A smart belt (Feb. 2015)
Belts have been used to hold up trousers for centuries. This year, the humble object is going high-tech. Apart from preventing an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction, French company Emiota’s prototype belt called Belty also works as an activity tracker and wellness coach. Sensors inside the belt buckle monitor how many steps the user takes, and they vibrate when the user has been sitting around for too long. The belt also keeps a record of waistline measurements. The data is then sent wirelessly to a smartphone app that analyses the information and makes gentle suggestions on how the user can improve fitness and, if necessary, shed some pounds. The Belty also expands and contracts with a person’s waistline. When the user sits down, or puts on weight, the belt automatically loosens itself to give more room to breathe. It then tightens when a user stands up—or, ideally, loses that extra flab.
Airbnb versus The World (Feb. 2015)
January wasn’t such a good month to be a hotel operator in New York City. Revenue per available room fell 18.6 percent, while occupancy dropped 7.5 percent. In part, visitors stayed away because of the heavy snowfall. But another, longer-term reason is the advent of new forms of supply in the market—namely, the growing popularity of Airbnb. Visitors looking to pay between $150 and $250 a night are flocking to the website that rents out apartments for short-term stays, often with more amenities and more space than hotel alternatives. That hurts occupancy at mid-range hotels both inside and outside the core tourist zones, according to Credit Suisse.. The number of apartments available through Airbnb—now as many as 10,000 per night in New York—is now big enough that it’s eating seriously into the hotel market. Top-end hotels that attract business travelers, on the other hand, aren’t so vulnerable to Airbnb. Yet.
Profit Metrics That Don’t Measure Up (Feb. 2015)
Corporate profits have been on a tear in recent years thanks to low interest rates, rebounding consumer demand, and stagnant pay for workers. Earnings per share for the S&P 500, for instance, rose from $17.48 in the first quarter of 2010 to $27.47 in the third quarter of last year. But in 2015, that won’t be the best indicator of business activity or the direction of the economy, according to Credit Suisse. That’s because the S&P 500 metric is going to be disproportionately affected by falling oil prices and the stronger dollar. Energy companies and multinationals that depend on overseas sales are overrepresented in the S&P 500. Oil alone makes up 8.4 percent of the index, even though the entire mining sector, including hydrocarbons, represents just 2.7 percent of the U.S. economy. Other sectors, such as construction companies and law firms, are underrepresented. In other words, corporate profits will likely be better than the numbers indicate this year. By the same token, the statistics over the past few years have been overstated. A better gauge for investors, then, would be the national income and product accounts, or NIPA, because it includes all U.S.-headquartered corporations and therefore not biased towards specific sectors.
Swipe This (Feb. 2015)
It’s been happening in sci-fi movies for decades, but humans are finally getting micro-chipped in real life. Epicenter, a high-tech office complex in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, is offering its employees a tracking technology normally used to identify dogs and cats. A radio-frequency identification chip, which is about the same size as a grain of rice, is inserted into a person’s hand, giving them access to the building, their office and photocopy machines. They can even share their contact details by swiping another person’s smartphone over their hand. So far, around 20 people have had the chips implanted in their hands, and many of the nearly 400 people who work in the office plan to follow suit. “It’s a way to simplify life,” says Epicenter co-founder Patrick Mesterton, who was among the first to be chipped. “This is just the beginning.”
JENS ERIK GOULD
Jens Erik Gould is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News.