Tech round-up for November 21: Lenovo looks to boost sales in Canada, battle of the robot vacuums, online holiday catalogues, Blind Brothers blind shopping

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This week, the best of the robot vacuums, online holiday wish catalogues, and what it’s like to shop blind. But first, Lenovo is looking to pick up market share in Canada.

New head of Lenovo North America aims to make the computer company a dominant player in Canada

Matthew Zielinski has big plans for Lenovo in Canada. He wants to get the company showing up on market share reports, where he admits it hasn’t been north of the 49th.

Meanwhile, in the United States, his “beast mode” approach over the past 8 months has led to a full point of market share. Zielinski had planned on a quarter point.

The challenge in Canada, says Zielinski, is that Lenovo is farther behind the competition. But with fewer retailers, he’s hopeful his strategy to focus on a few tactics will lead to similar success.

“I wanted to increase customer acquisitions,” he told me in a board room at the Westin Bayshore, where Lenovo was holding a company retreat. Lenovo looked to get more customers from the public sector and the education sectors, and by “rebooting” the small and medium business channel.

Zielinski believes that Lenovo has best in class offerings, especially in the main computer product line where the company is entrenching.

“We’ve been thinking about designing and delivering products,” said Zielinski, and that includes spending more time with retailers and customers to get feedback.

It’s part of what Zielinski calls a “collaborative design strategy”. “Sometimes technologists don’t know best,” he admitted.

As an example, Zielinski talked about Lenovo’s privacy guards that were designed to keep people from being able to see your screen. After talking to people who were using Lenovo devices, product designers developed an automatic privacy guard that, when activated, prevents anyone who isn’t directly in front of the computer from being able to see the screen.

Another growth area identified by Zielinski is augmented and virtual reality. Lenovo is marketing the first standalone headset, the Mirage Solo, that delivers VR experiences without cables attached to computers.

The company is selling classroom VR kits which include headsets pre-loaded with some 700 “field trips” and integrated lesson plans. Some of the experiences come from the Wild Immersion project, which bills itself as a “virtual reserve” of animals from around the world. Renowned primatologist Jane Goodall is a partner, through her institute.

Zielinski calls these educational experiences a “game changer”.

Battle of the robot vacuums

My family has been loving Dusty, the Dyson 360 Eye Robot vacuum we’ve been using for a couple of years now ($1,000). With a tank tread to get over floor thresholds and carpet edges, the 360 Eye benefits from the powerful cyclonic suction created by the Dyson digital motor. It cleans up dirt we didn’t even know we had.

But Dyson wasn’t first with an automated floor cleaner. That distinction goes to iRobot and the Roomba.

The latest Roomba is the i7+, which has got more suction and better mapping technology than ever before. And with the Clean Base Automatic Dirt Disposal, the i7+ empties its own bin every time it returns to the base. The i7 is priced at $900, $1,250 with the Clean Base. (You can add the Clean Base for $430 after).

You can keep the i7 away from places you don’t want it to go with a sensor that creates a virtual wall. Can attach it to a wall or even set it on the floor to mark a semicircle border, so you can keep the Roomba away from the pet food bowl.

The latest mapping software from iRobot means that the i7 remembers the floor plans of the environment it’s cleaning. It can store up to ten maps, and once the robot has learned the space, it optimizes how it cleans so it finishes more quickly and uses less battery power to do the job.

And because the i7 remembers the floor plan, you can direct it to clean specific rooms that you define, and you can even create scheduled cleanings that are different for each room. So you can have the kitchen vacuumed daily, and the bedrooms twice a week.

It also uses acoustic and optical sensors to detect dirt, so if there’s more debris than normal, the i7 will spend more time in that area to make sure things are clean.

New to the Canadian market is the Botvac D7 from Neato ($1,050) which uses lasers to navigate your space. It’s got a low profile, too, so can easily fit under furniture to get those hiding dust bunnies. The Botvac’s killer feature is that you can set “no-go” lines in the smartphone app you use to control the device to keep the robot out of trouble. Use it to keep the vacuum away from under your desk, where it might get caught up in the cable nest.

And you can store multiple maps in the memory of the D7, so you can use it on multiple levels or areas and it will remember where it can and can’t go, and you can program zones so if you want to send the D7 to clean up the floor under the table after dinner, you can do that without cleaning the entire map.

The Botvac D7 and the Roomba i7+ both connect with your Amazon Echo or Google Home device so you can ask Alexa or Google Assistant to trigger a cleaning.

All of these devices are easy to set up. I was able to get them connected to my home wi-fi and running within minutes of setting them up.

These robots do get stuck from time to time, but they will always let you know they need help.

Holiday wish catalogues are all online

Once upon a time, I couldn’t wait for the arrival of the Sears Wish Book in the mail. Saturday mornings were spent poring over the tome, folding down page corners and circling important items with a felt marker.

It was the reference that helped us create our list of things we hoped Santa would bring.

Kids today don’t have that experience. Instead, I imagine that they are checking out online resources.

Some online gift guides to check out include Mountain Equipment Co-op for all your outdoor needs and Oxfam, with things like a water well for $175 or a goat for $58 or $100 for a toilet.

Amazon has a host of gift guides including electronics and toys.

The toy guide in particular includes a wide range of prices from under $10 to more expensive toys and games, and things that are fun and support learning, like telescopes, microscopes, board games, and books books books.

And if you’re a Prime member, you’ll be able to get many things shipped to you within a couple of days, but keep in mind the ongoing Canada Post labour dispute. I asked Amazon Canada how it was managing, and a spokesperson provided this statement:

“Due to the Canada Post strike, some customers may experience delayed delivery dates for their orders. We’re monitoring the situation and are working hard to minimize any service disruption for our customers. Potential delivery delays are already reflected at checkout.”

So when you are ready to place your order, the estimated shipping time you see is taking into account any possible delays.

All of the retailers will be using other shippers as necessary to try and get things where they need to go.

Blind Brothers put twist on online holiday shopping

While we’re on the topic of shopping online, one retailer has blacked out its online store for this critical buying season.

When you visit the virtual storefront for Blind Brothers you are presented with an opportunity to purchase something for $32, $69, or $89 (all prices U.S.).

The catch is that you don’t know what you’re going to get.

The clothing company was founded by two brothers, Bradford and Bryan Manning, who are blind. All profits from the company’s sales are donated to research to help find a cure for blindness.

The website blackout is there way of demonstrating what it’s like to “shop blind.”

They ask customers to have trust, writng that ”we’re asking you to trust us to get a product we think you will LOVE without ever having seen it; the same way we place our trust in others to accomplish everyday tasks many often take for granted.”

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