Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Google Places replaces Local Business Center

Google has rebranded its Local Business Center service as Google Places. It's essentially the same service as before, but with a few new features. These include service area mapping, a $25 a month feature to help businesses stand out by adding "tags" to their listings, free business photo shoots, QR codes (see below) and a bit more. Local Business Center users in the Dallas-Fort Worth area will not be able to take advantage of the tagging service or the free photo shoot for the moment, at least.

QR codes are similar to barcodes. Certain models of smartphones have the ability to scan such an image on a business card, for example, in order to go directly to the business's mobile version of their Place Page. The QR code for MobileVisibility.com's Place Page is shown below.  For my Motorola Droid, the application that can scan this is "Barcode Scanner" and probably several other apps.  For the iPhone, one suggested app is "Barcodes."  Google suggests that you can find out what works for your smartphone by searching by your smartphone's model name and "QR reader."

Even without some of the features being available in DFW (yet), this rebranding isn't just a name swap, it's an upgrade.

Official Google Blog: Introducing Google Places

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Waiting for a better way ...

For want of the kind of screen recording software we have on PCs (Jing comes to mind), it's not possible to get high quality video images from a phone. But, static images aren't a problem on the iPhone and only slightly more difficult, and inconvenient, for the Android phones.  It's moving images that are a challenge.

Because I need to tell a story with video from my phone, I spent hours trying different configurations of phone position vs. camera position to record my Motorola Droid's images onto my Kodak Zi8 video camera. The camera's not very high-end, but it does have a limited macro setting and a few other key features. At $180, it fit what I could spend on a camera.

Some configurations involved clamping the phone vertically on its side (to best fit the aspect ratio of the camera) and created the concern that I would damage the phone's case.  Believe me, I was very careful and even added neoprene pads to the clamps.

I finally came up with the simple solution below.

I may have to brace the phone slightly to prevent its moving, but no stress on the case from clamps.  It took longer than it should have, but it came to me that it was easier to adjust focus by changing the height of the camera via the crank.  Too bad I didn't think of it sooner.  Opening the keyboard forces the screen to go horizontal and doesn't require the Droid to be upright on its side.

For all that effort, this is the quality of the image I get ... serviceable, but not the quality I'd like to have. (it was recorded at 720p).  Just a few weeks ago, I had no concerns about recording phone images of any kind.  Now, I'm learning. It makes me wonder if it isn't easier to tell my stories with static images.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Guest post from myself: The Computer in Your Hand

Just a couple weeks ago, when I originally wrote this post, I'd had no particular thoughts about putting up a blog related to WirelessVisibility.com. Since what I wrote pertains precisely to the subject matter of this blog, here is that post in full as my initial post here.

It was less than two weeks ago that I joined the legions of smartphone users. Until then, I'd been quite pleased with my Motorola RAZR V3xx. It was reasonably compact, being a clamshell design. It could look at my gmail, it could text, it could look at Google maps and, within limits, it could even navigate the web. Plus, it was rugged. I know that because I had dropped it many times, usually on hard surfaces. Thank you, Motorola.

But, my RAZR wasn't a "smartphone." That's what I needed. I was even willing to switch from AT&T after 17 years to get what I wanted.

Smartphone design has continued to escalate since the early Blackberrys and Palm phones. The real landmark in smartphone design was the introduction of the first iPhone design in June of 2007. With the iPhone, smartphones became accessible to more than the corporate users and avid texters. And the uses of the smartphone grew exponentially with the availability of apps (software applications), many of them free, particularly those that Apple made available for followers to install on their iPhones.

Three years after the introduction of the iPhone, I've finally caught  up. Last year, there were 47 million smartphones shipped in North America alone. This year, the analysts are expecting the number will rise to 65 million. RIM (Research in Motion, maker of the Blackberry) is still the market leader, but the iPhone and the new Google Android-powered phones are slowly eating away at its market share.

My phone of choice is the Motorola Droid. It's a bit newer in design than the iPhone and uses the Android operating system, as do a number of other new smartphones. Even though one of its primary duties is as a phone ("Hello." "Hello! How are you." "I'm fine thank you." Remember that?), I really view it more as a "mobile computing platform."

Nevermind. Its usage as a phone is almost secondary.

Now, "mobile computing platform" is the heart of the smartphone story. These little devices are taking that concept to a higher and higher level.
  • My phone is GPS-equipped, so it can locate me, as precisely as within a couple meters, almost anywhere on Earth. It can act exactly like a dedicated in-car GPS complete with turn-by-turn navigation and voice directions.
  • It connects to the Internet, so it has access to almost boundless information. It displays websites with good fidelity and will soon have a Flash player, unlike the iPhone.
  • It has voice translation, so I can have my spoken English converted to a number of other languages, even that of the Droid itself (or vice-versa).
  • Through many of the available software applications, it can "mash up" data to give me information about the restaurant I'm standing in front of or tell me the names of the constellations I'm looking at in the sky.
  • It can scan the barcodes of food products and tell me their nutritional value or scan the barcodes of electronics products and tell me where I can find the cheapest price.
  • It can take pictures and post the images to the web or shoot video and stream what it sees to another user.
  • And that's just getting around to its use as an entertainment machine. It can play music from MP3 files on the phone or from Internet websites that stream music. It can play video from YouTube and networks like CBS and even play movies from Blockbuster (coming soon).
  • Sorry, I have to add two more: flashlight and compass. Canteen? NO!
I don't think I'm done, but I will stop. You get the idea. The smartphones can do everything but production work, like running Photoshop or Excel or web development or writing (like this) requiring the speed and relative ease of a real keyboard.

I'll be darned. Eric Schmidt was right. Watch the video I posted of his speech, if you haven't already. Computing doesn't mean just desktops and notebooks anymore. More and more, it's mobile computing taking the center stage.

If you run a business, you really have to think about how this affects you. Can you be found? What's your reputation? Millions of buying decisions are going to be made by people with smartphones in their hands.

I think that's a great start for this blog ... prewritten by me.