Archive for category Technology

Integrating the Experience across Desktop and Mobile with Pushbullet

I recall that Pushbullet appeared on my recommended apps in Google Play for a while. 

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Now that I’ve had it installed on my mobile and in the Chrome Browser, I wish I had done it sooner.

What does Pushbullet do?

Pushbullet does a number of remarkably simple things really well to generate a more unified experience across Desktop and Mobile.

When the desktop | tablet device & mobile are connected via Internet access (not necessarily the same Wireless access point)

  • Mobile App Notification are Pushed to the desktop (via browser or desktop app)
    • Send and receive SMS messages via desktop | browser UI
  • Share | Transfer files between Mobile | Desktop devices

For example, we are now all fairly familiar with some multi-factor authentication techniques that involve delivering a temporary code to a mobile handset, which then needs to be entered into a validation field on a web page.   While not terribly arduous it does mean accessing two devices and a couple of screen to ‘port’ that code between the mobile and the web page.

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So where Pushbullet makes it so much more easy, you receive the same message in a notification box on your desktop, making it very simple to copy the code and verify it, on a single screen – almost side by side if you wish.

The Unification of Communication through Pushbullet – considering it is a browser extension is quite tremendous.   It almost rivals some Enterprise UCC services for features and seems rather more transferable across devices.  For example:

  • You receive SMS messages that you can also send back a reply
  • Create SMS message direct from the browser 
  • You get notification of a call connection, with the contact details displayed if available from your contacts list. 

Moving files and images from a mobile has normally involved USB cable direct connections, though of course there are several file sync services that offer a holistic synchronisation service (those are normally orientated around the Mobile to Cloud pathway).  Pushbullet allows you to quickly grab an image or a file and Push it across very rapidly – great for receipt images etc.

It also enables you to

Have you tried Pushbullet ?

If so what do you like or enjoy about it? 

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Orientating around Android devices

 

At the start of May I received a replacement for my broken Blackberry 9300 Curve.  I am very glad to say it wasn’t another Blackberry, instead I received a Sony Xperia M – a reasonably modern Android phone running Android 4.3.

Moving to an Android based phone, has been a boon for me as it will nicely compliment my Nexus 7 tablet.  In fact the commonality of Google and Android is the basis for an almost complete repetition and synchronicity of many of the applications and services I use.  I still use a Windows operating system on my laptop, but is not a conflicting factor, as many applications and services are also accessible via the Google Chrome browser.

While of course the Microsoft Windows desktop operating system is still very dominant in terms of usage in the laptop | desktop space and more so with Windows Surface tablets.  Having such good quality access to applications and services  on two Android form factors (phone and tablet), has made me question the necessity of remaining on Windows as the operating system of choice for the laptop device.

Already core Windows Office suite applications and services (Outlook | MS Word, Excel) etc. are already or being made more tablet or browser compatible.  Think of the Office 365 service, and the Office Web Apps functionality, so further diminishing the requirement to have an actual application installed onto a Windows operating system as a necessity.

While most enterprises can’t consider abandoning Microsoft Windows as a device platform altogether, I think the personal consumer and many SME/ SMBs could strongly consider the possibility of an entirely Android (and here I stretch the term a little to include Google Chromebooks) based device eco-system.   Google Chromebooks are now a maturing and full featured alternative to the Microsoft Windows based device. 

Of course Apple also offer a very compelling set of devices, coupled to a very well integrated operating system and application set.  So both Google and Apple offer opportunities upon which to orientate or consolidate on to bring more common device harmony into a business.  We should not discount the option to consider a more explicit Linux based desktop system, such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint etc.,  though having tried them for a while, I believe they will always remain a more niche player in the desktop | laptop space, especially with such dominant competition from Apple, Google and Microsoft.

This brings in a further opportunity to consider moving away from device centric applications and data,  and how the virtual desktop (VDI) and application virtualisation options also need to be considered along side the choice of device eco-system.  

Other aspects to factor into these considerations include

  • Data and content storage and delivery – will this all be cloud based – e.g. Google Docs or Microsoft O365 – or are there other factors to be considered?
  • Do certain use cases necessitate the use of a local application and data set?  (e.g. Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Project)
  • Device management strategy – patching and updates – how will they be managed and delivered

Having also tried a Google Chromebook, (having used one while on a holiday break),  I can see how it could easily cater for 85% of the work and processes and I engage with as an Information | Knowledge worker.  Only that I need to work with and build fairly complex spreadsheets (using Microsoft Excel) is keeping a Windows based operating system as a necessity.  I do also wonder how well a device such as Google Chromebook caters for multimedia activities consumers need around managing and connecting with peripheral devices like cameras and editing videos etc.

More and more frequently I’ve seen the Apple Macbook Pro (or the Osx UI – via web meetings) appearing, and presume those users are benefitting from a harmonised device experience between the Apple Mac and their iphone device. 

Of course Microsoft also offer their Windows Phone based devices, which also offer a similar integrated operating system and application set.  However, the application ecosystem for Windows Phone devices, doesn’t offer the same breadth of application support and availability that Apple and Android devices users have at their disposal.  Which for me is a detractor for opting to orientate around a complete Microsoft Windows device ecosystem.  Though in terms of UI design and strategy, I think both Apple, Google and Microsoft offer are continuing to recognise the need for distinct and yet harmonious and cohesive UI across all their device form factors.

As both device manufacturers and application developers, build services that accumulate pertinent personal data sets (photos & videos, music collections & playlists, quantitative data (location & travel, health & exercise metrics)), so increasing data transfer inertia or lock-in.  I think consumers will need to seriously consider which particular eco-system and device arrangement makes sense for them, as it look likes it will turn into a long term affair, and with not insignificant hurdles to overcome to move or transfer across manufacturers.

  • Do you share this view?
  • Have you already made a considered choice around a particular device set or eco-system? 
  • What were the determining factors for you?   

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Music Streaming – Time to go with the flow?

Spotify grandly announced (on Dec 11th 2013) that Led Zeppelin’s albums are now available on the popular music streaming service.

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Having such a globally recognised musically brands as Led Zeppelin, in addition to recent additions such as Pink Floyd, Metallica and The Eagles, in the Spotify stable has demonstrated the weight and momentum behind the music streaming service model.

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Though a number of popular artists still hold out such as: AC/DC, and the Beatles though as these articles point out on-line distributions and sales services (such as iTunes) are being patroned.

I think is significant that these bands which initially held out against music streaming services such as Spotify, RhapsodyRdio etc., are now coming on board.  While there may be real concerns and issues in terms of payment arrangements | terms to the artists (see BBC article “Spotify reveals artists earn $0.007 per stream”) – other services from Google Play (All Access) not forgetting Youtube, Apple (iTunes Radio) and Amazon (Cloud Player).  Admittedly that may be a considerable shrink in terms of pay per stream instead of pay per song (9.1 cents (per song) – via wikipedia (don’t believe everything you read!)) – but the comparison of music streams to actual physical albums sales are subject to drastically different economic models and trajectories.  And certainly from these charts, someone is making money from this.

I am a Spotify subscriber, so I’m not out to rip-off artists, in fact my subscription to Spotify is my way of supporting the music industry.  I now pay something every month, rather than occasionally buying a CD.  For me as consumer the model has great benefits, primarily being no longer limited to the physical copies I have to hand (actually purchased and own). So I am able to enjoy and sample a immeasurably wider spectrum of music than I ever had before (even the radio stations play ‘carefully selected’ playlists)… whereas with Spotify I can enjoy the full range | catalogue of an artist as I wish.   Also I can’t lose or break the copy of the music I have, it’s there when I need it.

Certainly with digital stores and streaming services, the model of distribution and marketing for artists has changed irrevocably, and while it may not be as fair or mature enough in the commercials; I think it’s fair enough to say ‘the tide has turned’ – music streaming (and media streaming for that matter) is here to stay.

For example look at the new digital service from the BBCBBC playlister

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The new digital service allows listeners to tag any piece of music they hear on the BBC and listen to it later.

At a launch event, senior executives from YouTube, Spotify and Deezer explained why the music streaming companies have decided to collaborate on the service.

Do you agree? 

Do you use streaming service – or stay away?

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Speaker Dock for Android

Since I’ve had a Google Nexus 7 tablet.  One item I’ve looked out for is a Speaker Dock solution.

However, whilst Android based mobile devices are leading market share, in the Mobile docking market, Apple compatible devices are still dominant.

But I’ve recently acquired a Philips Fidelio docking speaker (AS351) with Bluetooth® for Android

The product page has a lot of images, videos and detail on the product so I recommend having a look. Here are a couple of product images.

What I find particularly thoughtful and innovative of Philips is the FlexiDock part of docking solution design – which the following image shows in more detail

The Philips FlexiDock is perfect for Android powered phones. Its unique design cleverly docks most Android powered phones – whether the phone’s connection socket is at the bottom, on the side or even on the top. This extreme flexibility is the first of its kind, catering to Android powered phones that are made by different manufacturers with no standardised position and orientation for the micro USB connection socket.

This I’ve put to good use by adjusting it to simply dock the Google Nexus 7  – which you can see in the following image

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In Review:

It’s a recent acquisition but my first impressions are favourable,  it has a solid feel to it, and a re-assuring touch of quality about it.   Sound wise it seems fine to me, it’s not a hi-fi system or top of the range dock, but the audio quality is reasonable and meets my expectations.  A nice feature is that it charges the device without being “switched on” itself, so the tablet is always charged and ready to go.  Of course it receives the audio signal over Bluetooth so support playback from any Bluetooth compatible device and even has an audio input jack too.

The specifications mention –

  • Shielding technology to block mobile phone interference
  • Precisely tuned bass pipes for deep, tight bass reproduction

Which are sensible design features to reduce noise interference and enhance the quality of the audio playback.

The Philips Fidelio (AS351) is what I think of as the mid of range device this list is the full range of Philips Android docking stations:

One of the things I recommend is if you’re interested in an Android docking system is to check recommendations posts like:

Also hunt around for the best price – there are good deals out there!

Let me know if you thinking of getting some like this as an Android device owner.  I certainly think the market will see more options come available as more and more Android devices are in the hands of consumers.

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Evernote’s Web Clipper Update

Evernote introduced another to their Web Clipper product. (v6.0) – the initial release available for Google Chrome

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Here’s the introductory video:

Evernote Webclipper for Chrome

The Web Clipper is one of the best features of the Evernote product set.  For me it’s key for collecting and saving web content into my Evernote.

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Interestingly this particular update includes several features I associate with Evernote Clearly, another Evernote product I like and have posted about previously (link).

      • “Simplified (NEW): We brought in features from our Clearly extension to strip the page of all distractions for easy reading and clean clipping.”

It’s also integrated elements from Evernote Skitch too:

      • “We’re bringing features from our Skitch app right into the Web Clipper to let you overlay shapes, arrows and text on top of the page you’re viewing.”

I think these integrations with the other products are a good step forward.   Many of comments on the Evernote blog post – offer similar sentiments, and indeed talk about removing the need for Evernote Clearly extension at all.  To be honest I would welcome that too, it seems to me Evernote are positioning themselves to have a single integrated browser extension.

What do you think – 1 single web browser extension or keep them separate?

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Updated Spotify Discovery View with Audio Preview– Big Data in Action

Spotify the online music streaming service has updated their client discovery page, with a Pinterest-like scrolling magazine view with an audio preview function built-in.

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The click and hold Preview action as shown above, makes easy to sample a recommendation and discover more artists and their music, with the slick UI and making it simple and straight forward to move through the recommendations. 

Behind the scenes it shows that Spotify are paying attention to the usage profile of their users, and displaying recommendations and suggestions based on tunes played and playlist content.  While an individual users’ play history and playlist settings may be quite small digitally.  As Spotify has millions of subscribers to the service, cumulatively this must equate to a significant data-set and require Big Data hosting and analytics services behind that to drive recommendations and observe other trends within their user base.

For further information on the Spotify’s analytics set-up see this blog post from Spotify Labs

Analytics at Spotify

Some quotes from that post:

At the heart of Spotify lives a massive and growing data-set. Most data is user-centric and allows us to provide music recommendations, choose the next song you hear on radio and many other things.  We do our best to base every decision, programmatic and managerial, on data and this extends into the culture.

Most of our recurring data is added to our analytics pipeline by a set of daemons that constantly parse the syslog on production machines looking for messages we have defined along with the associated data for each message. Matching data is compressed and periodically synced to HDFS.  Typically data is available in our Data Warehouse and Dashboards within 24 hours, but in some cases data is available within a few hours or even instantly through tools like Storm.

So there you go, Spotify bring music, culture and Big Data together.  I for one appreciate this useful combination.

Have a look at Spotify through their looping video here.

Do you use Spotify, what do you like about it?

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When Google Replies– Voice Activated Search

Google has had voice enabled search services on multiple devices (mobile, desktop, laptop, tablet) for a while (see >> “search by text, voice, image”).

However, at the recent Google I/O (2013) they announced a “conversational” search experience which has been extended to the browser and desktop experience.

This means Google search responds to an audio search request with an audible answer.

Voice search starts with a click on the microphone icon in the search bar.

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giving the “Speak now” prompt

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and then the “Listening…” prompt

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it captures into text the voice request spoken…

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The search result returned show all the usual feature giving and provides an audible voiceover of the summary text from Wikipedia (where possible).

It also often says “Here is some information about [request]”.

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Often the request is not picked up or understood correctly and the following appears:

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Interestingly, the voice accent and gender are different for different Google domains.

e.g. (google.com – female voice with an American accent, google.co.uk – male voice with an English accent)

At the moment I find it a little flaky and error prone but I presume it will continue to improve as more people engage verbally with Google.

Have you started making use of this service?

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