Thursday, September 25, 2014

What will the next "WOW" feature be in smartphones...?

Of late I have noticed that most of the big players in the smartphone game are releasing new phones with obvious improvements over older models, but lacking any real sanity-smashing game-changing new features.

Some may beg to differ, but I am talking about influential features like these:

  • NFC - upon launch it was a biggie, but now this is pretty much a standard;
  • Wireless charging - what no cables? How can this be? Very useful indeed;
  • Hand gestures / facial recognition type technology that are now present in a lot of high-end smartphones;
  • Fingerprint readers - building a seriously solid layer of security into devices that are often full of sensitive info;
So my question is, what's next?
Samsung are generally pretty good at the "wow" stuff, with insanely powerful beast phones powered by V8 motors, and capable of some pretty amazing things... :)

I am also bombarded daily by tech mail ranting on about iPhone 6 this and iPhone 6 that, "new" features (which are nearly all present on competitor devices), how the iPhone 6 will take down all competitors etc... beyond boring really.
In truth, what game-changing and crazy new features has the iPhone 6 got?
Well, there is Apple Pay, which is an attempt at replacing the traditional credit card in order to pay for goods. 
Others have tried (with some success), but I'm not sure how widely adopted it will be, especially after Apple's recent spectacular fail at the hands of hackers, which resulted in the leaking of hundreds celebrity photos - go iCloud, you impenetrable fortress you!
Right, so we know that Apple cannot be trusted to safeguard data. Good luck Apple Pay!

On an unconfirmed note, I have heard rumours of a feature that may find its way onto the next Nokia Lumia flagship, and this one really would be a game-changer if it turned out to be true...:
Solar charging.

We are all at the mercy of cellphone battery capacity nowadays, so if the battery dies, who cares what else your phone can do anyway?
But a device that you can just pop in the sun to revive? Now that's something that I would pay good money for.
Think it's true?

What feature do you think could be added to new smartphones to make your life simpler, or otherwise change the game completely?

Monday, September 22, 2014

The day that Evernote died...

Evernote, for me at least, is the king of all note-taking apps.

Evernote (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let's go through some essential features that set it apart from the crowd:

  • Cross platform: This is a biggie - Evernote runs on any device that you may be using, be it Apple, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, PC, Mac... the list goes on.
    You can also access it directly from any web browser of course.
    There is serious power in compatibility.

  • Pricing: The free version offers a lot of functionality, so much so that I only found a need to upgrade from the free plan this month, for reasons that will be covered in this blog post...

  • Evernote offers features that I haven't even started to use yet - scanning through the menu on my PC, I don't even know what some of the features do, but I am guessing that once I start using them, I will find it hard to imagine life without them!

  • Convenience: Instead of trying to remember each and every thing that I did in my day, which customers I visited, time spent on-site, tasks completed etc., I make a point of updating Evernote on my Lumia 920 several times per day, and the data is automatically synced back to the cloud, and then onto each of my other devices when they in turn sync later on.
    Couldn't be any simpler really.
Cloud-based note software is therefore an amazing way in which to keep your life, your devices and indeed your mind in sync, no matter where you are or what device you happen to be using.
It is the perfect, simple, centralized solution... or is it?

For over a year now, I have been using Evernote (free), to make my life simpler by remembering important stuff for me - and it has worked sterlingly well.
Then last week, something decidedly odd and alarming happened which caught me completely off guard, and which turned an otherwise fantastic Monday into one with a distinctly blue hue.

While opening a critical note (I say "critical", since it pertained to information stored for the month that directly affected the bottom line of my business), I discovered that the entire note appeared blank.
The note title was intact, as was a preview of the first 3 lines of the note, but that was it.
No stress, I thought, still reasonably calm at this stage, as I switched over to my phone to access the note there.
Same thing on the phone. Zip, nada, nothing in the note.
Stress level successfully upgraded.

Last ditch to recover data? You guessed it - turn to the oracle of all things - Google.
Oddly, while this particular event appeared to be rather common in search results, no real explanation, solution or fix accompanied any of the articles that I was desperately trawling through.

Attempting to start rebuilding the note from memory only made things worse - the more that I could remember from the scattered bits and pieces haphazardly floating around my brain, the more I realised that the task facing me was near insurmountable - I had stored a lot of data in that note...
It would be safe to say that I was going through unusually high stress levels at that point.

In desperation I continued what now seemed a pointless effort to find any scraps of info online, that may turn the situation around.
Finally, one faint glimmer of hope caught my eye from the far recesses of the web - a feature included in the Evernote Premium (paid) which allows you to roll back to a previous version of any note.
Ah, but I was on the Free plan, so what use would this be to me?
Thankfully, quite a bit, since Evernote actually implements this feature on all new accounts, Free or Premium. 
This means that by upgrading from a free plan to a Premium plan, you can access historical data about your notes, even from the period before you became a Premium user - a massive lifesaver if you are someone like me, who was about to lose most of my remaining sanity due to data loss.

In short, I was able to upgrade to a monthly Premium plan (R 49 per month), and access a version of my lost note that had been saved that same morning, approximately 99% intact.
Stress levels normalised. Meltdown averted.
So what's the point of this post really?
Well, I am an avid cloud service advocate - whenever clients ask me about data storage needs for the future, cloud is always in there somewhere when I respond.

I think that the lesson in all this, is that while the cloud is as reliable, secure and stable as it can possibly be, shit does happen.
Just as external hard drives can be dropped or fail at random, cloud services and syncs can fall over with unpredictable results, and when dealing with your data, unpredictability is a scary thing.
Whichever way you go, be it local storage or the cloud, take precautions and put extra measures in place, within reason obviously.
Duplicate backup drives, store a local copy of your cloud data or make use of multiple cloud storage services.

Whatever you do, have something to fall back on, because when it all goes belly up, data is impossible to replace.

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