Wearable computing – Legal Issues?

Today’s Slaw post

What do readers think about wearable computing?  Is it cool or creepy? Where is the technology headed? What legal or other issues might arise from it?

I’m thinking about this because I find the intersection of technology and law interesting, and I’ve been asked to speak about it this fall.  Google Glass privacy concerns is a popular topic today, especially around the issue of the ability to record and save images and video, and what might happen with all that.  In addition to Google Glass we are seeing the debut of the smartwatch.  The Pebble was a very successful kickstarter project, and there are rumours about an upcoming Apple smartwatch.  There are also fitness products such as the Fitbit and the Nike Fuelband.

Wearable computing has been around for a long time – perhaps dating back to an abacus worn around someone’s neck.  One of the first consumer electronic wearable computers was the calculator watch that first appeared in the 1970’s.

Wearable computers are however becoming more than a standalone device.  These devices are laden with sensors, connected to significant computing power, and connected to the internet.  Which raises all sorts of possibilities for the collection, storage and sharing of many kinds of data.  And not just from 1 person – but from everyone.  Combine that with the internet of things, and we also have the ability to be in constant contact with and have remote control over our stuff – such as our cars, homes, and appliances.

And how long will it be before devices get implanted to correct things like vision problems which are connected?  Or we have the medical equivalent of a “black box” that records and transmits our vital signs?


Deloitte TMT Predictions

Todays’ Slaw post

I just heard Duncan Stewart speak about the Deloitte 2013 TMT predictions at an event held by the London Economic Development Corporation.  A couple of things have been mentioned on Slaw before.  Here are some more things to ponder.

As we start to rely on more data in the cloud, carrier promises for uptime guarantees will be as important as the volume of data on our plans.

The hype over voice and gesture control for PCs and TVs is overblown.  A remote control has an error rate of about 2 per 10,000 uses.  Voice and gesture error rates are currently about 1,000 times higher.  So until that improves dramatically, people will tend to just give up and use a remote.

There is a looming wireless spectrum shortage.  As we get more portable devices downloading and streaming more images and video, speeds will slow dramatically.  In some places in the US it is a problem already, and actual speeds are nowhere near theoretical speeds.  And when demand is greater than supply, price becomes an issue.

The post PC era notion is overblown.  The total install base of PCs is far more than phones and tablets.  Creation is easier on a PC.  And its about the screen size, especially for gaming and video.   2/3 of net traffic is from PCs.  There are also privacy and cultural reasons not to use sensitive stuff in public – like doing your banking on your phone with someone beside you – or looking up medical symptoms.

Phablets not doomed because of their size.  Many people don’t use their phones for voice that much. Phablet sales will be bigger than many think.

What’s ahead for inclusion in their 2014 predictions?  MOOCs.


We’re looking for a better way to do 911

For the London Free Press – March 11, 2013 – read this at lfpress.com

The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) has started a consultation on 911 services in Canada, including digital Next Generation 911 (NG911) services.

Digital adds new capabilities but also requires careful thought. The very essence of 911 services is public safety, routinely dealing with life and death situations. So the common commercial refrain of just ship it, it’s good enough, isn’t an option.

This consultation is part of a national approach to gather information from many sources to decide on future directions. Many entities will respond — public safety organizations, first-responder organizations and different levels of government have shown interest. The Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group is co-ordinating a response on behalf of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and Paramedic Chiefs of Canada.

Today, 911 services are strictly voice based. In an emergency, we call 911 and describe the problem to an operator who gathers the necessary information and dispatches the appropriate responders.

The 911 system is designed to know where we’re calling from, which helps speed responses and locate the caller when the caller may be unsure of, or not be able to, describe their location. Knowing the caller’s location has been a challenge in recent years, as that is not as easily done for cellphones or VoIP calls.

One issue being looked at is how NG911 services can address the location issue.

New issues to consider include text-based 911. Should NG911 accept text messaging (other than from the planned hearing impaired service)? More and more people are relying on texting as a communication method. But voice communication can be quicker and clearer, and it helps that 911 operators can sense the tone of the caller.

Should 911 accept photos and video from callers? Having a photo, for instance,of a fire or a car crash might be valuable information for both the operator and first responders.

But how would 911 operators cope with a deluge of photos or videos if many people submit them at once for the same incident? Valuable time could be wasted looking at them all. And consider the liability concerns if out of the images and video submitted there was one that if viewed could have made a difference to somebody’s life, but was not reviewed because of the quantity?

NG911 might be able to solve some existing issues such as pocket dialing. The 911 centres handle far too many accidental 911 calls, which cause a significant workload. For most people, getting a pocket-dialed call where there is no one on the line is a brief annoyance. But a 911 operator can’t just ignore such a call. It could be from someone in an emergency situation who is unable to speak or continue with the call, so each call must be investigated.

In the end, the conversion of 911 to NG911 has the potential to provide better and more efficient 911 service.

The conversion does, however, require careful thought, testing and incremental feature adoption to ensure that it remains reliable.


Mobile World Congress under way – phablet anyone?

Today’s Slaw post:

The wireless industry has a trade show this time each year in Barcelona.  Cellphone manufacturers announce their newest tech at the show. 

Phablets are a big trend.  Several are included in this CNET slideshow of phones that were introduced.  Phablets are smartphones with screens between 5 and 7 inches that are half way between a phone and tablet.  So think of them as either smartphones with huge screens – or small tablets that can make phone calls.

Many people ridicule phablets by saying that you would look stupid holding it up to your ear to make a phone call.  But the reality is that (a) a significant number of smartphone users don’t use them for voice much, and (b) it is easy to use them as a speaker phone or a Bluetooth or wired headset if you want to make a call.  There may indeed be a significant market for phablets for those who don’t want to carry around both a full size tablet and a smartphone.

This year included the announcement of new  operating systems.  With the hold that Apple, Android, Blackberry and Microsoft have on phone OS’s, that may be a tough sell.


Digital shift puts analogue in museums

For the London Free Press – February 25, 2013 – Read this at lfpress.com

Over the last decade, we have been in the midst of an extraordinary technological revolution: the switch from analogue to digital.

Though this shift has been rapid, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to technology and devices that are bound to change our lives.

A few short years ago, it was unthinkable that every household would not have a landline telephone. Now, the landline represents one of the final staples of the analogue world. It’s likely that no one under the age of 25 will ever have one.

In the corporate world, desktop phones are facing the same doomed fate as companies try to become more efficient and productive. The use of programs such as Skype for long distance telephony is one example.

Traditional business phone technology suppliers are being replaced in the digital world by companies such as Microsoft, whose Lync product offers integration of traditional phone use with other platforms such as e-mail and document management systems.

The shift from analogue to digital television appears to be almost complete. Big box tube TV’s and rabbit ears have been replaced by sleek and thin HDTVs and PVRs, giving the consumer access to hundreds of channels and endless content on demand.

With the possibilities offered on the Internet, these changes have forced traditional telephone and TV providers to increase their investment from not only controlling the distribution of content but to owning and controlling the content itself. For example, two of Canada’s biggest corporate rivals, Bell and Rogers, did the once unthinkable and became partners in the ownership of the parent company of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The move to digital has led to possibilities such as unified communications where different communication modes can be consolidated on almost any platform in almost any location using a myriad of different devices.

Consumers are starting to expect that if they purchase certain content it be freely available on all of their devices. For example, movie fans who subscribe to Netflix or hockey fans that subscribe to the NHL’s Gamecentre Live expect to be able to access these services at anytime and anywhere whether it’s on their televisions, computers, tablets, cellphones, or gaming devices (such as PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii).

The Internet of things will mean more devices will talk to us and with each other. And wearable computing is here — such as the Pebble watch, and Google’s project glass.

The Pebble Watch is a ground-breaking device that uses interface of a wristwatch as a control and display device for a smart phone. Google’s Project Glass will integrate smartphone technology into eye wear and operate through voice commands.

The digital revolution is still in its infancy. More interoperability and uses will develop The direction communication and the consumption of information and entertainment will take is clear — but details are not.


How not to demo your product to a law firm

Today’s Slaw post:

I was involved recently in a demo of a product that a vendor was trying to sell to our firm.  I won’t identify the product or vendor, because this is not about the product itself.  The vendor did two things that did more harm than good.

The first problem was the vendor’s approach.  They were quite proud of the product, and launched directly into its advanced and cutting edge features.  But they ignored the basics.  So anyone observing the demo who was skeptical of the product in the first place, or not comfortable with change, or felt the cutting edge features were not necessary would be turned off right from the start.

A much more effective approach would have been to start with: “Our product has some advanced features that can make your practice easier and more efficient, but let’s start with the basic functions to show how easy it is to use every day.” 

The second problem was that the demo was done in part by a person who used their computer to remotely control a second computer that contained the software being demoed.  That technology works, but is never as efficient as using the computer directly.  So delays and glitches caused by the remote aspect are perceived to be problems with the product.

Blackberry fans rejoice

Todays’ Slaw post

As you are no doubt aware,  RIM Blackberry finally brought its new operating system and a new phone to market this week.  The first phone, the Z10 does not have a keyboard – a first for Blackberry. 

So will this save Blackberry?  My take on early reviews is that Blackberry fans will like the new phones, and they will probably result in fewer people trading for iPhones, Android phones or Windows phones when their Blackberry terms expire.  But it probably won’t result in a mass of people giving up their iPhones, Android phones or Windows phones for a Blackberry.

The practical reality is that all 4 of these smartphone platforms are good products.  Phone buyers tend to be passionate about their brands, and often somewhat irrational in their decision making.  The best phone always doesn’t win. For example, the new Windows phones are very highly rated but don’t seem to get the attention they deserve.  Some people make a big deal about the number of available apps for particular types – but the real issue is whether the right apps are available to suit your needs. 

For Blackberry’s sake, I hope this does mark a turnaround.

For the record, I have an Android phone, an iPad, and use Windows systems both at work and at home.

Is a smartwatch in your future?

My latest Slaw post:

Many people don’t bother wearing watches any more because its so easy to check the time on our phones.  But that may change as watches move from just telling time to being a display device that works with our phones.  A Datamation article entitled 5 Tech Trends That Will Bring Back the Wristwatch explains why.

The 5 trends:

  • Multi-screen functionality where devices work together
  • Wearable computing
  • Voice interaction
  • eInk displays that are thin and consume very little power
  • Bluetooth 4.0 that consumes very little power

See, for example, the Pebble watch, a Kickstarter project that is now shipping.  I’ll take a black one, please.

CES this week

Today’s Slaw post:

The Annual Consumer Electronics Show is underway in Las Vegas.  Despite some commentary that the show is old or outdated, it occupies floor space equivalent to 393 basketball courts and attracts 150,000 people. 

The tech press, such as CNET, is of course there in droves. 

Some of the interesting things so far include:

Laptops that convert, flip, slide roll, …

Next generation Intel chips that boost ultrabook performance and battery life

Massive 4K (very high resolution) TVs

Flexible screens

Internet of Things gadget makers announced the creation of the Internet of Things Consortium to promote their emerging industry and discuss best practices.

Continued movement towards the smart home and smart TV

3D printers

A 1 TB flashdrive


Gadget Nirvana

My latest Slaw post:

Apple announced a new iPad mini yesterday as expected, along with upgrades to several other products. Surprisingly, an iPad 4 is now available, just a few short months after the iPad 3 was introduced. Apple is a master of innovation and marketing, and somehow manages to make evolutionary changes to its products seem revolutionary.

But they are not the only game in town.

Microsoft has an event on Oct 25 to launch its Surface tablet, on Oct 26 to launch Windows 8, and on Oct 29 to launch Windows Phone 8. Early reviews show they are solid products. I find these new Microsoft products interesting. The Surface tablet has a lot of features that will make it easier and more seamless to use than an iPad. Corporate IT departments will love them. But iPad users may be slow to switch, as many of the apps we use with the iPad are not yet available. For example, iPad users using apps like pressreader, newsstand or flipboard won’t switch until those are available for Microsoft products.

Not to be outdone, Google also has an event on Oct 29 where it is expected to launch its next generation Nexus smartphone, new tablets, and an update to its latest Jelly Bean software.

For the record, I use Microsoft PC’s, an iPad, and a Google Nexus phone. They are all good products, even though each one has subtle advantages and disadvantages. Each one also has its fans and detractors to the extent that it is sometimes difficult to know how realistic either positive or negative reviews are. For example, there has been some criticism that the Windows 8 surface RT tablet operating system won’t run full office software – just pared down versions. But that is the nature of the tablet beast – and is the same approach taken by Apple and Google.