Apps

New technology will tell drivers when traffic lights change

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Should you slow down with urgency or coast with caution to a red light?

A new feature set to be available on certain BMWs will tell drivers when traffic lights will change, and whether they’ll be seeing red or green.

The Bavarian automaker is rolling out a new feature that taps into the traffic signal network of certain cities in the U.S. and Australia in order to tell drivers what’s about happen on the lights ahead.

Powered by Connected Signals, a cloud-based system that receives red or green light data from various cities, drivers will receive a relevant chime or visual notification  based on the anticipated behaviour of upcoming lights. The app also uses data from the car, such as its location and speed.

If the light is about to turn red, they will see a red light notification on the dashboard display accompanied with a countdown. Likewise, the same will happen for a green light.

What if the driver is about to turn left or right rather than drive straight through? If the turning signal is activated, the driver won’t receive a traffic light notification.

In a statement released late last week, BMW USA said any BMW with the BMW Apps feature will be compatible with Connected Signals’ Enlighten App.

This screenshot of the BMW EnLighten app shows when a left turn signal will expire.

This screenshot of the BMW EnLighten app shows when a left turn signal will expire.

Drivers without a BMW can still get the app, but it won’t integrate with their dashboard displays.

It’s not known if the feature will be available to Canadian BMW customers at the same time as U.S. availability.

Why know the lights?

One obvious benefit is that drivers may be able to arrive at their destination more quickly if they’re able to “beat” the lights.

However, BMW highlights the potential for this feature to increase safety and save fuel because the predictions will help drivers avoid unnecessary acceleration or sudden breaking.

The actual savings might not be as remarkable, however.

Other features available from a handful of automakers are also designed to save fuel, without having to keep an eye on the traffic signals.

Many vehicles are available with start-stop systems which turn off the engine at stop lights, or in stop-and-go traffic. The fuel savings, however, may not be considerable. 

Some cars with large engines can also turn off cylinders when the extra oomph isn’t needed.

How to make your old car smart

Today’s new cars are available with enough technology to keep you travelling at the right speed, in your lane and awake for the journey.

However, your 2002 Audi or GM might look sleek but seem long in the tooth without the ability topark autonomously and create Wi-Fi hotspots.

Fortunately, there are ways to make your old car smart without having to get dirty under the hood.

Dash uses a car's on-board diagnostics port to communicate vital vehicle information back to a driver's smartphone

Dash uses a car’s on-board diagnostics port to communicate vital vehicle information back to a driver’s smartphone

Almost all cars built since 1996 have something called an on-board diagnostic port, or more technically speaking, an OBD-II port.

It’s this portal that lets you turn your old ride into a more modern, Internet-connected machine.

Most drivers probably don’t even know what an OBD-II port is, much less know where it is. Hint: look at the bottom of your dashboard, probably in the bottom-left corner by your hood release lever.

When dealerships say they’re going to “scan your car” for problems after you report seeing a dreaded “Check Engine” light, they plug their garage’s computer or tablet to the OBD-II to see what’s wrong with your car.

It’s this port that gives you a window to your vehicle’s soul. All drivers need is an OBD-II port reader and a smartphone.

Get connected

Lemur’s BlueDriver is a simple, basic option that costs about $100.

The dongle, about the size of your key fob, plugs into the OBD-II port and then links up with your phone over a Bluetooth connection.

Drivers and passengers are able to see real-time data from the car, including engine load, emissions information, fuel consumption, etc.

The BlueDriver can also identify and decipher error codes, suggesting possible solutions to a variety of problems. Perhaps that pesky “Check Engine” light is due to a bad oxygen sensor.

While most dealerships may still want to perform their own diagnostics, drivers can still head to the shop with a good idea of what’s wrong under the hood.

Get smarter

Mojio is a niftier OBD-II gadget from a Vancouver-based company. But unlike BlueDriver (and similar competitors), this one is more advanced.

It relies on an always-active 3G Internet connection to transmit your vehicle and driving information back to the cloud — and the driver.

mojio

From hard acceleration to unnecessary breaking, Moijo is designed to provide drivers with more than just raw numbers.

Error codes will prompt mobile alerts, while the analytics platform will help drivers see why their fuel-sipping car is blowing through tanks of gas.

However, the steady Internet connection requires a subscription ($4.99/month) so the Mojio won’t be constantly communicating with the driver’s cellphone over a battery-draining Bluetooth connection.

Drivers not wanting to pay a monthly subscription can also consider the Dash or Automatic OBD-II port devices.

Recipes for automation

Ok, you can’t program your old jalopy to drive itself just yet. But the cloud can help make your time behind the wheel more efficient.

Recipes available on IFTT (If This, Then That) can trigger events in your digital ecosystem based on where you drive, how you drive, or what you need to do while driving.

For example, Mojio drivers can receive a mobile alert if their battery runs low. Automatic drivers can prompt their car to turn on their house lights when they get home. Dash can send a tweet to let your followers know you’re on the road and not reading their 140-character posts.

And should your dashboard’s error display light up like a Christmas tree, Automatic can send those error codes to your mechanic via email before you’ve even had a chance to open the owner’s manual.

Three years later, traditional cab companies ready to compete with Uber

Days before lawyers from the City of Toronto and Uber appeared in court to deal with an injunction against the ride-hailing service, two local taxi companies released new mobile apps.

The apps would give customers the power to book a ride, track their cab and pay through the app itself. Sound familiar?

Uber first disrupted the Toronto cab industry more than three years ago, launching on March 15, 2012. It’s since expanded in Canada to Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Edmonton.

Uber customers could check the location of nearby drivers, see a fare estimate, track the location of their cab and pay through the app.

In May 2015, Toronto’s Beck and Co-op Cabs were ready to compete.

Beck’s app, released on May 20, is billed as “Canada’s first taxi-company app with in-app payment, map views and many more features…”

Testing out the app, it doesn’t seem to compare as well. The Beck app doesn’t show the location of nearby cabs (until a booking was made), and an attempt to change a booking prompted an error message that read “Order Not Editable.”

During one of my attempts to book a cab, I received a call back from a friendly Beck agent because I didn’t specify an address, I had just dropped the “Pick Me Up” pin at an intersection (and the app didn’t detect a nearby address). The agent on the phone did tell me that humans dispatch the cab drivers, not the app — much like the Beck app in 2012.

The app, however, did provide a fare estimate.

Co-op’s ‘GATA Hub’ app (get a taxi anywhere) wasannounced Friday and is a better solution. It provides fare estimates, advanced cab tracking and in-app payments. Reviews left in the App Store are favourable.

Legality vs. convenience

With the case in court, Uber launched a social media campaign Monday to build support for its ride-hailing service in Toronto.

Early Monday afternoon, the hashtag #uber4to was trending on Twitter in Canada.

Only Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair photos were trending higher.

Most tweets marked with #uber4to praised the convenience and affordability of Uber rides.

Some posts, however, raised concerns over safety and pricing.

Also Monday, traditional taxi drivers gathered outside Toronto City Hall, staging a protest against the digital disrupter.

In an ironic twist captured by one Twitter user, several cab drivers appeared to be protesting the very service they may be active on

When asked how many “normal” taxi drivers use Uber, company spokesperson Susie Heath told CTVNews.ca that “thousands of drivers in Toronto have partnered on the platform as a new way to earn.”

So much support for a service tangled in legal and policy proceedings may be a testament to its convenience, but Uber isn’t in top gear just yet.

Cross-Canada conundrum

Despite customer praise shared on social media, Uber continues to run into trouble with policymakers.

In Ottawa, some UberX drivers have been fined by bylaw officers while Montreal’s mayor said he believes UberX is illegal.

In a statement issued last October, the City of Toronto said UberX – a version of the app that allows everyday drivers to pick up fare-paying passengersin their own vehicles — violates municipal bylaws and “may post a serious safety risk.”

Uber continues to claim it is a technology company, connecting riders with drivers, while city regulators across Canada say it is an unregulated taxi service.

How to get better WiFi signal

Screenshot_2015-02-28-11-38-41 (1)Even with a great router, I’ve been having WiFi signal problems and slow connections. Here’s how to improve the speed and WiFi reception on your home network.

For starters, I’m fortunate enough to have a great router as the backbone of my home WiFi network. It’s the beefy Linksys WRT1900AC.

This router is the Ferrari of hubs:802.11ac wireless connectivity at 1,900 Mbps, 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports, 1 USB 3.0 port and 1 USB 2.0/eSATA port, plus a 1.2 Ghz dual-core processor acting as the brains.

You think with all that power behind my Internet, I wouldn’t have any problems streaming HD video to my Chromecast? Or my phone would be able to play YouTube videos without stuttering? Wrong.

The problem is that I, like many people who live in dense cities, have lots of other WiFi connections battling for airspace.

All my neighbour’s WiFi signals, and my own, were crashing into each other, causing interference that affected the performance. Many people’s WiFi signals were on the same, or similar, channels.

I got a free Android app, WiFi Analyzer, to figure out what the wireless looked like in my home. Sure enough, my network was on Channel 1, along with at least two other people’s networks.

How is this possible, considering my router (like many new ones) is designed to automatically pick the best channel to beam from? Why couldn’t my router have used Channel 3 or 6, which appeared to be empty?

When I used the app in the basement, beside my router, it showed that there were no other networks on the same channel automatically selected by my access point. But upstairs, by the TV and in the bedroom, the WiFi channels were as crowded as pedestrians crossing a scramble intersection.

So, I logged into my router’s admin panel and forced it to use Channel 4 on the 2.4 Ghz band. This was the channel that appeared to be the least crowded from my app analysis.

After changing the channel, I streamed video from my laptop to my TV via Chromecast, and the playback was silky smooth – even at the extreme 720p HD setting.

 

Findit – app helps to drill down and find files and emails on your iPhone

findit_appAs seen on App Central: The search tool built into iOS has been traditionally simple – almost too simple.

That’s why FindIt is a great solution to be able to search for more from your phone.

It helps you search through emails and files not just on your handset, but stuff in the cloud too. Google, DropBox – it’ll search those spots for the stuff you need.

It can also help you narrow down your searches by specifying a time range for search results, or filtering the types of files you’d like to find.

Highlights from the app store description:

• Find files from Gmail, Google Drive, & Dropbox with a single search
• No more waiting while your phone searches through archived emails on the server
• Feel confident you can find what you need when you need it
• 30 free email or file previews each month or share the app with 5 friends to unlock unlimited searching for a year!

IKEA Catalog app lets you see furniture in your room using augmented reality

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As seen on App Central: Not everyone thinks IKEA furniture is the easiest to assemble. So don’t take a gamble on furniture that looks great in the catalog but will be as compatible with your home as oil is with water.

The latest iteration of the IKEA Catalog app lets you use augmented reality to place furniture and other items in your home.

Using the app, you can see how items from the Swedish store will look using your tablet or smartphone’s camera.

Truthfully, rotating objects and getting them on the correct angle was a little challenging, but it’s Besta better than trying to lug a half-built bookcase back to the store for a refund.

Get the app: iTunes | Google Play

Boyfriend tracking app: creepy and crazy or helpful intelligence?

boyfriend_tracker_appIs an app that lets people track their boyfriend an invasion of privacy, or is it a handy way to keep tabs on your partner who might not be completely honest with you?

A few weeks ago, it was the latter. Girlfriends (and boyfriends, to be fair) were the NSA of their own relationships, spying on their partner’s whereabouts and conversations with an app.

Coming to us from a Brazilian app developer, “Boyfriend Tracker” (Rastreador de Namorados) is an app that appears to have been doing very well, hitting around 50,000 downloads.

Read more

Scotia iTrade launches new iPad app for couch investing

scotia_itrade_quotesWhen it comes to investing using web tools, I flip through websites, services and research sources like a salesmen through a Rolodex making cold calls.

There are several sites and apps, and now there’s a new one entering the fray: Scotia iTrade.

The Globe ranked iTrade fourth overall out of 12 in its list of online brokers, so the service seems to be doing something reasonably well.

The iTrade app is built from the ground-up for Apple’s tablet, taking advantage of the screen real estate to display charts, numbers and tabs to sort through your portfolio – or to sort through stocks you might be interested in buying and selling.

U­sers can drag their finger across the screen to draw their own trend lines and analyze trends to inform their investment decisions.

The charting tool also lets users check out a wide group of overlays of important indicators, such as moving averages, RSI MACD and Bollinger Bands.

While the iTrade app offers research reports from various outlets, it’s also worth highlighting here a great app for investors to research U.S. equities is Stock Guru.

And if you’re not a tablet guy or gal, check out Vuru.com for algorithm-supported analysis.

Which apps do you use for stock trading on your mobile devices? Why do you like them?

Several iOS apps free for App Store’s fifth birthday

Apple_App_Store_free_appsMany good apps and games for Apple’s iPhone and iPad are free for a limited time in the App Store.

The promotion is part of birthday celebrations for the App Store’s fifth anniversary, which takes place this week.

The selection of free apps is so good, I’m a little enraged because many of them I purchased at full price.

Among the highlights:

How to Cook Everything – if you don’t know how to cook, or if you can’t shop for all the ingredients you need to cook at once, this is your ultimate app for the kitchen.

You can search through hundreds of recipes to find something you like, and then get step-by-step directions to help you prepare the meal. There are even built-in timers to nudge you along the way.

How to Cook Everything (best used on the iPad) is also great because you can rate and share recipes with other users.

Another solid app is Traktor DJ, which lets you pretend to be Tiesto or DJ Hardwell behind the screen of your iPhone or Apple tablet.

Load up two tracks and then mix the tunes together with Traktor, applying loops, filters and other cool effects.

Traktor – in particular – is almost $20 in the App Store, so it’s one of the better deals out there this week.

For what it’s worth, the app developers aren’t getting reimbursed for giving this stuff away this week.

According to ABC. the CEO of the company behind Barefoot World Atlas said the loss of sales from one week is “far outweighed” by the gain in awareness of the app.

 

Apple’s new iOS 7 looks for inspiration to please

6a00e54f916452883401901d42c1af970b-320wiApple’s mobile operating system iOS has gone under the knife to get some major plastic surgery, giving it a fresh new look that’s drastically different from what we’re used to.

But some might say it’s not a whole lot different compared to the features and design basics that Android, BlackBerry 10 and even Windows Phone users have been enjoying.

Apple unveiled iOS 7 at its WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) Monday, the biggest change since the launch of the mobile operating system back in 2007.

What’s most noticeable is that all of the system graphics and menus are a lot more basic-looking.

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