Making a QR code useful isn’t rocket science

Scan this QR code for more information...A technology that’s often subject to much criticism is QR codes, those square symbols that enable a barcode scanning app on your smartphone to interpret the data they contain and deliver information to you when you scan them

Much of the criticism is about how QR codes are presented by those who create them, often in ways that are simply lame or even mind boggling.

But when you see a great example of how a QR code is being used to convey useful information on a practical level, that’s when you see how genuinely useful they can be in terms of the information they enable you to access or the experiences they enable you to enjoy, or both.

I’ve written about QR codes quite a bit in this blog, highlighting the good and the not so good. Here’s another example, definitely for the ‘good’ list.

I spotted this QR code one evening recently as a key element of a sign on a bus stop in Wokingham, the town in southeast England where I live.

Next bus

Quite simple – scan the QR code to get information on when buses are due to arrive at that particular bus stop.

So you scan the code with your phone, and get a result like this:

nextbus

It tells me quite clearly when I can expect the next bus. If I were waiting for a bus at that stop, perhaps just arriving there, I’d find that useful. As the sign shows, I have other options to get information. There’s also the real-time display on the bus stop itself, bringing in bus timetable information by wifi to display.

Plenty of choices.

While this is a simple example, it does demonstrate how to add a method of access to information that will appeal to some people, some bus travellers in this case. Not everyone will be interested or even have a smartphone with them. But if you are and you do, then this is a good example of offering something useful to your audience that will appeal to some of them, and that requires little effort (or real cost) to implement.

Crucially, it is available to the consumer at no cost other than any charges related to data use via their carrier’s cellular or wifi network.

It reminds me in a small way of the Monmouthpedia experiment a few years ago – access via QR codes to useful information in a town where you could get a great network connection (and, so, access to the content) that will appeal to some people, not necessarily all of them.

monmouthpediaqrshirehall.jpg

The biggest barrier that stands in the way of wider acceptance and use of QR codes is the simple fact that every mobile phone with a camera needs a barcode scanning app in order to make use of QR codes. Currently, no phone from any UK carrier comes with such an app already installed – you have to find one in an app store, download it and install it.

As soon as such apps come with a phone – perhaps as part of the core apps, or the extra software mobile operators typically install – we’ll all be ready. Then it’s up to the advertisers, marketers and communicators to attract our attention, interest, desire and action with the application of something imaginative and compelling.

Something that will make me scan your code. Because I can.

Marking eight years of Twitter

Signing up for TwitterI remember when I first started hearing about Twitter, in the summer of 2006 less than six months after the service started earlier that year.

As the year progressed, the name kept popping up in blog posts and comments – what social media was, really, back then – until I decided to see for myself what this thing was all about.

And so, today marks my eighth #Twitterversary – eight years ago on this day, I signed up with the handle of @jangles. My Twitter ID number is 47973. (Did you know every Twitter handle has a corresponding ID number?) I’m still not sure if that number has any significance that makes it generally interesting.

For instance, does it signify that I was the 47,973rd person to sign up on Twitter? It sounds like it could be, given the numbers in 2006, growth since then (especially since 2010) and compare that to today with over 284 million monthly active users worldwide. But I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.

twitteractives

Incidentally, I often get asked what my Twitter handle means or where it came from. It’s actually the first part of the name of my avatar in the virtual world of Second Life, a place I was spending a lot of time in during 2006.

In any case, over the past eight years, Twitter’s analytics tell me that I’ve created almost 76,000 tweets. In averages, that works out at…

  • 9,500 per year
  • 792 per month
  • 26 per day
  • Just over one per hour (make that 3 per hour if we look at an 8-hour workday)

Are such metrics what Twitter’s about? Isn’t it more about the people you connect with? Well, according to Twitter, I have…

…so I suppose it is about that (assuming at least 50 percent of followers are not bots) as this chart suggests.

Engagements

Yet what is Twitter, really? Is it…

  • A social network
  • A tool for writing very short posts
  • A place to connect and engage with others online and chat
  • A useful means of sharing links to content of mutual interest or potential interest
  • A way to talk out loud and share your thoughts with the world wherever you are at any time
  • A channel for anyone to broadcast messages about anything and everything
  • Another channel for marketers and advertisers to promote their brands
  • A way for people who want to change their society to connect and communicate often more safely than they could otherwise
  • A tool for politicians and activists to spread their words
  • A means of communicating abuse and threatening others online

It’s all of those things, the good and the bad (and the ugly), and much more. If you use Twitter in a way that I’ve not mentioned, then that’s what Twitter is to you.

Twitter is also a mirror on society, reflecting the behaviours and actions of people that really is little different to behaviours in the actual world. There are consequences in what you say in a tweet and Twitter has come of age in this regard where the law is catching up with the wild west.

Twitter also came of age when it became a publicly-listed company on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2013. And naturally, it announced its intention to file an IPO in a tweet.

And so Twitter today is very much part of the mainstream, used in all those different ways by people to express opinions, share interesting things and engage in dialogue with others. I’ve always believed Twitter is what you make of it.

I like to look on the bright side about Twitter and human behaviours. And I can think of no better way to illustrate that sentiment than this terrific video from Twitter on the 2014 World Cup through the collective lenses of millions of tweeters.

One big milestone on the continuing journey.

Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch – some initial impressions

Samsung Gear 2 Neo home screenLast month, I bought a Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch. It’s been on my wrist every day over the past few weeks, replacing my usual traditional watch that tells the time and shows me the date.

Of course, a digital smartwatch can do a lot more than just that, one of the reasons why people buy them.

You want to check your heartbeat? Count how many steps you take walking, or running or hiking? Track your sleeping time? The Gear 2 Neo does all of that and more. I’d argue, though, that dedicated fitness devices such as a Fitbit or Jawbone Up do that much better and in greater depth – that’s what they do.

So if such health-focused activity-tracking uses are of primary importance to you, a smartwatch like the Gear 2 wouldn’t be your best choice.

But if you want to do things such as receive notifications of messages from social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Yammer and more; receive texts from your contacts on WhatsApp, Hangouts or via standard SMS; get reminders from your calendar on upcoming appointments; read email from your Gmail or corporate email accounts; or receive (and make) phone calls from your wrist, then a Gear 2 Neo might be right up your street.

And, as I use a Samsung smartphone – a Galaxy S4 at the moment – the fact that this smartwatch is geared  to work seamlessly with 17 supported Samsung smartphone models including the S4 was a big selling point.

So that’s what I want today from a smartwatch.

All of the above was the primary reason why I went for a Gear 2 Neo rather than any other comparable smartwatch currently on the market, many of which will also do some or all these things with other brands of smartphones: iPhones as well as Android-based devices.

In my view, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo is at the most favourable price point for what you get with your device, better than anything comparable I looked at.

You use a Gear 2 Neo in conjunction with your Samsung smartphone and the Gear Manager app you install on your phone. The first thing you do is pair your two devices via Bluetooth, and you’re set – from that point on you’ll get all the notifications you want on your Neo, from any of your installed apps, once you’ve set them up with the Gear Manager on your smartphone.

Samsung Gear ManagerManage Notifications

As long as your two devices are within range of each other, you won’t need to whip out your phone just to see a notification. It’s a very handy feature, possibly more so than you first realize.

One thing I find really appealing are the extensive ways in which you can customize your Gear 2 Neo, from the obvious and visual (wallpapers or coloured backgrounds) to the useful (watch styles and faces), and a great deal more, from how you’re notified and by which apps, to privacy locking and finding your Neo using your smartphone.

WallpapersClocks

I’ve experimented a bit with the aesthetics! At the moment, my Neo screen has a November the fifth effect as the wallpaper. I expect to change that in the next week or so, once I’ve found a good alternative (a good resource for Gear 2 wallpapers is Tizen Experts website).

I’m only scratching the surface of the Gear 2 Neo at the moment, not yet having explored in depth the apps that come with the device – some of which are tuned to Samsung smartphones, eg, S Voice and Voice Memo – never mind what’s in the Samsung App Store. And there is a surprisingly large quantity of apps in that store.

All that’s yet to come. Meanwhile, a handful of quick impressions:

  • Battery life is excellent in my experience, at least two days between charges, sometimes three days. Much depends on how you use it, of course, but this is my experience by and large. Only once did I use up all the juice in one day when I was doing a huge amount with the device including making and receiving quite a few phone calls and playing around with the various screens and options. But for typical usage, I’d say you can expect about two days on a single battery charge.
  • The way you charge the battery is via a little clip-on charge pack that fits on the back of the device. It’s small and very light = very easy to lose; I’m taking special note of where I put it. You can’t just plug your device in to a power source as you do with your smartphone – the only way to connect a USB cable is via the clip-on pack, and it’s the only way to charge your Neo.
  • The huge battery hit is on your paired smartphone because of the Bluetooth connectivity. In a typical day, I need to charge the phone during the day and again at the end of the day (where, usually, it’s only once at the end of the day when I charge it). Much depends on what you use your smartphone for and how you use it, as well as how long or how frequently you connect to your Neo via Bluetooth. Being permanently connected, with Bluetooth running all the time, is a nice convenience but maybe not really essential. So short battery life isn’t a device issue, it’s a battery issue – and extending battery life is undoubtedly one of the next key development frontiers to cross with battery technologies for mobile and wearable devices.
  • Usability as a device paired with a Samsung smartphone is excellent where the two devices work hand in glove, pretty seamlessly from my experience so far. If you think about how you use a smartphone where some of your time is spent just looking at it to see notifications, with limited interactions, then a smartwatch surely is a more convenient way to do that especially in some situations, eg, in a meeting, on a bus or train, etc, where a gentle vibration alerts you that a notification is coming, and you can give a discreet glance at your wrist.
  • The Gear 2 range including the Neo run the Tizen operating system, not Android. From my experience, that’s not an issue at all as Linux-based Tizen is actively supported by many mainstream manufacturers (including Samsung) and has a growing developer environment with more apps coming all the time, with plenty of incentives for developers.

The smartwatch market is getting most interesting now. Samsung just launched its Gear S in the US, an advanced-level smartwatch and health/fitness tracker with built-in cellular communications functionality – no paired smartphone required; Apple’s much-anticipated Apple Watch is reportedly coming in Spring 2015; more devices within Google’s Android Wear framework are coming soon; and news keeps popping up of more brands releasing their own smartwatches.

There are also developments with useful things you can do with your smartwatch. For instance, I look forward to flying with an airline where I can show my boarding pass on my Gear 2 Neo, as you can do with Iberia – far easier than grappling with a bit of paper or a smartphone along with all your hand baggage when you board.

And in the workplace, think how useful it would be to get notifications of events from your ERP system, such as the working proof of concept from enterprise software vendor IFS (a client) that they developed to deliver notifications from their IFS Applications software to the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

This is just the start. So I’m happy to be in a good place to learn right now with a Gear 2 Neo.

Magna Carta: The foundation of modern democracy

Some places you visit give you a palpable feeling of the event or events they mark or commemorate. You can literally breathe in and feel what it was like at the time it happened.

That certainly was my experience on a visit to Runnymede on October 31, from the moment we drove into the car park past The National Trust sign stating that we had arrived at “The birthplace of modern democracy.”

This place, in between Windsor and Staines in southern England, is best known for the role it played as the site by the banks of the River Thames where, on June 15, 1215, it is widely believed that King John affixed his seal to a document known as the Magna Carta, imposed upon him by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their rights.

Our visit to Runnymede was to enable our friends, Shel (my podcasting partner) and Michele Holtz, to see this place on their visit to the UK this past week. I’ve been here before, but the last time was well over 20 years ago.

And so we strolled across the meadow on a beautifully sunny and unseasonably mild October morning to be at the place that marks a milestone in history that has had a direct influence on the fortunes of many countries over the centuries.

Without doubt, this place is one of major significance yet has none of the glitz or shallow commercialism that afflict so many places of historic interest.

The site where King John  and the feudal barons gathered to consummate Magna Carta is tucked away among trees, with understated majesty in its location and its temple-like construction.

The site where King John affixed his seal to Magna Carta

I hadn’t realized, until this visit, that the structure marking the physical place of Magna Carta was built and is maintained by the American Bar Association.

Yet it’s not hard to see why there is such a strong connection as the principles of Magna Carta are foundational to the American constitution and the shared belief between the UK and USA in the individual freedoms and rights of its citizens under the rule of law.

"Symbol of freedom under law"Within the temple-like structure sits the symbol of Magna Carta, a rounded tall stone obelisk with the simple words “To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of freedom under law.”

This is about symbolism, which makes it easy for me to visualize the events that took place on this site in 1215.

I can imagine King John sitting here with those who spoke for the feudal barons, surrounded probably by entourages, soldiers and horses and other men.

The royal barge would likely have been moored at the riverbank.

What kind of gathering was it, I wonder. Given that John was forced to accede to the demands of the barons and so agree to the Magna Carta – the alternative being a bloody civil war – it was likely not a happy, smiling social gathering.

With the document now bearing the seal of King John it was a done deal, as it were. Yet the sealing in 1215 proved to be a failure in terms of preventing a bloody war as King John subsequently refused to accept and abide by the Magna Carta, the document he had sealed himself.

That led to a civil war known as The First Barons’ War from 1215 to 1217.

But, what took place at Runnymede on that June day in 1215 was an important part of the subsequent protracted historical process that eventually led to the rule of constitutional law in England and beyond.

You can read more in the Wikipedia entry, which has substantial links to other reference material on Wikipedia and elsewhere.

Another significant aspect of Runnymede, that we also visited, is a memorial to an event that occurred in the 20th century, almost 750 years after Magna Carta.

That event was the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, marked by a memorial and the acre of land in which it was placed, given to the United States: that acre of land is American soil.

Kenney memorial stone at Runnymede

These two sites of special interest, marking significant events centuries apart, are a good reminder of the connected values we hold dear in a turbulent world, and what they symbolize to each of us.

  • If you’ve done the maths on the dates I’ve mentioned, you’ll note that next year, 2015, is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. I expect we’ll see more mentions of Magna Carta leading up to next June, which I hope will lead to greater discussion about and understanding of its principles.

Friction-free donating with SnapDonate

SnapDonate

Sometimes you see an app for mobile devices that’s simply brilliant in the idea and concept of it.

Such is the case with SnapDonate, a new app for Android devices that lets you make a snap decision, ‘snap’ the charity, and donate there and then – I guess that’s how they came up with the name – right from your smartphone or tablet.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Load the app and point your phone’s camera at a charity logo wherever you see one.
  2. The app will automatically recognize it if it’s one of the nearly 70 it currently can (and you can find more with the app’s search tool).
  3. Select an amount to donate, starting from the minimum of £2 (about €2.50, $3.20).
  4. Add a message, your name and an email address if you want a receipt (all optional), or connect with your Facebook account.
  5. Hit the send button and your donation will be on its way to the charity of your choice via JustGiving, the world’s top platform for online fund-raising. (You can also save your intent for later – handy if there’s no network connection where you are at that moment.)

I tried it – installed the app on my Galaxy S4 and went through the procedure that really is simple and fast.

SnapDonateSnapDonate

SnapDonateSnapDonate

There’s no doubt that, from capturing a charity’s logo where you see it – in my example, Macmillan Cancer Support from the logo on their website – you can complete and send a donation in less than a minute.

I did encounter some flaky behaviour using the app, though – it crashed whenever I took one of the screenshots – and it didn’t actually get me to the completion point: sending the donation. I sent in crash reports each time. I see the app on Google Play is version 1.0.0 and requires Android version 2.3.3 or later (my S4 runs 4.4.2) so hopefully things will be fixed in the next update soon – reinforcing the wisdom, perhaps, of waiting for version 1.0.1 of anything. Note that a version for iPhones is coming soon.

Still, the idea is excellent even if the execution is a bit flawed at the moment in my experience.

I like the idea a lot, especially for situations such as when I come across a charity volunteer collecting outside the supermarket or in the High Street, and I don’t have actual cash on me. It always sounds pretty lame when you say, “Sorry, I don’t have any cash.” If the collector sports a big logo, I can snap it and donate cashlessly there and then or save for later.

With Christmas fast approaching, the pressure on everyone to support causes with donations will be mounting. While no one can support everyone, SnapDonate will certainly make choosing a favoured charity simpler and actual giving easier while you’re on the go.

(Via TNW)

Putting a Samsung Gear 2 Neo to the test

Samsung Gear 2 Neo

I speak and write quite a bit these days about wearable technology, a topic I have a keen interest in.

While the overall tech is a major part of my interest, it’s also largely about how people use it, especially in one area that’s getting a lot of attention – smartwatches.

As I don’t have one myself, I’ve been thinking about which one to get. It surely is hard to talk about a device with even a little credibility if you don’t use one yourself.

After spending time these past few weeks in considering different devices, including asking friends for opinions and reading many reviews, today I bought one – a Samsung Gear 2 Neo, pictured above.

Of all the smartwatches currently on the UK market that I considered – the list included not only direct competitors like the Pebble Smartwatch, Sony SW2 and the LG G at the premium-price end, but also really low-cost brands out of China such as Foxnovo, Lemfo and Lenofocus – I kept circling back to the Gear 2 Neo.

Part of the reason is trust in the Samsung brand as someone whose other mobile devices are Samsungs. And the big plus – the Gear range is geared, as it were, specifically to Samsung devices to enable a range of rich features, many of which I find compelling.

These include:

  • Seamless pairing via Bluetooth with my Galaxy S4 smartphone (Samsung has made 17 smartphone models able to pair with the Gear 2 Neo).
  • Receiving notifications of incoming messages, etc, from a wide range of apps installed on the S4 smartphone including Twitter, WhatsApp, Google+, Facebook and many more.
  • Ability to manage and customize many aspects of the smartwatch from the smartphone with the Samsung Gear Manager app.
  • The Gear 2 Neo has 4 gigs of internal storage so you can store lots of content, from video and audio to installable apps from Samsung’s App Store.
  • Very easy-to-understand interface – you don’t really need to read the manual.
  • Excellent hardware build quality including dust and water resistance.
  • Beautiful screen size and resolution – 1.64-inches, 320 x 320 pixels, Super AMOLED touch screen.

I expect to discover more as I get to know the Gear 2 Neo.

The device also lets you interact with it for a range of fitness-type activity such as heart-rate monitoring, a pedometer, etc. Those don’t interest me at all – so played no factor in my purchasing decision – and as a Twitter friend mentioned to me earlier today, devices like Fitbit do a far better job of that.

Where I think the Samsung Gear 2 Neo will excel is in areas like notifications of events from apps (how seamless will that be especially in a workplace environment or when out and about?), customization and installing third-party apps.

One other device I did briefly consider was also from Samsung –  its entry into the Android Wear market with the Samsung Gear Live, coming very soon. In my view, that’s one for the very early adopters (see this review by TechRadar), which I don’t want to be for my first smartwatch.

The Samsung Gear 2 Neo is a really nice device; I am pleased with it and feel I made a good decision. Still, time will tell: review to come once I’ve kicked its tyres a while.