Category Archives: News

Stay Connected: 4 Ways to Get Wi-Fi Anywhere


Today, nearly everyone has a wireless router in their home creating a local Wi-Fi network, and most social gathering locations including every Starbucks across the country have free Wi-Fi available for their patrons. Additionally, many cities have started including free Wi-Fi zones including downtown Denver, Colorado and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

But, what do you do if you aren’t lucky enough to be in one of these cities? You will need to create your own mobile hotspot or use a satellite connection. Here are four ways you can accomplish this:

Use Your Cell Phone

The easiest and quickest way to get mobile Wi-Fi is with your cell phone. Most smartphones can be converted into mobile hotspots for multiple devices with a limited range. If this is your preferred option, make sure you have a phone that can handle the strain on the battery as well as an appropriate data addition on your plan so you don’t get hit with crazy overage charges and hidden fees.

Purchase a Hotspot Device

If you don’t want to use your cell phone, you can always get a stand-alone Wi-Fi hotspot device. These work similarly to your phone hotspot by creating a localized area of Internet access around the device that can handle multiple phones, tablets, laptops or whatever else. You will have to have an accompanying data plan with one of the local cellular companies for data access with the device, so make sure you do your research and pick the best one for you.

Get an International Hotspot

While most phones today have international roaming plans, the data access charges can be extreme. Most major cities abroad have local Wi-Fi hotspots similar to coffee shops in the states, but they may be few and far between. The alternative is to pick up a pre-paid international Mi-Fi hotspot like the XCom Global. All you have to do is let them know which country you are going to, and they will send you a device pre-loaded with a SIM card for that area. With the case and two batteries included, you can easily get through an entire day even when connecting multiple devices. The hotspot is much more affordable than cellular roaming plans and, it works in the 44 countries where XCom has towers.

Buy a Satellite Phone

On the occasions where you are nowhere near a cell tower, a satellite phone like the Iridium Go! by Roadpost can connect directly to a global satellite network. These phones work from anywhere on the planet and provide you with a local Wi-Fi network for high-speed Internet access on up to five devices. The standard battery gives you over five hours of talk time, is built to military grade ruggedness and is small enough to fit in your pocket.

Whatever your needs and wherever you are going, make sure you are prepared and can stay connected. Whether you just want to keep up to date on current events or quickly and reliably connect with your friends and family, these four options are sure to help you from anywhere in the world.

3 Simple Questions to Ask before Downloading Companion Apps


shutterstock_160207868As game developers test the viability of companion apps, some excellent second-screen gaming experiences have surfaced along with more than a couple epic fails. How can you tell the duds apart from the surefire hits? Ask yourself these three easy questions before tapping that download button.

1. Is the app available on your mobile device?

Discovering all the ways a companion app augments your game can be quite the letdown after learning it’s not available on your device. With the Disney Infinity Toy Box companion to Disney Infinity, players can transfer any custom-built games and worlds from the console to their tablet and vice-versa. At one year post launch only iPad and Windows tablet owners may do so, leaving Android tablet owners out of luck. Imagine explaining that to an eight-year-old.

Microsoft got this one right when launching their next-gen console companion app, Xbox One Smartglass. It allows gamers to connect to their Xbox One remotely, view the console dashboard, interact with friends online and shop the digital storefront. Since the app is available across most current Android, iOS and Windows devices you can purchase an Xbox One without worrying about second-screen compatibility. By comparison, the PlayStation App offers many comparable features but it is not presently available on Windows phones or tablets.

2. Are there known technical issues?

Even the most impressive app features fail to impress when hindered by bugs, glitches or other problems. Case in point, the Hockey Ultimate Team or HUT companion app was supposed to deliver on-the-go access to the NHL 14 auction house, plus personal trade and watch lists. Unfortunately, the app was plagued with technical issues ranging from frequent crashing on some devices to log in problems and server errors. EA pulled the app from the mobile market in late June. When asked about the possibility of an HUT app for NHL 15 in a September pre-launch FAQ, EA thanked fans for using the previous app and did not indicate any plans for a new, improved version.

Whether you plan to download a companion app on launch day or months later, checking the available app reviews in the store for widespread comments about technical failures prior to downloading could save you from experiencing the same frustration.

With its extensive continuous content plans for Destiny, Bungie isn’t leaving the companion behind. The app continues to see improvements since its pre-Beta launch, refining features and functions based on customer feedback.

3. Are the app’s features helpful or useful to you?

Since utilization of a second-screen experiences is supplementary in nature and is not required to play many popular PS4 games or games on other consoles, the content and features included in some apps may not be applicable to your personal play style and preferences.

First-person shooters offer an excellent example. The companion app for Titanfall gives players a live mini-map of the active game area complete with filter options. The problem is, depending on where the phone or tablet is placed, you have to look down or away from the main screen to view the map on the second screen. Amidst all the fast-paced action, looking away for even a second could lead to an untimely death. For campers and snipers, it may not be as much of an issue.

The official Call of Duty application from Activision doesn’t even try to compete with the action on the main screen. Instead, it utilizes the ease and convenience of touch controls to allow players to quickly set clan preferences and customize loadouts whenever they aren’t blasting away in-game.

When it comes to open-world exploration, the Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Companion is one of the better experiences out there. You can use the app for utility purposes like tracking game progress or viewing treasure maps. The interactive game map is much larger than the on-screen version, which is helpful for setting a waypoint for your ship or viewing enemies on your intended course. Plus, you can manage the Edward’s Fleet mini-game on your phone or tablet while you’re away from the console to maximize your gold earnings.

In spite of the flops, the hits give gamers a reason to expect good things from future companion apps, and with these three simple questions as your guide, it’s easy to keep expectations in check.

Introducing the Passport Smartphone


 

There’s already been plenty of controversy surrounding John Chen as CEO of BlackBerry, but his latest offering is the most mind boggling yet. BlackBerry shot to success with handset devices, and there was a time when the company couldn’t be touched. However, Apple and Samsun quickly caught up and surpassed BlackBerry, leaving it in the dust—Chen was supposed to save the company, but he might be sinking it quicker than ever. He’s only been at the helm for less than a year, and he’s noted that any future will be in selling security and mobile management to agencies and corporations.

 

And then Chen made a reach for the smartphone market again. He’s pitching Passport, which will be the first new BlackBerry phone device since he took office. This is a last ditch effort. If it fails, it will likely be the end of BlackBerry as we know it and (perhaps) the end of Chen’s rein. Unveiled in Dubai, Toronto and London, Passport has admittedly modest features including an actual keyboard and simple square display.

 

Chen’s vision

 

Although Chen believes in BlackBerry as a smartphone leader, he says he’s also realistic. “It could be extremely important to me in the turnaround as part of the strategy, but it does not have to be. As long as it does not lose money, this will not affect my turnaround plan in a negative way. We will make money on the handsel; if we don’t, we’ll have to get out.”

 

The target market for Passport will be BlackBerry’s tried and true demographics, including industries like government agencies, military, banks and healthcare. However, security concerns are already popping up, taking precedence over the sticker shock. Experts are saying that there are a plethora of obstacles for BlackBerry to tackle before even think about releasing the BlackBerry Classis. It’s slated to nip at the heels of Passport depending on how Passport is received.

 

The experts weigh in

 

According to an analyst with ABI Research, Nick Spencer, “I do wonder how they can actually have an impact. It’s an awfully long way back for them.” Getting back into the hardware game with a goal of just breaking even is a strategy that requires cost and price analysis. Unfortunately, the Passport can’t be touted as an executive phone that demands a high price since it simply doesn’t have the features or clout to do so.

 

The majority of analysts agree that Apple has tapped out the top tier for smartphone costs. Compare the base model iPhone 6 at $550 to the Passport at $600 and there’s no reason for the $50 difference. Of course, smartphones are designed for massive manufacturing which leads to big savings. Scale can make or break a hardware business and it’s not something that BlackBerry excels at now.

 

A fighting chance?

 

It was estimated by research company IDC that Apple ships around 33 million iPhones per quarter. BlackBerry only ships 1.5 million. BlackBerry is doing moderately well selling bargain-priced phones to developing countries, and that might be where their smartphone ventures end. In these markets, security concerns aren’t an issue but in Canada and the US there’s no getting around it.

 

Chen guesses that about 70 percent of the Passport’s innards are on par with all other companies. However, he notes that the higher Passport cost is due simply to smaller production. There’s no excuse or luxury item tucked away. It doesn’t seem like Chen is going to pull through, but it’s still too early to tell how the Passport will be greeted by the public.

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Author Bio: Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

In the Future We May Not Have to Drive Our Cars At All


Technology has advanced to make drivers on the road safer, but with as many as 1.3 million people still dying in road crashes every year, according to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, there’s still a lot of improvement to be made. From driving assistance apps to back-up sensors to virtual driving screens, drivers today have more options than ever to improve safety on the road.

On the road today

Lane changing on the road is one skill new drivers need to learn rather quickly, especially when they are preparing for upcoming permit practice tests. Lane Departure Warning systems can assist new drivers with this learned skill. With the use of a video camera, the Bosch Automotive Technology system helps drivers monitor lane changing (and weaving) and gets them in the habit of using blinker lights more often. When the system detects the driver’s vehicle is unintentionally moving out of the lane, it can warn drivers by a visual signal on the dashboard, an audible warning or even by vibrating the steering wheel.

One system that is becoming standard in all modern car are rear cameras. Aside from reducing the number of knocked down mailboxes and bumped shopping carts, they can also cut down on pedestrian injuries. As many as 292 people are killed and another 18,000 are injured each year due to drivers backing into them, mostly in driveways and parking lots. Rear cameras provide a window to one of your major blind spots, which is the area behind the bumper, including the area low to the ground. The device can reduce a driver’s blind zone up to 90 percent on average.

Parking has become much easier for some of today’s drivers, too. Some higher-end vehicles on the road today, like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and E-Class sedans, are already equipped with new technology that does the work for you. Ford has its own full-assist parking technology that should soon make it more affordable and more available. Ultrasonic sensors actually scan a parking lot for open spaces, then locate a suitable space and alerts the driver. The driver can then either get out and park the vehicle remotely or stay in the car and do so. A simple press of a button is all that is required to make the car automatically shift gears, accelerate, steer and brake into the open spot.

In the future

Though Google has created a media frenzy about experimental self-driving cars, Toyota is working to create a complete “smart car” as early as 2017. The Japanese auto maker is working on rolling out a full crash-prevention vehicle that eliminates blind spots. Crash-prevention vehicles would combine today’s driver-assist technology with more advanced technology, such as remote sensors using lasers and reflected light to provide a 360-degree view around a vehicle. Toyota also hopes to feature its Automated Highway Driving Assist, which includes radar cruise control, to keep a car a safe distance from other vehicles. When on cruise control, these smart cars will be able to sense situations ahead that would normally require full human control.

Years from now, drivers may be equipped with a windscreen that has virtual technology. Jaguar Land Rover is working on a virtual windscreen that enables drivers to see on-screen images of 3D lanes, vehicles and navigation icons to improve driving skills. The lifelike graphics can prepare new drivers as it also has a feature that simulates cones on the windscreen, allowing the driver to practice maneuvers in an empty parking lot. For race car drivers, the technology can record your previous lap and display a simulated version of your vehicle on the windscreen, allowing you to try and best your previous laps. Jaguar is also working to expand gesture control capabilities, so a driver can find a button, like stereo controls, without really looking.

Natural Gas Vehicles – Making the Dream of Alternative Fuel a Reality


 

Public transportation across the United States has been utilizing alternative fuel vehicles for decades, employing buses that run on either compressed natural gas (CNG) or a liquefied natural gas (LNG) to alleviate the burden of high fuel emissions from conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles. And according to the industry group NGV Global, there are more than 16.7 million natural-gas vehicles on the road worldwide at the end of 2012. In the United States however, using natural gas cars has been slow to catch on. Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) are, for one thing, still much pricier than gasoline powered vehicles, or even hybrids. But when taking into account the many benefits they offer for both drivers and the environment, an interest in NGVs in one we can all afford to develop.

 

Like any alternative method, it’s wise to take some considerations into account before implementing CNG or LNG into your fueling routine. But for the average motorist, there are many good reasons to make the switch.

 

  • Safety: It comes as a surprise to some to learn that natural gas cars are found to be safer than those that run on diesel or gasoline. This is because not only do the physical properties of natural gas make it safer (less flammable) but it is lighter than air, and if it were to leak it would simply rise into the atmosphere and disperse. It is also odorless and non-toxic. The fuel tank which contains the gas is also made of steel up to a half-inch thick and coated in protective fiberglass. Newer tanks can even be made of polymers that exceed the strength of steel. The massive car recalls imposed by both GM and Ford this year alone make the safety of an NGV appealing.
  • Environmentalism:  Natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel, produces the fewest emissions of all internal combustion vehicles. The pollutants found in natural gas are also significantly fewer than those found in gasoline. In most cases, using natural gas results in less carbon dioxide, (the primary greenhouse gas), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and small (but harmful) particulate matter. Using natural gas assists with a host of environmental concerns, such as CO2 emissions, smog, and acid rain. Transportation is the largest single source of air pollution in the United States.
  • Life in the Fast Lane: NGV drivers are allowed to drive in the express or carpool lanes on many highways.
  • Domestic: Natural gas is found in plentiful amounts right here in the United States, reducing the supply chain needed to bring drivers their fuel. By utilizing an abundant form of energy found right here at home we can save untold amounts on transport alone. Unlike oil, which is typically imported, approximately 99 percent of the United States’ natural gas supply is found here in North America.

 

Even if the environment is out of the realm of your interests, and you’re content with the performance of your current vehicle, alternative fuels are also an attractive option due to the rising costs of typical gasoline. CNG costs less than gasoline, and is also a clean-burning fuel which results in less engine wear and fewer oil changes. Certain states offer tax credits for purchasing an NGV, and NGV owners are also potentially eligible for state and local tax benefits. Many websites such as this resource help consumers explore their options, whether they choose to convert their vehicles to run on natural gas or decide to purchase a new one off the lot.

 

Not everyone agrees that natural gas is the best choice for motorists. There are some serious limitations for those interested in making the commitment to an NGV. For one thing, they are manufactured by fewer automobile companies, and are typically more expensive. There is also a limited number of fueling stations where one may go to refuel the vehicle when needed. Most are located only in largest metropolitan areas. The “fracking” process through which natural gas is often extracted from the ground also has many Americans concerned.

 

Of course, the rising interest in these vehicles raises many questions. Should the government effectively try to “sell” these vehicles to its citizenry? And does it make sense to choose one type of alternative vehicle – NGVs, say, over hybrids or plug-ins? Some have argued that it might be easier to use our natural gas resources to power electric cars rather than create an entirely new fueling system. But seeing natural gas technology flourish in places like Iran, Pakistan, Brazil and Argentina gives us hope that this alternative fuel might soon be able to reduce our dependency on oil, improve the air we breathe, and make our impact on the planet less destructive.

This article was originally submitted to Soshitech.com from Kate Voss.

smarthphone accessories

3 Smartphone Accessories to Upgrade Your Style


Smartphones are like college degrees. It’s great to have one and often even expected, but nobody is impressed unless you can actually do something cool with it. There’s nothing special about iPhones and Androids anymore; everyone has one. In 2012, a Pew study found that more than half of all cell phone users owned some kind of smartphone. Two years later that number is even higher.

The new toys you can buy to buddy up with your smartphone, now that’s cool. There’s technology out there for iOS and Android we couldn’t even imagine when the first iPhone launched in 2007. And these new gadgets aren’t just for show—some of them actually improve your everyday life.

CarPlay

Sorry, Android. We’re going to talk Apple for just a bit. Car systems are the best way to connect and use your smartphone on the road. Using just a Bluetooth connection, they can play your music, take your phone calls and even read your text messages without ever laying a thumb on your phone’s screen.

There’s just one issue—car systems have to accommodate every smartphone, which means there are glitches from time to time (and constant updates). Apple decided to cut out the middleman and made CarPlay, its own proprietary car system for iOS. The system looks like a small iPad mounted in the car’s center console and connects directly with iOS devices to utilize music, apps, navigation, calls and texts.

Unfortunately, for the time being CarPlay is only available in high-end cars like Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz. So if you’re planning to buy one, congratulations. Otherwise, you can pick up an aftermarket kit from companies like Pioneer.

Samsung Galaxy Gear

It might seem like overkill to wear a watch from Star Trek to pair with your phone, but Samsung has put some serious effort into making Android gear cool in ways that Apple is not.

Think of the smartwatch as a tiny table that connects to your phone. Like CarPlay, you can make calls, read texts, play music and, yes, even keep time. It pairs with any Android phone, but works even better with another Samsung device like the Galaxy Note 3. Best of all, the watch actually looks like a watch, which sets it apart from those hideous Google Glasses.

Nest

Nest (now owned by Google) makes two products—a thermostat and a smoke/carbon monoxide detector—and they both have some nifty tricks. What’s so exciting about household appliances? Well, unlike the Maytag your parents own, the Nest Thermostat learns your heating and cooling habits, and you can even set voice controls from your Android phone.

Is there smoke in your house when you’re not home? The Nest smoke detector can actually send a text message to your neighbors (assuming they’re also your friends, enemies might love to watch your house burn). These two seemingly simple smart devices can make small tasks turn into big wins.

 

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It’s Time to Develop Educational Games: Here’s How


Video games have reached into every aspect of our lives, and educators are seeing a growth in games being used to teach. Research published by Online College Courses reveal that 95 percent of educators use video games designed specifically for education. Getting started creating and implementing educational video games in the classroom and online requires several key components, and here’s what you need to know to develop and release an educational game:

Your Team

Many different people are involved in the creation of a video game, and not all of them are programmers. There is software, such as ClassTools, that allows educators to develop educational games on their own, but many larger or unique projects require a team working in concert to develop. Game development requires the creation of resources such as graphics and sound, and while many game development suites have free resources available, any unique game will require the creation of the resources in-house. Additionally, the educational nature of the game will require educators themselves to contribute content — for example, a game meant to teach medical or anatomical lessons will require a professional in the field to contribute information as well as fact check.

The Demographics

Choosing the demographic your game targets will help you develop a game that is appropriate for its audience. Video games meant to target reading skills work best for younger audiences; Research published by Edudemic suggests that video games can improve early literacy skills in players aged 4 to 5, especially when the focus is on letter recognition and story comprehension. Games meant to focus on complex problem solving should contain a tone and mood that is more appropriate to older audiences.

Reaching a demographic is another important aspect of game development. If a game is meant for a specific class, simply allowing them to download should suffice. If the intention is to reach a broad demographic of players, sites that provide free game access, like iWin, are an excellent choice. While console gaming systems do have downloadable games, the console market for educational games has been relatively weak compared to the personal computer and smartphone app market.

Profitability

Educational games can create profit for their developers if they are well-built and parents approve. The 2012 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry report shows that 66 percent of parents believe playing video games can provide education and positive mental stimulation.

Funding can come from many sources. The U.S Department of Education awards funds to small businesses dedicated to the creation of commercial technologies designed to educate and, according to its official blog, more than half of the recipients of these grants in 2013 were educational game developers.

These sorts of grants are not limited to games for children, and developers working to create adult education games are also viable for these grants. Despite this, most commercially successful educational games tend to target children; The Guardian reports that the children’s smartphone app Toca Boca has generated more than more than 30 million paid and free downloads, and that Duck Duck Moose has reported well over 2 million downloads. Currently, the market seems to best support educational games for children, and developers looking to create a profitable educational game should bear this fact in mind when designing and developing their titles.