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January 2010 Archives

January 12, 2010

Miccus BluBridge Mobile Stereo Speaker

Bluetooth wireless has been a big hit for mobile phones, with Bluetooth headsets for talking on the go while your phone remains safely and comfortably in your pocket or bag. But Bluetooth audio is not just for voices -- mobile phones are becoming music players, and some media players are adding Bluetooth as well.

However, listening to music through a Bluetooth headset in one ear is not a great experience. Instead, you can use a wireless headphone to enjoy the music in stereo.

Or, get a wireless speaker like the Altec Lansing SoundBlade (see previous post) or the new Miccus BluBridge Mobile Speaker (shown here).

These are not just portable wireless speakers -- they're also speakerphones, with built-in echo-canceling microphones for hands-free dialing.

Even better, the Bluetooth interface not only transmits voice calls and streams wireless music, it also extends remote control so you can pause and skip through the tracks on your player from the front panel of the speaker.

The Miccus BluBridge Speaker supports two connections, to stream music for a wireless player or laptop and then cut over to your phone for a voice call. You also can use it with Skype or VoIP carriers for Internet calling from your laptop.

The BluBridge Speaker is designed to be especially portable -- around 8 x 3 1/2 x 1 1/3 inches, with a stand that rotates to protect the front control buttons and speakers when closed. The speakers put out 6 watts rms stereo sound, which is plenty loud in a room, although the highest volumes do not mix well with some compressed music on portable players.

It runs for up to 16 hours with 4 AA batteries, or plug it in with the included AC wall adapter or USB cable. It's available for around $89.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for more on wireless audio.

Find the Miccus BluBridge Mobile Speaker and
Altec Lansing SoundBlade Speaker on Amazon.com

January 15, 2010

Miccus BluBridge Mini-jack - Bluetooth Music Transmitter

Bluetooth wireless gives you the freedom to enjoy your music on the move with wireless headphones, and share with others with a wireless speaker (see previous post). But not all media players support Bluetooth, including the Apple iPods (though the Apple iPhone added Bluetooth for wireless headsets).

So how can you free the music from these non-wireless player devices? You can open up a laptop with a USB Bluetooth dongle, to connect a wireless mouse or keyboard (see previous posts).

And for other music playback devices, you can use a Bluetooth transmitter like the Miccus BluBridge Mini-jack. Simply plug in to the standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack on your device and pair with your headphones or speaker, and you can be streaming wireless music.

The BluBridge Mini-jack has a simple pairing process that works with most Bluetooth-capable receivers (with pin codes 0000, 1234, or 8888). The power/pairing button has an LCD underneath that blinks to indicate connection or charging status.

The Mini-jack charges though a mini USB port (with included cable) and runs for up to 7 hours of playback with the internal battery, or can run continuously if the cable is left connected. The headphone jack also swivels down to fold against the unit for more compact storage and portability.

The Miccus BluBridge Mini-jack is priced at $59, but is currently available for around $19. There are also similar products designed for specific devices, like the Miccus BluBridge for iPod with dock connector that runs off the iPod battery to transmit wireless music (list $59, street $24).

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for more on wireless audio.

Find the Miccus BluBridge Mini-jack
and BluBridge for iPod on Amazon.com

January 1, 2010

CES 2010 is Next Week

The holidays are so over, and now CES 2010 is coming!

The 2010 edition of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is back in Las Vegas starting next week, running from Thursday January 7 though Sunday January 10, 2010.

The show is produced by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which reports that CES continues to be the world's largest consumer technology tradeshow, and the largest tradeshow of any kind in North America.

The CEA expects some 110,000 attendees this year, about the same number as last year, although down from the peak of over 140,000 in the previous years -- which seriously packed the facilities and transportation in Vegas.

The exhibition has been consolidated into the Las Vegas Convention Center this year, without using the Sands Expo, with sessions still held in the Hilton and high-performance audio in the Venetian. The number of exhibitors has declined slightly from last year's 2,700 to 2,500, but with an increase to 330 new exhibitors at the event.

For hot-off-the-press coverage, the gadget blogs and tech publications will be out in force at CES, with tag teams live blogging the new announcements.

As in past years, I'll instead be focusing on the larger trends, and will be updating my CES 2010 Summary article with links to these sources and other coverage of the show (see last year's CES 2009 Wrap-Up post).

January 2, 2010

Everlasting Blossoms for the New Year

Happy new year! And with the passing of the holiday season, it's time to start looking forward to Spring -- with flowers and garden parties, and graduations and weddings.

So here's a look at the work of my favorite artist, Karin Hope Dixon, who creates beautiful handmade origami folded-paper flower sculptures.

You can find her classic -- and fanciful -- creations at her Etsy store (the marketplace for hand-crafted goods), including bouquets, earrings, and decorative ornaments.

Or explore her Everlasting Blossoms site and dedicated Wedding site for your celebrations, including bouquets, boutonnieres, bridal showers, centerpieces, invitations, and place cards.

You even can work with the artist to create your own custom designs -- based on your favorite theme, flowers, colors, papers, and accessories.

Photos, top to bottom:
- Lily blossom earrings, Japanese print red, orange, and gold leaves
- Custom cascading bridal bouquet
- Goddess bouquet, classic rose with baby accent blossoms

January 5, 2010

RCA EZ209 Small Wonder HD Camcorder

I've been having fun demoing pocket camcorders for the holiday season -- These are so easy to carry, and still shoot quite good looking HD video. And they make great gifts, for example, to give to young adults heading off for school or vacation or a honeymoon. Though maybe you also deserve a great gift for yourself, so you can be ready to shoot and share fun events.

The Cisco Flip Video pocket camcorder line has been very popular, for example, with carefully simplified devices like the Flip Mino HD that you just turn on and start shooting (see previous post).

But other pocket camcorders like the RCA Small Wonder line take a different approach, emulating standard camcorders with a broad array of different models and designs, with a variety of added options and features including removable batteries, expandable memory slots, flip-out displays, and a DVD recorder dock.

For example, the RCA EZ209HD Small Wonder 720p HD Digital Camcorder for $129 / $89 street shoots up to 720p HD video in a slim design (~ 4.3 x 2.5 x 0.9 inches, 3 ounces) -- amazingly thin with a bump-out lens.

It shoots video at three resolutions: lower-res Web 320 x 320 at 30 fps, high-speed Sports 848 x 480 at 60 fps, and HD 1280 x 720 at 30 fps, stored as AVI files in H.264 format. This gives 8 to 40 hours of recording on a 16 GB card.

Plus it shoots 8 MP still photos (extrapolated from 5 MP sensor), as 3200 x 2400 JPEG files.

And it goes further into adjustability with lighting settings in the menu to optimize the exposure to the scene, for Auto, Outdoor, Indoor, or Low light settings.

The EZ209 is easy to use, with a (relatively) large 2 inch LCD display with larger lettering for the on-screen display. And it has straightforward controls, with a sliding power switch, a three-position slider for clearly selecting the video resolution, and dedicated Play, Delete, Menu, and Photo buttons.

The camera includes 256 MB built-in internal memory, plus a microSD card expansion slot for up to 16 GB.

There's no flip-out USB connector, instead the camera has a miniUSB port for recharging the built-in (non-removable) battery, and for transferring data to a computer. The camera memory has pre-installed Memory Manager software to download and edit your videos, and share online. Or you can display directly on a television via the AV or HDMI connectors.

In comparison to the Flip Mino HD, the display on the EZ209 seems muted, with less saturated colors. Yet the video itself is typically darker and extra saturated -- more red in a bright hockey rink, for example, or more yellow/green shooting on the Princeton campus. The Flip video also has more visible detail, for example in stone work in the background of the scene.

Still, the EZ209 Small Wonder provides an amazing range of options in a small and light package. You have more control to experiment and refine, not only with the different video resolutions, but also with the lighting options in the menus for videos and photos.

See my Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 for more on pocket camcorders and other fun gadgets.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on pocket camcorders and other digital camcorders.

Find the RCA EZ209HD Small Wonder Camcorder on Amazon.com

January 8, 2010

JVC Picsio Full HD Pocket Camcorder

Pocket camcorders have been popularized by companies like Flip Video (now Cisco) and RCA (now Audiovox) focused on personal and portable devices (see previous post), but the market is growing with entries from companies from professional imaging, including Kodak, Sony, and now JVC.

The JVC Everio line of hard drive and flash memory camcorders has now been joined by a new Picsio line of pocket camcorders, with a light and compact design, colorful cases, and serious power: Full-HD 1080p video recording and 8 MP still photos.

The JVC GC-FM1 pocket camera is $199, and comes in three colors (black ice, blue steel, purple passion), with a 2 inch display on a snazzy case with "jewel-like geometric pattern and chrome accents." It has a light and compact form, rectangular with rounded edges (~ 3 7/8 x 2 1/8 x 11/16 inches, 3.4 ounces), textured down the sides for a better grip.

The Picsio shoots video in four resolutions -- widescreen 1080p (1440 x 1080) and 720p (1280 x 720), and standard 4:3 aspect ratio VGA (640 x 480) and QVGA (320 x 240), stored in MOV files in H.264 format. This gives some 5 3/4 to 86 hours of recording on a 32 GB card.

And it shoots still photos in four formats -- 8M (3264 x 2448), 5M (2592 x 1944), 2M (1600 x 1200), and VGA (640 x 480), 4:3 aspect in JPEG files.

Plus, it includes a focus switch for shooting close-ups in Macro mode.

The camera includes 128 MB built-in internal memory, plus a microSD card expansion slot for up to 32 GB.

The camera has a miniUSB port for recharging the built-in (non-removable) battery, and for transferring data to a computer. The camera memory has pre-installed MediaBrowser LE software to download and edit your videos, and share online. Or you can display directly on a television via the AV or HDMI connectors.

The Picsio has dedicated buttons on the back to make most functions easy to perform, including switching between Video and Still Image mode, between Recording and Playback mode, and displaying the Index (thumbnail) view during playback. The power button is also on the back, and smaller than the others, so it takes focused attention to turn on. There's also a Setup menu (press Delete and Index simultaneously).

However, switching between the video and photo resolutions is a bit obscure -- press the left control ("<") twice in succession to cycle to the next setting.

Compared to the Flip Mino HD and RCA EZ209HD Small Wonder, the JVC Picsio has a narrower field of view, which brings you closer into the scene. And the full 1920 x 1280 HD resolution (compared to 1280 x 720) not only gives a larger images, but also results in sharper images with more detail when scaled down to lower resolution.

Of course, these small cameras still have limited optics, with a small lens and no optical zoom. And they are so light that it's easy to shoot shaky video, so you need to focus on bracing yourself -- which is why they have a tripod mount. The JVC Picaso specs actually list an image stabilization feature to reduce camera shake, though it's not discussed in the manual, and I did not see significant differences compared to other cameras.

JVC Picsio is a cake-and-eat-it-too kind of device -- a pocket-size camera with many of the features of full camcorders, including shooting videos and photos, full HD to web resolutions, and even with macro mode -- all in a comfortable and somewhat snazzy design.

See my Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 for more on pocket camcorders and other fun gadgets.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on pocket camcorders and other digital camcoders.

Find the JVC Picsio Pocket Camcorder on Amazon.com

January 16, 2010

CES 2010 Wrap-Ups

The 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) wrapped last weekend on a rather positive note (see previous post). The mood was upbeat, as companies moved past the downs of the previous year to focus on new plans and products for 2010.

Estimated attendance was up from last year to more than 120,000 people, and the show floor was definitely packed the first couple days, and busy through the weekend, especially because the Sands Expo was not used, with almost all the 2,500-some exhibitors now in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The big push, of course, was 3D TV -- Apparently consumers have so enjoyed upgrading to HD displays, HD cable service, and HD Blu-ray discs that they are ready to start over again and move on to the next new thing. Products are promised for this year -- 3D displays, 3D Blu-ray players, 3D service from DirecTV and ESPN -- but will clearly be targeted to early-adapter enthusiasts. So check out Avatar in the theatres and see what's coming next to the living room.

Other themes at CES, accelerated from last year, included connected / Internet TVs (with movies on demand to Skype video conferencing), content portability (buy once, play anywhere, with industry efforts including DECE), scads of eReader devices (and some tablets), and even more emphasis on green / eco-friendly products.

Newer trends included smartphones and Google Android phones, the transition from widgets to full-fledged apps for phones to HD TVs, and mass storage for consumers -- in the cloud or with a NAS network-attached drive in the home.

I've updated my CES Summary article with links to a variety of sources for conference wrap-ups and blog coverage of the show for more perspectives, photos, and videos.

January 17, 2010

NAB and Digital Media Conferences for 2010

Now that CES is done, we can look forward to The NAB Show (National Association of Broadcasters), coming up April 10 - 15, in Las Vegas (see last year's post).

NAB is much more then broadcasting -- it covers the broad range from content acquisition and creation to distribution and delivery.

There's plenty to see and do, with some 85,000 attendees and 1,500 exhibitors. Check out the latest equipment, including cameras (e.g., Canon, JVC, Panasonic, Sony) and capture hardware (AJA, Matrox), and see tutorials on the new creative software (Adobe, Avid, but not Apple).

For working pros, NAB also offers serious digital media training with Post|Production World -- five days of training on the latest techniques and practices for producers, directors, editors, designers and new media professionals, plus Apple and Avid official certification training.

If you're interested in more shows, I've also updated my list of Digital Media Conferences for 2010, including regional events around New York City.

January 18, 2010

New Unlimited Voice and Data Plans from AT&T and Verizon Wireless

AT&T and Verizon Wireless have announced new pricing plans for unlimited voice and data service. After all, we want mobile access to email and Web, and the carriers are happy to encourage more use of their networks for such data services.

Consumers are moving up from plain old cell phones to multimedia phones with cameras and picture messaging and some (sometimes painful) Web and email access, and then further on up to smartphones for a more satisfying online experience, albeit on a 3- to 4-inch screen.

The idea is to provide plans with bundles of minutes of talk time and megabytes of data for limited use, as well as unlimited plans for the new world of constant connectivity. (AT&T has rollover for unused minutes if not on an unlimited plan.) There are also family sharing plans for bundling service for a group of two or more phones, and friends and family options for specifying a list of favorite callers.

AT&T offers separate plans for different classes of phones, plus Texting as a separate add-on, $20 for unlimited, and $30 for Family Talk.

The AT&T plan for what it calls Feature Phones offers unlimited talk for $69.99 per month, and Family Talk (two lines) for $119.99.

For Smartphones (including the iPhone), AT&T offers unlimited voice and data for $99.99, and Family Talk for $179.99. The texting add-on is the same.

In comparison, Verizon Wireless offers unlimited voice plans with and without texting, and data plans for each type of phone.

The Verizon Unlimited Talk plan is $69.99 per month, and Unlimited Talk and Text plan (text, picture and video messages to anyone) is $89.99. The unlimited Family Share plan for voice (for two lines) is $119.99, and $149.99 with text.

The basic data plan for what Verizon calls Simple Feature Phones is pay per use at $1.99 per megabyte. The next tier, also for 3G Multimedia Phones is $9.99 a month for 25 MB, and 20 cents/MB additional. And the unlimited tier, for 3G Smartphones is $29.99. (Verizon has discontinued the $19.99 data package.)

The result:

- The two companies have matched pricing for unlimited voice plans, starting at $69[.99] for unlimited talk, and $89 for unlimited voice and text.

- For smartphones like the iPhone, AT&T then adds up to $119 for unlimited voice, text, and data, or $199 for the first two lines with Family Talk.

- For smartphones like the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Android, Verizon now adds up to $109 for unlimited voice, text, and data, or $179 for the first two lines with Family Share.

So -- If you're an existing customer for either company with a smartphone like the iPhone or Blackberry, it's time to re-price your service plan.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for details on the smartphone market and products.

January 19, 2010

Display Revolution: LED to OLED to E-Ink

Flat-screen LCD displays have swept the field, replacing CRTs as computer monitors and picture tubes for TVs. The revolution is complete, so it's time to move on to the next thing!

At CES, Samsung was showing "LED TV" models, which actually aren't a new display technology. Instead, they are LCDs with LED back-lighting, replacing the traditional Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp (CCFL) light source to offer higher contrast ratios and energy savings. The LED designs also can be edge-lit, with the electronics around the sides of the displays allowing them to be even more ridiculously thin.

Another competitor is OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode), which does not require a backlight, and therefore can display deeper blacks with a higher contrast ratio, save more energy, and be even thinner and lighter.

At CES, LG demonstrated a 15-inch OLED TV, model EL9500, due around this summer, which is water resistant, and an amazing 0.1 inch thin (yes, that 1/10 of an inch). Sony also showed a 24 inch OLED 3D TV prototype.

OLED also is coming to portable devices in the form of AMOLED (Active Matrix OLED), which offers brighter and thinner displays and longer battery life.

For example, the Microsoft Zune HD (see previous post) media player has an OLED display, as does the new Google Nexus One smartphone. And it's used on multimedia phones like the fun Verizon / Samsung Rogue, with a 3.1" widescreen AMOLED display, at 800 x 480 resolution for Web browsing on the go.

And we're not done. The completion is heating up in E-Book Readers with E-ink displays, with the Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle (see previous post) joined by the Barnes & Noble Nook, plus new announcements at CES from well-known brands including Audiovox / RCA and Samsung, and some other new entrants.

But E-ink is not just for digital paper for electronic books. The Verizon / Samsung Alias 2 puts E-ink technology to work for the keys, so they can be reconfigured as you re-orient the phone.

The Alias 2 has a clever dual-hinge design: flip up vertically to use it as a phone, or open horizontally to send text messages in landscape mode.

As you reorient, the 10 x 4 grid of E-ink keys are re-labeled to match: they show a standard phone keypad for making calls, and full QWERTY keypad for texting -- which can switch between letters and numbers / symbols. The remaining keys then serve as one-press hot keys.

The E-ink lettering is crisp and clear, very readable in normal light or in the dark with back lighting. The phone keys have room for each digit plus the associated three letter, and the dedicated keys use words (Space, SEND) and symbols (envelope for mail). The 4-way cursor pad section even relocates, with the keys grayed to make them stand out. And, of course, the E-ink persists even when the phone is turned off, so the keys are not left blank.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on these mobile phones and smartphones, and my Media Players Gallery for more on media players and E-Book Readers.

Find the Verizon / Samsung Alias 2 on Amazon.com

January 20, 2010

New Display Technology for E-book Readers

While the obvious excitement at CES was around big screens with 3D TV, and small screens with smartphones (see previous post), there also was lots of action with new E-book readers in the middle range of screen sizes -- handheld but bigger than your pocket.

There's a place in the market for these slightly larger (but still thin) devices. They're optimized for reading, but also are adding other features including general document storage (particularly with external SD cards), media playback (music and photos, although not video on E-ink displays), and Internet browsing (at least simpler static sites). The new designs experiment with new display technologies, including dual screens (E-ink and LCD -- see previous post).

- The Amazon Kindle is available in 6" and 9.7" versions, and in global editions with wireless coverage in 100 countries, at $259 and $489 respectively (see previous post). Amazon reports that over the holidays the Kindle was "the most wished for, most gifted, and #1 bestselling item across the millions of products sold on Amazon.com." (Of course, most other products are sold at many other outlets as well.)

- The Sony Reader Daily Edition adds 3G wireless coverage to the Sony line. It has a 7.1" display, plus touchscreen navigation, and should be shipping this month for $399. You can download content from the Sony Reader Store and Google Books, and store on external SD or Memory Stick cards.

- The Barnes & Noble Nook (shown here) combines a 6" E-ink touchscreen display with a small 3.5" color touchscreen LCD strip at the bottom for control and navigation. You can download books from B&N through the included AT&T 3G wireless, or using Wi-Fi (free in B&N stores). It's $259, with an expected ship date in mid February.

- The Audiovox / RCA Lexi eReader (PDF) has 6" display, and is designed to sync via PC or Mac (not wireless). It's due in May for $229.

- The Plastic Logic QUE is a bigger 10.5" reader targeted to business professionals. You can download common formats over wireless, or convert and sync office documents on the desktop. Two versions are due in April: QUE WiFi with 4 GB for $649 and QUE 3G (& WiFi) with 8 GB for $799.

- The Samsung E6 6" and E101 10" E-book readers feature an electromagnetic resonance (EMR) stylus pen to handwrite and annotate directly on the display, without triggering changes by accidentally brushing the screen. The two sizes are due early this year for $399 and $699 respectively.

- The Spring Design Alex E-reader (shown here) is based on the Google Android platform and features dual screens -- a 6" E-ink display for printed pages and text, plus a 3.5" color touchscreen below for general use, including full Web browsing and video playback, plus downloaded Android apps. It's due in February for $359.

- The Skiff Reader has an 11.5" display using a different technology -- LG's rugged and flexible metal-foil e-paper. It uses the new Skiff Service that specializes in newspaper and magazine content, but also includes also books and blogs -- since a key backer is Hearst Corporation. It will be available for purchase later this year from Sprint.

Finally, instead of dual-screen devices, we can anticipate the best of both worlds with a new dual-mode display technology from Pixel Qi. The single display switches between grayscale reflective for E-Reader uses, and color LCD with backlight for color graphics and fast video playback. The company has developed a first 10.1" screen, designed for use in mini-laptops, multitouch tablets, and E-book readers.

See my Media Players Gallery for more on E-Book Readers.

Find the Amazon Kindle DX on Amazon.com

January 22, 2010

Tunebug Vibe - SurfaceSound Portable Speakers

Do you want to be able to share the music from your iPod or phone, but don't want to have to lug around external speakers (see previous post)?

Then check out the Tunebug Vibe "SurfaceSound" speakers for around $69. Instead of using a larger speaker to make bigger sound, the Vibe is a small pod (2 1/2 x 1 inch) with a tiny speaker on the bottom that plug it in with the standard audio cable.

How does it work? Just place the Vibe on a desk or table, and stand back as the sound reverberates out and turns the surface into a flat panel speaker.

The Vibe works best with hollow surfaces. For example, it comes with a small cardboard box in the package that boosts the sound nicely, and then can store the Vibe away in a foam nest.

But it's also fun to experiment -- We got interesting results with hollow walls and single-pane glass windows, and the thin wooden panels in interior doors worked especially well. (Tightly constructed walls and multi-pane glass were much less interesting.) Even better, try it held to the bottom of a plastic cup for nice directional sound, and place it on a large trash can for a real boost.

The Vibe is constructed solidly with a brushed aluminum housing, with an illuminated power button in the center. It's small enough to fit in a pocket, but it's also dense at 5 1/3 ounces -- more like a rock than a plastic plaything so it sits solidly on the surface. Just be more delicate with the speaker assembly on the bottom.

It has a built-in LiPoly battery, good for around five hours of play time. The product includes a USB-to-audio adapter to recharge it through the same audio jack.

The Tunebug Vibe is an interesting and fun product that works well to share music from a personal player. The quality of the music, of course, depends on the kind of surface that's responding to the sound waves -- A hollow box will sound different from one with padding, for example. So think of it as not only boosting the sound, but adding an environmental air as well.

See also the Tunebug Shake speaker to attach to bike, ski and skateboard helmets for a different kind of surround sound ($119).

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers.

Find the Tunebug Vibe on Amazon.com

January 24, 2010

Phubby - The Wrist Cubby

According to the Federal Reserve, small businesses have created 64 percent of America's new jobs in the past 15 years and employ about half of the nation's private-sector work force.

But it's the ingenuity and persistence of these individuals that's really fun to see in action. For example, South Mill Design, a small company based near Princeton, N.J., has developed a wrist pouch called Phubby -- the phone cubby.

What's fun about the Phubby Sport product is seeing the thought and effort put into working the design to address the needs of today's users, especially using devices like the iPhone with larger touch screens -- but also for iPods and other portable devices.

Yes, today's phones and smartphones are typically small and thin, so they can fit reasonably on your wrist. But you don't want a wrist wrap to be bulky or in the way, so the Phubby is only 4 1/2 inches long, and comes in three wrist sizes (cleverly measured compared to wrapping a dollar bill around your wrist).

And for active use, like jogging or even surfing, you don't want a heavy material, so the Phubby is made from a thin Lycra / Spandex mesh fabric that breathes and can handle getting wet..

Plus, you may have other things to carry like keys, money, or credit cards, so the Phubby has two pockets, so you can carry your phone on the inside of your wrist and other stuff on the outside. Other uses for the second pocket include photographers carrying spare memory cards for their cameras.

But how can you answer the phone if it's in a wrist pouch? First, set it on vibrate, since you will have no trouble sensing it against your wrist. Then, the mesh fabric used for the Phubby actually allows you to check the call even while the phone is still tucked away -- you can see who's calling through the material, and even operate the touchscreen. Then answer the call on a Bluetooth headset, or pull out the phone. (The mesh is not transparent, however, so you can't really read entire screens though it, though you can see enough to answer calls.)

So can the phone be tucked away securely on your wrist, yet also still be easy to remove quickly? Yes, both pockets have flaps to help secure the contents, plus the phone pocket has a Velcro clasp. Then to remove the phone quickly, the Phubby label cleverly doubles as a pull-tab, so you can pop the Velcro and peel down the side to access the phone.

The Phubby is a clever design, especially as active wear, but also useful for people like hospital patients who want to keep a phone and other small items easily accessible. It's available for $12.95 in a variety of colors and patterns. There's also a Hip Cubby design for $34.95.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more on these and related products.

    Find the Phubby phone cubby on Amazon.com

January 25, 2010

Quirky - Crowd-Sourced Product Development

The Internet has allowed isolated individuals to expand from their local perspective and sell products all over the world. If you have stuff to sell, then you can use eBay as your online marketplace, with some 88 million active users. Or if you're a crafter type, you can use Etsy to sell handmade goods (see previous post). And small entrepreneurs can build a business through persistent development of clever product concepts (see previous post).

But what if you're more the creative idea type, with concepts for possibly interesting products, but without the support system required to develop, produce, and market them?

That's the idea behind Quirky, the social network site for product concepts. You bring the idea, the crowd-sourced community rates it and helps develop it, and then Quirky can bring it to market -- paying you a royalty stream from the sales.

Admittedly, these are not fancy creations -- they must be able to be sold at retail for under $150, and cannot contain complex electronics. Most Quirky products are relatively simple but clever and useful accessories for home and personal electronics.

For example, the DigiDudes is a portable camera tripod with retractable legs that collapses and then screws into a bell-like holder (decorated as funky dude), with a keychain to hang on your bag or belt ($24).

And the Split Stick is double-sided USB drive so you can store personal and public data separately on the same device ($24).

You begin the process by submitting your idea, typically with some sketches, and pay a $99 fee. At worst, even if the idea does not get into production, you will receive feedback from the community on your idea, along with some market research support.

The real power here, however, here comes from incentivizing everyone involved (much like the successful MIT Red Balloon team for the DARPA Network Challenge). All the people involved in the development of the product are allocated percentages of the royalty stream, based on their contributions through the key elements of the process: tagline, logo design, product naming, industrial design, and product research.

The packaging for each product then includes a credit to the inventor, with photo, and a fold-out panel that lists the many contributors.

Quirky goes through the process of choosing a new product to develop each week. The site currently lists 6 products available for sale, 18 products in production and available for pre-sale, plus 5 products in the development pipeline.

More on Royalties and Open Development ...

Continue reading "Quirky - Crowd-Sourced Product Development" »

January 26, 2010

Wireless Trends 2009 - Smartphones and Apps

The New Jersey Technology Council (NJTC) is hosting a meeting this Wednesday on Innovations in Wireless Applications. Topics will include trends in wireless data services and particularly the future of 4G, including LTE.

I'll be speaking from the consumer electronics side, particularly trends in smartphones and apps.

See my presentation notes -- Wireless Trends 2009 - Smartphones and Apps. These cover trends in smartphones and apps, as we move from location-based to augmented reality services. They also cover related non-smartphone portable wireless devices, and include bonus sections on some fun trends in new technologies for accessories and new business ideas.

The NJTC meeting starts at 4 PM with a tour of Verizon's Consumer Sales and Service Center.

Innovations in Wireless Applications

New Jersey Technology Council
Wed., Jan. 27, 2010, 4 - 6 pm
Verizon Consumer Sales and Service Center
600 Horizon Drive, Robbinsville, NJ 08691

The panel includes:

- Susan Brazer, Managing Partner, Lionshare Strategies (Moderator)
- Douglas Dixon, Manifest Technology
- Dr. Shoshana Loeb, Chief Scientist/Exec. Director, Telcordia
- Joel Vaughn, Regional Data Manager – Enterprise, Verizon Wireless

For more information, contact Paul Frank, NJTC Vice President of Membership, at pfrank@njtc.org or (856) 787-9700 x222.

January 29, 2010

The Apple iPad as a Quick-start Netbook

Well, the news is out -- the Apple iPad tablet has been revealed. There's a lot of instant reaction, but you'll have to wait some 3 months to actually buy the Wi-Fi version, and another month after that for the Wi-Fi + 3G version with AT&T cellular Internet data service.

As usual, the keynote presentation by Steve Jobs was masterly, and the introductory video carries on the theme of "Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price." Yeesh!

It's A Big iPod touch

The iPad a beautiful device that seems to be quite smooth and responsive, with a 9.7 inch 1024 x 768 multi-touch display (vs. 3.5 inch 480 x 320 for the iPhone), though there is a rather wide bezel around the display.

The size is a bit smaller than a pad of paper, at 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 x 1/2 inches, and 1 1/2 pounds. That's about the thickness of the iPhone, although a bit thicker then the iPod touch (at 1/3 inch).

The iPad is based on the iPhone software platform, and not a notebook platform like Mac OS. Jobs described it as "much more intimate than a laptop," so, for example, you still swipe the screen to unlock it.

And the iPad runs all the 140,000-some existing iPhone apps, in a small window at the center of the screen or pixel-doubled to fill the display. Apple also says you can sync your existing iPhone apps to the iPad, so you don’t have to buy them again.

It Runs Full-Screen Apps

Meanwhile, Apple has released developer tools to rework applications for the larger screen, and the iPad comes with 12 updated and new Apple apps that take advantage of the larger surface to view and interact with the multi-touch display. For example, the apps now use drop-down menus and pop-up context menus that don't really work on smaller displays. The resulting apps look more like laptop applications, from iPod music and Video browser / players, to Mail and Calendar and Contacts, to iTunes and App Stores -- plus the new iBookstore.

And Apple has developed versions of its iWork suite for the iPad - the Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet, and Keynote presentations, each for $9.99.

For text input, the iPad displays an almost-full-screen keyboard, although you'll need to work on finding a comfortable position to type comfortably with both hands, for example while resting the tablet in your lap.

The iPad line starts with a 16 GB model with Wi-Fi for $500. Add another $100 to double the memory, to 32 GB for $600, and then 64 GB for $700. The W-Fi + 3G models are then another $130 more, 16 GB for $630, 32 GB for $730, and the top of the line 64 GB with 3G for $830. AT&T 3G service will be $14.99 a month for 250 MB, or unlimited for $29.99 -- with no contract required.

It's Not a Netbook

Following the bigger iPod touch theme, the iPad is missing the same features that were stripped out of the iPhone to differentiate the touch, including the phone, camera, and GPS (except there's assisted GPS with the 3G model).

So the real question for the iPad is whether it's the right device to compete with all those $200 netbooks that flew off the shelves over the holidays (even stacked as impulse items in our local grocery stores).

Jobs was clear about his position -- "Netbooks aren’t better at anything -- They’re just like cheap laptops." And yes, what netbooks are better at is being cheap and highly portable.

But netbooks also give you a lot of options that the iPad does not, including a removable battery for long trips, and a memory card slot and USB connector to back up and exchange your work with others. And they have video connectors to display directly from your device, though VGA and even HDMI for HD video. With the iPad, these will require separate adapters for the Apple dock connector.

The iPad also appears to not have any new support for multitasking, which is interesting as Apple runs TV commercials promoting the iPhone's ability to run other apps as you talk on the phone. But you apparently still can't have apps running in the background checking for new information as you work or move around, and then notify you when needed. Yes, netbooks running Windows are slower than full-featured laptops as you switch between programs and run computer-intensive processing in the background, but at least you do have the option to work this way.

So the iPad is perhaps more comparable to the "quick-start" modes in some netbooks with products like Phoenix HyperSpace that lets you "use your PC like a smartphone." These are typically based on a slimmed down Linux OS that starts up instantly into a reduced environment for performing a wide range of common operations including playing media, editing documents, checking email, Web browsing (and playing videos), and even Internet phone.

When you limit the capabilities like this, netbooks can run quite well. Then you can switch to full Windows as needed for specific tasks, and accept the limitations of the underpowered platform if you choose to multi-task between more intensive processing.

It's A Merchandizing Channel

So it seems that the iPad is not a "netbook killer," at least for those who need the ability for a netbook to step up to heavier work. But the iPad certainly should be interesting to those who were looking at netbooks for only doing more basic viewing, editing, and browsing.

Plus, the familiarity of the iPhone interface and depth of the Apple's merchandising (iTunes, App, and now iBook store) are much more compelling than a generic netbook with a fast-start interface.

Perhaps the real bottom line of the iPod presentation was that Apple has seen over 12 billion downloads from its now three stores, and has assembled files of 125 million accounts with credit cards that can purchase from the stores. That's an amazingly powerful channel, and strong lock-in to its growing family of platforms.

See my Apple iPod / iPhone Gallery for details on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod products and product line history.

Find the Apple iPad on Amazon.com

January 31, 2010

Verizon FiOS Mobile App - FiOS TV Remote DVR

Yes, you now can schedule recordings on your home DVR -- on your mobile phone. But why would you want to do that? Well, with the Verizon FiOS TV Remote DVR services you can set up show to record even when you're away from home, and review and cancel recordings. And you can browse TV listings and video on demand, and set parental controls.

And Verizon offers three different ways to set up your DVR remotely. You can log in over the Internet at the main FiOS TV Central site, or from any mobile device with an Internet browser at the Mobile Web version of the site.

Or, you can download the Verizon FiOS Mobile application, customized to your device (currently available for some Android, Blackberry, and BREW / Feature phones).

What's interesting about the Verizon FiOS Mobile app for Android, however, is that today's touch-screen smartphones like the Verizon / Motorola Droid have matured enough that they actually provide a better interface for interacting with a DVR than the Internet or a remote control.

You can set up your phone by registering the phone number on your TV (Settings > FiOS TV Remote DVR), and then confirm by entering an authorization code on the phone.

The app then launches quickly, with a several-second delay to download your current program guide and recording schedule -- faster than accessing over the Internet.

Then browsing listings is very fast, as you can use your finger tip to flick through channels and times, or browse into categories -- again quicker than pressing on the remote control.

Even better, the FiOS Mobile app has built-in search, so it's again fast to find matching show titles or actor's names. As you browse, the search is context-sensitive, to only display matches for the actor or show or category (TV, pay per view, on demand) in which you are browsing.

(Of course, you should be aware that you're having information about your recordings passed through Verizon, and opening up an outside connection into your home through the DVR. And it's possible to have fun accessing and controlling someone else's DVR if you have access to their device to set it up -- but this can be stopped by re-entering a different phone number on the DVR.)

The Verizon FiOS Mobile app is a free download from the Android Market -- in the Verizon / VCAST Apps section. It's quite convenient to use, and makes browsing the selections fun as the menus automatically display not only all occurrences of any episode of a particular show, but also list the actors associated with a show, or shows associated with a particular actor, so you can quickly dig in to make more recordings of your favorites.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

See my Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on apps and app stores.

Find the Verizon Droid from Motorola on Amazon.com

Manifest Tech Site

About January 2010

Entries posted to Manifest Tech Blog in January 2010, listed from oldest to newest.

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