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The Geek’s Reading List: Week of January 9th, 2015

Piccioni on Taxify: “Instead of the widely reported histrionics designed to maintain the archaic taxi system, offer consumers a reliable and predictable alternative.”Perhaps I am getting jaded but, despite the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there wasn’t much interesting tech news.

I believe things are afoot in the mobile space (notably Xiaomi’s rise as a device vendor in China) which are far more significant than any announcement out of Las Vegas. There was a bit of show and tell in the self-driving car space, but, like most other “concept cars” the market opportunity is years in the future.

Estonia’s Taxify, An Anti-Uber Taxi App, Raises €1.4M For Further European Expansion

This is the proper response to Uber. Instead of the widely reported histrionics designed to maintain the archaic taxi system, offer consumers a reliable and predictable alternative. Ultimately, whether governments preserve the rights of the wealthy to control taxi licenses, the great advantage of Uber has been superior customer service and offering that instead of the traditional taxi model will re-level the playing field. This is also why Uber is just a car service, and not the stupidly overvalued “tech” company people seem to think it is.

“Estonian startup Taxify is one of a number of taxi apps aiming to help traditional taxi firms and drivers fight back against behemoth Uber and its ilk. It does this by providing an iOS, Android and mobile web app that lets you order a cab online. This helps to bring the same convenience of Uber et al. to the licensed ‘taxi’ industry, helping it compete via technology instead of merely lobbying regulators or protesting loudly, Ubergeddon-style. Today the company has picked up an additional €1.4 million in funding, adding to the previous €100,000 raised — money it will use to consolidate what it claims is a leading position in Eastern Europe, and for further European expansion.”

Xiaomi Confirms It Sold 61M Phones In 2014, Has Plans To Expand To More Countries

Smartphone prices will likely plummet within the next year or so. Xiaomi will probably not enter developed country markets any time soon, but it doesn’t have to. Xiaomi enjoys the same sort of cult following in the developing world – in particular China – which has been enjoyed by Apple (and previously Blackberry, Nokia, etc.). By offering an acceptable, and affordable, alternative this will blunt growth in the developing world for major vendors such as Apple and Samsung. Recall that growth is at the margins and loss or even shrinking of large potential markets has a significant impact on growth even if it does not materially impact market size. When this is combined with collapsing prices, the premium priced smartphone industry seems headed for a train wreck.

“Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone maker that raised $1.1 billion last month, has confirmed that it sold 61.12 million phones last year, bringing in an apparent revenues of 74.3 billion CNY ($12 billion) in the process. The new figures were released by CEO Lei Jun on Weibo and are right in line with the company’s expectation for the year. Xiaomi sold 18.7 million devices in 2013, and 7.2 million in 2012, so the four-year-old company is continuing to grow its business at a rapid rate — its recent funding round valued it at $45 billion and it is now the world’s third largest smartphone maker.”

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BlackBerry’s IoT plans start close to home: cars, asset tracking

I don’t really know how seriously to take this, but, in general, companies rarely find success in which they have no expertise. Nonetheless, IoT is a big deal for the shills on Wall and Bay Streets, you can see the appeal. Here are two major problems: IoT will only take off as an open standards platform (not open source, open standards) and this pretty much eliminates the opportunity for proprietary standards type margins. Furthermore, while by all accounts QNX is a good operating system, only a complete idiot would adopt a proprietary OS for IoT when there are emerging open source alternatives. As a general rule, betting on the stupidity of the market is not a sound strategy.

“BlackBerry is taking the same approach with its Internet of Things platform, launched Wednesday at International CES, as it is with its handset business: Aim at its core markets. In IoT, the struggling mobile vendor has found an emerging area of technology where it may have the right combination of strengths. The company signaled as much last May when it announced Project Ion, a future cloud-based service it said would make it easier for enterprises to develop IoT software.”

Autonomous Audi A7 concept steers itself from San Francisco to Las Vegas for CES

The advent of autonomous vehicles will be transformational in the developed world. It will have a profound positive impact across the economy. However, that day is long off – likely 20 years in the future. Plus, it will not be a stepwise change: cars will become increasingly autonomous with various capabilities and safety systems gradually taking over from the driver. These sorts of demonstrations are quite interesting but do not detract from the reality that the systems have limited capabilities and tend to function well under controlled conditions. Nevertheless, the technology is extremely important and merits close attention.

“Audi is making two world premieres at this week’s 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one of which is an autonomous A7 concept that drove to the event itself, after starting off Saturday in San Francisco. The total distance traveled was more than 550 miles, with a number of engineers and journalists given time behind the wheel. Not only is the stunt being used to gather data for an eventual production autonomous car from Audi, it’s also a means of demonstrating the viability of a self-driving car in existing traffic and road conditions. The trek took the A7 concept across roads in California and Nevada, both of which have given a number of automakers permission to test autonomous cars on public roads.”

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