In this edition of the Digital Zone, we talked about:
- The relentless website
- Verizon toys with same-day delivery
- Microsoft’s driver mode
- Consumer Reports chooses its favorites
- Facebook privacy options for teens
- Pandora vs. iTunes Radio
Microsoft is updating its Windows software for cellphones to accommodate larger devices and make it easier for motorists to reduce distractions while driving. 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. What the Driving Mode won’t do, however, is block outgoing calls or texts. And there will be ways to override it. The new update also will allow for better resolution to accommodate larger phones.
Microsoft is working on a technology that will let a pair of earbuds monitor your heart rate, temperature and other biorhythms to figure out your health and mood. Musical Heart automatically picks music according to your biorhythms. If you are upset and your heart is pounding and your body is tense, it can choose music to calm you down. Or if you are working out and want to keep your heart rate at a particular intensity, it will choose music to motivate you.
Square launched a free service that lets anyone send money via email to anyone else. The service, known as Square Cash is only available in the United States and doesn’t require either person in a transaction to have a Square account, and there are no fees. In order to send money, all that’s required is for the sender to address an e-mail to the recipient, with a CC: to email@example.com, and the amount in the e-mail’s subject line. The body of the email can contain any information the sender wants. Although users don’t need a Square Cash account, both the sender and the recipient must link their e-mail address to a debit card. That step takes place after the e-mail is sent. Once a recipient has gone through that process, that person can then send someone else money without having to re-enter their debit card number. The funds are deposited directly in the recipient’s bank account, and not in a stored balance account. With Square Cash, users can send up to $2,500 per week, and the money should arrive in the recipient’s bank account within a day or two.
Verizon announced this week that it’s started up a pilot program that will deliver online smartphone orders to customers on the same day that they’re placed. The carrier is rolling out the program in Philadelphia and will spread it to New York City, Dallas, San Francisco and Pittsburgh in the near future. Same-day delivery isn’t free, however: Customers who want their phone to show up on the day it’s ordered will have to place their orders by 10 a.m. and pay Verizon $20 for a guarantee that it will be at their doorstep by 7 p.m. that evening.
Verizon sold about 3.9 million iPhones in the third quarter. Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said that 51 percent of it total 7.6 million smartphone activations in the quarter were iPhones. The 3.9 million iPhones still topped the 3.1 million iPhones sold in the year-ago quarter, when the iPhone 5 had just debuted. The company activated a total of 10.2 million devices on its network. Verizon said it had an average of 35 million retail post-paid accounts in the third quarter, with an average of 2.7 connections per account.
Facebook removed a restriction for users under 18 that previously limited who could see their online postings from photos to musings on the world-wide social network. They said teenagers would now be able to manually alter the setting and share information with the public. Until now, a teenager’s postings on Facebook were only view-able to their friends, and to the friends of their friends. Facebook said it would show teenage users a special notice the first couple of times they attempt to post information to the public, reminding the user that the post can be seen by anyone.
Consumer Reports released its review on the iPhone 5s and 5c this week with an interesting take on Apple’s new hardware. Its reviewers praised Apple’s fingerprint recognition system known as Touch ID found on the iPhone 5s, and acknowledged the iPhone 5c as a budget-friendly device for consumers, but found the display size and battery life lacking when compared to new offerings by Motorola. The magazine especially praised the iPhone 5s camera system, though: The phone’s 8-megapixel camera, one of the few in our tests capable of taking excellent-quality pictures, has a digital image stabilizer that we confirmed will improve your chances of taking hand-held photos under low-light conditions. Citing the Motorola Droid Maxx, Ultra, and Mini, Consumer Reports said it experienced up to 24 hours of battery life overall from the Droid hardware when compared to the iPhone’s just under 7 hours of talk time. It also took preference to the ‘larger, sharper’ screens shipping on smartphones from HTC, LG, and Samsung.
Like most entrepreneurs, Jeff Bezos cycled through various company names before settling on Amazon for his online bookstore. Most Amazon history buffs know that there was first Cadabra Inc. Bezos and crew also registered Awake.com, Browse.com and Bookmall.com. The author said Bezos and his wife grew fond of another possibility: Relentless.com. Relentless.com is alive and kicking today.
Pandora finance chief Mike Herring talked about the impact Apple’s recently-released iTunes Radio will have on rival internet radio services and iTunes’s effect on the wider music industry. Just over eight years after launch, streaming radio service Pandora boasts some 72 million monthly active users in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Apple’s iTunes radio gained more than 15 percent of that total only 11 days after its September launch, a “credible threat” which Pandora takes “very seriously.”
Now a story for people with pets. PetChatz is a system designed to help you interact with your animal. PetChatz also caters to your furry friend’s heightened senses of taste and smell. Here’s how it works. You install PetChatz in your home into an electrical outlet, which is typically located close to pet eye level. It connects to your home Wi-Fi network. The device activates remotely from your computer through the PetChatz Web site, or through a tablet or smartphone app. It plays a tone to get your pet’s attention, and then you can see your pet, talk to it, and push a button to dispense a small treat onto the floor. One of PetChatz’s more unusual features is a scent dispenser. It holds proprietary scent pads and releases the odor on demand. The company offers a “calming” scent, but will also let customers create their own scents. That should work well for pets who like to cuddle with your dirty socks or sleep with their noses pointed at the pot roast in the oven. PetChatz also has sound and motion detection. PetChatz currently has working prototypes and plans for a customer test run within the next few months. The aim is to ship production models by spring of 2014. If you want to get on board, you can place a pre-order for $349. There are no monthly service fees.
Google’s reported that its third-quarter profit rose 36.5 percent to $2.97 billion on revenue of $11.9 billion. In a related story, new research is giving automakers both good news and potentially troubling news about self-driving cars. The good news: Americans like the idea of self-driving cars. In fact, they appear willing to pay a premium for the technology. The bad news: Car buyers think tech firms like Google will do a better job than traditional automakers building self-driving cars.
Supermarket giant Mondelēz International is developing “smart shelves” to identify consumers’ age and gender while tracking their shopping habits. The company (formerly Kraft Foods), which makes Oreos, Trident gum, Wheat Thins, and a host of other snack foods, wants to use the technology — expected to be on supermarket shelves by 2015 — to better target their advertising. Here’s how the technology would work: Sensors would be placed in the aisles where Mondelēz products are displayed. Using facial recognition technology provided by Microsoft’s Kinect, the devices would identify the age and gender of consumers perusing the aisles and track which people are most likely to purchase certain products. The data collected would be sent to Mondelēz in real-time. The company plans to use the data collected to better target its advertising and discount offers to the groups most likely to buy certain products. The technology could also be used to alert the grocer when it’s time to reorder certain products. The sensors would not collect any photos, video or other personal information regarding consumers.
A textbook-rental startup in Australia has found a new way to shave costs from its business model: delivery by drone. Zookal, which sells and rents textbooks to Australian university students, has launched a pilot program at the University of Sydney to deliver textbooks by autonomous hexacopter.
The drone, from a University of Sydney supported startup called Flirtey, will fly to a customer at a designated GPS location based on data sent from an app on the customer’s cell phone. The companies say that the service will dramatically reduce the cost of local shipping of textbooks and cut delivery time. The drone is not equipped with a camera, but it does have collision avoidance systems to prevent collisions with birds, trees, buildings, and overhead wires.