Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New solutions that promise to make e-mail more productive from Google, Microsoft and IBM

Over the last few weeks, Google, Microsoft and IBM have released e-mail solutions that promise to make the flood of e-mail easier to manage.   Here are a few initial impressions:

Google Inbox
Google Inbox beta was launched a few weeks ago and consists of a new web interface and mobile app.   I've been using it with my personal Gmail account which is my primary "personal" e-mail.  I've always liked the "tabs" feature of Gmail which organized my e-mail into groups like Primary, Social, Promotions and Updates.   Inbox has a similar feature to bundle similar e-mails albeit with a radically new user interface that leverages the new Google Material Design language.  I like the ability to mark e-mails "Done" and swiping e-mail from the Inbox on a mobile device like my Nexus 7 tablet running Android 5 Lollipop.

Microsoft Clutter
Microsoft has released a wealth of new products lately as part of its shift from a "devices and services company" to a productivity company.   They include:  New Office for iPhone apps which are now free, even for editing, Delve and Office Graph search and discovery,  Windows 10 tech preview,  Microsoft Band (fitness tracker), Office Mix for Powerpoint, Sway content aggregation and presentation and finally Clutter intelligent e-mail.   Similar to Inbox, Clutter promises to tame the inbox.   It's available now for Office 365 customers and I created this short video to show how to enable it (Clutter is disabled by default).    The Outlook Web Access mobile client also supports Clutter,  I'm looking forward to trying Delve (similar to Flipboard/Zite) when my Office 365 small business premium account is upgraded early next year.

IBM Verse
Announced on November 18, 2014 and shipping in 2015, IBM Verse is delivered via the cloud to both the web and mobile via a native client.   More than email, Verse leverages the power Watson to combine collaboration, social, analytics and e-mail into a single tool.

Link to IBM press release

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Google Android 5 "Lollipop" launches on Monday, November 3

Google officially rolls out Android 5 "Lollipop" the latest version of the mobile operating system to Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 smartphones and tablets on Monday, November 3 via an over the air update.   Google is also shipping the new Nexus 6 smartphone and Nexus 9 tablets with Android 5 pre-installed,  Android 5 will rollout to additional devices (e.g. Samsung) over the coming weeks and months.

Android 5 was announced at Google I/O in June and includes a number of new features including:

  • Improved user interface.  Google calls it "Material Design"
  • Expanded notifications
  • Improved battery management
  • Integration with Chromebooks similar to what Apple has done with iOS and Mac OS/X Yosemite (Continuity)

I've been running a beta version of Android 5 on my Nexus 7 (2013) tablet with good results.   I've been testing both consumer and enterprise applications as part of IBM's internal upgrade plans.  With over 100,000 mobile devices in use including both corporate-owned and bring your own device (BYOD), IBM is a mobile business.

Androidpit has a great video with an overview of the new features

Update 5 November: While Android 5 is now available for Nexus 5, the update for Nexus 7 and 10 are delayed until November 12

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The top 5 announcements from the Apple October 2014 event

While I didn't attend Apple's October 2014 event in person, I did watch the streaming video online.  The following are the top 5 announcements from the event:

  1. Apple Payments arrives on Monday, October 20 via a free iOS 8.1 update along with additional, minor enhancements.   Only iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, with include NFC, will be able to used to make payment in a physical, brick and mortar store like McDonalds, Whole Foods, Macy's and more. Other devices, including the new iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3 and the iPhone 5S will be able to make online purchases, via apps and the web.  In both cases, you'll need to associate a supported credit card (e.g. Chase) with your iTunes account.   Apple Payments was the single most important announcement at the event and has the opportunity to revolutionize the industry.
  2. New iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3.  Evolutionary, rather then revolutionary changes, the new iPad Air 2 is thinner, lighter, adds TouchID, a faster processor, improved rear-facing camera and is now available in gold.   The changes to the iPad Mini 3 are more modest and only include TouchID, an improved rear-facing camera and is now available in gold.  I was disappointed that Apple didn't include more enhancements including updating the front-facing camera
  3. New iMac 27" Retina 5K and new Mac Mini.   The new iMac looks the same as previous models but sports a gorgeous Retina 5K display, a quad-code i5 processor, AMD Radeon video card with 2GB of RAM, and 8GB of system RAM.  Two years since its last upgrade, Apple upgrades the Mac Mini with a faster processor and integrated Intel graphics. 
  4. Mac OS/X Yosemite.   Available now, via the Mac App Store for free.   I've been running previous beta versions with good results.   Key features include a new user interface, integration with iOS (Continuity), iCloud Drive, enhanced Spotlight search and an improved notification center.
  5. I was disappointed that there were no announcements for AppleTV or MacBooks.  I'm a big fan of AppleTV and have owned every model (except the most recent REV A model introduced in January 2103).   While Apple has introduced a handful of new apps and minor user interface enhancements, a major hardware and software update is overdue.  HomeKit home automation capability was rumored but there were no announcements.  I was also disappointed that there were no new MacBooks announced.   The MacBook Air hasn't had a major redesign since it was introduced in 2008.  Perhaps 2015 will bring changes to both.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Looking for faster in-home wi-fi performance? Consider the Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Smart WiFi Router (R7000)

I'm a work from home employee and my wife, kids and myself have a wealth of wi-fi devices from phones, tablets, PC's, Chromebooks, media players and more.  My wi-fi router is a critical component of my home network and I recently upgraded to the Netgear Nighhawk AC1900 WiFi Router (R7000) with support for 802.11ac.

I've been using a Netgear N600 router since 2010 but it was starting to drop connections which forced me to manually reconnect devices.  In addition, with more 802.11ac compatible devices available, like the iPhone 6, it made sense to upgrade to take advantage of the increased performance.  However, as a cheapskate, I was concerned about the cost.

The advantage of  802.11ac is increased throughput but with slightly less range as it uses the 5GHz band.  802.11ac advertises gigabit speed but a network is only as fast as its weakest link and in my case it's the 50 Mbps Internet connection provided by my local cable company, Charter Communications. I rely on both wi-fi and gigabit Ethernet wiring throughout my home.   More details on my home network can be found here.

Based on low price, $129 after rebate (regular price is $199), prior positive experience with Netgear products, and positive reviews online,  I decided to purchase the Netgear R7000 from Staples online.  While the router is a bit large, it was easy to install and I'm seeing increased throughput of ~20-30% vs my older router.  Range seems to be improved as well as there was one area in particular in my house which had poor connectivity with my old router and has improved dramatically with the new one.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that the new router has improved external antennae and my old router was 4 years old.

Among the many features of the Netgear R7000 is the ability to connect two USB drives (one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0) and use Apple Time Machine to backup Macs.

If you're interested in what other gadgets I have in my home, I use Engadget to keep track of them (formerly GDGT)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Microsoft announces Windows 10: questions and answers

In a small media event in San Francisco earlier today, Microsoft officially unveiled Windows 10 - the successor to Windows 8.  Microsoft also announced Windows 10 on their blog.  While I didn't attend the event, here are a few of the questions and answers I assembled from various sources on the web:

Q: What is Windows 10?
A: Windows 10 is the successor to Windows 8.  Windows 10 is designed to power not just PC's and tablets, but phones, Xbox and the Internet of Things.   While Windows 10 is one platform, it is several user experiences - optimized for the device.  In the past, Microsoft offered multiple platforms and user experiences that weren't optimized for the device and input methods.

Q: What happened to Windows 9?
A: While the original name was supposed to be Windows 9, Microsoft decided to change the name to Windows 10 and to position it as a major upgrade.  Microsoft also appears to want to distance itself from Windows 8 which hasn't been a great success.

Q: What was the focus of today's event?
A: The focus was on enterprises rather than consumers.  Why? Enterprises have been slow to adopt Windows 8 because it doesn't offer a compelling reason to upgrade.  However, Windows 10 will also be targeted to consumers and we'll see more consumer-oriented features coming soon.  The following blog from Paul Thurrott has a great overview of the enterprise features.  I'm most interested in the data separation and protection features.

Q: What features of Windows 10 were shown at today's demo?
A: Automatic switching between mobile and desktop interfaces (Continuum), return of the start menu, floating universal (Metro) app windows, multiple desktops, notification center and more.

Q: When is Windows 10 expected to ship?
A: 2015

Q: How much will Windows 10 cost?  Will it be free?
A: Rumors abound that Windows 10 will be free (like Macintosh Yosemite) but Microsoft did not reveal price, versions or licensing for Windows 10 at today's event.

Q: Where can I get the Windows 10 Technical Preview?
A: Windows Insider Program (coming soon!)

I've included a video from Microsoft below