This month I attended Dreamforce, the world’s largest software conference, put on by the $5.5 billion company Salesforce, founded in 1999 by Mark Benioff.

I was there as part of the introduction of Neil Young’s Pono high-resolution music system and my involvement in its development. Pono is building its worldwide community of music lovers using the Salesforce platform. That includes its website, stores and social community at www.ponomusic.com.

Since I focus primarily on consumer technology, I was surprised to discover just how powerful a force Salesforce has become in the business-to-business community.

There were more than 145,000 visitors from nearly 100 countries for the four-day event at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. That’s about the same number that attends the Consumer Electronics Show each January in Las Vegas.

The conference was so big that a section of Howard Street, which runs between the North and South Halls of the convention center, was shut down to traffic, to make it safe for participants to travel between halls.

Mark Benioff, founder of Salesforce, spoke at Dreamforce, the world’s largest software conference, in San Francisco. Bloomberg photo

Salesforce’s first product was software that manages sales activities, a category known as customer relations management (CRM). CRM software had been around for decades with such products as ACT!, and others from Microsoft and Oracle.

Salesforce, however, was the first to create this type of software that makes use of the cloud. The information generated by its users from sales calls, order taking, correspondence and follow-up activities are a natural for cloud-based software.

Having all this information on the cloud means that the data could be added and accessed from devices other than a computer, just about anywhere and anytime. In addition, the data now becomes instantly available for others to use.

Benioff’s focus has been to create an on-demand information service that’s part of a category called SaaS or Software as a Service. He believes that businesses need to transform into customer-focused companies using social media and mobile cloud technologies in order to better connect with their customers, partners and employees.

Much of this is done through new products that Salesforce has developed or acquired, grouped into six areas of cloud services:

• Sales Cloud, which covers sales force automation, CRM activities and data prospecting.

• Community Cloud and Chatter connect every employee with the files, data and experts they need anywhere, anytime. It also provides a social network for business.

• Service Cloud, a software service that provides customer support and a customer help desk.

• Analytics, which helps users interpret and make the best use of the data.

• Marketing Cloud provides access to marketing tools through the cloud.

Salesforce has also become a platform where developers can create new capabilities well beyond what Salesforce offers. Many hundreds of these companies were on display at the conference.

Dreamforce, unlike many business events, felt anything but stuffy. It was an upbeat event with speakers — including Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Ariana Huffington, Eckhart Tolle and Neil Young — addressing social and environmental issues. Bruno Mars gave a free concert at City Hall.

Benioff, Salesforce’s chairman and CEO, is a noted philanthropist, having built two UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland. The company puts aside 1 percent of its equity, 1 percent of employees’ time, and 1 percent of its product for charitable use. Attendees to the event helped donate 3 million meals to charity and $9 million to children’s hospitals.

Benioff’s presentation noted how every industry is changing because of the ease of being connected and the explosive use of mobile devices. His address touched upon how many trillion interactions occur each year and how Salesforce is one of the companies playing a significant role in these interactions to make us more productive and effective in our work.

That’s exactly what was on display at Dreamforce: products you could only have imagined a few years ago,

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Here’s an assortment of small gadgets, some so small they rarely get noticed, but useful in their own special way.

I’ve struggled to organize my unwieldy keys — a couple of electronic key fobs for my car and my wife’s, several conventional keys for home and office, a magnetic fob for my office front door and an ID tag for my gym.

Ordinary key cases rarely work with the large key fobs, so I’ve tried putting everything on a large key ring, but that’s awkward to carry in your pocket, with keys sticking into your legs. Enter Nite Ize, a company in Boulder, Colo., that makes little gadgets such as carabiner clips, flashlights and small tools.

I came across their KeyRack Locker that finally provides a workable solution. It has six miniature carabiner clips that are double-ended, spring-loaded S hooks (called S-Biners). They attach to the larger KeyRack.

The S-Biners come in steel or colored plastic to easily identify keys by color. They’re easy to quickly add or remove in order to slim down what you carry or put aside those keys you don’t need, such as at valet parking. What is most impressive with Nite-Ize is its clever design, good engineering and low price. The key system costs just $10 (niteize.com).

An Oregon company, the Leathershop, has developed a very small but elegant leather wallet designed to hold as many as 20 credit cards or business cards in a form perfect for those wanting a side-pocket wallet with little bulge or bulkiness. The Palm wallet is made of a single piece of heavy, beautifully hand-finished leather from the famous Chicago leather company Horween.

The wallet is held together with polished brass rivets. The flap fits under a strap that runs the full width of the front. Its internal width is precisely designed to fit a stack of credit cards. There are three dividers, including a slot in the front, to hold one or two of your most frequently used cards, such as a license and credit card.

Currency is folded in half and slips in the back of the wallet behind the cards. While the wallet is expensive at $120, it’s one of the most compact (2.75 inches long by 4.25 inches wide by 1 inch deep) and best-constructed compact wallet I’ve tried. (http://theleathershop.com.)

With so many of us using iPhones and other smartphones as our cameras, Olloclip has developed a family of add-on lenses that expand the phone’s photographic capability. The Olloclip snaps over the phone’s lens, clamping to the body, to provide a variety of new photo possibilities.

The current 4-in-1 design for the iPhone5S provides a fish-eye lens, wide-angle lens and two macro lenses. The Olloclip is well-made of glass and aluminum, and designed not to scratch your phone, but it requires you to remove your phone case first, if you use one. One limitation is that the lenses don’t focus, but rely on the phone’s lens and, in the case of the macro lenses, positioning the phone at the correct distance.

I’ve tried the lenses and they work well, particularly the close-up lenses that let you get within a half-inch of the subject. The wide angle nearly doubles the field of view and the fish-eye provides a 180-degree field of view of a circularly distorted image. There are versions for the iPhone 5S and the Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5. A version for the iPhone 6 is on its way. ($70, olloclip.com)

While hardly high tech, a company called Harry’s has been running sales campaigns over the Internet. Called to my attention by a reader, it’s a company that offers serious competition to Gillette.

Harry’s sells a sleekly designed razor and blades for almost half the price, along with a variety of shaving products you’ll not find in your local CVS. The products are nicely packaged and shipped at no cost.

As a long-time user of Gillette razors that cost close to $4 each and typically last about a week, I’ve found Harry’s blades to last at least as long, shave equally close and cost about $1.80. Harry’s is a great example of how a small company can compete with a huge corporation — such as Procter and Gamble, which owns Gillette — through the Internet with a very good product. (harrys.com).

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Ever wonder what happens to the used iPhones being bought by companies such as Gazelle or San Diego’s EcoATM? When I met with the CEO of EcoATM in June, she was reluctant to answer the question, saying it was confidential.

EcoATM buys back used cellphones from individuals when they trade up to a new model. It’s done using their ingenious machines similar to ATMs that examine and pay for the phone on the spot. Gazelle and other services similarly buy back old iPhones and other smartphones over the Web.

Typically they pay $100 to more than $200 for an iPhone5S, depending on condition, carrier and memory size. Both services are a boon to the environment, allowing a phone to be reused rather than ending up in a landfill.

But why confidential? Such a response made me only more curious, so I have been speaking with industry analysts, phone company employees and manufacturers over the past several months.

I finally got the answer on a recent visit to China, speaking with a senior executive for a major Chinese consumer products manufacturing company that I’ve known for more than 20 years. He said it’s common knowledge there about what happens to the used iPhones bought in the United States.

He said that about 80 percent of the used iPhones are shipped to Hong Kong, where daily auctions are held to sell the phones in large lots. These lots of iPhones are bought by many manufacturing companies that take the phones to their facilities in southern China for refurbishing.

The process includes refinishing the cases and removing scratches from the screens, sometimes replacing the touch-screen surface or the glass. Normally, they don’t bother to replace the batteries.

When the iPhones’ housings have a ding or deep scratch and cannot be repaired, they are replaced with independently manufactured, look-alike housings.

There are two levels of housings: highly accurate copies and cheaper lower-tier copies. Once the refurbishment is complete, the iPhones are categorized by the refurbishers into four tiers of quality varying from “like new” to “fair.”

Each iPhone is put into brand new packaging that’s an exact copy of Apple’s iPhone boxes and sold mostly as new phones to retailers throughout China. While Apple also retails its iPhones in China, the demand is so great that many retailers, particularly those that don’t have a relationship with Apple, will sell whatever they can get. And they typically sell them as new phones.

I asked EcoATM representatives to comment, but they declined. Instead, they explained how “they adhere to strict environmental and recycling standards, and that all the devices they take in are sent to certified buyers.”

They said that “75 percent of the devices collected have found a second life, and 25 percent have been recycled (meaning junked for material).” Of the 75 percent, iPhones represent almost half of EcoATM’s purchases, another source said.

“Their network of international and national buyers are refurbishers and also recyclers,” the company added. “And it’s their documentation that we use during our auditing process, in addition to our own.”

As EcoATM says, creating a way for people to sell their phones so they can be reused rather than disposed of is a major benefit to the environment. I just found it surprising that the phones end up being sold as new phones to unsuspecting Chinese customers. I suspect it’s this secret that most of the companies that sell to refurbishers know or could easily find out, if they wanted to.

However, this practice is not illegal here, as the phones are being bought and not being sold as new in the United States. It may or may not be illegal in China; the U.S. companies are certainly not implicated — it’s the refurbishers that are duping their customers. Still, I think it’s questionable to profit from these sales.

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Surveying both customers and prospective customers can be an important element of the product development process. Companies use surveys to assess opinions about current products and services as well as to figure out what new products or features should be added. While I would never use opinions from surveys or focus groups to design a product, each are useful ways of comparing and prioritizing features, likes and dislikes.

Survey Monkey, a Palo Alto-based company, is the leader in developing tools for us to create online surveys. I’ve been trying the product over the past six weeks and have found it to be a valuable tool for gathering useful information. While it relies on our judgment to formulate the surveys, SurveyMonkey offers nearly 200 survey templates for almost any topic. They can be sent as is or customized to specific needs.

I used it to assess feedback for a company that’s developed a hardware product. Samples of the product were sent out to about three dozen potential customers, and they were asked to try it over a couple of months. The users were asked to send their comments to a special email address. While that provided useful information, it took a well-designed survey to extract information that could be quantified, and I found this to be even more useful than the anecdotal comments.

SurveyMonkey works by providing an online, Web-based tool to design your survey. You select the type of questions you want, enter your questions and the format in which you’d like a response (multiple choice, descriptive, yes/no, etc.). The tool lets you change the order, insert and delete questions and optionally add space for the survey taker to comment on why they chose the answer they did.

I started out using the free version of Survey Monkey, which allowed me to create basic surveys with multiple-choice questions, ranking choices, and questions requiring a text answer. But I found using the product to be frustrating because when I clicked on many of the selections and options, I’d get a message saying I needed to upgrade to access that feature.

In addition, the free version limits you to 10 questions per survey and 100 responses per survey. Among its many other limitations, you can’t output the results into a PDF document, making it difficult to share with others.

The software seemed to be purposely designed to remind me at nearly every step the limitations of the free version. And it worked. I was going to upgrade to the $26/month Select plan, but the company suggested I try the $300/year Gold level. Both offered all the features I needed and for me, the differences were minor.

Once you’re done designing your survey, you can preview it and test it out by answering your questions, and then edit it. The paid versions let you create more complex questions that branch out to different questions, based on the answers. There are many other additions, such as customizing the reports with your company’s name, directing users to find the survey on your website or at an URL with your company name.

In the survey I constructed, I used my own questions as well as a few recommended by SurveyMonkey. There are lists of questions arranged by the type of business and information you are looking for.

Questions included the users’ opinion of the product’s features; whether the price was high, low or about right; and what they most liked and disliked. I asked questions requiring text answers, such as asking how it was used, and what title they might use if they were to write a review.

Once the questionnaire is completed and tested, you enter a list of those recipients you want to participate and send an introductory invitation. That portion was a little finicky in that the participants needed to be listed in a very specific format. SurveyMonkey then sends an email asking those on the list to go to your special link and fill out the survey.

My technique was to create a survey that could be answered within 10 to 15 minutes. I used 15 questions, many multiple choices and included three questions requiring the answers to be written out. Notably, SurveyMonkey did not promote its company in the survey nor in the reports eventually created.

After a couple of days I had responses from about eight of the original 40. In a week it rose to 14 and in three weeks I got 27. I could go to SurveyMonkey’s website at any time and view the results.

I ran into a little trouble the first time I tried printing a report: The responses to the written questions were not included. I used the company’s help page to email a question, and got an email response in about 10 minutes. I had omitted selecting a small button off to the side requesting the comments to be included. I found it odd that it wasn’t set as a default.

Once fixed, I chose a detailed report in PDF format. The report was 20 pages long, listing my questions followed by the answers. In the case of multiple-choice answers, the report displayed the results in an easy-to-read bar graph. For those questions asking for a written answer, the responses were tabulated one after another. You can also examine the responses of a single individual and identify that person, should you want to follow up.

The reports were fascinating to read, and helpful to look for trends and to draw some immediate conclusions. The reports were professional in well-formatted documents that I was able to share with others by sending it out as an attachment. Overall, I found SurveyMonkey to be a valuable tool applicable to product development and to many other uses. In fact, you’ll probably be using it more often as you learn to appreciate how valuable it can be.

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Wireless connectivity has come to portable scanners. I’ve been traveling with the recently introduced Fujitsu ScanSnap iX100, the company’s newest portable scanner. It’s a remarkable little package that lets me turn paper documents into digital documents wherever I am, and do it completely wirelessly. There’s no need for a USB connection or power cord. That means it can connect to smartphones and tablets wirelessly, as well as to a computer both wirelessly or with the USB connector supplied.

I’ve been evaluating the product by scanning receipts, business cards, marked-up documents, NDAs, invoices and bank statements into my computer, iPad and iPhone. I’ve used it at home and on the road in China.

With the scanner by my side, I have scanned in travel receipts minutes after receiving them, such as a hotel receipt while in a cab to the airport. I’ve lost or misplaced receipts in the past, but now they are permanently saved in the cloud or device. Once the documents are scanned, they can be saved in a variety of applications or emailed.

The iX100 is the step-up model to the S1100, a similarly sized unit introduced two years ago that is powered from a USB port on a computer. The iX100 adds a built-in rechargeable battery and built-in Wi-Fi that connects locally to your devices using its own local network and doesn’t require access to a home or public Wi-Fi network.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX100 wireless scanner is smaller and lighter than a portable umbrella. It weighs 14 ounces and fits next to a keyboard on a desk or in a briefcase on the road. Courtesy photo

The scanner is the same size as the S1100, smaller and lighter than a portable umbrella. It weighs 14 ounces and fits next to a keyboard on a desk or in a briefcase on the road.

Simply open the lid and fold down the front flap and it turns on. You feed in documents using a straight path or a 90-degree path, depending on the stiffness of the document or the availability of desk space. It handles a range of paper thicknesses including flimsy printed receipts, laminated documents, cardboard stock, business cards and even credit cards. Scanning is quick at 5.2 seconds for an 11-inch-long page. It can scan multiple small documents such as receipts at once or multipage documents a page at a time.

Documents larger than legal size, such as charts and diagrams, can be scanned and stitched together. Simply fold the documents in half, scan both sides, and the iX100 will automatically stitch it back together, producing a one-page digital image.

The iX100 is designed to scan documents in full color with 300 dpi resolution, but is not intended to scan photographs. The quality looks exactly what comes off a printer or color copier. The S1100 has 600 dpi resolution, but the perceived differences were not detectable.

In my long use of the S1100 and two-week use of the iX100, it’s apparent that internal software is one of Fujitsu’s strengths. The software can straighten skewed documents that are fed at an angle, and adjust for receipts that are barely readable and business cards on dark backgrounds. Rarely do I get a scan that is not useable.

The included computer software is similar to what Fujitsu provides with its other scanners. It’s robust and easy to use, yet provides broad versatility. After scanning, a window opens and offers a choice of scanning directly to a file folder, Word document, Salesforce, Evernote, a Google Doc, or an email, and can save it as a PDF, jpeg or other format. It works with Windows and Mac computers, as well as iOS, Android and Kindle Fire mobile devices.

The “ScanSnap Connect” app that’s used to scan directly into your tablet or smartphone, can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store, as well as the Amazon App Store for Kindle Fire.

The scanner comes with other software I didn’t evaluate, such as ScanSnap Receipt, to intelligently and automatically extract data from receipts, and CardMinder, which automatically extracts the information from business cards into editable fields that can be exported to Outlook, Excel, Salesforce and other contact management software.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX100 is available for $229 through Fujitsu authorized resellers. Included is a three-month subscription to Evernote Premium. The S1100 continues to be available for $199.

Both of these products are the best portable scanners I’ve used. I’ve had the S1100 for two years, carrying it around the world without a case, and it’s been reliable and trouble-free. I expect the iX100 to be equally robust and much more convenient to use. The $30 premium for the iX100 is a small price to pay for all its new capabilities.

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