Monthly Archives: March 2017

The New Information About Apple

Apple plans to start testing self-driving cars on California roads, the clearest signal yet that the world’s most valuable technology company wants to design or build autonomous vehicle technology.

On Friday, the California Department of Motor Vehicles granted Apple an official test permit that the agency said would allow the company to test autonomous driving technology in three 2015 Lexus RX 450h luxury hybrid sport utility vehicles. The permit authorizes six people to take control of the vehicles if necessary.

Apple has been coy about its self-driving car project, known internally as Project Titan. The iPhone maker has not officially acknowledged the existence of the project, which appeared to be adrift last year. The company laid off dozens of people in the fall and brought in one of its top troubleshooters, Bob Mansfield, to reinvigorate the effort.

In October, Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, told investors, “We are always looking at new things, and the car space in general is an area that it’s clear that there are a lot of technologies that will either become available or will be able to revolutionize the car experience.”

Neil Cybart, an independent analyst who writes about Apple at the site Above Avalon, said the company appeared to have moved away from plans to build and sell cars in the way that Tesla does. Instead, he said, “they are working on a transportation platform.”

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When Cars Drive Themselves

There are increasing signs that autonomous cars have arrived — and may be driving our city streets sooner than we think.

Apple declined to comment on the California permit or on its broader automotive plans, instead referring to a statement in December, when it submitted comments about autonomous vehicle technology to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

In those comments, the company said: “Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive and more personal. The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.”

The self-driving car segment is among the most bitterly contested areas in emerging technology, with Apple joining 29 other companies that have received test permits in California.

The competition for talent in the sector is intense, with top employees receiving millions of dollars in compensation a year. The ride-hailing company Uber is locked in a nasty dispute with Google’s former car division, now known as Waymo, over Waymo’s accusations that a former company executive stole crucial technology that was later used by Uber.

Google, an early developer of the technology, considers self-driving cars to be a potential new market, while Uber hopes to eliminate the need for human drivers to shuttle its customers. And traditional automakers like General Motors and Ford Motor view the self-driving car as a natural extension of their existing businesses.

Start-ups are also vying to enter the market. Udacity, an online education company co-founded by a pioneer of Google’s self-driving car initiative, is building an open-source autonomous car and offering a training course to people who want to become self-driving car engineers.

“Every company will have to have some solution for transportation,” Mr. Cybart said.

iPhone Apps for the Office

Apple’s iPhone has more than 200,000 applications in its library, and the list is growing. But with so many options, how do you decide which apps are relevant to your work? Obviously, no one has the time or money to download and review them all.

Nor does anyone plan to start working full-time on a cell phone, but these apps can provide adequate functionality, when necessary, and save the day in a pinch by helping you complete work on an iPhone.

1. ProOnGo Expense : Free (optional ProOnGo Receipt Reader has subscription fees based on number of scanned receipts)

Even if your company already has an online expense program, this free application could make your employees’ lives much easier, not to mention fewer errors for accountants to deal with. You and your employees can organize and track personal or business expenses, mileage, and time.

Users can manage their expenses on the iPhone using the app’s options and features, or export the data to QuickBooks, an Excel spreadsheet, a CSV file, or in XML format. Since CSV data is also ASCII text data–with the fields separated by commas–you can export an expense report to any text-based application on any platform. You can use predefined expenses or add your own; choose from expense, mileage, or time; then just add the data requested by the other fields, such as vendor, category, date, description, and then watch the running total. Touchscreen buttons provide options to sort, export, save, and restore backups.

The Receipt Reader service, which takes a scanned or photographed receipt, deciphers the text on that document, and sends it back to your iPhone. This optional feature is provided for a subscription fee. Check out the ProOnGo website for more information.

2. Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite : $9.99

The primary advantage of this app is the capability to view, create, open, and edit Microsoft Office files on your iPhone. Three weeks ago, my friends and I went camping in the mountains for a week. One friend who manages a small business received an e-mail from her boss about a project that she had completed before we left. He was in a panic over changes that had to be made. She opened the files on her iPhone, made the changes, and e-mailed the new documents back to him–all in less than 10 minutes. Need I say more? Check out their website for information about additional options, features, and updates such as remote access, compatible file formats, and available language versions.

3. Bump for iPhone : Free

This app is so unusual, it’s almost funny; however, it is an excellent time saver for company execs and employees who deal with lots of people, in person, on a daily basis. All you have to do is ask potential clients if they have Bump on their iPhone. If yes, then simply “bump” hands, and the two phones exchange contact data. Ten years ago, that would have seemed like magic.

Setup is easy; just follow the application’s prompts. When you meet another “Bumper,” both users must open the app on both devices; bump hands while holding the phones, abd then confirm the exchange. The application checks for duplicates, and it compares contact lists for shared entries. So, next time you’re at an office function and see everyone bumping hands, you’ll know why. See the vendor’s website for more information.

4. Workday : iTunes and subscription account with Workday required

With companies receiving 300 résumés for every job opening, this app could help streamline the hiring process–through the management tasks, at least. But, more importantly, it’s loaded with features that generally address human resource tasks. All companies have some form of an HR department, but in smaller and mid-size organizations, such staff may be limited to one or two individuals.

Workday allows management to review, approve, and sign off on employees’ expense reports, time sheets, and vacation requests. It also provides a quick method for HR and purchasing departments to secure approval for new hires, terminations, requisitions, purchase orders, and other such documents. Plus, it’s a breeze for remote workers to secure approval on any document. Be aware, however, that although Workday for iPhone is free, the core application, Workday Solutions, is not. This program requires a subscription to Workday. Review the vendor’s website for more information about this application and its benefits and limitations.

5. SurePayroll Mobile Payroll : Based on payroll frequency and number of employees

If your company has an in-house accountant, then payroll may not be an issue. But if you use a firm, or contract out your payroll to another payroll management service, this application may save money and provide the convenience of working through your iPhone.

SurePayroll provides a long list of features, including calculating wages and deductions, managing payroll taxes, issuing checks or direct deposit funds to your employees, providing 24/7 online access to files, sending alerts, and providing labor law information. The service also includes tight security protocols, employee self-service options, HR tools and support, time clock options, and accounting software integration with programs such as QuickBooks, Peachtree, and MYOB. Check out the SurePayroll website for more options and features.

Cautionary Advice
Many of the business applications I researched for this story were advertised as free, but were not really free. Maybe the app was free, but it was a useless, non-functioning waste of space unless you owned the sister application through direct purchase or a subscription-based service. In other words, the car was free, but the gas cost extra and, with gas–like subscription services–you have to keep buying it over and over again. So, be sure to read between the lines when you’re downloading.

Some Tech Gadgets to Help Manage Your Business

When it comes to tech, it pays to think small. Whether you work on the road, in the corner of your garage or from a tiny rented office, space is at a premium for startups. And in the guerrilla struggle of taking on your bigger competitors, you’ll want to be able to move fast and light.

Luckily, startups are built for this kind of action. With the right combination of tools–including low-footprint tablets and pocket-size peripherals–you should be able to find most everything you need to run your business out of a backpack.

Here’s our big list of little tools that can make your small business a huge success.

1. iPad 2
True Apple devotees might write off the iPad 2 as last year’s news, but don’t be fooled. This is still the tablet to get for slimness and size. It’s actually thinner than the new iPad, but the screen is still plenty bright and clear. And, starting at $399, the iPad 2 is a hundred bucks cheaper than Apple’s latest model. That’s actually a great value considering it gives businesses just about everything they would want in a tablet. The iPad 2 is small enough to easily slide into a briefcase or a large purse without weighing you down, but powerful enough to handle critical business tasks. It’s great for writing e-mails and reports, perusing documents or even basic videoconferencing. It also makes a flashy sales presentation tool.

2. HP Folio Ultrabook
The zillions of super-thin, so-called ultrabooks flooding the market this year offer a lot of choices for businesses looking to go small. These new notebooks are significantly smaller and lighter than full-size laptops, but just as powerful.

The HP Folio is one of the best. At just over 3 pounds, it’s slightly heavier and thicker than the MacBook Air, but for $999, the Folio is filled with all the business features you need, including a surprising amount of connectivity for an ultrabook. It sports an ethernet jack, a USB 3.0 port and an SD card slot.

And, without question, it has the most user-friendly keyboard on the market. If there is a small-business ultrabook, this is it.

3. Samsung Galaxy Note
Most of the geeks have dismissed the Galaxy Note smartphone and its 5.3-inch screen as a monstrosity, but they’ve got it all wrong. Sure, it’s chunky for a phone, but think about it as the smallest tablet on the market. The Galaxy Note, which costs $299 with a two-year contract from AT&T, works well enough that you could theoretically give up your tablet and laptop entirely on the road. The large screen is perfect for reading e-mail and using other Android-based business apps and office functions, but the device is still small enough to fit in your pocket. There’s a stylus that takes some getting used to, but it’s great for taking notes and marking up documents. And you can load the Note with data: up to 32 GB with an add-on SD card.

4. Logitech BCC950 ConferenceCam
For serious videoconferencing, it’s possible to go too small. Built-in webcams that come inside laptops or tablets are sufficient for one-on-one chats, but add any more than two people and things get crowded pretty fast. The BCC950 ConferenceCam by Swiss device-maker Logitech is just the right size. It’s surprisingly nimble for a full-motion, HD studio-quality webcam that zooms, pans and tilts. Picture the cameras you see following the action on ESPN, except the BCC950 is about $250 and you don’t need a camera crew or pulley system to move it around the office. At less than 20 ounces, the Logitech BCC stuffs major videoconferencing features into one very small package. The unit requires high-quality broadband internet service to work properly, but assuming the right connectivity, this tool provides top-notch video and sound for small meetings.

Photo courtesy of Clear Hub Express

5. Clear Hub Express
If you are lucky enough to live in one of the 80 or so cities with 4G WiMax coverage from Bellevue, Wash.-based Clearwire, the company’s teeny-weeny mixed modem and router offers unlimited web access at great rates. Clear Hub Express is a cool $99 and Clear’s blazing-fast 4G service starts at about $35 per month with no long-term contract. The modem-router combination means setup is no fuss (basically plug-and-play), and the device can fit discreetly just about anywhere. For the big-picture web stuff, Clear brings clarity.

6. DocuSign
The reams of office paper your business uses to print contracts and other official documents do more than take up cabinet space–putting ink on those bad boys costs serious money. San Francisco-based DocuSign is an extremely effective online tool for inking deals with contractors, vendors and clients. The cloud-based service lets you upload critical documents and share them securely with anyone. Accounts start at $15 per month with an annual plan. Your clients are notified via e-mail that they need to sign a document; when they log in, they are prompted to draw their signature or initials in the appropriate blanks and boxes. It’s the slickest way to get your clients’ John Hancock no matter where they are.

7. Moo MiniCards
Makers of smartphones will tell you that the paper business card is dead. Don’t believe them. The old-school paper business card is still the smart way to put some marketing punch in your pocket. MiniCards by East Providence, R.I.-based Moo are distinctive, tiny business cards that your clients will love. It’s easy to slip a whole pack in your pocket, and they won’t overcrowd an already-stuffed wallet. Ordering cards is a three-click affair: Go to the website, enter your data, grab a design you like and then wait for the cards to show up. Designing cards is a snap and they really do look cool. Prices start at about $20 for 100 MiniCards.

8. Jaybird Freedom Bluetooth Headphones
For hands-free calling, ditch the clunky, plug-in headset and go with a pair of low-profile wireless earbuds with a built-in mic for taking calls. Headphone company Jaybird, based in Sandy, Utah, gets serious credit for making a wireless headset that actually doesn’t suck. Even though they are marketed to the exercise crowd, Freedom headphones are great for business use. For $99, you get high voice quality, easy wireless setup and, best of all, a sleek design.
Photo courtesy of BlueAnt

9. BlueAnt S4 True Handsfree car kit
Work never ceases on Planet Small Biz, and that means you will almost certainly be working in your car. But texting while driving is illegal in many places, and picking up your smartphone to answer a call isn’t much safer. The S4 True Handsfree kit from Melbourne, Australia-based BlueAnt Wireless is a true touch-free speakerphone. This slim gizmo costs about $100 and attaches to the sun visor in your car. It’s voice-activated, meaning you can answer and make calls using simple spoken commands, and it’s compatible with most BlackBerry and Android smartphones. It also reads incoming text messages and even driving directions if you’re using certain GPS-based apps. Your focus will be on the road, but you won’t let any business pass you by.

10. ChicoBag Messenger10 rePETe
The best thing about a tiny tech arsenal is that you can carry your entire shop with you. But a sweet setup requires a sweet ride, and in this case the Messenger10 rePETe delivers. The urban messenger bag from Chico, Calif.-based ChicoBag costs about $25 and boasts a light, simple design that comes in five colors to suit your style. Best of all: The bag stuffs down into a palm-size pouch for storage (it’s even small enough to store underneath a bike seat). Other bags cost more and have lots of extraneous features. For a lightweight, professional-looking carryall for your tech goodies, ChicoBag is the chic choice.