In January, the big story in tech is always the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which is held in Las Vegas and just wrapped up on January 9. CES is where manufacturers roll out the gadgets and gizmos they’ll be releasing in the near (or sometimes far) future.
It’s the biggest commercial gathering in the world, spread across a dozen different halls, with 3,600 exhibiting companies commandeering 2.2 million square feet of floor space in the Las Vegas Convention and World Trade Center and other venues. This year, 170,000 people showed up for it.
As in 2014, there was a big emphasis on the Internet of Things (IoT), i.e., the move toward getting all of our household devices connected online. This is no small trend. There are now about 10 billion net-connected devices, or 1.5 for each human being on the planet. Tech research and advisory firm Gartner predicts that by 2020, the number will jump to 50 billion, or 8 per person, and the IoT market will be three-quarters of a trillion dollars. Nearly 30% of 2015 CES exhibitors were introducing products and services in the IoT sector.
Among IoT-related offerings at the show:
- Samsung’s SmartThings Hub proposes to organize all of the connected devices in your home regardless of what platform they run on. The company’s CEO promised that by 2017, 90% of its products would be connected to the Web.
- SmartThings Hub is compatible with the Apple HomeKit for iOS8, introduced last summer.
- For $270, the Ring by Logbar can turn your finger into a magic wand.
- Sengled smart light bulbs incorporate add-ons like Bluetooth speakers and WiFi repeaters.
- IoT pioneer Nest (acquired last year by Google) announced 15 new smart device integrations as part of its “Works with Nest” program.
- Smarter unveiled a WiFi-controlled tea kettle (it also makes a WiFi-controlled coffee maker)
- Home security devices were plentiful, including Netatmo’s “welcome camera,” with facial recognition capabilities
- Babies received a lot of attention, with a number of devices introduced that monitor everything from their body temperature to how long their little heads have been underwater, and send that information to a mobile device.
- Pets, too. If you just can’t bear to be unconnected to your dog, you can get a smartcollar like the Fitbark or Motorola Scout 5000.
- And, of course, with all those Internet things wired up, you’ll need to make sure intruders don’t gain control of them. That’s what Bitdefender’s Box is for.
And some other attention-capturing new items:
- The TAO Chair allows you to perform various isometrics exercises while seated.
- The DJI Inspire 1 handheld gimbal isn’t ready for production yet, but prototype testing indicates that it’s very successful at stabilizing video images even when the camera operators moving. That should have amateur videographers everywhere drooling. And for capturing extreme sports from every angle, there’s the 360fly action camera which, as its name implies, captures a 360-degree field of view.
- For personal transportation, the show featured everything from the IO Hawk (preorder one for $1,800), which is either a Segway minus the handle bars or a self-propelled skateboard;
- to the Rollkers, electronic “undershoes” that allow you to walk twice as fast as normal;
- to the electric Gogoro Smartscooter; and all the way up to the Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen-powered car available in October, and the Mercedes Benz Luxury in Motion car of the future (not coming anytime soon), which features an automated driving option and the interior comfort of a mobile lounge.
- Estelon Extreme speakers are certainly attention-getting for their striking design, their height (two meters tall), their sound quality, and not least their price: $260,000 per pair.
- CNET writes: “Years from now, the one announcement from this CES that’s likely to be remembered is Sling TV. Dish’s over-the-top video service will give subscribers—anyone with a broadband connection in the US—a decent lineup of channels (including ESPN, CNN, Food Network and more) for a starting price of just $20 per month with no contract on a wide variety of devices, including Roku, Fire TV, Xbox One and iOS and Android devices.”
- No surprise that drones and 3D printing were well represented. Here’s a gallery of some of the unmanned aircraft from 16 different manufacturers and samples from the 57 printing vendors present.
- Next-gen TVs of course abounded, and in no other field is competition more intense. OLEDs, 4K, quantum dots, HDR, SUHD, self-curving screens… you name it, it was there.
- Finally, how about a couple “worst in show” products? First, leave it to Lamborghini, maker of some of the world’s priciest automobiles, to bring us a $6,000 smartphone that doesn’t do anything special.
- Then there’s the Vert Wearable Jump Rate Monitor. It’s a band you wrap around your waist that sends the height of your vertical leap to a smartphone or tablet. Now, outside of a basketball coach, who would want to know this? Moreover, what seasoned coach couldn’t already tell you, within an inch or two, how high one of his or her kids was jumping?
All in all, while the 2015 CES didn’t yield anything revolutionary, it did suggest a fun year ahead in technology.
More Hacks, and Big Brother’s Response
If there was one year-defining theme in technology for 2014, it had to be the proliferation of cyberwar. The Sony hack that resulted in the company canceling the release of The Interview in major theater chains made the biggest splash in the media, but it was far from the only one of the year. Among other highlights:
- Posh retailer Neiman Marcus suffered a cyberattack in February in which the company’s customer credit card records were compromised. In illegally accessing the database, the hackers set off 60,000 alerts that notified the retailer of questionable activity, but security was not activated. For eight months, the hackers moved around unchallenged. The most recent estimate is that 350,000 customer cards were theft targets, with some 9,000 cards used fraudulently to date, according to the company.
- Home Depot was also hit in 2014, as cyberthieves stole up to 60 million card numbers. The attacks went on for five months before they were discovered. In September, the company said that anyone who used a credit card to shop in the US or Canada over a six-month period earlier in the year could have been a victim.
- Late August brought another sensational Hollywood-related story, when hackers broke into the iCloud accounts of a number of celebrities (primarily female), made off with nude photos, and posted them online. A new term—“the fappening”—was coined to describe the event. Many of the women involved went public with their anger, most outspokenly Jennifer Lawrence, who called the theft a sex crime and said it should be punished as such. Some Internet libertarians contended that viewing the stolen photos itself constitutes a moral crime and that right-minded people should refrain from doing it. For its part, Apple downplayed the incident, saying the breach wasn’t system-wide, but rather due to specifically targeting the celebrity accounts. “None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud or Find my iPhone,” Apple contended… which didn’t exactly explain how the intruders gained access.
- In early October, JP Morgan Chase admitted that a cyberattack over the summer may have compromised information about 76 million households. That included customer names, addresses, phone numbers, and email contact information. In addition, the breach affected about seven million of JP Morgan’s small businesses’ customers. Overall, it may have been the biggest cyberattack in corporate history.
And that trend has only continued into 2015. Just these past few days, we learned the US military got hacked by ISIS, as a group calling itself the “Cyber Caliphate” gained control of the US Central Command’s (CENTCOM’s) official Twitter and YouTube accounts and began posting pro-ISIS messages and warnings to US soldiers along with links to supposedly confidential US army files; however, the initial assessment from CENTCOM was that no classified information was posted. In response to the incident, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest pointed out that there’s a “difference between a large data breach and the hacking of a twitter account.” True, but the breach still highlights a sorry state of cybersecurity.
In response to the wave of cyberattacks, President Obama announced legislation that would shield companies from lawsuits for sharing computer threat data with the government. The legislation is part of a broader package that “includes measures to help protect consumers and students against cyberattacks and to give law enforcement greater authority to combat cybercrime.” Of course, some analysts question the need for such legislation and privacy advocates are wary. but some piece of legislation like this is bound to pass… for better or worse.
The UK’s response to the increasing number of cyberthreats is particularly Orwellian. British Prime Minister David Cameron has apparently announced plans to introduce significant new surveillance powers in the UK. Cameron has also called for the banning of encrypted online messaging tools if the country’s intelligence agencies were not given greater access.
To say Cameron’s proposals are problematic and flawed is an understatement. For a couple explanations of why his encryption bans are unworkable and dangerous—for example, any back door created to let intelligence services in could be exploited by virtually anyone, including those same intelligence agencies, of course—see this and this.
Rather than draconian legislation like trying to ban encryption, why don’t we let researchers and the market help protect us from cyberattacks? For example, researchers from the Australian National University and the University of Otago in New Zealand have created a prototype quantum hard drive that could fundamentally change the game when it comes to secure, long-distance data encryption. Then there’s your new unhackable and unforgettable password that isn’t a password at all but based on your unique biometrics, like the design of your irises. And of course we can turn to new software, too. Upstart Ionic Security just raised another $40 million to help companies combat cybercrime by offering software that focuses on protecting a customer’s data “rather than trying to play catch-up with an ever-changing stream of cyberthreats.”
For more on the subject of cyberwar, check out our white paper that covers all aspects of it, including specific steps you can take to avoid becoming a cybercrime victim.
First New Antibiotic Discovered in 30 Years
With antibiotic resistance on the rise and the inability of scientists to discover new drugs to fight harmful bugs, the World Health Organization predicted last year that we could be on the cusp of a “post-antibiotic era, in which minor injuries and common infections could become killers again.”
But a new discovery by researchers in Boston and Bonn, Germany may have just changed the game. Employing a new microfluidic device to grow soil bacteria (because most microbes won’t grow in lab conditions), the team says it has identified a new type of antibiotic. Named teixobactin, the antibiotic hasn’t yet been tested in people, but it was able to cure mice of pneumonia, staph, and some blood infections.
Instead of targeting proteins, which inevitably leads bacteria to developing new proteins that help it become resistant to antibiotics, teixobactin works by stopping microbes from building cell walls.
Apart from the immediate implementation, there is also I think a paradigm shift in our minds because we have been operating on the basis that resistance development is inevitable and that we have to focus on introducing drugs faster than resistance. Teixobactin shows how we can adopt an alternative strategy and develop compounds to which bacteria are not resistant.
This particular discovery is good news for our species, of course, but the renewed broader interest in antibiotics has implications for investors. Antibiotic R&D fell out of favor at Big Pharma years ago. But with the need for new drugs to combat the increasing resistance, big companies have reentered the fold. For example, Roche has just recently agreed to pay up to $750 million to gain rights to an early-stage drug from Meiji Seika Pharma and Fedora Pharma that helps existing treatments battle drug-resistant infections. The drug works in tandem with traditional antibiotics to break down treatment resistance and fight infections caused by the large family of bacteria that includes Salmonella and E. coli.
Bits & Bytes
Is the game of poker something that can be “solved”? Well, it depends on what your technical definition of “solved” is and what kind of poker you’re talking about; but the new software called Cepheus created by the Computer Poker Research Group at the University of Alberta is reported to be unbeatable by a human in heads-up two-player limit Texas hold’em.
A new Fortune-Survey Monkey study released during CES concluded that the top tech need on the mind of consumers isn’t better TVs, smartwatches, or heads up displays—it’s better batteries.
Have the robots taken over? Maybe not totally just yet, but the robotification of society—the process by which tasks normally performed by humans are replaced with mechanical and electrical machines—has long been underway.
As VCs are coming off their best year since 2007, their demand for app-based tech startups has apparently not waned. App Annie, which provides data products to track app downloads, rankings, and trends, just announced a new oversubscribed $55 million round of Series D funding.
Not long ago, the term virtual reality was basically a punch line in the tech world. But as the technology has improved, virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift could eventually transcend gaming and transform other aspects of our lives for the better (or at least make them more fun).
Twitter is apparently in talks to acquire India’s ZipDial to take advantage of the massive growth potential in that market. ZipDial has created a way to capitalize on the often-used trick in India and other markets like it to call numbers and hang up before the call is answered, “using the action as a simple alert that doesn’t cost any money. That alert, in turn, becomes the basis for a number of other, commercial actions, and analytics to track everything.”
IBM received 7,534 patents in 2014, up 10.6% from the year before. While companies like Google and Apple made headway with 2,566 and 2,003 patents respectively, IBM topped the annual ranking by IFI Claims Patent Services for the 22nd year in a row.
Apple suppliers announced record December revenues as iPhone sales soared. In fact, the success of the iPhone 6 has allowed Apple to take market share from Android in the smartphone market for the first time since 2013.
A company called Energous is hoping to provide us with real wireless charging that doesn’t require a charging pad. It claims its technology—a system called WattUp—can charge your phone from up to 15 feet away with no wires required.
The activist hedge fund that successfully ousted the entire board of Darden Restaurants last year, Starboard Value, recently warned Marissa Mayer and the Board of Yahoo in a public letter to refrain from making any of the large-scale acquisitions that have recently been speculated on in the news media. Starboard did say, however, that it would be amenable to a deal with AOL… which the fund just happens to have a stake in.
Yahoo has officially shut down the Right Media ad exchange it bought in 2007 for $680 million so it could be looking for an acquisition target in this space to provide more targeted, high quality inventory.
Scientists have uncovered a new gene target for triple-negative breast cancer, which accounts for about 20% of all cases of the disease.
A product called The Freedom Driver allows a man with an artificial heart to await transplant at home. This is why we love technology. “Heart failure patients awaiting organ transplants typically find themselves anchored to the hospital bed by a washing machine-sized device that keeps blood pumping through their veins.” But a new form of wearable technology is allowing Stan Larkin to have a more normal life as he awaits a transplant.
Using a system of electrical and chemical stimulation, researchers in Switzerland were able to cure completely paralyzed rats and allow them to walk again. That was last year. And the technology is now one step closer to being used in humans.
Finally, in the always exciting world of drone technology, CNN has been given the green light from the FAA to begin to use drones in its newsgathering and reporting efforts. CNN plans to use the drones to help produce video content; and the FAA says the initiative will help it sculpt its drone policy going forward.