About Tom Foremski

Tom Foremski

Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.

Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.

Latest Posts by Tom Foremski

The Growth & Trend of Smartphone Sensors

April 17, 2015 by  


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Intel Free Press reports on moves to harness smartphone sensors to help apps better personalize their services based on context…

By Intel Free Press

The 2013 film “Her” featured an operating system that could personalize itself to the user to the extent where the intelligence appeared anything but artificial. By taking cues from user data and its environment, the OS was able to respond to the user’s needs, even on an emotional level. While “Her” was science fiction, progress in the area of contextual computing is bringing such intelligent systems one step closer to science fact.

From GPS sensors to accelerometers to gyroscopes, smartphones already have been capturing and utilizing sensor data to enrich a user’s experience. Services such as Google Now combine user data with location to provide information on nearby attractions and travel times for calendar appointments, but much more can be done with smarter sensors.

For example, an ambient audio sensor along with calendar and location data could give a mobile device the contextual awareness to determine whether it can alert you with either an audible cue or a subtle vibration instead if you are in a meeting or movie theater.

Sensor hubs 

In 2012, Intel introduced a sensor hub, a low-power hardware solution dedicated to gathering data from multiple sensors. Other industry players recognized the value of a dedicated sensor hub and also developed solutions. In 2013, Apple integrated a sensor data-collecting M7 chip into the iPhone 5S and Qualcomm repurposed itsHexagon DSP to handle sensor data.

Intel has since incorporated sensor hubs into mobile-focused Atom chips such as Merrifield, Moorefield, and, most recently, Cherry Trail.

“The demand for the sensor hub is the awakening of contextual sensing where always-on sensing is required without [the smartphone] being engaged,” says Claire Jackoski, sensor planner within the client components group at Intel.

Analytics firm IHS predicted 658.4 million sensor hubs shipped in 2014 and forecasts shipments to reach 1.3 billion units by 2017.

But what good is sensor hardware without the software to know what to do with it? To make sense of a collection a sensor data, developers need to put it into context.

Sensors that know what you’re doing

“Humans are very contextual by nature,” says Lana Nachman, principal engineer for User Experience Research, who runs the Anticipatory Computing Lab at Intel. “It’s very hard to come into somebody’s world without understanding the context.”

To this end, Nachman believes for contextual sensing technology to be adopted by users, the technology has to be able to learn proper behavior from users. Nachman likens this to a child’s learning. As they make mistakes, “you have to teach them and then over time…you can see [them] evolve.”

To enable a device to learn the proper behavior of the individual user, it must be taught and trained, and it should also have the contextual awareness to do so. Intel is providing developers the tools to accomplish this with a contextual sensing software development kit (SDK) and underlying hardware.

Ned Hayes, product manager for the context sensing SDK and context service at Intel, outlines that context also needs to pass between devices to understand which device is active, such as switching from laptop to smartphone, as well as how it is being used, allowing better interpretation and prediction of activities. Software analyzes and extrapolates data coming from hardware – think of it as big data for small devices – and developers can programmatically present actions or outputs based on the intersection and understanding of various sensor data.

“If a developer wants to know everything that a user is doing, [they] need to know the user’s context and create a narrative of the user’s day,” says Hayes. “Our system allows developers to have a holistic view of this user’s behavior.”

Intel has taken numerous algorithms believed to be helpful for understanding a user’s behavior and created on-device rules and context engines that operate within the sensor hub.

“Our intention is to make developers more productive and allow them to write an application that can run anywhere,” explains Hayes.

Contextual sensor hubs 

Specialized always-on sensing chips are more efficient at their tasks than a general CPU, leading to overall power savings and decreased overhead for other systems to perform at greater capacity. But taking advantage of dedicated sensor hubs requires tweaks in software.

“All too often, these algorithms are not optimized to run in the sensor hub,” says Hayes. “So if you are trying to do a pedometer, many of the systems out there haven’t actually done the work to run it in the sensor hub as a separate call, so it is actually running in the CPU which runs down the battery and which means that depending on your connectivity and battery life, your phone life might not be as long, and the responsiveness might not be as good.”

All is not lost should a device not have a sensor hub; a developer using the context sensing SDK can gracefully execute the code within the CPU. This makes a developer’s work a bit easier as the context engine will run the appropriate code based on the hardware environment.

The Atom-powered Asus ZenFone 2 is one of the first mobile devicesto include the contextual sensor hub and associated software allowing it to respond to gestures using ZenMotion. Speaktoit, a “personal assistant” for smartphones and tablets, uses the context sensing SDK to augment its aid to go beyond the stock assistant features of Apple Siri, Google Now and Microsoft Cortana by allowing for customized commands, remembering places and services, and offering functions matching a user’s location and schedule.

With the latest sensors now listening and learning where we are, what we are doing, and guessing what our next action or activity will be, it might not be too much longer before we have intelligent conversations with our smart devices.

Gadget Design Trends are a’ Changin’!

March 19, 2015 by  


Intel Free Press began to notice that square designs are becoming too square and the world is moving to rounded shapes for its wearables and other gizmos… (Why can’t we have triangular?)

Take a casual survey of personal technology and electronics on the market today and you will notice the majority of them are rectangular in shape. But there is a rising trend, or perhaps a return, to more rounded design.

The smartwatch is the latest area of debate of round versus square. The circular screen of the Motorola Moto 360 Android Wear watch makes it stand out among competitors with more traditional, rectangular screens, such as the Samsung Gear, Pebble and even the upcoming Apple Watch. Just revealed at the 2015 Mobile World Congress (MWC), the LG Watch Urbane and Huawei Watch smartwatches both also have perfectly round displays.

Why Round?

Motorola design chief Jim Wicks cites “time” as the biggest inspiration behind the round design of the Moto 360, which recently won the award for best wearable at MWC.

“Eighty-five percent of the watches sold in the world are round, and there’s a reason for that – its comfort and people are used to it,” Wicks adds. “When you go back in civilization, time was always represented with a circle, whether it was the sundial or pocket watch.”


Apple, a company known for its focus on design, is sticking to a rectangular design for its Apple Watch. In an interview with theNew Yorker, Apple design lead Jony Ive explained why the Apple Watch has a rectangular screen: “When a huge part of the function is lists”—of names, or appointments—”a circle doesn’t make any sense,” Ive said. Even then, the Apple Watch features a circular dial and a rounded case with no abrupt edges.

Wicks feels differently, saying that the round shape actually maximizes screen area for what’s most comfortable when worn on the wrist. “If you took the same diagonal,” Wicks said, gesturing at the Moto 360’s round display, “and made a square device, you’d have a decent amount of surface area, but the corners of the material would be poking into your wrist bones. So with a round display, you get the maximum surface area while maintaining a very comfortable fit.”

A few informal polls suggest that users prefer round watch faces, but it remains to be seen which design approach will ultimately win customer favor. There’s considerable research that suggests that humans innately prefer rounded objects – and the consumer electronics industry seems to be leaning towards making products with that in mind.

A 2006 study conducted by Harvard Medical School wrote: “Our findings indicate that humans like sharp-angled objects significantly less than they like objects with a curved contour, and that this bias can stem from an increased sense of threat and danger conveyed by these sharp visual elements.”

Another study from 2013 from the University of Toronto builds on empirical research going back almost 100 years to the 1920s showing a preference for curved over angular designs in our architectural environments.

Now, besides just smart watches, curvier designs are a rising trend in consumer electronics.


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Although Apple is going rectangular with its watch, the companyrevealed in 2013 a new Mac Pro that is completely cylindrical in design. But Apple wasn’t the first to experiment with a rounded PC; announced in 2004, First International Computer (FIC) launched the Piston in 2005, a small-form-factor (SFF) PC. Similar to the Mac Pro, the Piston used a unique form of air flow and venting to cool the components via the cylindrical chassis.

One possible reason why more computers haven’t used round designs is because the form factor is not conducive to third-partycomponents that are frequently flat and rectangular.


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For decades, thermostats were round, mainly driven by Honeywell’s design dating back to 1953. The T-86, otherwise known as “The Round” was designed by Henry Dreyfuss. Earlier thermostats typically had mercury thermometers and some sort of a clock mechanism. In the 1970s and ’80s, thermostat designs reverted back to a rectangular format and started including electronic and digital interfaces.

In 2011, Nest Labs, now owned by Google, re-introduced the round thermostat design to the market with its innovative “learning thermostat.” In August 2014, Honeywell too re-introduced its version of the round thermostat known as the Lyric.


While rectangular screens dictate much of the form of smartphones, Korean companies LG and Samsung are experimenting with curved smartphone displays. The LG G Flex 2curves the device so the screen cradles the user’s face like an old-fashioned phone would. The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge has curves that bring the screen edges right into the palm of the user’s hand.

Making its debut at MWC is a perfectly round smartphone called the Runcible, from the startup Monohm, which aims to be a lifestyle piece.

Televisions and Monitors

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Ironically, early television sets made with cathode ray tubes (CRTs) pushed a circular image due to the nature of the designs. As display technology advanced to LCDs, LEDs, DLP and other technology, displays not only became flatter, they also became rectangular. Now we are coming full circle with the most cutting-edge high-definition TV designs exhibiting a gentle curve in toward the viewer.

Wearables of the Future

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The Intel Curie, a tiny system-on-a-chip (SoC) is placed on a circuit board that’s perfectly round and small enough to fit on a jacket button. Curie is intended for wearable technologies and integrates in the Quark SE SoC a motion sensor and Bluetooth radio that runs off a coin-sized battery.

Rounding Out the Tech

Why then, with so much research showing that people prefer round objects, are the vast majority of devices today are still rectangular?

Oshin Vartanian, adjunct assistant professor of the department of psychology at the University of Toronto Scarborough, says the leading explanation involves the economics of manufacture. “In other words, we see more sharp than round objects because the former are less expensive to manufacture and mass produce. Whether this is really true remains to be determined empirically, although it is the reason frequently given by designers and manufacturers.”

Vartanian, who led research in finding preference for curvilinear architecture, cautioned that the preference for rounded objects isn’t observed universally. “In our own studies we always find a significant minority that prefers sharp, angular objects. There could be lots of reasons for these individual differences, based on past experiences, formal training and schooling, cultural background and the like. Nevertheless, despite these variations, most people seem to exhibit a preference for curvilinear design.”

Will technology design follow what the researchers have found? Time, and perhaps the round smart watches, will tell.

Taking a Look at Unusual Consumer Tech Products Over 6 Years

January 16, 2015 by  


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Intel Free Press takes a look at some of the oddest tech from the past six years at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas – by Intel Free Press.

CES 2015: Racing into Silence

At this year’s CES people could enter the “shell of silence,” Silentium’s Comfort-Shell (above). “It basically looks like a giant, white version of those spiky shells that Lakitu throws in the original Mario,” wrote Jacob Kastrenakes on The Verge. Despite its odd looks, any way to deaden the noise that is characteristic of CES is a blessing.


CES had plenty of smartphones, the Tonino Lamborghini 88 Tauri phone definitely drew attention for its race car inspired design and its price tag. Revving in at $6000 and in scarce supply, its design turned a few heads but left others scratching theirs.

“With a stitched leather finish that’s the real deal and gold-plated stainless steel surrounding this phone, you’re bound to stand out in the crowd if you’re crazy enough to even want to pay $6,000 for pure stupidity,” said The Verge’s Tom Warren.

CES 2014: Helping the body?

Some design and product features found in some of the CES 2014 health tech products were questionable.

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A bit creepy looking the Sen.se Mother has “Cookies” to hand out as it watches and monitors its family. This Russian Doll-looking devices captures temperature and motion data from attachable sensors called Cookies.


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And as you wander the house being watched by the Sen.se Mother, you might be wearing a laser helmet by iGrow which claims to thicken thinning areas of the scalp as well as strengthen hair follicles.

“This is a helmet with lasers inside? It makes your hair grow? There aren’t enough sarcastic question marks in the world to express our skepticism on this one,” wrote Rachel Feltman on (Quartz).

Foreo ISSA brush

To round out the “healthy” tech, there is the Foreo Issa toothbrush. The “unique” design of this toothbrush raised many eyebrows. AsGizmodo’s Mario Aguilar put it “It vibrates like your Sonicare, and comes in woozy pastel colors. Let’s not kid ourselves: this is a sex toy disguised as a dental revolution.”

CES 2013: Stick a Fork in High-Tech Health

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CES is a proven launch pad for health and fitness gadgets, but sometimes those gizmos go a step beyond useful such as the HAPIfork, which vibrated if you ate too fast, and did rake in someawards.

“This was the most popular entry in the 2012 Was A Stupid Year category,” said John Mitchell, in ReadWrite.

“Little matter that it looks like a toy, needs connecting with a USB cable and wouldn’t be acceptable in any decent restaurant…” said Matt Warman in The Telegraph.

11738797235 a22d84e47d zThere were also a few products at CES 2013 that were in the crapper — literally — such as the iPotty, which coupled a training potty for kids with a tablet holder.

“The iPotty is a children’s potty with a built-in iPad activity stand…Make sure you teach your toddler what the real purpose of an iPad is at an early age,” said TechHive.

CES 2012: Smart Watch in the Bag?

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The “Watch your Bag” was a watch, a bag and a color light show as well.

“Some products are hard to sum up in a sentence. And then there’s ‘Watch Your Bag,’ the alarm clock that comes with a bag, filled with a rainbow of morphing colors.’ What it can’t tell you, however, is why anyone might find such a proposition appealing,” said Brian Heater on Engadget.

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The march of accessories also continued in 2012 with one of the biggest and loudest of all: the iNuke Boom speaker for the iPhone. The behemoth boasted 10,000 watts, weighed 700 pounds, cost a mere $30,000 and dwarfed the iPhone docked atop it.

“Is the iNuke Boom ridiculous? Absolutely. But it’s also fun and completely cognizant of its audacity, which is something we commend even if we don’t feel comfortable dropping fat stacks of cash on a monstrous beast,” said Buster Heine in Cult of Mac.

CES 2011: Bling for Your Smartphone (or Tablet)

From glitzy faux gems to glitter and other snazzy options, there was no shortage of bling for iPhone and iPads.

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“Seriously, folks, how many cases do you actually need? From shiny be-dazzled iPhone cases to every bizarre iPad stand/case/kiosk thing, the one thing that CES had in plenty was cases. Look, we appreciate a well-designed case as much as anyone, but do we really need four dozen of each type? Don’t answer that — it was a rhetorical question. Color us sick of iPhone and iPad cases, with only a few notable exceptions,” said Rob LeFebvre in 148Apps.

“The custom-made crystal case (in the Lux Mobile booth)… costs a whopping $3,000 — just about six times the value of the iPad it’s actually supposed to hold,” said Mike Schramm in TUAW.

CES 2010: Wearables in Search of a Use Case

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In 2010, CES offered up such forward-looking innovations asAndroid-based “smart” microwaves and “unbreakable” phones. And the march of wearables continued with products such as the Phubby, an elastic, smartphone-carrying wristband.

“Now this one takes the cake… an ugly wristband with a pocket that you can slide your iPhone into. It’s basically a fanny pack for a new generation,” said Paul Cash on Yahoo.

“We have to ask: what’s so wrong about carrying your phone in your pocket?” said the Huffington Post.

CES 2009: Hands-Free Tech

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Back in 2009, the Cell Mate promised to provide a wearable, and truly “hands-free” option for holding your smartphone — no Bluetooth connection required. Coverage at the time was less than positive.

“It’s possibly the single most embarrassing-looking contraption we’ve seen in years,” said Evan Shamoon in the Huffington Post.

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Not to be outdone, the iCap offered a new way to listen to music, hands-free. With a 1GB MP3 player and built-in speakers, you (and those around you) could hear it all . . . hands-free.

“Hear that kids? If you use any product other than the ridiculous looking iCap, you’re practically playing Russian Roulette with Dr. Death,” said Darren Murph in Engadget.

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Images: Cell-Mate, Gesten Technologies, South Mill Design, TUAW, Can You Imagine, Behringer, Hapi.com, CTA Digital, Android Police, recombu, Sen.se, iGrow Laser, Foreo.

CES 2015 & Fashion Sense: Wearables Need to be Invisibles

January 8, 2015 by  


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The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is featuring a lot of “wearables” reports Techcrunch (above) (which all seem to be smart watches).

Foremski’s Take: All the fuss over Apple Watch will certainly help sell a lot of watches – regular and smart. I recently started wearing a normal watch.

I like the watch, not because I can look up the time but I like the way it looks. And that’s a decision based on personal style. I might decide in a few months to stop wearing it. A decision that has nothing to do with the performance of the watch.

And that’s why “wearables” need to become separated from the whims of personal style and fashion and disappear into the fabric of our lives. If our personal technologies become invisible no longer become objects of fashion — they can last longer than a season, and manufacturers can worry about the tech and not about becoming unfashionable.

Also, if our personal technologies become invisible they longer create the same social problems with others, such as those encountered by Google Glass wearers.

But “invisibles” won’t come from a company such as Apple. Apple is very much a fashion brand, it makes its products distinctive and very visible. Its purchase of the Beats headphone brand underlines its fashion focus and it is how it can charge a premium. Becoming invisible would be impossible for Apple.

Invisible personal technologies will likely come from companies such as Google, which is interested in selling web services and not in selling hardware.

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My tongue-in-cheek proposal for a new type of wearable is an “unmentionable.” The underwear has several regions that silently buzz notifications from your smart phone. You’ll know if you have a message from your boss or your lover depending on if it’s your back side or front side that buzzes.



Growth of Drones Will Soon See Blue Skies Full of Them…

December 22, 2014 by  



The word “drone” often conjures up images of autonomous, militarized technology. But in the context of small aircraft with multiple rotors that you often see carrying cameras, drones are more accurately associated with hobbyist sport and commercial applications.

They’ve begun attracting mainstream attention as drone makers such as Parrot introduced affordable models putting them in the hands of a broader range of buyers.

The giant Las Vegas International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has for the first time, created a dedicated  Unmanned Systems Marketplace, where over a dozen companies will be grouped together to show off their latest flying machines.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, sales of consumer drones are predicted to reach 400,000 units and $130 million in revenue in 2015, and surpass $1 billion in annual sales within the next five years.

Drones’ affordability and their extraordinary flying agility is directly related to Moore’s Law and lower costs for powerful chips. Drones are complex systems requiring precise control of multiple rotors and positioning in three dimensions.

Sensors feed data to a microprocessor, which decides on the rate of spin for the individual rotors, clockwise and counterclockwise…and that’s just to hover.

A pilot’s command to pitch, roll or yaw is received, calculated and translated to motor response in thousands of a second. Thanks to the miniaturization of key components as a result of smart phones and laptops, low-power CPUs, RAM, flash, sensors and I/O can be crammed into compact spaces and sold affordably.

As more powerful microprocessors become available,future consumer and military drones will have many new capabilities.

The space is evolving rapidly. Modern drone “brains” add orientation control, GPS-based points of interest, failsafe mechanisms, cruise and cameras to the list of features siphoning compute cycles.

Large drones designed for the defense industry, such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk,  already have massive computer power “equivalent to an airborne super computer.” They’re immensely expensive (think hundreds of millions of dollars).

Manufacturers of cost-sensitive drones will use more affordable systems on a chip.

“It’s really not too different from the benefits of advanced computing on a mobile device,” says Brandon Basso, senior research and development engineer at 3D Robotics.

“Specific to drones, there are a couple of application domains that make sense for advanced computing. The first is computer vision—being able to sense the environment more effectively. Optimization and routing are also math-intensive problems.”

3D Robotics sells a sub-$1,000 quad-copter able to track and follow GPS-enabled devices running Android. Its 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4 powered controller can keep the drone’s camera pointed at you. Or, using DroidPlanner 2 software, it’ll follow a flight plan of your creation and train its GoPro on a specific region of interest.

The company recently demonstrated a version of its Third-Person View (3PV) with Follow Me technology, which employs optical tracking of a subject, rather than following a GPS signal. According to Basso, the task is as much as 100 times more compute-intensive.

3D Robotics’ engineers needed to beef up their controller and turned to Intel’s postage stamp-sized Edison module, plus a dual-core 500 MHz Atom SoC with 1GB of LPDDR3 RAM, 4GB of flash memory, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

“The Edison hardware is better suited for vision tracking because of its high clock rates and more RAM,” says Basso. “Plus, it integrates well with open-source libraries for vision processing.”

With smarter chips, the next big thing in drone technology will likely be affordable radio and laser remote sensing subsystems to address routing — flying from one point to another in the presence of obstacles or adverse environmental conditions.

“One of the enabling technologies that got drones to where they are today is cheap MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) sensors—accelerometers and gyroscopes,” says Basso. “That was wave one. The next wave of lidars and radars, which used to cost thousands of dollars on their own, are coming down in price.”

Also, expect significant advancements to the cameras carried by drones. Today the emphasis is on higher resolutions and stable picture quality. But hyperspectral imaging, which involves the collection of information across the full electromagnetic spectrum (and not just the narrow band that humans see), promises a greater level of information than current systems.

3D Robotics drones are often used in surveying farms and with a full spectrum camera system they’ll be able to collect better data on crops and make farming more efficient, using less water and pesticides.

A sensors improve, new business applications will materialize. Delivery is one example. Amazon always wants to serve customers more quickly at lower cost, and is experimenting with its Prime Air drone delivery concept.

As the technology continues to improve and becomes less expensive, it is likely that multi-rotor drones will significantly change Amazon’s business.

A future world with skies swarming with buzzing drones will require some form of air traffic control. Regulations will likely mandate that drones will require permission to take-off and land just as aircraft do today. It’ll have to be a highly reliable and automated system and it’ll need a lot of computer power.

Until that happens, today’s hobbyist flight controllers benefit from return-to-home functions. Should a craft fly out of radio range, an autopilot will guide it back towards its point of takeoff.

Today’s hobbyist drones are packed with advanced technologies — not bad for something that’s priced in the hundreds of dollars.

Photo by Intel Free Press…


Paperless Restrooms Send User Generated Alerts

December 6, 2014 by  



Flush with the success of a pilot program at its Silicon Valley HQ, Intel is rolling out digital restrooms across 22 campuses globally. From overflowing toilets to empty towel dispensers to faulty faucet motion sensors, Intel employees can now swipe their washroom maintenance requests using smartphones.

Near field communications (NFC) chips  installed in the restrooms of Intel’s Robert Noyce Building at the beginning of 2014let employees anonymously report maintenance needs with a tap of their mobile phone. Those without NFC-enabled smartphones have the option to scan a QR code.

Based on positive feedback from the Silicon Valley pilot, Intel is re-plumbing restrooms in all of its global offices to include NFC and QR codes. In order to ensure a clean flowing process, signage is being translated into eight different languages and the mobile application is being updated to have the most commonly reported restroom issues being the most accessible within the app.

Each of the restroom signs is custom-coded for that particular restroom so that when the mobile application is triggered, it is for that restroom. 2,215 signs with NFC/QR codes will be hung worldwide.

Streamlining the service request process addressed a big challenge for facility maintenance staff, according to Joe Maestas, a former project manager for Intel Corporate Services involved in the initial pilot program.

“One of the things that everybody loves to complain about is bathrooms,” he said. “But people never report issues.”

That general lack of movement prompted Maestas and his team to plunge into finding a way to unclog the restroom maintenance request process and get things flowing down the right pipe.

30-second window…

According to Suzy Hart Langdell a communications specialist in the projects and solutions team of Intel’s Technology Manufacturing Group, there are over 20,000 restroom service requests per year worldwide.

“There is [generally] a 15- to 30-second time period from when a person sees something to when they will report it — if you make it really easy,” said Maestas. “Outside that 30-second window, the opportunity is lost.”

Previously, employees could submit service requests via an 11-step process on the company intranet or call them in, neither of which had much sense of urgency. The restroom signs with NFC chips and QR codes keep opportunities to report issues from going down the drain by making the process easy — now three clicks or fewer — and immediate.

Gender bias…

Initially, usage has been divided along gender lines with approximately eight in 10 requests coming from men’s restrooms. According to IT in the Toilet, a study conducted by marketing firm 11Mark, smartphone use in the bathroom doesn’t differ much for men (74 percent) and women (76 percent), but men are more likely to bring their smartphone: 30 percent claimed they never go to the bathroom without their phone, compared with 20 percent of women.

“I know I don’t bring my phone into the restroom,” said Michelle Creed, a project manager on the program. “Maybe the guys keep it in their pockets or have it on their belt. So, that could be the difference, the mobile phone actually going with the person.”

In order to attract restroom visitors to use the new system and ensuring that bathroom “surfaces” are clean, Intel corporate services teased a giveaway of a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 that Intel employees could enter to win using the new smartphone restroom app.

The janitorial staff in charge of clean restrooms noticed an increase in bathroom “issues” as people tried to enter via reporting a problem in the restroom. Even though the link to enter the giveaway did not require an “issue” being entered.

Regardless of where the requests come from, there is some anecdotal evidence that the new smartphone process has shortened response time to maintenance requests. Maestas cites the example of an empty soap dispenser that was refilled before the person who submitted the request had even left the restroom.

“From a customer perspective, that is what you want — real-time results,” he said.

Photo by Intel Free Press.

Silicon Valley’s Liquid Amorality – Water Will Find Its Way

November 27, 2014 by  



The Facebook campus sits next to colorful algae on salt flats along San Francisco Bay.

Ten years ago in mid 2004 I left the Financial Times and started publishing Silicon Valley Watcher. Silicon Valley was starting to wake from a long downturn from the dotcom deflation and Google’s August IPO was a good sign after several years of bad news.

The culture of Silicon Valley was different then. The software engineering community was more radical than today, and far more socially conscious. The open source software movement was very strong among engineers and there was overall an anti-commercial attitude and a respect for protecting an open commons.

It shared much in spirit with the radical English groups from the mid-seventeeth century such as The Diggers, and also with the The Diggers of the 1960s in San Francisco, who ran free stores and served free food from their kitchens.

The business bible of 2004 was The Cluetrain Manifesto and it came directly from that culture. Here’s an excerpt:

…People of Earth

The sky is open to the stars. Clouds roll over us night and day. Oceans rise and fall. Whatever you may have heard, this is our world, our place to be. Whatever you’ve been told, our flags fly free. Our heart goes on forever. People of Earth, remember.

Google was a rebel…

Google was very much a part of this radical culture. Its IPO was shocking at the time because it tried to stop the Wall Street bankers and their insiders from profiting from the one-day flips on opening day. Its “Dutch” auction was designed to give small investors the same access to shares as anyone else.

Its passion towards social responsibility was front and center, its ”Letter from the Founders” was the first thing you saw in its IPO filing.

Google was a mystery black box…

I was working at the Financial Times when the much anticipated IPO documents were filed with the SEC. Until then, Google was a black box — no one knew how much money it was making. We raced back from lunch to comb through the hundreds of pages of financial statements.

The numbers were fascinating and told an amazing story of how immensely profitable “search” had become. But it was the “Letter from the Founders” that stood out. It was extraordinary, I had never seen anything like it in any IPO filings.

Here was Larry Page and Sergey Brin telling future shareholders that making money was not the prime goal, that building a business that improved the world was their motivation. The founders explained how a dual-share structure, that gave them ten-times the voting rights, was essential to its mission.

Here’s an extract:

Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains….

We aspire to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place. . . We are in the process of establishing the Google Foundation. We intend to contribute significant resources to the foundation, including employee time and approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form.

We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.

Corporate social responsibility

Google became an important thought leader in the burgeoning social corporate responsibility movement, which was kick-started earlier by Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff.

Corporate Social Responsibility was important because it was important to the software engineering community. It was essential in recruiting the best engineers. A company bus and a company lunch didn’t cut it with that generation of coders.

Today’s Silicon Valley culture is dominated by a peculiar amorality, a narcissism that claims Ayn Rand for its aspirations, even though few have read her books or even their dust jackets.

It’s as if everyone has forgotten, “What the right thing to do is.” And Google has worked hard to play down its “Don’t be evil” rule.

The culture of Silicon Valley today sits somewhere on the autistic spectrum and exhibits the elemental qualities of water.  Water will always find its way, it will find the unseen cracks, and find ways through obstacles and even tear them down, as a tiny leak can bring down a mighty dam.

Water is an amazing disruptor — materializing from thin air, it can torrent and push aside mountains, or it can patiently work at opening up tiny cracks in solid stone, freezing and expanding, thawing and flowing.

Water doesn’t need ethics or morality it is a force of nature. It will always find its right level. It’s an appropriate metaphor for Silicon Valley’s culture of amorality. For example,  the “Double Irish Dutch sandwich” tax accounting scheme used by (Bermuda based) Google, Apple, and others, to reduce corporate taxes in Europe and the US.

These loopholes in tax laws require extraordinary measures by large teams of accountants and lawyers to exploit, but like water finding its way through obstacles, if the holes are there water will flow through. Or as Eric Schmidt, Google’s Chairman told angry British politicians last year: plug the holes if you want more tax revenues.

This culture of amorality extends to lobbying in Washington where Silicon Valley companies don’t see a problem in giving money to re-elect politicians working against measures to control climate change, or restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.

And the amorality of winning at all costs even when you are winning.

Look at the secret conspiracy by  Silicon Valley’s most successful and richest companies, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Adobe, against their own workers, to hold down their salaries and restrict their career moves; Zynga’s admission of nasty revenue scams; Uber’s uber-sleazy growth strategy; Twitter’s demands for tax relief simply for locating its HQ in San Francisco’s poorest neighborhood – an economic burden for the city.

Silicon Valley companies have discovered the simple fact you can have your cake and eat it because there’s always more cake. You can be shitty and behave despicably and never have to eat humble pie because there will always be more cake.

And like water, this culture of amorality doesn’t set out to be evil, but it also doesn’t set out to do good — it sets out to see what it can get away with, what holes it can find to win and keep winning.

Ten years ago Silicon Valley aspired to be more than this.

Wearable Tech, Stylish or Not, May Not Get Through Airport Security

November 16, 2014 by  


Thinking of gliding through airport security wearing your new FitBit, Android Wear watch or soon, your Apple Watch? Think again.

New wearable technology in the form of smart watches, activity trackers and jewelry with embedded tech may cause confusion for security screeners.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have yet to write official policies around security, safety and usage of wearable technology.

The TSA says that over 1.75 million people pass through its security checkpoints every day.

“There are millions of things that people can bring through a checkpoint so it’s hard to give a policy or directive on one piece whether it’s a phone or other type of jewelry, so it’s in the best interests of the passenger to get items screened or put through an X-ray machine just to verify that they do not alarm,” said Ross Feinstein, spokesperson for the TSA.

“Our goal here is to ensure that there are no prohibited items on the passenger or in their luggage when they get access to the airport.”


Under current rules, the FAA classifies wearable technology as a Personal Electronic Device (PED), defined as any piece of lightweight, electrically powered equipment capable of communications, data processing and/or utility. Examples are: lightweight electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones and electronic toys.

The FAA doesn’t distinguish between a PED and wearable tech products such as a smart watch or a light-up skirt. “If the device performs PED functions, then PED rules apply,” said an FAA spokesperson.

It is not clear how much attention companies working on wearable technology are paying to security situations such as at airports, but the issue is bound to become more prevalent as more devices come onto the market. Because there’s no specific policy in place, experiences – and opinions of protocol – during travel may vary.

Tim Pettitt, product line manager in Intel’s New Devices Group who helped design the MICA wearable (below), says that while Intel and Opening Ceremony follow the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) guidelines on capabilities needed, they haven’t worked directly with the TSA or FAA.


Bluetooth wearables…

Pettitt says whether or not your wearable has a cellular modem may determine what actions you need to take when going through security or using it on an airplane.

“In most cases, you can leave your wrist-worn wearable on through security and won’t need to power it off in flight,” says Pettitt. “Most airlines are not concerned about Bluetooth and will explicitly tell you to shut down your Bluetooth device if required. However, if you have a device, like MICA, which has a cellular radio, you need to put it into airplane mode just like you would a phone.”

A recent travel experience while wearing a Samsung Galaxy Gear Live Android Wear was in line with Pettitt’s statement. For security checkpoints that allowed jewelry and other accessories to remain on the person, the smart watch was treated no differently – though it’s unclear if security personnel recognized that it was an electronic device.


Fashion wearables such as the MICA may further blur the lines of what’s considered jewelry and a PED. While removing a bracelet or necklace may just be a minor inconvenience, tech-laced clothing with integrated sensors could pose logistical problems for passengers asked to place all electronic items in the plastic bins.

Onboard aircraft, passengers are now always instructed to switch all personal electronic devices into airplane mode, and most wearable devices today have such on/off capabilities for radios.

“For travel purposes, we did make it possible to turn off the wireless capabilities directly from the touch-screen interface of the new [Basis] Peak,” said Jef Holove, former CEO of Basis and now general manager in Intel’s New Devices Group. Basis, a maker of biometric smart watches, was recently acquired by Intel.


Intel Free Press writers Michael Sheehan and Marcus Yam show their smart watches at IDF 2014.

While there’s yet to be a formal policy in place, agency representatives and wearable makers recommend following a number of guidelines when traveling with wearables.

Tips for Travelers with Wearables

Consolidate – Feinstein recommends consolidating all of your electronic gadgets into your carry-on, handbag, purse or briefcase and passing your carry-on through the X-ray screening device.

Leave it at home – If you don’t absolutely need your expensive wearable, it’s best to leave it at home.

- Fully charge your wearable – Condé Nast Traveler reported the TSA wants travelers to validate that your cell phone is real by powering it on. When asked about this new policy, Feinstein said it was for certain airports outside the United States for flights coming to the United States and that it was not a policy implemented in domestic airports. It’s often difficult to find free plugs and enough time at airports to charge your device, and most airplanes don’t have plugs.

Follow the PED rules  As per FAA guidelines, if the flight attendant asks you to turn off your wearable or put it in “airplane mode,” do it otherwise you may have it taken from you.

Remember, not every security screener has seen each and every wearable on the market. Some ankle-worn activity trackers have even been confused by authorities as a law enforcement ankle bracelet.

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