Posted: 2:19 p.m. Monday, May 6, 2013
By Erik Sherman
Behind the scenes of Instagram's wild ride, the coming age of Google Glass, and how IBM is turning Watson into an executive chef.
A round-up of stories to read this week:
Seeing the story of how a hit came to be is always interesting, and few were bigger or faster than the birth of Instagram and its acquisition by Facebook. Now you can read an expanded version by Kara Swisher, including how VC firm Andreessen Horowitz initially invested and then backed away, with Instagram's founders only learning of it through a New York Times story. (And how Andreessen Horowitz still made a 31,000 percent return on its early investment.) Then click over to see three things the Vanity Fair story missed.
Google has released the first units of Google Glass, the glasses that provide augmented reality functions and record what you're seeing or hearing. Some people are absolutely wowed such as Robert Scoble, professional technophile, who has proclaimed that, after wearing Google Glass for two weeks, he would "never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor)." From informal polls of audiences at talks he was giving, lots of the attendees would buy a pair at $200.
Market analyst firm IHS has already estimated that 10 million pairs of so-called smart glasses, whether from Google or someone else (Apple, perhaps?), will ship by 2016. According to IHS, 50,000 pairs made by somebody actually shipped last year. (Then again, remember that tablets were selling for industrial applications for many years before the iPad.) Already people are compiling etiquette tips and some businesses--like casinos in Las Vegas, movie theaters, and possibly many others concerned with regulatory mandates for customer privacy--already banning them. Why count cards if you can get a computer looking at a video stream to do it for you? Especially when the current version is a little sneaky to start.
So, there is likely to be a market, but plenty of complications for entrepreneurs to consider. At least there's a new "It" product, as smartphones now outsell feature phones.
Hot Industry: Hummus?
The Middle Eastern dip made of ground chickpeas, garlic, and sesame paste has gained a following in the U.S. The market has heated so much that some major producers want to find new sources of chickpeas outside of the Pacific Northwest. Demand has also caused an increase in the amount of chickpeas being grown and the price they get. One brand, Sabra, has grown sales to a conservatively estimated $315 million last year, not including what moves through some big retailers like Costco. Of course, hummus has been available for decades in the U.S. Sometimes success takes a little while. Even kiwi fruit was considered exotic not so long ago.
Of course, there are some food trends that aren't so pleasant. Like packages of ground turkey containing traces of fecal matter. Between that and horse meat showing up in ground beef in Europe, food operations might have to hire their own DNA and analytical labs to be sure they're not serving something that could get them served with a subpoena for a customer lawsuit.
In other food news... artificial intelligence has come to the kitchen. Can algorithms top humans with even the most refined of palates? IBM's Watson supercomputer is taking a break from chess to find out. Watson is now being programmed to create new recipes. (Its first is Indian Tumeric Paella.)
The big deal? Instead of sorting through bajillions of combinations of chess moves or Jeopardy answers, the computer will weigh basic recipe forms and flavor compatibilities on the molecular level and then find recipes high in novelty that might still appeal to the human palette. Just spare us the bacon milkshake. Oh, wait, that already exists.
Creativity won't be limited to the dining table, however, as 3-D printing becomes a common reality. How common? The office supply chain Staples is starting to sell 3-D printers. The Cube 3-D Printer will run just under $1,300.