July 25, 2010
NEW YORK (AP) -- For decades, Motorola Inc.'s products told the story of the march of electronics into the hands of consumers: car radios in the 1930s, TVs in the 1940s and cell phones starting the 1980s.
Now, the iconic company is breaking up, the victim of changing markets and the need to present simpler stories to investors.
Motorola's cell phone business, which as late as 2007 was riding high on the success of the Razr, is struggling to reshape itself. And its survival may ride on whether it succeeds in turning a once-mass-market cell phone business into a much smaller mold, focused on playing in the same niche as Apple Inc.'s popular iPhone.
Early next year, Motorola is slated to separate the business that makes cell phones and set-top boxes from the one that makes police radios and bar-code scanners, Enterprise Mobility.
In a prelude to that split, Motorola announced Monday that it is selling the bulk of its wireless networks division for $1.2 billion to Nokia Siemens Networks, freeing Enterprise Mobility from a Networks business that has been holding it back in the eyes of investors.
Enterprise Mobility is the part of Motorola that's currently doing the best - what Morgan Keegan analyst Tavis McCourt calls the company's "crown jewel." Its customers are police departments, government agencies and big retailers, putting it outside the view of consumers.
Its roots also stretch back further than any other Motorola business: the company, then called Galvin Manufacturing, sold its first two-way police radio system in 1940 to the police department in Bowling Green, Ky.
By contrast, Networks, which supplies equipment to wireless carriers, has an aging product portfolio and is too small to compete in today's global market. Wireless carriers have been consolidating into larger companies and now prefer to deal with only a couple of equipment vendors each, narrowing the scope for small suppliers such as Motorola.
The point of one company making both cell phones and the equipment that connects their calls has diminished as well.
The industry was pioneered by Motorola, LM Ericsson AB and other companies that made both phones and network equipment. But with increasing standardization of the technology, there is no longer much synergy; any phone will connect to a compatible network.
So Ericsson spun its handset business into a joint venture with Sony Corp., and Nokia Corp. of Finland combined its networks business with Siemens AG of Germany to form a joint venture that focuses on handsets.
In the hunt for scale, the other big U.S. supplier of network equipment, Lucent, was bought by the French company Alcatel in 2006. Canada's Nortel Networks filed for bankruptcy in 2009, shortly after it was said to have discussed joining its networks business to Motorola's. Ericsson and Nokia Siemens networks ended up buying parts of Nortel.
Meanwhile, developments on the cell phone side are being driven by companies that don't make network equipment at all, including Apple Inc. and Research In Motion Ltd., creator of the BlackBerry.
That blindsided Motorola, which made the cell phones for the launch of the first commercial network in the U.S. in 1983 and parlayed its design skill into a worldwide franchise. Late in 2004, it launched the Razr phone, a slim "clamshell" that became the most iconic phone of the time and a best-seller. Going into 2007, Motorola was still the world's second-largest maker of phones, after Nokia. Phones made up two-thirds of its revenue - they were then the "crown jewel."
But the Razr was getting old, and Motorola was scrambling to come up with a successor that could fill its shoes. There was the Razr 2. There was a phone that tapped Apple's iTunes music library. There was a smart phone based on Windows Mobile. Nothing took hold. Motorola's sales started cratering.
What made the implosion worse was that even at its peak, Motorola was not an efficient manufacturer in the manner of Nokia, and it didn't have very good margins. When sales shrank, losses piled up very quickly.
Pressured by corporate raider Carl Icahn, Motorola crafted a plan to split off the phone business and hired Sanjay Jha, the chief operating officer of Qualcomm, in 2008 to run that unit. Investors like a clear story, and splitting the phone business from the rest would make both parts easier to value, the thinking went.
But the cell phone business tanked even further, and it soon became clear that investors would not value it at all as long as it was posting huge losses. The split was postponed, and Jha embarked on a program to focus Motorola in the highest-margin sector of the phone business: smart phones.
That initiative started bearing fruit last year, with the introduction of the Droid and Cliq phones. Because the iPhone is exclusive to AT&T Inc. in the U.S., other carriers are eager for phones that can compete. Ron Gruia, a Frost & Sullivan analyst focused on telecom, likens their thirst to that of drinkers seeking booze during the Prohibition. Verizon Wireless, in particular, pushed the Droid aggressively as an iPhone alternative.
Motorola's smart phone sales have been modest compared with Apple's, and they haven't been able to reverse the overall sales slide of the division. But it's launched several more models this year. It reports second-quarter results next week, and analysts will be looking closely at sales figures to gauge their success.
Jha has said he expects the phone business to be profitable in the fourth quarter, after years of losses. Once the second-largest maker of phones, Motorola is now the seventh-largest - and smaller than Apple, which launched its first phone in 2007. The smart-phone business can be lucrative, but it's also cutthroat.
Motorola, which is based in Schaumburg, Ill., has placed its bet on Android, Google Inc.'s phone software, and that has paid off so far. Both carriers and consumers see Android as the next best thing to the iPhone, and application developers are warming to it, though the quality and quantity of apps is still far behind the iPhone's. And being a one-trick pony has burned Motorola before.
In any case, Enterprise Mobility business, supported by steady government orders, will be free from the influence of fickle consumers as the two part ways early next year as Motorola Mobility for the consumer devices and Motorola Solutions for the government and corporate products.
The split is driven by the logic of the stock market, under the theory that investors like businesses that are easy to understand. The ups and downs of the phone business are different from those of the police radio business.
The fact that Motorola plays in both is a reflection of its long history, but the days of the electronics conglomerate are over.
AP News : Market changes, investors drive Motorola's breakup
WASHINGTON — With nagging text messages or more customized two-way interactions, U.S. researchers are trying to harness the power of cell phones to help fight chronic diseases.
"I call it medical minutes," says Dr. Richard Katz of George Washington University Hospital.
He is testing whether inner-city diabetics, an especially hard-to-treat group, might better control their blood sugar — and thus save a government health program dollars — by tracking their disease using Internet-connected cell phones, provided with reduced monthly rates as long as they regularly comply.
Consider Tyrone Harvey, 43, who learned he had diabetes seven years ago only after getting so sick he was hospitalized for a week, and who has struggled to lower his blood sugar ever since. In May, through a study Katz began with Howard University Hospital's diabetes clinic, Harvey received a Web-based personal health record that he clicks onto using his cell phone, to record his daily blood sugar measurements.
If Harvey enters a reading higher or lower than pre-set danger thresholds, a text message automatically pings a warning, telling him what to do. And at checkups, doctors will use the personal health record, created by Indiana-based NoMoreClipboard.com, to track all his fluctations and decide what next steps to advise.
"Hopefully you're paying more attention to your numbers, too," says Howard's Dr. Gail Nunlee-Bland, whose clinic uses an electronic health record — your official medical history — that can automatically link to NoMoreClipboard's consumer version and update it with things like medication changes.
The trend is called mobile health or, to use tech-speak, mHealth. If you're a savvy smartphone user, you've probably seen lots of apps that claim to help your health or fitness goals — using your phone like a pedometer or an alarm clock to signal when it is time to take your medicine.
Katz and other researchers are going a step further, scientifically testing whether more personalized cell phone-based programs can link patients' own care with their doctors' disease-management efforts in ways that might provide lasting health improvement.
"Mobile phones provide that opportunity for persons to get the feedback they need when they need it," explains Charlene Quinn, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland medical school, who is testing a competing cell phone diabetes system from Baltimore-based Welldoc Inc.
After all, most of the U.S. population now carries a cell phone. Accessing the Internet with them is on the rise, too — nearly 40 percent of cell callers do, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported last week — allowing more sophisticated digital health contact.
On the other hand, older adults are less likely to use smartphones. So are people who are sicker, with multiple chronic diseases, says Dr. Joseph Kvedar, director of the Center for Connected Health, a division of Boston's Partners Healthcare.
Kvedar notes that nearly any phone can handle simpler text-messaging programs. Among the biggest offered to date is the free text4baby, where government-vetted health tips timed to pregnant women's due dates are texted weekly to about 50,000 participants so far.
Do these kinds of technologies work? There's some short-term evidence, although no one knows if people stick with it once the novelty wears off:
—In a study of 70 Boston residents to improve cancer-preventing use of sunscreen, Kvedar found daily texts with reminders hooked to the weather forecast for six weeks increased sunscreen use by 40 percent.
—Researchers at New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center found episodes of rejection dropped when they texted take-your-medicine reminders to 41 pediatric liver transplant recipients or their caregivers, adding another text nag to the parent if teen patients didn't quickly respond that they'd taken their dose.
—The University of California, San Diego, went a step further, designing a text-message program to encourage weight loss where participants texted back answers to such questions as "Did you buy fresh raw vegetables to snack on this week?" Answering allowed more customized texted diet tips. In a pilot study of 75 people, text-message recipients lost about four more pounds in four months than those given printed dieting advice.
—The Internet-based approach offers even more two-way interaction. Later this year, Quinn will report results of a 260-patient study using a range of Welldoc phone features, including more real-time monitoring of the blood sugar fluctuations users enter. A small Welldoc pilot study found users' average blood sugar dropped over three months.
"What systems work best with patients has yet to be figured out," says George Washington's Katz, who is testing a version of that program, too — and worries not just about affordability when his study is over but whether interest will wane. "Otherwise, they find it's a nice toy to start with, and forget about it."
Using cell phones for health - Health - msnbc.com
July 24, 2010
Jack Kurtz/The Arizona Republic - Ondrei Poliak of Hunt Construction holds a building-information modeling field tracker. The tablet shows a 3-D model of the building that streamlines construction and facility management. Phoenix's CityScape is the first in North America to use this technology
An innovative software program is helping the developers of downtown Phoenix's CityScape know the building inside and out - without having to peer into every nook and cranny of the sprawling project.
The software allows programmers to create 3-D models of a building before construction and incorporates all construction information and documentation. The program not only assists in spotting construction issues but ultimately is expected to mean smoother building management and maintenance, according to CityScape project managers.
CityScape is the first project in North America to use the building-information modeling software.
Hunt Construction Group, based in Scottsdale, teamed with Artra Inc., the software's creator. Artra Inc. is a part of AEC Design Group based in Gathersburg, Md.
The software enables Hunt to virtually navigate through the buildings and find potential mistakes in the construction beforehand.
"It's like being in a video game. You can navigate through it like a flight simulator," said Ondrei Poliak, national director of building-information modeling technologies for Hunt.
The Artra software interfaces with a platform known as NavisWorks, which also provides a virtual model. What makes Artra unique is the depth of the software. After all the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and construction information is used to create the model, all the associated documentation is attached, along with a construction schedule.
While searching through the construction model, a user can select a part and find its serial number, manufacturer and warranty information. Having all the information in place enables the process of construction, and facility management after completion, to be streamlined onto one disc, eliminating the need for stacks of drawings and documentation.
"We have developed CityScape with a focus on being the highest quality in the marketplace today. While we did not require Artra, its use is consistent with the standards we have set for the project," said Jeff Moloznik, the project manager for CityScape and RED Development LLC.
Artra also has created a handheld module known as a field tracker. This device allows workers to create "punch lists" as they inspect buildings, looking for any defects or broken fixtures. With the field tracker, a photograph of the problem can be taken and recorded with the documentation. When the device is loaded back on the docking station, it syncs that information to the software so the necessary individuals are notified and the proper action is taken to resolve the issue.
After the building is handed over to its tenants, the field trackers can be used by facility-management staff.
"Things fail over time," Poliak said. "They will need to be able to reference the documentation, and Artra embeds all of that digitally."
Hunt chose to use CityScape to launch its work with Artra because of the type of building. Hunt is only responsible for the retail and office-space tower currently being constructed in Phase 1. He said this particular building is a "core and shell" project, which makes it simpler to test the software for the first time.
"We wanted to poke holes in the software and resolve them with the Artra staff," Poliak said. "This is a good test bed to load up data and see what it can do."
Moloznik said Hunt also will use Artra during the construction of the Kimpton Palomar Hotel in CityScape's Phase 2.
"The timing was right to use this technology. Its use compliments and enhances the vision of the project in ways that serve the users, but is invisible to them," he said.
Steve Dales, director of U.S. business development for Artra Inc. and the creator of NavisWorks, said working with Hunt has been terrific.
"They saw the light. There are very good people in Hunt who are very forward-thinking," Dales said.
Artra has been used in construction in the United Kingdom since about 2002.
Dales said about 15 projects in the U.S. are currently looking to use Artra, and the company is serious about the marketplace in the States, having already invested $2 million in marketing.
"With this software, we will revolutionize the way the construction industry works," Dales said.
Phoenix's CityScape uses new building program
July 10, 2010
RoboCup 2009: RoboCup Soccer Middle Size League
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RoboCup 2009: Junior Rescue
July 8, 2010
Google is reportedly hard at work on a new social network, apparently called Google Me.
So it's perhaps odd time to see Google start making real use of Facebook, rolling out a rare product that connects to the network to tap into its users' social graph. But that's exactly what Google is doing with YouTube Leanback, announced last night.
Leanback is somewhat neat in and of itself: it's essentially Pandora for YouTube, turning YouTube into a passive viewing experience rather than a series of searches and clicks.
Visitors to www.youtube.com/leanback are immediately presented with a full-screen, HD video, and when each video ends, another begins. The stream is populated based on your activity within YouTube (likes, subscriptions, etc.) and, if you connect to Facebook, what your friends are sharing.
The idea is to make YouTube more like TV, which starts playing video as soon as you turn it on and doesn't stop till you turn it off.
Tapping into Facebook to make a product smarter or help users find their friends is something other companies do all the time, which is the main reason for Google to be jealous of the social network -- it's letting Facebook put its stamp everywhere on the Internet. But Google itself very rarely does this. Buzz pulls in updates from Facebook, but that's about it.
It's also noteworthy that Google made this connection to Facebook a prominent feature of its announcement, even including a tutorial on linking the accounts in its demo video.
Knowing who people's friends are is incredibly useful in a very wide range of applications. If Google is finally getting religion on this point, that's great news for the quality of its products.
But if Google is about to launch a Facebook-killer, this is an odd time for it to start advertising how well Facebook already does this.
Google, Working On A Facebook-Killer, Connects YouTube To Facebook (GOOG)
July 6, 2010
Verizon and Sprint are doing everything they can to eat away at the stronghold the iPhone currently has on the smartphone market by jumping head-first into supporting Android-powered phones.
Sprint's HTC EVO 4G is currently among the leaders in the increasingly powerful Android army.
The phone costs $199 with a new two-year agreement, after a $100 rebate. The data plans start at $69.99 per month and there is a $10 month add-on fee for "premium data."
A review unit was temporarily provided to azcentral.com by Sprint. Here are the highlights.
The EVO is currently running the Android 2.1 software, skinned with HTC's Sense build. It's the same setup that Droid Incredible users get.
A new version of the platform was recently announced, but there is no official word on if the EVO will be getting the update.
The result of the existing software is a very quick and sleek operating system. There is virtually zero lag while swapping between widgets, apps, or features. It has the standard feature of multiple screens running at the same time. A simple pinch of the screen or push of the home-button will reveal the seven screens, which can combine to run just about every major widget the phone has to offer.
The software also does true multi-tasking.
Because the Android software is supported by Google, all of the search engine giant's features are strongly integrated into the phone.
Then there is the ever-growing Android market, which Sprint said features more than 60,000 applications. Though, it's not as developed as the Apple market, Droid's offering has a great variety of applications available.
The EVO is big and heavy. There's no getting around that. The 4.3 inch LCD screen and six ounce weight is substantial in a market where phones are pushing to be lighter. But smaller isn't always better. In the case of the EVO, the large screen offers up a very good Internet browsing experience.
Turning the phone on its side, in landscape mode, means that full-fledge websites have room to be displayed. A visit to azcentral.com's non-mobile site, for instance, does almost nothing to take away from the layout users will see on a computer.
But the screen is most noticeable when loading videos. YouTube clips take up the entire display and make it easy to drop the phone's kick-stand to watch a video.
The display area also allows for more room to the touch keyboard and to apps.
With a big screen comes a large phone. It will prove difficult to handle with one hand. That's especially true when trying to unlock the phone by pushing the power button. It's virtually impossible to hold the phone and push the button with one hand.
So EVO users will have to accept that the phone comes with size and weight and know that it can translate into a satisfying visual experience.
The biggest problem with the phone is how quickly the battery will drain. But that is true of most current generation smartphones. They're essentially pocket computers that have Wi-Fi, notifications, and GPS running at all times. The EVO, though, can drain alarmingly fast.
One way to preserve the battery life, especially for power users, is to turn off Wi-Fi unless it's needed and to disable GPS. The battery lasted considerably longer with those features off.
The EVO is a multimedia powerhouse. The 8 megapixel, duel LED flash, camera on the back, and the 1.3 megapixel camera on the front, combine to create a very solid experience. Every picture in the slideshow included in this review was taken with the EVO. As was the video embedded that shows a Sprint employee demonstrating the phone.
There is no question that the camera can replace most point-and-click cameras. The 720p capable video camera is more than enough to make pocket cameras obsolete.
Sprint is touting the EVO as the nation's first cell phone able to handle both the 3G and 4G networks. The problem is that Arizona hasn't been given access to Sprint's 4G, which boasts dramatically faster speeds than the 3G network.
Sprint has announced 4G in 36 markets but has not said when or if Arizona will get it.
Until then, at least two of the phone's major features will be weakened in Arizona.
That doesn't mean that Arizona's residents shouldn't by the phone or feel cheated if they did. It's just a fact that 4G hasn't arrived here. When it does, the phone will be able to connect by simply pushing the 4G button found on one of the phone's default screens.
Perhaps the most useful feature on this phone is the ability to turn it into a Wi-Fi spot for up to eight devices. The feature costs $30 extra a month but it is well worth the cost for frequent travelers or for anybody who owns the phone in a 4G market.
Setting up the Wi-Fi feature is fast and the 3G download speeds were very solid throughout the Phoenix area. There was a noticeable drop in speeds, however, when multiple devices were connected and running high-bandwidth websites.
Sprint's partnered with Qik, a mobile streaming video service, to provide video calling. Qik allows users with most smartphones to stream live video and store it online through user accounts.
In the EVO, Qik has created an exclusive video calling application. It's the EVO's version of the iPhone 4's Facetime application.
The problem in Arizona is that the quality is horrible over 3G. So using a Wi-Fi connection is the best way to go. Once running on a quality Internet connection, the video-calling is still a little buggy but works as advertised. Qik has already released an updated application that added stability to the calls. The one drawback is that users will need a Qik account to make or receive video calls.
Sprint's HTC EVO 4G is one beast of a phone. It runs on a mobile platform that is picking up steam, features some of the best multi-media hardware currently on the market and runs on a reliable network.
But not having 4G in Arizona is currently limiting what the phone can do. Sprint users should still flock to this phone because both of what it can do now and what it promises to do if the 4G flood-gates are opened locally.
Sprint HTC EVO 4G offers great multimedia power
July 5, 2010
If you are one of Pandora's 21 million monthly users, you may have a loutish sports nut to thank for the service.Years before Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) launched the iTunes music store with its Genius recommendation feature, Westergren figured there was a business opportunity in using technology to help music fans discover new artists. He developed something called the Music Genome Project to analyze music for similar traits and in 2000 launched Pandora, which lets users customize stations around bands they enjoy. Say you're a fan of the Grateful Dead. Pandora will play songs from Jerry Garcia's solo catalogue, the Band, and Phish, artists who have similar subtle characteristics, or "genes," such as vocal style and melodies.
The free service was an instant hit with consumers, and eventually Pandora became a model partner for the embattled music industry, electronics makers (some of which embed the Pandora application on their devices), and even would-be competitors like Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500), which also recommend music. Even Apple CEO Steve Jobs has shown Pandora some love. Westergren says he and his team were among Jobs' chosen few to present their iPhone apps at an Apple event in April. "We help them sell phones," Westergren says. "They like that."
Pandora expands its reach through such relationships. "Putting the service on every device is how Pandora is going to go from tens of millions of listeners to hundreds of millions," he predicts.
Pandora, which posted its first profitable quarter late last year, gets most of its revenue ($50 million last year, Westergren says) from video, audio, and graphic advertisements. (An ad-free premium service costs $36 a year.) "Pandora has shown that you can monetize new listening models," says Mitch Bainwol, head of the Recording Industry Association of America.Musicians, who can be prickly about online distribution of their wares, are Pandora fans too, in part because they get paid every time a song gets played. (Last year the company gave $30 million back in royalties to performers and publishers.) And since Pandora's approach to serving up tunes doesn't use popularity as a criterion, every composition in the catalogue, whether it's recorded by an unsigned band or by a major-label artist, has an equal chance of getting played and finding an audience.
That kind of musical meritocracy is perhaps the biggest part of why Westergren started Pandora. He wanted a way for people to discover the legion of unsigned musicians he was a part of in the '90s. In 1994 his band, YellowWood Junction (a Robert Frost poem reference), was named, somewhat ignominiously, "most promising unsigned band" by a San Francisco radio station.
"There were some great bands, but they were only known to the people who saw them play live," says Westergren, recalling his touring days. "I remember thinking, 'If only these bands could get some kind of exposure.'"
In other words, if only there had been Pandora back in Westergren's Holiday Inn lounge-playing, YellowWood Junction days, things might have been different. "We could have been big," Westergren says, laughing. "We could have been so big."
Pandora founder rocks the music biz
July 4, 2010
When we first saw the Sony Dash at CES, we thought Sony was making a play into the tablet game -- the promo video showed people using the angular device all over the house, with nary a power cord in sight. And hey, it was called the Dash -- a word which usually implies movement of some kind. So obviously we were a little put off when we found out the Dash was strictly a stationary experience -- an amped-up alarm clock running a Sony-tweaked version of the Chumby widget OS that lets you look at photos from Facebook, browse headlines on Engadget, and check Twitter from the Dash's seven-inch capacitive touchscreen. But hold up: the Dash also adds in Sony's Bravia Internet Video platform to support streaming media services like Netflix, Pandora, and Slacker. That's not bad for $200, at least on paper, but does the Dash deserve to be the most expensive alarm clock you've ever purchased? And does it really deserve Justin Bieber's attention? Read on to find out.
Internally, we're told the Dash has a 500MHz processor and 256MB of RAM, compared to the 454MHz chip and 64MB of RAM in the Chumby One and 350MHz chip in the Chumby. We're guessing the extra horsepower goes towards supporting video playback and the larger 800 x 480 display, but the Dash isn't a rocket by any means -- the capacitive touchscreen seems responsive enough, but the OS was laggy enough to drive us bonkers.
The display itself is nice and bright with great horizontal viewing angles and average vertical angles -- three or so people can easily share the device at once. You can also flip the Dash over on its back to engage the built-in accelerometer and rotate the display 180 degrees, which is handy if you're using it on a counter. Unfortunately, it's much harder to praise the stereo speakers mounted below the screen -- they're pretty tinny, and they distort at louder volumes if you play any bass-heavy music.
That's really it, hardware-wise -- as with all large touchscreen devices, it's the software that makes or breaks the experience with the Dash.
Upon first booting the Dash, you're prompted to join your WiFi network and download any software updates if needed. From then on, all the action takes place on the homescreen. Sony actually ships two different Dash homescreens: there's a "Dashboard" theme that lists your widgets in semi-flickable horizontal lists, and a more widget-focused "App View" that enlarges the Chumby box and only displays the time, weather, and an app category selector -- tapping a category like "Music" brings up a popover list of apps like Slacker and Pandora. We went back and forth between the themes -- switching isn't hard but takes long enough to prevent you from doing it often. We eventually settled on the App View but we found reasons to like the Dashboard as well -- unfortunately, we kept accidentally launching apps when we meant to flick-scroll them in Dashboard view, and that was enough to make us switch for good.
As with any other Chumby, you set up an online account that allows you to create and manage "channels" of widgets -- essentially groups of widgets that play like a slide show -- and choose between them using either your desktop browser or the Dash itself (if you've already got an account, you can just connect it to your Dash). Unlike traditional Chumbys, though, the Dash also lets you set up and edit channels right from the device, which is pretty nice -- no more trips to the PC when you want to add another news widget into the mix. The options are pretty limitless, but here's a quick breakdown of some of the traditional Chumby widgets and exclusive Dash apps we found ourselves using:
- Netflix: Well, it's Netflix, on a seven-inch screen. All of the Sony-provided media apps use a similar grid-based interface, which isn't the speediest to update when scrolling, but we'll take what we can get. There's no queue management here, so you'll have to add flicks on your computer, but one you start playing a movie things look fine enough -- HD streaming is supported, but the screen is small enough so that we didn't really notice a difference between SD and HD -- we might have convinced ourselves that The Big Lebowski looked better in HD than Bedtime Stories in SD, but we don't lie to ourselves like that anymore.
- Amazon: Just as on the TiVo or Roku Video Player, the Amazon and Netflix interfaces on the Dash are extremely similar. Pricing is the usual Amazon pricing: HD rentals are $4.99 for 48 hours, while SD rentals are $3.99. We'd obviously save the extra buck, since the quality difference is so slight on this display, but we're also sort of wondering why you'd pay to rent a movie on the Dash at all -- are you going to watch it lying bed staring at the nightstand? The Amazon app also seemed a little buggy -- it dropped us to its main page several times when we tried to select things. It's nice that it's there, but we'll stick with renting movies on our real TVs.
- YouTube: The Dash's YouTube playback is fine -- it's actually quite well-suited to the screen size. But like most non-computer and non-smartphone YouTube experiences, it's hampered by a terrible search interface, with a slow touchscreen keyboard and glacial scrolling through lists. By the time you get to what you wanted, you could have watched it twice on a laptop or a phone. That's just sort of a universal YouTube truth, so don't take it as a knock on the Dash too specifically, although a better keyboard and some faster flick scrolling would have really helped out here.
- Blue Octy Radio: We actually love this one -- it's by far the simplest app on the Dash, and it requires the least amount of interaction with the slow touchscreen. Open it up, pick a station -- like, say, our own Trent Wolbe's WFMU -- and hit play. It's almost like... a radio! Imagine that.
- Slacker: Slacker and Pandora make a ton of sense on the Dash, and while the Slacker files-and-folders interface isn't the most beautiful thing we've ever seen, it works, and once you're in the player screen it's the same interface as all the other media apps.
- Pandora: Setting up Pandora on the Dash is a bit of a pain. You can't just log into the service on the device -- you have to activate it through the Sony My Dash website. Once it works, it's Pandora.
- Facebook: Facebook is actually supported by two stock Chumby widgets, one for status updates and one for photos. They do what they say on the tin, although they require you to set them up online, which is a pain. Of course, given the annoyingly slow touch keyboard, that might be a good thing, but we'd have preferred a centralized experience.
- Twitter: It's Twitter. Not the fastest Twitter app we've ever seen, and typing out this tweet took 10 minutes because we misspelled a word and the lack of a cursor meant we had to delete half of it and start over on the lame keyboard, but it'll certainly do in a pinch. You know, if you're ever in bed or in your kitchen, next to a plug outlet, without your phone or laptop. We've all been there, right?
Sony calls the Dash a "personal internet viewer," and cloud-based content is the clear priority: there's no provision for streaming your own media from a computer or server. That's a bit of a bummer, especially since the USB port isn't supported for local playback of music or photos yet. There are a couple Chumby widgets that seem to handle LAN streaming, however -- we didn't try them, but at least they're there. Same goes for photos: it's easier to look at Facebook photos than it is to view images from your PC, and while there are Chumby widgets that bridge the gap, we wish Sony had included some built-in functionality for that.
There are tons of other Chumby widgets -- over 1,000, we're told -- so the Dash can be extended in any number of ways beyond the apps we've listed. But those are the core apps, and while they're pretty good, we almost always found ourselves wondering why we'd be doing some of this stuff on the Dash instead of a phone or a laptop. It's a question that invites immediate comparison to two very different devices -- the HP DreamScreen and the iPad.
Every time we left the Dash sitting around, we loved it and thought of it as being better than the DreamScreen, but every time we picked it up and used it more intensely, we wished we'd reached for a phone, laptop, or the iPad instead.
We probably could have saved everyone a lot of time by just putting that up top, right?
So, should you buy the world's most complicated alarm clock? It all depends on what you want to do with the Dash. If you're looking for something that can sit by your bed, play some internet radio at you, and ambiently display some Engadget headlines and photos from Facebook, the Dash is perfect. If you're looking for something to really pick up and use to browse through photos, or pick songs, or even watch movies, we'd go a different way. Despite its name, the Dash is too stationary and too slow to be valuable in those situations.
All that said, our verdict might change dramatically if the Dash 2 has a faster processor, that promised battery, and a slick-looking charging dock, especially if the price stays at $199. We'd love to love this thing, Sony -- let's make it happen.
Sony Dash review -- Engadget
Masterful: David Kassan created this portrait of model Henry William Oelkers on his iPad
They combine the bright vivid colours of photography with the stylish flourishes of an accomplished painter.
But at closer inspection theses remarkable images are fact finger paintings drawn directly onto the screen of Apple's iPad.
Like a modern Etch-a-Sketch, the paintings are the creation of prominent New York artist David Kassan, 33, each painting of life models is drawn directly onto the iPad screen using his fingers.
Continuing Mr Kassan's work with hyper-realistic paintings, his iPad art is shaped by running your finger along the nine-inch by seven-inch screen of the £429 revolutionary device.
Using a simple £5 'app' called Brushes, Mr Kassan has moved his elegant and expressive painting skills onto the very definition of 21st century technology.
The app allows the user to re-create accurately a paintbrush stroke and even creates bristly lines and broader touches to match an artist's use of a canvas.
And now Mr Kassan has begun travelling into Manhattan's crowded Washington Square Park to paint random strangers pictures on his iPad.
'I was the fifth person at my SoHo store in Manhattan to purchase the iPad,' explained Mr Kassan, who lives in Brooklyn.
'I was initially going to use the iPad as a demonstration tool for my previous work, which is detailed painted examinations of people.
'I wanted to showcase to potential collectors how my work was created and the processes I go through to create it.
David Kassan's portrait of his father Stephen, left, and Brice Foster, right, in a park in Manhattan
David Hockney, one of Britain's most influential artists, has taken to creating artworks with the new Apple iPad (left) and the iPhone (right)
Kassan paints on his iPad in Manhattan's Washington Square Park
'You see, from a distance my non iPad work can be mistaken for a photograph.'
However, with the iPad in his hands, Mr Kassan saw the impressive screen resolution on the device might allow for more detailed and expressive work with the Brushes app.
'I had used Brushes on the iPhone, but this is a different ball game altogether,' said Mr Kassan.
'This seems to be more about sculpting the painting and it gives the artist more of a feel for the subject matter and composition.
'So for the past few weeks this program has really allowed me to become far more inventive with my art.'
Travelling the subway, sitting in parks or placing the iPad on an artists easel, Mr Kassan has produced some intimate portraits that bear comparison with the hyper realistic work he is famous for.
'The larger screen obviously helps, in that it is more intuitive as to what I,' explained Mr Kassan. 'As an artist want to achieve with my painting.
'The options for colour correction and control are far improved from the iPhone.
'Working in the New York summer sunlight with subjects like Brice here, is like an artist out in the open with his canvas and paints.
'Brushes is a great app to work with.' Taking a minimum of three hours to create his images, Mr Kassan has painted people as diverse as Carmen Santander an 86-year old lady and Steven, his 67 year old father.
Now Apple-fan Stephen Fry has done wonders for Mr Kassan's art by linking to his work via Twitter.
'It is a wonderful thing that Stephen Fry has got involved and pointed out my painting on Youtube through his Twitter account,' said Mr Kassan
'I know he is into his Apple products and it would be great to meet up one day and to paint his picture on my iPad.'
Apple iPad art: Artist uses gadget to create modern finger-paintings | Mail Online
July 1, 2010
MIT Media Labs researchers are field-testing a smartphone application and $1 plastic lens attachment system called NETRA — Near-Eye Tool for Refractive Assessment — for eye exams.
NETRA is designed for doctors in developing countries that may not otherwise have access to expensive ophthalmological equipment for eye exams.
Using the application and cellphone lens attachment, patients can look into the lens to view parallel red and green lines. Fast Company explains that patients can then “use arrow keys on the phone to adjust those lines until they overlap. After just two minutes of testing, the app spits out an eyeglass prescription.”
The researchers will show off the application and hardware combination at SIGGRAGH 2010 in late July. Then, after testing, NETRA will launch under the umbrella of PerfectSight, a for-profit startup that will “market and produce the device for Asian and African markets.”
The application will run on multiple smartphones. Existing prototypes are being tested on the Samsung Behold II and Google Nexus One.
The video embedded below includes a walkthrough of the idea and technology behind NETRA.
MIT Researchers Developing Smartphone App for 2-Minute Eye Exams
Pete Cashmore says there is no truly competitive social network to which disgruntled Facebook users can flee.
Editor's note: Pete Cashmore is founder and CEO of Mashable, a popular blog about social media. He writes a weekly column about social networking and tech for CNN.com.
(CNN) -- Google is working on a social service to rival Facebook, if Web rumors are to be believed.
And while Google's social-networking efforts have so far fallen flat, even satisfied Facebook users should hope that the search engine's efforts bear fruit.
First, to the rumor: A now-deleted Tweet last weekend from entrepreneur Kevin Rose claimed that Google is working on a Facebook competitor called "Google Me."
That claim gained credence as former Facebook CTO Adam D'Angelo weighed in. Posting a response on the question-and-answer service Quora, D'Angelo wrote: "This is not a rumor. This is a real project. There are a large number of people working on it. I am completely confident about this."
Google, he added, is threatened by Facebook's rise to prominence and feels the need to build a social network of its own.
The Facebook threat
The search giant has legitimate cause for concern. As I wrote in this column two months ago, Facebook is gathering masses of data through its recently launched "Likes" feature, which lets Web visitors express interest in a piece of content.
More than 50,000 websites implemented this "Like button" in the week after it launched, providing Facebook with a treasure trove of data about the preferences of Web users. This data could form the basis of a powerful search engine, ranking Web pages by "Likes" rather than the links that Google relies upon.
What's more, Facebook could serve up different search results to each user based on the preferences of his or her friends.
It gets worse for Google. Facebook's mountain of personal data could also provide the backbone of an ad network many times more targeted than Google's keyword-based advertising. If Facebook were to launch both a search engine and ad network, it could put a significant dent in Google's more than $23 billion in annual revenue.
But Google shouldn't be the only party concerned about Facebook's rapid ascent -- the lack of a Facebook alternative is a threat to consumer choice, providing no escape route when things turn sour.
No real alternative
Facebook's privacy issues over recent months have opened our eyes to a grim reality: There is no real alternative. While dissatisfied MySpace users hopped over to Facebook, there is no truly competitive social network to which disgruntled Facebook users can elope.
The demand for a legitimate alternative is so great that a project called Diaspora was able to raise more than $200,000 from Web users to develop its "privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, open source social network."
Until such a rival emerges, Facebook has little incentive to maintain user trust -- the only option available to unhappy Facebookers is to delete their accounts and lose contact with their friends.
Google's social stumbles
Alas, Google has a dismal track record when it comes to social networks. Orkut, an early social-networking effort, has seen success in Brazil, but in the U.S. it's virtually unheard of. Google Friend Connect, a possible rival to the recently renamed Facebook Connect, went nowhere.
Open Social, a challenge to Facebook Apps, has been forgotten. And Google Buzz, a recent attempt to add Twitter-like status updates to Gmail, flopped -- and generated a regrettable privacy backlash for the company.
Google, the narrative goes, is exquisitely talented at solving problems with algorithms. But when it comes to the touchy-feely stuff -- like human interaction -- it falls flat.
Getting behind Google
So while it's definitely a long shot, it's time to rally behind Google. If the search giant is able to pull off a half-decent Facebook rival, the fast-growing social network will finally have a competitor to keep its power in check.
That would be a win not just for Google, but for the Web as a whole.
Cashmore: Google building a Facebook rival? Let's hope so - CNN.com
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