Earlier this month I attended the New York version of the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, saw a number of new startups, and heard from a number of big and small companies about the technology they saw as disruptive. To me, only a few of the products stood out as real disruptors, but I thought a number of these were interesting.
The splashiest debut at the show was Viv, a new conversation assistant from some of the people who were behind the technology that evolved into Apple’s Siri. Viv is meant to be a new and more general assistant, one that is more conversational. The demonstration was interesting. I was particularly intrigued by the idea of Viv as a platform that can be integrated into third-party products, and also by the description of dynamic program generation, which might make it easier to program such a system. This is looking like a very crowded market with Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Assistant all offering ideas that are similar if not identical. Viv looked very cool.
Sign on solutions
From a business point of view, I was most interested in a couple of new solutions to make dual-factor authentication easier. Today, there are a number of solutions for enterprise customers who want to make it easier to log into multiple sites with more than just password security. The one I see deployed most is RSA’s SecurID, which uses either a hardware token or a smartphone application to give you a string of numbers that change every minute. That’s a good solution, but it’s relatively expensive and users must retype the numbers correctly.
There are a number of consumer solutions as well, from password managers such as LastPass to hardware keys such as YubiKey. On the business side, many companies want to set up a solution that lets users do single sign-on across multiple sites, using an identity management solution such as Okta or OneLogin. These tend to provide one password that logs into multiple sites, and do simplify things for the user, but you may not want to have a single password, plus they can be a bit complex to set up.
At TechCrunch Disrupt I saw two solutions that aren’t brand new, but that promise to simplify things, both for the business and for end users. SaasPass is a cloud-based, two-factor solution that produces randomly generated passwords on your phone. A business would tie its applications into the service, and then you would set it up on your phone, so you could log into multiple sites by scanning a barcode, using proximity to your phone as a second factor, or through an Apple Watch application. It can even log you into your Mac or PC.
BluInk has a similar idea targeting enterprise users. It is mostly aimed at managing a lot of passwords for logging on to a site. This uses a USB hardware key that communicates with the company’s Injector smartphone app. In this case, you login to the app on the phone, using a fingerprint or master password, and it communicates the encrypted information to the hardware key, which can then fill in the site. It can use long random passwords, one-time passwords, or FIDO public key encryption, and can allow for different policies, such as geo-fencing. This is rapidly becoming a much more crowded field, but it’s very good to see some new ideas here.
Two hardware products looked interesting to me. Cujo offers a home security firewall that promises to bring business level features to home users. A number of home router makers are talking up security, but this seems a bit ahead right now. I’d want to try it to be sure.
Hudway had a very nice and inexpensive heads-up display for your car. It’s a mirrored solution that fits on top of your dashboard and reflects your smartphone screen into a transparent display onto your windshield. This is designed to work with a number of heads-up display applications for navigation, including Hudway’s own. While it’s not the same as a large screen navigation system in a new car, it certainly looks better than running a mapping app on a typical smartphone, and offers the advantage that you can always keep your eyes on the road. This is due to start shipping shortly; I’m hoping to give it a try.
On the software front, I saw some interesting ideas as well. Rovi’s FanTV now adds voice search to its content discovery app; this lets you ask relatively complicated questions and find out what content is available through specific services. I thought previous iterations were interesting, because it’s hard to know what content is on which service (and if they are paid services, who has the best price) but this version is more interesting because of the voice assistant. Most of the business seems to be selling it to service operators, but the consumer version is attractive.
HomeMe offers preapprovals for rental housing, which is a nice idea because you can fill out a single application and ascertain whether or not you are approved for any apartment on its list. One downside for now is that it is only available in a couple of markets.
Many of the products I saw struck me as variations of older ideas, though usually with a twist. UpScored has an interesting data science-based approach to match job candidates with openings. It’s a bit different in that it scores candidates according to how close they are to ideal for a job, based on skills, work experience, and education. I thought this was an interesting idea, but it seems targeted at a relatively small part of the work force, and is entering a very crowded market.
Upicnic offers an easier way to set up a picnic and deliver and pick up supplies. Cappasity offers a cloud platform for storing and embedding interactive 3D product images into online stores; I’ve seen other products in the category but this looked nice. Juno is a New York-based ride-sharing company that plans to compete with Uber and Lyft by being nicer to drivers and giving them equity in the company.