Ahhh, Thanksgiving. The time to give thanks, eat mountains of food, and pack a month’s worth of activities into one tryptophan-heavy holiday. Whether you’re hopping on a plane, prepping the pie, volunteering, or monitoring the consumption of mulled wine by your favorite aunt, chances are you’re spreading plenty of cheer this holiday season.
And so are we. At Salesforce, we’ve been filling our calendars (and our bellies) with opportunities to give thanks, give back, and have fun. We’ve included a recap of how our employees are celebrating Thanksgiving across the country.
Teams at global headquarters gave back in a big way: employees wrote letters to injured veterans at the VA Palo Alto hospital, served hot meals to the homeless at St. Anthony’s, and are scheduled to help beautify parks with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. Also on the menu: potlucks aplenty and a “Wall of Thanks,” upon which employees shared what they are most thankful for.
Dessert first! Seattle employees brought in traditional cookies from around the globe for a sweet Thanksgiving soiree…along with a little Fremont Bonfire Ale to wash it all down. We’ll cheers to that!
Windy City employees are gearing up to build houses for families in need this season with Habitat for Humanity. Sales Reps also test-drove holiday recipes at a “Practice Potluck” (gotta make sure those dishes are delicious enough for the big day).
Our Atlanta office doesn’t mess around when it comes to the annual “Hunger Games” food drive, where different teams competed to see who can collect the most food items for the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The giving kept going with a clothing drive to benefit local homeless and children’s shelters. When it comes to celebrating, the holiday potluck was not to be missed: employees whipped up family recipes so that everyone was able to enjoy a slice of Salesforce family traditions.
Pass the pie! Our Boston office hosted a Thanksgiving Pie Party and served up turkey shepherd’s pie along with pumpkin, pecan, apple, and blueberry pies for dessert (cue the food coma!).
The American Red Cross will be hosting a blood drive for all employees in our Portland office. How did they fuel up before the drive? An office potluck with “bacon galore!”
The Salesforce World Tour kicked off a massive food drive and winter clothing drive to help New York City communities in need. The Real Estate and Workplace Services team also organized a finger-lickin’ feast in Midtown and Soho.
Employees toted in their canned and boxed food to support local nonprofit Cornerstones’ annual Thanksgiving Basket Food Drive and help make a fulfilling holiday possible for nearly 1,000 families this season.
Thanksgiving time is an amazing opportunity to make the importance of philanthropy front-and-center. No matter the season, we at Salesforce are committed to giving back, whether it be at work, at Dreamforce, or employees on their own time. Find out more about theSalesforce Foundation.
Everyone takes pictures and video with their devices. Parents record their kids’ soccer games, companies record employee training, police surveillance cameras at busy intersections run 24/7, and drones monitor pipelines in the desert.
With vast amounts of video growing vaster at a rate faster than the day before, and the hottest devices like drones decreasing in price and size until everyone has one (okay, not in their pocket, quite yet) it’s time to start talking about mining this mass of valuable video data for useful purposes.
Julian Mann, the cofounder of Skybox Imaging — a company in the business of commercial satellite imagery and the developer advocate for Google Earth outreach — says that the new “Skybox for Good” program will provide “a constantly updated model of change of the entire planet” with the potential to “save lives, protect the environment, promote education, and positively impact humanity.”
Why? Google wants to understand what’s happening on this earth in real-time. In August, it entered into an agreement to acquire Skybox, the company that launched two of the world’s smallest high-resolution imaging satellites. They orbit the earth and collect high-res images and video every day. The company plans to launch as many as 24 of these satellites, allowing Google to get near real-time data about the entire Earth.
Google will turn those pixels into data using sophisticated image processing and computer vision software, running on the immense Google cloud. A Skybox satellite might photograph or video a particular city several times per day, not for the static or moving imagery, but for the data gathered in each frame of each image. The significant value of the data comes from comparing it across time or location, looking for change. For example, when is that store’s parking lot full? What is the progress of the highway construction to build a new overpass? Which roads are open for faster delivery service during the day? Which movie theaters attract the most customers week-to-week? How have weather patterns changed over the last 24 hours, or from the same time last year?
Mining video data through “man + machine” artificial intelligence is new technology in search of unsolved problems. It has the potential to create a profitable, new commercial industry or two. Could this be the next chapter in the ever-evolving technology revolution?
For the past 50 years, satellite imagery has only been available to the U.S. intelligence community and those countries with technology to launch their own. Digital Globe was one of the first companies to make satellite imagery available commercially, and now Skybox and a few others have joined them. Drones are even newer, having been used by the US military since the ‘90s, for surveillance over battlefields, or, in this age of counter-terrorism, playing the role of aerial detectives finding bad guys in the middle of nowhere. Before drones, the same tasks required thousands of troops on the ground, putting many young men and women in harm’s way. Today, hundreds of trained “eyes” safely located here in the U.S. watch hours of video from a single drone to assess current situations in countries far away.
Google is interested in satellites in space, taking constant video of earth, and Facebook and Amazon are interested in drones, to be used for a myriad of reasons, from imaging, to package delivery, to wireless Internet delivery in rural areas, and more.
Watching videos can be tedious and fatiguing. Computers don’t get tired of watching thousands of hours of a robot scanning an underwater pipeline. They can detect the crack on frame 111,432, and alert the human expert to have a closer look. A human might see the crack after watching all those frames in real-time. Might.
Two years ago, the police needed hundreds of detectives and hours to cull through massive amounts of surveillance video taken around the scene of the bombing at the Boston Marathon to assemble the clues that ultimately located and caught the bombers. What if they had software to help them catch the bad guys sooner?
Even more importantly, imagine all the new opportunities created by this growing mass of video data. The ideas are infinite, and we know that in our innovative world, a commercial industry or two will establish itself in light speed.
Sean Varah, founder and chief executive of MotionDSP, a company that makes advanced image processing and video analytics software.
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After the visit to an institution for special children on Children’s Day, e-Zestians rallied together for a noble cause yet again. This time round e-Zest members participated in large numbers at a blood donation camp organized in the office in association with Jehangir Hospital, Pune and Apollo Munich Health insurance Company on November 26, 2014.
Part of e-Zest’s CSR initiatives, this blood camp was organized at the Kothrud office of e-Zest. Team members spanning across different departments all made sure that they participated in the event with enthusiasm making it a grand success.
Team members who donated blood wore a big smile on the faces. The happiness stemmed from the fact that they were, in their own small way, able to save a life and bring a smile or two on people’s faces.
The reason that Alibaba is serving customers better than you, can be summed up in two words: margins and shipping. According to eConsultancy, Amazon’s average margins are around .5% – margin levels for Alibaba are closer to the 50% mark. This is in part due to the access to cheap manufacturing in Asia, but that is not the only factor. Alibaba uses strategic price discounting – something it is able to do to retain customers in the busy season and increase sales. Alibaba also charges for ‘value added services’ such as shipping and handling – and by so doing – provides a better services and favorable shipping capabilities.
Predict my next move
Alibaba is using data mining to glean valuable insights and predictors of consumer behavior, thus becoming proactive in what they offer to customers – and becoming more efficient. One example of this is where Alibaba analyzed and used bra size data to predict consumer behavior. Women who purchased bras in larger sizes were likely to buy more additional items than those purchasing smaller-sized bras. Considering possible age discrepancies, there may not be a big story here, but it may help estimate propensity to buy. Alibaba’s marketing team can strategically choose offers based on these and other behavioral learnings.
According to Quartz.com Alibaba ‘learned’ to better serve customers by analyzing the data.
“Throughout Singles Day [similar to Cyber Monday], the company’s data team and operations managers watched and analyzed shopping volumes in order to communicate with merchants and logistical partners to keep supplies and deliveries going.” And just because it’s China’s Cyber Monday – doesn’t mean that the learnings stop there. “Executives also kept an eye on how people paid for their goods, and whether they made their orders on their smartphones.” They’re being able to tease out better mechanisms to engage customers by “smoothening” the process by which consumers decide to transact.
The check’s in the mail
Sometimes, good customer service is more about providing the proper climate for your customers to do business with you than it is merely buying products from you. According to Bloomberg news, Alibaba’s finance affiliate “Alipay” service solves credit and payment problems for customers. And both Alibaba.com customers and even Amazon.com customers in China benefit. So, this arm of Alibaba can help on the infrastructure side; the underpinnings of all ecommerce no matter which retailer makes the final sale.
Are we selling razors, or razor blades?
Forbes contributor Walter Loeb sees things slightly differently. He sees Alibaba purely as a technology company – serving the retail businesses of China through an enabling ecommerce platform. As such, however, the different divisions of Alibaba – an eBAY equivalent, a PayPal equivalent, a retail online shop equivalent and more – each play a role in making it consumer –centric. Alibaba is aiming to provide more and varied financial services and banking relationships. According to Loeb:
“Customers will be able to invest, as well as buy insurance with the Alibaba credit card. It is time for a wake-up call to many on-line retailers that free delivery is not the only incentive customers demand when they shop on-line. There must be a service orientation that will anchor customers to a shopping site (Zappos does this well.) It may even be necessary to develop loyalty cards with incentives to encourage repeat on-line shopping.”
Cyber Monday and Valentine’s Day all in one
Many of which Alibaba either has today fully functioning, or they are planning to offer down the road. And if Singles Day is any indicator (China’s answer to Cyber Monday and.or Black Friday and.or Valentine’s Day all combined) this perspective has already earned Alibaba the world record for an online sales day: $ 9.3 Billion transacted November 11, 2014. The Guardian believes that with the number of consumers who are able to purchase from Alibaba increasing, combined with data predictive analytics-driven discounts and other incentives that Alibaba has to offer consumers, are both driving supply and demand for Alibaba; with ‘the long haul’ proving to be the only end in sight.
Today is a great day for consumers to get out there and support the local stores in their city and town. Founded in 2010, Small Business Saturday “encourages people to shop at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.” Its aim is “to help businesses with their most pressing need — getting more customers.”
On the flip side, we know that running a small business is often a juggling act. Even with a great support staff, overseeing all the various departments (sales, marketing, finance, human resources, etc.) is a demanding job.
Here is a list of our top downloadable e-book resources to help you manage all of that activity and still grow your small business.
Business may start with a handshake — but once the customer relationship begins, your challenge is to maintain it. The right CRM will help you build deeper, more meaningful relationships with your customers while you build and scale your business. Check out this e-book to learn more.
3. How CRM Helps Small Businesses
Pack the power of big business, and still keep that small-business agility. CRM is the tool you need that levels the playing field. Learn how your small business can compete on equal footing with global enterprises.
4. How to Grow Your Small Business With Marketing
Understanding and implementing modern marketing techniques can make a big impact on your marketing team’s productivity and effectiveness, the growth of your small business, and ultimately, your bottom line. This ebook’s intent is to familiarize you with five modern marketing concepts.
5. 6 Secrets to Exceptional Customer Service
Nearly one-third of consumers believe that businesses are now paying less attention to providing good customer service. On top of that, just 7% of those polled say that customer service experiences they have with companies typically exceed their expectations. Learn how to train and motivate employees to give great service, maximize every customer interaction, and much more.
6. 20 Customer Service Best Practices
Based on feedback from our customers, product experts, and thought leaders, we pulled together 20 customer service best practices, with ﬁve aimed at great service across channels, ﬁve around treating your customers well and 10 focused on building a word-class team.
7. 6 Keys to Small Business Success
Small business owners usually focus on growing their business. And while creating products, building awareness, and selling to a target market can all contribute to growth, don’t overlook how technology can support that growth. With the right technology, you can grow faster, scale more efficiently, and even delight your customers, creating powerful long-term growth.
8. Secrets to Business Growth: Tips From 3 Successful Entrepreneurs
Small businesses don’t just “matter,” they define and drive the economy. A day in the life of a small business, however, does not typically consist of getting a pat on the back for all this. Most owners grapple with the stressful question of how to maintain and grow their business. In order to give you a head start answering those questions, the leaders of three rapidly growing businesses agreed to share the secrets to their success.
9. Small Business, Big Impact: How to Punch Above Your Weight
Being a small business shouldn’t put you at a disadvantage. This is true especially today, when the best technology is available for everyone. Read this e-book to learn how a CRM solution can help your businesss compete in today’s competitive landscape. Get tips on growing your business, scaling, powering productivity, and driving innovation.
10. Grow Your Small Business With Salesforce
Salesforce is a smart choice for small businesses that need to make the most of what they have. This list typically includes employees, resources, and technologies. Cloud-based CRM, like Salesforce, helps level the playing field. Plus, it’s low-risk because you pay as you go. And no matter how big your business grows, the technology is fully scalable. Download this e-book to learn more.
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Posted by Ranga Bodla, Industry Lead, Wholesale Distribution
Expanding internationally is a great opportunity for manufacturers to tap into new markets and source lower-cost materials. That has been especially true in the electronics industry, which relies on complex parts and specialized assembly processes, and where maintaining a low price is important for staying competitive.
However, being a global company requires a great deal more flexibility in IT systems than most manufacturers have with their traditional on-site ERP. With proprietary formats and inflexible business processes, legacy ERP simply can’t provide the customization, integration and business process management (BPM) that an international supply chain requires. Global manufacturers need to pass orders, inventory data, sales contracts, shipping information, product specifications, and other data to widely distributed offices, warehouses and shop floors, as well as to buyers, suppliers and distributors. Yet, legacy, on-premise ERP cannot collect data from all of these locations and provide visibility into the business without time consuming integration work between the disparate systems.
What manufacturers need is an ERP transformation. As one U.S.-based manufacturer, Epec Engineered Technologies will attest, moving away from legacy ERP to an entirely cloud-based platform is an essential first step to any major expansion.
In 2007, Epec, a leading designer and manufacturer of custom components for the electronics industry, hit a wall with Epicor Vantage, its on-site ERP system. The company was expanding its supply chain into Asia, contracting with manufacturers there to produce its customized components. But Epicor Vantage was making it difficult to exchange data with its partners. The legacy ERP system was time-consuming to customize, often requiring costly workarounds and spreadsheets for exchanging data, and could not integrate well with third-party systems, thus preventing Epec from sending and receiving real-time data on orders and production status. It was also difficult to create the custom forms, workflows, dashboards and reports that Epec uses to run its business.
After deciding to abandon the legacy system, Epec evaluated several options and selected NetSuite. Today, all of Epec’s 120 employees, from the New Bedford, Mass. headquarters to Colorado, Florida, the U.K. and China, use NetSuite’s standardized cloud platform. Epec has benefited significantly from the move, according to its CEO Ed McMahon.
For one, the company can now do bi-directional data exchange with its four Asian contractors and pass work orders, bills of material, work in progress and other files through NetSuite. Although its other two dozen contractors aren’t up to that level of integration, all of them now receive orders via NetSuite, ensuring fast delivery and an electronic paper trail.
Using NetSuite’s customization tools, Epec can create custom fields, scripts, order management and workflows that span sales, fulfillment and accounting. Another big benefit is NetSuite’s SuiteApp developer marketplace with “Built for NetSuite” applications from NetSuite’s partners. For instance, Epec is leveraging two custom-built configure-price-quote (CPQ) tools from Selectica that are natively integrated with NetSuite. InstantPCBQuote is an online quote and ordering tool that lets customers configure and order their own printed circuit boards and flex circuits built to their specifications on Epec’s secure website. The second tool is used internally by Epec’s customer service team for quoting PCB’s. Thanks to that tool, Epec has almost doubled the number of customer quotes it can produce per day, from 40 to 75, without the need to hire more staff. This in-house tool eliminates many of the time-consuming manual steps in quote generation.
After migrating to NetSuite, Epec estimates that it has achieved an ROI of $ 500,000 between 2008 and 2013 from the move and boosted revenue by 233 percent to approximately $ 50 million in 2014. The company now has a customer base of more than 5,000 companies around the globe, including leading firms such as GE, Siemens, Honeywell, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.
By having a single, centralized computing platform and data repository for all of its units also ensures consistency in data and workflow. This enables Epec to evaluate performance and trends in one part of the business or across the board. Epec can operate some of its units as separate businesses, yet still roll up their financials into the corporate ledger.
When it comes to keeping on top of the performance of such a wide-ranging network of contractors and branch locations, maintaining consistency in reporting and workflow is essential.
“One of the biggest roles of NetSuite is allowing us to standardize processes across all of our locations,” said McMahon. “We run our entire business through NetSuite; from design to manufacturing to managing vendors in Asia. It’s a competitive advantage over competitors who still do things the old fashioned way with spreadsheets and disparate applications.”
H2O.ai held its first H2O World conference over two days at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. Although the main purpose of the conference was to promote the company’s rich set of Java based machne learning algorithms and announce their new products Flow and Play there were quite a few sessions devoted to R and statistics in general.
Before I describe some of these, a few words about the conference itself. H20 World was exceptionally well run, especially for a first try with over 500 people attending (my estimate). The venue is an interesting, accommodating space with plenty of parking, that played well with what, I think, must have been an underlying theme of the conference: acknowledging contributions of past generations of computer scientists and statisticians. There were two stages offering simultaneous talks for at least part of the conference: The Paul Erdős stage and the John Tukey stage. Tukey I got, why put such an eccentric mathematician front and center? I was puzzled until Sri Ambati, H2O.ai’s CEO and co-founder remarked that he admired Erdős because of his great generosity with collaboration. To a greater extent than most similar events, H2O World itself felt like a collaboration. There was plenty of opportunity to interact with other attendees, speakers and H20 technical staff (The whole company must have been there). Data scientists, developers and Marketing staff were accessible and gracious with their time. Well done!
Two great pleasures from the second day of the conference were Trevor Hastie’s tutorial on the Gradient Boosting Machine and John Chamber’s personal remembrances of John Tukey. It is unusual for a speaker to announce that he has been asked to condense a two hour talk into something just under an hour and then go on to speak slowly with great clarity, each sentence beguiling you into imagining that you are really following the details. (It would be very nice if the video of this talk would be made available.)
Two notable points from Trevor’s lecure where understanding gradient boosting as minimizing the exponential loss function and the openness of the gbm algorithm to “tinkering”. For the former point see Chapter 10 of the Elements of Statistical Learning or the more extended discussion in Schapire and Freund’s Boosting: Foundations and Algorithms.
John Tukey spent 40 years at Bell Labs (1945 – 1985) and John Chamber’s tenure there overlapped the last 20 years of Tukey’s stay. Chambers who had the opportunity to observe Tukey over this extended period of time painted a moving and lifelike portrait of the man. According to Chambers, Tukey could be patient and gracious with customers and staff, provocative with his statistician colleagues and “intellectually intimidating”. John remembered Richard Hamming saying: “John (Tukey) was a genius. I was not.” Tukey apparently delighted in making up new terms when talking with fellow statisticians. For example, he called the top and bottom lines that identify the interquartile range on a box plot “hinges” not quartiles. I found it particularly interesting that Tukey would describe a statistic in terms of the process used to compute it, and not in terms of any underlying theory. Very unusual, I would think, for someone who earned a PhD in topology under Solomon Lefschetz. For more memories of John Tukey including more from John Chambers look here.
Other R related highlights were talks by Matt Dowle and Erin Ledell. Matt reprised the update on new features in data.table that he recently gave to the Bay Area useR Group and also presented interesting applications using data.table from UK insurance company Landmark, and KatRisk (Look here for KatRisk part of Matt’s presentation).
Erin, author of the h20Ensemble package available on GitHub, delivered an exciting and informative talk on using ensembles of learners (combining gbm models and logistic regression models, for example) to create “superlearners”.
Finally, I gave a short talk Revolution Analytics’ recent work towards achieving reproducibility in R. The presentation motivates the need for reproducibility by examining the use of R in industry and science and describing how the checkpoint package and Revolution R Open, an open source distribution of R that points to a static repository can be helpful.
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When I first heard about the Microsoft Band (which happened to be at 10pm during the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the World Series), I was immediately skeptical of it being a solid competitor in the ever growing wearables market. However, after hearing several co-workers express interest in the device, I began to back off that position and decided I should actually use it for a few days and form a firsthand opinion.
What type of device is it?
While products like the Fuelband, Fitbit, and Jawbone UP are all clearly marketed as activity trackers, Microsoft is pushing the Microsoft Band as both an activity/health tracker and productivity device. This means that Microsoft is aiming more towards the Android Wear/Apple Watch category, rather than focusing purely on health and fitness. After using the device for several days, I think I can safely say it falls short in competing with both ends of the market–a jack of all trades, but a master of none.
The pros and cons of going cross-platform
I’m thrilled to see Microsoft launch with support for Windows Phone, Android, and iOS. It’s good competition that will keep the market moving forward. However, the initial offering does leave a bit to be desired, especially on iOS. I’ve been using HealthKit a lot, so I was disappointed to see it missing that integration, especially since it supports heart rate and I currently don’t own a HealthKit compatible heart rate sensor. Microsoft has confirmed HealthKit support is coming, but no timetable has been given. And the other big missing piece, Cortana, means no voice support or text dictation, which are critical features for any wristable.
The Microsoft Band clearly has a bit of an identity crisis. It’s form factor is similar to other activity trackers, but it’s attempting to offer up the functionality of some of the larger wrist wearables. The outer straps are similar in feel to a Fuelband, but the heart rate/clasp on the top (or bottom, depending on how you wear it), proved to be less comfortable. The display is long and flat, creating an odd look on your wrist. The other activity trackers aim to be part of the sport category from a fashion perspective, but I would classify the Microsoft Band as “techy sport,” given the large, flat, glossy display.
As I mentioned, Microsoft is also pushing for users to choose how they wear the device. The Microsoft Band website has many photos showing users wearing the device with the screen facing up on top of your wrist, as well as with the screen facing down on the bottom of your wrist. To me, it’s most comfortable (and most usable, but I’ll get to that later) when I wear it facing down. The heart rate sensor just feels better on top, and the flat surface feels more natural on the bottom of my wrist.
However, that leaves me with the band clasping on top of my wrist, which won’t make any fashion trends for 2015. I also scratched the right hand side of the screen after wearing it with screen facing down after less than 24 hours. As it turns out, my wrist rests on a lot of surfaces (desk, table, etc), which is a pretty big problem since Microsoft is encouraging users to wear it this way.
This is one of the biggest areas that the Microsoft Band falls short. It is not anywhere near as comfortable as my Nike Fuelband, and simply isn’t as fashionable as some of the Android Wear watches we are seeing–not to mention the Apple Watch. With the Microsoft Band, I have an activity tracker that isn’t as comfortable as other activity trackers, and a smart watch that isn’t anywhere near as fashionable as some others. I have a hard time believing there will be much demand from a mainstream consumer for this device.
Microsoft did not make the initial pairing process as easy as it could have been. Microsoft touts Bluetooth 4.0 support, but for some reason they choose to force users to go through a slightly convoluted pairing process where the user has to open the Microsoft Health app, sign in and elect to pair, and then be told to leave the app, open settings, and pair through the system bluetooth menu. There are plenty of devices that use BTLE to make the initial pairing process a breeze, but Microsoft appears to have overlooked this small but important detail.
The Microsoft Band features a display that wraps in the same direction as the straps, where as most watch displays are perpendicular to the straps. My Fuelband also does this, however, with the Fuelband I’m only viewing a small number of characters per interaction (the current time, the number of steps, etc) on a small, LED scoreboard style ‘screen.’ The Microsoft Band is a different story. Microsoft has packed a 1.3 x 0.43-inch, 320 x 106-pixel TFT LCD touch display for the user to see more than just simple data.
While Microsoft has provided a way to display more information in an activity tracker form factor, that doesn’t mean it’s all that useful. Since the display is wrapped in the direction of the straps, it makes it quite awkward to read textual content on the display, especially if you are wearing the Microsoft Band on the top of your wrist. It is very difficult to get your arm and wrist to bend in a way that is parallel with your eyes, so you often end up in this awkward position of stretching your arm to an uncomfortable angle, or you end up tilting your neck to the point of nearly touching your shoulder to be able to read content. Flipping the display onto the bottom of your wrist makes this problem less awkward. I suspect this is why some of Microsoft’s promotional material shows people wearing the device this way, but then you are left with the fashion choice of having the clasp on top.
When Apple unveiled their Watch, there was a lot of critical feedback for it looking “just like a watch.” I had hopes and dreams of Apple creating something revolutionary from a form factor perspective, and absolutely loved the Fuelband-inspired concept that made the rounds before the announcement. But it turns out a screen that flows with the band means the user can’t use the device in a natural way, and content laid out vertically in that form factor simply presents no useable horizontal space: a key feature for texts, emails, and other types of apps. I have no doubt Apple experimented with form factors exactly like the Microsoft Band and the Nike Fuelband, as well as designs we will never see, and landed right back on the usable design that has been around for centuries.
I have a few gripes with notifications. First, there are no actionable notifications. This means I can’t reply to a text or favorite a tweet. All I can do is dismiss the notification from the Microsoft Band. If you don’t handle a notification on your Band, then the badge number on the various tiles continues to increase until you clear it, regardless of whether or not you have handled it on your phone. In addition, if I am using my phone, I still get buzzed on my wrist. This isn’t necessarily a problem on Microsoft’s end, since there is no way to actually control that through iOS API’s (to my knowledge), but it’s a detail I hope to see Apple get right. If I am using my phone, and a banner appears, I should not get buzzed on my watch as well. It’s a double interruption. It’s also an advantage Apple has by owning the iOS platform, because the Watch will be able to attain this sort of deep integration with other devices, whereas the Microsoft Band will likely not.
With all that said, notifications are practically useless on the Microsoft Band without requiring interaction from your other hand. When an email comes in, I get to see who the message is from and the first three or four words of the subject. Same story with text messages. That means to actually read the notification, I have to either bring my other hand up to the device and tap the notification or get my phone out. Larger smartwatch screens are able to show more information, meaning I can get more context without always needing a free hand. In its current form, the real value proposition is just a vibration alert, and giving me a few additional words to decide if I need to physically interrupt what I am doing and handle the notification.
In addition, interacting with notifications is bit awkward. Scrolling just feels very weird with a display this size and in this orientation. The tip of my finger is literally as large as the vertical display, so trying to scroll content is not very graceful. In addition, as Apple has pointed out with the Apple Watch, on a display this small my finger gets in the way while interacting with the content. Since the display only shows two lines at time (with only a few words at a time), it’s a constant battle of block the content, barely scroll, read two lines, and repeat.
Using the Microsoft Band in this way makes the value of the digital crown on the Apple Watch so painfully obvious. With the Apple Watch, I’ll have a screen that has more real estate to display textual content, and scrolling mechanism to smooth scroll as I read the content without ever having to take my eyes off the screen by having my finger block it. The solution is clear in hindsight, but just an another example of the amount thought Apple puts into its product decisions.
Microsoft Band doesn’t have a feature that causes the display to wake automatically when you lift your wrist. This means that whenever I want to see what time it is, I must lift my wrist and use my second hand to wake the display. In addition, the buttons are on the inside of your wrist (as opposed to the side closest to your hand), so you must reach across and around the display in order to press the button and wake it up. While I haven’t yet used a smart watch that supports auto wake when you lift your wrist, I imagine it’s a feature that will become a requirement once used for the first time, similiar to Touch ID–you can’t live without it.
This is another place where Microsoft finds itself awkwardly in the middle. The Fuelband doesn’t have an auto wake feature, but its mechanical button is better and more satisfying to press. Higher end smart watches all have an accelerometer to wake the display immediately when lifted. The Microsoft Band is essentially the worst of both spectrums.
One of the most interesting features for me was the sleep tracking ability. I was disappointed to find out Apple Watch would not support sleep tracking, at least in the initial version. I’ve also never had a device that tracks my sleep, so it’s data I’m interested in learning about and seeing how it can improve my life. Microsoft Band did a good job in this area, as I was able to wear it throughout the night and it gave me a good amount of detail into my sleep patterns. (Newsflash: it would do me good to get more sleep.)
However, I do have three main complaints with the feature and its execution. First off, Microsoft touts that you can get a couple of days battery life with the Microsoft Band, but you are going to have to charge it eventually. For me, charging time is naturally bedtime. Only tracking my sleep patterns every other night would be a disappointment. Second, the device isn’t quite comfortable enough to sleep with. I imagine most people remove watches, bands, and most jewelry before bed, so sleeping with a slightly uncomfortable wearable on your wrist every night could actually contribute to you sleeping less, at least until you became accustomed to it. And finally, I had to put the Microsoft Band into sleep mode every night before it would start tracking those statistics (a mode that required several swipes and taps to achieve). When I get into the bed late at night after a long day, the last thing I want to have to do is remember to put my wearable into sleep tracking mode. That is something that should “just work.”
This led to a small epiphany for me; why am I trying to wear a device that is meant to track my activity at all times during the day, and be a productivity device, when we know the battery technology is not there to make it last for a day or two at most? For now, most of us should continue to accept the reality of needing to charge our devices at least once every couple of days, so perhaps I’m simply looking at the wrong device for sleep tracking. If you think about it, a smart bed actually would solve all of the problems I have listed above: it wouldn’t need charging, I wouldn’t need to alter what I wear to bed, and I don’t need to put it in sleep mode. That’s exactly what companies like Select Comfort and their SleepIQ product are trying to do.
With all the tradeoffs I listed above, I think it’s obvious why Apple has left sleep tracking out of the first version of the Apple Watch. Sure, a user may want “sleep tracking” in a product, but the user also doesn’t have a full understanding of the tradeoffs that must be made in order to make that feature great. In this case, Apple has simply chosen to let it be a problem solved by a device that is more capable of solving the problem, at least until they believe that they can solve it in a way that doesn’t introduce compromises to the user. For now, I don’t believe a wearable on your wrist is the answer for tracking sleep information.
One of other key features for the Microsoft Band is the standalone GPS tracker. This means you can leave your phone at home and still get full GPS level accuracy of your run. I tried this feature out and it worked great. However, when I am out and on a run, I still take my phone with me in order to stay connected in case I’m needed. Until I use a wearable that is fully connected and does not need to be paired with my phone, its still coming with me. The presence of GPS won’t be enough for me to leave my phone at the house.
The Microsoft Band also features several other sensors I have yet to mention. The UV sensor was most interesting to me. As someone who is subject to getting sunburned relatively easily, it was very nice to be able check the amount of UV at my location, as well as provide me with an estimate on how long it typically takes to get burned at that level. This is the type of feature that can actually change aspects of my life and make me more proactive in preventing my skin from being burned. However, I do have to specifically turn on the sensor and wait for a reading, rather than it always running passively and alerting me to certain conditions. I’m sure battery constraints prevent that from being a reality, but I’m looking forward to the day when that is not the case.
Then there’s the heart monitor. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about heart rate, and what types of measurements are ideal, which is why I simply had no idea if my heart rate measurements during my different activities were normal or not. With the Microsoft Band, its simply a number with a heart next to it. In the Microsoft Health app, I just see statistics like “average heart rate.” I would have liked to see a bit more coaching on what is considered good/average/etc. As hardware exposes more and more health information about the user, we need to make sure to provide that user with proper context.
For the step counter, I compared it to my iPhone 6, which I carried around the entire day along with wearing the Microsoft Band. At the end of the day the iPhone 6 had recorded ~2000 additional steps, compared to the Microsoft Band (15,000 vs 13,000). I have no idea which device is more accurate, but that seems like a fairly large difference.
Feature Box Comparison
I don’t want this piece to come across as overly negative towards the Microsoft Band. I’ve simply been doing a lot of thinking about the Apple Watch lately, and I think there are some key areas where Microsoft failed to make a great user experience. I think the Microsoft Band will stack up quite well when comparing devices in a spec-style checklist (It’s got sleep tracking! It’s got GPS! It’s cross platform! It detects UV!, It lets you read email!), but at the end of the day, it falls short of being truly great at anything.
Welcome to the Mobile Cyber Security News Weekly, our newest online newsletter. Mobile Cyber Security will focus on the most interesting news, articles and links related to mobile and cyber security, mobile malware, mobile application management, cyber warfare (and more!) that I run across each week. I am specifically targeting market trend information. Also read Connected Globe News Weekly Also read Field Mobility News Weekly Also read Mobile Commerce News Weekly Also read Mobile Health News Weekly Also read Mobility News Weekly Looking for an enterprise mobility solution? Read the Mobile Solution Directory Here! New ABI Research data has forecast global cyber security spending will reach $ 100 billion by 2020 as governments intensify efforts to protect their financial, energy and defense infrastructures against a constantly evolving threat landscape. Read Original Content Starting next year, enterprise organizations will be able to secure their mobile communications with a new offering from unlikely partners: BlackBerry Limited and Samsung. BlackBerry executives announced the partnership, along with several other new products and services, during the company’s Enterprise Portfolio Launch on Thursday in San Francisco. Read Original Content More than 40 percent of UK businesses have suffered a security breach from work mobile phones in the past 12 months, according to BT, which has warned companies are not taking the dangers of smartphones seriously enough. Read Original Content B2M Solutions’ mobile software delivers valuable insight and actionable analytics for enterprise customers. Business leaders and managers within the mission critical, rugged mobile enterprise now have operational views of key business and technology analytics affecting performance and productivity. B2M software is developed with specific functionality to help organizations identify and unblock mobility problems as soon as, or even before, they occur, allowing customers to sustain critical business processes and gain competitive advantages. To Lean more visit www.B2M-Solutions.com. This newsletter is sponsored in part by B2M Solutions According to Research and Markets, the global BYOD security market is set to grow at a combined annual growth rate of 35.23 percent over the period 2014-2019. Read Original Content Around 95 percent of IT and security professionals are struggling with the security threat presented by BYOD and more than 80 percent expect the number of mobile security incidents their company suffers to grow in 2015. Read Original Content Cyber security is predicted to be the fastest growing homeland security market as North America, Asia and Europe invest in cyber defenses, according to the new report, The Homeland Security Market Forecast 2014-2024, published by ASDReports. Read Original Content According to Research and Markets, the BFSI security market is expected to grow from $ 21.53 billion in 2014 to $ 37.35 billion by 2019, at an estimated compound annual growth rate of 11.6 percent from 2014 to 2019. Read Original Content According to a report by The Homeland Security Research Corporation, following a remarkable 23 percent annual market growth, the 2015 market will reach $ 9.5 billion, making the U.S. financial services cyber security market the largest non-government cyber security market. Read Original Content
***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.