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Phones, Smartphones, Tablets and Dodgy Segues/Segways

November 19, 2013

segway_poloWhile the majority of the stories I mention in these posts will have a technology flavour, some are not always pro tech!

Mem Fox, one of Australia’s iconic children’s authors, was in the press recently warning about the dangers of kids being left to amuse themselves on smartphones and tablets, “saying an increasing reliance on technology to teach children how to read could inhibit their empathy and social skills.”

The following day I read an opinion piece on LinkedIn to the same effect from RedBalloon founder Naomi Simson: “Electronic ‘Baby Sitters’ Turning Brains to Mush”. I wrote about this a year ago, after having dinner with my then 14-year-old son in Sydney: “as I looked around the room, I noticed a pretty astounding thing. Apart from our table, every single child in the restaurant – and I mean every single child – was playing on some smartphone, tablet or games device.”

I love technology, but it has to know its place, just like everything else in society. And sometimes, tablets and smartphones are ideal for children’s development:

“Today’s multitouch technology has given researchers the ability to develop low-cost applications with the potential to engage suffers of autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities much faster and in some cases more effectively than the traditional methods of treatment.” (Kotaku, “Tablet Games Trump Traditional Therapy In Treating Autism And Cerebral Palsy”)

Speaking of smartphones and tablets (first segue!), an Australian company has launched a Kickstarter project for vtalk, “a desk phone as good looking and as easy to use as a smartphone.” I love the concept, and I also think the crowdfunding approach is right on the money, particularly with the $300 offer to developers:

“Get our developer edition vtalk phone, with complete documentation to get started on building great apps. You also get a sticker pack, t-shirt and credit on our backers page at thevtalkphone.com”

More than just the start-up funding, what’s just as critical for the long-term success of the product will be the developer and application ecosystem that is built up around the device. As at writing, the project had only reached AU$13,500 of its $250,000 goal, so hopefully enough people get behind it.

That said, I’m not sure that a single-purpose device like this will have widespread appeal. Earlier this year I wrote about Holiday by MooresCloud, which has a similar concept of building a developer ecosystem around its product, but I also mentioned some work that Explore Communications had done with ShoreTel’s Dock, which I think has the potential to be the shortcut to success. Why build from scratch, when you can adopt and use a dominant and widely used technology? In this case, ShoreTel, an IP telephony vendor, has built a physical docking device which acts as a deskphone when it is coupled with an iPad or iPhone. The company has developed an app and backend infrastructure so that users can use their iPads and iPhones as their deskphone, complete with all the functionality that they would get with a dedicated unified communications (UC) device. Clever, although time will tell if it is a successful strategy.

Last week (segue two), news also came through from two of ShoreTel’s competitors in the UC space – Mitel and Aastra agreeing to merge.  The two companies are very complementary in terms of geographical strength and channel partnerships, but each has a very competitive product set, so it will be interesting how they go integrating their products and technologies. I’m not sure that the strategy will work – if you don’t end up offering the end user a greater product as a result of coming together, then why merge? At the end of the day, it’s the buyers who will decide the company’s future, and if they don’t see any benefit, they will go elsewhere.

Buyers really do decide a company’s future (segue three), and I read with interest “Hasntpaidyet.com: Debt dodgers named, shamed by traders”. It’s a clever idea: a website that effectively shames businesses into paying long-overdue invoices. “In less than a month, HasntPaidYet.com has helped settle about 200 small business debts involving sums of between $40 and $2500.” As a small business, Explore Communications has felt the pain of unpaid invoices, so it’s a very tempting website to use! Lately, we have experienced what I believe are unethical business practices, and it’s really disheartening to see that in an industry that is largely built on relationships and trust. Sometimes, it’s just easier to walk away.

Unethical business practices are my final segue, with news last week that Freelancer.com had a successful initial public offering (IPO). “For a brief moment on Friday, a small company that did not exist four years ago and will barely turn a profit was worth more than a $1 billion.” (The Age, “Freelancer.com in $700 million sharemarket launch”)

There was a voice of reason about this, and a funny one at that, the week before in the SMH: “Investors ignore floating ghosts”:

“Those who remember the first boom at the turn of the century – an era inhabited by SpongeBob Squarepants, the Y2K bug and a cigar-wielding Bill Clinton – will recall that pets.com was an online pet supply store boasting excellent marketing but an unfortunate habit of losing money every time a customer bought a bag of kitty litter.”

I’ve had plenty to say about Freelancer.com in the past, most recently when there was a rumour that the company was considering an acquisition offer from Recruit Co. (interesting timing, given the subsequent IPO). I’ll say it again – promoting article spinning jobs is highly unethical.

Apologies for all the dodgy segues, but it does remind me to mention Segway Tours South Coast – my son was due to go on a tour last week, but wet weather intervened. Does anyone else remember the excitement that had been whipped up around the product before it was launched? Now, it seems largely a novelty: Segway Polo, anyone?

(Pictured above: “Segway polo”, Braden Kowitz, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence.)

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