All posts by admin

What Are the Real Differences?: Spotify and Apple Music Compared

Portable music has evolved over the last four decades, from the invention of the Walkman in 1979 to the discontinuation of Apple’s iPod in 2022, as smartphones are now the preferred choice of listening to music. If you’ve ever put on a pair of headphones to listen to music on-the-go, or connected your phone to your car, it’s likely that you’re opening your favorite music streaming app on your phone and pressing “play”. The two main players in this space are Spotify and Apple Music. But what are the differences?

DIFFERENCES IN STREAMING

Spotify currently offers over 82 million songs while Apple Music offers over 100 million songs. Both services provide songs in any genre, from almost any country imaginable. Depending on one’s plan, songs can be saved to their music libraries and accessed both online and offline. Users can also create their own custom playlists. Spotify has an edge and allows the option to create collaborative playlists between its users, who are primarily younger adults.

Spotify tracks the types of music their users listen to and create personalized playlists based on their listenings. Earlier this year they released the DJ, a personalized AI guide that knows their users music tastes and chooses what to play. Similar to Spotify, Apple Music’s algorithm curates songs based on users’ listening habits. Apple Music also allows users to ask Siri to put on a song, genre, or artist of their choice which adds a layer of convenience.

For that time when you have a song stuck in your head, but can’t remember its name, both services allow users to search for a song based on lyrics alone. They also both display a song’s lyrics while playing.

DIFFERENCES FOR PODCASTS

Maybe you’re about to put on the highly-anticipated new episode of your favorite podcast– here are the differences?

Conveniently, Spotify hosts all of its podcasts within the same app as its music. Users can preview an episode of the podcast by accessing the “Podcasts and Shows” section of its app. Here, a user’s favorite podcasts (and new episodes of the podcast) will appear first, followed by algorithm-based recommendations. It’s easy to search for a podcast or show in the search bar, as well.

While Apple shares similar features to Spotify, it separates podcasts from Apple Music within a separate app – Apple Podcasts. This is something to take into consideration if you prefer having one central app for your listening needs.

DIFFERENCES IN SOUND QUALITY

Both Spotify and Apple Music stream in high quality, but Apple Music offers the option (at no extra cost) to listen to its entire inventory in lossless audio compression. The majority of audio compression techniques lose some data from the original source file. Lossless compression preserves all of the data. Spotify does not offer its entire catalog in lossless audio.

Apple Music offers listening in Dolby Atmos which creates a three-dimensional audio experience through compatible stereo headphones and speakers. Select tracks and albums are identified by the Dolby Atmos badge (two semi-circles facing one another).

Spotify has a graphic equalizer (EQ) setting that allows users to customize their sound by changing bass effects. Apple Music has an equalizer as well and can be accessed through your device’s (Settings > Music > Audio > EQ). Currently, there is no equalizer in Apple Music for Android.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

Cost is a factor that can’t be ignored. On July 24, 2023, Spotify announced that it would be increasing its subscription pricing for the first time since 2011. Its Premium prices, which started at $9.99, are now the same as Apple Music’s (aside from a couple of differing plan options).

Spotify Pricing (as of July 24, 2023):

  • Premium Individual – $10.99/month (previously $9.99/month)
  • Premium Duo (allows for two users under one plan, designed with couples in mind)- $14.99/month
  • Premium Family (allows for up to six users, residing at the same address, under one account) – $16.99/month
  • Premium Student – $5.99/month

Apple Music Pricing

  • Voice – $4.99/month
  • Individual – $10.99/month
  • Family (allows for up to six users, in the same region, under one account) – $16.99/month
  • Student – $5.99/month

What about free options? Spotify offers a free service with ads and a limited number of skips for songs. Apple Music does not offer a free service, but does offer free trials to its plans. Its lowest plan is Voice, which has limitations such as the ability to download songs to your library for offline listening.

HOW MANY WAYS CAN YOU LISTEN?

Apple Music and Spotify are found in the iOS and Android app stores. However, currently Spotify is available on more platforms than Apple Music. Spotify users can currently be accessed through Mac OS, Windows, iOS, Android, tablets, and TVs. A number of car companies have a builtin Spotify feature, like Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo, BMW, MINI, TESLA, and GMC. Spotify is also accessible through Apple CarPlay.

Spotify has seamless cross-device playing, allowing users to play music in “Multi Mode” from the app when connected to a speaker or other audio system through WiFi. “Multi Mode” connects multiple speakers to play synchronized music simultaneously.

Apple Music is currently available on iTunes, iOS, Android, and Apple CarPlay. The ability to cross-play from any device exists for Apple Music as well, as long as the devices are all under the same Apple ID.

Both Spotify and Apple Music offer desktop listening. Spotify’s streaming service was available on desktop before its mobile app was created. It’s available for Windows and Mac. Recently, in June 2023, Spotify made some key changes to its desktop version to improve user experience. Notably, “Your Library” is on the left-hand side of the app and makes it easier to find and switch between playlists. “Now Playing” is on the right-hand side. Also in this panel are artist info (depending on the song), possible tour dates and merch links, as well as the current queue. Both of these panels are adjustable by size.

Apple Music’s desktop app features its “Listen Now”, “Browse”, “Radio”, “Library”, and “Playlists” options in its side bar, which can be adjusted to become more compact in size. Apple Music also has a mini player option. Another convenient feature of Apple Music is that it houses songs previously saved in an iCloud Music Library in the app library. Apple Music is available and fully supported for Mac, but its Windows desktop app is a “preview” or native app. Apple Music for Windows does not have all of the features as Apple Music for Mac. Some Windows users have also reported that the search feature is slower in the native app than the supported app or online version.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Anyone that opens their Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter near the end of each year, will likely see different Wrapped playlists all over their friends’ stories or posts. Spotify holds a larger social media presence than Apple Music. Spotify has 10.2M Instagram followers, 12M Twitter followers, and 23M Facebook Likes. Spotify is consistently posting across its platforms for new song releases, artist updates, top track lists, artist interviews, and memes. Its social media pages primarily target Gen Z and Millenials.

Apple Music has 4.6M Instagram followers, 10.2M Twitter followers, and 3.9M Facebook Likes. Its Instagram and Facebook numbers are significantly lower than Spotify’s. Apple Music also posts frequently and shares artist interviews, new song releases, and exclusive content. Its pages target a wider audience. The posts aren’t geared towards just young adults but older adults, as well.

TAKEAWAYS

Both services share similarities when it comes to the music selection offered, though Apple Music hosts about 20 million more songs than Spotify. Both allow for saving songs to libraries, creating playlists, searching for songs by lyrics, and lyric display per song. Spotify, available through more platforms, has an equalizer, has podcasts within the app and an ad-based free option. Apple Music hosts podcasts separately but has lossless compression and Dolby Atmos options for its sound. Apple Music has an equalizer for iOS and Mac devices only.

Spotify has a desktop app that is designed for both Windows and Mac and improves the app for user functionality. Apple Music’s desktop app is not fully compatible with Windows and is in its native phase, which has caused some users to complain. Spotify also has a greater social media presence than Apple Music, as its target audience is young adults.

When it comes down to picking your streaming platform, it may be because you prefer one type of device over the other, you favor a certain type of sound quality, or a specific functionality feature sticks out to you. All in all both platforms are great and will certainly be increasing their libraries and functionalities as time moves on.

Ransomware Is Becoming More Sophisticated–And It’s Costing Companies Millions

Is your company prepared to shell out millions of dollars to combat a cyberattack? It’s not just the major players who are getting hacked. Cybercriminals have expanded their arsenal and protection is becoming harder and harder to achieve.

Ransomware attacks rose by 150% in 2021, and that trend will continue in the last quarter of 2022 and into 2023.

High-profile victims like Colonial Pipeline and Solar Winds have had to remit millions in ransom payments to cybercriminal groups like DarkSide and BlackMatter. These cybercriminals are reinvesting their gains, resulting in bigger budgets for their future attacks.

With malware evolving, it’s more vital than ever that organizations stay up to date on the latest cybersecurity threats. Who are the top perpetrators and what can you do to ensure your safety? We will be delving into the current state of cybersecurity in a two-part series on the top trends in ransomware and how to protect your organization from cyber threats.

Check out our rundown below on the rise of ransomware in 2022.

THE EVOLUTION OF RANSOMWARE

Ransomware is typically defined as a threat actor using malware to encrypt files on a victim’s computer and only decrypting them in exchange for a sum of money. Their techniques have evolved over the years.

For example, double extortion techniques have become the norm, in which the hacker both encrypts data to prevent users from accessing it and steals the data with the intent to release it if the victim does not pay up. Hackers can threaten to leak industry secrets, intellectual property, or corporate dirty laundry if their targets do not pay the ransom.

HOW MALWARE EVADES CYBERSECURITY SOFTWARE 

Speed is key. If protection software catches malware early on, it can mitigate the damage. One of the ways in which ransomware actors can accelerate their programs is by employing a partial encryption scheme. These schemes only encrypt part of the file rather than the whole thing. This shortens the attack duration while achieving the same effect of encrypting sensitive information. Protection software often can’t keep up and detect the malware in time to save files from becoming inaccessible.

Ransomware actors will compete to get the best criminal hacker talent. They also try to find corporate insiders who will give them access to the inside of major organizations. For example, Lockbit 2.0 set the message below to a user’s wallpaper, offering millions of dollars to give access to insider information:

BLACKMATTER RANSOMWARE

On Friday May 7th, 2021, Colonial Pipeline was hit with a ransomware attack by DarkSide, a Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) organization. The attack was highly successful in disrupting the major US fuel pipeline’s operations. Consequentially, DarkSide shut down as its servers were seized and its cryptocurrency wallets drained.

In the wake of that event, BlackMatter emerged, claiming to fill the void left by what was one of the elite ransomware organizations. BlackMatter adopted the best tools and techniques from a mix of LockBit, DarkSide and REvil. BlackMatter immediately sets a wallpaper that’s very similar to DarkSide’s which informs the user that all their files are encrypted (see below).

Analysis shows that the code to BlackMatter is similar, but not identical to DarkSide. HC3 claims the group is Russian speaking and likely Eastern European. Its targeted countries include the US, India, Brazil, Chile and Thailand. Cybersecurity firm Sophos Labs included a detailed breakdown of the various similarities between BlackMatter and its predecessors in the table below:

IS YOUR ORGANIZATION VULNERABLE?

Cybercrime is at an all-time high. Is your organization vulnerable? Furthermore, how can you protect your company?

A report by SonicWall found that out of the top 10 countries for ransomware volume, the US had nearly four times as many attacks as the other nine countries put together.

The security firm Kela discovered that cybercriminals use analytics to identify the ideal US victim. They are specifically hunting for companies with over $100 million in revenue that are using private networks, remote desktop protocols or tools from Citrix, VMware, Cisco, Palo Alto Networks, and Fortinet. The most targeted industry in 2021 has been government—government organizations saw 10 times more attacks than average in mid-2021.

It was previously thought that these hackers were inclined to shy away from organizations in education, healthcare, or the non-profit sector because they don’t have the budget to pay or can cause a backlash against the hacking group. However, hackers recently targeted LA School District, exposing more than 400,000 students, faculty and staff. With unscrupulous attacks like this on the rise, it appears no one is safe.

HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOUR COMPANY?

In our next blog, we will explore the best cybersecurity practices you can implement to protect your company from hackers.

How Brain Computer Interfaces Will Change the Way We Interact with Our Devices

Imagine opening an app on your phone and setting exactly how long you’d like to sleep, how much REM you need, and your exact wake up time. Your settings are then executed flawlessly, giving you exactly the sleep you need without the hassle of counting sheep.

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s far from it. Major entrepreneurs like Gabe Newell believe it will be one of the early applications when Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs) become mainstream.

BCIs are a burgeoning new healthcare technology with massive potential. Companies like Elon Musk’s Neuralink, Gabe Newell’s Valve, and Synchron are making major headway in the field, which is inching toward mass market.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

BCIs essentially use software to decipher the chemical and electrical signals coming out of people’s brains and translate them into clicks or keystrokes on a computer or mobile device or even movement on a prosthetic arm.

Hans Berger discovered electrical activity in the human brain in 1924. This paved the way for Jacques Vidal to coin the term Brain Computer Interface in his 1973 paper “Toward Direct Brain-Computer Communications”. BCIs were first tested on monkeys in the 1970s while the first endeavors on human beings were performed in the 1990s.

The main thrust of today’s BCI research is dedicated toward building solutions which will help paralyzed people control assistive devices. Beyond healthcare, there are endless potential applications for BCIs. For example, BCIs could create significantly more immersive gaming experiences in which the gamer’s thoughts move the on-screen avatar.

HR companies could use BCIs to improve employee performance by sending an alert when they sense an employee’s attention levels are down or preventing them from operating heavy machinery when they are drowsy.

The medical community has a vested interest in seeing this technology develop. It could change the lives of generations of disabled people in the near future. As BCI start-up Paradromics put it: “The potential for BCI technology is only as impactful as how well it serves the immediate needs of patients with motor & communication impairments.”

INVASIVE BCI VS. NON-INVASIVE BCI

There are essentially two types of BCIs: invasive and non-invasive.

Invasive BCIs involve a surgical implant of the device into the skull of the user. In ECOG (electrocorticography), an electrode plate is placed directly on the brain’s surface to measure its electrical activity. A second technique known as intracortical microelectrodes involves an implant that has two applications—stimulating and recording. Applications for stimulating incorporate sensory prosthetics—such as cochlear implants which provide the sensation of sound for the deaf.

Surgeries that require doctors to open up a patient’s skull are dicey to say the least. Non-invasive BCIs avoid this altogether. They can work using a variety of non-invasive technologies to measure brain activity, including EEG (electroencephalography), ERP (Event Related Potentials), MEG (Magnetoencephalography), fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resistance Imaging) or fNIRS (Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy).

ELON MUSK AND NEURALINK

Elon Musk founded Neuralink in 2016. Their goal was to create a device that would translate a person’s thoughts into actions. They have implanted chips into animals and notably released a video of a macaque monkey playing video games with its mind.

Although Neuralink is one of the major players of BCIs, they have lagged behind other companies in the field. Neuralink has yet to implant a BCI in humans. Their devices require highly invasive head implants which have drawn complaints from animal rights activists.

GABE NEWELL AND VALVE

Another notable player in BCIs today is Gabe Newell, founder of the gaming company Valve. Valve’s goal is to use OpenBCI headsets to develop an open-source software platform that would make it easier for developers to understand the signals coming from people’s brains.

It could enable software to understand whether a player is enjoying a game and adjust the experience accordingly. He envisions a world where games can adjust their difficulty level depending on how the player is reacting mentally.

SYNCHRON TAKES THE CAKE

Synchron’s stentrode device is currently in the forefront of the market. Synchron beat Neuralink to the punch by securing FDA approval to implant its first device into a US patient. Synchron has an advantage because the stentrode can be inserted into the brain without cutting through a skull or damaging tissue. It’s a major innovation since it can be implanted safely minimizing risk for cerebral damage.

The stentrode is about the size of a AAA battery and can be planted endovascularly rather than through the brain. In fact, it’s so seamless, patients could be sent home the same day. Synchron has already implanted stentrodes into the brains of four patients in Australia suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. All of their patients have had no side-effects and have been able to send messages through WhatsApp as well as make online purchases using the device.

The stentrode is placed close enough to the brain to detect neural signals. Those signals, which could be a thought to move a body part or a cursor on a computer screen, are then relayed out to a computer using Bluetooth technology. In the words of Synchron CEO and founder Dr. Tom Oxley: “People who are paralyzed can still think about moving their body. It’s the muscles that don’t work… We essentially bypass the broken body by taking the information directly out of the brain to control devices that let them live independently.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

We can’t predict how quickly BCIs will become a consumer-facing technology, nor the bevy of applications they will enable. What we do know is that this field is growing and will in all likelihood become a game-changing technology that completely redefines life for the disabled, as well as how we interact with our devices.

Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for more trending tech content!

How Zigbee Pro Makes Life Easier for IoT Developers

The IoT has proliferated our everyday lives in a growing variety of ways. In 2021, there were more than 10 billion active IoT devices. That number is expected to grow past 25.4 billion by 2030. IoT solutions will generate $4-11 trillion in economic value by 2025.

Hundreds of manufacturers create IoT devices of all varieties—interoperability is necessity. In order to facilitate this, IoT developers generally adhere to a communications protocol known as Zigbee Pro.

WHAT IS ZIGBEE PRO?

 

Zigbee Pro is a low power, low data rate Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN) protocol which streamlines device connections. The goal of the protocol is to deliver a single communications standard that simplifies the nauseating array of proprietary APIs and wireless technologies used by IoT manufacturers.

Zigbee Pro is the latest in a line of protocols. The certification process is facilitated by the Zigbee Alliance—now commonly known as the Connectivity Standards Alliance—which formed in 2002. The Connectivity Standards developed the first version of Zigbee in 2004 and gradually rolled out improved versions until the most current version in 2014.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Zigbee is composed of a number of layers that form a protocol stack. Each layer contributes functionality to the ones below it, making it easier for developers to deploy these functions without explicitly having to write them. The layers include a radio communication layer based on the IEEE standard 802.15.4, a network layer (Zigbee Pro), the application layer known as Dotdot, and the certification layer which is compliant with the Connectivity Standards Alliance.

One of the focuses of the Zigbee standard is to deliver low-power requirements. Battery powered devices must have a 2 year battery life in order to be certified.

ZIGBEE DEVICES

Mesh networking enables Zigbee networks to operate more consistently than WiFi and Bluetooth. Each device on the network becomes a repeater, which ensures that losing one device won’t affect the other devices in the mesh.

There are three classes of Zigbee devices:

Zigbee Coordinator – The coordinator forms the root of the network tree, storing information about the network and functioning as a repository for security keys. This is generally the hub, bridge, or smart home controller—such as the app from which you control your smart home.

Zigbee Router – The router can run application functions as well as act as an intermediate router to pass data on to other devices. The router is generally a typical IoT device, such as a powered lightbulb.

Zigbee End Device – This is the simplest type of device—requiring the least power and memory to perform the most basic functions. It cannot relay data and its simplicity enables it to be asleep the majority of the time. An example of an end device would be a smart switch or a sensor that only sends a notification when a specific event occurs.

The Zigbee Pro protocol has become the gold standard for IoT developers. Many commercial IoT apps and smart home controllers function under the Zigbee Pro protocol. Examples include: Samsung SmartThings Hub, Amazon Echo, and the Philips Hue Bridge.

Web3: The Next Step in the Internet’s Evolution

Web3 has become an increasingly popular buzzword in tech circles. While some are fervent believers in its potential to change the internet as we know it, others are skeptical it holds the future. Still others have no clue what it is—and rightfully so. Web3 entails a set of online principles with potentially mammoth ramifications, but one of the major questions surrounding it is how will these principles take hold? Web3 could manifest in a variety of ways.

This week, we delve into how it may change the internet as we know it.

WHAT IS WEB3?

To answer this question, first we’ll explain the Web1 and Web2.

Web1 is the original version of the internet—think of it as a read-only version. In 1991, HTML and URLs allow users to navigate between static pages. After the millennium, the internet starts to become interactive. User-generated content gradually takes hold via MySpace and eventually Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. This interactive version of the internet constitutes Web2, it’s a version of the internet in which users can both read and write via social media, Wikipedia, YouTube and more.

Tech conglomerates naturally turned Web2 into an era of centralization. Meta owns three of the four biggest social apps in the world. YouTube, the fourth biggest social network, is owned by Google, which accounts for around 90% of internet searches. Many question the ethics behind so much data in the hands of so few behemoths. Some have gone so far as to question whether the combination of big data and AI could diminish our capacity for free will, while other research shows that the targeted ad economy does not add much value and may in fact be a bubble.

In the face of these prescient concerns, the main thing that separates Web3 is the concept of decentralization.

DECENTRALIZED WEB

One of the main principles of Web3 is that it employs blockchain technology to decentralize data ownership and, in the words of Packy McCormick who helped popularize the term Web3, an “internet owned by the builders and users, orchestrated with tokens.”

The concept of digital decentralization gained massive traction since Satoshi Nakamoto created Bitcoin using the blockchain in 2009. Cryptocurrency has since become a household name and blockchain technology is finding adoption in a multitude of ways.

In Web3, centralized corporate platforms will be replaced with open protocols and community run networks, enabling the open infrastructure of Web1 with the user-participation of Web2. Everything is decentralized using the blockchain. Decentralization means that a distributed ledger manages financial transactions rather than a single server.

When going to a major social network like Instagram, rather than giving their data away for free, users could monetize their data and receive cryptocurrency for creating interesting posts. Users could buy stakes in up-and-coming artists to become patrons in exchange for a percentage of their royalties. Axie Infinity is a popular Web3 video game which uses NFTs and Ethereum to reward users for achieving in-game objectives. Games with real-life rewards are known as Play to Earn or “P2E” games—a major new trend in game design. It follows the overall goal of Web3—to put power in the hands of users and creators rather than major corporations.

CRYPTOCURRENCY AND NFTS

Blockchain technologies enable an economy powered by NFTs and cryptocurrency. Users can use cryptocurrencies like Ethereum to purchase NFT versions of real-life moments, memes, emojis and more. For example, NBA: Top Shot was among the first NFT projects from a major brand. Fans could purchase “moments” in NBA history, such as Jordan’s famous shot in Game 5 of the 1989 NBA playoffs first round, and trade them as if they were trading cards. It creates a community for fans using digital assets.

The digital art contained within NFTs can be copied but original ownership cannot be duplicated. It’s similar to owning an original Picasso—other people may have copies of the same art, but there is only one original.

Bored Ape Yacht Club may be the most successful NFT project—offering access to real-life parties and online spaces in exchange for purchasing their NFTs.

Another blockchain-powered phenomenon is Decentralized Autonomous Organizations or DAOs. DAOs are organizations that raise and spend money, but all decisions are voted on by members and executed using rules encoded in the blockchain. Famously, a DAO recently raised $47 million in a failed attempt to buy a copy of the constitution.

WHAT TYPE OF WEB3 WILL EMERGE?

With so much up in the air, it’s unclear what type of Web3 will emerge. Although decentralization promises to diminish the power of major corporations, these conglomerates still hold such endless resources that it’s hard to imagine them not finding a way to capitalize and maintain relevance.

Remaking the web won’t happen overnight. There are still major technical and regulatory hurdles which need to be overcome before Web3 becomes the golden standard.

Although we can’t predict how all this will shake out and affect your daily online experience, one thing is for sure—the internet is evolving.

How 5G Is Unlocking the Hidden Potential of Mobile Gaming

5G is the fastest growing mobile generation of all time. There are 236 active 5G subscriptions with 3 billion 5G subscriptions anticipated by 2025. The vastly improved speed will have a transformative impact on a number of technologies—especially mobile gaming.

The game industry generates over $175 billion in revenue. Mobile gamers constitute over 2.6 billion mobile gamers worldwide. Mobile gaming is big business and 5G stands to unlock even more hidden potential in a variety of ways.

SAY GOODBYE TO LATENCY

Imagine thousands of players simultaneously playing Call of Duty on mobile devices with no lag and professional-level speed. Mobile operators like Ericsson are pushing the 5G revolution everyday to make these scenarios a reality.

In competitive gaming, latency can make or break a game. Online gamers can easily become frustrated and churn if latency ruins their experience. With speeds up to 10Gbps, 5G delivers 10 times the speed of 4G LTE. Response times as low as 5 milliseconds will virtually eliminate lag between input and response. As 5G becomes more reliable, it will hold true even for massive online games with a large number of competitors.

In a recent survey conducted by OpenSignal on the best networks for gaming experiences, mmWave 5G led the way—ahead of private wi-fi networks.

OFFLOADING PROCESSING

For IoT developers, 5G’s ability to bolster cloud computing poses major opportunities. 5G enables simple devices and sensors to complete complex tasks by offloading major processing duties to the cloud.

Mobile gaming can similarly benefit from the raw speed of 5G. Higher bandwidth and lower response times open up the possibility of offloading key processes. Games will be able to handle more arduous rendering duties remotely, producing a higher quality stream. With the cloud carrying the workload, the quality and age of the user’s device would matter significantly less provided the user has a 5G data plan. Gamers will still be able to expect the same high-quality experiences regardless of whether they have the latest smartphone.

AR AND VR BOON

Massive increases in streaming speed and cloud processing power will enable AR and VR developers to take their projects to the next level. Expect to see bigger, more detailed and immersive virtual worlds. For AR and VR apps to realize their potential, data needs to be rendered at the moment of decision-making. Lag and latency take users out of what’s intended to be the pinnacle of immersive gaming. The speeds of 5G will trigger a momentous evolution for AR and VR gaming.

CAN MOBILE GAMING OVERTAKE CONSOLES?

Smartphones provide game developers with the broadest platform and userbase. The bolstered processing power provided by smartphones with 5G will enable mobile devices to provide graphics on par with consoles. However, before mobile gaming can dethrone console gaming in terms of popularity, there are a few roadblocks.

While some major console games are available on mobile devices, the vast majority are not. Gamers are not at the point where they expect the same games on their mobile devices. Until game developers can effectively transfer major franchises to mobile devices, console gaming will remain king.

One of the major obstacles facing mobile gaming is the controller. iOS and Android touch screens simply cannot match the precision of playing on an Xbox Series X or PS5. Gamepads like the Backbone One latch onto smart devices to enable more fluid controls, but they also take away the mobile aspect of games since they are arduous to carry. Furthermore, they require every game to map inputs to each controller’s layout. The controller poses a simple but major problem and until it’s addressed, console gaming will provide more reliable experiences.

Mystic Media Announced as a 2022 Local Excellence Award Winner by UpCity!

For more than a decade, UpCity’s mission has been—and continues to be—to help businesses find B2B service providers they can trust. The UpCity Recommendability Rating was developed to determine a service provider’s credibility and recommendability, giving UpCity the confidence to recommend them to the more than 2 million businesses that visit their site.

Each year, UpCity analyzes and scores more than 70,000 service providers based on their UpCity Recommendability Rating and acknowledges the top national and local providers with an UpCity Excellence Award. The results are in, and we won!

We are proud to announce that the Mystic Media team has been recognized as one of the top B2B service providers of 2022 in the Salt Lake City area by UpCity!

Joe Banks, SVP of Engineering at UpCity, had this to say about Mystic Media:

“The team at Mystic Media brings decades of combined experience and quality that helps them stay ahead of the curve in all things digital. We are proud to recognize them with a 2022 Local Excellence Award. Congratulations!” —Joe Banks, SVP of Engineering, UpCity

This recognition has been driven in large part by our 4.9-star review rating on UpCity. Here are a few of our favorite pieces of feedback we’ve received from our incredible customers:

      • “This was a joint effort where we developed the hardware interface between our controller and Mystic Media developed the iOS app. Consequently, there was a lot of information exchange and testing during the process. The basic user interface was completed by Mystic Media in very short order. The rest of the development was the implementation of the various inputs and outputs. The interface retrieves and passes to the door controller via an RS485 communication port. The commands the app sends to the controller via the interface are in hexadecimal. I was very pleased with the speed and efficiency of the development and the ‘can do’ attitude of Mystic Media. They are very professional, respectful, and easy to work with. I would use them again.” – Carl Goodman, June 2021
      • “We hired Mystic for a large and complex project and are very happy with our experience. We were well out of our element with only an idea and a rough one at that. Their creative and knowledgeable team took our idea and pulled us into a process that was efficient and truly felt like a partnership. They care and want to help us see our vision through. We are currently very close to completion and I look forward to them being a valuable part of our journey forward!” – Russell Taylor, June 2021

Throughout the changes our industry has seen, the one thing that never gets old is seeing our clients succeed. We are so grateful for the collaboration opportunities we’ve had over the years and are honored to receive this recognition. 

Learn more about the UpCity Excellence Awards.

Stay Ahead of Your Competition with the Top Digital Marketing Trends of 2022

In an era of rapid technological acceleration, every year brings new avenues to market services and methods to boost sales. While the metaverse lurks on the horizon, it’s still in the developmental stage. Meanwhile, the current digital marketing landscape has evolved significantly within the past few years. Software developers and business owners must keep up on the latest trends in order to ensure that they don’t fall behind their competitors.

Here are some of the biggest trends in digital marketing today:

PERSONALIZATION

Success in digital marketing is increasingly dependent on how companies collect data and leverage it toward personalized ads. Studies show personalization can deliver five to eight times the ROI on marketing spend.

Personalization at its most basic level entails targeting users based on their demographic or location. For example, Guinness created a hyper-localized ad campaign which incorporated a unique Facebook ad for every Guinness venue in the UK and Ireland. Over 30,000 localized video ads for over 2,500 bars were updated dynamically based on the rugby matches playing at a given time.

Personalization relies on three tenets: data discovery, automated decision-making, and content distribution. Major corporations like Amazon leverage more extensive data with automated decision-making dictated by robust AI algorithms. Netflix’s complex viewing algorithms determine what users may like to view next based on their past viewing habits. The result is not only improved user experience, but a more personal relationship with the brand.

SOCIAL COMMERCE

Projections from Accenture show social commerce will reach $1.2 trillion globally by 2025—about 300% faster than traditional ecommerce. Gen Z and Millennials will be the biggest spenders, accounting for 62% of social revenue by 2025. Platforms are working behind the scenes to improve customer experience by creating payment methods without leaving social media apps. Two major social platforms to watch are TikTok and Youtube.

TikTok usage has risen rapidly and reached 1 billion users and counting. Engagement has been titanic with users in the United States spending up to 850 hours per month on the app. It was the top earning non-gaming app in 2021 with $110 million spent by users and its potential will only grow as influencers earn huge amounts through sponsorship deals. TikTok is not just for Gen Z, it’s a rapidly growing network and brands are taking advantage by offering influencers huge amounts of money for branded content.

As brands move their investment in traditional TV models toward streaming, one platform which stands to benefit is Youtube. Global revenue for the video streaming channel soared to $29 billion, a 46% increase from 2020. Youtube is beginning to attract more traditional TV advertisers and consequentially, their ad business is nearly matching Netflix in revenue. While revenue is ascending, there remains significant headroom for major brands to up their investment in Youtube advertising as traditional cable models phase out.

IN-GAME ADVERTISING

Just over 50% of global revenue in the gaming industry is driven by mobile games. With gaming reaching a growth rate higher than all other entertainment industries, brands are looking to in-game advertising as a way of reaching a larger audience.

The gaming demographic has recently reached a 50-50 split between men and women. Contrary to most preconceptions, in-game advertising will help you reach a wider audience of both men and women. In-game advertising not only reaches a wider audience, it makes it easy to track click-throughs and analytics. Extensive analytics enable brands to collect very precise data about their customers and foster a deeper understanding of their habits.

Playable ads have arisen as a major hallmark for brands to market their games. Playable ads are interactive and encourage the user to try a snippet of functionality from the game. Check out the examples in the video below by Vungle.

CONCLUSION

Brands need to move as fast as the times if they hope to stay on the forefront of their industry. In the era of big data, the bigger your brand, the more possibilities digital marketing entails. As AI becomes more accessible, businesses of all sizes are wise to take advantage of the digital landscape and find ways to offer a more personal experience for their customers.

How Chatbots Make Healthcare More Efficient

In the mid 1960s, Joseph Weizenbaum of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory created ELIZA, an early natural language processing computer program and the first chatbot therapist. While ELIZA did not change therapy forever, it was a major step forward and one of the first programs capable of taking the Turing Test. Researchers were surprised by the amount of people who attributed human-like feelings to the computer’s responses.

Fast-forward 50 years later, advancements in artificial intelligence and natural language processing enable chatbots to become useful in a number of scenarios. Interest in chatbots has increased by 500% in the past 10 years and the market size is expected reach $1.3 billion by 2025.

Chatbots are becoming commonplace in marketing, customer service, real estate, finance, and more. Healthcare is one of the top 5 industries where chatbots are expected to make an impact. This week, we explore why chatbots appeal to help healthcare providers run a more efficient operation.

SCALABILITY

Chatbots can interact with a large number of users instantly. Their scalability equips them to handle logistical problems with ease. For example, chatbots can make mundane tasks such as scheduling easier by asking basic questions to understand a user’s health issues, matching them with doctors based on available time slots, and integrating with both doctor and patient calendars to create an appointment.

At the onset of the pandemic, Intermountain Healthcare was receiving an overload of inquiries from people who were afraid they may have contracted Covid-19. In order to facilitate the inquiries, Intermountain added extra staff and a dedicated line to their call center, but it wasn’t enough. Ultimately, they turned to artificial intelligence in the form of Scout, a conversational chatbot made by Gyant, to facilitate a basic coronavirus screening which determined if patients were eligible to get tested at a time when the number of tests were limited.

Ultimately, Scout only had to ask very basic questions—but it handled the bevy of inquiries with ease. Chatbots have proved themselves to be particularly useful for understaffed healthcare providers. As they employ AI to learn from previous interactions, they will become more sophisticated which will enable them to take on more robust tasks.

ACCESS

Visiting a doctor can be challenging due to the considerable amount of time it takes to commute. Working people and those without access to reliable transport may prevent them from taking on the hassle of the trip. Chatbots and telehealth in general provide a straightforward solution to these issues, enabling patients to receive insight as to whether an in-person consultation will be necessary.

While chatbots cannot provide medical insight and prognoses, they are effective in collecting and encouraging an awareness of basic data, such as anxiety and weight changes. They can help effectively triage patients through preliminary stages using automated queries and store information which doctors can later reference with ease. Their ability to proliferate information and handle questions will only increase as natural language processing improves.

A PERSONALIZED APPROACH — TO AN EXTENT

Chatbot therapists have come a long way since ELIZA. Developments in NLP, machine learning, and more enable chatbots to deliver helpful, personalized responses to user messages. Chatbots like Woebot are trained to employ cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to aid patients suffering from emotional distress by offering prompts and exercises for reflection. The anonymity of chatbots can help encourage patients to provide more candid answers unafraid of human judgment.

However, chatbots have yet to achieve one of the most important features a medical provider should have: empathy. Each individual is different, some may be scared away by formal talk and prefer casual conversation while for others, formality may be of the utmost importance. Given the delicacy of health matters, a lack of human sensitivity is a major flaw.

While chatbots can help manage a number of logistical tasks to make life easier for patients and providers, their application will be limited until they can gauge people’s tone and understand context. If recent advances in NLP and AI serve any indication, that time is soon to come.

How Business Owners Can Leverage the Metaverse to Turn a Profit

As many have heard, Facebook’s highly publicized rebranding as Meta in 2021 signaled their long-term expansion from social media into VR, the metaverse, and more. In the process, they launched the metaverse into a household name technology. The $500 million virtual real estate boom which proceeded only further hammered the point home—as far as Meta is concerned, the metaverse is the future. With VR and AR technologies developing at an astounding rate, businesses are entering the metaverse intent on generating revenue while the technology remains in its nascent stage.

The metaverse is here to stay—the question for business owners is: how can one take advantage of it? There is a long list of apps that use AR features to enhance the shopping experience. Sephora’s Virtual Artist app enables users to view how makeup will look before trying it on. The Ikea Place application enables users to view how furniture will look in their house before they place them.

The big question is: should you as a business owner delve into the metaverse? And if so, how can you leverage a metaverse presence to generate commerce? In this week’s blog, we present a few ideas to consider when making your decision.

REAL ESTATE

The first step to a metaverse presence is the acquisition of a virtual space for the business. Luckily, metaverse real estate has proven to be an extraordinarily profitable investment in and of itself. Armando Aguilar told Coindesk recently that the price of his three-bedroom, two-bathroom home outside New York City has appreciated two and a half times, while his metaverse property surged by 1,400% during that same time.

When purchasing real estate within the metaverse, consider which platform you’d like to see your company grow in. There’s a long list of options, from Sandbox to Decentraland, each with their own pros and cons.

When choosing a platform, consider which platform will provide the most short-term gains for your customers. Where do you anticipate long-term value? Investing wisely will lead to revenue as the price of virtual property rises.

For a list of the top metaverse platforms, check out XR Today’s list of the top metaverse platforms to watch in 2022.

EXPAND YOUR PHYSICAL PRESENCE

The metaverse presents an opportunity for companies to translate their brand into a virtual experience. Similar to the early aughts of the internet, companies which fail to capitalize on the new channel may lose money to companies that adopted the metaverse faster.

The metaverse differs from the internet in that it enables businesses to replicate three dimensional, physical spaces. This is a huge leap as we are physical beings and crave physical experiences.

While nothing can replace the physical retail experience, a great deal of commerce is generated by monetizing convenience. Delivery services like Amazon and Seamless generate billions of dollars in revenue by offering a variety of products to their customers through their digital presence, cutting out the need to stray from the home.

The metaverse capitalizes on our desire for physical experiences while enabling us to access them from the comfort of our couch. Rather than recreate their websites, businesses need to think about how they can create a physical experience for their customers.

Five years down the line, businesses will likely require a team of consultants and developers to build the metaverse experience. Check out the video below showing how Walmart created a physical shopping experience in the metaverse.

NFTs AND THE METAVERSE

Commerce in the metaverse will incorporate cryptocurrency and NFTs. NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, are unique digital files which function as certificates of ownership verified by the blockchain. They can be associated with any number of things—from sneakers, to songs and works of art. Although the market shows volatility similar to cryptocurrency, NFT value can appreciate by quite a bit.

NFTs represent a new buying channel that’s crucial to the metaverse. Creating exclusive experiences in the metaverse will draw your customers in.

Offering exclusive NFTs is a way to both create value and boost engagement with your customers. Adidas recently took advantage of this, generating over $23 million in ethereum in their first NFT drop.

Consider incorporating NFT’s alongside physical product drops. For example, offer an NFT to customers who enter the metaverse to make early pre-orders of future releases.

The metaverse is an opportunity to drive engagement and create value by offering personalized, exclusive experiences to your customers. NFTs are the perfect method to achieve this.

CONCLUSION

The metaverse poses a business opportunity for enterprises unafraid of innovation. What kind of experience can you deliver to your customers in the metaverse that you cannot in any other realm? Businesses which manage to answer that question will be rewarded with long-term profit.