Category Archives: Future

In, out, in, out and shake it all about!

Lies, more lies and a referendum

In just over two weeks those of us that care will cast our votes in the referendum. The question; ‘should the UK remain a member of the European Union?’. It is billed as the biggest political question for a generation and, depending on who you believe, the consequences could be immense. Then considering the undoubted importance of this generational moment and the potential seismic shifts it could bring about, it is very worrying that even now many of us have no idea what the actual considerations are. Why is this? Because the one group of people who’s job it is to give us the considered arguments is the same group of people who seem more interested in lying, cheating and generally acting like playground morons than actually doing what they are paid and morally obliged to do.

The last few months in politics has, quite frankly, been nothing short of farcical. Barmy Boris and Dodgy Dave seem to be using their relative campaigns as opportunities to score points rather than thinking about their obligation to the general public to actually discuss both sides of the argument evenly. Claims from David Cameron that an ‘out’ vote could lead to a political and financial apocalypse aren’t worthy of air time. They are apocryphal at best and only the tip of the iceberg in terms of a misleading campaign based on half-truths, supposition and sometimes out and out lies. Whilst the ‘out’ campaign have harmed themselves significantly by not producing actual forecasts of their own and instead relied on winding up the working classes with talk of immigrants left right and centre.

It is no wonder that the general public are largely confused or left indifferent to this big question when the politicians behave in such a pathetic manner. They have an obligation to present a level argument, not to mislead the public for their own ends. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like that is going to happen any time soon, so instead lets dispel a few potential myths and then pose the actual question that you need to be aware of on 23rd June. Because, for me at least, the question we’re answering on 23rd of June is not simply should we stay in the EU.

Risks

There are risks with any change. That is the nature of change. But with any risk there is also the possibility that the opposite will occur – the possible benefit. The major disservice that has been done so far in both campaigns is a lack of transparency on the potential positives of a Brexit, of which there are many.

The ‘remain’ campaign have produced, from many sources, claims of financial ruin with numbers to back up these claims. Some have even gone as far as putting actual financial costs for each households loss on paper. But it is important that we understand where these have come from. These are forecasts, yes, but what are they based on? Well the reality is they’re based on supposed scenarios that have then been run through a load of calculations. And all of these scenarios have focussed on the worst possible outcomes in every factor. In short, they are a set of predictions for what could go wrong. But none of them take into account what could (and very likely would) go right.

Don’t kid yourself into thinking that just because you’ve only heard the doom and gloom forecasts that they are the only possibilities.  They are produced by a campaign that wants us to stay in the EU and so will paint a grey picture. And those institutions who have also produced forecasts? They are the establishment and so it is in their interests to produce statistics that support the ‘remain’ campaign. But they are all based on supposition and hypothetical scenarios. It is also worth noting that they all have quite an established history of being wrong!

There are just as many independent business who have contradicted these forecasts. British Airways CEO Willie Walsh has previously stated that BA’s own risk analysis suggested they didn’t think they would lose out at all. And that is just one such large company.

And one last point on the risks. Many investment managers have publically stated that they believe not only would it not be a negative, but it could in fact have a long term positive effect on the UK economy. Now who are you going to take more notice of? A bias government, a bunch of institutions who have a history of inaccurate forecasts or investment professionals who are only in the position they are in because they accurately assess risk in the markets on a daily basis and have consistently got it right more often than not?

The point is it is risky, precisely because the answers aren’t clear. But you don’t gain anything if you don’t take risks, and suggesting that the only outcome is negative is not just misleading; it is naïve and plain wrong.

The numbers

So what do we need to know about the numbers? First that they are all models, not fact. So put it out of your mind that anything they are saying is set in stone and fated. It simply isn’t. Here is the reality of the situation;

  • The EU is the largest economic trading area, but largely because the UK (the fifth largest economy in the world) is a part of it (Germany is the fourth largest economy)
  • The EU have to trade with us as well as us with them, so any trade agreement needs to be mutually beneficial. There is simply not a negotiating power imbalance in the EU’s favour here.
  • There is no existing model for non-EU countries negotiating to be part of the single trade agreement that we can compare to (Norway and Switzerland have done this in the past, but their trade levels are a fraction of ours)
  • Europe relies on trade with the UK. There would be political and civil unrest if there was not a good trade agreement put in place. It is simply misleading to suggest the UK would be affected but Europe would not.
  • The three biggest economies in the world (USA, China and Japan) are not members of the EU and yet have very good trade arrangements and flourish.
  • The most significant future market for growth, and one we need to have the ability to negotiate with, is China.

The ‘remain’ campaign’s major criticism of the ‘leave’ campaign is that they haven’t been able to produce a model for what the future would look like. But how can they? The nature of this is that until negotiations start we won’t know what it looks like. But we can be sure that as the fifth biggest economy in the world we do have a huge amount of sway and our economy is very influential and our skills and products sought after. Supply and demand do win out.

So what do we do if we don’t know what the options are? Well we can be assured that other countries fair rather well and so the UK simply isn’t going to disappear into the abyss and be plunged back into the dark ages. Instead we can look at other countries and what they have got. Take Switzerland, a country that isn’t comparable in the scale of trade but does demonstrate some of the options that an arguable less influential country can achieve;

  • They are not in the EU, but are still in Europe, and have a tailored EU deal
  • They have free trade deals with the EU, China and Japan
  • They adopt 0% of the EU rules
  • Have the highest wages in Europe
  • They are the second richest country in the world by nominal GDP per head
  • They are top of the Global Innovation Index

Put simply, there are options and these options can be rather good!

Human rights and work rights

There seems to be a rather odd line of argument that staying in the EU protects workers rights, that we are tied into the human rights act and that the working time directives and other working guidelines will protect the workers. The odd thing about this line of argument is that they suggest leaving the EU will change this.

Let’s get one thing clear. The EU do not have some sort of copyright or patent on laws to protect civil liberties and the rights of people. Anyone using this line of argument as a reason to stay in the EU really shouldn’t be allowed out of the house. It is patronising. If this was the case then the EU would be some sort of garden of Eden and every other country in the world would be a cesspool of depravity, exploitation and suffering.

The idea that leaving the EU would suddenly mean the UK doesn’t retain these rights is ludicrous. These are laws upheld in the UK and they will continue to be. But leaving the EU means that we have the power to add and amend laws to make sure they are suited to our country and not a catch all for every country in the EU. Making laws that suit countries in the east of Europe and forcing the UK to have them means we end up with laws that are out of context with the UK and simply not suited.

Europe and reform

Many of the ‘remain’ camp will say that staying in Europe means that we are “at the table” in terms of negotiating a reform of Europe. The problem with this is that it assumes Europe wants to and believes it needs to reform, for which there is much scepticism. Whilst David Cameron will suggest he achieved great things with his pre-referendum negotiations, a closer look shows that they really haven’t given us much. It is unlikely Europe will reform because there is simply no driving force to do so at the moment.

On the flip side, we do have veto rights on a number of controversial items. But how do we get things changed in Europe when we need the agreement of so many countries, many of whom have conflicting motivations to us? Many of whom benefit greatly from being in an economy where the UK and Germany contribute so much and their own country contributes so little?

Anyone who has tried to chair a committee and actually achieve anything when that committee have a lot of members all of whom have competing motivations will know exactly what the challenge is here. And it doesn’t often change.

Migration

So to the big one. Migration is a problem in Europe, due to the free movement agreement. And whilst we have more migrants coming to the UK from outside the EU than within, the amount coming from the EU is increasing and without check.

The key thing to remember is that we do get a huge amount of value from skilled people coming to the UK to live. A vast amount of our doctors are not native to the UK, for example. And I don’t think any right minded person would argue that it is a bad thing for people who actively contribute to society to come to this country. But the problem is that the free movement agreement also means many people can come to the UK who don’t contribute and this puts a strain on many areas of an already strained economy.

It seems logical to be able to control who can come and live in the UK. It seems to me that making sure we welcome those who have skills that can improve our country is a good thing. But we are not a charity. We have a responsibility to make our country the best and most opportunity rich place it can be for all our citizens, especially our young graduates keen to make their mark. Having an open door to people who will come and compete with those already here with the same skills, drive or aptitude doesn’t seem to be a logical way to do that.

Let’s cut to the chase

At the end of the day the arguments can be tossed and turned in all sorts of ways. And it is up to each of us to look at the truth and not just listen to the rhetoric. It is safe to say that you cannot trust the politicians on either side of the argument in to give you a balanced view.

But for me it boils down to a slightly different question. For me this referendum is not about whether the UK should stay in the EU or not. No, instead it is about what the EU is clearly aiming to become and whether we want to be a part of that or not.

Europe is increasingly moving towards a single state. It is very obvious that they have been moving that way for a very long time and at some point in the future it is likely this will become much closer than it is now.

I am proud to be British. I do not consider myself European, I consider myself to be British. I think that the UK is a vibrant place to live and work with many of our skills being the envy of the world. Certainly we are world leaders in digital, where I work, and also in media. So for me the question is ‘do I want to be a citizen of the UK, or of Europe?’ And that is what we should all ask ourselves. Not now, but in the future, which country do we want to live in? The country of the UK, or the country of Europe? Because a vote to stay in the EU is very possibly a vote to one day be a part of a country called Europe.

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I want my apple to be technically savvy

A lot of people seem to be getting all bent out of shape at the prospect of technology replacing humans, or in some cases the fear that they will not just replace us but repress us. Whilst Stephen Hawking is predicting that AI (artificial intelligence) is the biggest long term threat to humankind, many people are more concerned about the more immediate threat to manual and lower skilled jobs. I find this interesting for a couple of reasons, the first being that the idea technology is only just about to replace humans is rather behind the times, and secondly because some of my recent experiences as a consumer make me scream for something more automated as the human run ones were infuriating.

I recently attended a conference called ‘Agile on the Beach’. It was a very enjoyable couple of days surrounded by peers and colleagues from the world of IT (and other sectors) discussing the approaches, benefits and culture of the agile way of working. One of the keynote speakers, Dave Farley (a pioneer of continuous delivery), discussed his three laws and one of them was rather apt…”People are rubbish”. What he meant by this is not that people are incapable, but that by our nature we make mistakes, we overlook things, we are infallible. It is true. In recent years Moore’s Law has allowed technology and software to progress to a point where the world is a drastically different place to where it was only ten years ago. We have replaced a secretary who opened the post and replied to correspondence with an iPhone and auto-messaging. We have replaced people on a construction line with automated machines. We have replaced health & safety officers with failsafe software. The list goes on and on. And that is somewhat the point. The idea that technology is going to start replacing people is old hat, because it has been going on pretty much since the beginning of time. We aren’t in some position where suddenly this is going to happen, it is just the natural evolution of society and technology. A good example is that a large proportion of us now use self-service checkouts at the supermarket, where we would have previously had a person sat at the checkout swiping our items for us. This has been going on ever since we invested industry. Once upon a time we used to row our ships, but then we invented steam engines. We hauled massive stones with hundreds of stoneage men, until we invented boats and realised we could roll them along on logs. At each step of our technological evolution we have replaced people with technology and in each case the people have moved on to new roles. So I don’t think we are yet at the point where we are all going to become obsolete.

But one of the things that did surprise me not so long ago was the lack of an automated experience at Apple. I recently had to go to the Apple store to have the screen replaced on my iPhone. I booked the appointment online and that experience was completely self-serve and automated. So what was then surprising is arriving at the Apple store, the mecca of trend setting and sleek experiences in technology to find it all rather backward. Having not been to an Apple store before I made my way to the ‘Genius Bar’ and sat on a stool awaiting someone to ‘check me in’. There wasn’t any guidance around to tell me the process so I waited for a staff member to help me. And I waited…and waited…and waited.

During my ten minute wait, for that is what it ended up being, I noticed at least half a dozen members of staff just stood by the shelves of products. This perplexed me as I am still unsure exactly what purpose they served. At one point I did see one of them talk to a customer browsing one of the products but after a short chat that I wasn’t privvy to the staff member resumed her security guard like stance and re-found her bored expression. At the same time no less than four separate members of staff wondered by me, determinedly ignored my attempts to grab their attention and generally seemed determined to prove that whilst they were apparently geniuses they were also rather dim!

Eventually I got the message that I wasn’t going to get any proactive help from the staff at Apple and so sought out someone who finally helped me check in and so my problem was dealt with. But as I then wondered around the shopping mall for an hour, waiting for my phone to be repaired and dwelling on the experience I’d just had I realised how counterintuitive it was. Why on earth does the biggest technology company in the world have an experience that is so uncoordinated and relying on people who are quite clearly letting down the side? Certainly my opinion of Apple employees was diminished to the point where I am almost entirely convinced they don’t really care about the customers at all. And that really isn’t great for a company that prides itself on providing the best user experience. With the technology they have at their disposal surely the experience at an Apple store should go more like this…

I turn up to the store and immediately make my way to one of the iCheck terminals. The bluetooth technology means that the terminal instantly picks up the signal from my iPhone and welcomes me, asking if I’d like to checkin. It guides me through a few quick screens and then tells me that I have been checked in and that they aren’t quite ready for me yet but a message will be sent to my phone at the correct time and that I can browse in the meantime. As I browse around the other products they have on offer I am able to select a complimentary beverage from the iDrink machine. As I’m fiddling with one of the latest gadgets my phone starts to buzz in my pocket. I take it out and a message is telling me to make my way to the Genius bar to a specific stool. As I get there a member of staff is waiting to take the device from me and already knows exactly what the problem is. They inform me that the phone will be ready in an hour and hand me a little device that will alert me when it is ready to collect.

This is just a snippet into how technology could make my experience better. Going to the Apple store was a frustrating experience. It was uncoordinated, awkward and I felt unloved as a customer, but the experience I have just described would make me feel very well looked after indeed. So what is the moral of this blog? Well there are a couple…the first is don’t fear technology is going to replace us because often it actually improves our lives, and history has taught us that it doesn’t replace us, there are just different jobs that we then take. And the second? Well the second moral of this blog is that Apple should employ me to transform their in store experience!

iScotland – following the herd since 2007 / 1707

Last Tuesday (9th September) the world was split into two camps yet again; those who like good phones and those who don’t like Apple. This is a perennial prejudice that arises pretty much every time Apple launches a new product and doesn’t seemed to be based on anything other than an abject dislike of the Apple brand. One of the most perplexing things that has emerged as part of this in recent years is to start referring to those who do like the Apple brand as ‘sheep’. This is a term that seems to be bandied around quite a lot on the social media channels, as a way of poking fun at those who are excited about the launch of the new iPhone 6 models…and to a lesser extent the Apple watch.

The reason that this strange prejudice is perplexing is that the iPhone is the single biggest selling handset in the world. Whilst there may well be more Android users world wide, no other individual device has sold more units than the iPhone has, which means that it is, by matter of fact, one of the most popular devices around.

Apple naysayers clearly feel the need to denigrate the brand, and those who are fans of it, in some vane attempt to gain some sort of moral high ground. But what is interesting is that, by and large, there is no real reasoning behind it, other than simple not liking Apple. The fact is that the iPhone has been one of the leading edge mobile devices for some years. Whether we like it or not, it is almost singularly responsible for transforming the mobile market from the ‘telephone’ market into the ‘device’ market we now know and love. We don’t have mobile phones now, we have devices that are also able to make calls. In 2007, when Apple launched the iPhone, it was without doubt a revolution and they have continued to push the boundaries and lead the market in many ways.

There is justified criticism of Apple; they prefer their own technology to others and therefore don’t adopt things like NFC, other phones might have slightly better tech (for example, the Galaxy S3 had a better phone and video system) but side by side the differences are not noticeable enough to really say that one device far out strips another. And one thing that Apple excels in and has yet been completely unchallenged in, is its user experience. Across the board Apple interfaces are easier to use, have a more consistent UX and have a brand consistency that marks all of their products out from the rest of the pack. It is for this reason that Apple is synonymous with the vogue end of the market…people aspire to have the Apple brand in their hand.

With this in mind, it can only really be the dislike of the brand that people use as an excuse to criticise Apple followers, which seems rather churlish. Calling people who are fans of Apple ‘sheep’ because they like a very good brand, is like saying that if you like chocolate and eat the newest bar from Cadbury’s then you are a sheep. It is quite ridiculous.

And this point is very comparable with another, rather more significant, situation that is occurring literally as I write this. Today, on Thursday 18th September 2014, Scotland are going to the polls to decide if they should break away from the United Kingdom and become an independent country. It is complete coincidence that the launch of the iPhone in 2007 was the 300th anniversary year of the Union Act being passed in Scotland, but the ‘sheep’ description is being used for those wanting to stay with the Union in very comparable circumstances.

Many people will be going to the polling station to vote ‘Yes’, completely based on their pride for Scotland (and most likely their corresponding dislike for England…a long running theme between our two countries) and they will not be swayed for love nor money. It is their right to do this and we should respect it. Scotland, as a country, has the right to decide if it is part of the Union and that is the way it should be. But the worrying thing is that over the past couple of years, as this debate has waged on, a lot of people will have been pursuaded to vote ‘yes’ for devolution based purely on the emotional arguments presented and without any of the key issues being answered.

To date, Alex Salmond and the ‘yes’ camp, have failed to offer a strategy for how Scotland will retain and maintain it’s vast infrastructure, how they will secure a long term future for the country in terms of finance, a currency, political status within Europe and the international community and within the business world. There is a lot of detail up in the air but one thing is absolutely certain, if they vote for devolution then it will be a very rocky short term and the long term is entirely unclear. It seems very worrying that a possible majority of people would vote on such a big decision without any of these questions being answered, especially as the health and well being of them and their country will hinge on this.

Comparing the love / hate relationship the world has with Apple to the very significant changes occurring in Scotland seems, at face value, to be a little absurd. But that is the most worrying thing. Those who dislike Apple don’t really have very much evidence to offer when challenged on it, and when it comes to voting ‘yes’ for Scottish independence, unfortunately at this point the same is also true.

Robo-Collie, it’ll never work…or will it?

The news has recently been bleeting on about some scientific work done by Swansea University, suggesting that robots could replace sheepdogs to herd sheep. Of course this isn’t exactly what Swansea are suggesting, but just for a moment let us address this. The researchers have used GPS data to show how mathematically the sheepdog and the shepherd work together to herd a whole group of sheep successfully. Their conclusion is that there are two simple rules to it and that is that. But the main problem with this conclusion, as accurate as it may be, is that it is based on watching successful herding and not on watching how that successful herding was actually accomplished.

Having grown up around farms, I am quite aware of the tremendous skill and determination required to run a farm. Watching a sheepdog working, changing direction on a sixpence simply on a whistle command, is quite awe inspiring, especially when the effect of this on a sheep herd is instantaneous as well. This duet, or in some cases trio (with two dogs), work in perfect harmony to coerce a group of herd animals into a pen only just big enough to hold them. But the thing that comes across when watching this wonderful spectacle is not the mathematics of the movements, it is the skill of the animals and owner at reading the herd, in being agile and able to react on a moment to control what could otherwise result in a breakout.

Watching on from a mathematical point of view, it is no doubt possible to define the rules that were applied to make this well oiled machine work. But that is no more useful than defining how a stream may, over thousands of years, cut a course through  valley, only to be wrong because you didn’t realise there was a weakness in a line of rock half way down and this caused a completely different route. You see, by nature, sheep are unpredictable and so the dog and farmer control this through their experience and ability to judge and read the herd, rather than by just applying a rule and knowing it will work every time.

Now, the research is not actually denying this. What they have done is to use the rules observed from herding to suggest that robots could be used in other situations where here are large groups of people involved; crowd control or oil spills are the examples in the article. And this idea is actually very fascinating.

The Internet of Everything is the idea that any system will be ‘on the net’ and therefore measurable. The principle is that we not only collect the data from ‘everything’ but we also then interpret and react to it. This is an example of that. Scientists are looking at how one group, in this case a herd of sheep, react to herding and then applying this to another situation where a group may need to be herded in a similar way.

Of course the news reporters translate this into a small scale example, the person stuck in a dark room who can then be saved by a robot guide. That is small fry. So let’s extrapolate this into something rather more relevant.

Over the last couple of weeks the great British countryside has pretty much ground to a halt as millions of holiday-goers edge their way down the motorway to try and gain themselves their four inch plot of seaside heaven. The weight of traffic on one or two arterial roads is simply too much and so it takes eight hours to make a journey that on any other day might take half that. In the Internet of Everything world the cars will be herded, in real time, down the most suitable roads. They can be assigned a route based on availability, weight of traffic, capacity of the road, destination of other cars vs their car, the need to stop for food, water, a wee. All of these variables will be calculated by the vehicle, which will most likely to be doing all the driving anyway, and the roads will stay moving.

This is where the world is heading. Whether it be large groups all going to the same destination, or individuals trying to get somewhere whilst avoiding the crowd, it will be possible to use live data and mathematically rules to shepherd them in the most optimal routes. And that will be the power of big data as well. Take another salient example, the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. Using data obtained using non-invasive medical devices, a patient will be able to be diagnosed in minutes, their presence will then be known ‘on the net’ and quarantine protocols updated accordingly. The ability to track the movement of the disease and then apply the rules we already know work will be much improved.

The power of data is impressive, and it will continue to impress us even more as we realise the potential for it’s use in the future. But an important part of using data is interpreting it in the right ways. The application of ‘intelligence’ to data, and not just generalising that one plus one must always equal two, will be how the Internet of Everything changes the world. Because the reality is that one plus one does not always equal two, sometimes it makes a window too!

Running towards a virtual future.

I enjoy running and in the last couple of years I’ve started to enter a few races. More than anything else the driver for me is to stay fit and at the same time challenge myself. One of the best ways for me to do this is to enter events, as this gives me something to train for and thus prevents me wallowing on the sofa watching re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy.

Recently I entered my first virtual run. This isn’t some way of pretending you are running when you are actually sat on the sofa enjoying McDreamy and McSteamy. No, it is the growing phenomenon of running races that instead of having a fixed venue simply have a time period and in order to compete you record and post your entry during a given time period.

In this case I entered the Tweethearts 5k. This is a new one setup by my wife and some of her friends to raise money for the very worthy Moonwalk later this year. It was an interesting experience. Barely two weeks earlier I ran in the Richmond 5k, a race in Richmond park that attracts in the region of 150 runners and is a great occasion. The two experiences couldn’t be more different.

On the day of the Richmond race you arrive early and watch on, stretching in the park and trying to stay warm, queuing for one last go at the toilets, before congregating by the start line, watching the minutes tick by before the 10am start time arrives. The klaxon sounds and off you go, a runner amongst others, maneuvering for position, finding your pace and picking out the next runner in front that you want to catch and pass.

On the day of the virtual run I had breakfast, watched the morning news and even an episode of Games of Thrones before deciding that late morning would be the start time for my run. I got my running things together, took my time to select my playlist and stretch my legs out. I even waited a few minutes more for the rain to abate before heading out on to my usual route, devoid of any running marshals cheering you on, only cars passing by.

The two experiences couldn’t be more different. Richmond is a proper race, where you are competing alongside others, seeing them and sharing an experience with them. There are people around you, cheering you on and at the end you get handed your medal. It is a group experience that is entirely tangible from the moment it starts to the moment it finishes. The virtual run became something more personal. It is you and the road, you are there in that moment because you chose to be and no one else is there with you.

For me the virtual run experience was an interesting one. As someone competitive the Richmond run is great. The irresistible urge to try and catch the person in front of me, to try and get higher up the finishing list, is part of the thrill. All of this is stripped away in the virtual run and instead I am simply racing against myself. The pride comes in presenting my time to the rest of the community at the end of the day.

Virtual runs are very popular in the USA but I can’t help but think that they currently lack something that makes a running race what it is. In a world where our relationships, our entertainment, even our jobs are moving to a virtual model, the challenge for virtual runs is to try and capture the same excitement of the real races. The technology is there to allow us, as communities online, to have that excitement. Apps and websites can be created to allow real time competition between entrants. For me that is the key. I want to compete with my fellow runners, to see how they’re doing and to see if I can better them…or even just better myself.

Would I do another virtual run? Yes I would. The experience was interesting, it opened up new groups of people online to talk to and interact with. Do I think the virtual run is the future of running races? Not yet. The experience needs to be refined. I like running and a virtual run, as much as any other, gives me something to train for. But it doesn’t yet provide the experience, the excitement, the challenge and the occasion that a real run does. The online experience needs to be evolved to fill this void, to fill us with the urgency and excitement that we would otherwise feel when being in that place with those people. The gaming world provides this, so why not bring some of that gamification into the virtual running world? It will happen, of that I have no doubt. For now I will have to be content with knowing that I ran a good time and waiting for my medal to arrive in the post!

Freed from the device vice

One of the great things about the digital world we now live in is that there are literally thousands of devices out there for us to choose from. Whether it be for entertainment (playing games through to consuming media), communicating or organizing (or any blend of the above) there is a plethora of devices out there that can help. But one of the major drawbacks of the digital digital world we now live in is that there are literally thousands of devices out there for us to choose from.

No, you haven’t just entered groundhog day…the availability of a wide range of devices is great. It means we, as consumers, can select the one we feel is right for us. We don’t have to be either a Windows loyalist or otherwise an Apple advocate. There are so many makers of both hardware and software that we can mix and match to our hearts content. This is true for phones, tablets, TVs, games consoles, I could go on and on. But the problem with the variety is that often when we buy in to a specific model we then exclude ourselves from some of the benefits of the makers we didn’t choose.

Let me give you an example. The world and its oyster have recently gone crazy for the online broadcast sensation Breaking Bad, which is now exclusively available on Netflix. I, on the other hand, am a subscriber of Love Film. Both Love Film and Netflix provide largely the same service, except that I would now have to subscribe to Netflix just to get Breaking Bad…and I want to get Breaking Bad because everyone is talking about it and saying it is the greatest TV show ever made (caveat: I haven’t seen it so it may not be the greatest TV show ever made!). My choice to consume on demand content through Love Film excludes me from accessing Breaking Bad unless I subscribe to Netflix. I am reluctant to do this as I would either have to switch or subscribe to both and I happen to think that Love Film through my Smart TV is a good service.

It is therefore great news that Sony have announced this week that they are soon to make some of their Playstation console games available to play without having the console (i.e. through a smart TV, other conosle, mobile device) by streaming it over the web. Why is the significant? Because it is the first time a major console company has decided to decouple their entertainment product from their hardware. Previously, if you wanted to play Playstation games you would have to own a Playstation, and games producers would have to produce versions of games for each console.

The line is now drawn in the sand. Is this the first step towards content, applications and devices being completely agnostic? I would like to think so, although I am under no illusions that there is a long way to go before we get to that point. But the reality is that users want to be able to consume everything but on their own terms. I am an iPhone user and I would like to be able to access the same functionality as people on other devices but with the interface of the Apple device. Similarly, I would like to be able to play games from various consoles without having to have a living room full of different pieces of hardware. The age when you have to choose a piece of hardware and live with the limitations that imposes (or accept that you will also have to spend more to get other devices as well) is coming to an end. Companies are beginning to realize that how a user consumes content (channel) and the actual content they are consuming does not need to be linked. A user should have the choice about how they consume content and not be limited. Companies in turn need to realize that their content should be available to the widest group of people possible if they wish to capitalize and the best way to do that is to make it device agnostic…even if they have a shiny new device that they want you to own as well.

Towing the on-line

Much has been made in recent months of the shift to on demand servicing, particular with the likes of online streaming companies like NetFlix and their high rolling TV programs ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Breaking Bad’. Many of the big networks probably shrugged this off at the time, assuming that streaming companies cannot challenge the established TV industry big names. Indeed, Sky and Virgin Media seem to have been more interested in staving off BT’s foray into Television rather than keeping an eye on this new snake in the grass. So the big names will have been shaken buy the world’s reaction to the hit series ‘Breaking Bad’, which some on social networks are even saying is the greatest TV series ever made. This might be a bit of a stretch but one thing is for certain, everyone wants to watch a show that is only available by NetFlix. Whether or not this is a flash in the pan is yet to be seen, but a line was drawn in the sand in September when NetFlix became the first internet based provider to win an Emmy. Following this BAFTA have announced that they will recognize internet based shows now as well.

Personally, I think this is a sign of things to come. It is no surprise that the first two major series produced by NetFlix were of such high standard. They wanted to make a mark and show that they are serious contenders in the entertainment market, and they have certainly done that. How long it will be before a major blockbuster movie is made for release in the same way remains to be seen…this may be biting off a little more than they could chew currently, but in time who knows.

This interesting development got me reflecting on how the internet has drastically changed our lives in the last couple of decades. At the weekend I helped my parents setup a new computer and dad produced some old CDs, asking if any of them were of any use. One of these was an Encarta Encyclopedia CD and memories came flooding back of a Windows 3.1 PC that ran programs off floppy disks and a CD ROM was the sign of the future. In those days Google hadn’t really been heard of and Wikipedia wasn’t even a glint in Jimmy Wales’ eye. Encarta was a world of discovery that seemed amazing to me. In those days we would all crowd around the hulking computer in the corner and when we wanted to connect to the internet the modem would screech like a dying cat.

How it has changed since those cold dark days when the internet was a rare commodity. Now we are fast relying on it for our daily existence. I no longer wear a watch or carry a diary, instead using my iPhone for both. My media largely exists in the cloud and I can’t remember the last time I wrote a letter, instead using email which some said would never take off. In fact email is possibly going to be the downfall of of postal services, which have unfortunately gotten too expensive to be viable. Last Christmas we finally made the decision not to send cards as the cost to us would have been well over £50 just in stamps!

The digital world has accelerated massively in the last few years. Apple now produce a mainstream laptop in the MacBook Air that doesn’t have a DVD drive, largely because we no longer need install disks. Instead we use an activation code and download the programs over the internet. Similarly, MAXIS have develop the new  SimCity game to be played online, a move that is not unique but was highly publicized due to the popularity of the game. The world is sprinting towards an online existence which is both convenient and full of security risks. I have previously written about an online world that reacts to our ‘profiles’, detected from the mobile devices that we carry around with us (or that are a part of us!). This reality is not far away now, it is just that at the moment most of us interact with the internet still via out computers. But that too is changing. Now we stand in shops and fire up our mobile phone to check prices online before buying. This is behaviour evolving to the environment we now have around us…and also becoming reliant on it.

So what is my point, you may well ask? The world is moving towards a more online existence and with it our behaviour is changing as well. In a very short space of time we have come to rely on the internet to help us with everyday tasks and soon it will become more and more part of our lives. Whether or not this is a good thing is for you to decide, I personally think that by and large it is good. It will be important for each of us to engage with this evolving world, rather than shun it, lest we be left behind. We should be prepared for a change in the way media is delivered to us. Instead of taking it for granted that it will all be through television providers we should factor in entertainment from online sources. And as the online world gains importance we should also be ready for companies that move completely online and forego offline interactions…it will happen.

For my part though I think it is important to also maintain some time for the simpler things in life as well – there will always be a place for a paper back book, a glass of whisky and the sound of the rain on a dark winters night in my life.