Empowering the Office with Apps

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The novelty of mobile apps has long since faded but their usefulness and functionality is ever increasing with more advance and creative apps being developed every day. Creative apps are not just limited to the big app stores but can also come directly from developers to businesses bypassing the app stores all together.

These apps can streamline processes and naturally enable mobility within an organisation. Some business apps have broader appeal for example providing mobile versions of larger desktop applications other apps have a much more niche appeal and will need to be custom built for its use.

Microsoft has announced a new tool called PowerApps for creating apps, not aimed at developers but anyone familiar with their hugely popular office suite.

The apps created will run on all mobile platforms including Android, iOS and of course Windows Phone.

The tool aimed at businesses, using an office-like interface including the ribbon to create apps to make office life easier. These can be published from the application and then access via an intranet link on other employee’s smartphones, tablets of PCs.

PowerApps has now launched on the Windows Store as a free download and requires a Office 365 account to login. Click here to download.

This week’s technology news – 25th October 2014

Wearable Technology – not so Mickey Mouse

It was never going to be long before the commercial opportunities from wearable technology would be fully grasped by the entertainment industry. Into frame comes The Walt Disney Company, who have been discussing the success of their adoption of wearable technology at the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit recently.  Their new “MagicBand” aims to “improve customer experience and engage with visitors” at its parks and resorts.   This is a neat euphemism for describing big data analytics consuming and helping direct customer behaviour through holding personal details to enable greater marketing opportunities to be had.

The MagicBand uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.  Visitors can enter parks, hotel rooms, purchase food and gifts, use fast-track services as well as link Disney photos to an online account with a swipe of their arm.   Acknowledging the issue of privacy and security, Disney’s customers can elect whether or not to share their personal data.  If they do, families can register one time payment details to avoid carrying a wallet to pay for individual items during a stay, or register their children’s names and birthdays to make a “magical” personal greeting at a ride – or have informed conversations with a Disney character whilst walking around.

Should we be surprised, well no, not really.  After all it is 20 years since Tesco employed company DunnHumby in 1994 to analyse their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) data to find patterns to help direct marketing campaigns. This quickly became known as the highly successful Tesco Loyalty Card.  Even this wasn’t cheap though – the scheme is reputed to cost £60million per annum to run.  However, the exploitation of data to direct company decisions is the future and central to the Internet of Things to make our lives easier.  So the more intelligent organisations are about their use of data, its connections, privacy and security, the greater the potential opportunities that can arise in future – and hit the bottom line.

 

 

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Apple’s new SIM

Apple announcements come and go, but last week’s big Apple event was mostly underwhelming, bringing incremental refreshes to its iPads and Macs with an absence of exciting new features. A small detail that went unnoticed by most (and wrongly reported by others), is the new Apple SIM that comes included within the new iPads in the US and UK.

The Apple SIM is essentially an Apple branded nano-SIM which lets you swap between different network providers without swapping the SIM itsel.  This can be done by choosing you provider of choice on the iPads touch interface without visiting a physical or web store.  That is the plan at least. Currently here in the UK, only EE have signed up so you are limited to swapping between EE and nothing.

You can thankfully also use a standard nano-SIM in the new iPads, but it has yet to be confirmed that if you sign up for a data plan on the new Apple SIM it will still work if taken out and moved into a non-apple device?

If the answer was no, then this annoyance would likely go unnoticed by most, as only a fraction of iPad buyers opt for the cellular capable option.  However, if this was used in the next iPhone launch, the Apple SIM could tie Apple devices and numbers together making an iPhone to iPhone upgrade painless, but an iPhone to a competitor a difficult or impossible task.

If this was to come into play, it may fly in the States where Apple has stronger control over network carriers and a history of less flexible mobile options.  But here in Europe, it would likely be slammed by anti-trust laws for unfair competitor practises. Apple’s new SIM may be both a starting point and a testing bed laying low in new 4G iPads, but things will escalate extremely quickly if it makes the jump over to iPhones in the future.

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Yahoo! finds success in mobile

 

Not long ago we saw Marissa Mayer, Yahoo! CEO make the statement that they had missed a huge opportunity in mobile. Since then Yahoo! has been hard at work enhancing its modern mobile portfolio with a sequence of clever acquisitions of mobile app development houses.

With the company revealing its latest quarterly earnings with mobile revenues in excess of $200 million, they estimate growth revenues in mobile to exceed $1.2 billion by the end of this year.

Over the past 10 months Yahoo!’s mobile acquisitions have included Snapchat clone “Blink”, messaging app “MessageMe”, home screen app “Aviate” and mobile analytics startup “Flurry”. In addition to their existing apps these start-ups were also tasked with creating the new Yahoo! App suite including News, Sport and Weather. The surprisingly high quality of these apps have earned them a recent surge in consumer interest and the spin off has been that consumers are returning to use Yahoo! Services.

When a company the size of Yahoo! misses a technology shift as big as mobile apps they can often find themselves in serious trouble. Yahoo! is currently rumoured to be involved in numerous new mobile app development house acquisitions, so in finding success in mobile, it is safe to say they are going to focus more than ever on mobile.  If the next set of acquisitions turn out as well as the last, Yahoo! may see a new lease of life as a heavyweight in the mobile app business.

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How out of touch are we?

 

Microsoft has been developing touch technology for a while now to embrace realism in resistance and weight on their keyboards and touch pads (see blog 5 July 2013), however touch devices are moving on again to evolve into next generation technology described as “rich touch”.

The iPhone was regarded as being an exemplar of multi-touch interfaces, but recently an altogether more creative suggestion has been made by Professor Chris Harrison of Carnegie Mellon University in the States.  Interfaces have become far simpler for people to use, but Harrison derides the empahsis on size reduction in favour of the flexibility that different touch can provide to expand the use of a device.  All of this is based on analysis of the richness of how humans naturally use their hands, versus how many fingers you use to poke at a screen.  Guitars he sees, are very sensitive for this in terms of touch, pressure and grasp and can pick up on vibration.  Harrison sees this as the key to matching desktop productivity on mobile devices.

Rich touch would enable your knuckle to be used to add another dimension to your pointer finger ie. lassoing part of a photo, or tapping on the screen with your knuckle to bring up a contextual menu and refine and edit content. These variances can work as a “left-click” for touchscreen interfaces. Further options can be cued by the angle of touch to turn the screen into a different menu sequence, so a poke is different to grazing your fingertip across the screen – which could alter the scrolling process (a big deal for smartwatches). Then there is “drilling” the screen to turn volume up or down and other recognition of hand shapes to perform other functions.

All of the above developments seek to connect the user more personally and practically with their devices which should increase output and engagement satisfaction.  As long as options remain for selecting how we access different menus, and rich touch options can be switched on or off, it will add another new rich layer to our user experience, whilst also protecting the less dextrous user amongst us.

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This week’s technology news – 18th July 2014

IBM, Apple and exclusive Apps

In the consumer market the war for a dominant victor has been decided, at least for now, Google comfortably holds the biggest share worldwide but for the workplace it is very much up for grabs. IBM and Apple have announced a new partnership to help each other tackle corporate mobility. IBM will be focusing on the software, creating new iOS apps, porting more than 100 of its existing applications over. IBM will also be selling iPads and iPhones direct, and teaming with apple to provide AppleCare for enterprises. 

 

This all makes for a strong business case, albeit a pricey one. The investment to work on so many end-to-end mobile solutions is impressive, however with such a partnership you must wonder if this is IBM taking a stand and making the bulk of these exclusive to Apple’s ecosystem, for mobiles at least. Application support has definitely helped sway the battle for phone manufacturers before, so why not use that same approach for businesses?

 

This could potentially be dangerous territory, an iPhone doesn’t make the most sense from a cost or support perspective to all. Of course this is not the first case of platform specific exclusive apps but with the size of the players involved, it could spur similar deals with others. This highlights an important consideration when deciding or reviewing your device standard of choice. Beyond what come pre-installed, are the necessary apps you need available? And are they implemented in away employees will be able to best benefit on the go? And how will they incorporate into your own existing infrastructure?

FBI on catch up with driverless car technology

An internal report by the FBI disclosed by the Guardian reveals their fear that the evolution of driverless cars such as those being developed by Google (and Volvo as reported in our 9 May 2014 blog), could create lethal weapons.   For law enforcers, their fear is that the automated cars present a perfect opportunity for criminals to focus their attention on shooting at officers, rather than having to keep their eyes on the road as well during a chase.   One counter to this is the advantage to the emergency services whose paths could be automatically cleared ahead of them as traffic moves aside.

 

With Google’s potential to have an approved car on the road in five to seven years and the British government already clearing the way for the legality of driverless cars on UK roads with the highway code being re-written, there is clearly a split in the debate.  Nonetheless the producers themselves are keen to promote that the anticipated increased safety will ultimately result in driver error becoming eradicated.  Whether this will also stem the traditional derisory comments between passengers and their driver about the skills on display may take a little longer to change.

A case of helpful hacking

Finding out a hacker has breached your network security is a major headache for companies. In the case of Sony, who infamously were hacked back in April 2011 had to close down their public facing media network for 24 days as it was rebuilt, admitting personal and credit card information was possibly compromised for up to 77 million users account. This instance can stand as a good case study on network and infrastructure security.

 

Google is taking a more direct approach and hiring the same hacker; George Hotz to assist with their new Project Zero initiative to identify problems with software. Controversial? Sure but the above does read as an impressive resume in the aim of finding flaws in large systems and applications. The Google project is not just self-beneficial. The new Team will also investigate other company’s software. Vulnerabilities found will be placed into a public database, with information on how long companies took to plug these after being alerted.

 

Google are not the only ones in the vulnerability finding game, Both Microsoft and Facebook have ‘bug bounty’ programmes, paying hackers for find system vulnerabilities. No matter how big or small, you may be surprised what someone outside your company walls could see in, if they really wanted too. Make sure your own system has had an additional teams eyes review the security, beyond the team that implemented it. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes is all that’s needed to find that overlooked flaw.

Google’s diabetes smart lens looks good

The future of wearable technology and advances in digital health have taken what appears to be a solid step forward, following the deal struck between pharmco giant Novartis and Google to produce Google’s diabetes ‘smart’ contact lens.  With 1 in 10 people in the world forecast to have diabetes by 2035, this is canny commercial advance in healthcare.  The lens, utilising a tiny wireless chip with miniaturised glucose senses embedded in the lens, will help diabetics monitor their glucose levels through the tears in the sufferer’s eyes.  The results are then communicated to a mobile phone or computer.

 

With the prototype revealed in January, Novartis believe the technology had “the potential to transform eye care”.  The enthusiasm of Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin to use technology “to help improve the quality of life for millions of people”, may still be some way off.  However, with the increase in incidence of the disease, such innovative technologies would likely prove popular to consumers, whilst enabling healthcare experts to continue their monitoring role and make a difference to the management of the disease.

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Feathers angrily ruffled at mobile apps gaming firm

Demands for a user privacy debate has been launched by Finnish “Angry Birds” maker Rovio, after the release of documents by whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA is targeting analytics data from mobile apps. US and UK spy agencies were shown to have targeted advertising networks, to enable access to Rovio’s private user data. Internet-enabled devices visiting ad-enabled websites or ad-enabled applications, are vulnerable to surveillance and “leaky” smartphone apps can release anything from basic technical information to personal information like gender, location etc. The EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding is equally concerned about mass surveillance. In a speech for this year’s Data Protection Day summit she advocates reform is needed to restore trust in the digital economy and a rethink of the European Data Retention law. “National security’ (is not) a trump card (that) disregards citizens’ rights”. “These issues are connected, not separate (and) encryption has been weakened”. The NSA and GCHQ have defended their actions saying that their use of data is targeted and adheres to a strict legal and policy framework – but the encroachment is insidious and the concern from business is that commercial as well as private data is being swept up. Incoming international president of IT at professional association ISACA, Rob Stroud, echoes the seriousness of cyber security threats in the UK. “Information security professionals need to engage with their organisation about the implication of data leaks and how to do proper risk assessments”. It also raises the question about the role of the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), where they sit in an organisation and their seniority, as digital security requires proactive not reactive thinking”. With technology changing, the use of consumer apps increasing and businesses seeking ever more automation, device management, risk assessment and security must go hand in hand for MSPs and company IT security advisors.

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This week’s technology news from Amicus ITS – Friday 2nd August 2013

Microsoft must rebrand SkyDrive after trademark dispute
In what may be déjà vu to those who remember Microsoft’s ‘Metro’ name fiasco before the launch of Windows 8, Microsoft has been forced to rebrand their commercial cloud storage service “SkyDrive” after a court ruling that the SkyDrive name infringed on BSkyB’s “Sky” brand. With SkyDrive in use in mobile apps, deep integration into Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Office 2013 and more, this is no small task. No new name for the service has been announced yet, but expect a slew of updates coming soon across Microsoft’s product portfolio to correct this, in addition to a new marketing campaign aimed at SkyDrive’s 250 million+ user base to save confusion when the change does happen.

Apple still making developers more money than Google
Even though Android phones and tablets have been outselling iPhones and iPads for some time now, the Apple App Store is still the most profitable app market out there. It’s not for lack of downloads either. The Google Play store now receives more downloads of Apps than Apple’s. It seems that the Android users are simply not hitting the “buy” button, as they are happy with the free offerings available. In fact Apple Apps despite fewer downloads are making more than twice the revenue of Google. Of course if you are selling Apps ideally you will cover as many platforms as possible to increase potential sales, but you can’t take for granted that the largest platform is the most profitable.

Google Glass as punishable as mobile phones when driving
Efforts in West Virginia USA, to outlaw the wearing of Google Glass when driving are crossing over to the UK, as they are being considered by the Department of Transport in the UK. Discussions are being held with the police to ensure individuals do not use the technology when driving to ensure full attention.

MIT creates perfect mirror
Physicists at MIT have created the first perfect mirror. This could lead to breakthroughs in fibre optic networks, lasers and solar power. When light hits the mirror (or any other kind of wave, including acoustic or water waves), it bounces off perfectly and preserves the original image (signal). Normal mirrors block the passage of light, sound, water or radio waves and can only reflect, which is never perfect. Reflecting a laser down hundreds of miles of optic fibre would highlight any imperfection and cause a huge drop in efficiency. Whilst the research involved a phototonic crystal, the potential is an exciting step forward for the future of data infrastructure networks.

This week’s technology news from Amicus ITS – Friday 21st June 2013

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There’s no appathy in healthcare
There are estimated to be 40,000 healthcare apps for smartphones and tablets. The market for healthcare apps is estimated to be worth $400m by 2016. Few doubt delivery of clinical care management and diagnostics will increasingly engage with this technology (some 62% of US doctors had some form of tablet in 2012). Apart from obvious cost reduction opportunities, apps offer UK healthcare providers and the mobile care workforce improved patient visit time and reduce lengthy paperwork duties. The benefits of remote monitoring of drug delivery, tracking patient welfare, calibration of devices etc. are all positives. Enabling the mobile workforce is critical, it just needs to be aligned to proper security and governance policies measures.

Dawn readiness for cyber attack
Quantum Dawn 2, a planned simulated cyber attack, is to be held later this month in the States amongst selected Wall Street firms and government agencies. The initiative is a bid to identify flaws which could otherwise cripple the nation’s economy. Attempts by hacktivists last year caused US banks to put aside their normal rivalries for the common good of sharing defence mechanisms and outcomes. Gartner believes that all firms should undertake regular drills on Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) to confirm continuity of phone and email communications to fully flex their DR and protection plans. This is something that more firms would be well advised to undertake.

Samsung ATIV Q: Windows 8 and Android all in one
Today at the Samsung Premiere several new mobile devices were unveiled. One of the most interesting is the Samsung ATIV Q. At first glance it looks like any high-end tablet but its party trick may turn a few heads. Running both Windows 8 and Android, users get the benefit of all their legacy Windows applications, as well as Microsoft’s own modern tablet Apps in addition to the full catalogue of Android Apps. No reboots required, you can pin Android Apps to the Windows 8 start screen and vice versa. Making for a versatile tablet. Whether Samsung has a true market winner on their hands has yet to be seen, but the full breadth of App compatibility this solution offers, should bring the ATIV Q in to your consideration list for your next business tablet.

Big companies reveal US government data requests
Further to recent news stories around ‘Prism’ (US Government surveillance programme on users data), IT big names including Microsoft, Apple and Facebook have revealed how many requests for users data they receive. Microsoft confirmed over 30,000 requests in the second half of 2012, Apple had 5,000 requests and Facebook 19,000. When these requests come in companies have a legal obligation to pass over information stored on their servers. The exception is services like Apple’s iMessage which use end-to-end encryption. Even Apple themselves are unable to unencrypt this data and so it cannot be handed over. Although these figures are alarming at first, Apple stated the majority of cases are from police and the data used assisted searches for missing children, locating patients with Alzheimer’s and preventing suicides.

Your first stop for this week’s MSP news in technology

MDM? Not without MSP’s help  

Even though the BYOD trend is gaining significant momentum, some organisations are still refraining from implementation.  Adopting MDM requires investment in technology, training, staffing and policy creation, meaning organisations can’t justify the funding.  However we believe there is a solution to this problem; introducing MDM through a managed service provider.  MSP’s can offer all the MDM benefits including 24×7 managed support, but save customers time as well as costs.  This will allow even small businesses to work more mobile.

Looking into the future in the Tablet market

The big three: Microsoft, Google and Apple are now all runners in the tablet market share race.  In recent months Apple has seen its sales decrease due to the increased popularity of cheaper Google devices. At this pace we may see Android over take Apple in Q2 2013. As Microsoft’s devices have only been on the market for less than a quarter, we are expecting a slow and steady uptake.  As more devices and apps come over to Microsoft’s new platform next year, we predict the market will shift.

‘Appy’ Christmas

Microsoft has announced that their Windows Phone app developers will be hard at work this festive season.  Since the launch of Windows Phone 8, mobile app requests have increased by 40%, seeing a recent surge in the last couple of weeks.  However, some companies refuse to jump on the bandwagon. Google have declared they have no plans to develop apps for either Windows Phone 8 or Windows 8. We believe that Google might be missing a trick.  As Windows 8 adoption grows momentum in 2013, we are predicting Microsoft’s app store will take off in a big way, enabling both a consumer and a corporate environment.

Microsoft release Cloud Deployment programme

Microsoft has released a new Cloud Deployment programme designed at educating partners as to how they can get the most out of Office 365.  Organisations have currently been viewing the Cloud as a threat to their security rather than an instrument for success.  With Microsoft’s latest partner programme, MSP’s will be able to offer management tools and expertise to help consumers understand the Cloud.  We believe that this will give MSP’s the opportunity to add value to the Cloud, helping customers with its set up and running.