Monday, July 31, 2017

Apple Loyalty

Apple achieved a 91 percent loyalty score, and slightly lower satisfaction of 85 percent, said marketing firm Fluent. The figures are based on June online polls of U.S. adults, using at least 2,000 to 3,000 completed surveys for each selected industry. Within those industries, only the 15 to 20 biggest brands were considered.

Apple is the "gold standard for practical innovation," Fluent commented. Its loyalty numbers are said to stem from a closely-integrated —and sometimes locked —ecosystem, meaning that as people buy more Apple devices, they become more dedicated.

Some of the only companies to rate above Apple included bulk retailer Costco, and big-box home improvement chain Lowe's. Costco in particular managed 95 percent loyalty and 91 percent satisfaction.

Fluent noted that within the smartphone, tablet, and computer industries as a whole, satisfaction was typically higher than loyalty. The margin was smallest in the smartphone world however, with 74 percent loyalty and 76 percent satisfaction.

Apple frequently ranks high in brand surveys, though in February a global Reputation Institute study saw Apple drop 10 spots to 20th place, something blamed on fading "perceptions of its governance and citizenship." Chief rival Samsung did far worse, plummeting from 17th place to 70th in the aftermath of Galaxy Note 7 fires.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Windows 10 Update

Microsoft isn’t quite finished developing Windows 10’s Fall Creators Update after all: Four new features were added as part of Windows 10 Insider Build 16251, including new Cortana capabilities and more communication between Windows and your phone.

If there’s a theme to the new build, it’s following up on promises that Microsoft made earlier. At its Build developer conference, Microsoft promised that phones and Windows would begin to communicate with one another, so tasks begun on the phone could be completed on the desktop. Voice commands to shut down and reboot your PC have also been enabled via Cortana—who now has greater freedom to provide answers without launching a browser. Finally, if you do need to reboot your PC, you can program your PC to skip the authentication process.

Why this matters: Microsoft pledged to make the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update a tool for connectivity as much as creativity, with several key featuresthat are slowly rolling out to Insiders. (Several, such as Timeline, we have yet to see, however.) Personally, I like Cortana’s new capabilities more than anything else, though the phone-to-PC connectivity is a welcome foundation for future improvements.

Cortana’s pane in the side

One of Cortana’s minor annoyances is that when she can’t display the answer as a card or a short reply, she’ll automatically launch an Edge webpage. To me, this always felt like giving up. Now, Cortana will slide out an additional pane with, say, a weather forecast. If there is no card available, she’ll show the result with a little arrow next to it to launch a webpage.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

UK Energy Use

The way a lot of home appliances work these days is that when you want it, you turn it on, and when you’re done, you turn it off. A light is a good example where you can turn it on and forget to turn it off, meaning that regardless of who is at home, the light will be on and wasting energy and racking up an expensive bill when the time comes.

However this is something that the UK government is hoping to avoid, and with our appliances starting to get smarter, they are looking at a future where smart homes will be connected to the country’s energy grid to help balance the supply and demand for energy. This means that when paired with smart appliances, it could alert users to when electricity is cheap and suggest that maybe now is a good time to use the washing machine/dryer.

Or it could inform users that they should turn off certain appliances as the grid is currently experiencing a bit of stress, so what they don’t need can be disabled temporarily. Of course this also means that manufacturers of such smart devices need to take these things into consideration, but it is a good idea and it is also a good start.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Silent Echo

Amazon's Alexa voice assistant is a stellar digital assistant, perhaps even the best one out there, at least as far as smart speakers are concerned. But talking to her all the time just to get something done could be quite tiring for some. Thankfully, there's an app that can fix that.

Let's say you're having a party at your house and the area is too noisy for Alexa to hear anything, or maybe you just want some peace and quiet. There's a new bot called Silent Echo that will allow you to use Alexa without using voice commands.

Silent Echo, however, doesn't offer Alexa's full range of capabilities when used on dedicated platforms, such as the Amazon Echo. For instance, the app won't allow users to control Spotify or other music services, and it won't support certain Alexa skills, which require multiple turns.

But that's not to say the things Silent Echo can handle are any less useful. You can control your smart home devices with it, for example, or use some Alexa skills.

Silent Echo: Talk To Your Alexa Without Talking
The idea behind Silent Echo comes from Bespoken, a set of tools that helps developers improve their voice apps. Per John Kelvie, the CEO of Bespoken, the team originally set out to create a web version of Silent Echo for its own development purposes. But others wanted it for Slack. So now, it's also a Slackbot.

How To Use Silent Echo Via Slack
After installing Silent Echo in Slack, users can then send it a message or call it in a group chat by mentioning it under the "@silentecho" handle. The bot converts the text into speech, which is then pushed to Alexa via Amazon's own APIs. Alexa normally responds to commands using speech, but Silent Echo translates this into text.

The bot itself may be a technically unofficial way to use Alexa, but the process behind it relies on "openly available routines," according to Kelvie. Bespoken doesn't employ any form of hack, complex workaround, or loophole.

Bespoken does, however, store commands and responses Alexa processes, which, while won't be shared, may potentially be summoned by way of government requests or legal procedures. Saving Alexa data has become a hot topic of late, in fact, especially with reports suggesting Amazon could soon offer developers private Alexa data — transcripts, mostly — to aid voice app development.

Bespoken's Silent Echo bot is proving pretty popular among Slack users.
"It's spreading rapidly," says Kelvie, an impressive feat considering the team didn't anticipate this much fanfare.

Curious? The Silent Echo bot is free to use. Try it out for yourself!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Windows 10 Update

Microsoft released its latest Windows 10 update earlier this year. The name, Creators Update,makes it sound bigger than it is; it’s really a minor step forward. But about 10 million Windows 10 customers have to face up to an unpleasant surprise: Their machines can’t update to Creators Update.

That’s how many poor sad sacks bought a Windows 8.x laptop in 2013 or 2014 with an Intel Clover Trail processor. Any of them who have tried to update their PC with the March 2017 Creators Update, version 1703, had no success and were presented with this message: “Windows 10 is no longer supported on this PC.” Boy, that must have been fun!

Not the end of the road for your three-year-old machine, though. I mean, you could always keep running the last version of Windows 10 on your PC. It wasn’t as if you went directly to a permanent blue screen of death. And anyway, Microsoft eventually backed off some, announcing that, while you can’t update those machines, you can still get security patches.

Now, that’s one giant corporation with a big heart.

I remember when Microsoft was forcing “upgrades” to Windows 10 down our throats. There you were with a machine on the low end of Windows 10 hardware compatibility. You might have had some doubts about making the move to 10, but Microsoft was just so persistent. You must be pleased as punch you surrendered now.

Some people have told me that it’s not fair of me to expect Microsoft to support aging hardware. That’s bull, and I’ll tell you why.

You may have noticed that PC sales have been declining for years. Know why? PCs last for years. I’m still running computers that are over a decade old.

If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Better still, don’t spend your IT money replacing it.

PCs aren’t smartphones, which die in two to four years. I expect my PCs to last for at least ten years — especially when I’m running desktop Linux on them.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Facebook VR Headset

Facebook Inc. is taking another stab at turning its Oculus Rift virtual reality headset into a mass-market phenomenon. Later this year, the company plans to unveil a cheaper, wireless device that the company is betting will popularize VR the way Apple did the smartphone.

Currently VR hardware comes in two flavors: cheap headsets that turn smartphones into virtual reality players (like Samsung’s $130 Gear VR) and high-end gaming rigs (like Facebook’s $400 Oculus Rift) that hook up to $1,000-plus desktop computers. Facebook’s new headset is designed to bridge the gap -- a device that will sell for as little as $200 and need not be tethered to a PC or phone, according to people familiar with its development. It will ship next year and represent an entirely new category.

Like current Oculus products, the new headset will be geared toward immersive gaming, watching video and social networking, said the people who asked not to be named to discuss a private matter. Code-named “Pacific,” the device resembles a more compact version of the Rift and will be lighter than Samsung’s Gear VR headset, one of the people said. The device’s design and features aren’t finalized and could still change, but the idea is that someone will be able to pull the headset out of their bag and watch movies on a flight just the way you can now with a phone or tablet.

At Oculus’s developer conference last year, Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg described a “sweet spot” for a device that sits between the Gear VR and Rift. “This is the kind of thing that we believe will exist,” he said. In an emailed statement Oculus spokesman Alan Cooper said: “We don’t have a product to unveil at this time, however we can confirm we’re making several significant technology investments in the standalone VR category.”

Oculus built its first prototype in 2010, back when it was still a Kickstarter-funded startup. In 2014, Facebook acquired the company for about $2 billion. Today the global market for VR headsets remains tiny. In the first quarter, hardware makers shipped 2.3 million of the devices, according to IDC, compared with 347 million smartphones. Buggy hardware, pricey headsets and insufficient content are all holding back mass adoption.

That’s starting to change as the second generation of devices starts to roll out. Last year, Sony Corp. debuted the PlayStation VR, a $500 headset that has sold close to a million units and taps the company’s gaming and entertainment ecosystem. Meanwhile, HTC Corp. and Lenovo Group, which both use Google’s Daydream OS, are working on their own standalone headsets and expect to release them this year. Ditto for Samsung Electronics Co., which uses Oculus technology.

Also gearing up is Apple Inc., which is betting on augmented realitytechnology that lays maps, text messages and more over the real world -- a bet that most consumers won’t want to be isolated inside VR headsets.

Right now Samsung leads the pack with about 22 percent of the global VR market, according to IDC. Facebook’s Oculus Rift is in fourth place, behind Sony and HTC, with about 5 percent of the market, or less than 100,000 units sold, IDC says. To goose sales, the company in July dropped the price of its headset for the second time this year.

If Facebook can get the new hardware right, it has some key advantages, including a vibrant ecosystem of downloadable VR games and apps, plus enthusiastic developers who gather in their thousands each year at the company’s Oculus Connect conference.

The new headset will have a similar interface to Samsung’s VR Gear and can be controlled by a wireless remote. Facebook has said it’s also working on a prototype device code-named Santa Cruz that’s basically a wireless Rift, with the full power of the original device sans PC.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Intel is Out of the Wearable Market

Intel has axed the division that worked on health wearables, including fitness trackers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The company has been slowly de-emphasizing its own line of wearables for the past several years, and has not mentioned wearables on its earnings calls since 2014.

In November, TechCrunch reported that the company was planning to take a step back from the business after its acquisition of the Basis fitness watch didn't pan out as expected. Intel denied at the time that it was stepping back.

But a source told CNBC that the chip maker in fact let go about 80 percent of the Basis group in November. Many of the people were given the opportunity to relocate to other parts of the business.

About two weeks ago, Intel completely eliminated the group, this person said. The company's New Technologies Group, which looks at cutting-edge business areas, is now focusing on augmented reality, another source told CNBC.

Intel once hoped that it would rule the wearables category alongside such players as Apple and Fitbit. Back in 2014, the company partnered with celebrities like 50 cent to show off its heart-rate sensing earbuds. Also in that year, it shelled out roughly $100 million for Basis.

"I want to be able to leave my phone at home," Intel CEO Brian Krzanich told reporters in January 2014 during a keynote the Consumer Electronics Show. "We will get there."

On its web site, Intel continues to advertise its Curie chipset for connected Internet of Things devices, including wearables, alongside partnerships with watch makers like Tag Heuer.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Google Glass 2

Google is to sell a revamped version of its smart glasses to businesses, more than two years after the original version of the product was cancelled.

The company said Glass Enterprise Edition had improved battery life and felt more comfortable during long-term wear than before.

However, it still resembles the original model, with a small see-through display and built-in camera.

It will face competition from Microsoft's HoloLens among others.

Many had assumed the project had been cancelled after the executive in charge, Tony Fadell, resigned last year.

However, parent company Alphabet's X division continued to develop the technology and has now revealed its efforts in a post on the news site Medium.

"Workers in many fields, like manufacturing, logistics, field services, and healthcare find it useful to consult a wearable device for information and other resources while their hands are busy," wrote project lead Jay Kothari.

"That's why we've spent the last two years working closely with a network of more than 30 expert partners to build customised software and business solutions for Glass for people in these fields."

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chicago Dog Sauce

If you put ketchup on your hot dog, you’re not really a Chicagoan.

That truism is at the heart of a new Heinz campaign in which the brand leans into the Windy City’s no-ketchup-on-hot-dogs establishment by trying to develop a new tomato-based “Chicago Dog Sauce.” The hope is that people there actually would put this stuff on their hot dogs—along with the yellow mustard, chopped onions, sweet pickle relish, dill pickle spear, tomato slices, pickled sport peppers and dash of celery salt that make up the classic Chicago dog.

Chicago Dog Sauce, available for a limited time for $5 plus shipping and handling at, is being put to the test with product sampling throughout the Chicago area.

So, the whole campaign, timed to National Hot Dog Day on Tuesday, is a classic misdirect. Chicago Dog Sauce, with its “delicious red ripe tomatoes and special blend of spices and flavorings,” is really just regular old Heinz ketchup. Not a huge surprise, really, but it does lead to those amusing reactions from the tasters, first in their enjoyment of it and later in their F-bomb-laced chagrin.

The product launch will be supported by print and out-of-home advertising.

The whole stunt is a bit reminiscent of when Anheuser-Busch tricked Brooklynites into drinking Budweiser, which they also liked, to their unending horror. For Heinz, it’s an easy way to try something new without actually making anything new. And leaning into the tension around ketchup-hating is a fun way to churn up some decent content.

Now, if they could just get Chicagoans to change their hot-dog habits for good.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

China Slow to Deliver AI Devices

When it comes to web businesses, China has created its own versions of a search engine (Baidu), e-commerce platform (Alibaba) and video-streaming service (iQiyi) with resounding success. Yet there’s a conspicuous absence of smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home.

The market for devices using audio to deliver artificial-intelligence services is so nascent in China that few researchers track sales. Counterpoint Research estimates that 2 million smart-speaker units will be shipped in China this year, compared with 14 million in the U.S.

The question of adoption is about more than the devices -- it’s about which enterprises will control the delivery of AI-based services. In the U.S., Inc., Google, Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. are all battling to determine which will cement a place at the center of peoples’ digital lives. Amazon said this week that the heavily discounted Echo was the best-selling product during its Prime Day shopping event.

“The overall understanding and response for Chinese natural language in a conversational way is still not mature,” Tracy Tsai, a Gartner Inc. analyst, said. Poor audio recognition on devices produced by some Chinese makers are a key reason for the lack of adoption, she said.

There are also other factors why smart speakers aren’t taking off in the world’s biggest retail market, according to Kai Yu, chief executive officer of Horizon Robotics and founder of the Institute of Deep Learning at Baidu Inc., China’s biggest search engine. Many people, especially younger workers, tend to spend less time at home, where smart speakers are meant to be used.

“If you look at the popularity of the food delivery business, it shows people don’t have much time; young people spend most of their time either at work, or going to work,” Yu said. “There’s still some speculation on whether smart speakers will be popular in China.”

Beijing resident Tianran He doesn’t see a compelling reason to buy a smart speaker, and hasn’t heard of any of his friends or family members talking about getting one. “Having a speaker in the house and knowing it could pick up all the audio feels a bit weird to me,” he said.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Windows 10 Problem

Owners of some Windows 10 laptops and tablets are crashing into a worrying roadblock when they try to install the Windows 10 Creators Update. Windows Update initially says the notebooks are compatible with the upgrade, but fails to install it after downloading the setup files, instead displaying the following message: “Windows 10 is no longer supported on this PC. Uninstall this app now because it isn't compatible with Windows 10.”

That sounds ominous, but you don’t need to uninstall your existing version of Windows 10, and there’s no app to uninstall. Instead, the message means your PC’s hardware isn’t compatible with the Creators Update—which could wind up being trouble in the future. Here’s what you need to know about the error, which affects early 2-in-1 PCs powered by Intel’s Clover Trail processors.

What processors and PCs are affected?
A recent ZDNet article thrust this issue into the spotlight, but Microsoft laid out details about the error in an April forum post. Microsoft won’t let affected hardware install the Creators Update because “Icons and/or text throughout the Windows interface may not appear at all, or may appear as solid color blocks on some devices.”

Devices with these Intel “Clover Trail” processors are impacted:
  • Atom Z2760
  • Atom Z2520
  • Atom Z2560
  • Atom Z2580

Clover Trail processors powered the earliest Windows 8 2-in-1 hybrid devices, such as the HP Envy X2 and the Asus VivoTab. If you embraced Microsoft's vision for a versatile future for Windows in the early days, you’re now left stranded if you accepted—or were forced into—the free Windows 10 upgrade for your Windows 8 PC.

Monday, July 17, 2017

New Alexa Trick

Alexa’s latest trick is offering a hands-free TV viewing experience, that will allow consumers to turn on or off their television, change inputs, fast forward, rewind and more, without having to first invoke a specific skill, or even press a button on their remote. Instead, makers of smart home devices are today adding new “entertainment controls” to their own skills, which allow customers to control a variety of devices, including TVs, as well as AV receivers, IR hubs and even connected speakers.

Amazon says this new capability is today available via the smart home skills from Sony, Logitech Harmony, and BroadLink, while others from Denon, Creston, LG and Pulse-Eight are coming soon. The skills are first available to U.S. users, with support for U.K. and Germany arriving in the future.

The companies are using an updated Smart Home Skill API to make the hands-free TV and media player control possible. Because this API already uses Amazon’s standardized Alexa language model, the companies don’t have to build out their own voice interactions for their existing skills, Amazon explains.

Alexa will understand the user’s speech, convert it into a command, and then send it to the skill adapter that communicates with the device in question.

For consumers, what this means is that you’ll be able to just talk to Alexa to control your TV or other entertainment devices without having to remember to invoke a particular skill. So, for example, you could just say things like, “Alexa, turn on the TV,” “Alexa, fast forward,” “Alexa, make it louder,” or “Alexa, switch input to Blu-Ray.”

This is not the first time that Alexa has been used for hands-free TV. In May, Dish rolled out an Alexa integration that allowed its pay TV customers using either its Hopper or Wally receiver to search for programs, change channels, rewind and fast-forward television, and more, just by speaking, in much of the same way.

And of course, Amazon’s own Fire TV platform already supports the ability to use Alexa to launch streaming apps like Netflix, as well as do things like play TV shows, movies, and more.
But by bundling this “entertainment control” feature into Alexa’s existing Smart Home Skill API, hands-free TV becomes just another part of the larger smart home ecosystem, while simplifying the experience for end users. For example, previously, users had to say “Alexa, ask Harmony to…” before issuing their TV-related commands, when using Logitech’s skill. Now they can just talk to Alexa directly.

Third-party devices aren’t the only ones getting a smart upgrade, it seems. As spotted by the blog Android Police, a Fire TV software update changelog implied that users with Alexa-powered devices, like the Echo, would be able to control playback on their Fire TV, also just by speaking. Users could use phrases like pause, resume, fast forward, and next episode – the same sort of thing that was already possible via the Alexa button on the Fire TV remote. The difference is that you’d be able to now skip the remote and just talk to your Echo instead.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Free Books from MSFT

It’s that time of year again, and today I am kicking off my annual FREE MICROSOFT EBOOK GIVEAWAY extravaganza! And this time, I’m posting MORE FREE EBOOKS in this post than I ever have in any of my previous giveaways! Based on this, you will notice something different about this year’s post… In previous years, I included images of the eBook covers next to each item; however, I would also get feedback from people on the amount of time to load all of the images. So, this year I decided to streamline the list to make it easier to get to the eBooks you want. You will now find a simple list, organized by category, with the download links in the Format column so you can choose which format you want to download.

If you have been a follower of mine in the past, you know that several years ago I tried a simple concept: Let’s try giving away a bunch of free eBooks, reference guides, Step-By-Step Guides, and other informational resources to our customers and partners around the world. Needless to say, the concept was extremely the first year (over 1,000,000 FREE eBooks downloaded), and it has grown and grown over the past few years (over 3.5 Million downloaded three years ago and we surpassed that by a lot last year!) So, how many FREE eBooks can we give away this year? That is completely up to you.

Before we get to this year’s list of FREE eBooks, a few answers to common questions I receive during my FREE EBOOK GIVEAWAY:
  1. How many can you download?
    • ANSWER: As many as you want! This is a FREE eBook giveaway, so please download as many as interest you.
  2. Wow, there are a LOT listed here. Is there a way to download all of them at once?
    • ANSWER: Yes, please see the note below on how to do this.
  3. Can I share a link to your post to let others know about this giveaway?
    • ANSWER: Yes, please do share the good news with anyone you feel could benefit from this.
  4. I know you said they are “Free,” but what’s the catch?
    • ANSWER: There is no catch. They really are FREE. This consider it a, “Thank you,” for being a reader of my blog and a customer or partner of Microsoft.
  5. Ok, so if they are free and you’re encouraging us to share this with others, can I post a link to your post here on sites like Reddit, FatWallet, and other deal share sites to let them know, or is that asking too much?
    • ANSWER: Please do. In fact, I would encourage you to share a link to this post on any deal site you feel their users could benefit from the FREE eBooks and resources included below. Again, I WANT to give away MILLIONS of FREE eBooks!
  6. Are these “time-bombed” versions of the eBooks that stop working after a certain amount of time or reads?
    • ANSWER: No, these are the full resources for you to use.

Ok, ready for some FREE eBooks? Below is the collection I am posting this year (which includes a ton of new eBooks & resources, as well as some of the favorites from previous years):

Friday, July 14, 2017

3 Ways the Best Leaders Set Themselves Apart

By Mayur Ramgir

Great leaders are in great demand, whether a coach for a football team, a CEO for a corporation or a general for the Army.

But in many cases people are mistaken about what makes a good leader. Often, leadership is viewed as being able to establish resources and priorities to acquire worthwhile goals.
While that’s part of it, true leadership involves a lot more than that, says Mayur Ramgir (, author of Evolve Like a Butterfly: A Metamorphic Approach to Leadership.

“Actual leadership deals more with inspiration than simple productivity,” Ramgir says.
And for leaders to be truly inspirational, they have to adapt and adopt different leadership styles at different stages in business, says Ramgir, who also is president and CEO of Zonopact Inc., a software development firm that specializes in innovative business solutions.

“If the leader is not able to adapt to the rapidly changing environment, the whole organization might suffer losses,” he says. “The key thing to remember is that people want to be led by example so that they can follow suit. That means it’s up to the leader to set the tone and the attitude for how to handle the challenges the team inevitably will face.”

So what are some of the traits and attitudes leaders need if they want to motivate their teams so that they perform at the highest levels? Ramgir says a few of those include:
• Self-belief is critical. Your success as a leader lies in your ability to believe in yourself. You must feel that you can handle whatever situation arises. “But it’s important to understand that authentic leaders are not only aware of their strengths, but of their limitations,” Ramgir says. In other words, self-belief is a positive trait, but it isn’t a license for narcissism or hubris.
• Your confidence inspires others. If you can convince yourself that you can do it, then the rest of the world will automatically be convinced. “It makes a big difference in how people see you and react to you when you exude confidence,” Ramgir says. “The saying, ‘Don’t let them see you sweat,’ certainly applies to being a leader.”
• Supporting your team pays off. Getting the chance to help others is the opportunity to help yourself in disguise. “When you provide employees what they need in order to reach and exceed their potential, the result will be high performance levels and loyalty,” Ramgir says. “That’s good for you and the organization as a whole.”

“Leadership is never about using the brute force of authority to force your ideas down other people’s throats,” Ramgir says. “This is not the forte of the real leader. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. True leaders work only to better the society around them and the world at large.”

About Mayur Ramgir

Mayur Ramgir (, author of Evolve Like a Butterfly: A Metamorphic Approach to Leadership, is an award-winning author, speaker, innovator and entrepreneur. Educated at Georgia Tech, MIT, Oxford and the University of Sussex, he currently serves as president and CEO of Boston-based Zonopact Inc. Ramgir’s previous book, Unbarred Innovation: A Pathway to Greatest Discoveries, was published in 2016.