Holiday Tech Toys 2014

holidaytechtoyThis year’s Holiday Tech Toys list is a little different than previous iterations. All the items on this year’s list are devices I have personally been using over the last year. Needles to say, I have extensive experience with every item on this list. Also, many of these items are great for those on your list who are picky about their technology. Beyond the short write up I will give each item, I will also follow up soon with more in-depth reviews. So keep an eye out for those upcoming reviews, but in the meantime, if you have more questions about these devices please let me know.

Automatic

AutomaticThe Automatic is a device that plugs into the OBD-II port in your car and transmits data about your car’s health and your driving habits to your smartphone. I bought it primarily to help me monitor my fuel efficiency, which it does well, but I also started using the data it stores about where and when I drove to help me monitor how much time I spend in the car. It is amazing to see hard data about just how much time I spending in the car! Based on the information I am getting from the Automatic, I know I am driving fuel efficiently, but I also know that I could literally get one extra working day a week if I didn’t drive so much! The Automatic would be a great gift for anyone who is concerned about their fuel or time efficiency.

Fitbit Force/Charge

Fitbit ChargeI wanted a device that had a silent alarm so I could wake up without disturbing my wife. The Fitbit Force “fit” the bill nicely. I was also interested in the activity and sleep monitoring features. Ironically after a couple of months of using the Fitbit Force, it was recalled due to some people suffering skin reactions. I did not have any reaction to the Fitbit Force so I kept using mine. The redesigned replacement for the Fitbit Force is called the Fitbit Charge. After several months of using the Fitbit Force, I did enjoy the silent alarm function, but I didn’t use the sleep monitoring feature much because I had to remember to enable and disable it each night and morning. The activity monitoring was neat, but it only truly worked for walking. It was not accurate for things like skating (I play a lot of hockey), nor would it really monitor activity of any other sort. My thought was that if the Fitbit Force had a heart rate monitor it would be perfect. That being said, within the last couple of months, Fitbit released an upgrade for the Force that added a few nice features. Now the Force will automatically monitor your sleep as well as integrate with your smartphone to vibrate when you have a phone call. This has made me happier with my Fitbit Force, but I still wish it had a heartrate monitor.

The reality is that the upcoming Apple Watch is going to completely change the landscape of the fitness technology market. The Apple Watch will have the heart rate monitor that I had wished for and now it seems that in response, Fitbit will be releasing new models that include a heart rate monitor for only about $20 more than what I paid for the Force. That being said, in a market that is about to be dominated by the Apple Watch, the Fitbit could still find fans among people who want a heart rate monitor but at a lower price point than the Apple Watch. If you have someone on your gift list that is a walker or runner, a current Fitbit model might be a great gift. Otherwise, wait for the new models next year.

Apple iPhone 6

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 PlusWhat is there to say about the iPhone 6 that hasn’t already been said? The iPhone is still the standard that all other smartphones aspire to and now that the iPhone comes in larger sizes, competitors suddenly must find something else that make their phones different. I will say that I was hesitant about the iPhone 6 being too big, but I have found that the iPhone 6 is a nice comfortable size for a smartphone. The iPhone 6 Plus is simply too large for my usage, but for some it might be just what they want. Either way, the new iPhones make an amazing gift. Just be sure to add the AppleCare Plus coverage so that accidental damages to the new iPhone are covered.

Anker Desktop ChargerMultiport USB Chargers

The more mobile devices families acquire, the greater the need for a “charging station” to recharge all those devices. The problem is that it is difficult to plug in a bunch of chargers into one standard outlet. Sure, power strips can be used, but they are big and bulky. The best solution I’ve found is a multi-port USB charger. As my household has need of several different charging stations, I have purchased devices from both Anker & Photive (specifically the Anker 5-port 40W, the Anker 5-port 25W, and the Photive 6-port 50W). So far, the chargers have been working great with a variety of devices, such as iPhones, iPads, iPods, plus many other gadgets that my family owns, including several that are on this Holiday Tech Toy list. They even charge our Playstation 3 controllers, which are notoriously hard to find third-party chargers for. The key when shopping for chargers like these are to look for devices that use “intelligent” charging technology. This will allow one charger to charge a variety of different devices from different manufacturers, since many manufacturers use different charging specifications. If you know gadget-people who need help charging all those devices, a multi-port USB charger could be just the gift they are wishing for.

Chamberlain Smartphone Ready Garage Door Opener with MyQ Technology

Chamerlain Garage Door OpenerI moved into a new house a couple of months ago. The garage door opener that came with the house was from 1991. Besides the fact that it didn’t have the safety features that newer garage door openers have, there was no way to use it with devices that integrated with smartphones. So I decided to purchase an entirely new garage door opener that had built-in integration. Never having installed a garage door opener, I was a little hesitant to tackle such a project. However after researching this particular Chamberlain model that I could buy at Home Depot, I went ahead and made the purchase. It turned out it wasn’t that hard, even for someone like me who is much more comfortable with electronics than mechanical things. This garage door opener is has nice features like a motion sensor for the garage lights, a battery backup so it will still open the garage door if the lights go out, and a wireless keypad so the garage door can be opened from the outside. All this was on top of the ability to monitor the status of the garage door as well as being able to open and close it from a smartphone from anywhere in the world. I also really like the fact that this garage door opener is extremely quiet. The best part was that it is less than $250! Now maybe a garage door opener isn’t exactly what someone thinks of as a Christmas gift, but I’m sure there’s someone on your list that would appreciate it.

SimpliSafe

simplisafeI am a big fan of home security systems. I am not a big fan of the installation process, the complexity of the systems, or the pricing. I am glad I found SimpliSafe because it solves most of these problems. The pricing of the equipment is reasonable, the equipment is wireless so setup is simple and a technician is not required. The best part is that the basic service is only $15/month and no contract is required. My only complaint is that some of the more advanced features (being a “techie” I would like to use) cost an additional $10/month. I’ve not found that these features are worth the extra $10/month so far. Most people would probably not need those features, so it isn’t really a huge problem. I’ve read rumors that the next generation of SimpliSafe equipment will be much more advanced. I can’t wait to find out. Home security systems may not be a traditional Christmas gift, but if you at least let your friends and family know about SimpliSafe before they buy a traditional home security system, it may be the best gift you could give them!

Plantronics Voyager Legend

Plantronics Voyager LegendI wrote a review of the Plantronics Voyager Legend Bluetooth headset earlier this year. Six months later and I’m still very happy with the device. I can say it worked really well on my iPhone 5S and so far just as well on my newer iPhone 6. I have had clients say they’ve noticed an improvement in call quality, which is an excellent proof that this headset is doing its job well. I can find the Plantronics Voyager Legend on sale for around $80, which is a really great price for the quality of headset. Read my more extensive review on the Plantronics Voyager Legend and if you have someone that could use a Bluetooth headset, this could make a very good gift.

Smartbean Bluetooth Wireless Receiver

Smartbean Bluetooth ReceiverWhen I purchased my iPhone 5S last year, I had to change how my iPhone connected to my car. My previous charger also integrated audio to my car stereo directly. However, there was no equivalent device available for a new iPhones with Lightning connectors. So for a time I had to also connect an audio cable to my iPhone if I wanted to listed to music from my iPhone in my car. This was a bit of a pain. I wanted something that would let me stream my music from my iPhone 5S (and now iPhone 6) to my car stereo without wires. And I didn’t want to purchase a new stereo receiver for my car (at least not yet). I stumbled upon a deal on the Smartbean Bluetooth wireless receiver. Simply put, I can keep the Smartbean connected to my car stereo and send music from my iPhone via Bluetooth to my car stereo. After several months of using it, I can say it does the job very well, with a few minor inconveniences. The biggest issue I have with the Smartbean is that I can not easily charge it in the car. I need to bring it inside to charge it when it runs low on battery. However, the battery lasts several weeks between charges so it’s not a huge deal. The Smartbean (also known as the A.M.P. Bluetooth Receiver) lists at $39.99, but you can usually find it on sale for half that price (check Groupon), so find a deal before purchasing. The Smartbean makes a great gift for people to use in cars as I do, but also people who are into fitness, as the Smartbean can clip to clothing for use with wired headsets.

Limefuel Blast

Limefuel BlastOn a few occasions in the last couple of years, my iPhone ran out of battery. This is a rare occurrence, but when it happens, it is a real pain, especially while traveling away from home. On those occasions that my iPhone was running out of charge, all my travel companions were also running out of battery. I wanted to find a device that could recharge my iPhone while on-the-go, but also be powerful enough to recharge multiple smartphones. I did some research and was finding products that were simply too expensive for my wishes. I did a little more research and found the Limefuel company. Their battery-based external USB chargers had larger capacities and were about half the price of the other devices I was finding. I decided on purchasing the Limefuel Blast L130X, which I liked so much, I went ahead and bought two so that my wife could have one in her car as well. So far, after many months of using the Limefuel Blast, I am very happy with the purchase. It has come in very handy on several occasions and often my friends are using it more than I am. I make sure to send one with my daughters if they are going on a field trip and they end up sharing it with their friends as well. Limefuel has improved upon the model I purchased and it the now has 4 ports that can simultaneously charge multiple devices. The Limefuel Blast makes an amazing gift for people who travel a lot, especially those who go to remote locations.

Crucial M100 Solid State Drives

Crucial MX100 SSDThere have been few advances in computer technology in the last 10 or more years that have had the impact of Solid State Drives (SSD). Simply put, replacing a traditional hard drive with a solid state drive can significantly boost the performance of a computer, especially those that are more than a few years old. In addition, solid state drives are more reliable and use less power than hard drives. The only problem with solid state drives was that they were significantly more expensive than hard drives. However, earlier this year, Crucial introduced their M100 line of SSDs, which basically slashed the going price in half! Other companies have begun to drop their prices in response, but Crucial is a great brand with a great product. If you know someone with a computer, especially laptops, that are more than a couple of years old, an SSD upgrade could be like giving them a new, faster computer. Plus, since the computer no longer has a hard drive, an SSD upgrade will likely extend the lifespan of the computer for several more years. An SSD may not be the flashiest gift, but it may be the most practical, especially when combined with my Laptop Supercharge service.

The Single Most Important Technology Shift You Can Make in 2015

We are soon going to be officially in the future! It's time to let go of old technology.

Great Scott! It’s almost 2015! It’s time to shed risky old technology and you won’t even need 1.21 gigawatts!

As we approach the end of the year, many of us go into evaluation mode. We look back at the year and figure out what we did well and what could use improving. As a technology professional, I encourage everyone to consider what they can do to improve their technology situation going into a new year. The speed that technology changes necessitates that smart business owners (and individuals as well) review what new technologies are available and what older technologies are becoming obsolete. As we begin the transition into 2015, we should pay careful consideration to one particular technology change that could significantly impact us going forward.

To understand why this shift is so important, we simply need to review the last two years of technology news. In the area where I live, in early 2013 Schnucks supermarkets was the first major example of security breach resulting in the compromise of millions of credit card numbers. Late last year Target was the next big victim. This year Home Depot was the first big name, followed recently by Kmart. Along the way, other well-known companies such as Nieman Marcus, Dairy Queen, Michaels, and PF Chang’s were also hit. From my research, thousands of other smaller companies may have also suffered credit card compromises. Major examples also can be cited in other countries around the world. Why have so many businesses been hit in the last couple of years? Is there a common thread? In fact, there is.

The method of attack in every single one of the well-publicized data breaches was a malware infection. But deeper than that, the common vulnerability was the operating system used by all of these companies for their point-of-sale terminals. Yes, the Achilles heel for every single example was Microsoft Windows. When it comes to malware, there is no more fertile breeding ground in existence than Microsoft Windows.

Besides the highly publicized credit card data breaches, another disturbing trend in the last two years was the rise in Ransomware. Malware authors devised methods to encrypt victim’s data so that they could not retrieve it without paying a significant ransom. The best known example of this was the Cryptolocker malware. This type of attack affects not only businesses, but individuals as well. Once again, the only operating system that is vulnerable to this type of malware infection is Microsoft Windows.

Perhaps it is obvious by now that my recommendation for the most important technology shift you can make in 2015 is to eliminate Microsoft Windows from your technology usage. But I can already hear the panicked screams coming my way. We’ve been with Windows for so long, how could we ever get away from it? Am I crazy? However, before you go off the deep end, allow me to enlighten you.

First, realize we are entering the year 2015 – not 1995 or even 2005. Where 10-20 years ago switching away from Microsoft Windows was virtually unfeasible for many, the mobile device revolution has broken the stranglehold that Windows held over the technology industry for so many years. In The New World of Technology, many individuals and businesses have already significantly shifted their main technology platforms away from Microsoft Windows to other options such as Apple’s iPad and Macintosh. So I’m not talking about some pie-in-the-sky fantasy. Where moving away from Microsoft Windows may have been unrealistic for many in years past, it is much more reasonable to achieve and in fact has become almost commonplace in today’s technology environment. Only advice based on woefully outdated technology models would suggest that moving away from Microsoft Windows is not feasible.

There are still a lot of companies and people out there who have not shifted away from Microsoft Windows for a variety of reasons. One of those perceived reasons has been cost. True, any major change in technology involves cost, but the question now is can you afford NOT to switch away from Microsoft Windows? Ask Schnucks, Target, Home Depot, or any of the other companies affected just how many hundreds of millions of dollars using Microsoft Windows has cost them. Or ask anybody who had to pay hundreds of dollars in ransom to criminal organizations to get their data back, on top of the cost to clean their PCs from Cryptolocker.

I can hear the grumbling from other technology experts who claim that no platform is truly immune to malware. From a theoretical perspective, I agree. There is in fact no 100% safe technology system. However in the real world, we can look at example after example of just how bad it is for users of Microsoft Windows compared to users of any other operating system. Other operating systems, while they may have their security issues here and there, are no where near as vulnerable to malware as Microsoft Windows has proven itself to be. To say that the amount of malware that exists for Microsoft Windows dwarfs the number for all other operating systems combined is just scratching the surface. Doesn’t it make sense to move away from a platform that is known to be a haven for criminal malware to another platform that has nowhere near the vulnerabilities?

Usually the other argument made against moving from Microsoft Windows is that other operating systems are simply not popular enough to have yet gained the attention of criminals and therefore are going to be just as vulnerable in the future. I’ve debunked this argument so many times it grows tiresome and to fully explain it would require another article in itself. But let me sum it up for everyone here: Due to the superior core security designs of most other operating systems, malware simply can’t be created in the same way that it is for Microsoft Windows. Most other operating systems (or at least their basic cores) have been in existence for at least 15 or more years and malware authors have had ample time to attack them if no other reason than to prove they could. Aside from some minor examples that could cause very little damage, most other operating systems are virtually malware-free. Arguing that other systems are just as vulnerable as Windows shows a lack of understanding of the underlying technology and the situation at large. Along with Microsoft Windows, it is time to retire this argument in 2015 as well.

Let’s think about the situation from another perspective. If many large corporations with massive technology budgets and highly sophisticated security infrastructures couldn’t keep out malware that compromised their point-of-sale systems, what chance realistically do most of us have in keeping our Microsoft Windows systems free of malware? Reading any common advice for keeping your Microsoft Windows system secure almost always involves using your PC with a paranoid mindset. Literally, there is much advice out there that suggests limiting the use of your Microsoft Windows PC in order to keep it and your data secure. What is the point of using a computer where one must be constantly vigilant for attack and resign oneself to limited use for their own protection? Especially considering there are other platforms readily available where no such paranoia is necessary.

The reality is that moving away from Microsoft Windows is entirely possible and often very cost-effective with today’s technology. However, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not advocating that everyone quit using Microsoft Windows “cold turkey”. There are many businesses that still need to retain the use of legacy software that only runs on Microsoft Windows for the time being. However, even for those who seem to be stuck in an uncomfortable marriage with Microsoft Windows, there are many options available to mitigate and isolate the risk from the highly vulnerable operating system. Don’t let outdated information and old-school ways of thinking stop you from pursuing a path away from Microsoft Windows. Your valuable data and a lot of time and money are at risk.

While some of us may truly be in positions where we will be stuck with Microsoft Windows for a while longer, the worst thing we can do is to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Ignoring the issue only works as long as you are not a victim of the next major malware attack. It is now time to take the necessary steps to reduce your exposure to malware, which means reducing your dependence on Microsoft’s malware magnet of an operating system. Even if you can’t completely eliminate your use of Microsoft Windows at this time, anything you can do to reduce your usage now now while planning for your eventual exodus will be in your best interest.

I predict that sometime in the future, people will look back at the PC era and be perplexed as to why we put up so long with an operating system that was this incredibly vulnerable to malicious software. I hope that future comes sooner than later and you can help make that a reality starting in 2015. But certainly this task is not something that you should pursue alone. There are many things to consider in such a migration and it is easy to let something slip through the cracks if you are not a technology professional. Please consult with a trustworthy technology professional who is well-versed not only in Microsoft Windows, but also the range of other technology options available in this post-PC era. I’m certainly happy to answer your questions and help you develop your own plan to migrate away from Microsoft Windows, as I have done with many clients over the last several years. Feel free to contact me today if you have any questions or concerns.

High Speed Internet: Can Your Router Keep Up Anymore?

Router on FireIn the area I live, Charter Communications is the cable Internet provider. At the beginning of the year, Charter publicized an increase in standard residential service bandwidth from 30 to 60 Mbps with no increase in price. That was very cool. Then sometime in the summer, they quietly increased the residential bandwidth to 100 Mbps! Again, very cool. Just a few years ago 100 Mbps was an expensive option reserved only for businesses that were willing to shell out for it. Now it is standard speed for home cable Internet users. Speaking of businesses, Charter has also increased their business Internet offerings to include 150 and 200 Mbps options. That’s some fast Internet! However, what I’ve discovered is that many routers in use today can not keep up with these higher speeds.

There are two main bottlenecks to be aware of. As most residential and small business routers include wireless networking, that is the first bottleneck I’ll talk about. Many wireless routers still in operation only support a maximum wireless bandwidth of 54 Mbps. That bandwidth decreases as you get further away from the router, so it should be obvious that routers like these will severely hamper wireless users from utilizing their full bandwidth if they are Charter subscribers.

It would seem the simple answer would be to buy a newer wireless router that supports higher bandwidths. While that answer is true, this brings up the second bottleneck. Many routers being sold today only support 100 Mbps on their wired Ethernet ports. Since wireless routers must connect to a cable modem through a wired port, the throughput of the wired port can become another bottleneck. For residential users, 100 Mbps wired Ethernet ports were more than adequate in the beginning of the year when speeds topped out at 30 Mbps or even later in the year at 60 Mbps. Even most business users were probably well-served by a router with 100 Mbps Ethernet. But now with 100 Mbps becoming the baseline for Internet speed, it isn’t enough to buy a router that only has 100 Mbps wired Ethernet ports. It is also important to note that whatever speed a port is rated at, it is a theoretical maximum. So even if you have a router with 100 Mbps ports, most likely you will only see around 90 Mbps of real-world throughput.

One confusing issue for would-be router purchasers is that many wireless routers with 100 Mbps Ethernet ports may support faster wireless speeds. So, for example, a router may be advertised as supporting 300 Mbps wireless speeds. However, if its wired ports are only 100 Mbps Ethernet, then the 300 Mbps will throttle down to the 100 Mbps on the wired port to the Internet. Which as I mentioned above, would likely max out at around 90 Mbps in real-world bandwidth. The other confusing aspect is that 100 Mbps Ethernet is called “Fast Ethernet.” It would seem that “fast” would be adequate, right? Of course, as I’ve described so far, 100 Mbps is no longer truly “fast”.

The next step up from 100 Mbps Ethernet is 1000 Mbps Ethernet, also known more commonly as “gigabit” Ethernet. This is what users should look for when buying a router to support the new generation of high-speed Internet services. Specifically, buyers should make sure that the Internet (or WAN) port supports gigabit speeds, however it is rare anymore to see a router that supports gigabit on the other ports but not the Internet port. Additionally, I recommend wireless routers that support “simultaneous dual-band” wireless frequencies. This allows the router to simultaneously support older devices that can only use the legacy 2.4 Ghz Wi-Fi band while also allowing newer devices to take full advantage of the more recent 5.8 Ghz Wi-Fi band. Newer wireless routers can support wireless throughputs of up to 450 Mbps, which when combined with a gigabit Ethernet port to the Internet, should allow use of all the bandwidth provided by today’s high speed cable Internet service, even up to 200 Mbps.

If you have questions about your Internet speed or the best router to purchase for your needs, please feel free to contact me. I have recently replaced many of my clients’ routers and the speed difference has been significant. Do you know what speed your Internet service should be and are you getting all of that speed with your current router?

iOS 8, iPhone 6, Conditional Call Forwarding

Error performing request unknown error setting registration failed voice call forwarding on all calls setting activation failed voice call forwarding on all calls

Are you getting this error after buying a new iPhone?

If you are like me, you use a different voicemail service than the standard voicemail that your wireless carrier provides. For example, I use Google Voice voicemail (which, by the way, I mention extensively in my book, The Cheapskate’s Guide to Traveling with Your iPhone) because it can transcribe my voicemails into text messages and it lets me check my voice messages on a computer. When purchasing a new phone, one must reset the alternate voicemail setting or else messages begin to be delivered to the standard voicemail again. Usually, this isn’t a big deal to do. It simply requires dialing a particular code on your phone, hitting send, and presto! However, when I recently purchased a new iPhone 6, it was not that easy.

For some reason, the Conditional Call Forwarding (CCF) code I normally used returned error messages. Being the first day of the new iPhone 6,  I thought that perhaps AT&T’s system was overloaded. I tried a few times that day and still no luck. Being a Friday, I tried a few times again on Saturday and Sunday and thought for sure it would work. No luck at any of those times. Assuming it was a problem with my account, on Monday I went into my local AT&T store and figured they could “fix the glitch”. However, the knowledgable person I talked to said he was having the exact same problem with his new iPhone 6 as well. He said he believed it was a problem with iOS 8 and there was nothing he could do at the store to fix it. So off I went to do a little research on the Internet.

The first thing I found was an App, Divert Calls, that claimed it could set up Conditional Call Forwarding. I wondered if it could work around the problem I was having, so I downloaded the App and tested it. As it turns out, the App itself doesn’t actually change the CCF setting. It merely creates the code for you so you can paste it into the Phone App dialer and send it. Once I found that out, I thought I was dead in the water. However, Conditional Call Forwarding is actually three different settings. The code I had been using (which starts with **004*) changes all three settings at once. The Divert Calls App gives you three individual codes for CCF (*61*, *62*, and *67*) . So I went ahead and tested the first code. I was pleasantly surprised that it worked! I tried the other two codes and they worked as well! It was a little bit of a pain, but at least my Google Voice voicemail was operational again.

I did a little more research and found information that corroborated my findings (such as this forum thread for Google Voice). I also found out that you can call AT&T and have them set up Conditional Call Forwarding for you. So let me sum up what I know and don’t know:

  1. The iPhone 6 and/or other iPhones running iOS 8 have a problem setting up Conditional Call Forwarding (CCF) on AT&T’s network using the usual **004* CCF code.
  2. I am not sure if this problem exists on other wireless networks, such as Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile.
  3. The problem can be worked around by setting up each individual call forwarding option (Unanswered, Unreachable, Busy), or calling AT&T and having them do it for you.
  4. The codes can be generated by the Divert Calls App, but it is not necessary if you know how to generate the codes yourself.
  5. I have no idea if AT&T and/or Apple are aware of this problem yet

For the record, here are the various Conditional Call Forwarding codes (replace 1234567890 with the number you are forwarding to):

  • Set all CCF options: **004*1234567890# <- This is the code that is currently NOT working with iOS 8 and/or the iPhone 6 on AT&T’s network
  • Call Forward if Unanswered: *61*1234567890#
  • Call Forward if Unreachable: *62*1234567890#
  • Call Forward if Busy: *67*1234567890#

If you have any further information on this issue or are experiencing it on other wireless networks, please comment below!

Update: If you are getting error messages with the three individual CCF codes, try turning off LTE and entering them again.

iOS 8 Download Too Big? Use iTunes Instead

iOS-8-Logo-2If you’re like most people with a 16 GB iPhone or iPad, you probably don’t have enough free space on your device to download and install the iOS 8 update using the built-in wireless update method. While the download is only about 1 GB big, in order to download, prepare, and complete the upgrade, your device needs nearly 6 GB of free space. Even I had to free up a little space on my 32 GB iPhone to meet this requirement. If you have a 16 GB iOS device and you don’t want to delete almost everything from your device, there is a way to download and install iOS 8 without requiring so much free space.

Prior to iOS 5, iTunes on a Mac or PC was required to update our iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices. Now it is the nearly-forgotten optional method. However, by using iTunes to download and install iOS 8, it is not necessary to clear out so much space from your iOS device. For more information, here is Apple’s support article describing how to use iTunes to update your iOS deviceMashable also has an article discussing using iTunes to update your iOS device.

One tip: if you start the update and iTunes says it will take many hours to download, quit iTunes (confirm that you want to quit since a download is in progress) and then re-launch iTunes. Start the update again and you just might get the download to only take minutes instead of hours. I used this trick twice on an iPhone and iPad to save myself a lot of time waiting!

September 2014 Apple Announcements – What You Need to Know

iPhone 6 AnnouncementAs has become customary around this time of year, Apple recently announced their latest iPhones. However, this year Apple also made two other big announcements: Apple Pay and Apple Watch. There are a ton of details about the new iPhones, Apple Pay, and Apple Watch on the Internet already if you are interested in learning more. What I’d like to do here is give a brief synopsis of the Apple announcements and their impact for most people.

To be brief, while the new iPhones are obviously more technologically advanced than previous models, there are two main features that are probably the most important. The most obvious change with the iPhone 6 is that Apple has introduced two new screen sizes. The “standard” size iPhone 6 is now 4.7″ (measured diagonally), with the iPhone 6 Plus measuring 5.5″. For those people who have wanted an iPhone with a larger screen, their wishes have been granted. Of course, not everyone is happy with the fact that the iPhone now has larger screens, because a larger screen means a larger phone and larger phone is harder to fit into pockets and purses. The other significant addition to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is the capability to make payments with Apple Pay, which I will cover soon.

In addition, there are several improvements to all supported iPhones coming soon with Apple’s new operating system, iOS 8. It is sometimes difficult to differentiate the features of Apple’s new iPhones and the new operating systems that are introduced at around the same time, since they seem to all blend together in discussion. But even if you don’t purchase a new iPhone 6, your current iPhone (if it is an iPhone 4S or newer) will soon have some new capabilities with the free iOS 8 upgrade. The key features I’m looking forward to are:

  • Continuity, which will allow users with iPhones, iPads and/or Macintosh computers to work with their devices more seamlessly
  • Wi-Fi Calling, which will allow iPhones to be able to use Wi-Fi networks to place calls when cellular coverage is weak
  • Family Sharing, which will allow families to have individual iTunes accounts that can share purchased music, movies, books, and Apps.
  • Voice Messaging, which will allow users to send voice/sounds in text messages.

Back to Apple Pay, which is Apple’s new payment system that works by simply holding an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus near a compatible contactless reader. The idea is that you can store your credit cards within the Apple Pay system so that you do not need to swipe your card to pay. Combined with the fingerprint sensor on the iPhone, this should make transactions faster and more secure. It will also work for on-line payments. Apple has announced that Apple Pay will cover 80% of the United States credit card market at launch. That is significant. If Apple Pay can fundamentally transform the way people make payments, Apple will have made yet another huge impact on our everyday lives.

Finally, Apple announced the Apple Watch, which is Apple’s first “smartwatch”. I assume Apple simply couldn’t get it ready in time for the holidays, because based on the buzz it has generated so far, it would have likely been the year’s hottest tech gift. As it is, Apple is planning to release the Apple Watch in “early” 2015, which I take to mean the March/April timeframe. Given that it is probably 6 months away, we all have plenty of time to learn more about what the Apple Watch will be able to do before it launches (which will be significantly expanded based on 3rd-party Apps). What I will say about the Apple Watch at this time is that it could drastically change the way we monitor our own health and fitness. Because health and fitness are so important to a key demographic, namely women, the Apple Watch has the potential to create a significant market for smart watches. Other previous smartwatches have not been successful in establishing a viable market but if anyone can crack it, it seems Apple is in the position to do so.

If you have any questions about the latest Apple technologies, or any other technologies, please feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to answer your questions. Based on the new Apple announcements, are you likely to purchase a new iPhone or Apple Watch? Are you excited about the possibilities of Apple Pay?

The Facebook Messenger App is NOT the Devil!

The Facebook Messenger App - Could it be SATAN!?

The Facebook Messenger App – Could it be SATAN!? No, just some sensationalist claims gone viral.

I originally posted this article to my Life, Liberty, and Technology blog, but I thought the information was important enough to repost here as well.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are well aware of all the dire warnings about Facebook’s “new” Messenger app floating around the Internet. At first I wasn’t going to write anything about it, but it seems that the story continues to get bigger. So I feel it necessary to discuss the warnings and how it all got started.

An article written by Nick Russo for a Houston radio station claimed that the Facebook Messenger app would have permissions to do all sorts of privacy-invading things if you installed it. For some reason, the article went viral. Well, it probably went viral for the same reason people send chain letters about virus hoaxes. It had just enough sensationalism mixed in with an authoritative tone to seem credible. The name of Nick’s radio station is “The Bull,” and perhaps that should have been an indication to people reading it that his article was for the most part, BS.

I’m not sure why this radio personality felt it necessary to pretend to be a technology expert. The very first time I read the article I knew there was something just not right. I tried to research his claims for some friends who were asking and for the life of me I couldn’t find anything about this guy stating that he had any professional experience besides working in radio. There’s nothing wrong with working in radio, but if you’re going to use your platform to disseminate information, please be sure you know what you’re talking about! As far as I’ve seen, Nick has not yet written an apology for his fear-mongering article, but rather has shifted into portraying himself as some sort of privacy advocate. Once again, I’m all for privacy advocates, but if you’re going to advocate – know of what you speak beyond just a cursory scratching of the surface.

Nick Russo made a lot of outlandish claims regarding what the Facebook Messenger app could do. The first problem with his claims were that he didn’t make a distinction between smartphones. I knew right away when reading his article was that there was no way Apple would allow an app like that to get into their App Store. Certainly it might be possible with an Android-based phone, however unlikely it would be, but Apple puts every single app submitted to their store through an approval process. Every. Single. App. Yeah, there’s no chance that Apple would allow Facebook Messenger, or any other app, to do the following as claimed by Nick Russo:

  • change or alter your connection to the Internet or cell service … for its own reasons without telling you.
  • send text messages to your contacts on your behalf … when they want
  • see through your lens on your phone whenever they want .. listen to what you’re saying via your microphone if they choose to
  • read your phone’s call log, including info about incoming and outgoing calls … Facebook will know all of this
  • read e-mails you’ve sent and take information from them to use for their own gain.
  • read personal profile information stored on your device … addresses, personal info, pictures or anything else
  • Facebook will now have a tally of all the apps you use, how often you use them and what information you keep or exchange on those apps.

It’s not like Apple iPhones are some off-the-wall brand that can be safely overlooked when discussing smartphones. They are just a *little* popular, to put it lightly. So to write an article like this with such extreme claims and not know about Apple’s approval process is simply irresponsible. But even if we were to ignore iPhones for the moment, does anyone really think that Facebook would want to do most of what is claimed above to their users? Perhaps Mr. Russo should have put in a call to someone at Facebook to ask a few questions first? Or at least do a tiny little bit of research on this thing called the Internet before publishing an article like this? I bet even the resident PC guy at “The Bull” probably could have warned Nick that his claims were pretty far out and to be careful before publishing his article. But alas, Mr. Russo took a little sliver of knowledge and believed he knew more than he did – running off like “The Bull” in a china shop and starting a viral tidal wave in the process.

To be fair, in theory – extreme theory, what Nick Russo claims above could possibly be accomplished by highly malicious apps running on some smartphone platforms. But Facebook Messenger isn’t a malicious app. And Nick must have found that out because in his next article he states, “I’ve now learned that both the New Facebook Messenger App and the original Facebook app have many of the SAME permissions.” Yes, I’m sure he did learn a few things once his article went viral! But perhaps those things should have been learned BEFORE publishing! As it turns out, the Facebook Messenger app (which isn’t new, but has been out for years), does virtually nothing different than any other similar app, including the normal Facebook app that billions of people already use. Oops!

Apparently once he found that out, Nick choose to portray himself as a privacy advocate, championing the idea that he made people more aware of the privacy choices on their phones. Fair enough, but let’s call a spade a spade. If he really cared about people’s privacy choices, he would have done some research and consulted with technology experts so that he could have written a balanced article. Any good that he has done has been completely obscured by the hysteria he created. Advocacy by accident at best. Fear-mongering at worst.

Bottom line, there are many articles that debunk Nick’s claims. Here is another article discussing some of Nick’s claims as “myths”. Facebook even posted an article discussing the privacy concerns. So the moral of the story is that we can’t believe everything we read – especially when it comes to technology topics. While we may not like the fact that Facebook is making everyone use a separate app for Messenger, spreading misinformation isn’t helping anybody.

Is Your Web Site Secure?

wp-securityA recent major security vulnerability in web content management systems WordPress and Drupal last week highlighted the need for business owners to be more aware of potential risks to their web sites. The use of content management systems (CMS) to build web sites has exploded in recent years. Where in the past most web sites were built from simple text and graphic files, CMS based web sites employ relatively complex software systems running in the background. These systems, like any other software system, have potential security issues from time to time and need to be maintained just like any other software system.

Business owners need to understand if their web site is based on a content management system so they can take proactive steps to maintain the security of their web sites. With older simple web sites, the web hosting company was primarily in charge of securing the web site. With CMS based sites, the web host can be secure, but the CMS can still be vulnerable. Securing the CMS is the responsibly of the business owner. While most business owners would assume their web designer is on top of the security of their web site, managing a CMS requires more of a technical skill set. The reality is that most web designers are not technology professionals and may not be managing the underlying technology of a CMS based web site.

My WordPress Maintenance and Support service covers my clients from security issues like this, as I actively maintain and support the underlying technology behind WordPress-based web sites, whether or not I developed the web site for the client. But regardless of the type of web site your business has, if you have any question regarding the security of your site, feel free to contact me so that I can evaluate it. I can determine the underlying technology your site uses and if your site is at risk of any security vulnerability.

I Know You’re Not Using Handsfree While Driving! Review of Plantronics Voyager Legend

cellphonecarI can see you! Yeah, you in the car! You’re holding up your cellphone to your ear while driving! In the State of Illinois where I live, this was made illegal at the first of the year. Yet you’re still doing it. If I’m seeing you do it, you can be sure the police can see you as well. Enforcement has started in earnest and it’s a easy ticket to write. I personally know some people that have been recently cited for it. The sad part is that for the cost of the ticket, they could have purchased a handsfree device and avoided the hassle. So here is my gentle reminder to you – get a handsfree device before you get pulled over. Besides, it really is safer because I know some of you have trouble driving even with both hands on the wheel!

To help you out, please review the article I wrote earlier in the year about choosing a handsfree device. But as an update to that article, I wanted to share with you a review of my new handsfree device. I’ve been using it about 6 weeks now so I think I have a very good handle on it.

My previous Bluetooth headset was a Jawbone Era. Overall it worked well enough, but I was becoming irritated with a few quirks of the device when using it with my iPhone. They were infrequent enough that I wasn’t exactly in the market for a new headset, but I had found one in my normal course of technology research that seemed promising. When I found out that Best Buy had a sale running on that particular unit, I went ahead and jumped at the opportunity to get one.

The Plantronics Voyager Legend is an over-the-ear style headset. I tend to like over-the-ear headsets, but I know some others don’t. Still, even if you haven’t been a fan of over-the-ear styles before, I would suggest that you give the Voyager Legend a try before you dismiss it. The reason I like the over-the-ear style is because these devices tend to stay put on my ear better. With the Voyager Legend, the weight is so evenly distributed that I have often forgot it was on. Sometimes I even forget that I have taken it off, which is a weird phenomenon, but I attribute it to the fact it is so comfortable that my body can’t really tell the difference when it is on or off. Also, the way the device is designed, most of the bulk is in the part of the device behind the ear. There is only a thin microphone that extends from your ear, so overall I think the device is quite understated. In other words, you don’t look like a Borg while wearing it as some Bluetooth headsets might tend towards.

That being said, what really matters with a Bluetooth headset is the sound quality of the call. The biggest critic I know is my wife, whom I tend to talk to quite frequently over the phone. She immediately said the Voyager Legend did a much better job of reducing ambient noise. In fact, I can have the windows of my car rolled down some and she can’t hear it, even at highway speeds. About the only problem with the noise reduction is wind is blowing directly on the headset. Unfortunately direct wind noise is something that  no headset seems to be able to deal well with. Also, the Voyager Legend seems to pick up the sounds from something like a Radar detector, which drives my wife crazy. Other than those quirks, the sound quality seems to be excellent, as the callers on the other end can hear me clearly and distinctly with virtually no background noise. As I said in my previous article, this is extremely important to me since I use my phone for business.

The “quirks” that I had endured with the Jawbone Era I’m thankful to say do not exist with the Voyager Legend. The biggest thing that was a problem was that the Jawbone Era would at times “flake out” when making or answering a call. In other words, I would make a call or answer my phone, but the sound didn’t work. So I didn’t know that someone else had picked up the call I made or I wouldn’t hear anybody on the other end. Similarly, it would seem that on occasion I could hear someone but the other person couldn’t hear me. I had to shut off my Jawbone Era and turn it back on to fix the problem. This was obviously not cool when I was driving. Additionally, there were times where the caller on the other end could hear me, but the sound quality was very garbled. This was especially true in my home office, where I have been spending more time lately working on Web Site projects. That area of my house unfortunately has low cell phone coverage and somehow that seemed to affect the performance of the Jawbone Era. I have not experienced these problems with my new Voyager Legend. About the only quirk I have experienced is that occasionally if I hold down the button on the headset to give voice commands to my iPhone, the Voyager Legend doesn’t always activate Siri. It has only happened a few times and it isn’t enough of a problem to be a big nuisance.

A couple of nice features about the Voyager Legend that I like is that I can answer a call by simply saying “answer” or ignore the call by saying “ignore”. This feature so far has worked flawlessly for me. Also, if you are not wearing the headset when a call comes in, simply putting it on automatically answers the call. That is a nice feature that I’ve found convenient. The battery life is also excellent, as it features 7 hours of talk time. For my usage, I can forget to charge the Voyager Legend for a day or two and still have enough battery life to make it through a third day. The magnetic charger included with the headset is a nice touch, although I don’t find it as secure fitting as say the Apple Magsafe or even the magnetic chargers that came with some older Jawbone models.

Normally the Plantronics Voyager Legend is $99. However, I found it on sale for $79 at Best Buy when I bought it. Regardless $99 is actually a good price for a Bluetooth Headset of this quality, as many comparable models go up to $120 or even $150. Beyond my personal experience, the headset has been well-reviewed by many other sources. So I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for purchase, especially if one can find a good sale on it. As usual with any Bluetooth headset, make sure you purchase it from a retailer that offers a liberal return policy in case the headset just doesn’t quite work for you.

Are you still ducking the new handsfree laws? What are your favorite handsfree devices?

Beware of Toner Pirates

Toner-PiratesOne of the more common scams to target business owners are the colloquially named “Toner Pirates”. These people represent companies that call unsuspecting businesses and attempt to sell printer toner or ink cartridges over the phone using high pressure tactics. Usually Toner Pirates claim to be calling from your “supplier” and mention special prices that you must take advantage of that day or that prices will be going up and you must buy now. They may even know the models of equipment your company uses. The problem is that most Toner Pirates are selling overpriced and/or low quality products.

Steve Clark, owner of Metro East Office Machines, told me the best way to deal with anyone who calls offering high-pressure sales on toner and ink is to know who your current supplier actually is and mention them to the caller. Usually they will hang up, but if they persist, simply let them know you will call your supplier back to confirm the offer. If you don’t have a particular supplier, simply ask the caller to identify their company name, location, and a call back number. The key is to simply realize that the high pressure sales tactics usually indicate a scam. Steve also mentioned that Toner Pirates target an area for a particular time period and that they seem to be targeting the St. Louis Metro East area currently. If you would like to talk to Steve, who is a trusted local supplier, feel free to give him a call at (888) 367-1742 or e-mail info@metroeastofficemachines.com

I found the following infographic online that has some additional helpful tips for recognizing and dealing with Toner Pirates. Have you or your company been scammed by Toner Pirates?

 

beware of toner pirates

Infographic courtesy of 4skyline.com