NRF Big Show 2016: New York retailers showcase in-store and online technology

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As part of the NRF Big Show 2016 in New York, e-commerce platform provider Demandware took me on a tour of some of the retailers in the Big Apple using its technology.

The level of technology usage varied from store to store, with one shop planning to introduce a customisation form to its website and another store implementing roaming point of sale (POS) systems to ensure store assistants can take credit for their sales.

Anya Hindmarch

As a luxury retailer, Anya Hindmarch focuses on delivering quality goods at a high price point, with good customer service as key.

The store on New York's Madison Avenue includes an 'Embossers Workshop' where handwritten customised messages can be embossed into the brand's leather products to create something personal.

One of the smaller customised products, such as a makeup bag, will cost around £280, whereas a bespoke weekend bag will set you back by around £795.

Currently, this process is done completely through paper forms in the shop, and although the service appears on the website, it's only in an advertising capacity.

The bespoke capabilities will soon be on the firm's Demandware website to allow customers the ability to research and order possible bespoke products without having to visit a store.            

New Balance

Sports brand New Balance has the slogan "Always in Beta" printed across the window in the front of its store on 5th Avenue - an indicator of the constant innovation that goes on within the company.

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There were two pieces of technology showcased in this store - an interactive screen allowing users to play around with and customise virtual shoes, and a foot measuring technology which assesses customer's feet and suggests the right type of insole for their foot shape.

The shoe customisation demo features a touch screen interface allowing customers to choose different panels on a virtual model of a shoe and choose different colours based on personal taste, similar to the service on the brand's website.

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Currently, there is no direct connection between this service in the store and this service as offered on the brand's website - so for example if a customer started designing a shoe in the shop they could not then complete the design and order the shoe online at home.

New Balance's Atrex foot measuring solution is designed to measure your foot size and weight distribution to recommend the most comfortable insole for the inside of your trainer.

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Both of these technologies aim to make the New Balance stores more relevant in an age of showrooming whereby customers use stores as a place to test products before buying online.

The stores offer these additional services to ensure the customer's brick and mortar visit was worthwhile and the correct product or set of products can be offered to a customer.

True Religion

True Religion is a luxury fashion outlet which has combined its Demandware endless aisle system with its Aptos mobile point of sale system to allow shop assistants to search through the brand's catalogue with customers before using a barcode to complete the transaction on a tablet.

Store assistants are equipped with "Band" technology, powered by Aptos - to me it looked like an Apple Watch - which can be used to search through potential products before displaying them on in-store LED screens to help interact with customers.

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Touch screens around the store are also equipped with and endless aisle solution, which the True Religion head of e-commerce described as its Demandware e-ecommerce platform with payments stripped out, allowing customers or store assistants to search through products before completing the transaction by transferring the product to a mobile POS system using a unique barcode displayed alongside the product on the LED screen.

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True Religion uses this combination of technology to ensure sales associates are receiving the credit for making a sale to ensure they embrace and assist customers with omni-channel interactions. 

The Gitter development community - using a dev discussion platform for collaboration

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Founder of development community platform Gitter explains why developer forums could help out other industries in the future.

Open source software communities such as GitHub are designed to allow developers to collaborate on a large variety of projects at once, both in and outside of organisations.

I recently met with the co-founder of an online messaging community tool called Gitter, which allows people working on projects to communicate with each other and raise various topics of discussion.

But since starting the service, co-founder Mike Bartlett has found it does not necessarily get used in the way he expected, with many developers using it to collaborate and discuss subjects of personal interest rather than projects involving the companies they are working for.

The platform is developer-focussed, making it easier to share blocks of code from projects they are working on in GitHub, and is a completely open platform where users have access to everyone else signed up.

Document sharing, teamwork, code and picture sharing are encouraged to help the collaboration aspect the hub was designed for.

Currently used by over 200,000 users across 30,000 communities for open chat, Gitter has now introduced a "Sidecar" feature allowing real-time chunks of Gitter chats to be embedded on websites using JavaScript to encourage an open discussion surrounding development.

"One of the things that I've found fun is the cross-company board collaboration that happens amongst the development communities." Bartlett told me.

This personal-interest based discussion has caused "cross pollination" of projects and companies as developers come together to share ideas, leading Bartlett to wonder whether the platform would lend itself well to communities outside of the development world.

It turns out there was a lot of interest from other industries, specifically scientific and medical based communities.

"We continually get a lot of other people wanting to use our platform." Bartlett said.

The platform is already being used for "open science" to allow people working on research-based projects to "make sure that any scientific research they're doing and the way they're communicating is open" and help compare notes and results.

An industry Bartlett touched upon was the medical community, specifically nurses, who are interested in using the platform for similar work-based discussions with people in similar professions.

"We're working on the ability to sign in without GitHub." Bartlett assured me, but he pointed out this will involve covering a large amount of people who don't necessarily have a technology background.

Even now within the development industry there can be a stigma around information sharing in case you reveal details of core business projects to competitors, despite Bartlett's estimates that 30-40% of a developer's build will not be of core business value.

But the Gitter team keeps working on updates and new functionality, including Sidecar, to ensure Gitter stays a place where communities can collaborate on projects which are of mutual interest, and to try and branch into other groups besides the software engineering community.

Gitter is also working on allowing private forums where developers can chat about projects which may be too sensitive for the public discussions. 

"We're incredibly pleased with how the existing community has embraced Gitter. Sidecar is a way of extending the functionality and benefits of Gitter to a wider community." Bartlett said. 

Aviva's annual Hackathon - the customer is key

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In early November 2015, insurance giant Aviva held its internal hackathon designed to allow the firm's employees to test out ideas for solutions that could potentially benefit Aviva's customers.

The hackathon is advertised internally and people across all parts of the business are invited to submit proposals for projects which fill a gap in customer experience.

Across the firm 188 ideas were submitted, which were then subject to an internal vote to decide which ideas would be pursued.

In total 6,370 votes decided which ideas should go forward, and 16 teams were formed of members of the business with mixed disciplines.

Team members who formed the ideas were encouraged to seek out and pair with other people across the business who would best help to develop their project, for example employees with particular IT specialisms.

The teams had 24 hours to develop a wireframe, prototype and pitch for the final ceremony before the winners of the hackathon are decided.

Taking place over three locations, 160 people took part to develop 16 projects and most importantly, eat 80 pizzas between them.

I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the London-based teams at Aviva's digital garage a stone's throw away from London's silicon roundabout.

"It's a good way of promoting a joined up business and breaks down walls," Aviva's innovation manager Richard Wilkinson told me.

"It fits with our strategy of digital first."

Wilkinson explains each of the ideas are submitted under different categories, and this year seemed heavily focussed on life, health and general pricing.

The projects worked on in the London office included an EU driving guide, a personal insurance vault and ways to provide better customer service when dealing with phone calls:

Driving in the EU - One team developed an app to help drivers when abroad to make laws in other countries clearer and make the travelling experience less stressful.

Policy tracker - The team working on this project told me that a lot of people trying to contact their insurance company will not find the right number they need depending on what department they want to reach.

When I spoke to them they were struggling to pick a name for their proposition, but they wanted to make sure customers get through to the right department no matter which number they call - as people often complain about being passed around.

Aviva Safe (vault) - This proposition is designed for people who lose receipts or have very valuable items such as antiques which are hard to prove ownership of.

Sometimes when items are lost, damaged or stolen it can be difficult to dig up records of purchase and proof of ownership, so users of the Aviva Safe app can take pictures of items and receipts for items to store in their vault so that if anything happens to those items, they can submit these images as evidence to their insurance company.

The team spent their time in the hackathon taking a user-centric UX focussed approach to the application, making it easy to use and giving it a vault like appearance - as the customer is at the heart of the idea.

MyAviva Safe appeared amongst this year's winners, who were as follows:

•             MyAviva Safe (Idea lead: Hannah Davidson)

•             MyHealth Claim App (Idea lead: Nina Brown)

•             I, Policy (Idea lead: Rod Humby)

•             Automatic System Log-In - 1 password for all (Idea lead: Louise McIver)

 

The winning propositions may not necessarily go on to be developed as part of Aviva's product offering, but the process helped the teams try something different, meet new people within their organisation and ultimately ensure they are thinking in a customer-centric way. 

The disconnect between children and their technology - teaching kids why code is important

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A common sited problem in teaching kids about technology is the difficulty in helping them make the connection between the tech they use and the code they're learning - something story character Detective Dot might tackle.

In 2014, the government ushered in a change in the curriculum which made it mandatory to teach computing in schools to pupils between the ages of five and 16.

One of the reasons this change was so important was the growing skills gap in the UK IT industry - the number of jobs that need filling is only going up, but the number of people with skills to fill them is not.

Whenever I speak to someone from the education sector about the new curriculum and teaching children to code, there's one question I always ask:

How are you making sure children understand that the concepts you are teaching them are affecting their daily lives and could be a potential future career for them?

It might be just as simple as saying something along the lines of: "If you like video games, you could get a job making them one day - and you'll be using your coding skills."

But Sophie Deen from children's education company Bright Little Labs has taken the concept one step further, creating a detective book series where the main character uses code and technical skills to be the best detective possible. Detective Dot understands the systems around her, is a white-hat hacker, and she uses code to program her drone sidekick to help her investigations.

The series not only tackles the issue of making sure children are aware that code is what drives the digital objects they use every day, but also stars a young female software engineer as the protagonist throughout the stories. 

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, the Detective Dot interactive books will aim to encourage children to take more interest in IT and the world around them. 

Deen has worked with children in the past, both teaching kids to code and as a play therapist, and states that there are not enough positive tech role models in the media for children to aspire to, particularly for young girls from minority backgrounds - an opinion that's industry-wide.

"In kid's cartoons, 0% of princesses are engineers, 2.9% of characters are black, and Batman doesn't recycle," says Deen in her Kickstarter pitch for the book series.

"Children, particularly girls and minorities, need positive role models in engineering, science, technology, arts and maths."

Deen hopes that the development of Detective Dot will help children to begin to understand where the objects and technology they use come from and how coding is used to control them, as well as the importance of computational thinking in day-to-day problem solving.

The digital versions of the books, which are aimed at seven-to-nine-year-olds, also include built in games and personalisation to get children excited about science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (Steam) based subjects.

When the new computing curriculum was introduced, many teachers were concerned about the new subjects they would be asked to teach, and last year one third of schools admitted they had invested nothing in coding training for teachers.

As well as the stories, Bright Little Labs is working on resource materials for teachers to help them use Dot to teach children some of the concepts in the new computing curriculum such as computational thinking and debugging for KS1 and KS2.

The Kickstarter for Detective Dot - Adventure stories for a fairer world closes on January 7 2016. 

Elo Touch solutions - why luxury lends itself to interactive technology

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Manufacturers of touch-screen technology explain why the luxury market is buying into interactive in-store equipment.

Elo Touch solutions is a touch-screen manufacturer that often finds itself bought into the retail space to give customers that interactive omni-channel experience they expect.

But the firm has seen a recent surge in interest from luxury retailers as they jump on board the technology bandwagon.

This left me raising the question - why not go down the route of a smartphone assisted experience that many other retailers have chosen?

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According to Chris White, regional sales manager at Elo Touch solutions, luxury retailers are using larger in-store touch screens to get customers interacting rather than looking at their phones.

The larger format also makes it easier for shop assistants to provide a well-informed service that customers expect from a luxury brand without the restrictions of a smaller format such as a hand-held tablet. 

This allows shop assistants a better way to visually present information customers want, and gives the opportunity to sell other matching products.

"I think the luxury market lends itself more to the upselling and cross selling of items more than the mass market." White says.

Servaas Kamerling, Elo's president of EMEA, highlights this need for cross-selling or upselling for luxury brands is often leading to technologies such as this being introduced as a marketing decision rather than an IT decision.

But Kamerling points out that often when stores encourage customers to download loyalty applications they can't be used outside of the store experience but still clog up a user's phone.

This isn't the kind of experience people expect from a luxury brand, and high end retailers often struggle to drive app downloads as they are only visited by customers in a one-off or occasional instance, so retailers often look for other ways to "create the endless aisle" experience.

"If you go shopping, you don't want 50 apps on your phone because you're not interested in their products when you're at home - but you are interested when you're in the store," Kamerling explains.

"We think it's more effective to actually show the potential in the store in addition to having it on your phone or if you're browsing to create that true omni-channel experience."

But touchscreens are not just part of the luxury retail world, and Kamerling points out interactive technology can "combine the best of both worlds" in an omni-channel retail space where customers want so many different things.

"Interactivity and touch screens are in every market," Kamerling jokes.

"It's so diverse a market which makes it sometimes very difficult to focus because we're everywhere."

 







A visit to the Sainsbury's digital lab - using technology to solve customer problems

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How the digital team at Sainsbury's uses creative thinking and agile methodologies to build software that solves consumer problems.

In September 2015 the Sainsbury's digital lab ran a hackathon, and invited me to come along to pitch an idea to a team of technology specialists for a solution they could build to make my customer experience better.

The brief I was given was to focus on just one thing about my shopping experience I feel could be improved through technology.

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I thought about it for a very long time, and after a couple of days of debating what I needed as a customer, I went into the brainstorming session with just a small inkling of what I wanted and not a lot else.

In the brainstorm were Sainsbury's employees from a mixture of disciplines, including a product manager, a DX delivery manager, a senior architect, a user experience lead and a creative lead.

Alongside them were Isaac Scott, mobile team lead, and product manager Thomas Knorpp who chaired the discussion.

They asked me about my idea, and I said it would be cool if when searching for products on the Sainsbury's online supermarket, you could filter search results based on pre-determined preferences such as vegetarian products, vegan products or gluten free items.

At this point I thought the discussion would be pretty short because I wasn't too sure if my idea would work or need further investigation, but it sparked a lot of interest around the room.

We went through the implications of the functionality, whether it would be based upon customers logging in, how many of the customer's preferences should be saved to refer to later, and whether there should be rules around when the filter should be applied.

There were questions about social media, about what data should be collected and about if these customer preferences should be remembered and also used when interacting with Sainsbury's through other touch points such as its blog website or social media.

After the discussion a team were allocated my idea, dubbed "Project Pink" because of their hackathon t-shirts, to create a workable prototype of my concept as part of the remaining 23 hours of the hackathon.

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I was brought back to the lab after the hackathon to hear what Project Pink had produced following the brief I gave them.

Isaac Scott was joined by Chris Bernans, senior product owner at Sainsbury's, to explain the process to me and present the prototype.

The teams at the Sainsbury's digital lab usually listen to a problem statement or proposal, which in this case was my brainstorming session.

Then, Bernans tells me, they go through a "process of ideation" to come up with ideas about how to address the proposed solutions.

Stakeholders in projects will decide alongside developers which focus areas of these projects to implement, which are usually the pieces of functionality that "add the most value" to the customer experience.

Bernans and Scott explained that this was the same process that was undertaken at the hackathon but in a condensed amount of time - a mixture of developers and teams members of other disciplines "ran an ideation phase" on my proposal, drawing up a wall of ideas for solutions ranging from "wacky and wonderful" to "practical" to discuss what was possible in the time frame and how they would address it.

The team came up with two main problem statements to tackle: "we want to offer our customers a personalised experience" and "we want our customers to discover food inspiration seamlessly."

To solve these problem statements, the team created a workable concept using a Chrome extension to manipulate the existing Sainsbury's supermarket website to offer a more personalised experience when shopping.

Scott and Bernans demonstrated the different experience to me using two browser windows - one with the extension and one without.

Using the Chrome extension, customers can explain more about the experience they want through a "preference centre" which in the demo included test options for Vegetarian, Vegan and Fairtrade items.

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The test example used the preference of only wanting to see Fairtrade products when shopping, and when the keyword phrase "organic Fairtrade coffee" was used, the original browser returned 209 products, whereas the filtered version only returned 47 - ones that matched the preferences.

Then, to tackle the problem statement of seamlessly discovering food inspiration, the team made it easier to find recipes through its own ecosystem and then follow this through to actually buying products.

By creating a "buy button" in the Sainsbury's 'Homemade' website, the team enabled users to add ingredients from a Homemade recipe straight into their shopping cart on the Sainsbury's website, whilst still applying the preferences it has registered from the "preference centre."

The page is scanned, and then a separate pop-up window used to browse ingredients found in a blog post and matched to products that can then be added to the customer's basket on the Sainsbury's supermarket website.

Each product has an individual buy button, or there is an option to add all of the items to the basket.

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The buttons were made with rounded edges to make them aesthetically pleasing and ensure they fit with the consistent Sainsbury's look and feel.

Currently, both pages need to be open and logged in to allow the functionality to work, but I was told this was due to the hackathon time constraints during development.

The solution was not without its flaws - and at one point the shopping list suggested had items not on the recipe - but the solution it was built in less than 24 hours, so it would take more time to make it fully functional and without error.

This functionality is similar to other websites with integrated shopping lists that use third party products, but Scott and Bernans explain for the purpose of the demonstration it is easier to keep customers within the Sainsbury's ecosystem to allow a consistent customer journey using the preferences collected through the preference centre.

Scott and Bernans highlight that this is core to the Sainsbury's strategy of putting the customer at the heart of its decisions.

"We are wherever and however they want us to be." Bernans said.

I was told in no uncertain terms that what I had been shown was just a concept design produced for the hackathon, so there are no guarantees this will be appearing as a feature on the Sainsbury's website any time soon - but I know that it would certainly make my shopping experience much easier. 

The Dandy Lab - a merging of retail and technology

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Retailers are struggling with the online and physical divide, but retailer The Dandy Lab has implemented a store to combine retail and technology in the physical space.

Spitalfields used to be a meat and veg market. If you went there now I honestly don't think you would have any idea.

Now it is a beacon for small and quirky retailers, with Brushfield Street hosting a number of shops that look both fancy and unusual.

Amongst them is the Dandy Lab, and from outside it seems like any other vintage brand, until you notice the sign on the window that announces the use of "interactive mannequins" which allow customers to interact with the products even when the store is closed.

The Dandy Lab has partnered with Cisco to allow customers to discover and interact with the products being sold.

The store plays host to a number of different British luxury men's lifestyle brands, and incorporates technology into the shopping experience using interactive screens, a social media cafe and NFC.

Co-founder Peter Juen Ho Tsanga tells me: "It was very much about merging the digital and the physical worlds together."

The whole format of the shop is designed to encourage interaction with the products and social media, and create a different type of shopping experience where customers discover, learn, shop and share.

A lot of the millennial generation and younger are already doing this when they shop, with Dandy Lab giving them a platform to extend their current behaviour "through displays and interactivity of the store that allows our story to be told" Tsanga explains.

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The first display unit in the shop features an NFC enabled platform. When items from the shop are placed upon this mysterious block, an overhead display gives customers information about the chosen product, called a "product story," to help engage customers using details such as the product brand and what else in the store is by the same designer.

This is similar to the ecommerce experience shoppers will have online, bringing the physical and the digital together.

How customers are interacting with products, and taking note of those interactions, can be a huge win for the store because, I was told, "they can monetise that data."

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On the opposite wall, there stands a virtual show room to help customers "explore without the need of a sales assistant."

A camera above a touchscreen display scans products held up by customers and allows consumers to search through other products in the store that match, allowing the visitor to build an outfit.

Eventually the store hopes to "map customer emotions" during this process to gather information about how the customer is feeling when interacting with particular products and brands.

Footfall of individual customers can be tracked, including their route around the store and where they paused.

And downstairs? The shop aims to encourage customers to use the space, featuring a café with wireless charging and Wi-Fi in an attempt to create a social area where customers feel more open to share and interact with the store, browse products and use social media.

The objective of all the technology Dandy Lab has to offer is to gain valuable insights into the customer journey from entering the store, to buying something, and beyond.

Tsanga explains it's all used in the simplest way possible to ensure customers can play with the technology without any assistance.

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Where shops are usually in the mind-set of being wholesale to retail, Dandy Lab aims to be an interactive space that can interface with customers at all points of the supply chain.

I decided to pop back after the opening and Tsanga told me it's going well - there has been a lot of interest in the space, especially from the younger generation.

The shop looks at "bringing back special treatment" with a personalised experience that customers used to get when visiting branches.

Cisco's investment is part of its on-going research on the internet of things, or as Cisco calls it the internet of everything, which highlights £37 billion could be saved by startups embracing the connected world, from supply chain efficiency down to the improved customer experience.

"It's about them now getting hard data about who their customer actually is" a representative from Cisco told me.

Aircharge for wireless charging units, members group Capital Enterprise, consultancy DH Ready, Fagerhult for lighting, Hoxton Analytics, Iconeme for beacons, Panduit, Universal Display, Snap Fashion, Von Bismark and Ordo: Epos for point of sale, and network We are pop up are also involved in Dandy Lab's development.

The store also partners with brands Coeur, David Bennett and Fox Hunt Menswear to provide products and clothing.

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Although the products in the store only cater to men, the experience as a whole is interesting, and the shop and social media café are open to anyone to experiment and interact with what the Lab has to offer.

 

iHealth launches healthcare tracker for digitally excluded

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There are healthcare monitors designed to track everything about your body and habits - but what about those who aren't digitally savvy?

Look at all of the health trackers on the market at the moment and they're bound to have one thing in common - you'll need to be able to connect them to your smartphone.

At IFA 2015, iHealth decided it wanted to throw a spanner in the works and created the iHealth Track, a device the firm's CEO Uwe Diegel claims is aimed at those who are not digitally enabled.

"Most people who are buying healthcare products don't need them," Diegel says.

"Little old ladies who want to manage their blood pressure or diabetes aren't using the Apple Store, they'll always go back to the pharmacy."

The monitor has an on-board screen which will display blood pressure information, and if the user does not want to do any more then they don't have to.

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According to Diegel adding connectivity was additional, and if the patient feels able they can sync the information stored on their device with their phone or tablet via the free iHeath MyVitals application so they can share their results with their healthcare professional.

iHeath MyVitals is available on Apple Store and Google Play.

Diegel says he wanted to "make a device for the people who need it most" - who are usually the ones who do not know how to connect it to supplementary digital devices.

The device will be available by the end of 2015, and the current price is estimated at around £29.20.

When I asked whether or not it will be available through NHS prescription, Diegel had an interesting answer for me.

He claimed that reimbursement of products it bad for the technology industry as when devices are available to purchase at a discount price it discourages innovation.

His theory stands that if companies know they will only receive a certain amount for products, they will not innovate to produce devices worth more as the margins made on those products will be smaller.

iHealth also released the iHealth Wave, a waterproof activity tracker designed to monitor performance while swimming.

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It's waterproof to 50m, can detect and analyse different swimming strokes, lengths and burnt calories, as well as track daily activity and sleep.

Also useable with the iHealth MyVitals app, the iHealth Wave will be available by the end of 2015 for a price of approximately £58.40. 

Expo Milano 2015 - Coop supermarket of the future

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At this year's Expo Milano, a six month universal exhibition of world-changing concepts, Accenture and Coop partnered to show exhibit-goers the future of supermarket technology.

Every few years a country is chosen to host the Universal Exhibition where more than 140 participating countries showcase their take on a different theme.

The theme of Expo Milano 2015 is "feeding the planet, energy for life" and each country has a hub around the expo floor designed to suggest how the world can provide healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone without detriment to the environment.

One of the main attractions was the supermarket of the future, an interactive shopping experience designed by Coop and Accenture to show consumers what a visit to the store will be like in years to come.

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Really it should have been called the supermarket of right now, because most of the technology currently exists, the whole supermarket was fully functional. It seemed like the sort of shop Tony Stark might design if given the chance.

Above each section of fresh produce was an interactive screen listing details about the products housed in that particular area.

Inside each of the screens was an Xbox Kinect, which allowed a customer to use hand gestures to highlight a particular food to find out more about it, including its nutritional content, where it came from, its carbon footprint and allergens.

The thermo sensor in the Kinect tracks the arm's movements to determine which product you're pointing at and relays the appropriate information.

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We did try and see if it would cope with two people pointing at separate items, but it wasn't quite ready for that yet.

Alongside some of the produce, there was a demo of robotic arms packing and sorting products as people ordered them, and I was told this was in demonstration of sustainability - instead of all produce being on display, some could be kept fresh and delivered to customers when they want and need it.

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Delving further into the mission of maintaining product freshness were the fridges, where details of refrigerated products were displayed on a screen next to the fridge.

This meant when you are interested in finding out more about a product in the fridge you don't have to open it just to analyse the label, you can preserve the products in the fridge and only open it when you're certain you want to buy a product. This wastes less energy.

Each of the systems in the supermarket is powered by a server and a central content management system where information about each product is stored.

But unfortunately this is where one of the main problems lies, as the product digitisation process can be quite difficult due to differing product standards and worldwide providers.

Cooperation is needed from the producers to input product information into the content management system, and although the technology is ready some of the producers are not.

Every interaction with the technology in store is tracked and monitored, creating big data for analytics.

The explanation of how this data would be used blew my mind a little, but it seemed as though the suggested use for collecting footfall and interaction data was to create pattern analysis to predict what customers will come in on what days and buy what things to make sure the right stock is in the shop.

Alongside the technology in the supermarket itself a mobile app exists to supplement the shopping experience and provide the customer with a more personalised edge.

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Beacons around the store guide you around the super market through the app to products you want and suggested products based upon what you have already chosen or looked at.

The app can be used to save shopping lists, guide you on the best route around the shop based on what you want to buy and give you a more detailed breakdown of product information.

Social media was embedded at the supermarket's core, with the ability to share on social media through the app and large screens across the warehouse space depicting interactions around the store and on social media sites.

The idea is to create a community feel by showing a shopper what is happening around them - what other people are buying.

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Then things started to get super futuristic.

Around the supermarket there were displays with holographic images of what looked like microwave meals.

On closer inspection I noticed the advert was making suggestions for "personalised" food - apparently in 2050 you'll be able to order ready-made 3D printed meals to match your tastes and speed up your cooking and shopping processes.

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Unable to print my own ready-meal for another 35 years, I settled for buying some chocolate just so I could say I'd fully experienced the supermarket of the future.

Unfortunately language barriers got in the way of my paying experience, and unlike in the UK contactless payment is not always represented by the usual three curved line symbol.

But I eventually managed to walk away with a bar of chocolate and a vision of the future of shopping.

 

REVIEW: Ironkey Workspace 500 USB device

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This is a guest post by Sean McGrath senior reporter at Microscope

Striking a balance between mobility and security is something of a Holy Grail in the enterprise world. How do you enable employees to work from anywhere, while at the same time, ensuring that your mobile estate remains secure?

Secure mobile storage provider IronKey  was founded with a grant from the Department of Homeland security in 2005. IronKey has always had a straightforward mandate - to create the most secure storage solutions possible.

As part of its mission, it pioneered the first cloud based management platform for USB devices, the first USB drives with remote self-destruct and - the topic of today's review - the first fully secure PC-on-stick.

The purpose of the IronKey Workspace range is simple, unoriginal and not particularly sexy. The idea is that you plug the USB device into any PC, select it from the boot menu, and - there you have it - a persistent and fully functioning Windows 8.1 environment. When you are done with your work, you power down, unplug your USB and move on. It is, quite literally a PC... on a stick.

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What sets the Workspace devices apart from the competition is the vendor's unwavering attention to security. IronKey, now under the ownership of Imitation, has spared no expense in creating the most secure PC-on-a-stick devices in existence. Before we move onto a hands on review, let's quickly reflect on just how secure these devices are.

In the UK, the Communications-Electronics Security Group recommends that portable devices used by government agencies comply with the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 Level 2. The same applies for US federal agencies.

The theoretical weakness with many portable drives lies in the location of the cryptographic key. Often, it is stored in the flash memory of the device itself. It's akin to leaving the key to your mansion under a plant pot. The Workspace's key is stored on a separate cryptochip. Only after the user logs in with an authorized password will the drive unlock the workspace, data and applications.

The primary difference between the W500 and the W700 is that the W700 is the first device of its kind to meet FIPS 140-2 Level 3 specifications. Level 3 requires physical security mechanisms that are capable of detecting and responding to attempts to access the cryptographic module. The W700's cryptochip is surrounded by a layer of epoxy and a metal meshing. Try to access the module and the epoxy warps the chip, destroying any chance of ever decrypting the data.

Of course, nothing is completely unhackable; with unlimited resources or some social engineering, the W500/W700 could still fall foul to wrongdoers. But as far as USB devices go, the Workspace range is as secure as they come.

We were given a W500 for testing purposes, but all specifications between the W700 and the W500 are virtually identical.

It's difficult to call a USB stick 'sexy'; but the Workspace is the Audrey Hepburn of portable storage. The brushed aluminium casing and the rubberised lid let you know straight away that this thing was built to last.  The Workspace devices meet the MIL-STD-810 standard, also referred to as 'US Department of Defence Test Method Standard for Environmental Engineering Considerations and Laboratory Tests'.

Basically, this is a long way of saying the IronKey devices are both waterproof and dustproof. While we didn't subject the W500 to a bath, it has been on a motorcycle keychain for the best part of a month and has successfully stood up to the wind and rain. It was even chewed by an enthusiastic puppy for a good few minutes and it still looks like it just came out of the box.

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The W500 comes with Windows 8.1 as standard but will work with Windows 10 when it is launched later this month.

We tested the W500 on three different machines: a relatively new custom built workstation (Intel Core i7-4930K, 16GB RAM); a relatively old laptop (Dell Inspiron 11z with Intel Celron 723 and 2GB RAM); and a late 2014 MacBook Air.

The PC was the only machine that could take advantage of the W500's USB 3 speeds, so that seemed like a good place to begin.  We started by plugging the device in while the machine was already booted in Windows 7.

It is worth noting that, while the drive shows up in the host system's environment, only 500mb of it can be utilised; the rest is locked away, as if it didn't exist. Upon selecting the drive you are presented with two utilities - one to make changes to the password and one to automatically reconfigure the BIOS settings to boot from the W500.

It's also worth pointing out at this juncture that if the BIOS is locked behind admin privileges, the machine will not play ball with your shiny new stick.

We restarted the machine and selected the drive from the boot options. The W500 takes a little bit longer to boot than some other devices because it goes through two boot cycles (one to unlock the partition and one to actually boot the OS). After a while, this became a tad annoying, but the minor inconvenience was easily offset by the knowledge that we were booting into a completely secure environment.

Moments later, and we were running Windows 8.1. One might assume that there would be degradation in performance, but the speeds felt almost identical to those of the SSD in the machine. The W500 boasts read/write speeds of 400/316 MB/s on USB 3.0; five times faster than Microsoft's minimum requirements for Windows To Go certification.

Apps launched quickly and both CPU and RAM intensive programmes worked without a hitch. We were running Adobe After Effects and Photoshop side by side and even when writing video files to the drive, it was hard to spot any considerable difference between the W500 and the native drive.

The real surprise came in when we plugged the W500 into the Dell 11z. This little netbook/laptop hybrid has seen better days. Booting Windows 8.1 from its internal HDD It takes roughly four minutes from power on to Ctrl-Alt-Del, and then a further five minutes before the OS becomes fully operational.

The W500 gave this almost useless chunk of plastic an entirely new lease of life. The machine was booted and operational in under a minute and the OS was once again fully responsive and useable. You could, in theory, give every employee a ten year old laptop and a W500 and send them on their way.

On the MacBook Air, the W500 did not fare so well. We made it to preboot, but then kept hitting walls as the OS kicked into life. We're not entirely sure what we did, but after a couple of restarts we were up and running. Modern Macs all run on Intel technology and so there is no logical reason why the IronKey shouldn't work equally well using Apple's hardware, especially if you download and install Apple Boot Camp on the OS.

It is really difficult to fault the IronKey Workspace W500. It's well made, does what it says on the tin and most importantly is as secure as they come. The only slight hiccup occurs when one starts considering tangible use cases for a PC-on-a-stick.

Users still need a host machine, which will likely be at home or in the office; and as cloud technologies bring ubiquitous data synchronisation ever closer, it is difficult visualise exactly why an enterprise would really need a fleet of Windows To Go devices.

Perhaps it could make a nice little sandbox environment; or just a useful backup device for when things go wrong. Day-to-day though, people are still going to use the underlying system as their go to devices.

If you disagree and do see the benefit of arming your users with PCs-on-sticks, you won't go far wrong by choosing IronKey's Workspace devices.

 







Bored of your gadgets? Trade them in at Argos

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Retailer Argos has partnered with the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to offer an "instant redemption" service for old unwanted gadgets.

The trade-in service will be available in its stores across the UK to allow shoppers to trade electrical products for an on-the-spot swap.

Registered waste reduction charity WRAP helped Argos to introduce the initiative in all of the retailer's 788 establishments following research that found UK residents are hoarding up to £1 billion worth of technology that's no longer being used.

The service currently stretches to mobile phones and tablets, and should stop products from being sent to landfill when they could be recycled instead, which preserves reusable materials used in devices that are disappearing.

Currently 40% of electrical products are thrown in the bin when they could instead be recycled, but two thirds of consumers would be willing to trade these products in if they could do so through a reputable retailer.

The initiative is part of WRAP's resource efficient business models, or REBus, project which is working with partners from the UK and the Netherlands such as Rijkswaterstaat, the Knowledge Transfer Network, The University of Northampton and the Aldersgate Group.

The project, which is backed by EU Life+ funding, aims to help businesses innovate to become more energy efficient and to provide pilots of more resource efficient business models.

Director of WRAP, Marcus Gover, says: "Our research told us consumers have an appetite for trading in and Argos is now providing a convenient and easy way for them to do just that and release the value from their unwanted gadgets."

Devices can be traded in for an Argos gift card which can then be used towards a new device or to get your hands on any of Argos' thousands of products.

The traded in devices then get recycled, or refurbished and resold.

Head of corporate responsibility at Argos, Amy Whidburn, says if this initial service goes down well with customers the company will think of extending it to other technologies in the future such as cameras, satnavs or laptops. 

Surreal Vision - from startup to Oculus sensation

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Back in October 2014 I was running through the pouring rain towards Imperial College London to meet one of the entrepreneurs of a startup called Surreal Vision.

Moments later I was sitting in the office of my dreams - because I had been allowed to pick the wallpaper, floor textures, surroundings and view from the window.

Surreal Vision had just won the IC Tomorrow's Entertainment on the Move innovation contest to further develop real-world uses for Augmented Reality.

Its Augmented Reality technology had combined the use of an Oculus and a Laptop to allow the wearer to manipulate their current surroundings to look how they wanted, and could also add in additional entities which would react with real-world surroundings.

I remember staring in astonishment as an AR avatar sat down on a real chair that was placed next to me - because the technology was able to mesh the worlds of reality and technology through the genius of 3D scene reconstruction algorithms.

Now, they have moved on to be acquired by Oculus Research to work further on their unique mix of virtual reality and environmental manipulation.

"The Entertainment on the Move competition motivated us to think about innovative applications of our SLAM technology in gaming. The challenge enabled us to identify opportunities in the VR/AR space and to streamline our message accordingly, thanks to the feedback received at every stage of the contest," Renato Salas-Moreno, Surreal Vision's CEO.

"Winning the category provided us with both critical early funding as well as opening the doors to important industry contacts through the UKIE partnership."

As the new cohort of AR/VR contestants will be hitting the most recent IC tomorrow Entertainment on the Move competition to pitch to potential sponsors such as John Lewis, Crossrrail, Royal London Hospital, Pearson, Kings College London and Columbia Records.

The startups will prove how their AR technologies can solve problems in several different categories, including bridging the retail gap between in-store and online, medical and vocational training, haptic feedback technology and immersive entertainment.

Just like Surreal Vision, the winners will receive funding and sponsorship from the category partner, this year up to £210,000 is on offer.

So who could be the next cutting edge business in the virtual and augmented reality space? We'll have to wait and see. 

How will retailers know if polymer banknotes are real?

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Many retailers are still unaware that polymer bank notes are on their way to the UK, so how will they identify a real one during the purchasing process?

Everyone knows that if you hold a traditional British note up to sunlight a legitimate one will have the Queen's face smiling back at you.

But in the second half of 2016, the UK is introducing polymer bank notes, similar to those in Australia, beginning with smaller £5 denominations and increasing to £10 notes the following year.

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Example bank note

The five pound note is the denomination that receives the most wear and tear, and new polymer notes will be stronger, waterproof and more difficult to counterfeit.

The notes are made from the same materials that are used to produce certain types of plastic, allowing features such as windows and metallic inks to be used, unlike on paper notes. 

Businesses will have to make changes to prepare for the introduction of these new smaller notes by adapting cash machines and making appropriate software updates if necessary. 

One of the ways in which businesses will have to adapt is to ensure staff will be able to recognise a real bank note, or identify a fake one.

In order to help businesses with this, payments solution firm Secure Retail plans to distribute several types of polymer bank note reader, produced by manufacturer Innovia, to help staff identify fake notes from real ones.

Innovia also produce the film that the UK banknotes will be made of, meaning the security level of the technology is higher as it has been made to specifically identify the film which Innovia also manufactures. 

If the note is real, the light turns green and if it's potentially suspicious, made of a different substance or produced by a different company, the reader will turn red.

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The scanners detect whether or not the note is real because of the type of light refraction caused by the materials the notes are made from.

By ensuring they have this equipment in store, retailers can protect themselves from the fines that have to be paid for accepting counterfeit notes and more easily adapt to the new currency.

Larger behind-the-counter scanners will be available for approximately £250, with smaller hand-held scanners available for under £100. 

Is the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua really waterproof? VIDEO

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These days it seems like every new phone that hits the market has to have a gimmick. For example the new curved Samsung Galaxy S6 or the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 with its fancy 'AnyPen' technology.

Well the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua is allegedly waterproof. It's the one you'll have seen being wielded by booth babes in scuba gear and a tank of water the last time you went to a trade show.

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Like this...

So I managed to get my hands on an M2 Aqua to try it out and the results were... mixed.


Branded with TT Charcoal & Teal. Related link and Similar Video filmstrip included.

Video by Tom Walker

The phone was functioning just fine before I put it into the tank of fresh water. I say fresh water because it's advised the device is only waterproof in saline water and not salt water, as I mention in the video.

Once I took it out of the tank it continued to work fine, and I was merrily taking photos of my colleague surrounded by dinosaurs using the Augmented Reality photobooth I had demoed on the Sony Xperia at International CES in January this year.

The device has CMOS Image sensor - Exmor RS for mobile and features ClearAudio+ sound improvement software to make sound on videos clearer if you want to upload them to the internet.

I left the device for a few days and the battery went dead - as you might expect. Then once I tried to charge it to test it further it started to act squiffy...

Sony Xperian M2 Aqua specs at a glance:

  • Weight: 149g
  • Dimensions: 140 x 72 x 8.6 mm
  • OS: Google Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Battery: 12 hours medium use, 641 hours on standby
  • Camera: 8 MP
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2 GHz Quad-core processor
  • Memory: 1GB RAM
  • Storage: 8GB Flash expandable to 32GB MicroSD


I left the phone on charge for a while but it still refused to turn on and gave me a battery warning every time I tried.

I attempted a different plug and nothing. I attempted a different cable and nothing. I left it 'on charge' for a few hours to mind its own business and it still refused to turn on.

Before anyone asks the obvious - yes all of the protective covers were properly shut, yes it was fresh water, and no, I didn't leave it in the water for more than 30 minutes - it was more like 30 seconds.

Whether there's a correlation between me dropping the phone in a fish-tank of water and it then failing to charge I'm not sure. But the fact of the matter is it was working before, and now it is not. 

In-depth review of the Garmin Fenix 3 smart watch

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With all the hype surrounding the Apple Watch, it is easy to forget that health and fitness watches are not a new thing. Runners, cyclists and triathletes have been using smart wearables for years, to help them improve their performance.

I have owned three running watches: a Garmin Forerunner 405, a Nike+ Sportwatch and a Garmin 310 XT.

A month ago I took delivery of Garmin's first fully-fledged smartwatch, the Fenix 3 with heart rate monitor. The Fenix 3 is the first Garmin that can be worn every day, with battery life of up to six weeks under normal use.

In terms of spec, it offers an altimeter, barometer, compass VO2 Max tracking and waypoints, allowing hikers and runners to navigate a predetermined route.

Among the big changes Garmin has made in recent years is providing connectivity to other running apps so you don't have to stick with Garmin Connect. I now use Strava, which is paired to my Garmin Connect account. Synching the two accounts is automatic and happens in a matter of minutes after a run has been uploaded to Garmin Connect.

As a wristwatch, the first thing I noticed was that the Fenix 3 needed a GPS signal to initially set the time. Once this has been done, it is then possible to switch over to change the time manually.

GPS is clearly a useful way to keep the watch accurate, but it's no use when you get off a plane at Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris, which I did 12 days ago, for the Paris Marathon - basically, you need to be able to see the sky to get a GPS lock.
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One thing to look out for when wearing it is that the metal buckle on the watch strap is quite large. When I've accidentally worn the strap is tool tight, the metal buckle has caused a big dent on my wrist.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
To set up the watch fully I needed to download the Garmin Express software onto my PC. I already had a Garmin Connect account for logging runs, and it was able to use this as my user name. Express allows you to set up Wi-Fi, by preconfiguring the SSID and Wi-Fi access code needed to connect to your network.

I have not found any way to setup a Wi-Fi connection without Express, so this could be a bit limiting if you have not already used Express to setup a new Wi-Fi network on the Fenix 3.

Bluetooth pairing was a lot easier. Just enable it in the Fenix 3's settings menu, and pair with your smartphone. In theory, it is possible to control a music playlist on your smartphone via the Fenix 3. I have the Fenix 3 app but I have yet to try this feature.

I can also get messages and alerts from the phone sent to the Fenix 3, which is pretty cool until you realise how much power Bluetooth takes. So for me, Bluetooth is definitely disabled.

Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is only enabled when you stop a run. If Wi-Fi is setup, the Fenix 3 will use your Wi-Fi connection to upload runs onto your Garmin Connect site. If you manually enable Wi-Fi, it will attempt to upload new runs. Wi-Fi will be disabled once all runs have been uploaded or if it fail to connect to a stored Wi-Fi network.


User interface
Yes this is a smart watch, and yes I went onto the Garmin ConnectIQ app store and downloaded a "sporty analogue" watch face - but at the end of the day, my primary use for the Fenix 3 is as a running watch.

Pressing the Red button on the right brings up the Activities menu. For me, running is already highlighted, so I can press Run to start a new run. The Fenix 3 then goes away searching for any attached heart rate monitor and GPS. The dial flashes green once a GPS lock has been obtained. I simply press the red button again to start my run.

I do half of my running in London so I find auto-pause worth enabling, given the stops waiting for the green man at traffic lights!

The left side of the Fenix 3 has three bottoms: top is for backlighting, while the middle and lower buttons are for scrolling menus.

I have only used scrolling during setup and once during the Paris Marathon, when I girl asked me for the time. While each screen of the Fenix 3 can be configured with several running parameters like heart rate, actual pace, average pace, distance, elapsed time etc, sadly, I didn't see the need to see the actual time - especially during a marathon run.

Running  outside in direct sunshine, as was the case in Paris on April 12, Garmin's anti-glare screen wasn't quite that easy to read without twisting my wrist away from the sunlight. And although I had set up two screens of parameters, I found it quite tricky while running to switch between the screens.

Final thoughts
Having completed Paris in 4:34:13, apart from being surprised at actually finishing, I was pleasantly surprised that there was still 79% charge remaining, which is pretty good going. While locking onto GPS at the marathon took under 30 seconds, three days later I took the Fenix 3 out for a short recovery run and GPS took well over a minute to lock. So from now on I'll try to remember to keep the Fenix 3 full charged.

The Garmin Fenix 3 retails for £399, which includes a heart rate monitor. There is also a more up-market model, the Fenix 3 Sapphire with a metal strap, which costs £480.


Specs:

Physical & Performance

Physical dimensions

2.0" x 2.0" x 0.6" (51.0 x 51.0 x 16.0 mm)

Display size, WxH

1.2" (30.4 mm)

Display resolution, WxH

218 x 218 pixels; transflective MIP color

Color display

Negative mode display

Weight

Silver/Dark: 2.9 oz (82 g)

Battery

Rechargeable 300 mAh lithium-ion

Battery life

Up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode; up to 20 hours in GPS training mode; up to 6 weeks in watch mode

Water rating

10 ATM

GPS-enabled

GLONASS

High-sensitivity receiver

Barometric altimeter

Electronic compass

Smart notifications (displays email, text and other alerts when paired with your compatible phone)

Vibration alert

Music control

Find my phone

VIRB® control

Watch functions

Time of day (12/24h), calendar (day/date), daily alarm







The Apple Watch signals the end of the wearables market

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There has been debate over the number of pre-orders made for the soon to be available Apple Watch, with an estimate coming in at over two million - more than the number of Android wearables sold in the last year.

But Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYU, and founder of business intelligence company L2, says wearables are dead.

At the Demandware Xchange 2015 conference in Las Vegas, Galloway claimed the Apple Watch signals a nail in the coffin of the wearables market, because everything people can do on a wearable they can do on their phone.

According to Galloway the Apple Watch is the deathblow to the overestimated wearables market, because the current conception of wearables is just an extension of your phone that does not add much additional value.

As a luxury brand, people are buying the Apple Watch as a status symbol rather than for its functionality, and Apple has been able to drive these sales because its brand is so strong they know exactly how to appeal to customers.

"To get someone to put something on their person, that's such a delicate incredibly difficult thing to do." says Galloway.

Just as in the fashion industry, retailers have to put careful consideration into the design and branding of products because anything you put on your person contributes to people's outward impression of you, and what you wear says something about you.

According to Galloway this is also part of the reason that Google Glass proved not to be as successful as other wearables - Apple knows how to use their brand to appeal to a large market who will pay for the privilege of being an Apple user, something Google proved not to get right.

Not only does the Apple Watch act as an extension of your iPhone but it also measures your fitness by tracking steps, movement, heartrate and uses the iPhone's GPS to track distance of travel.

So what does that mean for wearables such as fitness trackers, or even applications that use your phone to track lifestyle? We'll just have to see.

Samsung edges ahead with the Galaxy S6

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Do Samsung's cutting-edge edges give it the edge?

After a disappointing run of results for its mobile division driven in part by indifferent response to recent product launches, Samsung needed to make a bold statement. 'Innovate, don't iterate', came the cry, 'but please, no more of those cheap plastic and leatherette backs, okay?'.  

The Samsung Galaxy S6 edge is that bold statement.  

Announced at Mobile World Congress alongside its flat-screened sister the Galaxy S6, the S6 edge confidently treads where no smartphone has ventured before.

Inevitably, the big draw is the display, the smooth edges of the rich 5.1-inch Quad HD screen lapping decadently around both sides of the handset's sharp metallic chassis. 

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The aesthetic is without doubt one of beauty - Samsung has stolen the Android industrial design crown from an HTC now falling into its own samey design trap. Build quality feels excellent, with Gorilla Glass 4 protecting both front and rear - that's right, Samsung has turned its back on the plastic back and, frankly, good riddance. 

Turning its back on the plastic back - Samsung Galaxy S6 edge

However, the function and practical benefit of the handset's key point of difference is somewhat less clear, leading many to ask: what is the point of the edge?

Truth be known, not a lot. In fact there's the inescapable smell of software features that have been built around the edges simply to justify their inclusion. People Edge does bring updates from friends a touch closer, and the edge notifications are well presented if clumsily executed.

Cutting edge?

However, many of these edge functions are fundamentally foiled by the revelation that the display's edges don't curve far enough around the phone's body to be able to read content side on. 

Unlike the lop-sided Galaxy Note Edge revealed last September, so subtle is the curve here that when the phone is face down you can barely perceive the edge. At nighttime the edge promises a discrete alarm clock, and indeed in an otherwise dark room there is usefulness here face up or face down, but forget any ideas about reading notifications on that edge alone.

Samsung Galaxy S6 edge front on

Beneath the edge, the hardware stacks up well. First of all it's nippy: Samsung has eschewed the hot-to-handle Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset in favour of its own snappy octacore Exynos 7420 processor. Supported by 3 GB RAM and up to 128 GB of storage, the S6 edge is a powerful unit. 

Samsung has improved on its biometric home button: now, simply placing your thumb on the lozenge is enough to read and unlock, no need for grand sweeping gestures. KNOX, Samsung's enterprise grade mobile security, gets an upgrade too. And for the first time in a Samsung smartphone wireless charging is integrated, supporting all major standards. A wireless charging pad is not included, however they are increasingly inexpensive online.

The flipside of cramming all this tech into such a tight unit is the dispatch of some much appreciated features: water resistance takes a dive, expandable storage gets dropped and the removable battery is discharged. Inbuilt storage options up to 128 GB plus 115 GB of cloud courtesy of Microsoft OneDrive may satisfy some, but water resistance might be a difficult step backwards for others.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Specs at a glance:

  • Display: 5.1-inch Quad HD (2560x1440) Super AMOLED
  • Processor: 64-bit Octacore Samsung Exynos 7420 (4 x ARM Cortex A57 @ 2.1 GHz, 4 x ARM Cortex A53 @ 1.5 GHz)
  • Storage: 32, 64 and 128 GB options (no expansion)
  • RAM: 3 GB
  • Cameras: Rear 16 MP f/1.9 with Optical Image Stabilisation, front 5 MP
  • Power: Fixed 2600 mAh battery, integrated dual-mode wireless charging
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5 GHz), HT80 and MIMO
  • Availability: The Samsung Galaxy S6 edge goes on sale on 10th April 2015.
  • Price: 64 GB from £760.00 inc VAT SIM free

Perhaps to compensate for the fixed battery Samsung is making much of its improved quick charging capabilities. The S6 edge, it is claimed, charges 1.5 times faster than previous S models, recouping 50% of its battery capacity with less than 30 minutes of charge, and four hours of usage from just 10 minutes.

Moving to the S6 edge's software, and the enterprise-friendly Android Lollipop 5.0 experience is responsive, clean and uncluttered. Samsung has significantly cut back on the bloatware that has blighted previous models, the TouchWiz UI now a help rather than a hindrance. Some core Microsoft productivity apps do get bundled, and McAfee VirusScan Mobile integration will be welcome to many.

Finally to the imaging hardware: a 16 MP camera with optical image stabilisation and fast f/1.9 lens stands proud from the rear of the handset, while a generous 5 MP sensor with selfie-friendly 120 degree spread hides on the front. Both are accessible in 0.7 seconds flat by a double tap of the home button.

Galaxy S6 edge software

With the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge you get arguably the best-looking and best-feeling Android smartphone to date, while under the bonnet it's one of the best-performing devices too. The much-lauded edges aren't genuinely functional in a way that will significantly change how you use the phone, however they will guarantee a steady stream of admirers eager to see, touch and feel it. 

If both brains and beauty are important to you then there's no better Android handset on the market right now; if looks can take a back seat then there's bags of personality both here and in the £100-cheaper, edge-less but almost identically-specified Samsung Galaxy S6.



Could stores reallocate resources using electronic shelf labels?

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At this year's Retail Business Technology Expo I was introduced to a company called DisplayData, which put me on to a nifty little device called an electronic shelf label, or ESL.

Electronic labels, which can be updated remotely, are displayed under products in a store, replacing traditional paper labels.

This eliminates the need for staff to manually change paper displays so the workforce can be re-deployed to different in-store tasks, increasing efficiency.

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The labels, which are very similar to technology currently being trialled in the Sainsbury's in Old Street London, use electrophoretic display technology.

This essentially means the display is full of capsules containing ink which will either be coloured or not depending on its electric charge, giving them the appearance of pixels.

Stores can use this technology to cut down on the cost of paper labels (every little helps) but it also gives them the ability to change prices at the click of a button.

This gives them endless opportunity for utilising specific times of day, creating deals based upon daily trends and footfall, or shifting stuff that's not selling.

The labels work well with perishable items such as fresh produce, which often needs to be shifted before the end of its shelf life.

A representative from DisplayData said to fully utilise the potential deals and optimise sales, staff would have to change paper labels around the store approximately 500 times a day. This is obviously achieved much more easily with electronic labels.

The store can develop their own applications to control the labels with provided APIs to match the store's needs.

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A communications hub sits in each of the stores, which feeds information from the top to the price tags. Each tag can also be used as a Bluetooth beacon to feed deals and vouchers to a customer's phone if they have a mobile coupon or wallet scheme, driving further sales.

The control hub is capable of controlling up to 65,000 labels, and the labels give feedback about whether they have updated and if they are broken.

Retailers are constantly looking for new ways to give value and purpose to visiting stores, and this solution does that whilst saving paper. 

UPDATE: 

A commenter asked me how a customer shopping in the store would know the price of their item would not increase from the time they took it from shelf to till. I approached DisplayData about it and got this response: 

"The first point to make is that retailers by law can only reduce prices in store during trading hours. So if the price does change between the customer picking it off the shelf and reaching the till it will always be lower. Price rises do take place but have to be implemented before or outside of trading hours. 

In terms of the mechanism to update the ESL this is typically taken from a central system and will utilise the same data to update the tills. The till software is updated first and then the ESLs are updated on the shelf edge.  So no price reductions are applied on the shelf until the till software has been updated."


3D Printing for work and home

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An introduction to home 3D printing options, the Velleman 3D Priner and the makersCAFE

3D printing was a big mover at International CES in Las Vegas this year. Not only were smaller firms all completely owning the space, but Intel announced during its keynote it would be using its Intel RealSense 3D technology to power HP's new Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer.

This printer is designed to use several jets to print in a variety of materials, producing parts that are good not just for rapid prototyping but for immediate functional use.

With reports from Gartner stating startups are holding off buying 3D printing technologies due to the high cost, I decided to look into whether it's easier to have a printer in-house or whether it may be easier to outsource to an external agency.

I got my hands on a self-assembly printer from Rapid Online - the Velleman 3d Printer K8200. This product is meant to act as a starter kit, allowing you to easily print designs at home without having to shell out a ton of money to get your designs made elsewhere. The printer itself is £333.32, and spools of plastic used for printing come in at around £22.

What could be easier?

As it turns out, a lot of things. Setting up this printer took a very long time, and I don't mean building it from scratch, because I had someone else do that.

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I was under the impression I could download a free pattern online, plug the printer in and begin my journey towards owning endless numbers of plastic knickknacks.

I was wrong.

The Rapid Online website suggests you use free-to-download slicing and 3D printing software Repetier version 0.84 or higher, which again wins on price because it's free.

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It was simple to download, and pretty easy to use alongside the handy step-by-step guide provided by Rapid Online.

Where the problems started were finding patterns I could easily print out using the printer. There are a large number of settings that need to be very accurate in order to make sure the pattern is properly sliced in a way the printer understands, since this particular printer works by building the plastic pattern line by line.

It didn't matter what I tried - every pattern got at least 80% through a print and then went wild and left me with a big ball of hot plastic mess.

Branded with TT Charcoal & Teal. Related link and Similar Video filmstrip included.

 

As it turns out, you need at least some level of expert knowledge even to print the simplest of patterns. So as much as the Velleman printer was easy to use and came with very clear instructions, I still couldn't quite make it work for me.

That's when I turned to option two.

I headed down to a 3D printing space in Shoreditch called the makersCAFE, presented by Jaguar Shoes Collective, where you can go to get your 3D designs printed and have a cup of coffee while you wait.

They have the printers, and you pay for the resident 3D printing hotshots to help you with your designs so you can print them.

But it comes at a price, around £2.50 per 15 minutes of printing for a small item, with the price per quarter of an hour decreasing as the size of the printed item gets larger (the prices are on ther Maker's website).

You could even go for the risky option and print without consulting the Makers, but you'll still have to pay if it goes wrong.

This option works well if you want one item printed or need help with your ideas, concepts and designs, and was definitely better for someone with as little patience as me.

As founder Soner Ozenc explained to me, this is exactly the solution 3D printing was meant to provide, and is hardly ever the answer to mass production.

Ozenc has a background in engineering and product design, and set up the café to change the face of manufacturing by giving 3D printing a physical face-to-face presence.

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He hopes to use the café of expand on his online RazorLAB business which offers automated assistance for your laser cutting and engraving needs.

This makes the business scalable - it's online and offline - and people and come to the café to intro to the tech, then carry on using the service online once they feel confident with the brand and their own designs.

Or you can just grab a coffee and watch others do the hard work. 

New Raspberry Pi 2 opens doors to Windows

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In this guest post David McClelland shares his thoughts on the announcement of the Raspberry Pi 2. 

Performance boost plus Windows 10 support for new Pi PC.


The new Raspberry Pi 2 was announced today promising a performance boost to make it 'the second PC in the house'.


Raspberry Pi 2 claims x6 performance boost.jpg
Raspberry Pi 2 claims x6 performance boost

The credit-card sized computer debuted in 2012 and has since been embraced by schools, maker communities, industrial automation engineers and even the UK Space programme.

At today's launch event its creator Eben Upton revealed a ripened Raspberry Pi with a quad-core ARMv7 processor and 1 GB RAM, claiming 6 times the speed of the previous B+ model.

Eben Upton, Raspberry Pi creator, reveals the Raspberry Pi 2 today.jpg
Eben Upton, Raspberry Pi creator, reveals the Raspberry Pi 2

This improved performance opens the door to a range of additional applications in schools and industry, as well as in the home. 

Its in-home credentials may have been further boosted by the announcement that the Pi 2 will support both Ubuntu Linux and, thanks to a 6-month collaboration with Microsoft, Windows 10.

However, exactly what you'll be able to do with a Windows-powered Pi isn't entirely clear, even whether it will include a desktop user interface.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Upton confirmed that the version of Windows 10 that Microsoft is to make available for free would be an IoT edition "more like what Microsoft did for Galileo [an Intel-based Arduino-compatible developer board]. 

Microsoft has yet to make a statement about its exact capabilities, we don't want to create an unjustified impression as to what capabilities it's going to have."

A range of accessories are also available for the maker-friendly Pi.jpg
A range of accessories are also available for the maker-friendly Pi

Despite the power-up the Raspberry Pi 2 maintains full compatibility with previous versions, sporting the same credit-card form factor and, importantly, the bank-card friendly price.

Since its release total sales of the maker-friendly machine have topped 4.5 million, and Upton anticipates a further three million units will ship this year alone. Not a bad return when initial sales projections for the Raspberry Pi were only in the 'tens of thousands' range.

The Raspberry Pi 2 goes on sale today priced at £24.94 + VAT

Images: David McClelland


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