Summer shorts

technology_at_the_beachSummer is here, and as the man said, “to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

We enjoy restful pursuits as much as the next guy.

Nonetheless, as we do once a month, it’s time to take a look at the technology landscape. In honor of summer, we pick out a six-pack of topics that might be of interest to you. We do the legwork, so you don’t have to.

Wearable robots

Wearable smart watches, fitness trackers, and computerized eyeglasses are so yesterday. What’s next on the horizon? How about wearable robots that augment our human equipment, for example, our hands?

MIT researchers are working on a prototype that can be attached to the wrist and would assist the user in grasping heavy or slippery objects.MITnews_7finger_01

The technology eventually could be marketed to assist elderly or disabled individuals in performing everyday tasks.

Although today’s prototype is a bit big and cumbersome, scientists believe that future such technology would be reduced in size, feature retractable fingers, and include learning capabilities that would help personalize the device to the person using it.

It’s no longer a question of if humans will merge with machines, but when.

Apple and IBM announce enterprise partnership

Is it possible for the most valuable company in the world to spread its wings farther and wider. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, seems to think so.

Apple_IBMCommenting on a partnership with IBM that was announced on Tuesday, Cook stated “iPhone and iPad are the best mobile devices in the world and have transformed the way people work with over 98 percent of the Fortune 500 and over 92 percent of the Global 500 using iOS devices in their business today. For the first time ever we’re putting IBM’s renowned big data analytics at iOS users’ fingertips, which opens up a large market opportunity for Apple. This is a radical step for enterprise and something that only Apple and IBM can deliver.”

My take: Having worked in information technology for most of my career, what I’ve noticed is that IT organizations are extremely conservative and unlikely to adopt anything that is not highly proven. My instincts tell me that this could be a significant deal for both companies, but will probably not be earth-shattering.

On the other hand, synergy can be a powerful force. If these two behemoths somehow manage to build something greater than the sum of its parts, then look out.

Modular smartphone, anyone?

We personalize our smartphones by adding our own wallpaper, apps, and data. But what if we could personalize the hardware itself by swapping in and out various components? This would make our smartphones truly optimized for our own purposes, and enable us to hold onto our smartphones longer. This is the concept that Google and Motorola, in cooperation with start-up Phonebloks, would like to bring to market.smartphone_segments

Called Project Ara, the idea is to test the viability of the Phonebloks concept: a free, open hardware platform designed to produce less electronic waste. The cooperative wants to promote the app store concept to include hardware modules that third-party developers and manufacturers would develop and submit for peer review.

If you take a lot of photos with your smartphone, you could upgrade to a camera module that would deliver great photos. If you needed lots of storage space, you could upgrade the storage module. And so on.

It’s an interesting concept with a big vision. Very Google-esque. We will definitely keep our eyes on this one.

Thumb drive for iPhone

In a Re/Code article this week, Walt Mossberg reviews iStick, a USB Flash drive for the latest iPhones and iPads (the ones with the newer Lightning connector). The iStick is a Kickstarter campaign that has already raised over $1 million in investments.

Basically, the iStick combined with a custom app lets you download data from or upload data to your Apple device. It also would let you view or play the files right from the device itself, so you wouldn’t need to transfer the data at all. The device will reportedly retail for $80 to $250, depending on the storage capacity (up to 128 GB) that you opt for.

See Mossberg’s column here.

Seems like these sorts of accessories pop up more for iDevices than for Android devices. One might infer that this is where the money is. Apple users spend money. On the other hand, it’s been stated that Android device owners are notorious cheapskates.

Talk about disruption

We’ve stated in these pages previously that great technologies are capable of disrupting entire industries, and have used Apple products as examples. But who would have thought that Apple products could disrupt the economy of an entire country?

canstockphoto7229754Turns out Finland is just such a country.

Speaking to Swedish financial newspaper Dagens Industri, Finland’s Prime Minister Alexander Stubb blamed Apple for disrupting his country’s job market with two innovations: the iPhone and iPad.

“We had two pillars we stood on: one was the IT industry, the other one was the paper industry,” Stubb reportedly said. “The iPhone knocked out Nokia and the iPad knocked out the forestry.”

Even today, the Finnish economy is said to be still struggling to recover after two years of recession. Nokia was eventually sold to Microsoft in a deal that was completed in April this year.

Coincidentally, Microsoft this week announced restructuring plans that will result in 18,000 layoffs over the next year, reportedly 13,000 of whom were former Nokia employees.

I don’t think Apple will be apologizing anytime soon.

Hilarity ensues at the cable company

The cable industry has been a target of derision in these pages previously. It’s not like it doesn’t bring it on itself, though.canstockphoto4905789

We’ve noted that the two most-hated companies in the U.S. are Comcast first, followed closely by Time Warner.

Customers, to put it mildly, hate their cable providers, so much so that they are cutting the cord in droves.

A recent example of this, and the hilarity that ensued, was this eight-minute recording of a customer (Ryan Block) attempting to discontinue his cable service with Comcast.

If you’re in need of a laugh or a serious eye-roll, we suggest you check it out.

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