Make Your Smartphone Smarter
We love our iPhones and Androids. And "we" doesn't just mean tech geeks. Virtually all Americans (kids too) have mobile phones. And 40 percent of them have smartphones. That number keeps growing—fast. And tablets are multiplying like bunnies.
But there's a problem for gadget lovers: We're not very original. It's like everyone wearing the same Gap khakis, except we can at least get those items in a size that fits us.
Smartphones and tablets are, for the most part, one-size-fits-all. We can tweak them a little by downloading apps such as Facebook and Angry Birds (like everyone else), but we're often content with the same main programs that we use the most frequently—like the web browser, calendar and keyboard—even if we don't love them. The truth is, although many of us don't, you can actually customize these programs. And there are good reasons to do so—from texting more efficiently to faster web surfing. New versions of the Apple iOS and Android software are coming soon, but there are a lot of improvements you can make to your current device.
So after years of wearing the same smartphone khakis and shirt, I decided to do a little makeover. (Cue changing-room montage!) Here are the apps that will make your smart-devices feel like they were tailor-made for you.
The Tools: Skyfire and Opera Mini
Navigating the Web on tiny screens can be maddening, as is pretending that an iPad is a laptop replacement. (It's really not, no matter what productivity apps you download or funky keyboard cases you attach to it.) When Apple rolls out iOS 5 next month, the new software should help make things a little more multitasking-friendly. On the iPad, the Safari browser will have tabs to easily toggle between multiple web pages, and it will also save pages to view later or tweet about now.
But it can't send them to Facebook or other social sites. Nor can it play Web video in the popular Flash format found on many TV networks' websites. For that, we have Skyfire (free, skyfire.com; available for iPhone, iPad and Android.) One of this browser's best Safari-beating features is converting Flash videos to a format that plays on iPhones and iPads. And it's a massive improvement over Android's downright primitive browser. Opera Mini (free, opera.com; available for iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry) is a good runner up—especially for smartphones. It's super fast even on sluggish cell connections. And its minimalist interface has bigger buttons for bigger fingers.
PLAN LIKE A PRO
The Tool: Pocket Informant
iOS 5 will bring some nice improvements, such as a to-do app that lets you specify a location for items—a reminder goes off when you approach that location. But Pocket Informant (from $10, webis.net; available for iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry) has some of its own tricks, such as showing a calendar appointment on a map, mailing it off as an invite or placing it on your to-do list. Rationalizing procrastinators can even specify that they have completed a percentage of an unfinished task.
The app has a beautiful design that's insanely customizable (especially in the "HD" iPad version). Color-coding fanatics can change just about every hue or leave it in the gorgeous default style. In place of Apple's free iCloud Web service, which syncs data like appointments and to-do items across Apple's devices, the Informant apps use the free Google Calendar or Toodledo services to sync across Apple, Android and BlackBerry products. This app is worth it, even at the sizable prices.
TEXT LIKE A TEEN
The Tools: GroupMe and textPlus
Kids may have the fastest fingers, but everyone is texting ever more. Part of the reason we type so much is that we have to send separate messages to each person. Several apps, instead, let you create groups of people who all see the same conversation—even if you're the only one with the app.
.GroupMe (free, groupme.com; available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7) and textPlus (free with ads or $3 per year, textplus.com; available for iPhone, iPad and Android) each have their strong points. Tap a button on GroupMe, and you're suddenly on a conference call with up to 25 people. (Yes, actual talking! With real live humans!) And it tracks everyone's location on a map (if they allow it)—helpful during concerts, festivals or any family outing. One standout for textPlus is its iPad app. If you're home and feeling chatty, you can spread out with a roomy screen instead of pecking at tiny phone buttons. On Android, textPlus can also control the standard texting service, so you can use just one app. Unlike GroupMe, textPlus does not support phone calls—at least not yet.
The Tools: Simplenote, SoundNote and Note Everything
Apple's notepad app is just as dull-looking in iOS 5, but it dazzles with iCloud syncing between iPads and newer iPhones. If you have an older iPhone or any phone with Android, which doesn't have a notepad app, you can get the same effect with Simplenote (free with ads, simplenoteapp.com; available for iPhone and iPad) and AndroNoter (free, andronoter.com) a third-party Simplenote Android client. Simplenote has minimal ads, but they are preferable to the $20 annual fee (which adds a few other features as well).
Note apps can do so much more than sync. A brilliant option is SoundNote ($5, soundnote.com; available for iPad), which records audio while you type. Miss something in a meeting? Tap whatever you managed to scribble and hear what people said at the time. That's easily worth the five bucks. On Android, the Note Everything app (free, softxperience.mobi) lets you type, draw, dictate and even scan in barcodes.
TYPE WITH EASE
The Tool: SwiftKey X
Apple's iOS 5 will make iPad typists happier. Instead of stretching their thumbs across the screen, they can set the virtual keyboard to split in two, with one half at each side of the screen, closer to each thumb.
It's very different on Android, where apps are bountiful and simple. Install one, set it as your main keyboard and it pops up automatically whenever you type. Many replacements are better than the stock keyboard, but I found typing easiest with SwiftKey X ($4, swiftkey.net), a program that really wants to know you. It can connect to Facebook, Twitter and your email and text apps to better learn how you type as well as the correct spellings of your friends' and associates' names.
SHARE THE SHOTS
The Tools: Instagram and picplz
Sharing makes (almost) any photo a good one, and Instagram (Free, instagr.am; available on iPhone) is the best app for this. It lets you share your photos on Facebook, Flickr or Twitter, but Instagram is itself a social network, with members who can friend and follow each other, and comment on and like photos as they would on Facebook. Instagram provides more than two-dozen filters that apply effects to a photo such as "Lomo-fi" and "1977" transforming measly cameraphone pics into genuine artful expressions.
Instagram's big flaw is that it's only available for iPhones, at least for now. But folks with Android phones (and iPhones) can get much of the same from picplz (free, picplz.com), another social sharing app with arty filters (though not quite as good). It comes in a close second—actually first, if you have Android.
Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904194604576581213238678524.html#ixzz1Z5JhQ6nL
6 free health care sites and apps
(MONEY Magazine) -- Looking to the Internet or your smartphone to help manage your family's health care? The experience may leave you reaching for aspirin.
There are now a head-spinning 10,000-plus medical-related apps, and it's not always easy to tell the good from the bad, says Dr. Georges Benjamin of the American Public Health Association.
Meanwhile, Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) recent decision to shut down its electronic health records system, Google Health, owing to inadequate consumer interest, has left users stranded. So MONEY quizzed experts and sorted through the latest tools to zero in on the six most useful (all free).
This new expense tracker -- co-founded by a former Shopping.com executive -- keeps all your claims and billing information in one place and lets you see at a glance how much money is left in your flexible spending account. Plus, it has good (VeriSign Trusted) security.
Run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, this recently updated site lets you search hospitals by several measures.
They include rates of infection for outpatient procedures and readmission rates for various ailments, both of which can hit patients right in the wallet.
Post-Google Health, experts say that this is the best free electronic health record system around, in part because of its simple interface. Store information from your mother's drugs to your test results in one quickly accessible place. You can even upload medical images.
iPhone and Android
Fall ill while traveling? Use this new app, available in 10 large metro areas so far. Enter a specialty, reason for visit, and insurer. ZocDoc will turn up the nearest covered providers with patient reviews and available appointments. Or use it to book your current doc after hours.
iPhone and Android
iTriage -- which recently added info on 1,000 drugs from the reliable American Society of Health-System Pharmacists -- is a one-stop reference for what may be ailing you, what kind of doctor specializes in the problem, typical treatments, and possible drug and food interactions.
NIKE TRAINING CLUB
Plenty of apps let you skip a pricey personal trainer, but Nike's stands out for its comprehensiveness and ease of use. Choose type of exercise, fitness level, and duration; you get workouts that require minimal equipment, complete with video and audio instruction from top trainers
Crash Affects Millions Of Microsoft Users
Updated: Friday, 09 Sep 2011, 7:56 AM EDT
Published : Friday, 09 Sep 2011, 7:56 AM EDT
REDMOND, Wash. - The world's largest email provider, Microsoft, was struggling to restore its services Friday after outages that reportedly affected up to 365 million users worldwide.
The service disruptions affected a variety of Microsoft email products including Office 365, MSN.com, Live@edu and Windows Live Hotmail. The extent of the disruption was unclear, but Microsoft confirmed problems in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
"We're rolling out a fix that we believe will resolve issues with Hotmail, SkyDrive, and our other Live properties," the company tweeted around 2:00am ET.
At about 5:00am ET, the company announced that its Office 365 service, a cloud computing product with email capabilities, had been restored.
Other services, including Windows Live Hotmail, appeared to be coming back online, but online forums and blogs were still reporting issues at 5:00am ET.
While it was unclear what caused the outage, there was speculation that Microsoft was caught in a power blackout that hit large parts of America's southwest late Thursday
Read more: http://www.myfoxny.com/dpp/your_money/crash-affects-millions-of-microsoft-users-20110909-ncx#ixzz1XTna8jIp
Securing the iPad in the Business
One of the biggest trends during the past few years has been the invasion of businesses by consumer equipment. The leading devices making this leap, of course, are those from Apple.
IT departments may be the most conflicted by the move. As techies, the vast majority of them probably love the Apple products. It is likely that more than a few of them are owners. At the same time, however, consumer-oriented devices can lack the security and management mechanisms that these folks depend on to do their jobs.
The question is a fairly clear one: How secure is Apple? InformationWeek contributor Kurt Marko answers the question — at least as far as the iPad is concerned — with the opinion that its security is “surprisingly robust.” Marko offers a short but very informative rundown. In the final analysis, he suggests that the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch are doing a good job, though they aren’t quite at the level of the BlackBerry, which, of course, broke its teeth in the enterprise. He runs down how data in motion and data at rest are protected in the iPad environment and offers tips on security.
Apple does about everything differently. So it is not surprising that it takes a different approach to security than Windows. Gartner’s Neil MacDonald said that iPhone and iPad users can access everything they need to do without having “root” administrative rights. Tasks that can be performed as standard users include customizing the environment, downloading and installing applications and other tasks, he writes. He added that the App Store has successfully used whitelisting, which is the acceptance of approved applications rather than banning those that are disapproved.
TUVPN points out that the iPad supports three types of virtual private networks (VPNs), which, as the name implies, are ways of connecting across the IP networks in a manner that emulates private point-to-point networks. The post says that the device has options for the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP), the point-to-point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) and Cisco IPSec (Internet Protocol Security). Downloads from the App Store, the post says, support Secure Socket Layer (SSL) VPNs from Juniper, Cisco and F5. Users also can create their own SSL VPNs.
Finally, HyTech Lawyer offers some layman's advice on iPad protection. It essentially is a recitation of good security steps for any device, such as setting a strong password, and making sure the device self-locks if it is on and not used for a predetermined amount of time.
Four Questions Every CEO Should Ask About IT
Mobile devices, social media, data mining, videoconferencing, virtual reality, blogs, tweets...
The list of technologies that could offer companies big-time benefits, or lead to big-time disasters, is daunting. So daunting, in fact, that top management might be tempted to throw up their hands and let lower-level managers referee the debate over information technology.
But that is exactly what they shouldn't do.
In a digital economy, IT is the foundation for doing business. This is easy to see at born-digital companies like Amazon.com and Google. But companies of all types are discovering that how they manage IT is crucial to their competitiveness. It determines whether the company's dealings with customers and suppliers are efficient, scalable and timely; whether employees have the information they need to do their jobs; and whether employees throughout the company see technology as a tool to move forward, or an anchor that keeps them running in place.
This doesn't mean that top executives should review every IT investment proposal and decision. But it does mean that senior management must define how the company as a whole will do business in a digital economy. It means they must lead the IT initiatives that cut across all business lines. And it means they must resolve issues that local interests cannot resolve—like what data and processes will be standardized companywide.
Unfortunately, too many CEOs and other top executives often don't even know where to begin when it comes to managing IT. To that end, we offer the four IT questions that every CEO needs to think about—and answer.
Question No. 1
Are we using technology to transform our business, or are we just adding bells and whistles to existing processes?
There are all sorts of possibilities for, say, inserting new technologies into existing processes. But most of these improvements are incremental. They are worth doing; in fact, they may be necessary for survival. No self-respecting airline, for instance, could do without an application that lets you download your boarding pass to your mobile telephone. It saves paper, can't get lost and customers want it.
But while it's essential to offer applications like the electronic boarding pass, those will not distinguish a company. Electronic boarding passes have already been replicated by nearly every airline. In fact, we've already forgotten who was first.
What is far more lasting—and much more difficult—is for companies to rethink how they deliver core customer services. The starting point for such a rethinking isn't asking, "How do I use technology strategically?" It's, "What would be the ideal way to interact with and serve my customers?"
When you ask what you can do with technology, you get the electronic boarding pass or the email notice about a change in a flight. Nice, but not differentiating. When you rethink your business, you get a new kind of airline. You make even those customers traveling economy class feel important; you optimize schedules to effectively use equipment and help the most customers get to where they want to go with the least amount of hassle; you develop pricing mechanisms that take the stress out of buying a ticket; you help your customers know when to leave their house to get to the airport in time; you tell them the fastest and the cheapest ways to get to the airport; you tell them before they get on a plane exactly what kind of food is available; you make flying a pleasant experience.
Doing this means you'll have to change existing systems, processes, roles and technology. In other words, you'll have to change everything—and you'll have to do it in stages over several years. But companies get better each step of the way. And over time they can build a huge advantage over companies that are simply inserting technology into the way they've been doing business for years.
USAA has been through this kind of transformation. Like most financial-services companies, the San Antonio, Texas-based USAA traditionally served customers through distinct businesses that specialized in a particular set of services. USAA customers had to decide whether they needed banking, insurance or financial advice. The choice was not always obvious to a customer. For example, the bank and the advisory-services group were both happy to sell a customer an IRA.
Rethinking its business for the digital economy, management decided to provide services according to customers' life events (a new baby, say, or a job transfer) rather than according to USAA's internal structure. This meant redesigning processes, integrating old systems, building new ones and sharing data across business units. As a result, customers don't have to figure out how USAA works before they ask for service.
Nearly everyone at USAA has been affected by this digital transformation. Recently, 12,000 call-center employees were centralized in a new organization so they could look across the business units to meet customer needs. This was just the most recent change in a transformation that started nearly 10 years ago.
Question No. 2
Are you ignoring important business differences as you standardize processes
across the company?
One tenet of the digital economy is that standardizing business processes is a no-brainer: It allows a company to operate the same way, everywhere, and creates a reliable, consistent experience for the customer.
For example, an insurance company could standardize how its life-insurance products are sold, processed, managed for returns, accounted for and so on. Every time a new product is introduced, the company doesn't have to reinvent the wheel—it simply reuses the process and the underlying system. It saves the company time and money, and makes interactions easier for customers who have other policies with the company.
The problem, though, is that at some companies, senior management believes that if some standardization is good, more is always better. And it isn't.
So, for instance, say a manufacturing company comes up with sales processes that require reliable communications and transportation systems. That's fine when the manufacturing company is operating in developed countries. But in a developing country, those standardized processes could wreak havoc.
Or consider a consumer-product company that has created a digital system for its biggest customer—Wal-Mart. What happens when those processes are forced on the company's distribution centers that service local convenience stores? Here global standardization is a naive impediment to local business effectiveness.
In other words, senior management can't just evangelize about the desirability of standardized processes. They need to first define what should and shouldn't be standardized.
Campbell Soup Co. offers a telling example. From 2006 to 2008, the company implemented three standardized processes that redesigned customer service, accounting, reporting and supply-chain processes across 25 North American facilities. But then management found that one of its businesses, Pepperidge Farm, had unique requirements because baked goods are more perishable than canned soups.
So some standards were relaxed and some systems were changed for Pepperidge Farm. Similarly, when Campbell started to implement these processes in Australia and New Zealand, unique business conditions in those countries demanded changes in the standards. Selective standardization allowed Campbell to reap significant cost savings without tying the hands of local managers.
Question No. 3
Who is making sure the company's digital strategy is being implemented?
If a telecommunications company wanted to become more competitive by improving customer service, top managers might bring together the heads of the company's regions, product lines and functions and ask them to identify how their individual units could work together to improve service for global business customers.
These leaders might identify new companywide technology systems that could make the company more efficient and better serve key customers. Good idea.
But senior management might then be inclined to rely on that committee to implement those enterprise processes. Bad idea.
Many managers assume that a good technology can ensure effective execution. It can't. That's because most managers work within a business unit, function, region or product line. Companywide systems, by definition, are executed across organizational units. Local managers can't take responsibility for the design or improvement of such enterprise processes.
Somebody needs to own this responsibility. Thus, top executives must name an executive who will be accountable for every enterprise process, and who has the political clout to overcome resistance. A committee is not capable of such oversight.
Say that managers from a telecommunications company agreed that they could better serve large business customers if they could track the customers' orders from the salespeople or website through fulfillment, delivery, invoicing and payment. The company then needs to assign one person—call him or her the process owner—who would interact with people all along the line to design the process and underlying systems.
The process owner will also design initial training on the system. After implementation, the process owner would monitor performance and work with people executing the process to identify opportunities to improve it.
Tetra Pak International SA, a Swiss-based packaging and processing company, has a business-transformation department, which consists of executives responsible for each of its seven core processes, including customer management, product creation and supplier management. These process owners at Tetra Pak take responsibility for developing process and data standards, establishing metrics and ensuring continuous improvement. They then work with local business managers to execute the standardized processes and maintain data integrity. The head of the business-transformation department reports to the chief financial officer.
Question No. 4
Is electronic data empowering your people or controlling them?
For most companies, the great advantage of the digital revolution is the data they can now collect. They know the minute-by-minute electricity usage and the names and buying patterns of shoppers who buy diapers; they know how much more soup gets sold if they drop the price by 10 cents, or what arguments work best when a life-insurance agent cold-calls a prospective customer.
All that data can lead companies down two very different paths. First, it can help push decision making down to front-line employees. Alternatively, it can be used to centralize decision making and monitor employee performance.
Evidence indicates that the former approach offers benefits for both companies and employees.
When companies use data to control people, the assumption is that all the good thinking happens at the top of the organization. By contrast, relying more on operating-level people to make fact-based decisions creates smarter, more innovative organizations.
Seven-Eleven Japan Co., which runs 7-Eleven convenience stores in Japan and the U.S., centralizes the purchasing and logistics to gain efficiencies. But it pushes buying decisions down to the salesclerks at its 13,000 Japanese stores. That's more than 200,000 salesclerks. They all receive data on what's been selling in their store for the categories they manage, along with information on weather conditions and new products.
Each salesclerk then makes "hypotheses" about what kinds of products will sell on a given day. Salesclerks place orders each morning according to their hypotheses, and starting that evening receive feedback on their business results. Counselors visit each store twice a week to help salesclerks interpret the results and improve their hypotheses going forward.
By placing ordering decisions in the hands of individual store clerks, Seven-Eleven Japan ensures that the inventory in each store will be customized to the demands of that store's clientele. The result is constant innovation in local customer offerings and, more important, extraordinarily rapid inventory turnover, the single most important metric at the company. It also results in highly motivated employees.