April 1, 2023

State of the Art: Google Keep, a Note Pad, Lets You Hold All Thoughts

And then remember how that notion, very soon after, was mocked? How absurd. How sexist. And on the scale of amazing things a PC could do, how pedestrian and unambitious.

Well, don’t look now. But Google, the company that tamed the Web, built self-driving cars and put a computer on eyeglasses, has just introduced a note pad.

It’s called Google Keep. It’s free. It’s a Web site and an app for Android phones; the two are automatically synchronized. (Astoundingly, until now, Google didn’t supply a note pad app on Android phones.)

Make a note on the phone, it shows up on the site (and any other Android gadgets you own), assuming you’re signed in with the same Google ID on each one.

This isn’t a fresh idea. In many ways, Google Keep is a fairly shameless imitation of Evernote, the beloved free app for Mac, Windows, Android, iPhone/iPad, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. It, too, keeps your notes automatically duplicated across all your gadgets and computers.

That’s not to take away from the power of the idea. Life is full of facts, thoughts and images we’d like to remember. Someone’s phone number. A movie or book someone’s recommending. Things to do. Brainstorms. Where you parked. Family birthdays, driving directions to the doctor, frequent-flier numbers. You always have a computer with you (your phone); why isn’t it the logical place to store these brain bursts?

Especially if it’s incredibly easy and fast to do. If there were much “friction” involved in opening your notepad and recording some notion, you wouldn’t bother. But Google has put a lot of effort into making things effortless. Keep is not just an app; on Android, it’s also a widget — a small scrolling window floating right there on the Home screen. (Evernote does that, too.)

On recent versions of Android (4.2 and later), Keep even appears on the Lock screen. You can consult it without even turning on the phone.

To record a new item, you can type something; speak and record the audio; say something the phone converts into typing (it saves the audio recording, too); or take a picture. Speech and photos are faster than typing; once again, fewer steps means you’re more likely to use the thing. (You have to take the photo; you can’t import one that already exists.)

A text note can be either straight-ahead unformatted text or a checklist complete with little checkboxes or a photo.

In Keep, the notes appear as scrolling tiles, like posts on a Facebook page or, in two-column view, like the tiles on the Windows Phone Start screen. Newest ones appear at the top.

The most important thing to grasp about Keep is how simple it is. Fast and simple and limited, especially compared with Evernote.

That, of course, is its best and worst feature, depending on what kind of personality you have. You won’t have trouble fumbling to find a feature; there aren’t any to find.

You can change a note’s color, but you can’t group them by color. In fact, you can’t group them in any way. There isn’t any notion of folders, or sorting, or filtering. The only thing you can do with a note is drag it up or down, delete it or, by swiping horizontally on the phone’s screen, archive it (that is, remove it from the list but keep it in storage).

In Evernote, by contrast, you can create separate “notebooks” full of notes; you can even put several notebooks into a folder.

An Evernote item can contain more than one data type — a text note might contain a checklist and a photo, for example. Notes can have formatting (bold, italic and so on), and can have Web addresses or geographical locations associated with them. You can tag a note with searchable keywords (“kids,” “sites,” “work,” whatever) for quick retrieval later; in Google Keep, all you can do is search for the text in your notes.

E-mail: pogue@nytimes.com

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/28/technology/personaltech/google-keep-a-note-pad-lets-you-hold-all-thoughts.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Your Money: In Search of an App to Monitor Average Bank Balances

Just 45 percent of checking accounts that don’t earn interest are free, according to the latest Bankrate.com survey of the largest institutions in each big city. That’s down from 65 percent in 2010 and 76 percent the year before.

Forget your outrage for the moment. On one hand, many of these institutions received federal bailout funds or other assistance. On the other, your representatives and others imposed new overdraft and debit card rules that made checking accounts less profitable. And if you invest in mutual funds, you’re probably one of the shareholders whose implicit pressure is pushing banks to raise fees to maintain profit margins.

Instead, consider the practical implications. The average minimum balance to avoid a monthly checking account fee rose to $585 last year from $249 the year before, according to the Bankrate survey. That’s a whopping 135 percent increase.

Banks do the balance math in several ways, using different minimums and fees and waivers, dangling carrots and wielding sticks. Many of the biggest banks will take figures from each day of the month and average them out.

Here’s the problem with that approach, though. Few if any banks give you a running total of your average balance for that month. Instead, they do the math at the end of the month and you find out then if you qualified for free checking. If you want to know how close you are in the middle of any given month to being assessed an $8 or $10 or $20 fee when the month ends, you need to do the math each day yourself.

The resulting effect is this: Many banks have built free-checking scoreboards for people who want to avoid fees, but they’re not putting the numbers up until the monthlong game is over.

Here’s what would be ideal: An online banking widget on the banks’ Web sites that tells you what your average balance has been that month. This could go in the same place on the page where you see your transactions and current balance. Even better would be a second figure that tells you what you need to average for the rest of the month to avoid a fee. A mobile banking app should provide the same information, too.

One reason that banks haven’t produced something like this yet is because of the constraints of their existing technology, according to Robb Gaynor, co-founder and chief product officer of Malauzai Software, which creates apps for financial institutions.

“Most core software products that banks and credit unions use don’t allow you to look back,” said Mr. Gaynor, who has also worked full time at banks. “If we ask a bank, give us a balance from four days ago, a lot of their systems can’t do it.”

So what often happens, he said, is that at the end of the month, some separate system that has been pulling and storing daily balances does the math to compute the average for the month. Then, it assesses monthly fees accordingly.

Why don’t banks just fix this and give us all running tallies? “Most banks are focused on your budget and expenses and looking backwards,” said Jacob Jegher, a senior analyst at Celent who specializes in online banking and has tracked consumers’ interest in third-party sites like Mint that help people manage their finances.

As for a more forward-looking feature that would tell you the balance needed to avoid fees, he said that he had not seen it on any list of financial institutions’ priorities. “Banks have historically tried to make money on fees, and they are desperate for fees,” he said. “Would it be in their best interest to offer it?”

Whatever you may think of banks’ motivations, there are some big institutions that make it easy to avoid fees without daily entries on a home-brewed spreadsheet.

Banks are quick to note that if you use direct deposit, there are in many cases no fees and thus no need for any average balance calculation. That is nice, except that unemployed people and many others don’t collect and store their income that way. Even people on a salary don’t always have access to direct deposit or use it. A survey in 2010 by the electronic payment specialists Nacha found that just 72 percent of full-time and part-time salaried employees received their pay through direct deposit.

All that a Wells Fargo spokeswoman, Richele Messick, would tell us is that a “majority” of checking account customers manage to avoid monthly service fees through direct deposit. The bank, which is still sorting out all the accounts it inherited when it took in Wachovia’s customers, has three ways of calculating the minimum balance: taking 31 daily snapshots and dividing by 31; looking to see if you’ve fallen below the stated minimum on any given day and levying the fee the first time you do each month; and taking just one snapshot at the end of the month.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7d79ddf3e430227cf34000a79b062a5d

Facebook Is Expected to Unveil Media-Sharing Service

This week, according to numerous media and technology executives, Facebook will unveil a media platform that will allow people to easily share their favorite music, television shows and movies, effectively making the basic profile page a primary entertainment hub.

Facebook, which has more than 750 million users, has not revealed its plans, but the company is widely expected to announce the service at its F8 developers’ conference in San Francisco on Thursday.

By putting them in front of millions of users, Facebook’s new platform could introduce the music services to vast new audiences. “If it works the way it is supposed to, it would be the nirvana of interoperability,” said Ted Cohen, a consultant and former digital executive for a major label.

But the new plan will ratchet up the competitive pressure on these fledgling services, forcing them to offer more free music as enticements to new users.

According to the media and technology executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deals were private, Facebook has made agreements with a number of media companies to develop a way for a user’s profile page to display whatever entertainment he is consuming on those outside services. Links that appear on a widget or tab, or as part of a user’s news feed, would point a curious friend directly to the content.

Spotify and Rhapsody, along with their smaller competitors Rdio, MOG and the French company Deezer, are said to be among the 10 or so music services that will be part of the service at its introduction; Vevo, the music video site, is another. A Facebook spokesman declined to comment, and media executives cautioned that details of the plan could change.

Spotify is the largest of these services with more than 10 million users, according to its most recent reporting. The service began in Europe in 2008 and arrived in the United States in July, after protracted negotiations with the major record labels over its “freemium” structure, which lets people listen to music free, with advertising, or pay $5 or $10 a month for an ad-free version.

Rdio and MOG, which charge $5 and $10 a month for subscriptions, announced free versions last week in an effort to compete with Spotify. And Rhapsody, whose service costs $10 and $15 a month, has just introduced an array of social features centered on Facebook.

The companies declined to answer questions about Facebook’s media platform. And David Hyman, MOG’s founder and chief executive, said that the development of his company’s free tier far predated Spotify’s entry into the United States.

But Mr. Hyman said that the change was being made to reduce the “friction” a nonsubscriber experiences when following a link posted by a paying user. Instead of hearing the song, the nonsubscriber would reach a page asking to sign up with a credit card — an annoyance for many potential customers.

“In the Internet world, any minuscule piece of friction blows people’s minds,” he said.

MOG provides new users with a “gas tank” of free music — supported by advertising — that increases with that user’s social activity on the site, like sharing playlists or inviting friends. Rdio’s free music will come ad-free.

Neither company would say exactly how much free music would be made available.

“We don’t want to force you to look at or listen to ads that will distract you from enjoying music,” said Carter Adamson, Rdio’s chief operating officer, “and we don’t want you to spam your friends to get more free.”

But even free music requires royalty payments to record companies — typically some fraction of a cent per stream — and some investors and technology executives are concerned that Facebook’s platform may bring in large numbers of users who are willing to listen to some free music but are not being given much incentive to subscribe. That might make success more difficult for services that have less favorable deals with record companies.

David Pakman, a partner in the venture capital firm Venrock and a former chief executive of the digital service eMusic, also said that instead of giving smaller companies a boost, the mathematics of Facebook’s hundreds of millions of links might simply allow the largest service to dominate all the others.

“It favors the big over the small,” Mr. Pakman said. “It’s a good thing for all services in that it lets them all participate. But the small guys will lose network effects, and the big guys will gain it.”

Spotify has not updated its user numbers since arriving in the United States, but music executives say it quickly drew more than 100,000 customers to its paid service alone.

MOG and Rdio have not reported their numbers, but music executives say their tallies are well under 100,000.

Not all the services involved in the Facebook platform are going free. Rhapsody, which was founded 10 years ago and has 800,000 subscribers, is sticking to its monthly subscription rate, said Jon Irwin, the company’s president.

“Our belief is that the cost of the content cannot be fully offset by the advertising dollars you can generate,” Mr. Irwin said, “and that the subsequent conversion of somebody to a paying subscriber because they’ve been able to listen to content for free on a desktop is not at a level that supports the losses you’ll incur on the advertising side.”

Mr. Irwin also believes that Facebook will further intensify the competition among the cloud services, and that Spotify and his own company will have the advantage.

“It’s going to be hard for the players not at scale to survive,” he said. “You’re looking at a two-horse race.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7a26d6c48a479094023f69e350694fb2