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Category Archives: Smartphones




I’m Obsessed with the New Instagram Update

Instagram has had a very similar UI since it was created. The tired old brown icon has occupied a space on the grid of my phone screen(s) for almost six years, but I’ve been using it less frequently over time. Simply put, I just got bored of it. The content became less interesting (blaming the friends I follow for that one) and the stagnant, dated UI didn’t compel me to check this drab feed of selfies and memes. Luckily, the update I got this morning for Instagram caught my attention immediately, and may have breathed new life into the application entirely.

Instagram ditched the brown and beige icon for a very eye catching gradient. The app itself has lost most of its color, opting for almost entirely black and white UI with a pink color for elements like notifications. It looks very “Apple”, and we’re expecting a similar look coming to Apple Music soon, which won’t matter to Android/Windows users, but there is definitely something that can be taken away from this update and the effect its having on users.

Instagram UI Update

Through exploring, I have found very few new features in the newest Instagram update, so it’s safe to say this is solely a UI update, and I’m so excited to use it again. As a developer or business owner, it would be worthwhile to take this into consideration for the systems your customers use. If adding new features or services isn’t having the effect you expected, or just isn’t something you’re doing right now, a new look can be enough to trigger more engagement.

Keeping your UI up to the current trends is critical to maintain and expand your user base. Unless you’re offering a highly specialized product, chances are there’s a competitor out there whose website or app has a cleaner, more user-friendly design. Users will gravitate towards interfaces that look simple, make it obvious where they should navigate to get their desired result. Using familiar elements to your design will make the user feel like they know what they’re doing, even if they’re seeing it for the first time.

Apple: It Just (Doesn’t) Work [OPINION]

Apple has long been synonymous with user experience. One of the major appealing qualities of the OS X / iOS ecosystem is the synchronicity and simplicity of the native Apple Apps, powered by the iCloud service. Over the past several iterations of Apple’s operating systems, it seems like they have been losing sight of their original vision in regards to their software.

Many news sources and blogs have been criticizing Apple recently about this specific issue: their apps don’t work (or don’t work as well as they should). Users are installing third-party alternatives to applications and services that drew them to the iOS platform in the first place. Nate Ingraham, Senior Editor at Engadget epitomizes the experience of iPhone users struggling with Apple’s negligence:

“Raise your hand if you have a folder on your iPhone full of native Apple apps you never use … yup, that’s a lot of you. Now raise your hand if you use iCloud Mail, iCloud Drive or the default iOS Notes or Reminders apps instead of third-party options like Gmail, Dropbox, Wunderlist, Evernote and so on. Not nearly as many of you are raising your hand this time.”

So what is actually wrong with Apple’s apps? Each application truly has its own shortcomings. To truly understand what is wrong with the ecosystem as a whole you have to understand where and why each application is going wrong.

 

iTunes

When I got my first iPod and installed iTunes for the first time, I was in complete awe. The act of importing CD’s and buying new music online was incredibly exciting, and I could plug in my iPod and take it all with me. That was it. That was iTunes. Now with the aggressive growth of streaming services taking a noticeable chunk out of Apple’s music sales, the media giant had to make a move into the streaming business. I will admit I love Apple Music. I ditched my concurrent Spotify and Tidal subscriptions for the individual Apple Music sub, and haven’t missed anything from my previous providers. This service works great on my iPhone, seamlessly integrating my (owned) music with the library I have collected through the streaming service. The desktop is a different story.

Whenever I accidentally click iTunes on my desktop, my heart skips a beat. The bulky music player/marketplace takes ages to load, then wants to analyze my entire computer for new music (as a musician who will have several versions of a song that I’m working on, this is a nightmare). Once iTunes decides it’s done with my hard drive it moves on to memory. I have relatively powerful Macs (Mid-Range desktop & laptop from 2015) and I still have trouble running iTunes smoothly with anything else open. Even if the application were running properly, the seamless combination of Apple Music and iTunes on my iPhone is nowhere to be found in desktop iTunes.

I don’t even listen to music on my computers anymore, because the experience of using iTunes is so awful.

 

Mail

The first thing I do when I upgrade my Mac or iPhone is install a new mail client. iCloud Mail (or Apple Mail) is slow, bulky, and if you’re using a custom mail server (anything not @icloud.com. For example, my email that I host at Newtek) it is a major pain to set up. My third party client provides quick access to all five of my email accounts, with fast retrieval times (including my Gmail addresses, which any Apple user will tell you is atypical on Apple Mail), intelligent filtering and sorting, and a lightning fast search of indexed items..

 

The point of this post is not to sell anybody on third party software. One of Steve Jobs’ most recognizable quotes in reference to Apple products was “It just works”. Why doesn’t it just work anymore? Why do I have to download someone else’s email client, or stream music only on my cell phone, when Apple has the development power and certainly the ingenuity to develop their own powerful products? Perhaps they should focus less on cars and jewelry and spend some more of their resources improving the core product of their business. While it is great that a powerhouse like Apple wants to explore emerging technologies, if their core products don’t work the way they should, what is keeping any user from switching over to Android, and buying a Google self-driving car? I know I certainly trust Google Maps for navigation more than the native Apple Maps (which, to be fair, has seen improvement since 1.0).

I haven’t lost hope in Apple entirely. With almost every major consumer electronics news source calling Apple out for their recent shortcomings, and the Apple-to-Android conversion numbers sure to follow (especially with a new season of Android phones on the way), Apple will almost be forced to acknowledge and address the issues in their existing core applications. The only real question is: “Do I want to sit around and wait for them to fix it?”

Facebook to Shut Down Mobile App Platform Parse

Parse is shutting down on January 28, 2017. The mobile application platform (purchased by Facebook in 2013) announced on Thursday that they would be “focusing resources elsewhere”. While these unforeseen migrations can mean trouble for developers who are already busy supporting their applications, this change may be better in the end for the internet as a whole.

Parse-Shutdown-Notice

Facebook, for several years, has made efforts to be more than just a social network. Facebook is many people’s primary source of news and communication, and has been expanding its “family of apps” to cover more aspects of the internet. Parse’s shutdown is a chance for developers to break free from their largest competitor. No matter what your application is, chances are Facebook is moving to bring that content, service, or experience to their brand. As a company specialized in serving small to medium sized businesses, Newtek is excited to see business owners and developers get an opportunity to take control of their application hosting and bring user focus out of Facebook and into unique, independent mobile apps.

This also gives developers a chance to look into the various service providers associated with running their app. With this change, devs can look into alternatives and find the best providers of services like data storage, usage analytics, BaaS and push notifications.

Given the multi-step process of migrating, and the fact that most mobile apps are free, it will be interesting to see how many developers just decide to let their apps go down with Parse. If there is no money to be made in their app because it hasn’t taken off yet or might just be a fun side-project, how much work is it worth putting in to move the services out of Parse’s environment?

Kevin Lacker of Parse made a note that they are striving to make the migration as easy as possible on developers who currently use the service. They have open-sourced Parse Server and are providing a data migration tool, so you can install it on your own server. If you have questions about hosting your mobile application currently with Parse on a Newtek server, contact 1-877-323-4678 Option 2.

Major Android Security Hack Uncovered

android-devil-malware-100247149-carousel.idgeAttention Android Users!

With just a simple receipt of a text message, your Android can be hacked. This is likely the biggest smartphone flaw ever discovered, CNN reports that, “it affects an estimated 950 million phones worldwide.” The issue is rooted in the way in which Androids are programmed to analyze incoming text messages, even before they have been opened. For instance, with Google’s Hangouts app, any media file that you receive (pictures, videos, audio) is automatically processed as soon as it is received. Because of this, “a malware-laden file can start infecting the phone before it’s even opened.”

The hacker needs only to send a text with a malicious media file to your phone to potentially gain complete control of your Android device. With that, he or she will be able to wipe out your device, access apps, open and review sensitive information on your phone, or even turn your camera on without you knowing.

Google, owner and operator of the Android OS, has acknowledged the vulnerability. In fact, they were made aware of the hack – and even provided with a potential fix – as early as April 9 by cybersecurity firm Zimperium. Google has assured that a patch would be made available for all customers, but according to Zimperium, a fix still isn’t largely available.

Although Google has likely developed a patch to this vulnerability, due to Android’s dependence on carriers and phone manufacturers, the company can’t simply push the fix directly to user’s devices, as main rival Apple has the luxury to do. The fix must be coordinated with disparate manufacturer platforms (Samsung, LG, Motorola, etc.) and then disseminated through the carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint – just to name a few…). Google claims they have delivered a solution to its carriers, but it is still unclear whether or not the solution has been passed along to their users.

Until security firms like Zimperium declare this issue clear, Android users can disable auto-fetching of multi-media messages by accessing the Settings menu within their default messaging app. Tap Settings -> Advanced -> (deselect) Auto-retrieve MMS messages.

Users can find detailed instructions here.

Now Is the Time for Responsive Design

mobile-phonesBeginning April 21, Google will use mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal in search results, rewarding websites that are fully optimized for mobile platforms.

Most modifications to the all-important Google Search Algorithm have only a low-weight impact on search results, however Google says the effect of this change will be profound. It is very important for any business owner with a website to respond accordingly.

Effective immediately, Google will also factor content from mobile apps (a feature called App Indexing) when rendering mobile search results. Android users who are signed into their Google account will begin to see apps more prominently in search listings.

These changes will make it easier for mobile users to find relevant, high-quality search results that are optimized for their devices, creating a better search experience. Google provides very clear recommendations on what you can do to make your website mobile-friendly.

If your business website has not yet adopted responsive design, here is where to start:

  1. Check out Google’s guide to mobile-friendly websites.
  2. Take the Mobile-Friendly Test to see how your website stacks up. You can test a single page or all to see exactly what Google’s search algorithm is looking for.
  3. Your web developer can generate a Mobile Usability Report to help identify any issues with your website when viewed on a mobile device.

Google recommends responsive web design as the industry best practice for websites. A responsive website seamlessly adapts itself to whichever device it is being viewed from. While responsive web design should be your ultimate goal, creating a fully responsive site can present a challenge for many small business owners. However, simply using Google’s guidelines to optimize your existing website for mobile platforms will help greatly in the meantime.

The Newtek Team is here to help ensure your website is eligible for this valuable Google ranking boost! Contact us today to get started. 1.866.820.8910 | techsales@thesba.com

Responsive Design v. Mobile Website: What’s the Difference?

Mobile website_responsive designShould you have a mobile website or a responsive website?

This is a debate among website developers, SEO companies, and business owners alike. As a decision maker within your company, how do you determine which is the best platform for your business?

What is the difference between the two platforms?

A mobile site is a replica of your website, optimized to be viewed on smaller screens such as phones and tablets. In this instance, the server does the work to deliver a page that is smaller, easier to navigate, and loads quickly. It is important to point out that having a dedicated mobile app created for your website is not the same as having a website that is optimized for mobile.

With responsive design, the website has been coded to recognize what is accessing it, and automatically adjusts according to a device’s screen size and orientation. After the device is identified (phone, desktop, etc.) the best version of the site for that particular device is rendered. Well-designed responsive sites will deliver the same comfort and usability to the mobile user as the desktop user.

Important considerations you should know about mobile sites and responsive design: 

Domain Identification

A mobile site has a separate domain from your main site: m.domain.com which identifies it as mobile only.  Changes made to a website need to be made on both the standard site as well as the mobile site. It is more costly to have a developer maintain both sites, and – if you’re not very careful – can cause for a disjointed user experience.

With responsive design you have just one URL for your website.  Any changes made to the site rollout through desktop and mobile simultaneously.

Search Engines Favor Responsive Design

Statistics report that 65% of website traffic comes from Google, which makes their opinion crucial in your decision to create a responsive website. Google prefers responsive web design because content that lives on one website and one URL is much easier for users to share, interact with, and link to than content that lives on separate mobile sites.

User Experience

Responsive design allows for a cohesive user experience; one website that looks equally awesome on all types of devices. A website optimized for mobile will, in most cases, sacrifice content for usability. A desktop user and a mobile user probably won’t consume the same content, and it’d certainly be delivered in two very different ways. In this case, a website designed specifically for mobile will deliver a better experience to the mobile user. However, if someone were to share you mobile site with someone using a desktop, his or her experience would be rather poor. While mobile sites look awesome on mobile, they do not have the ability (like responsive websites) to look awesome on any other platform.

Looking for More Information on Responsive Design or Mobile Websites?

Call 866-820-8910 today and speak to one of our Project Managers regarding your website needs.  Our design team will collaborate with you to create a visually appealing Digital Storefront designed to attract and convert potential clients for your business.

Apple Makes a Move on Mobile Payments

applepay_applewatchSmartphone makers have been trying to replace our wallets with digital pay methods for several years. While the trend has yet to widely catch on outside of the tech sphere, Apple (so often the bridge between the super geeky and super chic) believes that they may be able to change that.

On Tuesday, Apple announced it would soon be offering its own version of the mobile wallet, dubbed Apple Pay. Apple claims to have already established relationships with three major credit card companies, and retail giants like Target and McDonald’s – meaning soon you’ll be paying for your Number 3 with your iPhone or Apple Watch.

While the mobile payments market remains in its frontier stages for now, Forrester Research expects it to reach $100 billion in the United States within the next five years. Apple feels that the opportunity is now ripe for them to make their move on the industry. Apple wants consumers to believe that Apple Pay is a safer payment method than traditional payment cards with “exposed numbers and the outdated and vulnerable mag stripe.” Apple promises that credit card information will not be stored on the devices or on Apple’s servers. But in light of the recent iCloud hacks, consumer’s unease over privacy and security may be cause for concern. However, if anyone has the power to persuade the general public, famous tastemaker Apple is the company to do so.

Initially, Apple Pay will only be available for the iPhone 6iPhone 6 Plus, and the Apple Watch.

Beware of the Facebook Color Change Scam

facebookscamappA variant of the tried-and-true Facebook color scam is back.

Cheetah Mobile, security software researcher and provider, is the first to confirm the reemergence of the hack. The scam appears as a Facebook app that can be shared or posted on the News Feed. So far, more than 10,000 people have been tricked into downloading the malware, according to the Cheetah Mobile Security blog post.

Upon clicking on the link from the News Feed, users will be directed to a phishing site that poses as a legitimate, Facebook-sponsored page. Once on the phishing page, users will be prompted  to watch a tutorial on how to change the color of their Facebook profile page. By agreeing to watch the video, users grant hackers access to their profiles, allowing the app to spam their friends. PC users who skip the video will be led to download a pornography video player, and smartphone users to download an antivirus app. Both are infected with malware.

Luckily, the malicious app is easy to get rid of. Those infected need only to remove it from the Facebook app settings page. Affected users should also change their Facebook password. Check out Cheetah Mobile’s breakdown of the virus for more information.

Microsoft Sues Samsung Over Android Patent Fees

M v SamsungYou know Samsung, maker of those super popular smartphones you may have seen around this year? Galaxys, Notes – yeah, THOSE.  Did you know Microsoft gets a royalty for every Android smartphone Samsung sells? Talk about a good deal.

The set up is part of a patent-sharing agreement the companies negotiated in 2011. But the Microsoft Corporation is claiming Samsung was late on the most recent payment and is refusing to pay interest on the late payment – and Microsoft ain’t having it.

Rightfully so as Microsoft makes an estimated $2 billion a year on patent royalties related to devices running on Google’s Android operating system made by Samsung and other companies. That would be more than 9% of the $22 billion in profit Microsoft made over its past fiscal year.

David Howard, Microsoft’s deputy general counsel had this to say in a blog post on Friday: “After spending months trying to resolve our disagreement, Samsung has made it clear in a series of letters and discussions that we have a fundamental disagreement as to the meaning of our contract.”

The lawsuit acknowledges Samsung has been paying faithfully up until Microsoft announced the purchase of Nokia’s smartphone sector last fall. Microsoft’s Howard claims that Samsung is using the acquisition “as an excuse to breach its contract.”

This certainly places Microsoft in an awkward position, as Samsung is one of the few major smartphone players to manufacture and sell Windows Phone devices. However, with billions on the line, going after lost royalties as per the 2011 agreement is worth the risk.

So far, Samsung has only issued a very brief statement: “We will review the complaint in detail and determine appropriate measures in response.”

10 Free, Fully Responsive WordPress Themes

Responsive WordPressWe’ve written extensively about the importance of responsive design (and herehere, and here). Increasingly, it’s not enough to just have a website these days. Businesses are expected to have a website that effortlessly formats for wide range of screens and different devices. Why? Because, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, we’re in the midst of a mobile revolution.

Mobile has now surpassed desktop users. 85% of adults think that a company’s mobile website should be as good or better than their desktop site (Huffington Post) because 67% of users are more likely to make a purchase with a smartphone on a mobile friendly site than on a non-mobile optimized site (Google, Sterling Research and SmithGeigen). Further, 16% of smartphone and tablet users said that if a page loads too slowly or is hard to view on a smaller screen, they give up (Visually). According to a Google Survey from 2013, 48% of users said that if a site didn’t work well on their smartphone, it made them feel like the company didn’t care about their business – now that says a lot.

People are evaluating your business through a 6-inch screen. And if they don’t like what they see, they will go elsewhere. We know, who has the time – or more importantly, the cash flow – to redesign their website? Luckily we’ve been given the gift of WordPress, which is abundant with free and fun responsive templates.

 

Here are 10 of the best free responsive WordPress themes for 2014.

  • SimpleTech – A smart, attractive, and multi-purpose News/Magazine theme. SimpleTech features a rich but uncomplicated administration panel.
  • Spacious – Among the most downloaded WP themes of 2014, Spacious offers multiple page layouts as well as six different page templates, and 13 widget areas.
  • Vantage – A flexible and multipurpose responsive theme, ideal for ecommerce stores. Vantage is integrated with Page Builder and MetaSlider, and includes a custom background and custom menus.
  •  Wilson – Puts focus on your content, without sacrificing functionality. The theme features multiple widget areas, custom widgets for videos, and plenty of room to express yourself.
  • Simplify – Designed especially for small business, this template is a responsive theme with more than 100 custom options and features.
  • Revera – This theme includes a custom homepage template and custom menus, widget-ready areas, portfolio page templates, featured images, customizable ad banner setters, and more.
  • Corpo – Clean, simple design packed with tons of features that can work well for any small business
  • Flat – Minimalistic… and flat, as its name would suggest. Following modern design trends, this theme offers a clean layout for a straightforward look but it’s not without style.
  • Attitude – Clean, responsive, and retina display ready.
  • Hemingway – For the artists and bloggers among us, this theme prioritizes images and text. The Hemingway template makes for a stylish look that can be easily customized.
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