Archive for Mobile

Tech Tip – Twobird

New email client app ‘Twobird’ allows you to put all your emails in one place and create notes and reminders on the fly (and attaches the notes on emails).

Twobird has been billed as “a new kind of email app” that offers email at the speed of live chat.  It includes all your everyday tools – writes emails, creates notes, set reminders and assign to-dos — all in your inbox. If, for example, if you’ve scheduled an appointment it will alert you at just the right time.

Features include:

– Remind: allowing you to schedule an email or note to appear in your inbox later.

– Low Priority: so you can set aside automated messages so you don’t get distracted.

– Pinned and Recent: this lets you keep important notes and conversations easily accessible.

– Tidy Up: archives any inactive conversations so your inbox stays fresh.

Twobird is available in the Google Play store.

Windows Virtual Desktop Generally Available Now

Microsoft has announced that its Windows Virtual Desktop is now generally available worldwide on Azure and will include Windows 7 free Extended Security Updates for up to three years.

Windows Virtual Desktop

Windows Virtual Desktop from Microsoft, which was announced last September but has just been made generally available worldwide, is a Cloud-based ‘virtual’ version of Windows that can be accessed by employees from any device from anywhere, provides full multi-session, and is always up to date.  The Virtual Desktop has been designed with modern working practice in mind where not all employees sit in an office, use just one device or work from secure locations.

According to Microsoft, Windows Virtual Desktop is the only virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) that can provide simplified management, multi-session Windows 10, optimizations for Office 365 ProPlus, as well as and support for Remote Desktop Services (RDS) environments.

The Virtual Desktop enables Windows desktops and apps to be deployed and scaled on Microsoft’s Azure portal in minutes, and it includes built-in security and compliance features.

Supported Transition to Windows 10

One key sweetener of the new service for those companies facing the end of support for their old Windows 7 deployments is that it offers free extended security updates for the Windows 7 virtual desktop including more support options for previous app versions while users transition to Windows 10.

Migrate

Microsoft is keen to emphasise that its Virtual Desktop can work with your current Remote Desktop Services (RDS), and can therefore easily be migrated on Azure.

Trust

Microsoft is also keen to emphasise that businesses can trust the new Windows Virtual Desktop not least because Microsoft invests more than USD $1 billion annually on cybersecurity research and development, employs 3,500+ security experts, and Azure has more compliance certifications than any other cloud provider.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With Virtual Desktop, Microsoft is hoping to capitalise on the fact that many businesses have workers in multiple locations with multiple devices who need to have convenient and secure access to a constantly updated version of their desktop.  Microsoft also knows that companies are getting more confident about moving more of their infrastructure to the Cloud, and want a secure, scalable ‘as-as-Service’ offering where they don’t need to worry about having the expertise in-house.

The easy migration aspect of the service and the offer of extended Windows 7 support may be of value to businesses looking to make a leveraged move forward to Windows 10 and may help Microsoft retain valuable business customers.

Tech Tip – Telegram

Telegram describes itself as the fastest messaging app on the market, and uses a unique, distributed network of data centres around the globe so that’s it’s not only a simple, fast, secure messaging service that’s synced across all your devices, but also has added features and an ease of operation that many prefer to WhatsApp.

Everything on Telegram (chats, groups, media, etc.) is encrypted using a combination of 256-bit symmetric AES encryption.  Also, the app has a clean interface, there are no adverts, and Telegram offers powerful photo and video editing tools.

Telegram is available on the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store.

AI Destined For McDonald’s Drive-Throughs

The acquisition of AI voice recognition start-up Apprente by the McDonalds franchise gives the restaurant chain its own Silicon Valley technology division and promises an automated ordering system for drive-throughs, self-order interfaces and the mobile app.

Apprente

Apprente is a Silicon Valley-based start-up (founded 2017, Mountain View, California) that specialises in making customer service chatbots.  Its acquisition by McDonald’s gives the restaurant chain its own AI-powered voice-based conversational system that can handle human-level interactions, thereby helping improve the speed and accuracy of orders.

It is thought that the Apprente system will not completely replace the traditional front of house staff, but may be used in mobile ordering or kiosks i.e. added to drive-through kiosks or sited nearby (and added to the mobile app) so that that food can be ordered by the customer’s voice, and transcripts of the order can be given to staff to ensure that the order is correct.  The transcript may also be presented or read to the customer when they pick the order up minutes later.  The technology may, therefore, provide time-saving, accuracy, and convenience benefits to both customers and staff.

Why?

There are a few key reasons why McDonald’s has gone down the tech route with its order taking.  These include:

  1. Competition from home delivery companies.
  2. 70 per cent of the company’s orders come through its drive-throughs but some reports show that McDonald’s may be relatively slow in getting its drive-through food orders out.  For example, a recent report (Oches’ 2019) shows that while the average wait in a Burger King drive-through is over 193 seconds, the waiting time in McDonald’s is considerably longer at 273 seconds.  McDonald’s ranked the tenth and slowest fast-food company in that report, but the addition of the voice-based conversational system could help speed things up.
  3. To give McDonald’s a technology development centre, the McD Tech Labs in Silicon Valley so that the restaurant chain can keep adding value through new technology and stay ahead in the market.

Other Acquisitions

McDonald’s has also recently acquired customer services personalisation company and AI start-up ‘Dynamic Yield’. With this deal, worth more than £240 million, McDonald’s can use the decision-logic technology to create drive-through menus tailored to its customers based on the time of the day, trends, previous choices and other factors.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For customers, the deployment of the new voice-recognition technology in addition to the Dynamic Yield (already deployed in 8,000 US drive-throughs) should make ordering food a faster and better experience.

For McDonald’s, the addition of the new technology and of a tech base in Silicon Valley to develop more of the same should help it to compete in a market that’s getting busier with companies that are using technology to reach customers and satisfy the same need for fast gratification.  The value-adding technology (combined with the fact that McDonald’s have a restaurant in most towns with a standardised and trusted product and brand) means that McDonald’s is taking steps to ensure that it stays ahead in a future where technology is an important competitive advantage in fast food delivery.   The new technology may also help McDonald’s address its current need to get orders ready more quickly and accurately while adding a novelty factor, talking point, and perceived advantage among customers.

Tech Tip – Canva

If you’d like a free, graphic design app that can help you to improve your business and social media communications then Canva may be the app for you.

Canva is a versatile graphic design app: full editor, Instagram story maker, video maker, video editor, logo maker and poster maker, enabling you to easily stay on brand and create some very professional logo and poster designs with your photos and videos.

Canva also provides a great way to design your Instagram Highlight cover and create a logo and banner for social networks (Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter).

You can get Canva on the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store.

Microsoft’s Phone App Challenge to iMessage and FaceTime

Reports from online tech commentators indicate that Microsoft will soon be enhancing its Your Phone app with the ability to make phone calls from a desktop PC, thereby making the app a serious challenger to Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime.

The Your Phone App

Microsoft’s Your Phone desktop App connects your phone to your PC thereby giving you access to your phone’s notifications, photos and texts while working on your PC. Giving the desktop Phone App the details of your phone (Android or Apple, phone number) means that you receive a download link to the ‘Phone Companion’ via SMS text.

Installing the Phone Companion on your mobile enables you to sync your phone with your PC e.g. an Android phone with Windows 10 PC.  This gives instant access to your phone on your PC so that you can reply to texts at your PC and instantly receive photos on your PC that have been taken on the phone.

Making Calls – Challenging Apple’s iCloud Integrations

The addition of being able to dial a number, search your phone contacts and make a call directly from your PC is an important enhancement that could make Microsoft’s Your Phone desktop App a serious challenger to Apple’s iCloud integrations on macOS.

Apple Mac users can currently use these to send messages from their desktop using iMessage and can also make voice and video calls using FaceTime.

‘Use Phone’ Button

The enhanced Your Phone App from Microsoft will include a ‘Use Phone’ button that can send a call back from the PC (microphone and speakers) to the handset,  thereby enabling more privacy and/or shutting out any distracting background noise e.g. keyboard noises and noises from home working.

Who?

A full-feature Your Phone App would most likely be of maximum value to those workers who need to be in front of the desktop for long periods of time with minimal distractions although, arguably, messages and notifications popping up on the screen could be less easy to ignore than if they’d been quietly arriving on the phone in corner.

The Your Phone app could also be of use to workers in a situation where too much obvious interaction with their handset in the workplace is frowned upon and where visual monitoring and supervision is particularly intense.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For Microsoft, this improvement to the Your Phone desktop App, which has been around for some time, gives it much greater potential value to users and gives Microsoft another way to seriously compete with its rival Apple.

For any business users who are typically tied to the PC for most of the time the ability to handle all phone matters on the desktop adds value in terms of convenience, possible time savings, and fewer distractions.

Tech Tip – WiFiAnalyzer

If you’d like to optimise your Wi-Fi signal by being able to quickly analyse Wi-Fi networks directly from your Android device, measure signal strength and identify crowded channels, Wi-Fi Analyzer may be the app for you.

This open-source, free app, which has no-adverts and claims not to collect any personal information, uses as few permissions as possible to perform the analysis and does not require access to the Internet.

WiFiAnalyzer is available from the Google Play store.

iPhone Attack Lasting More Than 2 Years Discovered

A Google security researcher has discovered a sustained and indiscriminate hacking attack on iPhones that is believed to have been going on for more than two years.

Google Project Zero

Details of the attack are outlined on Google’s ‘Project Zero’ blog (https://googleprojectzero.blogspot.com) by security researcher Ian Beer.

Using Hacked Websites For The Attack

On the blog, Mr Beer highlights how Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) discovered a small collection of hacked websites that were being used in indiscriminate ‘watering hole’ attacks against their visitors, using iPhone 0-day.  Watering hole attacks are where the browsing patterns of particular groups are observed in order to lay a trap e.g. hack a website that the particular group visits and 0-day vulnerabilities in software are those that are either unknown or known and not patched.

Mr Beer’s TAG team noted that there has been no target discrimination for the attack but a simple visit to a hacked website appears to be enough for the exploit server to attack a person’s device, leading to the installation of a monitoring implant.

How Many iPhone Users Have Been Affected?

Mr Beer’s team estimate that the hacked websites receive thousands of visitors per week.  Also, given that the hack has been operating for more than two years, and that TAG was able to identify five separate, complete and unique iPhone exploit chains that cover almost every version from iOS 10 through to the latest version of iOS 12, large numbers of iPhone users could potentially be affected.

12 Security Flaws

Mr Beer’s team identified 12 separate security flaws (mostly bugs within the Safari default web browser on Apple products) that could be used to compromise the Apple devices.

Reported To Apple – Patch Released

The TAG researchers reported the issues to Apple with a 7-day deadline on 1 February 2019 and shared the complete details of the research with Apple.  This led to the release of the security update iOS 12.1.4 on 7 Feb 2019.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is worrying to think that this kind of hack has been going on for years before it was discovered, and owners of Apple devices may be particularly surprised given the security features of their phones and Apple’s reputation for offering relative safety from concerns about viruses and hacking.

If you have an iPhone, the advice is to make sure that it is running the latest version of iOS. Go to ‘Settings’, tap ‘General’, and under ‘Software Update’ check that you are be running iOS 12.4.1. which has the fix.

Tesla Owners Locked Out

Some Tesla Model 3 car owners found themselves decidedly locked out in the cold due to a vital Phone Key app being down for maintenance.

Labor Day Dismay

On US Labor Day, some owners of Tesla Model 3 cars who tried to use their Phone Key app, the smartphone app that will open a Model 3 without the owner having to take the phone out of their pocket, found themselves locked out when the app didn’t work, and they hadn’t brought a physical key fob/card with them.

Net Fret

Some of the immobilized owners took to social media platforms to highlight their plight, voice their frustration and seek information.  For example, some Tesla owners on Twitter claimed to have been locked out of their cars for up to four hours whereas others reported being stranded at Supercharger stations and plugged in longer than was necessary.

No App Trapped

The reasons why some owners of Tesla Model 3 cars were locked out appears to be the fact that they had logged out of their app, may not have been able to get a phone signal, and that the app was undergoing maintenance at the other end.

Under normal circumstances, the Phone Key should be able to operate on Bluetooth Low Energy frequencies rather than a network connection in order to communicate with the Model 3 vehicle.

Pain Again

This is not the first time that Tesla owners have experienced a lack of mobility due to being locked out by apps.  Back in 2018, after media control unit replacements and a problem with digital certificate transferral, some owners found themselves in the same frustrating situation of being temporarily refused entry to their own cars.

Not Hard If You Bring Your Card

The Tesla Manual states that the Model 3 comes with two physical key cards for entry and operation that can be used when a phone is not accessible, out of battery, or if someone else needs temporary access to the Model 3 e.g. a valet. Those owners who were temporarily stranded by the app failure appear not to have brought either of their key cards with them.

Electric Blues

All this comes at a time when Tesla is facing competition from the likes of Harley-Davidson which has just announced that it’s taking pre-orders for its first all-electric motorcycle, the LiveWire.  The LiveWire can cover 110 miles on a single charge and can go from zero to 60 in just 3.5 seconds.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is clearly an embarrassing incident for a company that has a technological focus for its vehicles, and where the price reflects the early-curve electronic vehicle development – Model 3s starting at around £37,000.

This story is also an example of the potential dangers of relying too much on technology and apps to run every aspect of our lives going forward.  Even though Tesla does provide physical key cards that could have helped those stranded drivers, human error (not reading the manual and / or forgetting to bring one) played a part, as it often does, in errors involving the human and technology combination.  Also, the use of interconnected technologies i.e. the reliance upon some kind of Internet/Bluetooth connection to enable the app to work correctly shows how today’s newest smart services still have a heavy reliance upon the existing communications infrastructure.

Tech Tip – Office Lens

If you would like a handy way to make copies of work documents for future reference, the Office Lens app lets you turn your smartphone into a whiteboard and document scanner.

The Office Lens app means that you never need to lose a receipt or important document or lose any of the ideas sketched onto a whiteboard at meetings or courses.  Snap a picture of your chosen document with the app and Office Lens allows you to save the output as images, PDFs or Word documents, and save to OneNote, OneDrive, or to your local device.

Office Lens is available from the Google Play store.