Alexa, Are we there yet?

Amazon hosted a hardware event in Seattle this week, and as expected, it introduced an array of new and updated Echo devices, including the Echo Auto. That’s right, an Echo that you can bring with you, in your car. Echo it’s Amazon’s line of smart speakers and screens, and with the addition of Echo Auto, there is now an Echo device for your car.
Amazon Alexa is the software, a virtual assistant developed by Amazon, first used in the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers developed by Amazon Lab126. It is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, sports, and other real-time information, such as news (Wikipedia).
Amazon’s new Echo Auto will be a hit, I just know that right now. The price point is low, starting at only $24.99 with the introductory offer (By invitation only ) that will save you 50% for a limited time. The regular price is set to be $49.99. This device will bring Alexa’s virtual assistant capabilities to your car, making it safer for you to get information, listen to music, etc. while you drive since all you have to do is talk to it and use voice commands instead of moving your eyes off the road or your hands off the steering wheel.
This is revolutionary, and I’m not talking about the tech of this device but the strategy behind it. The Echo Auto is a simple device, it’s small, it has the full power and versatility of the original Echo, and it will make Alexa accessible from any car, for just $24.99 with the starting price. The benefits of taking Alexa on the road thanks to this new device, the Echo Auto are many. Safety is the first thing that comes to mind, with the Echo Auto, we’ll be able to have amazing hands-free capabilities in our car by just using our voice. No more looking away from the road just to play a song, or make a call.
Just ask Alexa to play music, resume your Audible book, check your calendar, find nearby businesses, make calls, and more. With eight microphones, Echo Auto even hears you over road noise. Echo Auto starts up in seconds, works through your car speakers, and uses your existing smartphone plan. ~ Amazon
The Echo Auto also brings entertainment, you can ask Alexa to tell jokes, play a game, play music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, and more. In my case, having Alexa in my car will allow me to play my podcasts, audiobooks, or listen to the news briefing – all of it without having to use my hands or stop paying attention to the road.
There are already cars with the Alexa software built in, but this little device allows everyone to bring Alexa’s functionality into their car, any car. One concern I have with this (as I do with the rest of the Echo devices) is privacy, and as Amazon continues to conquer the kitchen, the bedroom, the living room, and now the car with its line of smart speakers, I just hope they also continue to maintain the interactions of users with Alexa private.
Alexa, Are we there yet?
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Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 – The laptop that is what the Macbook Pro should have been

It has taken a few years for Apple to make any considerable upgrades to its most powerful line of laptops, the MacBook Pro (MBP). This I believe, has given Microsoft the opportunity to release a second and better iteration of a product that has both a new design and a set of features that can potentially make MacBook Pro users switch to this Windows laptop, at least for now. So what’s Apple to do?

Well, perhaps nothing if they aren’t as excited as they were once about pursuing the high-end laptop market which is made of, undeniably, of many of their existing customers via iPhone and iPads. The MacBook Pro has always been considered upscale and the high-end of laptops for professionals. The premium materials and powerful specs of the MacBook Pro were still on par with its high price, which made it hard for Windows laptop companies to compete.

The MacBook Pro

Presently, I consider the current MacBook Pro overpriced for what it offers. The 13 and 15-inch MBP models are priced only $100 less than Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 laptops of the same size with similar specs. But I consider that the Windows laptops while still expensive, offer a computer with better specs than the MacBook Pro where it counts. The Surface Book 2 includes a much better battery life (up to 17 hours vs. MBP’s 10 hours) a 10 point multi-touch display, better connections including a full-size SD card reader, and the versatility to be not just a laptop but also a tablet, and portable studio all-in-one.

The Surface Book 2

The Surface Book 2 also has better options for storage, Microsoft offers four storage options for the 13-inch model, and 3 storage options for the 15-inch model which range from a Solid state drive (SSD) 128GB to a roomy 1TB PCIe SSD, and you’ll still be under $3,300 while the Apple MacBook Pro will cost you over $4,000 if you choose a drive larger than 512GB.

The Surface Book 2 also features two cameras, a 5.0MP front-facing camera with 1080p HD video and an 8.0MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p Full HD video. In comparison, the MacBook Pro includes a 720p FaceTime HD camera. To be honest, I haven’t really used the Surface’s rear-facing camera yet, I just haven’t found a use case for it, so not sure what advantages exists for having it.

The main advantage

The versatility of the Surface Book 2 is also no joke, I was a bit skeptic of it, but I’ve been using this laptop for two months now, and the tablet and studio options have been handy for me. When you detach the screen to use as a tablet, you end up with an incredibly light and powerful tablet.

The design is something I wasn’t a fan of when I first saw it, but it has grown on me. The hinge adds a bump to the Surface Book 2 profile, but it doesn’t bother me. This powerful laptop isn’t the thinnest, but it is indeed not the heaviest either. The 13.5-inch model wights 3.38 lbs while the 15-inch model is at 4.2 lbs. In comparison, the new Apple MacBook Pro is at 3.02 lbs for the 13-inch model and 4.02 lbs for the 15-inch model.

Another advantage of the Surface Book 2 is its QWERTY keyboard, it feels good, and it is definitely much better than the MBP’s keyboard equipped with the low-profile butterfly switch mechanisms.

The main disadvantage

The most significant disadvantage of the Surface Book 2 is that it falls short in memory options as you can only get up to 16GB while the MacBook Pro is configurable to 32GB of memory. This is important to a lot of people, having the extra memory comes handy when using memory hungry applications while coding or using photography and/or video editor applications.

Apple failed to impress with the release of the new options of their MacBook Pro line earlier this summer. In contrast, Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 is already a great laptop, and there are rumors that the Surface Book 3 release might be around the corner. There are good chances that the Surface Book 3 will include a 32GB memory option, and perhaps a better screen resolution if they want to stay ahead of Apple’s MacBook Pro line.

Bottom line

Most people who have gotten the Surface Book 2 would agree that Microsoft is changing the game and it’s regaining the attention of creators in search of a powerful and capable laptop, while Apple has a hard time keeping up after leaving their line of laptops unattended for so long.

Yup. Microsoft got its mojo back, and there is competition again.

Image credit: By SimonWaldherr [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

Commentary: Browser wars are here, again.

Remember the competition between Netscape Navigator and IE back in the 90’s? Netscape was the first browser I used, I was in college, and while the computers at the library had installed both Netscape and IE, I personally liked the Netscape Navigator better. By 1999, Microsoft’s IE had approximately 99% of the market, only four years after its release. By then the original browser wars were ending, Netscape was already in a declining trend, and not even the antitrust charges against Microsoft could stop that. Before the release of Mac OS X, Internet Explorer for Mac and Netscape were also the primary browsers in use on the Macintosh platform. Unable to continue commercially funding their product’s development, Netscape responded by open sourcing its product, creating Mozilla. Mozilla struggled to attract developers for a few years, but by 2002 was a relatively large and stable suite of internet software. It was then when Mozilla 1.0 was released as well as a spinoff version of it which later became Firefox. A few years later Microsoft’s Internet Explorer reached a peak market share of more than 94%, but it has been declining ever since. Google Chrome was released in 2008, and just a year later it was already gaining popularity, with an increasing but yet tiny market share.
Browser Market Share Worldwide from Jan – Dec 2009
Move forward ten years, and Google Chrome controls now over close to 60% of the browser market share while Microsoft’s browsers, IE and Edge have together, less than 10% of market share. Apple’s browser, Safari, which was released in 2007 is now the number two browser in the world, with 14.4% of the market share. Safari’s market share is probably the result of its iOS devices popularity like the iPhone and iPad.
Browser Market Share Worldwide from Aug 2017 – Aug 2018
Why do I think the browsers wars are here again? Well, Google’s Chrome has changed quite a bit and has since lost two of its main advantages, simplicity, and speed. Safari isn’t a popular browser, I find many MacOS users prefer Chrome or Firefox to browse the internet while using a MacBook, but the popularity of the iPhone and iPad has helped Apple’s Safari obtain and maintain a healthy market share for some years. The reason I’m calling it a browser war is because Mozilla’s Firefox has been gaining popularity faster than ever with its most recent releases. Apparently, Mozilla has been paying attention to what most people are complaining about regarding the browsers they use. For example, most people (me included) will complain about Chrome’s declining speed and increasing use of memory resources, IE has lost respect amongst pro users, and while Edge is a considerable improvement over IE, it is a fast browser, and it has cool features, it just hasn’t gained any significant market share since its release in 2015. Also worth noticing, Chrome continues to be the most popular browser thanks to the Android platform. I feel most people (perhaps non-technical people) don’t even know what browser they are using on their phones, they just use whatever their phone/tablet comes with. And this explains, at least in part, the larger market share for Chrome and also Safari as the chart below shows.
Browser Version Market Share Worldwide – August 2018

Bottom line

I personally have switched to Firefox recently, and I am pleased with the results. It is visibly faster, the user interface is cleaner, has some privacy features built in such as tracking protection, and it’s just a user-friendly open-source browser that receives regular updates – with the Mozilla Foundation boasting that it uses 30 percent less memory than Chrome –What’s not to like?

Should you buy the Apple Watch Series 4?

My first Apple Watch was a gift from my wife, she invited me to lunch for Valentine’s and surprised me with a stop at our local Apple store to get me one of these new Apple watches. I got one, the 42mm stainless steel watch with the silver Milanese loop band and I have been using it since then. I wasn’t convinced it was a useful device for a while until the software started to get better and also some handy apps came along.

Initially, the Apple Watch wasn’t received well, people were mocking it and making fun of Apple for producing such a device (see screenshot below). The truth is that the first edition or Series 0 wasn’t ready, they just weren’t good enough yet.

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Personally, I was impressed by it, I really liked the design and the functionality, yes the series 0 was the thickest, the slowest, and the software was full of bugs, but it was still impressive. For example, the activity and heart rate apps where pretty good since the beginning, and in my opinion, there wasn’t anything as good and accurate as the Apple Watch.

Early competition

At the time, a lot of people where buying Fitbits, including myself, but while these devices were convenient and inexpensive, the quality and durability was pretty bad. In contrast, the Apple Watch not only kept track of my steps but it also did a lot more, like checking my heart rate, and it had some useful apps.

A few years have passed since the first Apple Watch was released, its popularity has grown, sales of it have increased, and let’s be honest, the new Apple Watch is way better than the first version. The reality is that this watch is for people who love Apple products. The point is, Apple isn’t the only company who improved their Smartwatch line and its features, there are new competitors who in my eyes, have built much better products for exercise tracking, with much better battery life, and they also look great.

Garmin, for example, made a smart move by releasing GPS Watches of various price levels and needs. Gamin’s GPS Watches are well built and well designed, and in my opinion, they are still the best GPS Watch you can buy today. The battery life in all models of their GPS Watch surpasses that of the Apple Watch, and this is an essential factor for anyone serious about their fitness training.

The new Series 4

Apple-Watch-Series4_LiquidMetal_09122018

The new Series 4 is definitely a good watch and a big improvement over the Series 3. Below is a summary of what’s new and how it compares to previous versions.

The Series 4’s come in two new sizes, a 40mm case (977 sq mm display area) and a 44mm (759 sq mm display area).

It’s also thinner, almost as thin as the Series 0’s 10.5mm (if you can remember), the Series 4 is 10.7mm thin while the Series 3 is 11.4mm thin.

It has a faster processor, a 64-bit dual-core S4 processor which makes it up to 2x faster than S3 processor.

The best new feature – in my opinion, an Electrical heart sensor (ECG app), the ECG app is coming later this year.

Second-generation optical heart sensor, Fall detection, and a Digital Crown with haptic feedback.

The main disadvantage

The new Apple Watch series 4 didn’t have an improvement to its battery life when compared to the series 3. By looking at the technical details for the series 3 and 4, the battery hasn’t improved much, if any. Watches on both series 3 and 4 have a battery life of up to 18 hours and up to 5 hours with GPS, according to Apple’s website.

All-day battery life is based on 18 hours with the following use: 90 time checks, 90 notifications, 45 minutes of app use, and a 30-minute workout with music playback from Apple Watch via Bluetooth, over the course of 18 hours.

In contrast, one of the most popular GPS Watches, the Garmin Fénix 5 Plus has a battery that will last for up to 12 days in smartwatch mode and 8 hours in GPS mode, with music, according to Garmin’s website.

Battery performance: up to 12 days in smartwatch mode and 8 hours in GPS mode with music (depending on settings)

When it comes to watches and its use as fitness watches Garmin is winning, and this is why Garmin’s line of watches is still a better choice than an Apple watch if you are looking to keep track of your workouts such as running, cycling, and swimming.

The main advantage

Apple did a great improvement to the Apple Watch Series 4, this device seems to be focused not only on fitness but it is now a viable and potentially reliable medical device that can help save lives. The introduction of features like the ECG feature is getting a lot of attention, and I think with reason. Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams said it himself

We know this feature is going to save lives.

I agree with that statement, having the ability to monitor not only your heart rate but also having an electrocardiograph right there on your wrist is definitely something amazing.

President of the American Heart Association Dr. Ivor J. Benjamin discusses the benefits of the new Apple Watch Series 4 heart health features.

The ECG feature wasn’t the only thing that Apple surprised us with, the new Series 4 will also bring advanced activity and communications features, along with revolutionary health capabilities, including a new accelerometer and gyroscope, which are able to detect hard falls. 

The fall detection feature could be useful for anyone, but this seems to be a great way for Apple to tap into a new user base that hasn’t paid attention to their Apple Watch in the past.

Should you buy the new Apple Watch Series 4?

If you have any of the previous versions, you will definitely see the benefits of the new version + the two main health-related features. If you are older or are at risk of a heart disease, buying this watch could save your life. With the ECG app (to be released later this year), users touch the Digital Crown and after 30 seconds, receive a heart rhythm classification. It can classify if the heart is beating in a normal pattern or whether there are signs of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), a heart condition that could lead to major health complications. All recordings, their associated classifications and any noted symptoms are stored in the Health app in a PDF that can be shared with physicians.

How to Add Google AdSense to Your Blog

When you’ve had a blog or website for a while, plenty of content and visitors, one of the options you have it to monetize it is displaying ads. You care about your site and your content, and you should care about the ads you choose to show on your website. Google AdSense offers a way to display relevant ads, and it also gives you control over the look and the position of these ads.

In this article, we’ll show you how to use AdSense.

What is Google AdSense

It is a program run by Google that allows bloggers and website owners to serve automatic text, image, video, or interactive media advertisements, that are targeted to site content and audience.

This program is a great way to monetize your blog, it is easy to set up, and it just works. After you sign up for this program, you copy and paste a piece of code on your site, and Google starts serving the highest paying ads on your website.

Get started with Google AdSense

Most people running a website already have what’s necessary to get started with it. Here are the three things you need to get started:

  1. A Google account – If you have a Gmail account or use any other Google service, you already have one. If you don’t, you can sign up for a Gmail account, it’s free and easy.
  2. Original content – Any content from your website or blog created from scratch. This is one of the main requirements this program has.
  3. Phone number and postal address – The phone number and address associated with your bank account is needed to receive payments from AdSense.

Add Google AdSense to your website

Once you know you’ve met the requirements above, the next step is to sign up for a Google AdSense account.

Once you create an account, log in to Google AdSense and go to the menu labeled MyAds. In there, you can create ads, choose the size, the style and also filter the type of ads you want to serve on your website.

After creating your ads and customizing them, you’ll be able to copy a script to paste on the areas of your website where you want these ads to appear.

The Google AdSense website also includes other tools to help you set up your ads and to track its performance. This site will also show you your earnings once your ads are displayed on your site.

If you need further help with Google AdSense, we invite you to visit Google AdSense’s resource site, it has a link and lots of information to help you make the most out of your Google AdSense account.

If you need help setting up Google AdSense in your site(s) or need help with website/WordPress development, please let us know.