The Apple Watch challenge

The real challenge for those developers currently making their Apple Watch apps is to focus on the only things that matter in thapple watche context of the Watch. This seems obvious, but it is much, much harder than it sounds. It will require a really deep understanding of what functions customers value in the iPhone app on which the Watch app is based. And it will need a profound understanding of the way in which the Watch itself is fitting into consumers’ lives – again difficult when these wearables are such a  new phenomenon.

To take an example. One of my current favourite apps on the Mac, iPhone and iPad is the Paprika recipe app. This is a clever app which allows you to search for and download recipies in a standard format which are then shared cross-platform. There are some neat functions like scaling – if you need to cook for more people just choose the amount to scale and the maths are done for you. Or timers – any time a specific time appears in the text it will be underlined and just clicking it will set an automatic timer to remind you when it’s time to move to the next step. Or shopping lists – the app can create a shopping list at the click of a button which can then be exported to Reminders on the iPhone.

The real question when the Watch app appears is what will be included. I think in this case they could do a lot worse than offer just one function: the timer. After all, you are around the iPad or iPhone when you are cooking using the app. The time when you really need the Watch is when you’ve left the kitchen to do other things while the timer is running. It the Watch app did only that it would be a great boon. If it tries to do much more it risks being so irritating that it won’t get installed.

There is a certain humility in being able to see your product through the eyes of consumers who necessarily don’t regard it as anywhere like as important as you do. Almost inevitably developers cram more and more functionality in because thinking these things up is how they spend their working lives. Paring down and focussing just on the very few things that are important in the context of a watch is the real challenge of developing for the Watch.

Electricity self-sufficiency

Now here’s an idea: make it compulsory for all new buildings to be built with enough rooftop solar capacity to make them electricity-neutral throughout the year. At a stroke this would double the rate of growth of rooftop solar.

According to Government figures published in January 2014 there were around 500,000 rooftop installations of solar panels in the UK and given the speed with which they were being installed at least another 100,000 should have been added since.

The NHBC says there were just over 145,000 new homes built during 2014 and it looks likely the same or more will be built again this year (There have been calls for at least 300,000 homes to be built to ease the housing crisis). Adding solar to all those roofs could have a dramatic impact.

This is not a new idea. In 2012 Carlisle MP John Stevenson called on the Government to make it compulsory that all new-builds have solar panels, but to no effect.

Given the targets for emissions reduction set out in the Climate Change Act of 2008 simple measures like this should have appeal.

One potential issue is the added cost. However, a typical system costs between £5k and £8k and the average home in the UK now costs £272,000 so even assuming the whole sum was added to the price (unlikely given the economies of scale) that’s a hike of less than 3%. Given the fact that the panels effectively mean free electricity in the future any increased house price should be baked in for the future, too.

And it’s likely that the innovation spurred by all that activity will reduce costs in the future – solar costs have already plummeted as this chart illustrates nicely.




Another concern is aesthetics, although this is again likely to be overblown. Firstly, what is aesthetically normal changes over time (think electricity pylons) so as panels become more widespread their acceptance will grow. Secondly, with a steady market housebuilders and architects are likely to compete to develop more visually appealing installations, which again should lead to a rapid increase in innovation and benefit the further acceleration of solar adoption.

The share of UK electricity generated through solar of all types (commercial and large scale included) was 1.25% according to Government figures but it is rising rapidly. Sensible interventions could supercharge the growth.

The radical potential of Blockchain

Niki WilesBlockchain, the technology which underpins Bitcoin has the potential to disrupt many large and powerful industries believes Niki Wiles.

Speaking to London Futurists in a session in London today Wiles, Lead Data Scientist for the London-based digital media agency, 360i said Blockchain solved some of the biggest problems with today’s centralised services.

Big disadvantages with centralised services such as lack of transparency, resilience, security and cost, would all be resolved if Blockchain technology was used.

The big problem which has traditionally mitigated against decentralised systems was the risk of double payment, he said.

The pseudononymous programmer or programmers Satoshi Nakamoto solved this with the Blockchain protocol in which everyone on the network effectively has a copy of every transaction in sequence and there is no central repository.

“Paying with Bitcoin is like shouting in a crowded room,” said Wiles. “All transactions are seen by all.”

Despite the fact that Bitcoin has taken most of the limelight he belives the underlying technology can disrupt basically any centralised system.

DNS allocation, currently the responsibility of the central ICANN organisation is one such example. Moving DNS allocation to a distributed system would defend websites against censorship as well as make DNS much less vulnerable to attack.

In fact he sees censorship-resistant communication as of the killer apps for Blockchain. There are already services like Bitmessage which offer decentralised P2P encryption.

Decentralising cloud storage and computing could bring real benefits too – more security, less downtime, lower cost., for example, aims to be many times cheaper than Dropbox while Zennet is hoping to do the same for computing resources. Because there are no ‘sysadmins’ they should be much more secure, too.

Blockchain should prove effective in the sharing economy he believes – La’Zooz, for example is Blockchain ridesharing.

Social networks could also migrate. Twister is a decentralised social network similar to, you guessed it, Twitter.

There is even a project called Bitnation looking to see what aspects of the state could be delivered on the platform.

There are many other example – decentralised energy networks powered by solar, p2p drone deliveries, decentralised smart contracts, the list goes on.

IBM is even working on Blockchain for powering the Internet of Things.

There are problems however. Blockchain technology is very resource hungry. It takes a lot of computing resources to run the encryption algorithms at the core of the technology and because the whole database is distributed it is very bandwidth-hungry, too.

As a example Bitcoin can currently only process seven transactions every second – hardly a rival for Visa yet.

However, Wiles believes Moore’s Law is on the side of Blockchain. “Decentralised systems are likely to become cheaper and more cost-effective.”

And when they do the financial industry is ripe for change. Blockchain’s strength in transparency and the automatic enforcement of rules could be a real game-changer in a global financial system which is riven with issues. “Financial audits could be done automatically, for example,” says Wiles. “Counterparty risk could be eliminated by all banks sharing one ledger based on Blockchain.”

And because the technology is fundamentally very cheap with very low transaction costs the world’s unbanked could find a solution with just their phones.

It could even lead to the formation of Decentralised Autonomous Organisations – as Wikipedia describes them  “corporations run without any human involvement under the control of an incorruptible set of business rules.”

Things are moving fast is the Blockchain world and in many directions. The next two or three years should show which of these directions is the most promising.