Tech of the month February

This month we have cast the net a little wider on our tech roundup; asking some hard questions and observations on the current world of the web as it reaches an important milestone in its life. We also take stock for a second on what truly defines innovation in the modern world by giving a very different example of tech that's helping millions of people.

Spotify vs Apple 

This story hit the news earlier this month following Spotify’s not so subtle dig at Apple via this animated video. The problem that Spotify has with Apple is any purchase users can make within Apple’s app store are taxed at 30% by Apple. So in Spotify’s case that would mean every time a Spotify user decides to upgrade from free to their premium app through the App Store, Apple takes 30% of the fee.

Spotify is so upset by this that they have filed a complaint against Apple to the European Commission for breach of competition laws. As a Spotify user, you can upgrade by visiting the Spotify website instead. But as so many mobile app users make purchases through Apple’s App store (over a Billion in fact), Spotify claim this is damaging their revenue and forcing them to increase their prices.

For us, this news highlights a number of concerns about the current tech status quo and unfortunately there’s no real solution;

Terms and conditions change all the time on products and services like the App store, for consumers we’re often unaware of the impact these changes have, or the provider’s intentions. Just how much is being changed to ‘improve our service’, or manipulate and create commercial advantages for providers is so often unclear. So should providers like Apple be questioned more about changes they make and provide justification?

Is it fair for an app developer like Apple to host a service like the App store while offering a platform for other developers apps to be found that are in direct competition with their own apps? Spotify uses the analogy of a game where Apple is both player and referee but is this situation unique or prevalent across the whole App store? Elsewhere online we see similar abuses of power and dominance; for example, Google has just been fined for a third time by the EU, this time for breaking anti-trust laws. Are our laws out of date with the digital marketplace or have our tech giants forgotten the values of fairness and competition?

As consumers are we being restricted in our choice by platforms that keep us tied to a particular payment method, a subscription or software provision?

And finally, is it right for international household brands like Spotify and Apple to behave like this? Making not just public press statements but branded content that expresses the brand’s views rather than the facts which could be identified in the court of law?

These observations may have varying different answers depending on if you side with a particular music streaming service. Or, if you feel like us the web should remain an open space that allows fairness for all is it software developers or music lovers.

 

Tinkersynth

We discovered this tool as part of our Friday Feeling mission to find a website that’s cool, clever and different online.

We love the design and simple functionality of the Tinkersynth site, there are a few hidden features that you have to click around and find. Plus, if you’re really chuffed you can order your own creation as a piece of art for your home or office.

The online tool uses similar principles of tinkering with a machine to make art to the current craze of Ai art. The big difference here is its accessible to everybody, anyone can visit tinkersynth.com, and start creating their own art.

It’s also not being mis-sold as artificial intelligence; what we see elsewhere is simply a complex version of teaching a machine how to follow a process, this is commonly referred to as an ‘algorithm’ and does not represent artificial intelligence, but a process present in computers and mathematics since it was first proposed by Ada Lovelace back in the 19th century.

Not to get into the debate of can machines create their own art, we’ll continue to enjoy using machines to create art and enjoy the experimenting along the way. Thanks, Tinkersynth!

The web turns 30 

This is such a massive milestone that by writing only a few words here seem unjust, the reason is we could talk for hours about the current state of the web (and we do sometimes…). However, the words that Sir Tim Berner’s Lee expressed in his statement on the world wide web’s 30th birthday share so many parallels with how we feel.

We have come a long way from the visionaries utopia of a borderless world where information could flow freely, unfortunately, you could see much of the contribution of the web to global society is negative; the spread of hatred and fake news, the manipulation of democratic decision making and monetisation of user data and behaviour.

But we can certainly thank the web for a lot of good in the world today; people, families, communities stay together better than ever before. Businesses can have customers across the world with a workforce equally as diverse.

The web also helps us imagine, create and share so much innovation. For those that think, make, design, engineer and create the web offers infinite inspiration, collaboration and opportunity to develop your craft in ways that simply weren’t possible before.

To ensure the best of the web contains to flourish while offering freedom to think and express is unified governance. Sir Tim and the Web Foundation aims to do exactly this through a Contract for the Web, much like a declaration of human rights; the contracts intentions are to set laws that governments, businesses and citizens must abide by while using the web. We look forward with great interest in the contract for the web’s developments, we believe there is a better future for the web and one where it can be shaped by all of us for the better.

Low tech ‘game changers’ that are helping the world

 

While tech giants are fined by governments for abuse of power and slander each other for unfairness and manipulation, there are technological innovations that are making a real difference to everyday people who are just trying to survive and provide for their families.

The Hippo water roller is just one product that could make a difference to the hundreds of millions of people (mostly women and children) who walk miles every day just to get water. The hippo roller carries 5 times the water of a regular bucket and speeds up the average journey time to collect, allowing more time to spend learning in school or receiving vital health treatment. At a cost of $125 the roller is still a big expense for a third world family, but the difference it’s making to so many people must be recognised and compared to what we in tech circles love to call ‘game-changing’ or innovative. Which begs the question, what do you call innovation? Something that hasn’t been done before, or something that no matter how technically brilliant or refreshingly simple makes a difference to people?

For more low tech innovations that do more for more people see this article by MIT Technology Review.

Related posts