Author Archives: Hussain Fakhruddin

Teksmobile – Now In South Korea!

Early last month, Teksmobile launched its South Korean chapter – Teksmobile Korea. This was the fourth international office working under the Teks brand, following those in United States, Sweden and Australia (there are a couple of offices in India as well, at Kolkata and Pune). On the occasion, global CEO of Teksmobile, Hussain Fakhruddin, gave a brief overview of the new Korean offices, the key principles of operations for Teks, the organizational targets, and many things more. Here are some excerpts:

Logo of Teksmobile Korea

“Hello everyone…my name is Hussain Fakhruddin, and I happen to be the founder/CEO of Teksmobile. It gives me great delight to announce the start of Teksmobile Korea from this month. When I had started this company some 11 summers back, I had not imagined that Teks will have offices in 5 different countries – all within a decade or so. It’s been an exciting journey…and I look forward to building on our successes thus far, and scaling greater heights.

 

By the end of 2017 Q2, Teksmobile had (all branches combined) clients from 45+ different countries. Apart from US, Canada, UK and Oceania (Australia/New Zealand) – we had a strong client base in Asia. That, in turn, fueled my motivation for starting a new Asian chapter for the company. Eric and me managed to forge a collaboration, the formalities and completed…and bosh!…Team Teks had new offices in two South Korean cities, Busan and Seoul.

 

I have always been very particular about selecting the locations for our overseas chapters. While opening offices in the United States or Sweden were practically no-brainers – my team had conducted in-depth researches and studied the trends in the Australian market, before we decided to take the plunge there. This time too, we did our homework – and while countries like Japan and China were the more obvious choices, we felt that that the South Korean mobile app market presented considerable untapped opportunities. Over the last 4-odd years, this market has grown by nearly 800% – clearly underlining the prominence of Korea as one of the fastest growing app economies in the world.

 

A bit about our ambition to emerge as a leading force in the domain of 2D/3D game development. Our studies revealed that South Korea held the 6th rank in the world, in terms of revenues generated from games. There were more than 25 million gamers in the country, and the figure was rising steadily. This was a marketplace, I told myself, that would give Teks the opportunity to show off our skills as high-end game developers in particular, and drivers of technological innovations in general. It’ll be a challenge…what good thing isn’t, after all…but I feel that Teksmobile Korea will be a rousing success. We will, of course, have to give it some time.

 

During my career as a mobile app and API architect, and of course the CEO of Teks, I have been fortunate to meet and form mutually fruitful partnerships with some great people…people who have done more than their bit to expand the company’s reach. I should, at this point, mention the name of the COO of Teks Sverige, Maria Bergström, in this regard. Eric Jinsu Kang, who is the head of the South Korean Teks Team, is the latest addition to the list of amazing work-partners I have had the good fortune to meet. The man is an expert on software and big data in his own right, knows several languages…I think 7…and is a go-getter in the truest sense of the term. If something can be done ‘today’, Eric believes in doing it ‘now’ – and he is precisely the type of person I was looking for to be the ‘face of Teks Korea’. It might sound like a cliche…but Eric does remind me of a younger version of myself, from the time when I had just started to plan big things for Teks. He has the same hunger, the same drive…and his presence augurs well for our South Korean chapter.

 

One thing that we must not lose sight of is the existing competition in the South Korean market. It would be way too naive to think that Teksmobile will be automatically successful over there – since there are already several other mobile app companies present in the country. Commitment to maintain uniformly high quality of service is going to be the biggest tool for us in making inroads in the Korean app and mobile software markets. Team Teks has always followed a ‘client-first’ strategy – something that I believe has been a major reason for our sustained success over the years. For our Korean chapter too, we will continue with the same business philosophy…the philosophy of being completely transparent with our operations, and never compromising on the quality of our products. I have been a mobile app entrepreneur for more than a decade…and my experience has taught me that sincerity always works wonders in the long-run…gimmicky promotions don’t.

 

I would also like to point out that the start of Teksmobile Korea would bring increased exposure opportunities for my team-members….more like the members of my ‘Teks Family’. A senior software developer is already assisting Eric in setting up the offices in Seoul and Busan – and will be looking over the first set of projects. We also have plans to send over more people to Korea, for handling the projects over there. Eric, of course, is already busy recruiting people and setting up his own team. The Swedish, Australian, American and Indian chapters of Teksmobile will closely coordinate with the Korean chapter – to help the latter in the initial stages.

 

In our Korea offices, we will be offering services related to a wide range of cutting-edge technologies. Developing mobile apps for the iOS and Android platforms, along with custom APIs, will remain our core service – but Eric and yours truly have plans to start delivering IoT tools and applications, VR and AR solutions, AI-powered chatbots…and maybe even something based on blockchain technology. The more we expand our horizons, the greater will be the chances of our success.

 

I am thankful to my team-members – the developers and the designers, the testers and the backend experts – for giving their all for making ‘Teks’ a brand that is automatically associated with ‘quality’, ‘creativity’ and ‘great software’. Our body of work to date includes over 1000 applications, many websites and portals, quite a few mobile games, a children’s storytelling app that has widely been recognized as among the best of its kind, and several other advanced software solutions. The goodwill we have managed to build…the positive word-of-mouth publicity from our clients – these will play a big role in helping Teksmobile Korea get off the blocks quickly. Do wish us the very best.

 

As I said right at the start, I had not imagined that my little startup in 2006 will become a multinational company with offices in 5 countries in 2017. Now though, I feel that there are no limits to what we can reach – and with the support of our clients old and new (I like referring to them as our ‘external employees’), and my team-members – a couple more overseas chapters might well be in the offing. Pretty soon.”

iPhone X, iPhone 8 & More: Top 12 Announcements By Apple

“Let’s meet at our place”

This was the tagline for this year’s widely anticipated iPhone-launch event, which happened on September 12. For the first time ever, the event was hosted at the ‘Steve Jobs Theater‘ in Cupertino (hence the reference to ‘our place’). 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the iPhone – and expectedly, the event was a grand affair, and the launches were certainly not limited to the new lines of mobile devices. Let us here do a quick roundup of every important announcement made at this year’s ‘Apple September event‘:

  1. iPhone 8/8 Plus

    The ‘tick-tock development cycle’ traditionally followed by Apple has finally been ditched – with the Cupertino company opting to launch the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus this year (instead of the ‘s’-variants). The bodies of the new handsets are created with ‘the most durable glass in a smartphone’ – with both the front and the back having glass finishes, along with smooth stainless steel borders. The screen sizes for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will remain the same as their predecessors (4.7” and 5.5” respectively), and the devices will be water-resistant up to depths of 1 meter. Wireless charging has also finally made its way to the Apple devices, on the new flagship devices. The built-in A11 Bionic processor chip of iPhone 8/8 Plus will boost the speeds of these devices by close to 25% over the iPhone 7/iPhone 7 Plus range. The audio qualities of iPhone 8 are also superior than that of iPhone 7 (better bass, higher volumes). The LCD screen of iPhone 8 comes with high-quality Retina Display with True Tone (along with, of course, 3D Touch).

Note: The A11 bionic chip has a 64-bit design. The superior GPU performance of iPhone 8/8 Plus will make the experience of gaming and using augmented reality (AR) apps more immersive.

  1. AirPower – the wireless charger

    Apple is playing the catch-up game here, with select Android devices having the wireless charging feature for some time now. Named AirPower, the wireless charging pad (the first of its kind made by the company), it can be used to charge both iPhone 8 and the iPhone X (we are coming to that in a bit) – along with the AirPods and the third-generation Apple Watch. Interestingly though, not much information was shared regarding the price and availability of AirPower – and experts are looking forward to an early-2018 release of the wireless charger. There are certain regulatory formalities (related to the Qi wireless charging standard) that need to be completed, before AirPower can hit the markets.

Note: Users can, of course, still use the Lightning Connector to charge the new iPhones.

  1. Improved phone camera performance

    iPhone 8/8 Plus share broad design similarities with last year’s models – but there are several upgrades in the new handsets. We have already talked about the wireless charging feature – and we will put the spotlight on the superior performance of the iPhone 8 camera. The 12 MP camera has an interesting colour filter, together with a brand-new sensor – for better stability and crisper photography on the go. Images will be sharper as a result of pixel processing, while the low-light autofocus is significantly faster as well. As far as the iPhone 8 Plus phablet is concerned, light effects can be enhanced with ‘Portrait Lighting’, while the dual-lens camera has also received two sensors (f1/2.8 and f/1.8). Slow-motion videos can now be shot at 240 fps and 1080p – marking a huge upgrade over the previous models. At the event, Phil Schiller opined that iPhone 8 boasts of the ‘highest-quality video recorder ever in a smartphone’.

Note: The iPhone 8 will have three colour variants – space gray, silver and gold. The prices of the 64 GB models are $699 (iPhone 8) and $799 (iPhone 8 Plus) respectively. Pre-ordering starts tomorrow, and shipments will start from 22 September.

  1. iOS 11

    Thanks to the uniformity of Apple’s mobile platform (unlike the fragmented Android ecosystem) – the latest adoption figure of iOS 10 has jumped to 89%. At this year’s ‘iPhone event’, the latest iteration of the platform – iOS 11 - was announced. The new version would debut on iPhone 8 and iPhone X, and has a wide range of new features – right from greater support for augmented reality applications and a rejigged Control Center, to improved Apple Maps and a nifty person-to-person (P2P) payment system via Apple Pay. The 11.0 Golden Master preview of iOS 11 was released a couple of days back – and the final version of the OS is set to arrive on September 19.

  2. iPhone X

    Right from the Airport base station back in 1999, to the iPod, the iTunes store and the Apple Watch – the ‘one more thing’ announcements at Apple keynotes have always generated considerable excitement among tech-enthusiasts worldwide. This year, that pride of place has gone to the high-end iPhone X (the name is pronounced as ‘iPhone 10’) – a $999 handset that commemorates the tenth anniversary of the iconic smartphone line. Much like the Samsung Galaxy S8, the iPhone X also has a bezel-less display screen – with the physical home button giving way to a digital one. The surgical-standard steel bands provide additional protection to the glass body (back and front). This model also sports a OLED Super Retina Display (unlike the LCD display of iPhone 8/8 Plus) – and it will be available in two colour variants (space grey and silver). The presence of the breakthrough Face ID facial recognition software is worth a special mention – with iPhone X having the capability to detect changes in facial features (hairstyle changes, facial hair, etc.) and can also identify faces during the day and night. Since there is no home button in iPhone X, Face ID replaces Touch ID – and it is the only way to unlock the device.

Note: Apple VP Craig Federighi ran into a minor glitch while demonstrating the Face ID feature during the event. A second ‘backup device’ was required to complete the demonstration.

  1. macOS High Sierra

    The new version of the macOS platform (v.10.13) – macOS High Sierra – was announced at this year’s Apple WWDC – and September 25th has been confirmed as the date on which shipments will start. The update will be downloadable on practically all Mac systems of 2009 or later make (albeit with certain exceptions; there might be compatibility issues with older apps). The Photos application has been revamped, while things have been given a dynamic tweak with the enhanced VR (virtual reality) support. ‘Autoplay Blocking’ is yet another key feature of macOS High Sierra – and it will prevent media content from autoplaying anywhere on the web. Changes have been made in the core file system of the platform as well (powered by the new APFS filesystem).

Note: HTC VIve and SteamVR headsets are compatible with the latest version of the operating system.

  1. watchOS 4

    The fourth iteration of the watchOS platform has also been announced by the Cupertino tech giant – and it has also been armed with an excellent set of features. For starters, there is a special HIIT mode (high-intensity interval training mode) in the Workout application – while the upgraded wearables can also be used to seamlessly exchange pertinent information with gym tools and equipments. The heart rate analysis has also been bumped up in watchOS 4 – with particular attention being placed on resting period heart rates and recovery periods. The P2P Apple Pay system on the iOS 11 platform has been brought to the Apple Watch platform as well, and the overall integration with Apple Music has been made stronger (auto-syncing of personalized playlists now possible). Swim-tracking has been upgraded too.

  2. Apple Watch 3

    Some might dismiss them as ‘too expensive’, but Apple Watch is certainly the runaway leader in the global smartwatch market. In a report published last month, it was revealed that sales of Watch were up by ~50% in 2017, on a YoY basis. Apple CEO Tim Cook took the opportunity to highlight that Apple Watch had now overtaken Rolex in terms of sales – catapulting Apple to the position of the numero uno watch seller in the world. The much-anticipated Apple Watch 3 made an appearance at the event – with the built-in cellular data connectivity (LTE support) making it much less reliant on paired iPhones (no more mobile data drains, finally!). Thanks to the addition of a brand-new dual-core processor, the latest rendition of Watch is more than 65% faster than its predecessor. The smartwatch can do things like stream Apple Music, send/receive messages, follow maps and place/receive calls – without the user having to connect it to a iPhone. Several new Watch bands were also showcased, along with a new Apple Watch Edition model (gray ceramic).

Note: Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE connectivity is priced at $399 (without cellular data, the price falls to $329). Shipments are slated to start from 22 September.

  1. Smarter ARKit applications

    At the launch event, there was a live demo of an AR game (with detailed player positioning and all) – to provide Apple developers a clear idea of the type of technical enhancements coming to the ARKit platform. We have already mentioned that iOS 11 will have expanded AR support – and the improvements in ARKit will enable third-party app developers to come up with more interesting, innovative and engaging applications. While interest in VR and AR has been rising rapidly – real-life ‘made with AR’ applications have mostly been clunky and rather ho-hum in terms of performance. With the new and improved ARKit (along with Google’s ARCore), things are set to change – if the sheer quality of the first set of apps made with ARKit are any indication. It might well be that, half a decade later – 2017 will be viewed as the year when AR technology really took off.

  2. Fifth-generation Apple TV

    Dubbed as the ‘Apple TV 4K’, the fifth-gen Apple set-top box will be the first to support for 4K resolution video playback, along with ultraHD and HDR compatibility. The latest Apple TV will be powered by the powerful A10x fusion chip – with experts estimating that the chip will make it at least 2X faster than the fourth-gen set-top box. According to senior VP, Eddy Cue, the GPU of Apple TV 4K is, under optimal conditions, 4X faster than that of the previous model. Watching live sports will become more interactive than ever before, and all media content purchased FHD itunes will be amped up to 4K, as and when such 4K content becomes available. The built-in HDR support will help in generating brighter colours and better contrasts. Apple TV 4K preorders will start tomorrow.

   Note: 4K videos offer much sharper display than the full-HD 1080p videos supported by previous Apple TV versions.

    11. Animojis for iPhone X

The Face ID software of the $999 iPhone X makes use of infrared sensor and flash (useful for low-light detections) in its pioneering ‘true-depth camera system’. Animojis (animated emojis) are playful new additions – that create cool emojis on the basis of the facial expressions of end-users. Videos and images with Animojis can be sent/received as well. Several different Animojis are available – including fox, monkey, panda, and even an alien. In essence, the facial recognition software of iPhone X can ‘read’ facial expressions, and then, it creates animojis to mimic these expressions. A fun feature indeed!

    12. And finally, Apple Park

Tim Cook showed his emotional side at the Special Event, as he expressed his gratitude at being the first person to welcome the audience at the sprawling 175-acre Apple Park – and the newly inaugurated Steve Jobs Theater. Often referred to by outsiders as the ‘Apple Spaceship’, the Park was described to have been ‘a sea of asphalt’ once – before being designed to its elegant, sophisticated, green form at present. Interestingly, the entire Apple Park runs on fully renewable energy sources (there are >9000 trees over here). This will be the company’s new main campus – and the employees will begin to move in here before the end of 2017.

Note: The Apple Park also houses one of the biggest solar installation systems in the world.

Pre-ordering for the iPhone X (billed as the ‘future of the smartphone’) will start from October 27 – more than a month after iPhone 8/8 Plus goes on sale (September 22). Some experts also noted the fact that Apple shares dropped by ~4% on the day of the announcements – probably indicating that more was expected from the event (particularly on the AR front). Even so, the first-ever ‘iPhone event’ at the Steve Jobs Theater was a grand affair with many interesting announcements (none bigger than the iPhone X). All eyes are now on the release of these products – and the sort of reviews that they manage to garner from early adopters.

Top 14 Industries That Are Being Disrupted By Blockchain Technology

2 out of every 3 banks are likely to be actively involved in the commercial production of blockchain (distributed ledger system) solutions by 2019, according a recent IBM report. The adoption of blockchain open ledgers has been rising rapidly – and by the next couple of years or so, nearly 30 proof-of-concept (PoC) use cases of the technology are likely to be tested. In the United States, ~43% business owners opine that blockchains have the potential to cause disruptions in their respective industries, and nearly 56% entrepreneurs are of the opinion that non-implementation of the technology would amount to a missed opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. Over here, we will take a peek at some of the industries where blockchain technology has started to prove itself useful:

  1. Payments, banking and finance

    The financial sector was the first adopter of blockchain distributed ledger systems, and by the start of 2018, 15% of all the large banks globally will be using the technology. The Corda platform, which is being created by the R3 consortium (with more than 80 members), warrants a special mention in this regard. Barclays and UBS are among other big players that have initiated blockchain testing for adding efficiency to their work processes. Last month, ‘Coinbase’ had the distinction of becoming the ‘first cryptocurrency unicorn’ (on the Global Unicorn Club). American Express has also recently embedded a new payments startup and blockchain wallet – named Abra – in its system. Blockchains and cryptocurrency transactions are gradually adding an edge to the overall business infrastructure of banking and payments.

Note: The implementation of blockchain technology can bring down the costs on intermediaries/middlemen in banks by up to $20 billion.

  1. Supply chain management (SCM)

    In July this year, UK-based blockchain startup Provenance raised a whopping $800000 as new seed funds. The company, which specializes in ensuring complete traceability and transparency of trade, is a classic example of the potential of blockchain-based smart contracts to revolutionize the supply chain management industry. Since these ‘smart contracts’ remove the necessity of centralized middlemen – additional overhead costs (along with the probability of manual errors) are removed, and the state of goods/assets can be tracked at any time by network members. Provided that the smart contracts are being managed, recorded and executed optimally, the technology can deliver a lot of value in this sector.

Note: The Port of Antwerp (Belgium) revealed a blockchain logistics pilot in June.

  1. Vehicle and automation

    Nearly every stage in the transaction cycle of automobiles – right from loan agreements and origin tracing, to interest calculations and repayments, distribution, confirmations and allocation – can be fully automated with the help of blockchain technology. Earlier this year, LBBW successfully collaborated with Daimler to launch a new, ethereum-based blockchain pilot (worth $110 million). In particular, blockchains are being viewed as useful tools for preventing transaction manipulations – thanks to the cryptographic signature requirements of the technology. It is still early days for blockchain technology, with it not expected to become mainstream before 2021 – but already, its effects on the automobile industry are becoming apparent.

Note: At this year’s Paris Air Show, the probable influence of blockchain systems in the aviation industry – within the next 2-3 years – was discussed.

  1. Education

    Several months back, Sony first floated the idea of storing educational records (diplomas, test results, degrees, certificates, etc.) in the form of ‘digital transcripts’, by using blockchain technology (development of the digital system was completed in August 2017). Russian blockchain company BeOne has also revealed plans of combining online learning, course deliveries and blockchain benefits on a single platform (at present under alpha-testing). Apart from secure digital storage of credentialing data and facilitating smooth online learning, blockchains can also play an important role in verifying peer-to-peer knowledge transfers. Fraudulent claims of educational credits would, hence, be drastically reduced – and academia would evolve from its traditional, paper documentation-heavy structure.

Note: In June 2016, MIT Media Lab and Learning Machine came together to release Blockcerts – an open initiative for blockchain credentials.

  1. Personal identity

    Between 2002 and 2013, ~40 million travel-related documents (primarily, passports) were reported as either misplaced or stolen. Blockchain offers a technically upgraded way out from such tricky ‘identity-loss’ problems. The Dubai government recently got into an agreement with ObjectTech (a blockchain startup based in UK) to start the creation and issuance of ‘digital passports’. These ‘invisible’ e-passports would make the Dubai airport ‘borderless’, and would allow people to stay in control of all the information stored and shared about them. Iris scans, fingerprint data and facial recognition features would be stored in the digital passports, ruling out the risks of data thefts.

Note: International travels should become quicker (no passport check queues) and safer with digital passports in particular, and blockchain technology in general.

  1. Insurance

    The Aeternity blockchain project is showing the way in which the crucial ‘trust management’ factor in insurance agreements can be effectively managed through ‘smart contracts’ and ‘trustless, direct communications’. In order to feed actual data (preferably, on a real-time basis) to these ‘smart contracts’, oracles can be used. A wide range of data verifications – including, of course, personal identifications – can be done via the distributed ledger platform, delivering additional security layers to each individual insurance contract. It has already been more than a year since the arrival of LenderBot – the blockchain insurance bot application created by Deloitte, Lemonway and Stratumn.  The technology can solve the long-persisting need for maintaining secure, immutable public records of asset/insurance transactions.

Note: Marine insurance has become the latest sub-domain to adopt blockchain technology, with Maersk being the company to deploy it. The world’s first blockchain-based insurance policy was launched by AIG in June 2017.

  1. Cyber protection

    The KSI (Keyless Signature Infrastructure) blockchain platform by Guardtime offers highly scalable and reliable cybersecurity solutions to users. With reports of cyber hacks and data attacks growing at an alarming rate – the need of the hour is to make the existing legacy systems more robust, with blockchain-powered solutions. The fact that all communications on a digital open ledger are examined/verified through complex cryptographic methods ensures proper identification of data source points – while minimizing chances of interception by unauthorized, malicious third-party agents. Once again, the removal of the human ‘middlemen’/intermediaries help in cutting down on a) corruption, and b) human mistakes. The large-scale data authentications involved in blockchains make cybersecurity much stronger than ever before.

Note: In the very recent Equifax data breach case, more than 140 million people were affected. Blockchain technology has the potential to tackle such risks effectively in future.

  1. Predictions and forecasting

    From election results and outcomes of sports matchups, to stock market movements – distributed ledger technology promises to bring in a never-witnessed-before accuracy and sophistication to the so-called ‘predictions market’. The secure storage of transaction records (blocks) on the open ledger ensures more insightful data analysis – and that, in turn, should ideally lead to better predictions and forecasting performances. The open-source and decentralized Augur platform – which recently got into a collaboration with IDEO CoLabs – also brings in a system of rewarding users for faster, more accurate predictions. As the disruptions caused by blockchains in other industries grow bigger, the impact on the ‘forecasting industry’ will become more pronounced.

Note: The ethereum-backed Gnosis platform is also growing in popularity for applications to be used in the ‘predictions market’.

  1. Music and entertainment (intellectual property)

    Illegal downloads have plagued the global music industry for a fairly long time now. According to conservative estimates, a massive 85% of artist royalties are lost because of this activity. Blockchain technology has already started to help music and digital entertainment asset creators to protect their ownership and compensation rights. The ascribe.io platform tracks how digital assets are used and shared, and helps in locking in attribution rights – thereby protecting the intellectual property rights of the original owners. Distributed ledgers and cryptocurrencies also form the backbone of the MYCELIA music-streaming platform (created by Imogen Heap). The need for record labels (which serve as intermediaries) is done away with, and artists can finally get just rewards for their creations.

Note: In February 2017, the META decentralized platform (powered by ethereum) for protecting rights in the music/entertainment industry, was announced by JAAK.

    10. Land registration and use

The processes of land registration and checking proofs of property ownership have traditionally been long-drawn and often problematic (due to the significant chances of overlooking some details while going through piles of property documents). The fact that blockchain technology can be used to seamlessly track land registries and ease out the overall procedure has been shown by Sweden – where the Lantmäteriet blockchain is officially being used for registrations (since July 2017). Implementing the blockchain system should significantly speed up the processes, and make things more transparent and confusion-free. Accessing and checking pertinent information on the distributed ledger would also be easy.

Note: According to estimates, the Lantmäteriet blockchain should help in generating annual savings of close to $107 million.

    11. Retail

Activities in the online retail industry have been revolutionized by the decentralized Openbazaar platform (developed by OB1). Over here, the method of working is a far cry from those in a traditional marketplace (say, Amazon) – with buyers and sellers being connected directly (P2), and no intermediary websites (the ecommerce website) involved. In Openbazaar, the sellers get remunerated with bitcoins, while customers have the option of buying stuff with as many as 50 different cryptocurrencies. All types of important retail information, like shipment details, information on the actual products, purchase bills/invoices, and even records of crypto payments, can be stored on the ledger. The technology would bring about a scenario where buyers and sellers would be able to ‘trust’ each other, instead of having to rely on a centralized depository.

Note: To ensure food safety, IBM has announced a blockchain collaboration with a consortium of retailers (members include biggies like Golden State Food, Nestle, Dole and Walmart).

    12. Voting

Over the years, national elections and rigging accusations have almost happened hand-in-hand. Things are, thankfully, set to change with the adaptation of blockchain-powered online voting platforms – which would make sure that votes are cast only once, only the valid votes are counted, and records of voting are securely stored (without any chance of modification/deletion). At the start of 2017, ‘Follow My Vote’ became the first-ever company to launch a full-blown online voting software, with the robust Bitshare blockchain built into it. Voting should always be (and unfortunately, is often not) completely democratic – and the availability of voting records on a public and immutable ledger would go a long way towards achieving that.

Note: The ‘Sovereign’ application, created by Democracy Earth, has been created to express the power of true ‘liquid democracy’ with the support of blockchains.

    13. Legal and governmental affairs

A powerful open IoT registry was launched by Chronicled last August, paving the way for everyone to see and understand the importance of blockchain technology in law enforcement. The immutability of the distributed ledger makes sure that the chain/trail of evidences cannot be tampered with by any particular entity. The Chronicled platform also has NFC (near-field communication) chip support, for better evidence management. The network can also send notifications to concerned parties, as and when any suspicious activity is detected. Public service management is yet another field where blockchain technology is starting to make its presence felt. In the US, Vermont, Delaware and Illinois are some of the states that have already launched blockchain initiatives to make legal infrastructure systems stronger.

Note: The blockchain technology is being exploited by Bitfury Group to secure land titles (land title registry) in Georgia.

    14. IoT and networking

The Internet of Things (IoT) revolution continues to pick up momentum – and blockchains are becoming mighty important tools in the ‘connected ecosystems’. With tools like ‘Autonomous Decentralized Peer-to-Peer Telemetry’, or ADEPT (built by Samsung and IBM), the need for a centralized portal/gateway/hub for mediating between two smart devices has been removed – and objects can now directly communicate with each other. As a result, things like bug-detection, energy monitoring, performance tracking, and software update management will become less time-consuming and complicated. The condition of any particular IoT device/asset can also be tracked with the help of the records stored in the distributed ledger. Establishment of autonomous ‘connections’ will build on the efficiency factor.

Note: In March this year, $15 million was raised by the Filament industrial network, for the creation of high-power blockchain IoT networks.

From human resources to ride-sharing (Arcade City working on a ‘decentralized Uber’ system), and from corporate governance to real estate and share trading – blockchain technology is disrupting many other industries, albeit in varying degrees. On the medical and healthcare front, the arrival of the Gem (ethereum-powered) and Tierion platforms have been major recent developments. Earlier in 2017, Storj started a token sale – indicating the arrival of the technology in the domain of cloud storage. Even in charity activities, blockchains have started to make a difference (the BitGive Foundation for bitcoin donations was founded in 2013).

It took more than three decades for the internet to cause an overhaul in the global economy. At present, 1 out of every 2 big firms is driven by web resources and technology. Blockchain tech is growing at a rapid pace, and it has – as is evident from our analysis – potential for large-scale adoption in practically every important industry. Internet 2.0 is being ushered in…and soon!

 

[Guest Post] Mobile VR in 2017 and Beyond

Review of top mobile VR tools

Until recently, virtual reality had long been an abstract idea, mostly reserved for futuristic scenes in the movies. Although innovators in the 90s tried to breathe some life into the technology, it didn’t take long for the experimental phase to end and the dormancy phase to begin.

Today, the age-old idea of immersive entertainment is no longer a mere concept, but a practical way for users to experience both real and virtual worlds, right from home. Major tech companies like Sony, HTC, Samsung, and Google have invested huge amounts of money into giving eager consumers a decent variety of VR gadgets to root through and pick what pleases their hearts and wallets.

As virtual reality evolves into a fully baked industry, however, there’s a huge debate raging on if and when it will achieve mainstream success. A primary hindrance to the widespread adoption of VR is its seemingly absurd price, which effectively makes the technology a fantasy for many would-be customers. For instance, while the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are the best VR headsets on the current market, but the two will set you back $600, and that’s excluding the high-end PC you will need to process virtual reality content. You can enjoy seamless virtual reality gaming with the significantly cheaper PlayStation 4 console, but at $399, the PS VR headset isn’t exactly pocket-friendly either.

For the bargain lovers, therefore, premium VR is more than an arm’s length away. But thanks to mobile, you can still get in on the virtual reality action for a fraction of the price. All you require is a cheap-as-chips headset and the smartphone in your pocket.

Mobile VR Today

The current mobile virtual reality setup uses your smartphone’s hardware as the engine, and the headset to provide the visuals. Mobile VR headsets come with varying designs, but at their core, they’re glorified lens cases that turn your phone’s screen into a 360-degree display.

Because of the relatively simpler technology, the mobile VR market presents a wider variety of headsets than the PC scene. Here are some that have stood out from that ever-expanding bunch.

Samsung Gear VR

If you’ve just bought a recent Samsung phone, it could be worth it to dig a little deeper into your wallet and pick up the newest Gear VR. The Gear VR range of headsets has come quite a long way since the first gadget hit the shelves in 2015. This year’s version, which was released alongside the Samsung Galaxy S8 in the spring, addresses several issues that marred previous models, such as the annoying screen fog and having little room for glasses wearers. The device also includes a hand-held controller, which adds to the immersion.

Most importantly, Samsung and Oculus are continually adding new games, apps, short films and TV shows to the Gear VR, making it never-ending fun for anyone that gets their hands on one.

Google Daydream View

The Daydream View wins the hearts of many mobile VR enthusiasts for its comfortable, lightweight and attractive design. It comes in three different colors, and while its controller is not as functional as the Gear VR’s, it does well to mitigate the need for a third-party device.

In addition to the ever-increasing content, Google has announced that the headset will be supporting more smartphones shortly, which means that those without a Daydream-compatible phone will be able to make use of the headset.

The Google HTC standalone headset is set for release before the turn of the year, but until then, there’s still life for the Daydream View.

Google Cardboard

Many pioneering devices eventually pave the way for more advanced gadgets, but surprisingly, the Cardboard has done nothing of the sort. Google has recently redesigned the device to feature a better control button, support for 6-inch smartphones and a simple three-step assembly procedure. Interestingly, the company has also opened up the platform to iOS developers.

The official Cardboard may seem a bit costly, considering what you’re getting, but there are plenty of third-party builds out there, some which cost as little as $5. Just look for the headsets with a “Works with Cardboard” badge.

Some Worthy Alternatives

Samsung and Google may be leading the mobile VR campaign, but other players are making significant contributions as well. If neither the Gear VR, the Daydream View or the Cardboard tickle your fancy, you could take your chances with the Merge VR Goggles, View-Master VR, and FreeFly VR Beyond.

Another excellent choice, the Zeiss VR One Plus is great if you want a gadget that’s as comfortable as the Daydream and works perfectly with both iOS and Android.

Mobile VR in the Future

Both tech analysts and developers are in agreement that mobile virtual reality is the VR technology that will break into the mainstream. Mobile has the upper hand over PC VR because it has the power to scale. While the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift require high-end VR-ready computers, there are billions of smartphones on the market today, with largely varying price tags, for all to buy.

There’s also the aspect of the distribution ecosystem. Mobile apps are far easier to find, coming from sources like Google Play, the App Store, Steam, Oculus/Gear VR store, and the web. PC VR developers, on the other hand, only distribute their content through their stores on Steam and the Oculus Store. With such an extensive network of distribution, mobile could build a more dominant VR culture.

Room for Improvement

Smartphones and headsets are advancing at a breathtaking pace but the mobile VR experience still has a long way to go before it can pose significant competition to its pricier PC counterpart.

For instance, although many high end smartphones can handle the minimum requirement of 60 frames per second for smooth VR, improvements are still needed to reduce eye strain. The headsets could also use position tracking sensors to detect standing, sitting and walking. And, because smartphones are the primary communication device for many users, there needs to be a practical way to handle phone calls and notifications during VR use.

Regarding content, mobile VR needs more quantity, quality, and variety. Creators are constantly experimenting, however, and VR content for mobile platforms is bound to evolve explosively in the coming years.

Final Word

Virtual reality is still in its infancy, and some experts are raising questions on whether it’s progressing fast enough. Nevertheless, Mobile VR is showing immense promise for the future. With the mobile gaming market recently surpassing the PC and console share of the industry, it’s likely only a matter of time before the same happens with VR HMDs, and mobile cements its place at the top of virtual reality innovation.

Why Should Industries Implement Blockchain Technology?

Blockchain technology easily features among the biggest technology disruptors of recent times. Over the last five years or so, the number of times ‘blockchain’ has been Googled has jumped by close to 1950% – a clear indication of the exponentially growing interest in the distributed ledger system introduced by Satoshi Nakamoto. Often billed as Internet 2.0, the value of the global blockchain industry has been projected to soar to $2310+ million by the end of 2021 (in 2016, the value was ~$210 million) – with the 2016-2021 CAGR hovering around the 60% mark. We will here highlight the main advantages of blockchains and why it should be implemented by organizations:

  1. Longevity and immutability

    Transaction data (block data) stored on a public blockchain remains on the open digital ledger as long as the ledger itself remains operational. There are no chances whatsoever of data losses and/or problems in accessing information – since all the parties in a network can view all transactions. What’s more, since blockchain records are immutable – they cannot be altered or deleted by malicious third-party agents (or a rogue player), without creating a consensus first. The integrity of the confirmed blocks in a blockchain remains unaffected at all times.

  2. Decentralized and disintermediated

    The blockchain technology facilitates direct, peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions – and does away with the involvement of centralized authorities/units (say, an IoT gateway), working as intermediaries. Such transparent and trustless exchanges minimize the chances of counterparty risks cropping up at any stage. Since the technology is decentralized, the data is not stored in any central database – and is kept at all the edge nodes of the networks (i.e., with each party in a network). There is no ‘single point of failure’ that can be targeted by hackers. This ensures enhanced safety and reliability for users.

  3. Availability of clear audit trails

    Blockchains are created by miners, by systematically adding new transaction records (called ‘blocks’) to the existing chain in the distributed ledger. A trail of all transactions on a particular asset can, hence, be closely examined at the time of financial audits. This benefit makes distributed ledger technology particularly useful in the banking and financial sector, while the functionality comes in handy for checking supply chains, food audits and even art provenance. The creation and easy availability of audit trails makes blockchains a great tool for storing land registry records as well.

  4. Security and scalability

    In a traditional data transfer/transmission setup, scalability is often a point of concern. The centralized portals/gateways, in particular, cannot be scaled up quickly – and that causes efficiency losses. Blockchain technology, by virtue of being shared, is completely scalable, and can be used to deliver optimized services in all scenarios (blockchains are often called the ‘internet of value’). In addition, blockchains offer enhanced data security – since all processes/new records are validated by by ‘miners’ from all over the world. Chances of fake/manipulated transactions getting added to the chain are minimal. The fact that transactions are generally anonymized (the transactions are open; the identity of the transacting parties are not) also adds to the user-privacy layer.

Note: There have been talks about the ethereum blockchain platform (with the ‘ether’ cryptocurrency) switching over to a ‘proof-of-stake’ model. As and when that happens, the authenticity of the miners’ activities will receive a further boost.

  1. The best IoT registry

    From ownership and maintenance of digital assets and connected devices, to authorization and usage – blockchain technology has a big role to play in the IoT (internet of things) space. It is relatively straightforward to write small programs to prove the ownership of any remote device, while repairs/modifications can be done after secure authorizations validated on the ledger. Data from both home-based IoT systems as well as enterprise IoT systems can be fed into blockchains – to ease usage and keep confusions and probable conflicts over asset ownership at an arm’s length. The technology helps in building a level of trust among users (OEMs, suppliers, end-users) and facilitates better collaboration among all parties.

  2. Improved security standards and feedback

    Blockchains make data storage more secure than ever before. Advanced independent cryptography (pre-verified) is used by miners, for storing each and every new transaction record/block. Under the existing ‘proof-of-work’ system, complex mathematical problems have to be solved by the blockchain miners, for adding new blocks to a chain in the distributed ledger. On an optimally functioning blockchain network, it is easy to connect assets with actions, and remove all probabilities of security breaches. Since end-to-end traceability is a key feature of the technology, owners of digital assets can receive real-time feedback at various stages (installation, shipping, implementation, etc.). Such feedback goes a long way in pulling up asset management standards.

  3. Quality of data

    For digital recordkeeping and analysis to be effective, the collected data has to be highly authentic. Irrespective of the sector where it is being used, blockchains offer the best services in that regard. The presence of a single, distributed ledger (as opposed to the task of adding records to multiple ledgers) keeps the blockchain ecosystem transparent and decluttered. The data, as already mentioned above, is readily available to all parties on a network as and when required, and is highly accurate (thereby bolstering reliability). The consistency and completeness of blockchain data also contribute to enhancing the overall data quality. Authorized users can access information on transactions in the network at any time.

  4. Blockchains as ‘consortium databases’

    Operating in a blockchain network fosters cooperation and collaboration even among competing parties. A classic example of this would be the ‘Open Music Initiative’ for protecting the intellectual property rights of artists and music labels. The ‘Corda’ distributed ledger platform used in the R3 consortium for banking/financial markets is yet another instance of blockchains bringing competitors together. In a blockchain-powered consortium, the individual members are not controlled by/do not have to give their powers to a centralized authority – and that, in turn, diminishes friction among the parties. Blockchain technology also encourages the interoperability of public networks, increasing usability levels further.

Note:Interplanetary Linked Data’ and ‘Interledger’ are two important protocols for interoperating networks (i.e., ‘network of networks’).

  1. Creation and maintenance of smart contracts

    This is one of the biggest advantages of blockchain technology. On an autonomous distributed ledger, users can code self-executable smart contracts (in essence, ‘if-then statements’) – which are triggered as soon as certain pre-specified conditions/limits are met. In other words, the smart contracts regulate the precise manner in which transactions between two parties would take place (say, releasing water for irrigation in smart agriculture, or releasing payments after receiving a shipment). These smart contracts can be securely stored and maintained in the blockchain system. Product manufacturers can also store important metadata about their items on the network. In a highly digitized field like 3D printing, the benefits of implementing blockchain technology are immense.

  2. Lower time and cost requirements

    In a traditional data exchange setup, significant investments are required for: a) installing the centralized gateway, and b) arranging for the resources and manpower for ensuring complete security of the system. With the removal of intermediaries in a blockchain, such overhead costs no longer have to be incurred – and that brings down the overall transaction costs (for asset exchanges). In addition, through a distributed ledger system, transactions can be completed much more quickly than in a conventional setup. The cycle of inter-bank transactions can be brought down from a few days to a matter of minutes, with the help of blockchain technology.

  3. Benefits of a transparent system

    For seamless transactions between business collaborators, there has to be a certain level of trust among the transacting parties. Blockchains bring that desired level of ‘commercial transparency’ to the table. Probable delays and damages in relations following negotiation attempts have no chances of happening – and all commerce can take place place promptly. Detailed transaction records are storable next to the individual commercial constructs, offering heightened trust and transparency.

  4. Ensuring single-spend of data/resources

    Blockchains have already found widespread popularity on online voting platforms. An important reason behind the growing adoption of distributed ledgers in this domain is the fact that, the underlying technology rules out the problem of ‘double spending’ (i.e., the practice of spending the same resource (coins, tokens, a cryptocurrency unit, etc.) multiple times or sending the same data to more than one user). Many otherwise efficient virtual decentralized systems suffer from the problem of ‘double spending’ – something that the P2P verification process in blockchains can effectively do away with.

  5. Formation of ‘native assets’

    In a blockchain, the database in the open ledger is not owned by any particular unit (say, a central gateway). Instead, the control lies with all the network members/colluding parties. The records are immutable too – and these factors combine to open the possibility of the assets themselves being stored and maintained in the ledger database (as ‘native assets’). The creation of such ‘native assets’ can be an effective way of tackling problems while implementing and validating exchanges – both on traditional platforms (Bitstamp, NASDAQ, GridSingularity), as well as on multi-side platforms.


Note: Given the openness and the complete decentralization of blockchain networks, they can be used as cutting-edge ‘public utility resources’. Bitcoin, for example, is a cryptocurrency/digital money utility.

Blockchain technology has already made its presence felt – albeit in different degrees – in many different industries, from law, defense and retail, to healthcare, energy and governmental affairs. The technology is still at a fairly nascent stage, and there are a fair few challenges, in the form of the huge computing/processing power required, uncertainties over integration, the need for sizeable investments and confusions over the legal status of cryptocurrencies. The technology is here to stay though – and it can be reasonably expected that most of these problems will be ironed out within the next few quarters. Blockchain Internet 2.0 is upon us – and the revolution will only get stronger with time.

Ethereum vs Bitcoin: Which Cryptocurrency Has The Better Features?

Last month, the overall market capitalization of cryptocurrencies touched the $120 billion mark. Bitcoin, created by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, continues to be the leader in this market – with ~48% share. Interestingly though, the market share of bitcoin has actually fallen rather significantly since the start of 2017 (it was >85% in February). Ethereum, founded by the young Vitalik Buterin (this time, a real person!), has emerged as the ‘fastest-growing’ player in the cryptocurrency market – with an astounding 5000% growth this year (Bitcoin, in comparison, has grown by around 300%). Starting out with a sub-10% market share in January, the platform has constantly made inroads, and currently occupies almost 22% of the market (Ripple, whose share has considerably gone down in recent times, is the third-most popular cryptocurrency). Over here, we will do a point-by-point Ethereum vs Bitcoin  analysis, and try to find out which of the two has the better features and capabilities:

  1. Ethereum is more than a cryptocurrency

    While bitcoin is a digital currency, ethereum is much more than that. The latter is, in essence, a blockchain-powered platform, which includes the built-in cryptocurrency called ‘ether’. In addition, the ethereum platform also has embedded ‘smart contracts’ (the pre-specified set of regulations that are coded to execute if certain conditions are met), and the Ethereum Virtual Machine (or, EVM). Put in another way, while bitcoin is a cryptocurrency transacted and recorded on blockchains, ethereum allows users to build decentralized applications (the code is available on Ethereum’s website). The built-in ‘Ethereum Wallet’ stores the ether cryptocurrency. The overall scope of Ethereum is much bigger than that of bitcoin.

Note: If we were to compare only the digital currencies, a ‘bitcoin vs ether’ analysis would have been more apt.

  1. Price of currency

    Apart from having the biggest share in the cryptocurrency market, bitcoin also has the highest value with respect to USD. From an exchange rate of 1 BTC = $800 – $1000 at the start of this year, the price of the currency has surged to more than $4600 by the end of August. Bitcoin is a highly volatile cryptocurrency though, and in July, the prices fell to a 49-week record low (<$2000). Ethereum, on the other hand, is currently priced at ~$303 (interestingly, the ETH price had climbed to over $400 in June, before an almighty crash brought it down to sub-$200 levels). An analysis of the price movements of the two currencies reveals that ethereum (standard deviation (60 days): 7.07%) is even more volatile than bitcoin (standard deviation (60 days): 5.38%). In terms of market capitalization, bitcoin is more than double of ethereum ($72 million vs $28 million, as on Sept 4).

Note: The price of Bitcoin Cash (a software client fork of bitcoin) is $555, while that of Ethereum Classic (a split from Ethereum) is $16.

  1. Programming languages

    C++ is the underlying programming script for the bitcoin currency. While robust enough, it lacks the sheer flexibility of Ethereum – which has been coded in a Turing-complete combination of 7 different languages. This means that, given adequate time and processing/computing power is available, Ethereum can be used for practically any type of calculations. Varying types of smart contracts and applications can be coded on Etherium – with the decentralized platform functioning as a high-power virtual computer that is created with a large number of functioning blockchain nodes. Bitcoin is by far the oldest player on the block and easily the most well-known crypto payment system – but Ethereum’s functionality is more.

Note: Aragon, Gnosis and Filecoin are some interesting applications that make use of Ethereum’s Turing-complete internal code.

  1. Currency supply

    The first bitcoin was made available way back in January 2009. There is a finite limit or cap set on the supply of this currency, at 21 million (actually, 3 bitcents less than that). At present, more than 16.5 million bitcoins are circulation – and by January 2018, that figure is likely to reach 18 billion (~80% of the total bitcoin supply). There is considerable speculation on what would happen in the aftermath of the currency reaching its 21 million cap (given that there are no expansions made by the bitcoin protocol). The supply of Etherium (first released in July 2015) has no such maximum limits, although a finite number of units is released annually. Currently, well over 94.4 million units of ETH are in circulation – and the number is swelling rapidly. The supply cap on bitcoins makes it deflationary in nature, while ethereum is likely to be rather inflationary due to its unlimited availability.

Note: Polychain Capital CEO Olaf Carlson-Wee has predicted that the ‘ether’ will overtake bitcoin in terms of value (read:market capitalization) in the latter half of 2018.

  1. Block times

    Ethereum has the clear edge in this regard. The built-in ghost protocol of this platform makes the average block time of Ethereum much shorter than that of bitcoin (12-14 seconds vs 10 minutes). This, in turn, makes the creation of more blockchain applications easier on the former. The confirmations and validations on Ethereum are more prompt as well (although there are chances of more ‘orphaned blocks’ being created). Stale blocks (chain forks) are rewarded in the Ethereum platform too. The lower network speed of bitcoin increases the overall transaction costs – and this factor lies at the heart of the growing popularity of Ethereum for transactions. Many traders prefer do the exchanges/transactions in ethereum, and then convert their value in bitcoin (i.e., bitcoin is perceived as more useful for speculative purposes). The decentralized blockchain structure of the two cryptocurrencies are similar – but Ethereum’s design features open up more possibilities.

Note: By virtue of being the ‘first blockchain currency’, bitcoin has a much stronger community support than Ethereum. Support and documentations for the ‘newer’ currency is growing fast though.

  1. Reward for miners

    Blockchain is a distributed open ledger system, on which the records of the transactions have to be entered/added to the chain. This task is performed by the miners. For bitcoin mining, the rewards for mining (in exchange of the processing power provided) is in the form of certain units of the cryptocurrency. The reward was set at 50 bitcoins per block created at the start, with the stipulation of the figure being halved after every 210000 blocks. At present, this bitcoin ‘block reward’ stands at 12.5 bitcoins (the second and the latest halving happened in July 2016; the final halving would take place in 2140). The per-block reward in the ethereum system is 5 ethers, with a lot of speculation going on about lowering this reward to 1.5 ether. In a vote in March this year, it was found that an overwhelming majority of the ethereum community worldwide was in favour of lowering the reward.

Note: Ethereum offers the so-called ‘uncle/aunt rewards’ to miners who come up with solutions but do not have their blocks included. This reward is generally 2-3 ethers.

  1. Proof-of-Work vs Proof-of-Stake

    Both bitcoin and ethereum currently work on the proof-of-work (PoW) basis. Complex mathematical loops have to be solved by bitcoin miners to create and add new blocks/transactions. The setup ensures that risks of fraudulent activities will be minimal (since adding new blocks will require plenty of time and resources). Ether miners, on the other hand, have to create/execute smart contracts and the transactions within, to get the rewards. However, researchers feel that bitcoin’s PoW model can cause considerable wastage of energy. This is one of the main reasons for the proposed shift of Ethereum to a proof-of-stake (PoS) model. The PoS system will bring in the concept of rewarding miners in the form of ‘transaction fees’ for every smart contract validations and transactions (which also cuts down on the energy wastage that can happen in the bitcoin mining ecosystem). An additional advantage of Ethereum’s system will be the greater focus on collaboration – with the chances of higher payoffs for completing/validating transactions quickly being an important motivating factor. In the proof-of-stake model, the ‘validators’ will have to put their own ethers on the line (put them on stake), for block validation. This will rule out chances of a malicious agent going rogue and disrupting the entire network.

Note: Ethereum’s shift from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake is expected to happen before the end of 2017. The present Ethereum algorithm is called Ethash (a memory hard-dashing algo), while the new consensus algorithm of Ethereum is named Casper.

  1. Transaction costs

    The Ethereum digital cryptocurrency platform makes use of Gas – a special unit – to measure the transaction costs. Putting things simply, Gas tracks the total amount of ‘work’ involved in any transaction – with every Ethereum block/transaction costing a certain number of Gas units. Several factors influence the cost of transactions, including the bandwidth consumption, the storage requirements and the degree of complexity. In the bitcoin framework, there is equal competition between the transaction blocks – and limitations are put by the size of the blocks. The average bitcoin transaction fee went beyond the $1 mark in March – and over the last couple of years, these fees have shot up by well over 1100%. Ethereum transaction costs are also rising fast, and are calculated on a base figure of 21000 Gas.

Note: The median cost of transfer for Ethereum is $0.1513.

  1. Currency forks

    Bitcoin XT and Bitcoin Classic are both important software client forks of bitcoin – but the fork that has made the most news recently is Bitcoin Cash (BCH). It is a ‘hard fork’ (a complete protocol change and a shift to a separate blockchain) – which released in August 2017. At present, the price of BCH is $596, and more than 16 million units of the ‘forked currency’ is in circulation. The fork happened after the underlying technology of bitcoin was upgraded to Segwit2x. On the Bitcoin network, Segwit (Segregated Witness) became active a couple of weeks back. As far as Ethereum is concerned, the ‘Metropolis’ hard fork is set to happen later this month – with the new protocol offering greater anonymity to users (with zero-knowledge proofs) security masking and exponentially increasing mining difficulties. There is a lot of buzz over the upcoming ‘Ethereum Ice Age’, and the Metropolis fork is viewed as an important step towards that. In June 2016, the much-publicized DAO attack resulted in $55-$60 ether being stolen – and as a response to the attack, the ‘Ethereum Classic’ (ETC) hard fork happened. The exchange rate/trading price of ETC is presently ~$18.

Note: Litecoin, a creation of Charlie Lee, is one of the earliest forks of the bitcoin cryptocurrency. According to a Forbes report, the price of Litecoin has jumped by over 2000% since the start of 2017.

    10. Hashing algorithms

We have already mentioned Ethash as the algorithm that powers the proof-of-work Ethereum model. The bitcoin platform, on the other hand, works on the SHA-256 algorithm – that has the capability of generating digits in hexadecimal format. The presence of the Turing-complete internal code (EtherScript) adds greater functionality to the Ethereum platform (bitcoin, for instance, is not designed to handle smart contracts) – but also makes the overall architecture more complicated, with chances of errors creeping in. In bitcoin, the programming is stateless, and there will always be some programs that cannot be written (since it does not have Turing-completeness). Loops generally cannot be expressed in bitcoin either.

Note: Expanse and Krypton (apart from Ethereum Classic) also use the Ethash algorithm. The SHA-256 algorithm is used by a much larger set of cryptocurrencies, including Bytecoin, Bitcoin Dark and MasterCoin.

    11. More decentralized mining with Ethereum

Mining either of the cryptocurrencies require fairly large upfront investments. However, there is a clear point of difference between the ways in which bitcoin and ethereum go about it. The former has built-in ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) chips, which keeps the mining power relatively concentrated. In contrast, the hard hashing algo of Ethereum encourages greater decentralization of miners. Compared to bitcoin, it is easier for individual users with GPUs to join the Ethereum network – thereby building the community over time. The use of graphic cards in the Ethereum setup also lowers the possibilities of ‘51 percent’ (collusion) attacks. The proposed proof-of-stake (PoS) model will give a further boost to decentralized validation by users.

Note: The electricity consumed per Ethereum transaction can be as high as 45 kWh for miners. The disk space required by Ethereum is also more than that of bitcoin.

   12. Currency legitimacy

In April, Japan became the latest country to accept bitcoin as a legal currency. The volume of Bitcoin trading is the highest in the United States (here, BTC is considered as ‘property’), while the cryptocurrency is also widely traded in countries like Sweden, Denmark, Australia and the United Kingdom. However, there are a fair number of nations – like China, Nigeria and Ecuador, where bitcoin trading is illegal (the ban on the cryptocurrency varies though). Being the proverbial ‘new kid on the block’, ethereum does not quite have the stability and worldwide recognition level of bitcoin yet – but it received a big shot in the arm when Microsoft Azure started to provide it. The rapidly growing adoption and usage of Ethereum in the finance and IoT industries also point to the immense growth potential of the platform. Bitcoin is the more ‘known’ currency, but Ethereum can close the gap soon.

Note: The launch of the Coinbase debit card, along with the legitimization of Bitstamp (for trading in EU countries under the ‘Passport’ program) eased the usage of bitcoins across the world. Companies like TenX and Uquid (in 2016) have also launched Ethereum debit cards. The increasing usability of the currencies is pulling up their values.

From JP Morgan and Cisco, to Intel, IBM and Wells Fargo – many leading tech/finance companies have started using Bitcoin. In 2016, the open-source Hyperledger project was created by these companies (along with the London Stock Exchange Group) The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance is also expanding rapidly – with 86 new firms joining the fold in May. While the share of bitcoin in the overall cryptocurrency market cap is steadily falling – the currency is set to grow, albeit at a lower rate than before (the volatility will also be lower). Ethereum, in contrast, is a more ‘risky’ platform – but can potentially deliver greater functionality and value, leading up to higher gains.

 

Given the inherent differences in the nature of Bitcoin and Ethereum (one is a digital currency per se, while the other is a broad digital blockchain application platform) – it is perfectly possible for the two to coexist and thrive in the foreseeable future. Bitcoin has the early-mover advantage, while Ethereum is moving up fast in terms of usability and popularity. The cryptocurrency market will be something worth tracking in the coming years, that’s for sure.

Blockchain In IoT: The Future Of Smart Connectivity

Blockchain in IoT

 

Internet usage, connectivity, and the digital infrastructure, as we know it, are changing. The value of the global IoT (internet of things) market is set to zoom past the $3 trillion mark by the end of 2020, with more than 20 billion connected devices being in active use. However, this growth is not going to be all smooth, and challenges – particularly in the form of cybersecurity threats and the ever-increasing volumes of data/network connections – are bound to crop up. A recent IDC report has predicted that 9 out of every 10 firms that have already implemented IoT standards are likely to face security breaches this year. The blockchain distributed ledger technology – which powers bitcoins and have been hailed as the ‘internet of value’ – can go a long way in refining IoT, cutting out key performance issues, and ensuring greater security. In today’s discourse, we will put the spotlight on how blockchains can help in making IoT stronger:

  1. Moving on from a centralized system

    Irrespective of the particular nature of an application, IoT typically depends on a central cloud server/gateway for device identification, authentication and data transfer. Now, as the domain of internet usage expands across industries – establishing such gateways is likely to prove problematic, particularly in remote areas where the connectivity or signal strength is poor. A blockchain is, by definition, decentralized, and it does away with the need for such centrally located servers. Instead, data resides in all the ‘nodes’ of the distributed, trustless network – ensuring smoother, autonomous operations.

  2. Making smart devices ‘smarter’

    In early-2015, IBM and Samsung collaborated to launch the decentralized ADEPT (Automated Decentralized P2P Telemetry) platform. It was tested on a ‘connected washing machine’, that was able to track the usage of detergents, place orders, and make bitcoin payments for buying detergents – all on its own. This is a classic example of how blockchain technology can make IoT-powered smart devices well and truly autonomous – with robust self-maintenance, M2M communicability, and peer-to-peer transaction capabilities. In ‘smart homes’, a blockchain-based IoT infrastructure can enhance the efficiency/productivity of the devices, while minimizing the electricity and/or energy consumption levels. Private blockchains can be used to boost the security of ‘connected homes’ – with biometric user-authentication data stored in the network (Australian telecom company Telstra is already doing this). The technology can be used to pull up the performance and reliability of driverless cars as well.

  3. Peer-to-peer data transactions

    The number of connections and transactions through IoT systems is going up at an exponential rate. That, in turn, is resulting in an ever-increasing need for computing/processing power. The usage of blockchains too requires uniformly high levels of CPU performance. The system can manage this issue, by opening up the possibility of buying and selling anonymous data (i.e., data monetization), originating from the connected devices. Apart from all authorized, independent third-party agents, the OEMs and the data providers will be able to perform this data-trading (payments will, of course, be via bitcoins). The prospect of buying and accessing this data would motivate the external parties to provide additional CPU power and invest in digital renewable resources – increasing the strength of the overall blockchain and IoT setup.

Note: The energy generated by the IoT solar panels can be traded in exchange of cryptocurrencies. The corresponding transactions would be stored on the blockchain.

     4. Greater security assurance

Nearly one-fifth of the yearly security budgets of organizations will be accounted for by IoT security expenses in 2020. Concerns over the reliability of ‘connected systems’ have been rising – with reports of data hacks, digital identity thefts and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) becoming rather alarmingly frequent. Blockchains can easily add an additional layer of security to IoT – since they do not have vulnerable centralized servers, which have been traditionally viewed by malicious agents as single points of attack. With blockchain technology, a mesh network can be created – and risks of ‘data impersonation’ and ‘device spoofing’ will be kept at an arm’s length. The distributed ledger is immutable, ensuring that data/transaction records cannot be modified or deleted by unauthorized hackers. Even if someone goes through the trouble of altering each stage in the overall chain, the process would be too costly and troublesome. A distributed, decentralized control would facilitate higher latency and throughput levels, while ruling out chances of security breaches.

    5. Reduced costs

With billions of connections and trillions of transactions, managing communications through IoT devices is likely to become an expensive affair over time (if it is not so already). The need for establishing full-featured gateways/control centers/servers take up the expenses further. With blockchains, this need for a ‘middleman’ or a ‘central gateway’ is done away with – and hence, significant amounts of hardware costs, protocol costs and communication costs are removed. All communications, right from device details to data exchanges, happen on a direct, peer-to-peer basis. IoT gateways are costly – and they are not required in a blockchain framework.

    6. Trustless messaging and smart contracts

The blockchain technology enables IoT devices to exchange protected, trustless messages among smart devices – making them truly ‘autonomous’. Smart contracts, pre-specifying the rules of the transaction(s) (generally as ‘if-then’ condition statements) can be created between two parties easily, ensuring that operations can be managed remotely – and without the interference of a human agent/centralized brokerage system. For instance, a ‘smart irrigation’ system can be ‘instructed’ to release/stop the flow of water by the field sensors. The trustless messaging system powered by blockchains can be just like the communications in a bitcoin network. The absence of a central control unit also reduces the required processing times and speeds up data exchanges – establishing accelerated data exchanges.

    7. Blockchains as independent agents

Peering into the future, it can be reasonably expected that blockchain networks (and not only the IoT devices included in them) can evolve into completely independent entities. These autonomous, independent blockchains (often referred to as ‘distributed autonomous corporations’, or DACs) will have immense potential of getting adopted in the banking and financial arbitration industry. The components of a decentralized system (say, e-couriers) can gradually replace the centralized human management layer – removing the risks of human errors in the process. A DAC can also send update requests to the underlying software of other, similar independent blockchains. Things can become more automated, and more seamless, than ever before.

    8. Increased scalability

The volume of IoT operations (and along with that, the number of devices, gateways and other smart accessories) will continue to increase in the foreseeable future. The existing systems have to be scaled up on a regular basis – something that is not really possible with a centralized server. Blockchains, once again, offer an easy, and mighty effective, alternative. The distributed ledger system offers easy scalability, and can deliver improved security to the expanding sets of smart gadgets. What’s more, it also become fairly simple to locate a compromised device (for instance, captured in a botnet or infected with malware), and prevent it from putting the health of the entire system (which can be a smart home, an enterprise setup, or even a smart vehicle network) at risk. Additional devices can be supported in a blockchain infrastructure, without any significant need for extra resources.

    9. Transparency and ownership

Blockchain transactions take place after mutual trustless consensus of all the interested parties in the network. A single, secure record of all the transactions is maintained in the distributed ledger. Since tampering with these records is, for all practical purposes, impossible – potential confusions over the ownership of digital assets are ruled out. The level of transparency of the recordkeeping is further enhanced by the fact that each IoT transaction on the platform is timestamped. Individual users and organizations are encouraged by the trustworthiness of blockchains – built by the device information records and transaction/exchange records maintained in the ledger. The communications might be named ‘trustless’ (since the transacting parties are not acquainted, and generally use pseudonyms)…but blockchains actually build trust in IoT frameworks in a big way.

    10. Tracking the history of IoT devices

With billions of smart devices in the IoT ecosystem, maintaining the history of transactions carried out with any one device is a huge challenge. A distributed ledger system can help in this regard. When a IoT system is bolstered by the blockchain technology, participants can view the records of all the data exchanges that have taken place between the concerned device and human agents as well as the internet. History of transactions with other ‘connected devices’ can also be maintained and viewed, as and when required. These records would also offer an insight into the current health and performance potential of devices (something on the lines of ‘predictive maintenance of devices’).

We are well on our way in the journey towards a ‘decentralized, shared future’ with blockchain-powered IoT operations. Being a relatively new technology, blockchains still have several challenges to overcome. For starters, the huge computational powers required for transactions might prove to be a roadblock, while determining the best computational models, establishing the infrastructure, monitoring data access levels and managing the initial costs require close attention too. The ‘51 percent attack’ problem (changes in transaction records can be validated, provided 51% of the blockchain network approve it) is, arguably, the biggest point of concern – particularly when blockchain is used in relatively small IoT systems (say, a home or an office). There is no scope of doubting the importance of blockchains in IoT – but a few rough edges have to be ironed out, for realizing the full benefits of the technology.

 

Planning To Launch A Mobile App? Here’s 12 Things You Need To Know

 

Things to know before app launch

 

According to a recent App Annie report, the total number of mobile app downloads (from Apple App Store and Google Play Store) shot up to just a shade under 25 billion in 2017 Q1 – marking a ~15% YoY increase. Global revenues from apps is expected to reach $190 billion by the end of this decade…up by 171% over the 2015 figure. App availability is increasing all the time, with Apple and Google combining to offer more than 5 million downloadable applications. User-spending on app-usage is going up as well (in 2017 Q1, there was a 45% YoY jump).

The above stats might make the task of developing and launching mobile apps seem just about as easy as a walk in the park. However, a look at the number of frequently discarded/uninstalled apps and the lowly engagement rates (across the world, 24% users use an app only once) would prove that things are not as straightforward. You need to frame and follow smart, informed strategies to make your app launch a success. We will here provide some useful tips you should make note of, before releasing a mobile app:

  1. Thorough market research is vital

    A new app won’t exist in a void, and you need to do all the necessary homework carefully, before releasing it. Study user-opinions and trends (you can also conduct surveys online) to find out about the things/functions for which a new application can be built. If you already have an idea about the nature of app you wish to build, check out similar applications from the app store. Find out what the successful apps in that category are doing, and try to come up with ideas on how you can improve on their functionalities. Make it a point to study a couple of the failed apps as well – to know (and stay away from!) the mistakes/problems in them. Identify your target audience first, before proceeding to make an app. Mobile app development needs to be an informed decision, always.

Note: The various ‘Top XX…’ app lists serve as a great reference point for competitor analysis. Monitor the reviews and ratings these apps receive, to get an idea of their best features and/or probable shortcomings.

  1. Chalk out your budget

    You should know something from the very outset…making a mobile app involves significant costs. A basic, no-frills MVP (minimum viable product) with only the most essential features is likely to cost you around $8000-$10000 – and as more features and functionalities are added, the cost figure goes up. To keep the expenses from going out of hand, you need to frame an app development budget from the very outset. Follow the budget at all times, and keep a record of all the expenses during the various stages of the project. If availability of funds is an issue, you can always list your app idea on a crowdfunding site (Indiegogo, Kickstarter, etc.).

Note: Keep in mind the trade-offs involved between the ‘app quality’, the ‘time of development’ and the ‘development costs’. Think of these as the three vertices of a triangle (the so-called ‘App Triangle’). Never try to cut corners in terms of costs – since that would have an adverse effect on your app’s quality.

  1. Hire developers for your project

    Even the best of app ideas can go to waste if the execution is poor. The onus is on you to find and hire a professional mobile app development company that would be able to create the app in just the way you want. Do some research on the web, prepare a shortlist of app agencies, and request for free quotes from each of them. Hire the one that seems most proficient, and get everything (terms of service, contracts, agreements, etc.) in writing. Make sure that the company you delegate your project to has separate teams working on iOS and Android platforms, and expert in-house graphic designers, animators and app testers. In case it is a 2D/3D game app you wish to make, look for app-makers who have ‘relevant experience’ in working with the different game development engines.

Note: If required, the company should be prepared to provide you with non-disclosure agreements (NDA). Also, make sure that the development team can be contacted at any time, and they are willing to work according to your feedback/suggestions. Stay away from app companies that ask for huge upfront payments.

  1. Features of the app

    This one is a tricky affair. Release an app that has only a handful of run-of-the-mill features, and it would be dismissed as ‘too simplistic’. On the other hand, if a newly launched application has too many complex features and controls, most people will not bother to ‘learn’ how it works. As a rule of thumb, include all the ‘must-have’ features of your app in its introductory version (v.1.0) – and schedule the other ‘nice-to-have’ features in the future updates. Understand the precise nature of your app and the likely requirements/behaviour of your target-users, to get an idea of the set of features you need to include in the first version of the app (for example, in a mobile shopping app, the presence of a secure payment gateway is an absolute must). The app should have some uniqueness about it, to get the early-users interested.

Note: There should be a single ‘core purpose’ of your app. It should satisfy the need(s) of your target customers in a better manner than the already existing rival applications.

  1. Decide the platform

    With Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android combining to make up more than 99% of the global smartphone market – you need not think beyond these two platforms while determining the compatibility of your app. However, you need to take a call on which of these platforms your app will be available on first. With a projected ~90% market share, Android is the no-brainer choice if you are primarily interested in getting out your app to as large an audience as possible. However, in case you care more about revenues, you can go with the iOS platform first (last year, Apple made nearly 3.5X more money than Android, with less than half downloads). There are advanced cross-platform app development tools (like React Native or Xamarin or PhoneGap) already available in the market – but you should ideally keep things simple, and start out with one platform first…and then move on to the other.

  2. Start marketing from well in advance

    A jaw-dropping 180 billion apps have been downloaded from the Apple App Store alone (as announced in June). The average smartphone user launches 30+ apps in a month, and around 9 applications every day. Given the fiercely competitive nature of this domain, it makes a lot of sense to start marketing/promoting your app from several weeks before its actual launch. Hire professionals to design an optimized, responsive, user-friendly website for your app – which would provide detailed information about the main features and use cases of the application (include a FAQ section). Publish short, engaging blog posts on the website. Publish news and teaser updates about your app on the various free and paid press release sites. Be diligent with your social media marketing efforts as well. Create dedicated Facebook and Twitter profiles for the app, and post updates/share tweets on a regular basis. Plan out email marketing campaigns. The app marketplace is crowded – and you need to be proactive in making people aware about the existence of your app.

Note: For app marketing on the web, you can also connect with professional bloggers from the relevant category. Find out whether you can do a guest post about your app on such blogs, and/or if the blog-owners can feature your app (and do a short review). Link back such blog pages to the app website and, after the app launches, to the store page.

  1. Monitor app size and battery usage

    If you feel that incorporating as many features and graphic elements as possible in a new app will be a surefire way of increasing its popularity, you might well be very wrong. Too many features typically make an app ‘heavy’ (i.e., too large in size). Smartphone-owners are generally reluctant to install apps that are very big (size running into hundreds of MBs), particularly for two reasons: a) they are perpetually running out of storage space and b) if the connectivity is weak, the download might be interrupted. The average sizes of iOS and Android apps are 34.3 MB and 11.5 MB respectively, and you should ideally keep your app’s size within those limits. Also, pay attention to how your app affects the battery life of the target devices. It is very easy to track the battery-usage of apps installed on a phone/tablet – and if your app causes too much of battery drain, it will be uninstalled soon enough by most users.

Note: Make sure that your app does not eat up too much of bandwidth and mobile data either. You might want to make your app usable offline as well (that would, of course, depend on the app’s nature).

  1. Monetization and analytics

    Unless it’s a college research project, you will want to make money out of your mobile app, right? Before the launch, you need to be very clear about how the application should be monetized for the best performance. In both Apple App Store and Google Play Store, an overwhelming majority of the listed apps are free – and ideally, you should start off with a ‘freemium’ revenue model as well. In other words, your app will be free to download, and users will have the option to upgrade to a ‘premium’ or ‘pro’ version by paying a token amount (say, $1.99). This ‘premium’ version would have more features, zero ads, and other such attractions. In a free app, you need to decide whether the monetization will be done with the help of in-app ads or in-app purchases (IAP), or a combination of both. In case you do go with ads, make sure that the advertisements are not inappropriate for the potential audience, and they do not interfere with the user-end experience (UX) in any way. What’s more, you also need to have a built-in analytics feature for your application. That would enable you to study the behaviour of people while using your app, and the points (if any) where most drop-offs occur. The information would help you in improving the app later.

Note: The average price of an iOS application is $1.02, while that of an iOS game is $0.49.

  1. Stay updated on the latest store/platform updates

    The upcoming iOS 11 platform will not support 32-bit apps. ‘Android Instant Apps’ were announced at this year’s Google I/O conference. While the actual development and coding will be done by the app development company you hire, you need to stay abreast with all the new updates, tweaks and changes in regulations in the Apple and Google platforms. Make it a point to abide by all the clauses mentioned in the Apple ‘App Store Review Guidelines’ and/or Android’s ‘Developer Policy Center’. Ask the developers working on your project to carefully follow the design regulations. Remember, any violations of the app store rules is likely to result in your app submission being rejected.

Note: Since 2015, Android apps are being manually reviewed. The average app review time at the Apple store is 2 days.

    10. Testing and quality assurance

Prior to launch, you need to be absolutely sure that your app has no bugs or performance issues whatsoever. Problematic applications are not likely to be approved (Apple’s regulations are more strict regarding this) – and even if a buggy app makes its way to the store, the consequences can be dire. Early users, on discovering the issues, are likely to leave poor ratings and unfavourable reviews – creating a negative ‘word-of-mouth’ publicity, and hampering its download potential in the long-run. No matter how quickly you release bug-fix updates, this initial damage cannot be undone. In order to stay away from such problems, it is extremely important to test all the features of your app before its submission. Apart from using simulators and emulators, beta versions of the app have to be tested on actual devices, to detect any probable glitches. Your app needs to be of uniformly high quality…otherwise, it is bound to fail.

Note: For beta testing iOS applications, Testflight (with the new 10000-users limit) is the most suitable platform.

   11. App store optimization

On average, 6 out of every 10 app downloads happen through search activities in the app store. That, in turn, implies that if your app is not easily ‘discoverable’, its download figures will remain low. This where the importance of app store optimization (ASO) comes into the picture. Find out how the top-ranking apps in your category are listed, and the keywords targeted in their app store descriptions (in the Play Store, an additional ‘short description’ is required as well). Select the app name carefully, and select an optimized, interesting app icon. If possible, add a tagline to the name of the app, with a keyword included in it. Identify the most relevant search terms likely to be used by people while looking for an app like yours, and use them as keywords (use them in a natural manner in the app descriptions). For Android apps, upload a short, engaging introductory video. Use high-quality screenshots, showcasing the most important screens of the application. Avoid adopting an overtly promotional tone in your descriptions – and highlight the key features (the elements that would motivate people to giving it a try) of the app instead. Getting featured in the App Store can increase the download-count of an app by more than 90% (downloads can jump by 500% in South Korea), and for that, excellent ASO strategies need to be in place.

Note: The name of an iOS app can contain 30 characters, along with a max. 30-character subtitle, 170-character promotional text and the app description. For Android apps, the title can contain 50 characters, the short description should be of 80 characters (max) and the long description should not be more than 4000 characters.

   12. Build the virality of your app

It would be a serious mistake to consider app marketing as a ‘one-shot game’. Promotions have to be done constantly, and offline channels have to be factored in as well. You can plan a ‘beta launch’ or a ‘soft launch’ of your app in select markets – before going ahead with a full-blown release (you will be able to gauge initial opinions, reviews and feedback that way). Provide promo codes for your apps to the ‘power users’ and ‘influencers’, launch referral programs and content-based campaigns to raise the buzz about the application. On social media channels and portals (Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, etc.), share the concept of your app and actively seek the opinions/suggestions of your peers/potential users. The trick lies in building up huge hype about your soon-to-launch mobile app…and more importantly, being able to actually live up to that hype.

Work with your app development partner agency to finalize how the automated notifications system of your app would work. Find out how user-queries and complaints will be handled from the backend – and how frequently updates will be released. There should not be any uncertainty over the platform versions (backward compatibility of your app has to be decided) and the devices that the application should work on seamlessly. Follow the above points closely, and enhance the chances of your newly-launched app becoming a big hit significantly.

 

An Overview Of Blockchain Technology (or, the Internet Of Value)

 

Overview of blockchain technology

 

Over the last few years, the buzz about blockchains has gone up immensely. In 2015, banks across the globe had invested around $75 million on the technology. By the end of 2019, that figure will have jumped to $400 million – clearly underlying the fact that Satoshi Nakamoto’s (whoever he or it or they is/are) innovative distributed ledger platform is only at an early stage of growth at present – and will gain even more recognition, understanding and popularity in the near future. The mounting interest in blockchains is also reflected by the huge investments made by venture capitalists on companies in this sector. Tech biggies like Microsoft, IBM and PwC have already started to work with the technology, and in today’s discussion, we will take a look at some interesting tidbits about blockchains:

  1. The need for blockchains

    While internet services are essential in a truly ‘shared, secure economy’ – their presence is not quite a sufficient condition. By nature, web-based services are created to manage, store, transfer and monitor ‘information’ – and they are generally not engineered to create ‘value’ (i.e., internet can make business processes more efficient, but cannot change the processes per se). Blockchain, often referred to as the ‘internet of value’ (IoV, anyone?) plugs that gap effectively. Also, unlike traditional internet tools and portals, blockchains do not have any centralized servers – and do not have any fees payable for its services (since there are no intermediaries or so-called middlemen). Blockchains are required for direct, peer-to-peer exchange of value, through a robust digital channel. Implementation of this distributed ledger technology also ensures greater engagement levels (a large cross-section of people cannot afford the services of intermediaries), and also offers greater data privacy and confidentiality.

  2. Understanding a blockchain

    The name might seem rather nerdy, but blockchains actually represent a fairly simple digital technology. To put simply, a blockchain is a one-of-its kind digital ledger or recordkeeping device – that tracks and records all transactions in a network. A new ‘block’ is added to the ‘chain’, every time a new transaction takes place on a particular asset (apart from financial transactions, blockchains are also used to store activities involving cryptocurrencies, retail transactions, medical records, supply chain data, and a host of other types of transactions). Every relevant member on the network can view a transaction (say, between Person X and Person Y), although the two parties actually involved in the transaction might opt to keep their identities hidden (or use pseudonyms). In other words, a blockchain system is just like a public ledger, where the transaction records are distributed to all interested parties. The information chain (with time-stamped blocks) is made secure with public-key cryptography – and no single user can modify or delete or tamper any ‘block’ of information on his/her own.

Note: The initial block in a transaction chain on a blockchain is called the ‘genesis block’ (numbered 0 or 1). The individual blocks are connected to each other with the help of code snippets called ‘hashes’.

  1. Who invented blockchains, anyway?

    Ah, that’s something no one quite knows for sure till now. All that is known is that the first white paper, introducing blockchains, was published on 31 October 2008 – and the first ‘genesis block’ was mined back in January 2009. At first, it was widely believed that a man called Satoshi Nakamoto had invented the technology (he was also credited as the inventor of the bitcoin cryptocurrency). However, the ‘actual Satoshi’ categorically stated in 2014 that he had got ‘nothing to do’ with bitcoins or blockchains. Since then, the names of Michael Clear (cryptography graduate from Trinity College, Dublin) and Craig Steven Wright (Aussie coder and entrepreneur) have surfaced as the real names of Satoshi Nakamoto. There is also a suspicion that the three men who filed the ‘encryption patent application’ (Charles Bry, Vladimir Oksman and Neal King) might well have collectively worked under the pseudonym of Nakamoto. The three have, however, denied this. The brains behind blockchains are still unidentified, and it makes for delightful tech gossip!

  2. The operation of blockchains

    We have already explained the nature and main purposes of a blockchain. Let us now get an idea of how a distributed ledger actually works. The process starts with a transaction request from Entity 1 to Entity 2. A ‘block’ is created to represent that transaction on the network, and that ‘block’ gets automatically distributed to all the authorized, interested nodes. All these other network members have to approve the transaction (i.e., assure the validity of the transaction). Once that is done, the ‘block’ gets added to the ‘chain’, and the transaction now takes place between the two parties. The transaction details get shared on the ledger of all the members of the system (as indelible records). That, in turn, makes the entire system transparent and makes sure that everyone is aware of all the relevant transactions. All forms of digital currency transactions can be recorded on a blockchain – and the system also ensures that a bitcoin is used only once.

Note: In the financial services sector, blockchains have already proved to be instrumental for removing the (often significant) time-gap between transaction and settlement. Disintermediation is the biggest reason for this.

  1. Can blockchains be hacked?

    Anything that uses digital resources can, in theory, be hacked. However, hacking a blockchain is, for all practical purposes, almost impossible – and the technology, hence, makes transactions and big data more secure than ever before. Since blockchain is a ‘distributed technology’ and is completely decentralized, there are no centrally located servers that can be targeted by hackers. The information stored in the system is shared across all the nodes of the architecture, and is present in the computers of all involved data miners. In order to be able to successfully hack a Blockchain ledger, all the records in a chain of transaction have to be separately tweaked (every block is connected to a previous block, creating a chain-like structure). Experts opine that the cost of hacking a blockchain (in terms of invested time and resources) is generally higher than the potential benefits from doing it. Blockchains might not be hack-proof, but it’s the closest thing to being so.

  2. The bitcoin revolution

    The blockchain technology was introduced as a platform for recording transactions of the Bitcoin digital cryptocurrency (released in 2009). Bitcoin transactions are either anonymous or (more popularly) pseudonymous, and transfers are made/received at pre-specified ‘Bitcoin addresses’ (there are no mutual trusts required for the transacting parties). Due to its nature, it is extremely difficult to trace the movement of bitcoins (unlike, say, credit card payments or wire transfers). The distributed ledger is periodically edited by the network, after checking the available balances at different ‘Bitcoin addresses’. New, unconfirmed bitcoin transactions are checked at intervals of ten minutes by ‘bitcoin miners’, who allocate the necessary computing and processing power in exchange of a certain amount of the cryptocurrency. In 2016, this ‘reward’ was slashed to 12.5 bitcoins for every completed block (it started with 50 bitcoins/block; the amount is decreased after every 4 years). With a market capitalization figure of ~$67.5 billion, bitcoin is by far the most popular cryptocurrency in circulation at present. Ethereum (market cap ~$30 billion) occupies the second spot.

Note: The price of one bitcoin is more than $4000 (subject to occasional dips, like the one this July). In comparison, the rate of a unit of Ethereum varies in the $310 – $330 range.

  1. The concept of smart contracts

    In a blockchain’s rule-oriented transactions ecosystem, ‘smart contracts’ take up the role of middlemen, and ensure that everything is optimally automated. Advanced coding goes into the creation of these contracts, along with preset deal workflows, sensor services, distributed apps and custom APIs. The ‘smart contracts’ get triggered whenever certain conditions are fulfilled (for example, blood sugar levels in a medical report, or wattage in an electric meter going above a predetermined level) – and the requisite actions are initiated. From intellectual property management, banking and financial transactions, and 3D printing, to manufacturing and delivery logistics – everything can be efficiently managed by the blockchain ‘smart contracts’. In the distributed ledger, all business rules are pre-programmed by these contracts, and all members of the network are notified of the same.

Note: Solidity is a Turing-complete programming language created by Ethereum. It is used for the purpose of coding smart contracts.

  1. The role of Keys

    For recording bitcoin transactions on a shared ledger, users need to have their unique ‘private key codes’, which serve as their passwords to the blockchain system. Every private key is associated with a specific ‘bitcoin address’ (the key, hence, serves as user-credentials) – and smart contracts can be coded only after a network-member has entered his/her key. The ‘private key’ of users is stored in their respective ‘wallets’. Outside of bitcoin transactions, keys can be ‘private’ or ‘public’, on blockchain systems. In broad terms, a public key can be explained as the tool from which ‘public addresses’ on blockchains are generated (via cryptographic hashing).

  2. Impact of blockchains on employment

    Blockchains are being created and implemented by…well, anyone involved in digital transactions (including IoT), for the verification of the ‘transaction blocks’. Since this verification process becomes automated in the system, the technology can potentially replace a large percentage of the mid-level accountants – who perform the same verifications manually – across the world. What’s more, the digital representation of contracts (i.e., the ‘smart contracts’), can do away with the need for drawing up the same contracts repeatedly, and hence, the need for many lawyers. However, these perceived employment losses would be more than offset by the increased opportunities offered by the new technology – with a strong, well-trained workforce required to manage blockchains and use them in an optimized manner. In a nutshell, digital distributed ledgers would increase the demand for ‘qualified workforce’, while reducing the need for repetitive manual work. Firms are chasing greater efficiency with blockchains – and the technology is being adopted in a wide range of industries.

Note: To know more about the main application areas of blockchains (apart from financial services), click here.

    10. The downside of blockchains

Ross William Ulbricht, the founder of the world’s first cryptocurrency-based illegal ‘darknet market’ called ‘Silk Road’ (for buying/selling drugs), was sent to life imprisonment in 2015. However, the success (albeit, for a limited period) of Silk Road (v.3.0 was pulled down earlier this year) showcased a way in which the blockchain technology can be misused. As previously mentioned, the system allows for anonymous transactions (owner data can remain hidden) – and only the transaction details are entered into the shared ledger. As a result, malpractices and illegal trading with bitcoins can be initiated by shady third-party users. As the blockchain market matures over the next few years, this issue is expected to be resolved. It is a powerful technology, and developers have to ensure that it is not being used for underhand practices.

Blockchain is still a fair way off from becoming mainstream, with the market expected to mature in 2025 (it is currently in an ‘early adoption’ stage). The growth in the interim is all set to be remarkable, with both leading tech giants as well as a host of startups (Slock.it, Enigma, SETL) becoming actively involved in developing/leveraging the technology. To sum up, the open-source blockchain distributed ledger replaces centralized gateways/servers and delivers cutting-edge recordkeeping services for all types of digital transactions. Easily one of the growing technologies to watch out for!

 

 

Blockchain Beyond Financial Services: 13 Applications & Use Cases

 

Uses of blockchains in different industries

 

The financial services sector has been the earliest, and one of the biggest, adopters of the distributed ledger technology (DLT) – more popularly known as blockchain technology. Introduced in 2008 by a little-known person/team/entity named Satoshi Nakamoto, blockchains have grown rapidly in recent years – keeping pace with the burgeoning popularity of cryptocurrencies. According to a March 2017 survey, nearly 8 out of every 10 banking institutions have already started creating their unique blockchain architecture – and it has been predicted that around 15% of the major banking institutions worldwide will become active users of the technology before the end of the year. Given the fact that blockchains can potentially bring down the annual infrastructural expenses of banks worldwide by a whopping $20 billion by 2022, this rapid spurt is not surprising.

It is interesting to note though that blockchains are no longer regarded as tools whose utilities are limited to the banking and financial services sector. In 2017, 23% of all finance professionals are likely to invest >$5 million on the technology. That is considerably lower than the interest levels in the manufacturing industry (42% executives plan to invest similar amounts) as well as in the media, tech and telecom industry (27% have the same investment plans). Bitcoin technology is slowly but surely moving beyond the finance industry, and we here take a look at some other interesting applications of the breakthrough DLT:

  1. Logistics management and supply chain auditing

    Blockchains can play a very important role in enhancing the security and efficiency of the storage/transfer of products (perishable goods, in particular). Right from packing and storage, to quality testing and distribution – every activity can be recorded on the distributed ledger, and all concerned parties on the network will be notified about the same. The data that has to be entered by users will vary across the different stages of the supply chain. With blockchains, auditing and establishing the authenticity of each step in the logistics system becomes easier and way smarter than ever before.

  2. Data handling

    The volume of data that is regularly collected (and has to be correctly scanned) by us is expanding rapidly. A blockchain-based ledger setup can ease the overall process of data management by both companies as well as governmental bodies – by recording details of different entries, making the data handling tasks simpler and more transparent, and ensuring uniformly high levels of data security. Since the data records in the blockchain are typically time-stamped, the total cost of data management can be cut down upon (and chances of errors become minimal). The analytics information required for different types of applications can also be supported on a blockchain. The technology helps in compliance-related issues as well.

  3. Blockchain for IoT

    The first signs of integrating the blockchain technology in the domain of Internet of Things (IoT) came along in January 2015, when IBM released a proof-of-concept for ADEPT (in collaboration with Samsung). The concept involved the usage of the underlying design architecture of bitcoin for the creation of a decentralized IoT setup. Last August, Chronicled applied the Ethereum blockchain to create an IoT Open Registry. Real-time analytics can be connected with IoT through the edge nodes, while there are several ways in which the usability and interoperability of consumer products can be improved (the DLT can store the identities of the different goods (which would ideally have advanced NFC chipsets)). Predictive maintenance is yet another field in which IoT and blockchain technology can be effectively combined. The latter can be used to detect probable glitches/damages (and generate warning notifications) in IoT devices. The probabilities of hack attacks, hence, would be significantly reduced.

  4. Online voting

    In early-2016, it was announced that a decentralized distributed ledger system would be used in the official e-Residency platform (for companies listed on Tallinn Stock Exchange) in Estonia (the announcement was made by the republic and Nasdaq). Blockchains have the potential to play a key role in auditing the ballot boxes in e-voting, thereby recovering much of the credibility of voting systems. A single coin, representing ‘one vote’, will be assigned to each end-user (who would also have his/her credentials in a ‘wallet’). The coin can be ‘spent’ (i.e., the vote can be cast) only once. Apart from keeping fraudulent practices in check, a blockchain-supported voting infrastructure would also be less exposed to online security threats.

  5. Electricity trading

    Blockchain technology does away with the need of middlemen – and that is one of the biggest reasons behind its burgeoning popularity in peer-to-peer (P2P) electricity trading applications. In a ‘transactive energy’ setup, each user will be able to trade (buy/sell) power with neighbors, securely, promptly, and without any hassles. The implementation of blockchains makes the overall ‘power trading’ system high-fidelity. Distributed ledger technology is also witnessing healthy adoption for the exchange of RECs (renewable energy credits). There are several other use cases of blockchains in the power and energy sector, like validating energy trades, managing smart grids, analyzing and benchmarking big data, and trading ‘green certificates’. Metering local energy generation points also becomes easy.

  6. Real estate management

    With the help of a high-performance software-as-a-service platform, the tasks of recording tracking and transferring information on real estate deeds can be facilitated (that is exactly what Ubitquity does). Real-time notifications about all transactions (as and when they happen) are sent to all the relevant members of the network – ensuring complete transparency and communicability. Professional mortgage companies can also get benefits by developing and implementing blockchains. What’s more, the technology can be integrated with ‘smart home’ systems, to monitor the critical parameters of assets.

  7. Ushering in Sharing Economy 2.0

    The distributed ledger technology is, by definition, decentralized, which makes it a great tool for taking the ‘sharing economy’ to the next level. Practically every form of digital information can be supported and stored on blockchains, and activities (irrespective of their scale) can be easily monetized. That, in turn, opens up the possibilities of various types of direct, peer-to-peer transactions – like electricity trading (discussed above), hiring cabs (without the presence of middlemen like Lyft or Uber), data-sharing and providing advisory services. In an ecosystem managed by blockchains, people will be able to seamlessly connect with each other and perform direct transactions.

Note: Blockchains are also being used to deliver endorsements, and for the ranking and verification of online reputation of users. ‘The World Table’ and ‘ThanksCoin’ have emerged as major players in this niche.

  1. User identification, authentication and security

    The need for maintaining robust digital security standards is not limited to transactions in the financial sector alone. The open-source distributed ledger technology is expected to make the task of identifying and authenticating users a lot more efficient. All that individual users have to do is create unique identities on the blockchain network, to manage/control the nature and accessibility of their personal data. The technology will assign a ‘digital ID’ to each user – which would help in tracking all transactions of asset(s) in future. Credit report malpractices, cases of online identity thefts and cyber frauds will all go down with the progressive implementation of the blockchain technology. User-identification with the help of biometry tools (like fingerprint identification) is also being facilitated by underlying blockchains. A case in point for this is UniquID.

  2. Managing intellectual property rights

    A recent report revealed that, illegal downloads bring down the total proceeds from online music sales by ~85%. Other forms of digital art also face similar risks. To protect the intellectual property rights (IRP) and ensure that optimal returns are obtained from the art collections, the blockchains might well be the best tools. On the network, owners of music and other artworks can upload their stuff, provide a watermark for establishing ownership, and manage/track the transfer of these digital art items. In essence, the availability of a virtual decentralized ledger allows artists to control how, where and when their creations are being used/transferred/deployed at all times. The movement of digital art in a Blockchain framework is similar to bitcoin transactions, and there are no chances of IRP violations.

Note: Grammy-winning musician Imogen Heap has created a music-streaming platform powered by blockchain technology. It is called Mycelia.

    10. Establishment of decentralized social networks

This is one of the newest domains in which blockchain technology has started to make its presence felt. Unlike Facebook or Twitter or any other currently popular social media sites, a decentralized social network (DSN) would not involve any centralized, controlling company/entity – and user privacy will be much higher. The same software can be used for connecting multiple servers in a DSN. Synereo, DATT and Diaspora are some examples of the decentralized social networks that are coming up. Many experts feel that social networking will become more and more decentralized over the next decade or so – and if that is indeed the case, the role of blockchains over here will become increasingly prominent.

    11. Blockchain in healthcare

Infosys has already identified the medical sector as one in which distributed ledgers will have a strong role to play in the foreseeable future. E-medical records can be made more accurate and secure than ever before – and there will be no intermediaries involved for their maintenance. Blockchain’s superior handling of these records is likely to help in the creation of smarter health information exchange (HIE) models. In addition, the new technology has the power to enhance the interoperability of different health records, as well as ease out the processes of testing proof-of-concepts and conducting medical experiments. In a blockchain-supported healthcare system, the patient (with his/her information) is always at the core.

   12. Gold/silver bullion trading

A user-friendly investor platform has already been introduced by The Real Asset Company – for the purchase/sale of gold and silver bullion safely and effectively. In the commodities market, blockchains add a definitive edge, by creating secure online accounts for the purpose of buying/holding precious metals. New cryptocurrencies backed by gold/silver can also serve two key purposes: i) create an additional layer of transparency and security on top of the vaulting setup and investments, and ii) facilitating the return of these precious metals in the global monetary system (Goldbloc is a cryptocurrency that does this).

Note: Blockchains have also proved to be useful for tackling illegal activities in the diamond trading business. On a decentralized, immutable ledger, all diamond identification records and transaction details are registered. The ‘digital passport’ of diamonds (as assigned by Everledger) ensures their authenticity and helps to create trackable footprints.

   13. Role in smart agriculture

In several previous posts, we have discussed different aspects of smart, IoT-supported agriculture. This sector can also feature extensive application of the blockchain technology over the next few years. While IoT can boost productivity and yield quality in a big way, distributed ledgers can bring about improvements at various points of the agricultural ecosystem – from establishing fair-trade practices and in-depth auditing standards, to ensuring data integrity and round-the-clock compliance. The overall value chains in the primary sector should become more efficient, visible and fair, with the disruptions caused by blockchains over here.

Earlier this year, the International Airport Review has mentioned blockchain as one of the ‘six technologies to revolutionize the airport and aviation industry in 2017’. The technology can play important roles in the job markets (including support for recruitments), for creating cutting-edge network infrastructure and distributed applications, in the worldwide gaming industry (including legal gambling) and for making market forecasts more accurate. Bitnation, the first ever blockchain-technology-powered jurisdiction setup (it is, in essence, a ‘virtual nation’ in itself) was created back in 2014 – and it has citizens and stakeholders all over the globe. Blockchains are, of course, still very important in the financial services market – but their adoption in other fields is growing fast.