This Week’s Technology News – 31st October 2014

Are companies doing their best to speed up collaboration and productivity amongst the workforce?

A new joint study of finance, HR and IT staff from 160 mid-tier organisations by Source for Consulting and Advance Business Solutions (ABS) has revealed that 79% of employees believe social media integration with back-office solutions is essential to improving productivity, collaboration and supplier engagement.  Perhaps surprisingly, 69% felt that social networks could help cut down on unnecessary email.

Whilst 86% of organisations use social media for external marketing, only 17% use social media tools such as enterprise social network systems to collaborate and share information internally.  One of the benefits of social media can be to streamline the recruitment processes by enabling companies to engage directly with potential employees and providing specific e-recruitment solutions to manage online applications.

Worldwide publisher Pearson formally used a software system called Neo but found far greater take up with an application called Jive, which has seen adoption grow to 10,000 of its staff globally since 2011.

Any technology that can bring a workforce, especially a disparately located one, closer together and increase productivity is something certainly to be considered by any Board. Surmounting the notion of internally employed social media on the other hand is an education path that needs careful navigation, understanding and education if it is to be successfully deployed.

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Samsung in doldrums as Xiaomi looks over its shoulder

Samsung appears not to be wowing its customers as much as it did before.  The tech giant is seeing competitors like Sony, HTC and Chinese brands start to bite into its previously dominant market share, with more innovative and interesting products in this highly commoditised mobile market.

Its position as the world’s largest smartphone maker with 25% of the global market for smartphones should have been consolidated with better profitability in its results. However, the decision to push out the Galaxy S5 in April, be the first to launch the smartwatch last year AND rush other releases ahead of schedule in September (Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge), to see off competition from Apple’s larger screen iPhones, failed to deliver on the balance sheets.  Added to this, the delay in launching the long-awaited Tizen operating system, which would have reduced its reliance on Google’s Android system for its phones seems to be showing the cracks in overall strategy, as Samsung’s operating profit (where mobile business provides 70% of income), fell by 60% against the same period last year with sales falling commensurately by 20%.

The technology market is moving very fast and there remains a rapacious appetite for transformative and innovative developments, but Samsung has lacked the integration and added value that has benefited its rival Apple for example, which sought to make their smartwatches work with their phones, tablets, PC or TVs, positioning them to be able to mine behavioural data insights, future trends and revenue opportunities.

Additionally, Samsung have ignored the lower end of the market where Chinese company Xiaomi has started to mop up in the emerging markets. Forecasting sales of 60 million budget smartphone handsets in China alone for 2014, Xiaomi offers almost flagship quality at reasonable price and  a good spec (no doubt helped by their poaching  a key Google exec for product development to help target western markets).

An indicator of Xiaomi’s true ambitions may be the news that the Chinese firm intends to open an Indian data centre to overcome concerns from the Indian Government against its military using the devices because of privacy fears over the data being kept in Beijing.   This is probably the single largest barrier to Xiaomi’s expansion plans in the world.  They have already been moving non-Chinese data into Amazon data centres and whilst they advise they never collect user data without permission, with 100,000 handsets sold every week, assuring the Indian market of its good intent, would certainly send the right signal and open the door for more rapid growth and potential market share gain worldwide.

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Microsoft enters the wearable race

Announcing a new product one day and releasing it the next used to be associated exclusively with Apple, however recently Microsoft managed to surprise the tech press by stealth releasing its rumoured, but not leaked, new wearable – the day after its announcement last Thursday.

Microsoft’s new wearable is simply named Band, comes in three sizes and is worn around the wrist. Featuring a better than average 2-day battery, 10 different sensors, GPS and a horizontal screen made up of tiles as seen in Windows and Windows Phone. Unlike the Apple Watch and Google Wear, Band works across all mobile platforms including iOS, Android and Windows Phone giving it a competitive edge to those who do not want to be locked into one particular platform.

Band has two main focuses; for the fitness conscious it can monitor pulse rate, calorie burn and quality of sleep. It also works as a smart watch, showing the time and giving you at a glance, notification such as texts, emails, calendar and social network alerts. Band also goes a step further by combining these two areas. For example, Band can detect if calendar meetings with particular people are likely to raise your stress levels based on your pulse rate from previous meetings.

Microsoft may be last out of the big three to unveil its wearable solution but its stealth release puts it way ahead of Apple’s Watch release if Spring next year. With the wide compatibility across different devices and the combination of price ($199), size, battery and features, Microsoft’s first wearable offering makes a compelling proposition. What is yet to be confirmed is whether Microsoft will be looking to licence its new wearable platform to other OEMs as it does with PCs, Tablets and Phones. A new platform that is compatible across all devices could see as big a success as Windows on PCs and Android on Smartphones has proven before.

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Are non-wearable devices the new threat to wearables?

Wearable technology is finally picking up steam with the three big players in mobile now all having their own wearable solutions. Wearables have a lot of applications but the biggest overlap feature and focus is on healthcare. For healthcare, wearables make a lot of sense. Sensors on the device can have direct, consistent contact with the user’s skin, allowing all sorts of analytical data to be accrued.

Will everyone be happy to wear one of these devices, or will their use be limited to tech enthusiasts? Or is there another, less intrusive alternative?

Video game Company Nintendo is no stranger to incorporating technology with health and fitness. As well as traditional video games, Nintendo has been making software to keep people active. The bundled launch game Wii Sports included with the Wii took advantage of the Wii Remotes at-the-time unique accelerometer (a technology now standard in smart devices). This gets people off the couch to re-enact real sports and has found its way into over 80 million homes worldwide. Their Wii Fit software was even less game-like and came as a pair with its Balance Board selling over 20 million units, and their latest portable game playing device (3DS) has health based sensors built in. Of course all of these, games or not, are currently limited to being use on Nintendo’s game devices.

Earlier this year the Japanese gaming giant quietly announced a new non-gaming division of the business to create technology around Quality Of Life (QOL) and non-wearable technology and one that is not reliant on its own gaming devices.

Detailed this week, the first product will arrive in the financial year ending March 2016 and is focused around your sleep and co-developed with US Company ResMed. A small box like device can be placed upon your bedside table and wirelessly monitor your sleeping habits via radio waves. Without intrusive human contact, the device can detect heart rate, respiration and fatigue. The data is sent to the Cloud where it is analysed and fed back to inform about how to achieve a healthier sleeping pattern. You will then be able view your data on smart devices where it will make recommendations in exercise and diet.

Nintendo noted that their know-how in gaming has given them great experience in creating fun-to-use software that people want to come back to daily. If a user is not engaged in the process of improving, this can be the biggest hurdle in maintaining a fitness programme. If Nintendo’s first non-wearable QOL product delivers on its promise of wireless health analytics, it could shake up the current wearables industry as motion control and touch screen gaming did on their Wii and DS systems.

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