Monday, March 25, 2013

Samsung's Galaxy S4

I am still unsure what Samsung's real message was given the fact that it put more emphasis on theatrics than product specs and features. In fact, a sign outside the Radio City Music Hall, where the event was held, called this launch "Episode 1." In the end, the Broadway-style show took away from the product's true value and place in the market. Even worse, the company drew criticism for its sexist portrayal of women. If the goal was to stun and stagger us, then in that sense, Samsung did succeed.

Had Samsung done its homework, it would have known that stagecraft and product launches rarely mix. One of the more interesting failures was an early '90s Radio Shack product launch that ended with an NYPD officer riding his Harley onto the stage to illustrate how the mobile device could be used in a "mobile setting." It left the audience members shaking their heads and much of the event's media coverage was adverse.
From time to time, a Sony launch at a Comdex or CES event would bring out all of the stops. The launch would not only introduce new products but also famous actors who were about to star in a Sony-backed movie. One in particular that stands out in my mind is when then-CEO Nobuyuki Idei introduced Spiderman stars Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. At the time, most of the audience hadn't heard of them and their appearance fell flat.
I witnessed another theatrical product launch disaster up close and personal in the mid-90s in Boston. Laplink had wanted Get Smart star Don Adams to endorse the product, however his appearance fee was $100,000—a bit too much for this small company to spend. Instead it opted for old-time comedian "Professor" Irwin Corey, known for his salty language.
Before the event, I was invited to a lunch with Corey and was asked to help emphasize the importance of keeping his jokes clean and relevant. Of course, he had a mind of his own and when he got up on stage, his humor was all over the place. By the end, he had offended many of the media reporters who had attended to hear about the product, not to be upset. To be honest, I came away remembering Corey but not much about the Laplink product itself.
The goal of a tech event should be to showcase products, not talent, which distracts from the intended message. The one time flaunting talent did work was when Sony introduced director George Lucas and took the opportunity to explain how he would shoot all of his future movies in digital format, pushing aside the use of film in the future. In context, someone like Lucas worked perfectly.
It is very important to remember that members of the tech media attend events to cover the product, its virtues, and how it will affect their readers; they are not there to be entertained—or worse, insulted. They have a job to do, and that is not the job of theater critic.
For this reason, Apple's product launches are aimed specifically at a media-rich audience, not to a mainstream audience that needs to be entertained. Apple depends on the press and social media voices to get its message out, which has proven quite effective. Samsung's real mistake here was thinking it needed to cater to a global audience in order to get the product noticed, which inspired its glitzy Galaxy S4 smartphone launch. Now, when people think of the new smartphone, they also think of this embarrassing product launch.
Sure Apple does have a bit of entertainment at some of its launches, but it is always in context of the product launch itself. Tony Bennett, Bono, John Mayer, and the Foo Fighters have all played at the end of events, but those performances were always following music–related announcements. None of the performers has been part of a skit or even asked to endorse the product being launched. Apple's focus is always rightly on the technical details of the product and how it can impact people's lives.
So if Samsung is smart, this "Episode 1" will be the final episode. A truly great product should stand on its own. The razzle-dazzle seems an attempt to shroud the lack of real innovation in the hardware, even if the software shown is interesting. (After all, how can they see with sequins in their eyes?) My advice to companies: Keep it simple and lay out the value proposition to a targeted audience. Let the product sing for itself.

Monday, March 18, 2013

BlackBerry CEO calls Apple's iPhone user interface outdated

The CEO of BlackBerry has criticized Apple for failing to overhaul the user interface of the iPhone to keep up with competing smartphone platforms.
Since the iPhone launched in 2007, it's had largely the same interface with a grid of icons making users' applications accessible. While that was adequate with the first-generation iPhone, BlackBerry's Thorsten Heins believes it's now antiquated, he said in an interview with Australian Financial Review (viaAllThingsD).

"History repeats itself again, I guess," the BlackBerry CEO said. "The rate of innovation is so high in our industry that if you don't innovate at that speed you can be replaced pretty quickly. The user interface on the iPhone, with all due respect for what this invention was all about, is now five years old."

Heins admitted that he must "respect" the iPhone, a device that helped make BlackBerry largely irrelevant in the smartphone market after holding a dominant position for years. His company hopes to mount a comeback off of its new BlackBerry 10 interface and new handsets.

"The point is that you can never stand still," he said. "It is true for us as well. Launching BB10 just put us on the starting grid of the wider mobile computing grand prix, and now we need to win it."

Apple's future direction with iOS and its user interface are now a point of interest for the company, as it parted ways with its previous iOS software chief, Scott Forstall, late last year. That role, along with control of the design of OS X, has been handed to Jonathan Ive, who has overseen development of the company's iconic hardware for years.

Friday, March 15, 2013

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Samsung unveils the Galaxy S IV

Samsung unveils the Galaxy S IV

@CNNMoney March 14, 2013: 7:46 PM ET

Samsung's Galaxy S IV is here. As expected, it's built to vie for the position of best smartphone in 2013.

How it will compare with Apple's (AAPLFortune 500) next iPhone or Google's(GOOGFortune 500) future Nexus flagship phone remains to be seen. But after a few minutes playing around with the the Galaxy S IV, it's easy to see how this smartphone could end up in the same conversation.
Here's everything you need to know.
The Guts: The Galaxy S IV sports a five-inch screen with incredibly high resolution. The 1920x1080 pixel display is as good as you're going to find on any smartphone right now (HTC, LG, and Sony (SNE) all have similar displays as well).
But it doesn't feel overly big. The Galaxy S IV's bezel occupies so little space, the smartphone isn't much bigger than its predecessor, the 4.8-inch Galaxy S III.
The quality and design of the Galaxy S IV is definitely a step above its plasticky predecessor. But it's still not on the same level of a phone like the solidly constructed HTC One. One benefit of the Galaxy S IV's plastic shell, however, is that it allows for the phone to be lighter. At 130 grams, Samsung's new device is lighter than many smaller Android phones.
Inside, it has a solid two gigabytes of RAM, a 13-megapixel rear camera (along with a two megapixel front-facing camera), a larger 2600 mAh battery (up from 2100 mAh), and your choice of 16, 32, or 64 GB of storage. It also supports micro-SD removable storage.
The big mystery, however, remains the processor. It's the most important part of any smartphone, and Samsung is keeping mum.
The Software: One big plus is that the Galaxy S IV will ship with the latest version of Android, known as Jelly Bean.
But many of the design benefits that come with Google's excellent Jelly Bean operating system will go unnoticed. Samsung continues to slap its custom "Touch Wiz" user interface on top of it, which has the habit of making Samsung smartphones appear toy-like.
Navigating through the user interface, however, was a brisk and responsive.
And Samsung is banking heavily on software tricks to set itself apart from other smartphones. For example, while watching a video, you can set the phone to detect when you look away from the screen, and it will automatically pause the clip. When you look back at the screen, it will start again. That feature worked surprisingly well.
The Galaxy S IV also borrowed a page from Samsung's Note line of tablets, letting users interact with the phone without even touching it. Using the "Airview" feature, you can hover your finger over various on-screen elements in apps such as messaging, mail, or the media aggregator app Flipboard, and it will allow you to quickly view messages or read a story preview without diving into a new screen.
Samsung also introduced gesture controls, which let you wave left and right, up and down, to navigate and scroll through web pages and other text-based documents. But even in the few minutes I spent with the Galaxy S IV, it felt like a gimmick that was more hassle than resource.
And of course, there's the eye-scrolling feature that has been much-buzzed about. But it's not the eye-tracking, finger-free technology that casual futurists had hoped for. Instead, the phone can detect when you've focused your gaze upon the screen, and then it will allow you to tilt the phone up and down to scroll. It definitely works, but how much more efficient this feature (or any of the other additions) makes navigation remains to be seen.
The Camera: Samsung is also putting a lot of focus into its camera. The company snatched the interface from its Galaxy Smart Camera, adding a host of smart shooting modes that add some fun and functionality to the Galaxy S IV.
Like some other devices, such as the Nokia Lumia 920, the Galaxy S IV has buil in the ability to make cinemagraps, those highly-stylized animated gifs the internet has come to love.
There's also a new mode which allows you to create time-lapse photography and track the motion of an object or person as it moves through the frame.
Maybe the most useful new feature is eraser mode, which snaps five photos at once, and if there's a person moving through the shot that isn't supposed to be there, you 86 'em out with a single tap. When you're on vacation in a busy area, this is the type of feature you can appreciate.
Everything else: The Galaxy S IV also has plenty of features that will appeal to many users.
There's a camera-based translator, which will take text from a printed document, and translate it into a digital format that you can file away on your phone. There's a built in pedometer, and if you're dying to use your phone to control your TV, you can also do that too.
The Galaxy S IV will also auto-calibrate its speakers and display to deliver the best audio and picture in any condition or application. For example, it could have the ability to know that you're watching a movie, and will automatically set itself to make dialogue clear. Or it could know that you're reading a book outdoors, and will adjust brightness and sharpness to save your eyes from retinal armageddon.
Even Samsung's accessories are cool. The S View Cover has a built in display which can display essential notifications, like incoming and missed calls, texts, and e-mail. It's the type of feature that could save battery in the long run, saving you from having to switch the screen on and off.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Talkatone - free phone calls and SMS text with Google Voice

With so many people ditching their landline phones in favor of their smartphone, the minutes can rack up fast, costing you a hefty bill at the end of the billing cycle. Talkatone aims to alleviate sticker shock by offering unlimited free calls and texts without taking up any of your minutes. The app worked as promised for phone calls, but the calls weren't exactly crystal clear, and the recipient may not know who is calling based on the caller ID info provided. Text messages are another story.
Once Talkatone is installed, it will ask for access to your contacts. Also, Talkatone uses Google Voice to make the calls, so you have to be logged into your Google Account. (We have to wonder what Google thinks about the app makers using and profiting from its service, but that's for another time and place.) The interface will look familiar to you, with very similar Keypad, Contacts, Recents, and Favorites menus to select. Talkatone does introduce a Settings menu that includes Network Preferences for adjusting your call quality, though you'll have to pay for an upgrade to make certain changes. To make a call, we had to activate Google Voice or invite our contact to Talkatone. Activating Google Voice involved signing into our Google account through the app, and then clicking on the link that Talkatone sent to our e-mail, which we had to do on our computer. We went to our Contacts list and selected someone to call. The call to our recipient showed up as a mysterious number from Escondido, Calif., which is nowhere near our location. Once our caller picked up, we talked as usual, but couldn't help but notice the noise in the background. We then tried to send a text, but the app went through the same process of having us activate Google Voice, which we had already done.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Google shows Glass apps and audio

Google showed off apps, audio and gesture control for Google Glass at the South by South West (SXSW) conference held in Austin this week.
Timothy Jordan, a senior developer advocate at Google, was at the conference in Austin on Monday to demonstrate how the computerized eye glasses work. He used Glass, which is still in development, to send email, take photos, post to Google+ and hear a translation.
Google Glass
Google co-founder and CEO Sergey Brins dons Google Glass.
He also showed howGlass could use a New York Times app, as well as Skitch, a free app that acts as a collaboration tool that enables users to mark up images with arrows, shapes and texts.
Google had previously noted that Glass uses voice control. Jordan demonstrated that Glass also responds to touch and head gestures.
And after showing how Glass can be used to do a Google search for an English-to-Japanese translation of the phrase "thank you," Jordan said he could hear the translation through the Glass audio feature.
"It also said to me how to pronounce "arigato," Jordan told an audience at SXSW. "You didn't hear it because it was audio just for me. You notice I don't have anything in my ear so I can hear all the ambient audio around me but I can also hear Glass."
Jordan also used Glass to access Gmail, replying to an email by using voice dictation. Glass then showed a transcript of his reply and offered him the choice to edit it or send it. The sent email would then arrive, giving the recipient the message as text and an audio version.
Jordan also showed how the Glass interface can be turned on and off by a simple nod of the head.
"With these input options -- voice, touch on the side, and some basic head gestures -- I can control Glass in about any situation," Jordan said. "
He also showed the audience that he could take a photo with Glass, then share it with the Skitch app. Once in Skitch, a notification is sent to his tabletwhere he is able to mark the image with arrows, shapes and text.
Google's Glass project has created some controversy long before it's even officially released. On Monday, a Seattle cafe announced that anyone wearing Glass will be banned from the establishment.
"If you're one of the few who are planning on going out and spending your savings on Google Glasses -- what will for sure be a new fad for the fanny-pack wearing, never removing your bluetooth headset-wearing crowd -- plan on removing them before you enter The 5 Point," the cafe wrote in a blog post. "The 5 Point is officially a No Google Glass zone."
A few weeks ago, Google put out a call for people to apply to be part of a group of a few thousand who will initially test Glass. Called "explorers," the testers were asked to tell Google what they would do with Glass if they had a pair to use.
If accepted as tester , explorers will be required to shell out $1,500 for their test pair, and will have to pay to attend a special "pick-up experience" in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Braven, One of Many

Braven Wireless Bluetooth Speaker/Power Bank - White (BZ650SBA)

The Braven Wireless Bluetooth Speaker/Power Bank 650 is the perfect portable wireless audio solution. Its small size and powerful stereo output means you can take room-filling audio with you anywhere. As an added benefit, it acts as a mobile backup battery for your phone or mp3 player, and as a noise-cancelling speakerphone to make hands-free calls. Enhance your mobile life with the Braven 650.
  • Speaker Features: 360-Degree Sound
  • No. of Speakers Included: 1
  • Wired Connectivity: 3.5mm Jack, Wireless
  • Includes: Power Cord, Owner's Manual, Audio Cable, AC Power Adapter, USB Cable, Wireless Transmitter
  • Not Included: MP4 Player, iPod, MP3 Player, iPad, iPhone

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

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