The Next Gmail Change: Pictures Shown Automatically Via Email

gmailFor anyone with a Gmail account, you know just how annoying it can be when, every time you log in, you’re asked which senders can and can’t show their pictures (whether attached or embedded). A feature since the mogul’s begging, this practice is still in effect years after ongoing overhauls. They’ve changed their look, opted for a new way to write emails (in the bottom of the page, so that one can still view previous messages), and created a labeling system to better point out spam and phishing schemes.

Not to mention the change from Google Talk to Hangouts, and Docs to Drive. And just as we get used to a new set of features, it’s as though they’re throwing over the next round of email accessories.

Next on their list? Automatically displaying pictures in every email – even without the user’s permission. With all the new security features put into place, Google is able to identify spam (for the most part) before it even hits the inbox. So to bank on these growing features, they thought they’d save us a few steps. No more picture approval, just email opening and a visual aspect that’s waiting to be seen.

Why the Change is Long Overdue

When was the last time you were given the option to display pictures from an email you didn’t want? (Or at least didn’t know the sender?) Half the time, it’s the display that lets us know whether or not the email is worthy in the first place. Yet, time and time again, we’re forced to click our link of approval, just to see whether or not the mail is legit.

Besides, even if there was spam sending us photos – how would it harm our computer? If anything, it’s acting as a “spam flag” alerting us all the quicker that questionable content is in the mix. With the added step taken out, we can more quickly identify crap emails and get them reported to the proper authorities.

Why there’s no telling why Google – the Internet king – waited so long to make this ancient change, it’s high time we take advantage of its new feature. Whether looking for spam, cleaning out an inbox, or searching for legitimate content, the upgrade offers a new realm of freedom.

Look to your inbox for this and more upcoming changes in your Gmail account.

Sputnik, a state-controlled search engine to compete against Yandex and Google

The Sputnik search engine, which is expected to launch anytime in 2014, will be the latest entrant into the search engines list. According to Mashable, Sputnik will be a state-controlled search engine under the Rostelecom telecom service and will be competing directly with the local search giant, Yandex, and Google.

Sputnik

Despite the late entry into this area, many local search engines outside of the United States control a large portion of search traffic. Yandex, for example, generates 62 percent of search in Russia with Google at number two with 25 percent. Search targeting beyond Google is thus an important marketing goal for midsize companies looking to reach more potential customers.

Giving Search Priority

Senior IT executives with search engine experience are well aware that search traffic contributes to smarter commerce. In most cases, such traffic is targeted and has a good chance of conversion. In the case of the Sputnik search engine, the goal is to target ordinary web users at the level of competition with no filtering of objectionable content. IT search professionals can take into consideration these new ways of reaching a new demographics through targeted searches that are bound to show up based on locations or search terms used.

Search traffic offers very targeted leads; people who are looking for a certain product or service with a view to making a purchase. These visitors are usually in a buying mode and having a focused marketing method through search optimization is bound to deliver. By ensuring that content posted on the company website or other online resource is optimized for these search engines, the likelihood of these new entrants picking up this content is drastically improved.

A New Search Avenue Means No Competition

Since the Sputnik search engine is a new entrant, it offers a level playing ground for any brand, organization or entity getting started into search. This is a great opportunity to get some real estate on search and promote brands while offering them the same level of viewership as other established brands. IT executives that are looking to get their feet wet into search are now in a position to onboard and reap real and immediate benefits from search.

In addition, new entrants like Sputnik can offer small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) a new approach to search with nothing to lose. For these midsize enterprises who are likewise new to search, they can go in with everything to gain.

Cell phone use may be allowed on airplanes, says FCC

phone on planeNow that flyers of all destinations can enjoy their virtual books through turbulence, landing, and even the seatbelt speech (though, for everyone’s sake, they shouldn’t), travelers are on the verge of one more flight-changing decision.

Just a few weeks after the announcement that eReaders are now safe for airplanes – from start to finish – comes the possibility of one more technology making the cut. The Federal Communications Commission now says cell phone usage just may be the next item allowed on flights, in every step of the process. Whether this comes after receiving a high amount of praise for the addition of eReaders, or has long been a process in the works, it’s obvious that flight regulations are steadily changing to keep up with growing technology.

But that doesn’t mean the public is happy about it. Just hours after the announcement, news sources such as CNN and the Huffington Post began running opinion articles about the proposed new law. The latter even went as far as to include a poll. The results show that nearly half (49%) of flyers aren’t on board with the switch, while 20% were undecided. That leaves just 31% wishing to make calls in-flight … if it’s deemed safe, that is. In addition, 63% said they would want texting to be allowed, with 22% opposing that as well.

What the Law Could Mean

It’s easy to see why many would oppose this law – planes are crowded enough. With the addition of cell phones, those we’re packed next to could be jabbering the entire time. Hopefully fellow travelers wouldn’t be that rude, but anyone who has ever sat next to a less than desirable seatmate knows that, unfortunately, that isn’t the case. And how would such cases be handled? There is nowhere for annoyed travelers to go; they must simply sit and wait it out. At least, as is, everyone is in the same boat – which is to say without the ability to chat mid-flight.

While there’s no decision as of yet, news sources and frequent flyers alike are making their opinions known on the possible addition of cell phone usage to flights. Whether undecided or strongly against, it seems as though the majority is voting for a veto, even before the law is put into place.

For more information on the upcoming FCC in-flight changes, head to their website at FCC.gov.

The Latest on Amazon’s Drone Delivery System

droneAfter crushing the competition and creating a new standard of online shopping, mogul retail company Amazon continues to reach new heights. To keep up with their growing sales demand (and to cut back on delivery costs), the company announced it’s looking to drones, a flying delivery device. Rather than a delivery truck stopping from house to house, these small drones carry each package, cutting back on labor, manpower, and transportation resources. Money saved by Amazon, and quicker deliveries for customers – a win-win.

But drones? The devices, which will be known as Amazon Prime Air, are the same flying robot-types used in the military, only less deadly and programed to stop at your front door. Sure it’s creepy, but is it all that inefficient? Packages will likely show up quicker, a giant truck didn’t have to travel miles to deliver a single package, and no more awkward greetings from the delivery guys.

The Timeline

In theory, one could order a package and have it delivered to their door by these robotic devices. The technology is there, all it needs is a shove (and the equipment) to get it going. Legally, however, the plan is a different story. Unmanned aircraft systems – or UAS – are illegal for commercial use. The FAA currently hosts a universal ban across the country.

Thankfully for Amazon, it doesn’t look to stay that way. Just a few weeks ago, the FAA released its plan for allowing UAS for commercial use. By September of 2015, their laws must be put into place, which is a legally bound deadline. In theory, that leaves the world less than two years of computer-delivered goods. And considering those UAS rules apply to all businesses, other companies could enlist their help as well. Pizza deliveries, car parts to stranded motorists, locating lost hikers – the possibilities rely solely on the yet-to-be-determined rules.

For now, it seems as though Amazon has a few safety issues to work out. For instance, making sure their drones don’t land on peoples’ heads. Other areas, such as timelines, battery life (the eight-chopper design takes more power to run), etc. are also being looked at. Which is why they’re happy to have the head start.

Within just a few years, however, it seems as though drone delivery systems could be a reality. Flying boxes, quicker packages, and a giant leap into futuristic technologies.

The Rise of Holiday Light Shows

houseJust a few years ago, the world was in awe as the first creative light show was set to music … at someone’s home. There was music, lights, and a steady beat that meant we couldn’t turn our eyes away. One creative family decided to put a little more effort (and pizzazz) into their regular Christmas light showings, and the idea took off like wildfire. A few news stories, millions of YouTube views, a huge increase in traffic, and now its an ongoing trend. Companies are now creating products to help make the timing easier, and businesses and commercial properties are charging fees to see their own snazzy versions. Like this one on Saks Fifth Avenue that comes with three dimensions.

Years later, and the trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Now folks are able to synch the music with car stereos as they drive past. (While some opt to play a local radio station.) Patterns are becoming more complex and intricate – even integrating 3D projectors, such as the video above. Lights are coming crisper and clearer, and with the right tools, they can even play to a new song by mimicking the beat. All it takes is a little know-how and the right tools to make it work.

The Equipment

In order to create your own holiday light show at home, a few pieces of equipment are needed, such as light-controlling software, a computer, speakers, extension cords, and the light controllers themselves. Depending on the size and set up, this could easily total into hundreds of dollars, though DIY equipment is also available at a smaller sum.

For those who are less electrically inclined, however, entire kits can now be purchased with everything one needs, such as channel amp controllers, software, and the instructions to make it all work. One of the more popular companies, Light-O-Rama offers these packages in varying sizes so light shows of all intensities can get a solid start.

Whether you create the light show from the ground up, or enlist in the help of a kit to get you started, there’s no doubt the neighborhood will appreciate the efforts. From small-time home shows to elaborate routines plastered on the sides of stories-high buildings, these light shows offer a technology-based bit of holiday cheer. Check out your options today to get started on this growing winter trend.

PS4 vs. Xbox One: The console wars take a new turn

Consoles

Depending on how you look at it, the game console wars just took another turn with the launch of the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One consoles.  What is even more amazing is the close and fierce competition between these two consoles in price, design, specs, and game varieties.

How do these two consoles stack up against one another?

The PS4

Playstation has always been primarily a gaming device and the PS4 stays true to the cause. The console and controller have been completely redesigned. A new controller, the Dualshock 4, comes with improved ergonomics with slightly indented trigger buttons while the analog sticks have a slightly elevated rim to keep a player’s thumb from sliding off.

PS4

Other improvements to the controller include a touchpad and a light bar. The touchpad dominates much of the middle space but is fairly responsive to touch especially for in-game navigation. A Playstation camera, sold separately, allows the console to detect the movement and depth of field in front of it via the light bar.

The PS4 comes with an additional app, the Playstation App, on both iOS and Android, which lets you carry your game beyond the big screen, on the go. You can purchase and download games for the PS4 on the move and even play from where you left off right within the app.

Some of the games you can start playing immediately you purchase the console include Killzone Shadow Fall and Call of Duty: Ghosts. The console debuts at $400.

The Xbox One

Xbox One comes in a completely new design in comparison to the previous Xbox 360. Xbox exclusives like Halo may not be motivation enough for you to purchase the console, but the added features like voice command support and motion control to the system via the Kinect will definitely make you want to reconsider your options despite the $500 price tag.

XBox One

What really sells it for Xbox One though is the fact that you can use it for more than just playing games. The machine comes with a cable port for watching your TV. What is even more interesting is the fact you don’t need to switch between the game and the TV. Simply tell ‘the One’ what you wanna watch. For instance, you can say, “Xbox, Watch ABC” and it will switch.

Other services you can access include Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, Netflix, Xbox Movies. You also no longer need to fire up services like Skype and Internet Explorer separately. These have been integrated with the One and you can pull them up onto the big screen just as fast.

The Xbox One also comes with the SmartGlass app for Android, iOS, and Windows.

Bottom Line

The question of which is better, the One or the PS4, is hard to answer when you have two big players with two big consoles. Never before has gaming had two such stand-out consoles to choose from. The Playstation 4 has the best bits gleaned from three generations of systems while the Xbox One offers much broader experiences.

Need to Contact Facebook? Good Luck

contact usWith the incredible growth Facebook has seen in past years, it’s understandable that a few people may need to get a hold of the company. Whether for legal reasons, personal interest, or just needing to get some information, the site is surprisingly hard to pin down. Of course, it’s hard to blame them – even Apple doesn’t have a 24/7 support system without fees. (Users are required to purchase support timelines, after shelling out for the pricy products.) And contacting each of their users with an issue would likely cost millions. But when you’re raking in the dough, at what point is it an investment to stay available?

Rather than offering phone lines or even a message system (yep, you can’t even send in a rogue text query), Facebook has created a list of very specific scenarios — more than 150. Much like following an “if your answer is this, follow this,” map, where each instance is met with a pre-determined outcome. This goes for legal teams, individuals, concerned citizens, and almost any other form of social media user.

Don’t fit into the site’s molds? Too bad – you can either lie, or send a random email, hoping the site will get back with you. Spoiler: their response is unlikely.

Making Their Own Rules

Because Facebook is such a mogul, it’s safe to say they can do what they want. If they don’t want to be contacts by their billion users, they don’t allow it to happen. Sure it might up their public image, but when you’ve got more followers than any other social media network, why spend the extra time and funds?

Just because it’s the status quo, however, doesn’t mean it’s winning them any points.

What do users do when they have an actual problem? It’s insulting to be given a list of scenarios to sift through, but what if you don’t meet any of them? Why is a catch-all statement a cover up for poor customer service? Perhaps this mindset stands because Facebook profiles are free of charge, but even free services won’t last if customers aren’t happy.

For the most part, Facebook users seem to be plenty happy with their options, but for the few who do need to reach the site, their abilities are few and far between. As the site continues to grow and add even more users to the mix, let’s hope they donate some funds to letting others contact them. After all, customer service is a small price to pay for keeping customers happy – they’re the glue that keeps the entire operation in motion.

Looking for a Good Deal on an iPhone? Head to a Retail Store

By now it’s nothing new to see smartphone kiosks throughout Target, Walmart, or any other chain store. To optimize user experience and to make the wait time much shorter, phone companies have teamed up with these moguls to greatly increase the locations in which consumers can purchase their next phone. And considering the shorter lines, the increased customer service (an aspect phone providers are seriously lacking), and cheaper prices, shoppers are seeing the value as well.

For example, Target sells the new iPhone 5C for $50 on-contract, regardless of carrier. The store also offers a trade-in value or store credit for the user’s original phone. The iPhone 4S could net $105 in good condition, leaving more than enough leftover for a case, accessories, or whatever else you need from Target. In comparison, walk into the cell carrier’s store and an iPhone 5C is $99 on top of an $88-ish trade-in value, for the same phone.

iphone-5c

So why would anyone go to a carrier store, especially when they’re likely spending time at retail stores anyway? Users can save money, avoid the lines, and pair it with their regular shopping in the process.

Is There a Catch?

This makes us wonder what the carrier stores are getting out of it (such as Sprint, AT&T, or Verizon). They offer a shamble of a “deal” in comparison, yet they still seem to be thriving, in both corporate status and in company branches. The only real perk is that business phones have to be bought through the carrier no matter what. Are they making enough off these company phones? Or is service so incredibly profitable that it can pay the bills on its own?

Then again, maybe Apple, Motorola, HTC, Samsung, etc. just charges them more, knowing they’ll pay whatever fees they set.

No matter the reality behind these varied prices, it’s safe to say that retail stores offer the better deal for new iPhones and trade-ins. While a traditional contract (and upgrade date) is still needed, it’s a great way to bypass some paperwork while saving a few dollars along the way.

The next time you’re ready to venture into the latest iPhone, remember that a carrier store isn’t the only option. In fact, trying something new just may get you a better deal.

The iPad Air is faster, lighter, and thinner, but I’m not getting one yet

iPad Air from Apple.com

When Tim Cook and company unveiled the new iPad Air a few weeks ago, I wanted one. The new A7 chip and the processing boost the Air was getting made it a very tempting device. Who wouldn’t want a faster iPad? I currently have the third generation iPad, so I figured this new model would leave mine in the dust. Imagine how great it would be in the art programs I have on the iPad (that I never use). I would be able to do so much more with it.

Not only is the iPad Air faster, but it is light and smaller too. Two more tempting features. While my iPad is light when compared to a laptop, lighter would really be nicer.

As much as I wanted the iPad Air I did not order one on launch day. If I had the extra money to get one, I might have made the purchase. However, the extra money is not lying around right now, and I am actually glad I didn’t order one after making a trip to the Apple Store earlier today and having the opportunity to try one out.

Was it thinner and lighter? Definitely. I could not believe how light it felt. It was almost as light a an iPad mini. It reminded me of how amazed I was at picking up the original iPad for the first time. The difference in size and weight is huge.

Next came the real question – how much faster is the new iPad? I was expecting to be blown away. To be honest, I wasn’t. Was it faster? Definitely, but it was not so much faster that I had to have it. Apps did not launch much faster than they do on my iPad. In fact, for basic use like email, browsing the Internet, typing notes, and even playing games I did not see much of a difference. I would have liked to have been able to test those art programs I mentioned, but they were not installed. Even if they were, I don’t know how much faster they would have been. I suspect they would have been more responsive, but I don’t know.

Part of my observations on the speed of the device are most likely due to many applications not being built to take advantage of the new processor. The other part has to do with the fact that email can only go so fast. By next year I suspect there will be plenty of apps made to run faster on the iPad Air, but by then it will be time for a new iPad that is even faster!

So, for me it is the third generation iPad for now. Will I get a new iPad in the future? Most likely. When? I don’t know. As long as my iPad does what I need it to I’ll probably stick with it.

Should you upgrade your iPad? That depends: If you have an original iPad, it probably would not be a bad idea. If you have an iPad 2 or later I would suggest doing what I did. Go out and try one. See if you notice a difference and if it is worth the money to upgrade for you.

Why Commenting Systems on Websites Are Getting Overhauls

When you look at a popular website, the commenting system is probably one of the few places where there is little control in terms of content. However, this is about to change with two large websites and online resources, YouTube and Popular Science, announcing a revamping of their systems.

Comments

For YouTube, all comments will now be linked to a real persona via Google+. However, for Popular Science, the website has gone the easy way, removing comments entirely from their posts, and here’s why.

1. Why YouTube Adopted the Google+ Commenting System

For most of us, YouTube and Google+ are one and the same thing; they are both owned and run by Google. The Google+ social platform has largely been criticized for being a ghost town, but this is about to change when Google integrates this social layer onto YouTube. The new system offers benefits to all, commenters, video creators, and viewers. However, it may not be good news for trolls who have made the current commenting system one of the filthiest destinations on the Web.

Google+

With Google+ becoming the only way to leave a comment below a YouTube video, this may just breathe life to the social platform and bring conversations to this otherwise dead part of town. Current features of Google+ now come to YouTube including the ability to join a conversation either publicly or privately, new tools of reviewing comments, and the ability to determine what posts appear on top of a video.

Google is well aware that recent does not necessarily mean relevant, which is how the current YouTube comments operate. However the new system will see relevant comments, say from the video creator, your friends, or some other popular personality, take the top spot.

Conversations on YouTube and on Google+ will also cross the borders and appear between the two platforms. A YouTube comment that you post will now appear on your G+ stream if desired. Likewise, a G+ comment with an embedded YouTube video will not populate the comment section below that YouTube video. This offers a whole new way of video promotion and creating engagement.

2. Why Popular Science Shut Down Its Commenting System

According to Popular Science, comments can be bad for science.  Popsci.com posted a lengthy post explaining why they came up with this decision, of course using science to state their case.

PopSci

Popular Science posted a study and research information showing that commenters shape public opinion which in turn shape public policy, which in turn shape how and whether and what research gets funded. According to the site:

“Scientific certainty has now become “just another thing for two people to “debate” on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grosteque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”

While you may no longer be allowed to leave you comment on articles posted on the site, you can however share your thoughts through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, email, and more.  A few select articles that lend themselves to vigorous and intelligent discussions will also be open to comments.

It is clear that uncivil comments not only polarize readers, but they also change their interpretations of the story of video.  A fractious minority has enough power to skew a reader’s perception and these two websites have clearly recognized this fact.

By blocking out inappropriate attacks and rude comments, these two approaches may very well contribute to a much cleaner and a more tolerating Internet.

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