Why Does Google Need So Many Robots? To Jump From The Web To The Real World

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Why does Google need robots? Because it already rules your pocket. The mobile market, except for the slow rise of wearables, is saturated. There are millions of handsets around the world, each one connected to the Internet and most are running either Android or iOS. Except for incremental updates to the form, there will be few innovations coming out of the mobile space in the next decade.

Then there’s Glass. These devices bring the web to the real world by making us the carriers. Google is already in front of us on our small screens but Glass makes us a captive audience. By depending on Google’s data for our daily interactions, mapping, and restaurant recommendations – not to mention the digitization of our every move – we become some of the best Google consumers in history. But that’s still not enough.

Google is limited by, for lack of a better word, meat. We are poor explorers and poor data gatherers. We tend to follow the same paths every day and, like ants, we rarely stray far from the nest. Google is a data company and needs far more data than humans alone can gather. Robots, then will be the driver for a number of impressive feats in the next few decades including space exploration, improved mapping techniques, and massive changes in the manufacturing workspace.

Robots like Baxter will replace millions of expensive humans – a move that I suspect will instigate a problematic rise of unemployment in the manufacturing sector – and companies like manufacturing giant Foxconn are investing in robotics at a clip. Drones, whether human-control or autonomous, are a true extension of our senses, placing us and keeping us apprised of situations far from home base. Home helpers will soon lift us out of bed when we’re sick, help us clean, and assist us near the end of our lives. Smaller hardware projects will help us lose weight and patrol our streets. The tech company not invested in robotics today will find itself far behind the curve in the coming decade.

That’s why Google needs robots. They will place the company at the forefront of man-machine interaction in the same way that Android put them in front of millions of eyeballs. Many pundits saw no reason for Google to start a mobile arm back when Android was still young. They were wrong. The same will be the case for these seemingly wonky experiments in robotics.

Did Google buy Boston Dynamics and seven other robotics companies so it could run a thousand quadrupedal Big Dogs through our cities? No, but I could see them using BD’s PETMAN, a bipedal robot that can walk and run over rough terrain – to assist in mapping difficult-to-reach areas. It could also become a sort of Google Now for the real world, appearing at our elbows in the form of an assistant that follows us throughout the day, keeping us on track, helping with tasks, and becoming our avatars when we can’t be in two places at once. The more Google can mediate our day-to-day experience the more valuable it becomes.

Need more proof? Follow the money. Robotics is big business and analysts estimate that Boston Dynamics could be a $5 billion company in the next few years. With the right contracts and the right product mix, almost any of member Google’s current robot horde can hit nearly any market, from consumer robotics on a large scale to massive installations in manufacturing – not to mention those lucrative DARPA contracts.

Will we see RoboGooglers wandering through Palo Alto this year? No way. It’s far too early. But with a bit of smarts from Google Chauffeur, the software running the company’s self-driving cars, and some better bipedal robot designs I could see Sergey and Larry standing beside their robotic assistants within the decade. Now all they have to do is make them sentient.


iOS Rules The Corporate Mobile Market As Android And Windows Scrap For Second Place

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According to a report by Intermedia, Apple continues to dominate the mobile device market among small and medium-sized businesses. During the first 10 months of 2013, Intermedia customers activated 190,000 Apple devices, 29,000 Samsung devices, and 13,800 Motorola devices.

All told, Apple controlled 76% of the market in the period. As Apple Insider points out, the above data is sourced from Intermedia’s hosted Exchange service which claims around 700,000 business users, meaning the relevant sample size large enough to make the data interesting.

Microsoft ended the period with vanishingly small market share, and a large percentage jump in its device volume: 93% in the first 10 months of the year. That’s somewhat good news for Microsoft, a company that is desperate to grow its share of the mobile device market.

It is not hard, however, to grow your unit volume percentage when you sold few devices in the preceding period.

Among small and medium-sized companies, aggregate Android market share can’t rival Apple’s popularity, totalling to under 25% of unit volume.

The computing market changes as companies scale, or course. Contrasting the above is survey data from Bernstein Research out earlier this week which Barron’s covered. That study found that

of CIOs issue/plan to issue Windows tablets, up dramatically from 56% six months ago, and nearly in line with iPads. Plans for Android tablet issuance lags meaningfully, and fell to 15% from 23% in our last survey.

Apple remains atop the mobile pile, Windows is doing better over time, and Android remains a viable rival to Cupertino’s hegemony, but not one that can yet challenge its unit volume.

Among smaller businesses, Android spanks Windows’ mobile device volume, but among enterprise-scale clients, Microsoft is collecting market momentum that could see it best Android. The dynamics of this are somewhat simple, I think: Larger companies more require new machines to slot into their existing IT infrastructure, something that Microsoft has stressed as a feature of Windows 8.1-based tablets.

However, the Intermedia data paints a somewhat dire picture for Microsoft among smaller firms, a corporate demographic that it cannot afford to ignore.

So the picture is somewhat plain: Apple’s iOS line of mobile devices is tectonically strong among small firms, and attractive even to large-scale companies. I’m sure your anecdotal experience confirms that. This leaves second place in the mobile device market up for Android and Windows to fight over.

Just another day in the platform wars.


Google Buys Boston Dynamics, Creator Of Big Dog

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Google announced that they’ve acquired Boston Dynamics, creators of quad- and bi-pedal robots like Big Dog and PETMAN. This is Google’s eighth robotics acquisition.

The company did not disclose the details of the sale.

The announcement appeared in the New York Times where Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert said they would honor their DARPA military contracts although Google will not officially be a military contractor.

The company, founded in 1992, has been working on standalone, gas-powered robots for the past decade. The robots are self-righting and very resilient. Robots like Big Dog can throw cinder blocks, handle rocky terrain, and run at 16 mph.

The man behind the acquisition, Andy Rubin, stepped down as head of Googe’s Android business in march after turning a little-known mobile OS into a juggernaut. “His last big bet, Android, started off as a crazy idea that ended up putting a supercomputer in hundreds of millions of pockets,” wrote Larry Page on his Google+ page. “It is still very early days for this, but I can’t wait to see the progress.”


Google Turns On Desktop-Based Web Streaming Of Google Play Content For Chromecast

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Google Chromecast owners can now stream Google Play music and movie content direct from the web, as well as from smartphones and tablets, thanks to the Google Cast extension for the Chrome desktop browser. Oddly, Google’s own media store isn’t the first to do this, as Netflix on the web can play nice with the Chromecast extension, as can YouTube. But Play media access means Google’s $35 wonder device is everything the Nexus Q was not, and a device only limited by software and time.

When the Chromecast first launched, it was sort of like a knock-off designer handbag: Not the thing you really want, but close enough and so cheap it didn’t matter. Slowly but surely, however, Google has been improving its streaming dongle to the point where it’s quickly becoming a true competitor for Apple’s AirPlay and Apple TV devices, which is a much-needed ingredient currently missing from Google’s ecosystem.

Web-based streaming is also something that AirPlay can handle, thanks to the ability to connect an AirPlay display in the latest version of OS X. Chromecast also still can’t mirror a display entirely, which is something AirPlay can handle that’s incredibly useful for presenters, educators and many others. AirPlay has also been used by many developers as a way to program experiences designed to take advantage of using both a small and a big screen at one time, which is likewise something Google hasn’t really implemented with Chromecast just yet.

Earlier this week, Google added a good list of new content partners to Chromecast’s stable of supported software, and each drove up the value of owning one considerably in my opinion. In the same way that Apple keeps improving the Apple TV via content partnerships and service improvements, Google keeps doing the same with Chromecast, but the short-term potential here is even greater, I think, at least in terms of immediate impact for a huge group of Chrome and Android users.


8 Brutally Honest Facebook Notifications That Need to Exist Now

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No one likes a gossip, we know. And we would never condone catty behavior. But Facebook just makes it so easy

We don't remember how we stalked our exes, judged our enemies or kept track of so much drama before social media, but we've certainly developed a knack for it now

However, as useful as Facebook can be for these tasks, the social network does tend to sugarcoat the more dramatic bits of our News Feed. So-and-so "changed their relationship status to single?" Come on, we all know there's more to the story.

Here are the eight types of Facebook notifications we'd love to see. Go ahead, revel in the drama. We won't tell Read more...

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Instagram’s Top Posts and Trends From 2013

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Instagram is starting to look every bit the billion dollar company Facebook made it out to be in 2012

The photo sharing app hit some major milestones in 2013, most notably the addition of video, posting of its first advertisements, and the recent roll out of Instagram Direct, a private messaging feature that allows users to share photos with individuals or small groups with in the app

Instagram's 150 million-plus users share more than 55 million pictures to the app every day, and had its first ever post garner more than 1 million Likes in 2013 (thanks, Justin Bieber). Read more...

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Reverting the changes to block functionality

Earlier today, we made a change to the way the “block” function of Twitter works. We have decided to revert the change after receiving feedback from many users – we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe. Any blocks you had previously instituted are still in effect.

In reverting this change to the block function, users will once again be able to tell that they’ve been blocked. We believe this is not ideal, largely due to the retaliation against blocking users by blocked users (and sometimes their friends) that often occurs. Some users worry just as much about post-blocking retaliation as they do about pre-blocking abuse. Moving forward, we will continue to explore features designed to protect users from abuse and prevent retaliation.

We’ve built Twitter to help you create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers. That vision must coexist with keeping users safe on the platform. We’ve been working diligently to strike this balance since Twitter’s inception, and we thank you for all of your support and feedback to date. Thank you in advance for your patience as we continue to build the best – and safest – Twitter we possibly can.

Instagram vs. Snapchat: How the Photo-Sharing Apps Stack Up

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Instagram on Thursday announced a new messaging feature, called Instagram Direct, that adds a more private element to the photo-sharing app

With this new feature, will Instagram now go head to head with Snapchat?

The two apps have many more similarities than they did even 12 hours ago, and it appears Facebook is hoping Instagram can compete with Snapchat. (Don't forget, Snapchat turned down a reported $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook just last month, $2 billion more than Facebook spent on Instagram.)

How closely do the photo-sharing apps match up? We've done a side-by-side comparison, Instagram on the left, Snapchat on the right. Read more...

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Google Says That Despite Changes, Marketers Can Still Track Open Rates In Gmail

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A recent change to the way that Gmail displays images will have an effect on marketers, but it won’t be as dramatic as others have suggested, according to a Google spokesperson.

The company announced earlier today that when Gmail users open an email with images, they’ll no longer have to click the “display images below” button to actually see the pictures. Instead, those images will just load automatically.

Seems like a nice-but-minor improvement, right? Maybe for consumers, but not for marketers, according to Ars Technica. The issue is that (as Google notes in its blog post) the pictures are now loading from Google’s servers rather than the senders’. Ars writes:

E-mail marketers will no longer be able to get any information from images — they will see a single request from Google, which will then be used to send the image out to all Gmail users. Unless you click on a link, marketers will have no idea the e-mail has been seen. While this means improved privacy from e-mail marketers, Google will now be digging deeper than ever into your e-mails and literally modifying the contents.

But a Google spokesperson I emailed said that’s not entirely correct. (The spokesperson declined to be quoted.) Instead, they said marketers who track open rates through images will still be able to do so — indeed, they suggested that the data might be more accurate now since open rates will count users who read the emails but don’t load the images. What won’t get tracked, however, is other user data like users’ IP address. So this seems to do more to protect privacy without leaving marketers totally in the dark.

Email marketing company MailChimp suggests something similar in its blog post on the subject:

Using cached images is a fine idea for Gmail, but it has the potential to mess with open tracking for ESPs. Fortunately, MailChimp can still detect the first request for the open-tracking pixel. This won’t interfere with the count of “unique opens” you get in your reports, but it could prevent us from seeing multiple opens per subscriber. …

In Gmail’s announcement today, they said image caching allows them to securely turn on images by default. Image caching still lowers our ability to track repeat opens, but turning those images on means we’ll be more accurate when tracking unique opens. At least, theoretically it should work that way.


With Instagram Direct, Facebook’s Pursuit of Snapchat Is Over

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I was mostly wrong about Instagram's plans and also mostly right. I know, that oxymoronic statement makes little sense unless you consider that Instagram Direct, unveiled on Thursday in New York, is the very first big step into a full-scale encroachment on Snapchat's territory. It also means Facebook, to borrow a Taylor Swift lyric, will never, ever, ever bid on Snapchat again.

A couple of days ago, I predicted Instagram would unveil some sort of direct image messaging system and I almost called it Instagram Direct: "The ability to make chat-based or direct Instagrams temporary." Instagram Direct is, as I guessed, a way of sharing images "between only a group of Instagram friends or with just one other user." Read more...

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