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Handy Apps for Exploration

When I’m traveling to a new city, the first thing I do is power up my phone.

Tapping the power of your smartphone, you can quickly find reviews, information, praise and warnings about nearby establishments.

When I recently visited New York, the first thing I did was open Yelp. I didn’t arrive until 10 p.m. so some places were starting to close. On the application I was able to find nearby, open restaurants. I could also look at diners’ reviews to determine what was good and what wasn’t.

Some of the restaurant review sites that I frequently use are Urban Spoon, Yelp and Open Table. I like to alternate among them because you can find different reviews on each site. In larger cities where the community seems to be a bit more tech savvy, the number and frequency of reviews are greater, which always leads to a better experience on the sites.

Foursquare also provides a great user experience for exploring a city. I’ve found, however, that the more data you feed it, the more valuable it becomes. When you “check in” to locations, Foursquare compares your behaviors to others’ behavior and makes recommendations about places you might enjoy. While Foursquare hasn’t experienced a tremendous amount of adoption (especially in the Tampa market), they are doing very interesting things you might enjoy checking out.

Before I travel and choose a hotel, Tripadvisor is my go-to for exploring accommodations. The nice thing about their site is that it pulls your Facebook friends and shows you their reviews too. If one of your friends has stayed at a location and left a comment, you will see it first. They also let users post actual photos of the establishments, which can be helpful since you normally just see marketing photos on the hotel Web sites. The photos you’ll find here present a much more realistic picture of what you’ll actually experience.

Another interesting site that I typically check is Oyster. They send actual employees to photograph, stay at and review each hotel. Their reviews are extremely in-depth; the fact that they have actually stayed at the hotels leads to very credible reviews. Oyster also explores some very unique properties that make for very interesting reads!

With today’s apps, there’s no need for that bulky travel book. It’s already in your hand.

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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Handling Your Screen’s Spiderweb

What are your options to address the inevitable cracked screen on your smartphone?

Eventually every owner of a smartphone or tablet – especially those with kids – will get a cracked screen. How can you be proactive?

Some cell providers offer insurance for a monthly fee. This service can vary in price, so it’s best to check with your carrier.

Apple also offers a new version of AppleCare on iPhones. AppleCare plus is $99 for two years on your iPhone, covering two incidents of accidental damage with a $49 service fee for each incident.

SquareTrade also sells warranties online for many devices. It’s priced well and its reviews appear positive. Making claims and purchasing warranties also looks extremely easy. SquareTrade’s insurance offerings are also much less expensive than what you would pay in a retail store.

Where most people run into problems is when they don’t have phone insurance. When you get a new iPhone, your cost might have been $199 under contract. Yet the real cost is north of $500. Thus, when that inevitable crack appears and you choke on the replacement cost, you may want to consider a repair. 

No shame in that. Judging from the businesses opening around town, there is huge number of us walking around with butter fingers.

I have frequently used TAZ (Tech Accessory Zone) on Dale Mabry Highway to fix devices, including iPhones and iPads. I’ve recommended them to others with great success. They fix their devices on site and offer excellent customer service. In addition they also offer a good cases and accessories for all of your smartphone needs.

Another company that seems to have gained traction is iHospital on Kennedy Boulevard. They also offer repair services on site. While I haven’t yet used them, I know a few people who have with success.

One valuable lesson taught to me by my son – the inspiration for this particular column –is that kids crack phones. Before my son’s birth I would go without a case because I prefer my devices to be as slim as possible. I now have a giant crack in my screen because he decided to grab my phone and throw it on the ground.

Should I call TAZ or just get the iPhone 5?

Decisions, decisions.

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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Instagram and Vine: Sharing Memories on Your Mobile Device

People are collecting more and more memories every day.

Yet there’s no more printing, no more sending in the mail. They’re available to your friends and family in seconds.

With the rise in smartphone use, people are recording memories more frequently. They can instantly upload photos or videos to the Internet. Each day users upload 250 million photos to Facebook alone. Yet now there are other options for sharing.

For around $1 billion Facebook recently purchased Instagram, a smaller social network that centers on photo sharing. Instagram’s approach revolves around users applying artistic filters to their uploaded photos. It’s become popular among younger users and was seen as the hip place to share photos with friends. Like Facebook, Instagram allows you to leave comments and like photos that your friends post.

The new popular fad is video sharing. A new application called Vine allows you to take short, six-second videos and share them on Vine, Facebook and Twitter. Twitter actually acquired this company but allows it to run as an independent application.

Parents, however, are increasingly concerned about photo sharing applications that allow photos to share them with timebombs attached. Applications like Poke from Facebook or Snapchat allow users to send friends photos that expire quickly so that they can’t be saved. If you are both on the service, you can take a picture and quickly send it to a friend. When your friend receives it, they can quickly view it and then it’s gone forever. Some parents worry that kids are using this service to send inappropriate photos to their friends. There are, however, probably a few politicians out there welcoming the service!

One thing is for sure. People continue to enjoy sharing memories with one another in a way that makes it engaging and easy. Since my son was born almost a year and a half ago, I have been uploading more and more of my memories to Facebook. When he’s older, he’ll will be able to look back on these photos and see all of the great memories we have made together.

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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Dropbox: Keeping Your Computer Files in Your Pocket

One tech product I’m very passionate about is Dropbox.

Amazon’s Dropbox is a great way to store your files in the cloud, making them available on any device that you use. Until recently, if you had multiple computers, you had to move your files as you moved from device to device, first with a floppy disk, later with a thumb drive. Today, with Dropbox, as long as you have an Internet connection, you have your files.

The magic of this synchronization happens in the cloud (a server accessed through the Internet). Amazon’s redundant cloud infrastructure is accessible to you via Dropbox.com, a utility that you install on your computer or an application you download to your smartphone.

Once installed, instead of saving your files solely to your hard drive, you store your files in the magic “Dropbox” folder on your desktop. Once there, the files are transferred to the cloud and magically appear on every device. You can even access all of your most important files and share them with people directly on your smartphone!

In an effort to keep all of your important files safe and accessible, they have introduced a new feature to their mobile applications called Camera Sync. Operating in the background, this feature automatically uploads your camera photos to the cloud so that they are safely backed up. You can then access them from your computer. For people who like to have access to their cameraphone’s photos and videos on their computers, Dropbox saves a tremendous amount of time synchronizing your phone to your computer.

There are some Dropbox competitors out there such as Google Drive and Box.com. These do largely the same thing. Box.com, however, does have some advanced features that are useful to large corporate customers.

The best part of Dropbox is that it offers 2GB of storage for free! If you want to store more, you simply subscribe to a larger plan. They also have offerings for small businesses and teams. These give you greater administrative control, more storage and some advanced features that make managing your team’s data even easier.

You can check out the service and sign up for a free trial at http://www.dropbox.com

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Dropbox is a simple way to keep your important documents backed up and easily accessible anywhere you go with your smartphone.

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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Helping The Less Tech Savvy Master Their New Gadgets

“Help!” I often hear after the holidays. “I’ve received a gift and have no idea how to set it up!”

If your loved ones received tech gifts this past holiday, chances are they might need some help setting them up or syncing or configuring their e-mail on their new device. Sure, you can have them schedule an appointment at the Apple Store or bring the gadget back into Best Buy, but why not do what most people do and have them call on someone you know or trust to help you with their technology questions?

Yes, I mean you. There’s a way you can easily help them.

When my family members and friends receive a tech gadget and don’t know how to configure it, the first thing they do is call me. The good news is that times have changed quite a bit. Instead of walking my mom through things over the phone, I can now easily do a screen-sharing session and help her with her problems as if I were sitting right there.

Join.Me (http://join.me) is a free resource from Logmein. This online resource allows you to share screens with people with whom you’re working or friends and family members who need your help. Basically you both go to a Web site. They then click the icon that says they want to share their screen. After downloading a small application, a unique code is offered to them. After they tell you the code, you can enter it and soon find yourself viewing the same screen as the person you are helping. This makes things much easier for you to actually assist them.  You can even request control of their computer and use that person’s mouse and keyboard (you’re actually using your own) to get things done even faster.

Luckily, as part of my work, I have a large number of devices so I can help my friends and family with pretty much any new ones they have (Android, iOs, Mac, and all variations of Windows). If you find yourself in a jam, however, you can usually do an Internet search through Google and quickly find screenshots of the operating system and settings about which you need advice.

If your friend or family member needs help setting up a phone, assisting them remotely may prove a greater challenge. Unfortunately, there still isn’t a simple way to remotely see and set up someone’s phone!

Services like Join.Me aren’t new for people in the corporate world. At work, they are likely able to call their IT support staff, who then easily take control of their computers and help them with whatever problems they’re experiencing. Grandma and Grandpa, however, probably aren’t used to this sort of thing, so you can really amaze them and help them with all of their problems!

One thing to consider when purchasing tech devices for the less tech savvy, however, is the resources provided by the local retailer of the device. In most cases you can find a friendly person there that can help get the device up and running for your gift recipient before you even leave the store!

Happy helping!

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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Google Nexus 7 Tablet Doesn’t Fail to Impress

Google’s answer to the Apple iPad is a $199 Asus manufactured tablet.

I recently purchased one as a gift for someone and decided to and run it through its paces. It didn’t fail to impress.

While it comes in either an 8GB or 16GB configuration, the 8GB at $199 is perfect for e-mail and Web browsing. Its attractive, seven-inch screen features a resolution that’s great for reading and surfing. It includes a front-facing camera for video chat and photos.  For Internet access, however, you’ll be using Wifi as the tablet doesn’t have 3G capability.

The seven-inch form factor is a big winner. While the 10-inch iPad retina display is beautiful, you can hold and operate the Nexus 7 tablet much more comfortably in a single hand.

Another problem with the iPad is its price point. A $399 the iPad 2 is still cost prohibitive for most people searching for a portable, casual device to use outside of their normal PC. At $199 the Nexus 7 makes a portable option affordable. My wife and I even discussed giving a few as holiday gifts to our older relatives who aren’t computer savvy. The Nexus 7 Tablet makes it much easier than a PC to view photos and video chat with us.

Currently I use my iPad like many use the morning paper. Every morning I open it up to read my digital copy of the New York Times and run through my favorite blogs. They’re pulled onto it by Reeder, a program with a snappy user interface. While I was disappointed I couldn’t find a New York Times tablet app for the Nexus 7, I was able to use the tablet’s native Google Reader app to read my favorite blogs.

While its number of available applications isn’t as large as Apple ecosystem’s, most popular iPad applications can also be found for Android. Over time, this app inequality is likely to diminish. Google is making it easier for developers to create apps on their platform and Google Marketplace makes buying and downloading them much easier than the iTunes store.

Check out the Nexus 7 tablet and give it a try. It’s a great holiday gift idea at an affordable price.

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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Making Personal the Past

Who were your great grandparents? Are you descended from royalty?

In recent years, genealogy and the interest in all things ancestral have become the rage. Until 10 years ago, answering these questions required combing through very old and dusty public records, many of which weren’t accurate. The Internet has changed that for the better.

A multitude of online resources can now help you professionally and accurately research your past. Ancestry.com is one of the most popular sites. It’s a network of Web sites containing genealogical and historical records from at least 10 countries, but mainly focusing on the U.S. They are a for-profit company and the site does charge a user’s fee. If you really would like to learn as much as you can without extensive research, however, Ancestry.com is the pinnacle of convenience and knowledge.

Many have found their membership well worth it. In addition to your direct family tree, the site provides you with a list of extended relatives and their trees, even enabling you to connect with other relatives you may be unaware are living in your area. Users can submit and research their families on the site, then open previously unknown information to other distant relatives. Most of Ancestry.com’s content, however, is not user generated. They have their own team of professional researchers and access to the largest genealogy databases in the world, so almost all of the information you receive is accurate.

Other very good Web resources include RootsWeb and MyFamily.com. These sites provide access to user forums to connect with other people and help develop your research leads. They also have mailing lists and make available much more free content. Although they don’t have the massive scale servers that Ancestry.com offers, they do have some unique files and records that the larger site does not.

Overall, you’ll quickly find that the time spent researching your genealogy reaps quick, extensive rewards.

Your ancestors are not all dead and buried. They’re all just a few clicks away.

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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Avoid the Hack: Ensuring Your Passwords Pass Muster

From our computers to our phones, passwords have become a part of everyday life. Yet do your passwords stand up to a basic security test?

The safety of even of your online banking or credit card accounts could be at risk if they are not.

A number of factors go into building truly secure passwords. These include the use of a diverse number of case-sensitive letters, unique characters (such as #, ^ or &), numbers, and unrelated words or phrases that others are unlikely to guess.

A good thing to remember is that passwords are usually case sensitive, which means that uppercase and lowercase letters matter when typing them in. For example, “Password” would register differently than “PASSWORD” or even “pasSWord.” Varying the case of letters, combined with unique characters and numbers, will create obscure combinations that are harder to guess. Such passwords will offer greater protection.

There are very good reasons behind incorporating these changes into your passwords. Not a month likely goes that one of your friend’s e-mail accounts gets hacked and the hacker uses it to send you spam or bad links. On your local social network wall, you’ll often see how someone hacked someone else’s Facebook account. Most of the time, the Facebook accounts don’t fall to real hacking. It’s just friends guessing each other’s passwords and messing with their posts. These hacks, however, were made easier because the passwords were simple to recall entries like “password” or “123456.”

These common and easy-to-remember phrases are useful for easy recall, but they are also very unsecure – like hiding a house key under a welcome mat in a neighborhood prone to burglaries. They are quite simple to guess. In turn, your private information and control over your accounts are then easily compromised. This might not be significant on Facebook, but when you start using the same, easily hacked password for multiple sites, others can gain access to all of your personal accounts. 

Recently there was a breach in a subsidiary of Yahoo. Over 450,000 passwords were compromised. Even when damage control began, ensuring people’s Yahoo accounts couldn’t be harmed, all those Yahoo users’ login information was no longer secure. All of the other online sites for which they use the same user name and password are now also in trouble. 

To prevent this from happening, you should have a different password for each site, online account or login you have. Further, you should change and update these passwords every few months. If your login information for one site is unjustly discovered, it won’t jeopardize your other accounts.

Another useful tip to keeping yourself safe is to insure that you never enter login information into any site other that the place where you created it. No other site or individual one should ever need your password to any particular site; it’s therefore a bad idea to give it out. Also, never store any passwords as files on a computer. If the computer becomes infected with a virus, this information can then be uncovered and compromised.

Last, remember that if you ever feel like any of your secure information has been unearthed, immediately change the password, and cancel any applicable accounts – such as credit card numbers – that are tied to the sites and passwords.

Taking these simple steps will keep you safer and more secure when going about your daily activities on the Web.  

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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Apple WWDC 2012 Brings Exciting Changes

When Apple makes announcements at its Worldwide Development Conference, it’s like Christmas for tech geeks.

They don’t broadcast announcements live, so we’re left to read live blog posts from those attending This year was no different. In mid-June I fired up my browser and let the news flow in!

One of their biggest announcements was the introduction of iOS 6, the next version of the operating system powering iPhones and iPads. Apple’s iOS 6 holds some big changes.

Maps The Maps application has been completely overhauled. Google Maps is out and Apple’s own mapping application is in. It uses beautiful three dimensional maps that Apple got when they acquired a company a few years ago. A great new feature is turn-by-turn directions. Google Android users have been enjoying this feature for years now so it’s a welcome addition for iPhone users.

Passbook This is a one-stop place for loyalty cards, boarding passes, tickets and coupons. You can simply store everything in one place and keep it on your phone. It will even automatically notify you of changes to your itinerary.

Siri Updates While my friends say that they don’t use Siri that often, I use it when I’m driving to send text messages and respond to e-mails. Siri’s new functionality allows you to get sports scores and make reservations using Opentable.

At the WWDC Apple also announced a new MacBook Pro with Retina Display. If you haven’t seen the Retina Display that is on the new iPad, you are missing out. The text is so crisp and clear you almost forget you are using a digital device. Apple is bringing this technology to the new Macbook Pro and reviews say it’s stunning. The notebook is also a bit thinner, its processor is improved and a new solid state hard drive allows for much faster disk access.

I was also hopeful that the conference would bring news of an iMac refresh, but it didn’t. Analysts speculate they will get a refresh at the beginning of 2013.

Apple’s recent keynote and the new Macbook Pro show that Apple will still innovate and amaze long after Steve Jobs’ passing. He has built an incredibly capable organization that will continue to pump out the hits!

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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Keep Your Software Current and Avoid End-Of-Life

Windows Update, Adobe Update, Java Update. Why are you always asked to update your software?

When a software vendor discovers a problem with software that they have developed, they typically update or “patch” the software. They call this a patch because they are “patching the hole” that was discovered in the software. If left unresolved, these vulnerabilities can prove a security risk to your computer and your data.

Unscrupulous people exploit the holes and security risks discovered in software to do all sorts of malicious things – particularly to gain access to your machine. This is why it’s important to make sure you are running your Windows Updates. Further, it’s important that you update all of the software that prompts you to do so.

In addition to patching security holes, these updates can improve your software’s reliability and performance. Since manufacturers always have to release updates to fix software in the field, some might conclude that software vendors don’t properly test their software before releasing it. The reality is, however,  that software producers are able to gather a significant amount of usage statistics from users after a product is released. This enables them to make adjustments that will ultimately improve the user’s experience.

In addition to patching your software and keeping it up-to-date, you should also make sure that you are using an up-to-date antivirus application that communicates with its developer and regularly downloads the latest virus definition files. These definition files act as an encyclopedia of problems that allows the software to seek and find issues on your computer. Home users can download a free application from Microsoft called Microsoft Security Essentials. This is a free antivirus application that runs in the background and scans your system for threats. One of the things that I like about this application is that it runs fairly light on system resources. This means that it won’t slow your computer down while it is running in the background.

The term end-of-life in software refers to when vendors will stop supporting their software. Support for Microsoft Windows XP is ending in two years. What does that mean to you? After that last update Microsoft will no longer patch, update, maintain or support that software. They will instead ask you to purchase a paid upgrade to a newer operating system that is within lifecycle (in other words, still being supported). Updating to a newer operating system at that time will ensure you will get all of the necessary updates.

Plan ahead so Windows XP’s end-of-life doesn’t inconvenience yours.

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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Digital Content and Cutting Cable

New content distribution models may soon undermine your cable company’s programming.

Some of the premium content providers that have long relied on Bright House, Verizon FIOS and Direct TV are now getting hip to the portable world. They’re now allowing you to stream content to your portable devices. The HBO Go product allows you to access a great library of movies and some of HBO’s original series while you are on the go. I’ve used this several times to watch shows that I’ve missed instead of turning on my television and browsing the shows on demand.

The new Apple TV was recently released with some exciting, new features. With the device, Apple’s content is finally displayed in 1,080 pixels on your television. Now you can download movies, TV shows, and photos in high definition. Apple’s Airplay is still a really popular feature that allows you to user your TV to view video, show photos, and listen to music from your iOS device. While sitting on your couch with your iPad in your lap, you can select which pictures you’d like to share and instantly see them on your big screen television. This makes it so easy to share photos with visitors!

In addition, with your Apple devices and Apple TV, you can access content from some of the best sources. With them you can send material from Netflix, YouTube and major sports organizations like the MLB, NBA, and NHL to your high definition TV. For $99 dollars it’s hard to beat this device.

What does this hold for the future? As it becomes easier to distribute content online and more original content starts to get produced outside of the traditional cable model, more users may simply cut their cable television programming.

It’s rumored that Apple is working hard to disrupt television (and cable) the same way they did the music industry. Instead of bundling content with your cable bill like you do now, you would only pay for the content that you want from iTunes. While some of that is already occurring, they just haven’t got the pricing right yet. For someone that consumes a lot of content, it just doesn’t make sense to cut ties with cable yet.

The problem here is that the same company that provides you with your television content is the one that provides you with your Internet access. Consumers who shift away from watching their cable programming will rely more heavily on the same company’s Internet access. How excited do you think Verizon FIOS will be to lose money from your cable bill when you bypass their programming and download your new television content over their network? Some people are speculating that we would see price hikes in Internet costs. Others think cable providers may start to monitor what type of data is flowing over their network and charge accordingly.

In any event these are exciting times for content and the way it’s being delivered. We are seeing new devices and software emerge daily – new technologies that are making content viewing more interactive and exciting while allowing us to consume it in different ways.

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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A New Dad’s Social Sharing

I’m heavily into technology. I’m also a big fan of social networking sites.

Sites like Facebook have created a layer of technology whose surface we’ve barely scratched. To watch people who have become comfortable sharing things online that they never would have shared just a few short years ago has been great to watch.

My wife and I recently had our first child and it has opened my eyes to something special. Before Facebook there were baby books into which you posted photos to share with friends and family or retain as a keepsake for your child.  We purchased a new Cannon Digital SLR camera in anticipation of our new arrival. Between that camera and my iPhone 4S we have many gigabytes of digital memories, most of which end up on Facebook.

Since 2006, I’ve been storing photos and places I’ve visited my Facebook profile. The video of my proposing to my wife is on Facebook. Our wedding and honeymoon photos are on Facebook. The photos of our child’s birth and the excited status messages leading up to his arrival are all on Facebook. Our friends’ reactions and memories are stored there. We will be able to look back on comments and well wishes  for many years to come.

The new Timeline feature in Facebook is like a digital keepsake. It documents your social interactions year by year. The way these interactions and data points are stored can document life in a powerful way. We announce where we’ve gone, noting who was with us and what we did – along with photos to prove it!

Once he joins Facebook my son will have photos and memories from his birth onward. He won’t remember his first trip to Universal Studios at 3-months-old, but he can look back at the photo of me holding him in the mouth of Jaws.

Kids being born now have a whole new and exciting way of sharing and documenting memories. Our friends’ children will be doing the same thing, although when they get old enough to control their own online profiles, they might be removing a few embarrassing photos or videos.

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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The 2012 Tech Rumor Mill

If the rumors spreading through the blogosphere are true, 2012 could prove a pretty big year for technology.

Apple rumors suggest we should look for a few new products. While most of the Apple fans were underwhelmed (but still purchased) the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 is supposedly arriving with a new design. I typically like to jump between devices so I was on Android for a bit and came back to Apple for the 4S. The camera on the phone has been unbelievably helpful since I just became a new dad. While I have a Digital SLR, capturing photos and video with that phone simply by sliding it out of my pocket has been nothing short of awesome. While driving, I also find myself using Siri to send messages and schedule appointments. While it has some kinks, I’m a fan.

We are also awaiting the launch of Apple’s entry into the TV market. This year may bring Apple-branded televisions with possible voice control (using the Siri engine). They also have filed patents for “dynamic back lighting,” which should lead to an improvement in picture quality.

iPads may also get upgraded this year, with a possible cheaper option to compete with Amazon’s Kindle Fire. They will also get higher resolution displays that we have all come to love on iPhones.

In 2012 Google may launch its own tablet running its Android operating system. They have traditionally left this to other hardware manufacturers and they may still do so. The interesting part is the device’s rumored price point: $199. This would be a huge win for consumers.

One benefit to Google releasing the device instead of relying on other manufacturers is that consumers could quickly receive updates instead of waiting on vendors to slowly release theirs.  An open-system, inexpensive tablet would benefit consumers in other ways. The iPad relies on Apple content. The Amazon Kindle Fire is a slightly watered down product designed to consume content exclusively in Amazon’s ecosystem. A Google tablet would be open and ready to go. I’m excited about this!

No matter what comes out, 2012 is certain to be a great year for technology lovers!

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com.Photo courtesy of Apple.

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Different Online Ways to Buy

The Internet has revolutionized shopping.

With the introduction of group buying sites like Groupon and flash sale sites like Gilt and Fab, it’s challenging to keep up with changing online options.

Consumers are becoming more savvy, using tools that are increasingly easier to use. For example, I’m a huge Amazon shopper and a proud Amazon Prime Member ($80 a year gives you free two-day shipping on most items). Armed with my smart phone’s Amazon Mobile application, I can scan a product’s barcode in stores, compare prices, and purchase the item.  While good for Amazon and consumers, there is a downside. If people keep shopping this way, brick and mortar stores may cease to exist. And we know what happens to prices when there’s a lack of competition.

Groupon is a daily deals site that runs pretty aggressive discounts. You can purchase their deals on your mobile phone or on your computer and redeem them at the featured businesses. You can sometimes find great deals at restaurants, stores, museums and tours. These deals typically have a minimum number of people that need to purchase before the deal before it becomes active. This encourages interested people to spread the word. Groupon, however, isn’t the only game in town in the daily deals space; copycats abound on the Web. Living Social is probably the second largest site and they typically run some pretty great deals too.

Flash sale sites are also very popular and particularly focus on fashion. These usually offer a limited amount of a certain product for a limited amount of time. Gilt Group and Jack Threads highlight clothing sales. OneKingsLane.com specializes in home furnishings and décor. These sites usually offer really great deals on brands that are typically pretty expensive. A few of the sites I have used, however, have taken a bit longer to ship then I would like. They don’t typically don’t stock inventory but place their orders to manufactures after the sale. Since the sales are time sensitive, a lot of these sites also have mobile applications that alert you when sales start. That way you can jump on them quickly.

Undoubtedly, online shopping is revolutionizing the way consumers make purchases – and is putting increasing pressure on brick and mortar stores.

It pays, however, to keep up with the retail world’s ongoing technology revolution.

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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Navigating the Online Music World

From unlimited plans to pay-per-song options, navigating the maze of online music offerings is daunting.

Thankfully, some services stand out above the rest.

The easiest way to get started is with the free jukebox services such as Pandora and turntable.fm. These services let you pick a genre or artist you like. They then provide a bevy of music similar to that style. Their services include paid and free options, with the latter normally including intermittent advertisements – a small price to pay for their benefits. Pandora’s system leverages the music genome project, a tool that allows them to identify song traits in a unique fashion and then offer tracks with similar styles. They also recently rolled out a new Web site and removed their 40-hour a month listening limit.

A similar service is Spotify, which allows you to pick and play individual songs rather than stations. Spotify limits their free members to around 40 hours of music and includes advertisements. Their paid versions remove the ads and include unlimited streaming, mobile phone support and offline listening. Spotify has been popular overseas and only recently launched here. They’ve already attracted a loyal U.S. following due to their wide music selection and user friendly software. Their new partnership with Facebook allows them to publish your music preferences on your Facebook page if you allow it.

Rhapsody is a combination of both services, playing individual tracks and stations. For ten dollars a month you get access to 12 million songs and the ability to access them from most mobile devices. A similar offering is BestBuy’s re-launched Napster.

Essentially digital lockers, cloud-based services are slowly becoming the dominant music service on the Web. These let you upload your existing music collection and then listen from any compatible device. They also store music purchased from them. Companies offering these services include Apple, Amazon and Google. Each has a similar pricing scheme and storage offering. Amazon’s new Kindle Fire also uniquely leverages their cloud storage to sync with the tablet device. Their cloud also includes nearly unlimited storage of books and videos.

No matter what service you choose, new players will undoubtedly enter the game. We are in the midst of an online music revolution and the possibilities are music to my ears.

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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Enjoy Your Celebrity Status

With Facebook and Twitter, everyone can have their 15 minutes of fame…every day.

It’s hard to think back to a time when I wasn’t “checking in.” Or a time when I didn’t immediately upload pictures from my phone to Facebook. We live in an age when immediately sharing things with the people you care about is becoming the rule.

It, however, has nothing to do with ego. I’m not posting pictures of me front row at the Rays game because I want all my friends to know I have the best seats in the house. It’s because I want them to message me back. They can say, “Hey, let’s meet up after the game” or “Where are you?” so that we can wave to each other in the stadium. There’s no need for serendipitous meetings when Facebook can make them happen.

It’s really not about self-indulgence. It’s about keeping in touch with friends in a busy world. The original status update was the away message on AOL Instant Messenger. You’d put up your away message when you were going out to the mall to let your friends know why you weren’t answering them. Mobile changed all of that. With Twitter, you can continually answer the question: “What are you doing now?”

While some may find it silly, Twitter can be used as a tool to reduce friction between nagging parents and their child. If I had passed my teen years always answering the question “What am I doing?” to my phone, my mom wouldn’t have had to always ask me.

Just follow me on Twitter, Momsies.

Is it TMI?

My friends want to see pictures of my newborn child. They even don’t mind seeing what new clothes I’m eyeing at Nordstrom. They can comment back and say things like, “Wow, that’s fancy!”

And that makes me feel good.

The people have spoken and we want to see your pictures from the weekend.

You’re a celebrity. Live it up.

By Chon Nguyen

Nguyen is a tech troubleshooter and owner of Digital Aspire at http://www.digitalaspire.com<./p>

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