Is wearable technology in stalemate?

A few weeks ago I was pleasantly invited to Weareable Tech in Turin, a small Expo on wearbale technology.  Since I had given a presentation at Glocal News in Varese the day before, I thought I’d kill two pigeons with one stone and make a detour to this beautiful North Italian city to see what’s going on in this realm.

As you can read in one of their blog posts, about 19 million wearable devices were sold worldwide in 2014. Over 600,000 in Italy alone. A number that will definitely grow according to the market survey conducted by IDC (International Data Corporation), which provided 112 million pieces purchased by 2018. The interest around this field has been strong for years: “What was still missing was a comprehensive project able to systematize the knowledge and numerous reports that reached us from the network and the users “ Explains Fabio Lalli and just to think and map the evolution of the world that he and Mirko Lalli, together with the team of IQUII, They founded in February 2014, the first Observatory Wearable Technologyin Italy.WearTech_Turin (2)

According to to the data of the Observatory, the predominant fields in Italy are the medical one, with 47% of Italian companies already involved in this business. In second place we have wellness and fitness (35%), followed by gaming, security and home automation, in which six percent of Italian companies decided to invest.

A market definitely in growth but, according to the Observatory, it has three major problems that prevent the real take-off: the price is still too high, usability and effective help that is given to users. “Becauseif at the level of the designthere was improvement and it is in fornt of everyone’s eyes, the problem of offering something concrete to a wider audience of people is still evident. The corners are well covered: think of sports, military and medical markets. But to have a mainstream effect we must extend functionality, trying those that have a high impact in the life of every day and that are easy to use.“


Apart from all this promising data,  while entering the fair I had a feeling of…something being stuck in a rut. The location was quite dull, like it was all prepped up in the previous 30 minutes. This kind of techy conferences need to be visually flashy, appealing, eye-catching….well, it was everything but that. It felt like being in a giant card box. But apart from questioning the décor of the venue, let’s go through the content on display.

The first thing that hit me (I could not believe it), was guess what??? They were displaying Google Glass! Seriously??? Google Glass??? How long has it been that Google Glass is presented as the “next upcoming unmissable thing that’s gonna change our world”? 5-6 years? And still, sadly, it was the most requested device to try on…c’mon

I tried Google Glass over two years ago and at the time it was already obsolete, meaning that all famous communication experts worldwide had tried it. I don’t know what’s going on with Google marketing but the PR work behind this product has not been the best of their success. Anyway, after the Googleglass shock I moved on…

I moved to another company who were showing Google Cardboard a virtual reality platform  for use with a fold-out cardboard mount for a smartphone. It is intended as a low-cost system to encourage interest and development in VR and VR applications. Now, this is actually pretty cool and it costs about 20€ on Amazon. This is something that could work great and become viral, but not marketing efforts are behind it.

I started talking to the “Director,” whatever that meant, to the company displaying the product. Cutting to the chase, he acted like a little arrogant spoilt little boy who just stopped using his pacifier the day before, thinking he was Steve Jobs. These people are 90% the time the reason why potentially interesting start-ups don’t take off. Well done mate.

Google_cardboard_WearTechThe only product that really made an impression to me was Aria Insoles. Having had triple foot surgery and having been an an amateur athlete for most of my life, this product seemed to have hit the spot. Whether you’re an athlete exposed to excessive sweating or a diabetic particularly sensitive to the weather changes, maintaining a costant foot temperature can play against you. Continue reading “Is wearable technology in stalemate?”

How Uber saved me

There has been a lot of talking about Uber lately in Brussels, in Italy, in India, in Spain. Basically everywhere where this mobile-app-based transportation network is spreading with success.

Uber’s success struck the world’s taxi business like a lightening. Uber was founded as “UberCab” by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp in 2009 and the app was released the following June. It raised $49 million in venture funds by 2011. Beginning in 2012, Uber expanded internationally. In 2014, it experimented with carpooling features and made other updates. It continuously raised additional funding, reaching $2.8 billion in total funding by 2015.

Many governments and taxi companies have been protesting Uber, alleging that its use of un-licensed, crowd-sourced drivers is unsafe or illegal.

From the consumer’s point of view, Uber is an incredible service. It costs on average 3 or 4 times less than a cab, it’s incredibly user-friendly and It offers an amazing customer service. On these three points they really crashed the competitions of cabs companies in the Belgian capital. I won’t get into deep about the whole licensing issue (which is a very big issue) and I do understand the protests of taxi drivers who paid tens of thousands of euros to get their license and now they see their investment wasted by the advent of technological progress.

What I want to present is my own experience. Last 15 December I had a very intrusive foot and ankle surgery from which I’m still very slowly recovering. Needless to say, my mobility is still very limited. Before going back to work I was terrified of all the walking I would have to go through with public transports. I needed, and still need a car to pick me up and get me to work. If I had to use a cab for these daily movements I would have to spend roughly 25€ a day (going to work and come back). I would have to call an operator every time I need a cab and, speaking from experience, I wouldn’t know when exactly my cab would arrive to pick me up (so many times I have waited over 40 minutes to have a taxi home). With Uber I pay 8€ a day (4€ going and 4€ coming back), I usually have a car at my doorsteps between 4 and 8 minutes, and I can rate my ride and driver. I have a direct contact with customer service for whatever I need and I’m sure this feedback highly helps the company improve and meet its customers’ demands. I can only think of very technology-adverse customers not choosing this option. There are simply no reasons why anybody would take taxis over Uber apart from reluctance in purchasing online services with a credit card.

Apart from the pecuniary aspect (the big elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about) the service is just outstanding. A number of times, I was clearly ripped off by cabs in Brussels and most times cab drivers could use more manners. Furthermore, as I discussed in an article about cycling in Brussels, I still don’t understand what it is with cab drivers in Brussels hating cyclists, which is an issue I take personally and experience on a daily basis. When I take Uber this has never been an issue.

"Uberlogo" di Kobolen - Opera propria. Con licenza Pubblico dominio tramite Wikimedia Commons -
“Uberlogo” di Kobolen – Wikimedia Commons 

I even once had an unfavourable experience with Uber (he driver was texting while driving) and their customer service took prompt action in trying to understand how they could improve.

Uber is also a deterrent to cars-buying in a city that already suffers from over-use of automobiles and it’s notably the most congested city in Europe and North America.

What is your Uber experience? Do you think Uber and other car-sharing services will help Brussels reduce the amount of cars in the city?

Quag: not only a social search engine

After watching a video interview with Quag inventor Luca Giorcelli, I wanted to know more about this made-in-Italy social network in order to understand the process that led the company from a simple idea to a very innovative start-up

Quag calls itself a “useful social network based on your interests” and lets you work together with those who share your interests, to solve major and minor problems, learn new things and emerge as an expert. Here is an interview I had with Luca.

What is Quag? How did the idea start?

Quag derives from the realisation that there is an idiosyncrasy between who we know and what interests us. The incremental rise (spread) in our social contacts does not reflect the discontinuous way in which our interests evolve, which is characterised by sudden innovations and interests that quickly become obsolete. The idiosyncrasy between who we know and what interests us means that on many occasions it would be more useful to come into contact with strangers with whom we have something in common than with friends.

The dichotomy between “friends” and “interests” creates the void Quag intends to fill, as a social network useful for clearing doubts, learning new things and experiencing the pleasure of sharing our knowledge.

Some people define you a “social search engine”. Do you agree with this definition?

Quag is an interest-based social network; it is not a search engine.  Quag does, however, have an elective affinity with search engines, and more generally with all the environments searches are made in. The reason for this is simple: each time we become interested in something, we are likely to conduct a web search, either in search of information or because we are undecided regarding which product to buy.

This is why we have released Quag-in, an add-on for Chrome and Firefox that comes to your aid when search results are insufficient.

At that time you’d like to ask someone for advice, but you give up before you even start, because your Facebook friends can’t help you and making your way into a forum is hard work. Quag-in simplifies things by allowing you to:

  • ask a question directly from Google, Bing, Amazon, Yahoo!, eBay and istella.
  • receive answers in the form of notifications from the browser or via e-mail.

 Given its functions and the environments it operates in, Quag-in can be defined as a social search and social commerce (or social shopping) solution.


Continue reading “Quag: not only a social search engine”

#iMinds 2013: What if…?

This article was also published on Waltzing Matilda Blog

Last 5 December I have had the pleasure to attend the iMinds conference in Brussels. iMinds is an independent research institute founded by the Flemish government to stimulate ICT innovation. iMinds brings together companies, authorities, and non-profit organizations to join forces on research projects.

The theme of the event was “driving digital innovation in Europe” and the leitmotiv of most presentations during the day was “What if…?” This question is the foundation of every invention, but of course an invention does not always turn into innovation. Because most challenges cannot be solved by a single effort or organization successful and innovative ideas need a structure.

One of the first lessons at this regards was given by Bart Decrem (SVP at The Walt Disney Company) who talked about his personal experiences in the Silicon Valley and his involvement in various projects and start-ups, leading up to the acquisition of his mobile gaming company Tapulous by Disney. Bart provided insight into the Disney strategy on mobile content and talked about the next big things he sees coming in digital technology.

My favourite quote from this part (and from the entire day) was “Successful apps are those that change people’s behaviour”

This is so true. In a market saturated with apps, many of which present very similar functionalities, the only ones deserve the “success” labels are those that managed to stick to people’s mind and actually make an impact on how people simply “do things.” Continue reading “#iMinds 2013: What if…?”

I tried Google Glass…and I liked it. But, do I need it?

Right, here we go. I finally managed to try Google Glass. It was at Google’s offices in Brussels (lovely offices by the way) some time ago. I had a lot of expectations from this product. I had noticed already that a few well-known communications and innovation experts had been already given Google Glass for trial and test but still it was hard for me to understand what this item could actually do. Besides, the hype around them has been really huge especially since the release of the first teaser video in 2012 so, I was very curious.


The presentation was lovely with a group of well-prepared young American (I think all of them were) Google employees who had been touring around Europe and the rest of the world to provide Google Glass demos.

Google Glass is interesting for specific uses, but you’re going to struggle to find a use for them all the time. It didn’t seem like they’re going to replace looking at your smartphone any time soon.

I’m not a particular fan of wearable computing and I admit I’m not a big fan of people using Siri or talking on the phones directly through their headphones…Brrrrrr They look to me like they have watched too many Wall Street-based movies and they actually look ridiculous. Anyway…

The device lent to me was both light and comfortable possibly also because I’m used to wear glasses . You can wear Google Glass without lenses, so you just have the frame, although Google is planning to make them adaptable for actual prescription lenses. The frame is made of titanium, which you can bend to fit your face without breaking.

Now, let’s talk frankly. When you wear them, you don’t look that cool. Although the Swedish designer did a great job making such device sort of conceivable, you still look a like Vegeta from Dragonball Z who is now claiming that he used to wear Google Glass before it was cool. See picture below in case you were born out of the Dragonball Z generation.


You turn Google Glass on by moving your head up, or tapping the side of the frame. This activates a tiny screen showing the time, and the phrase “OK Glass” floating about 10 centimetres in the upper right part. By saying “OK Glass” you get a menu with a range of options such as “Google…(something)”, “take a picture”, record a video”, “get directions to … “, “send a message to … “, “call somebody”, “hang out with … ” Regardless what I read in other reviews, I actually found it pretty accurate when I asked for instance to get “directions to the Atonium” or to “Google my blog” or to “take a picture.”
The presenter explained that in some cases, it might be good to put up an American accent but that sound recognition is constantly being assessed and improved.

A problem with the voice command is that obviously you are not inaudible. Think about other people’s reactions when hearing a man just shouting things out loud. Can you imagine being on the bus and say “OK Glass, give me directions to the nearest sushi shop…” or something like it, or worse, witnessing something unusual on the streets and start shouting “PHOTO, PHOTO, PHOTO!!!!!” or “RECORD A VIDEO, RECORD A VIDEO!!!!” Let’s not forget that “normal people” don’t do so.

There is a way around this of course. You don’t really need to say: “OK Glass, take a picture”. You can just press a button on the top of the sidepiece, or hold it down for video. But then, why wouldn’t you do it with your smartphone? This brings up the notorious privacy issue since there’s no warning to anyone around you that you’re taking photos or videos. Still, there are plenty of similar conceivable devices already available on the market so I don’t see why this very product would create a different case study.

One of the key strengths of this product is that it shows a considerable effort by Google to impose themselves as innovators. In fact, I see how some niche markets could make good use of Glass like in the medical sphere, in technological research or even (why not?) in sports refereeing.

On the other hand, regular people don’t need to walk around needing to Google things. We use our smartphones for that.

European Commission seeks “Capital of Innovation”

From a press release of the European Commission

The European Commission has yesterday started the search for the first European Capital of Innovation, or iCapital. The prize will reward the city which is building the best “innovation ecosystem”, connecting citizens, public organisations, academia, and business. Given that 68% of the EU population now lives in urban areas, it is these areas that will contribute the most to making Europe more innovative. Cities foster innovation in their own provision of services, but the key is to create the right environment for others to innovate and to allow the public and private spheres to connect. An independent panel of experts will select the winner in spring 2014, with the city chosen receiving €500000 towards scaling up its efforts. The deadline for applications is 3 December 2013.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said: “Cities are the engines of the European economy. Seven out of 10 Europeans live in an urban area, and these regions generate two thirds of EU GDP. We want to encourage cities to raise their game when it comes to innovation, and create a network of cities which can share their best ideas for the future.” Continue reading “European Commission seeks “Capital of Innovation””