Here’s Why Google Is Focusing on Travel

Recently, Alphabet Inc.’s subsidiary Google introduced “Google Trips” – a mobile app intended to reduce travel related hassles by aggregating all trip information relating to day plans, reservations, things to do, etc., bundles within the app. The company has also ensured that the “download” button for each trip can save this information on the users phone offline. This launch comes nearly six years after Google acquired flight information firm ITA software and indicates the Google is finally ready to foray into the travel segment. In 2015, direct leisure travel spending by domestic and international travelers in the U.S. was more than $ 650 billion and nearly four out of five domestic trips were taken for leisure purpose. This indicates the strong potential of the market for leisure travel – the segment which Google Trips targets. We believe the company can generate significant revenues from this segment, given that its Maps app is already a hugely popular product among travelers, with more than a billion active users globally. The potential power of the platform is considerable. Google Trips leverages both Gmail and Google Maps to combine information relating to flight information and hotel reservations (via Gmail); and it additionally generates customized itineraries, based on a desired locations pinned on Google Maps via the address and location information therein. Given these breadth of these offerings, Google Trips has huge potential to capture a significant share in the online travel market.

Cloud Computing

Here’s how secret voice commands could hijack your smarthphone

Kitten videos are harmless, right? Except when they take over your phone.

Researchers have found something new to worry about on the internet. It turns out that a muffled voice hidden in an innocuous YouTube video could issue commands to a nearby smartphone without you even knowing it.

The researchers describe the threat in a research paper to be presented next month at the USENIX Security Symposium in Austin, Texas. They also demonstrate it in this video.

Voice recognition has taken off quickly on phones, thanks to services like Google Now and Apple’s Siri, but voice software can also make it easier to hack devices, warned Micah Sherr, a Georgetown University professor and one of the paper’s authors.

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Beyond Netflix: Here’s the entire alphabet in corporate logos


A brand logo is the face of a corporation — a combination of colors, typefaces and simple shapes designed to make an image or feeling stick in your brain. 

So when those familiar icons are given a facelift, people take notice.

Netflix quietly rolled out a new emblem on Monday with a narrow red capital “N” set against a black background.

A flurry of opinions immediately followed on social media. As of Monday afternoon, the closest thing to a consensus seemed to be a general feeling of “meh” toward the new design.

To add some context to the discussion, Mashable decided to round up some other well-known brands that are recognizable by the first letter of their names alone — one for each letter of the alphabet.    Read more…

More about Netflix, Advertising, and Business

Cloud Computing

Updating your C-suite: Here’s why you need a chief customer officer

customer care


The customer always comes first. It’s a saying companies throw around a lot, but they rarely live and breathe it the way they should. It can be easy to forget what’s most important when you’re juggling finances, logistics, investors, and beyond. But there’s a way to keep your customer top of mind no matter what: Make an addition to your C-Suite by empowering a chief customer officer.

It’s a move many of America’s largest companies have made over the last couple of years, driven by the need to differentiate. To boil it down, the chief customer officer (CCO) serves as a top executive with the responsibility of designing, orchestrating, and improving customer experience in a way that impacts all levels of your brand. Progressive companies across a range of industries — from Dunkin Donuts to PNC Bank — have empowered CCOs to build an organization that puts the customer first. At its core, this means dedicating your business to ensuring the voice of the customer is heard and acted upon across the organization.

In an era of heightened customer expectations — in which every customer is also a broadcaster — having a CCO is essential. As with any new role within your company, it’s important to establish responsibilities for your CCO and empower them to hit the ground running.

Here are the top five responsibilities your chief customer officer should take on:

1. Establish a clear vision for customer experience

First and foremost, your CCO will be responsible for establishing a clear vision for customer experience. Striving for great customer experiences isn’t enough anymore. It’s too vague, says little about your company and, counter-intuitively, often leads to muddled, less than great experiences. Your CCO will be able to unpack what great customer experiences actually look like for your business, establishing an authentic company voice and setting clear standards for engaging with customers.

With an understanding of what customer experience looks like for your particular brand, your CCO should set aspirational goals and a roadmap to execute against.

2. Pick an organizational model that can be successful in your business

There are three types of organizational models that businesses typically put in place to support the CCO. In the first model, the CCO directly manages the people, programs, and budget for all customer-focused initiatives. In the second model, the CCO is an evangelist/change agent within the company and makes changes through influence and alliance with teams, particularly when it comes to budget and program authority. The third model is a hybrid of the first two, with the CCO being part of a function (typically marketing or operations) but working across a wider range of teams.

Any of the above models can be successful, depending on how they are implemented. The key is for the CCO to show enterprise results in the areas of loyalty, satisfaction, and profitability.

3. Give customers a voice in all company initiatives

For employees that don’t engage with customers on a regular basis, it can be difficult to grasp how customer feedback plays a role in everything from daily tasks to large projects. But the truth is, customer experience should be top of mind for all departments — from finance and billing to marketing and sales. That’s where your chief customer officer comes in.

CCOs can come from different walks of life — there is no specific career path that CCOs need to have followed to be successful. Many come from an operational background, often earlier in their careers, working in customer-facing roles in sales, support, or regional operational management roles. Others come from marketing and/or insights roles, helping companies qualify and quantify the voice of the customer.

Whoever takes on the role of chief customer officer should be prepared to bring customer feedback to the table, prioritizing initiatives to improve the customer experience, and clearly explaining how customer insights relate to each individual department. Your CCO should aggregate insights from multiple sources — social platforms, call centers, forums — to create a comprehensive overview of customer feedback and how each department impacts those statistics.

Once each department has a clear understanding of its role in customer experience, your CCO should work with each department on initiatives and act as a customer representative in all matters. Ultimately, the CCO is responsible for driving a new way of thinking from the C-suite to the frontline and back-office employees, always giving the customer a seat at the table for every new initiative.

4. Be proactive

It is the responsibility of the chief customer officer to bring a proactive approach to customer experience management. CCOs need to help their teams get in front of issues by instating simple guidelines for engaging with customers. With a CCO in your arsenal and a broader customer experience management team to back them up, your team will be able to proactively communicate with customers about new products, policies, and processes.

Service recovery should be less of a priority as customer insights are used to create and innovate better solutions before they cause issues. In other words, your CCO will be able to mitigate potential issues before they arise by incorporating customer feedback at all levels of business.

5. Share results with the entire company

Most importantly, the chief customer officer is responsible for educating their peers and the rest of the organization on the value of being a customer-centric company. As your CCO and customer engagement management team bring their customer experience roadmap to life, they’ll share successes, failures, and everything in between. It’s important that the entire company have a clear understanding of what the CCO hopes to accomplish and that updates on progress are given on a regular basis. Seeing is believing, which is why the CCO will need to share insights and achievements as often as possible.

With such an increased focus on customer experience, the CCO role will likely become more and more common. In the meantime, early adopters — those who truly understand the importance and power of the customer — will lead the charge in shaping this new C-suite role and will, no doubt, have a leg up on the competition.

Sid Banerjee is executive chairman of Clarabridge.

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Here’s the one VR concept that the smartest people at Oculus admit they’re nowhere near figuring out

Yes, there is something that Abrash doesn't know how to do.

We finally have a workable virtual-reality platform, but plenty of obstacles are between us and a Star Trek-style holodeck.

If you reach out to touch a table, you’ll feel the molecules of that piece of furniture push against your hand. Do the same thing in virtual reality, and you’ll feel nothing. This is a problem — and it’s one of the few that Oculus VR says it has no idea how to solve.

The company held a keynote address as part of its annual Oculus Connect developers conference today, and it put on something of a parade of its top talent. Business-development leader Anna Sweet, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, and even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg all took the stage. But one of the more interesting points came when Oculus chef scientist Michael Abrash gave an in-depth speech about everything the company needs to do to go from where VR is today to where it should get to in the future.

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Abrash talked about improving the visuals with a wider field of view. He talked about providing 3D audio. He even speculated about creating a chemical-based way to deliver various smells to Rift users.

For every problem, he posed a solution that is either possible today or one that the company sees a way to work to in the future. Well, he did that for every problem except one.

Abrash pointed out that no one is even working on a technology that will make it feel like your hand is touching a table where no table exists.

This is something I asked Palmer Luckey about in a conversation we had a few months ago. He told me — and Abrash’s talk today reiterates this point — that the company wants to solve every aspect of VR. He essentially wants Oculus working on a way to fool every one of your senses. When I asked him about touching an object and feeling like it exists, that led us to the aforementioned Star Trek holodecks. That sci-fi technology manifests protons that it can give mass to. When I posed that idea to Luckey as a joke, I was surprised that he had already considered the idea.

“Photons are a dead-end,” said Luckey then.

So while Oculus doesn’t know what will work to make objects feel real in VR, it has already scratched one idea off the list.

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Wileyfox is Europe’s newest mobile brand — here’s how its first smartphone stacks up

Wileyfox Swift

Fledgling European mobile phone brand Wileyfox announced its arrival in the smartphone realm a month ago, and now the London-based company is preparing to launch its first ever product: The Wileyfox Swift.

Initially slated for launch this week, Wileyfox revealed that shipping for the $ 200 Android device has been delayed until September 30. But while you wait, VentureBeat has grabbed some serious hands-on time with the phone, and here’s the lowdown on what you need to know.

Vital stats

Wileyfox Swift: Rear view

Above: Wileyfox Swift: Rear view

The Wileyfox Swift is powered by Cyanogen OS, the commercial, customizable Android-based operating system from Cyanogen Inc. It sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad-core processor, 5″ Gorilla Glass screen (1,280 x 720 pixels), 13MP rear-facing camera, 5MP front-facing camera, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage (expandable up to 32GB). It also supports 4G, has two SIM card slots, and it will set you back €179 EUR (£129 GBP / $ 205 USD).

As a slight aside, launching a month after the Swift is the souped-up €279 (£199 GBP / $ 315 USD) Wileyfox Storm, which offers a 5.5″ full HD display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor, a whopping 20MP rear-facing camera, 3GB RAM, and 32GB of storage (expandable up to 128GB).

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Available for preorder now through the Wileyfox website, as well as online retailers such as Amazon, Expansys, and E-buyer, the Swift is pitched squarely at the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) market, with localized call center support, a replacement screen service, and an extended three-year warranty offered for the equivalent of around $ 15 for each service.

That said, the phone can be purchased in other territories, including the U.S., but Wileyfox said the “experience will not be full” elsewhere. For example, in the U.S., data streaming would be limited because the phone uses CDMA — voice and SMS should be fine on the Swift, as would Wi-Fi, but 4G / LTE would suffer. And there won’t be dedicated phone support outside EMEA, either.

Look and feel

Perhaps the most immediately striking facet of the Wileyfox Swift is its looks — it doesn’t resemble a cheap phone, despite what its price would have you believe. The rough-ish, sandstone black rear, embossed logo, and colored brand marking gives it a premium feel.

Wileyfox: Back

Above: Wileyfox Swift (Right): Back

The front side sports a clear screen with no physical buttons, and down the right edge you’ll find the volume control and power button. On the bottom edge is the micro-USB port and two speakers.

Wileyfox Front

Above: Wileyfox Front

Image Credit: Paul Sawers / VentureBeat

The Wileyfox Swift is noticeably light in the hand — at 135 grams, it’s 30 percent lighter than my OnePlus 2, though it is also around 0.5″ smaller. While this is good, it does make it feel a little bit cheaper to me — but that’s probably just because I’m used to a heftier handset.

Indeed, many people will like its deftness, and looking at other premium phones on the market, the Swift isn’t actually too light — the marginally larger Samsung Galaxy S6 weighs only 3 grams more, while the slightly smaller iPhone 6 comes in at 129 grams. In other words, the Swift is about the right weight for its size; it’s really just down to what you’re already accustomed to.

Under the hood

With Cyanogen OS on board, Wileyfox brings some useful features to the mainstream market. Cyanogen is already supported by many handsets, but in the West not many actually ship with the OS preinstalled.

Highlights include being able to lock some apps in protected folders on the home screen. Tap on a folder, hit the little padlock icon, enter a code, and voila.

Folder Protection

Above: Folder protection

Other neat little touches include Privacy Guard, which gives users easy access to control what data is shared with which apps. And with Truecaller built in, the Swift can block spam calls and texts from specific numbers — a giant smack in the face to robocallers everywhere.

Truecaller and App Privacy

Above: Truecaller and App Privacy

General performance

One of the downsides of Cyanogen OS is that it is prone to bugs, and at times it’s not the most responsive to touch. For example, occasionally I would attempt to swipe down from the top to access notifications and settings, and literally nothing would happen. This was similar to what I experienced with the OnePlus One, which ran Cyanogenmod 12.

That said, it’s not prevalent enough for it to be a deal-breaker — it just gets a little frustrating at times for those 5 seconds or so I’m desperately trying to swipe the screen.

In terms of juice, the Wileyfox Swift packs a removable (yay!) 2500mAh battery that promises stand-by time of up to 200 hours and talk time of up to 10 hours (2G) or 8 hours (3G).

Of course, nobody really uses their smartphones for calling anymore — they use them for tweeting, WhatsApp-ing, Google Maps-ing, YouTube-ing, and Spotify-ing. I didn’t stress-test the battery; I used it as I would any phone throughout a day (Google Maps, Twitter, BBC News app, and very little media streaming), and it lasted from when I awoke to when I went to bed, at which point there was around 10 percent battery remaining.

Elsewhere, the 13MP camera works pretty well for daylight shots, but I found it lacked somewhat in clarity for low-lighting situations. But at $ 200, this was never promising the best lens on the market. The on-board dual speakers were actually pretty darn good for casual listening at this price point, though you would of course want to use a Bluetooth speaker if you’re hosting a party.

The cherry on the cake, for me, is the display. It may not be full HD, but I found the screen to be clear and crisp. Again, this isn’t going to be for perfectionists who love watching movies on their phone with all the trimmings, but for the price it’s definitely very good.

Wileyfox Display

Above: Wileyfox display


This feature gets a special mention. dual-SIM phones are popular in many developing markets, but they’ve never really become much of a “thing” in the West. There’s no real reason why dual-SIM devices shouldn’t be popular in Europe or the U.S. — it was one of the reasons why I upgraded my personal phone to the OnePlus 2.

The use cases for dual-SIM are numerous. You can have one number for all your friends and family, and one for companies that may be inclined to call at inappropriate times. The second SIM slot can basically be your spam line, just like that Yahoo email account you keep for special occasions. You could have one domestic SIM and one business SIM, if you travel abroad often. Or you could have two domestic SIMs — one for calls and SMS, the other for Internet — if you find separate good deals from two companies.

And if you have absolutely no need for two SIMs, you don’t have to use that second slot.


In our original assessment, we stated that Wileyfox wants to be the OnePlus of Europe. While the basic sentiment of that still rings true, it doesn’t really tell the whole picture — OnePlus sells premium phones at a knockdown price. The Wileyfox Swift is a decent mid-range device — and excellent value for the money — but it’s definitely not a premium phone.

The Wileyfox Swift should be well received when it finally goes to market. However, it sits in an awkward position for me. The customization options are excellent, but it feels a little like the handset is aimed at a more tech-savvy market, where fine-tuning privacy options are important. It’s a market, perhaps, that would be more inclined to shell out for a proper high-end phone.

That said, the Wileyfox Swift could find a sizable niche in the gift-giving fraternity. It’s the perfect price for someone to buy a family member / significant other for their birthday or Christmas. You probably wouldn’t buy a $ 600 iPhone for your dad, but you’d maybe drop a couple hundred bucks on a Swift.


Here’s what IoT will do for transportation

are you ready


The Internet of Things (IoT) is dramatically accelerating the pace of innovation in the transportation industry—especially the cars and trucks we drive every day. And when you apply the laws that have been driving technology innovation for decades—Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law—it’s not long before our automobiles will resemble smart devices on wheels and your vehicle may very well be the most expensive computing device you own.

Toyota envisions smartphone technology for cars. (Or is it the other way around?)

Above: Toyota envisions smartphone technology for cars. (Or is it the other way around?)

Connected cars today

Already, automobiles built after 2010 include numerous connected systems that provide drivers with the ability to listen to satellite radio, view streaming video, display and use smartphone apps, navigate roadways, request roadside assistance, unlock doors remotely, and find open parking spaces.

Today’s Tesla models are equipped with functionality that allows its cars to be upgraded wirelessly. In late 2013, Telsa tweaked the suspension system of its Model S cars by wirelessly pushing an update that automatically raised the height of the cars when they were being driven at highway speeds. Imagine this being done without a connected car. Owners would have to learn about the need for a change, schedule an appointment, bring their cars in for service, and wait for the work to be done. Most Tesla owners probably didn’t even notice the upgrade.

And soon our vehicles will even look like our PCs and smartphones. Toyota is designing a car that allows owners to change the appearance of the exterior and interior, just as you do with your PCs and mobile devices today. No more decorating cars with soap and streamers for “just married” couples. Now all you’ll have to do is pick the “car top” background you want to display, customize the names, and hit “enter.”

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After more than 100 years, cars and trucks are finally at the cusp of becoming true “auto” mobiles by going driverless.  I believe autonomous vehicles will be commonplace by 2025 — just 10 years away. This is because they offer many benefits, including lower energy consumption and fewer accidents.

Autonomous vehicles will free the “driver” and passengers to socialize, have a business meeting, or learn more about the environment around them. Mercedes imagines a car that is more like a living room or boardroom on wheels. The driver and front passenger seats swivel to allow face-to-face communication.

Mercedes reimagines its cars from the inside out with its F015 concept car.

Above: Mercedes reimagines its cars from the inside out with its F015 concept car.

Additionally, cars of the future will be equipped with touch screens on nearly every surface. Imagine your kids looking at a screen of the actual universe above them as you drive to your destination. Perhaps the age-old question, “How long ‘till we get there?” will be a phrase of the past.

Automobiles as sensors

Most cars already do some sensing of the environment, such as measuring the outside temperature. There is even an easy-to-use $ 99 device from Automatic that senses acceleration and braking to help you conserve fuel, reduce maintenance, and drive more safely.  The Automatic adapter plugs into just about any car to unlock the data hidden in your car’s onboard computer. Accompanied by a free mobile app, the device can help diagnose engine problems, display trip logs and mileage, and even call for help in a crash.

But as sensors become cheaper and more capable, cars will become sensors themselves that can not only improve the experience of getting from point A to point B but also help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

There are already several apps that help drivers find parking spaces. But imagine a car that could identify an empty parking space as it passes by and then upload that information to the cloud. New and existing apps could then use the real-time data to improve alerts to drivers about open spaces nearby. This new functionality could also help eliminate the time and resources we waste parking our cars.

In fact, one study completed by Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and published in Time Magazine reported that 30 percent of downtown drivers are just looking for parking and that these drivers rack up more mileage looking for parking each year than the distance of a cross-country trip. The research also found that searching for parking just around the UCLA campus added up to 950,000 miles of travel, 47,000 gallons of wasted gas, and 730 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. And that is just around one college campus!

Now think about our environment from a global perspective. One of the challenges of predicting weather, fire hazards, and climate change, for example are the number of sensors required to get enough data to make accurate predictions. If we add sensors to cars and connect them to IoT, automobiles around the world can become part of the solution rather than the problem. Vehicles with sensors could collect the needed data and send it to the cloud where it would be available for various businesses and government agencies to analyze and use.

Connected infrastructure

In addition to the vehicles themselves, IoT will create connections between and among vehicles and the transportation infrastructure. This connectedness will offer several benefits. If you live in or near a large city, you’ve probably experienced this scenario. Traffic comes to a standstill due to an accident up the road. Soon you notice an emergency vehicle honking and flashing its lights to get vehicles to move out of the way so it can get to the accident scene as quickly as possible.

As transportation becomes more connected through IoT to create a coordinated system designed to get everyone safely to their destination on time, scenarios like this will be a thing of the past. Sensors installed on the vehicles in the crash could send a signal that alerts nearby vehicles about the problem, enabling them to slow down or take an alternate route.

Already, Google uses the GPS information from Android phones to compare posted speed limits to how fast drivers are actually going. It then uses this information to color in Google maps that show the severity of traffic delays. When fully functional, this type of IoT scenario could save approximately 30,000 lives and avoid 2.12 million injuries each year, according to Morgan Stanley.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a drone!

Now consider unmanned aerial vehicles commonly known as UAVs or drones (badly in need of a new name in my opinion). These remotely controlled vehicles are becoming commonplace. Poised to challenge our definition of transportation, drones will significantly enhance company supply chains and logistics operations by delivering smaller items within the last mile of the transportation system.

While many people have dismissed Amazon’s drone delivery plans, I believe Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of, is just scratching the surface of what’s to come. Drones will also transform the way goods are delivered across long distances. Do you remember this vehicle from the movie Star Wars?

Did Star Wars predict the long-haul delivery drones of the future?

Above: Did Star Wars predict the long-haul delivery drones of the future?

In the near future, drones will have the ability to carry huge loads while hovering just a few feet above the ground. These drones could be remotely monitored and guided using a system of sensors on special cross-country or intra-city roadways.

Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO and founder of Matternet, is already working to create a transportation system for physical goods that operates on the same principals as the Internet.

In his YouTube video, Raptopoulos describes the concept this way. “The enabling technology is the UAVs. We want to harness all of the great work that has been happening in academia in the open source community and build a platform that can allow us to do point-to-point delivery, decentralized peer-to-peer just like the Internet.

“The second vital ingredient of the network is the automated ground stations we use. These are point stations on the ground that the UAVs fly in and out of in order to swap batteries and fly further or exchange loads.

“The third [component] is the OS [operating system] that runs the whole network, that optimizes routes, optimizes the flow of vehicles and goods through the system. It optimizes for weather conditions and guarantees the security of the system so we can guarantee to the authorities that it’s not being used for illegal purposes.”

This is a smart approach.

The company just announced Matternet ONE, the first smart drone for transportation. The drone is being evaluated by the Swiss postal service, Swiss Post, to deliver mail and packages to its customers. Earlier versions of the drone were used in Haiti to deliver needed supplies to people in inaccessible areas of the country.

Matternet ONE has completed three tests with Swiss Post to deliver small packages.

Above: Matternet ONE has completed three tests with Swiss Post to deliver small packages.

Safety and Security

The recent hacking of a Jeep Grand Cherokee has been widely reported. Thankfully, this hack was accomplished by the good guys, with the information already being used to improve automobile security and safety. Even so, the risks of hacking are very real, especially as more and more things become part of IoT.

Hacked Jeep Cherokee ends up in a ditch after the brakes were remotely disabled. Photo by Andy Greenberg of Wired

Above: Hacked Jeep Cherokee ends up in a ditch after the brakes were remotely disabled. Photo by Andy Greenberg of Wired

If connected cars are to become fully mainstream, much more work is needed to ensure that they are safe, reliable, and highly secure. After all, it’s one thing for a computer to crash, it’s another thing when the computer in your car is compromised and causes an automotive crash.

There are already several companies and consortia focused on transportation security in an IoT world. Intel just launched the Automotive Security Review Board (ASRB), a cyber security group and industry board to identify and thwart significant security threats for connected cars. Automobile manufacturers such as GM, Fiat Chrysler, and others are also taking the threat more seriously.

Connections matter most

The Internet of Things (IoT) has the power to change our world. And while we are starting to see the incredible impact of IoT, we are still very much at the beginning of this transformational journey.

The key to knowing how IoT will transform our world, is understanding that it’s more about the connections than the things. When things are connected, they become greater than the sum of their parts. They gain access to data they do not possess, and can share their own data with other people and things.

So the next time you drive to work or go on a road trip, just take a second to imagine what your vehicle could do with even more IoT connections.

David Evans is cofounder and CTO of Internet of Everything startup Stringify.

VB’s research team is studying web-personalization… Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.