Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Apple OS X El Capitan

The latest Apple operating system, OS X El Capitan, is available today. I’ve been using a pre-release version for a few weeks and it seems very solid – I've been running it on a mid-2011 MacBook Air and a 2012 Mac Mini.

Here are a few of the interesting features that may convince you to upgrade:

  • Better video and image performance, faster app switching
  • Mission Control update: easier to use, quicker to move apps between “desktops”
  • Spotlight improvements: broader searches, more like Microsoft Cortana
  • Split view: a quick way to arrange two apps, side-by-sidie
  • Improved Notes: notes syncs to all your devices via iCloud and you can use it for images, links, videos, to-do lists, etc.
  • “Photos” improvements: “live” photos from iPhone 6S can play.
  • Minor Safari upgrades: you can mute tabs and pin tabs
  • Some “Mail” app enhancements: gesture support

For more information, head over to later today.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Smartphone radar love

Scoutee just launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a radar device for measuring the speed of a baseball pitch. It connects to the smartphone via Bluetooth and can be attached to the back of the phone or even hung on a backstop/fence. 

It uses Dopplar radar and they claim a within-1 mph accuracy. Works with iOS and Android and captures videos with the speed overlaid. Six hour battery life, and works up to 130 feet away.

The device is currently targeted at baseball, but I assume any speed could be measured. Retail price planned at $300, shipments 2Q16.

Can you think of business uses for this technology? Maybe, measuring the speed of a line or other process, or perhaps how fast tow-motors are moving?

Friday, September 25, 2015

A tale of two small computers

They are not the best of computers, they are not the worst of computers...

I've had a chance to play with a couple of small computers - the HP Stream Mini and the Intel Compute Stick and thought I'd provide a brief perspective on these devices.

They’re relatively inexpensive (Stick: $150, Stream: $245) and both currently run Windows 8.1 with Bing (the "with Bing" is really not important - it's just the free version of Windows 8.1 that inexpensive PC manufacturers are using.)

While the Stick is a lot cheaper, you need to buy a keyboard, a mouse and a multiport USB adapter in order to use it, and it’s performance is noticeably lower. The Stream mini is much larger, but it is reportedly easier to open and modify, if you’re into that sort of thing. They both require you to supply a monitor.

The HP Stream Mini has recently disappeared from the HP Store – it looks like they may be replacing it with the Pavilion Mini at a higher price point. Amazon used to sell the Stream Mini for $180, but their current price shows $245… Once you get into the $300+  price range of the Pavilion, you’re getting into the cheap desktop space where there is lots of other competition.

The Intel Compute Stick looks like a work in progress (or maybe a proof of concept) – if you just need a tiny computer the Raspberry Pi is a better deal. But if you need a tiny computer that runs Windows 8.1 desktop, the Compute Stick could be it.

I’ve heard that people have tried to update both to Windows 10 without much success – the very small SSDs makes this difficult.

Here are some specs:

HP Stream Mini
1.4 GHz processor
802.11 b/g/n WiFi
4 USB 3 ports
DisplayPort, HDMI
SD card slot
Power supply
Headphone jack
Keyboard & mouse

Intel Compute Stick
1.3 GHz processor
802.11 b/g/n
1 USB 2 port
Micro SD card slot
Power supply

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tracking customers using video

In addition to theft protection and security, tracking people in stores, airports and other public places helps understand traffic patterns, store layout, how much time people spend in various areas, and what aisles and even what SKUs are getting the most/least attention. They might also be used to evaluate salesperson/staff interactions with customers.

And there are a number of ways to track people. You might use their WiFi signals, or track them using a store app that uses location tracking or beacons, or even have someone viewing the in-store video. These could be difficult or expensive to implement or might require that people “opt in.”

Netra is working on a technology that looks at surveillance video and tracks customers based on physical characteristics (color or style of clothing, hair, etc.) They don’t have a way to attach a name or shopping history to the images, but they can track your movements through the store. They claim about 80% accuracy depending on camera quality and things like lighting, camera angles, etc.

Since the service doesn’t use facial recognition there may be less concern over privacy issues – people are used to cameras tracking them in stores for security, so it may not be much of an issue. If customers could get something out of it, it might make it even more acceptable.

Interesting technology. Can you see a use in your business for this technology? 

Or is it just too “creepy”?

Monday, September 21, 2015

A cheap tablet - from Amazon

The competition among tablet providers is heating up as the demand drops. I’ve mentioned the Ubislate in the past and while there are several other sub-$100 tablets available, support is often dismal, performance is not very good - and ​they’re not from Amazon. The only thing they’ve really got going for them is that they’re cheap.

Amazon has recently announced a $50, 7” Fire tablet. It’s got better viewing angle and color saturation than other sub-$100 tablets. It’s not high-performance – 1.3Ghz quad-core, 1024 X 600 display and 7 hour battery life. It has 8Gb of built-in storage, but you can add more in a microSD slot. It runs a modified version of the Android Lollipop operating system (Amazon Fire OS.) There are a couple of downsides. They show ads on the lock screen; apparently Amazon is using ad revenue to subsidize them... Also, it only runs apps from Amazon.

These devices are almost cheap enough to dedicate them to specific functions (I’ve got an old re-purposed B&N  Nook device running as a remote thermostat.) No word, however, on whether you can jail-break them to load a "standard" Android OS on them.

So, if you’re looking for a new alarm clock, a dedicated remote control, a browser to stick on the fridge, or a kid’s first tablet, this may be it. They’re also selling them in “six-packs” for $250.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Microsoft e-ink Surface enhanced keyboard

Microsoft’s Applied Sciences Group is working on DisplayCover, an enhanced keyboard mounted peripheral that extends touch functionality.

It’s a 1280 X 305 pixel touch screen at the top of a keyboard that allows touch input without obscuring the screen. By placing the touch panel horizontally, it should also be faster to use.

It’s based on an e-ink screen so it uses very little power. You can use it to launch apps, as a track pad or to manipulate applications.

Here’s a link to the Applied Sciences Group Projects page with more information on this and other projects they’re working on.

Do you think this would have business value? 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Culture of innovation

I get lots of email from various companies talking about productivity. Every once in a while there are some good nuggets.

This succinct essay on innovation culture is one of them: 

Here’s a bullet list of the highlights, but the article is really worth reading in its entirety.
1. Think 10x improvements (not 10%)
2. Launch, then keep listening 
3. Share everything you can 
4. Hire the right people 
5. Use the 70/20/10 model (70% core projects, 20% near-core projects, 10% unrelated to core)
6. Look for ideas everywhere 
7. Use data, not opinions 
8. Focus on users, not the competition 

Have you experienced teams like this? Are you working on one now? Is it working?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mac "El Capitan" highlights

The newest Mac OS should be available for everyone Sept. 30. I’ve been running a beta release for a few days and it seems stable. Here’s a link to the Apple site that details the features I’ve bulletized, below. 

OS X 10.11 “El Capitan” highlights:
- Performance: it seems much snappier (faster to open apps, switch between apps)
- Split View (quickly size two windows for side-by-side use.)
- Mission Control enhancements (easier desktop management)
- “Shake” your cursor to find it (magnifies cursor)
- Spotlight is more capable (natural language search - kind of like Windows Cortana…)
- Mail client enhancements (I don’t use Mac Mail, so these didn’t mean much to me.)
- Notes app enhancements (works with iCloud on all your devices)
- Third party Photo editing tools for use in Photos app.
- Pinned websites in Safari (I’m a Chrome user…)
- Ability to play videos from web pages to AirPlay on Apple TV
- Mute one or all tabs
- Maps enhancements (I use Google Maps)
- Language enhancements for Chinese and Japanese

Some useful features, but nothing I couldn’t do without… How about you?

Friday, September 11, 2015

New productivity tool - from Microsoft!

We’re used to seeing big announcements from Microsoft regarding their big tools (Windows 10, Office 365, etc.) Sometimes there are interesting announcements regarding smaller productivity tools as well.

One of these is the new “Snip” tool (different from the similarly named “Snipping Tool.”.) With it you can capture screen images annotate them and even create short videos – great for simple how-to’s. It’s similar to Screencast and SnagIt, but it’s free.

Snip was developed by the folks at Microsoft Garage, a program similar to Google’s 20% program. Employees work on these projects in their spare time, because they’re interested in the technology, not because it’s in their job description.

Are you working on interesting technology outside of your current job description? Want to share it? Drop me a note!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Apple Announcement

Here’s a quick synopsis of the Apple announcement from yesterday afternoon:

iPhone 6s / 6s Plus (Preorder 9/12, available 9/25)
· 3D Touch (new gestures)
· A9 chip 
· “Hey Siri” available all the time
· 12MP camera (faster autofocus, 4K video)
· Live Photos (3 second video with sound – snap like a photo, high compression.)
· Same pricing as 6 / 6Plus
· Upgrade Every Year ($32/month)

iPad Pro (available in November)
· 13”, 2732 X 2048 pixels
· A9x 64-bit
· 10 hours of battery life
· 6.9mm thick, 1.5 lb
· 8 MP camera
· $799-$1079

Smart magnetic keyboard cover - $169 (November)
Apple Pencil - $99 (November)

Apple Watch
· WatchOS2 (September 16)
· Third party apps – Facebook Messenger
· New colors, new bands, same price

New Apple TV (October)
· Siri voice control
· Touch remote
· Apple Photo and Music
· $249-$199