Friday Five – Mobile phones replacing passports, TikTok aiming to dominate social media, Taco Bell hotels

Mobile phones are coming after your passport, and why it’s not the worst thing

In 2012 a Montreal inhabitant was popping over to Vermont when, just 30 minutes from the border crossing, he realized that he left his passport at home. Luckily, he remembered that he’s got a scanned copy of his passport on Dropbox on his iPad. That proved to be enough.

That incident was pure serendipity. Soon enough it may become par for the course. At the World Economic Forum, Canada and the Netherlands were giddy over a pilot that, by combining biometrics with a mobile app, will enable travelers to go between the two countries while their passports are lingering at home. Dubai Airport is also hopping on this trailblazing bandwagon. This is all quite timely, as travel is rapidly democratizing and losing the remaining vestiges of its not-just-for-anybody exotic allure. By 2030, international travel will be up 50% from 2016, so unless you savor being rammed into a cacophonic mass of tired, fussy, sweaty, and foul-mouthed fellow globetrotters, you’ll salivate at any chance to speed things up, even if that means surrendering another morsel of your privacy (if there’s even such a thing anymore).

So much convenience and peace of mind courtesy of one precious little gizmo snug in your pocket. Mobile devices, for all their much-publicized sins, give us unprecedented convenience and a surprisingly sparing touch on Mother Earth. Think of all the calculators, camcorders, clock radios, telephones, tape recorders, compasses, cameras, barometers or GPS devices your mobile phone has kicked into early retirement. That’s a lot less steel, copper, timber, and a bunch of rare-earth elements used. If a paper passport is also pining for the fjords, then it’ll be joining a very long list of pensioned off inventions.

TikTok seeks social media domination, one floss dance at a time

Chinese Bytedance-owned video sharing app TikTok is harnessing the power of its AI algorithms to recommend entertaining video clips that users didn’t even know they wanted to conquer the social media landscape. TikTok became one of the first Chinese tech giants to penetrate non-Chinese markets as it surged in popularity to reach 188.2 million downloads globally in Q1/2019, courtesy of the $1 billion spent on advertising in the past year.

With 15 second video limits, TikTok capitalizes on the short attention span and need for instant gratification of today’s youth. The app favors wholesome content like lip-syncing, meme reenactments and video challenges conducive to mindless scrolling as a repudiation of the overly curated, aesthetics-obsessed dogma of Instagram that is too cool for school. Its most comparable rival, Snapchat, has failed to successfully emulate Bytedance’s strategy of delivering content based on past user history rather than their friends’ recommendations. Despite its popularity, TikTok has not escaped the controversies of its frenemies – the app is likely unprofitable with limited paid advertising opportunities and it was fined $5.7 million for storing sensitive information of children under 13 without parental consent…oops.

If Bytedance beliebes that TikTok will remain in the social media race (remember Friendster?) and avoid the fate of Twitter’s Vine, then it will have to leverage its fickle teenage user base into a profitable venture.

We at the hotel, motel, Taco Bell inn

Taco Bell, not wanting to stop their ingenuity at using Dorito’s as a taco shell, announced a pop-up Taco Bell Hotel in Palm Springs. The company’s global brand officer said that the idea behind the hotel was to allow people to “fully experience and embrace and immerse themselves in every aspect of the Taco Bell lifestyle” … which really elevates the ‘lifestyle’ of eating a sloppy mix of cheese, Doritos, and iceberg lettuce after a night out at 3AM.

Ikea has done a similar pop-up style crossover in the past with a restaurant in London in 2016 and Toronto in 2017. However, the pop-up was an extension of the food offerings Ikea is already famous for. Taco Bell’s hotel is a total shift in the brands core offering – sub-par Tex-Mex. The brand sees it as a way to shift beyond their traditional fast-food offerings, expanding on the inexplicably popular wedding packageoffered at the Las Vegas location. The public clearly loves the idea – the reservations for the Taco Bell Hotel sold out in under two minutes. While they were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Funerals are so dead

Your great uncle that tells inappropriate jokes once a year at Christmas may cost you an average of $7,000 to $10,000 in funeral fees. Funerals are big business in the US – with 2.4 million funerals a year the industry is worth $20.7B. However, if you were interested in putting your money towards a stay at the Taco Bell Hotel instead of paying for Uncle Jim’s funeral, cremation may be the option. It is becoming more popular in the US, rising from 3.6% in 1960 to nearly 50% in 2015, with the cost of burial cited as a large reason for the shift to the more budget friendly cremation. As sustainability and eco-friendliness become consumer must-haves, a lively bunch of new companies are offering options, such as turning your grief into a reef. Eternal Reefs transforms cremated remains into coral reefs. For those wanting a unique send off, Celestis offers the service Voyager, to launch your loved ones’ remains into deep space for $12,500.

With an aging population the funeral business will be booming for years to come. As consumer demand is ever-changing from food delivery to autonomous cars, so too is death disrupted.

Why learn to play guitar when a protein molecule makes music

Scientists are developing a system to convert molecular structures of protein into musical sequences – why you ask? The scientists are hoping that the system will allow them to understand more about the proteins – which seems a lot like the rationale for Taco Bell opening a hotel … do it because you can and figure out the reason later. The music has not been released yet, but it will probably be better than SoundCloud rappers. While scientists make music from proteins, company Base Hologramhopes to make money from dead musicians. Base Hologram has secured the rights for holographic concert performances from Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and Whitney Houston. The company is tapping into two big themes, live experiences and nostalgia. Musical tours are big money, the top 100 concerts were worth $65B and of that, the top 10 acts of 2018 were ‘legacy’ acts, U2, Rolling Stones, and The Eagles. Keith Richards has to be reaching the end of his nine lives, and may soon be getting the holographic treatment. The technology is not yet operational and the ethics of having an artist’s likeness perform in perpetuity is hazy, with one journalist referring to it as ‘ghost slavery’.

On technology’s never-ending advance, music is the latest industry to see change. The scientists and Base Holograms could have the crossover no one asked for: protein holograms playing the converted molecular structures as music.

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