Webroot is a large, privately held Colorado-based company that makes cloud-based software for consumers, businesses and enterprises that address Internet threats. The company claims to serve over 7 million consumers.

Recently one of my readers, John B., a very satisfied Webroot customer for many years, contacted me about how the company began introducing annoying pop-up advertising disguised as a feature and then, when he complained, lied to him about it.

He said a Webroot pop-up began to appear on his screen a few weeks ago, requesting him to view a supposed security report. Instead it was a sales pitch in disguise. It popped up three or four times a day, plus every time he rebooted.

He assumed he needed to change a setting. But there wasn’t one. So he went to the Webroot site, sent a message asking how to turn off this new and obtrusive annoyance, and received this response:

“The Personalized Security Report is a new feature designed to inform our users about how they are being protected, and show detailed threat information related to them. There is currently no way to disable these messages, … but if you open and look at the security report it will stop coming up to remind you. The report is available once every three months or so, and the messaging campaign lasts about a week.”

John found their response offensive and missing the point, because the “new feature” was an advertisement and nothing more. And in spite of their assurances, it never went away. When he tweeted a complaint, he drew this response from @Webroot, their Twitter account:

“The in product notice should not be constant. This indicates an underlying issue. Please contact support.”

John tweeted back and explained that he was told by support that the message was not “an underlying issue,” but in fact a new “feature” they had built into the product.

They tweeted back:

“The quickest way to get visibility on this issue would be to submit a feature request. Thank you.”

So, in summary, Webroot adds annoying pop up ads that appear throughout the day and can’t be turned off. You complain to the company and you’re told to complain on the community forum or ask for a “feature request” change.

I reached out to their public relations using the PR email address on the company’s website, and asked if they could comment on John’s complaint. Surprisingly, I never heard from a PR person, but instead received an email, as if I had filed a technical request:

“Thank you for contacting Webroot Technical Support. The Webroot Personalized Security report is not an advertisement; it is something that can be viewed by the customer, which gives them an abbreviated report card of what activity Webroot performed on their computer. This is a consumer version of the more extensive reporting that the Webroot agent is capable of in business environments.”

I visited their forum and found about 100 posts from customers complaining about this same issue, with many threatening to cancel their subscription. Some even complained that the pop-up covered up parts of the program they needed to use.

Unfortunately, treating the customer poorly after the purchase is something that’s all too common. Imposing an inconvenience or interruption that slows down productivity has become the norm. Considering that we interact with dozens of software products and services each day, it can become exasperating.

This week alone I experienced issues with several companies that hid their 800 number, even though I pay for their services. Searching for one on Google brought up spoofing sites posing as the software company and offering an 800 number, but then charging for support.

Another website popped up annoying adds that could not be closed, and a site that I signed up to try (Houzz) has been bombarding me with daily emails; opting out does not prevent the ads from continuing. The New York Times website, which I pay more than $20 a month, now has introduced pop-up ads that delay my ability to read the news.

And many sites require you to enter an email address to just learn about their product. Then they remind you daily if you don’t buy.

More and more companies seem to have lost the balance between providing a good product and subjecting their customers to ads and annoyances. They treat their customers, not as people to be valued and respected, but those they can harass to sell more.

If you’ve experienced similar problems, let me know. The best recourse is to shine a light on those companies that exhibit bad behavior.

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Hardware technology products have undergone a renaissance, with scores of new companies developing products ranging from drones to connected devices to gadgets of all kinds. It’s a big turnaround from the past 20 years or so, where investors took pains to avoid hardware investments, preferring to focus on software.

Hardware’s resurgence has been driven by access to new development and manufacturing resources in the U.S. and China, 3-D printing and electronic chipsets that simplify and speed design, and new sources of funding.

But it’s also driven by the innovative spirit of young entrepreneurs who prefer to create something themselves rather than take a less risky job with a large corporation.

While development is still complex, and hardware consumes a huge amount of cash, the opportunity to innovate is driving entrepreneurs like never before. They’re motivated by the success of other hardware companies such as GoPro, Pebble and Apple, and the lower barriers of entry.

So suppose you have an idea. Where do you start? In the old days, you would try to find investment from venture capitalists. But few VCs have been willing to fund innovative hardware development from start-up companies, and they still remain reluctant. Many consider development too costly and are simply not willing to take the risk.

Crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have funded thousands of hardware products. The sites are simple to use and let you create a funding campaign in which you ask for donations from the online community.

You pitch your product, introduce your team and perhaps create a video, all in an effort to get the community to donate money, in return for getting your product at a discount.

The pitfalls are that if you do not reach your projected funding goal, you get none of the money that’s been pledged. Or if you do reach your goal, the product development could cost a lot more and you run out of money, or the product might never be made to work at an affordable price. In fact, a majority of hardware projects on Kickstarter have never shipped.

Since contributors are pledging support rather than buying a product that doesn’t exist, your obligation is to do your best, but you’re not obligated to refund the money or even ship a product.

But there is another way to get started. Hardware incubators are a recent phenomenon that provides an opportunity to develop your idea further, test out its feasibility and help you come up with a business plan in order to raise more funding.

Examples of hardware incubators include Highway 1 and Lemnos Labs in San Francisco, and Hard Tech Labs, EvoNexus and Qualcomm’s Robotics Accelerator in San Diego. There are hundreds of others in cities across America.

In spite of a successful incubation process, one of the major hurdles that hardware companies face is raising enough capital to be able to complete the development, tooling and manufacturing. This can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions.

Much of that money goes toward finishing the design, staffing, building the tooling to manufacture the product in volume, and paying for the product’s components well in advance of production.

Here are a few examples of products that came from these incubators. Many are truly innovative and resulted from an entrepreneur willing to take the risk. Disclosure: I provide occasional support to some of these incubators, although I have not been involved with any of the products mentioned.

• Navdy is a head-Up display that projects information from your smartphone as if it’s floating six feet in front of you in your car. No service plans required. (navdy.com)

• The Cinder Sensing Cooker makes it easy to achieve exceptional results every time, so you can focus on the creative parts of cooking. Using precise temperature, Cinder makes it virtually impossible to overcook or undercook meat, vegetables and other foods. (cindercooks.com)

• Mashgin is building a scanner for cafeterias that identifies multiple items within seconds. The scanner is up to 10 times faster than an average cashier, thanks to computer vision and machine learning. (mashgin.com)

• ecoATM’s eCycling Stations automate the trade-in and buy-back process for mobile phones and other used consumer electronics, electronically and visually inspecting devices, and recycling these products to others. (ecoATM.com).

• Lagoon makes it easy to track home water usage. Using an innovative sensor that easily wraps around a home’s main water line, paired with Lagoon’s free companion app, Lagoon detects and measures water consumption from major point-of-source appliances. Lagoon provides near real-time views on water use, identifying behaviors and appliances that may be wasting water. (golagoon.com)

• Thimble Bioelectronic’s C?r is the world’s first smart pain-relief wearable. It senses pain to deliver TENS therapy for optimized and sustained relief. It’s small and discreet enough to be used anywhere on the body. Effortless to use, all you have to do is place it and wait 5 seconds for effective relief. (thimblebioe.com)

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Living in San Diego, it’s not often I have a chance to get a close look at a the hotel scene here.  So I was excited to attend an introduction to the the 211 room Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar. I’ve stayed at hotels all over the world, particularly in Asia, and the Palomar made a really positive impression, particularly it’s 50 room Skyline Collection. These are guest rooms, studios, and a few 2 level penthouses. with sweeping views of the San Diego skyline and bay, some with balconies.

The decor is modern California with a surf theme. Rooms are bright and airy and the materials compare to the best Asian hotels.

The other feature is its spa with gorgeous rooms decorated in wood and marble.

The hotel is located at 5th and Broadway, a few steps from the Gaslamp District, and a comfortable walk to the San Diego Convention Center.

As part of its launch, the hotel is offering an adventure package, Take Flight, available for booking from May 1, 2015 through Dec. 30, 2015. The package includes deluxe accommodations, one pass for tandem skydive at Skydive San Diego, a 20 percent discount at Nature’s Spa by Jurlique, a flight of beer from San Diego’s microbreweries and a custom skate deck, featuring artwork from Grant Pecoff, an acclaimed San Diego artist. Rates start at $399 per night and can be booked online www.hotelpalomar-sandiego.com, rate code PFLY or by calling (888) 288-6601.

Hotel rates begin the mid $200 dollars. The Skyline suites cost about $1500. Think of a suite the size of an apartment – well worth it.

 

 

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The Travel Goods Show, a yearly industry trade show, was held in March. It’s a showcase for new travel products and is notable for some interesting and even wacky gadgets. Over the years I’ve seen inflatable mattresses that claim to make a coach class seat as comfortable as a business class seat, fold-up blankets with anti-germ coatings, back-of-the-seat organizers, and luggage with a built-in table and chair.

This year’s show in March in Las Vegas was notable for several examples of building technology into suitcases.

Planet Traveler has developed a hard-sided plastic suitcase that includes everything but the kitchen sink — the SpaceCase1 has a built-in biometric lock, luggage tracking, a built-in scale, a Bluetooth speaker, battery pack and charging ports. It also claims to be the first suitcase with its own app to control some of these features.

The company is beginning a Kickstarter funding campaign May 18 with promotional pricing beginning at $199. (www.planettravelerusa.com)

One area of promising technology is being able to track your luggage after you check it in. Several companies are introducing gadgets to do just that. Typically they use GPS or a cellular modem along with a phone app to let you to find the luggage using your smart phone. Most are designed to turn off when the plane takes off and turn back on when the plane lands to comply with FAA regulations.

LugLoc’s tracker uses GSM cellular and costs $70, but you need to pay extra to use it. Traces, which are like queries on the app, cost $10 for ten, meaning you need to pay $1 each time you use the app to check on your luggage’s whereabouts. And the traces you buy expire after one year. It seems likes it’s taking a cue from airlines that charge for extras. (www.lugloc.com)

Trakdot has a similar product, but gets dinged for short battery life and poor location accuracy. It costs $50 plus $20 per year for service. (trakdot.com)

I’ve contacted these and others companies, but they either have no samples available to test, did not respond or have yet to ship their product. My guess is they’re still getting the kinks out.

Bluesmart, a Silicon Valley startup, is developing a hard-sided suitcase with several built-in capabilities, including location tracking. In addition is a Bluetooth lock, USB battery charging, a scale and proximity sensor, should you become separated from your suitcase, all controlled from an app. The company raised $2 million dollars on the Indiegogo funding site. They promise to be shipping by the end of the year. Cost of the suitcase is about $450, less if you commit now.

Not only startups are eying this business. Samsonite and Samsung are working together to develop their own smart bag that will be able to send you an instant message when it is unloaded from the plane and reaches the carousel.

Not to be outdone, Andiamo unveiled its iQ technology luggage at the Travel Goods Show. It includes an app for your smartphone that includes a remote lock/unlock, a digital scale that measures and displays the weight of your case on your smartphone, a Wi-Fi hotspot with international Wi-Fi access when you buy a local SIM card at your international destination and insert it into the suitcase’s card slot.

There’s also a USB battery charger that uses a built-in removable battery pack. A distance alert sends a text message to your smartphone if the case moves 100 feet away from you or if it is coming off the ramp toward you, using its Bluetooth capability. The suitcase will be available this fall at $700.

But let’s get real. Do we really want our luggage to do all of this? Are we now going to need to charge our luggage each time we travel? When I arrive at the hotel, I put my bag on a bed or luggage rack and live out of it.

I don’t want to stand it up so I can listen to the speakers or charge my phone. And it seems strange to use my phone to prevent losing my luggage, when it’s likely the phone will be lost first.

I don’t think these companies have really thought this through or asked travelers what they want. If my bag were lost, would I go up to the baggage counter and tell them that I know my bag is in Chicago and not San Diego? Would that do any good? Would they think I’m clairvoyant? Most airlines don’t lose your bags; they send it on the wrong plane, and know exactly where it is. But others disagree.

My wife, Jane, thinks that luggage that can be tracked is a wonderful idea, recalling several times when her checked bag took a few days to reach her while on vacation. Of course, she’s rarely able to travel with only a carry-on bag. For me, the best way not to lose my luggage is to avoid checking it.

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Tired of hearing more about iPhones? Here are two excellent alternatives provided by AT&T for this review.

One is very much a niche product, and the other will likely become one of the biggest sellers in 2015. What’s appealing is that the engineers for each phone thought out-of-the-box to come up with novel designs — just when you thought all phones look much the same.

BlackBerry Passport: The Passport, BlackBerry’s newest phone, looks unlike any other phone. It’s wider than a large smartphone, yet no longer than a standard one. It’s exactly the size of a U.S. passport and, like a passport, can just manage to fit into a pants pocket.

The display is 4½ x 4½ inches square, making it about a third wider than an iPhone 6. The added width makes it capable of displaying a full 60-character line of text. Beneath the display is a three-row mechanical keyboard, wider and with fewer keys than other BlackBerries.

Cleverly, rows of additional context-sensitive soft keys pop up on the display above the top row, turning the keyboard into one with as many as six rows, half mechanical and half touch.

The result is a product with a very good display and an excellent keyboard that’s much superior to touch-screen versions. The keyboard’s surface doubles as a touch-sensitive track pad, allowing you to direct a cursor, replacing the tiny scroll balls and track sticks used on older BlackBerries.

The phone is solidly constructed and well finished with a metal frame and soft-touch matte black plastic back. Typing on the phone takes some adapting, because it requires two hands to hold, and you need two thumbs to type. Holding it up to your ear as a phone is a little awkward as well, but if you use a headset, that’s not an issue.

The display is very high resolution, more than 400 dpi, and everything looks very crisp and bright, both indoors and out. The phone accepts a removable microSD memory card, but its battery is not removable. During my testing, the battery lasted nearly two days between charges. Call quality was excellent and the speakerphone worked very well.

The phone uses the BlackBerry 10.3 operating system, which I still find somewhat unintuitive. The Hub screen, its key feature, provides a list of recent messages including email, calls and messages. And, like all BlackBerries, it has far fewer apps than Android and Apple.

Its camera is better than on previous models, but has less flexibility than the cameras on the iPhone and Samsung phones. But it’s very adequate for a business-oriented phone.

Overall, this is the best Blackberry phone I’ve used because of its ability to combine a very good keyboard with a large display. If you loved your old BlackBerry, but gave it up because of its small display, the Passport is worth a look. It’s available for $669 or $199 under contract.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge: The new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge is Samsung’s newest and best phone. It’s a major change from older Galaxy phones that felt cheaply made with plastic dimpled back covers. The S6 is devoid of plastic; it is constructed of a sleekly contoured metal frame with glass on the front and rear faces. The Edge’s display curves around the vertical edges to provide a wraparound display.

Overall, the phone is one of the thinnest ever at 7 mm thick. It’s essentially the same dimensions as an iPhone 6. It’s one of the most striking and beautiful designs of any smartphone and feels great in the hand, almost like holding a polished slab of glass.

Unlike previous Galaxy phones, it’s not full of bloatware — extraneous software that just adds confusion and redundancy. And the aesthetics of the new software is much more contemporary looking compared to previous versions.

Its 5.1-inch OLED display, slightly longer than the iPhone 6, is one of the best of any phone. The curved edge of the screen can be used to display a clock, single-line messages and email titles, all readable from the edge when the phone is flat on a table. It’s cool looking, but doesn’t offer a huge amount of utility.

Its 16-megapixel camera is one of the best I’ve used on any smartphone. Double-click the home button to launch it. The camera offers a huge number of options, including focus tracking a moving object.

Samsung had the iPhone in sight during the development of this phone, and matched it or perhaps even exceeded it. The S6 incorporates an electronic payment system to compete with Apple Pay and a similar-working fingerprint reader.

Like the iPhone, the Samsung battery is no longer replaceable, in order to keep the phone thin and maintain its beautiful aesthetics. Samsung does offer an optional wireless charger device. You set the phone on top of it to charge.

The phone will charge in a little more than an hour, or 50 percent in about 15 minutes using the included fast charger. In my use, battery life was about 10 hours. Like the iPhone, there is no expansion memory slot.

The S6 phone Edge is also available in an S6 version that has a flat display — no curved edges. Its performance is identical and costs $100 less than the Edge. While it’s not possible to test without destroying it, the Edge appears to be a little more vulnerable to breakage of the display, with its curved edges exposed. But either phone is Samsung’s best ever, and comparable to the iPhone, based on its hardware design and performance. If you’re looking for an Android phone, you can’t do better. The S6 with 32GB costs $684 or $199 with a contract. The S6 Edge with 32GB is $814 and $299 on contract.

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