Category Archives: application

Smart Hearing Aids from Siemens at CES

Siemens Hearing Test IconAs people get older, one of the more common complaints is of hearing loss. Many of those getting older now have grown up with technology and expect more than brown lumps of plastic which simply won’t do in an Apple-designed world. Today’s hearing aids are small, discreet and smart. Todd hears about the latest products from Thomas Powers of Siemens Hearing Instruments.

Siemens’ latest assistive hearing device is the Binex, which uses signal processing to help people in traditionally difficult listening environments, especially those where there’s a high level of background noise, such as restaurants or trade shows. The aid intelligently reacts to the noise, filtering out the unwanted sound while keeping nearby voices clear.

Worn around the neck, the easyTek streams audio from a Bluetooth-connected device directly into the hearing aid so it’s great for listening to music from a smartphone or tablet. The easyTek can be controlled by the easyTek app for Android and iOS smartphones to discreetly adjust programmes and volume, listen at a preferred level without disturbing others or direct the microphone towards the next person at a restaurant.

Available now, the smart hearing aids cost around $1500-$2000 which includes assessment and fitting.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Perfect Bake with Connected Scales at CES

Perfect BakeAlthough the Internet of Things is very much of the moment, sometimes all you need is a connected device. In this case, the device being connected is a set of kitchen scales. Todd and Todd start cooking with Darin Barri and Perfect Bake Scale and App.

Targetted at cooks and bakers, Perfect Bake combines digital scales with a tablet app to make sure that the weight (or more correctly mass) is just right. Connected via the audio jack, scales can weigh in real-time, showing the quantity on the tablet screen. The app has hundreds of recipes and can walk the baker through the steps with mixing times and instructional videos. The scales come with colour-coded preparation bowls to help too and the app can adjust quantities to suit appetite.

There’s an even an oven thermometer to make sure the temperature is right, so whatever’s baked, it’s baked perfectly every single time.

The app available for both Android and Apple devices, the Perfect Bake Scale and App is available now for $69.99 from Brookstone. A Bluetooth wireless version will be available later in 2015.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Todd Aune of The Elder Divide for the TechPodcast Network.

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TrackR has a New App for iOS and Android

Trackr LogoTrackR brought the latest incarnation of its mini trackers, the TrackR bravo to CES 2015. They have also rebuilt the TrackR app into a whole new one. The app is for iOS and Android.

The new TrackR app was made after listening to all the feedback that came from their customers. The app has been rebuilt from the ground up. One new feature is “quicker finding”. A single screen shows you the distance from the device, from the ring device, and lets you see GPS location of the thing you are trying to find.

TrackR app

The new device list enables you to quickly access items easier without the sliding and the hassle. The new menu makes it easier to manage separation alerts, safe zones, and Crowd GPS settings. The app also has better connectivity. The team has rebuilt the Bluetooth stack and the Bluetooth performance has been upgraded.

You can find more information about the TrackR on their Indiegogo page. Visit TrackR at the Sands Expo Booth #74335 at CES 2015.

Apple Watch Starts and Unlocks Car with Viper App

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 11.12.04 PMEveryone could use a way to remotely start, unlock, and lock their cars. It just makes life more convenient. Viper, a 30-year leader in car security, has announced the Viper SmartStart app at CES 2015.

Apple Watch Viper SmartStart App resizedThe SmartStart app will give users the ability to start, lock, unlock, and track their cars from virtually anywhere in the world with their smartphone. It will integrate Android Wear and Apple Watch accessibility in early 2015.

Viper’s smart watch functionality will be available for free download for Android and iOS through the company’s newest version of the Viper SmartStart 4.0 app. This app is compatible with all Viper SmartStart hardware. All existing and future Viper SmartStart users who purchase an Apple Watch or Android Wear product will be able to take advantage of the smart watch features at no additional cost.

The Viper SmartStart 4.0 app has been updated with a more intuitive home screen. It now offers faster access to the primary controls, including interactive overlays to walk customers through how to use the app.

Consumers can visit the Viper website to purchase a Viper system from an authorized deal and learn more about Viper SmartStart 4.0. Pricing starts at $149.99. Visit Viper at Booth # 1215 in North Hall at CES 2015.

TrackR Bravo Goes to CES

Trackr LogoIndigogo darling TrackR is at CES 2015 to show off the latest incarnation of its mini trackers, the TrackR bravo. If you aren’t familiar with TrackR products, they’re small, coin-sized devices which easily attach to valuable items that you want to track, from keys to laptops and pets. And if you do misplace something precious, the TrackR app for both iOS and Android, can locate any lost item in seconds by ringing your missing item or point the way using TrackR’s Distance Indicator. If it’s really lost, you can use Crowd GPS to track it down.

Trackr Bravo

The latest version, the TrackR bravo, raised over $1 000 000 in funding at Indigogo and is in the closing stages of development with full production expected in February 2015. It’s only 3.5 mm thick and 31 mm across, making it easy to attach and there are accessories such as a pet collar attachment and a waterproof housing. The TrackR bravo can be pre-ordered for $29.

TrackR received a batch of the latest development samples just in time for the CES and they’ll be at the Sands Expo Booth #74335. Pop round and see the TrackR bravo in person.

Fitbit Flex Review

Fitbit LogoOver the past year, I’ve noticed more and more people wearing activity tracking devices and here in Northern Ireland I tend to see Fitbits rather than anything else.  Fitbit has been advertising on TV lately too with “It’s All Fit” and I’m sure that there will be a good number of Zips, Flexes and Charges under the Christmas tree come 25th December. I’ve worn a Zip for nearly two years as part of my efforts to keep my weight down and on review today I have the next model up, the Fitbit Flex. Let’s take a look.

FItbit Flex Package

The Fitbit Flex comes in a neat transparent package that shows off the coloured wristband and opening the packaging reveals the fitness tracker itself, large and small wrist bands, a USB sync dongle and a USB charging dock.

Fitbit Flex Contents

The fitness tracker itself is the small black rectangular unit and it’s slipped inside a small pocket in the wristband to be worn both during the day and asleep at night. The wristbands are made of a soft plastic and are available in ten different colours with additional coloured bands on sale from Fitbit’s online store. The large size fitted me well and the smaller one will suit women and children. It’s not obvious in the pictures, but the Flex uses a push-through buckle to keep the band on. It’s a little tricky to get clicked in sometimes, but it keeps the wristband on and in the two weeks of testing I’ve not had any problems with the Flex falling off accidentally. The Flex is supposed to be water resistant to 10m (30ft) and while I didn’t go that deep, it did survive 1000m of surface swimming.

The tracker has a set of LEDs which show through the transparent plastic window on the wrist band. The user interface is simple with five round LEDs used to communicate with the owner and at a basic level, each dot represents a fifth of the way towards the daily target. For example, if the target is 10,000 steps, one LED is worth 2,000 steps. The picture below shows the tracker has measured 6,000 steps, give or take. Normally none of the lights are on but tap on the band at the tracker and the lights come on.

Fitbit Flex

The Flex has an internal rechargeable battery which lasts about 5 days between charges. To charge the Flex up, the tracker unit is taken out of the wristband and placed in the USB charging cradle which in turn is plugged into any available USB port. Charging is relatively quick, typically taking less than an hour.

Getting the activity data off the Flex is easy too, with syncing available between the Flex and both PCs and smartphones. Fitbit is agnostic with clients available for Windows, Macs, Android and iOS, though check compatibility to be sure as the phone or tablet has to support the Low Energy (LE) version of Bluetooth. Syncing with a desktop or laptop is a case of downloading and installing the app, sticking the USB dongle in and getting going. The dongle and Flex are pre-paired so there’s nothing to worry about there. Sync to a phone is similar – download the app from the relevant store and run it. The app will automatically search for the Flex and connect up. A Fitbit login is needed from and signing up for that is free. There’s a full lifestyle portal online which gives access to fitness stats from any web browser.

Personally I used my Flex almost exclusively with my Android phone (Nexus 4) and tablet (Nexus 9). The app shows daily activity, sleep patterns and can record exercise, weight, food and water if the information is added in conscientiously.

Flex Summary  Flex Summar

Different views of the data can be shown – on the left below is a weekly view. Contrary to indications, I didn’t spend Saturday lounging in front of the TV, but forgot to put the Flex on! The Flex can also track sleep patterns, though it can’t automatically detect sleep and needs the wearer to indicate the approximate time of going to bed and getting up.

Weekly Flex Summary  Flex Sleep Tracking

The Flex unit can vibrate too and vibration is used to give feedback to the wearer on attaining goals. It can be used as an alarm as well and although I wasn’t really keen on wearing the Flex in bed, the wake-up alarm worked well for me, prodding me to stir when I’d turned my other alarm off. I don’t normally wear a watch in bed so I did find wearing the Flex at night a little odd but that’s very much a personal feeling.

In the two weeks I used the Flex, I didn’t come across any other problems bar one time that the unit needed reset. I’m not sure what happened: I think I might have tried to sync with the Flex from both phone and the tablet at the same time but resetting the Flex was simple using the normal paperclip-in-reset-hole and no activity data was lost.

I came to this review as a Fitbit Zip wearer and to start with, I did think that the Flex was a little bit of a backward step as I couldn’t see the number of paces that I’d taken – the Zip shows this information on a small LCD screen.  However, over the course of the trial, I’ve got used to it and if I really want to know, I can do a quick sync with my phone to get the data. The Flex is much better than the Zip when it comes to wearing during activity and doesn’t get accidentally pulled off or left in the locker on trousers. The water resistance of the Flex is a bonus too. One downside is that the Flex doesn’t tell the time, so it can’t replace a wristwatch. For many people this isn’t an issue as they don’t wear a watch but for those who do, the Fitbit Charge is perhaps the answer.

The Fitbit Flex is priced at £79.99 RRP but can be found a little cheaper on-line.

Thanks to Fitbit for providing the Flex for review.

Raise App Makes Exchanging Gift Cards Easy

Raise app photoGift cards are the “go-to” gift for friends and family. Pick a store, choose how much you want to put on the card – and you have an instant gift. Sometimes, despite the best intentions, people get “stuck” with a gift card for a store that doesn’t match their personal tastes or style. Raise has launched a brand new app that will make it easy for you to exchange an unwanted gift card for one that you will like better. has a gift card marketplace that you can browse from their website. They recently launched an iOS app that is an extension of the full marketplace. (There isn’t an Android version of the app at this time). Now, you can exchange gift cards on-the-go. You can also use the app to buy a gift card while you wait in line to make a purchase at a “brick and mortar” store.

Use the Raise app to find a gift card from thousands of brands and stores. Sellers list their gift cards at a discounted price, and this enables users to purchase them at a discounted price. Raise does not charge sales tax, shipping costs, or processing fees. The price you see is the price you will pay for the gift card.

It takes 3 – 14 business days for a physical gift card to be delivered. An eGift card can be delivered to your Raise account within the hour. (It might take up to 24 hours if further verification is needed.)

Want to use the Raise app to sell a gift card? They accept gift cards from any brand, retailer, or restaurant. Physical gift cards must have a minimum of $10.00 on them. The eGift cards must have a minimum balance of $1.00 on them. You can sell a partially used gift card.

If your gift card sells, Raise will deduct a 15% commission from the selling price. Physical gift cards will also have either $1.00 or 1% of the value deducted (whichever is greater). Electronic gift cards won’t have any additional fees added (beyond the 15% commission). None of this happens until and unless your gift card sells. There is no charge placed upon gift cards that do not sell.

At this time, Raise does not support international transactions. The app (and the Raise marketplace) is useful for those who live in the United States. There is potential for that to expand in the future.

Overall, it seems to me that the Raise app provides people with a hassle-free way of exchanging an unwanted gift card without requiring them to stand in a “returns” line at the store the gift card was from. It also provides a unique way for people to buy a gift card, at a discount price, while they are shopping. A gift card on Raise could cost less than buying one from the store itself.

Twitpic is Shutting Down

Twitpic LogoIt turns out that Twitpic really is shutting down. You may have heard this before, but that time it was a “false alarm”. This time, it seems certain that Twitpic will soon be gone.

Not long ago, Twitpic posted on its own blog that it would be shutting down by September 25, 2014. Obviously, that didn’t end up happening. When that blog was posted, Twitpic pointed a finger at Twitter as the reason why. That blog stated:

A few weeks ago, Twitter contacted our legal demanding that we abandon our trademark application or risk losing access to their API. This came as a shock to us since Twitpic has been around since early 2008, and our trademark application has been in the USPTO since 2009.

This was later followed by: Unfortunately we do not have the resources to fend off a large company like Twitter to maintain our mark which we believe whole heartedly is rightfully ours. Therefore, we have decided to shut down Twitpic.

However, Twitpic did not shut down at that time. Today, the original blog has been updated. It states that Twitpic will be shutting down on October 25, 2014. From the Twitpic blog update:

It is with heavy heart that I announce that Twitpic will be shutting down on October 25th. We worked through a handful of potential acquirers and exhausted all potential options. We were almost certain we had found a new home for Twitpic (hence our previous tweet), but agreeable terms could not be met.

Those of you who want to can export your data, photos, and videos from Twitpic before it shuts down. Visit the Twitpic blog for a link that will get you started. Yes, this time, it certainly appears that Twitpic really is shutting down.

Apps and Android Fragmentation

Smashing Magazine LogoWhen it comes to developing for Google’s favourite operating system, Android fragmentation is often bandied around as an issue for app developers. But how bad is it really and what’s the impact?

Fortunately you don’t have to make do with my wild guesses and assumptions as Smashing Magazine have a done a comprehensive critical analysis of testing done by app and game developers using the TestDroid cloud-based testing suite. Over 17 million tests were run on 288 different devices over 3 months early in 2014. Depending on region and measurement, the 288 devices represent somewhere between 92% and 97% of Android phones. With the credentials laid out, let’s take a look and see what the testing revealed.

Most of us will have seen the version stats from Google, showing the relative percentage of Android versions. Put simply, Froyo is less than 1%, Gingerbread is around 10% and ditto for Ice Cream Sandwich. Jelly Bean takes the lion’s share at nearly 55% and KitKat comes in second at about 25%.

Android LogoSmashing Magazine’s testing showed that on average 23% of apps exhibit a problem when moving between versions of Android. The biggest problems arose with Gingerbread (30%) followed by KitKat at 21%. Jelly Bean and ancient Honeycomb were next. Interestingly, although Gingerbread is the oldest version with significant market share, 40% of tested apps still work with this version.

The figures also reveal that ICS is the most stable version of Android with a low failure rate that broadly continues through Jelly Bean, though KitKat was more problematic with an increased error rate.

While the OS can cause problems, the hardware’s not blameless either. The research looked at screen resolution and the impact of memory on apps as well. Devices with resolutions of  2560 × 1600, 1280 × 800 and 1280 × 720 pixels gave the fewest problems, typically 1.5% or less. Small screen resolutions were the worst with 400 × 240 and 320 × 240 pixels being particularly bad.

On the RAM front, 512 MB seems to be a significant cut-off point and it’s no surprise that Google recommends this as a minimum. With this amount of memory or less, around 40% of tested apps exhibited problems. At 768 MB and above, the error rate falls to 16% and by 1 GB RAM, it’s down to 1%.

Overall, this is all interesting stuff and a fascinating insight into what app developers have to put up with. I’ve only covered a few of the areas and there’s additional analysis on drivers, OEM customisations and chipsets. I thoroughly recommend that you read the whole article over at Smashing Magazine to understand more.

Taking a slightly different view from a user perspective, if you want a really stable device, you should be buying a high resolution device, with 1 GB RAM and running Ice Cream Sandwich. Hmm.

Amazon Prime Videos Come To Android Phones

Amazon_Android_Prime_Video_PlayerFinally, Amazon has made available an Amazon Prime Instant Video Player for Android phones.

However, there is a bit of a catch. Rather than making the Amazon Prime Instant Video Player available in the Google Play Store, it is available only via Amazon Android Apps, which are now part of the regular Amazon Store app that you probably already have installed. Update — it is also available ONLY for Android phones and NOT Android tablets.

To download the Amazon Prime Instant Video Player, it is necessary to go into the Android security settings and temporarily enable installation of apps from “Both Trusted and Unknown Sources” – a.ka. non-Google Play Store sources.

Inside the regular Amazon Store app, go to the Movie and TV section and find a Prime Instant Video and click on play. Simply follow the on-screen prompts to download and install the Amazon Prime Instant Video Player app.

After you have downloaded the app, go back into the Android settings and remove the checkmark from the “Both Trusted and Unknown Sources” in order to lock the phone back down to apps installed from the Google Play Store only.

Once installed the Amazon Prime Instant Video Player for Android seems to work flawlessly. It was able to pick up my user name and password directly from the existing Amazon app.

Until now Android has been lacking an Amazon Prime Video playback app, even though it has been available for iOS for quite some time.

The last streaming video reason to keep an iOS device around has just been removed. Netflix and Hulu Plus have had Android players for a long time. Now with the addition of Amazon Prime Videos the big three video streamers are now all available via Android phones. The next step is to make the videos playable on regular Android tablets.