Culture

90 posts categorized

January 22, 2015

The SMS Modification Craze

Depositphotos_6156719_xs
 

Remember flying in the 80s? Long haul flights seemed to take days. There was only one movie and three screens in the entire cabin, so if you were wheezing a bit too much at Shanghai Surprise for the fifth time, everyone knew about it. To hear the audio you had to shell out $4 for those stethoscopic ‘headsets’ that were barely-glorified tin-cans-on-strings (no really, kids – they were nothing more than hollow tubes that plugged into two tiny speakers in the armrest). You could smoke.  

The funny thing was, nobody complained. It was as if flying through the air incredibly and winding up thousands of miles away in a few hours was enough for people. They didn’t need anything else. 

Like aviation in the 80s, SMS in the 90s was a primitive affair by today’s standards – if by ‘primitive’ you mean ‘the sudden ability to instantly transmit the written word to people around the world.’ 

For much of the 90s and 00s, text messaging was impressive enough to flourish without extra bells and whistles. Rapid advances in technology allied with free market forces soon put paid to that. These days, the new normal is modified, souped up, pimped out text messages adorned with fancy new skins and non-QWERTY keyboards capable of sending anything from emojis to rap lyrics.  

It should be noted at this point that SMS is SMS; the protocol hasn’t changed a jot in twenty years, only the window dressing. In many cases, ‘SMS modification’ really means ‘SMS replacement’ in the form of messaging apps. The appeal of these apps lies largely in their ability to provide users with a bespoke messaging experience.

Among the most popular of these is Chomp SMS, an easy-to-use, customizable app that lets users create their own themes and download custom font packs as they tire of their current look. 

GoSMS Pro is a similar idea but with a much bigger palette from which to work. It allows users to completely overhaul their visuals with new icons, fonts, animations, backgrounds and text bubbles. It also comes with a raft of non-visual features, including a private storage space for storing locked conversations and a text message backup service. 

Not all messaging apps are designed for purely aesthetic reasons. Some, like TextSecure, prevent screenshots of messages being taken and uses end-to-end encryption, thwarting prying eyes (whether criminal or federal!). 

The trouble with these apps is that both parties have to be using them in order to reap the full benefits. Unlike standard SMS messaging, which everyone in the world with a phone has access to, the playing field is not level. For instance, Strings - the app that lets you recall text messages you regret sending - is of no use unless both parties are running the app; two people agreeing to send messages with the app is a tacit acknowledgement that there is a lack of trust in the relationship. This will be the major stumbling block for Strings (and others) as they try to grow.

Our favorite SMS messaging apps are those with objectives no loftier than bringing a smile to the face. There are a plethora of text messaging apps designed to add some levity to your conversations with friends and family. Here are some of the very best:

Crumbles. Sends messages in the form of cut-ups from famous movies, one word at a time. You type the message, hit send and the recipient sees an array of great characters - from Doc Brown to Darth Vader - deliver each word. Hard to describe, but loads of fun once you try it.

PopKey. Leverages the power of Apple’s GIF-supporting Messages app to send any number of GIFS from a huge library of possibilities. Also enormous fun!

RapKey. Far and away our favorite messaging app right now, RapKey sends hip hop lyrics instead of boring prose. With a cool, 8-bit influenced retro interface, it works by giving you a series of categories to choose from - talking to your spouse, griping about money etc - and a list of couplets to scroll through. Find the most appropriate rhymes for your situation and make text messaging more fun!

 

 

 

January 19, 2015

How Does the World’s Most Powerful Organization Rule with Outdated Technology?

Depositphotos_4984282_xs
 

The United States has the strongest economy in the world, and therefore its government should have access to the latest devices and cutting-edge tech. Unfortunately, however, the U.S. government has had a problem getting its equipment up-to-date. Despite the creation of the technology cabinet position by President Obama, the Chief Technology Officer appears to have little control over the deployment of state-of-the-art equipment throughout government departments.

Megan J. Smith is President Obama’s top technology adviser, and with her background we may expect to see a great deal of change in government tech. She matriculated at MIT, and spent a good deal of her career working in various departments at Google – the divisions that developed Google Glass and the driverless car, as well as the acquisition of Google Maps and Google Earth. Clearly, her reputation precedes her. 

So why is the Chief Technology Officer using a BlackBerry?

In a recent New York Times article, Julie Hirschfeld Davis reported that Smith is using a Blackberry and a 2013 Dell Laptop. These are not considered outdated technology by government standards, because the Administration has had a history of being a little behind the tech curve. As evidenced by the disastrous rollout of healthcare.gov, perhaps we should expect this of the devices that the government chooses to use.

Because of her direct connection to the executive office, Smith will have the opportunity to convince the Obama administration to recruit technologists who can build a proper infrastructure for digital services. A drawback of the relative newness of her position is that there is very little funding available in the budget for the Chief Technology Adviser. Furthermore, the position doesn’t have any authority over other agencies. This makes the implementation of new technology a very difficult task for Smith. 

Fortunately, America’s CTO has a history of problem-solving in her career. She has gained a reputation as a woman with big ideas, and of course she has a great deal of confidence and expertise in the area. Regarding the necessity of a technological update, she stated: “We’re on it. This is the administration that’s working to upgrade that and fix it.” (New York Times)

We’re likely to see some exciting updates to technology in government. Megan J. Smith has the bona fides necessary to help the United States catch up with the rest of the modern world. Only time will tell how long – and with what resources – it will take the Chief Technology Officer to implement these sweeping digital infrastructure changes.

 

January 16, 2015

The App that Stops You From Using Apps

Depositphotos_50556361_xs
 

Is one of your new year’s resolutions to spend more time with friends and family and less time absorbed in your mobile device? Perhaps you’re looking to limit screen time while at the family dinner table? Believe it or not, there’s actually an app for that.

Entitled Moment was originally launched as a “well-designed and practical tool” for anyone wanting to shorten time spent staring at their mobile device screen. Designed by developer Kevin Holesh, Entitled Moment makes it easy to set daily smartphone use limits, and runs in the background of your phone. It makes a noise and sends a notification when you exceed your limit for the day. 

Currently being promoted as a “family application,” Moment now allows family members to track each others’ daily phone use from their devices and create “screen-free” timed sessions that includes loud alerts should someone pick up their phone.

Holesh notes that most people underestimate how much time they spend on their smartphones by some 50%. The developer’s own mobile device “addictions” helped inspire the app, as he found time spent in the digital world was interfering with his real-world relationships.

Similar apps were released following the launch of Moment, including Checky, which tracks how often users check their phones each day. 

The app’s creator also remarked that parents wrote to him thanking him, as Entitled Moment significantly helped manage kiddie screen time. This prompted Holesh to create Moment 2.0 and make limiting screen time a family activity.

Subsequently, consumers can now view daily family member phone use patterns, and configure “family dinner time” mode—an hour-long block that encourages users to put their phones down while at the table. Should a family member break the “phone down” rule, the person will hear a loud alert until they stop using their device.

Downloaded over one million times thus far, the app’s alerts are quite humorous, and include sirens, thunder, buzzer/alarm clock, and “the most annoying sound in the world” from the comedy classic Dumb and Dumber. A free app, it currently has about 200,000 active monthly users. Moment is available on iTunes, and includes the option of paying $3.99 for three months, or $19.99 for the whole year.

Rather than punishing children with a “no phone” rule, this app makes family dinner time something any member can implement at any time. Moment serves as a highly useful tool in decreasing kids’ screen time at home, and may be used in conjunction with other parental controls for mobile devices. 

January 09, 2015

The World’s Most Valuable Startup

Depositphotos_14031445_xs

As of Monday, December 29th, 2014, the Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has become the world’s most valuable startup. Late in 2014, the company closed its last round of funding, topping off its latest run at $1.1 billion dollars. With that, Xiaomi’s valuation has skyrocketed to $45 billion – past even the controversial pseudo-taxi startup Uber (valued at $40 billion).

If you haven’t heard of Xiaomi before, you are not alone. The company is a giant in China, however, with brick and mortar locations throughout the country. After taking advantage of a void in the Chinese smartphone market, Xiaomi has managed to increase their manufacturing output, and they are now the third largest smartphone manufacturer in the world. In their third quarter report of 2014, Xiaomi sold over 16 million units, an increase above last years’ report by over 3.5 million.

Many people throughout China prefer to purchase Xiaomi phones due to their low-cost. Samsung and Apple are still the power players throughout the world, and they have retained a good deal of the Chinese smartphone market. In the past year, though, sales by these juggernauts have been chipped away by Xiaomi – Samsung’s sales in particular, which has declined by 29 percent in the region. Surprisingly, Xiaomi’s gross sales in China has not come as close to defeating iPhone sales. Apple still retained $25.4 billion in sales in China alone, while Xiaomi only garnered $56 million in sales. 

Some of the controversy surrounding the startup includes a breach of international patents, but these claims have yet to be proven. Though Xiaomi publicly claims to operate under thousands of patents, most cell phone manufacturers own patents in the tens of thousands. And with their tight margins, it is unlikely that they are manufacturing under a series of licensing deals. In any case, the success of their business model is evident: build it cheap, run it with Android-based software, and sell it everywhere (in China). 

Xiaomi has announced that their next step will be to branch out into similar foreign markets, like Brazil and India. While Brazil fits all of the criteria of their business model, India is a bit less likely to embrace it. Historically, India has been wary of Chinese technology, and many consumers fear that the Chinese government will use the devices to spy on Indian citizens. Xiamoi has these and other roadblocks to get past as they expand into the rest of the Asian and potentially the South American market…but ambitions are obviously high.

The upshot for mobile marketing campaign managers is an increased need to cater their strategy to a variety of devices. Mobile marketing tactics that are effective at reaching iPhone users may not have the same impact on Android-based devices. Flexibility and adaptability are the watchwords for 2015, and if Xiamoi's explosive success is anything to go by, the world of mobile marketing and the wider world of tech should expect the unexpected.

 

January 08, 2015

How Accurate Were Last Year’s Predictions for Mobile Tech in 2014?

Depositphotos_46177467_xs

At the end of each year, tech journalists look into their crystal balls and attempt to predict trends and changes in the coming year. How often are they correct, though? We took a look at some of the most popular prophecies at the end of 2013, and just how accurate these predictions turned out to be.

First, some of the winners:

Prediction: "E-Commerce Will Thrive"

First of all, we know that e-commerce is thriving (with or without Amazon), so clearly this prediction was spot on. We’ve seen many emerging markets begin to adopt e-commerce, and we’ve witnessed Alibaba’s growth as the world’s Mecca of e-commerce. We’re still waiting for our drone deliveries, but no one can doubt that e-commerce will continue to grow in 2015.

Prediction: "Social Media Interactions During World Cup Will Break Records"

Not only did people around the world tweet, post, and message each other during FIFA’s World Cup games, we got to see the most widespread interactivity in the history of social media. The peak interaction first occurred during the final match between Germany and Brazil, and often featured the popular meme “Germany just scored a Brazilian goals.” They broke it again when the number of tweets broke 35.6 million, and 350 million people participated in World Cup conversation on Facebook. The prescient bloggers knew it would break records, and rightfully so.

Prediction: "Mobile Web Use Will Decline Significantly"

Many predictors foresaw that mobile web use would shrink – some even claimed that it would die. Well, it’s not dead yet: you can still search the web using the clunker-of-a-browser on your smartphone. Reports show that we have much more affinity for apps, however. Time spent using apps increased to 86%, while mobile web use dropped to about 14%. Perhaps we haven’t seen the end of the mobile web yet, but the seers of tech were right to assume that mobile consumers would use the web a great deal less. 

And now for the losers:

Prediction: "IM to Replace SMS as the Messaging Platform of Choice"

This prediction has proven to be pretty far off. Despite a decline in SMS use in 2012, we saw a surge in the use of SMS for business and personal reasons in 2014. The simplicity and low-cost nature of SMS text messages appear to have made the platform desirable for businesses, which means SMS messaging isn’t going anywhere. (Let’s not forget that SMS generates much more revenue than IM, as well.) Not to mention Facebook’s new privacy policy regarding their messaging app, which definitely turned off users in 2014. So the sibyls of tech can’t be right all the time. SMS messaging lives on!

Prediction: "Smartphones Cheaper than a Carton of Cigarettes"

Web prophecies predicted that a smartphone manufacturer in China, Xiaomi, would make a global move in 2014. They also claimed that the ubiquity of the phones in China would reduce the price to less than a carton of cigarettes. Well, neither prediction occurred. That said, we may see Xiaomi’s presence in other countries, like Brazil and India, in 2015. And the price of Xiaomi phone certainly has dropped – you can now buy a phone in China for less than 25 US dollars (but it’s not yet less than a carton of smokes).

Prediction: "Google Glass Will Be Everywhere"

Wearable tech has been all the buzz in 2014, for sure. But when the Nostradamus’ of the web claimed that Google Glass would be seen all around this year, they made a critical error. The world is not ready to embrace wearable tech, especially recording devices that sit right in the middle of your face. Tech bloggers predicted upwards of 800,000 Google Glass units sold in 2014, but they’re barely reaching 250,000. We’ll see what’s to come for wearable tech but, at this point, it’s just not happening in any significant fashion.

So just as in any year, several predictions were right and just as many were wrong. What’s in store for 2015? Only time will tell, but – judging from last year’s predictions – we’re bound to see the pendulum of mobile tech swing toward further globalization.  

January 02, 2015

6 of the Best: Green Apps

Depositphotos_10082372_xs
 

Mobile tech has made rapid advances in recent years. It’s reached a point where traditional desktop web browsers are beginning to look anachronistic. Apps and mobile-friendly interfaces not only provide a better customer experience, they are constantly evolving to change with the times. 

One of the key concerns for modern manufacturers and retailers is the desire to minimize the ecological toll their business takes. If they fail to judge public opinion, which is turning greener by the year, their bottom line will suffer. Commensurate with the rise in eco-consciousness is the mobile app boom. After all, software already has a headstart when it comes to lowering carbon emissions: no factories, no large commuting workforce, no production line. Just (generally speaking) some computer-wielding geeks and a good idea. 

Eco-friendly apps go further, actively helping their users live greener lifestyles. We’ve trawled the web (using virtual-dolphin friendly nets, natch) to bring you the very best green apps on the market: 

1) 3rd Whale

A brilliant guide to all things green in your area, 3rd Whale helps you find the nearest vegan restaurant, organic café or bike shop, wherever you are. As well as providing location information, the app serves up the details of a specific company’s green credentials so you can make sure you’re dealing with the right people. 

2) Earth 911 

This smart little app has been advocating a greener lifestyle for ages now, and they recently launched a free iRecycle app too. Ideal if you’re looking for recycling centres, iRecycle grants access to details for more than 100,000 of them. Find your nearest centre, as well as maps, routes, opening hours and a list of the materials that can be recycled there. With Earth911, you’ll never have an excuse for throwing anything to landfill!

3) GoodGuide

Helping you find everything from energy-efficient household appliance to green gifts for friends, GoodGuide Mobile is an indispensable little app. It provides access to more than 250,000 green products, each with detailed reviews and eco-ratings. 

4) GreenMeter

Green Meter helps you reduce energy consumption and get more mileage out of your vehicle by calculating how much gas you’re using and offering advice on how to improve your fuel efficiency. Like all the best green apps, it’s twin appeal lies in offering ordinary drivers the chance to save money and the planet.

5) Eco Dice

A fun way to turn good intentions into positive change, Eco Dice is devastatingly simple. You simply toss a die on your mobile device, but instead of numbers, the faces contain green tasks for you to fulfil during the day. Options include separating trash, taking your own bags to the grocery store and turning off appliances on standby.

6) Carbon Tracker

This free app uses GPS to calculate your carbon footprint according to how many miles you travel. It factors in emissions from different forms of transport, and even allows you to switch from miles to kilometers in case you’re travelling abroad.

 

January 01, 2015

5 Tech-Powered New Year's Resolutions

Depositphotos_37610269_xs
 

With the holiday festivities out the way our attentions turn to those New Year’s resolutions we must now fulfil. The thought of all that abstinence or exertion or spendthriftiness can be a mite depressing, which is why we’ve cast around for some technological solutions (or at the least, assistants) that will help you achieve your goals:

1) Stay Safer Online

Data privacy was one of the big stories of 2014 - even if it took a nude celebrity photo leak to snap us out of our complacency, and a high-profile Hollywood hacking scandal to confirm what we already knew: digital information is vulnerable and there are loads of unscrupulous cyber-gits out there. Keep your passwords regularly updated, and find out how to avoid bad password practices. Helping take the headache out of the task is Dashlane, a rather good password manager that makes turning insecure, easily hacked passwords into more secure versions. 

2) Cull Old Devices

For anyone who grew up before the age of mass computer gadgetry, throwing out old electronics devices is anathema. Even that Nokia handset from 1995 seems too, well, hi-tech to be consigned to the trash. Except you’re not supposed to throw old phones and computers away, that was your resolution six years ago, remember?! Your instincts are right: the components contained in old laptops and cellphones are still useful. You just need to give them to a local e-recycling program who can get the most out them. Check the EPA website for your nearest donation drop-off point. 

3) Go Mobile

Remember last year, when you vowed to engage with mobile marketing? You knew it would be beneficial to your business, and yet twelve months later you still don’t have a mobile marketing plan in place. Don’t beat yourself up, just crack on with a mobile marketing strategy this year. It’s affordable, effective, and will probably end up shaving a bunch of cash off your overall ad spend - all of which can go in the slush fund for next Christmas! 

4) Get in Shape

Wearable tech is in rude health right now, and the New Year is the perfect opportunity to start getting fit and bidding goodbye to those extra winter pounds you gained. If yoga’s your thing, try the SmartMat, a really clever piece of technology that gives you personalized feedback on your technique. At just under $300, it’s only for those committed to improving their fitness in the long run - but that’s what resolutions should be all about anyway. Get the lowdown on how the SmartMat works here.

5) Learn a Language

For many of us, being fluent in a new language is the ultimate unfulfilled ambition. Gaining such a useful skill used to entail paying for expensive courses, travelling to and from the lessons, and having to learn in a proscribed way that wasn’t necessarily right for you. Luckily, there’s a raft of new apps that have not only made learning a language more affordable and convenient, but actually more efficient as well. Lingua.ly is among the most notable examples; it lets you pick out words you like the look of from international publications. Then it builds personalized flashcards which are more appealing than rote phrasebook learning.

 

 

December 30, 2014

What Will Happen to Mobile Marketing in 2015?

Depositphotos_48757909_xs

Change is inevitable (with the possible exception of vending machines), so what will become of mobile marketing in the coming year? Let’s take a look at what continues to dominate, what will change, and perhaps make a prediction or two: 

The Visual is Essential

One thing’s for darn certain: visuals aren’t going anywhere. The competition for consumer attention continues to gain momentum, and as such photos, videos and infographics are necessary to every piece of content created. A recent survey by the Nonprofit Times found nonprofits rank higher than for-profit organizations in content marketing strategies, with some 63 percent reporting current work on visual content as a big part of strategy. 

Personalization Increases

In-the-know marketers utilize analytics to create successful marketing campaigns, and in 2015 businesses will no doubt study customer behavior and interests in depth to craft customized content marketing strategies to stay ahead of the competition. Businesses are learning how to make adjustments with each new social media update, blog, etc. Measuring efforts will be easier than ever before in 2015 thanks to a number of new analytics tools. 

Consumers served content tailored to personal tastes will prevail in 2015 over marketing efforts that barely rings any bells. This includes blogs, guest blogs, articles and tweets, as brands have realized the value of personalizing content so as to reach different demographics rather than posting the same blog or tweet across all social media platforms. 

Mobile Friendliness: A Must

The mobile device surpassed the PC in usage for the first time in 2014, and brands are making adjustments to ensure content marketing efforts work for smaller screens…and shorter attention spans. Content designed for mobile devices, including location-based search terms, will be incredibly important in 2015. 

“Marketers have been advised to create and tailor different formats of content with customized copy for highly-fragmented marketing channels from TV to print to various social media platforms in order to reach their target audience,” says Pam Didner, a global integrated marketing strategist for the Intel Corporation. “It’s the right thing to do.” 

Interactive Applications for Product Storytelling Becomes Integral

Interactive storytelling will become an “integral part” of product demonstration in 2015, particularly at events such as conferences and expos. Brands are finding ways to use interactive 3D product models among other meticulously-crafted content to attract customers and give them a proverbial taste of the product without having said product on premise. 

These are just some of the ways mobile marketing will grow and change in the new year….

 

 

December 27, 2014

Google Brings the Museum to Mobile

Last week, Google announced the release of a platform that allows museums, galleries and other cultural spaces to build mobile apps using the search giant’s technology. The objective is to make exhibits viewable by anybody with a smartphone, in the same way Street View and YouTube allow remote access to content. 

The initiative is being spearheaded by the Google Cultural Institute, which is tasked with collating cultural treasures from around the world and making them accessible to people online. Previously, the group has led projects of major historical significance, such as the digitization of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the recording of World Wonders using Street View technology.

So far, the Google Cultural Institute has partnered with 11 museums worldwide. Early adopters include cultural institutions in France, Italy and Nigeria; the Musee Curie, Museum of Arts et Metiers, the Palazzo Madama and the Museum of Le Havre are among the venues that have taken advantage of Google’s expertise. 

Depositphotos_59849773_xs

The Nordiska Museum, Stockholm.

The beauty of Street View – as opposed to standard stills of exhibits – is the ability to move through a space and experience a 360-degree tour. The apps being developed with Google’s assistance also offer photos and audio tours, as well as sharing features that let virtual visitors post what they’re seeing to social media. 

An offline version of the virtual tour is available across many of the apps (depending on venue). It may not be quite the same as visiting the museums themselves, but Google’s scheme is the next best thing – and easily superior to viewing the standard promotional materials issued by an institution. 

Best of all for museums – many of which are public institutions, with the rest operating at low profit margins – they don’t need to invest in proprietary technology to make it all happen. Google provides the technical expertise and marketing clout, while the museums simply grant access to their exhibits. It’s a win-win situation.

If you know of a museum, institution, or even private collector who could benefit from the technology and know-how provided by the Google Cultural Institute, point them to the link near the top of this article or visit here to apply directly.

December 26, 2014

Thinner & Lighter Are No Longer Key Selling Points for Mobile Devices

Depositphotos_56176429_xs
 

Rapid advancements in mobile technology make it quite easy to forget that smartphones and tablets have only existed for a few years. As of 10 years ago, there were no smartphones, tablets were enormous, and laptops had to remain near outlets. ‘Big and bulky’ was the name of the early tech game, meaning the thinner, lighter options that came after were all the rage. OEMs and mobile enthusiasts would quickly announce “Gadget X” as the “thinnest device in the known universe!” 

However, this is no longer the case. Most smartphones, laptops and tablets are highly mobile, with many very light and thin, and offering a battery life of seemingly endless hours. Prospective customers are subsequently unimpressed with gadgets claiming to be thinner and lighter than their predecessors, as “less girth” no longer does much to improve user experience. With the exception of the iPhone, most people aren’t looking to upgrade their devices. Samsung and similar competitors are seeing this more and more, as the new “flagship” mobile device isn’t selling the way it once was. 

Why? When featuring only “incremental” improvements over the newest mobile devices, people just aren’t interested. Mobile devices are incredibly versatile, so consumers don’t care about a device that’s slightly thinner than the one they already have. 

In light of this, Apple “went big” with its iPhone. A larger display gave the tech giant something to “push aggressively,” and while the device is now less portable and competitors are making similar phones, the strategy appears to be working.

“Apple has experienced a huge jump in sales share across almost all major markets thanks to the launch of the iPhone 6,” noted Dominic Sunnebo, the strategic insight director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “In major European economies, the US and Australia, Apple's share of sales has risen…..most of these sales were driven by loyal Apple users.”

The reason for this jump in sales? The phone’s 4G capability, screen size, and design. 

To further emphasize this point, the previous generation of the iPad was as thin as it could be, and is probably affecting sales of the newest model. The latest iPad 2 may be razor-thin, but iPad Air owners aren’t exactly storming Apple stores to obtain this model.

The days of “thin and light” as main selling points are over. What consumers want now are devices featuring apps, displays, versatility, and updates that significantly improve their mobile device experiences.