Spending a Few Hours with Google Glass

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(Originally published on notable.ca)

Earlier this week, courtesy of my friends at Toronto-based innovation firm BNOTIONS, I had the opportunity to give Google’s upcoming project “Glass” a spin. After about an hour of getting adjusted with the hardware by taking pictures of Bella, walking around outside Front Street and, of course, the obligatory toying with the “Ok Glass” system of voice activation, I am still left thinking about it; I am just unsure of how to put my feelings into words.

You see, I only had a short time to test Glass, but it was enough time to realize that this is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. It feels immediately fascinating, strange, and overwhelming all at the same time. Matthew Patience, Technical Director of Android at BNOTIONS, describes the first moments using Glass as “really awkward.”

Even partaking in the mundane task of walking my dog on Front Street felt insecure and awkward. Everywhere I turned, with Glass conspicuously on my head, I felt like people were watching me, wondering nervously if I was someone from the future or simply a nerd playing with a new toy.

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With just a simple tap of your right temple, or slight head jerk up, you’re met by the screen above, which seems to be anxiously awaiting its next task aimed at making your life easier. Once started, you’re greeted with a secondary set of questions aimed at narrowing down your wants; once announced, you’re off to the races.

With Glass explorers now roaming the streets, the buzz about this device has reached a fever pitch. But it’s important not to oversell Glass. In its current state, Glass does not deliver any magical new features, rather it delivers familiar and useful smartphone features in a unique and magical way. Patience says being aware of this distinction is pivotal in enjoying Glass.

Throughout our conversation, Patience sounded positive about the pick-up of Glass: “I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from my peers, developers are enjoying the possibilities of what it can do!”  Throughout my time with Glass, I found myself reminiscing of another product that was quite the sight when it first launched: the Bluetooth headset. When early adopters were seen on the street using those then ugly, ostentatious pieces of glowing plastic, they were considered to be “nuts” and no one envisioned that it would go anywhere. However, fast-forward a few years, and now Bluetooth connectivity is considered the “norm” for on-the-go communication, though more evolved (think in car systems) from its previous headset-only status.

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Whereas I can’t say I am necessarily sold on Glass in its current state, I can see the potential and how it can make us as a population more sociable.

“After using it extensively, I have found that my relationship with my friends has grown stronger. I feel like I am more aware of what they’re saying and how they are feeling because I am more focused on them and less on using my phone. I don’t need to touch my phone to send or respond to a text. Also, I feel like I am getting to know Toronto more…I feel like every day I am discovering more about it that I didn’t know because my head is no longer down!

He also goes on to mention how much easier, and less awkward, it is to take pictures “without needing to pull my phone out all the time.” 

“I think overall adoption rate will be based on price point and, eventually, more GlassWare choice. Like with all new products, once the ecosystem grows and the price subsequently drops, people will be drawn to it; they’ll want to know what all the fuss is about,” says Patience. “The only real downside to glass is its inability to take or place a call in any environment that isn’t dead silent. The speaker just isn’t strong enough.”

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From my hour with Google Glass, there was only one very prevalent issue that stood out to me and I think that is solely a user issue: the lack of current support for people who cannot wear contact lenses and rely on prescription eyewear to see. Because of this flaw, I found myself continuously squinting to see the screen properly, thus giving myself a migraine. Patience mentioned that Google does have plans to make a prescription-compatible variant to Glass, but that option isn’t available at this time. If you don’t fall into that category, however, I can see the allure that Glass offers. It’s our first real glimpse at the future of true hands-free wireless communication. Glass not only allows us to relive our childhood Dick Tracey-esque technological fantasies, but also gives us hope that in time we can truly compromise with our loved ones by being able to capture the special moments in life without our phones being anywhere in sight.

Now that is a concept I am excited for.

You can learn more about Google Glass here or learn more about BNOTIONS here, the firm that made this experience possible for me.

RIM Announces BlackBerry 10 Launch for January 30, 2013

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(Originally published on notable.ca)

It’s been a torrid 16+ months for RIM to say the least. The Waterloo, ON-based tech giant has taken its share of blows in 2012, including a huge executive shift (with a new CEO, Thorsten Heins, being appointed at the beginning of the year), a stock price at an all-time low, loss of market share, and, most of all, seemingly the most painful as well, a loss of confidence from some of their most devoted fans.

As I mentioned before, 2012 was less about negativity and more a year of transition.

However, after much delay – and seemingly out of the blue – RIM made an announcement on Monday morning that surprised everyone: BlackBerry 10 will officially launch on January 30th, 2013, with two new devices, one touch screen-only and one full QWERTY, both coming shortly after the “global release.” It has already been announced that BlackBerry 10 devices are in “carrier-lab” testing mode, meaning carrier technicians (Rogers, Bell and TELUS) are currently field testing the devices in and around the GTA for LTE speeds and battery endurance – these tests generally carry a 60-90 day turnaround depending on the carrier.

So, being a diehard BlackBerry devotee, what can you expect from BlackBerry 10, and will it blow you away as much as RIM is hyping it to?

Some pundits have claimed that the live tile/widget combination makes BlackBerry 10 a hybrid between Windows Phone and Android. Among the many new features included in the long awaited, much anticipated, from the ground-up OS include a new and improved camera, Peek (quick sidebar notifications that “peek” from the side and give the option to see a preview without leaving what you’re doing), BlackBerry Flow and BlackBerry Hub, and, of course, the BlackBerry Keyboard – the one that has been spoken about the most, with its ability to predict what you’re saying and allow you to “push” words into the sentence as they’re typed.

All in all, the aforementioned announcement – and features – is a breath of fresh air for those holding on for dear life to the BlackBerry brand; those who look at the BlackBerry as more than just push email and BBM, those who haven’t succumbed to the allure of iOS and Android, and most of all, those who needed some sort of confirmation that it was worth their time to hold on to their now defunct BlackBerry 7 and beyond devices.

January 30th is looking to be one of the most important days in RIM’s celebrated history, and frankly can’t come soon enough.

Stay tuned.

 

ContactMonkey Launches Email Tracking Plugin

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(Originally published on notable.ca)

It’s 7:30am, your coffee piping hot, computer fired up and ready to help you start your day. Before you get into your day of kicking butt and taking names, what’s the first thing on your agenda? Tracking the whereabouts of that new iPhone 5 you bought on Friday afternoon? Bingo. You take the tracking number, paste it into the respective delivery service’s site and continuously press F5 until the joyous moment when the delivery person shows up asking for your John Hancock.

So, being the driven professional that you are, what would you do if you found out that there was a service that could track your emails as you sent them? I am not talking about the standard read/receipt that already exists, I am talking real-time tracking; being able to know the where, when, and what for every email that goes out.

Toronto-based startup ContactMonkey thinks they have the solution for this query and they call it “Bridge.” Bridge is like the MailChimp for Gmail and Outlook, bringing mass-email marketing functionality right to the individual user

So how does Bridge work? Once you have downloaded and installed the plugin in Gmail or Outlook, Bridge embeds an invisible image with a unique address to track each message sent out. When your recipient opens a tracked e-mail, Bridge identifies how many times it was opened, on what device and in which city. Then, in real time, it pushes this data back to you, subtly accessible at any time in your sent mail folder.

I’ve been using Bridge for a few weeks now and find my inner Dick Tracey eyeing the side ticker like it’s part of my job.

As for pricing, Bridge comes with a 14-day free trial, then has a $4.99/month subscription fee attached; for every one person you refer to the service, you get one free month.

You can learn more or try it out via ContactMonkey’s website here.

RIM May Be Forced to License Out BlackBerry 10

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(Originally published on notable.ca)

Thorsten Heins admits what we’ve all thought: RIM may be forced to license out BlackBerry 10.

Not long ago I started a similar RIM-focused article saying simply: “Oh RIM”.  This time around, I am going to take a similar approach and say very sarcastically, “Oh Thorsten”.

You see, the embattled RIM CEO has had a tough time maintaining a clear confident poise when it comes to talking about the future of his ship. Granted, he took over a job that would have anyone doing 3-a-day yoga sessions, but he knew what he was getting into. In a recent interview with the UK-based Telegraph Newspaper, Thorsten was caught saying something about BB10 licensing that caught many off guard:

“We don’t have the economy of scale to compete against the guys who crank out 60 handsets a year. We have to differentiate and have a focused platform. To deliver BB10 we may need to look at licensing it to someone who can do this at a way better cost proposition than I can do it. There are different options we could do that we’re currently investigating.” 

So RIM may be forced to license out BlackBerry 10 – how shocking.

Without stating the obvious, RIM is not the giant it used to be (think back to 2008). Its share price is sitting under $7 right now, which means the company’s market cap is a little over $3.5 billion. If licensing BB10 is the best course of action for the company, they have my support, but which OEM will choose them over a more polished Android OS?

Mr. Heins went on to say:

“You could think about us building a reference system, and then basically licensing that reference design, have others build the hardware around it – either it’s a BlackBerry or it’s something else being built on the BlackBerry platform. We’re investigating this and it’s way too early to get into any details.”

Imagine a white-labelled BlackBerry 10 software, running on a future HTC phone. Using the forthcoming cascade feature on a gorgeous 4.3-inch screen would be divine. Or, better yet, taking advantage of the screen size for a BBM conversation. You never know. Hopefully RIM will be open to the potential licensee making changes to the software, offering a “best of both worlds” kind of thing.  Only time will tell if this even pans out – but it would be pretty awesome to see.

As with all rumors of the future OS, whether they prove legitimate or not, everything is on the line for January 2013. So stay tuned.

What are your thoughts on seeing BlackBerry 10 on a different phone? Would you use it or be opposed?

Why car2go Makes Sense for Young Professionals

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(Originally published on notable.ca)

Growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, we have/had things a lot easier. Our parents’ house with an always full fridge, a car with an always full tank, and for some of us a credit card that seemingly paid itself; life was good.

But, as with many of us, something changed: we grew up. The ever-daunting task of moving out starts to loom over your shoulder like your grade 11 science teacher did during exams. Of all the hard, thought-provoking decisions that need to be made, there is one that stands out above the rest and, for me at least, still proves to be the hardest: to keep or not keep your beloved car.

I chose the latter.

My decision, though very hard, was made a lot easier by a new start-up service called car2go. I recently tried it out for a week and realized that not owning my own car would not be the end of the world after all.

car2go is a subsidiary of DaimlerAG (think Mercedes-Benz, Smart, and Maybach brands) that operates using Smart Fortwos for the purpose of car sharing, currently catering to cities in Europe and North America. Having recently launched in Toronto, I knew I had to try it out.

One feature (of the many) of the service that really caught my eye was the ability to pick up the car from one location (Green P municipal parking) and drop it off at another – unlike other car sharing companies, which insist their users pick up and drop off cars at the same location.

Talk numbers to me.
At .35/minute (with gas, parking, and maintenance included) billed by the minute, the service is a no-brainer for young professionals like myself. Both ways I broke it down, the service could be seen as cheaper than using the TTC or, for the purpose of this article, owning a car. Let’s look at the TTC.

A one-time use TTC token can be bought for $3. You must stay on their schedule, get on a cramped street car/train, and rely on no delays to get to your required destination on time. Whereas, with Car2Go, a five-minute drive at .35/minute is $1.75 with parking included, and of course, A/C. Let’s even stretch that to include a stopover; you can get another 5-minutes of driving time in and you’ve then covered a bit more than the single cost of the token.

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Now let’s look at this from the owning a car perspective.
Without factoring the cost of gas, maintenance, and insurance, let’s just talk numbers. At .35/minute, it costs $21/hour to drive car2go. Even if you ONLY use it once a week for three hours to visit the parents up north, that’s $252/month; which, in reality, would generally only cover your insurance payments. Pricey? Maybe. But when you factor in the convenience of not having to take public transit (or abide by its schedule), and carry some groceries with you, it works out.

Food for thought: the average car2go rental is 30 minutes, which at 35 cents a minute adds up to just over $10 per trip.

How it works:
Once signed up, you receive a credit card-style membership card. Similar to Paypass payments at gas stations, you simply touch the card to the box sitting on the dashboard of the car, and await the system to unlock and let you in.

Because the system is connected to your car via cellular network, you will – based on weather conditions – have the odd “connection failure,” but those are few and far between. Think of it as a dropped call. To remedy this, give it a few minutes and swipe your pass again; 9.5-10 times out of 10, it will work like a charm.

Once in the car, the on-screen system asks a series of questions to ensure quality and cleanliness. With a few touches to the screen, the key becomes accessible from the center of the dashboard and you’re on your way.

Boundaries and Limitations:
car2go is offered in the vicinity of the downtown Toronto core, as well as in Calgary and Vancouver. You will find the cars in Green P lots south of Eglinton, West of Victoria Park, and East of Jane St. (Toronto), and customers are able to rent any one of its 250 cars parked at 200 city-owned lots.

Being eco-friendly and a very customer-oriented/focused experience, I finished my trial week with a smile and more money in my pocket. I am now offiically car-less and blame (in the best way possible) car2go for it. I urge city-dwellers to give them a try; as a young professional, you’ll appreciate it.

Find car2go on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

 

More Details Surrounding the New iPhone Emerge

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(Originally published on notable.ca)

This past weekend was a doozy for Apple PR. In the span of 48 hours, alleged “final prototype” images of the new iPhone leaked out online, and then to add fuel to the fire, the dreaded announcement and release date information leaked out shortly thereafter.

How much validity does this new information actually hold?

Over the last few months there have been umpteen leaked images, rumours of design, spec inclusions, and on and on. Apple, of course, remains extremely tight-lipped about it and we (the consumers) are left to sit, blog, and of course, ponder.

What if the images do prove real?

Simple. The website that posted them will be given the hat-tip for breaking (correctly) what is easily the story of the year. The famed “new iPhone”; the alleged “last” phone design that the late Steve Jobs had involvement with before his untimely passing last September.

Fall is not too far away.

The purported announcement will come at the beginning of September (the 12th to be exact), with the actual release date just 9 days later on the 21st. This falls exactly a month earlier than last years’ iPhone 4S release, which was announced at the beginning of October and launched on the 14th. The reasoning? Apparently the production of this year’s iPhone has gone better/smoother than expected and Apple feels that releasing it only 11 months after the 4S is a good move.

What is known is that iOS6 is coming to the masses this fall; and historically speaking, a new OS ushers in a new phone. Truth be told: iOS6, for those who have been using it since dev launch, is only on beta3. This means either Apple is doing very well in regards to timelines and hasn’t needed to release updates as frequently…or they severely have their work cut out for them.

Regardless of what is going on behind the scenes, September 12th is just over six weeks away; yup, just 6. So start saving and expect a lot more information to come to light in the coming weeks.

What do you think of the new iPhone? Leave your thoughts below!

Credit iMore for the scoop; photo credit: iLab Factory

Is the iPad Losing Canadian Tablet Market Share?

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(Originally published on notable.ca)

Say it ain’t so; is Apple losing some of its overwhelming tablet dominance this side of the pond? According to Solutions Research Group (SRG), they are indeed. Word has it the 9.7-inch tablet is losing market share to smaller tablets such as RIM’s BlackBerry Playbook and Asus’ Transformer, etc.  In SRG’s quarterly Digital Life Canada study they state that Apple’s Canadian tablet Q1 2012 market share is sitting around 56%, a huge drop from the over 80% in Q1 2011.

The study went on to point out that Canadians, as a whole, are shopping around with portability and price point in mind, rather than size and overall power. The numbers show that RIM’s PlayBook has captured 19% market share (up 4% from their last report), while tablets from Acer and Asus have 6% and 5% respectively.

Personally, and I could be an anomaly with this one, I have never actually owned a full-size tablet, or found the need to for that matter. I feel that carrying around a MacBook Pro and two powerful smartphones fulfills my needs to get things done, when I need to. Truth be told, while many Canadians take their smartphone with them almost everywhere they go, the study found on average Canadians only took their tablet with them 28% of the time when leaving the house. From a personal standpoint, carrying around a smaller tablet is just convenient; I mean, you try entertaining a 3-year-old in a restaurant for more than 20 minutes.

As of recent, though not officially confirmed, rumours have swirled that Apple has intentions of launching a smaller iteration of their famed (and game changing) iPad tablet. They have set their sights on the 7.5-inch market, with a rumoured name for the tablet being the “iPad Mini.” But, with all rumours, you can take that with a huge grain of salt.

What is foreseeable, however, is that when (and if) the aforementioned smaller iPad launches, it’ll do exactly what Apple wants it to do: take back ownership of the market, while of course blowing the competition out of the water, and that’s kind of a sad truth – I mean, there are some really good, powerful, and cheap tablets out there that do everything that iPad does and more, for a fraction of the price; but of course, popularity will always win.

What do you think? Does size matter when it comes to tablets? Could you not care less? Let us know in the comments!

Is a 2013 Q1 BlackBerry 10 Release Too Late for RIM?

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(Originally published on notable.ca)

Oh, RIM.

This year has been, and will continue to be, an emotional rollercoaster for the struggling tech giant. Seems like they can’t do much right in the eyes of critics and pundits. It’s generally a tough time, but one I do believe, strongly, that they will pull through. I won’t go over the numerous blunders they’ve had to brush under the rug – you can Google them – but I will say, all things being equal, that Canada needs RIM to pull through this, as disgruntling as it seems, and I have their back as much as I can.

Being said, this last week a personal friend and very respected mobile journalist, Al Sacco of CIO.com, had the chance to sit down intimately with the now notorious CEO. They discussed, of course, RIM, its future, when the devices will finally come to market and why he is using Android over iPhone currently.

Below is a notable excerpt from their conversation:

Al Sacco: “But how long do they [users] have to wait for RIM to prove it is still in the game? Will BlackBerry 10 solve all of RIM’s problems?”

Thorsten Heins: “I’m not happy with the situation at RIM either. Who can be happy and satisfied with where we are? What I am satisfied with is that I know we have a path to the future with BlackBerry 10, because I see it. In January with the full touch device and the QWERTY coming, I think we will reinstall faith in RIM. That’s what we’re working on…I have faith in the future. My team is working relentlessly to create that future.”

So there you have it, January 2013. Do you think you can wait?

Over the last several weeks (mainly since the dreadful RIM Q1 conference call) I have noticed something interesting – something that I saw last year this time in New York City: more Android devices in consumer hands than BlackBerrys. (I don’t include iPhone’s because it’s become a standard to see at least 1 in 3 people in a group using an iPhone.) Android, the open source OS that has taken mobile by storm, the same OS that Canada has had a love/hate relationship with since it was announced almost 5 years ago.

Seems as though disgruntled consumers are finally jumping the BBM bandwagon and opening their minds to newer pastures – pastures that aren’t iOS.

This raises a big concern/question from me: how can those customers even be brought back a year from now? Can they even? I strongly doubt it’ll be easy. Hardware pricing aside, the average user’s device, through wear and tear, has about a 1.5 year life span before it’s ready for retirement. In January it’ll be over a year since RIM released a major device. The aforementioned users (the ones who are on Android now) are likely former BlackBerry users who were waiting on baited breath for a Q3 device launch so they could upgrade their phone(s). With that release date pushed back, many threw in the towel and just gave up, opting to finally take the plunge and never look back. Do you think they (customers) will be ‘ok’ with just switching back because RIM is ready for them now? Stay tuned…

[quote taken from CIO.com]

Tim Horton’s to Offer Customers Free WiFi

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(Originally published on notable.ca)

Two years ago, almost to date (July 1, 2010, to be exact), Starbucks had a forward-thinking idea and thus changed the way coffee lovers (and mobile consumers) interacted with their favourite Starbucks location: in partnership with Bell Canada, they’d offer free WiFi access to its patrons. This idea shocked the industry, offering urban freelancers, at no charge, a comfortable, casual, and open-minded place to meet, network and get their work done all for the purchase of at least one snack or beverage (or, at the time, allowing Starbucks access to their information via Facebook).

Their competition didn’t know how to react, and Starbucks loved it. Not only did they have a stranglehold on the now thriving specialty coffee industry, they also had a way to rope in customers and keep them inside the coffee shops.

Fast-forward six months, and 9 out of 10 times walking into a local Starbucks you were guaranteed to see at least one person surfing the web on their tablet while enjoying a bevvy. This benchmarked Starbucks as the go-to for on-the-go professionals who needed a trendy, no charge place to meet their current/potential clients, while also to get their java fix.

Luckily for Tim Horton’s, a solid two years later, things would start to turn around for them. First, at the end of 2011, they would announce that they too would dive into the world of specialty coffee offerings, selling espresso, cappuccinos, etc. Then, the long overdue happened: in partnership with Bell, they too would offer their patrons free WiFi access.

Roland Walton, COO of Tim Hortons, had this to say about the partnership:

“It’s all about convenience and making life easier for our guests. Free wireless Internet at Tim Hortons will help people stay connected on the road in more locations than anyone in Canada and is yet another great reason to visit one of our restaurants to enjoy a fresh cup of coffee.”

But, all good news aside, could this partnership come too little too late?  I mean, everyone loves Tim Horton’s, yes, but how many of you would conduct a business meeting – or, for that matter, sit for a working session – inside a Tim Horton’s? I am not knocking their branding at all, I just think they need to re-invigorate their image in order to win over the next generation of entrepreneurs, who, in the spirit of bootstrapping, would rather work away inside a coffee shop than incur the overhead of office space.

On the other hand, with their significantly lower prices (than Starbucks), offering free WiFi could prove to be just what the doctor ordered to pull urban-dwellers in. We all need to be connected; does it really matter where we are getting it?

Sound off in the comments below.

Photo courtesy Vancouver Sun

The Future of Blackberry Messenger

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(Originally published on notable.ca)

The inception of BBM has forever changed the way we communicate with each other. From its simple beginnings as a quick, secure, and free way for executives to communicate with each other, it has grown into so much more – it has grown into being the benchmark for communication between mobile devices, an idea which paved the way for such popular data-using instant messengers apps like iMessage, WhatsApp, Kik, Hookt, etc.

Not long ago we spoke of the rumor that RIM, in an effort to increase cash flow, was playing around with the idea of licensing out their propriety wonder-child. Design geniuses went as far as leaking “images” of said app already ported to and running on Android; needless to say RIM shot that idea down very, very fast. To paraphrase RIM CEO Thorsten Heins, RIM has no interest in licensing out BBM or any other of their proprietary IPs until, at bare minimum, BB10 is released.

So that answers that question.

Now, onto another lingering question: what does the future look like for BlackBerry Messenger?

Luckily for us, some images leaked online last week showing off BBM for BlackBerry 10, and in my opinion, it looks strangely similar to the previously popular Kik Messenger. Yes, Kik, the same messenger that was abruptly shut down by RIM last year after their meteoric rise to fame. Legal documents claimed that Kik “infringed” on numerous BBM patents. But everyone knows that it’s because Kik was the first app that truly gave BBM a run for its money.

Other than a basic UI change, the two main selling points of BBM10 is the “flow” and ability to change the background color from white to black. RIM states that by simply changing the screen from a white to a black background your battery consumption could be decreased by as much as 25%; changing the color of your BBM messages could see a 75% decrease in battery consumption.

Essentially RIM’s primary focus with BBM10 is improving battery life.

RIM also plans on releasing custom themes to further promote productivity and save battery life throughout the workday.

Honestly, I think it’s interesting what RIM is doing with BBM10. They are taking one of their core apps and primary selling features and just making it better. Will it make a huge difference when it comes to closing someone on the platform? Unlikely.

At the end of the day, RIM has their hardcore users and supporters. Those are the folk who will have the patience and stick around, regardless of a new BBM UI change.

What are your thoughts? Do you like the new BBM? Sound off below.