Think of Facebook and in your mind's eye you will see a billion-strong social network full of posts about feelings, relationships, hangovers and lunch.
Unbeknown to many of its users, however, Facebook is evolving beyond its social network roots with a mobile app platform focus.
This became evident when V3 visited Facebook's London headquarters for a debrief about the announcements made at the firm's F8 developer conference.
The expansion of Facebook's Messenger service to enable developers to integrate it with mobile and web apps was a prominent indication of Facebook's intention to become more of a platform provider that a mere social network site.
Building apps on Facebook is nothing new, but the firm's push into the smartphone software market has accelerated its ambitions to become the platform of choice for mobile developers.
Julien Codorniou, director of platform partnerships at Facebook, said the company is looking to position itself as a platform provider that facilitates app development across multiple web and mobile platforms, rather than having to concentrate on one area or choose between Android and iOS.
"We want to fuel the growth of the next generation of apps," he said, explaining how Facebook has already helped many well-known apps, like Farmville and Shazam, to find success on smartphones and the web.
Providing platforms for app developers to tap into Facebook's users, and the 600 million people who uses its Messenger service, is an obvious move for the company.
Users get access to more apps and better targeted content, while Facebook benefits from more advertising revenue being funnelled through a healthy app ecosystem.
But perhaps less expected was Facebook's foray into the Internet of Things (IoT). So far, the IoT is a fragmented mess of startups, specialist software companies and technology giants like Microsoft, ARM and IBM with the resources and experience to pour into IoT development. It is not traditionally a field for social network firms.
Yet Facebook is making a play for a slice of the IoT market with its Parse developer, web and mobile platform.
By adding new software development kits to Parse, Facebook has tweaked the platform to be used for developing mobile apps that integrate data sucked from networked devices.
This will enable the development of multi-platform apps that can control internet-connected devices. For example, garage doors could be opened via a mobile app based on Parse.
Other technology companies offer such development platforms, but Facebook has targeted Parse as a tool to take care of the fiddly back-end integration of external data with an app's functions. This allows developers to concentrate on crafting an app's user interface and experience instead.
Facebook was keen to highlight that a good user experience is a crucial part of creating a successful app, 400,000 of which have been built with Parse. Facebook clearly learned this through the creation and development of its social network.
Much of Facebook's F8 announcements were logical evolutions of its services, but combined they represent a clear statement of its intention to grow into a major technology company and platform provider.
And if the number of apps and users on Facebook's platforms are to be believed, the company has a clear shot at achieving its ambitions.
More often than not automation raises concerns around people being replaced by machines and forced out of the workplace by tireless robots.
But the accelerating development of driverless cars and other autonomous automotive systems may just reverse those concerns.
Research by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) in conjunction with KPMG, revealed that autonomous and connected cars will create 320,000 jobs in the UK by 2030. So much for the rise of the machines.
The report, titled Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The UK Economic Opportunity, highlighted that the development of tech-stuffed cars will boost Britain's automotive industry, famed for Jaguar, Land Rover, Roll Royce and Aston Martin, among others.
This expansion will in turn create job opportunities in an industry that currently employs 770,000 people. Around 25,000 of the new jobs will be created in automotive manufacturing alone, an area that had ironically been crushed by robotic systems.
But the healthy outlook does not stop there. The report predicts that connected cars will usher in a new era for the UK's automotive industry, and forecasts that the nation will be a global leader in the production of next-generation cars.
Autonomous cars will save 2,500 lives by preventing 25,000 car crashes over the next 15 years, if the report it to be believed.
Furthermore, the intelligent vehicles could contribute around £51bn in overall social and economic benefits by 2030. However, it is unlikely that the UK's automotive industry will be able to do this alone.
Mike Hawes, chief executive at the SMMT, concluded his introduction to the report by saying: "With continued and increased support from government, alongside collaboration with adjacent sectors, the UK can stay ahead in the race for the driverless cars of the future. We must not let this opportunity pass us by."
While the report painted a positive future for connected cars, it did highlight that driverless car challenges must be overcome before the UK's automotive industry Nirvana is realised.
Given that driverless cars rely on internet connectivity, cyber security was touted as needing attention, particularly as the government has approved driverless car tests on UK roads.
20 Mar 2015
Back in December 2013 when Amazon announced it was going to start trailing the use of drones to provide rapid delivery of certain items a few eyebrows were raised.
Not only was the idea somewhat fanciful but the fact it was announced in the run-up to Christmas and so would gain Amazon plenty of digital column inches was also notable.
However, it appears Amazon wasn't just out to grab headlines and has now secured permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly such devices.
Specifically it received an “experimental airworthiness“ for “unmanned aircraft (UAS)” certificate, with some provisos.
“All flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions. The UAS must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer. The pilot actually flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification.”
Amazon must also provide monthly data to the FAA on topics including the number of flights conducted, pilot duty time per flight, unusual hardware or software malfunctions, any deviations from air traffic controllers’ instructions, and any unintended loss of communication links.
“The FAA includes these reporting requirements in all UAS experimental airworthiness certificates,” it added.
Amazon is not the only tech company to take to the skies, with Google and Facebook both donning their flying jackets to test the use of hot air balloons and gliders to deliver the internet to far-flung regions of the globe.
In the UK the rise of drones is causing some concerns among the powers that be, with a House of Lords report suggesting a full database of users and flights should be created to help track their use.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to be big. According to Microsoft chief executive, Satya Nadella, IoT will generate 44 zettabytes of data in the future. That's a lot of 1s and 0s.
Nadella made the claim during his keynote speech at Convergence 2015 in Atlanta, as part of Microsoft's push around IoT on its Azure cloud platform. This is a collection of cloud-powered tools designed for companies looking to build software that exploits data collected from a myriad of sources.
It is data that is underpinning Microsoft's approach to IoT, with Nadella stating it will drive the direction of the company. "Devices will come and go," he said. "The most interesting thing is the data that's being collected."
Nadella said Microsoft has a prevailing objective to find ways that seek out the value in data harvested from IoT devices.
The majority of the products announced during Convergence 2015 all had data use at their core. Nadella explained how Microsoft wants to empower people and businesses to use the insightful information that can be gleaned from diverse datasets.
Nadella even went so far as to showcase his own use of data, revealing to thousands of onlookers his fitness and wellness data recorded by the Microsoft Band he wears.
V3 was interested to see that the chief executive of one of the largest companies in the world still manages to find time to exercise and get over seven hours sleep.
Nadella also introduced Seattle Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson on stage to discuss how data can be used to monitor players' performances and vital signs.
Given Microsoft's investment into what it calls a ‘hyper scale' multi-purpose cloud, it likely has the capability to handle 44 zettabytes of IoT data. But the Redmond company will be entering an area that is rapidly filling up with other technology giants, such as Intel, ARM and IBM.
The disparity in powers between the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Ofcom has once again been highlighted after the latter was able to fine BT £800,000 for the late launch of a text-to-speech service – far in excess of anything the ICO can issue for data loss incidents.
The ICO can issue fines to a maximum of £500,000 for breaches of the Data Protection Act – breaches that often result in sensitive personal information being lost or stolen, causing huge distress for those concerned.
However, Ofcom – which in 2013 fined TalkTalk £750,000 for some nuisance calls to customers – has been able to issue a far larger fine to BT for the late launch of the Next Generation Text Service (NTGS).
The NTGS helps people with hearing or speech impediments to either type what they want to say and have it relayed to the person on the other end, or, if hard of hearing, to have what someone says to them translated to text to read on screen.
Ofcom issued the fine because BT was five months late in launching the service, putting it live in October, when it was slated for an 18 April launch.
BT explained that the delay was caused by a problem with the sound quality of emergency calls, something that came to light at a late stage of the development process.
Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer and content group director, said the size of the fine showed how seriously the organisation took this failure.
“The size of the penalty imposed on BT reflects the importance of providing an improved text relay service to its customers with hearing and speech impairments,” he said.
BT must pay the £800,000 penalty to Ofcom, which will then pass it on to HM Treasury.
In a statement BT apologised for the delay but said that since going live it was please to hear positive feedback from users.
“We’re sorry we had to postpone the full launch of the Next Generation Text service. This was because of a safety issue with the quality of emergency calls that could have put users at risk," it said.
"The service has been warmly welcomed by users. Hearing and speech impaired people can now make faster, more fluent phone calls using ordinary smartphones, tablets, laptops and PCs, as well as existing specialised terminals.”
While no one would disagree that providing such a service is important and that BT’s failings warranted some form of reprimand, the scale of the fine when set against the ICO’s powers once again shows the madness of the current data protection regime.
The only hope is that when the new European Data Protection Regulation comes into force – which looks increasingly likely – the proposal for data watchdogs to be able to fine firms a portion of their annual turnover will make it to the statute books.
This should make the financial penalties for data protection breaches far more terrifying to big businesses, making data protection a more important consideration, and giving the ICO the chance to issue fines that will really make people sit up and take notice.
Modern life is a near-constant battle against cables. Like amorous electrically charged snakes, metres of micro USB wires entwine themselves with the chalk white cables from Apple's portfolio of proprietary cables, never to be put asunder.
Often when a smartphone bleats its final cry for battery life, the right cable is never easily available. And then you stand on a plug.
But help may be at hand in the form of wireless charging furniture revealed at MWC by flat-pack products and meatball giant Ikea.
The BBC reported that Ikea's Home Smart line will initially range from lamps to coffee and bedside tables that eschew cables for a more harmonious way of filling up lithium-ion battery-equipped devices.
Ikea has used the QI wireless charging standard, which will make its charging spot compatible with the new Samsung Galaxy S6.
Through the power of inductive charging, devices with embedded magnetic coils can draw a small electromagnetic field without the need for unsightly wires.
Those with mobile devices incompatible with the QI standard need not worry, as Ikea will provide phone cases that allow the devices to benefit from cable-free charging.
Ikea fans with a suite of incompatible furniture can also breathe easy in the knowledge that the company is offering standalone wireless charging pads that can be fixed onto existing furniture, meaning that hours of poring over instructions on a Sunday afternoon will not have been wasted.
The Wireless Power Consortium said that there are 81 compatible wireless QI smartphones in the worldwide market, meaning that Ikea's Home Smart range has the potential to sit in a leading position when it come to power-infused furniture.
Ikea will launch the wireless charging products in the UK in April.
People who find they turn the air blue when screw A does not match figure A's image will be happy to know that Ikea is not the only company pursuing wireless charging. Starbucks, Huawei and Lenovo are also dipping their corporate toes in the market.
Adding wireless charging into furniture may sound like a great and much desired feature for everyday living, but it does raise questions about recycling.
With extra technology fitted into furniture, V3 wonders whether Ikea has made a range that makes the disposal of unwanted furniture a lot more difficult.
The number of people tapping away on smartphones in public is evidence of how deeply technology has penetrated everyday life.
But technology has now entered the afterlife following the news that Facebook will provide the ability to appoint ‘heirs' to manage an account when its owner dies.
The company explained how a ‘legacy contact' can be added to an account, allowing the assigned person to write a final post to be displayed on the deceased's timeline.
The account will then become a digital memorial which Facebook claims will allow other users to "pay tribute to the deceased".
Legacy contacts will also have the option to change the account's profile picture, meaning that the departed will have relinquished control over their final image.
Those looking to set up a legacy contact will need to pick a trustworthy friend who doesn't take advantage by adding an embarrassing picture to the memorialised profile.
More disturbing still is the ability for the heir to respond to new friend requests, opening up the potential for confusion, disruption to grieving, and rumours of a user's death being greatly exaggerated.
Those concerned about digital skeletons in the closet will be relieved to know that legacy contacts are not granted permission to sift through private Facebook messages.
Legacy contacts can also ask Facebook to permanently delete the account on its owner's death, bypassing the potential for any misunderstanding and inappropriate posting.
At first glance, the addition of legacy contacts on Facebook might seem macabre. But it highlights a growing concern about the status of someone's online information when they die.
Google introduced its take on digital heirs back in 2013, giving users the option to decide on the future of their data when they shuffle of the mortal coil.
The increasing amount of personal information people are pushing onto the internet will no doubt lead to more online services offering the option to assign digital heirs.
This might seem strange to non-digital natives and people who shun social networks, but for active users and future generations, the legacy of personal digital data is likely to receive the same level of consideration as physical possessions in the last will and testament of the deceased.
If a human being represents a kilobyte of data, and a London bus a megabyte, what would you use to represent a gigabyte? Or a terabyte? Or even a zettabyte?
Any ideas? Well the answers, in corresponding order, are: The London Eye, the BT Tower and the entire continent of Europe. Well done if you said any of those.
Now, taking this unscientific scale to its extreme conclusion, what object or thing could represent the Internet of Things, and the unfathomably vast amounts of data it will generate? Any ideas? The answer is the universe.
This is the theory of Kevin Ashton (pictured below on the far left), the man who invented the phrase ‘The Internet of Things’. Ashton was speaking at an event at the BT Tower on Wednesday evening, attended by V3.
Ashton’s Scale of Data lacks any clear consistency, but the point is clear. The IoT is going to be huge. It is going to be so far beyond anything we have known that our entire understanding and concept of ‘data’ will become useless.
And this is not something that is going to happen, but already is happening. Ashton started with the idea of the mobile phone. These are networked devices that can be used to plot locations, track movements and gain insights.
The Ebola outbreak that ravaged western Africa was controlled by plotting the movement of people through their mobile phones, and working out their connections with other people, to enable officials to plot and then contain the disease.
Another example of the IoT that’s often cited is driverless cars. As vehicles are connected with all sorts of sensors it will enable them to drive themselves and transmit all this data for analysis. This idea is gaining momentum, and even the UK government has approved trials of driverless cars on UK roads.
Ashton pointed out that driverless cars already exist in commercial environments. The giant trucks used in bauxite mines in Western Australia, for example, now operate without drivers (pictured below).
“The self-driving car is already real,” said Ashton. “Five to 10 years from now, every car will have self-driving capability, whether you want it or not. We're 15 years away from cars without steering wheels being available.”
A final example Ashton cited was RFID, a technology he helped create, which is now used in supply chains across the world to track objects and generate data that can be used to make more informed decisions.
All of this was making the point that the IoT is already here and is only going to grow. This led Ashton to pose a final question.
“If you came here tonight thinking 'Is the IoT going to happen to me?’, well it is going to happen to you whether you like it or not. Is it going to be an opportunity or a threat: that’s your choice.”