Chipping away at the old block

Don't take this the wrong way but the Informer is sure some of the regular readers of AWIW are familiar with Peter Molyneux. As a youngster the Informer whiled away many hours himself on games such as Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Black & White and Fable, all of which were brainchildren of Molyneux.

May 3, 2013

12 Min Read
Chipping away at the old block

By The Informer

Don’t take this the wrong way but the Informer is sure some of the regular readers of AWIW are familiar with Peter Molyneux. As a youngster the Informer whiled away many hours himself on games such as Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Black & White and Fable, all of which were brainchildren of Molyneux.

But more recently over half a million people have been compulsively tapping their screens to break down a cube in order to find out what lies at the centre, thanks to Molyneux’s latest creation. The iPhone ‘game’ is an interesting social experiment. It costs nowt to participate and the gameplay itself consists of nothing but finger-tapping a virtual cube, chipping away layers in the hope that you will be the user who breaks through the final stratum to claim the prize within. It’s a massive game of Pass the Parcel.

No one except Molyneux has any idea what the prize is. And given the always playful, often grandiose visions this man has it may well be a big, fat nothing. In that case the prize would be the lesson that hundreds of thousands of people are prepared to spend their time carrying out a menial, repetitive task for scant chance of reward. It’s a bit like writing A Week in Wireless.

What the game designer has effectively done is turn these half a million people into the slavish minions from his portfolio of god games. And he is the player, controlling them all.

Telefónica, Intel and Samsung have been running with a similar theme this week, investing undisclosed amounts in San Francisco start-up ExpectLabs which is looking to create its own digital minions that allow devices and applications to monitor user behaviour in order to better anticipate information that the user needs.

According to the firm, which has already benefitted from investments from Google, its platform can model the context of user interactions in real-time, and proactively find information before the user needs to search for it. “In just a few years, we will live in a world where the connected devices all around us will know who we are, understand what we say, and be far more capable of interpreting our intentions and anticipating our needs, “ said Timothy Tuttle, Expect Labs CEO and founder.

So at least when our human relationships fail our white goods will care. When Ian comes home to find his wife has left him, his washing machine will console him with the information that it had never liked her anyway, his fridge will have ordered some beer and the microwave will ping in sympathy as a chicken madras bubbles like lava behind its door.

And the next morning Ian will be hugging the toilet not just because he’s being sick, but because it understands him. Come to think of it, an intelligent toilet would be the worst of the lot. It would be like living with Gillian McKeith.

Tuttle’s unnerving prediction gives context to NokiaSiemensNetworks’ newly released vision for 5G—which is that, by 2020, mobile operators will be able to deliver 1GB of personalised user data, per user, per day, profitably. Whether you want it or not. Big vendors need a Vision. Ericsson’s got its 50 billion connected devices and NSN now has its Gig-a-day-a-person mantra. But are these the kind of visions you get after you’ve bumped your head? We’ll see in seven short years.

The Informer shudders to think of a personal avatar that anticipates his needs and interprets his intentions, given that he’s been suppressing them so successfully for so long. But that seems to be where the money is at the moment. A one year old US-based start up, Wavii, was snapped up by Google for an estimated $30m this week as natural language search and summarisation captures the industry’s imagination. The youth clearly has it, as Wavii’s customised news feeds, summarising articles, blogs and twitter feeds appears comparable to the UK startup Summly, founded by a teenager, and acquired by Yahoo for a similar amount last month.

With all of these ‘digital assistants’ doing stuff on our behalf how long before we devolve into the blinkered, bloated, screen jockeys so delightfully pictured in Pixar’s Wall-E? The Informer’s fear isn’t that the machines will take over it’s that we’ll somehow disappoint them when they really get to know us. As happened with Ian and his wife from paragraph seven.

It’s the smart cities of the future that represent the most beneficial outcome of M2M technology, according to a survey of IT decision makers. The majority of respondents also believe that firms that fail to implement M2M technologies will fall behind competition.

A survey carried out by HarrisInteractive on behalf of software firm SAP found that almost 30 percent of IT decision makers across Brazil, Germany, India, US, UK and China believe smart cities will be the most important deployment of M2M technologies, promoting increased efficiency, productivity, employee collaboration and mobility.

On a slight tangent, the Informer sometimes wonders how these futuristic cities will be powered, and perhaps Norway has the answer. It was stunning to see in the news this week that Oslo, which provides power for its 1.4 million inhabitants by burning garbage, is now having to import rubbish from neighbouring Sweden and the UK as it’s run out of its own trash to burn. What a shame that Oslo can’t burn the digital crud clogging up the networks.

Facebook’s a guilty party here, and the firm is enjoying a rise in revenue and profit year on year for the first quarter of 2013, with mobile accounting for 30 per cent of all advertising revenue for the quarter compared with 23 per cent in 4Q12.

Still, some are getting tired of the endless stream of “like this to end world hunger” posts. Ten million users in the US have made an exodus, while the UK audience remains static. But the rest of the world is picking up the poke and the company claims 665 million daily active users for March 2013, representing a year on year increase of 26 per cent and a slight lead on

Messaging is one of Facebook’s key assets and the volume of OTT messaging traffic is set to become twice that of P2P SMS messaging by the end of the year, according to data collected by Informa Telecoms & Media.

Daily OTT messaging traffic has already overtaken daily P2P SMS traffic in terms of volume, with an average of 19.1 billion OTT messages sent per day in 2012, compared with an average of 17.6 billion P2P SMS messages, the researcher said.

By the end of 2013, Informa estimates that 41 billion OTT messages will be sent every day, compared with an average of 19.5 billion P2P SMS messages. But there are far more P2P SMS users than there are OTT messaging users: about 3.5 billion P2P SMS users in 2012, compared with about 586.3 million users of OTT messaging. That’s an unbelievable average of 32.6 OTT messages a day. That’s a lotta lols. Speaking of which the Informer was wondering the other day whether anyone has ever posted an update along the lines of: “FML.Broke my neck! Loll.”

What are all these people messaging about so much? In the face of such statistics you’d think people didn’t talk anymore, so it hardly seems worth the bother when operators say the most challenging aspect of introducing Voice over LTE services (VoLTE) will be deciding how and whether to transition individual legacy voice services to the new domain.

According to Michel Lenoir, programme manager for LTE at Vodafone Netherlands, the move to VoLTE gives operators a chance to reassess their voice services portfolio but the range of options open to them is very wide and operators must be clear about which services they want to keep and how best to maintain them.

“With all the IN-based voice services in our core network we need to decide what we’re going to do with them,” he said. “Do we port them into an IMS domain and, if so, how? Do we secure interworking with the circuit switched domain and the new IMS domain?  There are all sorts of options and, for me, this is the most challenging discussion that we have.”

Vodafone Netherlands is working with specialist software provider OpenCloud on this issue and OpenCloud’s head of marketing, Mark Windle told the Informer that gaps in the LTE standard mean that operators will have to find their own route through these interoperability issues. It sounds like a disaster waiting to happen in terms of quality of service, and as Bengt Nordstrom, CEO at consultancy firm Northstream, pointed out, with the increasing reliance on all-IP technologies, “even carriers don’t do carrier grade anymore.”

Perhaps this is why carriers are banding together, safety in numbers and all that. UK incumbent BT has signed a ten year deal with mobile operator and old spin-off O2 to support the latter’s launch of LTE. BT will build a high capacity transmission network for O2’s roll out of 4G services later this year, which is expected to place even greater pressure on its network.

Google’s vice president for northern and central Europe, Matt Brittin, will be feeling the pressure soon, having been summoned before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) a second time over allegations that the web giant is dodging UK corporation tax.

Last year Brittin claimed Google’s UK sales team was based in offices in Dublin, which has low rates for corporation tax, and that no sales people are based in the UK. Staff in the UK were only supposed to fulfil the role of marketing support, but an investigation led by Reuters discovered evidence of Google sales staff working in London. So now Brittin has to battle the PAC or explain himself.

The online giant this week also joined open security authentication project the FIDO Alliance (Fast IDentity Online) which aims to allow users to replace old school passwords with a range of authentication methods including NFC and biometrics. Both Google and NXP have now signed up to the project, alongside founder members including PayPal and Lenovo.

The popcorn came out after AWIW had already gone to bed last week (a messy metaphor to mix), when Tele2 CEO Mats Granryd broke step with the operator ranks and voiced his frustrations at Apple in the frankest terms. “It would be best if people stopped buying Apple,” Granryd said. “I hope that Apple gets bad. It’s very difficult to do business with Apple.

Granryd’s words had the intensity of a long-suppressed emotion finally given vent and you can be sure that many other operator executives will have read of his outburst with silent approval. In fact another (former) senior operator executive got in touch to say: “The not so hidden part is the subsidising of the handsets that Apple requires, which in fact makes the operator look at the business case of iPhone as a loss leader. The more hidden costs are associated with the mandatory marketing and QoS requirements that Apple demands. When you add up the whole cost, any business manager worth an MBA will tell you, it is not a business you want to be in.”

Almost half of enterprises will be getting out of the business of providing devices to workers by 2016, according to research firm Gartner, which this week published a survey of CIOs that found that 38 per cent of companies interviewed expect to stop providing devices to employees over the next three years, as bring your own device (BYOD) programmes continue to become commonplace.

According to Gartner, roughly half of BYOD programs provide a partial reimbursement for devices, and full reimbursement for all costs will become rare. The research firm believes that due to mass market smartphone adoption with the steady declines in operator fees, employers will gradually reduce their subsidies and as the number of workers using mobile devices expands, the number of employees who receive no subsidy at all will rise.

Another business you don’t want to be in is getting caught exploiting your users. The E-Sports Entertainment Association (ESEA) League this week admitted to embedding Bitcoin mining code inside client software downloaded by users.

The inclusion of Bitcoin mining tools was supposed to be an internal test project, but some rogue employee snuck it into the live code and took control of a farm of unwitting users PCs to mine coins.

Initial assumptions were that the code didn’t mine more than 2 BTC but the company has since discovered 29 BTC were generated. That’s worth a few thousand dollars in ‘real’ money, but imagine if the perpetrator had carried out his scam just a few weeks ago and offloaded those coins before the recent crash.

The ESEA has since donated the ill gotten gains to charity, but not before users started claiming that their video cards were maintaining over 90 degree Celsius temperatures for extended periods of time while the mining was in operation. That’s one of the big questions being tackled in the Bitcoin world at the moment as debates rage over whether the heat produced and energy used in Bitcoin mining actually outweighs the monetary gains. Maybe Oslo could use a Bitcoin farm to channel that heat into energy that, literally, pays for itself.

Breaking the Bitcoin chains is a bit like what those users are doing with Peter Molyneux’s cube – chipping away ceaselessly to get at what’s inside. It’s an almost zombie-like compulsion but one that anyone who played video games in the last couple of decades has been conditioned to. After all, the Mario Brothers spend a good portion of their time banging their heads against bricks for unknown potential rewards.

One last thing before the Informer heads off for his long weekend (Bank Holiday Monday here in the UK), but it’s a sad day for metal after US guitarist Jeff Hanneman, co-founder of Slayer, died on Thursday aged 49.

He died of liver failure, but not from some final drink and drugs fuelled binge. Rather he was bitten by a spider and developed the flesh-eating disease necrotising fasciitis (wasn’t that one of Slayer’s early albums?).

RIP Jeff, what a metal way to go. Hopefully you’re North of Hell.

Take care

The Informer \m/

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