As Amazon fuels the fire, where are the networks to deliver our content?

Last week saw Amazon’s announcement of the Kindle Fire – a new tablet computer which marks the bookstore-turned-online-warehouse-turned-cloud-infrastructure-provider‘s latest skirmish into the world of content provision and consumption. It’s not going to be available in the UK and Ireland for a while (some of the supporting services don’t yet exist here) but many technology commentators have drawn comparisons with the Apple iPad – the current tablet market leader (by a country mile). And, whilst there are comparisons (both are tablets, both rely on content) – they really do compete in different sectors.

Even as an iPad user, I can see the attractiveness of the Kindle Fire: If Amazon is able to execute its strategy (and all signs suggest they are), then they can segment the tablet market leaving Apple at the premium end and shifting huge volumes of low price devices to non-geeks. Note how Amazon has maintained a range of lower-price eInk devices too? That’s all about preserving and growing the existing user base – people who like reading, like the convenience of eBooks but who are not driven by technology.

At this point you’re probably starting to wonder why I’m writing this on a blog from a provider of enterprise IT systems and services. How is this really relevant to the enterprise? Actually, I think it is really relevant. I’ve written about the consumerisation of enterprise IT over and over (on this blog and elsewhere) but, all of a sudden, we’re not talking about a £650 iPad purchase (a major commitment for most people) but a sub-£200 tablet (assuming the Fire makes it to the UK). And that could well mark a tipping point where Android, previously largely confined to smartphones, is used to access other enterprise services.

I can think of at least one former CIO for whom that is a concern: the variety of Android platforms and the potential for malware is a significant security risk. But we can’t stick our heads in the sand, or ban Android devices – we need to find a way forward that is truly device and operating system agnostic (and I think that’s best saved as a topic for another blog post).

What the Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire, and plethora of Google Android-powered devices have in common is their reliance on content. Apple and Amazon both have a content-driven strategy (Google is working on one) but how does that content reach us? Over the Internet.

And there stands a problem… outside major cities, broadband provision is still best described as patchy. There are efforts to improve this (including, but not exclusively, those which Fujitsu is taking part in) but 3G and  4G mobile networks are a part of the picture.

UK businesses and consumers won’t be able to fully benefit from new cloud-based tools until the UK has a nationwide reliable high speed mobile data network and a new paper, published today by the Open Digital Policy Organisation suggests that the UK is at least 2 years behind major countries in its 4G rollout plans. Aside from the potential cost to businesses of £732m a year,  we’re all consumers, downloading content to our Kindles, iPads, watching TV catch-up services like BBC iPlayer and 4oD, as well as video content from YouTube, Vimeo, etc. Add to that the networks of sensors that will drive the future Internet – and then consider that many businesses are starting to question the need for expensive wide area network connections when inexpensive public options are available… I think you get my point…

We live in a content-driven society – more and more so by the day… sadly it seems that the “information superhighway” is suffering from congestion and that may well stifle our progress.

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog.]

Does Microsoft Kinect herald the start of a sensor revolution?

Last week, Microsoft officially announced a software development kit for the Kinect sensor. Whilst there’s no commercial licensing model yet, that sounds like it’s the start of a journey to official support of gesture-based interaction with Windows PCs.

There’s little doubt that Kinect, Microsoft’s natural user interface for the Xbox game console, has been phenomenally successful. It’s even been recognised as the fastest-selling consumer device on record by Guinness World Records. I even bought one for my family (and I’m not really a gamer) – but before we go predicting the potential business uses for this technology, it’s probably worth stopping and taking stock. Isn’t this really just another technology fad?

Kinect is not the first new user interface for a computer – I’ve written so much about touch-screen interaction recently that even I’m bored of hearing about tablets! We can also interact with our computers using speech if we choose to – and the keyboard and mouse are still hanging on in there too (in a variety of forms). All of these technologies sound great, but they have to be applied at the right time: my iPad’s touch screen is great for flicking through photos, but an external keyboard is better for composing text; Kinect is a fantastic way to interact with games but, frankly, it’s pretty poor as a navigational tool.

What we’re really seeing here is a proliferation of sensors. Keyboard, mouse, trackpad, microphone, and camera(s), GPS, compass, heart monitor – the list goes on. Kinect is really just an advanced, and very consumable, sensor.

Interestingly sensors typically start out as separate peripherals and, over time, they become embedded into devices. The mouse and keyboard morphed into a trackpad and a (smaller) keyboard. Microphones and speakers were once external but are now built in to our personal computers. Our smartphones contain a wealth of sensors including GPS, cameras and more. Will we see Kinect built into PCs? Quite possibly – after all it’s really a couple of depth sensors and a webcam!

What’s really exciting is not Kinect per se but what it represents: a sensor revolution. Much has been written about the Internet of Things but imagine a dynamic network of sensors where the nodes can automatically handle re-routing of messages based on an awareness of the other nodes. Such networks could be quickly and easily deployed (perhaps even dropped from a plane) and would be highly resilient to accidental or deliberate damage because of their “self-healing” properties. Another example of sensor use could be in an agricultural scenario with sensors automatically monitoring the state of the soil, moisture, etc. and applying nutrients or water. We’re used to hearing about RFID tags in retail and logistics but those really are just the tip of the iceberg.

Exciting times…

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog and was jointly authored with Ian Mitchell.]