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CES 2015: A summary of this year's Consumer Electronics Show

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As a first-time attendee of CES I distinctly remember thinking on my flight over to Vegas: "What have I let myself in for?"

It turns out the answer was a week of no sleep, motivational videos designed to make you cry and more gadgets than I could shake a stick at. It doesn't matter what time it is in Vegas, there's always something going on, and with the show spread over three major areas across the city it's almost impossible to take everything in.

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But here are the top trends I noticed during my week in Sin City:

People aren't interested in JUST data collection anymore

One of the biggest themes of the week was the concept that devices that collect data are no longer useful unless they are able to interpret it and make changes for the better.

At the show, Shawn G DuBravac, chief economist and senior director of research at the Consumer Electronics Association, discussed the need for a "feedback loop"  whereby the analog input method for digitisation and curation is then used to influence and change behaviour, feeding back to the original input method.

It was widely agreed across the conference that until this feedback loop occurs, digital and connected technology will not contribute towards a better and more convenient standard of living.

Everyone is focussed on making things "better"

CEA representatives were saying it, Samsung's CEO was saying it, the big boss at Intel was saying it - everyone agreed that the internet of things and other connected technologies could act as a gateway towards a better existence for human beings.

According to Samsung's keynote at the opening of the show, "better" means different things to different people, and the public said the technology of the future should "be faster", "save time" and "track efficiency".

And that's just everyday life - Intel spoke about how its RealSense technology can allow automated drones to more easily navigate on their own, allowing easier drop off of items such as medical supplies.

The firm also shared its plans for a more diverse workforce by launching its own Diversity in Technology initiative, aiming to improve not just technology but the industry itself.

The wearables market is as confused as ever

The last few years at CES has seen wearables move from a possible future concept into a full blown industry segment. The problem is, wearables still don't know what they want to be.

In the CES Marketplaces innovation hall technology booths were split into sections, which included Wearables, Health & Wellness, Fitness & Technology, Smart Watches and Sports Tech, all of which contained, amongst other things, wearables of some kind.

Some of the products could have landed in any of these categories, and the line between several of these segments is very thin.

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With fashion designer Lauren Bowker claiming earlier this year that she doesn't like her scientific designs being referred to as wearable tech, it's clearly an industry that, although has many products already embedded into people's lifestyle, doesn't know where it's going.

I think wearables is a technology category becoming a bit too big for its boots, and it needs to decide where its loyalties lie - fitness, wellness or convenience.

3D printing is actually going somewhere

Last year 3D printing seemed like a gimmick that would never take off. Now it's a legitimate industry used for activities such as rapid prototyping, and many products surfaced at CES that could expand the opportunities of the 3D printing market.

Intel's plans to integrate Intel's Core i7 processors within HP's upcoming HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer is a step towards fast printing for functional items such as chainlinks and other working parts for the engineering industry.

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A 3D printing pen that allows users to draw a functioning 3D object was also on display in the Marketplaces hall, as well as many smaller 3D printers for home use that could solve expensive outsourcing problems for wannabe engineers.

From a concept people scoffed at to a range of technologies with practical uses, the 3D printing industry has come along in leaps and bounds.

The Chinese market is booming

Once technology was only manufactured in China on behalf of other businesses, but now Chinese companies are huge, and producing products for both domestic and international markets.

From smartphones to smarthomes, China definitely had a huge presence at the show this year, and the trend doesn't look to slow down any time soon.

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The internet of things and smarthomes are both the fastest growing and least developed segments

Everyone was talking about the current proliferation and development of the internet of things this year, including the smarthome and how connected devices can help to improve people's lives and save people time.

However much like wearables, some of these technologies still don't quite have the edge that's needed to make them as useful as they could be.

We discussed earlier technology must provide information that allows users to manipulate and improve their environment in order to fully prove its usefulness.

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What was also highlighted by Samsung's CEO was the need for greater collaboration between different industry segments and regulators to ensure the internet of things is able to properly move forward and work seamlessly.

Looks like we have a lot to keep an eye on over the next year! 

CES 2015: Nokia launches new entry-level smartphone

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This week Microsoft's mobile arm Nokia announced its new smartphone aimed at emerging markets, the Nokia 215.

Designed to be its cheapest internet-ready smartphone, the 215 is available at a starting price of $29 and is available in single and dual SIM.

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It's meant to be cheap enough to give the 60% of people still lacking internet access an in.

But what does internet ready actually mean?

Well apparently the phone will enable applications such as Opera, Bing search and Facebook, allowing users to use the handset to access basic internet needs.

In order to use these services they will need to have a 3G data service with their SIM, which will depend on the carrier they are using.

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The handset itself if extremely light and small, easy to use and manages just like the old Nokia handsets from back in the day.

It comes in several different colours, and is built to last. Speaking of lasting, the battery runs up to 20 hours on mid-level usage, and can last up to 29 days on standby.

The handset has a VGA camera, a built-in torch and Bluetooth 3.0.

Is BYOD changing the developer stereotype?

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At the recent Motorola Enterprise Appforum 2014, now owned by Zebra technologies, the usual sea of middle-aged men in suits was interspersed with many younger faces.

It's no secret that when someone says "software developer" people, sometimes incorrectly, picture a particular type of person, much the same as if someone says "beautician" or "accountant".

But the surge of BYOD and use of mobile devices inside and outside of the enterprise has meant that software development isn't all about business systems - it can include mobile, tablet and other device applications, as well as user-facing and externally-facing software.

These changes mean the traditional 'dev' label is growing to include a younger audience of entrepreneurs as well as older experience coders.

According to James Pemberton, EMEA ISV & developer programs from Zebra, the team has been making an effort to draw in a more diverse range of developers by targeting events such as Droidcon and Appsworld for Enteprise.

Pemberton points out that as development moves away from Windows into Android, and as consumer and enterprise technologies merge, the developer ecosystem has grown.

"People coming into our space are not from a mobile or .net background." Pemberton says.

"Take that to one step further, with the internet of things and zebra combination, suddenly our market for developer programmes, developer engagement is expanding hugely."

Pemberton's job is to draw new and old crowds of developer's into the ecosystem to take advantage of the wide ranges of skills out there.

"In the last year or so we've had a new influx of developers joining who are coming from the kind of web based android background, so probably of the ones who joined most recently, you could say 90-100% of those are from that new world rather than the old world," Pemberton explains.

"It's basically incremental growth."

But there were still few women in the crowd. A recent survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found the proportion of female engineers across all industries stands at just six percent, a figure that has not increased since 2008.

Pemberton explains that Zebra had been working with Google developer groups to connect with women in the industry, and has so far seen positive feedback.

Even though it's only a few 20-somethings in t-shirts at a developer's convention, it still provides hope that with a different attitude, things can and will change. 

EE's EE TV launch - why are businesses branching out?

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Mobile operator EE has launched its EE TV initiative, aiming to use a set-top box to provide TV streaming of freeview channels to any device in a home.

It's not the first firm to branch out into this area, with companies such as BT, Sky and Virgin Media also offering TV, phone and broadband packages.


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As customers become more fickle, firms are working harder to tie consumers in to their service using deals, perks and 'must-have' offers. In EE TV's case, the service will only be available to already existing EE mobile and broadband customers.

The telecoms firm claimed it ventured into the space due to an increase in video streaming services used by its customers.

At an event discussing 5G earlier this year,  Ed Ellis, responsible for network strategy and forecasting at EE, said applications such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer have changed the way people consume video, which is, in turn, adapting the way people use their mobile devices.

He also predicted that as mobile networks become faster, residents in rural areas of the UK will prefer to use mobile networks for services such as video streaming, because in some cases they will be faster and more reliable than wired broadband.

EE plans to tear down the opposition by offering a 1TB freeview box capable of streaming TV to a television set as well as three supplementary devices, which could be phones, tablets or PCs.

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Photo: EE

Smart devices can also act as remote controls, and the service can be left on one device and picked up on another at the same point at any time. Users can select up to 6 of their favourite channels for instant playback, where any program from the last 24 hours will be recorded ready for watching.

The service will be available for free for EE broadband and phone customers, and starts at £9.95 for existing mobile customers.

Android One - smartphones for consumers in emerging markets

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For many, information and education are unobtainable. However, the internet has provided 'knowledge' to those who need it since its birth. It does not matter who you are - of you have an internet connection you can find out anything you want.

Android's new Android One initiative aims to help people in under-developed countries not only access the internet, but use it to its full potential.

At Mobile World Congress this year, Facebook's Mark Zuckerburg claimed most of the cost of accessing the internet is acquiring a data plan as opposed to an internet enabled device, and people are discouraged as they don't see the need for internet access.

But on the Android official blog, Android names hardware, software and connectivity are the main barriers to access. It aims to combat these by offering the Android One range - a set of smartphones with features such as expandable storage and dual SIM capabilities.

To ensure these devices suit the needs of the emerging markets, they will be made of affordable components from hardware partners Micromax, Karbonn, Spice and MediaTek, and gain regular Android updates from Google. To lower the price of data, those already using an Airtel SIM can download software updates from free in the first 6 months of phone ownership, as well as 200MB worth of Google Play apps.

Indian retailers are already selling the devices at a starting price of 6,399 rupees, and phone manufacturers such as ASUS, HTC and Lenovo have jumped on board.

Android aims to expand the programme into Indonesia, the Philippines and South Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) by the end of 2014. 

Amazon Fire smartphone - do we really need 3D?

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This week the first smartphone designed by online retail giant Amazon was revealed, and its Dynamic Perspective feature allows the screen to present images in 3D to the user based upon the position of their heads. The question is whether or not this is what people actually want or need. 

The Dynamic Perspective feature, which uses four front-facing cameras and infra-red LEDs all built into the screen of the phone, allows the device to perform functions such as automatic scrolling to prevent users from having to touch the screen, and screen tilt depending on the user's head position. 

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Photo: Amazon.com

Although these things may improve user experience, my main concern would be the feeling that you're being watched, as the phone monitors you to ensure that you are fully immersed in any activities you are taking part in, such as watching videos or playing games. 

Perhaps more worrying, then,  is the never-before-seen Firefly feature, which uses data that Amazon has collected on physical items, text, audio and text and audio recognition in order to allow users to scan products barcodes or QR codes in order to search on Amazon to allow purchases from its online store. 

This also works for TV programs or songs; Firefly will recognise things in the environment around you and allow you to buy it right then and there through the Amazon store. All through the touch of the built in Firefly button. 

Specs at a glance:

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Processor: Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.2 GHz 

Memory: 2GB RAM 

Display: 4.7-inch HD 

Camera: 13MP rear-facing camera, 2.1MP front-facing camera.


Whether consumers will see this as a genius invention or a ploy to make them spend more hard earned cash where it counts has yet to be seen, but its other feature - the Mayday button - is similar to that on the Kindle Fire and allows the user to video chat with a helpline whenever they need assistance with the device, which contributes to a good consumer experience. 

The device will be available in the US by the end of July, exclusively on AT&T, at a starting price of $199.


Microsoft announces new Windows Surface 3

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Microsoft announced the new Windows Surface Pro 3 tablet at an event in New York today. 

 

The device, which is 12 inches, is designed to fit perfectly into user's lives, with Surface product manager Panos Panay claiming that this could be "the tablet that replaces the laptop." 

 

The Surface Twitter feed was inundated with updates, labelling  the tablet an "entertainment powerhouse" due to its 2160 x 1440 resolution and Dolby sound capabilities.


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The new kickstand is multi-position, so you can angle the tablet any way you want to if placed on a table, although an emphasis was made about the "lapability" of the device, which apparently means it can be used to comfortably complete work from your lap.


As the tablet runs Windows 8.1 Pro OS, you can use all of the features and applications that you are used to, with the added ability to use the new stylus to generate hand-written documents in OneNote. 

 

Specs at a glace:

Surface Pro 3

  • Size: 12 inches
  • Resolution: 2160 x 1440
  • Weight: 800g
  • Thickness: 9.1mm
  • OS: Windows 8.1 Pro
  • Memory: Up to 8GB of RAM
  • Battery: Up to 9 hours
  • Storage: Varies from 64 GB up to 512 GB

 

The device includes features such as a redesigned keyboard that is larger than the previous model and includes an improved trackpad. The device also comes with an accompanying stylus dubbed the Surface Pen to make writing easier. Looks like this device might not only replace the laptop, but may also wipe out pen and paper altogether.

 

The new Surface is 800g, only 9.1mm thick, and is built to apply to Satya Nadella's vision of "empowering people to do more and be more."  

Znap mobile payment platform

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Payment methods have been slowly evolving for over the last ten years, from cash, to cheques to cards. Now you can even pay in cheques using a smartphone and use contactless card payment in supermarkets.

Despite these advancements, the payment process can often be a cause of pinch points in shops and other venues, causing queues and bottlenecks.

Znap aims to provide a solution to these issues, and I have to admit it's an efficient system that feels futuristic, and has cool sound effects to boot.

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Znap could fall under the m-commerce category, since all payments take place on your phone. Znap has gone one further, claiming to be 'omni-commerce' because the solution offers a bridge between different commerce channels, as well as offers merchants a means to fully interact with consumers through their likes and dislikes to cater deals and offers towards individuals.

Once you download the Znap app and set up an account, you can add the details of any credit or debit card you have. Then you select a four digit PIN to act as a verifier when using the app. Once this is done, you can use the Znap system wherever possible to pay for goods or use vouchers. These are just some of the solutions where Znap could be used to increase ease of payment and consumer-merchant interaction:

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Znap can integrate with a POS system. Once items have been scanned by the shop assistant, the customer can scan a QR code at the till or use NFC touch technology to view their shopping list, apply any coupons they may have saved through Znap and then pay for the whole shop through their phone.

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This system can also be used for self-checkout. As you arrive at the supermarket you check in using a unique QR code and then scan goods on your phone as you're walking around the supermarket, using a checkout QR code to pay by the same method at the end.

Travel

If there's a long queue at the standard check-in desk at an airport, a Znap QR code could be used to register for a fast pass to join a different queue to reduce waiting times. Then once you arrive at your hotel, if you have bought your hotel reservation through Znap, location functionality within the app can detect your location and send a message to your phone informing you of your automatic check in, and directing you to your room where your phone can be used as your room key through the Znap application.

Paying bills

Your bills will come through with a Znap QR code on them ready to scan. Once scanned, Znap will allow you to enter the amount of the bill you wish to pay and make the transaction on your phone. The payment will be associated to you so if you share a house, you can prove that your section of a bill has been paid. It will also inform you if the bill has already been dealt with, so you don't end up paying a bill twice or overpaying.

Sales shopping

You see an advert for some jeans you like with a Znap QR code underneath. You scan the QR code and select what size or style you want, and whether you want the jeans delivered or to pick them up from a store near you. If you select pick up, you can pay and then go and get your ready-packaged jeans later when you're in the right area.

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Sports arena - How Znap is being used at Twickenham

These methods were put into practice at Twickenham where the Rugby Football Union elected ZNAP as its supplier for an m-commerce solution following a trial at the QBE Internationals. Sports fans were able to order and pay for their drinks and food beforehand through Znap, and were then able to approach a special till where they could collect their drinks, queue free with no extra staff needed.

These solutions not only offer consumers an easier way to pay, but allow merchants to turn over customers faster, and offer individual customer-focussed deals that are tailored to the habits of that particular consumer.

With the number of consumers shopping on their smartphones ever increasing and queues putting shoppers off of physically entering shops at all, this could be the next step in commerce that the industry really needs to get people back on the highstreet.

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Huddle Note - File sharing for the future

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Huddle has launched a new app for enterprises to use as an alternative to Microsoft Office.

We've talked about Huddle before, and how it allow teams all over the world to work collaboratively on projects by sharing files and comments in the cloud.

Huddle Note iOS Screenshot 1.pngThe new Huddle Note application now allows teams to create, edit and store any content in the cloud, making sharing and cross-platform use easier. As explained by Huddle CEO Alastair Mitchell, it's a way for employees to share ideas wherever they are in the easiest way possible, without having to use other application or software.

He said: "People don't want to waste time skipping between apps, battling with legacy word processors, and then uploading documents to the cloud to share them with co-workers - especially when they're quick notes such as brainstorm ideas and meeting minutes. 

"With Huddle Note, we're adding an easy-to-use and intuitive way to capture content in Huddle, giving people a simpler, faster, mobile alternative to Microsoft Office and other bloated legacy offerings."

New features in the app include: creating and editing documentation in the cloud, sharing any content instantly with others and commenting and feedback. The app also has Huddle security features and an audit trail of activity so you can see when your documents have been read by others.

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This move away from "Jurassic systems" (Mitchell's words, not mine) will give workers everywhere a chance to share their ideas and be more productive in an environment where there's proper support available. 

With the workforce slowly becoming more and more dispersed, with people working from home, abroad or even on public transport, it's exactly what people need.

The new Huddle iOS application is also free to download from the appstore, so why not give it a go yourself? 

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How can your phone make your job in IT easier?

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Today we're expected to work longer hours, often at home as well as in the office. Although it might not seem like much, having the right app on your phone, or the right phone in general, can take a small load off of your shoulders and make your life just that little bit easier. So here's a list of portable must-haves depending on your job title. 

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CIOs spend a majority of their time trying to drive a company's technology forward, but that could prove hard to do if they themselves are not sporting the latest technology. After all, who's going to listen to someone's advice if they aren't willing to take it themselves? So the phone of choice for a CIO could be the Samsung Galaxy S4. The cutting edge of technology, it has a high hardware rating, an attractive body and lightning fast CPU. When you're seen with this phone, all of your future tech suggestions will be taken seriously. 

A data centre manager's job is never over; not a moment goes by when you're not worried about a meltdown or overheating. Or having nightmares about data loss and water damage. The Intel Data Center Manager Mobile Client can help you to rest easy at night allowing them to check information collected by the DCM server at all times. 

A network administrator is always looking for new ways to test network capabilities and how to push network usage to new heights. There's a an app you can download called the CNS Remote Admin by Commercial Network Services which allows you to monitor who's logged into the network, what processes are running and, best of all, it's free and available on iPhone and Android.

Many developers wouldn't be caught dead with an iPhone, so it might be difficult to decide between a Windows Phone and an Android phone. Luckily the use of Android SDK software allows you to install an android simulator on your computer, so you can use a Windows Phone as your personal phone, whilst emulating an android phone on your computer, giving you the best of both app-developing worlds. 

Tech support can feel like a 24/7 job, as people are always quick to complain about issues that need resolving as soon as possible. So the OTRS app allows you to access your tickets and keep track of jobs you have been assigned to. It won't stop everyone from expecting you to help them non-stop, but it will at least help you to keep track of all of the tasks you have lined up. 

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