Farewell Steve Jobs

I’ve just read that Steve Jobs has died. Though not the topic I intended for today’s blog entry, let’s take a break from that to thank Mr. Jobs.

He was only 56 years old. What a lot he put into those years!  From Apple computers to the Mac to the iPod to the iPhone and most recently the iPad — even the short-lived NeXT computer –, he consistently and intently created, innovated and designed beautiful products that responded to the needs of our daily lives. He raised the bar time and again.

We’ll miss his vision and for keeping us on the edge of our chairs for his next venture.

Posted in Apple | 3 Comments

Goodbye credit/debit cards? Hello Google Wallet

Going mobile makes things easier and in some regards lighter.  It may soon be time to ditch your wallet in favor of some emerging options for consumers to make payments.

Google Wallet launched on September 17. Isis is the Near Field Communications (NFC) technology standard which makes mobile payments possible.  Alternatives also using Isis are in development from HTC, LG, Motorola, RIM, Samsung Mobile and Sony Ericsson.

With $2.5 trillion annually processed in credit card payments, there is lots of interest in these emerging technologies and lots of opportunity for a variety of stakeholders.  But let’s step back from that figure to consider the potential demand for mobile payments by people who are not regular bank users such as those in developing countries where cell phone usage is high but not traditional institutional banking.

To return to the United States, there are benefits to mobile payments over traditional credit cards; i.e.

  • interaction with your spending. You see the exact amount of money being removed from your balance unlike swiping a credit card.
  • integrated shopping opportunities. Special manufacturer offers and in-store specials can be provided at a given moment based on your geographic location.
  • convenience when you shop. Less to carry and the benefit of getting the best deal on your purchases.
  • better security.  Credit cards provide a single layer of protection.  All that’s needed is your credit card, which anyone can swipe. Google Wallet has two layers of purchase protection. First is that your phone device is needed. Second is your PIN for your account.

Here’s how these new technologies work:

  • A small NFC antenna is added to your phone along with an embedded security token and software. For Google Wallet, the phone of choice is Sprint’s Nexus S 4G.
  • Tap or touch your phone to a payment terminal. For Google Wallet, these are Mastercard’s PayPass terminals and conveniently the Nexus S phone comes with the Mastercard PayPass Locator app loaded.
  • Money is automatically debited from an attached credit card. For Google Wallet, the credit card is a MasterCard issued by Citi.

Initially, all transactions are being processed by First Data. Looking ahead, Google has licensed Visa, Discover and American Express NFC specifications.

Here are the steps to make a transaction:

  • Open the Google Wallet app.
  • Enter a 4-digit PIN code to unlock it.
  • Touch the phone to the terminal to pay for an item.
  • The NFC radio transfers the money about as fast as a credit or debit card.
  • Your phone displays “Sent!”

What if someone takes your phone?

  • There is a limit of five tries to enter the correct PIN.
  • On the sixth try, the PIN needs to be reset. Your name, address and Social Security number are required before a new PIN can be established.

While the United States may be slower to adopt mobile payments than other countries because of the infrastructure heavily in place here for credit card and cash payments, predictions are that it will happen. Jupiter Research reports the “total value of mobile payments for digital and physical goods, money transfers and NFC (Near Field Communications) transactions will reach $670 billion by 2015.”


Posted in Apps, electronics, mapping, mobile, phone, shopping | Leave a comment

Are the Jetsons here? Tech devices for the home

Why was the cartoon show The Jetsons appealing?  The TV show first appeared in 1962. George Jetson and his family are eerily reminiscent of the human sit-com families we still can watch today. For me, it was Rosie who both entertained and was a bit scarey. Rosie is the household robot, who cleans and cooks.  She moves about on wheels and has a face that never changes whether she’s cleaning up after George or admonishing Elroy, the youngest Jetson.

Some of the futuristic devices shown on The Jetsons may be closer to becoming a part of your everyday life.  The IFA Trade Fair, held in Berlin earlier this month, highlighted some fascinating tech devices for the home including:

Use an app to set the temperature in your home remotely, so it will be comfy and cozy when you return. 

Turn on your washing machine remotely with another app.

Watch TV on your refrigerator.

Vacuum your carpets with a robot cleaner that avoids bumping into your furniture.

Personal favorite — a refrigerator from Samsung that tweets!  These messages note when certain staples are getting low and it’s time to re-order.

Blend TV and Internet technology and talk to your friends while watching a show on TV.

Watch TV in 3D without wearing those annoying special glasses. This offering is from Toshiba and works by sending each of your eyes images of different perspectives.

Keeping green. Several of these devices store renewable energy to use as needed. Some switch to battery mode to achieve the best energy expenditures.

Not exactly the future of home appliances that Rosie on The Jetsons enjoyed.  Still I can see her wheeling her way with authority through the kitchen.

Posted in Apps, electronics, shopping, television, twitter | Leave a comment

Are two better than one? Netflix and Qwikster

So major screw up or masterful game plan?

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced on Sunday the reasoning behind the big shifts in their service options. To bring everyone up-to-date quickly, Netflix is dividing itself into two companies.  Netflix will handle streaming video; Qwikster the DVD mail service.

Here’s the bottom line: “. . . we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are becoming two quite different businesses, with very different cost structures, different benefits that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.” said Hastings in his blog entry, “An Explanation and Some Reflections.”

To avoid the trap of Blockbuster, Borders and other companies who didn’t take seriously the technological changes impacting their product, Netflix is segmenting their original cash cow — DVD rentals by snail mail — for the heart of what their business is — delivery of entertainment content to the customer.

Netflix hopes to appease and please DVD rental customers aka the new Qwiksters “. . . by adding video games (as an) upgrade option . . . for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games.”  Customers have long been interested in game rentals.

Will there be a big bump? Yes.

“. . . the Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated. So if you subscribe to both services, and if you need to change your credit card or email address, you would need to do it in two places. Similarly, if you rate or review a movie on Qwikster, it doesn’t show up on Netflix, and vice-versa.”

Is this separation the best way to go? Probably.

Netflix can focus on the rapidly expanding streaming technologies while Qwikster maintains and supports the older DVD technology for its foreseeable future.

We’ll stick around for the final film credits to see how this all plays out. Just like watching a great movie.

Posted in e-content, movies, television | 2 Comments

Agog: Facetime

"thank you to copycatko on Flickr"Today stands out as one amazing day in that I took deeper step into the Apple-isphere.  I bought an iPad2 in June and have grown very attached to it.  My business partner bought one last week and cajoled me into our trying Facetime today.

Speechless, just speechless.

We first tried Facetime on our iPads across the table from each other at lunch.  There was minimal setup.  Thankfully, I remembered my Apple id.  Hint: your iTunes id will work if you don’t have a separate Apple id.  Oddly, Facetime doesn’t like 3G connectivity. If you have that feature/service on your iPad, find a wifi spot and in “Settings” turn off your “always on” 3G.  You may want to keep the iPad image from switching between portrait and landscape or dizziness will ensue!  That’s another change to be made in the “Settings.”  Select the person you wish to connect to from your “Contacts” or enter their contact information. (Note to self: be sure to sync Contacts when I next attach the iPad to my iTunes.) Turn up the volume on your iPad sufficiently to hear through the microphone/speaker at the bottom of the iPad.  Wait for the person to answer your call, if you initiate Facetime or answer your iPad by tapping on “Accept” if you are the recipient of a call.

Miraculously they are there!  Looking back at you on your iPad.  You can see yourself in a small box in the upper right corner.  They fill the rest of the screen.  And when they begin to talk, it’s a moment of technology heaven.

Later I was at home and they were at their office, we contacted each other via Facetime once again.  It was even better knowing we were separated by several miles and we were right together.  Face to face.  Awesome — in the truest sense of the word — or as they said “I felt like it was Christmas and I was five years old.”


Posted in facetime, tablets | 1 Comment

Isn’t it enough to eat an apple a day?

Obsessive.  Who knew that we’d find the perfect blend for achieving of our health goals and satisfying our competitive nature to track our progress through technology?  Probably most technology entrepreneurs out there, right?

Aza Raskin was Firefox’s lead for design and user experience until he set out on his own last year.  He started Massive Health with at least one goal of creating a health care app.  But an app with a different intent than health apps available today.

The most popular health apps are WebMD which provides consumer medical information, Instant Heart Rate which lets you measure your pulse using your phone’s camera, and Epocrates which is a reference guide to prescription drugs.  With 14 percent of adult Americans owning a SmartPhone, the health app market is just beginning.

Raskin says health apps available today do not do enough to address the needs of individuals with chronic diseases.  With the U.S. population aging and along with that people with chronic conditions becoming more prevalent, what apps can be put in place to help people be more healthy or at least monitor their health.  “By 2020, according to health insurer UnitedHealth, 52 percent of adult Americans will be diabetic or pre-diabetic” reports MIT’s Technology Review in today’s “Apps for What Ails You.”

While we wait for Raskin’s Massive Health app, here are several currently available apps:

Sleep difficulties?  Try Lark which combines an app and an armband device to track, score, and advise you about your sleep patterns.

Radiology images while on the road? Mobile MIM app enables physicians to view and annotate radiology images, such as CT scans.

Too much sugar?  Not enough?  Just right? Telcare assists diabetics with blood glucose meter readings sent to a mobile app to see their results and check their progress.

Check your lungs and heart? iStethoscope app allows an individual to hold the iPhone’s microphone against their chest and listen using earphones.  The iPhone screen provides a detailed display of the sound.

Where are those health records? HealthVault now offers an app for storing these.

Where did my pulse go? Use Instant Heart Rate which was mentioned above. Put your finger over your phone’s camera lens and the app finds “color changes caused by blood moving through your finger.” Genius!

Maybe we’ll need an app to monitor anxiety from too much information (TMI).  And then another app to help with our meditative chanting. And another app to . . . .

Posted in Apps, electronics, medicine, mobile | Leave a comment

A matter of time: Ads on Twitter

The first tweet I read was projected on the screen by Biz Stone at the O’Reilly Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco in 2007. Tweet?  Birds?  Whales?  How cute.  How clever.  How . . . useless?

Stone was sharing the stage with Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Flickr (photography hosting service now owned by Yahoo) , and Joshua Schachter, founder of Del.ic.ious (bookmarking service now owned by AVOS Systems).  Flickr and Del.ic.ious were well-established.  Twitter was the new kid on the block and a little unsure of itself.  Many of us in the audience wondered why would we use it when texting was so simple.  As techies, we were game to try.

Flash forward to 2011. According to Wikipedia, “Twitter (has) 200 million users . . . generating over 200 million tweets and handling over 1.6 billion search queries per day.” And according to Chief Executive Dick Costolo, Twitter will soon carry ads aka “promoted tweets.”  Heretofore, Twitter users could elect which brands could provide them with ads.

The simplicity of Twitter’s interface has been a big plus for users and a big part of its success.  That simplicity echoes the sparse Google homepage with its single empty search box and the cursor blinking at you ready to receive your typed entry. Costolo assures this simplicity remains the goal “We’re always thinking about Twitter in terms of how we can simplify the user interface even further,” he said. “I think these other platforms will add services, and we’ll try to edit ours down.”

Discover more about promoted tweets. Time will tell how they add or detract.

Posted in twitter | 2 Comments