The future of commerce is so close

A couple of months ago Apple Pay was finally enabled for my bank account and credit card, which meant I was finally able to pay for things by either placing my phone on the card reader, or by bashing my watch against it instead.

I look forward to a day when I can leave the house with nothing in my pockets – my watch will have a cellular radio and be capable of keeping me in contact with the people that matter, so too will it allow me to unlock my car/house, in addition to letting me pay for things. While the first two in that list might be a few years away (decades at the rate I upgrade cars), my watch can actually make payments today, how cool is that?

The reality is somewhat less cool. The problem is the payment limit. Since Apple Pay uses the existing 'Contactless' payment systems, it's also hampered by the same £20 limit. While this limit makes sense with a contactless debit card (there is zero authentication), both the Apple Watch and iPhone are secure; the iPhone asks for your fingerprint, and the watch asks for a PIN when you first put it on, as long as it says in contact with your wrist it is authorised for Apple Pay.

This authentication is also a hindrance – why would I fiddle about trying to get my phone to detect my fingerprint (while everyone in the queue is staring at me) or roll three layers of sleeve up to try and get my watch to be recognised when I can whip out my wallet and tap my debit card? The key point is that I still have to have my wallet on me in case the shop in question doesn't support contactless, or the amount comes to over £20. Don't get me wrong, Apple Pay is much better than entering a PIN, it's just not as fast as tapping your card.

So what needs to happen? I'd like to see the limit raise for Apple Pay purchases to something more reasonable, most cash machines allow you to take out £300 in a day, so why not the same for an arguably more secure system such as Apple Pay, while keeping existing contactless limits where they are of course

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Is it time to stop assuming users have Flash installed?

Remember when the iPad first came out in 2010, and the first thing everybody said was it was doomed because it didn’t have Flash? Well, it turns out most web site owners were able to accommodate this requirement, and these days even Android tablets and phones lack the once ubiquitous browser plugin. Yet, if you’ve ever browsed the web on an iOS device or an Android device (the chances are you have) you’ll know that in the vast majority of cases, everything has continued to work as normal. Staples of the Internet from BBC News to YouTube keep on working – when it comes to video at least (if you want to run Farmville sans plugin then you’re out of luck).

So when setting up my MacBook with a clean installation of OS X 10.9, I decided to see if it was possible to live without Flash. My guess was it would be, and why not? One less thing installed on your system means a reduced attack surface for malware, fewer processes running and hence better longer life, and in my experience, fewer browser hangs. I was wrong however – instead of using “feature detection” (as good web developers should) to determine whether the browser supports the Flash alternative to video, “HTML5 Video”– it seems the vast majority of sites employ user agent sniffing and will only show you the non-Flash version if you’re on a known mobile device. I kept on being asked to install Flash, even though my iPad works just fine without it. User agent sniffing is the reason why sites designed for IE6 will ask you to “upgrade” if you visit in IE11 –I can forgive any web developer working back when IE6 came out in 2001 for following what was then a standard industry practice, but User Agent Sniffing is now generally considered outdated, so why are so many sites still doing it when it comes to playing video?

App Centric Old Fashioned?

So the in thing these days is for tech pundits to declare that an app centric ecosystem is old fashioned, and that what people really want is a people centric ecosystem; witness Facebook Home, and Windows Phone 8 before it.

That's all well and good, but do app developers want their brand to be muffled into another system? I think most developers like having their icon on the home screen, like being able to design their app as they see fit, and wouldn't be happy if the operating system simply surfaced their content as part of a people centric approach.

Ecosystems are nothing without the support of developers and big brand apps. Everyone wants their cut of the 'mind share' pie.

iOS Disappearing Calendar Notifications – Mystery Solved

Ever turned in your iPhone to see a calendar notices suddenly disappear from the lock screen? I've been seeing this a lot lately, and it's really bugged me – especially when my phone is on silent (as it is most of the day), so I can check it at chosen intervals rather than be disturbed (developer thing, no doubt) .

Well it turns out iOS will remove a notification after the event has finished. Kind of makes sense, although it does mean if you totally miss an appointment, you'd be none the wiser unless you pay very careful attention and see it before the notification quickly disappears.

Odd quirk, but probably not a bug – just a design choice (I would say it makes sense to remove them from the notification centre, perhaps not the lock screen) and Apple should probably hide it before the screen turns in to avoid the confusion of seeing something for a split second.

Google Glasses: Something Microsoft Would Have Done (Ten Years Ago)

Google co-founder Sergey Brin

Google Glasses reminds me of something Microsoft would have released in the early to mid 00’s. The idea has merit, but it strikes me as not being thought through properly. Think Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, or the Origami.

Yes it’s a cool idea to be able to see a computer screen on a pair of glasses, as well as take video from your personal perspective – but will people really want to a) wear glasses all the time (for this to make sense, you need to wear it every waking hour of the day) b) interact with other people who may or may not be busy using their glasses while you talk to them c) interact with people who may or may not be videoing you while you’re talking to them.

Just as people didn’t want to prod a Desktop PC interface with a stylus, I can’t see these glasses being accepted by the masses in their current form. I think the idea does have merit, and would love to see something less intrusive that somehow manages to overcome these social barriers.

Google adverts for the glasses are an example of your typical “geek trying to make themself look overly extroverted to make up for being a geek” syndrome. How many people go skydiving that often? How many people if they did would wear such an expensive pair of glasses? Most normal people (like me) whose daily routine doesn’t involve jumping out of a plane, walking down a catwalk or juggling with fire will struggle to find a use for such a device.

Still, kudos to Google for putting them out there, just as with the Tablet PC in 2002, someone else might just make it work by 2023. Also I admit I haven’t tried them, so I might yet be converted. Better start saving…

No Office for Windows 8 any time soon

According to this site, a Metro version of Microsoft Office won’t be along until much later in the year (Q3, Q4 – knowing Microsoft that means Q4).

I don’t get this  – how can one of the largest software companies in the world take so long? Metro is currently awash with glorified RSS readers, it desperately needs some capable software that does something useful. Just as iOS has iWorks and iPhoto to demonstrate its true potential, Windows 8 needs something other than pretty weather apps to prove its worth, and no, re-skinning desktop software doesn’t work.

Get Android photos into iCloud Photostream via Dropbox

If like me you have an Android phone but also have an iPad, then you might find that getting photos you take on the phone onto the iPad a chore. Having photos on the iPad means you can take advantage of the beautiful screen and powerful software like iPhoto for which there simply is no alternative for on Android.

Yes you can use the built in Dropbox app, but it’s very clunky and doesn’t let you sort by date. With this solution, photos you take on your Android phone will appear in your iCloud photo stream, which is a far more elegant solution.

What we will do here is essentially make your Dropbox Camera Uploads folder the same folder as your iCloud PhotoStream uploads folder.

Note: I got this working by using my Windows 8 PC with Dropbox installed – it should work fine for Windows 7, and instructions will be different for Mac OS X but it should still be possible. Follow this guide at your own risk!

Step 1: Install Dropbox on your phone

If you haven’t done so already, install Dropbox on your Android device and make sure automatic camera uploads is switched on. This will create a new folder in your Dropbox called ‘Camera Uploads’

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Step 2: Install iCloud Control panel on your PC

I already had iTunes installed, so this was a case of running Apple software update and selecting ‘iCloud Control Panel’

Step 3: Remove the iCloud Uploads folder

Open the iCloud control panel and find the location of your photo stream on disk:

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Kill the any iCloud.exe and ApplePhotoStream.exe processes from the task manager, and then browse to your photostream folder and delete the ‘Uploads’ folder.

Step 4: Recreate uploads folder

Now the magic happens, open an administrative command prompt and create a junction that will recreate the Uploads folder, only showing the contents of your Dropbox’s ‘Camera Uploads’ folder.

Example:

mklink /J “C:UsersMarcDesktopPhotoStreamUploads”  “C:UsersMarcDropboxCamera Uploads”

The first path is where I want the uploads folder to go, and second is where my camera uploads folder in Drobox is. Remember: you haven’t made to copies, if you delete from one, it gets deleted from the other.

Step 5: That’s it…!

Now any photo you take will be uploaded to your PC, from your PC it will be sent to iCloud. and from iCloud it will find its way onto your iOS devices.

My wish list for iOS 6

iOS delivered when it removed the need to synchronise with iTunes, and incorporated cloud backup right into the device. But what is still missing?

 

iTunes Account Sharing

Yes the bosses at Hollywood and the big music companies will hate this idea, but we humans like to share. Who knows what evaluation might have thrown up if we had been purely selfish creatures. That means when my partner downloads a TV show on her iPad, it would be quite nice if we could watch it on my iPad without jumping through hoops. How about a feature to link up to 5 iTunes accounts, so they can all download each others purchases? It would be one more argument for buying DRM protected content as opposed to downloading it for free from other unofficial sources.

Automatic App Updates

More ‘normal’ users don’t religiously check the App Store for updates, so having an Android-like feature whe selected apps can update automatically would be useful. This would need to be user-controlled, as some apps makers have a tendency to make their apps worse over time instead of improving them.

Standard platform for magazine/newspaper content

Digital newspapers and magazines are a mess. Most are custom apps that contain a series of digital images. There’s no ability to email links, lookup words or save out articles. What iOS needs is a standard system for newspapers (and a lesser extent magazines) – that offers a consistent way to navigate articles. When you pickup a newspaper, you expect it to work like every other newspaper. That’s not the case on the iPad. App makers might say this limits their creativity, but I think the egos of software developers can take the hit, and that the written content should take centre stage. It would surey be cheaper to produce for a system like this where all the publisher needs to worry about is the content and not the cogs and wheels that drive the app.

Less Clutter

iOS 5 seems a little bloated in placed. Cick the action button in Safari and the options no longer fit in on one screen on the iPhone. Where we once had ‘Add Bookmark’, ‘Add to home screen’ and ‘Mail link to this page’ we have now options to Tweet, Print and do even more. This is systematic of the OS in many places.

 

System wide sharing to other apps

Instead of a ‘Tweet’ link hard-coded into the operating system, why not have a share system simular to Android. The UI would need some work and the ‘intent’ be more specific that Android (on my Androird phone, sharing a link brings me a list containing Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox and a File Explorer app, why would I want to send Dropbox a URL?) – perhaps a way for apps to register as social applications ?

 

Scheduled Notifications

I like the fact my iPad has push email. I don’t like the fact it notifies me of new email at 2 in the morning. ‘Nuff said?

 

Funny message from Samsung on my laptop

I found this funny, because hadn’t rebooted my system for more than a week (I always use Sleep) it recommended I restarted.

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What a great user experience! (and not really true since the Windows 98 days).

I had a dig around to try and find out what was causing this popup so I could stop it, and found a setting to only charge the battery up to 100%

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Interesting. Do any battery experts know how doing this improves battery life?