Tag Archives: These
For Embr CEO Sam Shames, though, all he wanted was to be warm.
“We were working in an MIT lab in the summer in Cambridge–where it was hot and humid outside — but inside was freezing. The school wouldn’t let us change the air conditioning temperature, so it was a constant battle to keep from freezing inside,” he said, while speaking to me at CES.
Theorizing that solving the problem of personal body temperature would be a “cool” idea for the annual MIT materials-science design competition, Shames and his team created a prototype wrist bracelet that provided the sensation of heat or cool to a wearer — and won $ 10,000 for their effort. “We thought that was great and that we’d go on to life after school–until people started contacting us and wondering when we’d start selling it,” he said.
Shames guessed it would take around six months to create the product, considering they’d build the prototype so quickly. Four years later, they finally delivered. Along the way, he learned quite a few things valuable to every entrepreneur.
1. Create something people need–not want.
Shames found a problem that affects a large number of people around the world–and almost discounted it because it hadn’t been done before in an effective way. “Sharper Image sold a personal air conditioner in the 90’s, but I hadn’t seen anyone else do this.” (Coincidentally, I own that device, which works on similar technology as the Embr, at 10 times the size.)
Once you have enough people telling you this is a real problem that they need a solution to, you’ve validated your market enough to move forward – whether there are competitors or not.
2. Engage your customers early and often.
For Shames, before they could create a commercial version, he had to learn a few things. First, he needed to understand what the different use cases were — not everyone was working in an MIT laboratory like him, after all.
By talking to your customers, you’ll see patterns in the things that are most important to everyone, rather than things that might be nice-to-have for individuals. This can help you to develop your initial product.
3. Be ok with being wrong.
For the first few years, Shames was convinced that it would only take six months to get the product out the door. Every six months, he would readjust and change to the next six months. Each time, he would learn something new to take him down a new path–which would eventually make the product better.
Studies show that when you’re transparent about your imperfection, people trust you more. In a company, that’s a valuable lesson.
4. Keep learning.
When Shames and the team left MIT, they didn’t stop their research. In creating a product that is in the wellness category, they found that it is being used by scientists in research studies to test effectiveness as an aid in sleep, lowering anxiety, and other applications. As part of this, the Embr team is constantly learning about how temperature affects the nervous system and what they can do to control it.
No matter what your company does, you can always learn new ways to improve it and make it better. By reading journals, working with partners, or attending conferences, you can pick up new information that will help it grow.
As for running Embr, Shames says, “It isn’t always easy–but it’s the best job ever.”
And that is entrepreneurship–to which I wholeheartedly agree.
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Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
As the year begins to stagger to a close, you start to look around you, hoping that you’re still acceptable to the world.
Sometimes, it’s hard to know.
You’ve been working so hard. You’re been manically pursuing goals you wrote on a napkin in a particularly seedy bar.
And you still don’t remember how you got home from that bar.
Could it be, though, that those you work with think you’ve lost it?
Well, here’s a simple test. If you know — and use — the following five words, you’re still au fait with the world’s direction.
If not, woe is you.
We’ll start with one that surely everyone knows: Floss.
Ah, but wait. This isn’t the meaning associated with slipping a piece of string between your teeth.
Instead, it’s a little dance that people perform if they want to look especially silly.
You performed it in that seedy bar, didn’t you? That’s a relief.
Alright, let’s move on to VAR.
Yes, it’s easy to get your acronyms in a twist. VAR doesn’t stand for Variable Accounting Regimen. Nor is it Vineyard Arrest Record.
Instead — surely you knew this — it’s Video Assistant Referee, the device that tries to help soccer referees make the correct decision and still manages to occasionally fail.
You must know Gammon.
No, it’s not something to do with meat. Some might say, however, that it’s something to do with meatheadedness.
For the Collins definition is: “A person, typically male, middle-aged, and white, with reactionary views, especially one who supports the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union.”
Oh, you didn’t know? How reactionary of you.
Then there’s the most difficult of these words: Plogging.
No, I’d never heard of it either. It’s apparently the practice of jogging while picking up litter. Or picking up little while jogging.
But doesn’t stopping to pick up litter defeat the cumulative aerobic effects of jogging?
I’m plogged if I know.
Finally — and the winner in Collins’ great race — is Single-Use.
Surely everyone knows and uses this. Well, at least once.
Single-Use describes the greatest scourge of our times, I’m told.
These are products that made to be used once and then thrown away. Yes, like T-shirts from H&M.
Please don’t let that happen to you.
If you aren’t familiar with these five words, you, too, could be a one-year wonder, there to be thrown away by capricious rivals or recalcitrant employees.
That might turn you into a Gammon.
A successful brand is able to convince people to loyally pay more for something simply because it is from that brand. This is why household names such as Google and Bounty have immense control over their consumers, and why they heavily invest in and prioritize their brand assets.
Ultimately, brand power comes from having a high-quality product and building the brand as an essential part of people’s days. If you spot an opportunity to fit yourself into someone’s life you are then able to constantly interact with them and convert them into a long-term customer. There is a long road from a startup company to a massive brand empire, but these seven tips can guide your journey to building a trendy yet durable brand.
1. Know your audience.
One of the initial first steps for a venture is to pinpoint your exact audience. You should be able to describe their tastes and preferences. What does their average day look like? What’s their favorite clothing store? What kinds of marketing media do they see?
This can help you gauge what is important to them and how you can appeal to them. It’s crucial that you understand your audience so that you can keep them into consideration every step of the way. For over 20 years Amazon has relentlessly prioritized their audience. Their dedication is, in part, what has kept them at the forefront of the tech and e-commerce industry.
2. Get it right once.
Lukas Kurzmann, founder of Women’s Best says, “you only have to get it right once.” This means that you need to constantly experiment with new things until it finally works. Like most things in entrepreneurship precision and accuracy comes from the efforts of trial and error. Branding is no different.
As you try to build your brand, focus on approaching it through the lenses of experimentation and innovation. This could include trying new marketing techniques and potentially hiring consultants to offer a new brand perspective. Building a branding empire starts with pivoting until you finally get it right.
3. Build influencer relationships.
You can’t talk about branding without discussing your companies social media strategy. An incredibly effective way to build your brand on social media is by collaborating with influencers. One of the things that have best helped Kurzmann, has been influencer marketing. He spends over 60 percent of his ad budget on influencer and has built a massive number of influencer relationships. The best approach here is to start with a small project and grow the opportunities as the relationship grows.
4. Interact with consumers.
When making decisions that matter to your consumers, you should consult with them for input. Keep them involved as much as possible. A great example of this is the way that Ben & Jerry’s encourages their audience to create and submit flavor names.
Another productive way to do this is to base decisions off of data obtained from your consumers. Use the information you already know about their habits and preferences, in order to maximize impact and return. For example, when choosing an influencer, work with one who your audience already aligns with. Whether you use a survey, social media poll, or a suggestion card included with purchases, you should be interacting with your consumers–and utilizing their feedback.
5. Continuously develop your story.
Whether you are a company that has just started or one that’s been around for decades you need to continuously develop your brand story. This includes mixing up the type of marketing material you are putting out and introducing new elements to your brand for consumers.
Developing your story cultivates a relationship with your consumers. When you neglect to do that your audience will grow bored with your brand and give their attention to the next best thing. Developing your story is a huge part of staying relevant and building a loyal relationship with your audience.
6. Optimize your funnels.
Kurzmann states that the most important metric for him is Return on Ad Spend. He works through every marketing campaign to optimize its performance and boost his returns. Additionally, he notes that he is always eager to experiment and find new marketing channels to improve his ROAS.
A great way to optimize your funnels is to ensure you are not only being seen, but you are providing a call to action. If you’re a shoe brand and you are running a summer campaign for sandals be sure you provide verbiage that encourages your audience to buy the newest pair of sandals.
7. Attend in-person events.
There are a variety of in-person events that offer valuable growth opportunities for your brand. If you have a consumer product, you can attend trade shows and get your brand in front of top buyers. If you have a tech product, you can attend pitch competitions to mingle with venture capitalists. These opportunities will have a slower return, but they will convert higher-impact individuals to your brand.
Building a brand is an incredibly intense process. It requires time, dedication, and innovation. These seven tactics are a great start to building a long-lasting brand for your company.
Terri Loewenthal uses special reflective optic lenses to project multiple landscapes in one frame, like this image taken in Lone Rock, Arizona.
A California transplant, Loewenthal intended her photo series to celebrate the spirit of the American West. Above, a sloping blue mountain in Lundy Canyon, California.
Loewenthal takes her Psychscapes images on camping trips—like this one is taken to Granite Mountain, California—meaning she hikes carrying all her photo equipment. Shooting outdoors can get “pretty precarious” at times, she says.
What began as a California-focused project has expanded to include more states in the American Southwest. Above, a mountainous terrain captured in Peach Springs Canyon, Arizona.
Loewenthal has been taking pictures for the Pyschapes series for the past nine months but she’s been planning the project for years. “Sometimes it fails,” she says. Above, a successful photograph taken in Tonopah, Nevada.
Loewenthal uses a Mamiya 645, a medium format camera that allows her to swap out the film back for digital depending on the type of image she wants to make. The result is images like this one taken in Whale Peak, California.
Landscape photography, like this image from Lassen, California, has been a change for Loewenthal, who usually takes portraits. “Working with people has been an exploratory process,” Loewenthal says. “You’re always aiming for the moment when you forget the camera isn’t around. It’s the same when taking Psychscapes.”
Loewenthal says Psychscapes was inspired by the autonomy in painting, especially the ability to separate the color from the subject. Above, a dramatic shot from Yosemite, California.
A colorful sky in San Gabriel Peak, California. Loewenthal says this kind of photography is a “playful process.”
Loewenthal says the best Psychscapes images, like this one from Thunder Mountain, California, aren’t taken from a peak. “It’s nice when there’s a mix of far away landscape and nearby,” she says. “Just far away places are less interesting.”
Loewenthal plans to spend more time in Arizona this summer producing Psychscapes. Here’s a picture she made earlier this year in Diamond Peak, Arizona.
A mystical pool of water in Buck Creek, California.
Loewenthal uses filters as a paint to color her photographs, like this rosy image from Buck Creek, California.
“To have a psychedelic experience is to free your mind from its normal constraints,” Loewenthal explains. “When I had the idea for these images, I was able to shift the colors of the natural world in my mind.” She took this photograph in Diamond Peak, California.
Entrepreneurs who feel lucky report higher levels of motivation and wellbeing, both essential for sustaining performance during tough times. So how do you cultivate your own daily luck? Here are three things to do every day,
1. Choose A Lucky Attitude.
Luck is about flexibility of mind and a willingness to experiment and trust your gut. Take advantage of chance occurrences, break the weekly routine, and once in a while have the courage to let go. The world is full of opportunity if you’re prepared to embrace it. Steve Jobs emphasized the importance of trusting your gut when he delivered his now infamous commencement address at Stanford University: “If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, and karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
2. Be Ready.
Luck is as much about what you expect as what you do. Do you wait for success to happen, or do you get out there and make it happen? In his book The Luck Factor, Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, England, describes why lucky people tend to share traits that make them luckier than others. This includes the impact of chance opportunities, lucky breaks, and being in the right place at the right time. He says: “My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.” On the flipside he says: “Those who think they’re unlucky should change their outlook and discover how to generate good fortune.”
3. Own Your Success.
At times, you might privately think you can’t go on. You must persist. Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, says it best: “I failed, many times in my life. One failure that I always remember was when 36 publishers rejected my second book. Many years later, I watched Huff Post come alive to mixed reviews, including some very negative ones, like the reviewer who called the site ‘the equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar, and Heaven’s Gate rolled into one. But my mother used to tell me, failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a stepping stone to success.”
Dear Future, I’m Ready.
Luck isn’t just chance but an alchemy of courage, focus and a willingness to experiment. It’s about declaring to the world ‘dear future, I’m ready’.
Whether you are looking to gain awareness, improve SEO, or increase sales, having great exposure can help you get there. But PR is not a band-aid for an overarching business problem–nor is it a get rich fast technique.
A great PR strategy can take many years to build. Over the years, I’ve seen many companies start their efforts, only to stop before they’ve given the program enough time to develop. I’ve heard dozens of marketers and founders explain that they quit their PR efforts after their pitch didn’t get picked up by enough outlets in the first few week. Gaining great coverage takes time, pitch optimization, and persistence.
Often times, if a brand could have taken a step back after a rejected story to tweak their angle and try again, the second story they pitch could have been widely successful. Here’s why you shouldn’t throw in the towel for your PR outreach just yet:
1. Relationships take time to build.
Imagine you are at a party. You immediately start talking about you, your business, and your news. Very quickly, many people will not want to talk with you.
The same holds true when you’re building relationships with the media. It takes time to get to know a reporter and what they are writing about and then creating relevant pitches that are helpful to them. When you build trust and rapport with reporters, they’ll be more likely to open your emails, which is the first step to gaining great coverage.
You can build a better relationship with reporters by becoming well versed with their past writings and looking for opportunities to tell them stories of interest. Take a look through their Twitter accounts and personal websites to learn more about what they’re covering and the news that is important to them.
When you reach out to a reporter for the first time, show them that you are knowledgeable about their area of coverage and that your story fits their angle. When we reach out to reporters we make sure to spend time reading their past work to ensure our pitch is the right fit for their area of expertise. It can be easy to burn a press bridge simply by not personalizing an email enough–take your time, do your research, and get to know reporters for the long term. Slow and steady wins the race.
2. SEO is a long-term game.
When you receive a press mention, you’ll likely see a spike in traffic on the day it’s published–but don’t discount the future traffic. If you are a mattress company and you get listed as “The Best Mattresses Ever Made,” you’ll benefit from both the spike and also later from people who are searching for mattresses and come across the article. Traffic from press articles should be monitored for months to come, even after publication.
An authoritative link will not only drive traffic, but will also help your website in the search engine rankings. This boost will not happen instantly. With time and relevant inbound links, you’ll see not just your referral traffic grow, but also your organic search traffic from Google.
3. Press takes commitment–and a bit of luck.
It takes a while to learn about the best way to pitch your product. Each time you pitch, you’ll learn more about what copy and message resonates with reporters.
If you’re not seeing any success, it does not mean you don’t have an interesting story. It might mean you are pitching to the wrong reporters, your email subject line needs work, or you simply didn’t follow up.
By tracking your emails with a tool like SideKick or Yesware, you’ll be better able to see who is opening your mails, what they’re clicking on, and how many times they went back to the email. You can use this data to refine your pitch the next time. With the media always changing, it also takes a bit of luck to pitch at the right time to the right reporter with the right story.
Pitching takes a strong backbone and you’ll get a lot of rejections. If you haven’t had success yet, keep trying. And if you’ve been pitching for months with still no results, it might be time to call in a PR pro to help you optimize your pitch and press kit.
If you’re looking to reap the benefits of the press, start early, optimize often, and plan your strategy for the long haul. This time next year, you’ll be glad you stuck with it.
IPsoft is, in many ways, an unusual entrant into the crowded, but burgeoning, artificial intelligence industry. First of all, it is not a startup, but a 20-year-old company and its leader isn’t some millennial savant, but a fashionable former NYU professor named Chetan Dube. It bills its cognitive agent, Amelia, as the “world’s most human AI.”
It got its start building and selling autonomic IT solutions and its years of experience providing business solutions give it a leg up on many of its competitors. It can offer not only technological solutions, but the insights it has gained helping businesses to streamline operations with automation.
Ever since IBM’s Watson defeated human champions on the game show Jeopardy!, the initial excitement has led to inflated expectations and often given way to disappointment. So I recently met with a number of top executives at IPsoft to get a better understanding of how leaders can successfully implement AI solutions. Here are four things you should keep in mind:
1. Match The Technology With The Problem You Need To Solve
AI is not a single technology, but encompasses a variety of different methods. In The Master Algorithm veteran AI researcher Pedro Domingos explains that there are five basic approaches to machine learning, from neural nets that mimic the brain, to support vector machines that classify different types of information to graphical models that use a more statistical approach.
“The first question to ask is what problem you are trying to solve.” Chetan Dube, CEO of IPsoft told me. “Is it analytical, process automation, data retrieval or serving customers? Choosing the right a technology is supremely important.” For example, with Watson, IBM has focused on highly analytical tasks, like helping doctors to diagnose a rare case of cancer.
With Amelia, IPsoft has chosen to target customer service, which is extraordinarily difficult. Humans tend not to think linearly. They might call about a lost credit card and then immediately realize that they wanted to ask about paperless billing or how to close an account. Sometimes the shift can happen mid-sentence, which can be maddening even for trained professionals.
So IPsoft relies on a method called spreading activation, which helps Amelia to engage or disengage different parts of the system. For example, when a bank customer asks how much money she has in her account, it is a simple data retrieval task. However, if a customer asks how she can earn more interest on her savings, logical and analytical functions come into play.
2. Train Your AI As You Would A New Employee
Most people by now have become used to using consumer facing cognitive agents like Google voice search or Apple’s Siri. These work well for some tasks, such as locating the address for your next meeting or telling you how many points the Eagles beat Vikings by in the 2018 NFC Championship (exactly 31, if you’re interested).
However, for enterprise level applications, simple data retrieval will not suffice, because systems need domain specific knowledge, which often has to be related to other information. For example, if a customer asks which credit card is right for her, that requires not only deep understanding of what’s offered, but also some knowledge about the customer’s spending habits, average balance and so on.
One of the problems that many companies run into with cognitive applications is that they expect them to work much like installing an email system — you just plug it in and it works. But you would never do that with a human agent. You would expect them to need training, to make mistakes and to learn as they gained experience.
“Train your algorithms as you would your employees” says Ergun Ekici, a Principal and Vice President at IPsoft. “Don’t try to get AI to do things your organization doesn’t understand. You have to be able to teach and evaluate performance. Start with the employee manual and ask the system questions.” From there you can see what it is doing well, what it’s doing poorly and adapt your training strategy accordingly.
3. Apply Intelligent Governance
No one calls a customer service line and asks a human to talk to a machine. However, we often prefer to use automated systems for convenience. For example, when most people go to their local bank branch they just use the ATM machine outside without giving a thought to the fact that there are real humans inside ready to give them personalized service.
Nevertheless, there are far more bank tellers today than there were in before ATMs, ironically due to the fact that each branch needs far fewer tellers. Because ATMs drastically reduced the costs to open and run branches, banks began opening up more of them and still needed tellers to do higher level tasks, like opening accounts, giving advice and solving problems.
Yet because cognitive agents tend to be so much cheaper than human ones, many firms do everything they can to discourage a customer talking to a human. To stretch the bank teller analogy a little further, that’s almost like walking into a branch with a problem and being told to go back outside and wrestle with the ATM some more. Customers find it incredibly frustrating.
So IPsoft stresses to its enterprise customers that it’s essential that humans stay involved with the process and make it easy to disengage Amelia when a customer should be rerouted to a human agent. It also uses sentiment analysis to track how the system is doing. Once it becomes clear that the customer’s mood is deteriorating, a real person can step in.
Training a cognitive agent for enterprise applications is far different than, say, Google training an algorithm to play Go. When Google’s AI makes a mistake, it only loses a game, but when an enterprise application screws up, you can lose a customer.
4. Prepare Your Culture For AI As You Would For Any Major Shift
There are certain things robots will never do. They will never strike out in a little league game. They will never have their heart broken or get married and raise a family. That means that they will never be able to relate to humans as humans do. So you can’t simply inject AI into your organizational culture and expect a successful integration.
“Integration with organizational culture as well as appetite for change and mindset are major factors in how successful an AI program will be. The drive has to come from the top and permeate through the ranks,” says Edwin Van Bommel, Chief Cognitive Officer at IPsoft.
In many ways, the shift to cognitive is much like a merger or acquisition — which are notoriously prone to failure. What may look good on paper rarely pans out when humans get involved, because we have all sorts of biases and preferences that don’t fit into neat little strategic boxes.
The one constant in the history of technology is that the future is always more human. So if you expect to cognitive applications simply to reduce labor, you will likely be disappointed. However, if you want to leverage and empower the capabilities of your organization, then the cognitive future may be very bright for you.
1. Don’t complain.
Instead, model the ability to pick yourself up in the face of setbacks. According to Stephanie Marston, psychotherapist, consultant and co-author of Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World, children learn resilience when they see their parents being agents of change instead of passive complainers.
2. Let kids climb trees and handle sharp objects.
According to a study published in Evolutionary Psychology, risky play–the kind where someone actually could get hurt–is good for kids. Researchers suggest that the fear kids experience when climbing at great heights, being near a cliff or handling a knife keeps them alert and careful and teaches them how to cope with potentially dangerous situations. And over time, mastering such scary situations has an “anti-phobic” effect which results in lower levels of anxiety overall.
3. Limit the use of electronic media, especially in the evening.
Researchers analyzed the sleep quality of 530 German three-year-olds and found that the kids who consumed higher amounts of electronic media had more problems with sleep, including resistance going to sleep, sleep anxiety and sleepiness during the day. Plus, other researchers have found that the brains of little kids can be permanently altered when they spend too much time using tablets and smartphones. Specifically, the development of certain abilities is impeded, including focus and attention, vocabulary, and social skills.The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says children younger than 18 months should have no screen time at all, other than video-chatting. For kids ages two to five, it recommends limiting screen time to one hour a day. For older kids, it’s a matter of making sure media doesn’t take the place of adequate sleep, exercise, and social interaction. The AAP also says parents should make the dinner table, the car, and bedrooms media-free zones.
4. Read to them.
Researchers at the New York University School of Medicine have found that babies whose parents read to them have better language, literacy, and early reading skills four years later before starting elementary school. And kids who like books when they’re little grow into people who read for fun later on, which has its own set of benefits. That’s according to Dr. Alice Sullivan, who uses the British Cohort Study to track various aspects of 17,000 people in the U.K. “We compared children from the same social backgrounds who achieved similar tested abilities at ages five and 10, and discovered that those who frequently read books at age 10 and more than once a week when they were 16 had higher test results than those who read less,” she writes for The Guardian. “In other words, reading for pleasure was linked to greater intellectual progress, in vocabulary, spelling, and mathematics.”
5. Make them work.
In a 2015 TED Talk, Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult and the former dean of freshman at Stanford University, cites the Harvard Grant Study, which found that the participants who achieved the greatest professional success did chores as a child.
6. Let them fail.
According to Dr. Stephanie O’Leary, a clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychology and author of Parenting in the Real World: The Rules Have Changed, failure is good for kids on several levels. First, experiencing failure helps your kids learn to cope, a valuable life skill. It also provides them with the experience which helps them to relate to peers in a genuine way. Being challenged also instills the need for hard work and sustained efforts, and also demonstrates that these traits are valuable even without the blue ribbon, gold star, or top score. Over time, children who have experienced defeat build resilience and are more willing to attempt difficult tasks and activities because they are not afraid to fail. And, rescuing children sends the message that you don’t trust them. “Your willingness to see your child struggle communicates that you believe they are capable and that they can handle any outcome, even a negative one,” she says.
7. Be a role model for fitness.
High achieving adults consistently make exercise a priority and if you want your children to grow up fit and active, you need to practice doing it yourself. Researchers at the University of California conducted a study which found that girls who perceived their parents exercised at least three times a week were about 50 percent more active than girls with sedentary parents.
8. Don’t tell them they can grow up to be anything they want.
According a survey of 400 teenagers, conducted by market research agency C+R Research, young Americans aren’t interested in doing the work that will need to be done in the years to come. Instead, they aspire to be musicians, athletes, or video game designers, even though these kinds of jobs only comprise 1 percent of American occupations. In reality, jobs in health care or in construction trades will be golden in future decades. Why not steer them into well-paying professions in which there will be a huge shortage of workers?
It’s not so much that Android 8.1 is a big jump forward for most end-users. It’s not. Google’s major 2017 Android improvements came with Android 8.0. With a smartphone containing a Pixel Visual Core chip, it’s a dramatically different story.
1) Visual Core
The Visual Core is Google’s first custom-designed consumer processor. It’s a dedicated image processing chip. Today, it’s only in the new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Tomorrow, it may be appearing in other smartphones.
With Android 8.1, the Visual Core chip has been activated and the results are dramatically better photos. First, it takes much faster High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos. By taking a series of photographs in micro-seconds, HDR-enhanced cameras do a much better job of capturing the full range of darkest blacks and lightest whites than older digital cameras.
With Google’s HDR+, your smartphone camera takes a rapid burst of pictures. The Visual Core chip then combines them five times faster than previous generation of processors into one superior picture. You may not notice the speed, but what you will notice is how much more detail you’ll get from low-light photographs.
You used to only be able to take HDR+ photos using the Google photo app. Now, third-party camera apps, which use the Android Camera application programming interface (API), such as Instagram and Snapchat, can also take advantage of HDR+’s superior processing for better photos.
2) Neural Network API
Any device which can upgrade to Android 8.1, which for now are the Pixel 2 and 2 XL, the Pixel 1 and 1 XL, the Pixel C tablet, and the Nexus 6P and 5X, can make use of Google’s Neural Networks API (NNAPI). While as a user you won’t notice anything immediately from this improvement, Android developers will. NNAPI is designed to make it possible to run machine-learning (ML) on mobile devices. This API provides a base layer, higher-level, ML framework. This, in turn, can be used by Google’s TensorFlow Lite.
What this means for you as a user is you can expect to see some very interesting smart applications coming your way soon. For example, by this time next year, you can expect speech recognition and language translation apps, which will approach Star Trek-levels of coolness.
3) Bluetooth battery levels measurements
Do you get sick and tired of not knowing if your Bluetooth earphones or headset are about to die on you? I know I do. With Android 8.1, you’ll find a Bluetooth battery display in the Bluetooth settings. I’d still rather have it on the top status bar, but this is a lot better than fumbling with my Bluetooth gadgets.
4) Better screen management
On some smartphones, notably the Pixel 2 XL, some people were seeing screen burn-in. If you don’t recall this ugly blast from old style CRT display’s past, screen burn happens when the same screen elements — such as the navigation icons or the clock — are always on. After time, these elements are “burned” into the display so their ghostly presence remains even when they should be gone.
With Android 8.1, smartphones now vary how these are displayed. The result? The end of screen burn.
5) New look
There aren’t any major changes to the interface, but there are some useful ones. These include the Pixel Launcher. This makes it easier than ever to access Google search functions and installed apps. Android’s quick settings are transparent now so you can still see a hint of the main screen beneath it. There are also new launcher themes.
All-in-all, Android 8.1 is a good step forward. What I’m really looking forward to though is seeing more smartphone vendors bringing it to their flagship phones. Thanks to Google’s Project Treble.
Before Treble, which first appears in Android 8.0, when Google launched a new Android version, the chip OEMs, such as Mediatek and Qualcomm, had to add drivers so their silicon could run it. Then the device vendors added their customizations. Finally, the carriers had to bless the update. Then, and only then, could you get a new version of Android on your old phone. What a mess!
Project Treble has redesigned Android to make it easier, faster, and cheaper for manufacturers to update devices to a new version of Android. It does this by separating the device-specific, lower-level software — written mostly by the silicon manufacturers — from the Android OS Framework.
By working with the chipset OEMs, the vendor interface is validated by a Vendor Test Suite (VTS). In short, Google is cutting out some of the fat, which makes Android updates so slow.
If the phone vendors cooperate by not adding too much of their own spice to the stew, many of you may finally see Android 8 and 8.1 on your phones before I’m writing about the release of Android 9.