Living with IoT & home automation

Over the last few months, I have upgraded components in our home to devices which feature IoT and home automation capabilities.

The first thing I replaced was my thermostat. I considered several options and went with the Ecobee thermostat. A key consideration was integration with Amazon Echo and Apple Homekit. I am actually more aligned to Google than I am Apple, but at the same time, I am not interested in a total lock-in on any platform. The Ecobee provides the right balance of independence, functionality, and UX. Also worth highlighting is that the Ecobee includes a second remote sensor, which is desirable in a mult-level house.

Installation was easy, as was the setup. They really have made this as easy as possible providing you have the correct wiring configuration (4 wire, in my case). The app is well designed and easy to use. Bonus points for having a smartphone and tablet version of the app!

Functionally, the thermostat delivers reliable performance on the schedule I set. I would like more options for automatically suspending the schedule when we are gone for long absences but I don’t want that feature if it comes with the risk of disrupting the schedule when we are in the house (I’m looking at you Nest).

Rating: A, recommend.

This next system is not IoT but the rest of the house depends on it, the wireless network. I replace the Asus gigabit extreme routers with an Eero mesh network. Range and speed is impressive and better still the single SSID to cover all of the access points both 2.4 and 5 GHz spectrums.

Managing the network through the app is a breeze and better yet, I can do it from anywhere I am. It does not require me to be on the network to manage it.

The best feature, by far, is the ability to set up family profiles and turn off/on the Internet when my children are being disruptive. It really gets their attention.

Rating: A+, highly recommend.

Lighting was the obvious next choice. Philips offers the Hue line of smart lighting that they promote aggressively and I am a sucker for good marketing.

I was interested in two aspects of the smart lighting experience, the quality of the light and the control experience.

The system is easy to set up but the control pod does require a wired connection. Fortunately, one of the Eero access points is in a room adjacent to where I wanted to use the smart lights. My use case was not uncommon, a hallway that connects multiple rooms in the house and has morning and evening traffic. My kids use it and regularly forget to turn off the lights and when we leave the house I like to leave these lights on.

The Hue lighting app is well designed and gives me a lot of control over not just the lighting configuration and on/off/dimming, but also setting a schedule (scenes and routines). I have the lights on a schedule for morning and night in addition to the typical turning on/off as needed.

The Amazon Echo integration works fine but is confusing to setup because the Alexa home automation configuration inherits naming from the Hue controller and then superimposes it’s own naming. If you don’t have these things in sync, as in named identically, things can get hairball pretty quickly.

I enjoyed the geek factor of “Alexa, entry lights on” for about 20 minutes… then it became annoying. This is the problem with voice control for those things that are normally analog, it is neither time nor effort efficient. Using the app to manage the lighting functionality is really inefficient and awkward, not to mention impractical in light of the fact that many people, of different ages, live in our house.

Another aspect of the Hue smart lighting that I did not anticipate is that in order for the lights to work via the app and controller, the light switches need to be in the on position as a normal state. This works fine until someone reflexively hits the wall switch to turn off the lights.

For new construction where you could install lighting to be hardwired for “on” and activated through a connected app but that will bring its own challenges. For outdoor lighting or fixed lighting that is used for accent or security functions, the Hue lighting makes a lot of sense. For the regular lighting that is used in a functional manner in the typical house, it just doesn’t work well.

Rating: C. For specific use cases, e.g. landscape, this makes sense, otherwise I would recommend you pass. 

We recently renovated a bathroom in our house and in the floor we installed the Nuheat floor warming system with the Signature wifi-enabled thermostat. The Nuheat system is great, this is the third one we have installed in this house.

The Signature thermostat is easy to setup, connecting to Nuheat’s cloud service where config details are stored and synced between the app and system. I am not certain if this is the completely correct but it did require me to setup an online account in order to sync.

The Nuheat app is great for programming the thermostat but in terms of actively managing the system, it does not offer much functionality. The energy consumption feature is nonsensical, it just tells you when the system is on, per the schedule, instead of how much energy you are actually consuming.

Another missed opportunity was putting a motion sensor in the floor thermostat and using it to suspend the schedule upon prolonged periods of no activity.

Rating: C. Nice functionality for programming the schedule but a good UI should accomplish that without requiring an app. 

Finally, word about Apple Home. It doesn’t do much… 4 words.

Whatever value of Home is provided by having all Home-enabled smart accessories in one dashboard is negated by the cumbersome methods for managing said accessories. Actually, that is not totally fair, the Hue lighting controls are easier to use in Home than in the Hue app but scenes and schedule are not available through the Home app.

It’s been a mixed bag and I am not exactly certain how I will proceed but when our laundry dryer failed a few weeks ago I considered a smart appliance but decided I really didn’t see any value in having laundry equipment connected to wifi. I purchased the Electrolux washer and dryer with enhanced control panel and no Wifi connectivity.

Another device I didn’t want to connect to an integrated home automation hub is our security system so, for the time being, I have that partitioned off on its own network.

We are still in the early days of home automation and manufacturers will need to figure out the right balance of convenience and function. One thing is very clear, not all IoT is the same, some providers view the app as an extension of the device while others treat the device and app as the same system. It’s worth experimenting with home automation to find those appliances that strike the right balance for you, which also gives you a strong perspective from which to evaluate future devices.

Autonomous Vehicles: The Empty Re-positioning Challenge

Over the next 10 years it is estimated that the number of autonomous vehicles on U.S. roads will become a mainstream force. The rate of progress to this goal is accelerating, building on the success of technology-enabled safety features such as lane assist, adaptive cruise control, and emergency braking. We first saw these technologies come together with self-parking features, and 15 years of continual innovation and evolution are now at a point where self-driving vehicles are a reality.

The stress that will be exerted on already stretched infrastructure will be significant because of the very nature of this leap forward in capabilities. Roads, enforcement, regulations, and the legal system are all designed to work within the framework of a human-controlled automobile. Roads in particular are organized to protect us from ourselves, with speed limits fixed irrespective of the road conditions and flow patterns designed to move a person from A to B.

There is a consensus that car sharing services will continue to expand and with autonomous vehicles go into overdrive as car owners turn loose their vehicles when not in service of the owner. I would not rule this out but it is an overreach to assume that people will do this by default. Personal property is just that and I, for one, would not take kindly to having my vehicles used by strangers unattended. I also don’t think people realize how much the cost of maintenance and depreciation is per road mile, therefore the economic proposition of car sharing may not be a good deal for everyone.

For people leasing vehicles, the mileage restrictions alone prove onerous to car sharing use cases. This is important because lease penetration broadly is about 27% of the total U.S. car market, but as you move up the price tiers the lease penetration increases to 50%. Self-driving technology is an expensive add-on, even more when coupled with EV and hybrid drive systems. It is predictable that over half of all self-driving vehicles will be leased.

So let’s assume that the majority of the market for self-driving vehicles, acquired for personal use, will be strictly for personal use.

Putting aside the obvious challenges that autonomous vehicles present to the legal system – liability – let’s take a look at something not often talked about in the context of autonomous vehicles. Empty repositioning, the process for moving vehicles that do not hold passengers in order to retrieve and transport passengers.

I was first introduced to this problem while looking at an investment in the ocean shipping industry. The flow of trade between countries is rarely equal, the U.S. brings a massive number of full shipping containers from China while sending a much smaller number to China. Left unattended, China would eventually run out of shipping containers, so there exists a well understood process of empty shipping container repositioning. Container ships returning to China carry empty containers in addition to loaded containers. The process is not that complicated, made easier by the fact that shipping containers are standardized in size and configuration and a shipper doesn’t care whether they get a Maersk or APL branded container, they are all the same.

The empty repositioning problem in shipping is solved by loading empty containers on ships headed back to Asia. This is complicated by the fact that empty containers have to be loaded at ports which are not the final destination, but port operators and shipping companies have developed processes to ensure that empty containers are loaded optimally for weight and unloading of full containers at other ports. None of this applies to cars though.

The challenge to public infrastructure comes from the loading of roadways with vehicles that do not contain passengers. For 4 decades the investment in transportation infrastructure has favored incentives to high occupancy vehicles (HOV) over single occupant vehicles (SOV) and public transportation. As HOV lanes, which in CA see about $2.5 billion of investment each year, have proven to not increase carpooling and remain underutilized (LAO report link), toll roads have gained favor.

Unfortunately, car sharing and HOV lane utilization continues to lag projections and the typical HOV lane carries fewer passengers per mile than a non-HOV lane. The challenge that self-driving vehicles presents is enormous because in that scenario a typical SOV will be making 4 trips per day instead of 2.

Autonomous vehicles represent a cataclysmic tipping point for how governments allocate funding for roadways. The entire public transportation system is designed around a premise that increasing congestion will drive people from their cars on to mass transit. In dense regions that are land constrained, the Bay Area being representative, public officials don’t even bother to obscure the strategy increasing the pain of driving.

Here we see a technology that massively disrupts not only traditional businesses, but also public policy on mass transit. Drivers don’t have to drive during their commute, and can send their vehicles home when they are not using them, avoiding the cost of parking. Transportation planners are wholly unprepared for this future, and given the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been spent on public transit systems that are inflexible and capital intensive hub-and-spoke systems, I forecast a lot of pain ahead.

Microsoft’s Racist Bot is the Most Human-Like Ever

Microsoft suffered a PR disaster with the launch of Tay, the AI-powered chat bot unleashed on Twitter. Long story short, Twitter users quickly shaped Tay into a bigot that spewed some pretty vile stuff. Microsoft shut it down quickly, which is no surprise.

This is a picture of things to come as autonomy intersects with technology services.

The question to consider is not whether a bot has any right to act in deplorable ways but if we, as humans,  will be served by having a looming generation of machine-powered services that conforms to a code of conduct dictated by a creator. A future that features services which through their very existence condition humans to behave according to specific norms is positively Orwellian.

These issues may seem academic in nature today but now is exactly the time to consider them. Do you want machines that conform to a corporate-defined standard of behavior and do not evolve according to human interaction but instead shape humans to the behaviors they are programmed to deliver?

Amazon Dash, the Device Web, and Speech Verification

I purchased an Amazon Dash button recently. It’s a clever product concept and an example of a headless device that will be a major theme in the emerging Internet of Things movement.

The Internet of Things represents a massive shift in how we will consume services. I would assert that we will reorganize the existing Internet around three functional Internets:

  • The Web: This is what we know today. Constantly evolving, the complexity of services delivered to HTTP endpoint will increase, and as more web consumption moves to mobile, the interoperability of smartphone apps with web services will be transparent.
  • The Dark/Deep Web: This web already exists, it is beyond the reach of search or obscured behind secure and untraceable browser and domain technologies. Most often associated with illegal activity, the Dark/Deep Web will evolve to meet the needs of security and privacy, as well as conduct criminal activities. The Deep internet, that which is not obscured behind technology, it is simply not discoverable via search.
  • The Device Web: The proliferation of connected devices will overwhelm the traditional namespace. The devices that connect to the Device Web will be, predominately, headless. Lacking displays and traditional input modes, these devices will have speech interfaces, simple activation modes, and be tethered to a smartphone via a dedicated app.

My interest in the Device Web is what led me to spring the $5 for a Dash button. A Tide Dash button, we like Tide so what could be better than a simple push button replenishment mode? As it turns out, quite a bit.

dash1The Dash arrived in a simple package and activating the button was a simple process. I pressed the button and held it until the blue light blinked rapidly. Simple enough, just like a Bluetooth device.

With the blue light blinking, I went to the Amazon app that was already installed on my phone and found the “device” menu in the account menu. It was not immediately apparent because I was expecting a dedicated app, but when in retrospect it makes perfect sense the way they built this into their mobile app. I probably should have read the one pager that came with the device first.

The process of configuring the button is two parts, first adding the button to the network and then attaching it to a product option to purchase. The first part is interesting, the Amazon app forces my phone to drop the WIFI connection and form a direct connection to the Dash button. At this point, the app prompts you to select the network to connect the Dash button to. Dash then stores the WIFI password in the device, or in their cloud; it wasn’t clear where the password is being stored.

I wasn’t particularly excited about Amazon having my WIFI password in their network. To me, this represents a new front in privacy strategy because having access to my WIFI network opens up a lot of possibilities for Amazon that I would not endorse.

With the button configured I then needed to attach my product options to the buy button. At this point, my enthusiasm for this device went to zero. The number of products eligible for the Dash button are limited, and our preferred Tide option was not available. I detached the button from my account and put it back in the package. It will be a conversation piece now rather than a method for procuring laundry detergent.

When my six-year-old son saw the Dash button, the first thing he did was press the button, repeatedly. Had it been configured, I would be getting a truckload of Tide. Amazon has designed around this with the purchasing workflow, giving you the opportunity to cancel a transaction before fulfillment, but the problem I have with this is that I have to do it. The button itself does not discriminate between those in my household authorized to buy Tide and those that are not.

The Dash buttons would be significantly improved with a voice verification technology that responds only to an authorized and enrolled user. This authentication could be enabled with a fingerprint sensor but with current technology the cost of the sensor is an obstacle while adding a mic is trivial. Taking this to the next level, redesign the button to remove the button itself to enable Dash with a trigger phrase and voice verification to authenticate a transaction.

I love where Amazon is going with this, pushing the buying transaction out to the natural endpoint. I can envision this being evolved and improved with new technologies and improved backend integration, but I can also see this package being integrated into appliances. Not everyone wants to purchase exclusively through Amazon, so much like smart TVs now come preloaded with multiple streaming services, appliance makers could embed multiple retail options for the consumer.

Living With a Chromebook

Last week I bought a Samsung Chromebook.

The reason for taking the plunge is that my son needs a new computer and I talked with my wife about getting him a laptop instead of a new iMac. The only desktop computer in the house is his, Lisa and I both use laptops and tablets while working, reading, whatever, and rarely sit in our home office. As a result, if my son used his computer he was often doing it unsupervised and at his age I still want to have a watchful eye on what he is doing.

The proliferation of free, and pseudo-free, applications available through app marketplaces also presents a challenge for parents because many of these apps have features that circumvent the parental controls that operating systems provide. For example, many games have embedded chat capabilities. With that in mind, I wanted to give him a laptop that cut off one of the avenues by which children can stumble into trouble, installed apps, which often also bring security risks that could impact our entire home network.

Lastly, I wanted to experience the Chromebook as a possible extension of my own computing needs for when I am traveling or out-and-around town for meetings and such. An 11″ lightweight computer with a long lasting battery makes a lot of sense, and with my Verizon mifi connectivity I can be connected in the absence of a fixed wifi network.

The Samsung Chromebook is an appealing laptop on several levels. It is lightweight, has great battery performance, features a surprisingly nice keyboard, and good enough performance. It delivers the goods and doesn’t promise any extras. it is certainly no Pixel but it is $250 so from a value perspective it is hard to beat. In addition to the basic features, it includes a couple of USB ports and, surprisingly, a full sized HDMI port; storage is extended with an SDCard slot in the side.

I like what Google did with the launcher and dock, and setup was really straightforward. Performance is, as I noted, good enough, but it really lacks responsiveness. which is to say it just isn’t very snappy. The only significant negative that I can point out is that the display is washed out and generally unimpressive.

The only surprisingly challenging thing to do on the Chromebook is print, but once I figured out how to add a “classic printer” to Google Cloud Print and then shared that across my multiple Google profiles, it worked but clearly Google has some work to do with Cloud Print although competitive offerings from HP and others could fill this gap. Eventually I will replace my printer with one that is cloud-centric, which will also help smooth over this issue.

The display brings up the topic of the Google Pixel, which by all accounts has one of the nicest hardware/software experiences available in the market today, and the display performance and quality is nothing short of phenomenal. However, as good as that is, it is a $1,300 price tag and a larger form factor at 13″, plus the battery life is not very good.

Despite a few shortcomings, I think the Chromebook will find a place in my toolbox and this reflects a broader trend that many people are experiencing where they end up with a proliferating array of devices that either depend on the cloud or are synced to reflect a unified user experience.

More on this topic (What's this?) Read more on Samsung Electronics, Google at Wikinvest

Self-Driving Cars and Unwritten Rules

I had a funny experience on my way home from work last week. I was on i280 and spotted a Google self-driving car  ahead of me in the adjacent lane. As I drove up and then past it I noticed that it was maintaining a safe distance from the cars in front of it and falling farther and farther behind the passing cars.

Anyone who drives in moderately to heavy traffic commute traffic knows that there is a distance you can maintain behind the cars in front of you that is not by-the-book safe but prevents the phenomena where the gap is large enough to allow car after car to slip in front of you… it’s kind of like a traffic bullwhip effect. You drive just far enough behind that you can panic stop based on what is going on in front of the car you are following but not far enough back that you keep getting passed.

This particular Google self-driving car was, apparently, not coded with that rule and the result was rather comical. As a new car slipped in front of the self-driving car it dutifully dropped back to create a safe space which then became a new space for a different driver to slip in to, and so on and so on, the result being that the Google car dropped back at a predictable rate while car after car whisked by.

This is the challenge for all next generation technology to overcome, which is the requirement to adapt to situations that develop based on activities and patterns that are emerging in realtime. It’s not just a matter of more sensors and faster reaction times but a fundamentally different way of looking at software frameworks, and truth be told I have no insight to what the Google car is built on but one thing is clear, being able to parallel park or get from point A to B without incident is the least of their challenges.

Lastly, I am really excited about the prospect of self-driving vehicles. As much as I enjoy driving there is no doubt I would equally appreciate flipping into self-driving mode so I can take a call or read something or simply check out on my way home. On the commercial side, self-driving vehicle technology can remake logistics networks and shift commercial traffic patterns to have less impact on commute periods or reroute dynamically based on events that are happening. It’s exciting stuff, I think Google deserves credit for launching this experiment but the major auto manufacturers should also be recognized because they have been working on this longer than Google, despite getting far less attention.

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Content Management in the Social Age

I read this interesting piece on the redesign of the Reuters website, one paragraph jumped out at me as a consequential observation affecting a wide array of companies today:

Known internally as “Reuters Next,” the new will be a “state of the art” offering with a redesigned front-end and a proprietary content management system built from scratch, said our sources, who described the site as being remodeled into editor-curated, stream-based channels such as world news, politics, business and tech.

Content management systems are undergoing a social technology upgrade cycle that is not talked about very much but has two significant consequences that individually are disruptive and together are utterly transformative.

The first of these disruptions is how social content, which is just another way of saying user generated content, becomes an input into a website’s CMS in the same way that company sponsored content is enabled. In the advertising world there is a well understood concept of earned, owned, and sponsored media; the earned media being the most valuable because it is inspired rather than paid for and as such has broad utility in a company’s marketing efforts. In the social technology world getting people to create content about you, in the form of original source content (e.g. blogs) and interaction content (comments, shares, likes) but mainstream content systems that power websites have few capabilities for doing more than appending this to “owned” content.

The second major theme I want to highlight is the notion of company vs. community curated content. Having an editorial agenda in a website that is enabled by your employees is a no-brainer, but it ultimately proves to be a challenging scale problem because, in many cases, the most interesting content about your company and products isn’t created by you. As a result of this the curation capability relies on smart people who are good at discovering and organizing content, but increasingly mainstream is the notion of crowdsourced content and externally curated content sourced from your fans and followers… but none of this is integrate with the typical CMS that a company will rely on for a web experience.

The challenge that is facing companies, large and small alike, is how do they capture externally sourced and curated content, organize it in the structure of their website, and then providing a social experience in the presentation that takes into account the activities of your brand advocates. Yeah, it’s a big challenge and in the absence of a next generation of CMS capabilities it is unlikely that we will get there.

Windows 8 for a Mac User

I recently purchased an Asus Zenbook Touch laptop to replace my trusty Macbook Air. I was impressed by the hardware design being exhibited by the top tier ultrabook manufacturers, they embody sleek design elements and a fantastic build quality but more importantly Windows 8 has created a once in a generation opportunity to redefine what a PC is and much to my delight manufacturers like Samsung, Asus, Acer, Dell and HP are running with it.

Keep in mind that I switched from Windows to a Mac around the 2003 time period so for me this was not a decision to make lightly. I am accustomed to a Mac and did not object to paying a premium for the experience, however in recent years I was left feeling neglected as everything exciting that Apple did was around iOS while OS X was subject to incremental updates that often brought discomfort (e.g. performance on Lion) and the improved features were clearly aimed at people using iOS (e.g. Mountain Lion).

I long ago switched to Android for a smartphone and have no attachment to Apple’s software applications, instead relying on Google Apps. What I wanted from Apple was groundbreaking hardware that provided well integrated and reliable software experiences and Apple has been coming up short on both counts. Their hardware is consistently well designed and pleasing to look at, externally of course but the new Retina displays are amazing. but nothing they are doing with laptops is disruptive, it’s a turn here and a tweak there.

My Macbook Air was getting a little long in the tooth and in need of replacement. I was intrigued by Windows 8 and on a whim I walked over to the Best Buy a block away from my office and tried a few out. I was really impressed by the array of premium hardware and by how positive my initial hands on experience was with Windows 8. Even more surprising to me was how naturally I was reaching for the screen to interact with the system as a touchscreen.

Before I took the plunge I spent a couple of weeks reading up on Windows 8 and the shortlist of hardware that I liked. The Asus Zenbook, Acer S7, Samsung Series 9, and Sony models were on my list, all featuring an Air like hardware profile, fantastic displays, SSD storage, and comfortable keyboards. I selected the Asus Zenbook Touch because it met all of the above and offered strong battery performance, something the sexiest ultrabook in the category, the Acer S7, did not. I really wanted to convince myself to buy the Acer but the battery issue is a showstopper for me.

I actually found the experience of buying a Windows laptop to be really frustrating on several levels. What these manufacturers need to understand is that Apple flattened out the hardware curve by reducing the options and making it easier to buy. PC manufacturers still dwell on specifications and numbers, and the result is that even when you think you know what you are buying you may end up with something completely different. Asus has a family of Zenbook Prime computers, spread across several major groupings, the UX21A and UX31A groups. In the UX31A group there are 3 distinct models with many option sets. I ended up buying the UX31A-BHI5T11. Really.

It turns out that Asus doesn’t even provide the specific model numbers on their site, I found it on a retailer site in the fine print and then used that to search for other sources. It was a horrible experience and if they don’t come up with a better way to sell these things they will turn away more people than they serve.

The initial experience with the packaging and power up was impressive, Asus has clearly learned from Apple on this front. I was also massively happy to see that the computer was not crapified with manufacturer supplied software, there were a few apps bolted on to the UX but no AOL and Intuit tiles! Power up was instant, per the promise that Microsoft designed to, and the initial setup was really easy. I was on my network and doing stuff within 10 minutes of unboxing the laptop.

The Windows 8 tile experience is really exciting because the desktop does a lot more than just present icons, you can consume content through the tiles and the way the layout is presented begs to be interacted with. I love the touch experience and this is the most surprising aspect of my initial journey. you actually want to use the touch gestures in addition to the keypad and touchpad.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that Windows found my network printer and set it up without prompting me, as well as provides a “devices” experience for bringing my smartphone and other bluetooth enabled devices into the mix.

Switching from the tile experience to the traditional Windows desktop is not as disruptive as I initially imagined although I am looking forward to more applications that are built to Win8 for a dedicated focus. This is subtle but really does depart from the multiple open windows focus that prior versions of Windows delivered to. I do one thing at a time but I want to rapidly and seamlessly task shift when I am working so that I can do other things in a dedicated fashion. Like I said, it’s subtle but important to me.

Here’s what I don’t like about this so far. The touchpad on the Asus is a challenge, prone to random clicks and gestures. Speaking of gestures, Windows 8 is proving to be a learning curve as it relates to where all the features are, they really need to put in place a better first power up getting started routine to highlight where stuff is. The Asus power supply is really compact but why can’t these manufacturers deliver a magnetic coupling connector? The SSD is pretty small but I decided to take a chance on this because I increasingly use cloud storage for photos and videos (which consume a ridiculous amount of my Macbook’s SSD).

I have been using this laptop for a couple of days now and have not once felt the need to reach for my Macbook except to move files, which thanks to everything being in the cloud now is a breeze. As I get more time under my belt with Windows 8 I will post additional observations and experiences.

UPDATE: It occurred to me that the problems I am having with the Asus touchpad are twofold… it is way too sensitive and does not have adequate “palm rejection” but it is also setup for a right handed user, I am left handed and it was never an issue on the Mac touchpad because there is not an explicit left vs. right in their hardware.

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Marc Cuban Is Psyched About Cable

Cuban is PSYCHED! Hey, it’s not like he doesn’t have a reason to shake the pom-poms for cable, right? He’s also been pretty vocal about his belief that content owners will never give up the fees they get from cable and go to a free online distribution model.

Marc Cuban just told me advances in cable technology are more exciting than what’s happening on the Internet right now.

[From Marc Cuban Is Psyched About Cable – Media Money with Julia Boorstin –]

It’s pretty hard to argue with any credibility that cable is a hotbed of innovation. I look at my Comcast on demand and I’m struck by the fact that the big content developments they have to show off are used car listings. Who the hell cares?

It’s also worth pointing out that Comcast’s on demand services only work with their set top boxes, if you have a current generation flatscreen and want to take advantage of a cable card you will just get a tuner without any on demand capabilities. So much for the mythical cable technology advances that Cuban talks about.

Here’s the core problem with cable operators, they are operating a walled garden where any new content offerings have to come from them in order to reach the last inch between the TV and a person. It’s not just that the distribution network is closed but the development platform as well and this ensures that cable will never be a hotbed of content and application innovation.

Apple’s distribution system for the iPhone is closed but accessible, and by that I mean they have opened up the development tools and provided a low hurdle for access to the distribution capability that is the iTunes App Store. The result is that this is the place app developers want to be and because the flywheel is spinning more consumers want the device in spite of few hardware upgrades.

The cable companies, pretty much off of them, by contrast have little third party developer support and the integration of online to television content is weak, practically nonexistent. Video is the single hottest driver of audience today and the cable companies have done the bare minimum insofar as pursuing this an an online strategy.

To add insult to injury, cable companies have silo’ed themselves based on how content is distributed and have not invested in an integrated advertising sales effort, meaning the online initiatives run ad network content as often as their own sold inventory and because they believe they don’t know how to sell online they simply don’t try. This revenue suboptimization leads to a vicious cycle of underinvestment and experimentation that risks their core business.

Cuban may be “psyched” about cable because he has to given where his investments are but it’s hard, make that impossible, for any rational person to argue that cable has eclipsed the internet when it comes to innovation. Lastly, Cuban is wrong about one very significant part of the argument, bandwidth does not develop to meet applications but rather the expansion of bandwidth leads the development of applications that take advantage of bandwidth whether it be network or processing capability.

Intel Debuts Wireless Power

This could be huge but before we get too frothy about it we should take a breath and realize that not only will device makers have to build this into their hardware designs, and pay Intel for the privilege of doing so, but with a range of a couple of feet us consumers won’t be completely untethered. Having said that, this is a welcome innovation.

The Times said Intel, which employs 6,000 in Folsom, will demonstrate using a magnetic field to broadcast up to 60 watts for a range of 2 to 3 feet and lose only 25 percent of the power.

[From Intel looks at way to wirelessly recharge electrical device – Sacramento Business Journal:]