Mike Elgan

About the Author Mike Elgan


With smartphones like these, why do we need laptops?

Smartphones are supercomputers.

Or, at least, they’re significantly more powerful than supercomputers were ten years ago. And way more powerful than desktops were five years ago.

Smartphones also offer killer benefits that laptops don’t — namely, longer battery life and biometric security.

So why are we still using laptops?

Microsoft’s smartphone-based laptops

Microsoft and Qualcomm this week announced a new kind of laptop.

In a nutshell, it’s a laptop powered by a smartphone processor running a desktop operating system.

Specifically, the new Windows 10 laptops that will be built initially by HP, Lenovo and Asus are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. This is the same chip that powers high-end smartphones such as the Galaxy S8 and Note8.

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When the threats get weird, the security solutions get weirder

The world of security is getting super weird. And the solutions may be even weirder than the threats.

I told you last week that some of the biggest companies in technology have been caught deliberately introducing potential vulnerabilities into mobile operating systems and making no effort to inform users.

One of those was introduced into Android by Google. In that case, Android had been caught transmitting location data that didn’t require the GPS system in a phone, or even an installed SIM card. Google claimed that it never stored or used the data, and it later ended the practice.

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Why we can’t trust smartphones anymore

Your smartphone may contain secret “features” that leave you vulnerable.

I’m not talking about accidental design flaws that hackers might exploit. Security issues have always existed. They represent a cat-and-mouse game between malicious actors, who try to break smartphone security, and the smartphone industry, which tries to identify and fix the accidental vulnerabilities that make phones susceptible to hackers. Nothing new about that.

What I’m talking about is a new phenomenon — a trend we’ve learned about only in the past few weeks.

I’m talking about design decisions made by smartphone companies that cause phones to do things invisibly, behind the scenes and behind your back, that make phones potentially less secure.

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Why virtual assistants are the ‘killer app’ for wearables

Star Trek got it right.

In the future, we’ll interact with computers mostly by talking.

But for those computers to be available for instant interaction, they’ll have to be attached to our physical persons. I’m talking about virtual assistants on wearable devices.

Technologists are ambivalent about both virtual assistants and wearables. Some love and rely upon them. Others are indifferent.

That’s why it may seem unlikely that these two technologies, used together, are the future of computing. Still, it’s going to happen.

Stay with me here, because by the end of this column I think you’ll see clearly how inevitable this scenario is.

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Why virtual assistants are the ‘killer app’ for wearables

Star Trek got it right.

In the future, we’ll interact with computers mostly by talking.

But for those computers to be available for instant interaction, they’ll have to be attached to our physical persons. I’m talking about virtual assistants on wearable devices.

Technologists are ambivalent about both virtual assistants and wearables. Some love and rely upon them. Others are indifferent.

That’s why it may seem unlikely that these two technologies, used together, are the future of computing. Still, it’s going to happen.

Stay with me here, because by the end of this column I think you’ll see clearly how inevitable this scenario is.

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The future of smart glasses comes into focus

Will smart glasses fog when I drink my morning coffee?

So many questions about the future of smart glasses remain unanswered.

As we slouch toward the end of the smartphone era, it’s important to consider what comes next — and plan accordingly.

Here are the questions technology professionals like us should be asking, with the answers we know so far (many of which have emerged in the past week).

Q: Will Apple make smart glasses?

Yes.

I told you in January why Apple needs to make smart glasses in order to stay on top. In a few years, smart glasses will be at the center of consumer and business electronics in the same way that smartphones are today.

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Critics are wrong to slam iPhone X’s new face tech

Apple’s new iPhone X reads faces. And privacy pundits are gnashing their teeth over it.

The phone’s complex TrueDepth image system includes an infrared projector, which casts 30,000 invisible dots, and an infrared camera, which checks where in three-dimensional space those dots land. With a face in view, artificial intelligence on the phone figures out what’s going on with that face by processing locations of the dots.

Biometrics in general and face recognition in particular are touchy subjects among privacy campaigners. Unlike a password, you can’t change your fingerprints — or face.

Out of the box, the iPhone X’s face-reading system does three jobs: Face ID (security access), Animoji (avatars that mimic users’ facial expressions), and also something you might call “eye contact,” to figure out if the user is looking at the phone (to prevent sleep mode during active use).

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Apple’s iPhone X proves it: Silicon Valley is getting emotional

Apple’s shiny new iPhone X smartphone became available for pre-order on Friday

Packed with both bells and whistles and dominating the field in both speeds and feeds, Apple’s hotly anticipated iPhone X will be considered by some to be the world’s greatest phone.

The technology in the iPhone X includes some unusual electronics. The front-facing camera is part of a complex bundle of hardware components unprecedented in a smartphone. (Apple calls the bundle its TrueDepth camera.)

Apple iPhone X camera Apple

The top-front imaging bundle on the iPhone X has some weird electronics, including an infrared projector (far right) and an infrared camera (far left).

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Silicon Valley is getting emotional

Apple’s shiny new iPhone X smartphone became available for pre-order on Friday

Packed with both bells and whistles and dominating the field in both speeds and feeds, Apple’s hotly anticipated iPhone X will be considered by some to be the world’s greatest phone.

The technology in the iPhone X includes some unusual electronics. The front-facing camera is part of a complex bundle of hardware components unprecedented in a smartphone. (Apple calls the bundle its TrueDepth camera.)

Apple iPhone X camera Apple

The top-front imaging bundle on the iPhone X has some weird electronics, including an infrared projector (far right) and an infrared camera (far left).

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Smartphones are driving us to distraction. Here’s help.

Ho-hum. Another year, another crop of amazing smartphones.

The latest advancements come from Apple and Google. The new iPhone 8 line and iPhone X phones, as well as Google’s new Pixel phones, are blistering fast, offer near-DSLR-quality cameras and perform a growing range of cool stunts, such as supporting augmented reality.

If you were to ask the public if they want all this power and ability, they’d probably respond, “Well, yes! Absolutely!”

But if you were to ask them if the newest phones solve any problems people have with their lives, the answer would be, “Well, no. Absolutely not!”

In fact, smartphones are making our biggest problems worse.

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Google’s Clips camera offers a snapshot of things to come

Google held a big hardware event this week, announcing a couple of new Pixel-branded smartphones, two Google Home devices, a new Pixelbook laptop, new earbuds called Pixel Buds, and a consumer camera called Google Clips.

Of all the new Google products announced, Google Clips is the most interesting by far — which is to say that it represents the most interesting trend. This consumer device represents the future of enterprise A.I.

But wait, you might say. Isn’t Google’s Pixel Buds product the most revolutionary? Its ability to translate language in real time is something out of science fiction, and the elimination of language barriers surely has major implications for the future of mankind.

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There’s no such thing as a ‘remote’ employee

Over the next year or two, some of your best employees may quit and find work elsewhere for a simple reason: They want to work from home full time.

During the past 10 years, telecommuting has gone up – doubling, in fact, with growth of 115% between 2005 and 2015, according to the US Census Bureau.

But when Yahoo and IBM famously banned telecommuting, some assumed the trend toward increasing work-from-home policies would be thrown into reverse. That assumption is a big mistake.

The telecommuting trend will continue. More than that: Companies will be increasingly forced to allow employees to work from outside the office. This trend obviously has major implications for security and management. 

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Wanted: A world where virtual assistants help (without being asked)

Instead of fearing that artificial intelligence (A.I.) will replace us, we should be excited about how A.I. will help us.

In a perfect future, our A.I. virtual assistant will know what we’re doing, where we’re going and — most importantly — what we’re saying. They’ll know lots of other things, too. And when they sense we need help, they’ll whisper suggestions, ideas or facts into our ears, essentially giving us real-time knowledge as we go about our day.

As you’re walking from a parking garage to your meeting, your virtual assistant should give you turn-by-turn walking directions without you having to ask. As you shake hands before the meeting, your virtual assistant should remind you (without anyone else hearing), that you met the person four years ago at a conference. During the meeting, it should listen for potential questions and supply the answer.

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Smartphones make people distracted and unproductive

Silicon Valley is draining away the economy’s most precious resource for its own benefit.

OK, I’d better explain that.

The economy’s most precious resource is human attention — specifically, the attention people pay to their work. No matter what kind of company you own, run or work for, the employees of that company are paid for not only their skill, experience and work, but also for their attention and creativity.

When, say, Facebook and Google grab user attention, they’re taking that attention away from other things. One of those things is the work you’re paying employees to do.

As a thought experiment, imagine that an employee who used to pay attention to your business eight hours each day now pays attention only seven hours a day because he or she is now focusing on Facebook during that last hour. You’re paying the employee the same, but getting less employee attention for it.

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How smart cities like New York City will drive enterprise change

Everybody talks about smart cities, but few are doing anything about it.

New York City is an exception. It’s in the early stages of an ambitious project to blanket the city with ultrafast Wi-Fi via smart kiosks, which will replace obsolete public telephones.

These kiosks are the work of a Google-backed startup called Intersection. The company has already installed around 1,000 kiosks, and aims to install more than 6,000 more, Intersection Chief Innovation Officer Colin O’Donnell said in an interview this week.

colin o'donnellMike Elgan

Intersection Chief Innovation Officer Colin O’Donnell on stage at Cannes Lions on June 18, 2017.

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Avoid the mouse trap: Old habits wreck new tech

Don’t look now, but your desktop user interface dates back to the Nixon administration. Is it time to upgrade to the next UI?

New technologies revolutionize business. And big shifts like artificial intelligent (AI) virtual assistants and augmented reality seem to have gone from “someday” technologies, to “happening right now.”

These technologies are expected to transform business for the better. And I believe they will — far more than we realize. These new systems come with powerful new user interfaces. There’s just one problem: People don’t like new interfaces — and cling to the old, inefficient ones.

It’s not a theoretical problem. Global business has lost productivity on a galactic scale because of our failure to or inability to switch to the best interface.

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Why total bans on remote work don’t remotely work

Are remote workers more productive? Or are they just slacking off?

Three years ago, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously banned employees from working remotely. Earlier this year, IBM did the same thing, forcing remote workers to start showing up at the office.

The most popular justifications for such a policy are efficiency and collaboration — especially collaboration. The idea that employees from various groups should randomly encounter each other, brainstorm and collaborate is practically a Silicon Valley religion.

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We need virtual assistants that talk to each other

Everybody talks about (and often to) the Big Four virtual assistants — Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant. But many other companies are working on virtual assistants, too.

Huawei is working on a virtual assistant for the Chinese market.

Samsung offers Bixby on its Galaxy S8 or S8+ smartphones.

Voice recognition giant Nuance offers an enterprise ready virtual assistant called Nina, which specializes in knowing the limits of A.I. and kicking queries over to a team of human assistants when necessary. Nuance this month announced a Nina “skill” on Amazon’s Alexa platform.

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