A new Surface for Microsoft

You may have seen it garnered quite a bit of media attention this past week, and rightly so.  The Microsoft Surface tablet that launched this week heralds a new era for the company.  Traditionally, Microsoft has been a BYO hardware vendor which relied on its partners for machines to power its operating system – so it’s not surprising that the world media has taken note of the fact that the company has gone in this new direction.

During the week I read a number of media articles, analyst reports and blog posts about Microsoft’s announcement.  I wanted to share with you all this blog post from Forrester’s Sarah Rotman Epps, who believes that the Surface tablet is good news for Microsoft, and could mark a critical turning point in the company’s product strategy.

Epps says that although Microsoft has been criticised for past ventures into the hardware space (for example, the Zune player), it has had some real product successes like the Xbox.  She also comments that the Surface is the first example of Microsoft using the hardware combined with software ecosystem model, which Apple employs.  It also now allows the Windows brand to directly compete with Apple.

It’ll be an interesting six months or so in watching how consumers respond to the Surface, and of course, how its competitors respond.

Mummy Tech Talk

This blog post is steers away from my usual type around Analyst Relations or Tech PR. Instead, it focuses on technology and babies. Random?

As I’ll soon be a mum, I now find myself increasingly bewildered with the choice of gadgets for parents or those that are geared for babies/toddlers and kids. And boy! Are there are lot of gadgets out there!

Forget the basics like video monitors and the like, we are talking about GPS tracking toys, iPhone protector cases that double up as toys, nanny cams, an infant babygro with sensors that texts/emails you to let you know that your baby’s diaper needs changing …doesn’t the smell test qualify anymore?

A part of me does wonder whether we are overwhelming not only our kids but ourselves with so much choice. As a first time parent, I can image how tough it must be sometimes as you think you want to only get the best for your baby but at the same time not get too caught up in the hype.

Whether it is for you or the baby, everything or anything in moderation is fine and a balance is always good.

I must admit that I don’t even bat an eyelid these days when I see two year olds expertly gliding their cute little digits across a tablet screen.  Who am I to judge?  I have a confession to make that the first official baby thing I bought was a tablet – convincing myself that it would be really handy to download baby apps and of course hook up video links with the grandparents and friends across the world. (cough ..cough..)

I am no child expert but believe that a mix of good old traditional methods, toys and books with more modern methods and child friendly gadgets can’t be wrong.  If there is great technology out there that makes your live easier without taking away from your own bonding time with the baby or doesn’t impinge on health and safety then I am all for it.  But there can be a lot of marketing gaff out there for some of the gadgets that are just puerile. I am sure you will be the proper judge for what’s good for you and your baby.

Well folks, this will be my last post in a while as I am heading off on maternity leave from today. If baby and time permits, I may send in the occasional guest post as a mummy blogger.

And while I am at it, here’s a shameless plug: if you are a foodie, you may also find updates via my food blog: www.foodhabibi.com where I will post some baby food recipes in addition to some of the more exotic adult cuisines from Asia and the Middle East.

Could Australia be the next global tech hub?

posted by Dana O'Neill

Having just visited my old stomping ground of San Francisco, its good to reflect on what’s going on in the tech universe.

Many things are brewing in Silicon Valley these days… questions over recent IPO valuations, the tech sector’s impact on the American economy and if the Valley is capable of maintaining its ranking as the tech innovation hub of the world.

Many of us are familiar with the iconic tech titans born and raised in the Valley – and if you need some reminding, check out the Computer History Museum the next time you’re passing through. But many of these giants of innovation are suffering due to the global economy with almost daily reminders in the press that share prices are dropping, earnings estimates are missed, and layoffs are on the horizon.  This formula does not typically bode well for the spirit – nor the means needed – for quality R&D.

There are certainly still new companies cropping up in all sectors – from financial services to telco to healthcare.  But as investment dollars more frequently move overseas, and Asian companies either innovate a go to market strategy or offer cheaper alternatives at similar quality, this next generation of tech hotbeds are sure to give rise to some healthy competition for the Valley.  Even places closer to home such as New York are reportedly are going to give the Valley a run for its money.  The old guard will need to compete as never before.

So is Australia in the running?

Many say the secret sauce of Silicon Valley was the confluence of top schools that produced top engineering talent, a healthy and at times robust economy, a slew of venture capital firms and funding from the Defence Department.

In Australia, there’s considerable disposable income, good universities and a government with a surplus.  And there’s certainly enough mining millionaires who could be enticed to diversify.  Australia has seen a fair share of tech companies reach international success, and it continues to produce home-grown successful garage startups. So, Australia, what’s holding you back, mate?

A right royal evolution: Spolight on the telephone

posted by Helen Reiher

This week I’ve felt very patriotic – so much so in fact that colleagues have started calling me HRH!

Being a British ex-pat in Australia, I’ve been glued to all the goings on in London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this week. It got me thinking about some of the British-born technologies, how they’ve shaped history and what they’ve become today.

There are admittedly far too many for me to put in this post – the television, the train, the cat’s eye, the stereo, the iPod and the lightbulb to name a few – but I really couldn’t go past concentrating on just one that I think has impacted in our lives in possibly the biggest way – the telephone.

The smartphones and multifunctional telephones of today have their origins in the 1870s when the Brit Alexander Graham Bell transmitted a spoken message to his personal assistant. Since then, telephones have come to help shape the way we live, communicate, do business, and share information.

The earliest telephones were mechanical rather than electric devices that transmitted sounds over longer distances than that of normal speech. For example, speaking tubes on ships and large houses allowed users to pass messages from different rooms.

It’s hard to believe that from this, to electric phones and on to mobile phones that one technology could have become so significant. I wonder if Alexander Graham Bell knew it back then. Or what he’d think if he could see the modern day phone.

In the last – I’d say, five years – we’ve seen what has to be the biggest leap yet in telecommunications.

With smartphones like the Apple iPhone, or the Samsung Galaxy III which was announced last week, it’s clear that the mobile phone isn’t just a means by which to speak to people anymore but a way of life. It has the potential to combine almost every aspect of a person’s life – calendars, music, contacts, video conferencing and so much more. It’s called the ‘smartphone’ for a reason!

In my mind, the possibilities are endless for mobile phones and I’d anticipate unparalleled growth in use and functionality in the next 20 years. They’ll become a one stop shop for consumers and I’m sure this extends far wider than I can even consider.

It’s fair to say that the telephone is one of mankind’s greatest technological inventions. And for this, we have my fellow Brit, Alexander Graham Bell to thank. God Save the Queen!

Up in flames

Earlier this week, security experts began analysing  one of the most complex security viruses that was recently discovered by the Iranian Computer Emergency Response Team. The virus, dubbed Flame, can gather and delete data files, change computer settings remotely, use PC microphones to record conversations, and log chats sessions and take screen shots. ZDNet has published an investigation on how such a significant threat has managed to escape undetected for as many as five to eight years.

The idea that a such a dangerous virus can be active yet unnoticed for such a long period is quite astounding. Although the security software companies give assurances that new tools are being developed in the battle against cyber criminals, the exposure of Flame just shows the world how advanced  the threat posed by cybercrime has become.  It’s quite daunting to imagine that the next war the world faces could be fought online and how these weapons may be developed over the coming decades.

News from CEBIT and a bit about our love for smartphones

Following my last blog post on Indian companies making their mark globally and Australia’s growing partnership with the country, I ventured my way to CeBIT to check out the India pavilion.  While I was there I had a chance to catch up with Sangeeta Gupta and Vikrant Saxena from India’s Electronics and Computer Software Export Promotion Council.

The Council is a government funded program that subsidises Indian SME vendors to participate at global exhibitions.  With 28 participating vendors from India at CeBIT, both Sangeeta and Vikrant said it was an excellent platform to open doors for smaller vendors who otherwise struggle to gain a foothold in the international market.  Since being in operation for over 14 years, the Council has paved the way for many Indian SMEs to make their mark in Europe and the US.

While it was too early for them to comment on how successful this year’s CeBIT has been, a couple of things they noted was a definite change in perception about Indian technology firms – a point I had made in my previous post.  More inquiries were coming in that were outside of the usual outsourcing criteria and one point of difference this year was an increase in inquiries from Australian partners about mobile applications.

In a country where almost 15 million mobile subscribers are added every month (Source Zinnov), India has become a hotbed for mobile developers.  The BBC’s Rajini Vaidyanathan commented on the growing appetite for ‘apps’ as mobile users surge.

No wonder that international companies would be looking to not only take up on opportunities in that market but bringing in the creative concepts, ideas and thinking into our market.

As an extension of this, I also wanted to share something I read about our own love for smartphones. Studies and research shows that Australians have a growing appetite for smartphones too.  According to TNS research’s latest findings from its global Mobile Life Survey, Australia ranked 9th in terms of smartphone penetration and an article in today’s Herald Sun outlined more details about the survey showcasing how our smartphones have become the one device we can’t live without. While late night was a popular time to surf the net, go on social networking, playing games and watch videos on our smartphones, there is some comfort in knowing that we are a polite bunch that we put our handsets away during dinner time…

My first CeBIT

Earlier this week Nadia, Dana and I went to CeBIT Australia, the massive ICT event held over three days in Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

Walking around the venue and checking out all the exhibiting vendors, as well as government agency booths, there were a few key themes that I took away from this year’s conference:

1. Incredible India. Being CeBIT’s official ‘Partner Country’ the Indian presence was always going to be quite evident, but what struck me in particular was the sheer number of Indian vendors and start-ups present.  It was good to see that the Australian government has realised the opportunities and potential of opening up to India for business development and collaboration – and we were lucky enough to chat to some representatives from India’s Electronics and Computer Software Export Promotion Council about this.  Take a look at my colleague Nadia’s blog post for more details about this experience!

2. Mobile is still hot. There were so many vendors exhibiting all types of different mobile solutions.  From consumer products such as mobile and tablet peripherals, to enterprise mobility solutions for enhancing the user experience, to examples of the ways in which organisations can incorporate mobile into their strategy – it’s clear that smartphones and tablets have transformed the way in which we do business, and that businesses can no longer afford to not have a mobile strategy.

3. The NBN is coming. Whilst it wasn’t top of our agenda before we arrived at CeBIT, we happened upon the traveling NBN Co Demonstration Truck as we were walking around the event.  We managed to walk through the truck to see a demonstration, and also saw the types of equipment that is expected to be installed into our homes with the NBN rollout. Though for me a lot of the information to do with download/upload speeds and network infrastructure which we heard from the NBN ‘tour guides’ went over my head, politics aside, it was great to kind of bring the NBN to life and see just how it will potentially impact Australians.  Also, an interesting fact that was mentioned during the demonstration is that we are still using a copper network installed by Telstra’s predecessor just after World War II, so Australia’s last major network upgrade was over 60 years ago – so it’s definitely time for an upgrade!

It will be interesting to see how these three themes manifest into the Australian ICT landscape for the rest of 2012, and into 2013.

CeBIT was also a great opportunity for us to see clients exhibiting at the event, as well as a chance to catch up with a few media friends.  We ran into Sky News Business reporter Nigel Freitas at one of the booths, who was probably the busiest reporter at the show, doing six interviews in just one hour!

99 problems but a pitch aint one

posted by Helen Reiher

Just because it’s a Friday, I couldn’t let this week pass without sharing – more widely than on my Facebook page anyway – this little gem that has been doing the rounds in the PR world lately – 99 problems but a pitch aint one.

It’s fair to say that for anyone who works in PR or communications – particularly in agency land – it’s pretty dann funny! We’ve all had a good giggle, quite simply because most – if not all – of these make complete sense to us.

My personal favourites:


The Lunchtime Tech-out

In many agencies, the words ‘lunch break’ will draw either a blank stare, a cry of disbelief, or a shriek of horror as though you have muttered an obscenity. Working in public relations can often bring massive stress, high pressure environments and impossible deadlines. The idea of an hour-long break over lunch may seem foreign to many who think that a bowl of cereal at 12.30pm can keep them switched on and motivated through the day.

I am a huge advocate of the lunch time hour of power. I often find the need to release the stress that comes with the job by hitting the pavement for just 30 or 40 minutes. Feeling fresh air and the heart pumping will not only relieve tension and anxiety, but keep you focused through a long afternoon.

As a tech lover, I enjoy using my phone to not only track my fitness  and progress, but also to push myself harder each time. Of course, a music player will give you a beat to keep you going, but there are now a plethora of mobile apps out there that can map your run, monitor your heart rate, count calories, give dieting tips – the list is endless with new, innovative apps being developed all the time. I’m currently testing out which GPS tracking system is the most accurate to monitor how far and how fast I run. Nike+ GPS is my current app-of-choice; it not only tracks my run, but can push me harder with mid-run cheers to beat my previous time. The App Store’s Health & Fitness category has countless dynamic apps like this that can help anybody get healthy and fit.

It turns out I’m not alone in connecting physical and digital. The other day I stumbled upon this infographic that shows there are plenty of fitness fanatics out there who share my sentiments of using technology to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It turns out 74 per cent of respondents say that technology helps them achieve their healthy lifestyle.

Many people may read this and think that I must be crazy to leave my desk at lunch time, that there’s just not enough time in the day, that it’s just too difficult to find the motivation.

Want motivation? Watch this

Consumption is cool again

posted by Dana O'Neill

During the last decade’s hyper awareness on global warming, everyone had grown far more conscientious about their impact on the planet.

At that point, never had there been so much scrutiny on recycling, re-using and renewing, never mind carbon usage. Even organisations got in on the action, taking the opportunity to demonstrate or espouse their own contribution to social responsibility.

I would argue that at some stage, the interest and zeal to ‘do something’ or ‘enact change’ faded. The ‘green washing’ of everything made it impossible to discern truth from bluster. We knew we had to consume less and buy responsible products, but we didn’t know how. We knew we needed to change our habits, but it wasn’t clear the impact we could make. The world’s problems seemed too insurmountable and therefore consumer weariness set in.

Some believe now that we are in the midst of a transformative shift – an era of collaborative consumption that is based on the premise that people would rather share goods and services than buy new.

In her TED presentation, Rachel Botsman explains this concept of collaborative consumption as a powerful economic and cultural movement – even a revolution. It draws into question the idea of ownership and the established consumption practices of the past.

For the most part, in some way we’re all likely to have been exposed to this concept already. For example, car sharing, farmer’s markets and auctioning on eBay.

But it is taking shape quickly and evolving in to movement of significant proportion. Tech start-ups such as Couchsurfing.org, Swap.com and TaskRabbit are bringing collaborative consumption to life. The idea that we can control the redistribution of goods and services is an exciting proposition… and one that I expect will have a dramatic impact businesses in the future.

As we’ve seen in many instances, technology is what’s fuelling the movement – social networks, real time communications and a cadre of fresh new start-ups which are helping empower us to work together to re-invent how we consume. In my view, collaborative consumption highlights everything we love about technology – empowerment, enablement and the democratisation of everything.

Seems to me a new and more acceptable form of consumption is on the rise. One area I’d like to explore is how the corporate world will respond. Is there an opportunity for corporations to adapt collective consumption practices? I’ll save that for a later post.