Bill Bennett

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Category: computing

Computing is where it all started for this site. These days computing doesn’t need to be local. It can, and often does, takes place in the cloud.

Servers, storage and other pure computer appliances are joined by modern phones, which are computers is all but name.

Bumper year ahead for NZ IT sector

Gartner says New Zealand spending on technology products and services will grow 7.4 percent this year. The company’s latest forecast says the market will total NZ$15.3 billion in 2022.

New Zealand’s forecast spending growth is ahead of growth in world spending. Gartner says the international market will climb 5.1 percent this year.

The fastest growth in New Zealand will be in data centre systems which Gartner says will grow 16.6 percent in 2021.

Data centre building boom

New Zealand is seeing a burst of investment in local data centres. Earlier this week DCI Data Centres announced plans to further develop its 5 hectare site in North Auckland.

The company says it designed its AKL01 and AKL02 sites for the New Zealand market and local data sovereignty.

Meanwhile, Hawaiki Cable founder Remi Galasso’s Datagrid product is going ahead near Invercargill in the South Island.

Enterprise software

Enterprise software is surging with spending expected to grow 14 percent. It services are forecast to grow seven percent. Devices will be up 6.7 percent.

Communications services is the laggard, as has been the case in recent years. Gartner expects spending to grow one percent. That’s well behind New Zealand’s rate of inflation and can be seen as, in effect, a market contraction.

In recent years Communications Services was the largest sector in New Zealand, but it’s slow growth saw it eclipsed last year by IT Services.

New Zealand IT spending forecast

 2021 Spending2021 Growth (%)2022 Spending2022 Growth (%)2023 Spending2023 Growth (%)
Data Centre Systems66716.67004.97639.0
Enterprise Software3,11114.03,53613.73,98212.6
Devices2,1146.72,3059.02,092-9.3
IT Services4,1767.04,5308.55,01110.6
Communications Services4,1611.34,2031.04,2451.0
Overall IT14,230
7.015,2757.416,0935.4
Gartner figures, January 2022.
All numbers are NZ$ millions

IT services on a roll

Gartner expects IT services to grow 8.5 percent in the coming year to reach NZ$4.5 billion. In 2023 it expects the segment to grow a further 10.6 percent taking it past NZ$5 billion.

IT services includes consulting and managed services. Gartner says consulting will grow eight percent in 2022.

“…staff skills gaps, wage inflation and the war for talent will push CIOs to rely more on consultancies and managed service firms to pursue their digital strategies.”

Gartner forecast total IT spending will grow a further 5.4 percent in 2023 taking the spend past NZ$16 billion.

Google ends free legacy G Suite accounts

Google says customers with legacy free edition G Suite accounts will soon need to pay for Workspace apps. That is bad news for many people.

For the past 16 years G Suite has been free for those customers who signed up in its early days.

G Suite, which includes Gmail, Google Drive and Google Docs, was free from 2006 to 2012 when the company began charging.

Existing ‘legacy’ customers were able to hang on to their free accounts until now.

Gmail with your own domain name

One feature of the early deal was that customers could use Gmail services with an email address containing their own domain name. Other Gmail customers have to use gmail.com addresses.

This was useful for small business owners. Having a generic gmail.com address signals to email recipients they are not dealing with a well-resourced business. A company domain name gives the appearance of a substantial business and in the online world, appearances can matter.

The deal lived on when G Suite was wrapped into the rebranded and reorganised Google Workspace two years ago.

End of free

Now that’s over. Subscriptions for Google Workspace start at US$6 a month. That’s around NZ$100 a year.

It is not expensive, but for many people that is not the point.

The new arrangement starts on May 1. Customers who don’t sign up to pay will have their accounts suspended on July 1.

On one level it is hard to be upset by Google’s move.

After all, Google is a business, not a public service.

And it would be hard to accuse Google of ‘bait and switch’ when the time lag between stages is a decade.

Yet, it is another warning of the dangers of being dependent on a Google service. Many will feel locked-in to Gmail.

That doesn’t have to be the case, there are alternatives.

Alternatives to G Suite

Microsoft has Office 365 options at different price points. The cheapest comes in below Google’s basic offer at US$5 a month for an inbox with 50GB of storage. That is NZ$7.60 a month, still a fraction cheaper than Google.

It includes Microsoft’s web apps. To get the desktop apps, storage and web mail with a custom domain works out at close to twice Google’s price.

A mail-only service from Zoho can cost as little as US$15 a year. There is a limited free version.

For now people with a free version of Google won’t see any change. YouTube and Google Photos will stay. The free, 15GB version of Google Drive remains.

No G Suite migration path

Switching to a free account is an option, but you lose the custom domain name.

There’s no guarantee these accounts will stay free long term.

Where Google’s strategy gets nasty is for people who have Play store purchases or You Tube subscriptions using one of these accounts. It appears the licences don’t transfer. There is no official migration path.

The change may not affect everyone with an older, free, Google account. To find out if it affects you, log into to Google and visit your subscriptions page.

If it says “Legacy Account”, you will get a mail from the company soon telling you about the change.

Alexa, Amazon’s smart speaker, not winning friends

If you got an Amazon Echo smart speaker this Christmas, there’s a good chance you lost interest in the device and the Alexa voice technology before the holidays ended.

At Bloomberg, Priya Anand writes:

Each holiday season since 2015, Amazon.com has counted on selling a lot of its Alexa voice-controlled smart speakers. For almost as long, it has known that the devices have had trouble holding customers’ attention even into January. 
According to internal data, there have been years when 15 to 25 percent of new Alexa users were no longer active in their second week with the device.
Only two-thirds of Echo owners use their device every week. That figure drops to around a half for the number of Echo Dot owners who use their device every week.

Smart speaker growth phase is over

While Amazon smart speaker sales have been strong in recent years, the same internal data suggest the growth phase is over. Amazon estimates speaker sales will grow at 1.2 percent over the next few years.

There are two reasons smart speakers have not been the smash hit product that companies like Amazon expected.

First, people worry about their privacy with always-on speakers listening to every conversation.

This is not a vague, unfounded suspicion. Stories have emerged of Amazon employees listening to private conversations between people close to smart speakers.

Amazon’s high profile missteps in this area that confirm people’s fears.

Meanwhile it feels creepy to have a computer eavesdrop on a conversation only to suggest a range of Amazon products based on what was said.

Surveillance capitalism is less welcome than Amazon assumes.

Less useful than buyers expect

The second reason people turn away from smart speakers is they aren’t as useful as the companies pushing the technology would have you think.

Everyone who has dabbled with smart speakers1 will have noticed devices wrongly interpreting speech as commands. The technology is clever, but it is far from foolproof.

Moreover, people don’t do much with their smart speakers. Many play music and do nothing else. Amazon’s Echo speakers are not always the best devices for doing that. They can be unreliable, your experience may be different.

Others might set a timer while they boil eggs or tell the speaker to turn on the lights.

Early days

Yes, it is early days. And yes, other smart speaker brands follow different paths.

Take, say, Apple’s HomePod Mini. It is not likely to suggest grocery purchases because it overheard you rowing with your significant other.

Part of the problem is the smart speaker hardware format. Computers, phones and tablets come with screens and input methods, including keyboards and touch, that let you explore possibilities.

Exploration is a tiresome process with a smart speaker.

Did you know?

Amazon tried getting Alexa to suggest functions to owners: “Did you know you can do this with Alexa?”

For many users the initial reaction was “how do I turn the suggestions off?”

There are cases where these constant, nagging suggestions have caused users to unplug the device.

Big plans for Alexa

Amazon had big plans for Alexa. It still does. Or would do if customers would only do what they are told.

Smart speakers are at the stealth end of surveillance capitalism. They record what people say, collect information, build more complex profiles, then channel lucrative sales leads back to Amazon to help the company sell more and more products.

Or as the company might express that: Alexa helps deepen relationships with customers.

More than a speaker

Alexa is about more than smart speakers. It comes pre-installed on other devices. Many new headphones and earbuds come with technology to enable Alexa or its rival voice systems.

At Stacy on IoT, Kevin C. Tofel reports Amazon planned to flood the market with low-cost speakers at a loss, then make money when people use the device to buy from the company.

That’s an established business model. Amazon is rich enough to lose a bundle on seeding speakers that never stay in use long enough to channel shoppers to its online checkouts.

The fact that when that happens, Alexa then nags the customer to leave a review on the Amazon website will accelerate Echo speaker unplugging.

Who wins most from Alexa?

Like the suggestions mentioned earlier, this is all about benefiting Amazon, not the customer.

We know Amazon’s model works, but it puts sales at the centre of its operations, not customer needs.

Over time this gets tiresome.

A different business model

In contrast Apple operates a different business model. For a start, it doesn’t lose money every time someone buys a speaker.

Apple’s goal is to sell hardware and wrap you further into its walled garden where you can buy lucrative value-added services.

Amazon has the resources and motivation to fix these smart speaker problems, yet it is hard to know where it can go in the short term. It finds abusing that business model is far too tempting and that tests customers’ patience with the technology.

Privacy

Alexa is one part of Amazon’s assault on privacy. The company’s Ring home surveillance system and the Halo wearable band are as intrusive. They are the thin end of the wedge. Amazon plans to sell drones and autonomous surveillance robots.

These tools would be bad enough if their sole purpose was to build a fuller profile and sell you Amazon products and services.

Yet Amazon is sloppy about security. That should not come as a surprise. The company doesn’t value privacy, hence it doesn’t waste resources on protecting something it considers worthless.

Compromised

Criminals regularly break into Amazon Ring cameras. It would be prudent to consider the possibility the other surveillance products are either compromised or soon will be.

Amazon works hard to lobby against privacy legislation around the world. It has vast resources to pour into this campaign.

All of which goes to explain why Amazon persists with Alexa and its Echo smart speakers despite losing money on sales and customers turning away from the technology.

*Normally a blog post like this attracts plenty of “I’m happy with…” comments from readers. Feel free to add yours. *


  1. The same logic applies to phone or PC-based versions of the technology. That would be Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant. Microsoft no longer pushes Cortana but that now turns up in the company’s enterprise products and services. ↩︎

Printer sales down 20 percent on supply chain woes

IDC reports manufacturing constraints and logistical issues are behind a 20.4 percent drop in printer sales in the third quarter of 2021.

Strictly speaking IDC was reporting on the drop in sales of ‘hardcopy peripherals’. The category covers inkjets, lasers, copiers and multi-function devices.

Researchers says the printer brands struggled to fulfil orders.

These weren’t the only problems. IDC says the value of shipments dropped 11 percent over the quarter.

Canon fared worst

Canon was the biggest loser. It saw a year on year drop of almost 40 percent (39.2 percent). Canon slipped from second place to third place behind HP and Epson.

Things were tough at HP which saw sales fall by a quarter (26.1 percent). The company continues to dominate the sector with a 40 percent market share down from 44 percent a year ago.

Epson and Kyocera did best. Both managed to grow. Epson continued its expansion in the ink tank market, a strategy that has worked for the Japanese company.

Worldwide Hardcopy Peripherals Market, Unit Shipments, Company Share, and Year-Over-Year Growth, Q3 2021 (based on unit shipments)
Company3Q21 Unit Shipments3Q21 Market Share3Q20 Unit Shipments3Q20 Market Share3Q21/3Q20 Growth
1. HP Inc.8,566,57340.9%11,599,53544.1%-26.1%
2. Epson4,185,08920.0%4,148,91515.8%+0.9%
3. Canon Group3,394,47416.2%5,585,49421.2%-39.2%
4. Brother1,858,0158.9%1,933,2497.3%-3.9%
5. Kyocera Group446,8492.1%407,1361.5%+9.8%
Others2,497,19611.9%2,655,73210.1%-6.0%
Total20,948,196100.0%26,330,061100.0%-20.4%
Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Hardcopy Peripherals Tracker, November 11, 2021

Multi-Factor Authentication: Better with Apple

I’ve written a backgrounder on multi-factor authentication at the Network for Learning blog. It’s written for teachers and people working in the educational sector, which means it’s accessible for non-technical readers.

You’ll see 2FA when you use popular online sites and services. Google’s G Suite for Education uses it. You’ll see it when you use Gmail, Apple or Microsoft cloud services.

There are a couple of points the N4L blog post doesn’t make, mainly in the interest of keeping things simple and not taking sides.

Easier with Apple

The first is that multi-factor or two-factor Authentication is much easier if you live in Apple’s world. When you get a txt confirmation during the sign-in process on your iPhone, your Mac or iPad will automatically insert this on the web page, there’s nothing else to do.

Apple calls this feature ‘continuity‘.

There is no racing to copy the code down, no risk of mistyping those codes.

It makes multi-factor authentication frictionless. That’s good, because you are more likely to use it and not be tempted to avoid it.

At the time of writing there is no direct comparison for this if you choose to work with Windows and Android devices. While some geekier types do have workarounds, they are far from frictionless and are too complex for everyday users to master.

Safer option

This level of integration and convenience is often overlooked by Apple’s critics, but it saves time and keeps you safer.

Likewise, biometric log-ins are dependent on your hardware choices. In this case it is far wider than Apple. Not every brand of phone or computer deals well with fingerprint or face recognition.

There are workarounds, but it is worth checking on the biometric options before you buy a laptop or a phone. You may pay a little more for a device with face recognition or a fingerprint reader. It’s worth it.

The AGI hype train is running out of steam

AGI is no longer a big buzzword in Silicon Valley. The unfulfilled expectations will affect the future of artificial intelligence.

Like the idea of a true driverless car or nuclear fusion, artificial general intelligence is not going to happen soon, despite hype in recent years suggesting it is not far away.

Most modern artificial intelligence is a form of deep learning or natural language processing. AI is also used for computer vision. Things have moved fast in the last decade, but it is more about sifting through vast piles of data than building machines that think.

General Artificial Intelligence is about building machines, or more accurately software, that can think in ways that resemble human thinking.

That’s a loose definition, experts argue over exactly what GAI means and doesn’t mean. They don’t even agree on its name: there are many variations in use each with a different, nuanced meaning.

GAI doesn’t necessarily mean sentience. At best it is an early step on the path, but it is possible machine sentience can never be achieved.

As The Next Web reports the financiers behind GAI have gone quiet lately. The story suggests they have lost their appetite for the technology.

Source: The AGI hype train is running out of steam