Tech

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January 29, 2015

Behavioral Change Techniques Sorely Lacking in Most Fitness Apps

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Earlier this year, the American Journal of Preventative Medicine issued a report regarding the effectiveness of fitness applications. While their studies showed that apps provide much opportunity for social networking and feedback, most apps were seriously lacking in behavioral change techniques.

Behavioral change techniques, also known as BCTs, are techniques that directly help app users to modify their physical activity in significant ways. 

The study reviewed the 100 top-ranked physical activity apps and analyzed them for the existence of BCTs. Using a classification process according to 93 specific kinds of BCTs, the Journal reported that only 39 types of BCTs were present. On average, only six BCTs were present in any given app.

Now just about half of all American adults own a smartphone, and roughly half of those users access health information through their mobile phones. Also, about 50 percent of mobile users have at least one fitness app. These apps regularly provide certain types of BCTs: social support through online communities like Facebook, how to perform an exercise, exercise demonstrations and feedback, as well as information about others’ approval of a technique. While these are critical BCTs for self-improvement, the study found that most apps were lacking in the breadth of their BCTs.

Furthermore, the study found that app developers favored BCTs with a modest evidence base over others that had a more established effectiveness rate. David E. Conroy, PhD, the lead investigator, stated that “not all apps are created equal, and prospective users should consider their individual needs when selecting an app to increase physical activity.” In one example, he mentions that social media integration for providing social support is a very common BCT in apps, but he goes on to say that the BCT of active self-monitoring by users is much more effective in increasing activity.Perhaps the cause of the lack of self-monitoring BCTs is a result of development around mobile device capabilities. For example, accelerometers serve to passively monitor the movements of the mobile user, but they do not incite the user to participate in some form of exercise. Moreover, there is little evidence of retrospection or active self-reporting with these apps – BCTs that experts agree are most effective for changing behavioral activity.

The American Journal of Preventative Medicine didn’t suggest that Americans eschew fitness apps; the study simply showed where these apps are lacking. The potential of fitness apps in our society should, in fact, be lauded. Most apps do have many benefits, and exercise BCTs will most likely help a sedentary person to get moving. Since insufficient physical activity is the second-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, Americans should take advantage of fitness apps that can help them to increase their daily activity.

January 26, 2015

What's With the Round Smartwatch Craze?

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Round smartwatches are increasingly popular, and new offerings are providing consumers with an array of fun and practical features, including those designed to keep users healthy and fit. Let’s check out some of the smartwatches on the market today, as well as those in the soon-to-be-released file: 

 

Alcatel Onetouch Watch

Available in March on Amazon, the Alcatel Onetouch Watch comes in four style options, two metal and two micro-textured resin. It supports both iOS and Android devices, which sets it apart from just about every other smartwatch currently manufactured. Controlled through a companion iOS or Android app, the watch makes it easy to a) view all the health information it’s collected about you, b) pick which apps you want to notify you, and c) manage the various ways the watch communicates with your phone.  

While watch reviews indicate the device does not provide as appealing an interface as other Android Wear options, it makes up for it in battery life. The Alcatel watch is designed to last for two to five days, under the right circumstances. Plus, health features include a built-in heart rate monitor, gyroscope, accelerometer, altimeter and e-compass to measure metrics such as sleep cycles, steps, distance and calories burned. It’s also possible to make the watch ring if you misplace your phone, while tapping the screen brings up multimedia controls. The USB charging port is conveniently hidden...and small. 

The Alcatel Ontouch Watch will feature an entry price of $149, making it less expensive than some of the other options currently available. 

 

LG G Watch R 

Arguably one of the most popular round smartwatches on the market today, the LG G Watch R is a stylish option featuring “Ok Google” voice commands with Android wear, the “world’s first” full-circle P-OLED display, and fitness integration that includes a built-in heart rate monitor. The watch is compatible with most devices housing an Android 4.3 or later operating system. 

 

Samsung Smartwatch

Samsung is set to unveil a smartwatch around the time it launches its latest Android offering, the Samsung Galaxy S6. A round watch believed to be similar to the Moto 360, the Samsung S6 is currently known as  “SM-R720,” and is referred to by the codename “Orbis.” It will run the technology giant’s own Tizen OS system, and the device is expected to make a huge splash at the Mobile World Congress this March. 

Any of these round smartwatches appeal to your sensibilities? 

 

January 21, 2015

5 Nokia Classics

If you’re over 20, you remember a time when Nokia ruled the mobile roost. The Finnish pioneers - now all but swallowed whole by Microsoft - released a huge range of handsets. Their reign began in the early 80s and culminated in an unceremonious exit from the cell phone market following the Microsoft acquisition.

What you might not remember is just how crazy some of those designs got during Nokia’s 90s heyday.  They were out on their own, with very few serious competitors. This climate fostered a sense of boundary-pushing at the company, resulting in moments of pure genius – and moments of pure folly. 

To commemorate the passing of a true mobile giant, we took a look back at some of Nokia’s most outre successes, and a few of their noble failures. It all helped today’s predictably effective tech market get where it is now. Those were strange days indeed. We’ll not see their like again…

Nokia 3210
If you owned a phone 15 years ago, it was probably one of these. Hardy, reliable and compact (it was one of the first phones to cast aside the visible exterior aerial), it’s no wonder the 3210 shifted 160 million units.

Nokia Cityman
The Cityman was Nokia’s first mobile phone. Back then, in the mid-80s, Nokia was still establishing itself as a major player. This brick of a handset - then regarded as an exclusive, highly desirable product - announced their intention to stick around, and by the end of the decade, Nokia had secured nearly 15% of the global mobile market.

Nokia 5100
The 5110 was as ubiquitous as it was hard-wearing, with an unparalleled battery life and - most importantly for terminal time wasters - the fondly-remembered Snake game. Also notable for being one of the first customizable handsets, the front panel on the 5110 could be switched out for a different color.

Nokia N90
The Nseries was another boundary-pushing innovation, representing Nokia’s first true convergence of phone and computer. The N90 was clunky as hell, and frankly it looks a bit silly in retrospect - but it really was a precursor of the multi-function smartphone we see today.  

Nokia N95
With its 5 megapixel camera, GPS and Flash-compatible browser, the N95 is a lesson in versatility. Hard to imagine now, but this was, for a short time, the world’s most powerful smartphone. 

Nokia couldn’t have done more to cement their place in history, and in light of how far they’d brought the mobile phone, you can’t help but feel sorry for them at how short-lived their smartphone king status would be. Nobody could have predicted how earth-shattering the launch of the first iPhone was. It completely changed the game. But without Nokia’s constant bar-raising, would Apple and Google have gone quite so far with their operating systems? Nobody can say. But we can raise a glass of Akvavit to those Finnish pioneers and their twenty-year reign as cell phone leaders. Here’s to you Nokia!

January 18, 2015

Nokia Unveils Cheapest Ever Web Phone

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Earlier this month Microsoft presented its latest creation: an inexpensive, internet-enabled Nokia phone. The company is hoping the device will significantly increase its market share in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. 

A $29 phone, the Nokia creation features the Opera Mini Browser and Facebook Messenger, and is capable of running Twitter among other apps. This phone is still “low-spec,” however, and includes a 320 x 240 pixel display, 0.3 megapixel camera, radio and a torchlight. The lack of high-tech specifications indicate the durability and affordability of the device, something attractive to those in developing countries. Microsoft notes its battery lasts up to 29 days on standby, with the software engineered for more “difficult terrains.” The built-in apps work without a 3G connection. 

This phone also makes it possible to connect in new ways via SLAM, which allows content sharing between devices and those making hands-free calls through Bluetooth 3.0 and Bluetooth audio support for headsets.

Additional features include up to 20 hours of talk time, MP3 playback for up to 50 hours, FM radio playback for up to 45 hours, and a VGA camera. Available in white, green or black, the device’s polycarbonate shell retains its color if scratched. The soft rubber keys are easy to use, and Microsoft notes the phone feels “fantastic in your hand.”  

The technology giant also points out the importance of the torch feature, as it will be useful when shipping the phone around the world, particularly to the 20% of the population that doesn’t have regular access to electricity. 

Advertised as the “most affordable internet-ready entry-level phone yet”, Microsoft says the phone is “perfectly suited for first-time mobile phone buyers or as a secondary phone for just about anyone.” 

“With our ultra-affordable mobile phones and digital services, we see an inspiring opportunity to connect the next billion people to the Internet for the first time,” said Jo Harlow, corporate vice president of Microsoft Devices Group. “The Nokia 215 is perfect for people looking for their first mobile device, or those wanting to upgrade to enjoy affordable digital and social media services, like Facebook and Messenger.”

The Nokia 215 is slated for release in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia during the first quarter of 2015. Normal and dual SIM versions will be available.

The $29 price tag is before taxes and subsidiaries; but it still seems to be a great deal for a versatile phone that’s “built to last.”

January 16, 2015

The App that Stops You From Using Apps

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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 15, 2015

The Tizen Smartphone Has Finally Arrived

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The long awaited Tizen smartphone was unveiled yesterday in New Delhi. It represents Samsung’s first major break from Google, whose Android platform has dominated the Korean company’s phones (and indeed the global mobile market).

The launch comes after 18 months of rumor, gossip and speculation swirling around the operating system. In August 2013 Samsung delayed the release of the first Tizen-run handset until the end of that year. Then another twelve months passed, during which tech-watchers the world over speculated the firm’s enthusiasm for the platform had waned.

Then Samsung seemed to switch focus, heralding Tizen as an OS tailor-made for cross-convergence. In an interview with CNET Korea, Samsung’s CEO J.K. Shin said:

"There are many convergences not only among IT gadgets, including smartphones, tablets, PCs, and cameras, but also among different industries like cars, bio, or banks. Cross-convergence is the one [area] Samsung can do best since we do have various parts and finished products."

Shin failed to mention the much-anticipated Tizen round smartwatch. This omission was either an oversight on his part, or another indication that the rumor mill is spinning out of control on all matters Tizen.

All we know is the Samsung Z1 is definitely here. Or rather, there. Samsung is training its sights firmly on developing markets where Apple and Android are less entrenched. In India, where the Z1 was unveiled, 70% of people still use basic cellphones, and designers of entry-level smartphones are hoping the only impediment to smartphone adoption is a financial one. Create an affordable device for everyone and, in theory, everyone will upgrade.

Gaining a strong foothold in markets like India is crucial to Tizen’s long-term success. App developers won’t bother developing iterations of their products for a new operating system unless its future is assured. Lack of interest from app developers and carriers have already forestalled the release of a Tizen smartphone in Japan, France and Russia. Whether the India release is accompanied by market support or is more of a hit-and-hope strategy on Samsung’s part remains to be seen.

But even with a price tag of just $92, the phone’s success is far from guaranteed. There are (unconfirmed) suggestions that Google has barred its smartphone partners from using anything but Android in major markets. If that’s true, Samsung will have to make a huge splash in niche markets before it develops an ecosystem large enough to do away with their Google alliance.

The biggest profits may lie in smartphones, but wearable tech may be the more secure route for Samsung. They’ve already released a Tizen-powered television and camera, and are planning to integrate the OS into home appliances. Clearly, Samsung is trying to position itself as a leader in the ‘Internet of Things’, connecting household devices to each other with one overarching platform.

Certainly, there’s a lot less legwork to be done in the home appliance market. Samsung is the biggest television brand in the world, with about a third of the global marketplace sewn up. If Tizen can’t become a serious rival to Android and Apple, either through entry-level devices in developing markets or by making user switch allegiances, Samsung need only retain its position as a leading electronics name in order to bring their fledgling operating system to millions.

 

 

 

January 12, 2015

6 Common Mobile Security Issues

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How secure is your mobile? It’s one of those boring questions that few people want to ask themselves when acquiring a new phone. Security? Pah! Just let me hit the App Store and I’ll sort all that out later.

Of course, later never comes, a fact that cyber criminals rely on to do their ‘work’. A 2012 Congress report found a 185% increase in the number of mobile-targeted malware variants between 2011 and 2012. ABI research from the same year went further, suggesting a 2180% rise in malware variants.  

The disparity between the government’s and the private research company’s estimates is in itself disturbing. That two different studies throw up such wildly different results is indicative of just how little we know about the mobile threat. And these reports (which represent the most recent figures) are now three years out of date. It’s anyone’s guess how many malware variants are out there now.   

It’s true that some vulnerabilities faced by mobile devices are the result of inadequate technology, but bad consumer practices are by far the commonest causes of security breaches. Protecting your mobile device means acquainting yourself with these causes and taking steps to avoid them.

 

1) Poor Password Protection

Despite the wide availability of password controls, many consumers do not enable password protection. Those that do often use easily-cracked passwords like sequential numbers, or a row of zeros. Always use two-factor authentication when conducting sensitive transactions like payments and accessing bank details. Remember, if your passwords are too easy to remember, they’re too easy to guess.

 

2) Insufficient Security Software

Many mobile devices do not come preinstalled with security software, leaving them open to malware and spyware. Too often, users fail to install software, either because they don’t want to affect their battery life or because they don’t want to slow operations down. The price paid is too high, so make sure your device is adequately protected against Trojans, viruses and scam bait from spammers. 

 

3) Out-of-Date Operating Systems

Security patches and updates are not always installed as soon as they become available. This is partly down to carriers taking their time over testing, and partly down to the proliferation of archaic systems which are no longer supported by the manufacturer. If you want to maximize security, it’s a good idea to update your mobile device at least every couple of years.

 

4) Out-of-Date Software

Similarly, old software may not have security patches readily available, and third party applications like web browsers do not always notify customers about updates. Be aware that using outdated software increases the risk of cyber attacks.

 

5) Using Unsecured WiFi Networks

Connecting to an unsecured WiFi network is like an open invitation to hackers. They insert their device into the middle of the communication stream and steal information. Be vigilant when using public networks and, if possible, avoid them altogether.

 

6) Bluetooth

The schoolboy error of schoolboy errors, it’s startling how many people use Bluetooth without being aware of what it is. Remember, if your device is in ‘discovery’ mode it can be seen by other Bluetooth-enabled devices. Easy pickings for a cyber attacker, who can install malware or even activate your camera and microphone in order to eavesdrop. As with public WiFi, the best protection against Bluetooth scams is to simply avoid using it altogether. Failing that, keep it turned off whenever you’re not using it.

January 09, 2015

The World’s Most Valuable Startup

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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?

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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

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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.