Monday, September 22, 2014

Credit Cards Reinvented

As a consumer, have you had it up to here with hearing about how your credit or debit cards have been stolen?  How the major retailers where you shop have been hacked?  How Russia, in retaliation for the US' stance on the Ukrainian conflict, is stealing US cardholder info to use against us?

As a retailer or someone who works in retail, are you sick of hearing of it?  Do you live in fear that you may be hacked?

In the past week, my Google Alert has the following (excerpted) headlines:

What if there was something you could do about it - starting today?  Enter Apple, Inc.  That's right - the iPhone company.  The Mac company.  They have spent the past several years, working with American Express, MasterCard, Visa, and the nation's largest retailers, who are in the process of deploying a new system.  This system is called Apple Pay.

While many of us in the public may have missed it, or thought that Apple Pay was simply a trademark on a wireless way to use your existing card to pay without having to swipe it - it is a completely different animal.

What gets me upset, is a couple things.  First, it is the federal government's job to regulate industries to protect national public interests - especially in things like this.  However, they have done absolutely nothing about the massively exploding volume of identity theft.  That last item I pasted, that article does not even begin to address the root cause of the problem - that the payment system itself is inherently insecure, because you a) have to trust the merchant by giving them payment information, and b) have to have a secure means of transferring that payment information to the merchant.  Neither of which are built into the current system.

So, this year as Apple Pay ramps up, I will keep you posted as to how it works.  I have already inquired into my bank how to get the card registered on my phone.  Sound off in replies as to your concerns, or any questions or issues you want me to research.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Apple September Announcement Recap / Why you should switch to iPhone

Why You Should Switch to iPhone

Although it may seem small to the big bloggers, TechGeekJay has passed 25000 page views - it is a milestone.  As I pass that mark, Apple has released the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, respectively, a larger phone, and a tablet-phone (no I won't use that ph-word).  Here's a rundown of what Apple announced yesterday, and how I see it playing out.  If you don't have an iPhone, I have a list of reasons why, if you care about those reasons, you may want to switch.
  1. The new iPhones sport a host of technological improvements:
    • NFC (Near-Field Communications) offers radio-wave technology for nearby events.  Especially, this is to enable the new Apple Pay service.
    • Faster - crazy fast, apparently on the second generation A8 64-bit processor, there are twice as many transistors as on the A7, and it is smaller.  That is crazy.  And yes, more means a lot - more transistors in less space means better energy efficiency, faster processing, and more capabilities.
    • Better screen, what they now call HD Retina display.
    • More LTE antennas, means a lot of things.  First of all, it works with more carriers throughout the world, and second of all, they use new technologies like:
      • Faster throughput over existing LTE signals
      • VoLTE - If you are not familiar with how LTE worked before, it uses LTE for high-speed data communications, but your voice was sent over old 3G signals on the same cell tower.  This means on some carriers (namely Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile in the USA), you couldn't have simultaneous voice and data (can't talk while surfing), and it also means that 3G signals take up more energy than LTE to transmit/receive, so it uses up battery faster.  VoLTE means your voice conversations also take place over the LTE frequencies, so you can do more (yes, those of use with AT&T have been enjoying that for years), at a lower power consumption.
      • WiFi Calling - First with T-Mobile, and then with other carriers, this will revolutionize phone coverage for all of us.  Before, WiFi calling meant if you are on WiFi, and don't have a cell signal, you can make a call (with a calling app like Vonage, MagicJack, Skype, etc.) - but if you walk outside range of the WiFi, you're dropped.  Now, the new iPhone 6 uses a new technology to seamlessly transitions calls between Cellular and WiFi, using whatever is available to provide uninterrupted service.
    • Apple Pay - Lots of people have been touting NFC as a means of paying by waving a device at the cash register.  However, that does not address fundamental issues with the way people pay now, namely security and authentication.  In true Apple fashion, they have rethought (rethunk?) the process from the ground up - and come up with a secure rework of the entire Credit/Debit Card system, and put electronic payments into that framework (of course, with AmEx, Visa and MasterCard on board, plus a whole list of major retailers).  Let me run down why this is so revolutionary, because it may not be obvious at first:
      • First, is the card number.  This is one critical piece, if thieves have, they have a huge first step in being able to use your payment method.  Apple Pay does not use your card number, in fact it is not stored in the phone, nor is it transmitted to merchants for payment.  How do they do this then?  They create unique, dynamic transaction information that is unique for each transaction, so even if thieves do get ahold of those numbers, they can't do anything with them.
      • Security code, again is a thing of the past.
      • Magnetic Strip - as Tim Cook said, is 50-year-old technology, and prone to all kinds of issues.  Gone.
      • Name - another key thing thieves want, is the cardholder's name.  This is also not shared with the merchant at the time of purchase, so your privacy is protected.
      • Authorization - in order to authorize the payment, you scan your fingerprint.  Even if someone does steal your phone, they won't be able to pay with it.  And remember, your card information isn't even directly on the phone.  What is on the phone, is stored encrypted in a special chip that is segregated from the rest.
      • In order to register your card with your phone, you have to scan it, then go to the issuing bank and have them signify that you are the cardholder.  So, even a lost card cannot be scanned and used in this way.
  2. iOS 8
    • iOS 8 is the new mobile operating system.  To say that it sports a list of x00 new features is meaningless.  i-Device users know that iOS 7 was a huge, major rework.  Normal users won't notice this for a while, but I would argue that iOS 8 is a huger majorer rework!  But that rework is under the hood - imagine if you will, if you buy a new car that looks a lot like last year's car, but it has a completely redesigned engine and transmission.  That's iOS 8.
    • What's so new and groundbreaking?  Most if it is targeted at developers:
      • Extensions.  This allows developers to write custom apps that are not just apps, but extend what your device can do.  Custom keyboards, custom notifications (including interaction within the notification), custom file targets (new destinations you can copy files to), photo editing extensions, and more - these mean developers can develop custom plug-ins to extend the built-in functionality of typing, editing photos, saving files, and more.  This is not at all new - Android has had it, and other systems.  However, the way Apple does it is secure, and most importantly secures your privacy.  You can use these Extensions and prevent them from unauthorized access to your private information - in fact, the keyboard extensions don't have access to what you type, so they can't log passwords or sensitive information - and you can restrict their access to the Internet so they can't send data back to a site.
      • Opt-Out of Group Chat.  This, alone, if I were to single out any feature, makes upgrading to iOS 8 worth it.  But not only that, you can set a chat group on do-not-disturb, opt out completely, create a group from the chat, and send text messages to a group.  The chat interface has been redesigned, so there is a Details button now, that gives you an overview of all media in the chat - at a glance, you can see all photos, sounds, etc. in the conversation, and interact with them.
      • Chat cleanup - you know how your free space keeps going down?  Now, photos, sounds, videos, and all those large attachments people send you in Messages will go away after a while, unless you tap Keep.
      • Simple gadgets in Messages to record and send audio or video selfies.
      • Quick access to frequent contacts by double-tapping home button.
      • Interactive Notifications, so you can reply to text messages from your lock screen, remove notifications from the lock screen (so they don't keep buzzing you), and more.  Developers can write their own interactions as well.
      • A new Programming Language.  Apple has used "Objective-C" as the programming language to develop Mac and iOS apps for almost 30 years now.  They have spent the last few years taking modern language developments, and fashioned a new language, Swift, so that developers can quickly develop new apps quickly, reliably, and with whole new ways of developing that reduces development time while improving stability and reliability.  Having had exposure to about 15 different programming languages, and having worked with Swift for a month, this is hands down the best language I have ever worked with.
  3. Apple Watch
    • I have not worn a watch for many years, and would consider myself a non-watch-wearer, because I have no desire to wear one.  However, the integration of Apple Watch with the iPhone is epic, and the ability to use Apple Pay with the watch is truly astounding.  I want one.  I don't need one.
    • Again, not first to market - but BEST to market.  Apple took its time, looked at Pebble, Galaxy Gear, and others, and noted what worked, what didn't work - and what needed to work together.  They have made a smart watch that I actually want for once.
    • With Watch Kit (the developer offering) coming out, the Watch can only get better.
    • Some people wanted round faces - I'm sure that's coming, but hey, this is a first go-round.  The fact that you can swap out options and accessories means you can customize your own watch with ease, and probably never see another one just like it in your life.

My Take

  • Extensability
    • I see this as providing a long-term growth accelerator.  There will be, in the next year or two, an explosion in capability within the Apple universe (yes, like there wasn't already!).
    • Coupled with Swift, we will also see a new class of app developers who can pick it up more easily.
  • Apple Pay
    • Just what we needed!  Don't just do NFC payments, but rethink it - because my jitters over the past few years when people talk about Apple doing NFC payments are solely around having someone standing next to you, with a NFC scanner, while you pay for something - and if they hadn't rethought it, it would have been Identity Theft Heaven (or ITH).  I see this, more than anything, revolutionizing the antiquated credit/debit card system.
  •  Big Phones
    • Apple now has entered the large phone market - and with a bang.  Haven't I said before, they are not the first to market, but the best to market?  This will eat into Samsung and HTC sales.
  • Apple Watch

Why Should You Switch to iPhone?

If you care about any of the following aspects, I believe this is why you should switch:
  • Virus and Malware Protection - Apple has achieved massive percentages of in-use devices on the latest updates, and this is so important.
  • Security and Privacy - although many of us are cynical in this day and age, we are more and more vulnerable to surveillance and identity theft than ever before.  Apple has done more than any one company (or any 10) to fight that - with hardware security, a closed and monitored app environment, and thought out every last detail of everything they enter into.  If you care about your credit cards - transition to this form of mobile payments.
  • Digital Interoperability - almost everything in life nowadays works with Apple devices - including light bulbs, appliances, sprinkler systems, door locks, cars, appliances, and more.  But that aside, if you do give in and buy Apple TV, Airport Time Capsule, Mac computers, and more - it all works seamlessly to provide a robust and modern vision of digital life, one that enhances your lifestyle and enables you to more efficiently accomplish your pursuits.
  • Phone Size - if you are one of those tablet/phone combo people, you no longer have that to complain about.  Get the 6 Plus.  Me, I'm sticking with a more reasonable 6, going on order tomorrow.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Yet Another Apple Product Par Excellence

As you might have noticed, I have become a raving fan of Apple's products (no, really!).  Recently, I purchased a new genre of product from them - the Airport Time Capsule.  This is a WiFi router that has a hard drive built into it, to support network backups.  The Airport boasts the following features:
  • 802.11ac standard, which runs from 433 Mbps up to 2.6 Gbps (this is 1.5x to almost 9x as fast as 802.11n standard)
  • Dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz
  • Optional Guest network (allows friends to come over and use WiFi, without having access to your computers and private systems)
  • Gigabit Ethernet wire ports
Now, as great as that all is, we are talking $299 for an ac router and 2TB backup drive.  I spent $80 for my D-Link DIR-826L, which is the same thing but 802.11n and minus the 2TB hard drive.  This actually is quite reasonable, considering it is a premium brand and current technology - but how does it stack up?


This Airport router is replacing a D-Link DIR-826L, which is also a dual-band router (albeit 802.11n), with gigabit network ports.  Initially, I really liked the D-Link, but found the configuration pages very confusing.  I was also not impressed with their choice of Microsoft ASP.NET as a web GUI configuration platform - and suspect that played into the problems I experienced.  First off, there were a million configuration options.  Having that flexibility is nice on one level, but I found myself having to dig through many screens just to get to the configuration I wanted.  That also means a lot of trial-and-error, and constant reboots to have the new settings take effect.  After downloading firmware updates, and spending weeks on the D-Link forum, I eventually gave up what I was trying to do - bridge to my AT&T network so that my devices using the faster WiFi and media network could also communicate with my TV devices.  I also had trouble routing VPN traffic through the D-Link to my server, and it had replaced a Linksys router that worked great at that.

Second, the performance on the router admin page was atrocious - very slow.

Worse, after a couple of months I noticed that the D-Link router would only stay operational for a few weeks, maybe up to 2 months max - then it would just stop working.  Devices would connect, get IP addresses, but no Internet was available - until I rebooted the router.  There was no automatic scheduled reboot function available, and D-Link support could offer no better solution.  After 18 months of constantly rebooting the router after sudden Internet outages, I finally gave up.

Airport Time Capsule

In true Apple fashion, the Airport router way exceeded my expectations.  And, I was expecting it to behave very well indeed!  Installation was of course easy (how hard is it to plug cords in?), but the configuration was done through a utility built into the Mac operating system.  It seriously could not have been easier - and within 5 minutes I had my personal and guest WiFi set up, bridged to the AT&T network, and running at blazing speeds (all my devices are still n, but ac are coming soon -- boy do I hope the iPhone 6 has ac!).

Note that you must have a Mac or Apple mobile device to configure your Airport product - there is no generic web interface to configure it.  This may be a negative for some people, but I find it reassuringly secure, and greatly simplifies configuration.  Plus, you should switch to a Mac anyhow.

After running for a few weeks now, I am amazed by several things.  First, multiple devices from multiple vendors - Samsung, Roku, Microsoft, Lenovo, HP, as well as Apple just connect to the Airport WiFi quickly, and IP address allocation (via my AT&T router) is also snappy - much faster than the D-Link.

Second, performance.  About 2-3 times a week, I check for my home network performance - a habit I get into, especially when I find a slow web site.  Typically it has been about 12-16 Mbps, with peaks around 18 Mbps (on a service of 18 Mbps).  I have no idea how, but while connected to my Airport router this week, I have noticed speeds up to 24 Mbps - exceeding the bandwidth that I pay for.  I don't know if the bridging as opposed to NAT gives me a speed boost (as I suspect), but definitely life with the Airport router is really nice.

Cloud Drive

One reason why my routers must have a Gigabit Ethernet port, is that I bought about the same time as the D-Link, a Western Digital MyBook Live cloud drive.  This has a Gigabit Ethernet port, and hosts my video library.  Thus, I want streaming from the drive to be fast within my house, and not bottlenecked when we watch shows on 2 Apple TV's and an iPad at the same time (which we often do).  We also use the MyBook Live as a second backup drive (it supports Apple AFP protocol, and Time Machine backups natively).  So, we have redundancy in our backups of 5 computers, and lots of storage space for all those audio and video files.

As opposed to a cloud service (like Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, Apple iCloud Drive, DropBox, and more), a Cloud Drive gives you access to storage, but on hardware that you buy, own, and set up somewhere.  My WD drive is 2TB, so I have it partitioned into 800 GB for Apple Time Machine backup, and 1.2 TB for media (video/audio library).  I can access the cloud drive via an app on my mobile devices or computer from anywhere in the world, and from home I simply load the media into iTunes on a computer and share it, to watch from a computer, mobile device, or Apple TV.  For a price of $130 almost 2 years ago, 2TB is very nice.  And, I don't have to worry about anyone hacking into it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Get Ready for New Apples ("Wish We Could Say more")

As Fall rolls around, it is Apple season in Michigan.  That means, not only do we get a new batch of delicious fruit for our pantries (2014 is a bumper crop year - and the cider mills are always busy), but we also get a new set of electronics for our digital life (from Apple, Inc. of course).  In case you like Apple products, but aren't a big enough fan to follow all the rumor mills and blogs, here's a quick rundown of what's up:
  • Tuesday September 9 at 10:00 AM PST (1:00 PM EST), Apple is having a special media event - a.k.a. the iPhone announcements.
    • This event will be live broadcast on a special Apple Events channel on your Apple TV.
    • You should also be able to watch the live stream on Apple's web site.
  • Software Update to iOS 8 offers these major improvements, plus much more:
    •  Silence / Unjoin Group Chats in the Messages app
    • Instant access to Favorites and Recent contacts from anywhere on the phone with double-tap Home button
    • Instant record-and-send of selfies, voice messages, and videos from the Messages app
    • HomeKit allows developers to use standard Apple programming modules to develop their own apps to integrate with home automation devices (garage door openers, appliances, door locks, cameras, etc.)
    • Health app - Just like the Passbook where you store tickets and passes in one place on your device, you can now store personal health-related information in one place
    • HealthKit allows developers to use standard Apple programming modules to store and retrieve personal health data from your Health app, so health apps can better integrate with Health app
    • Extensions - Developers can now develop custom apps that not only provide you an app, but extend built-in functionality on your phone.  Custom keyboards, custom Photo app plug-ins, and more are now possible - but in typical Apple fashion, they have thought this through completely, with your data privacy and device security foremost.  This means that these extensions cannot in any way take over your device and perform malicious things.
    • Predictive Text - Again, in typical Apple fashion, they have re-invented predictive text typing.  All other devices, as you type a few letters, it guesses what you want to type based on the letters.  With Apple, you don't even have to type.  It learns from your history of typing, and even whether you are typing in the Messages app versus the Mail app, and to whom you address your messages, as well as word you have typed previously in the sentence - to accurately predict some follow-on word suggestions.  This gives you adaptive predictions for business versus personal conversations, in context of whether you are typing a short text message or an e-mail.
    • Continuity uses a set of features called Handoff that transfer your digital life between Apple mobile devices and your Mac computers.  You can start and pick up e-mail composition, document editing, phone calls, and more between your Apple devices (all supported by the new OS X Yosemite due for public release this fall).
  • Rumors have abounded, and many "news leaks" have abounded as well showing parts from the new device lineup, so many of these rumors are based on some basis in reality.
  • Apple should announce at least 1, if not 2 (or more) new iPhones with the iPhone 6 line.  The following features are expected:
    • Larger screen size options - it is probable the same iPhone 5 size will continue, but also at least one larger option.
    • Apple has signed partnerships recently with American Express and Visa/Mastercard, and so mobile payments via Near Field Communication (NFC) are expected to be included in the phones.
    • Better battery life is pretty much a given, as they constantly improve year over year.
    • More RAM (as you know, in computers your working memory size gives you your speed, so more is better) - this is not your flash storage, but how much memory the phone has to work with while booted.
  • Although this has been a tightly held secret, for years now analysts have expected Apple to enter the so-called "wearables" market (although they already are in it with the iPod Nanos), with a much-rumored iWatch.
    • The iWatch is speculated to be considered at the $400 price point.
    • It is rumored to show you notifications from your phone, like incoming messages, phone calls, etc. and may also have health monitors to integrate to the Health app (pulse, blood pressure, pulseox, etc.)
  • Persistent rumors throughout the years that Apple will release a new line of Televisions are probably false, as there seems to be no basis in reality that they are ramping up production.