Welcome to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our weekly breakdown and analysis of the need-to-know news, stories, and events of interest surrounding the software and analytics industries.
With much of the tech industry descending on Las Vegas for the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show this week, that just had to be our top story.
TWiMS Top Story:
The Coolest Tech You Missed at CES—USA Today
What it’s about: Another new year, another Consumer Electronics Show. The technology industry’s giant annual party in the desert for new gadgets, gizmos, and general geekiness may have lost some of its star power over the years, but it’s still tech’s yearly kickoff event. And there’s plenty to gawk at and marvel over: Oculus Rift opened for preorders (with a March ship date) at $599 a pop; there were a bevy of important—and sometimes silly—smart car and smart home announcements, including Samsung’s new refrigerator that includes a 21.5-inch touchscreen for ordering groceries when the milk and eggs are running low; there were drones, well, everywhere; and don’t forget the, um, “smart” bra. Behind all of the hardware-centric CES announcements, though, is the software that makes it smart. And software took center stage in some of the more compelling news, such as Ericsson’s announcement of three new software services for wireless and utility companies—Verizon is a customer—that are building out the IoT infrastructure.
Why you should care: The Internet is awash in roundups and hot takes on the happenings in Sin City this week, and we’ve listed some of the best ones below. There’s an increasing feeling that CES has supplanted the North American International Auto Show as the gold-standard venue for auto industry news, for example. But that points to a bigger idea: CES seems to be featuring the same things year after year, from smart cars to smart homes to smart wearables, prompting The Washington Post’s Hayley Tsukayama to ask, “Are we in an innovation lull?” Tsukayama hones in on a question more entrepreneurs, software developers, and hardware makers should be asking themselves: “Do people really need what I’m making?” Accenture managing director John Curran tells the Post, “Over the last couple of years, and in this [CES] in particular, we’re starting to see companies shift from what’s the largest screen size, the smallest form factor, or the shiniest object and more into what all of these devices do that’s practical in a consumer’s life.” It’s tough for an entire industry to actually deliver on this promise of the Next Big Thing year after year; in fact, maybe that shouldn’t be a promise at all. Instead of the allure of “cool,” how about focusing on delivering products and services that actually benefit the people who use them?
- Consumer Electronics Show 2016: Are We in an Innovation Lull?—The Washington Post
- Drones to the Rescue? Ford Issues Software Challenge at CES—Autoblog
- CES 2016: Ericsson Also Wants to Build Smarter Cities with Software, Analytics—ZDNet
- Samsung’s New Refrigerator Wants to Do Away With Your Trips to the Grocery Store—Fast Company
- Oculus Rift Will Cost $599—The New York Times
- Amazon’s Stealth Takeover of the Smart Home at CES 2016—The Verge
Forrester Predicts Boom Time for Software—ComputerWeekly.com
What it’s about: With 2016 underway, research firm Forrester has laid out its expectations for global technology spending this year and next. The overall forecast is more or less status quo: 4%–5% growth annually. But software is the star of the show, notes ComputerWeekly.com’s Cliff Saran in his recap of Forrester’s report, with global software spending on track to increase 10% to $640 billion in 2017. That makes software the fastest growing category in tech budgets worldwide. Saran cites Forrester principal analyst Andrew Bartels, who writes in The Global Tech Market Outlook for 2016 to 2017, “If software is where all the action is, hardware is the backwater of old technology.” Moreover, Bartels says that while traditional IT areas will continue to devour the lion’s share of tech budgets, “business technology”—Forrester’s term for software and other technology categories specifically focused on acquiring, serving, and retaining customers—will grow rapidly in the next two years, to $827 billion globally.
Why you should care: It’s not just any old applications fueling increased software spending, and there’s a reason hardware isn’t keeping up: Bartels says that surging cloud and analytics adoption is driving overall software growth. In a blog post announcing the report, Bartels writes, “SaaS will carry the overall software market over the next two years, with adoption spreading from CRM to human capital management, ePurchasing, financial management, and analytics.” Still not sure about this whole cloud thing? Well, if 2015 was the year that cemented cloud as kind of a big deal, then we’re soon approaching the point when enterprise IT budgets will fully reflect the enormous growth of cloud computing—and of SaaS especially. Bartels predicts that “SaaS subscription revenues for applications will come close to equaling combined software license and maintenance revenues by 2017.”
- Global Tech Market Will Continue to Grow at 4%–5% Rates in 2016 and 2017—Forrester Blog
- Nobody Knew How Big a Deal the Cloud Would Be—They Do Now—WIRED
- What to Expect in Enterprise IT in 2016—CIO Review
- This Year in Modern Software: Cloud, Mobile, Containers, DevOps, and More—New Relic Blog
In Silicon Valley Now, It’s Almost Always Winner Takes All—The New Yorker
What it’s about: In case you missed it: On December 29, Sidecar CEO Sunil Paul (and cofounder Jahan Khanna) took to Medium to announce the ride-sharing startup would cease operations two days later. VentureBeat calls Sidecar, which counted the likes of Richard Branson among its investors, a “pioneer” in the ride-sharing boom, and Paul takes credit in his goodbye post for inventing “what is now known as ‘ride-sharing’ with an app that connected riders with everyday drivers in their personal vehicle.” Alas, being first did not equate to actual success: While Uber has sped to staggering valuations with Lyft in hot pursuit, Sidecar ran out of gas. Yet Sidecar’s closing isn’t the big story here. Rather, as Om Malik opines in The New Yorker, it’s just another reminder that in tech categories from search to social to getting a ride from A to B, there’s often room for only one winner and little to no real competition.
Why you should care: Malik’s piece rings both accurate and unsettling. If technology is really a “winner-takes-all world,” as Malik writes, that could spell problems for most people who create and innovate in Silicon Valley. More broadly, if the competition’s over before a business or industry category has even come close to maturity, what does that mean for the customers of these winners? (Economics would suggest there’s not a lot of long-term upside for Joe and Jane Consumer in this scenario.) What’s striking is that, the “analog” business world often doesn’t reflect this king of the mountain phenomenon: As Malik points out, Coke has Pepsi, Toyota has Honda, and so on, from grocery chains to airlines to banks and beyond. Online, however, you don’t search for something—you Google it. Talk about income inequality: In spite of the democratizing power of the Internet, it seems that only a relatively few tech companies will ultimately be successful.
- Sidecar, Once an Uber and Lyft Competitor, Is Shutting Down on December 31—VentureBeat
- GM and Lyft Are Building a Network of Self-Driving Cars—WIRED
What it’s about: It’s 2016—we’ve figured out that whole information security thing, right? Uh, no. WIRED and Fast Company, among others, each highlight the online threats most likely to plague our digital world this year. Most of the security risks ultimately boil down to the growing value of our data, especially in an increasingly connected world. WIRED, for instance, says extortion hacks—think Sony or Ashley Madison—will rise, as hackers look to profit off sensitive information that organizations and everyday people don’t want made public. But watch out for a new form of data malfeasance: “attacks that change or manipulate data.” Citing James Clapper, director of national intelligence, WIRED’s Kim Zetter notes these attacks invade systems not to steal data or money, but to undermine the integrity of that data and the systems they power. Meanwhile, Ondřej Vlček, COO of security software firm Avast, tells Fast Company that the bad guys are, like the rest of us, now addicted to mobile devices: Smartphones are on their way to surpassing desktops as the target of choice for malware and other threats.
Why you should care: For individuals and organizations alike, it’s important to stay on top of the evolving threat landscape: You can’t manage risks if you don’t know what they are. At the organizational level, it’s critical to encourage a culture where security is everyone’s responsibility, regardless of job title. That’s true from the application code level to the network to basic security hygiene. We might never be truly “secure” online, but can we at least swear off weak passwords once and for all?
- The Top Three Online Security Menaces You Should Worry About in 2016—Fast Company
- The SMB Cloud Security Playbook—PCMag
What it’s about: What was once pigeonholed as the domain of geeks and penny-pinchers is now de rigueur in modern software: Open source is everywhere. WIRED’s Cade Metz highlights some of the big wins for open source in 2015, from OpenAI to Apple’s Swift—and plenty more. Indeed, it’s not just Web unicorns like Google or the Godfather-like Linux leading the open source charge. Even notoriously protective firms like Microsoft and Apple are now in on the open source craze, so much so that it’s becoming a starting point in newer frontiers like artificial intelligence and elsewhere.
Why you should care: People once thought of open source as perhaps a bit too generous. After all, how can you make any money if you give the underlying gold—your code—away for free? But that has changed. Last we checked, no one is confusing Google with a nonprofit, or Elon Musk with a monk sworn to poverty. As Metz notes, technology companies and entrepreneurs have found there’s plenty to be gained in “giving away” code. “They recognize this will accelerate not only the progress of technology as a whole, but their own progress as well,” Metz writes. “It’s altruism with self-interest. And it’s how the tech world now works.” There’s no going back, either. As GitHub Head of Open Source Brandon Keepers tells Metz, “It’s not just a turning point, but a tipping point” for open source.
What it’s about: It’s a gift-giving conundrum of the rich and famous: What do you give the person who already has everything? In the case of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the answer really is nothing: He’s just going to build it himself. Zuckerberg announced via his Facebook page this week a unique New Year’s resolution “to build a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work. You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man.” Even the least cynical might wonder: Can’t Zuckerberg just hire a team of people to build his own personal J.A.R.V.I.S.? Of course he can, but he insists doing the work is the point. “It’s a different kind of rewarding to build things yourself, so this year my personal challenge is to do that,” he wrote.
Why you should care: Some of us resolve to lose 10 pounds or finally clean out the garage; Zuck resolves to build a robot butler. “I’m going to start by exploring what technology is already out there. Then I’ll start teaching it to understand my voice to control everything in our home—music, lights, temperature, and so on. I’ll teach it to let friends in by looking at their faces when they ring the doorbell.” Zuckerberg’s a new dad, but there’ll be no standard-issue baby monitor in his house: He’ll teach the AI butler to keep tabs on the nursery, too.
Not surprisingly, Zuckerberg’s personal ambitions align with his company objectives. Expect AI to continue to be a hot topic for Facebook in the year ahead, along with virtual reality, Internet delivery, and other arenas, all of which get prominent mention in the CEO and founder’s “personal” post. By the way, the post generated more than 410,000 likes, but perhaps none cooler than the one from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also commented, “If you need a voice, you know where to find me.” Zuckerberg replied, “Amazing. Now I just need to find a reason for my AI to say ‘Get to the chopper!’”
- What Robots and AI Learned in 2015—MIT Technology Review
- IBM Watson APIs Hold Key to Broader Cognitive Computing Use—TechTarget
- Dear Mark Zuckerberg: CES Has Some Butler Technology You Might Like—The Guardian
- You Just Can’t Get the Digital Domestic Help These Days—Financial Times
- New Year’s Resolutions for Software Engineers—New Relic Blog
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