Could VR Make It This Time Around?

June 5th, 2015

Virtual Reality is the perpetual motion machine of tech: every time you look around, there’s some wild-eyed inventor with a weird contraption and the same claim: ‘this time, it works!’

So we’ve gotten used to pointing VR over to the corner with the deathrays and cold fusion guys. But we could be wrong this time.

From a business viewpoint VR was less than a novelty in the 1990s, but VR or AR (Augmented Reality) apps could explode the way mobile apps did, and modern enterprises that aren’t involved in vending VR devices and services could still provide value to their customers via VR. Imagine what real estate will do with it, for instance!

So VR could work. But why should we dust it off now?

Why it’s (maybe) time to rethink VR

1: The tech is there.

The difference between VR nbow and VR in the way-back-when is the difference between 1982’s Tron and 2010’s Tron: Legacy. In ‘82, the ideas were there – but the tech? Watch the movie and you tell me. VR’s the same.While it meant yards of trailing wires and pixelated landscapes it was never going to go far with consumers – let alone businesses. But now that it means Google Glass, or even Oculus Rift, VR might have a fighting chance.

2: The price is right.
Early attempts at VR were truly wallet-busting, as early computing tended to be. The trade-off between price and performance meant VR was stuck in the same situation as very early mobile devices, where they didn’t really deliver and they cost far more than their performance merited. In some cases, like the presciently-named but ill-fated EyePhone, that could be half a million dollars. Now we’re talking about a price tag between $200 and a little over $1000, there’s a chance for a consumer market to develop.

3: Industry heavyweights want it to succeed

In its first iterations, VR was powered by individuals with dreams, and companies like Sega that were dipping their toes in the water. For the bigger players, it wound up as just another page on ‘10 Tech Flops You’ll Remember if You Lived Through The 90s.’ But this time around, Google is seriously committed to its ‘augmented reality’ Glass project, and has Maps, Hangouts, Drive, Youtube and search all ready to tie into it. Facebook, Sony, and Samsung join the list of those with deep pockets who want to see VR succeed.

4: The hacker’s paradox

As VR has professionalised, it’s also become open to hobbyists and hackers in a way that just wasn’t possible in the 90s. That means tens of thousands of people working on solving VR’s problems, coming up with sometimes-diverse solutions: the Ubuntu, Fedora and Korora of VR.

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3 of The Best: Marketing Automation Software

June 3rd, 2015

Marketing automation software sets marketing departments free to concentrate on more valuable tasks, by taking over the more repetitive aspects of the job. It can also help by providing clear goals, checklists and processes that everyone from consultants to part-time marketing staff can follow, so marketing is less error-prone as well as more streamlined. From its origins as a method for automating marketing emails, marketing automation has expanded radically and although only 5% of business use it (VentureBeat Insights, 2015), many more should: 80% of companies that use marketing automation saw an increase in leads in 2014 and 77% saw an increase in conversions (VentureBeat 2015).

It’s not always plain sailing with marketing automation though. Many businesses are dissatisfied with their marketing automation software and as many as 20% of marketers in a recent survey were in the process of switching to a new marketing automation tool (Third Door Media, 2015). While the problem is sometimes that implementation is flawed, there is a big difference in the range of tools available. While no brief introduction can cover the variables or the huge range of options, it can offer a list of the best places to start.

1: Eloqua

Eloqua is for the truly committed. It’s features-packed, comprehensive and expensive. One of its major benefits is that the company offers incredible support, basically tutoring individual customers in how to get the best out of the tool on their terms. Offering seriously tight CRM integration and a great marketplace, Eloqua is priced at $2, 000 per month.

2: Constant Contact

On the other end of the scale from Eloqua, Constant Contact is a light, small business-friendly and fast out of the blocks. If you want email marketing automation, and nothing else, right now, this could be the tool for you. It’s very user friendly and simple to use, and compared to some other options on the market it’s very affordable. If you’re planning a more comprehensive automation drive down the line though, Constant Contact won’t be able to follow you there. It’s email-only. Constant Contact is priced at $15 per month.

3: HubSpot

HubSpot is the ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ of marketing automation. It does everything, while specialising in nothing. In some ways that’s a big advantage and HubSpot doesn’t even concentrate on marketing automation, seeking to offer ‘inbound automation’ instead, with its marketing automation just a component of that. For businesses looking for software that functions like a marketing department in a box, this is the nearest you’re going to get, with a proven track record and a reasonable price tag of $200 per month.

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5 of the Best Free Online Presentation Tools

May 29th, 2015

Productivity is increasingly moving away from the classic desktop machine. As mobile, BYOD and cloud transfigure the way we work – soon to be further disrupted by Google’s Chromebit,which can transform any screen into a computer for $100 – we need software tools that facilitate productivity in that new environment. our four slides on MS PowerPoint aren’t going to cut it. At the same time, you don’t want to spend a fortune. So what can you do? Choose from these free online presentation tools.

1: HaikuDeck

HaikuDeck lets you create slide decks on a range of devices. It’s been instrumental in showing off the productive powers of tablets and is particularly good for creating simple,yet crystal-clear, presentations. It’s not features-packed but it is reliable and effective. It’s also quite impressively free, in both its web app and iOS incarnations, and according to the company, ‘always will be.’

2: Empressr

Empressr devotes itself to storytelling rather than HaikuDeck’s emphasis on clarity. Here, you get a rich media tool for talking people through processes or narrating systems or stories. Right now you get unlimited presentations on Empressr for free, but it’s currently in beta, so don’t count on it staying that way.

3: Slides

If you work on a laptop, this might be your best choice. Slides is a browser-based presentation creator and editor with free cloud storage so you can easily device-hop. Like HaikuDeck it’s more about appearance than storytelling, so if you need clarity with style it’s a great choice. Slides.com presentations are referred to as ‘desks,’ and Slides.com is free as long as you don’tmind all your desks being public. If you want privacy, though, you have to pay for it, to the tune of between $6 and $12 a month.

4: PowToon

PowToon is a quirky, fun tool that lets you create step-by-step narrative cartoons, narrated by voiceovers. Behind the scenes you build on a series of storyboards, but when the presentation is shown it looks like a short animated film. If you want to stickj with PowToon and get the occasional basic presentation too, PowToon Slides does just that and comes bundled with the core app. The free version features watermarks and outros, so you’ll probably want Pro at $19 a month or Business at $57 a month.

5: SlideDog

SlideDog allows you to build presentations from a range of media and keep it all the right size and shape,with no file type or compatibility problems, so you can build a presentation with multiple different types of media embedded, then share it online or show it conventionally. You can use SlideDog offline, but if your presentation features online content like YouTube videos they won’t work without an internet connection. SlideDog is freemium, with a free plan that offers short trials of premium features.If you like them you’ll need to switch to the $8.33 a month Pro plan.

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4 Gmail Hacks For Productivity

May 27th, 2015

Gmail is a handy tool. But if you’ve never changed the setup on yours you could be leaving a lot on the table. Messing with the configuration of basic online tools is up there with people who use massive complex graphics as desktop backgrounds – a symptom of having too much free time, a sign of frivolity. Which is a shame, because there are actually Gmail plugins that can make using it way more productive and convenient. The top four? Read on!

1: Undo

If you’ve ever sent an email you wished you could call back as soon as you clicked ‘send,’ this hack’s for you. You’ll want to go to the Lab section (Settings>Labs), then select Undo Send and click Enable. Now when you send an email, that message lingers on the screen a while, accompanied by an honest-to-goodness Undo button that will recall it. Never send garbled, typo-ridden messages at 4AM again!

2: Schedule

… unless you want people to believe you sent that (highly polished) email at 4AM. In which case, the Boomerang for Gmail plugin lets you schedule outgoing emails. That’s useful if you have clients in different time zones, or people on your list open emails way more at certain times. The free basic Boomerang membership lets you schedule up to 10 emails a month and it’s compatible with Chrome, FireFox and Safari. Heavy users might want to upgrade, paying $5 – $50 a month.

3: Identify

If your inbox is a busy place, you’re likely to lose track of who said what when. Don’t sweat it. There’s an app (well, a plugin) for that. In fact, there are two very popular ones, Rapportive and FullContact. Rapportive works with FireFox and Chrome, while FullContact is Chrome-only, but has an iPhone app. Both do a similar job: they let you know who you’re talking to, opening a sidebar that shows photo, bio and other details whenever you open an email. FullContact has slightly more functionality, though – you can add notes to someone’s profile to remind yourself, and the information it displays comes from a range of sites while rapportive mostly just syncs with LinkedIn.

4: Disguise – and Detect

Email marketers have a vested interest in knowing who opened their emails, so they can AB test subject lines and improve clickthrough. And everyone would like to know if their emails are actually being read. So that’s where MailTrack gets its users from. MailTrack tells an email’s sender if the recipient opened the mail,and if so, when.

Unless that sender has UglyMail, which detects the tracker in a MailTrack mail and warns the recipient that it’s there, by displaying an ‘eye’ icon next to the incoming message. So if you’d like to catch out email recipients who would have you believe they never got the message, or you’d like to make sure you’re not being tracked yourself (or both), there’s a Gmail plugin with your name on it.

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The iOS Hack That Could Create Apple-Free Zones

May 15th, 2015

Apple hasn’t historically faced the same malware threats as Windows, mainly because it was simply used by fewer people. But now that mobile Apple products are everywhere, hackers are figuring out ways to attack the platform. Most of these are frightening only if it’s your credit card details in the hands of the Russian mafia; otherwise, business as usual. They’re just the same hacks as those used on Android devices. But there is an Apple-specific attack, based on a weakness in the iOS operating system, that could render whole areas iPhone-free.

Weakness in the system

In a way, the devilishness of this hack relies on iPhone users being a little bit unscrupulous themselves. Hackers configure a wireless router in a particular way and then use it to start an unprotected network. Once an iPhone or other Apple device connects to the network, it crashes, and from then on it will crash every time it’s restarted, without giving the user time to disconnect from the network. The only solution is to physically move away from the network’s range. Of course, you shouldn’t really be connecting to other people’s unrecognised wifi networks anyway, but who can honestly say they’ve never done it?

Security makes it worse

The hack utilises SSL certificates to force apps that use these certificates to crash. This is particularly ingenious, as Skycure CTO Yair Amit blogged, because ‘SSL is a security best practice, and is utilized in almost all apps in the Apple app store, [so] the attack surface is very wide.’

Hard to guard against

One solution would be to simply set your device not to connect automatically to unprotected networks. Should be pretty simple, right? Trouble is, your phone actually talks to wifi networks without necessarily connecting to them. That’s how it knows where they are and what they’re called. And when it does that, a vulnerability called WiFiGate means an attacker can force a mobile device to connect to an unprotected network automatically. Add these together and it would be possible for attackers to create a situation whereby all iOS devices in a certain area became unsueable regardless of how they were configured.

The good news…

…is that for now, there are no known exploits of this weakness. Somebody could make it impossible for you to use your iPhone until you physically move, but otherwise the actual damage to targets is minimal – for now. As far as anyone knows, this hack hasn’t been used to steal information or threaten any confidential data. How long that will hold true is obviously unknown, but Skycure says it’s working with Apple on a fix and advises iOS users to update to iOS 8.3, which offers more protection, as soon as possible.

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How to Connect With Customers on Twitter

May 13th, 2015

While there are some obvious pointers that work across any channel, from the phone to a letter – relevance, value, engaging style – the social networks can’t all be approached in the same way. It’s not just that most of us have used them for personal reasons and it can come as a shock that all that experience sometimes adds up to not much when you have to use them for business. It’s that they have their own identities – their own cultures, ways of doing things and their own etiquettes.

When you set out to communicate with customers over social media, you can’t treat the business-oriented, longform-friendly Google + (Soon to be Streams) the same as casual Facebook. And Twitter is just as individual.

Twitter is the ‘quickfire’ social channel. A tweet is just a few words, so if you have news, often that’s where it goes. It’s a busy channel, and a noisy one, and your tweets will sink without trace if you’re not careful: a tweet has a half-life of less than 20 minutes.

So how should you utilise this channel?

1: Speak the language

Speak the language of Twitter, by using native features: likes, retweets and favorites. Don’t try to use Twitter like Facebook. Retweeting is the Twitter equivalent of curating content on your blog, so find suitable brands to follow and retweet often. But you need to speak the language of twitterers too. Learn it by reading tweets so you’re prepared to fit in!

2: Show appreciation

While this isn’t Twitter-specific as such, it does need to to be done in a Twitter specific way. Offer deals, discounts, special content, to your customers via Twitter. Yes, you’re showing customers that you appreciate them, but you’re also incentivising following you on Twitter, and your tweets are far more likely to be seen, liked and retweeted by followers.

3: Showcase your work

Twitter is really well suited to posting pictures with the tweet serving as a caption, using hashtags to widen appeal and searchability. If your business doesn’t result in many photo opportunities, that’s not a big problem. Your twitter followers will understand that, so use the channel to boast of problems you have solved for clients. This works best when you retweet your customers’ comments, which you’re far more likely to see if you follow them, so don’tforget to follow in return!

4: Don’t tell: ask, and listen

Twitter is the channel people turn to to vent. Ask customers, either in groups or specifically, to comment on your service or recommend improvements. People love doing both these things, and you get retweetable recommendations and feedback from the exercise.

5: Tweet often – but not too often
Because Twitter is noisy and fast-paced people think the best way to use the channel is to pour tweets constantly,but actually just 2-4 tweets a day is best.

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Social Death:What Happened To Google +?

May 8th, 2015

You have a Google + account. You may not know it, but you do. Everyone who has a Gmail or YouTube account has one. Everyone who uses Google’s cloud productivity and storage suite has one. And everyone who has an Android phone has one. But the number of active users has always trailed far behind the number of accounts, drawing attention to the fact that Google’s venture into social hasn’t actually been very successful.

On Monday, April 27 this year, Google announced that it would be splitting its social network into two. Surrendering to the facts – Google + is a competitor for Facebook the way Bob’s Truck Shop is a competitor for General Motors – Google has broken the channel in two.

Speaking on April 28, Sundar Pichai, Google’s VP of products, told MWC that: ‘For us Google+ was always two big things: one was building a stream, the second was a social layer, a common layer of identity; how sharing works across our products and services.’ That mirrors criticism leveled at Google for inventing Google+ to solve the company’s own internal problems, meaning users of Google products needed only a single login, allowing Google + to function like a foyer. No-one wants to hang out in a waiting room,though, so while Mr Pichai points to ‘a passionate community of users’ for the social side of +, it was never a contender when ranked against Facebook and Twitter.

Clarifying the future of Google+’s component services, Mr Pichai said: ’we’re at a stage where use cases like photos and communications are big standalone use cases.’ The future of Google+’s services will be in three parts: Streams, Photos and Hangouts.

Photos will focus on Google +’s image service. Photos on Google + have always been far better quality than those on other social channels, but in some ways that’s been part of the problem: while Facebook and Twitter moved onto mobile right along with their customers, Google + was held back by file sizes so large they took forever to load on mobile devices. The service gets good usage but cutting it loose from the social network will probably make Streams easier to access.

Streams will be the social element of Google +, separated from the photos service and providing faster (and more mobile-friendly) access for that passionate community who really do prefer Google + to other social networks.
Finally, there’s the future of Hangouts. Hangouts has lost ground to other communications services, but Google’s VP of product Bradley Horowitz argued in December that ‘It’s texting, it’s telephony, it’s one-to-one, it’s many-to-many, it’s consumer, it’s enterprise,’ and stated that its comprehensiveness made it unique. Hangouts does have some great features – but all this was being said a year ago about Google +.

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Mark Up Word Documents in Google Docs

May 6th, 2015

Google Docs is most people’s first taste of the ease and convenience of cloud, though trends suggest it’s likely to become the norm soon. Meantime, many jobs that were once done on Microsoft’s productivity suite are moving over the Google. But one standby of the Microsoft system that we just can’t seem to quit is the ‘track changes’ feature. Sometimes ‘comments’ just aren’t enough. What happens when you want to track changes on a Word document in Google?

Fully integrated

When it was launched, Google didn’t offer track changes integration, pushing business users away. In mid-2014, that changed and full integration was rolled out. Here’s how it works.

When you upload a Word document that has tracked changes to Google Docs, the changes become ‘suggested edits.’ You can work in the document much as you would in Word. When you want to make a change or edit you can go to the ‘editing’ menu,under ‘comment’ and ‘share’ in the top right corner. Click on it and select editing > suggesting from the dropdown, and you can insert suggested edits, just the way you would with tracked changes in Word. Then, when you export that same Google Doc as a Word file, your suggested edits will be saved as tracked changes.

And one better

Google Docs offers a feature that Word doesn’t, that makes the whole process of editing and revising a lot easier. No, I’m not talking about comments. Rather, it’s Google Docs’ Revision History function that stands to save many workers’ bacon. One of the reasons tracked changes exists in the first place is because without it, there’s no way to go back through a word document and see what changes were made, who by and when. But Google Docs has exactly that feature.
Revision History is accessed via the File menu. Scroll down the drop-down and you’ll see the option about midway down. Keyboard macro buffs may prefer to press command + option + shift + G on a Mac, or ctrl + alt + shift + G on a PC. Here’ you’ll see every major revision made on the document, who made it and when, and you’ll have the option to access that text or return the document to a previous version. And if you’re looking for a minor revision, they’re saved too, under ‘show detailed revisions’ at the bottom of the menu.

With these tools it’s easy to send documents back and forth between a Google Docs user and someone whose primary productivity suite is Microsoft Office, with no real synching issues.

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Five of the Best Translation Services (That Aren’t Google Translate)

May 1st, 2015

Most businesses have clients, contractors or offices in countries that don’t speak English as a first language. Even if you don’t, you’re going to need to translate a document sooner or later. Unless you happen to be a linguist, when that day comes you’ll probably reach for an online translation service. But there is more than one. Google Translate doesn’t always do a perfect or even a comprehensible job. Here are five alternatives that offer serious competition.

Google Translate has one major factor going for it – apart from the brand recognition that comes with that Google name. It’s free. Not all the alternatives are, but if you’re looking for a quality translation for professional purposes these are all a lot cheaper than hiring a translator!

UnBabel

UnBabel is free for the first 150 words. You insert your text into a field and select your target language. It uses similar machine learning technology to Google Translate but then sends the finished translation to a human translator to be proofed and corrected. If you want credible communication with non-English speakers, consider UnBabel. Of the options it’s probably the fastest and most efficient. However, it’s not the most in-depth.
Price: $0.03 per word

Gengo

Much like UnBabel, Gengo lets you insert text and then select your target language. It comes with the advantage that you can simultaneously translate text to multiple languages and has a very wide range of languages, though this drives the cost up fast. It also helps you select an appropriate tone, helpfully based on where you intend to publish the result. It’s more comprehensive than UnBabel; it’s also more expensive.
Price: $0.12 per word

Duolingo

Most of us know Duolingo as a language learning site. But it also offers translation services. You can have a document ‘crowd translated. It’s free for individuals, but businesses should email for a quote.
Price: email for by-the-job quote

/r/Translator

Yes, it’s a subreddit. Users will sometimes translate individual words or short pieces of text for free, and you can negotiate prices with individuals for larger pieces. Consider /r/forhire too, if this route interests you: you can find freelance translators who will quote you for your text.
Price: variable

Translate.com

Translate.com offers both machine translation and human translation. It’s free, but sometimes you don’t get what you don’t pay for: there’s no guarantee that a human translator will see your text. If they don’t you’re no better off than if you’d used Google Translate.
Price: free

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Does Not Compute: The Missing Android App and How To Live Without It

April 29th, 2015

Maybe you’re old enough to remember the internet without browsers. For everyone else, here’s how it used to work: you typed the address you wanted, then went there. No address, no page. Obviously, browsers brought the internet to the masses. And on the desktops of our devices there’s an app just like a browser for navigating the space inside the device. It’s called a file manager. But what do you do when your device (gulp) doesn’t have one?

Lacking a file manager makes even the most intuitive OS gradually get harder to use,because there’s no centralised way of finding files. It’s like the pre-browser internet days:no address, no file.

On desktop and laptop devices it’s relatively easy: Apple and Windows both come with file managers. Windows just updated from Windows Explorer in previous incarnations to File Explorer in Windows 8, while Apple uses Finder. But Android, while it has a file system, doesn’t have a file manager.

Obviously, that’s not as good as it could be, so what can users do to work around it?

Hit the Play Store

Just because a seemingly basic piece of functionality isn’t bundled with your OS, doesn’t mean you have to face life without it. Just head over to the Play Store and download the solution.

ES File Manager

Popular and free, ES covers the basics and comes with some impressive functions you didn’t know you couldn’t live without, like an archive creator. As well as arranging your files on your device it can also act as a cloud client for apps like Dropbox or Google Drive and supports App management.

Astro Cloud and File Manager

Another popular (and free) choice, Astro focusses more on cloud support than ES but otherwise they’re quite well matched. Astro uses a fullscreen viewer and contains other functions like an SD card optimizer and app management.

Solid Explorer

Solid Explorer comes with a free trial and costs a whopping $1.99 to unlock. Two separate explorer panes and drag and drop support means that hefty price tag might well be worth it, and Solid supports popular cloud options like Skydrive and Dropbox, has an indexed search function, and supports archived files like .zip and .rar.

AntTek Explorer Ex

You don’t need to use a paid-for app to get a full-featured, two-pane file manager. As well as the basics, AntTek supports streaming from a remote server, FTP and Samba, and Yandex, and if that’s not enough it also has built-in music and video players. And it’s free.

File management doesn’t bother some people, but if you live life through your phone – or if you BYOD to work – sooner or later, you’re going to need it!

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