Global TV Tech Buzz: Blackberry 10 Is Winning Fans

rim chartIt’s almost here and the anticipation has people wondering if the 2 horse race between Apple and Android might just get a legitimate 3rd contender. BlackBerry 10 will be officially unveiled this week. The buzz is building, the early returns are promising, and the $RIM stock is up 72% over the past month, and an incredible 136% over the past 3 months. It is all adding up to good things for RIM.

Part of this rise in confidence has to do with how RIM has handled the launch. The official unveiling will be later this week, but over the past 2-3 months, there has been a long road show with RIM showing off the platform to developers and journalists. The reviews have been positive, and while many would have liked to have seen this sort of OS from RIM 18 months ago, the news cycle of anticipation has been building since the fall.

So what can you expect in BB10? Here are the key points that everyone is fawning over:

HUB and PEEK and FLOW

On the software side, there are 3 main components to the new BB10: hub, peek, and flow.

BlackBerry Hub will replace your message folder. It will be an all-in-one spot for notifications, bbm, tweets, email, and communications.

BlackBerry Peek is a nifty swipe up to see your notifications, while a side swipe will bring in your email box without leaving the app. Think of it as toggling between windows on your desktop. On other devices you have to leave the app to get out and see something else, BlackBerry Peek lets you multitask easily.

BlackBerry Flow takes peek to the next level with multitaksing. You can flow between apps without popping them open or closing them. It’s a much more fluid experience that really lets you operate one handed to go between all sorts of different applications and tasks on your device.

KEYBOARD DESIGN

blackberry 10 keyboardThere are two types of smartphone users: touch screen fans, and physical keyboard fans. The physical keyboard takes up a lot of real estate that could be devoted to the screen, or makes the device too thick, so RIM is releasing a touch screen only version first to try and get people to switch. The keyboard in BB10 looks very much like the physical keyboard from older BB models. It has frets, the keys are large, and apart from not having physical keys, it looks just like the keyboard you’re used to.

There is also a funky predictive text that has words floating above the keys as you type. Just flick a letter and the word will appear. It works in both languages, and will even learn words that you like. Say you type Hey with H more often than Hi, BB10 will recognize that and suggest it.

BLACKBERRY BALANCE

Over the past number of years it has been said the iPhone is what people bought for themselves, a BlackBerry is what they got from work. Blackberry has been coveted by business because of the backend security that IT departments could control. BlackBerry 10 now has an enterprise solution that will work on both Android and iOS devices. A company can have that secure email network, and profile running on a variety of devices. You basically end up with 2 profiles, one for personal, one for work. You can’t copy files between the two, and IT can control the back end. So now, if employees want to have an iPhone or Android, it doesn’t matter – Blackberry can still help provide the corporate software.

Is all this enough? We’ll find out on Wednesday when the official announcement of BB10 and the new hardware will be made.

data-man appAPP OF THE WEEK: Data-Man [99c]
A very personalized app that will help you manage your data usage on your smartphone. You tell it your billing cycle, and then it will easily, quickly, and instantly track your data consumption on WiFi and via mobile towers.

Compared to the built in app that needs to be reset when you want to measure it, or unreliable data meters from mobile providers, this is the most reliable, and fastest app I’ve seen to keep track of your data and know when you might be facing overage charges.

Global TV Tech Buzz: Windows 8 Is Here

windows8Ecosystem.

It’s what has helped Apple leap to the top of the food chain when it comes to integration across their product line. Apple controls the hardware, and it controls the software. The experience is identical no matter which Apple device you use.

With so much computing being done on mobile devices, you’ve slowly Apple start to merge OS and iOS. Microsoft took a different approach – they ripped off the bandage and did it all at once.

This week, with the launch of Windows 8, the Redmond software giant is taking a shot at building it’s own ecosystem. It wants to control the message from phone to tablet to desktop – and users had better get used to it, because Microsoft is all in.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT WINDOWS 8?

In a word – everything. Gone is the start button, the desktop is now a screen of tiles and something Microsoft calls “the charm bar.”

That lack of Start Menu is really going to confuse a lot of people. The desktop now looks like a phone or tablet interface. The tiles move and update with notifications just like they do on the mobile spaces. To be honest, I think Windows Phone is gorgeous. I like the big tiles so much better than the iOS interface. That said, having it on a desktop is an entirely different thing, and it’s going to take some getting used to.

A Windows 8 tutorial is available when you first start your machine and you should watch it. There are keyboard shortcuts, and windows will slide in and out depending on where you put your cursor. Windows 8 has a learning curve, and it’s best to take advantage as soon as you can.

I HEARD EVERYONE HATES IT?

Well, it is radically different. Imagine the blowback every time Facebook does a redesign. This is like that, but instead of one website getting overhauled, it’s an entire reboot of the OS.

It will take some getting used to, but those that have spent time with the OS eventually come around. Eventually.

DO I NEED TO GET IT?

We still run Windows XP on our computers at work. We skipped Vista AND Windows 7. Enterprise is often slow to change, and with this one being so radical you might find business slow to move forward on this one too. That said, it is only a $39 upgrade and Microsoft says most computers currently running Windows 7 will work better with Windows 8. They’ll have better battery life and shorter boot times.

One step ahead you’re a leader, but if you’re two steps ahead you’re a martyr. Microsoft might have taken a step and a half here. Waiting to see how it all shakes out is not a bad strategy.

The thing about the big switch for Microsoft is it might have people make another switch. The Apple storm has been bubbling for a few years now. People just might say, if I have to learn something new I might as well learn Mac.

FURTHER READING
Lifehacker: Everything You Need To Know About Windows 8
Globe and Mail: Windows 8 Review
CBC: Windows 8 and Surface – 10 Things To Know
CBC: Early Look At Windows 8 Baffles Consumers
Wired: A Big, Beautiful, Slightly Shaky Step Forward

hockey canada concussion appAPP OF THE WEEK: Hockey Canada Concussions Awareness [free]
The Hockey Canada Concussion Awareness app is a great tool for parents, coaches, trainers, players, administrators and anyone interested in learning about the prevention, recognition and response to concussion injury, including responsible return-to-play protocol. Sidney Crosby is on board endorsing the free app calling it a ”commitment to educating families and players about all aspects of the game.”

Global TV Tech Buzz: Back To School/Work Apps

It’s not just back-to-school season, it’s back-to-work season. A long summer of vacations and stuttering and stopping with overlapping schedules is coming to an end, and it’s safe to say it’s almost like the “office new year” starting this week.

So whether it’s a new grade, new class, or new fiscal starting up, here are a series of apps to help you get on board with GTD – that’s not Gym. Tan. Drinking. I’m talking about Getting. Things. Done.

CourseNotesMac App Store / iOS App Store ($3.99):
The days of carrying around different notebooks for each class are long gone. With CourseNotes, you can take notes on your MacBook Air and access them on the go from your iPad. You can even track assignments and sync due dates with your calendar, and quickly search through all of your notes. You can also dump them to Dropbox of Facebook to share with friends.

A few weeks ago we talked about whether or not you can use a tablet to take notes in class, this app is great because it can sync across iOS and your MacBook, and is available in both the iOS and Mac App stores.

pomodorablePomodorableMac App Store ($4.99):
This is a Mac App that is going to use a ninja approach to help you GTD – get things done. The Pomodoro Technique is a task management approach that breaks things up into 25 minute sections and forces you to take breaks. It was named after a little tomato timer, a pomodoro. The Pomodorable app helps you with the Pomodoro Technique in a digital way. It takes some commitment, but those who use it swear by it.

iTunes UiOS App Store (free):
You don’t have to be going back to school to go back to school. iTunes U is a HUGE library of course materials from Universities around the world that you can take – for free. If you’re stuck in a long commute on the C-Train everyday, or if you have an hour to kill while the kids are at hockey or swimming or gymnastics every night, why not go to school. You can audit classes from Stanford, or Yale, or MIT – all on your iPad or iPhone. It’s genius.

Graphing CalculatoriOS App Store ($1.99):
Now I don’t know how many profs will let you bring an iPhone in to a test situation, but I do remember how much a scientific calculator cost when I was heading to university. It was always one of the bigger line items in my student budget, now you can get it done for $2. It does all the fancy calculus stuff that nobody expects you to work out in your head, just don’t expect to necessarily be able to use it for your test.

iBooksiOS App Store (free):
If you are taking classic literature courses, remember a lot of those books are public domain. You don’t need to go and buy the Penguin Classic paperbacks, many times you can get them from free in the iBooks Store – so double check. This advice also holds true if you prefer a Kobo, Kindle, or other eReader.

MintMac App Store / iOS App Store (Free):
Here’s an app that Alberta’s Finance Minister, Doug Horner, might find useful. Mint is an award winning budgeting app that tracks all your money coming in, going out, and gives you updates on your budgetary situation. For students on tight budgets, this is a great tool to help you manage your money. It’s also very useful for families, or perhaps even government officials. Warning – you do need to give it a lot of your banking information to make it work and some may not be comfortable with that. More than 8 million people use it, you can take that for a lot of suckers, or it’s very trustworthy.

TIP OF THE WEEK:
Since we talked about all apps this week, here’s an iOS tip for an app you already have. Reminders has a great little function in it that will give you a nudge when you go or leave a place. Need to remember to pick up milk on the way home from work? Set a note that when your phone leaves the office (presumably with you) a ping will come up reminding you to get the milk. Similarly, if there’s something you need to ask a client at a future meeting, just set the reminder for their address and the notification will pop up. Here’s a good how-to for geofenced reminders.

Global TV Tech Buzz: Home Decorating Apps

Houzz is a free, targetted version of Pinterest. Flipping through the app you will see nothing but beautiful interior design images. You can find specific pricing and purchase info on some items or save the pictures you like for further reference. More than 65 000 design professionals have uploaded about half a million images to the site and app that is described simply, as house porn.

A spin-off to Houzz exists for just kids. Houzz Kid Rooms will have you planning nurseries and beyond for hours.

Finding the perfect colour palette for your room can be a challenge. If you’ve got a place you’d like to start, Color Smart by Behr and Benjamin Moore Color Capture each have colour capture apps to get you started. Both apps simply let you take a picture of the object, and then it will match the colour exactly with one from their library.

Be sure to have the best light possible when you take the picture, remember you’re just using a camera phone. While both apps are very similar, I like the layout and use of the Behr app better.

If a more detailed renovation is underway this summer, taking accurate measurements Magic Plan is a great free app that will let you grab complete floor plans of your rooms so you can plan out furniture purchases, or designs. You could also use this app to compare homes you’re touring and looking at buying.

magic plan screen shot

If you’re doing a full scale reno and need some specific measurements to take to a store for advice, Photo Measures [$4.99] lets you take a picture of, say, your kitchen cabinets, and drop in the specific measurements right on the photo. It’s an easy way to keep what you need sorted so you can easily reference it at the design centre, at the store, or with your contractor.

If you’re out house hunting this weekend, just start by driving around a neighborhood you like. The free Realtor.ca app will geolocate you, show you the listings nearby, the open houses nearby, and then kick open the MLS page with the details. I love snooping on the neighbours and what they have their houses listed for, this app lets me do that from the kitchen table :)

amazing alexAPP OF THE WEEK:
The sequel to Angry Birds has arrived from the gang at Rovio. Amazing Alex (99c) is a fun physics based game that borrows from a few other popular apps. It’s a little bit of Bubble Ball, Civiballs, and Cut The Rope all rolled in to one. You help Alex set up fantastic apparatus in his room to get balls and balloons from A to B. It’s not quite Angry Birds addicting, but it is a fun game to kill a few minutes, and my 5 yr old loves it.

Global TV Tech Buzz: How To Travel Smartly With Your Smartphone

The news cycle is littered with stories of people who take their smartphones on vacations only to come back to bills worth thousands of dollars for the data they consumed abroad.

Alanna Fero, for example, took her iPhone to Egypt and downloaded about 1.6 gigs of data while pyramiding. She came home to a $37 000 bill.

Yes, that’s ridiculous. The best part of the story is Telus turned her data off because of the high usage while roaming, and she asked them to turn it back on. She cried poor to the news media when she returned and got little sympathy from savvy internet users.

There are ways, however, to travel smartly with your smartphone: make sure data roaming is turned off, prebuy a travel data plan for your trip, unlock your phone and buy a local plan, or simply leave the phone at home.

TURN OFF DATA ROAMING
First and foremost is to turn off data roaming. It should be off by default, but check your settings to make sure that roaming is turned off. If you live near a border town, you might have your phone skip to foreign towers. When you’re flying, the phone will be trying to connect to the ground, and the moment you land all those emails will come flooding in. Having data roaming turned off will keep the dam the flow data until you are ready to let it loose.

PREBUY DATA
If you’re just taking a quick trip to Las Vegas, or Phoenix for the weekend and want to have enough power to phone your friends on the trip, send texts, and grab a few tweets, look into a prepaid plan. I spent $100 on one when I went to Vegas in January for CES. It was enough for me to last the week and get my emailing, tweeting, and texting done from the show floor.

Prepaid data, text, and voice plans aren’t cheap, but they’re cheaper than coming home to a huge phone bill. The rates for each carrier vary, call your customer service rep to ask them what they can offer you based on what you plan to use while away.

iphone sim cardUNLOCK YOUR PHONE
Unlocking your phone changes the baseband of your device to work with any mobile carrier. When you first buy your phone, it is locked to the provider.

Canadian providers will now unlock your mobile phone with a simple phone call to customer service. Each provider has different rules. Some will only unlock phones on contract. Some will only unlock phones out of contract. Some will require you to pay the remaining subsidy. On average, a base rate for unlocking your phone is $50.

Call your provider’s customer service representative to find out the requirements for your specific phone.

Once your phone is unlocked, you can now replace the SIM with a pre-paid one at your destination. Many travel forums are filled with advice on how to find a local provider with a good plan, sometimes you’ll even be able to find them in the airport of your destination. Buy the SIM, load up with pre-paid minutes or data, and you’ll even get a local phone number to blend right in.

For example, my travel data package to Iceland would be $225 for 75 megabytes of data. By paying the $50 fee to unlock my iPhone 3G, I’m now able to buy a prepaid SIM card data plan from Siminn, for $15 including 3 gigs of data.

GO OFF THE GRID
Of course the simplest solution is to leave the phone at home. Enjoy your vacation, the email can wait.

parks canada learn to camp appAPP OF THE WEEK: Parks Canada’s Learn To Camp
If you really want to unplug, it’s time to go camping. If you’re new to the ‘sport’, check out Parks Canada’s Learn to Camp app.

It’s the ideal app for first-time campers who want to plan a trip to Canada’s national parks. It is packed with the information you need to make your first camping trip a success: camping basics and insider’s tips, packing checklists, national park information and recipes and cooking advice. This app is the perfect companion to the annual Learn to Camp events that take place at national parks and national historic sites across Canada.

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