Every month in 2020, I’m going to be sharing the top 5 interesting things in tech that have caught my eye. Enjoy!
1. Lululemon takes the natural step into tech
Canadian athleticwear giant Lululemon, has been on an upwards trajectory since its conception. Having carved out a large segment in its sector, it’s now taken the step into tech by purchasing Mirror, a fitness start-up, for $500m. In a similar guise to Peloton, Mirror is what you’d expect, a mirror you put in your home, but it houses a screen and is used to beam PT style workouts right into your room.
With gyms closed due to the pandemic and some apprehension amongst those returning, the home workout sector is growing at a rapid pace. The question remains as to whether Lululemon has purchased Mirror for its technology, or its subscription-based content. My bet is on the latter and for that content to appear on more than just the Mirror… with all instructors head to toe in Lululemon gear of course! Either way, this looks to be a great move that will build and strengthen the growing community and fanbase the brand has built.
2. The accelerated widening of the digital divide
The global pandemic has caused and will continue to lead to many changes in the way we live our lives. For many of us, the way we work and spend our downtime has changed drastically, as highlighted by a recent Ofcom report. The average British adult is now spending 4hrs 2mins online per day, that’s an increase of over 13% YoY. This should come of no surprise as remote work, Zoom parties and streaming TV shows, are now the norm. So why highlight this news?
Well, incredibly the report also notes that 1 in 8 of the UK population doesn’t go online at all. Attributed to low-income households, this is especially worrying considering the reliance being placed on being connected during this period. For example, students in younger households will be at a disadvantage accessing education, and those in older, ‘high risk’ households, may face trouble accessing pension payments through online banking.
Prior to the pandemic, a lack of access to the internet was less inhibiting. Now it is accelerating the disadvantages faced by the most vulnerable in society.
3. IBM abandons facial recognition tech
As covered in my January top 5, facial recognition technology has stirred debate prior to now and will certainly continue to do so for years to come. One area that receives a lot of attention is around the biases designed into the technology by those who create it, and the difficulties that exist in removing them.
IBM, despite having spent many years developing the technology, is now abandoning it. Citing the potential issues around racial profiling and human rights abuse, IBM’s CEO used the opportunity to also call for police reforms. Whilst this could simply be a marketing ploy, it is one that has received wide media coverage and draws further scrutiny on law enforcement, following the murder of George Floyd. Following the news, other players in the sector such as Amazon have also cancelled or paused activity.
4. Microsoft to train 25m as unemployment surges due to COVID-19
Microsoft has pledged to offer digital skills training to over 25m people globally. With unemployment figures rising by the day and set to hit approximately 250m in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, it’s a commendable move to support those affected. Whilst Microsoft openly admits it is pushing its own technologies in the training, much of it is free. With training spend in corporate America reducing in recent years, this service also fills a clear void for those lucky enough not to be affected too.
There is a growing trend in this area with many big players such as Google also offering online training courses. It’s a win-win for both parties. In Microsoft’s case, they aim to provide skills for the most in-demand jobs, ones they’re likely to need. For the trainee, they get the skills they need in a post-COVID-19 working world, and potentially a job at Microsoft or in a company that uses their products.
5. Driver’s licenses can now be stored on phones in South Korea
Whilst we can do pretty much most things on our phones, one thing we’ve struggled to move towards is storing government provided ID. When travelling I can Uber a cab to an airport on my phone, have my boarding card on my phone, exchange currency on my phone… but I can’t get through security. Perhaps those days aren’t far off with South Korea paving the way in offering its citizens the option to store their driver’s license on their device. Passports next?
It makes sense to see non-physical identification coming to the fore at a time when we want to minimise the physical contact we have with others. I do however feel that privacy will be a much-debated topic, as with all government-led initiatives in this space (would people want a government app on their device?), so this could be something that ends up being driven by tech companies. One thing’s for sure, an all-digital ID world isn’t far off and if you’re in Ukraine, it’s literally around the corner!
One more thing: Build your own wall art
Admittedly not quite on the theme of tech but still something cool that caught my eye! Lego is well known for staying relevant and moving with the times. Once a part of our childhoods, it’s now widely accepted for a 34-year-old to spend their Saturday evening building the Millennium Falcon… yes, I’m referring to me. Creating with Lego is a widely acknowledged art form (I highly recommend Nathan Sawaya’s ‘Art of the Brick’ exhibition) and now it literally can be art in your very own home or office! Say hello to the ultra-cool Lego Art range 😍.