Fries, and a Fond Look Back at the Facebook Phone

There is a burger joint my neighborhood that has been around for about 20 years. When it opened, and for the next 15 or so years, it focused on a core menu — burgers, sandwiches, and hot dogs. If you wanted something exotic, you could order the fried chicken basket. But, for the most part, the menu was essentially some form of meat between bread, with an expansive selection of sides, including small fries, medium fries and large spicy fries (adventurous ones could also order a salad or mashed potatoes).

At some point in the last half-decade, the owners decided to expand their repertoire and added a Middle Eastern menu, which broke things wide open by offering spit-roasted, instead of broiled, meat on flat bread, instead of buns (low carb adherents can also order meat on a stick).

And then things got interesting. Came the Chinese menu, and a sushi counter. And then Mexican night. And honestly, all I want is my chili burger with fries. Maybe the steak sub, if I’m up to it. But, if I want Chinese, I’m going to the Chinese restaurant, not the sandwich shop that found a way to make rice with an orange-sauced chicken.

If you’re in the market for a new phone, you can now purchase an Amazon Fire for $1.00 (yes, one dollar) with a two-year contract from AT&T. If you’re not quite sure whether that’s a good deal, then consider that the same phone was listed at $199 (one hundred ninety-nine dollars) in July (yes, July 2014). That’s an awesome $198 discount in just under four months (or, approximately 99.497% off original list price). The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon has $83 million worth of the devices in its warehouses. It seems an unusual turn of events for Amazon, whose stock performance over five years has been strong. After releasing the Kindle e-reader, one might have thought that a phone was the next big thing – recall that Amazon started as an online bookstore, and then expanded its offering to include everything from food and diapers to robotic gutter cleaners (yep, I saw this last year at CES and it is on my “buy” list – no more ladders for me). Read more

Online Harassment

I really enjoy the “comments” section of online articles (whether they be news, opinion, or even about sports). From the snarky comments, to the sometimes insightful debate in comment forums, and just hearing others’ views and responses that I would have never thought of, I enjoy and value it. I’m also a cynic when it comes to the propensities of my fellow man for being narrow-minded, so certain articles I know will generate nasty comments attract my attention. I personally have been the target of some very nasty comments posted in reply to things I have said on social media, but I found them kind of funny and even imaginative insults, and such an overreaction, that I just shrugged it off.

But, it can go much further. A recently released Pew Research study found that 73% of online users in the study have witnessed online harassment of others and 40% have themselves been harassed online. This includes not only nasty comments and name calling in comment forums and on social media, but threats of violence and stalking.

Some other interesting findings from the study: 66% of complaints of harassment from study participants came on social media, and 16% were tied to online gaming. Men were harassed more (44% to 37%) but the harassment against women seemed to be much more violent and threatening.

And, if you have never heard of the “Gamergate” controversy, then you have not seen the limits of online anger and harassment. The genesis is a group of gamers questioning the ethics of certain game creators and industry critics. It has morphed into threats, stalking, posting of victims home addresses and reported attempts at hacking the devices and bank accounts of those victims. The FBI is taking the threats seriously.

The funniest thing I came across when reading about this study: one commenter in an article discussing the study said that while 70% of people have witnessed someone being a jerk on the Internet, 100% of us have witnessed someone being a jerk in real life. True that.

Timing is Everything

At almost the exact same time that Apple debuted its new Apple Pay service, reports have emerged that yet another retailer has likely been affected by a large scale data breach.

Although details are still emerging, office supply store Staples is investigating “a potential issue” with its customers’ credit card data. Previously, Home Depot, Target, Michael’s and Kmart, among others, were hit, with large numbers of their customers impacted.

The long-anticipated Apple Pay service is now available to iPhone 6 and 6 Plus users once they download Apple’s iOS 8.1. According to Apple, Apple Pay will allow customers to use their iPhone to pay for retail transactions in a simple, secure and private manner.

To make payment, the customer will simply hold his or her iPhone near the store’s contactless reader. The customer’s ID is verified by a fingerprint reader on the iPhone. The actual credit card number is stored in a secure, dedicated chip in the phone. When a purchase is made, the Device account number—rather than the actual credit card number—and a transaction-specific dynamic security code is shared with the merchant, who never receives the actual credit card number itself. If the phone is ever lost or stolen, Find My iPhone can be used to suspend Apple Pay. Apple does not retain any records of customer transactions.

Apple Pay supports credit and debit cards from American Express, Visa and MasterCard, as well as 500 financial institutions from across the country. Nearly three dozen nationwide merchants—including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, McDonald’s, Subway and Walgreens–currently accept Apple Pay, with more scheduled to come onboard in the coming months.

Will the recent well-publicized data breaches drive customers toward Apple Pay in a quest for greater data security? It certainly seems likely, at least until retail merchants are able to figure out a better way to protect their customers’ sensitive information.

And, in case you were wondering—Staples is among those merchants accepting Apple Pay, through its mobile app

Small Carriers and the IoT

Ericsson’s Loris Zaia gave his take on how the “Internet of Things” may affect small carriers in the coming years at the BroadbandVision show earlier this month. He noted that networks have to expand from connecting hundreds of millions of people as they do today, to connecting multiple billions of machines over the next several years as various devices perform more functions online. 

Cloud computing, Zaia stated, can help lower costs to make participation in this market achievable for smaller carriers. And in rural areas, where demand for spectrum may not be as intense as in more densely populated places, fixed wireless may help extend the reach of broadband over more geography.

“The business case with some of the smaller operators,” he said, “is quite frankly that it’s easier to for them to partner with some of the tier two players” to extend the reach of broadband in rural areas.” See the full interview with Zaia online

Lazy Coffee Addict Eschews Smart Brewer

There. I’ve said it. I will spend my usual week at CES next January and snicker at the smart pot. Not because I do not appreciate coffee, and not because I do not appreciate technology. I embrace both. Just not together. Even I have limits.

A recent report issued by the Consumer Electronics Associations (which hosts CES) and Parks Associates states that 20% of broadband households in the United States will acquire a connected device in the coming year. These may include light bulbs, thermostats, garage door openers and smoke detectors. Smart kitchen appliances and door locks topped the list of most popular devices.

At last year’s CES, wearable devices seemed the rage — everything from heart rate and other monitors to devices woven into baby clothing and intended to replace the walkie-talkie type monitors that, like early cordless phones, sometimes picked up (and awkwardly so) conversations from a neighbor’s house. Read more

CBS Climbs Aboard the Standalone Bandwagon

If you can’t beat ‘em, adapt—CBS announced plans last week to go after the cord-cutting market through CBS All Access, a stand-alone streaming service that will offer subscribers access to both current and archived CBS content.

“With video consumption habits changing all the time, it is very important that we continue to provide the best local news, entertainment and sports via a service like CBS All Access,” said CBS Television Stations’ president Peter Dunn. “Television stations have been the fabric of local broadcasting for 75 years, and today’s announcement is part of paving the way for the next 75.”

CBS’ announcement follows on the heels of HBO going public with plans for HBO Go, which will allow viewers the ability to access HBO programming without an HBO subscription. “We will use all measures to go after” the estimated 80 million homes that do not have HBO, said HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler in announcing HBO Go.

The actions by CBS and HBO are a response to studies showing that more and more Americans are streaming content. Research firm emarketer, for example, estimates that 45% of Americans stream television shows at least once a month.

Not coincidentally, it has also been reported that HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series is the most pirated program in television history

“Beacon” Mobile Marketing 

Investing your money in building retail stores is probably not viewed as the best bet these days. Shopping malls are not being built, and in fact, a large number are going out of business. Yet, that doesn’t mean that retailers and product manufactures are surrendering to online shopping. After all, 90% of retail sales are still made in brick-and-mortar retail stores. And, about two-thirds of shoppers use their mobile devices while shopping in retail stores.

Retailers are boosting sales in retail stores by tapping into mobile devices through the use of “Beacon Marketing.” Beacons use Bluetooth Low-Energy technology to send a signal to customers’ mobile devices when they come within range of a beacon. They can send information on sales or other promotional offers to customers in a brick-and-mortar retail store. A recently released study found that shoppers who received these messages were 19 times more likely to take a look at the product.

The technology has some promise, but it also has some limits. In most cases, customers must have the store-specific app open on their phone. However, if you have an iPhone with updated iOS 7 software on it, that isn’t necessary, though a customer needs to keep their Bluetooth function turned on and must allow any apps access to their location data. Read more

Next Page »