Tag Archives: Mobile

New Square Reader Arrives

Square introduced a new, thinner mobile payment reader this month. Mine arrived today. It’s a more sleek design but retains the same look Square’s known for.

square-logo-blackSquare is a mobile payment company founded in 2010 by Jack Dorsey and Jim McKelvey. Dorsey is also co-founder at social network and microblogging platform Twitter.

Square Register allows merchants to accept credit and debit card payments on iOS and Android mobile devices. The Square Wallet app enables users to pay for merchandise, sans card, at Square-equipped merchants.

In 2012, Starbucks partnered with Square to bring the service to more than 7,000 Starbucks locations nationwide.

Image Credit: Square Inc.

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5 Tech Predictions for 2013

5. Second Screen takes off – The second screen takes on the big screen.

The second screen is taking over. Users are splitting their time between the main screen and a second screen  companion devices and apps. For live shows, users turn to Twitter. For movies and streaming content, users stick to GetGlue to check-in and provide live commentary. (If you’re into streaming video like Netflix and Hulu Plus, you’ll want to check out GetGlue.) In November, GetGlue was acquired by TV-loyalty service Viggle for $25 million in cash and 48 million shares.AirPlay-like devices also allow users to stream media from a tablet or smartphone wirelessly to a television set. It opens up content from apps or the web and makes it playable on a user’s TV. Apple AirPlay on Apple TV is one of the first and best. More are on the way in 2013.
4. Facebook loses market share– due in large part to audience fragmentation.Facebook has an enormous lead when it comes to audience share among social networks because it’s always one step ahead of the competition. The same changes that infuriate some users are the ones that keep others wanting more. MySpace lost users because it was stagnant. Facebook doesn’t want to suffer the same fate.
But users will begin to explore other options in 2013, including LinkedIn, Google+, Foursquare, Path and others, all of which have adopted the “Newsfeed” layout. Users will spend more time on these sites, which means less time spent on Facebook. Foursquare, for example, has de-emphasized its leaderboard and put more focus on the newsfeed and its “Explore” feature. 

3. Mobile Payments become mainstream –  Square launched in 7,000 Starbucks coffee houses in November of 2012. Today, Square is processing $10 billion in annual mobile payments. In 2013 mobile payments will become mainstream.

Joining Square in the mobile payment race are competitors Google Wallet, PayPal, Intuit, Visa, Mastercard, American Express, VeriFone, among others.

2. Free city-wide Internet – Public Wi-Fi gets closer to the streets in 2013. Already available at many restaurants and stores, more hotspots are on the way. 

But more than just hotspots: Google has been working on a city-wide Wi-Fi network for some time, with the first attempt around 2007. It’s Google Fiber project seems to have taken the spotlight, as the company rolled out the high-speed broadband network in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2012. 

I feel like now is the time to break some ground on city-wide Wi-Fi. 

The Tel Aviv municipality announced in December of 2012 that it would be deploying a city-wide Wi-Fi network in Israel, headed by Motorola Solutions, that includes 80 relay stations for free wireless access. Watch for a similar service to hit the United States in 2013.

1. Big Netflix Competitor– I predicted it for 2012. Redbox Instant by Verizon launched in Beta in December of 2012. Could it be the Next Netflix? Others are rumored to be teaming up for a service. Amazon Instant Video is gaining steam, though is part of a much larger plan for Amazon. It will take a lot of financial backing which is why we’ll likely see businesses teaming up on this one. Hulu is handcuffed by its owners (Comcast’s NBCUniversal, Disney and News Corp.).
Whether it’s Redbox and Verizon, Amazon or another new service, watch for it to take off in 2013. 

5 tech predictions for 2012

Read last year’s 5 Tech Predictions here.

The Death of Physical Storage

It wasn’t long ago that we stored files on floppy disks and CDs. After that came USB flash drives and portable hard drives.

The next wave of computer storage and file backup is the cloud – and it will mean the death of physical storage, including our cherished DVD collection.

The Cloud

The cloud – or cloud computing – is really just a metaphor for the Internet and personal storage on a network. So it’s not exactly new. But increased bandwidth has made cloud storage more practical for both personal and business applications.

The cloud is like a hard drive in the sky, allowing users to store files on a computer network, accessible on-demand from any device with an Internet connection.

Users can upload documents in addition to music, photos, and video as well as use the cloud as a backup service. Files can be stored on the cl

oud rather than saving documents on a local computer – or physical forms of storage – and thus only accessible from that device and susceptible to crashes, accidental deletion or file corruption.

An Internet connection is required to access the cloud; though files can be saved from the cloud to a local device (computer, smartphone, tablet, etc) for offline access.

Services like Dropbox, Google Drive and Carbonite Online Backup save files automatically from a local computer by syncing when files have changed. Multiple users can have access – with permission – to the same cloud drive for easy collaboration on projects.

Cloud Choices

There are public clouds – also known as shared clouds – and private clouds – also called internal clouds, which feature added security and control – as well as hybrid clouds that combine the two. However, most small businesses would be fine with public clouds like Google Drive or Dropbox.

Subscription cloud services are being offered by the Internet’s biggest players including Amazon, Google and Apple. Most companies are offering a free amount of storage space to start, with premium-priced storage upgrades. Amazon and Apple cloud users can purchase music online and save it directly to the cloud or upload their own music collection. Google Drive also touts music storage with its Google Play Music Manager, a branch of the new Google Drive.

How big is the Cloud?

Want to know how big of a player it already is? How many of the digital photos you own are already stored on Facebook, Flickr or Instagram? These services are holding your photos free of charge on their servers – on their cloud. Last year, Facebook was storing a reported 140 billion user photos, at the time representing 4 percent of all photos ever taken.

Today, more than 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day by its more than 900 million users.

I predict that Facebook will introduce personal cloud storage this year, a space to store files, as well as share and collaborate on projects with team members or friends. This would go head-to-head with Google’s new Google Drive, which replaced Google Docs when it launched in April. A Facebook cloud would also go hand-in-hand with the rumored Facebook phone. Facebook did not respond to my request for comment on cloud storage.

How you can benefit from the cloud

You can sign up for free cloud storage today. Whether you want to save files directly to the cloud for safety or collaboration, or use it as a back-up service, you can get started in minutes.

The cloud isn’t limited to just documents, photos and music. Walmart has been pushing a disc-to-digital service called UltraViolet which converts DVDs to digital copies. UltraViolet, which launched eight months ago, has attracted three million users. For an extra $2 per DVD or Blu-ray title, users can purchase a separate cloud-based digital version as well as a digital copy in Walmart’s streaming-video service Vudu. The disc-to-digital conversion includes older DVDs that consumers have already purchased.

How I use the cloud: Google Drive and Dropbox allow me to work on documents from the cloud and save them directly, without downloading them to my computer. This allows me to access them at work, at home or anywhere I have an Internet connection. It also provides me with a higher level of security, in the event my laptop becomes damaged or stolen.

Since my files are on the cloud, they are everywhere I am.

The latest version of Microsoft Office is entirely cloud-based. Microsoft Office 365 combines email, calendars, documents, web conferencing and Microsoft’s full line of Office products in one web-connected cloud service for easy collaboration among team members.

Cloud storage services are in a heated battle to see who can store the most user-data. Photos and music are at the forefront. Movies are next.

What’s next for the cloud?

Say goodbye to DVDs. In the future we’ll store our home movie collection on the cloud. Similar in effect to the way we operate our Netflix library. Buy a movie from Amazon and it’s stored directly to our own personal cloud. Blu-ray discs already come with a digital copy. Soon they’ll come with a cloud copy.

Today’s products and services are geared toward mobility: laptops, smartphones, tablets and entertainment services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Slacker and Spotify. Mobile is taking over.

The cloud is the next logical step in connecting our content to our devices for business and entertainment.

The next five years will lay the foundation for cloud storage. As broadband speeds increase and high-speed Internet becomes ubiquitous, the cloud will play host to all of our digital lives and make physical storage obsolet

Foursquare and Location-Based Services for your Business

In marketing school it’s taught that the purpose of a business is to create a customer. One new way has emerged in recent years to specifically identify new customers, or at least those who opt to check-in.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on StateCollege.com in Tech Talk, a biweekly column by Eric Zimmett. Click here to view the original column.

Location-based services (LBS) allow users to check-in at businesses via smartphone and share their location with other users, in addition to posting photos, comments or reviews.

According to the annual Mobile Life study, published this week by research group TNS, there are six billion mobile users in the world. Among them, one fifth (19 percent) are already using LBS. They’re already “checking in.” And three times that number (62 percent) is planning to do so in the future, according to the same report, available at www.tnsglobal.com/mobilelife.

The most publicized of these LBS is Foursquare. Foursquare was founded in 2009 by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadura.

Prior to Foursquare, Crowley co-founded a similar service called Dodgeball, which was acquired by Google in 2005. Four years later, Google shut it down and replaced it with Google Latitude.

There are a reported 20 million Foursquare users – up from eight million just one year ago – according to a Foursquare report released on April 16, 2012, a social media holiday also known as Foursquare Day. Foursquare’s growth is a reflection of not only the company’s success but the adoption of smartphones and our increasingly mobile-tech lifestyles.

Foursquare, which is free for both users and merchants, is now one of many LBS including Facebook’s own check-in feature – a 2011 revamp of Facebook Places – which allows users to tag a location in any update or post.

Four steps to Foursquare for the user

  1. Check in
  2. Get Points and Badges
  3. Become Mayor
  4. Get Rewarded

Check-in here

After signing up for Foursquare, and downloading the free application for smartphones, users are ready to check in. This is done by simply launching the Foursquare application and viewing the Places around you. Foursquare determines a user’s location based on the smartphone’s built-in GPS.

For those thinking Foursquare is a bit too personal, keep in mind that the check-in is a manual process. Users decide when and where to check in.

When checking in, users can add comments, tips or photos for a given location. If a business isn’t in the Foursquare system, users can add it themselves.

As I noted in my April 1 column – 5 Things Small Business Owners Should Be Doing –Foursquare is mostly user-generated. Users check-in on their own; unlock specials that merchants have created and compete with friends on their Leaderboards.

By checking in, users receive points and badges based on where, when and how often they check in. The Mayor often receives the largest reward. All rewards are set by the merchant.

A user becomes “Mayor” if he or she checks in more frequently at a location than other Foursquare users in a 60-day period. And can be ousted as mayor if someone checks in more frequently.

When a special has been unlocked, a clear message will display on the user’s smartphone screen notifying him or her of the accomplishment. To get rewarded, the user must then show the screen to the merchant to receive the unlocked special.

Four steps to Foursquare for the merchant

  1. Claim your venue
  2. Get your stickers
  3. Create a special
  4. Track its success

Merchants can create a venue or, if it’s already been created, search for it then claim it. Once you’ve found your venue on Foursquare’s website, click the link to let Foursquare know that you manage the venue. (Foursquare also makes it easy for merchants with multiple locations.)

After a few quick confirmation steps, you’ll be ready to use Foursquare for business.

Foursquare will verify that you’re the business owner by providing you with a verification code by phone or mail.

If the information for your business listing is incorrect, you’ll be able to edit it and continue claiming the venue. In many cases, Foursquare users create venues with incorrect or missing information.

Once a venue has been claimed, Foursquare will send you a Foursquare sticker. A window-cling that reads: “Foursquare Check-In Here. Check in to unlock specials, meet up with friends and explore what’s nearby.”

Creating a special: Foursquare allows merchants to create specials for Foursquare users to unlock and redeem. Specials like a discount with a minimum purchase (spend $25, get $5 off); a free offer (check in and get a free gift); specials for return visits (free coffee on your fifth visit); or specials for achieving Mayor status. Foursquare has a group of specials at your disposal and a step-by-step guide for creating them.

Once you’ve completed the above steps to claim your venue, and created a special, it would be a good idea to notify all of your staff of Foursquare and the special you’ve offered. Foursquare makes this easy, too, with informational Employee Flyers for your staff.

Track the success: You’ll have access to real-time Foursquare analytics showing the total number of check-ins; most recent visitors; most frequent visitors; a demographic breakdown; activity across other social networks; as well as the success of any specials being offered.

And it’s all free. Get started at http://foursquare.com/businesses.

Thanks for checking in

With Facebook and photo-applications like Path and Instagram all incorporating location features, other services are following Foursquare’s lead.  

This results in customer activity that’s happening as close to the register as it gets.

Location-based services are attracting users at an unprecedented rate. Businesses would be smart to jump on the location-bandwagon now before their next would-be customer checks in across the street.

Top 5 tools for Mobile Productivity

Mobile is looking like Web 3.0 with the emergence of mobile devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook; the rise in smartphone usage; and the explosion of mobile apps. It’s not just for work. Mobile is taking over our lives. Work and play.

We’ve compiled the Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity, from the workplace to strictly entertainment.

Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity

1. Cloud Drives

Storage & Music

Standalone Cloud storage services like Dropbox receive most of the press. But Amazon’s variety comes with a music store.

Amazon is also a great place to store your music. Music purchases from the Amazon mp3 store can be saved directly to your cloud. And thus can be accessed anywhere and with a growing number of devices including smartphones and tablets. Start off with 5 GB of free storage. Just sign in, sign up for your free 5 GB and start uploading files for backup, storage or  to listen to your tunes without taking up space on your mobile device.

Hundreds of companies trust Amazon Web Services for their storage and hosting needs, including Netflix — which accounts for 25% of US Internet traffic — Yelp, Foursquare, PBS, Washington Post, Razorfish, SEGA, Urbanspoon, Tweet Deck, Airbnb, Harvard Medical School, NASA, Virgin Atlantic and more.

2. Google Apps

Calendar & Google Docs

It’s time to move on from Outlook, people. Google is the place to be. When I use Outlook for email or the calendar, it feels like I’m navigating a rotary phone…plus it’s tied to a machine. Google Calendar and Docs, as well as gmail, is tied to nothing; it’s all on the cloud. Access all of it on any computer, any smartphone, tablet or mobile device. Get calendar reminders on your smartphone.

With Google Apps (formerly Google Docs) user can save Documents, open Office products like Word and Excel — with or without Microsoft Office. When you save documents in the cloud — like resumes, presentations, pictures — they’re always with you.

Google’s smartphone apps — and native integration with most mobile devices — make all of your documents, calendar appointments and messages accessible anywhere with an Internet connection. Save documents, presentations or pictures as a backup or for instant access on any of your devices.

To get started, just sign up for gmail and click “Documents” at the top. [Note: if by the time of this post, Google has changed its navigation bar to a drop-down menu, just click the drop-down and find Documents.] Then start uploading files or Create a new document.

3. Smartphone Apps

There’s an app for that. It’s not just a saying. There really is an app for everything. News, Shopping, Books, Movies, TV, Social Networking, Checking in and just about anything else you can think of. Some of Tech Weekly’s favorites free apps for productivity and entertainment on the go:

  • Pulse News Reader – News from all around the web in one place
  • QwickMark QR Code Reader – Scan QR codes with this free app
  • ShopSavvy – Scan product bar codes to compare prices online and stores near you
  • Netflix* – all of Netflix instant streaming on your smartphone
  • Crackle by Sony – Free movies and TV on your smartphone
  • NFL Mobile – NFL News, Highlights and Live Streaming video
  • Amazon – Browse and buy everything Amazon on your smartphone
  • Amazon Kindle – Kindle’s library at your fingertips
  • Amazon mp3 – Listen to your library of songs from Amazon’s cloud drive
  • Slacker – Slacker Personal Radio on your smartphone
  • Foursquare – Check in to earn points, become mayor and unlock specials
  • Twitter – Follow your interests or tweet on the go with Twitter’s mobile app
  • Facebook – Update your status, check the newsfeed, check in or chat with friends
  • Shazam – Can’t name that song on the radio, just click Shazam and it’ll tell you
  • Flickr – Take photos and upload them to Yahoo’s Flickr
  • Yelp – Check reviews or find a new place to eat with Yelp’s smartphone app
*Subscription required for Netflix

4. MyFax

MyFax makes having a fax machine unnecessary. In fact, MyFax improves upon the old-school fax and then some.

No download necessary, just sign up for a MyFax account and you’ll be assigned a MyFax number. (You can pick the area code.) Once you’ve signed in, just click “Send a Fax.” Then enter the recipient’s fax number and attach the document you’d like to fax. Either scan the page to your computer and attach to the MyFax interface OR if the file is already on your computer, just attach. MyFax comes with some cool features including Cover Page Style; Status Flag for Urgent, Review, Comment, etc; and a Message Box. The recipient receives the fax in his/her fax machine, just like a normal fax.

Receive faxes right in your MyFax inbox as PDF or JPEG files. MyFax alerts you immediately via email. In fact, you can view the fax in your email inbox. If you’ve got email on your smartphone, you can view the fax right there. MyFax is a must for mobile work.

Send 100 faxes per month and receive 200 for only $10. Other options include Send 200, Receive 200 for $20. Or Send 400, Receive 400 for $40. Or an unlisted option of Send 50, Receive 50 for $5 per month. The plans can be changed at any time, though you’ll have to call MyFax to do it. Ironically, for an online fax service, you can’t change plans online. Though email is taking over, many businesses still fax documents. So ditch the fax machine and extra phone line and give MyFax a look.

5. Netflix

Netflix is the best thing to come to TV since color. It’s move to mobile only strengthens its hold on streaming movies and television content. And once you’ve got a Netflix subscription, it’s free on an unlimited number of devices. Use your one Netflix subscription on TVs, tablets, smartphones, etc. At home and on the road.

Until you’ve streamed Netflix content on a mobile device, it’s difficult to understand. A library of more than 20,000 titles available instantly with the tap of your finger. It’s as close to a dream as you’ll get.

To get started, just sign up for Netflix (streaming subscription starts at $7.99 per month after 1-month free trial) and download the Netflix app for your smartphone or mobile device. You’ll only have to sign in the first time after you download the app. From there on out it’s blue skies and smooth streaming.

Netflix is available on more than 700 devices including PCs; Macs; Internet-connected TVs; video-game consoles; Blu-ray players; Internet video players like Roku and Boxee; iPhone; iPad; Apple TV as well as Android and Windows devices…and more.


Ustream, the free Internet television network

Netflix gets all the hype when it comes to cable-killing Internet video, but Internet superchannel Ustream might be a better model for the next online cable network.

Founded in 2007, Ustream offers an array of shows, both live and recorded, as well as Internet channels from some of our favorite brands and celebrities. The company has offices Los Angeles, Tokyo and Budapest. Ustream Asia launched in 2010.

From CBS and TMZ to more specific interests like Campaign 2012 — or genre-specific channels like TechCrunch or Leo Leporte Live, a technology-focused show by popular tech reporter Leo Leporte of Tech TV fame — Ustream has a channel for every interest.

Ustream offers 12 categories on the dashboard including On Air — happening Live — News, Campaign 2012, Pets & Animals, Entertainment, Sports, Music, Tech, Gaming, Education, Spirituality and More.

Each category lists available channels. The Tech Category for example — one of my favorites — displays featured channels as well as Live channels In the below screenshot you’ll see three featured channels: Leo Leporte Live, Android Central as well as Space Vid Cast. NASA also offers a Ustream channels.

Ustream’s categories and channels are like networks and shows on a typical cable network. In fact, many popular network broadcasts, like the 2011 Emmy Awards, are simulcast on Ustream. After a show broadcasts live on Ustream, content can be archived. Though not all live shows offer this feature.

Users can view the channels live, view recorded programs or click “Join Crowd” which essentially adds the channel to the user’s favorites.

Ustream’s Mission: “to bring people together around shared interests for amazing live, interactive experiences that build and maintain relationships” (Ustream.tv/about).

When streaming on a computer, users can communicate with both the show and other Ustreamers during a live stream. Some televisions are now incorporating a Twitter feed to foster interactivity through social media.

On Ustream, social media interactivity is intrinsic to its design. On pay-TV — not distributed through an Internet connection — social media can seem forced or out of place. Flip on ESPN on DirecTV for five minutes and see how many times they drop “Twitter.” It feels forced almost every time. When video content is distributed via the Internet –whether on a computer or on a television — social media chatter is second nature; it’s a part of the experience. And the possibilities for advertisers are obvious. Purchases and more information are only one click away.

It’s tie-in with social media like Facebook and Twitter also allows for instantaneous updates on what’s streaming Live and what’s upcoming.

Users can get in on the fun, too, as Ustream allows anyone to start an Internet channel and “Go Live!” by broadcasting via webcam. Even Anderson Cooper has a Ustream Channel.

Closing comments & my experience with Ustream

I’m kind of a newbie to Ustream. I first checked it out a year ago and added the channel to my Roku player, where it sat unused. But then last week, I dove right in when I spotted a post on the Facebook Newsfeed concerning F8. Ustream was offering a Live Broadcast complete with commentary from Leo Leporte. F8 is the Facebook Developers Conference, which brings together developers, entrepreneurs and innovators “who are building a more social web.”

Thanks to Ustream’s connectivity, I watched portions of F8 on three different devices. Started on my Droid smartphone, then switched to my TV via Roku, and finished up on my laptop on http:ustream.tv

In less than four years, Ustream has successfully incorporated everything pay-TV is still trying to perfect: content, connectivity — across an array of devices — and completely natural interactivity.

Tech companies battling for customers

This is a great time to be a consumer. Companies are battling to release the next greatest advancement in technology — whether it’s NFC, Cloud Storage, Streaming Video or even Social Networking — and the consumers are ready and waiting. The instant a company releases a new product or service, the competition follows suit.

And that makes today’s consumer more connected than ever.

Brand extensions are to blame for much of the competition in technology today. Foursquare brings about Facebook Places. Skype leads to Google Hangouts. Square brings mobile payment to the forefront, with PayPal and Google following closely behind. Facebook (and MySpace before that) brought the rise of the social network; Google is now employing a brand extension with Google+.

A Brand Extension is when a company known for a particular good/service attempts to extend its services to another business category beyond its initial range.

Now, the current landscape:

Social Networking

Facebook vs. Google+

Facebook has been king of the social networking world since it overtook MySpace in 2008. MySpace was recently sold to Specific Media and entertainment artist Justin Timberlake. It’s future is still uncertain.

In the limited beta release of Google+, Google goes head to head with Facebook. A similar scenario to its battle with MySpace, only Google+ seems better equipped.

Google+ invites are on the streets as the company seems to be opening up its social network to more users. It’s limited beta at first offered only short windows for invites from current users. The service already is reported to have users in the millions, after a little more than one week on the market. Facebook, meanwhile, recently confirmed it has acquired 750 million users.

Mobile Payment

Square vs. Google vs. Paypal

Mobile payments are a hot topic, and the most popular service is likely Square, which hit $1 million in processed payments after less than a year in business. Square was launched by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in May of 2010.

Square allows users — whether it’s for personal or businesses use — to accept credit card payments using a smartphone and Square’s free mobile payment device, through which users swipe their actual plastic cards. (Square does not use NFC technology.)

Google unveiled its Google Wallet offering, a partnership with Citi, MasterCard, First Data, and Sprint. Google Wallet is an Android app that makes your phone your wallet. It accomplishes this by storing virtual versions of your plastic cards on your smartphone.

Using Near-Field Technology (NFC), users will be able to pay via their Google-Wallet equipped smartphones simply by tapping the phone on a checkout reader, available at many merchant locations.

And most recently, PayPal bolstered its mobile offering on July 7 with the $240 million acquisition of mobile-payment service Zong.

Zong partners with hundreds of mobile phone carriers around the world and allows users to enter their mobile phone number to make purchases. The charges are then applied to the user’s monthly mobile-phone bill.

Zong was eBay’s second mobile acquisition. The first was Fig Card, a Square-like device that allows users to accept payments with credit cards by swiping them through Fig’s USB-powered reader.

Check-ins

Foursquare vs. Facebook

Location-based applications allow users to ‘check-in’ via smartphone and share their location with other users of the service or other social networks. Users are able to see who else is checked in at a given location (from all users) or friends in nearby locations. By checking in, users receive points and/or badges and can unlock certain specials determined by the retailer.

The most publicized of these location-based apps is Foursquare. Today, there are a reported 8 million Foursquare users, up from just one million a year ago.

With the introduction of Facebook Places and other location-based services like Whrrl, which was acquired by daily deals service Groupon in mid-April, companies are copying Foursquare’s model. And vice versa, as evidenced by Foursquare’s recent inclusion and emphasis on its Yelp-like service directory Explore. Brand extensions are on display everywhere we look.

In June, Fast Company took a closer look at Foursquare vs. Facebook Places.

Video Inside Social Networking

Google vs. Facebook

With Google+, the company introduced Hangouts, a video-calling service. One week later, Facebook announced a partnership with Skype, allowing users to make video calls over the social network.

Facebook Video Calling will feature one-on-one video calls to your friends, a stripped-down version of Skype from what I understand. (Note: that’s not me in the screenshot; it’s a Facebook promo screen.)

The biggest advantage with Facebook Video Calling has when compared to Skype is that users don’t have to sign-up and login to Skype to chat; they simply do so through Facebook.

Google+ Hangouts allows group video chats with up to 10 participants, a sort of live chat room among your friends.

When Google+ Hangouts feature is launched, you can choose whom to invite in the video chat or simply alert all friends (or any other Circle) that you’re hanging out. And then wait for someone, among the Circle you’ve selected, to respond. (Note: that is me in the screenshot below, chatting with no one.)

As you can see at the bottom of the chat window (above), YouTube is also accessible via Hangouts.

I haven’t really discovered how YouTube can be used inside Hangouts. But I did watch Cake’s The Distance. I guess if my friends were on there we could have all watched it together…and then checked all of our reactions?

Google+ Hangouts and YouTube might be useful for work-related presentations. This service encroaches on GoToMeeting‘s territory. Now I’ve just got to find some people who want to have a meeting about Cake.

Cloud Storage

Amazon vs. Apple

On the Cloud, users can store music, videos, photos, and documents, which are then accessible from any computer or device with an internet connection and access to the cloud.

Amazon starts users off with a free 5GB of storage space. The 5GB of free space is about enough space, Amazon says, to store 1,000 songs. This first tier is free and you’ll never be charged for it. If a user purchases a digital album from Amazon’s mp3 store (amazon.com), it’ll upgrade your 5GB of free storage to 20GB. Other pricing/storage options for the Amazon Cloud range from 20GB to 1,000GB of space.

Apple iCloud operates in the same way as the Amazon Cloud Player, with iTunes integrated into iCloud. Everything purchased on iTunes is automatically accessible on the iCloud, in addition to other apps, photos, books and documents.

Streaming Music

Some companies like Amazon and Apple have tied their digital music services directly to Cloud Storage. Others like Slacker and Pandora are offering a more entertainment-centered approach.

Pandora makes things easy for listeners: subscription free and on nearly every device you own.

Pandora got its start on the computer. But the company is making even bigger leaps away from its traditional home on the PC; Pandora is now available on smartphones, tablets, televisions and a select number of automobiles.

According to a published report from Advertising Age, more than 50 percent of Pandora listening accomplished on devices other than the PC.

Slacker, however, is beginning to outshine Pandora in both integration and subscription options. Slacker offers three ways to listen. The first tier, like Pandora, is free of charge (but with ads) and allows users to create a custom station based on a particular band or song. The second is a paid subscription plan that provides unlimited song skips and is ad-free; Slacker Radio Plus is $3.99 per month.

Slacker also has a partnership with ABC News, with news breaks at the top of each hour for subscribers of either Slacker Plus or Slacker Premium Radio.

Slacker’s newest subscription is called Slacker Premium Radio. At $9.99 per month, this service includes everything available in Slacker Radio Plus as well as on-demand music, allowing listeners to search for and play songs on-demand, or songs from a particular artist. Slacker Premium Radio encroaches on MOG’s and Rdio’s territory — a brand-extension of sorts — by offering on-demand music.

It’s an exciting time for both consumers and businesses. Each service is experiencing tremendous competition — which only fuels innovation — as companies vie for the consumers’ time, interest and money.

The customers ultimately decide which products succeed and which ones flop. Therefore the success of these businesses relies much on us, the consumers, and in our experiences with these products and brands and how seamlessly we can integrate them into our lives.

The best technology becomes second-nature, like a brand extension of ourselves.

Source: PC Magazine, cbsradio.com, siriusxm.com, pandora.com, slacker.com, usatoday.com, cnet.com, radioink.com, Ando Media, Mashable.com, Mediapost.com, TechCrunch, Tech Crunch TVFast Company, Mashable, Techmeme, CNet, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, Engadget, CNN Money, MacWorld, AdAge, All Things Digital, The Next Web, Foursquare, Google, Facebook, Pandora, Slacker, Square, Paypal, Amazon.