Tech

236 posts categorized

April 25, 2016

Pet Care Goes Mobile

 

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American’s love affair with animals has opened all kinds of doors for entrepreneurs and capitalists that see the growing obsession as a way to make a quick buck. Gluten-free dog treats and luxury cat towers are certainly more common today than they were just 10 years ago, and that’s just the beginning.

 

The Rough Life 

In the U.S. alone, the ASPCA estimates that there are 70 to 80 million dogs; approximately 37 percent to 47 percent of all US households are “with K9.” As pets become increasingly integrated in our home lives, it makes sense that a slew of products, gadgets, and services would also arrive in the marketplace. The newest of these is available on your mobile device. 

One of the greatest challenges many dog owners face is balancing a healthy schedule for the dog with the need to keep regular business hours. But that’s a lot easier said than done, especially for dog owners who often need help exercising their pooches, as well as ensuring they get regular bathroom time outside. According to this article, millennials in particular struggle with this issue: they prefer the jobs and the lifestyle of urban areas, but they also seek companionship from pets. 

Hunter Reed, a Nashville-area native, is one such pet owner. Long hours at his job meant that his boxer, Bella, would be stuck at home for long periods of time without company. He would look for dog walkers on craigslist, but found that most were unreliable. Reed would ask his friends in desperation, but ultimately found the issue too troubling not to act. 

"It got to the point where you feel bad asking your friends or neighbors," said Reed.

 

Pet-Sitting App 

Reed’s solution, in collaboration with Cody Dysert and Kris Molinari, was to create an app that connected dog owners with dog walkers using similar technology to the one used by Uber and Lyft. Reed’s app is called Walkio, and it’s competing for market space with similar apps in the pet-sitting arena. 

Walkio uses a vetting system, like Uber, that requires all walkers to undergo a background check. The app handles most of the administrative work dog walkers would normal manage on their own, including payments, appointments, scheduling, and key exchanging though lock boxes. Walkio uses basic chat features to let pet owners and walkers communicate as the walker picks up, walks, and returns the dog home. 

Pricing for this service ranges from $17 to $75 depending on the length of time the dog needs to be cared for — which includes an overnight option. 

There are several similar apps already on the market for this service, including Wag!, Swifto, Barkly, and Urban Leash. Reed hopes that by focusing on the customer services of the app, and starting in the Southeast region of the U.S., Walkio can become a market leader, at the very least in Nashville.

“The tech community in Nashville is really growing,” Reed said.

Reed and his co-founders are currently looking for funding to take the app to the next level. So far, the team has been primarily self-funded; the user base is still very small.

Will Walkio carve out a niche in the Southeast? One thing is for certain: Bella the dog is likely wagging her tail. 

April 18, 2016

Mobile Device Failure Rates Highest in Asia

 

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Last year, smartphone shipments hit record levels, up 10.1 percent in 2015 to an impressive 1.3 billion units worldwide. What’s more, 20 percent of the world’s population received new smartphones last year, which means 20 percent of the world’s population got rid of their old phones, for one reason or another. 

Blancco Technology Group recently published its quarterly trend report, and one of the fascinating details outlined in the research was the way different cultures used the same technology to achieve different ends. One finding involved the way human behavior in Asia influenced the failure rates of smartphone devices, which may be linked to the number of replacement devices we saw in 2015. 

 

What Went Wrong? 

Throughout the world, there are five primary issues that caused device failures; user behavior plays an important role in how we interpret this data. The top five issues included trouble with the camera, touchscreen, battery charging, microphone, and speed/performance of the device. These issues affect both Android and iOS users. 

In Asia, these device issues have a unique spread, with speed and performance ranking the highest, followed by camera, then battery charging, during Q4 of 2015.

Device failure rates are the highest in Asia. Of all the devices returned, or sent to the manufacture for repairs, 50 percent of the devices were returned ‘NTF’, or No Trouble Found. But what does that mean exactly? Why are so many phones having issues in Asia, but when customer service representatives or repair specialists review the device, there’s nothing wrong with it?

 

Mobile Cultural 

This trend could go back to cultural differences in the way people use smartphones. In places like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, mobile users frequently use messaging apps like WhatsApp and WeChat to communicate socially, even professionally. In some instances, large numbers of users may be communicating simultaneously in a single group chat or bulk text messaging, which can greatly reduce the battery life of the phone, as well as slow down the overall performance. 

Similarly, leaving popular social networking applications open, which regularly cache and store user data, can be extremely draining to battery life, limiting other resources on the device. This makes accessing email and other important functions more difficult, resulting in issues for the user. 

These are not hardware-related problems. In fact, Blancco’s report suggests that human error plays a large role in the number of issues being reported by participating countries.  The U.S. and Europe, for example, report their own distinct device issues, many of which can also be linked to human error. 

 

Why It’s Important

As smartphone use becomes more standardized in our work and professional lives, it’s going to be important for network operators and device manufactures to understand the cultural differences that affect the overall performance of a phone, depending on the country it’s shipped to. This is also important for businesses that have adopted the BYOD (bring your own device) ideology in the workplace, where device failures can have a serious impact on a businesses’ bottom lines. 

Education will play a large role in lowering the excessive cost of device issues for manufactures and repairs specialists alike. Teaching a user how to keep a phone in good working order will ultimately save everyone time and resources.

April 16, 2016

Apple Finally Joins Crowded Budget Phone Market

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In January, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the company had had its most successful quarter yet, generating some $76 billion in revenue and $18.4 billion in profits. No surprises there, for a company measured by many standards as the 'most successful' of the century thus far. 

It's this undisputed success in the mobile technology market that makes Apple's latest move somewhat surprising. The firm who built their reputation on mid-market, highly desirable smartphones has released a budget device.

The iPhone SE is the cheapest phone Apple has ever built. Fitted with just the basics - a 4 inch screen; 326 ppi; 12 mp camera - the model is a clear attempt to compete with Samsung and others in the highly lucrative developing markets in Asia, where the most popular smartphones cost a fraction of a new iPhone. Most industry analysts and mobile technology enthusiasts agree that the new device is essentially the iPhone 5S, tweaked and rebranded to tackle the low-cost market.

The move into low-cost smartphones was perhaps inevitable, as mid-priced Android and Apple devices have duked it out to the point of market saturation - in the United States at least. And while Apple closed one of its most profitable quarters in December 2015, it was only 2% more profitable than the same time from the previous year. Compared to previous growth rates - 30% from 2014-15 - this is a significant drop. Since the first iPhone launched in 2007, Apple has cleaved to it's reputation has a luxury - but attainable - brand. Retailing at around $399, the iPhone SE is a couple hundred bucks less expensive than the usual models, with payment plans available for those who can't afford the initial outlay. 

Part of the problem for Apple has been the expansion of the once-short lifecycle their devices experienced. Many Apple users will replace their product within two years - often well before there is anything wrong with it. In China and other markets, this consumer behavior is less common, and budget phones - still, let's face it, packed with some pretty impressive mobile technology - rule the roost. Apple are wisely looking to claim their share of this loyal market. And with their existing smartphones everywhere you look, it becomes less and less credible to describe them as luxury items.

 

April 08, 2016

Samsung Has Launched Its Mobile Wallet in China

 

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Samsung’s mobile wallet is making its way to China, no tunneling required. The international tech firm recently announced Chinese shoppers can now use their smartphones to pay for in-store purchases, and are therefore joining the Asian country’s trillion-dollar mobile wallet market. 

 

Partnership With UnionPay

SamsungPay was launched in partnership With UnionPay, the same bankcard company that helped bring ApplePay to life. UnionPay credit and debit cards are currently the only cards linked with local Samsung phones at this time, with up to 10 cards allowed per device. SamsungPay is available in China on the Samsung Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, Galaxy S6 Edge+, and the Galaxy Note 5 smartphones. 

 

Positive Reception

Injong Rhee, EVP and Head of R&D, Software, and Services of Mobile Communications Business at Samsung Electronics, said the company is pleased to partner with CUP in order to bring SamsungPay to Chinese consumers. Rhee said SamsungPay reception has so far been very positive, and the service has found success in both consumer adoption and availability. 

The EVP also stated that Samsung hopes to make the payment option available to as many Chinese consumers as possible so that “everyone can have the opportunity to enjoy the simplicity, safety and convenience of this mobile payment solution."

 

Participating Institutions

Banking institutions currently participating in SamsungPay include the largest bank in the country, ICBC, as well as China Construction Bank and China Merchants Bank. Other major institutions such as Bank of Communications and Bank of China are said to follow suit. 

 

Additional Phones

In addition to the Samsung phones listed above, the Korean tech giant noted the possibility of adding more devices, including the Galaxy A5, A7, and A9, as they were also tested in public beta. Rooted devices do not support SamsungPay. 

 

The Challenge

China’s mobile wallet industry is quite well established, making Samsung’s foray into the market a challenging one. Local services such as WeChat and AliPay are used for online shopping and transportation services among other things, and are now available for brick-and-mortar store use. Analysts recently remarked that AliPay and WeChat are so ingrained among Chinese consumers that introducing new mobile wallet options will be an “uphill battle.” However, Samsung has previously noted one essential factor working for them: the technology is applicable to a larger number of existing payment terminals. 

 

“Simple and Safe”

Samsung also believes its mobile wallet option will work because it’s “simple, safe, and easy to use,” and that it works “virtually anywhere” in China that allows consumers to swipe or tap their cards. There’s no need to unlock phones or use special apps to access Samsung’s mobile wallet, which makes it arguably more appealing than earlier incarnations requiring these steps, such as Google Wallet. 

The mobile wallet is similar to ApplePay in that it utilizes near field communication technology (NFC). Samsung’s version will also support the magnetic secure transmission technology used on standard credit card machines. 

As of the fourth quarter of last year, Samsung was No. 6 in China’s smartphone market with a 7 percent share compared to Apple’s 15 percent. It will be interesting to see how the new mobile wallet option fares. SamsungPay is currently available in the U.S. and South Korea, and should enter the UK market later this year. 

April 01, 2016

How User Behavior Causes Common Mobile Device Issues

 

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It’s increasingly evident within the mobile device industry that many of the operating issues are due to user behavior. What’s more, customer service representatives, IT support staff, and repair specialists are frequently without mobile device-specific knowledge, as well as diagnostic tools indicating whether the issue is user or hardware based. This has resulted in the return of “un-repairable” devices, making it imperative for device manufacturers and network operators to gain a deeper understanding of which issues can actually be rectified and which can’t, and to further train employees so they may resolve problems quickly and efficiently. 

 

Asia: The Highest Failure Rate

According to the State of Mobile Device Performance and Health trend report for Q4 of 2015 by Blancco Technology Group, device failure rates are highest in Asian countries. The fourth quarter of 2015 saw 50 percent of iOS and Android device issues coming from Asia, resulting in a 50 percent ‘No Trouble Found’ return rate. Social networking apps are among the most popular in apps in Australia, Indonesia, and India, while messenger apps are frequently used in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. News, search, and weather apps are heavily used in Korea and Japan. 

Social networking and messenger apps are thought to cause the most issues with mobile devices in Asia rather than hardware. For example, Asian citizens who use numerous social media apps per day, and fail to close them properly, are “eating away” at their devices’ resources, including device memory, battery, and overall performance. Texting services such as messaging apps also devour device resources, particularly in terms of group chats. Such text services usually involve sending messages every few minutes, an action which injures device performance in addition to draining battery power. 

 

Europe: Device Failures Increasing Dramatically

Mobile device issues with users residing on the North American continent lowered from 27 percent in Q3 2015 to 26 percent in Q4. Europe did not fare as well, with device issues rising from 14 percent in Q3 2015 to 29 percent in Q4. App usage increased 58 percent in Europe in 2015, thanks mainly to emoji and productivity apps. For example, teens and college students favor Google Docs, Slack, Quip, and the Microsoft productivity suite. Emoji and productivity apps are considered the two app categories causing mobile device issues in Europe as well as North America, with emoji apps frequently slowing mobile devices, if not causing them to crash. 

Productivity apps such as Outlook may result in easier access to mobile email, however they often interfere with device performance due to the accessing, creating, and sharing of sizeable files. 

 

Avoidable Returns

More than 50 percent of the devices returned in 2015 were “avoidable” and subsequently placed in the No Trouble Found category. NTF devices cost manufacturers and mobile network operators about $50 to $100 per device to return them to the market as “used.” The Blancco Technology Group report noted that NTF returns cost organizations millions in 2015. 

Blancco offers numerous tips for reducing NTF return rates, including refraining from overcharging the battery, avoiding installation of numerous anti-virus apps, and “power cycling,” or shutting the device off and restarting it, at least twice a week. Turning application notifications off and avoiding unnecessary Wi-Fi use are also recommended, as is manufacturers, enterprise organizations, and carriers focusing more on customer service and proper issue diagnosis. 

March 31, 2016

Is Twitter Stagnating?

 

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Twitter launched in 2006, and within a year fell into the “global phenomenon” category. The social media platform’s origin story is a bit muddled, thanks to the ousting of various creators, however the invention of the hashtag brought with it the chance to promote and comment on worldwide issues, interact with celebrities, emphasize brands, products, and services, and so much more. Yet, despite the changes Twitter made to the world of media, some argue the platform is stagnating, if not dying

Let’s take a look at why Twitter is faltering, including the issues with which chief executive and founding father Jack Dorsey is currently dealing: 

 

Losing Money

Twitter has been losing money for a while now. The social media juggernaut is currently on a $2 billion revenue run rate, and in 2015 it earned $1.4 billion but lost $539 million. The company reported that, in its last quarter, it lost $137 million on $502 million in revenue, with industry experts noting that the $2 billion rate isn’t going to do much. 

 

Not Enough Heavily Active Users

The social media platform has plenty of users, but there’s a decline in the number of people who tweet on a consist basis. Users aren’t taking the time to share the social media option with others and convince them to sign up, among other problems. Dorsey touched on the importance of helping people extract value from the service as soon as possible, which raises the issue of whether people are eschewing Twitter because it’s challenging to use or because there’s simply little interest. 

 

Slow User Growth

Another issue Twitter’s bigwigs are facing is a slowdown in user growth. The social media platform is subsequently not only losing money, but also keeping away investors. Twitter will launch new products and features in hopes of appealing to new users and investors, however current changes haven’t affected the slow user growth rate so far. 

 

Abuse Issue

Some point to Twitter as a tool for abuse or bullying. Late Night With Jimmy Kimmel’s ‘Mean Tweets’ segment is an example of this, as celebrities come on the show to read negative tweets about themselves, often with hilarious results. While this is the lighter side of the bullying that takes place on Twitter and other social media platforms, industry insiders say that the “abused have become the abusers,” resulting in an age of stagnation and numbness. 

 

No Longer Retaining Talent?

Peter Currie, Twitter’s lead independent director, recently commented during a conference call that Dorsey not only attracts talented people, but also keeps them. However, many of the talented folks Dorsey and his associates have hired are leaving the company. They view it as a sinking ship and put in their two weeks in order to work with companies where they can truly thrive. 

Dorsey is also a part-time CEO, which is seen as another big problem affecting the social media platform. 

Is Twitter on its way out? If so, which social media options will take its place? 

 

March 30, 2016

The Play with 160 Characters

 

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‘Please ensure mobile devices are switched on before the commencement of the performance’ is not something you expect to hear as a theater patron. But that’s exactly what audiences at Fredericton’s Theatre New Brunswick were asked to do for Returning Fire, a play looking at the struggles faced by a former soldier trying to reintegrate into society.

Penned by local playwright Ryan Griffith, Returning Fire tells the story of a soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces returning home from the war in Afghanistan. While trying to reconnect with a friend from his youth, the soldier is haunted by the ghosts of war and the spectre of PTSD, all too common among veterans. 

The play - set in Fredericton - recently completed a short run at the New Brunswick. It’s themes of lost innocence and battle scarred psyches have been explored by plenty of dramatists before, but the production takes a thrilling new approach to the theatrical experience, harnessing mobile technology to engage audiences in a way that pushes conventional boundaries. Indeed, Returning Fire not only dispenses with theater conventions - it largely dispenses with the theater  altogether.

The majority of the story is told through text messages. Ticket holders become audience members at 4pm, when the first text comes through. For the next four hours, the play unfolds as dialogue between the two principal characters, culminating in the revelation of a secret location in Fredericton where the physical denouement will take place. The anticipation builds as audience members converge at the location to witness the live reunion of the characters.

The playwright relished the challenge of creating an entirely new kind of theater using the lexicon of SMS. “It was a lot of fun to recreate that kind of dialogue,” he told the Aquinian. “For me, it was as fun to write as a normal play.”

A Griffith suggests, the appeal of the concept goes beyond a gimmicky use of technology. It’s about the effect that text messaging has had on the way we communicate: the abbreviations, the misunderstandings about intent and tone - even the agony of silence, which takes on a different dimension when the characters aren’t sharing the same physical space. 

Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones says Griffith’s work is “able to boldly challenge notions of what live theatre is… by exploring the use of technology in theatre.” 

That exploration was facilitated by Ez Texting, who provided the platform through which the drama unfolds. Morgan Jones says the production would not have been possible without us:

“The idea behind the play was to have two characters text messaging each other three and a half hours before the live play would start. The audience would then receive these text messages on their own phones. During the texts, they would discover where these characters planned to meet in the city of Fredericton, and could then travel to that location to watch the play. When we came up with the idea, we had no idea how we would do it. Thankfully, we found EZTexting.”

As other theaters consider producing Returning Fire, Morgan Jones hopes the unlikely alliance between mobile technology and drama will continue to develop, with Ez Texting’s SMS service his “first recommendation for bringing the play to life” in future productions.

The future of theatrical drama lies with those dramatists willing to break with convention. Although this is the first time text messaging has been used to stage a play, the innovation is part of a wider trend towards a radical reinterpretation of theatre as we know it. 

Returning Fire is a story about the isolation of PTSD and the difficulty of making human connections in an increasingly atomized world. It’s creator has not only recognized the role played by online communication in fueling and normalizing that atomization, but brought it to life as a distinct and vital character.

March 29, 2016

Volvo Plans to Replace Car Keys with Phones

 

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Swedish car giant Volvo will become the first major automotive company to introduce key-less vehicles. All aspects of car security - including access and ignition - will instead be managed exclusively from bluetooth-enabled smartphones.

Volvo is not alone in taking steps to consign the traditional metal key to history. Even cheap subcompacts are increasingly being manufactured with electronic key fobs which, though expensive to replace, eliminate the problem of keys becoming stuck or broken in ignition locks or car doors. 

The smartphone solution would work in the same way as key fobs, starting the car and unlocking the doors and trunk. It goes further, allowing friends and relatives who wish to borrow the car to be granted access electronically by receiving the key from the owner’s smartphone. Car rentals would be simplified by issuing an electronic key to the renter’s smartphone.

Volvo is looking to try out the technology immediately, roadtesting the digital keys with a car sharing firm operating out of Gothenburg airport. A limited number of commercially available cars will be equipped with digital keys in 2017.

 

March 24, 2016

Is the Biggest Issue with Smartphones Their Users?

 

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Today’s smartphones are capable of withstanding pretty serious damage, including getting dropped many times over, being subject to dust and other floating particles, or somehow landing in the bathtub when it’s full of hot water. Phones still fail every so often, as do most products whether they’re electronically-based or not. This is quite normal, however a new survey indicates that the biggest problems with smartphones aren’t the devices, but the users. It appears not everyone is as smartphone-savvy as they might think. 

 

“No Trouble Found” 

According to a recent survey from Blancco Technology Group, as many as three quarters of smartphone hardware failures are of the “NTF” or “no trouble found” variety. The State of Mobile Device Performance and Health Trend Report: Q4 2015 outlined the top five “trouble spots” result in 39% of mobile phone failures around the world, with the camera causing the biggest issues. Smartphone cameras are responsible of 10% of hardware problems, followed by the touch screen (9%), battery charging (8%), microphone (6%), and performance issues (6%). The report’s findings are based on “aggregate, anonymized data,” according to Blancco Technology Group, and was collected by the company’s SmartChk platform. 

 

Varies By Region

Smartphone trouble areas vary by region, with North American users fussy over performance and blaming hardware issues on slow operation. This is followed by the camera, charger, headset, and microphone. Carrier signal is by far the biggest issue in Europe, followed by calling ability, camera, and Wi-Fi issues. 

 

Misunderstandings

The survey found that user behavior and misunderstandings are the cause of supposed hardware problems. For example, almost 74% of smartphones returned in North America due to “hardware issues” were labeled “no trouble found.” NTF rates are also high in Europe (71%) and in Asia (50%). Such misunderstandings about how to properly use smartphones indicates their complexities continue to baffle users and result in problems for enterprises and carriers alike. 

High NTF rates are particularly problematic for enterprises, according to the survey. 

“The ability to quickly triage mobile device issues – be it legitimate or specious—will mitigate these impacts and deliver on the promise of mobile connectivity for businesses supporting employees’ smartphones, be they corporate-issued or BYOD.” 

 

Up To Device Developers

These issues may cause problems for enterprises and carriers, however they aren’t their inequities to rectify. It’s the job of device developers to create smartphones and other mobile devices easy to use and understand. “Easy” devices won’t result in frustration...and subsequent “send-backs.” 

 

Apple Over Android

The survey also notes that Apple is currently ahead of Android in regards to user-related device problems, which found 85% of such issues came from Android devices compared to 15% of iOS devices. However, industry experts say these numbers don’t reflect the significant differences in the market share, nor the lower price points attached to most Android devices. Experts have remarked that Apple surpassing Android in this regard should be taken with a bucket rather than a grain of salt. 

 

March 22, 2016

How Mobile Apps Are Changing the Construction Industry

 

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General contractors, construction managers, and subcontractors make up a small portion of the working components required to successfully build a home or other outdoor structure. In 2016, it’s no surprise that many of these working parts can now be managed, tracked, and organized using field-ready mobile apps specific to the work of construction. Here’s a look at some popular apps, as well as the tools they offer, that are changing the construction industry. 

 

No Time, No Problem 

One of the biggest challenges faced by construction workers and managers is to keep strict timelines that contain several inspection points along the way. Before the walls go up, the plumbing and electrical wiring must first be inspected, right? So keeping a tight schedule is an important part of the job—especially if you’re working with anxious homeowners. 

Thanks to apps like BuilderTREND, construction managers can handle everything from time constraints to subcontractors, with an interface that can be custom branded for a specific construction company. In addition to looking supremely professional with its customized logo and header, the system offers a great way to keep track of multiple moving parts, while keeping everyone in the loop. 

Now you don’t have to worry about who, what, when, or where. It’s all right there in one easy-to-use app, available on Android and iOS for about $99 a month.  

 

Improve Communication 

Another construction area that’s been greatly affected by mobile is communication. As you might expect, construction requires that communication among several parties be coordinated and constant. If something goes wrong at the job site, say with the plumbing, it’s important that the subcontractor is back on the site to fix it as soon as possible so that next steps aren’t delayed. 

Fieldlens is an app that allows construction managers to keep an open line of communication with every party involved. Fieldlens has settings to allow you to prioritize certain conversations and include or exclude individuals to segregate information. There’s also a “LiveLayer” function that allows contractors to mark drawings in layers to avoid excessive clutter. You can then color code those drawings and share them with the right people without distraction. 

The best part about this app is that it’s free, but only for up to three users per project. You can upgrade to the pro plan for $25 per user per month on both iOS and Android phones. 

 

Clean Up the Clutter

Like most industries, construction has looked for ways to reduce its carbon footprint, and thanks to mobile apps, a lot of the waste and clutter has been eliminated. 

The Canvas app is a great example of how streamlining the paperwork on a cloud-based system is both eco-friendly and extremely productive for construction managers and workers. 

Canvas is a pick-and-build your own construction app featuring more than 5,000 specific apps to fit needs on a per-project basis. Just drag and drop what you want—virtually everything is done on the cloud. You can even get signatures on your phone to complete inspections, fulfill requests, and place orders. 

Save paper on bids, estimates, and contracts with this app, which starts at $13 a month and is available on iOS, Android, Windows 8, and Windows 5.0-6.5. 

Construction may require you move a stone or two from time to time, but it sure doesn’t mean you have to live in the Stone Age. Check out one of these apps or look to others for a mobile solution that fits your construction needs.