Tuesday, October 28, 2014

For $7 Per Month Microsoft Will Give You Unlimited Cloud Storage Along With Office 365

Microsoft has just made everyone an offer that may be to good to refuse! Starting this week all Office 365 customers will get unlimited OneDrive storage at no additional cost. This means that for as little as $7 per month you can sign-up and get all the storage you could ever use and even better have full access to Microsoft Office 365.

According to the OneDrive Blog announcement the offer will be open to all Office 365 Home, Personal, and University customers. This is where the $7 per month comes in — it’s the base rate for a 365 Personal subscription when you pay annually. So not only will you be able to access unlimited cloud storage, you also get access to Microsoft's entire Office suite — Word, Excel, OneNote, Powerpoint, Publisher, and even Access and Outlook — on both your main computer and your tablet.  
For just $10 per month you can add a home account and use up to 5 PCs, details are still sparse on University accounts however for those that do have .EDU access this may be a good time to claim your free Office 365 program.

As for those with business accounts Microsoft has said corporate customers will have to wait a bit longer for their unlimited accounts to kick in. "For OneDrive for Business customers, unlimited storage will be listed on the Office 365 roadmap in the coming days and we will begin updating the First Release customers in 2015, aligned with our promise to provide ample notification for significant service changes," wrote Chris Jones, corporate vice president of Microsoft OneDrive and SharePoint.

The free upgrade will roll out to all subscribers “over the coming months,” Microsoft says. Existing subscribers can jump ahead in line by signing up through Microsoft's website. 

So is this deal too good to pass up? As both an Office/OneDrive and Google Docs/Drive user I'm personally pretty tempted to jump on it. What are your thoughts, contribute your comments below!

Monday, October 27, 2014

$39 Amazon Fire TV Stick Offers Specs and Features Boost Over Chromecast

Amazon Fire TV Stick
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So we know Google must be flattered by all of the Chromecast clones that have been coming out of the woodwork to offer comparable devices. With all the competition it is clear that HDMI dongle that is capable of streaming online content and games from sites like YouTube, Hulu and others has become a hit. Today however, we have a new entry into the market that may have just upped the ante by upping the specs and features.

The new Amazon Fire TV Stick offers much of the same video and content streaming capabilities as that of the Google Chromecast. However, it does so in a more robust package. It will feature a dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, dual-band and dual-antenna Wi-Fi and an included remote control. There will also be an optional voice remote similar to the one found with the Fire TV. There is also an optional gamepad, since the Fire TV Stick will be able to play many of the games that are found on the Fire TV.

As for content there will also be a slight boost over the current Chromecast (and other competing offerings). You'll not only get instant access to the most popular services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube.com, you'll also get access to Amazon's own Prime Instant Video and Prime Music service. For gamers Amazon says you'll have access to more than 200 games.

In addition to instant streaming of content you'll be able to utilize the Amazon Fire TV Stick to wirelessly mirror your tablet display to your Fire TV Stick from Fire tablets, Fire phone, and Miracast-enabled phones or tablets including devices from Motorola, Samsung, LG, and Google without any additional apps or software. Turning your TV into the primary screen and freeing up your phone or tablet to provide playback controls.

Additional features will include Amazon's X-Ray for movies, TV shows and music and Amazon's Whispersync to synchronizes your video and music library across all of your devices.

X-Ray allows your device to become a second screen to view video information about cast and crew, the names of songs as they play, as well as a list of music in the movie or TV show, trivia items in context with the action on the screen, and character backstories so you can easily remind yourself of the character’s history.

Fire TV Stick is available starting today for just $39—order at www.amazon.com/fire-tv-stick. Current Amazon Prime members have the option of buying the Fire TV Stick at the discounted price of  $19 for the next two days. Customers who are new to Prime can sign up for a free trial and also receive this special price. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New Google Site Offers Help to Make The Transition From iOS to Android Easier

For smartphone platform switchers changing to a new operating system can often been an overwhelming experience.Often times we just don't know where to get to started and what to do to make the transition any easier. Thankfully there are some great resources out there that make the move easier and what better resource could you ask for but one directly from Google itself?

Google has published a new site with a very helpful guide to help you switch from iOS to Android without losing any of your important things like contacts, photos or music. 
The Android Switch site walks you through all of the basics. Offering step by step instructions on how to upload photos stored on iPhones and iPads to Google+, transfer music from iTunes to Google Play Music, and even keeping all your contacts.There are also links for further assistance for new Android users to get started with their new device and get the most out of the new operating system.

Google guide will help anyone on any Android device. However, for those of you that are making the switch from Apple to a Samsung or Motorola device there are even more alternatives. New Samsung owners can download and use Samsung's Smart Switch App which will allow you to transfer existing content from your iPhone and iCloud account to any new Samsung phone. You can even use it to transfer content between existing Samsung devices. Motorola offers a similar solution with its Motorola Migrate App which also allows for switching directly from an iCloud account or another Android device.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Apple Pay Hitting The Streets Tomorrow, What iPhone Users Need to Know

For iPhone 6 and 6 Plus users Apple Pay officially launches on Monday in the U.S., giving Apple users access to a new (for Apple) technology that will make easier to make in-store and online payments possible.

The new service, which Apple previously unveiled and further detailed this past week will be available in over 220,000 stores at some 35 retail locations. Stores include Whole Foods, Macy's, McDonald's, Duane Reed, Texaco and others. In addition to those stores, Apple listed 23 store brands accepting online payments with Apple Pay, including Staples and Starbucks, which today relies upon QR reader technology, not NFC, for in-store payments to buy coffee.

How Do I Use Apple Pay With My iPhone 6?

Apple Pay uses a tiny Near Field Communication chip (NFC) that is embedded inside the phone. These chips have limited localized range that allows the device to wirelessly communicate directly with NFC readers. In order to utilize Apple Pay you'll first need to follow these steps to setup a payment option and get things running:

Setting up Apple Pay on your iPhone
  1. Download iOS 8.1
  2. Open the Passbook app
  3. Tap on Set up Apple Pay
  4. Add cards:
    1. You can select cards already associated Passbook or iTunes gift card simply by confirming you security code
    2. You can scan new cards with iPhone’s camera or manually input them
  5. The first card you add automatically becomes your default payment card, but you can go to Passbook anytime to pay with a different card or select a new default in Settings.
Once you’ve added a credit card, you’ll be able to view your transactions, enable notifications for it, and have quick access to the bank’s app and phone number in case you have any problems. You can add up to eight different cards to the system.

Now that you have your payment information added, in order to complete purchases you simply need to hold your device in close proximity, less than a few inches, to an active NFC reader while holding the Touch ID. Apple explains that "A subtle vibration and beep let you know" when a purchase is done, there will be no need to look at the screen or enter any further information.

How Secure Will Apple Play Be?

Apple is billing Apple Pay as an ultra-secure method of paying for items in store. According to Apple your credit card information and paying credentials are never stored on your iPhone or iCloud account. Secondly, retailers never receive your card details, so your account will should stay safe, even if the store suffers from a massive security breach like the ones that have impacted Target and the Home Depot recently.

The NFC payment system utilizes tokenization. Essentially, the system works with card providers like Visa or your bank to replace your sensitive data with random data that has the same structure and formatting. So your 16-digit credit card number gets stored in the bank or card provider’s extremely secure database, and then another 16-digit number that looks and acts like a credit card number is generated to verify the purchase.

In effect mobile payments handled through NFC payment systems via either Google Wallet, Apple Pay or Softcard should be more secure than handing over your credit or debit card and entering your PIN. However, the system isn't without its downfalls and there are still inherent risks (more on that later). Banks though have stated that they will be offering the same fraud protections that any other credit card user would be afforded.

Additionally, if your iPhone or iPad is ever lost or stolen, you can use Find My iPhone to quickly put your device in Lost Mode to suspend Apple Pay, or you can wipe your device completely clean removing any chance that a user can access Passbook.

Which Credit Cards and Banks Will Be Accepted?

Apple currently supports the credit and debit cards from the three major card companies -- American Express, Visa and MasterCard. In addition, more than 500 banks are backing Apple Pay, though Apple named just a few: Chase, Capital One, Bank of America, Citi, Wells Fargo, US Bank, Barclaycard, PNC, USAA, Navy Federal Credit Union and American Express. Those banks represent 83% of all credit card purchasing in the U.S.

Where Will I Be Able to Use Apple Pay?

There are currently more than 220,000 stores that have signed on to utilize NFC terminals and Apple has stated they have partnerships with all those companies currently employing the technology. On its website, the company lists its own store, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Duane Reade, McDonald’s, Sephora, Petco, Panera Bread, Staples, Nike, Walgreens, Subway, Whole Foods, and more as participating current stores.

As Google Wallet users know, this however does not mean that all of those stores actually have working terminals. In fact, one of the major reasons we haven't seen widespread success of the current contactless payment systems is largely due to a lack of widespread availability. With Apple coming on-board and making a major push for the system we should see more businesses getting on-board. However, at this time at some location you may still have issues finding a working terminal. Also keep in mind the 220,000 stores represent just 5% of all available stores.

Conclusion, My Thoughts and Concerns!

As a long time Android user, Apple Pay is nothing new to me. We've had service like Google Wallet for some time now and contactless payment systems aren't anything new. I've owned a PayPass enabled MasterCard prior to that. So while it is great to see Apple finally adding on the option, until we see more widespread adoption and much, much greater security it is just a novelty for me. As I mentioned above these new payment systems aren't without their own security concerns.

While Apple insists that none of your payment information will be stored on either the device or the iCloud servers making that data slightly more secure. Accessing the information via a stolen iPhone may not be all that difficult. Touch ID has previously been hacked, and with some ease I might add. We've even seen the iPhone 6 fingerprint sensor already hacked. While this latest report indicates it might be more difficult to achieve, that doesn't rule out the possibility of further attempts proving otherwise.

With users storing more and more information on portable devices, they become much higher valued targets. Admittedly it is easy enough to remotely wipe a device, however this involves being able to actually access your Apple account. Which may serve as enough delay to allow thieves time to access your payment system to do some shopping or retrieve anything else they may need on your device. Given my own concerns I'll pass on adding mobile payments to my device for now at least.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Intel Joins Samsung Opens Experience Shops Exclusively in 50 Best Buy Stores

For you geeks out there that want to get the latest hands on experience with cutting edge technology you now have an exciting new opportunity. Intel has announced it will be opening 50 new "Intel Experience" shops exclusively in Best Buy retail stores at various locations across the nation.

"We wanted to give our customers a new way to experience Intel technology," said CJ Bruno, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel Americas. "It's an innovative way for Best Buy's customers to see, touch and engage with our latest products and experiences."

The area will be staffed by specially trained Best Buy Blue Shirts and will allow customers to explore:
  • 3-D Printing Experience: On a touch-enabled, Intel-powered laptop, shoppers can design their own 3-D model of a robot and experience 3-D printing as featured robot designs get highlighted in the stores.
  • Mars Escape Augmented Reality Game: Use powerful Intel tablets to design and race a Mars Rover. While being immersed in an augmented reality world, the users navigate their virtual space rovers through a physical Mars landscape.
  • DJ Remixing Ne-Yo Experience: Budding musical artists can feel what it's like to perform in front of thousands of fans in an immersive, on-stage DJ experience on an Intel-powered 2 in 1 device. In collaboration with singer-song writer Ne-Yo, shoppers can remix his track and create a full-stage experience through controlling the stage lights.
  • The Product Gallery: Experience the latest laptops, 2 in 1 devices and tablets powered by Intel processors.
Best Buy has been expanding its partnerships with several companies lately looking for way to engage more customers and offer them more than just the standard shopping experience. Last year they began their partnership with Samsung, placing Samsung Experience Shops in most retail locations. They also have a long standing partnership with Apple and are looking to add similar in-store customer support and experience kiosks from Microsoft, Amazon and Google to offer similar, yet not on the same scale.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Good News Game of Thrones Fans HBO GO Will Soon Cut The Cord and Offer Online Streaming

With a new generation sparking more and more cord cutting and users edging away from traditional cable and satellite services. HBO is looking toward the internet and other none traditional services to expand it's subscriptions. Speaking today before an investment meeting for HBO’s parent company, Time Warner, HBO CEO Richard Plepler announced that HBO GO will be offered for the first time ever, without the need for a pay TV subscription starting next year.

"It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO," the network's chief executive Richard Plepler said. "So, in 2015, we will launch a stand-alone, over-the-top HBO service in the United States." It's a monumental change for HBO, which is currently sold only through cable and satellite providers.

Plepler did not address pricing for next year’s standalone HBO GO subscriptions, but adding HBO to a cable subscription currently costs between $15 and $20, depending on your provider. All he did confirm was that the service would be available, at least in a testing phase, in 2015.

So while details may be a bit sparse this could be great news for those Game of Thrones geeks out there that have made the show the most pirated ever and want to make the jump to legal viewing. It could also be great news for those customers out there like myself that are looking for more ways to save a little extra cash, without having to leave behind some of the content we love to see.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Zeiss VR One Brings Virtual Reality to More Smartphone Owners On The Cheap

Virtual Reality may soon start hitting the mainstream thanks to offering from companies like Oculus Rift and Samsung. However, up until now the prospects have remained slightly limited. Samsung's own offering, the Gear VR, will only work with the company's new Galaxy Note 4 and pricing is expected to be as much as $199 if not more.

Enter German optics manufacture Carl Zeiss. The company just announced the new VR One, a virtual reality headset for use with a smartphone. It's similar to the Gear VR by Samsung and Oculus, except at $100, it's going to be significantly cheaper and will work with a wider variety of smartphones. Zeiss says that unlike the Note 4-exclusive Gear VR, the Zeiss VR One will be compatible with both the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.1-inch Samsung Galaxy S5, with support for other smartphone models between 4.7-inch and 5.2-inch in the pipeline.

The VR One has its own SDK for iOS and Android, and at launch there will be two different VR apps developed by Zeiss. The internal team at Zeiss developed two demo apps—a photo viewer and an AR proof of concept, however so far there is little information regarding app support or details as to whether or not developers have taken up the project.  Zeiss is planning a contest for developers, which they’ll publicize on a dedicated Tumblr page for the VR One. And if all goes well, before 2015 rolls around you’ll have a well-built mobile VR solution that won’t break the bank.

Up for pre-order now, the Zeiss VR One has a price tag of $99.99. This price not only includes the Zeiss VR One but also a smartphone tray, which will set you back $9.99 when bought alone. The company expects the first units to “ship before Christmas 2014.”