Archive for Apps

Robot Tuck Shops About To Hit U.S. College Campuses

San Francisco-based start-up, Starship Technologies, has announced that it will be putting food delivery robots that respond to phone app orders on 100 U.S. university campuses in the next 24 months.

The Bots

It has been reported that 25 to 50 of the (23Kg battery-powered, six-wheeled) Starship bots will be let loose on each campus, with the ability to roam around seven days a week, from 8 am to 2 am. The self-driving bots drive at 4 mph and use 10 cameras, radar, ultrasound sensors, GPS, computer vision and neural networks to process what they see in order to negotiate their way safely around a 4 km radius.

The bot’s cargo bay is mechanically locked during the journey and can only be opened by the customer with their smartphone app. The location of the robots is tracked, so that customer knows the exact location of their order and receives a notification at the time of arrival.

Food

The college campus robots will be delivering breakfast, snacks, and a variety of other food to students on campus.  Also, the app can take orders from local restaurants which the Starship bots will deliver to students on the campus for $1.99 per shipment, with Starship getting paid by the restaurant for making each delivery.

Benefits

The obvious benefits of the food delivery robots are that they can work whatever hours they are required all year round with no pay, no holiday and no need for breaks. Also, the Starship bots have an advantage over other local delivery services because the bots are small, manoeuvrable, know their way around the expansive campuses (thanks to pre-loaded, 3D maps), there are several bots working on one site, and they won’t need to be subject to any authorisation checks for being there.

Bigger Goals

Starship has bigger plans for the bots and is reported to have the goal of getting the bots onto college campuses across the US serving 1 million students.

Starship has also started a package delivery service in neighbourhoods and parts deliveries on business and industrial campuses using the bots.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Amazon has been making the news over the past couple of years with its delivery drones and ‘Scout’ delivery robots, and the well-funded start-up Starship ($40 million in new funding) has shown how it has been able to move quickly into a niche and join the growing delivery robot/drone industry.  For the robot and drone operating companies (Amazon, UPS, Google, Starship) these bots offer a way to reduce costs, avoid road congestion problems, avoid labour problems, and potentially deliver 24 hours a day all year round.  Users of bot and drone services can expect convenience, greater control over orders, and the novelty and fun of the delivery experience.

The benefits of drones and robots, however, may come at the expense of jobs, more of which are being taken away by the advance of technology-fuelled automation across many industries.

Apple Launches ‘Apple Card’

Apple has launched its ‘Apple Card’ in the US in partnership with Goldman Sachs and with processing by Mastercard.

Card

The Apple Card can now be applied for by customers in the US through the Wallet app on iPhone (iPhone 6 and later).  The physical laser-etched card, which is made of titanium and has a typically clean Apple design has no card number, no CVV security code, and no expiration date or signature on it.  Although you can buy using the card, the real Apple Card product is incorporated in the Wallet on the customer’s iPhone and works through Apple Pay. Apple says that the card can be used to make purchases in stores, in apps and on websites.

Advantages

Apple says that the Apple Card is built on simplicity, transparency and privacy and that it completely rethinks everything about the credit card. The main advantages of the Apple Card are:

  • There are no fees.
  • It gives instant cashback on purchases.  When you buy something on the Apple Card, you receive a percentage of your purchase back in Daily Cash every day, there’s no limit to how much you can get, and that cash goes right onto the Apple card it can be used it just like cash. Apple says that customers will get 2 per cent Daily Cash every time they use Apple Card with Apple Pay, and 3 per cent Daily Cash on all purchases made directly with Apple, including at Apple Stores, apple.com, the App Store, the iTunes Store and for Apple services.
  • It is secure.  There are no numbers on the card itself and using Apple Card through the iPhone means that it is covered by all the usual Apple Pay security features e.g. Face ID, Touch ID, unique transaction codes.
  • It offers much greater privacy.  Apple says that it doesn’t store the details of where you shop, what you bought, or how much you paid, and Goldman Sachs will not sell or share your spending data to any third-party. Also, Mastercard simply processes payments between parties on the global network.
  • The Apple Card shows you how to pay less interest.  For example, the Apple Card shows you a range of payment options and calculates the interest cost on different payment amounts in real-time.
  • The card can help you make more informed purchase choices.  For example, everything you buy gets a category (food, entertainment, shopping) and a colour-coded chart displays how much you’ve pending on each category.

Small Print Warning

This may all sound wonderful but some commentators have warned that when you sign up for the Apple Card you sign up to the standard agreement offered by Goldman Sachs.  Within this agreement is an arbitration clause that essentially means that you waive the right to make any claims, participate in a class action, or be heard in a court at trial for anything related to the agreement.

It is, however, possible to opt-out of the Goldman Sachs arbitration clause within 90 days after opening the account by contacting the company using messages, calling a toll-free number, or writing to a Philadelphia P.O. Box (Apple Card gives full instructions).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For other banks and credit companies that are still using traditional cards, this may represent a threat, as Apple, a trusted and globally known brand is offering something that appears to be more convenient, more secure, and has obvious instant cashback perks.

For Apple, this venture is a way that it can offer value and generate even deeper loyalty with and become more attached to the lives of its customers. This creates another important competitive advantage for the tech giant and allows it to gain a deeper understanding of its customers and their habits (even though it says it won’t share any information about those habits).

This also represents an opportunity for Apple to diversify at a time when its iPhone sales have been a bit flat and move towards the provision of services as well as hardware.

Tech Tip – Gallery Go

If you’ve been looking for a good gallery app for Android, Google has created an offline and compact, lite version of Google Photos that is uncluttered and easy to use.

The Gallery Go app works offline, so it doesn’t sync to a Google account (like Google Photos), but it only has two tabs at the bottom for pictures and folders, useful search tabs at the top, and very a user-friendly layout.

Gallery Go enables easy copying and moving photos between folders, you can create new folders, and it supports SD card.  The app also has automatic organisation so that each night, Gallery Go will automatically organise your photos to group by: People, Selfies, Nature, Animals, Documents, Videos and Movies.

Gallery Go is available from the Google Play Store.

Tech Tip – Crono App

If you’d like to get better integration between your PC and phone, the Crono app enables you to get all your notifications straight from Chrome.

If you spend a lot of time using Chrome on your computer, the Crono app lets you see all your notifications and calendar events without looking at your phone i.e. you get mobile notifications on your browser and you can respond to those notifications through your browser.

The app, which requires a Chrome extension to work also allows clipboard sharing between your browser and device with a single click, and if you can’t find your phone you can ring it directly from your browser.

Crono is available for Android from the Google Play Store.

Tech Tip – Bouncer App

If you’re concerned about privacy on your phone, and if you’d like to stop power-hungry apps from abusing their permissions by running processor-heavy tasks in the background the ‘Bouncer’ app enables you to grant permissions for applications temporarily.

With the Bouncer app, you can grant permissions for apps for a temporary period and once permission is granted, the Bouncer app will automatically remove that permission either when you exit the app in question or when a certain amount of time has passed.

The Bouncer app is available (Beta) on the Google Play Store.

Tech Tip – Note-Taking Apps

There are often situations in business where it helps to take notes and keep them in a handy, tidy and easy to access place.  Google Keep and Apple Notes provide users with easy note-taking on the go.

Google Keep is a Web-based note-taking app for your computer or Android and iOS phone. It has a variety of tools for note-taking including texts, list, images, and reminders. Everything you add to Keep syncs across your devices (your phone, tablet and computer) so you’ve always got your important information to hand.  Google Keep – Notes and Lists are available from the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store.

Apple Notes for iOS and macOS operating systems also offers helpful note-taking tools including text, video, images, scanning, note search and information from other apps.  Your (latest version) iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch should have Notes, and to use its latest features, make sure that you set up Notes with iCloud or have notes saved on your device.

Tech Tip – Citymapper

If you’re out and about on business in a city at home or abroad, the Citymapper app provides trip planning, real-time information about departures, offline maps, alerts about delays and disruptions, and much more.

The app covers many cities around the world, and the European cities of London, Manchester, Birmingham, Paris, Lyon, Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Hamburg.

To find the app go to the Google Play Store.

1000+ Android Apps Harvest Our Data Without Our Permission

Researchers from the International Computer Science Institute have reported that up to 1,325 Android apps are gathering data from devices after people have denied them permission, and Google claims that it will address the problem with the introduction of the new Android “Q” Operating System.

Apps Finding Way Around Privacy Restrictions

According to the ICSI researchers, who presented their findings last month at the Federal Trade Commission’s PrivacyCon, 1000+ apps are finding their way around privacy restrictions and are able to gather geolocation data, phone identifiers, and other data from users who may be thinking that they have successfully denied apps access to such data.

For example, in the study of 88,000+ apps from the Google Play store, the researchers were able to identify 1,325 apps that violate permissions on Android by using workarounds hidden in their code that can enable personal data to be taken from multiple sources including Wi-Fi connections and metadata stored in photos.

Which Apps?

The researchers highlighted apps such as Shutterfly photo-editing app which gathers GPS coordinates from photos and sends the data to its own servers, even after users have declined to give permission to access location data, and Baidu’s Hong Kong Disneyland park app and Samsung’s Health and Browser apps were found (like 13 other apps) to be able to piggyback off other apps that had been granted permission in order to obtain data like phone identifiers and IMEI numbers.

Android Q Could Help

It is thought the introduction of the latest (17th) version of Android’s Operating system, Android Q, released as a beta on March 13th and due for wider release later this year may be able to address many of these privacy concerns thanks to more stringent security features.  For example, users will be able to definitively choose and control when apps have permission to see their location i.e. never, only when the app is in use and running, or all the time when in the background. With Android Q, background apps won’t be able to jump into the foreground, and there will also be new permissions relating to the accessing of background photos, video, and audio files.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With mobile and app use being a normal part of everyday life, and with most people unable and unlikely to spend the time checking permissions and T&Cs on everything, we have to take on trust that when we deny it permissions, an app will abide by our decisions.  It may be a surprise, therefore, at a time when GDPR is in force and data privacy and security is a topic that many users think about and actively try to protect that so many apps are able to find workarounds that enable them to keep gathering data about us. It appears that it may be much more difficult to stay private online than many of us believe.

It is good news, therefore, that Android Q may provide a way to offer us greater protection and provide more of a challenge to companies and organisations that want access to our data e.g. to help target us with advertising, even though app developers may argue that they are simply using the gathered data to help enhance and personalise our experiences of their apps (to keep us using them).  App developers are in a highly competitive and crowded market and although gathering and using customer data to make their apps more indispensable may seem legitimate, most of us value our online privacy, would object to having our data permissions effectively ignored, and may feel frustrated that we still have so few tools and cues to help us effectively control our privacy.

Tech Tip – Apps To Stop Pocket Dialling

If you’ve ever accidentally pocket-dialled someone or accidentally clicked through things on your phone while it’s in your pocket, apps such as ‘Pocket Screen Lock’, ‘Pocket Mode’ and ‘Pocket Sensor’ can prevent this from happening.

These kinds of apps include a proximity sensor to enable them to detect when the phone is in your pocket whereupon it is locked and is unlocked again when it’s taken out of your pocket.

To find these and similar apps for Android, go to Google Play Store.

‘Mobile-Sensing System’ Could Evaluate Your Workplace Performance

A newly developed ‘Mobile-Sensing System’ that uses a combination of smartphone, fitness bracelet, app and cloud-based machine learning algorithms can track and rank the workplace performance of employees with 80% accuracy.

Based On Student Monitoring App

The underlying technology blueprint for the new system, which was developed by a group of researchers including Dartmouth University computer science professor Andrew Campbell, is a student monitoring app that was used to help improve productivity. The ‘StudentLife’ app monitored student behaviour and predicted academic performance.

The ‘Mobile-Sensing System’

The new ‘Mobile-Sensing System’ uses the combination of a smartphone to track physical activity, location, phone usage and ambient light, a wearable fitness tracker to monitor heart functions, sleep, stress, and body measurements e.g. weight and calorie consumption, and location beacons that can be placed in the home or office to provide information about time at work and breaks.

The number-crunching for the system is carried out by cloud-based machine learning algorithms that have been trained to classify workers by performance level.

Why?

The system provides feedback to both the employee and employer and, according to the researchers, by using this ‘passive’ sensing and machine learning system, companies have another way of assessing how individuals are doing in their jobs, and employees can be helped to see how they can optimise and boost their performance.

The researchers believe that the system can unlock and give greater insight into behaviours that drive performance and offers benefits over more traditional review techniques that can require manual effort and can be biased and unreliable.

Best Performers

The researchers have noted that, according to the new system, the best performers are likely to be those who have lower rates of phone usage, have longer deep sleep periods and are more physically active and mobile.

Surveillance?

Although the researchers have pitched the system as something that could help employer and employee, critics may say that, in the relationship where the employer has the power, this kind of close surveillance and micro-management tool could favour younger physically active people (those without disabilities or sleeping disorders), could create stress in individuals who feel that they are constantly being monitored and ‘ranked’ by a ‘big brother’ system with a view to being replaced based on numbers created by secret algorithms.

It could also mean that employees without home/family commitments or who live closer to work may be ranked as more productive because they are able to stay longer or come into the workplace outside normal hours.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This system does show how new technologies can be combined to provide closer insights into work and performance and in some jobs e.g. repetitive manual jobs where time is a key factor anyway.  For some employers, therefore, this system could have a real value in evaluating and improving working processes, particularly if it is accompanied by a positive rewards-based system, and if support is made available to those employees who don’t rank as highly.

This system, however, may not be able to take account of many of the other dynamics and soft factors that make up good performance, and may not be suitable as the main monitoring method in certain more specialised jobs and roles.  There is also a danger that this kind of system in the wrong hands could be used as a blunt instrument of surveillance and control over a workforce.

Privacy and security are also a major concern for businesses and employees, and whether or not the data and performance measurements can be linked to an individual, where (and how securely) that data is stored, and who the data can be shared with should be areas of concern.