A device is worth more than the sum of its apps

hatersI generally don’t give haters my attention, because you can’t help someone who refuses to learn and relies on knee-jerk emotional reactions to things instead of becoming educated and reaching an informed conclusion. But sometimes I’m reminded of a phrase I heard once and latched onto:

“I blog because not only do I have an opinion, I cannot keep it to myself.”

The haters and beraters attacking Google Glass and its users seem to be growing in number and intensity, at least according to the sensationalistic press that can’t wait to breathlessly tear down that which they don’t understand.

But the same media that is looking to report on the problems associated with Glass also tend stick with the notion that Google’s wearable computer is defined by its apps, which isn’t something they do with other tech devices.

Headline after headline will tout that “Google Glass allows wearers to X…” or “Google Glass does Y.” The thing is, often the most sensationalistic headlines are grossly inaccurate because the feature they are reporting on isn’t inherent to Glass but rather is provided by an app created by a third-party developer.

I don’t recall seeing any headlines about iPhones doing something or the Samsung Galaxy Gear watch doing something else based solely on a third-party app that was written by someone not associated with or approved by the manufacturer. galaxy-gear--samsung-smartwatch-review-camera-picture-540x334In fact, they even tend to ignore facts about the devices themselves, such as the Gear having a camera. (That means people can clandestinely shoot pictures while appearing to check the time on their wrist. How many bars and restaurants have you heard about banning Gear?)

Google Glass is a platform with amazing potential. It is exciting to watch the Google Glass community discussions on Google Plus as people chat about what they envision wearable technology like Glass being able to help us do in the future, and sometimes in the very near future. Entrepreneurial app developers are finding new ways to entertain, aid and support Glass owners. Sometimes they hit the mark, sometimes they come up with something silly, and sometimes they create an app that is just pointless. It’s the same thing that happens with Android developers and iOS developers, although that tends to happen less with iOS due to Apple’s near-maniacal control over their universe.

So the next time you see a story lambasting Google and its Glass users for doing something outrageous or creepy, consider whether it’s the device, the user or the app that should be the focus of the article. Two of the apps that have received a lot of over-the-top news coverage include the ones that let users record their sexual encounters and another that provides information to the wearer based on facial recognition. (Having just typed those two descriptions in the same sentence makes me wonder if a new app – Google Beer Goggles – might help avoid some awkward morning-after guessing games with the person you met at the bar last night and suddenly found yourself waking up next to this morning. But I digress.)

Is the sex video app pointless and stupid? Sure. Is it Google Glass’ fault? No, because it’s a third-party app that has to be side-loaded to Glass, something many users don’t even have the knowledge or guts to do with their very expensive new tech device. So, the headlines really should have been, “Black market app for Google Glass lets you record sexual encounters.” Or, regarding the facial recognition app, we should have seen “Google Glass hackers create app to capitalize on facial recognition.”

After all, I don’t recall seeing news alerts about “Motorola phones have a porn problem.” But that’s because the media correctly reported, “Does Twitter’s Vine have a porn problem?”

illegals appAnd I don’t remember seeing headlines that read, “Want to practice your illegal alien smuggling skills? Get an iPhone.” That’s because the media correctly reported it as, “Want to practice your illegal alien smuggling skills? There’s an app for that.” 

Google Glass is a piece of hardware with built-in software and the ability to add new functionality through applications. The services those applications provide can change the use, but they do not change the nature of Glass being nothing more than a machine.

How we as humans adapt and use that machine is important, but it often can be the fault of the user practicing poor judgment or tapping into a third-party app if something goes awry. A device is worth more than the sum of its apps and should not be judged by them, no matter how stellar or stupid they might be.

What if my device can’t hear me now?

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Many of us have joked around with the “Can you hear me now?” line that Verizon Wireless used for its advertising campaign for years. It generally refers to whether someone on the other end of your mobile call can hear you rather than static. As technology has advanced, however, we’ve started talking to our devices almost as much as we talk through them.

Thanks to Siri on Apple devices, Google Now on Android devices and, of course, Google Glass, voice commands are becoming more commonplace.

But what happens if your device can’t hear you?

I discovered this problem recently when I lost my voice while fighting off a bad cold, the flu or the plague — I’m not really sure what hit me. Whatever it was, it silenced me into using gestures and note pads with my family. The biggest discoveries from that experience were that my family is really bad at charades and my handwriting is still the best indicator that I should have been a doctor.

But another discovery was that wild hand gestures and notepads were of no use when communicating with my phone and Glass, so when I was completely without a voice, I was incommunicado with my tech.

For the phones and tablets in my life, that wasn’t really a big deal because I still do 80 percent of my interaction with those via keyboard and screen swipes. But one of Glass’ strengths is its ability to be controlled by voice.

Yes, you can tap and swipe your way through menu commands and activities on the right temple, but you will eventually run into something that requires you to talk to Glass. I’m not sure Google is working on a way to connect Glass with a keyboard for the Explorers who have it now, but it certainly would expand its horizons when they go for the consumer release. I don’t see much point in having a constant keyboard connection because Glass honestly doesn’t need that kind of bulk. Nevertheless, having an option, perhaps with something as rudimentary as a keyboard option available via the My Glass app, might do the trick.

I have been very impressed with the voice recognition programs available now. Siri on my iPhone was the weakest but if I slowed down a little she could understand me a lot better. The Droid Maxx seems to work very well and Glass has been even better. Not everyone has the same results on any of those devices, so your individual experiences may very.

One thing I’ve noticed about Glass is that the device does a great job of hearing me while ignoring others who are speaking around me. I’ve used it to add captions to pictures before sending them from the floor of the noisy North American International Auto Show in Detroit. I’ve also used Glass outside when it’s a little windy and in my Jeep Wrangler where road noise is higher than in most other vehicles. The vast majority of the time, Glass understands my commands and can translate my voice into text accurately. I have noticed that a low battery and a low cellular signal can both decrease the accuracy, but that’s not surprising.

The other good thing for Glass’ functionality is that the microphone works well even if you speak quietly. I’ve actually found that speaking in a normal tone or less works better for it than raising my voice, thinking it would hear me better.

That has been great news these past 10 days or so when my voice was weakening, nonexistent and now, finally, on the mend when I can say, “OK, Glass…Google…elixirs for layrngitis.” 20140304-172449.jpg

These savings programs work because you don’t have to

You can save money if you clip coupons, become a member of a rewards club, and do a lot of other things that take time and effort — both of which are in short supply these days. Besides, many rewards programs require you to carry around those annoying plastic key tags. Instead, you can take advantage of technology that does the work for you. For the past few months, I’ve been using two such technological advances and I’ve found they work well, save me money and are about as effortless as you can get. Oh, and it’s all free. Cha ching!

The first is Key Ring, an app available in both the Android and Apple app stores. Initial setup takes some effort, of course, but it pays off well in the long run. You’re required to set up a Cellfire account, which then allows you to enter your current rewards program key tabs. If you initiate the app on  your phone, you can simply scan the barcodes and it will enter all the information for you. After that, the program is relatively maintenance free. You just open it up periodically and “clip” the coupons that are offered. Here’s where the easy part comes in. Once you clip the coupon, it is added to your rewards program account and the coupons are automatically deducted from your bill when you shop at that store and use your savings card. If you’re so inclined, it will even produce a shopping list for you based on the coupons you’ve clipped.

For example, one of the grocery stores I shop at is Kroger. Their  tag has been dangling off my keychain for a few years now and, overall, the card is worth it because of the instant savings it offers. But now, because I’ve connected that rewards card to my Key Ring app and Cellfire account, I can clip coupons that are electronically stored on my rewards card. When I go to the check out, I simply enter my ID number and scan my groceries. When the order is totaled, Kroger takes off its instant savings and the Cellfire account deducts my electronic coupons. Cha ching!

You’re supposed to be able to scan the program tag’s bar code straight from your phone, but I’ve found some of the scanners don’t like to read the phone screen, so I just punch in the numbers. It’s not that difficult and worth the savings. Plus, this should solve the problem of the dozens of coupons that get clipped, hung on my refrigerator, and then periodically thrown away because I never remember to grab them on the way to the store.

As a bonus, the Shell gas stations in town have a deal  with Kroger so that as your grocery purchases add up, they can result in a discount for gasoline. So, for example, I have shopped at Kroger more because of the Key Ring/Cellfire program. I saved money I wouldn’t have normally because I had electronic coupons available for my purchases and because I’ve shopped at Kroger more, my total spending there has added up. When I entered the program code at the gas pump, I saved 10 cents per gallon. Cha ching!

It’s easy, it’s relatively effortless, and it finally gives me a rewards program that I find more rewarding than annoying.

The second program I’ve found some limited success with is the new connection between Foursquare and American Express. You can now register your American Express credit card with your Foursquare account, which allows you to receive discounts and special deals at businesses if you check in there. For example, a car wash near me had a deal for Small Business Saturday that if you checked in on Foursquare and purchased a pack of washes with your American Express card, you received a statement credit. The washes there start at $6.50 each. Thanks to this new Foursqaure/Amex partnership and a bulk discount from the car wash, I am getting $32.50 worth of washes for $2.50. Cha ching!

I can’t wait to see what will happen with the Foursquare/Amex partnership as more businesses catch on to the benefits of offering special deals for people who are tech savvy and take advantage of being connected. The businesses that will be the most successful in the next few years are the ones who have figured out that their consumers are mobile, so the deals should be, too.

I think I covered the basics on these two programs, but if you have questions or concerns, drop me a line in the comments section and I’ll do my best to help. If you’re good to go, then I encourage you to take advantage of the technology. It’s as if a little money tree is sprouting on your phone and all you need to do is pluck the leaves.  🙂