Archive

Archive for January, 2010

Hitler responds to the iPad

January 31st, 2010 No comments

Never thought I’d say this, but, Hitler got it right this time. The iPad is somewhat a disappointment. No camera. No multitasking. No Flash. No Thanks.

Categories: Electronics, Funny, iPad Tags:

The Jesus Tablet Cometh

January 27th, 2010 No comments

unicornSo there seems to be some minor event happening today out in California where Apple is planning to talk about a small upgrade to their product line.  We here at GadgetMeter wouldn’t know anything about this because such minor product announcements are beneath us.  When Apple releases something worthy of mention, we will deign to notice.  Until then, we sit contemplating weighty thoughts on life, the universe, and how to make a perfect Korean burrito.  (Add us to your damn invite list, Apple!!!!  You hear me?!?!?!)

In all seriousness, the hype over the upcoming tablet announcement (thank you Mr. Terry “Loose Lips Sink Future Apple Relationships” McGraw) is reaching levels that no product could possibly satisfy.  Unless this thing raises the dead and cures cancer, it will be deemed a failure.  I mean, c’mon – it’s just a gadget.  And it will stay a gadget until people start doing stuff with it.  The iPhone was just a clever gadget until people started developing apps for it.  Ever hear of AppleTV?  No?  It too was a clever gadget but no one ever did anything for it (and the few times people tried, Apple squashed them like a bug) so it’s disappeared.

Most likely, the tablet will be a very interesting take on the whole space.  Companies have been trying to get critical mass in the tablet space for a while but the devices have all suffered from two major flaws – heft and Microsoft.

Have you seen the typical tablet?  Until CES this year, they were all massive, weighing in excess of 3lbs.  Try carrying a 3lb weight like a microphone for 10-15 minutes.  It gets darn uncomfortable.  Now try that with a 5lb weight.  Even harder.  Get the picture?  No one wants to lug something like that around.  Sure, you can sit down at a local cafe or prop it up on a flat surface, but the point of it is to be able to walk around, interact with it, then put it away without thinking about it.  If the heft makes you hesitate to pull it out, the tablet has failed.  The great thing about the iPhone is that it made itself seamless in your life.  Need to look something up?  Whip out the iPhone.  My fiancee and I have settled arguments at dinner by grabbing my iPhone to Google something.  Now think about doing that with a PC.  Not even remotely possible.

The other major issue with tablets to date is Microsoft.  Let’s face it – hardware manufacturers are not very good at software (“cough cough” Dell especially sucks “cough cough”).  In fact, Apple is probably the only hardware manufacturer that does good software.  Because hardware makers suck at software, they rely on Microsoft Windows to provide functionality and as we all know, Windows is not optimized for anything.  It has huge bloat, the interface was never designed for mobile use, and its tablet functions were always an afterthought.  Even Windows 7, which has tablet functionality baked in, is an example of this bloat.  Why do I need a full Windows 7 install for a tablet?  It only adds disk, memory, and processing requirements onto a device that should be light and fast.  This carries down to the mobile space, where Windows Mobile 6.x is the latest example of bloated interface requirements being implemented on a device that has no desire to be a PC.  Unless Microsoft drops this “one universe one way” approach to their segments, they will rapidly become irrelevant.

What Apple excels at is minimalistic design of both hardware and software.  You can admire their hardware aesthetic, but their software minimalism is just as important to their success.  The iPhone OS does very specific things and it does them very well.  Furthermore, it provides a framework that allows developers to do 80%-90% of what they want to do, which for most people is JUST FINE.  If Apple doesn’t think something is absolutely needed, they don’t include it.  You don’t see a Mac interface in all its complexity squashed into the iPhone – they took the important stuff and put it in, but they weren’t wedded to absolute reproduction across their product lines.  They also aren’t afraid to break backwards compatibility (as they showed when they shifted to Intel chips).  I’m guessing that Apple is going to be very unconcerned about iPhone OS4 being a slow-as-molasses experience on an iPhone or iPhone 3G.  The future of Apple relies on regular hardware replacement.  They won’t care that you can’t run Quake 4 on your original iPhone if it forces you to buy iPhone v5 or v6.

I think the tablet will be similar.  Apple will provide an expanded framework based on iPhone OS.  It will do some things similar to the iPhone, it will do other things differently.  But because Apple’s already invested in a method by which developers can reach end users in an efficient, relatively cheap way, they already have a bunch of folks who will build new ways to interact and use the tech that Apple has given them.  I’m looking forward to this event not because of what Apple will release, but because I’m eager to see the creative potential of their new product.  It’s no accident that their invite uses a creativity theme.

Categories: Electronics Tags:

GymFu Fitness Apps

January 26th, 2010 1 comment

January is the top month for gym memberships enrollment.  Everybody resolves to get into better shape.  And come February, the peak volume of January declines to normal levels as everyone quits.  I know that my gym is filled with noobs right now – we’ll see how long that lasts.

For those of you who don’t want to pay for a gym membership, body weight exercises provide effective exercise with minimal equipment and space requirements.  And they’re not a wuss-out form of exercise, either – studies have shown that bodyweight exercises will build mass, reduce fat, and get you in shape just as efficiently as weight equipment, if you do it right.  In order to help you do it right, a company called BrainBakery has created a suite of iPhone applications and a supporting web site under the moniker GymFu.

The GymFu line consists of four iPhone applications – CrunchFu, SquatFu, PushupFu, and PullupFu.  They run $0.99 each.  There is also a free version of SquatFu called SquatFu Lite that limits you to 30 reps but gives you a chance to try out the product line.  I downloaded three of these apps – I did not buy PullupFu because I don’t have a pullup bar.  The other three exercises only require some floor space to test out.

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The basic concept behind all the apps are the same.  Each application trains you to reach a target goal for the given exercise.  For pushups, the target is 100 reps; for squats and crunches the target is 200 reps; and for pullups the target is 50 reps.  There are two modes.  The training mode is used to progress towards the target reps for the exercise, while battle mode allows you to compete against other GymFu members.  In order to use battle mode, you need to create a GymFu.com account (which I didn’t do).  If you create an account, you can post your progress to GymFu.com and see how you compare against other users of the app.

GymFu’s apps, however, don’t just record your progress – they make sure you’re doing each exercise correctly by using the iPhone/iTouch’s accelerometer to figure out if your rep was a good rep.  They only count the good ones, so the apps help keep you honest and make sure you’re doing a full range of motion.

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To start off, each application gives you a short tutorial on what proper form looks like for the exercise in question.  It also gives instructions on how to mount the iPhone/iTouch for best sensitivity.  The app then has you go through a leveling section, where it tries to figure out at what level to put you into.  There are ten stages to the training but you can skip several of them depending on how many reps you can do when you first start out.

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Each training session consists of five rounds.  The first four rounds have set target reps, depending on where in the progression you are currently at.  The fifth round is an “as many as possible” round, used to help determine whether to move you on to the next level or drop you down some.  Each training stage consists of three “days”; once you pass the 10th stage, you reach a finale where you perform the target number of max reps in one go.

The apps count your reps for each round.  They will also tell you if the rep was a half-assed one or if the rep was done incorrectly.  In use, I found this part to be a little annoying – it’s highly dependent on proper placement and perfect form.  It’s also important to get a strap that will fit you.  That’s not a problem for arm straps but finding an arm strap that will also fit around your thigh (for the squats) will be a bit of a challenge.

The default voice is a bit mechanical but if you sign up for an account, you can download two additional voices.

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Since I belong to a gym and work out on a regular basis there, I didn’t use these apps as much as I thought I would.  However, for people who want to exercise in their homes and want a way to keep themselves honest and motivated, these apps are as good as anything else.  They’re also probably a better workout than a Wii Fit and a heck of a lot less expensive.

DIY Touch screen gloves

January 19th, 2010 No comments

With everything being about touch screens lately it only makes sense that eventually the problem of using gloves would come up. It’s cold outside, you’re wearing gloves, your iPhone rings, and you have to take the gloves off to answer it because otherwise the screen won’t register the change in capacitance between the screen and your finger in order to execute the command you are trying to give it.
See, that’s how touch screens work. The human body is a conductor of electric current, and when you touch the screen of a capacitive touch screen device it detects the distortion of the electrostatic field (apologies to those of you who know this already, but I’ve found myself explaining it to several of my friends recently who have iPhones but know nothing about how they work).
I’ve heard there are special gloves on the market that you can use to solve this problem. But why purchase a whole new set of gloves (expensive ones probably) when yours are just dandy?
There is a solution. A really really CHEAP solution, that takes just the tiniest bit of DIY spirit.
There is a whole how-to article on Instructables.com, so I won’t go through the steps here. But the gist of it is that you sew a little conductive thread (yes, there is such a thing) into the tips of the fingers of your gloves. It completes a circuit with your flesh and blood finger, and viola! You can now use your touch screens without taking off your gloves.

Now go and check out all the other fun stuff you can do with conductive threads, you crafty DIY nerds you!

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Also, if you don’t want to order a whole spool of thread, you can order just a few feet of it from here

Via Coolest Gadgets

Robotics and stuff

January 18th, 2010 No comments

With my return to GadgetMETER (after a several week winter vacation from blogging) I thought I’d start my blog year off with some super high-tech future gadgetry. The International Robot Exhibition was held back in November. Among the exhibits was the NAO next generation humanoid robot.

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Created by Alderbaran Robotics, this 23-inch tall robot has a full range of motion that allows it to walk, pick up small objects and process audio and visual data to navigate it’s way around. Also, it’s cute. Not incredibly useful, yet, but really really cute.
And it’s not even Japanese, it’s French. Color me surprised.
Here’s a little video of it in action:

Before you start thinking “oh, how underwhelming“, stop and think about how far we’ve come. It’s only the beginning (or beginning of the middle, maybe).

Via dvice.com

Next, and this one I think is even cooler, also exhibited at the International Robot Exhibition, is the Shadow Dextrous Hand and CyberGlove, by the Shadow Robot Company.
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Anything with “cyberglove” in the title is going to have serious cool potential in my book. The robotic hand can be operated remotely by a human wearing the sensor glove to perform actions as delicate as cradling an egg, changing a lightbulb or writing with a pen.
Maybe it doesn’t have a lot of consumer applications, but how cool would it be to have “Remote robotics operator” as your job title?
Via dvice.com

Yep, Apple Apps bring in the bucks

January 14th, 2010 No comments

From GigaOM comes this great graphic about the App Store economy.

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When you work it out, however, if there are 28K developers making $175M, that works out to just $6.2K per developer.  Not bad, but don’t quit your day job.

Categories: iPhone Tags:

CES 2010 – Some Thoughts

January 13th, 2010 No comments

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Being a gadget blog, it’s kind of weird not being at the Consumer Electronics Show.  Neither Quang nor I could make the show this year due schedule conflicts.  At the same time, being away from CES gives me a sense of perspective on the show that being submerged in the whirl wouldn’t necessarily provide.  So from 3000 miles away, here’s my take on CES 2010.

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HP Slate (image courtesy Engadget)

HP Slate (image courtesy Engadget)

Everyone showed off tablets.  Windows 7’s built-in tablet functionality makes this viable from an implementation perspective, since that feature is built-in already.  But because vendors are relying on Microsoft to provide a feature set, the tablets are boring.  There’s no product differentiation – sure some are smaller or bigger, fatter or thinner, but from the pictures I’ve seen and the product snapshots I’ve read, there’s nothing really revolutionary about any of them.  In my mind, that further magnifies Microsoft’s increasing irrelevance in the growth of mobile platforms.  The Microsoft keynote was, from all reports I’ve read, boring.  Even with Ballmer’s hyperantics, they really didn’t have much to show.  Right now, the only products they’ve got that’s generating any kind of buzz are Bing and XBox360.  Project Natal is interesting, but it’s a platform that presumes something many XBox360 owners might not necessarily have – room to move. I’d guess that a large number of gamers play in their rooms, and unless you’re wealthy the typical room doesn’t have the space to use Natal easily.  The old handheld controls may be archaic but they also don’t require a ton of space to flail around in.  Show me someone using Natal in a 10’x10′ bedroom with a full size bed, a dresser, bookshelf, desk, and piles of clothes on the floor and I’ll believe in its viability.  Otherwise, I’m guessing it will be destined for a small portion of the population.

Ebook Reader, who’s got an ebook reader?

Skiff Reader (image courtesy Crave Blog)

Skiff Reader (image courtesy Crave Blog)

At CES 2010, it seemed everyone had an ebook reader.  They were practically giving them away with entry.  Many of the online vids I’ve seen make me less than enthused.  I guess I am just disappointed by their lack of speed.  It shouldn’t be a case where I press a ‘next page’ key and have to wait for the screen to refresh.  I know e-ink is slow due to the technology and its current state, but as those e-ink screens get bigger and bigger, the refresh lag gets more and more disturbing.  The few 8.5″x11″ ebook readers I’ve seen really magnify the response rate issues, and will be one of the key issues preventing fast adoption.  That and publishers’ refusal to change their paradigms.  Did I mention that I saved the publishing industry?

3D TV

Intel 3D w/o Glasses (image via Engadget)

Intel 3D w/o Glasses (image via Engadget)

Too soon.  Too expensive.  Wait til CES 2012.  Plus would you really want to wear those glasses all the time?  And keep spares around for guests?  Annoying.

Mobile Tech

Levnovo LePhone (image via Engadget)

Levnovo LePhone (image via Engadget)

Lots of new smartphones.  Lots of new Android-based mobile tech.  There’s going to be an interesting war between carriers and device manufacturers.  I don’t know that the carriers will ever be relegated to dumb pipe status, unless Google is successful in licensing a swath of spectrum and developing it itself.  But carriers will definitely be shifting to more of a partnership model than a “we tell you what to make” model.  Verizon will be the carrier to watch – if they start shifting to a more device-friendly stance, then you’ll know the power balance has equalized.  For all their talk about network access and being able to hook any device onto their airspace, I’ve seen remarkably few devices that actually do this.

Furthermore, as smartphones become more powerful and capable, many single-use devices (navigation, pictureframe, ebook readers, etc) are going to be obsoleted.  I’m just not willing to pay for three or more different devices that are best in class when I can buy one device that does on OK job at all the things I need it to.  Especially as cellphone-based cameras become more powerful and capable, that market is going to fragment into a low end and high end, with little in between.  ‘Good enough’ is becoming the deathnell of many consumer electronics companies that can’t adjust to the times.

iPhone and the unicorn known as the iSlate/iTablet/iPadd/iTouch Supersized

Mythical iSlate (image via TG Daily)

Mythical iSlate (image via TG Daily)

Let’s face it – CES 2010 really showed the dominance of the iPhone as a platform (if it wasn’t apparent before).  There was basically an expo-within-the-expo with iLounge’s iPhone Pavilion.  But the items identified as Best Of 2010 didn’t really impress me all that much.  The risk with having such an iPhone-dependent area is that the products being displayed are towards the tail end of Apple’s development cycle.  So far, the iPhone timeline tends to be that June/July announces the new hardware version of the iPhone/iPod Touch, followed in the late January timeframe for the latest update to the iPhone/iTouch OS (after CES) followed by Mac-based updates a few months later.  So the products being shown at CES are for a form factor/OS that will soon be previous generation once the Apple announcement cycle starts.  It’s gotta be painful for the manufacturers, since they’re constantly behind the development curve (especially given Apple’s notorious secrecy levels concerning upcoming products and features).

Overall

CES 2010 seemed more upbeat than CES 2009.  All in all, however, it seemed that this CES as good a one to miss as any.  Nothing really revolutionary seems to have been announced, and the elephant in the room was definitely Apple’s pending Jan. 27th announcement of its Jesus tablet (if that’s indeed what they are going to do).  Apple’s got a LOT of pressure to deliver something truly revolutionary, which is in a way a really sad testament to the state of consumer electronics.  So many companies out there vying for a piece of the consumer dollar yet only one company is consistently able to deliver something that people seem to want.  Why do Microsoft, Dell, HP, and the like even have R&D budgets?  They should just slavishly copy Apple.  Oh wait, they already do.  Even Google, which is trying to do something revolutionary with Android and Chrome OS, is going to get bogged down by their total lack of understanding of the consumer space.  Looks like it’s going to be an Apple world….

Categories: CES, Editorial Tags: