TIME Big Picture

How Mobile Changed the Game — and Questions About Its Future

Mobile Future
Getty Images

Mobile ended Microsoft's dominance, saved Apple, made Facebook and could upend Google. So what's next?

When I first started doing industry analysis in 2000, my focus was heavily on mobile computing. Our firm has a legacy of PC industry analysis, and at the time I joined, we were embarking on the major shift from desktop computing to mobile computing.

Mobile computing in those days referred to notebooks and laptops, which were really nothing more than portable desktops. That era set us up for the massive global mobile computing era we are now entering into, where the shift is from notebook computing to truly mobile computing with tablets and smartphones. Reflecting on these paradigm shifts helps me appreciate not just how much has changed over the past 10 years, but also how much will again change in the next 10 years. Mobile changes everything.

What’s Changed?

Mobile ended Microsoft’s dominance. The once near-monopoly on desktop and laptop computing was completely broken by mobile computing. Along with Microsoft’s monopoly ending, so too has the old guard of PC computing been challenged by mobile. Intel, for example, is still struggling to be dominant in the mobile computing era, while Qualcomm has taken its place. Once dominant PC vendors like Dell and HP now only serve a small market, while Apple, Samsung, Lenovo, Xiaomi, Huawei and ZTE are the hardware darlings of the mobile era.

Mobile saved Apple. One could argue the iPod was a key player in ushering in the mobile computing era, as it paved the way for key technologies to be miniaturized and commoditized. That served as a catalyst for smartphones to become possible. The iPod led to the iPhone, which is the business that drove Apple’s recovery.

Mobile could upend Google. Think about some recent data from Flurry that shows how apps have overtaken the mobile web in terms of engagement. Who does this impact the most? Google. Google’s business is heavily built on the web and a web browser. Declining usage of mobile web browsers and web browsing in general is not good for Google’s core and largest business. I’m fond of the observation that Google de-emphasizes apps, because time spent in an app is not time being spent using Google’s search engine. In fact, this observation explains quite clearly why Google is not pushing tablet apps the way many believe the company should be. Tablets still drive significant web browsing time as the usage of tablets more closely resembles that of PCs than smartphones. If Google was to emphasize tablet apps, which could possibly cause web searches from the platform to go down in favor of app usage over web usage, then again, Google’s biggest business is hurt.

Mobile made Facebook. Facebook in the desktop era was nothing compared to Facebook in the mobile era. Facebook will be a key part of bringing the next billlion consumers into the online conversation. These customers will be mobile-first and mobile-only. It’s conceivable by the end of 2015 — and almost certainly in 2016 — that Facebook could have over 2 billion mobile users. Facebook’s present and future hinges on mobility.

What’s Next?

These are just a few of the dramatic changes mobile has enabled. Many more are to come over the next two years. Will the current dominant players in mobile survive the shift from one primary mobile connected device to multiple devices per person? Apps took over the mobile web but what will overtake apps in the near future? What is the role of an operating system or a platform in the future? Or is there one? Do apps move to the cloud or stay native? Do operating systems move to the cloud or stay native? How many modems driving connected experiences will we have per person? How many touch-based interactive glass screens we will have on our person, in our homes and in our cities? All these and more are questions I like to think about.

I’ve been working in this industry since 1997. I’m also related to one of the foremost technology industry historians. I’ve been taught to view this industry as a journey. On a journey, the scenery changes. Mobile has been a driving force of disruption, causing sweeping changes in the dominant players from yesteryear. “Post mobile” will bring about many new changes. Crystal balls are not necessary. The only sure way to survive is to recognize paradigm shifts and embrace them when they happen. Innovation brings about change. Both are constant.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Innovation

Computer Posing as Teenager Achieves Artificial-Intelligence Milestone

The chatbot "Eugene Goostman" manages to fool more than 30% of people it was conversing to that it was human, becoming the first computer to pass the iconic 65-year-old Turing test

A live-chatting computer has passed the artificial-intelligence milestone Turing Test at an event in London, as it fooled a third of people that they were actually speaking to a human.

Professor Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading, in England, said in a statement that some would claim the test had already been passed, but “this event involved the most simultaneous comparison tests than ever before, was independently verified and, crucially, the conversations were unrestricted.”

The winning software, called Eugene Goostman, simulates a 13-year-old, saying that he likes hamburgers and candy and that his father is a gynecologist. Developer Vladimir Veselov said his team chose this personality because the program could then “claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn’t know everything.”

The father of modern computer science, Alan Turing, developed the Turing test 65 years ago to answer the question: Can machines think? In order to pass, a computer program must be mistaken for a human in more than 30% of its five-minute keyboard conversation.

According to Warwick, the test has implications today as a tool to fight cyberthreats.

“It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true … when in fact it is not,” he said.

The London event marked the 60th anniversary of Turing’s death, and took place nearly six months after he received a posthumous royal pardon for his 1952 homosexuality conviction.

TIME space travel

NASA Is Using a Giant Laser to Transmit Videos From Space

Ditch your WiFI


NASA has begun using a specialized laser to transfer high-definition video from the International Space Station, an innovation that will allow the agency to transfer information from space much more rapidly than it’s currently capable of doing.

The technology uses a focused beam modulated from a 2.5 Watt, 1,550-nanometer laser to transmit information through space, NASA said. The laser increases the speed at which information is transmitted from 10 to 1,000 times over current radio transmissions from space.

On Thursday, the agency transferred a 175-megabit video from space to the ground in 3.5 seconds.

NASA likened the innovation to an upgrade from dial-up to DSL.

“It’s incredible to see this magnificent beam of light arriving from our tiny payload on the space station,” Matt Abrahamson, the mission’s manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

TIME mergers

Mega-Mergers Are Killing Innovation

The latest mega-merger in the telecommunications sector, that of AT&T and DirecTV, would be the fourth largest in history, and it comes only months after the nation’s largest cable operator Comcast announced that it was buying Time Warner Cable, the second largest cable operator. Nor is telecommunications the only sector to see such acquisitiveness. Microsoft purchased the devices and services business of Nokia for $7.2 billion late last year, Google snapped up Nest for $3.2 billion in January, and Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in February.

Such consolidation can be good for consumers as bigger companies have the resources to innovate and provide new products and services which might otherwise never materialize. However, the vertical integration of the telecommunications and technology sectors can also restrict innovation due to decreased competition and the limitation of research to specific technologies that support existing business lines.

Take, for example, the acquisition of WhatsApp. Facebook’s primary reason for acquiring the company is to utilize the chat technology on its social media platform to bolster its existing messaging application, which currently lags WhatsApp in the smartphone market. Beyond that, Facebook will no doubt try to leverage WhatsApp’s own user base, currently more than half a billion, to promote its social media offering. But either way, the integration of Facebook with WhatsApp is the main goal and driver of value instead of some trailblazing technological development in the chat space itself.

Similarly, Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable enables the company to enter complementary markets without actually having to build new infrastructure in those markets or to innovate in any way. Such plug-and-play growth engenders laziness and deprives the U.S. of necessary infrastructure improvement and development. The U.S. is currently ranked a pitiable 35th in the world in broadband capacity according to the World Economic Forum, with even smaller nations outpacing us in cutting edge telecommunications.

Even when it comes to ‘pure’ or fundamental science that can form the basis of future technology, the relentless drive for commercialization limits its destiny to whatever fuels profits in the short term and can impede future research that does not support that. True, third parties could conduct research for other applications but the ironclad patents that major corporations hold on their technology can make such efforts unprofitable. In other words, the acquisition of promising technologies by major corporations can actually limit them by forcing them along proscribed lines in the future.

Some of the greatest scientific discoveries that have fueled mankind’s advancement were made in the vacuum of human curiosity without the profit motive that has now become the norm. Today, unless the process of discovery is sponsored by some major corporation or has an obvious application to industry at the outset, there is little motive to pursue it. Even research institutions, which have historically been neutral havens for such discoveries, now require corporate money to survive and are bound by corporate rules. This is a loss for the spirit of innovation that drives human achievement.

That is not to say that all acquisitions are bad or that our biggest companies don’t move us forward technologically, but if the pace of consolidation by major players continues, it could shrink the playing field to such a degree that innovation will become the sole domain of a handful of companies who, for the most part, will only finance targeted research that promotes their own bottom line, and use patents to prevent others from advancing that technology in other directions. That may be a win for commerce but not necessarily for the type of unexpected discoveries that could improve our world in the future.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a political and business commentator. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, as well as at hedge fund Ramius. Sanghoee sits on the Board of Davidson Media Group, a mid-market radio station operator. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is also the author of two thriller novels. Follow him @sanghoee.

TIME Food & Drink

The Billion-Dollar Hope for School Lunches

Shelly Puri

Revolution Foods, a company that feeds over 1 million meals a week to school children, grabs an investment from Steve Case

AOL co-founder Steve Case knows the score on the school-lunch debate. “I’m not running into anybody, on the Republican side or the Democrat side, who’s saying, ‘We believe in unhealthy meals,’” he tells TIME. “The debate on the House side has been some people saying these new requirements are too difficult for schools to meet. It’s too hard to provide healthy options at affordable prices that kids will love, and so we should relax the standards essentially to give them more time to transition.”

But he’s not buying it. “Our view,” he says, “is the market can solve this problem. Revolution Foods is demonstrating that.”

He is putting his money where his mouth is, announcing Wednesday that his Revolution Growth fund (co-founded with other AOL alums; the name is a coincidence) has invested $30 million in the school-lunch company. For eight years, Revolution Foods has impressed many with its healthy alternatives to the run-of-the-mill cafeteria food that meets federal guidelines, but is either not very good for kids or not very tasty. Their meals, by contrast, are made from whole foods with organic components, served with a fruit and vegetable, minimally processed, without high-fructose corn syrup or artificial colors, flavors or additives—and they meet all the regulations to be fully reimbursable.

The method is definitely working. When TIME reported on the company in 2010, Revolution Foods was feeding 30,000 students. Now, they’ve expanded to 1,000 schools serving over 1 million meals a week to 200,000 kids—breakfast, lunch, snack and supper. Almost all of its clients are public schools, with a fairly even spread across the age range from pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade. Most important: 80 percent of the students they feed are on the free and reduced meal program. That means the best food is, for once, making it to the kids who are most in need of a healthy meal at school.

Revolution Foods co-founder Kristin Groos Richmond says the testimonials from parents, students and teachers couldn’t be better: “better concentration, less disciplinary action, less trips to the nurses, less absences.” In some districts, the growth rate of participation in the free and reduced meal program increased in the double digits. Administrators report decreased food waste, Richmond says.

While the company’s goals are altruistic, they also present a desirable market for the likes of Case to invest in. “The school lunch business is a $16-billion business in the U.S. alone,” he says. Revolution Foods has had over 100 percent compound annual growth rate since the day they started, says Richmond. It’s currently a $100 million-revenue business, but Case says he thinks it will be possible to grow to $1 billion.

The money from Revolution will allow the company to open new culinary centers where the meals are prepared. The company currently operates seven in cities around the country, and it is expanding into San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Austin and Philadelphia. Eventually, they would like to plant a flag in the Midwest.

It will also help them expand their retail business, a kind of healthy Lunchable that was born out of parents’ demand for a weekend equivalent to the healthy foods their kids were getting during the week at school. Those meal kits will now be available in even more grocery stores—they’re currently in more than 2,000.

Many public schools are currently in the process of selecting their vendors for the next school year; if all goes according to plan, Revolution Foods will be turning up on even more trays throughout the nation’s cafeterias.

TIME Innovation

So Long, Charging Cables: Wireless Power Is Coming

Wireless Charging
Getty Images

A world where every room is a buzzing hotspot of invisible electrical charges is just around the corner, experts say. And it's going to change the way we live.

Late one night in 2002, Marin Soljačić was awakened by a beeping on his cell phone. A fellow at MIT’s Physics Department at the time, Soljačić’s primordial brick phone had the annoying habit of beeping loudly and incessantly when it needed to be plugged in to charge, and once it started, it couldn’t be turned off. He stumbled into his kitchen to plug it in.

That’s when he had his eureka moment. Why not get rid of wired charging altogether?

“Why can’t this thing take care of its own charging?” Soljačić thought. “The phone was always a few feet away from a source of electricity, but somehow that was just too far for it to bridge the gap.”

Soljačić got to work inventing a revolutionary new form of wireless power. After some fits and starts, he tells TIME, he’d developed a prototype, and in 2007, he co-founded a company called WiTricity that is now bringing an ambient electric charge to homes, cars, offices and devices. The technology is here, and already being used.

At its most basic, WiTricity’s technology consists of two copper coils coupled by magnetic waves. One of the coils is attached to a power source, creating a magnetic field, while the second coil is primed to convert that magnetic field into an electric current. The coils can transmit and receive magnetic waves as far apart as about eight feet, and go through solid objects like desks, barriers and human bodies.

The powered coil can transmit energy to multiple receiving coils, meaning that just one source can send a charge to multiple objects. And the technology can overcome its eight-foot range with what WiTricity CEO Alex Gruzen calls a “daisy chain,” a series of repeaters that transmit energy along a series of coils. The idea is that your phone could charge when you simply enter a room.

WiTricity has entered the market at an auspicious time. The wireless power market is predicted to grow to $8.5 billion in 2018, according to analysts at IHS Technology, driven by wearable technology—think Jawbone Up and Google Glass, for instance—as well as mobile phones and tablet PCs.

“We will eventually live in a world where we’ll get access to charge whenever we want it in multiple environments in our everyday life,” says Ryan Sanderson, an analyst at IHS Technology. Now, “there’s a growing need for powering electronic devices.”

In practice, the uses of wireless power technology are wide. It’ll be normal for entire houses to be cordless within the next decade, experts say, each room a buzzing hotspot for invisible electrically charged objects. Wireless charges could emanate from floor mats, under desks, the ceiling and our beds. In the case of WiTricity’s technology, for instance, if a lamp is inlaid with a coil and placed within a few feet of a source coil, it can be powered wirelessly.

A smartphone case with a coil could begin charging your phone when you sit down at a table in a restaurant, for example, which would have a source coil under it. WiTricity has made multiple prototypes and is working with home furnishings companies to implement them.

Mainstream smartphones will eventually be factory-made to charge wirelessly at a distance. Samsung—the world’s largest smartphone maker by market share—is a member of the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) industry group, which is seeking to standardize and implement longer-distance wireless electricity. WiTricity and Samsung both have executives on A4WP’s board of directors. Other major smartphone makers are already bringing wirelessly charged phones to market, including several of Google’s Nexus models, though because of their limited ranges, the phones still need to be snapped in place.

Future electric cars and plug-in hybrids will be automatically powered when they’re parked over a charging surface. Toyota’s next-generation Prius will use WiTricity’s technology to automatically charge cars that are parked over a pad-like device in your garage. A number of other high-profile auto suppliers, including TDK and General Motors spinoff Delphi, have taken licenses with WiTricity as well.

Soljačić, who is now a full professor at MIT, says he’s most excited by the medical applications of wireless charging. Patients with heart pumps—famous heart pump users have included former Vice President Dick Cheney—have electric leads extending through their skin to an electricity source. Heart pump maker Thoratec is a licensee of WiTricity’s technology in order to create heart pumps that charge automatically, eliminating a major source of infection in the skin.

“This partnership should allow Thoratec to better serve the patient population treated with ventricular assist devices, by reducing adverse events and dramatically improving quality of life for patients with advanced heart failure,” Gary Burbach, president and chief executive officer of Thoratec said in a statement at the time of the project’s announcement.

Wireless power could also make operations less cumbersome for soldiers in the U.S. military, who carry heavy battery loads and an unwieldy power cord from vest to helmet.

WiTricity says the technology is ready for the mass market, but one of the major barriers to implementing wireless power is agreeing on an industry standard. Many companies are hesitant to settle on a single technology if it could be obsolete in a few years. The technology is there—the question is how to implement it.

It’s an important question, considering how long it’s taken the company to bring a large number of products to market. Much of the finished technology has existed for years, but it hasn’t caught on.

But WiTricity only joined the A4WP this year, and electronics giants in a variety of industries including Canon, Dell, Sony and others are working full steam on developing a global wireless charging standard that can be broadly used across industries.

“We’re right on the cusp of broader commercialization, with some of these customers having committed timelines and schedules to taking products to market, and we’re still inventing,” says Gruzen. “It’s still relatively early days, but it’s real.”


Apple’s Most Revolutionary New Product: Itself


Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote Monday is sure to have pleased some and disappointed others. At the annual confab of software developers for Macs and iDevices, CEO Tim Cook and other executives presented new versions of Mac OS X for computers and iOS for iPhones and iPads. Both systems appear to borrow from one another liberally, evolving to work in tandem much more elegantly.

But there was another, arguably more radical product on display: Apple itself. There was no slick marketing video extolling its virtues. And there was no explicit mention of its “magical” changes by any of the executives that padded into the spotlight. But it was there, center stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. This is clearly a different (and perhaps more interesting) company than the one Steve Jobs left behind when he died three years ago. It seems a company that, increasingly, reflects the ideas, taste and sensibility of a group, rather than an individual.

Jobs architected and oversaw the greatest corporate turnaround in the history of capitalism. It was only natural that, in the wake of his death, the question of whether Apple could really sustain its momentum would persist. It’s a doubt that’s lingered like a bad smell at many of the firms that survive near-death episodes, from IBM to Chrysler.

Apple observers even got a sense of what the company’s employees think of the question last year when it introduced a Lilliputian new desktop, the Mac Pro. Unveiling the machine, marketing boss Phil Schiller said curtly, “Can’t innovate my ass.” And last month when Internet Software and Services chief Eddy Cue said “We’ve got the best product pipeline that I’ve seen in my 25 years at Apple,” it was a not-so-subtle-nod to investors and fanboys not to worry—some cool stuff is on the way. Still, the fact that the company’s last all-new product, the iPad, came out in 2010 is going to be catnip for doubters until the world finds out what those products actually are.

But where many people have been looking for a major new product—an iWatch, say, or an Apple-branded television set—the real innovation may have been in who runs the company and how. Under Jobs, Apple was a firm that largely brought in executives from less well known or glamorous outfits and grew them internally. Bob Mansfield, the technology guru, came from Raycer Graphics. Scott Forstall and Craig Federighi, the software guys, came with Jobs from Next. Designers like Tony Fadell and Jonathan Ive were essentially consultants from smaller firms who were convinced to sign on full time. And current CEO Tim Cook came from Compaq. (The only exception that comes to mind: Ron Johnson, who had a well-covered career at Target before helping create the Apple Stores.)

But consider Apple’s executive bench today. Angela Ahrendts, the former Burberry CEO, is planning an overhaul to Apple’s juggernaut retail division. Paul Deneve, the one-time CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, is likely helping with the company’s wearable devices. And there are Apple’s two newest recruits, Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre,who are coming on as part of the company’s $3 billion acquisition of Beats Electronics. These are all executives who, by virtue of their star power, are likely to have a higher profile of their own.

There are a lot of obvious reasons this is the case, not least of which that Apple is a much stronger, richer, more attractive company to work for than it was in the late 1990s. Then, Wired ran its famous “Pray” cover; now, it’s number 5 on the brand-new Fortune 500 list. And yet, even during the presentation this morning you could sense the shift. Keynotes have always had special guests and humorous asides, but today they seemed a little looser, a little more relaxed. Software head Craig Federighi called from backstage with a somewhat ham-handed hair and makeup malfunction, for instance.

A company with thousands of employees is never going to only reflect the vision of an individual, even a legend like Jobs. In fact he often ended public presentations with heartfelt praise of the company’s employees and their families, as Cook did again today. But as far as Apple’s next big thing goes, it’s already here.

TIME Innovation

Feds Might Allow Drones For Filmmakers

Drone Manufacture At Steadidrone Plant As Companies Explore Commercial Usage
Technicians look on as a SteadiDrone EI8GHT Octocopter hovers during a test flight in a field outside the headquarters of Mensuro Ltd., a distributor for SteadiDrone Ltd. products, in Pilsen, Czech Republic, on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg /Getty Images

Seven aerial cinematography companies have petitioned for the right to mount cameras to drones and make movie magic

The Federal Aviation Administration is considering lifting a nationwide ban on using drones for commercial purposes—so long as the purpose is to make movie magic.

Seven companies represented by the Motion Picture Association of America have asked for permission to shoot film and TV productions using unmanned aerial vehicles. The FAA said Monday that it would consider exemptions on a case-by-case basis, acknowledging “there could be tangible economic benefits as the agency begins to address the demand.”

A growing list of companies have requested permission to fly drones over farmland, power lines, pipelines and oil and gas flare stacks, among other commercial uses. The FAA says the firms must prove that exemptions to the rules will not pose a hazard to public safety.

Congress ordered the agency to set a framework allowing for commercial use of drones by 2015. The FAA will test drones at six sites.

TIME Innovation

Google Unveils Driverless Car Complete With…No Steering Wheel

Driverless cars are coming, whether we want them or not


People have been predicting a driverless future in everything from science fiction to pop culture to corporate PR. But now it looks like that future is finally upon us.

Google announced back in 2010 that it logged more than 140,000 miles in a self-driving car as part of a secret project. It’s also shown off modified versions of automakers’ cars altered to be driverless. But now, Google is finally showing off a prototype driverless car of its own. Built in-house, this computer on wheels doesn’t have a steering wheel or brake pedals.

As Google further develops its driverless car technology, the company, drivers and regulators will have to face many technical and legal questions. How will robots determine how to best react to an impending collision? Who’s responsible for a driverless car crash for insurance purposes? It won’t be long until we begin finding answers to these questions and others.

MORE: How Does Google’s Driverless Cars Work?

Ever wonder how Google’s driverless car actually works? Watch this TIME video documenting the journey of this technology up until now.

TIME Innovation

This Smartphone Nose Sniffs Out Meat Spoilage


Is that slightly outdated package of meat in your fridge still good? The average human nose might not be able to accurately predict its freshness by smell alone, but modern technology can. That’s the claim behind PERES, a handheld smartphone accessory for your kitchen that sniffs meat to detect spoilage.

Specifically, PERES measures four things: Temperature, humidity, ammonia, and volatile organic compounds VOCs. It uses this data to detect whether meat is fresh and safe to eat. The device connects to your Android or iOS smartphone via Bluetooth, and works with most common types of meat – beef, poultry, pork and fish.

PERES is being offered through crowd-funding site IndieGogo, where it has already surpassed its $50,000 goal. The device is scheduled to enter mass production in October 2014 with an expected retail price of $150.

You can learn more about PERES by watching the promotional video below or visiting its IndieGogo page. For more cool kitchen tech, visit the Techlicious Kitchen page.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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