LG muscles in on competitive AI chip space

LG has unveiled has developed its own artificial intelligence chip in an attempt to muscle in on this increasingly competitive segment of the semiconductor market.

The AI market is proving to be rewarding for those who can prove their worth, and each day there seems to be a new ‘thought leader’ entering the fray. While there is a feeling AI could benefit application developers (Uber, Cruise, Waymo etc.) and internet companies (Amazon, Google, Microsoft etc.) more than the semiconductor giants, there will be winners and losers in this segment also.

“Our AI C​hip is designed to provide optimized artificial intelligence solutions for future LG products,” said IP Park, CTO of LG Electronics. “This will further enhance the three key pillars of our artificial intelligence strategy – evolve, connect and open – and provide customers with an improved experience for a better life.”

Nvidia might have made a run at this segment in the early days, though considering its experience lies in gaming applications, whether it can mount a serious challenge remains to be seen. Graphcore is one which has attracted investment from the likes of Dell, Microsoft and Samsung, while AMD, Intel, Huawei, Google and Qualcomm (as well as numerous others) are making this a very competitive space.

As with Intel in the PC-era and Qualcomm’s continued dominance in mobile, some might suspect there might be a clear leader in AI also.

LG has stated its chip will feature its proprietary LG Neural Engine to better mimic the neural network of the human brain. The aim is to distinguish space, location, objects and users, while hoping to improve the capabilities of the device by detecting physical and chemical changes in the environment. As with every AI plug, LG is also promoting the ability of on-device processing power.

Looking at the approach from LG, the team are targeting quite a niche aspect of the AI segment; the smart home. This makes sense, as while LG has a smartphone business, the brand is perhaps primarily known for its home appliances range.

During the last earnings call, the LG mobile business continued to struggle in a sluggish and cut-throat market, reporting a 29% year-on-year drop to $1.34 billion, though the home appliance market soared. Revenues and profits soared to record levels, accounting for more than 80% of the total profits for the business over the three months.

Future products, such as washing machines, refrigerators, and air conditioners will be fitted with the devices, as ‘intelligence’ and personalisation become more common themes in more generic and everyday products.

Maybe the smart toilet isn’t that far away after all.

Amazon’s vigilante division Ring moves into crime reporting

Internet retail giant Amazon is making a big push into the neighbourhood watch world and now it even wants to report on local crime itself.

This is what is indicated by a recent Amazon job listing, which is looking for a News Managing Editor, who ‘will work on an exciting new opportunity within Ring to manage a team of news editors who deliver breaking crime news alerts to our neighbors.’ Ring, which makes connected doorbells with mounted video cameras, was acquired by Amazon for around a billion bucks last year.

Why would a smart doorbell outfit want to get into crime reporting? Good question, the answer for which seems to be found in the Neighbors by Ring app. This app essentially creates a local social network through which virtual curtain-twitchers can share footage of an undesirable types they’ve spotted lurking around their property through their sentient doorbells.

The idea is clearly an attempt to bring the concept of neighbourhood watch into the connected era, which is fine on the surface. After all, who wouldn’t want to know if there are dodgy people in their area? But as we’ve seen with regular social media, this does have the potential to create a self-reinforcing loop, with almost anything being potentially identifiable as a threat. And then there are the privacy and legal implications of sharing an image taken of someone without their permission and flagging them as a likely criminal.

Rather than seeking to minimise the possibility of this app whipping paranoid communities into a fervour of vigilantism, Amazon seems to think even more crime reporting is needed and is prepared to invest in it, hence this appointment. According to the job spec this person needs to have ‘a knack for engaging storytelling that packs a punch’.

The Neighbors by Ring app page paints a picture of a network of parochial snitches with the cops on speed dial, an Orwellian dynamic that’s sure to end well. The underlying strategic aim for Amazon seems to be to create as big an installed base of Ring doorbells as possible to drive demand for its nascent in-home delivery service. But it may inadvertently end up driving demand for handguns, snarling guard-dogs and panic rooms in the process.

 

Google wins first round in the battle for the living room

Smart speakers were only about developing a new dynamic in the relationship between the OTTs and the consumer, and Walmart’s new ‘Voice Order’ feature is a taste of things to come.

The new initiative from Walmart is perfect for the Google smart speaker ecosystem, as it plays to the strengths of the internet giant. By simply saying ‘Hey Google, talk to Walmart’ consumers will be able to use their voice to build shopping lists with the grocery mammoth, using any device which has the Google Assistant installed on it.

“With the new voice ordering capabilities we’re building across platforms with partners like Google, we’re helping customers simply say the word to have Walmart help them shop … literally,” said Tom Ward, SVP of Digital Operations at Walmart US.

Of course, the application will not be perfect to start with, but as with anything intelligence related it can be trained and personalised to each individual. At the beginning, users will have to specify what products to put into the cart, but soon enough the virtual assistant will remember these purchases. Saying ‘milk’ won’t put any brand or product into the cart, but the one you bought last time.

This is the futuristic world Silicon Valley had in mind when it started rolling smart speakers out to the world, and we imagine it won’t be too long before the innovation starts catching on.

Although some might suggest Google and Amazon have ambitions to disrupt the audio industry with the launch of their own smart speakers, this was most likely a ploy to drive user acceptance and demonstrate to the mainstream brands there is consumer appetite. If you actually look at the products which Google and Amazon have been championing, they would not compete with the calibre which could be manufactured by the likes of Bose or Bang & Olufsen, but it did start to get consumers using smart speakers.

Google and Amazon are the top-sellers of smart speakers across the world, with Amazon claiming to have now sold more than 100 million products, but the traditional audio giants are starting to release their own products. Sonos is releasing models, so is Samsung. But the traditional audio brands do not have the software smarts to create their own virtual assistants, this is where the likes of Google and Amazon come in.

Sooner or later, smart speakers will be the norm, with the internet giants battling for access to the consumer. A walled garden business model can be created, with the virtual assistant monetizing relationships between the consumer and a third-party. This creates a new dynamic between the consumer and Silicon Valley, offering more opportunities for the internet giants to sell to third-parties, and it looks like Google has won round one in the fight for control of the living room.

Walmart has said other assistants will be available to place orders before too long, but Google was selected as the first partner. This could mean one of two things. Firstly, Google nailed the partnership, commercial elements and technical issues to all for such a feature to be introduced. Then again, it could have paid for the right to be first.

Perhaps it should come as little surprise Google has won the first round here. While Amazon fortunes emerged from hosting an online marketplace and creating a dominant public cloud platform, this sort of feature is true to Google heritage. The Google dominance was created through software, intelligent algorithms and monetizing third-party relationships online. This is nothing more than an extension of this expertise onto a new user interface.

Whichever the case, it is largely irrelevant. Google is now ahead of Amazon when it comes to monetizing the voice user interface. This is a big step forward for the digital economy, and while it might be early days, it does give an indication of the futuristic world we are hurtling towards. With more ‘intelligent’ devices emerging, Google and Amazon could be set to become a lot more powerful and influential.

Plume hits the UK market

Mesh wifi specialist Plume has launched itself onto the UK market, brining with it a new service which aims to make consumer IOT more secure.

After success in the US market, eyes have been cast across the pond for Plume’s subscription service which it is describing as ‘adaptive wifi’. Not only does the company promise to improve wifi signal throughout the home, it is targeting security fears which may be arising due to more devices being connected to the internet.

“The ever-increasing demand for smart home performance coupled with the proliferation of IoT devices means connectivity and security are merging and must be addressed jointly and comprehensively,” said Fahri Diner, Plume’s CEO.

“Leveraging our scale as the operator of perhaps the largest software-defined-network in the world, our learnings gathered from a vast population of connected devices uniquely positions Plume to offer the most effective anomaly-based protection of IoT devices.”

Plume claims its software detects and monitors all connected devices around the home, learning patterns of normal device behaviour across a large population of similar devices, hoping to spot abnormalities in real time and immediately act to protect users. The power of this security feature does depend on scale, having enough data from similar devices to understand normal behaviour, but it does seem to be heading that direction.

The team is not only boasting of numerous ties ups with companies such as Comcast, Bell Canada, Liberty Global, and Samsung, but by open sourcing the device software middle layer the reach is extended further. As soon as an anomaly is detected in any of the devices on the network, it is immediately quarantined to prevent the risk of spreading the threat throughout the home’s network.

The product itself looks to be a useful innovation but priced at £99 for a starter hardware pack and £99 per year thereon, it might turn off increasingly cash conscious consumers. We suspect the direct-to-consumer model might not be the most successful but bagging a couple of telco partners could be an interesting play as a value-add.

Virgin Media gives some smarts to wifi

Virgin Media has unveiled a new, ‘intelligent’, router which it claims will bring faster speeds to more areas of the home.

With the telco world becoming increasingly utilitised, and advertising authorities rightly cracking down on the ‘creative’ marketing claims, new ideas will certainly be needed to capture the attention of the increasingly demanding consumers. And in fairness to Virgin Media, this is not a bad attempt.

“Delivering ultrafast broadband to help make Britain faster is what we do best at Virgin Media but making sure this translates into reliable in-home connectivity is just as important,” said Richard Sinclair, Executive Director of Connectivity at Virgin Media

“Intelligent WiFi will allow our customers to make the most of their broadband while also helping to easily overcome any connectivity conundrums around the home. With families using more devices than ever before, it’s vital they can all be online whenever needed. Whether it’s streaming UHD movies on Netflix, playing the latest games online or video conferencing, Intelligent WiFi has your back.”

Starting with the intelligence side of the router, should the software work the way it’s supposed to, this could prove to be a very interesting addition. Firstly, Channel Optimisation allows the router to choose the least congested channel to decrease the likelihood of traffic jams. Secondly, a Band Steering feature allows devices to switch between 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency to optimise performance. Finally, Airtime Fairness suggests bandwidth will be allocated between devices depending on the demands of that device.

The term ‘intelligence’ is thrown around relatively flimsily nowadays, though should the performance of these features be at the desired level, this could prove to be a very useful product.

 

And while the ‘intelligence’ aspects are more likely to enthuse those consumers who are more geekily orientated, a new app to manage the wifi experience is answers a lot of the simple bugbears and first-world problems of connectivity.

One example is sharing wifi passwords. It might not seem like a revolutionary idea but being able to log into the app and simply send the wifi password to a friend or guest will save customers from the inevitable digging around behind the TV. This is not necessarily a feature which will win customers for Virgin Media, but enough of these little quirky features will improve the customer experience and loyalty.

Another area which the app addresses is ubiquitous connectivity. Being connectivity everywhere and all-the-time is a necessity nowadays, though consumers are becoming increasingly cash conscious. Through the app, Virgin Media customers can now connect to any Virgin Media wifi hotspots, of which there are 3.5 million around the UK.

Most importantly for Virgin Media, this take the brand outside of the customers home, and allows the company to support customers through the entire day. This is Virgin Media adding value into the customer’s lives, going beyond the assumed perimeters of a home broadband provider.

“UK consumers have an insatiable appetite for data across a wide range of devices that will continue to grow over time,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight. “As well faster download speeds, consumers want a better and reliable connection in all parts of their home. This is starting to be a highly sought after service among users.”

BT has been playing in this market for some time, which offers Virgin Media a blueprint for success. Patchy performance and an irritating log-in process perhaps gave the BT wifi play a bad name, though progress has been made across the public wifi space in recent years. Hopefully Virgin Media will have learned these lessons.

With connectivity increasingly heading towards the dreaded limitations of utility, it is becoming increasingly important for telcos to prove they can add value to other aspects of the customers life. This is certainly an interesting play from Virgin Media and should the features work, Virgin Media goes some way in proving it is more than just a utility.

Telcos need to seriously think about how to sell to consumers

Following the news that Sky has been slapped on the wrist for misleading claims during a 2018 advertising campaign, marketers need to have a long and hard think about whether they are doing a good job.

The most recent assault against the marketing strategies of the telcos comes from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), with the group ruling Sky’s push to suggest customers would be able to receive stronger wifi signal throughout the house because of its routers, was misleading. The campaign features characters from ‘The Incredibles’ franchise, running across TV and through mainstream press.

The campaign was originally challenged by BT and Virgin Media, with both suggesting the claims were misleading as there was no way to substantiate the assertion. And the ASA agreed. In some cases, Sky’s router might be able to improve wifi signal throughout the home, but due to the breadth of different homes, each with their own structural design, it is an impossible claim to justify. The ad was far too generalist and deemed misleading.

“Unfortunately for Sky, its promise of a strong wifi signal all over your house has been shown to be misleading, and while it is by no means unique in falling foul of the ASA, it will be stung by this ruling the regulator has upheld against it,” said Dani Warner of uSwitch.com.

“Broadband providers are no longer allowed to make such exaggerated claims about potential speeds following the ASA’s major clampdown at the end of 2017, so they have had to become more imaginative in how they stand out from the pack with their advertising.”

This is an area the ASA has been quite hot on in recent years; telcos should not be allowed to make such generalist claims, intentionally misleading customers over performance. Especially in an age where advertising can be personalised on such a dramatic scale, at best it is lazy and incompetent, at worst it is directly and intentionally lying.

What is worth noting is that Sky can potentially boost signal throughout the home, though additional equipment would be required to make this possible. This is not mentioned during the advertising campaign however. The ASA ruled that some of the claims made in the ad could be substantiated, however it is no longer allowed to run in its current form.

Sky incredibles

This is of course not the only area where telcos are being challenged in the world of advertising. ‘Fibre’ claims are another, the ‘up-to’ metric has been removed and the telcos are being forced to detail speeds during peak times. Another factor to consider is the up-coming 5G service. Do any of the telcos have a clue how they are going to sell the service to consumers, as we do not believe the idea of ‘bigger, faster, meaner’ will not work, at least for the first few years.

Starting with the ‘up to’ claim, this is one which plagued the consumer for years. Masses of customers were duped into buying promised services which could only be delivered to a fraction. Thankfully, the ASA changed rules, forcing the telcos to be more accurate in how they communicate with potential customers.

Not only did this ruling mean the ‘up to’ claim had to be avoided, but it also forced the telcos to claim speeds during peak times. This also more readily informs the consumer of services which they are likely to experience, as opposed to the dreamland which most telcos seem to think we live in.

The term ‘fibre’ and ‘full-fibre’ has also been challenged, though telcos can still get away with some nefarious messaging. Irrelevant of whether there is fibre in the connection, and there generally always will be at some point, the ‘last mile’ is where the difference is made to broadband speeds. If it is copper, you will never get the same experience as fibre, however, telcos are still able to mention fibre in advertising.

The ASA has done some work to clear this up, in all fairness, though we still feel there is opportunity to abuse the trust of the consumer. And the telcos have shown that when there is an opportunity to be (1) at best lazy or (2) at worst directly misleading, they will take it.

The final area which we want to discuss takes us into the world of mobile and 5G. The telcos have always leant on the idea of ‘faster, bigger, meaner’ to sell new services to customers, or lure subscriptions away from competitors, but 5G presents a conundrum for the marketers; do consumer need faster speeds right now?

EE

4G delivers a good experience to most, and if it doesn’t, there generally is a good reason for this (i.e. congestion, interference, remote location, indoor etc.). 4G will continue to improve both in terms of speed and coverage over the next few years, and as it stands, there are few (if any) services which supersede what 4G is or will be capable of.

Another factor to consider is the price. Many consumers will want the fastest available, even if they don’t need it, but the premium placed on 5G contracts might be a stumbling block. EE has already hinted 5G will be more expensive than 4G, though details have not been released yet. In the handsets segment, consumers have shown they are more cash conscious, especially when there is little to gain through upgrades, and this is heading across to the tariffs space as purchasing savviness increases.

“I don’t think there are many great telco brands out there most consumers see them more as a utility,” said Ed Barton, Chief Analyst at Ovum. “T-Mobile USA is an exception with their customer champion, ‘un-carrier’ positioning but there no branding even approaching the effectiveness of, say, Apple’s.

“If 5G is sold only as a faster G, sales will be slow and it’s up to the entire ecosystem to create the apps, services and use cases which can only exist because of 5G network capabilities. These will probably rely on some combination of edge computing, high volume data transfer, low latency and maybe network slicing. An early use case is domestic broadband however as 5G networks evolve the use cases should proliferate relatively quickly.”

If consumers are becoming more cash conscious and have perfectly agreeable speeds on their 4G subscriptions, the old telco marketing playbook might have to be torn-up. The big question is whether the ideas are there to make the 5G dream work. Differentiation is key, but few telcos have shown any genuinely interesting ideas to differentiate.

Priority

One excellent example is over at O2 with its Priority initiative. Through partnerships with different brands, restaurants, gig venues and companies, customers are given freebies every week (a Nero coffee on a Tuesday) or special discounts periodically (£199 trip to Budapest). It leverages O2’s assets, the subscription base, allowing O2 to add value to both sides of the equation without monstrous expense. This has been a less prominent aspect of O2 advertising in recent years; perhaps the team is missing a trick.

Another, less successful, example of differentiation is getting involved with the content game. BT has been pursuing this avenue for years, though this expensive bet has seemingly been nothing more than a failure, with former CEO Gavin Patterson heading towards the door as a result.

This is not to say content cannot be a differentiator however. The content aggregator business model is one which leverages the exclusive relationship telcos have with their subscribers, streaming-lining the fragmented content landscape into a single window. Again, it uses assets which the telco already has, adding value to both sides of the equation. It also allows the telcos to get involved in the burgeoning content world without having to adopt a risky business model (content ownership) to challenge the existing and dominant members of the ecosystem.

In France, Orange is a making a place for ownership of the customers ‘smart ecosystem’, offering new services such as storage and security, while the same play is being made by Telefonica in South America through Aura. These offerings will offer differentiation, as well as an opportunity to make more revenues through third-party services. It’s a tough segment, as it will put them head-to-head with the likes of Google and Amazon’s digital assistants, but it is a differentiator.

By having these initiatives in place, marketers have something unique to go to market with, enticing consumers with promises which are genuinely different.

Three is a company which is taking a slightly different approach, hitting the consumers appetite for more data as opposed to speeds. Here, the team is leaning on ‘binge-watching’ trends, offering huge data bundles, but you have to wonder whether this is sustainable in the long-run when it comes to profitability and customer upgrades. There is only so long a company can persist in the ‘race to the bottom’.

Go Binge

“There are too many claims in an attempt to stand out in a crowded market,” said Paolo Pescatore, Tech, Media & Telco Analyst at PP Foresight.

“This is not the first time and wont be the last. It will only proliferate with the rollout of fibre broadband and 5G services. Consumers are happy to pay for the service they’ve signed up for, not to be misled. In essence, telcos are struggling to differentiate beyond connectivity. There’s a role for a provider to be novel and provide users with value through additional services and features.”

With the ASA chipping away at what marketers can and cannot say, as well as the traditional playbook becoming dated and irrelevant, telcos need to take a new approach to selling services to the consumer. The winners of tomorrow will not necessarily be the ones with the best network, O2 currently sits at the bottom of the rankings but has the largest market share in the UK, but the telco who can more effectively communicate with consumers.

5G offers an opportunity for telcos to think differently, as does the emergence of the smart ecosystem. Other product innovations, such as AI-driven routers, which can intelligently manage bandwidth allocation in the home, could be used as a differentiator, but it won’t be long before these become commonplace.

At the moment, all the bold claims being made by telcos, each competing the game of one-up-manship, are merging into white noise. The telcos have lost the trust of the consumer, many of which has cottoned onto the claims being nothing more than chest-beating. The telcos need to get smarter, and it will be interesting to see whether there are any unique approaches to capture the imagination of today’s cash conscious, technologically aware and savvy consumer.

Failure to do so, and the telcos might as well start calling themselves utilities.

Telefónica and Microsoft team-up to own connected ecosystem

Every telco is attempting to figure out how to survive in the newly-defined digital world and Telefónica’s approach looks to be one of the most interesting attempts yet.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Telefónica CEO Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete was joined on stage by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to preach the promise of its ‘fourth platform’ and the power of digital assistant ‘Aura’ as a play to capture the fortunes of tomorrow’s digital ecosystem. Many are attempting to realise the glories of the connected economy, but this approach, leaning on the ‘gated community’ lessons of the OTTs looks to be one of the most encouraging yet.

“We decided cognitive intelligence was an amazing new opportunity,” said Alvarez-Pallete. “It is a new wave of interaction with our customers.”

The idea, which has been in the making for the last two years, is a relatively simple one on the surface. Build an effective digital assistant (tick), an intuitive interface (tick), a network designed for intelligence (tick) and open all this up to third parties (the next tick). It is remarkably similar to the ‘gated community’ model which has been championed by the likes of Facebook.

Although there are services and products which will be designed by Telefónica, there are more intelligent ways to monetize the consumer. The digital assistant and ‘Movistar Living App’ help Telefónica own the relationship with the consumer, but by opening the gates of this cultivated community Telefónica can monetize the relationships and (in-directly) the services which are build on top of its own intelligent network.

rhdr

However, for this idea to work the services have to be captivating and innovative. Telefonica must give customers a reason to use ‘Aura’ and the ‘Movistar Living App’ as the focal point of their own connected world. Effectively, Telefonica will have to go head-to-head with the likes of AWS and Google who are also trying to own this relationship with their own digital assistants. This is where Microsoft will be able to help.

Under Nadella, Microsoft has been reborn as a new company. After a brief fall from grace, the now cloud-defined business is fast becoming one of the most innovative players in the market, and part of this is built on its own AI platform and cognitive intelligence offerings. If Telefonica is going to go toe-to-toe with some very innovative players and own the connected ecosystem, the power of Azure (machine learning research, speech recognition etc.) will be critical to this success.

Another crucially important factor to success here will be earning, and maintaining, customer trust. Facebook succeeded so forcefully in the first few years because no-one questioned the data-sharing business model. Perhaps this was because no-one could understand these concepts, but the world has changed. Privacy is a priority for consumers, and Telefonica will have to prove it is serious about keeping personal information safe and managing the relationships with third-parties responsibly. Without this trust, Telefonica’s drive towards evolution with fail and the business will be nothing more than a dumb pipe.

rhdr

What is worth noting is that the strategy is off to the best possible start. Aura has been launched in six different countries, across 30 channels and has developed more than 1000 different usecases. By the end of 2019, these numbers will have improved to 9, 50 and 1500 respectively. The ambition and the growth potential is certainly there.

Owning the ecosystem which is fast developing behind the connected economy, including the smart home, is an opportunity which looked to be lost for the telcos. With the likes of AWS and Google seemingly wrestling control away with their own smart speakers and integrated personal assistants, it might have been a case of another missed opportunity due to inaction. Telefonica is looking to right this wrong however.

Xiaomi brought an old phone to Barcelona but added 5G to it

Xiaomi used Mobile World Congress 2019 to launch a 5G version of its Mi Mix 3 smartphone. The product will be available in the markets by May 2019.

Under the banner of “We Make It Happen” and billed as its first Mobile World Congress product launch (despite that it took place one day before MWC started), Xiaomi introduced the Mi Mix 3 5G version. The original 4G version of the phablet / super-sized phone was launched in October 2018. The new 5G reincarnation is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 equipped with the new X50 5G modem.

“Xiaomi has spent tremendous efforts developing a 5G smartphone solution and Mi MIX 3 5G represents Xiaomi’s quest to create innovative products for everyone,” said Wang Xiang, Senior Vice President of Xiaomi. “We are also delighted and honoured to be working with our partners to make 5G a reality for even more users all over the world.”

By partners on this particular occasion he definitely included Qualcomm and Orange, both of which endorsed the product launched. Cristiano Amon, President of Qualcomm Incorporated, shared the stage at the event. “We are thrilled to continue our long-standing collaboration with Xiaomi to help bring deliver unprecedented 5G speeds and transformative user experiences to consumers through their latest flagship smartphone, Mi MIX 3 5G,” he said.

Then a live 5G video call on the Mi Mix 3 5G was made on stage with an off-site Orange Spain executive, using Orange network. This may look commonplace nowadays, but it made history for Xiaomi: it was Xiaomi’s first 5G video call outside of China, the company claimed. It did not let go the opportunity without a subtle poke on AT&T either. When pointing at the on-screen 5G symbol, the Xiaomi product development director stressed this is real 5G, “not fake 5G”.

With the exception of 5G, all the other features and specs of Mi Mix 3 5G are the same as its 4G predecessor. The 5G version will be available in May and is priced at 599€.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 launch Feb 2019

Also introduced at the event is Mi 9, its new flagship smartphone launched in China a few days ago. Xiaomi spent a fair amount of time promoting the triple-camera, especially the AI performance to support different picture taking scenarios. Also being highlighted was Mi 9’s full-curved back cover, which it claimed to be inspired by the works of Antoni Gaudí, much to the delight of the local audience.

The Mi 9 is priced at 449€ for the 64GB version, and 499€ for the 128GB version. It is open to pre-order from today in Spain, France, and Italy.

The new product launches are packaged as steps taken to carry out the company’s “dual-core strategy” of Smartphone+AIoT that Xiaomi’s founder launched recently. Xiaomi’s executive threw in quite a few impressive numbers as proofs. For example, the number of monthly active users of MIUI (Xiaomi’s skin on top of Android) has reached 224 million; more than 2,000 products have been brought to the market by over 200 companies in the Xiaomi ecosystem; there are 132 million activated Xiaomi consumer IoT products, which has made it the world’s largest consumer IoT company.

It is also collaborating with IKEA and Philips to popularise smart homes and smart lighting. To make the point, Xiaomi’s executive went into a demo home environment on stage, attempting to switch off the smart air purifier with Google Assistant voice command. He did not quite pull it off. The air purifier refused to switch off, twice. Then he gave up.

Vodafone turns to wifi innovation to bolster broadband business

Vodafone has announced the launch of a new smart home network which it hopes will address a frustration of many consumers around the world; suspect wifi.

The new routers will not only allow for extenders to be placed around the house, potentially eliminating not-spots hidden in various rooms, but cloud-based algorithms will allow for more dynamic and intelligent allocation of connectivity resources.

“We know that the vast majority of people’s broadband issues are actually down to poor Wi-Fi signals in their homes – around a quarter of calls into customer care are about Wi-Fi issues,” said Ahmed Essam, Vodafone Group’s Chief Commercial and Strategy Officer. “Super WiFi is a simple way to address these problems and give our customers the best possible connection in every room of their house, every day of the week.”

As it stands, most broadband routers are pretty dumb devices. Bandwidth is split evenly to the devices which are connected to the router, irrelevant as to what the devices are doing. In this ‘dumb’ world, your TV which might be streaming a HD movie, will be allocated the same amount of bandwidth as a laptop which is only checking emails. Its not a very efficient way to do connectivity.

Cloud-based self-learning algorithms mean the network is constantly improving over time, adjusting automatically to deliver the best possible connection to each type of device, whether it is a mobile, laptop or connected TV. This makes a lot of sense when you consider the difference in checking WhatsApp and watching Stranger Things, while the equation might become a little bit more complicated with the connected revolution gathering momentum.

The introduction of smart speakers and energy meters might just be the beginning. While the idea of a connected fridge has been around for years, with a supporting ecosystem quickly emerging behind the products, there might be a bigger appetite for such futuristic living. With more devices fighting for connectivity attention from the router, this might be a solution. The ‘dumb’ status quo, putting the TV and the fridge on par, is clearly not a good option.

This is certainly a good move forward for Vodafone, and we look forward to the routers coming to the UK in the next couple of months, with the Spaniards getting the attention first and foremost.

Google investors slightly spooked by free-spending execs

Revenues might well be booming again at Google, but it seems shareholders are slightly concerned by increased costs, which is one of the fastest growing columns in the spreadsheet.

Looking at the final quarter, revenues stood at $39.3 billion, up 22% year-on-year, though traffic acquisition costs (TAC), what Google pays to make sure it is the dominant search engine across all platforms, operating systems and devices, were up by over $1 billion. Cost-per-click on Google properties were also down. A glimmering ray of sunshine was higher-than-expected seasonal growth for premium YouTube products and services.

Total revenues for 12 months ending December 31 stood at $136.8 billion, up 23% over 2017, while net income was back up to the levels which one would expect at Google, raking in $30.7 billion. The company is not growing as quickly as it used to, while expenses are starting to stack up. Investors clearly aren’t the happiest of bunnies as share price declined 3.1% in overnight trading.

“Operating expenses were $13.2 billion, up 27% year-over-year,” said Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat. “The biggest increase was in R&D expenses, with the larger driver being headcount growth, followed by the accrual of compensation expenses to reflect increases in the valuation of equity in certain Other Bets.

“Growth in Sales and marketing expenses reflect increases in sales and marketing headcount primarily for Cloud and Ads followed by advertising investments mainly in Search and the Assistant.”

Headcount by the end of the last period was up by more than 18,000 employees to 98,771. While CEO Sundar Pichai was keen to point out the business is continuing to invest in improving its core search product, diversification efforts into areas such as the smart speaker market, cloud and artificial intelligence are hitting home. Perhaps investors have forgotten what it’s like to search for the next big idea.

For years, Google plundering the bank accounts with little profit to offer. These days are a long-distant memory, but it is the same for every business which is targeting astronomical growth. You have to perfect the product and then scale. A dip in share price perhaps indicates shareholders have forgotten this concept, but Google is doing the right thing for everyone involved.

Some businesses search for differentiation and diversification when they have to, some do it because they have ambition to remain on top. Those who are searching because they have to are most likely reporting static or declining numbers each month and did not have the vision to see the good days would not last forever. Google is pumping cash into the next idea so when growth in its core business starts to flatten, something else can pick up the slack and pull the business towards more astronomical growth.

This is what is so remarkable about the ‘other bets’ column on the spreadsheets. It might have costs growth every single year, as does the wider R&D column, but having graduated the cloud computing business and most recently Loon, there are businesses which will start to contribute more than they are detracting. This is a company which never sits still, and this is why it is one of the most admired organizations from an entrepreneurial perspective. Shareholders might do well remembering this every now and then.

Looking at joy around the world for the final quarter, US revenues were $18.7 billion, up 21% year-over-year, while EMEA brought in $12.4 billion, up 20% and APAC accounted for $6.1 billion, up 29%. Revenues in LATAM were $2.2 billion, up 16% year-over-year. APAC and LATAM were subject to negative FX fluctuations, particularly in Australia, Brazil and Argentina.

In the specific business units, Google Sites revenues were $27 billion in the quarter, up 22%, with mobile collecting the lion’s share, though YouTube and Desktop contributing growth also. Cloud, Hardware and Play drove the growth in the ‘other’ revenues for Google, collecting $6.5 billion, up 31% year-over-year for the final quarter.

Although these diversification efforts are growing positively, there are also some risks to bear in mind. Firstly, the cloud computing business is losing pace with Microsoft and AWS. Google is making investments to attempt to buy its way through the chasm, but it will be tough going as both these businesses make positive steps forward also.

Secondly, some properties and developers are choosing to circumnavigate the Google Play Store, instead taking their titles direct to the consumer. This is only a minor segment of the pie for the moment and there will be a very small proportion of the total who actually have the footprint to do this (Fortnite for example), though it is a trend the team will want to keep an eye on. Perhaps the 30% commission Google charges developers will be reconsidered to stem dissenting ideas.

Finally, the data sharing economy which will sit behind the smart speaker and smart home ecosystem is facing a possible threat. Google will not make the desired billions from hardware sales, but it will from the operating systems and virtual assistant powering the devices. Collecting referral fees and connecting buyers with sellers is what Google does very well, though this business model might be under threat from new data protection and privacy regulations.

The final one is not just a challenge to the potential billions hidden between the cushions in the smart home’s virtual sofa, but the entire internet economy. GDPR complaints are currently being considered and potential consequences to how personal data is collected, processed and stored are already being considered. The Google lawyers will have to be on tip-top form to minimise the disruption to the business, and wider data sharing economy.

Costs might be up and while there are dark clouds on the horizon, Pichai and his executives are moving in the right direction. The lawyers can lesson the potential impact of regulation, but the exploration encouraged by the management team in the ‘other bets’ segment is what will fuel Google in the future. Costs should be controlled, but spending should also be encouraged.