About Andy Bagner

I am a Software Support Manager for Algonquin Studios. I am 35 years old, and moved to Buffalo 10 years ago from Long Island. I love all things automotive, including NASCAR, and any other form of racing. I love what I do for a living, and would only trade it to become a race-car driver. Maybe someday my dream will come true :)

Are Smartphones Becoming Stale? The Rise of Wearable Technology

Many folks will say that smartphones are in their prime however, 2007, when Apple first introduced the iPhone that changed the smartphone world, seems like ages ago. Certainly, the battle to be the best in the smartphone industry is still going strong, but with new technologies like wearable electronics, the smartphone might be on its last legs as the “thing to have.”

It seems as if the innovation in the smartphone industry has nearly disappeared and with companies like Samsung and Apple fighting for basics like screen size and resolution, there really isn’t much left that excites consumers. Enter the wearable gear.

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear uses their Galaxy line of smartphones to interact with the user on an entirely different level. Samsung claims that it’s easier than ever to answer a hands-free phone call, take a quick snapshot, or even find your favorite local coffee shop – all without ever reaching for your phone.

Google has their own piece of wearable gear with Google Glass. Google says Glass helps integrate its technology into everyday life, switching the user’s focus back up to eye level, by removing the need to constantly look down at a hand-held phone.

Google Glass

Apple has plans to introduce their own wearable technology sometime this summer and I’m sure many others will follow suit.

android refrigeratorAndroid is also working its way into household appliances like refrigerators, coffee makers, dishwashers, and the latest breakthrough of having “Android in your Audi,” showing us that there are many areas of our lives that have yet to be infiltrated with technology, but I can guarantee you all of the major players in the industry will be trying to change that soon enough. Android Refrigerator Screen

I certainly consider myself an early adopter of new technology, mostly due to all of the testing I perform in my every day job here at Algonquin Studios. However, I can’t see myself being an early adopter to these new wearable technologies. I’ve never owned a watch, simply because I’m not comfortable wearing one, so I don’t see myself wearing a “Smart Watch” anytime soon.

samsung smart watch

And, while I know my wife would tell you I have too many tablets and smartphones lying around at any given time, I think I’ll also be hard-pressed to purchase an Android-powered refrigerator due to price point. This doesn’t, however, stop me from spending hours every day researching what’s next in the industry.

All of these new technologies might seem pretty silly now, but how many of us thought that having a small super computer in our back pockets would ever be a great idea? What do you think will be the next viral technology? I would love to hear everyone’s feedback!

Self-Help and What It Means to the Future of Customer Service

Self-help–it’s the sort of thing that everyone wants to be able to do in order to be the most efficient they can be without having to bug someone else or take more time out of their already busy day to track down assistance.  Self-help is becoming the norm in everyday customer service, across many different technology platforms.  But, the question that has yet to be answered is, will the general public accept the self help model of service?  The answer is, if implemented correctly, yes, because it will increase productivity and make customers feel empowered–able to assist themselves without having to ask anyone else for guidance and without having to wait around for answers or instructions.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people complain about having to speak to a Help Desk representative because they often sound like they’re just reading from a script, giving no real advice and providing no real insight. Experiences like these offer very little to instill confidence in a customer about the level of service they’re receive.  By giving customers the option of self-help, we’re putting them in the driver’s seat. They can resolve issues for themselves and feel the pride that’s inherent in fixing something on their own.

Support professionals need to be creative in identifying and creating opportunities for customers to embrace the self-help style of customer service, though, in order to encourage the mainstream adoption of the model. Successful self-help relies on detailed and well-informed knowledge base articles, how-to videos, and tutorials. Compiling lists of frequently asked questions is a great place to start–

If we approach development projects with consideration for where we can build self-help options into the software we’re building, we can make it easier for our customers to use and experience the benefits of our solutions. Finding opportunities to place a link or a button that provides immediate access to knowledge base articles that offer step-by-step procedures on how to fix issues are a great example: tutorials and how-to videos make it much easier for users to “see” the application in use, instead of having to read through steps which might be confusing to some. Identifying ways to incorporate both options, like the use of new “multiscreen” software built into many new Samsung phones and tablets, is fantastic because it gives the user the ability to view the help documentation while walking through the necessary steps in the app at the same time.

As developers and support representatives, we need to keep in mind that, the more we can successfully integrate self-help features into the software we build, the more value we’ll provide to the customers using our solutions and the easier it will be for our customers to stay on task without getting waylaid or frustrated. In a society where time is money and instant gratification is expected, this value can’t be overlooked.

An Overview of Up-and-Coming Hybrid Tablet/Laptop Technology

While working at Algonquin Studios, I’ve been well educated on the many options of operating systems and configurations such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. My last post was my (mostly) unbiased review of both Android and iOS. This time around, I’d like to look at the up-and-coming “hybrid” tablets/laptops that are becoming more and more popular.

A hybrid tablet is essentially a laptop that has the availability to run both Windows and Android, or some other variation thereof, and can be detached from the keyboard to become a standalone tablet. This flexibility makes these tablets both extremely portable and extremely resourceful.

I’ve picked three variations to talk about, because I feel they cover a majority of the different options currently available and, with the ever-expanding choices, it would be impossible to discuss all the available models in any detail.

Hewlett Packard recently came out with the SlateBook x2 laptop hybrid. This hybrid only runs Android, as its marketing tagline indicates: “100% tablet, 100% notebook, 100% Android.” What puts this in the ‘hybrid’ genre is the removable keyboard, really making it, simply, a large tablet. I think the Slatebook x2 is a unique hardware option but, with the lack of Windows, people will probably just use it for surfing the web and playing with a few Android apps. The portability is still there but, with its larger screen-size I have a feeling most users will just use it as a notebook/laptop.

Samsung just revealed the Ativ Book Q, a true hybrid tablet/laptop. It runs both Android 4.2.2 (the latest version of Android) and Windows 8. The really nice feature about this particular hybrid, though, is that you won’t have to boot into either Windows or Android.  The Ativ Book Q will give you an option to simply switch from one OS to another with the touch of a button, making the transition virtually seamless. Another great feature is that Samsung gives the option to share and transfer files and folders between operating systems.With these features in mind, I expect the Q to be an extremely powerful little notebook for work and home use.

Another option is the Asus Transformer Book Trio. This is a unique hybrid in that it will ONLY run Android when not docked. This makes it a bit less dynamic than the Samsung, however, most people are already used to running Android as their mobile platform.

With all of the competition within the mobile smartphone field, I have a feeling the hybrid field will be picking up steam next. It should be fun to watch what the next couple of months brings to this new area of technology. Stay tuned!

My (Mostly) Unbiased Overview of Android and Apple’s iOS – Part 2

Feel free to check out part one of this post, in which I covered some pros and cons on Apple’s iOS.

On to Android, which now owns the majority of the mobile phone market share in the world due to the many manufacturers who choose this open-source, free operating system for their phones. Much like iOS, there are plenty of pros and cons to cover for this OS; I’ll touch on the ones I’ve found to be most important during my software testing experience.

Pro – The first thing that comes to mind is the customization of the system itself. Many carriers and manufacturers have adapted Android due to the “re-skinning” they can perform on this OS–they can essentially make it their own by adding a unique look and feel and pre-loaded software. Unlike Apple, which has its own developers working on the OS in-house, Android is open-source, allowing any developer to enhance, limit, or customize the software; there are literally millions of Android developers around the globe, allowing the OS to stay ahead of the curve.

Pro – Android allows for different layouts on user homepages. This includes folders, shortcuts, and, most importantly, widgets. Widgets allow a user to directly access a particular program right from the homepage itself, without having to launch the application. There are widgets available for media players, living calendars and task checklists, and live feeds for social networking, email, and current affairs from around the globe.

Pro – Other great features of the Android OS are the keyboard layouts and text prediction. These include “swipe” style keyboards, where the user literally swipes past each letter in a word and the keyboard chooses the word it assumes the user wants to use. This feature can make typing out long messages or emails a breeze and can help keep spelling errors to a minimum. Many keyboards also have voice-to-text options which are amazingly accurate, “learning” how the user talks. Use of features like these is obviously a personal preference, but the options available in Android really can be quite useful in many applications.

Pro –  The final pro on my list is the new implementation of Google Now, included in all newer versions of Android. Google Now gives you the ability to perform instant searches by speaking into the mic of your mobile device. You can search for the definitions of words, facts about well-known people, and a huge variety of other items instantly. Google Now also has the ability to learn information you either look up or have expressed interested in – things like weather, sports updates, popular tourism spots, commuter traffic, and flight reservations and itineraries. It will also reminder users about tasks and pending calendar items, placing all of this information front and center on the device for users to view quickly and easily.

Of course, Android has its setbacks as well.

Con – One of the biggest faults I can think of is Android Fragmentation. Fragmentation is caused by manufacturers and mobile carriers holding back new versions of software and thereby creating many different versions of Android out in the wild. The Fragmentation can causes issues while developing software for use on Android because, unlike Apple, Android developers have to understand that most devices are not updated to the latest version (currently 4.2.2 “Jellybean”) and have to worry about testing their software on different OS versions in order to fulfill the needs of customers. All this extra testing can, in turn, cause delays in software releases.

Con – Another Android con would have to be the lack of security and stability in the OS. Although developers have made great strides to limit the threats of viruses and other malware, the Android App eco-system is still filled with unwanted security holes and issues. Because, as I mentioned in my point above, there’s no guarantee that all Android devices are running the newest version of the operating system (over half of the devices currently running the Android OS globally are running on Version 2.3 “Gingerbread”, which is far inferior to Jellybean), users and their devices are very vulnerable to security issues.

I’ve learned a lot working with these two operating systems–both Android and Apple have their advantages and disadvantages, many of which depend on the goals of the user. Now that I’ve spent time working with both platforms, I have a better appreciation for the good in both and a better understanding about the bad but, when push comes to shove and people ask me why I prefer one over the other, my simple answer is personal preference. What works for me certainly won’t work for everyone; doing your own research will help determine which OS is right for you.

My (Mostly) Unbiased Overview of Android and Apple’s iOS – Part 1

People who know me might already be assuming that this blog post will be biased, based on my preference for Android, about which I’m not usually silent. However, while working at Algonquin Studios I’ve had the opportunity to test many new mobile platforms and devices including Windows Mobile, Apple, and Android and I’ve learned some new things that I like about both iOS (Apple’s proprietary operating system), and Android (an open source, Linux-based operating system).

The battle between Apple and Android has been both futile (for the companies) and fun for people who posses an interest in the forward momentum of technology. While testing our new mobile app for SWRemote, I’ve learned both the frustration and pleasures of having the ability to work with both operating systems. Below are my top pros and cons of both systems, given in the most unbiased way I can manage:

SWRemote’s Mobile Technician was coded for, and first applied to, Apple’s iOS platform using the iPad, so that’s where I’ll start my list as there are a lot of benefits to be found testing and navigating around this robust OS.

Pro – While it’s not iOS-specific, I’d be remiss without mentioning the battery life on both the iPad and the iPad Mini. The devices have exceptional battery life both in “stand-by” mode and “screen-on” mode. Coming from a mostly Android background, I’ve become accustomed to poor battery life and have gotten used to always needing to be near a charger. This has changed a bit with newer Android models, depending on hardware, but I haven’t seen anything that comes close to the staying power of Apple’s batteries.

Pro – A second iOS pro that must not be ignored is its ease of use for beginners. iOS takes all of the complicated and aggravating things out of the operating system and goes with the philosophy of “Just Keeping it Simple.” This works out very well for both timid users who don’t like change on a large scale and beginners who are getting ready to dive into the technology arena. And, with all forms of the OS (iPhone/iPad/iTouch), Apple keeps everything the same–from the looks of the screens to the settings options–achieving great consistency across devices and lessening the learning curve for newbies.

Pro – I also have to give credit to Apple for the stability and security of its operating system, including version upgrade releases which are only held back by the personal user based on when they want to actually upgrade their system. The free upgrades always include bug fixes and other significant advancements in the OS.

But, of course, with all the good comes a bit of the bad.

Con – Thanks to the simplicity of iOS, many customization options have been curbed including any options for tweaking things like keyboard layouts, power modes, processor speeds, and memory utilization.

Con – Apple has a closed operating system which essentially means that one cannot “tap-in” to many of the areas that might be necessary for both programming and/or adapting certain hardware into software like printers, third-party drivers, etc. For developers this can be frustrating and time-consuming as we try to find workarounds for these particular applications.

Con – Apple has also limited its iOS to only Apple products. Some may see this as a benefit and say that while Apple only does one thing really well, it does that one thing really well. This might be true but when you’re limiting your customer base to only one device brand/manufacturer it can be difficult to keep up with the “Next Best Thing.” Tech consumers get bored very quickly these days and people tend to want the latest and greatest right away. Apple’s insistence that iOS only run on Apple products automatically limits its market share, regardless of the fact that it has some of the best advertising in today’s marketplace.