Two Predictions: Wearable Devices and Driverless Cars

Google driverless car operating on a testing path
Google driverless car operating on a testing path (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s been a ton of advancement in sensors in the last several years. Low-power cheap processors and battery technology has advanced to allow for things like Nest, FitBit, Zeo, Wahoo Fitness and other devices to become viable.

While neither is a huge prediction, my guess is that in 10 years, two things will come true.

1. Wearable Devices

Wearable devices will be the norm, not the exception. It won’t be simple applications we can imagine. Already pacemakers and heart monitors are becoming network-accessible, meaning doctors can monitor their patients remotely. But soon intelligence will be built into these devices. Many high-end cars (Mercedes, Lexus, Volvo, Saab) have sleep monitors in their cars, and they are alarming accurate (at least with me). These cars use a variety of data (driving patterns, cameras) and can alert you if there are changes that indicate drowsiness.

Now imagine if the sensors were turned on around us all the time. Ginger.io seems to be touching the surface on the possibilities. People wonder what features the new iPhone would have, imagine if they get into health tracking? And they may even get into drug delivery. Imagine a sensor that determines you’re having a heart attack / stroke (which even doctors miss the symptoms), and then automatically deliver aspirin / call 911.

2. Autonomous Cars

Related to the first, in 10 years, I believe all new cars will be able to drive themselves on the highway. Every year, accidents fall in the top 5 for cause of death. Last year, almost 33,000 people died on highways. While it is falling, the number is significant. I believe that, in 10 years, all new cars will come equipped with an ability to drive themselves on the highway. Google has their driverless car, though they can’t make phones that don’t crash, so I’m not trusting their cars yet (I jest).

While what Google is doing is cool, it’s not in mass production so it is harder to determine it’s effectiveness. But there are elements of this that are in use today. Many car manufacturers have introduced active cruise control, which adjusts to the speed of the car in front, as well as lane departure and blind spot warnings. Mercedes and Audi are introducing autonomous driving for traffic jams under 25 and 37 mph (respectively). It makes sense- humans are limited in reaction time. At highway speeds, we humans can’t react quickly enough to many situations that develop ahead of us, just given the time it takes to register and press the brake. At 55 mph in perfect conditions, that can be almost 300 feet (and reaction time doubles if texting). Computers can address many of these shortcomings, as well as predict potential dangers and traps based on factors we may not think about (including historical road data). And imagine if the cars can communicate with each other? An example – a vehicle in front of you may have a sensor anticipating a tire blowout, and alert your vehicle to slow down and stay back, before the actual tire blowout occurs.

A large percentage of the population enjoys driving, and there will be a serious backlash if it’s mandated anywhere, so I don’t think that will happen (nor do I recommend that). However, I do think people will be amenable to letting their vehicles do most of the highway driving, especially on longer drives and commutes. Airplanes practically fly themselves, why shouldn’t cars?

Implications

What’s even more fascinating are implications. The security issues are probably the most worrisome. With all these devices connected, people will try to hack them. It’s one thing if your computer has a virus, but the last thing you’d want is someone triggering a defibrillation or corrupting your car’s GPS data and causing it to go in the wrong direction. Marc Goodman of Singularity University was recently on PBS and discussing these exact concerns.

What’s even more of a factor is the human resistance to trusting technology, rightfully so in this case. The software to develop these kind of devices is extremely complex, and not perfect. Situations like the famous Therac-25 will happen, and people will become even more resistant to adopt.

But that will change. In time, people will get used to the technology and begin trusting it. And we’ll all be safer and healthier for it.

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San Francisco Food Favorites

As a resident of San Francisco Bay Area for many years, I’ve tried a decent amount of restaurants. Over time, to facilitate sharing with friends and remembering my favorites, I compiled the list into a Google Doc spreadsheet. Below is the consolidation of my favorite restaurants / bars / etc. with cuisine, price, neighborhood, and some notes. I tried to order it loosely by most recommended at the top, but I would love to go back to any of these. I unfortunately did not include my least favorites list. FYI most of these places are very vegetarian friendly, unless otherwise noted. Yelp is a critical resource as well. Looking forward to doing the same thing in Boston. Enjoy!

Restaurants

aziza mediterranean $$$ outer richmond must try basteeya, recommend chef’s tasting
benu american $$$$ soma most unique tasting menu in sf, japanese influence
kokkari mediterranean $$$$ fidi amazing lamb, good veg options
tataki sushi $$$ russian hill veg sushi menu
sushi zone sushi $$ duboce triangle mango sea bass, not veg friendly
zero zero italian $$$ soma must try bruschetta, make your own sundaes
saha mediterranean $$$ union sq amazing orange duck, veg friendly
burma superstar burmese $$$ inner richmond must get: rainbow salad, samosa soup, superstar noodles, nan pia dok
kiss seafood sushi $$$$ japantown omakase (pre-fixe), not veg friendly
gary danko french $$$$ north beach best french in sf, veg tasting menu
1300 on fillmore southern $$$ fillmore best fried chicken, veg friendly, awesome drinks
perbacco italian $$$ fidi seafood
chez papa bistrot french $$ potrero semoule, veg ratatoille, lamb, trout
skool seafood $$$ potrero squid ink pasta is a must
beretta italian $$ mission
fino italian $$$ union sq best traditional italian restaurant
frascati french $$$ russian hill
le charm french $$$ soma
the house asian fusion $$ north beach
patxis pizza $$ (multiple) best deep dish
little star pizza $$ (multiple) second best deep dish
zushi puzzle sushi $$ marina
koh samui thai $$$ soma pumpkin curry
millenium veg $$$ union sq
mandalay burmese $$ inner richmond
koo sushi $$$ inner richmond
helmand afghani $$ russian hill pumpkin app dish
so korean $ soma
poesia italian $$ castro
amber indian $$$ soma
firefly new american $$$ noe valley fried chicken
source vegetarian $$ potrero hill best veggie burger, truffle mac and cheese, amazing fries
pizzeta 211 pizza $$ outer richmond great pizza
tommaso italian $$$ north beach
specchio italian $$ mission
cafe claude italian $$$ fidi
local italian $$ soma sunday night all you can eat pizza
cafe altano italian $$$ russian hill
delfina italian $$$ mission crowded
radius american $$$ soma good lunch cafe as well

Sandwiches

ike’s place messy $$ castro try: name of girl i’m dating, we’re just friends
deli board messy $$ soma
m&l deli-style $$ mission
the sentinel regular $$ soma
cafe algiers deli-style $ soma spicy turkey w/ avocado

Desserts

mitchell’s ice cream $ mission chocolate caramel crackle, grasshopper pie
anthony’s cookies $$ mission chocolate chip, cookies and cream
goody goodies cookies $$ mission chocolate chip cookie
tartine baked goods $$ mission almond croissant
mr and mrs miscellaneous ice cream $ dogpatch
bi-rite creamery ice cream $$ mission eclectic flavors
humphry slocombe ice cream $ mission
bob’s donuts donuts $ russian hill apple fritter made fresh late night
dynamo donuts $ potrero hill

Coffee

philz coffee $$ multiple tesora is std, 49er
blue bottle coffee $$ multiple
sightglass coffee $$ soma
ritual coffee coffee $$ mission

Breakfast / Brunch

mama’s $$ north beach long line
butler and chef $$$ soma good french, eggs benedict
zazie $$ cole valley
mission beach café $$$ mission
yank sing $$$$ soma veg friendly dim sum
savor $$ nob hill
foreign cinema $$$ mission
la boulangerie $$ multiple
pomelo $$$ multiple

Bars

toronado $ haight good beer selection, next to rosamunde (sausages)
rickhouse $$$ fidi speakeasy
bourbon and branch $$$ union sq speakeasy
monk’s kettle $$ mission good beer, crowded
21st amendment $$ soma decent happy hour spot
elixir $ mission speakeasy
83 proof $$ soma speakeasy, great later in evening (my favorite bar)
burritt room $$ union sq speakeasy
pedro’s cantina $$ soma solid sports bar

Pizza

zero zero $ soma  see above
golden boy $ north beach
tony’s $ north beach
little star $$ mission
pizetta 211 $ outer richmond
arizmendi $ multiple
patxi $$ multiple  delivers
pauline’s $$ mission
delfina $$ mission

Bullish on Netflix

There’s been a lot of negative discussion of Netflix recently – and while I think they have made mistakes, I’m bullish for the medium-term future. Essentially, Netflix lost 2% of their subscribers after a 60% price hike. Their overall revenue increased 4% from the second quarter, and 49% YOY. Granted, they expected more, but that big of a plummet?

The main argument I hear is that Amazon is going to compete with them. Amazon has had Instant Video (used to be called Unbox) for awhile, but now they are starting a subscription service, similar to Netflix. The content providers clearly want a second major player that they can play off Netflix from a negotiation stand point. But to assume they can be competitive with Netflix in the next year or two is misguided, in my opinion. Netflix has a huge user base of very loyal customers. More importantly, Netflix has significant distribution through set-top/DVR boxes, TV manufacturers, gaming consoles, Apple/Google TV, iPad, iPhone, Android, etc. Amazon has distribution on almost exclusively TV manufacturers and Google TV. Amazon has had time but is clearly not getting the same distribution – my hypothesis is that it’s because they are competing with some of the other channels with their Kindle Fire. And the assumption is that they’ll eventually get into the mobile phone space as well. So Microsoft, Google, and Apple aren’t going to push Amazon’s streaming service over their own, or Netflix (which has no single horse in the race). And distribution matters – I believe (albeit without proof) that people make buying decisions based on whether a device supports Netflix.

Content is still king, but as long as Netflix can continue to secure more content (which they can, utilizing their distribution/brand advantage), I would buy into their growth.

Shipping Up to Boston

After more than 6 years in San Francisco, I have decided to move to Boston to pursue a startup. This wasn’t an easy decision, but it was one I had to make. I’ve made many friends here, worked at some awesome places, and had an amazing amount of fun. SF will always hold a special place in my heart (though hopefully not a place in my stomach), and I will return often.

The startup is a calling I can no longer avoid. We are looking in the energy space, and have an ambitious if not crazy idea. Who knows where it will take us, but I’m extremely excited about it. Boston is also close to where I grew up (NH), so it will be nice to be able to visit my immediate family more often. And it will give me the opportunity to work closer to my entrepreneurial role models, my parents.

I would like to thank the folks I’ve met out here in the Bay Area for being amazing friends and mentors to me. I came out here knowing just a few, and I feel lucky that the decision was so hard to make based on the relationships I’ve developed in my years out here.

PS – in case you didn’t realize, the blog title is reference to a popular Dropkick Murphys song.

PPS – This great Steve Jobs quote has been an inspiration: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Handsfree is the next challenge for mobile

A huge part of the mobile experience is still extremely subpar. No one has created a seamless handsfree experience. I briefly blogged about this 2.5 years ago, and I still feel like there is tons of room for improvement. I don’t blame the headset companies, as my Plantronics (and for many others Jawbone) headset works great… as a headset for phone calls. But using it is not easy. Voice dialing (calling a contact using voice recognition) is a very basic start. The iPhone has Voice Control, which is little more than voice dialing plus basic iPod controls. Android has the best solution right now, Voice Actions, which seems very promising. Yet it doesn’t work consistently with a bluetooth headset, and the commands themselves are too robotic for most users. There are also some solid apps in the space. Nuance’s Dragon voice to text is great. Siri (which Apple purchased 1.5 years ago) has a good amount of NLP (also uses Nuance) and allows for a variety of different commands. Vlingo, Google, and countless others have apps too. But it isn’t effective unless it’s integrated at the OS level and works with handsfree devices.

The obvious use case (especially in CA and other states where there are specific laws) is controlling the phone while driving. Some cars have tried solving this, but none (that I’ve tried) have done it well. But handsfree use cases can be more common- anywhere from multitasking to video chat would be improved by some sort of integrated headset. Wired headsets are obviously not easy to use (I feel like I’m always untangling mine). And wired headsets only work on a single device- bluetooth would allow for switching between iPhone/iPad/etc. where appropriate. Apple previously tried making a bluetooth headset (see here) but apparently gave up, I’m guessing due to technical limitations and lack of polish. The bluetooth spec has improved significantly, allowing for better quality and lower power consumption. A typical headset now can go days/weeks before a charge with decent use. My ultimate wish is that the headset would be able to charge directly from the phone via a mini charging connection or induction-based charger.

But the software integration is the most important – the headset and phone need to understand a variety of commands and output results using display and more importantly voice. Something like “look up directions to Mitchell’s Ice Cream” should return a map and read out the list of turns.  “Schedule phone call with Mom for tomorrow at 3 pm” should read back, create a calendar item, and send an invite. The harder but equally important one command is “reserve a table for tomorrow at 7 pm at Aziza for 4 people,” which should use the OpenTable app, and read back available reservation openings and confirm. And the software should somehow know how to differentiate and use the appropriate device, whether an iPhone on the road, or the Apple TV at home.

My prediction (dream?) is this will be solved in the next major iOS (5.x) release, and that Apple will release a headset at the same time.

Anger entrenches people

Going to restart the blog, mixing it in with some personal stories, as well as the same random tech posts like before. As always, feedback is welcome.

Last night, I had a remarkably Seinfeld-like moment that reminded me of something very important. I was driving to North Beach in SF for dinner and drove around a couple blocks looking for parking. I found a spot on a major road (Columbus Ave) and proceeded to parallel park. On my reverse in, I noticed a man standing there, who I originally thought was just looking for a cab. He wasn’t moving, so I rolled down my windows, and asked if he could move. He told me he was saving the spot, I responded that it’s kind of unfair to save a spot if the car isn’t there, especially on a major road. He looked at his phone, and we waited another 30 seconds or so, then said ok and moved. The entire conversation was completely cordial.

After parking, I needed to get something from the trunk. I told the guy thanks for moving. A full couple minutes after, the guy’s friend driver, an older woman (seemed like his mom), shows up, and immediately starts cussing me out. Now, I’m not one to seek out conflict, but if someone starts yelling, I’m not going to ignore it. So I ask, why are you swearing? She said that it was her spot. I told her that her friend had given it up, and regardless it had been minutes on a major road, which means many other cars would have tried to take the same spot, and that you can’t just save spots. I stayed calm in my response; she got angrier.

Regardless, the moment she started swearing, there was no way I was moving. I had become entrenched in my position. Had she approached it with a level-head, I actually do believe I might have moved. Oftentimes in tough situations, people tend to react strongly. It takes patience and discipline to stay calm – but many times people act in anger- and that almost always makes things worse. Anyways, it’s a reminder of something I know I need to work on.

iPhone vs Android is not PC vs Mac

Google officially announced the Nexus One today, and it seems pretty cool.  I haven’t had a chance to play with one yet, but by most accounts, it’s worth checking out.  I believe it will be a successful device, along with the Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Eris.  However, there seems to be a lot of sentiment that this is playing out like the PC vs Mac wars a decade or so ago, and that slowly app developers (and in-turn users) will all gravitate towards the more open Android platform.  The argument is that Microsoft excelled because it was hardware agnostic and did not control the ecosystem (thus allowing it to innovate), whereas Macs struggled because they controlled the entire experience (here’s a good take on this).  In the mobile marketplace, the argument continues, Android will eventually win out because it’s completely open.  Never mind the over simplicity (i.e. Jobs left, the hardware started to suck, etc.), there are some good parallels to make the analogy fit.

I, however, completely disagree.  This market is much, much more nuanced.  The reason is that there are two major differences between different phones that affect user behavior – input mechanism and screen size.  For example, here’s a list of the different screen resolutions for Android devices:

800 x 480
600 x 800
320 x 480
240 x 320
854 x 480
240 x 400
1024 x 600

And Android is only now becoming popular.  Some Android devices have keyboards, some are touch only, some have pointers, some have extra buttons, and some have sensors others don’t.  With the computer, everyone had a similar keyboard and mouse.  Users had different size monitors, but the big difference was that you could get away with cropping and not using the entire monitor for computer apps.  On a phone, where the screen is already so small, not using the entire space is much more significant.

This is the same issue that plagues Blackberry right now (well, that and terrible API implementation/documentation).  Whether it’s the Curve, Bold, Pearl, and so on, every device has a different resolution, and so apps need to be tailored appropriately.  I’m not the first to realize this is an issue (official Android documentation and another post).  The iPhone, on the other hand, has one screen resolution 320 x 480, and one input mechanism, touchscreen.

That all said, I believe that Android will thrive, but it won’t be the same way as Mac vs PC.  Bill Gurley’s piece (a must-read, in my opinion) begins to get at the nuanced differences, but Android is still a smartphone platform, which puts it head-to-head with the iPhone.   It is very lucrative for manufacturers and carriers to use Android instead of paying a licensing fee (they actually receive ad revenue share for using Android).  But for consumers and users of apps on both devices?  I still think the iPhone will be a better experience.

Two additional interesting factors to consider – if feature phones (i.e. non-smartphones) begin to adopt Android in full-scale, and the continued success of the iPod Touch and iTunes store (remember, you can’t use your iTunes music on a non-Apple device).

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Don’t be evil: Hope for fractured convergence

Google is a remarkable company.  They’ve flipped the business model in numerous ways, because they can.  But what’s happening in the mobile space is becoming a both exciting and troubling.  I love how they give away navigation data, or that they pay manufacturers to use their phone.  Soon they will subsidize your laptop, and maybe even your TV.  It’s giving folks who don’t normally have access to some of this technology a way to buy it.  And in the mobile space, with their new “phone”, they are trying to break the carrier-driven model (which I argue would come anyways once LTE rolls around, as most carriers will then be on the same technical platform).  To Google, it’s all about getting the accessing the world’s information and letting you search it quickly (and of course selling ads).

But soon, a single company could provide your software for your email, browser, OS, TV, and mobile phone.  That’s every single way I consume information, purchase products, and communicate with my friends and family.  A single advertising company.

Right now, they are a fairly friendly privacy company.  But what happens if growth slows, or there’s a change in leadership, and the company is pressured to seek alternate revenue streams.  I’m not sure I’m ready for a single company to own/control access to all this data.  I like convergence but not this much.  The question as a consumer is where do we draw the line?  Google has not made many major missteps with privacy (though last week’s comments were awfully close).  But what if that changes?

The thing is this – there should be a large competitor that’s challenging Google and trying to perform the same convergence, and there isn’t a clear one yet.  Yahoo tried with Connect TV/Digital Home, but they have been struggling.  Microsoft has been trying to push Media Center for awhile, and their mobile platform is confusing at best.

Apple seems the best poised.  Although no one has said it, the new Google device is their answer to the iPod Touch, a tremendous device that can be used for a variety of things, including as a phone (and I’m guessing an HD camera soon).  But Apple tends to attack verticals.  Regardless, I will continue to use my Apple phone, my Windows laptop, and my garbage software on my TV.

I hope some startups and incumbents come up with ways to challenge Google on all fronts.

FYI – I’m long Apple.

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My Dream: Merging LBS, Intent, and Real-Time info with my Calendar

Last night, I was driving home from my sister’s place in the east bay, and after checking Google Maps and seeing all green roads (i.e. no traffic), I decided to take 880/Bay Bridge to get back to SF.  Little did I know it was green because there was no traffic on the bridge (due to the closure).  Had I known beforehand, I would have saved a full hour.  In a moment of tragic comedy (okay, it was not that bad, but good thing I had company), Caltrans decided to alert me after I passed the traffic-filled toll plaza on the San Mateo Bridge that the “Bay Bridge is closed, seek alt route.”  Thanks.

I’m not alone when I say I’m often running late to lunches and social gatherings.  Or oftentimes I get delayed when I need to travel out of the office for a meeting.  The one thing that’s constant in all these situations – my phone.  My mobile device always knows where I am.  My calendar always knows where I should be.  Why can’t these two merge?

Now, I know this is difficult on the iPhone since there are no background apps, making it difficult to keep updating location (though some folks have found workarounds) .  But on Android, this should be relatively easy.  With the proliferation of LBS, my phone knows where I am at all times.  It could tell, for example, that if it’s 8:45 AM and I am more than 15 miles away (or there’s traffic) from my 9 AM calendar appointment location, that I will be late.  It could then send a text/email to the other attendees (or at least the organizer).  Little late to dinner?  Perhaps an integration to OpenTable.  Flight late, meaning I can work later?  An integration to TripIt would be help.  Yes, many folks have admins to help with this, but it really should be automated.  Last night, my phone clearly could have known I was heading home to SF via the Bay Bridge, and alerted me of the closure (the news was all over Twitter, which I unfortunately did not check before leaving).

None of this is ground-breaking, or extremely tough to do.  Google is probably best positioned to do this, but perhaps there’s a startup already hard at work (I hope so).  I’m looking forward to the day when all these services are combined and I can comfortably know I’m being alerted.  In the meantime, good luck to Caltrans on the repairs, and all commuters who usually take the Bay Bridge daily.

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App Store is my favorite part of the iPhone

Apple announced today that over 2 billion apps had been downloaded – quite an amazing feat in little over one year.  Since I started using an iPhone, I realize that my favorite part is the App Store.  The touch screen and slim profile are nice, but it’s really the store that makes me love the device.  Perhaps I’m unique.  As a kid, I used to love getting the Sunday newspaper, especially on a snowy day, when the newspaper was cold and crisp.  After perusing the sports section and the comics, I loved leafing through the CompUSA and Circuit City flyers, especially the clearance and sales sections.  I could never buy enough cheap peripherals or hard drives.

The app store has taken over my previous excitement that I felt about the flyers.  Now I download Waze or buy Snapture rather than a trackball mouse or screen cleanser.  Instead of waiting for Sunday, I can just load up the store on a whim and see if there are any cool apps.  I wish there was more turnover in top apps, but the fact is that it’s far and away better than Blackberry’s App World (and I hear also Android’s and Palm’s, though I have limited first-hand experience).  It has the instant gratification element.  I wish that the iPhone allowed developers more flexibility, but as long as people keep releasing great apps, I will be interested.  And that’s the key – the moment another platform’s app store gets more traction, and their apps become more innovative than the iPhone’s apps in terms of quality and quantity, I will most likely switch over.

UPDATE: As I was loading up my blog to post this, I saw a very relevant argument that Blackberry needs to step up their efforts in the app store.  Worth a read…

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random musings by rohit gupta