The Amazon Echo is one of the most popular smart speakers on the market today, giving users the ability to command Alexa to browse the internet or order items from Amazon. With competition from Google and Apple, however, Amazon couldn’t rest on its laurels. The tech giant recently released the new-and-improved Echo and the Echo Plus, a smart-home hub that will automatically connect to your other devices. Here’s how the new models compare to the first generation in design, sound, connectivity, calling, and pricing.
Encased in a tall, black (or white) cylinder, the first-generation Echo is an imposing monolith. The original Echo emphasized simplicity with two buttons on top and a pinhole microphone and a ring around the edge to control the volume.
The new Echo comes in a much smaller package (just 5.9 inches tall), and comes in different body designs. Given that our reviewer found the original to be prone to fingerprints, the additional designs are a great idea. There are six variations for the second generation Echo; three have cloth covers, while three have sleek finishes, including wood.
The Echo Plus mimics the design of the original Echo, a tall (9.3 inches), cylindrical body. It comes in black, white, and silver. While the facade may be familiar, the Echo Plus has a lot of new stuff going on beneath the surface.
The original Echo might not have amazed any audiophiles, but our own Caleb Denison considered it fine for its purposes, saying that it “has a very large sound with full bass that doesn’t go overboard.” Given that many people might use their Echo to blast music, however, the sound quality ought to be more than “adequate,” and the new Echo models take things to another level with Dolby speaker technology. Both the new Echo and Echo Plus sport 2.5-inch woofers for a full bass sound.
The second-generation Echo has a 0.6-inch tweeter for clear treble, while the Echo Plus has a larger 0.8-inch tweeter, which should give it improved sound dispersion. The new Echo and Echo Plus also support multi-room audio, so you can play one track in your kitchen while someone else listens to a different track in the living room.
None of the Echo models will give you a superb music-listening experience — you will probably want a proper speaker and receiver setup for that — but they’ll probably be adequate if you want to put on some tunes while you have company over. With the Echo’s connectivity, you should be able to easily hook it up to a high-end set of speakers anyway.
Usefulness and Connectivity
Improved audio is nice, but ultimately, the point of a smart speaker is to make mundane tasks easier. The original Echo allowed users to perform a huge number of tasks hands-free, whether it be launching movies or songs with simple commands or asking Alexa to show the view from an outdoor security camera. The first-gen Echo also had great compatibility with smart-home devices such as Nest. Naturally, the Echo will work with other Amazon products, such as the new Fire TV.
The new Echo models have upped the game. Both have what Amazon calls improved “far-field voice recognition,” so their microphones can hear your commands from afar, even in noisy rooms. Owners of the original Echo were dependent on additional “smart hubs” to connect Alexa to their various smart devices, but that will no longer be a problem for Echo Plus users. The Echo Plus is also a smart-home hub by itself, connecting to and interfacing with smart appliances directly, giving it an extra edge above the second-generation Echo.
The original Echo allowed users to make calls to other Echo devices or devices running the Alexa app. The new Echo models improve on this feature, allowing users to call phone numbers in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Users can also send text messages to any device that has the Alexa app.
Users can also use the “drop-in” feature to instantly speak through any connected Echo device in their home, so if you want to remind your roommate to put their dirty plate in the dishwasher, you no longer need to pound on their door.
As far as making calls is concerned, the new models are a clear step up from the original. If you still have a landline, you can also hook that up to your Echo system via the newly announced Echo Connect, which costs $35.
Pricing and availability
Following the unveiling of the new Echo models, the first-generation Echo appears to be unavailable on Amazon, implying that the company may be retiring it in favor of the next generation. The second-generation Echo costs $100 for a cloth-covered model, and $120 for a model with a finish. Amazon is currently offering a deal — users get $50 off their purchase if they buy three second-gen Echoes, which might be the right purchase if you want Alexa throughout your home. The Echo Plus costs $150 and for now comes with a Philips Hue bulb to get you started with smart-home lighting.
Assuming Amazon does not restock the first-generation Echo, the choice comes down to the new Echo or the Echo Plus. If the idea of having Echoes throughout your house is appealing to you, buying a trio of second-gen Echoes is probably the most economical choice. The biggest factor to consider is smart-home integration. If you don’t have an array of smart appliances to manage, then the Echo should suffice. For those who want to unite everything in their home through one device, the Echo Plus is the clear choice.
3 Technologies That Could Win the Battle Against Cybercrime
Considering how fast internet and wireless communication technologies advance, you would think that we’ve beaten cybercrime by now. Instead, the world continues to witness massive breaches after massive breaches that cost businesses and consumers trillions.
According to the Official 2017 Annual Cybercrime Report by the Herjavec Group, the cost of cybercrime is expected to reach $6 trillion annually by 2021 — that’s twice the recorded cost of $3 trillion in 2015. These estimations are based on the most recent year-over-year trends, growth in state-sponsored attacks and other historical cybercrime data.
When it comes to the actual incidences, the many, ugly forms of cybercrime came into full view — from “ransomware” to Distributed Denial of Service, or DDoS attacks.
Make no mistake, strides are being taken by the government and cyber security firms to combat these threats. As of now, there are many ways for you to avert most forms of cyber attacks. It’s just that some organizations, like the National Health Service in Britain, fail to observe even the most basic of security practices, including keeping their software applications up-to-date.
And that’s exactly where businesses and individual users can make a difference — by being vigilant and proactive in their cyber security.
The internet is basically filled to the brim with resources that can teach you how to protect against cyber attacks. Better yet, innovators in spaces like blockchain and machine learning also present new opportunities that could potentially put a stop on the never-ending war against cybercrime.
1. Preventing zero-day attacks.
The most dangerous form of cyber attack is the one that you don’t see coming.
It’s reasonable to assume that your business network is already protected by your very own security software. This typically includes an antivirus, anti-malware and a web application firewall. However, these layers of defense depend on software updates that contain threat definitions, which will then enable them to detect and eliminate infections.
A “zero-day attack” is an exploit executed by hackers before these patches are rolled out. For example, if a developer releases an app with an unknown security flaw, hackers can take advantage of this vulnerability before it’s even discovered.
Today, cyber security enterprises and organizations are looking at machine learning as the potential, long-term solution to zero-day attacks. One particular example is the system built by a team at Arizona State University that monitors websites on the “deep web” that markets security exploits as a service. Using machine learning, the researchers were able to capture an average of 305 high-priority threat warnings each week.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence are also known as the underlying technologies behind the Chronicle — a new cybersecurity company launched by Google X. Touted as a “digital immune system” by Google X chief Astro Teller, the platform presumably runs on a detection-based ecosystem that also utilizes the massive infrastructure of Alphabet, the parent company of Google.
Although the nitty-gritty of the Chronicle product is still unclear, the product is positioned as a proactive threat prevention, analysis and intelligence platform. These are the kind of functionalities that wouldn’t be possible without some form of machine learning as the backbone.
2. Self-sovereign identities.
The internet is easily one of the most important inventions in the last generation. It propelled us into the future and now permeates every single facet of modern life, including, but not limited to business, education, entertainment and communications.
But as people grow more connected, bigger pieces of their identity are stored online, thanks to businesses, online services and government entities that collect personal and financial information.
Inadvertently, this created opportunities for hackers to commit “identity theft,” which can incur huge losses to consumers. According to the 2017 Identity Fraud Study, consumers lost to the tune of $16 billion in identity fraud damages.
Some of the ways hackers can steal sensitive information is through phishing, website spoofing and card skimming. The most lucrative method, however, is to breach a central repository with a deep pool of identities. One example is the infamous Equifax data breach where over 145 million Americans had their personal information stolen.
With a self-sovereign identity, identity theft can be averted by granting the full control and possession of identities to their rightful owners. A blockchain system like Decentralized.id or DID, for example, allows users to store their personal information on a decentralized, public record. They can then access and verify their identity to avail services via their personal device.
For example, suppose you signed up for a subscription service. Traditionally, your account details will be stored in the company’s own database, leaving you with only your login credentials for access.
A self-sovereign identity, however, is stored in an immutable blockchain that you can access and verify through your own device. It can be a driver’s license, bank account or online account information. Once stored and encrypted in a blockchain, platforms like DID allow you to manage your IDs and use them for various transactions, like logging on to web services or making purchases.
3. DDoS mitigation.
Finally, DDoS attacks are the most common form of cyber attack, and they still present a big problem to businesses in 2018.
The 2017 Worldwide DDoS Attacks & Cyber Insights Report indicates that businesses lose up to $2.5 million per DDoS attack. Apart from revenue losses, it can create a window for further breaches, such as data leaks and malware infections. And as a result, it may also cause irreversible damage to the company’s reputation.
A DDoS attack works by flooding an online service with traffic using a network of computers infected with Trojans, also known as “botnets.” This would consume most, if not all, of the available bandwidth that the server can support, thus, denying access to real users.
Due to their compounding effects, DDoS-as-a-service providers see up to 95 percent in profits in deep web markets, according to Kaspersky Labs. Fortunately, these attacks can now be easily fended off with DDoS protection services like Cloudflare. There are also web hosting services that feature network-level flood protection, screening and blocking traffic from suspicious sources.
Ultimately, all it takes is a proactive approach towards cyber security. Throughout the war against cybercrime, there never really was a shortage of security tools that can respond and repair the damage done by cyber-attacks. But with the technologies mentioned above, you can assume a proactive stance and take the battle to the hackers.
3 Biggest Cybersecurity Threats Facing Small Businesses Right Now
Technology has quickly engulfed the world around us. Everything we do, both at a business and personal level, seems to involve technology in one way or another. However, as that happens, small businesses continue to be a top target for hackers, with the number of organizations hit by cybercrime rising each year. According to The Ponemon Institute’s 2017 State of Cybersecurity in Small & Medium-Sized Businesses report, 61 percent of businesses experienced a cyber attack in 2017, signifying a 6 percent increase from the previous year’s 55 percent. Data breaches were up to 54 percent from 50 percent in 2016.
This year promises faster internet, more connectivity, and unfortunately, more cybersecurity threats. Threat Horizon 2018, from the Threat Horizon series by the non-profit association Information Security Forum (ISF), shows that with the growing connectivity, there will be an increase in the information security threat landscape.
1. Internet of Things (IoT) leaks.
As real-time data collection becomes increasingly important, the IoT is growing too. From monitoring traffic and collecting real-time patient information to optimizing the uptime of industrial equipment, organizations are massively acquiring IoT devices. However, these devices aren’t always secure. This creates a potential backdoor into the organization, warns the ISF.
IoT works so great because it’s comprised of dozens of devices that hide in plain sight. Be it alarm systems, GPS, web cameras, HVAC or medical devices, such as pacemakers, it’d be hard to guess which of these devices are even connected to the internet in the first place. But since IoT devices lack built-in security, they are often easy targets by hackers.
Attackers usually use automated programs to locate IoT devices. Once located, attackers attempt to connect to the device using the default admin credentials. And since most users don’t change them, this is usually a success for the attacker. Once in, the hackers can easily install malware, basically taking the system under their control.
Daniel Soderberg, CEO of EyeOnPass, advises changing all passwords immediately when you acquire a new device. “I wouldn’t operate any device with the default password,” he warns. “Default passwords are usually printed and freely available, exposing the user to all manner of cyber dangers.”
2. Opaque algorithms.
The Threat Horizon 2018 report also warns of the increasing using of algorithms. As organizations continue to fully trust algorithms with the operation and decisions concerning critical systems, the report says, they lose the visibility into the functioning and interaction of their systems.
The lack of proper and transparent interactions between algorithms poses a security risk in case unintended interactions between algorithms create incidents — like the U.S. Treasury Bonds “flash crash” of October 2014 that saw bond yields drastically drop briefly before the algorithms corrected themselves.
“We know they’re going to do some quirky stuff from time-to-time,” says Steve Durbin, managing director of the ISF. “You need to understand some of the exposure you have to algorithmic systems. We’re building more and more of our systems on top of algorithms — industrial control, critical infrastructure. There’s an increasing risk in this space we need to be addressing.”
To be able to manage these risks, organizations need to have a human monitoring the execution of operations and decisions often left to algorithms. The report advises organizations to know the risks that come with algorithm-controlled systems and know when to involve a human. Also, they must update their code maintenance policies and identify alternatives to treating algorithm-related incidents, especially when insurance isn’t an option.
3. Security researchers are being silenced.
Security researchers are often the whistleblowers. They impart knowledge about digital vulnerabilities, making sure systems are secure and users’ data remains in the intended hands. When they are silenced, either by the government or private companies, it’s often a loss for all users.
With software replacing hardware in most major sectors, users and businesses depend on researchers to unearth vulnerabilities and make them public as part of ongoing efforts to improve security. However, lately, manufacturers have been responding to such actions by taking legal action instead of working with the research to fix those vulnerabilities. The ISF predicts that this trend will only grow; exposing customers to vulnerabilities that manufacturers have decided to hide rather than fix.
To protect themselves, the ISF advises technology buyers, which include small businesses, to insist on transparency during the procurement process. It advises manufacturers to take it more positively when vulnerabilities are found within their systems by rewarding the researchers rather than attempting to punish them.
Considering that a researcher might find a vulnerability in a tool in 2018 and not report it, it’s imperative for the small business owner to take a step further in protecting themselves, even if it means working with other business in order to come up with an affordable solution.
Transparency is key.
When it comes to security, transparency has a great role to play. But this part has long been left for the security professionals. If all users reflected some degree of transparency, security in the cyberspace would be easier to achieve. If the non-technical managers and leaders understood the impact of good and poor protection, they would use the cyber assets they have more responsibly. Employees would be more careful about the devices they introduce to the network.
As the business owner, it’s your job to carefully manage the inventory of the connected IoT devices. “Some things have internet capabilities that you didn’t ask for and will never use,” says Leon Adato of SolarWinds adding that any devices that don’t need to be connected to the internet should be disconnected.
The Big 3 Tech Categories That Will Contribute the Most to Your Startup's Success in 2018
Few startups these days can exist — let alone succeed — without technology. In fact, Forrester’s mid-year tech outlook, published in September, predicted that tech spending would increase across multiple sectors in 2018. Theoutlook forecast that 4 percent more would be spent across the board for global purchases of software, hardware and technology services by corporations and government agencies alike.
That’s the kind of growth that will push the tech industry past the $3 trillion mark for the first time in history.
But as each new day seems to herald a new technology that promises to make marketing, communication and creativity ever more dynamic, entrepreneurs may be left wondering which technologies they should invest in — or whether they should invest. Here’s how they should form those decisions:
Embrace the future of technology — it’s already here.
Effectively utilizing a technology is about having a great idea that genuinely deploys that tech platform in an effective way and bolsters a startup’s productivity and execution.
Trying to shoehorn Blockchain or voice recognition into an app that has no use for either technology in the first place is a worthless endeavor. On the other hand, when it comes to Blockchain, you should think about the coded smart contracts it facilitates and how those contracts can execute themselves when the agreed-upon conditions are met.
Blockchain, then, is a useful tool for entrepreneurs working with vendors, because the blockchain network can store these contracts securely and allow both parties to obtain proof of the agreement any time they want.
AI developments are useful tools as well: They’ve streamlined many fundamental office tasks by making devices self-manageable. Examples include printers that can reorder their own paper and ink, and computers that can debug their own software.
As with any product, of course, entrepreneurs must first understand the problem they need to solve by surveying the landscape of technologies out there to understand each one’s benefits, implementation requirements and drawbacks. Next, entrepreneurs must select the tool or tools best suited for their intended application, then consider the existing scenarios in their businesses that each new technology might supplement or improve upon.
Think about these big three technologies shaping startup success in 2018.
In the end, onboarding new technologies is about problem-solving. While the problems you face may feel entirely idiosyncratic, the following three primary technologies that I deem most helpful to startups in the coming year are pretty universal.
1. Communication platforms. Communication is a key for any startup, especially as employees increasingly work remotely, as the New York Times has pointed out. Communication technologies, in fact, offer a host of benefits, from increased productivity to tighter teams and the ability to foster better company cultures. These technologies, further, can help entrepreneurs keep budgets intact, a good enough reason alone why communications platforms can be fruitful.
Messaging services like Slack or HipChat are great for fostering real-time communications when your teams work outside the office. And tools such as Basecamp and other project management solutions streamline operations regardless of your staffers’ location, while LinkedIn and Ripple enhance connect individuals on a more personal level.
2. Artificial intelligence. For computing power that boosts the abilities of your at-home workforce, look no further than AI. AI-driven technology is a must on any tech list for the coming year because the category is expanding so rapidly. As data becomes increasingly unwieldy, deep-learning techniques are evolving to process that data into insights that even remote employees can use.
To this end, Google Home and Amazon Alexa created the virtual assistant. While the ability to interact with devices through the internet has long existed, users needed a shared vernacular (“Hey, Google!”) to make it part of their daily habits. That’s what Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa have provided.
In the same context, research from McKinsey has suggested that 45 percent of work activities can be automated using existing technologies coupled with AI. For example, the same voice-recognition software utilized by smart devices will likely increase productivity and efficiency once users no longer have to learn keyboard controls and command-line prompts, or conduct manual inputs.
3. Blockchain. The latest cryptocurrency crash may have entrepreneurs wondering whether Bitcoin will even make it through the year, but Blockchain itself — which can do much more than financial transactions — isn’t going anywhere. This technology has been around for a while, but it’s having a heyday now. Market Reports Hub forecasts that the market will exceed $2 billion by 2021.
What will happen in 2018 most likely is an explosion of companies trying to roll Blockchain into their products, or have it be their product. By the end of the year, we’ll also likely witness a major fallout because only a few of those companies will survive, as is the case with anything that’s investment-friendly.
Still, where Blockchain really shines is its ability to foster trust between organizations. The secure nature of the Blockchain ledger means that transactions that formerly required intermediaries no longer do. Instead, “ownership” can now be tokenized, and its digital life cycle instantly tracked. And that opens up big security opportunities for intrepreneurial individuals and businesses. The result: Blockchain portends far-reaching implications extending well beyond the monetary transactions so talked about in the news cycle.
Overall, all this forward-looking technology may seem like a daunting undertaking for startups and entrepreneurs already trying to navigate marketing, sales, communication, finances and creativity. But whatever your own industry and its journey, understanding the tech landscape and capitalizing on these three most important technologies during 2018 will help you make this the year of new and refined success.
Why Just Having a Website Isn’t Enough Anymore
As a small business owner, you’re probably aware by this point that you need a website to succeed and build your business. Sure, there are a few businesses out there who can get by without them, like successful independent restaurants that thrive on word-of-mouth, but these tend to be the exceptions, rather than the rule.
In 2017, 71% of small businesses have a website, and 92% of those without a website say they will have one before 2019. With numbers like those, small businesses can’t expect that just having a website will give them a competitive edge. Now, small business websites need to accomplish more than just being a placeholder—they need to provide value to customers. If you’re looking to up your website game, here’s what successful small business websites are doing to rise above the competition.
Focus on design and speed
A beautiful website that loads quickly will make a good first impression on visitors and will put you ahead of the business owners who last had their websites designed in the 90s. It’s not difficult to create a modern, beautiful website thanks to pre-designed themes on sites like Squarespace and WordPress, and you can always hire someone to help you if you’re not confident in your own skills.
Ensuring every page of your website loads quickly may seem insignificant, but people have very short attention spans, and a few seconds of wait time can turn visitors away. 40% of people will click away from a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load—and 47% expect it to load in 2 seconds or less. Load times matter!
Speak to a specific audience
Knowing who your ideal customers are is key to creating an effective website. Your messaging can’t possibly speak to everyone at once, so you need to know who makes up your target audience before you create (or redesign) your site. Major League Baseball, for example, noticed that they weren’t attracting many young fans, so they began to focus on their website, making it more attractive to younger generations.
They started to offer streaming, making it easier for fans to watch and engage, and ultimately making mlb.com the second-most viewed sports site in 2015. Knowing and catering to their target audience made the difference for the organization. They may not be a small business, but these principles apply to organizations big and small.
Just as many small businesses are getting used to the idea of having an online presence, many users are shifting from desktops and laptops to mobile devices much of the time. Basekit reports that 91% of small business websites are not optimized for mobile devices, which indicates a huge gap between what users want and what businesses are offering. Small businesses can get a competitive edge by ensuring that they have a responsive design that works just as well on mobile as on a desktop.
Offering new options
Small businesses can give customers even more convenient options by thinking about the future. Offering mobile wallet options for payment in-store is a great way to make payment convenient, but there are even more purchasing options that customers are interested in.
For example, have you ever considered selling used online? If you’re older, that may not sound interesting yet the younger generations have formed what is now called the sharing economy, with 50% purchasing used or second-hand goods online. If you’re looking to get a competitive advantage, you should consider embracing such emerging trends early.
Integrated with marketing efforts
Sure, the sandwich board is an effective marketing tool for bringing in customers walking by your store. But what about customers who might only find you online? They’re not likely to find your site if you don’t do any digital marketing or local SEO (search engine optimization). If no one can find your site, they’re not going to buy from you—and the only way to lead them to your site is by using marketing techniques like social media, email and content marketing. Most people now use the Internet like a giant phone book, so your visibility online is very important.
An ever-changing landscape
If you’ve only just gotten your first website, it may seem frustrating that it won’t be enough on its own to bring in significant new business. The world of digital marketing is an ever-changing landscape that rewards innovation and early adoption. The good news is that there is a lot of information out there, and if you put in a little effort, you can easily rise above the competition and create a successful digital presence for your business.
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