Tech

219 posts categorized

February 05, 2016

Can Mobile Tech Solve Long Lines at the Grocery Store?

 

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Retailers are regularly on the lookout for ways to improve the customer experience and cut costs—if there’s a way to do both at the same time, that’s even better. One emerging trend in this area involves utilizing mobile technology to help expedite certain transactions. Tech companies, restaurant chains, clothing stores, and more businesses have implemented cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) systems in an effort to reduce long lines and other potentially problematic retail behaviors.

 

What Is a Cloud-based POS System?

 

Traditionally, when you go to the grocery store, the final step in your customer service journey includes the interaction you have with a checker tending a stationary till at the front of the store. The number of checkers and cash registers is limited by the resources available. As a result, customers might have to wait in long lines to make their purchases. If this sounds like a familiar scene, you’re not alone.

 

What is less familiar (but currently growing in popularity) is the mobile POS system, which manages transactions and other customer-related actions exclusively online. As a result, the transaction is accessed remotely using a mobile technology device like a smartphone, tablet, or iPad. 

 

Is a Cloud-based POS System Safe? 

 

Customers not accustomed to making purchases online might find the mobile POS a little intimidating, especially if they’re fearful of online corruption or attacks. For customers who are comfortable with making online purchases, the process is only slightly different from buying goods at popular online retailers like Amazon or eBay. 

 

For customers, cloud-based POS systems are just as secure as traditional transaction methods. Security features include encryptions and fire walls to protect incoming and outgoing personal data. 

 

From a retailer’s perspective, the shift to a mobile POS system actually mitigates some risk of fraudulent activity. In the future, credit card companies are expected to make good on all purchases (even fraudulent purchases) so long as the vendor has upgraded to a mobile system. 

 

A Better Customer Experience 

 

One of the greatest advantages of using a mobile POS is that customers can make purchases from anywhere in the store. Moreover, with sales associates standing by, customers can get answers and assistance for a broader range of needs, including inventory, warranty specifics, price checks, and more. 

 

By making this information mobile, retailers stand to save money on overhead while simultaneously making more money on the sales floor. Imagine how much potential business is lost because a customer doesn’t want to wait in line to ask an inventory question. By offering a mobile solution, associates can deliver expedited service to customers that would otherwise never make it to checkout. Meanwhile, giving sales associates more flexibility on the floor will make them more productive and likely reduce the number of required sales associates.  

It’s not a matter of if retailers will decide to make the switch to mobile POS; it’s really a matter of when. Several retailers have already made the transition and are offering customers a wide range of transaction options like mobile receipts and quicker checkout times. As the technology develops further, this trend will become as prolific as retail stores themselves, ultimately changing the way we do business on a daily basis. 

 

January 30, 2016

What is Sales Force Automation?

 

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Before the proliferation of digitalized communications, records, and processes, pen and paper were the sophisticated tools of the trade for most sales associates. A Rolodex, for example, is the tangible version of most contact lists we use today on our mobile devices and computers—without which, most professionals could hardly function. 

Today, the job of the sales associate is greatly helped by the advancement of Sale Force Automation (SFA); which covers an array or responsibilities that empower sales professionals to work more efficiently from just about anywhere in the world. 

 

How Does Sales Force Automation Work? 

At its most basic level, SFA is software designed to organize customer data, record customer interactions, and deliver insight on short- and long-term sales behavior. 

Between the early 1980s to Y2K, SFA began to incorporate more aspects of the sales process including, web-based contact list, e-mail packages, custom templates and more. By automating the sales process and digitizing the data, sales methods became more specialized and, over time, increasingly more successful. 

 

Customer Relations Management 

Software companies like Oracle, Baan, and Microsoft pioneered the industry and helped bridge the gap between SFA and Customer Relations Management (CRM). 

In the early 2000s, Paul Greenberg published CRM at the Speed of Light, which helped guide the notion that CRM should include a company’s overarching strategies, practices and technologies aimed at building customer relationships as well as driving sales.  Eventually, CRM and SFA became intertwined—with SFA focusing on the systems and software, and CRM focusing on the analytics of the customer lifecycle. 

Today, CRM includes things like social CRM, which aims to prioritize customer interaction over customer transactions across different media channels. However, CRM also includes things like customer retention rates, online shopping trends, email open rates, and other data points that improve business relations, drive sales, and curate a strong customer base. 

 

The Future of SFA

Because sales associates are no longer sitting behind a desk making phone calls all day; many of them work exclusively in the field, the future of SFA as well as some combination of CRM will inevitably include features specific to mobile devices. This includes formatting sales catalogues and brochures or mobile, digitalized forms, paperwork and signatures, as well as streamlining the purchasing process to maximize efficacy in the field. 

Further, these mobile solutions will continue to assist sales professionals with traditional SFA tasks like managing appointments, rescheduling, and record keeping. 

Just like other business tools and systems, mobility is essential to the future of SFA. Sales teams are made of increasingly on-the-go professionals, who need devices that reflect this change in professional behavior. Thus, mobile is not only the future, it’s the present hot spot in sales and customer management. 

 

January 29, 2016

What Is 'Vuvuzela Texting'?

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Is privacy something you value on your smartphone? Most of us assume some level of inconspicuousness while using any number of electronic devices. From cell phones and Internet browsers to desktop computers and software, the information we send and receive on a daily basis is actually a lot less secure than you may realize. And that’s okay, for most of us.

Most of us don’t need super tight, military-grade security on our devices. For most people, security can be managed using encryption software, firewalls, passwords and so on. But even still, the security of our most basic communications, like texting, can be compromised. That is, until now. 

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a text messaging system called Vuvuzela—a system they believe almost guarantees a user’s privacy and anonymity. 

 

How Does Vuvuzela Work?

Here’s how it works: the system sends different encrypted messages to three different servers designed to unwrap the encryption one at a time. For anyone attempting to intercept these messages the process is made far more difficult. However, successful interception of one of the three messages can still reveal information about the sender and the intended recipient. 

Vuvuzela takes the process one step further by sending out decoy messages from each server after a communication has been transmitted. These messages are encrypted and sent to other secure destinations. Moreover, this process repeats itself every time a message is received, creating a massive amount of traffic and noise. 

This noise is precisely what protects these messages—it also birthed the name Vuvuzela, which comes from popular noise-making devices used by fans at sporting events. The idea is pretty simple: make an online environment so loud no one can make sense of it.

 

Similar Technologies 

The new security system comes to light just as another recedes into the shadows. In Dec. 2015, Tor (the onion router), an anonymity tool used on the Dark Web, was hacked by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in alleged collaboration with the FBI. 

The nature of the research is still shrouded in mystery, but the online software that promised Dark Web users discreteness wound up getting a bunch of people arrested and several websites disbanded. 

Vuvuzela may be the anonymity tool that was promised by Tor—except, this time, it might actually work. 

It’s hard to say if technology like Vuvuzela is really necessary for everyday communications like texting—unless you’re Edward Snowden. Some people don’t even like the idea of complete anonymity on the web, period. And still others suggest it’s the only way to maintain a truly democratic online space.  

Either way, knowing more about where security breakdowns occur on our personal devices is a lot better than being completely in the dark. For people that text (which is pretty much everyone), unless you plan on using a security system like Vuvuzela, know that these messages can be intercepted rather easier by a person (or government agency) with the correct tools and wherewithal. 

 

January 28, 2016

mPulse Mobile Boosts Funding to $10m

 

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What if I said your healthcare plans could fit in the palm of your hand? For a topic so significant, especially on the political stage, it would seem impossible to assume that all our daily healthcare needs could be met with something small enough to hold—something, say, the size of your cell phone. 

But that’s exactly the direction some mobile apps are turning, as healthcare costs continue to soar and our need for personalized healthcare grows. mPulse Mobile is a perfect example of how one little startup from California is making the most of this gap in medical demand by securing almost $10 million in series A funding last week.

But this is not a story about altruism and improving the lives of the general public—those are welcome byproducts of what mPulse is doing, but certainly not at the core of their endeavors. mPulse was simply in the right place at the right time. 

Chris Nicholson, mPulse Mobile’s CEO, is the former COO of Humana, a Kentucky-based health insurance company. Humana and Nicholson were working with mobilStorm, a secure messaging company and mobile marketing firm. Nicholson was looking for ways to save administrative costs, but instead decided to spin off of mobilStorm and create mPulse Mobile. 

 

Value of mPulse in Society 

mPulse Mobile is a secure messaging service designed for healthcare organizations, patients, pharmacies, medical providers, and medical device companies. Messages can be sent using a variety of systems including basic SMS and secure web portals or integrated into existing apps. mPulse aims to offer a more transparent healthcare experience with tailored features to meet growing patient need, while also cutting costs for medical providers, pharmacies, and other related healthcare industries. 

Right now, the app is really in its infancy, offering services that aren’t more complex than fancy calendar reminders about doctor appointments and prescription refills. But that’s all going to change, thanks to funding by HLM Venture Partners, a firm that invests exclusively in market-leading technologies for the healthcare industry.  

With the funding, mPulse plans to take its fancy calendar to the next level by expanding on proven tools to enhance analysis, natural language processing, and text messaging in real time. In essence, the app will attempt to fill several voids caused by administrative error, lack of human resources, and limitations on imparting sensitive information effectively. 

mPulse has made some impressive partnerships as well. Digital health pioneer Inland Empire Health Plan, a not-for-profit also from California, is working with mPulse to help its 1.1 million users improve patient engagement as well as the overall medical outcome. 

"Our sole focus on healthcare combined with extensive experience delivering mobile consumer solutions makes us the ideal partner for companies who need provider, plan, pharmaceutical, and population health solutions," said Nicholson. 

What he really means to say: mPulse can save you money. 

 

January 25, 2016

Google Play Now Offering Promo Code Support for Apps

 

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The introduction of discounts, special offers, and promotional codes was never about saving consumers money. Retailers are more interested in getting bodies through the door than they are with customers’ financial standings. By rewarding customers with exclusive offers that result in even a tiny bit of savings, stores can get consumers to spend more than they would without the offer. And what’s more exclusive than a promotional code? Promo codes are like secret passwords that open the door to savings—and American’s love them. 

But guess who didn’t have a promo code feature built into its online app store? 

Google, that's who.

It’s rare that anyone gets a chance to point out missteps by the technology behemoth. Now, Google has finally equipped its Android app store to make good on some long awaited discounts. 

Apple has been using promo codes in the App Store for years; meanwhile Google showed little interest in expediting the technology. And now that it’s here, there are some curious limitations: the codes can’t be used for in-app subscriptions, and developers have to ration 500 codes per quarter. 

 

What will those poor developers do?

All kidding aside, there are some lucrative reasons why consumers (and developers) should be excited about this better-late-than-never leap forward by Google.

For starters, consumers stand to save money (albeit a small amount) and experience apps they may have otherwise missed when browsing. By giving these codes out to family and friends, developers can encourage small but relevant growth—and also gain valuable feedback from small groups of users.  

 

Great Growth Opportunities

The potential for growth is huge. Gaming apps are the bread and butter of both the App Store and Google Play. But that doesn’t mean other industries won’t benefit as well. 

However, this is really about marketing products and convincing people to act. Moreover, the exclusivity of the limited time promo code is a force to be reckoned with. 

In addition to improving marketing efforts, the promo code will also serve as a conduit to test freemium games among the media, while providing more objectivity to app reviews. This has little intrigue for the general public, but could be a huge advantage for developers looking to get feedback on newly emerging apps. 

Remember, as appealing as the promo code is, it’s just another tool marketers will use to promote their products. Why Google is so unfashionably late to this party, it’s hard to say. 

As consumers, keep an eye out for these special offers and see for yourself whether it’s worth the time and energy to save with a secret code. 

 

January 24, 2016

Honolulu PD to Introduce Text 911

 

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Nobody wants to wind up in a life or death situation; but in the event that an emergency occurs, it is certainly good fortune to be carrying a cell phone, right? In general, the use of cell phones in emergency situations has helped dispatchers and first responders act quickly—which in turn has saved countless lives. This fact is due, in part, to the location features in most smart devices that allow emergency services to track a caller. Moreover, explaining a situation over a mobile device is far more efficient than typing up an email or sending smoke signal—most of the time. 

In some rare cases, it’s not possible or safe to communicate orally during an emergency. Who can forget the intense moment from Liam Neeson’s 2008 hit Taken, when his daughter is lying facedown under a bed praying her attackers don’t find her? Meanwhile, her father waits helplessly on the other line while she is carried away, presumably for making too much noise on her cell phone. 

This is just one exaggerated example but, truth be told, the ability to text 911 could come in handy under certain circumstances.

 

How Texting 911 Works

Just last week, the Honolulu Police Department announced its plans to launch a Text 911 system, an emergency service that will allow anyone with text features on a phone to text for help. This system includes police, firefighters, and paramedics and works similarly to the phone system we commonly use.

According to the Honolulu PD, the system is not yet available but expected to launch sometime in the next few months. While this is a great service to offer residents of Oahu, it’s most certainly not the first of its kind. 

Vermont, in fact, was the first state to organize a statewide text-to-911 system in 2014. A successful trial run with Verizon in 2012 dispelled any doubt naysayers had about flooding dispatchers with negligent texts. In 2013, Vermont received approximately 150 text-to-911 messages, ten of which helped victims of domestic abuse successfully communicate their situations without compromising their safety. 

However, Vermont’s success is tightly linked to a centralized public-safety system that makes room for fast action and changes to protocol. This is not the case everywhere. Most of the time, public safety initiatives like the text-to-911 system require participation from city or county level officials—which amounts to a lot more time and money. 

The bottom line: state emergency call centers will have to adopt several new technologies in order to make text-to-911 a viable solution for everyone in the US. Despite support from the FCC, this has not come to fruition just yet and will likely proceed slower than expected for obvious bureaucratic reasons. 

For now, emergency services still emphasize the importance of making a voice call to 911 in the event of an emergency. While texting may be necessary under obscure circumstances, one huge disadvantage of the service is that emergency call centers are not yet able to track an emergency text. 

Smoke signals are also not advised. 

 

January 16, 2016

Hyperlocal Messaging App Partners with Twitter

 

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What could possibly be easier than making purchases online? A new localized messaging app called Lookup is attempting to make things easier with offline initiatives. Lookup, a Bangalore-based free messaging app is taking over consumer’s offline space, helping to deliver food, book flights and schedule appointments. 

In January this year, CEO and Founder of Lookup, Deepak Ravindran, raised $382K in seed capitol, which included money from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. 

Nine months after the seed funding round, Ravindran locked in $2.5 million in series A funding led by Narayana Murthy’s Catamaran Ventures, Global Founders Capital and again, Biz Stone, to name but a few. 

 

Social Networking

It was no surprise when, at the end of last year, Lookup officially partnered with Twitter, adding some 350 million active Twitter users to the app’s growing user base. According to Ravindran, the partnership will be mutually beneficial. 

“Our idea is to make Lookup ubiquitous," said Ravindran. “Twitter's real-time communications platform could not be skipped for Lookup's on-demand local commerce service.”

Local service is what Lookup is all about. Using chat features already available in most smartphones, users simply text or chat special requests to Lookup—things like dinner reservations, movie tickets, hair appointments and more. 

With Twitter now onboard, the service will implement use of a Twitter handle (@Lookuplite) to make these same requests in real time in both public and private conversations. Just Tweet a request @Lookuplite and a response will appear shortly after to service the request. 

Twitter’s partnership will provide a much larger audience to the delivery service, as well as streamline the user experience both on and offline. 

“We want Lookup to be the Google equivalent for finding products and services offline, said Ravindran. “For this, we hyperlink every local store near you with a simple chat app which give you synchronous connection to the verified vendor.”

 

Lookup Looks Forward 

Currently, the app is operational in three local areas throughout India: Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi. Millions of Indian users are already using the app service to acquire goods and services without making a call, using multiple apps or searching the web. 

“I’m honored to be a part of Deepak’s next big project,” said Stone. “I’m very excited about working with such an inspiring entrepreneur, whom I share common ideologies with.”

Lookup is already pushing forward with new developments including Offline API—a unique concept where users can get access to anything on demand from local merchants. Additionally, the startup is focusing on streamlining the booking process, adding new vendors and building out its user base.  

With a friend like Twitter (or Stone) in the startup’s corner, it’s safe to bet this won’t be the last time Lookup gets noticed. 

January 15, 2016

Yahoo Class Action Suit to Go Ahead

 

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Nobody likes going to jury duty, but being part of a class action lawsuit may not be so bad. That’s because “the class” or persons affected by illegal conduct stand to benefit from one or several persons’ efforts to sue on behalf of the group. 

According to court documents from the Northern District of Illinois, Easter Division, as many as 500,000 people stand to gain $1,500 for each unwanted text message received from Yahoo! Messenger, thanks to a 68-year-old woman named Rachel Johnson. 

And that’s no small chunk of change for Yahoo!, which may lose an estimated $750 million if the class action suit goes through. So far, the forecast doesn’t look good for the online messaging service. 

 

Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)

According to protections outlined in the TCPA, Yahoo! unlawfully sent Welcome Messages to the plaintiff after she received a personalized message to her cell phone through a feature called Mobile to SMS Messenger Service. This particular feature converts a Yahoo! user’s online text into a mobile message—the process is also called PC2SMS.

After Johnson received the first personalized message regarding a loan, a follow up message was received welcoming her to Yahoo! Massager. Johnson claims she never gave consent to Yahoo! to communicate with her via text, nor did she sign the company’s terms of service agreement. 

Yahoo! told Judge Manish Shah that the plaintiff had, at some point, signed up for one of Yahoo!’s smartphone apps or services, which would have satisfied the terms and conditions required under TCPA. This argument however was “a shot in the dark,” according to Judge Shah, who has ruled that the case may proceed. 

 

A Shot in the Dark 

Yahoo! definitely erred in this case—mostly because its primary argument assumed one piece of information: 68-year-old Johnson must, in fact, have downloaded a Yahoo! app or service to her phone prior to the incident. 

The plaintiff however, did not have a smartphone at the time, and instead had a flip phone incapable of downloading applications from the Internet. Looks like grandma’s resistance to new technology is finally paying off!

 

The Intermediary 

Concerns over what’s called an “intermediary” were raised in this case and may set some unique precedence for similar lawsuits in the future. 

According to court documents, Johnson never signed any terms and conditions with Yahoo!; she did however fill out an online application for a personal loan at CashCall.com. Within the promissory notes of the loan application, Johnson consented to receive phone calls and text messages from an automatic dialing system. Yahoo! argued that the first personalized message granted prior express consent—in this case, CashCall.com is the intermediary. 

According to previous cases, intermediary consent has two requirements: 1) consent given by the recipient to an intermediary, and 2) consent conveyed by the intermediary to the sender. Yahoo! was unable to satisfy these requirements, and the intermediary argument fell short in this case. 

But that doesn’t mean we won’t see more of this shady, backdoor communication. In fact, using this intermediary argument to defend spam and unsolicited text messages could be a slippery slope that sidesteps most of the TCPA entirely. 

Johnson and her class of some 500,000 people are on their way to proving a huge point in the mobile marketing industry; but the industry moves fast and will likely use this court example to ensure the back door stays open. 

 

January 06, 2016

The Apple Watch Isn't Going Anywhere

 

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The Apple Watch was one of the most profitable gadgets sold throughout this year’s holiday season. According to one report, an estimated 6 million units will be sold by year’s end, making the Apple Watch the most popular wearable on the market.

While some may scoff at the idea of wearable technology, it’s clear that a large number of consumers favor the advancement of flashy phone accessories despite high price tags and minor hiccups from first-generation models. For those on the fence about whether or not these time-keeping wearables are just another fad, the forecast in 2016 looks bright.  

 

What the Numbers Reveal

The wearable market is likely to be dominated by the Apple Watch until 2019—giving the wrist device a wide birth for improvement, as well as more time to grow app development and diversity. According to a report by International Data Corporation (IDC), this year alone Apple sold 13 million watches for a little over 60 percent market share. If these trends continue, by 2019 the total number of units sold will reach almost 50 million.

Edging out some of Apple’s profits will be Android Wear, which sold a modest 3.2 million units this year. However, by 2019, Android will have acquired almost a 40 percent market share—impressive, but certainly a distant second to Apple. 

The numbers strongly suggest the Apple Watch and other wearable devices are headed for greener pastures, but the utility of these devices is still far from necessary in 2016. Most people won’t be able to afford the phone accessory simply because it’s still too expensive and requires newer (more expensive) versions of the iPhone. The next iteration of watches will likely not be much cheaper. Additionally, most people that have an Apple Watch are still using their iPhones just as much as they were before, which, at its core is what wearable tech is all about. 

On the positive side, Apple Watch is listening to consumers and making improvements. It also features some of the most sophisticated health software available. But unless you’re trying to get in shape, keep time, or occasionally respond to a text while driving, few people will benefit in an extraordinary way.

 

So what does all this mean? 

In some ways, the Apple Watch and other wearables are behaving just like a trend first starting out—most people ignore it until it goes away (3D-TVs) or until they simply can’t live without it (cell phones). 

The questioning remaining is whether the Apple Watch will take on enough utility to prove valuable in addition to a cell phone. Right now, the answer is no. But given the nature of the smartphone industry, it’s very possible that developers will come up with new and inventive ways of using technology to solve all kinds of unique problems. 

January 05, 2016

Smartphones Helping Us Cut 180 Million Tonnes of Carbon Emissions

 

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Mobile technology is helping us drastically reduce our C02 emissions, according to a new study from the Carbon Trust. The research, jointly funded by international telephony companies and Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), claims 180 million tonnes of emissions are saved annually - five times greater than emissions caused by the operations of mobile networks and mobile tech developers.

The study examined 60 carbon-saving mechanisms in 10 different categories, and evaluated a variety of uses for mobile technology, including uses for machine-to-machine and Internet of Things applications.

In an impressive, wide-ranging report, smartphones are shown to have made significant savings in areas like building management, route planning and employee carbon footprints, as an increasing number of workers conduct the majority of their business from home. 

Furthermore, the research highlights a number of areas for future emissions reductions. In a  survey of 4,000 smartphone users from the USA, UK, Spain, Mexico and South Korea, more than half the respondents said they would be willing to reduce their emissions by using mobile technology to recycle more products and encourage insurers to lower premiums in return for more ecologically sound driving habits. Nearly half said they would be more likely to use public transport if they had an app to tell them when the next bus or train would arrive. 

But it’s the emissions savings already being made on a daily basis that is most encouraging. For example, 84% of smartphone users who drive a car regularly use satnav and other GPS apps to reduce congestion and generally plan and execute their trips in a more eco-efficient way; 40% would consider using a self-driving vehicle in the future. Nearly half of respondents said they purchased digital books and newspapers, rather than the more environmentally-costly print versions. 

Other carbon-cutting lifestyle changes that a majority of respondents said they would be willing to make include mobile apps that control home heating and cooling (68%) and mobile-accessed public services (63%). Around half said they would cease using cash and credit/debit cards if they could pay for goods with their smartphone, and 63% said they would consult with doctors remotely for non-urgent issues. 

The list of eco-efficient applications goes on. But what’s even more exciting is the potential for developing economies to completely bypass high-carbon infrastructures by using mobile technology. For a world facing critical climate change, that would be the most sustainable move we can make.