New Tech: New Trade, New Tricks

June brought me books and peculiar poetry and Sherlock.  July brought a good deal of travel for everyone.  August has brought me a number of new things – a new house, new housemates, new pursuits – and one of those new experiences happened yesternight.

This is my phone, guys. Kicking it old school, by which I of course mean “texting slowly.”

My roommate invited me to something called A2 New Tech Meetup.  You might guess (reasonably) that it’s not my usual kind of event.  I am not much of an Ann Arborite, I’m about as low-tech as it gets (where phones are concerned, anyway), and I don’t necessarily try to meet new people from the first two categories.  When I reached the auditorium for this presentation, it took some chutzpah to walk normally and take a seat rather than flee from the alarming ratio of men to ladies.  What am I doing here?  I don’t have one of these fancy phones.  I don’t use apps, much less develop them.

But I stayed, and my initial misgivings gave way to fascination with the projects these groups are working on.  In the end, it was good to hear about five companies from The Tech Brewery.

My roommate works for one of them: a startup company called AppKey, which works to “combine the download scope of a free app with the revenue of a premium app.”  Of all the people with Android phones, 1 percent will bother to pay 99 cents for “the full version” of an app; the other 99 percent will use the free version.  This, of course, is their prerogative.  But it leaves the developers wanting, since they do a fair amount of work to put out those free apps.  What to do?  Allow consumers a different ‘key’ to the premium app, namely, let them opt in to passive banner ads (rather than the annoyingly glittery advertisements that few willingly click).  The advertisers get more ads out (and viewed), the developers get a portion of the revenue based on how often the keyed-premium app is used, and the consumers get premium apps without spending anything on them.

Then there was abriiz, the company with the app for phone-toting kids with asthma.  If a child with severe asthma has different medications to take at various parts of the day, it can be easy to forget doses.  The application issues a reminder at set times, tracks the doses taken, logs them in, and tracks them (showing a log toward some incentive the parent and child set up).  The idea is that timely dosage-taking will prevent some of the severe asthma attacks such children suffer, and cut down on ER visits.  That saves the insurers money, and everyone is happier…assuming the child doesn’t lie; they had to admit that the app couldn’t prevent that (though, as they pointed out, asthmatic kids have good reason not to skip around on such things).

DeepField came next; it works with internet service providers to track data in the Cloud.  So many sites depend on other sites/suppliers/networks to remain in place.  When Amazon’s Cloud had an outage in Virginia in June, a number of other sites and services went down with it.  DeepField provides tools for those sites to see which suppliers they depend on.  That gives internet providers more data about where their network (and the energy/money expended on it) goes, so their business decisions are more informed.  I must admit that the project sounded intriguing, but I know very little about Cloud computing and therefore can’t get very in-depth.  On one hand, it’s frustrating; on the other, it reminds me how much there is to learn.

Next up was QizBox, which is being developed by some folks at Bowling Green State University.  Here’s the premise: so often, students sit in class and don’t want to raise their hand or otherwise participate.  But give them an anonymous forum and boom: the developer’s seen a lot more participation in his classes, and the questions or answers given are all more trackable.  There’s a section in the Box for note-taking and seeing what information/images/etc. the professor has uploaded.  Students can give feedback about what’s giving them trouble, and they’re working to make it so students can encourage each other. 

Last was the fellow discussing Proteân.  The word means “versatile,” and the idea is to re-imagine the ubiquitous plastic card to allow for one versatile object.  The average American has 6 cards – debit card, credit card, ID card, loyalty cards, gift cards, etc., etc.  The Protean system takes what they call the Echo card, and it mimics all those different cards.  Customers don’t have to root around in purses or wallets for that card they swear they had (I didn’t realize how annoying this was until they pointed it out to me); merchants get more information on customer spending and, theoretically, more sales (because customers will be better placed to take advantage of loyalty-based deals).  They’ve done a great deal of work to make the Echo card secure.

All told, I’m glad I went.  All I expected was to learn a bit more about what my roommate did, but the presentations (succinct as they were) helped me understand what sort of possibilities are out there in the ocean of technology.  It’s fascinating to recognize that other people have looked for a way to make the world more efficient, have looked for and found problems to solve.  Admittedly, I don’t always agree with the solutions.  QizBox, for example, might engender students who are afraid to take a stand for what is right because they’re accustomed to anonymity.  The data collection from AppKey and the Echo card might allow for uncomfortably well-targeted ad campaigns, raising all manner of privacy concerns (and, depending on how much self-control buyers have, budget worries).  The Echo card might even prove more inconvenient because losing or breaking it means losing a whole lot of things at once.

Still, it’s exciting to learn about the approaching wave of technology.  Even this old-phone user is intrigued by the projects discussed last night – the tip of the innovation iceberg.

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