yahoo – Brian Acton and Jan Koum decided to work on WhatsApp. The iOS App was launched first in order to target the US Market. Later, the Symbian version was launched in 2010. Android was growing at that time and hence they decided to quickly come up with a version for the OS. The Windows Phone and Blackberry 10 version was launched in 2013. The Windows Phone and Blackberry 10 version was launched in 2013. They initially charged WhatsApp users based on first time installation (for iPhone users) and every year (for Android).

One of the main reasons for the success of WhatsApp was due to its simplicity. It was simple, secure, and fast. It was also free to use. The developers from their previous experience knew that users didn’t like ads and hence decided not to have any ads in the app. The major milestone for WhatsApp was the acquisition by Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion – the largest acquisition to date.

Initially, it was an instant messaging app and the ability to send photos was one of the first feature addition. The ability to send GIF images was released in 2016. Group chat feature was launched in 2010. Voice messaging feature & support for Android Wear Smartwatches were added in 2013.

After the acquisition by Facebook, WhatsApp underwent major changes to support voice calls, Read receipts feature & WhatsApp web. This created a havoc among telecom operators who were already unhappy with WhatsApp replacing SMS to a great extent. More features like End-to-end encryption, document sharing, video calling and two step verification were added in 2016. In 2017, a Snapchat like feature called “Status” was added to WhatsApp. Users can upload an image that allows users to upload photos and videos to a 24-hours-lifetime feed that is visible to their contacts.

However, there are many issues related to the security and privacy. On 25th August 2016, WhatsApp changed its privacy policy to allow sharing of data from WhatsApp to Facebook. This was a concern for users since data sharing affected privacy. WhatsApp also offers measures such as two-step verification and encryption. In January 2017, an article published in the Guardian claimed loopholes in WhatsApp’s end to end encryption. WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption protocol was developed by Open Whisper Systems, who make their own secure messaging app Signal. Finally, the introduction of ‘read’ and ‘seen’ features were perceived not very privacy friendly.

What’s the future for WhatsApp ?

WhatsApp will continue to add more features with the upcoming updates. Change is inevitable part of any app development and they have to stay ahead with the competition to survive.

WhatsApp is expected to launch payments soon in India. They have obtained permission from the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to allow users to make in-app payments and money transfers using the Unified Payments Interface (UPI). WhatsApp will also soon launch support for business verified accounts on its platform.

The Application to Person (A2P) messaging market is innovating rapidly and we may see big changes very soon. Currently, it’s difficult for WhatsApp to allow third-party app integration due to privacy and encryption concerns. However, this is expected to change by WhatsApp opening it for developers. This will help integrated apps to WhatsApp and it could have a Chatbot feature like Facebook Messenger. WhatsApp may also have a Natural Language Processing (NLP)/AI integration that will provide assistant to the user when he types in the chat. You never know, WhatsApp may even turn into an e-commerce portal and even allow you to purchase online by messaging.

WhatsApp is also expected to become more personalised. The app in future will learn about a consumer’s preferences and offer deals based on their geographical location. In the long term, we can expect WhatsApp will evolve into something greater than just a messaging platform.

The Android Story: The Past, Present & Future

More than 85% of the phone is powered by Android making it the most popular mobile OS in the world. Let’s look back at the history of Android to know how the OS was developed and how it became successful.

It all began in 2003, when a young group of computer experts – Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White decided to create “Android Inc”. The early intention was to develop an advanced operating system for digital cameras and then pitch in the idea to investors. However, they figured out that the market was not large enough and then they decided to develop a handset operating system. At that time, Symbian was the most popular mobile OS. However, they were running out of cash in 2005, and Google decided to acquire Android Inc.

The introduction of iPhone – the first full touchscreen phone in 2007 certainly influenced the development of Android. All major mobile companies believed that consumers will not accept a phone that doesn’t have an external QWERTY keyword. However, Google had different plans in their minds and decided to develop an OS that supports full touchscreen phone. They had initially developed ‘Sooner,’ an unreleased prototype device (also made by HTC) which looks like a Blackberry device with a full QWERTY keyboard with a 320×240 display. They decided not to launch the phone and went back to the drawing board.

The first android phone was launched by HTC in October 2008. It was called the HTC Dream, also known as T-Mobile G1. The first apps in Android included Gmail, Google Maps, Search, Google Talk, You Tube etc. And of course, it consisted of other regular apps like calendar, contacts, alarm etc. Many other mobile manufactures like Samsung and LG were developing a full touchscreen phone. However, they need an OS to work on.

The reasons for Android’s success are many. The main reason was that it was Open Sourced – it made smart devices cheaper. Manufactures who were part of the Open Handset Alliance put their effort in Android because of the expertise that they possessed. They could customise the OS based on the requirement of the phone manufactures. The OS also offered great interface and lot of features. A larger market share led to more developers developing apps in the Android which bought in more users.

In 2009, CyanogenMod was launched which become the most widely used custom Android ROM. It is basically a tweaked and edited version of Android OS that you can install on a phone or a tablet in place of the official version from Google. However, it has been discontinued in 2016, due in part to internal conflicts within Cyanogen Inc.

In 2010, Google started developing the Nexus line of devices based on the Android platform by partnering with mobile hardware manufactures. These devices became “reference” devices for Google to enhance user experience in the Android OS and venture into hardware. Another reason could be that they don’t want to take down the big players who used Android OS. Google’s own device at that time would upset the manufacturer and they would start developing their own OS. Google also had less visibility in the mobile arena at that time. However, Google launched Pixel and Pixel XL smartphone in 2016 in order to compete in the mobile hardware market.

Since 2008, Android has seen numerous updates that have improved the OS by adding new features and fixing bugs. Each updated of Android versions is named after a dessert or sugary treat in alphabetical order – Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread etc. So, what is going to be the future of Android OS ?

Android OS is not just going to power smartphones. Google has already developed Android Wear for wrist watches, Android TV for televisions, Android Auto for cars and Brillo (later renamed Android Things), for smart devices and Internet of things. Android might also make its way into laptop and even desktop OS.

Google is also developing Fuchsia – a real-time operating system (RTOS). Chrome OS and Android are based on Linux kernels (which are getting outdated) whereas Fuchsia is based on a new microkernel called “Magenta”, derived from “Little Kernel”. It could also be modular in nature allowing for it to be customized for different applications. There is no definite timeline when Fuchsia will enter the market. It may even be an Android update or replacement.

As of now, the Android OS will keep improving via updates that adds new features and fixes bugs. Most Android has some serious shortcomings that Google is well aware of – most devices run outdated OS & they are also involved in numerous patent lawsuits. This will be a big challenge for Google to overcome.

Sarahah: The Anonymous Feedback App

Spotted a friend in social media sharing screenshots of a teal speech bubbles that hold an anonymous message? Well, then it’s probably Sarahah – an anonymous feedback app that has gained momentum very quickly and is spreading like wild fire.

Sarahah is an app “helps you self-develop by receiving constructive anonymous feedback.” In simple words, it’s just an anonymous feedback form that has an open ended question. It was developed by 29 year old Saudi programmer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq and was initially launched in Egypt. The App named after the Arabic word for “honesty,” was apparently designed for employees to submit anonymous feedback to employers.

In February 2017, Sarahah was opened up to the general public. People who sign up in Sarahah receive a link they can share on other social media sites – inviting anyone with access to their profile to send messages anonymously.

Sarahah is not the first anonymous messaging app in the market. Ask.fm in 2012 was initially an anonymous social media platform. Secret was another anonymous messaging app and had to shut down following legal battles and claims that it encouraged bullying. Sayat.me was also a similar website. YikYak, was an anonymous messaging app once valued at $400 million. All the platforms have been criticised by several media articles regarding cyberbullying and have been linked to suicides. There were a huge number of reported cases of anonymous offensive messaging and suicides apparently resulting from such bullying.

So, how is Sarahah unique ? The app has the ability to block offensive users based on their IP address, even if they are not registered on the site. It can also filter out certain offensive words automatically. Sarahah also doesn’t have in-app advertising and doesn’t seem to have a revenue model in place.

Sarahah was branded itself as a “honest” and “constructive criticism” app. The developers knew the potential effects of cyberbullying. Honestly speaking, the real world has nothing to do with honest and people don’t seem to know how to send constructive messages. People are taking advantage of the anonymous nature of the app and bully or troll others. Most people who engage in these activities are often motivated by anger, revenge or frustration. They do it for entertainment or because they are bored or have too much time on their hands. Some people even post for mere fun.

Cyberbullying has grown as a major problem in recent years, afflicting children and young adults. There have been studies that have shown that cyber-victimization and cyberbullying on social networks involving adolescents are strongly associated with psychiatric and psychosomatic disorders. One must understand that children’s coping mechanisms may not be as strong as adults and they suffer grievously – resulting in tragic outcomes like self-injurious behaviour and suicides.

Read more about it at Common Sense Reasoning for Detection, Prevention, and Mitigation of Cyberbullying

The app is a reflection of how disgusting our society is getting every day. One must also understand the security risk associated. What if the app was hacked and your names were leaked along with your messages ? The app is still in its development stages and would have already attracted the hacker’s eye.

You must also understand it’s not difficult to track who has posted if you are an expert in online tracking. If you are sharing the link on WhatsApp status or Facebook Stories, it’s easy to know who has seen the link and then match it with the timestamp of the messages. Trust me!! Don’t attempt this – you will be in for a shock. With privacy settings in social media, you can also control the visibility of your post.

One must be aware that these apps are designed for fun. Sarahah diligently is a good idea. But be aware of the positive and negatives of any app.

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