With Nomad, you’ll always find juice

ChargeCard

The bane of contemporary mobile life is your smartphone running out of juice sooner than you expect (what many would undoubtedly see as a classic ‘First World problem‘).

It usually happens to me at a conference or other event when I’m using my device a lot for tweets and pics and sharing them online, and there’s no nearby power outlet; or, more typically, I don’t have a charging cable with me that I can plug into a PC’s USB port.

So when the good folk at Nomad in California asked me if I’d like to try out their ChargeCard and ChargeKey micro USB cables, I was more than happy to say yes. Here’s what each device is -

  • ChargeCard: A thin smartphone cable in a credit-card-sized format casing that’s designed to fit into even the slimmest wallet.
  • ChargeKey: A key-shaped smartphone cable that fits onto your keychain.

They work like normal cables for charging the battery and syncing your phone – in both cases, you plug one end into a computer’s USB port and the other end into your mobile device. There are versions for iPhones and for other devices that use the near-ubiquitous micro USB standard connector (almost everyone else). As all of my mobile devices are Android, I chose the micro USB versions.

The package from Nomad arrived just before Easter so I’ve had a chance to try out both devices. They work better than I expected.

As the photos here show, you plug the micro USB connector into your phone, and the end of the charging cable into a USB port on your computer.

ChargeCard

Above is the ChargeCard connected to my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone, plugged in to a USB port on the side of my Toshiba laptop.

As you can see, the cable connector plugged in to the laptop’s USB port looks like (and is) a very flexible rubber-and-silicon material that’s built in to the more rigid hard plastic of the credit card-sized casing.

Below is the ChargeKey on a keyring with my car key.

ChargeKey

As the ChargeCard image above shows, the connector part of each device is amazingly flexible – here below is what the ChargeKey looks like with the S4 connected to the laptop’s USB port.

ChargeKey

Note how twisted the connector cable is. It’s designed to cope with that, Nomad says, and it connects and works fine. It’s an issue you encounter with many mobile devices and charging/sync cables where each connector only fits one way, so you can end up with some contortions such as you see here.

At least part of the equation will be fixed as and when the new reversible USB connector standard makes its way into the cables and connectors we’ll see and use in the coming years when new reversible-connection USB ports get built in to PCs and other devices.

I’ve now ditched all but one of the USB cables that had homes in my various bags and that usually got tangled up in something. Having one is for the time when you can’t use either of the Nomad products – no flat surface, for instance, or it’s just too awkward, so a long cable may well serve you better.

For me, by far the most comfortable-looking of Nomad’s two devices is the ChargeCard. But both are very good and would likely serve different needs. I’m not sure keeping the ChargeKey on a carkey ring such as I have is best – it’s a bit awkward aligning the various devices on a table. I find the ChargeCard to be a better bet for that.

Still, both of these devices are really great. Did I mention sync? Not only do they charge your device, but also they let you synchronize data on your device with what’s on your computer, if you have it set up for that and if that’s what you want to do. Otherwise, they’re devices that enable you to charge up your battery – and very good ones for that purpose.

The built quality is outstanding, a best-practice example of innovative design and manufacturing – and great examples of the kind of flexible wearable technology that’s beginning to emerge: imagine the wiring within the twistable connector in each of Nomad’s devices that does its job no matter how twisted the connection, so to speak.

I did wonder about how exposed the connectors are – how easily might they potentially suffer damage without covers? Nomad addresses that one in a credible set of FAQ on their website. So I’m reassured.

And I like Nomad’s philosophy:

[...] We’re focused on building simple solutions to simple problems, problems that shouldn’t slow us or you down. ChargeCard and ChargeKey are just the start of our modern, minimalist, mobility movement.

Nomad began as a Kickstarter-backed project, exceeding its fund-raising goal by a factor of more than three. It became fully funded in August 2012.

Nomad sells the ChargeCard and the ChargeKey for $29 each in the US, with discounted pricing on quantity orders and referring a friend. They also have an affiliate program (I haven’t joined that so no links here are affiliate links). There’s good news if you’re in the UK – as well as in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain – as you can buy either device from Amazon and get your purchase quickly.

Products that get you juice. What’s not to like?

Imagine what the Bank of England could have done with its QR code ad

A quarter-page ad by the Bank of England in yesterday’s Telegraph caught my eye primarily because it contained a QR code.

The print ad informs you that the £50 note featuring an engraved portrait of Sir John Houblon on the reverse side will be withdrawn from circulation at the end of April.

The ad also includes a phone number, email and website addresses, plus a QR code that you’d typically scan with a barcode scanning app on your smartphone to bring you something – further information, for instance.

Ad: withdrawal of £50 'Houblon' banknote

So I scanned the QR code with a sense of anticipation, wondering what useful and interesting information I’d get.

More details about the withdrawal, certainly. Why it was happening, perhaps, and what to do if I have any such £50 notes in my wallet. Could I still use them on the High Street? If so, for how long?

When you scan a QR code, you’ll usually get a screen asking you for permission to proceed and take the action suggested, eg, load up the browser on your device and retrieve the information linked to from the QR code.

Barcode scan result

I tapped ‘Open browser’ and the result was indeed further information presented in a web page.

The trouble is, that web page is a page designed for use on a large screen such as you have when using  a desktop computer or a laptop, or even the ten inches or so on a full-size tablet.

Certainly not what you’d find useful (usable, even) on a five-inch smartphone like my Galaxy S4 when the browser tries to render the complete page on the comparatively tiny screen.

Web page: Withdrawal of the Houblon £50 Note

Even if you have perfect vision, that’s nigh-on impossible to read.

With a bit of pinch-zooming in and out, though, I could see some very useful information on this page:

  • Details about the why and when of the note’s withdrawal from circulation: amplified information of the concise text in the print ad
  • A link to “What to do with old ‘Houblon’ £50 notes,” an informative video published last January where Victoria Cleland, head of the Bank’s Notes Division, tells you the basics of what you need to know and what to do.
  • Links to two PDF posters, one in English the other in Welsh.

There’s reference to an FAQ list but no link to it that I could see.

Given the clear trend to increasing use of mobile devices, what I wish the Bank had done was something like this:

  1. Present everything anyone would need to know about the note’s withdrawal from circulation in a manner designed for use on a mobile device.
  2. Engage the visitor on a mobile device with content that brings that person into the story you tell – far more than simply dry information about the withdrawal of a £50 banknote.
  3. Tell me about Sir John Houblon. I’d not heard of him (I don’t see many £50 notes). I didn’t know he was the first governor of the Bank of England, for instance, from 1694 to 1697 according to the Wikipedia entry. Or the story about the engraved image of him on the £50 note.
  4. Use this as an opportunity to educate people and raise awareness about currency, reinforcing key messages about legitimacy, counterfeiting, etc.
  5. And an opportunity to restate key facts about the Bank, it’s role in the economy and in society in general.

Capture people’s imaginations, in other words.

Instead, an opportunity gone missing.

Smartphones preferred device for news among affluent consumers says BBC

bbcnewsinfographsnip

The results of a new survey for BBC World News shows a surge in smartphone use for consuming news among affluent consumers compared to the general population. The BBC defines “affluent consumers” as the highest 20 percent income earners in each country surveyed.

What the BBC describes as the world’s first study into the use of mobile by affluent consumers – over 6,000 such people were surveyed in Australia, Germany, Sweden, India, Hong Kong and the US – shows a 15 percent yearly increase in the amount of people who would prefer to use a phone to read the news compared to a 17 percent decline for desktop computers.

In terms of how those surveyed prefer to read the news on their smartphones, the results make that quite clear:

News apps are the most commonly used apps on affluent consumers’ mobile phones, whilst social network apps are favoured by the general population.

BBC News Android appBBC News Android app

Speaking as a smartphone user of the BBC News app for Android devices, my view is that the app must present the user with a compelling experience to not only read the news but also be able to easily share it across the social web. You’d also want to be able to customise the app to your preferences and have it automatically update the news for you even when it’s not open.

And you’d prefer such an app for news consumption and social sharing over other high-use apps such as social networking apps, and have the opportunity to use it for contributing news to the BBC if you want to.

The BBC’s News app does all that and more.

The survey presents more rich metrics on mobile usage by affluent consumers:

  • 51 per cent of affluent consumers use their mobile phone for business, compared to 40 per cent of the general population.
  • Affluent consumers are 18 per cent more likely to share their location to get relevant services than the general population.
  • A third of affluent consumers agree that, if a brand wants to be modern and dynamic, it needs to be on mobile – 15 per cent higher than the general population.
  • Mobile advertising is twice as effective as the proven desktop in driving key brand metrics such as awareness, favourability and purchase intent amongst the total population. This figure rises to four times as effective for affluent consumers.
  • High-income earners are as positive towards advertising on mobile (19 per cent) as desktop (18 per cent). The percentage who are happy to see ads on mobile websites rises to 41 per cent for sites where the content is free.

The BBC says that the results reveal the increasing importance of smartphones to affluent consumers and demonstrate the extent to which mobile devices are integrated into both their personal and their business lives, as improved technology enables greater engagement with content.

The study also provides evidence that affluent consumers – a large proportion of the BBC World News and BBC.com/news audience – are significantly more receptive to mobile advertising than the general population.

(The focus on and talk about mobile advertising reflects the BBC’s commercial activity in markets outside the UK. Within the UK, we don’t see ads on any BBC property: the BBC gets its revenue from the annual license fee everyone has to pay – widely seen as a tax – plus a government grant.)

Earlier last year, the BBC released the results of a survey that, for the first time, measured news consumption habits across multiple devices – the so-called “second-screen experience.”

That survey offered some credible insights into the growing impact of TV, smartphones, tablets and laptops on the news consumption habits of more than 3,600 people surveyed in nine representative markets.

This latest survey reinforces key messages from that previous survey about the importance of mobile and smartphone usage to news organizations, advertisers and brand owners alike.

According to Jim Egan, CEO of BBC Global News:

This new research reveals significant change in mobile consumption – people are delving deeper into stories on their mobiles, consuming more video and, significantly, growing accustomed to advertising on their mobiles. This large study provides compelling evidence that mobile advertising works with affluent mobile consumers in particular and that has big implications for publishers and advertisers alike.

No doubt among the topics being discussed in Barcelona, Spain, this week at the 2014 Mobile World Congress.

Get an overview of the survey findings in this BBC infographic:

(Click for large infographic PDF)

Instagramming NYFW

New York Fashion Week via The Verge

A frequent topic over the past year on the FIR podcast that my co-host Shel Holtz and I have pondered and discussed is the rise of visual communication.

A key reference point for us was the interview we did in August 2012 with Brian McNely on Instagram as a medium for image-power and his research with case histories on what brands do with Instagram.

Today, video has come up alongside static images with tools like Vine and Instagram’s video feature that make it incredibly easy and simple for anyone to capture six or fifteen seconds respectively of action on a smartphone and instantly share it with a small group – or the world – online.

This theme grabbed my attention this week when I saw what was happening on and from the catwalk at New York Fashion Week.

Take a look at a short video by brusselssprout_in_manhattan who says:

For New York Fashion Week, @tommyhilfiger introduced the first ever runway show InstaMeet. I was happy to be one of the 20 Instagrammers chosen to attend & document the event.

Check out the video:

As The Verge noted in its report:

[...] No one should come away surprised; fashion tends to bring the amateur photographer out in people, and the runways are by now no stranger to the blue glow of smartphone screens. Official attendees needed only to guide where those photos went to try to make them more meaningful.

Bold text is my emphasis.

There’s no better example of that guidance The Verge speaks of than this video report by retail, and shopping obsessive Racked in its video report, All Hail the Screens: How Instagram Has Shaped NYFW:

Screens, whether on phones or pads, have become ubiquitous in the front row at New York Fashion Week, especially since Instagram’s launch in 2010. Faced with a wall of screens at every show, Racked journeyed to Hilfiger’s NYFW ‘InstaMeet’, went backstage at Kenneth Cole and spoke with industry longtimer Mickey Boardman of Paper Magazine to see how the industry is reacting to the glut of social media, and how sharing sites might be changing fashion week for the better.

Imagination applied. Along with a great deal of structure and guidance.

Renault pushes envelopes with the Kwid

Renault Kwid

Since the 1950s, concept cars have been ways that car manufacturers have showcased their ideas, talents and creativity about a new model of car, new styling and new technology.

They’re typically shown with great fanfare at motor shows to gauge media and public reaction to new or radical designs that may or may not make it into mass production.

Here’s one from French carmaker Renault that certainly showcases some terrific – perhaps radical – thinking about new technology, capturing the attention of the mainstream media over the past week.

This is the Renault Kwid, a crossover vehicle that Renault presented at the Auto Expo 2014 in New Delhi, India, aimed primarily at the Indian market.

What makes it especially interesting – indeed, it’s what has largely driven the close media attention this past week – isn’t so much its design and styling, but more to do with a little gadget that might come with the vehicle.

Most media reports call the gadget a drone. More accurately, it’s a quadcopter. Check out the video.

Says Renault in its press release:

[...] Taking off from the rotating rear portion of the KWID CONCEPT’s roof, the Flying Companion can be operated in one of two modes – the automatic mode using a pre-programmed flying sequence and GPS location as well as the manual mode, which enables the companion to be controlled using a tablet inside the vehicle. The Flying Companion can be used for a variety of purposes, including scouting traffic, taking landscape pictures and detecting obstacles on the road ahead.

Much of the media reporting I’ve seen talks mainly about the quadcopter as a means to spot traffic jams. My first thought was how handy it would be to spot where to park your Kwid in crowded cities!

The Renault Kwid also represents a pragmatic international view of car design and car use, as another video Renault posted to YouTube shows with interviews with some in Renault’s design team comprising employees from around the world with their views shaped and influenced by their cultures and outlooks.

Says Renault:

Renault Designers around the world cooperated to conceive a vehicle made for local markets and designed to meet the latters’ needs. The interior of the vehicle was designed by François Grenier (Technocentre Design, France) based on original drawings by Mishu Batra (Renault Design India) and the exterior by Anton Shamenkov (of Russian origins, Technocentre Design, France) based on original drawings by Jean Semeriva (Studio Design Brazil). The colors and materials of the vehicle were worked upon by Neha Lad (Indian trainee, Technocentre Design) and developed by Chie Yanagisawa (Japanese designer, Technocentre Design). Axel Breun (Technocentre Design) was the overall Project Manager.

As a concept, the vehicle is pretty neat. It also comes with much more technology innovation including some serious eco-credentials.

I could see this idea of a crossover + quadcopter in action, although that view is more of an emotional desire than a practical perspective.

Will it make it to actual production ? Time will tell. But it’s imaginative.

If you want my data, reward me

Reward Just AheadAt the moment, we provide our personal details free to data-gathering giants like Facebook and Google. That won’t always be the case, says guest writer Daniel de Bruin.

Data security promises to be one of the main issues facing organisations in 2014. During the past year two main threats to data security have emerged. First, inadequate and weak security mechanisms have been used by most organisations. Second, it has been revealed that government security agencies have gained access to a vast amount of private user data stored on private corporate systems, usually without the knowledge of these corporations.

These revelations have shaken faith in the safety of the Internet, the way we do online business, and compromised the products and services we all use and trust.

Faced by the prospect of a consumer backlash, some of the world’s biggest technology companies took the unprecedented step of joining forces to demand sweeping changes to US surveillance laws to preserve public trust in the Internet.

In an open letter to President Barack Obama, Yahoo, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, AOL and Facebook urged radical change, claiming the balance of power had tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said:  “People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”

But companies have also been seen as complacent in allowing themselves to be used as agents of surveillance.  If nothing is done to remedy this perceived breach of trust immediately, some brands may be damaged beyond repair. In an age where more and more details of our private lives are stored online, trust and data security are essential to any organisation’s continued survival. This principle does not only apply to technology companies, but increasingly to companies operating in all sectors.

Shares in technology companies are already vulnerable and may continue to be affected as more revelations about data security emerge. Sales of networking switches and routers manufactured by US technology companies recently dropped by about 30% in developing economies like India, Russia and Brazil, mainly because people do not trust some companies as much as they used to.

According to Reuters, more data has been generated in the past 30 years than in the preceding 5000. Every day, more and more data is generated, and at a faster and faster pace. As home appliances become more connected, and more intelligent, ever more data is stored, and made available online.

Market watcher Gartner predicts that by 2019, some 90% of organisations will have personal data stored on IT systems they do not own or control, which can be a lucrative target for cyber criminals.

Several large-scale data security breaches have revealed that all organisations face increasing threats from criminal networks and from government agencies. Target Corp in the USA was recently the victim of a security breach where millions of credit card details were stolen. In South Korea, the details of millions of credit cards from KB Kookmin Card, Lotte Card and NH Nonghyup Card were stolen. This week, German authorities uncovered a large-scale criminal internet attack, which compromised the personal details of over 16 million internet users.

Furthermore, in a global marketplace of data proliferation on such a giant scale, opportunities for governments to spy on citizens, to monitor their behaviour, track their movements, listen in on their conversations and ascertain their views, have never been easier or more tempting.

Countless tasks, performed in the same way for hundreds or even thousands of years such as banking, shopping, socialising and sharing information, are now electronic and sometimes automated. The next wave of products controlled online will include domestic appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and ovens. The threat of hackers controlling these appliances will create a whole new class of online crime.

Apart from accessing bank and credit card details, collecting passwords and taking out fake loans, hackers will have access to much more information. For example, a hacker attempting to access digital records, could log users’ movements, when they are at home and what they do at home, how much money they spend and what they buy, who they are talking to and what they are saying to them, their views, medical conditions and the jobs they are applying for.

User passwords are the keys to these online data vaults, and are one of the main areas of weakness in data security systems. Some companies have stored user passwords using insecure methods, and millions of passwords of large technology companies such as Adobe and Linked-in have been stolen.

If organisations do not take action to address data security concerns, consumers may be inclined to reduce the amount of information they are willing to share, or even abandon online platforms and services they have become accustomed to.

However, more worryingly, most hackers do not even require technological methods to hack into an individual’s personal accounts. Most users have very weak passwords, and as a result, hackers can deduce an individual’s password using social engineering. An individual’s personal details, such as their favourite football team, the year they last won a championship, their favourite band, their mother’s maiden name can be used to guess passwords. For most individuals, this can be done in only a few minutes.

This means that the weakest point is often people’s social media accounts. Because many users use the same passwords as their internet banking passwords, or store information which can be used to access their internet banking, a lot of valuable information is made highly vulnerable.

In the future individuals will demand to have far more control over their own data and this will require them to be rewarded for sharing their data, in much the same way as loyalty cards are essentially data gathering tools, but reward their users for gathering the data about themselves and making it available. The same is starting to happen with online data, and the reward aspect will very soon become the norm.

Cookies are already being replaced as consumers are herded onto data gathering ‘ecosystems’ like Facebook and Google. While cookies are stored on a user’s computer, this makes deep analytics of this data almost impossible. Instead, these ecosystems store the behavioural and browsing data on their servers, which allows for highly complex algorithms to be executed on this data to provide for highly valuable deep analytics to be performed.

These insights can then be sold and used to drive highly targeted advertising. While cookies are provide individuals a lot of control over their own data, although most users are unaware of this, large data gathering organisations like Facebook are instead moving towards a highly centralised data storage approach.

This, in the short-term, is likely to cause a further backlash from consumers. The shift might therefor be temporary, as we move to a world where consumers demand to own their own data and get rewarded for sharing it.

One approach might be to give each Facebook user a reward point for every post, or number of friends who liked a post, etc. The “free” Facebook model is anything but – users are essentially paying with their data, and not getting anything in return. But in this savvy consumer age, that cannot last forever.

Here are some basic rules to follow to protect your data security:

  • Re-evaluate which companies you deal with. Don’t assume large organisations like Google, Apple or Sony are immune to data theft or that they won’t sell your data on. Hidden far down in contracts with these companies that everyone signs and few people read is your agreement that all of your personal information can be shared with third parties.
  • If you’re not satisfied that your personal information is entirely safe, you should switch to a new provider.
  • Only use cloud-based platforms or email services on a highly secure network.
  • Don’t carry out searches if you’re connected to Google Plus unless you accept that the company will store and share all of that search information, even with your employer or another government.
  • Don’t use wi-fi printers for sensitive material or, if you must, ensure the wifi channel is secure and encrypted.
  • When logging into cloud-based or remote sites such as Facebook, Yahoo or Hotmail don’t assume that you’re on the right site. Your password may be stolen by fake sites pretending to be the original.
  • Don’t use a memorable date for your favourite football team as your password. If you use your mother’s maiden name, for example, remove all of the vowels, or every second vowel, and add numbers. If you use your date of birth, use it plus one or minus one. And definitely don’t use the same password for everything!
  • Always encrypt your computer. There are some very good software packages which are great at encrypting your full hard disk and without access to that people can’t get to your data. With today’s technology it would take them more than a million years to break in.

Daniel de BruinDaniel de Bruin is managing director at Modelling Design Partners, a business intelligence company with offices in London, Edinburgh and Johannesburg, implementing the latest techniques in data analytics and machine learning. Information: www.modellingdesign.com.