Category: Gadgets

Google Launches Chrome Apps for Mac

Google has announced that it has brought Chrome Apps to the Mac.

First introduced in September 2013 for Windows and Chromebook users, Chrome Apps are designed to function like native Mac apps, working offline, updating automatically, and syncing on any computer where a user is signed into Chrome.  Chrome Apps behave and feel just like native software.

After install, Chrome Apps on a Mac can be found in the Applications folder on the Dock.  To make finding and launching Chrome Apps quicker, Google is also releasing the Chrome App Launcher for Mac.

Just download one of the new Chrome Apps and you’ll see the new Chrome App Launcher in your Dock.

 

TechTips: Near Field Communication

Anyone that has gone into a retail store recently has likely seen a Mastercard “PayPass” pad at the checkout station. Using a credit card with a special built in chip, the customer makes contact with the pad with the card rather than swiping it. NFCThe technology behind the tap-to-pay devices is call near field communication.

Near field communication (NFC) is a technology allows enabled devices to communicate with other devices by establishing radio communication, by either touching them or bringing them into close proximity of one another. This is done through the use of NFC chips, or tags, which can be custom-encoded or may use the specifications provided by the NFC Forum, an industry association charged with promoting the technology and setting key standards. The tags can securely store personal data such as debit and credit card information, loyalty program data, PINs and networking contacts, among other information. NFC typically tags contain data and are typically read-only but may be rewriteable.

Both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are similar to NFC since all three allow wireless communication and data exchange between digital devices. However,  the significant difference with NFC is that it utilizes electromagnetic radio fields while Bluetooth and Wi-Fi utilize radio waves. NFC builds upon Radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems by allowing two-way communication and works in the same 13.56 MHz radio frequency spectrum. Unlike RFID, both the NFC device and the tag can initiate the communication.

One application of NFC technology already on the market is the Google Wallet, a mobile payment system that allows its users to store debit cards, credit cards, loyalty cards, and gift cards among other things, as well as redeeming sales promotions on their mobile phone. BMW is working to allow car owners to use their key NFC  key FOBs to store downloaded event tickets or check out of a hotel. Hospitals can use NFC to monitor patients at their homes. Students cab use their NFC enabled phones to get into their dorm rooms. A fun application of the technology is the Karotz Bunny.

There are many interesting possibilities for this technology:

– Touch a mobile device over display at a local museum or at an exhibit to access more information and multimedia content
– Touch a device at a display or a poster to create an interactive experience
– Could replace the pairing step of establishing Bluetooth connections or the configuration of Wi-Fi networks

As with other such technologies there are concerns aabout privacy and security. Adopters will want to know that all of their vital information is encrypted and that that viruses can’t be passed by NFC.

TechTips: Google Drive

Google has finally released their long awaited competitor to Dropbox, SkyDrive, and iCloud, which they are calling Google Drive. Individuals can get up to 5GB of space for free but a premium service is available for 25GB at $2.49/mo, 100GB for $4.99/mo, and $49.99 a month for 1TB.

Users of Google Docs will find Drive very familiar. In fact, Google Docs is built into Drive.  Just like Docs, one can collaborate with others on documents, can share content with others, and one can add and reply to comments and receive notifications when others have commented on shared items.

Users can attach photos from Drive to posts in Google+ and will soon be able to attach Drive content into Gmail, which can reduced the reliance on the use of file attachments. Work is also underway to allow third-party apps to access the content.

Drive supports a large number of file formats and includes the Google Drive viewer, which allows one to preview documents in 16 formats. Drive also tracks changes made to content so one view the revision history for the past 30 days.

Like other cloud storage services, Drive provides a single location at which to save and store documents and media content that can be automatically synced across multiple devices.  Since Google is also behind Android, it’s mobile version of the service was released first. As of this writing the iPhone/iPad app had not yet been released. Drive also takes advantage of Android’s accessibility features so those with sight impairments can use the mobile app, eyes-free.

The desktop client works just like Dropbox’s.  A folder is created locally which is used to store the content to be synced. One simply has to drag and drop an item in the Drive folder. Also like with Dropbox, the contents of the folder can be managed as any local folder. Since the desktop I first installed the client on is located behind a corporate firewall, Dropbox required the use of a proxy to allow real-time syncing. This was not the case with Drive. After installation, I dragged a file into the desktop folder and it showed up on the web client within 3 seconds.

Those with Google/Gmail accounts should visit drive.google.com/start to get set up. It may take a day or two for your account to be setup. There is plenty of online support available.

Eric Schnell

TechTips: RockMelt: The Social Web Browser

rockmelt logoIf you are a heavy Facebook and Twitter user, you might want to hunt for an invite and try the RockMelt web browser. RockMelt works like any other browser with one big difference: it integrates Facebook and Twitter.

In short, one can use the browser to browse web sites AND keep up-to-date with your friends without opening Facebook or Twitter.

When RockMelt is opened it immediately connects to Facebook. Along the sides of the main browser window are two sidebar ribbons with icons; one on the left showing friends, one on the right displaying  favorite social sites.  In addition to social networking sites, the browser can directly access RSS feeds. When RockMelt  is minimized, update notifications persist on the lower right hand side of  the monitor.

The browser also has built-in support for Facebook chat so one can initiate a chat session from within the browser.  Another handy feature is  that all  settings, notes, preferences, and bookmarks aer saved online so that can be synced between devices. This means one can log into the RockMelt browser on any computer and everything saved on another computer is available. One can also share web site links directly to Facebook or Twitter by a simple drag and drop.

The browser has the same look and feel as Google Chrome since it is built on the same platform (Apple’s WebKit). This also means that all Google Chrome extensions are available to RockMelt  users. The browser is available for Mac and Windows.

The RockMelt effort is backed by Netscape developer Marc Andreessen. The browser went “live” on November 8, 2010.

Eric Schnell