I’d typically argue that having a significant event or announcement anywhere near an election is foolish. Well, four vendors decided to prove me wrong by having events and making announcements that have a material impact that, at times, goes well beyond the technology market and the U.S.
Even though this was unintentional, each vendor’s announcement appeared designed to cut through the noise, and some could directly impact future elections.
Let’s talk about how Cisco, Lenovo, Microsoft, and Qualcomm disrupted the world last week, and we’ll close with my new favorite digital assistant, the new Amazon Echo 4th Generation, which may be one of the best holiday gifts under $100.
Cisco had its partner event last week, and while much of that event focused on Cisco’s channel efforts, there was a ton of additional content. Due to the election, there were two things they announced that particularly caught my attention. Those were Connected Justice Solution for Courts and Webex Legislate.
Connected Justice Solution for Courts is a program that allows judicial systems both in the U.S. and abroad to carry out court hearings better virtually. But it goes beyond that because, much like education-focused systems, it takes the overhead away from the judge, allowing them to do their jobs more efficiently.
Also, even after the pandemic, it addresses several pre-existing problems with court systems, particularly in the U.S. I’ve been in several courtrooms over the last few years. Invariably there are technological messes with unreliable and mismatched solutions, a lack of connectivity for attorneys and their clients, and an unsustainable workload that detracts significantly from a judge’s ability to understand a case — let alone consistently rule on the law.
This is on top of the problems associated with getting juries seated on time, travel to and from the court for attorneys and their clients, and the increased security threats, both physical and electronic, that revolve around court appearances.
Cisco’s solution virtualizes the process by allowing people to join safely and securely remotely, and removes the aggravation of all the mismatched technology that clutters up courtrooms. The result should be an increase in the effectiveness of judges, greater personal safety and security, and far higher productivity which should materially improve the court process and make it far more convenient.
Even more powerful is Webex Legislate. This tool was designed to help governments function remotely. Since legislatures like ours tend to allow lawmakers to work from home, they are better able to be informed on the issues they are to vote on, better able to vote when they are remote due to illness or campaign requirements, and more protected against illnesses — from the common cold to pandemics.
But the more subtle benefit is that they are also voting electronically. This effort could remove electronic voting concerns from the last decade when it was tried before technology was ready. This solution should make legislators in any country that uses it both more effective and more likely to be informed, while creating an opportunity for a far more convenient voting process — first for them and then for us. That would be huge.
Lenovo’s Tech World 2020 event was last week, and they showcased many hearts at the event. Lenovo’s diversity demonstrations in terms of people and geographies and its product breadth were unmatched. However, the most exciting part was its industrial robot announcement. For some time, Lenovo has been the broadest vendor in its class with a product line that spans smartphones to back-office IT (including servers and storage). But at this year’s event, the company launched its first robot, and it is pretty amazing.
The robot is initially targeted at the automotive market, with a focus on painting. However, given the robot’s design, it could relatively easily be converted to do things like assembly, firefighting, medical assistance in hospitals or homes, and security. It is a robotic arm with accessories that sits on a motorized base that can quickly move forward and back, and side to side, with uniquely configured wheels that allow for that lateral movement.
I believe the next big wave is robotics, and this robot can initially be trained in a task remotely, then teach itself how to do the job better, and finally, it can teach its peer robots what it has learned. This robot is a significant game changer, potentially, in that it may drive Lenovo’s peers to consider this market while setting a new bar for what could become a reconfigurable AI-driven robotic line. The name of the robot, Morningstar, may give a few folks pause, but it is an impressive offering that could accelerate the coming robotics revolution.
One of the big problems for firms and buyers of technology is not being able to tell if productivity enhancement promises are met. Not only can we often not determine if the user is using a product correctly or using the product to its full capability, often we can’t even tell if they are using the product at all. It’s a bit like trying to decide which car is fastest without inventing the speedometer. Unlike cars, we typically don’t have productivity races between people. We have needed a reliable way to measure productivity to justify the purchase of productivity tools.
To address this problem, Microsoft last week announced the Microsoft Productivity Score tool. It only works with Microsoft 365, but it provides users and managers the information they need to see whether they are working optimally. Productivity Score provides feedback to assure that a tool is being used as productively as possible; and it will tell managers if a user needs training or help. It will also help flag times when the user may be overwhelmed or in distress.
This capability is particularly critical for those working remotely because problems often don’t become apparent until they have already damaged the project or the employee. Besides, with complex products like Microsoft 365, we often don’t have time to discover or properly use all of the features, which adversely impacts our job quality and productivity. This tool will help surface that kind of problem and help point out things we need to do to improve our performance and highlight things management could do to help.
This is not an employee monitoring tool. Rather, it enhances productivity and reduces frustration. This should cause other firms to create similar solutions to assure we are getting the full use of the related product. The Microsoft Productivity Score tool is impressive. The only issue I have is that I wish it was available decades ago.
Last but not least, last week, the Ninth Circuit Court finally released its decision on the appeal of the bogus FTC case against Qualcomm that had been driven by Apple in an attempt to use the U.S. legal system to bully Qualcomm into providing technology at a price that Apple dictated.
Fortunately, that effort failed spectacularly. The federal appeals court refused to reconsider its decision earlier this year to throw out the government antitrust case against Qualcomm. This both validated Qualcomm’s business model and put an exclamation point on why it is a terrible idea to abuse a supplier by manufacturing a case against them.
Even on its face, this was screwy as hell because Qualcomm has a fraction of the power and resources Apple does, yet Apple was screaming that this smaller and weaker supplier was abusing them. On top of that, Apple tried to put Qualcomm, which is crucial to the U.S. technology leadership, out of business.
On a list of nasty things an OEM has ever done to a supplier, this would be at the top. Having this end definitively should stand as a warning to other powerful companies not to use government resources to gain an onerous financial edge on a supplier. I hope this outcome will definitively showcase that our law enforcement agencies, or more accurately our judicial system, aren’t corrupt. We need that reminder from time to time.
While the election is a huge distraction, powerful events and product launches by Cisco, Lenovo, Microsoft, and Qualcomm cut through the noise and promise to make our future brighter. From more effective courts and legislators, to flexible and intelligent robots, to tools we can use to improve remote productivity, to validation that our justice system works — last week was remarkable.
Here is hoping this finds you all safe and well and that our significant vendors continue to think out of the box in their efforts to make our future brighter.
The 4th Generation Echo
I’m a huge Amazon Echo fan. Virtually every room in my house, except for closets and our half bathroom, has an Echo device in it. Yep, I even have one in my garage and outdoors where we sit during the summer.
Amazon’s original Echo was what broke the ice. Its combination of affordable price, good sound, and ease of use made it an enormous success. But its design is dated, and, admittedly, the sound lacks depth. As other, less expensive Echo devices got better, the original needed a refresh.
The 4th Generation Echo looks more modern, with the activity light ring moved to the bottom where it makes the device look like it wants to take off. It comes in three colors, Charcoal, Glacier White, and Twilight Blue. I think I like the Twilight Blue the most.
This iteration has depth of sound that fills the room, with a low end that is far superior to its predecessor. Short of adding a subwoofer, I doubt you could get better low-end sound out of a device like this. It’s currently priced at only $99 and is likely to go on sale for less before Christmas.
Every year I pick a go-to Christmas gift. This Echo will likely be my choice for 2020, given its combination of low cost and great sound.
It has no camera, which works for those of us who don’t want cameras anyplace where we are likely to be undressed. Like all Echo devices, it can control more of your smart home than any other manufacturer’s digital assistant. It takes just a few minutes to set up, and I wish all of the technology devices I’ve tested worked as well.
Because the new 4th Generation Echo is a significant improvement over the 3rd Generation — and likely to become my go-to Christmas gift — the new 4th Generation Amazon Echo is my product of the week.