Mobile

SIX FABULOUS PHABLET YOU CAN BUY

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Phablets are the new craze of the new generation of techies. While the definition of the phablet is somewhat ethereal and hard to pin down, for our purposes, we’re going to say that smartphones with displays sized 5.5 inches and up are considered phablets and everything else is just normal. In truth, the standard flagship phone is now about 4.7-to-5.3-inches in size these days. Based on that criteria, we’ve rounded up our favorite king-sized phones into this convenient guide.

If this were any other year, the latest Galaxy Note would probably be at the top of our list. Unfortunately, Samsung was forced to issue a full recall after several Galaxy Note 7 phones started exploding. Now that the king of phablets is out of the picture, these are the best phablets you can buy.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Why should you buy this: It’s the biggest, most powerful iPhone ever, and it has a killer dual-lens camera.

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Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Who’s it for: Apple fans who want the best phablet ever

Why we picked the iPhone 7 Plus:

Apple’s phablet keeps getting better every year. The iPhone 7 Plus may look nearly identical to last year’s iPhone 6S Plus, but it packs some huge internal improvements inside its slim metal body. The 5.5-inch screen is still a 1080p LCD panel this year, but it looks as sharp and rich as before. in fact, this year’s iPhone has an even brighter screen.

Underneath the panel is Apple’s homegrown A10 Fusion processor, which is perfectly tuned to power the iPhone 7 Plus. In benchmark tests, the A10 Fusion blows away the competition, and real-world performance is equally impressive. Apple’s iOS 10 brings big improvements to the iPhone, including rich notifications, increased 3D Touch functionality, better widgets, and much more. It is also the most secure mobile operating system, thanks to instantaneous updates and security patches. Apple also focuses on user privacy and security more than most with its dedication to encryption and refusal to store and read user data.

However, the real star of the show is the impressive 12-megapixel dual cameras. One of the cameras is a telephoto lens that offers 2x optical hardware zoom and up to 10x software zoom. The quality of 2x zoom on the iPhone 7 Plus is just extraordinary. It beats out every other smartphone on the market. You don’t lose detail, and your zoomed picture turns out excellent. You can go up to 5x in good lighting conditions without too much noticeable loss in quality, which is still better than you can say of any other smartphone’s zoom.

The dual-camera lenses also enable the best bokeh effect (when the background blurs around the subject of the shot) we’ve ever seen on a smartphone. Other phones, including the Pixel, tend to mess up the blurring effect on the small details. Apple is also well known for reproducing colors accurately, while Android phones consistently oversaturate images. It comes down to personal preference, but we prefer the iPhone’s natural hues. It also produces strong images in low light, rivaled only by the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.

The iPhone 7 Plus is the phablet to buy (so long as you don’t mind losing the headphone jack).

THE BEST ANDROID PHABLET

Google Pixel XL 0007179_google-pixel-xl-g-2pw2200-128gb-55-inch-black
Why should you buy this: It’s the best Android phablet with its slick software and Google branding.

The best unlocked Android phone
Google Pixel XL
A premium design, fantastic camera, and the latest Android innovations in a global phone.

Who’s it for: Pure Android fans who like phablets

Why we picked the Pixel XL:

If you love pure Android and big phones, you’re going to want Google’s Pixel XL. This 5.5-inch phone boasts a subtle metal design with a glass insert on the top back. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 chip, which is much speedier than any other chip you’ll find on an Android phone today. Along with 4GB of RAM, the Snapdragon 821 delivers silky smooth performance on the Pixel XL.

Of course, part of the software’s smoothness is owed to the fact that this is the first-ever Google phone that was built from scratch by Google. Android has never run better and it’s never looked lovelier than it does on the Pixel XL. Some of the software features, including the distinctive Pixel Launcher and the artificially Intelligent bot Google Assistant, are exclusive to Android 7.1 Nougat on the Pixel phones. If you want the purest form of Android on a phone that was made from start to finish by Google itself, then the Pixel XL is the best phablet you can get.

Since it’s a Google phone, you’ll also get software updates and security patches instantaneously. No other Android phone can say that. If security is important to you and you want an Android, this is the phablet to buy. Google also offers 24/7 customer support right in the Settings menu if you run into problems.

The 12.3-megapixel camera on the Pixel XL also takes some great photos. Unlike previous Nexus phones, which have struggled with photos, the Pixel XL takes stellar shots that are more or less on par with the iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge.

It’s a great all-around phablet with the purest form of Android you can find on any smartphone.

THE BEST LG PHABLET

LG V20 Hands On maxresdefault
Why should you buy this: LG’s V20 has a slick second screen, zippy processor, and clean metal build.

The best LG phablet
LG V20
It’s a jumbo phablet with a cool second screen and a wide-angle camera.
Who’s it for: LG fans who like wide-angle cameras and giant phablets with a second screen

Why we picked the LG V20:

LG’s V20 is bigger and worse than last year’s V10 with its 5.7-inch screen and wider second screen panel at the top of the phone, which offers quick access to apps and settings. The second screen is an interesting and innovative extra that makes LG’s V20 stand out from the crowd.

The V20 may not be waterproof, but its slim metal back pops off to reveal a removable battery that packs 3,200mAh. It should last you through a full day to a day and a half like most other phablets on this list. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM, which ensures zippy performance.

It also runs the new Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box. LG’s light interface runs on top, but it’s not too dramatic of a change. One of the V20’s marquee features is its Quad DAC for special hi-fi audio tuning. This is the phone for audiophiles who want their hi-res music files to sound superb on their phones.

The V20’s other big selling point is its camera setup. On both the front and back of the phone, you’ve got cameras that can handle wide-angle shots. The back of the phone even has two cameras: a 16-megapixel f/1.8 aperture cam for regular pictures, and a slightly lower-res 8-megapixel for the wide-angle shots. It takes great pictures, and if you’re into wide-angle shots, you can’t do better than the V20.

The V20 is the second largest phablet on our list, and it’s also perhaps the most feature packed of them all.

THE BEST SAMSUNG PHABLET

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 497045-samsung-galaxy-s7-edge-inline
Why should you buy this: It’s Samsung’s best phablet now that the Note 7 is officially dead.

The best Samsung phablet
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
Samsung’s S7 Edge has a sexy design, smart edges, and a killer camera.
Who’s it for: Samsung fans who like sexy edge phones

Why Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge:

Since the Note 7 exploded and burned (it was recalled), Samsung is relying on the Galaxy S7 Edge to uphold its best phablet mantel. Although it launched way back in March, the S7 Edge is still a great option for Samsung fans.

The S7 Edge improves on its predecessor in every way, with a 5.5-inch Always On screen, which features useful edge panels and an IP68 waterproof rating, which means you can completely submerge it in a meter of water for 30 minutes. The brilliant 1440p display has 550-pixels-per-inch and is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor, which means it’s very speedy. It has 4GB of RAM, and the S7 Edge comes with a minimum of 32GB internal storage.

While the battery isn’t removable like LG’s G5 or V20, you still get access to a MicroSD card slot, allowing for up to 200GB of extended storage. The battery should last you through a day to a day and a half, and Quick Charge 3.0 makes it easier than ever to juice up to a full charge in less than 30 minutes.

The S7 Edge also improves on the camera, which boasts 12 megapixels, super fast focusing, and a lightning-quick aperture of f/1.7. It even performs pretty well in low-light scenarios. If you can get past Samsung’s clunky user-interface, the Galaxy S7 will leave you more than satisfied.

If you want a Samsung phone, this is the one to get right now. However, it’s important to note that the Galaxy S8 will likely arrive in March, so if you’re not in a rush, you may want to wait or go with another phone from our list.

ZTE Axon 7 Hands On maxresdefault
Why should you buy this: It’s the best phablet you can get for $400.

The second best Android
ZTE Axon 7
An all-metal body, great display, powerful dual speakers, and all the bells and whistles make this a compelling bargain.
Who’s it for: Phablet fans who are on a budget

Why we picked the ZTE Axon 7:

ZTE has done it again with the Axon 7. This all-metal device boasts a 5.5-inch AMOLED screen (this means it has vivid colors and deep blacks) with a 2,560 x 1,440-pixel resolution and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor inside. ZTE also packed in 4GB RAM and a whopping 64GB internal storage, which is expandable via a MicroSD card up to 128GB more.

It’s a high-powered flagship for a fraction of the price. The performance is faultless, which is in part thanks to the nearly pure Android software onboard. ZTE added a few extras with MiFlavor UI, but the overall experience is similar to Android on a Nexus. ZTE says it’s committed to updating the Axon 7 from Android Marshmallow to Nougat in time for Google’s DayDream VR because the Axon 7 is the first phone that was built to Google’s new standards in mind.

The Axon 7’s 3,140mAh battery should last you a day or more. ZTE’s camera tech is also much improved and the 21-megapixel rear camera takes great photos.

Perhaps the coolest feature ZTE packed into the Axon 7 is its audio capabilities. The phone has two front-facing stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos technology. It’s one of the best sounding phones you can buy with those speakers and hi-res audio support. It’s a great deal for audiophiles who don’t want to pay a premium for the LG V20.

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ZTE ZMax Pro
Why should you buy this: It’s a giant phablet that costs a mere $100 to $180 and offers solid mid-range specs.

The best phablet for less than $200
ZTE ZMax Pro
For less than $200, the ZMax Pro is a giant phablet and a giant steal.
Who’s it for: Phablet fans who are on a very tight budget and love 6-inch phones

Why we picked the ZTE Z Max Pro:

ZTE also offers the cheapest phablet we recommend. The Z Max Pro is a huge 6-inch phablet with a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution and fingerprint sensor. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 617 and houses 2GB of RAM, so it’s a mid-range device for a budget price.

You’ll also get 32GB of internal storage, which is expandable up to 128GB more with a MicroSD card. It also offers a respectable 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front cam. Although they don’t take the best photos, the shots produced are solid for a phone this cheap.

A 3,400mAh battery powers the Z Max Pro, and it should last you a day to a day and a half, depending on your use. Overall, the Z Max Pro has very respectable specs, given its cheap price tag. At T-Mobile, you’ll pay $180, but at MetroPCS, it drops down to $100 with a rebate — That’s absolutely amazing for this phablet.

Buying your phone unlocked also means you’ll avoid carrier bloatware like extra apps and services you don’t need. If you’re an Android user, that also means the carriers can’t hold back your software updates.

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Quick fixes to Android’s 6 common problems

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Given the open nature of Android, users tend to experiment, slowing down the device after some time. Here are six tips to get your Android device back in tip-top shape without too much fuss.

Free up storage space

Over time, your device’s internal storage gets occupied by cache files, apps and files leftover when you remove apps. One of the simplest ways to get this storage space back is by moving apps to the microSD card. We recommend the free AppMgr III app as it supports batch moving of apps from internal storage to microSD card and vice versa. 

Also, camera images eat up lot of storage, so move your existing images to the memory card. In camera settings opt to save images on the memory card to save internal storage space.

Free up RAM

All running apps take up some amount of RAM. You don’t need this step if your device has 2GB or more of RAM, but with 1GB or less — you will notice slowdowns if you install too many apps. Some apps (system apps for instance) need to stay on for the device to work, others don’t. 

Clean Master (by KS Mobile) is a great app that can keep your Android device in peak condition. Not only does it free up device RAM, it can also clean up internal memory, help with app uninstalls and remove temporary files. A one-click ‘boost’ button widget is automatically added to your home screen.

Boost the performance

After a few months, most Android users notice a drop in performance. It may become slower to navigate, take longer to open apps while games and video playback shows random frame drops. To regain lost performance, there are a number of things you can do. Remove any unwanted apps and widgets as they eat up your resources by running in the background. You can also stop all the fancy menu animation effects (usually in Settings > Developer options > Window and Transition Animations). 

You can also use a task killer such as Super Task Killer Free. It kills running tasks after a set period of time or via the desktop idget to speed up phone performance. Using launchers like Nova, Nemus or Lightning will also make your device a lot faster. These launchers consume fewer resources and are highly customisable to suit a user’s requirements. You can even use the free AVG Antivirus app to boost performance. It has a built-in task killer, battery optimiser and a data usage monitor.

Remove bloatware

Bloatware is the collective term given to pre-installed apps on your device that you never asked for (and you may never use). Unfortunately, these apps remain on the device even if you perform a factory data reset. This may include apps from the device manufacturer itself, third-party (sponsored) apps or even Google apps that you don’t use. You can’t uninstall them, but one simple method to make sure that these apps don’t bother you is to disable them.

Head to the application manager in Settings, click on all and click on the apps you want to disable. The only available option to completely remove them is to root the device and use an app like Titanium Backup. Even flashing a custom ROM to replace the original Android OS will remove all bloatware. However, rooting and custom ROMs will void warranty.

Fix random crashes/freezing

There are a number of ways your Android device can get infected by malicious apps that slowdown your device and lead to random apps crashes. Direct download of apk files from websites /forums and at times fake apps from the Play Store itself (remember the fake BBM apps a few weeks back?) can corrupt your device. Install the free Clueful app and run it to identify the risk levels of apps installed on your device. 

The app classifies apps according to high, moderate or low risk — you can uninstall the high-risk apps immediately to get rid of any conflicts the app is causing. The mobile Security and Antivirus app by Avast comes with a Privacy advisor along with a powerful virus /malware scanner. It identifies and provides detailed information about apps installed on your device to help identify a reason for crashes.

Improve battery life

It’s unfortunate that battery technology has simply not kept pace with hardware. Given limitations of weight and size, most manufacturers use batteries that should last most users a day (roughly 10 to 12 hours of use). You may find that over time, battery life does decrease — partly because of normal battery wear & tear and partly because of your usage. 

An app called Battery Doctor (by KS Mobile) has enough options to satisfy both casual and power users. You can better manage remaining battery life using the included widgets. Advanced users can configure various battery saver modes and schedule functions to save more power. If this doesn’t work for you, try Easy Battery Saver (by 2Easy Team).

Windows Phone update brings new features

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Microsoft is updating its Windows Software for cellphones to accommodate larger devices and make it easier for motorists to reduce distractions while driving.

It’s the third update to Windows Phone 8 software since the system’s release a year ago. Devices with this update will start appearing in the coming weeks, and older phones will be eligible for a free upgrade, too.

Something that may appeal to motorists: a new Driving Mode will automatically silence incoming calls and texts so that you can focus on the road. You also can configure the feature to automatically send out a reply to say that you’re driving.

It can be activated automatically when the phone is linked wirelessly with a Bluetooth device in the car, such as a headset. Apple has a Do Not Disturb feature for iPhones, but that needs to be turned on manually.

What the Driving Mode won’t do, however, is block outgoing calls or texts. And there will be ways to override it. The feature won’t stop a teenager from texting while driving, but it will help reduce distractions for those who want that, says Greg Sullivan, director for Microsoft’s Windows Phone business.

The new update also will allow for better resolution to accommodate larger phones. Currently, the system supports a maximum resolution of 1280 pixels by 768 pixels, which is adequate for phones with screens no larger than 5 inches on the diagonal. But video and image quality degrades when stretched out on larger phones, such as a 6.3-inch Android phone from Samsung Electronics.

The layout for larger phones also will change. Phones may now sport a third column of tiles, for instance. Contact lists and other features will be able to fit in more information. That’s a contrast to Android, where text and images simply get bigger with larger screens, without actually fitting in more content.

Microsoft’s Windows Phone software holds a distant third place behind Apple’s iOs and Google’s Android, with a worldwide market share of 3.7% in the second quarter, according to research firm IDC. But shipments of Windows Phone devices grew 78% to 8.7 million in the April-to-June period, compared with the same time a year ago. The tile-based layout in Windows Phone is the inspiration for the Windows 8 software powering tablets and personal computers.

There are a few ways Microsoft will catch up to the iPhone and Android phones with the new update.

For the first time, Windows phones will have a rotation lock function, so that the screen won’t switch back and forth between horizontal and vertical mode while you’re curled up in bed. There also will be a central way to close open apps. Before, you had to go into each open app and press and hold the back button.

And Microsoft is launching a program to give app developers early access to the new software. Apple has had a similar program for the iOS software behind iPhones and iPads, while Google often has worked with selected developers on unreleased features.

Reinventing mobile marketing through email.

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Email: A mobile marketer’s secret weapon

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When thinking of mobile, email is probably not the first thing that comes to mind.

A technology first popularized in the 1990s, it still carries strong associations with the desktop and web experience. Even on platforms like Blackberry, which first introduced the concept of mobile email, the messaging format has lost its luster. Today, marketers are much more excited about app-centric messaging and mobile-first apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp.

Despite its lack of novelty, email is still massively effective. Just two years ago, email open rates were a healthy 23 percent, and email advertising commanded one of the highest CPMs (cost per mile) of all ad formats. But as smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices explode in popularity, the landscape has shifted dramatically.

This year, email open rates have surged to 31 percent. As more people access email on the go, there is a higher probability that marketers will reach them. But even more impressive is that 44 percent of all emails are now accessed on mobile, compared to 11 percent in 2011. That number is projected to cross the 50 percent mark by the end of the year.

Imagine a technology that was originally built for large screens and physical keyboards, now being used on small screens with even smaller input devices. That’s a massive change, and its implications are far-reaching.

Unfortunately, many mobile marketers have completely forgotten about email when crafting their mobile strategy, limiting themselves to push notifications as the sole messaging channel to drive engagement.

Do you remember reading emails for apps like Instagram or Flipboard?.  And what was the experience like with companies known for their email notifications, like Facebook or Amazon? You may recall seeing tiny text and images, as if there was an expectation to bring a magnifying glass. A paltry 11 percent of email newsletters use responsive  techniques to optimize their layouts, creating a large gap with existing mobile behaviors.

Sending emails that require pinching, zooming and panning on a small screen is a missed opportunity for marketers. It frustrates the end user and minimizes the potential engagement that an email would otherwise achieve.

When done right, mobile email has several strategic advantages. First, it’s the only non-native messaging format that can bring an audience back into a mobile app. This is a big selling point for mobile marketers who typically lose 76 percent of their users after 3 months. Second, email is permanent and can be accessed at any time, in contrast to push notifications and in-app messages which disappear as soon as they’ve been read. This gives the marketing channel “engagement insurance,” or guaranteed results even if its timing is not perfect. Lastly, email can drive purchases to desktop devices, which are better suited for form-filling and credit card checkout than the small screen.

To take full advantage of email on mobile, marketers must adopt a mobile-first mentality. This is not easy, as only some of the principles of desktop email apply to mobile, while others are completely different. But making such a change is imperative. Below are a few ways to maximize the efficacy of email in a mobile marketing program.

Optimize email for the small screen

Even with some formatting limitations, this should be your first priority. You can optimize email through a set of responsive design techniques that size content for the small screen, but still look good on the big screen. Remember, you only have 3-4 seconds to engage people before they tune out.

Create bite-size content

Long-form emails are less effective on mobile because they require a lot of scrolling and panning. To solve this problem, create bite-size content that captures all of the important points you want to convey, while giving people the option of a longer version. It may help to think of mobile email as a social media channel – short, timely and directional.

Make your subject line snappier

While subject line preview lengths vary by operating system, they’re typically shorter on mobile phones than desktop computers. The importance of headlines in driving open rates are well-known, so make sure to get your key message across quickly. In portrait mode of iOS mail, an email headline is approximately 30-33 characters, compared to almost triple that number in web-based Gmail. The rise of wearable technology like the Pebble watch will place even more emphasis on subject line brevity, given that screen sizes on these devices are smaller.

Rethink your link strategy

It’s very difficult to multitask on mobile devices. Think about the number of links you’re including in your content and prioritize the most important ones, focusing on one primary call to action. You should also incorporate large, easily clickable buttons and images. Once people link out of the email, there’s a high chance they’ll get distracted and never come back.

Consider mobile usage patterns

It’s a well-known fact that the best time for mobile engagement is in the evening. Research the times that work best for your audience, as there may be a significant difference between mobile and desktop behaviors.

As email shifts to a mobile-first experience, marketers should think about the channel not as a dusty old technology, but as their secret weapon. Email today is much more effective than it was a few years ago, and it carries several strategic benefits for the small screen. It only takes a few small steps to get started. Marketers who embrace these changes — which can be as small as optimizing an email’s length — will gain an important advantage over their less-savvy competitors.

Looking for a perfect shopping experience…? Go Mobile

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Latest trends shows that mobiles are the best shopping pal these days.

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Think about your best interactions as a customer. What made those experiences so great? Was it the consistency? The way the business knew what you needed without asking? The fact that they made you feel appreciated? Or a combination of all the above?

Chances are it’s probably the last one. And it’s also probably safe to assume that the customer interaction you had in mind wasn’t regarding an online purchase order you completed on your laptop but rather was with an actual person.

The three elements of a meaningful customer experience

It might sound a little outlandish, but as mobile car service company Uber, HotelTonight, and others like it show, mobile is capable of creating customer experiences that are as good as interacting with a real person. Unlike any other digital touchpoint in history, mobile devices can deliver a customer experience that’s omnipresent, relevant, and intimate—the three elements of an ideal customer experience.

And the reason these companies are able to do this is because of customer data.

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The role of data in disrupting the market

Your mobile device is essentially an extremely sophisticated sensor that’s constantly collecting data about your preferences.

Image   Moreover, unlike with a desktop computer, because your mobile device is always with you, you are more willing to not only include personal details about your life in it, such as your contact list and daily calendar. But you’re also more willing to share that information with mobile companies you trust in exchange for using the services they provide.

And this is what makes mobile such a powerful platform. Because companies are able to tap into this level of data, they’ll be able to learn what their customers truly want. You won’t need focus groups or research reports to craft your next product release or upgrade, because with all the data you’re collecting, you’ll be able to create exactly what your customers desire. And even more importantly, you’ll be able to find out whether you actually delivered what they wanted by testing hypotheses.

But make no mistake, the process isn’t simple. After all, separating and extracting actionable information from your metrics requires data science expertise. The customer data sets in the age of mobile are bigger than anything companies have dealt with in the past. Using data science to build deep, engaging, and personalized mobile customer experiences require more than just being able to collect data.

The bottom line is that if you want to disrupt your market and become (or stay) its leader, crafting a mobile customer experience that’s omnipresent, relevant, and intimate is key.

Data is vital to doing it, but having a platform built to capture and visualize all your customer metrics is just one part of the formula. The sheer complexity and volume of data today means that having a data scientist on hand to make sense of it all is essential, along with having your entire organization committed to using data to guide every decision.

Why you shouldn’t put mobile on a pedestal…

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Mobile doesn’t change customer behavior but it changes customer expectations.

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The revolution wasn’t televised, it was mobilized. And it’s over. Consumers have spoken and it’s clear that they expect to be able to do anything and everything on a mobile device.

When Wells Fargo first launched its mobile channel in summer 2007, we surveyed customers and asked them what sort of transactions they wanted to be able to do on their mobile devices. In that first survey, a vast majority said “none”. The first mobile web-enabled phones were just coming to market, data plans were expensive and access was slow. A few early adopters were ready to try mobile banking, but most customers were just not there.

They couldn’t picture how it would work and weren’t sure it would be secure.

Early on, we focused on mobile as an “on-the-go” and a “bite-sized” channel, and offered a small selection of “mobile-appropriate” transactions in tune with what our customers needed at the time. We learned since that we weren’t thinking big enough.

Customers constantly use mobile, not just on the go, but on the couch, at the kitchen table, at their desk at work and in bed – managing their entire financial lives on phones and tablets anytime, anywhere. When customers couldn’t access all the online features on the mobile side of the house, they just pointed their mobile browsers at the online site and pinched and zoomed their way through the desktop experience.

The implications of this behavior change have been far-reaching and subtle. Mobile shouldn’t be a separate team, or experience or “Phase 2” of a project. Rather, mobile needs to be embedded into the foundation of every business plan a company makes. You need to assume that anything you do digitally will be accessed on a mobile device by most of your customers some of the time.

Don’t dumb down your mobile experience or try to keep complex tasks from your mobile users. They’ll just go around your roadblocks. Deal with them, streamline them and use the mobile imperative as a way to improve your overall digital experience.

Mobile doesn’t change anything about customer behavior but it changes everything about customer expectations. The mobile channel is a set of capabilities that provides the ability to create new and amazing experiences for customers. However, their fundamental needs are unchanged. Mobile doesn’t create new financial tasks, it simply gives customers new ways to perform them, hopefully in a way that’s easier and more engaging.

Stop treating mobile as some odd new thing. It’s not. It’s your same customers, with their same needs just looking to connect with you in a new way. Take advantage of the power of mobile to delight them, but don’t be distracted by the technology and the possibilities. Focus on the customer. Focus on the customer. Focus on the customer.

The revolution is over. The customer has won. They’ve picked a new channel that they love, that makes it easy and convenient for them to manage their lives. It’s up to us as providers, financial or otherwise, to deal with it. Let’s get to work.

What the future of mobile keyboards will look like…?

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It’s the one thing that we do most on mobile devices that often is the most annoying: typing.  With so many different kinds of mobile keyboards, and perhaps a pending keyboard redesign from Apple debuting next week, it’s a good time to consider some recent  advances in mobile keyboard interfaces.

Intelligent Keyboards

Over the past few years, several unique keyboard interfaces have garnered significant attention and popularity. Swype, acquired by Nuance in 2011, is one such example, where users type by either touching the keys as usual or by making continuous touch gestures that cover the letters of a word. The result is surprisingly robust and user friendly. There are other options, such as the Fleksy keyboard by Syntellia, or the Minuum flattened keyboard by Whirlscape, as well as SwiftKey, a very popular keyboard that is similar to Swype. The “magic” with these keyboards is that they assume user touches have a spatial error (or in the case of Swype and SwiftKey, a gestural error), and account for this when finding the most probable word. In almost all cases, these intelligent keyboards work better than their traditional counterparts. In the case of Minuum, there is an added benefit that the keyboard takes up very little space on the screen.

Dynamic Keyboards

Although not mainstream, there has been work in the area of keyboards that dynamically change based on what letters are most probable. In the simplest context, this could be visualized as a keyboard where the size of the individual keys are scaled according to the usage frequency of each letter.

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A more interesting example is the Dasher keyboard (created by a research group at Cambridge University), where the user types by going through a continuous sequence of dynamically scaled letters (click here to see a quick demo). Although this may not be the fastest way of typing, it works well in situations where multi-finger typing is not possible (such as for Google Glass).

A discussion of dynamic keyboards isn’t complete without mentioning Tactus. Tactus creates physical touchscreen keyboards that can “pop-in” and out dynamically, which gives users a tactile feel for the keys. It remains to be seen whether such an interface will gain mainstream popularity, but it is certainly interesting.

Beyond Keyboards

There are methods of entering text that may do away with the keyboard altogether. One such example that we have been developing at the University of Toronto is the Extended Touch interface. Here, a user can tap a location on any surface that a mobile device is placed on, and based on the unique vibrations and sounds, we detect the exact location tapped. Although the core tap detection technology works reasonably well, there are several important challenges that will need to be overcome. However, it is possible in the future that such an interface (i.e. typing on any surface) combined with a probabilistic keyboard will make a viable method for text entry.

 

Mobile theft on the rise: Industry looking for other ways.

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Can technology play a savior in curbing the theft..?

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When a teenage boy snatched the iPhone out of Rose Cha’s hand at a bus stop in the Bronx in March, she reported the theft to her carrier and to the police – just as she had done two other times when she was the victim of cellphone theft. Again, the police said they could not help her.

Cha’s phone was entered in a new nationwide database for stolen cellphones, which tracks a phone’s unique identifying number to prevent it from being activated, theoretically discouraging thefts. But police officials say the database has not helped stanch the ever-rising numbers of phone thefts, in part because many stolen phones end up overseas, out of the database’s reach, and in part because the identifiers are easily modified.

Some law-enforcement authorities, though, say there is a bigger issue – that carriers and handset makers have little incentive to fix the problem.

“The carriers are not innocent in this whole game. They are making profit off this,” said Cathy L. Lanier, chief of the police department of the Washington, D.C., where a record 1,829 cellphones were taken in robberies last year.

George Gascon, San Francisco’s district attorney, says handset makers like Apple should be exploring new technologies that could help prevent theft. In March, he said, he met with an Apple executive, Michael Foulkes, who handles its government relations, to discuss how the company could improve its anti-theft technology. But he left the meeting, he said, with no promise that Apple was working to do so.

He added, “Unlike other types of crimes, this is a crime that could be easily fixed with a technological solution.”

Apple declined to comment.

The cellphone market is hugely lucrative, with the sale of handsets bringing in $69 billion in the United States last year, according to IDC, the research firm. Yet, thefts of smartphones keep increasing, and victims keep replacing them.

In San Francisco last year, nearly half of all robberies involved a cellphone, up from 36 percent the year before; in the Washington, cellphones were taken in 42 percent of robberies, a record. In New York, theft of iPhones and iPads last year accounted for 14 percent of all crimes.

Some compare the epidemic of phone theft to car theft, which was a rampant problem more than a decade ago until auto manufacturers improved anti-theft technology.

“If you look at auto theft, it has really plummeted in this country because technology has advanced so much and the manufacturers recognize the importance of it,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group focused on improving police techniques. “The cellphone industry has for the most part been in denial. For whatever reasons, it has been slow to move.”

Carriers say they have faith in the database, which they created with police departments across the country. They also say they are taking independent steps as well to address the problem. Verizon, for instance, says it has its own stolen phone database, making it impossible for devices reported as stolen to be reactivated on its network.

“We do care very deeply about this,” said Jason Young, T-Mobile’s vice president of product management. “If you’ve ever lost a phone or had one stolen, it’s a scary thing, it’s a painful thing and it’s a costly thing.”

Apple provides some assistance in locating lost or stolen phones with its free software, Find My iPhone, which can find a missing iPhone or remotely erase its data. But the service does not work once the phone is turned off or disconnected from the Internet. To locate an iPhone, an Apple customer can log in to iCloud.com with a Web browser and see a map of its approximate location; then the user hits a button to erase its information.

Google does not include any software in its Android operating system to help people locate a missing phone, although some third-party Android apps offer the feature. Gascon of San Francisco said that is not enough. “What I’m talking about is creating a kill switch so that when the phone gets reported stolen, it can be rendered inoperable in any configuration or carrier,” he said.

Some security experts say such solutions are possible. One is software to prevent a phone from working after it is reported stolen, said Kevin Mahaffey, chief technology officer of Lookout, a mobile security firm. There would be ways to work around that, he said, but if companies make it time-consuming and expensive to reactivate a stolen cellphone, then people would stop stealing them so much.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., has proposed a legislative solution. A week ago, he introduced legislation that would make it illegal to modify a phone’s identifier, among other preventive measures. In the United Kingdom, it is illegal already.

In San Francisco, the resale market for stolen phones is thriving, with a new iPhone netting a thief $400 to $500 in cash, said Edward Santos Jr., a police lieutenant who investigates robberies. The starting price of a new iPhone 5, without a contract, is $650.

Often, stolen phones are moved to a house or storage facility where middlemen erase the phone’s memory, Santos said. Clearing a phone makes it difficult for the police to prove a phone was stolen and to return it to its owner.

In at least one case, Santos said, suspects were found to be hacking the phones’ unique identifying code, known as an International Mobile Station Equipment Identity, essentially erasing all digital evidence that the phone was stolen. This also makes it possible to reactivate a stolen phone, even after it has been entered into the database. Santos said he suspected that this kind of modification was widespread.

Some industry experts say consumers should have the right to modify their phones’ identification features to avoid being tracked.

The right to change the identification is a “pro-privacy measure,” said Seth Schoen, a senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a technology-oriented civil liberties group in San Francisco.

In the last six months, San Francisco police have broken up more than half a dozen large-scale stolen electronics operations, uncovering thousands of stolen smartphones as well as laptops in houses and storage units across the Bay Area. In one raid in November, the police found stolen electronics valued at $500,000. The suspects told the police they sold their entire inventory every two weeks through sales at flea markets in Oakland, Calif., and by shipping the phones overseas.

Recent cellphone theft cases in San Francisco suggest that many end up as far away as Mexico, Vietnam and China.

The international reach, huge profits and technological know-how of these black market operators suggest possible ties to larger organized crime networks, Santos said.

“It could be just a bunch of small groups, but these guys are very well organized, very tech savvy, well trained and well funded,” he said. “I think it is just a matter of time before we find the mother lode, a warehouse that is just stacked to the ceiling with smartphones.

Courtesy: 2013, The New York Times News Service

Smartphone users more inclined to apps than browsing:Survey

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80% of our time is spent on apps and just 20% on browsing.

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Only 20 percent of American consumers’ time on mobile devices is spent on the web. A massive majority, 80 percent, is spent in apps: games, news, productivity, utility, and social networking apps.

Turns out, it’s an app world, after all.

According to app analytics firm Flurry, which tracks app usage on a staggering 300,000 apps on over a billion active mobile devices, we spend an average of 158 minutes each and every day on our smartphones and tablets. Two hours and seven minutes of that is in an app, and only 31 minutes is in a browser, surfing the old-school web.

A big chunk of that 158 minutes is taken up with games — 32 percent — but it’s almost shocking to see how much time a single app and a single company eats up. Eighteen percent of all the time that Americans spend on their phones is spent in the Facebook app, a figure that by itself dwarfs all other social networking apps.

Combined, the others only take up six percent of our time.

There was a time when developers thought HTML5 would kill the mobile app, with experts like Mike Rowehl saying things like: “We’ll forget that we even passed through another era of native apps on the way to the mobile web.”

In an interesting twist, however, HTML5 is actually being used more as a tool for cross-platform native app development. In fact, it’s now the number one choice for developers building apps for multiple platforms.

Flurry also says that people are now using more apps than ever, launching 7.9 per day in the last part of 2012 versus 7.5 per day in 2011 and 7.2 per day in 2010. Consumers are continuing to try new apps as well, with long-term users adding new apps regularly to their existing stack.

“We believe that with consumers continuing to try so many new apps, the app market is still in early stages and there remains room for innovation as well as breakthrough new applications,” Flurry says.

Is the mobile web dead?

Not necessarily — we’re only five years into this ongoing mobile revolution. But today, people are talking with their taps, and they’re overwhelmingly choosing apps.