The Genius Phone is Coming

Google Pixel: stand aside smartphone, the genius phone is coming

Smartphone vendors have a tough job. They need to convince consumers that theirs is the best, bar none. Better than last year’s model. Better than the competition. And not just incrementally better. Quantum leap better. Otherwise, who would want to upgrade?

The narrative around the new Pixel phones is that they are so good and so different from what came before that Google even had to find a new brand name for them. So it’s farewell to the Nexus — which was last year’s most awesome Google smartphone — and hello to Pixel, Google’s newest bestie.

As Google vice president Jason Bremner put it: “Nexus was the best of Android [the Google operating system]; Pixel is the best of Google.” While most consumers would probably not appreciate that subtle differentiation, the intent is clearly to make the Pixels much more than a “pure Android” phone.

The Pixel phones are an entirely new created-from-scratch, flagship smartphone that combines the high-class hardware with Google’s software smarts in an integrated way that, apparently, has not been done before.


With Pixel phones, Google says ‘inflection point’ reached in computing

Reviewing a new phone at a launch event is a bit like test driving a car in a showroom. You can’t do much more than kick the tires and check the comfyness of the seats. And let’s face it, there is a sameness now to all top-of-the-range smartphones; they all come in the “candy bar” shape, all come clad in glass and aluminum, with super-dooper high resolution screens, awesome multi mega pixel cameras and most also have a headphone jack.

The Pixel and the phablet-sized Pixel XL both conformto that familiar spec described above. Save for the fingerprint sensor, which sits on the back the device. Unlike the iPhone, there is no camera bump, the lens sit flush to the surface. Also unlike the iPhone 7 and newer Samsungs Galaxys, Pixels are not promoted as being water or splash resistant.

But here are six features, in no particular order, which I think deserve special mention:

1. Google chief executive Sundar Pichai has called it. The mobile first era is over and it’s being replaced by the Artificial Intelligence (AI) first era. And we thought they were called smartphones! Well apparently, you ain’t seen nothing yet. But the Pixel phones are the forerunners of the next generation of really smart phones where stuff like AI, machine learning, voice and image recognition and neural networks are baked into the operating system.

Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL could step in to fill the gap left by the Note7.

Google Assistant is to the Pixel as Siri is the iPhone, only she’s been sucking up humanity’s collective wisdom for a lot longer than Siri has. Google Assistant is part bot, part concierge, part life coach. It’s how Pichai says the company will “build a personal Google for each and every user”. Creepy, maybe; useful, for sure.

2. It’s hard enough switching from Android to Android let alone iPhone to Android. To salve the the itch to switch, the Pixel phones come with software and an adapter you can use to tether phones together so that everything comes across rapidly and painlessly.

3. It is clear that the Pixel cameras are a cut above the competition. Tests by DxOMark, a respected independent source of camera and lens image quality measurements and ratings, has given the Pixel cameras a score of 89, placing it above the competition. Google also uses a lot of clever software to trick up the photos so that they look like they were shot with a proper single lens reflex camera.

4. The Pixels are the first to support Google’s Daydream virtual reality (VR) platform. I don’t think this can be underestimated as a selling point. Yes, it’s early days, but turning your phone into a VR projector — once coupled with the $119 Daydream View goggles — will bring new uses to these phones that you never knew existed. Mums and dads, lock away your new Pixel phones because someone is going to have an irresistible urge to strap them to their face for extended periods.

5. Google has one-upped Apple’s Genius Bar concept with built-in 24/7 support. When they say built-in, they mean exactly that. It’s built into the phone so that as long as you can switch on the phone, which admittedly is sometimes the problem, you can dial up for voice or chat support. There’s even a feature to screen shot and share the problem you’re seeing.

6. Hoarders rejoice! Pixel owners (should we be calling them Pixies?) will get unlimited storage in the cloud for their photos and videos at the original resolution. Google Photos already provides video and photo cloud storage, but larger files are crunched down in size. Coupled with dynamic caching, which parks stuff you haven’t seen for a while in the cloud, Pixel phones will never run out of photo and video storage space.

Prices: The 5-inch Pixel will range in price from $1079 for the 32GB version to $1229 for the 128G model. The Pixel XL 5.5-inch model will start at $1269 for the 32GB version and $1419 for the128GB model. They will both run on the Android 7.1 version of Google’s mobile operating system.

The author attended the launch in San Francisco as a guest of Google.

By: Stephen Hutcheon

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Risky online behaviour due to security fatigue: study

Security fatigue is causing computer users to indulge in risky behaviour, both in computing and their personal lives, a study by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology claims.

The study came to this conclusion after an analysing data from a qualitative study on computer users’ perception and their beliefs about cybersecurity and online privacy. (The study can be downloaded here after payment.)

Those interviewed ranged in age from 20s to 60s, and were from urban, suburban and rural areas. They were employed in a variety of jobs.

The study defined security fatigue as a weariness or a reluctance to deal with issues of computer security.

The study, published in the IEEE’s IT Professional, looked at computer use in the workplace and home. There was a specific focus on online activity, including shopping and banking, computer security, security terminology, and security icons and tools.

Cognitive psychologist Brian Stanton, a co-author of the study, said: “The finding that the general public is suffering from security fatigue is important because it has implications in the workplace and in people’s everyday life.

“It is critical because so many people bank online, and since health care and other valuable information is being moved to the internet.”

“If people can’t use security, they are not going to, and then we and our nation won’t be secure.”

The study found that most average computer users felt overwhelmed and bombarded, and got tired of being on constant alert, adopting safe behavior, and trying to understand the nuances of online security issues.

It said that when users were asked to make more computer security decisions than they are able to manage, they experienced decision fatigue, which leads to security fatigue.

The study concluded that this weariness could lead to feelings of resignation and loss of control. This, in turn, could lead to avoiding decisions, choosing the easiest option among alternatives, making decisions influenced by immediate motivations, behaving impulsively, and failing to follow security rules.

The study said there were three ways to ease security fatigue and help users maintain secure online habits and behavior. They are:

  • Limit the number of security decisions users need to make;
  • Make it simple for users to choose the right security action; and
  • Design for consistent decision-making whenever possible.

By: Sam Varghese

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Galaxy Note7 – Samsung’s latest problematic product

Samsung killed the Galaxy Note7 this week after the devices continued to burst into flames. But the tech behemoth has not extinguished scrutiny over its safety record.

The South Korean manufacturer, which makes an array of consumer electronics, including kitchen appliances and television sets, is in the middle of juggling other safety problems. Those include a recall in Australia for more than 144,000 Samsung washing machines that were prone to causing fires, and a potential recall of defective laundry units in the United States.

Over the years, Samsung has faced other safety situations that have resulted in regulators taking action. The larger incidents include a 2003 recall of 184,000 microwave ovens in the United States, and 210,000 refrigerators in South Korea in 2009. There have been other smaller recalls, including one in 2009 of about 43,000 microwave ovens in the United States because of a shock hazard and 20,000 washing machines in 2007 because of a fire risk.

Those episodes have been compounded by consumer frustration. People who have faced safety hazards with Samsung kitchen and home appliances said they frequently had to jump through hoops to get replacement products or refunds. To them, Samsung’s bungled handling of the Galaxy Note recall this week was not surprising.

Ed O’Rourke, a resident of Boston, said that over the span of four years, Samsung replaced his malfunctioning induction range three times before the fourth one’s glass cooktop exploded in 2013. After that, Samsung declined to issue a refund until 2015, after his wife fought the company in small-claims court and won. The couple now uses an Electrolux range.

The panoply of other Samsung product recalls shows that the Galaxy Note7 fiasco was not an isolated case, though it was the company’s largest by far, with more than 2.5 million devices. Combined with Samsung’s often bureaucratic process for rectifying these consumer issues, it raises questions about whether the company prioritised profit over customer safety.

“I thought, why doesn’t this happen to Apple or GE? And is Samsung playing it a little too cute in pushing things to limits that other companies aren’t pushing in terms of engineering-safety ratio?” O’Rourke said.

Product recalls are common among consumer electronics companies, so given the large portfolio of Samsung products and the size of the company, some problems to its lineup are to be expected.
Apple, Samsung’s chief rival, has had a number of smaller recalls for products, including one for thousands of Beats speakers last year after receiving complaints of overheating, and a recall for some iPod Nanos in 2011 because of issues related to overheating.

A Samsung spokeswoman pointed to an earlier statement about its washing machines in Australia, in which the company said thousands of refunds and replacements had been made and that customer safety was its top priority.

Yet the scale and prominence of the Galaxy Note 7 problem renews the spotlight on Samsung’s safety record in other product areas, even as the company grapples with the smartphone recall. On Wednesday, Samsung revised its third-quarter profit estimates to absorb the equivelent of $2.6 billion in losses. The company said it earned 5.2 trillion won ($6.1 billion) in the third quarter, 33.3 per cent less than the 7.8 trillion won profit it had estimated last week. It said it had also cut its sales estimate for the quarter by 2 trillion won, to 47 trillion won.

The smartphone recall is most likely unrelated to other Samsung product recalls that are now unfolding, like the one for the washing machines. That is because consumer electronics like TVs and kitchen appliances are made by a different Samsung division than the mobility group that is responsible for the smartphones.

In Australia, Samsung is in the process of a recall it started three years ago for top-loading washing machines that were prone to catching fire as a result of an internal electrical defect. Samsung said that as of last month, it had resolved the problem in 81 per cent of the affected washers.

Yet many owners of the troubled Samsung washing machines contend their problems are far from resolved. For the recall in, Samsung repaired the machines by fitting plastic bags over some connectors. A Facebook group with more than 4000 owners of the recalled machines crowdfunded money to hire forensic experts to analyse the fix. The forensic reports concluded that the plastic bag was ineffective because it did not prevent moisture penetration of the connectors.

“It’s quite extraordinary that consumers who are scared for their lives had to get these scientific reports done,” said Tarn Allen, an owner of a recalled Samsung washing machine who is an administrator for the Facebook group. Allen, who lives in Sydney, said the South Korean manufacturer had refused to issue refunds to many members of the Facebook group until an Australian government agency issued a statement saying it was looking into the matter.

Samsung may also be preparing to recall top-loading washing machines in the United States. Some models of the top-loading washers made between 2011 and this year are at risk of causing property damage or personal injury when the machines wash water-resistant clothing and bulky items including bedding, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“CPSC is advising consumers to only use the delicate cycle” with those items, the agency said late last month. “The lower spin speed in the delicate cycle lessens the risk of impact injuries or property damage due to the washing machine becoming dislodged.”

The affected units may experience abnormal vibrations, Samsung said in a statement. The commission and Samsung said they were working toward a fix.

By: Brian X. Chen and Choe Sang

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Are you a Socially-Engaged Company?

Cindy Hook and Alex Malley lead new generation of ‘social executives’

Social media savvy chief executives are becoming an increasingly common breed, as leaders in the financial services sector turn to avenues like Twitter and LinkedIn to attract a new generation of customers.

According to a new report by social media management company Hootsuite and LinkedIn, socially-engaged companies are 40 per cent more likely to appear competitive and 58 per cent more likely to attract talent.

Hootsuite financial services global industry principle Amy McIlwain said local chief executives such as Deloitte Australia head Cindy Hook and CPA Australia chief Alex Malley are leading the way when it comes to communicating on the web.

“One of the best practices is to be you. If you wouldn’t say it offline, don’t say it online,” Ms McIlwain said.

“Be authentic, be transparent and don’t be something you’re not. People look for humanising features, do don’t be afraid to share your hobbies. People do business with people they like and trust.”

As part of the study the organisations analysed more than 340,000 social media posts from the Australian financial services industry throughout May to September.

It found that at social engaged companies where the executives use social media, the employees are 57 per cent more likely to leverage these channels to drive sales.

The study also concluded that so-called ‘social executives’ in the industry, those who are regularly communicating on social media, received 4.7 times more profile visits, 10.8 time mores views on long form posts and 14 times higher engagement on shared content.

Ms McIlwain said banking and finances executives in Australia were well-placed to leverage social media in their organisations, given the amount of technological disruption already underway in the industry.

“[They] need to proactively lead from the front, engaging and empowering employees and sales teams,” she said.

“We encourage executives to get on social and start by listening. Follow the influencers and understand the conversations taking place and then when they’re comfortable to join and engage in those conversations.”

Best practice

CPA Australia chief executive Alex Malley was pinpointed in the report as an example of an executive with a strong social media presence.

Mr Malley told The Australian Financial Review when he first started as CEO at CPA Australia social media was foreign to him, but it has become a critical part of his strategy.

“These days you have to accept that the future of the business rests in the next generation, and they use multiple ways to communicate,” he said.

“I’m a former teacher, so I know that people often relate to the person, and not always to the business or the brand and the profession is known to be quite impersonal at times,” he said.

Mr Malley does not just talk about accounting industry issues on social media, instead he’s not afraid to weigh in on the big business stories of the day, write thought-leadership posts and talk about his personal interests. He also takes questions from young professionals and always responds via his website The Naked CEO (also the title of his book).

The media savvy CEO has earned the title of “Australia’s most accomplished self-promoter” by Rear Window columnist Joe Aston, but Mr Malley is unphased.

“The Naked CEO just had its 5 millionth visitor, and then we’ve got Twitter and LinkedIn and we have new content up every day. If there’s an issue that’s not related to accounting, like Dick Smith, I’ll still talk about it,” he said.

“It’s dramatically changed our culture. We now have a sense that we can try things. We aim to disrupt, so we look at disruptive ways of talking about a topic… It’s your best piece of market research, I can tell in 24 hours if something is worth putting together as a program.”

Ms McIlwain said where leaders go wrong online, is when they fail to be authentic. US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has learnt this lesson the hard way throughout the election campaign, struggling to attract young voters despite asking millennials on Twitter to “tell her in three emojis or less” what they feel about student loan debt.

Digital Perception Index

The Hootsuite and LinkedIn study also developed a new rating tool called the Digital Perception Index, which determines a company or sector’s perception online.

Australian investment and wealth management institutions were found to still be struggling to rebuild trust after the global financial crisis, scoring the lowest ranking of +3.97 per cent on the index, while superannuation firms led the financial services sector with a +12.55 per cent ranking, compared to the industry average of +5.94 per cent.

By: Yolanda Redrup

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Is your iPhone capacity full?

This cool trick will free up space without deleting files and apps

So you didn’t want to fork out another few hundred bucks for extra storage on your iPhone, and now you’re paying the price: the phone is full and you can’t bear to delete any of those Taylor Swift tracks.

Well, one ingenious Redditor has figured out how to free up storage space on your iPhone or iPad without having to delete any apps, photos or other important files.

Here’s how it works.

First, check how much space you have left on your device. You can do this by clicking “Settings” –> “General” –> “Storage & iCloud Usage”.

Then go to the movies section of the iTunes store and pick a big file to rent – one that’s bigger than the amount of space you have left on your phone. Don’t worry, you won’t have to pay for it (so long as the file is actually big enough).

Click on “Rent” and you will get a notification saying there isn’t enough space on your device to download the film. You’ll get a choice to then press “OK” or “Settings”.

Click on “Settings” to view your available storage again, and lo and behold, you’ll see it’s increased.

That’s because your iPhone has automatically cleared superfluous junk like cookies, histories and other data from your apps in an attempt to make space for the film. Think of it like a spring clean for your phone.

We tried the trick on an iPhone 6 with Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (a 6GB file), and watched the available storage increase from 130MB to 830MB the first time around. After a second sweep the capacity was beefed up again to 1.5GB.

Waiting for a bit longer before hitting “Settings” on the prompt also appears to result in a more thorough clean.

“It does work,” the Reddit tipster, eavesdroppingyou, said.

“I’ve been doing this for about a year or so and [it] never fails. Not really sure what it ‘cleans’ but probably nothing important or sensitive.”

A fellow Reddit user claimed to have recovered 4GB of space on their device.

“I guess Apple Music caches more files than I thought, because I can’t think of anything else I use that would eat up so much space,” the user said.

Another Redditor suggested the 1956 version of War and Peace in high definition to rent for the trick, as it takes up a hefty 8.86GB of space.

By: Hannah Francis

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