Weekend news round-up: Hardware is king, cheaper smartphones to change the game

19 May 2014

In our round-up of the weekend’s tech stories, the brightest minds in technology are focusing their attentions on hardware, cheap smartphones are going to set the standard in technology, and Facebook is working on a Snapchat killer.

Brightest minds flock to hardware

Forbes had an interesting piece on how the brightest minds in tech – fascinated by the internet of things – are pursuing objectives in the area of hardware.

“The most obvious example in this is Google. The search engine giant has been buying up a flurry of robotics companies and, of course, the much talked about US$3.2bn acquisition of learning thermostat maker Nest.

“The past few years have seen a growing interest in the internet of things, which promises eventually every object in your life will one day be connected to the internet. We’ve seen everything from internet-connected dog collars to sprinkler systems. But the most interesting thing is the software behind these devices and how it will make them more useful.”

Cheaper smartphones are about to change everything

Smartphone makers Apple and Samsung better be watching over their shoulders because cheap smartphones from manufacturers most of us have never heard about before are about to change the game, according to Wired.

“Clearly, great features are trickling down. But what’s more interesting is how these cheap phones are going to trickle up. Put internet-connected, app-capable smartphones running the same major operating systems the rest of us use and there will be all sorts of unforeseen ripple effects on us that we can’t even anticipate.

“We tend to think of the ways our technology will affect them. That’s arrogant. We’re the minority. It’s incredibly likely that they’re going to have just as big an effect on us.

“WhatsApp is one example. Not that long ago, it was largely unknown in the United States. But it already had exploded in the developing world, and is still growing fast – it hit the half-billion user mark last month. That’s thanks largely to a strategy of being on every phone. WhatsApp got its US$19bn payday not because of promotion in the iTunes app store – or even due to iOS, for that matter – but because of cheap handsets. It’s a play for someone for whom text messaging is a serious expense.”

The long and steady rise of the Apple online store

Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was not only a hardware and software trailblazer, but he was also something of an e-commerce visionary, too, according to Mashable, which recounted the genesis of the Apple online store since the 1990s to today.

“The year Jobs returned to Apple, Dell’s founder was asked what he would do to fix Apple and responded by saying, ‘I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.’ The answer predictably angered Jobs not just because it insulted his company, but also because Dell had found recent success with an online store that was actually built by NeXT, the business Jobs started after Apple and which Apple acquired to bring Jobs back on board.

“For four months, a team of Apple and former NeXT employees worked around the clock to build a better online store, one that Jobs believed would leap past Dell’s. On Nov. 10, 1997, Jobs walked on stage for an Apple keynote wearing a button-down shirt and vest, and unveiled the Apple online store for the first time.”

Facebook working on its answer to Snapchat

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has taken personal charge of an internal project at the social networking giant to build a competing ephemeral messaging app, The Verge reported.

“Details are slim on the video-messaging app, but, like Snapchat, it’d take just a few clicks to share videos and pictures that would disappear after one view. If the rumours are accurate, it’s being called ‘Slingshot’ internally and it could be released as early as this month.

“Of course, Slingshot would not be the first time that Facebook has tried to copy Snapchat’s formula. In 2012, it failed spectacularly with Poke, a similar video-sharing app. Mark Zuckerberg has since called that app a joke, and it’s been widely reported that it was developed in just 12 hours.”

3D printing is going guns, apparently

Wired reported that a burgeoning subculture of 3D-printed gun enthusiasts dream of the day when a lethal firearm can be downloaded or copied by anyone, anywhere, as easily as a pirated episode of Game of Thrones.

“Among the half-dozen plastic guns seized from (Tokyo resident) oshitomo Imura’s home in Kawasaki was a revolver designed to fire six .38-calibre bullets – five more than the Liberator printed pistol that inspired Imura’s experiments. He called it the ZigZag, after its ratcheted barrel modelled on the German Mauser Zig-Zag. In a video he posted online six months ago, Imura assembles the handgun from plastic 3D-printed pieces, a few metal pins, screws and rubber bands, then test fires it with blanks.”

Internet of things image via Shutterstock

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years