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!

You Should Be Using Two-Factor Authentication. Everywhere.

We’re not very good with passwords, although we think we are. According to a recent study by security company CSID, 89% of us think we practice safe password routines. Unfortunately, 1 in 5 of us have had an online account compromised and yet only about half of us change our passwords more frequently than once per year. The best passwords typically utilize a combination of letters, numbers, and punctuation, and the longer they are the better (at least 8 characters). Only 6% of users have passwords that meet these criteria. Even worse, 60% of us reuse the same password for multiple sites. This is a recipe for disaster.

Here’s a quick scenario: Tommy has a forum account on a fan-made music site. The music forum that he visits regularly doesn’t maintain their security patches regularly, and a random hacker manages to hack into the site and steal his password. A simple web search reveals that Tommy works for Company X. Company X uses the Outlook web app, and wouldn’t you know it, Tommy uses the same password everywhere. Through a little trial and error, the hacker discovers that tommy@companyx.com is his work email, and boom, the hacker now has access to Tommy’s work email.

So what is two-factor authentication, and how does it solve this problem? Well, two-factor authentication (2FA) is a multi-stage method of verifying that you are who you say you are. Typically it’s a combination of something you know (a password), and something you have access to (a phone). Most commonly, the second factor of authentication will be a code that you will be sent through a text message or an automated phone call, and it’s only valid for a short period of time. This code will be entered on a secondary screen before you can have access to your account.

Unfortunately a lot of people don’t know what 2FA is – roughly 75% of people surveyed didn’t have a clue. It has also garnered a reputation for being a hassle, which is simply not the case. Most two-factor implementations will allow you to “register” a device as a “trusted device” for a period of time (typically ranging from a day to a month). I know what you’re probably thinking – what if I lose my phone? Then what? Well, the answer to that is “it depends.” Every two-factor implementation has different ways to handle account recovery in the event of a lost device, but this shouldn’t deter you from using 2FA – the benefits outweigh the risks by far.

So where are some common places you should start using two-factor authentication to protect your online accounts? Here’s a list:

  1. Google: Sends a 6 digit text message when you attempt to login from a new device. They also provide a Google Authenticator app for Android, iOS, and BlackBerry that can be used to obtain the second factor authentication codes.
  2. Apple: Sends you a 4-digit code via text message or Find My iPhone notifications when you attempt to log in from a new machine.
  3. Facebook: Sends you a 6-digit code via text message when you attempt to log in from a new machine.
  4. Twitter: Sends you a 6-digit code via text message when you attempt to log in from a new machine.
  5. PayPal: Sends you a 6-digit code via text message when you attempt to log in from a new machine.
  6. Microsoft Accounts: Sends you a 7-digit code via text message or email when you attempt to log in from a new machine.
  7. Yahoo! Mail: Sends you a 6-digit code via text message when you attempt to log in from a new machine.
  8. LinkedIn: Sends you a 6-digit code via text message when you attempt to log in from a new machine.
  9. WordPress: Utilizes the Google 2FA app.

For a more complete list of companies and products that support two-factor authentication, please review Evan Hahn’s list. Ask your local security or IT professional if your organization could benefit from using 2FA for email or work accounts. There are also ways to implement two-factor authentication into your own custom applications and web sites.

Passwords are becoming less secure all the time, and hackers are getting better at cracking them (check out the strength of your password). Enabling two-factor authentication provides an extra layer of security at a negligible cost. Protect your financial accounts, identity, and your career by using it wherever you can.

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.

Moving Into The 21st Century, And Feeling A Little Silly That It Took Me So Long

I remember the time my parents called to tell me that they had signed us up for a family plan and I was getting my first cell phone. That first cell phone didn’t tell me what time it was and it didn’t hold contact information, so I had to memorize the phone numbers for anyone I wanted to call, but in the past 10 years I’ve slowly upgraded as technology has progressed and phones have gotten smarter and smarter. Two plus years ago I was due to get another upgrade but I held my ground and said “no” because I didn’t want to deal with picking a complicated data plan and deciding which bells and whistles were right for me. Working for a technology company, the last thing I wanted was to be “addicted” to my phone and always reachable via email even when I wasn’t in front of my computer. I enjoy my time away from the digital world and I like to be completely cut off from the world at some points.

But when I started working here at Algonquin Studios I found that everyone here had a smart phone of some sort and most people were shocked that I still had what I liked to call a “dumb phone.” I still stuck to my guns and kept telling myself (and everyone else) that I didn’t need or want a smartphone and I was perfectly content with what I had. But of course, as time went on, I found myself wanting a new phone. And not just so that I could say that I had the latest and greatest device out there, but because I realized a more functional phone would make life easier – both at work and in my personal life.

I started discussing with my coworkers which platform they preferred and got a lot of pretty strong opinions. The Android lovers told me why they think Andriod is the best and why iOS leaves much to be desired and, not surprisingly, the iOS lovers told me the exact opposite. After weighing comments from both sides of the argument, I decided to go with an Android phone and needed lots of assistance from my coworkers on even the most basic functions as I’d only worked with a Windows-based smart phone (due to my work with SWRemote) to that point.

But, honestly, now that I have a smart phone and am up to speed, it really is making both my work and home life so much easier. My phone lets me receive customer service emails that come in after close of business, when I’m on call but not necessarily sitting directly in front of my computer, and our support system has an app that makes keeping an eye on support tickets as easy as looking for the perfect restaurant for a night out on the town (which my phone also lets me do, of course)! I’m no longer shackled to my desk but I’m still able to provide high-level, quality support to our clients wherever I am, whenever they need it and I’m kind of embarrassed to have fought the smartphone revolution for so long!

Is there a technology or device you’d been claiming you didn’t need and then realized how silly you were being once you got it or started using it?

My Journey to Android After Five Years of iOS Loyalty

I’ve been an avid Apple supporter for years, and have owned iPhones in various incarnations since their launch on June 29th, 2007 (Yes, I was one of the unfortunate / foolish folks who shelled out $599 for the shiny new handset).  Over the past five years I have watched both iOS and Android grow, but my focus has always remained on Apple.  When I was due for a phone upgrade about two years ago I naturally gravitated towards a new iPhone 4 and likely would have purchased it solely based on my belief in Apple, regardless of the phones new features.

Until recently, my experience with Android devices had been quite limited.  What initially turned me off to them was that, despite having great specifications on paper, they couldn’t seem to accomplish even the most basic tasks smoothly. Things like scrolling through a list of contacts or zooming in on a web page made it seem like the hardware and software were fighting with each other.  The unification of software and hardware is an area that Apple has always prioritized, especially with its iOS platform.

I became eligible for a phone upgrade a short while ago and, up until quite recently, had decided that I was going to wait for the next iPhone.  However, after some coercing by some of my Android-loving coworkers, I decided to do something pretty scary – ditch my iPhone in favor of a device powered by an operating system that I’d been so against for so long.  I was hesitant to say the least, but after doing some research and weighing the pros and cons, I ultimately made the switch.  I ended up purchasing a Samsung Galaxy S3, and can say that after using this phone for about ten days, I don’t regret switching one bit and really couldn’t be happier with my decision.

One major plus Android has going for them, from a developer’s standpoint, is that you can develop Android apps for free.  Apple charges a yearly $99 subscription fee to be a part of their iOS Developer Program, and while that may not be a lot of money if you’re an established company, it’s a lot to ask from someone who just wants to be able to develop for mobile devices as a hobby, with the hopes of one day maybe submitting an app for sale.

Recently, Google has begun to roll out their new operating system –Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.  One of the core features of Jelly Bean, known as “Project Butter”, is meant to help the operating system run as smoothly as possible.  Using technologies like triple buffering and vertical sync, the OS is able to run silky smooth, which really hits Apple in an area that iOS has absolutely dominated until recently.

The future is looking very bright for Google, as they’ve resolved the vast majority of the issues that I’ve had with their Android platform and, in my opinion, have caught up to, or surpassed, iOS in nearly every way.  While the iPhone UI is still slightly more polished, the differences are becoming less and less significant and are easily outweighed by the additional capabilities, raw performance, and overall sense of freedom that the Android platform provides.  I can safely say that iOS will always hold a special place in my heart, but it definitely won’t be occupying a special place in my pocket anytime soon.