New book out now: Bye Bye Banks?

The retail banking world today is full of technology challengers, from Apple Pay to start-ups like Venmo and TransferWise. These companies hope to do to banking what Skype did to telecoms or what Uber is doing to taxis. They want to provide services that are simpler, cheaper and connect more directly with the consumer and they could well take down some established brands along the way.

James Haycock, managing director of the digital agency Adaptive Lab, saw this trend and felt that retail banks needed a guide to help them understand what was happening, as well as a plan to deal with it. Late last year he asked me to collaborate on a book. Together we fleshed out his ideas, added some background and context and wrestled with the best way to explain a strategy we're calling The Beta Bank.

The result is Bye Bye Banks? How Retail Banks Are Being Displaced, Diminished and Disintermediated by Tech Startups and it is now available from Amazon.

While Bye Bye Banks? is not my first book, it was my first collaboration and the experience was a fascinating one. We learned as we went, batting drafts between us and mostly managing to avoid picking up the wrong version of a chapter or each writing a new draft of the same section.

If we were writing it again, we'd probably finish much more quickly. Nevertheless, the finished work is something to be proud of and I hope it's useful to those who are interested in the sector.

My 2014: a year of learning to freelance

Last year was my first full year of working freelance and it was a year of learning.

I've been writing professionally for a long time, I understand technology and the media but I learned much more about all three in 2014. And I understand the freelance life better than I did. It's a little easier to handle the uncertainties of freelancing: both the empty periods when emails and calls go unreturned and it seems like there will be no more work and the job avalanches that can't possibly fit into the coming days. It will take more time until I get completely comfortable with those patterns.

2014 began on a high. I had two clients on retainer and a steady flow of other work. Then I lost both retainer gigs. One client went out of business and I lost the other in a budget reshuffle. That came just as the summer began and work from elsewhere slowed as seemingly everyone went on holiday. Things were quiet and worrying for a while.

I spent some time in the summer working with the smart team from Adaptive Lab, embedded in the offices of Experian, working on prospective new products. That was enormous fun and a complete change to my freelancing routine.

I did a few projects with 3 Monkeys, helping them with work for clients including Samsung and BT. I worked with The Marketing Practice on a project for HP, with Nelson Bostock for Canon and H+K Strategies for Intel. I even spent some time writing about the periodic table for RGB Co, which was fascinating. Other semi-regular clients included John Lewis, Business Technology News, Made By Many and the World Economic Forum. The range of clients and audiences gave me a chance to stretch my skills as a writer and I feel lucky to have enjoyed such variety.

Meanwhile, I updated my book about wearable technology, Computerised You, and the iBook about iOS 7 that I published with Touch Press in 2013. I appeared in various places speaking about wearable tech, moderated a number of round tables and panel discussions along with being a judge for technology awards. 

There's much more but though it's useful to look back, I suspect I'm beginning to stretch the limits of your attention. What does 2015 hold?

I'm developing a couple of my own writing projects. One will require some funding so I'll spend some time trying to unlock that. I plan to do more consultancy but the challenge there is partly one of attitude: I still feel more comfortable selling something tangible, my writing, rather than my knowledge. That's something else I've learned.

Above all, I'm enjoying doing what I'm doing. It's challenging, engaging and rewarding. I'd like to wish all my present and prospective clients a successful 2015. As always, do get in touch to discuss working together.

Speaking at the Wearable Technology Show, Olympia, March 2014

I'll be speaking at the Wearable Technology Show at London Olympia on March 18 2014. I'm moderating a panel discussion called Wearable Wellbeing at 2.30pm in Conference Room 1. The panel includes Nitin Bhas of Juniper Research, James Deakin of Fjord, Karin Edgett of SunFriend and Dr Sean Radford of TrainasOne. It should be a good discussion.

Then at 3.05pm in Conference Room 2 I'll be giving a presentation on Privacy and Data in the Age of Disruption, looking at some of the risks that the flood of data from wearable technology will create.

Meanwhile, Computerised You: How Wearable Technology Will Turn Us Into Computers is now available in a couple of other online stores. If you still haven't got your copy, try one of the links below:

Amazon (UK)
Amazon (US)
Apple (UK)
Apple (US)
Barnes and Noble

On wearables and semiconductors

A couple of new articles went live this week. First, I wrote a piece for Mashable about wearable technology, specifically fitness trackers and the importance of quality services to back them. We're starting to see those kind of services emerge but there's plenty more room for innovation. As I wrote in the piece:

"The Jaybird Reign fitness bracelet, announced at CES, announces when you are in the 'Go Zone,' a.k.a. the period of time when you should stay active, and when you should rest. In April 2013 Jawbone acquired BodyMedia for $100 million. The former now has access to the company’s medical grade device and expertise in data analysis.

"A Russian startup called GERO, also unveiled at CES, gives a glimpse of what will soon be possible. Building on research findings that tiny changes in body movement can identify chronic diseases, GERO plans to use to data from commercial activity trackers to predict diseases, such as Alzheimer's, depression, diabetes, schizophrenia and more. The predictions are 60-85% accurate, depending on the disease, but the model is likely to improve with more data."

The second, for Business Technology, is about wide bandgap semiconductors - a growing technology that could help to reduce the power consumption of our many, many gadgets:

"The bandgap is the amount of energy needed to make electrons jump from their atoms and conduct electricity through a material. The wider the bandgap, the higher the temperature, frequency and voltage at which the electronic device can operate. The next wave of WBG semiconductors can eliminate up to 90 per cent of the energy loss of current technology and promise chips that are 10 times more powerful."

Of course, that means we'll see gadgets that guzzle even more power...