Silicon Theories – April Edition

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It’s April, which means its time for another edition of the Silicon Theories for this month. This go around, we take a look at whether AI assistants can actually be helpful in our lives, whether or not electric cars are here to stay, and wonder what HTC is up to with their latest phone, the U Ultra.  Ready?  Let’s dive in!

*Don’t have time to read?  Check out the audio version of the April Edition of Silicon Theories on iTunesGoogle Play MusicSoundCloud

Google Assistant is useful and you should probably be using it….but not yet.

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  • Google’s AI Assistant (let’s not get into the name thing) can do a lot of stuff.  If you have a phone that has it enabled (and many of the current crop of smartphones either do or will soon) you might have used it to do things like add a reminder to pick up your dry cleaning, set a timer for a meeting, or asked it when Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was.  And all without even picking up your phone – since the hotword command of “Ok Google” will launch the always listening assistant and prepare it to do your bidding.  It’s almost like living in the future, where a computer can listen to your questions and answer them at any moment in time, anywhere you are.  
  • And while Siri and Samsung’s recently launched Bixby personal assistant do some of the same things in different ways, the general consensus so far has been that AI assistants are more of a novelty than an actual useful part of our daily lives.  This is a big deal, since major companies like Google, Apple, and Samsung are betting that AI is a very prominent part of our future.  Especially when delivered via mobile tech, such as our phones and other relevant household items like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo.  These big bets so far haven’t paid off, as especially with Google Assistant, the implementation has been fragmented and fraught with very public embarrassing snafus.  Contextual awareness is great, but its only the first step toward something larger.  Things that you would really want to do hands-free are in the “coming soon” features, and so that leaves us with an Assistant that is basically a glorified version of a verbal Google Search (I personally use the Google Assistant to settle factual arguments all the time, your mileage may vary) But if this is the most useful thing that Google Assistant can do right now, most people won’t use it and that’s a shame.  Because maybe all of these big companies are right.  Just not at the right time.  

Is Telsa really more valuable of a car company than Ford?

  • A recent New York Times article highlighted that Tesla has passed Ford in market value, and its on its way towards rarified air – the market price of General Motors.  Most of you have probably heard of Tesla by now; they are a high end maker of electric cars (they make a few more affordable models too)  But the fact that what amounts to a “start-up” company has challenged one of the major automotive players in the industry is, in a word, remarkable.  A senior editor at Kelley Blue Book is quoted as saying that he thinks “investors want something that is going to go up orders of magnitude in the next 6 months to 6 years” and he thinks that “Tesla is that story.”
  • The vast majority of people in America still drive gasoline powered automobiles, this is just a fact.  But I think a lot of folks would agree that hybrid vehicles and truly electric only powered cars are the hope of the future.  And while adoption rates of electric only cars has been slow going, likely in no small part due to the automotive industries powerful lobby in Washington DC, there are changes afoot in our society.  Now its no longer the “Save the Earth” hippies that are clamoring for the change to electric cars – people are finding that they are saving money in fuel and related costs, and that’s more of a tangible take away than any feel good story could ever be.  So maybe Tesla really isn’t a car company after all – but what they do is valuable enough for enough people to give them a powerful foothold in the automotive industry.  And, as had been mentioned before on the Silicon Theory Podcast, Elon Musk has developed the same kind of cult following status that Apple’s Steve Jobs had – that that worked out pretty well for Apple.  

HTC makes Pixel phones for Google – so how did they screw up the U Ultra so badly?

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  • The internet has not been kind to HTC of late.  While its widely known that they are the fabricator of Google’s Pixel devices, HTC also appears to want to make their own branded smartphones – and the first such device released this year was met with some sharp criticism.  Like this.   And this.  And this one too.  You get the picture.  HTC has spun out of control after the HTC 10, which was not a commercial success but was widely hailed as a very solid device overall.  
  • We currently live in a world where a large company like Apple feels they can do things like remove the 3.5mm headphone jack from their latest flagship devices (not without some measure of controversy mind you) – yet in this same world, a very large company in its own right like Samsung has generated an eye popping new flagship of its own and still managed to keep a headphone jack.  So clearly there is some division on whether this is a good idea or not in the tech world.
  • Other, smaller OEMs like Motorola have followed Apple’s lead, but aren’t really selling any devices.  And HTC produced the Pixel devices last October for Google and those still included a headphone jack, so their decision to remove one from their latest non-flagship device is a bit of a head scratcher.  If its not their high end flagship (and the rumors are that they will have one, but later this year) why do things like 1) remove the headphone jack and 2) price it at about $750?  This isn’t a mid-tier device, but clearly isn’t a high end one either.  So…what exactly is it?  Not going to sell very well apparently.

That’s all for this month folks – thanks for reading.  And if you have any questions or topics you’d like to see covered in future editions of Silicon Theories, hit up our inbox at silicontheory@gmail.com

Cheers!

 

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