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July 22, 2015

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John Miley


Here are the latest updates in technology. This week, we focus on augmented reality, Windows 10, connected devices and telemarketing.

Coming soon: Computerized glasses that let workers see virtual information. Augmented reality glasses, which overlay computer information on objects, are poised for healthy growth among business buyers. Today's headsets are ready for prime time, due to more powerful, energy-efficient computer chips that make headsets smaller and mobile. Some industries have already run promising secret trials with prototypes. A new trade association, the Augmented Reality for Enterprise Alliance, will lead to more businesses testing the waters.

A number of firms will sell software and hardware related to augmented reality, including Atheer Labs, Magic Leap, Vuzix and NGrain. Microsoft will make a splash with a new headset called HoloLens. Business versions will likely cost at least $1,000 each. Uses include seeing a full-scale building design on an undeveloped property or locating items in a vast warehouse. "It's still extremely early, but we are seeing an acceleration of uses," says Nima Shams, vice president of head-worn devices at Osterhout Design Group.

Industries that figure to be early adopters include health care, oil and gas, architecture and manufacturing. Information can be fed to a worker in real time so that less training is needed for new tasks. What's more, managers will be able to tap into live video feeds of what workers see to help talk through tasks when problems arise. The features will also be vital for public safety and military applications. Consumer use will grow more slowly than business use.

Windows Upgrade

A new version of Microsoft Windows (set to launch July 29) will catch on quickly. Microsoft is betting the farm on Windows 10, hoping it ushers in a new age of computing for billions of connected devices. The new Windows will quickly land on millions of devices, making it the fastest uptake of a new Windows operating system ever. The reason: Microsoft is offering a free upgrade for the first year. It will dent sales at first but pay off later, since the update doesn't transfer to new devices. Windows runs on 90% of desktop computers and is used by 1.5 billion people each day.

Small businesses will be the first to upgrade, looking for productivity gains. "The big companies are usually pretty conservative," says Roger Kay, a technology analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates. Firms jumping in first will find a slew of new features, including a built-in voice assistant, a faster Web browser and better security. Microsoft will likely start selling Windows as a subscription. It has moved to incremental upgrades rather than launching new versions every three years.

The outlook for PCs and computer chips hinges on Windows 10. Companies such as Intel, Lenovo and Dell will benefit once Windows 10 starts to gain traction. Sales of chips and PCs have stalled since a brief jump last year. Support for Windows XP ended in April 2014, pushing companies to upgrade computer fleets. PC shipments for the most recent quarter fell the most since 2013 and are expected to fall about 4% this year, according to Gartner. As the long-term outlook for PCs cools, tech giants are shifting their sights to markets poised for explosive growth. The next frontier: A battle over which operating system runs homes, cars and wearable gadgets. Microsoft, Apple, Google and others are vying to cash in.

The Value of the Internet of Things

The global value of the Internet of Things (IOT) could reach $11 trillion over the next decade, according to an analysis by McKinsey & Co. The largest beneficiaries of IOT include factories, cities, health care and retail. Most of the value will come from developing countries, which will see huge benefits because of their current widespread inefficiencies. Top uses include monitoring chronic diseases to lower health care costs and tracking machines to reduce factory downtime. McKinsey cites interoperability -- networks, devices and sensors talking to one another -- as the biggest challenge.

But an overlooked challenge is worth noting: building the networks that make IOT possible. Next-generation wired and wireless networks, including 5G, will be critical to unlocking the full value of connectivity. Federal regulators will play a key role in making more airwaves available. Builders of networks -- Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, American Tower, Cisco, Intel and Level 3 Communications -- will be vital, too.

Investing in Technology's Hottest Trends

Emerging technology sectors are getting their own stock indexes. Cybersecurity, big data and mobile payments now have stock indexes created by ISE ETF Ventures. Its Cybersecurity index, which tracks publicly traded companies such as Verisign and Symantec, gave rise to PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF (HACK). The ETF has swelled to $1.3 billion in assets in just eight months, propped up by news of massive data breaches. Indexes for big data and mobile payments launched this month, too. A similar investment product, Robo-Stox Global Robotics & Automation Index ETF (ROBO), which tracks robotics companies, launched in late 2013.

Other niche technology indexes are sure to crop up. Chalk it up to growing demand from money managers. "We believe emerging tech sectors, when correctly categorized as an industry, are strong investment opportunities," says Mark Abssy, senior index and ETF manager at ISE ETF Ventures. Until recently, there weren't enough publicly traded big data companies to warrant an index, he notes.

Tech Tidbits

  • Trying to reach customers by phone or text? Note new, tougher rules from the Federal Communications Commission. Firms sending automatic calls or texts with pre-recorded messages, known as robocalls, will be closely watched. They can't send such messages without customer consent, and any violation after the first is punishable by a fine. Expect a flurry of lawsuits against companies trying to comply.
  • IBM's cognitive computer can uncover your mood. Big Blue is on a mission to bring its cognitive computing services, which started with Watson, to more businesses. A new app, Tone Analyzer, deciphers the emotional tone of written messages. Industries pursuing cloud-based cognitive computing include health care, retail and banking.

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John Miley

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