A new concept that fits nicely in the things-you-never-knew-you-wanted category is determined to make speed readers out of the visually impaired. Snail -- deceptive name aside -- uses a pressure-sensitive touch pad to read patterns in a Braille passage, then translates them to speech, speeding up the reading process and allowing users to record audio passages for later playback. The user places his / her thumb, in the obvious opening and glides the device over a line of Braille. The translated audio is then played back either through a built-in speaker or over a connected Bluetooth headset. Snail was made with the blind in mind, but considering we've always been curious about what resides in those bumpy white lines, we wouldn't mind rolling with one of these things ourselves. As is the case with so many concepts, however, there's no telling when or if this Snail will slither on to the market.
Friday, May 20, 2011
LG told us to expect the ultra-slim Optimus Black handset globally in the first half of the year, and at least one continent will receive the device as planned -- the company just announced that the 9.2mm thin smartphone with the 700 nit NOVA display will hit Europe this month, with launches planned for North America and Asia at unspecified times after that. Yes, there'll be plenty of jealousy to go around, especially sometime in June -- that's when LG will allegedly unveil white and pink versions of the phone. Assuming, of course, that you're willing to settle for a single-core 1GHz processor when confronted withthe latest spec sheets. PR after the break.
Summer's nearly here, the sun shining bright -- wouldn't you like to share your tunes with friends while basking in the light? That's what Eton's counting on as it prepares to ship the Soulra XL, the solar-powered iPod boombox formerly known as the Soulra 2. As we discovered at CES in January, its set of eight speakers get pretty loud, and Eton claims it charges twice as fast as its predecessor (five hours) thanks to a sizable monocrystal solar panel, and lasts five hours on a charge. It'll juice your phone, too. All told, you'll be schlepping around seven pounds and paying $300 for the privilege of completely cordless mobile sound. Sound like a deal? You'll find Eton ready to shake your hand at our source link.
Y'know, there are only so many pristine beaches and spectacular slopes one can see before terrestrial tourism becomes blasé. That's why Space Adventures -- who lets folks vacay in space via suborbital jaunts -- is offering to shoot you to the moon during your next work sabbatical. Amateur astronauts won't actually land on the lunar surface, of course, but their Soyuz spacecraft will get within 62 miles of it. To indulge in your lunar fantasy, it'll only cost you 150 million bucks, or roughly the GDP of a [insert small island nation here]. One of the two seats is already taken, but the company needs another would-be moon man or lunar lady before the trip's a go. The only thing stopping us (and everyone we know) from signing up is an empty bank account -- does Fastweb do spaceflight scholarships?
Not even promises of a new Sidekick can keep T-Mobile from hemorrhaging customers, it seems, as the company reported significant losses in its Q1 statement for 2011. According to official Q1 financials, 471,000 contract customers either failed to re-up, or outright canceled their contracts. Stacked against a shortcoming growth of just 372,000 prepaid customers (including MVNO customers for sub-carriers), T-Mobile suffered a net loss of 99,000 users, a 29-percent increase in losses over the same period for the previous year. Ouch. The firm chalked its loss to increased "competitive pressures," which lends credence to AT&T's insistence that Sprint and Verizon are such fierce opponents that it has to acquire T-Mobile for the magenta-tinted carrier to stay in the game. You can judge the profits and pitfalls for yourself -- just hit the source link for the full financials.
Add another notch to DoubleTwist's Apple ecosystem integration belt, now that its Android app has added AirPlay streaming to the list of features. As of version 1.4 it will stream music, videos or pictures to the Apple TV or other compatible devices while also claiming beta support for Sonos hardware. The DoubleTwist player is free, but using AirPlay means purchasing the $4.99 AirSync add-on that also enables wireless sync with your media library (iTunes) and streaming to DLNA or uPnP compatible devices. Twonky Mobile is a free alternative that's also AirPlay-compatible but without the tight iTunes integration; you can check them both out in the market.
While strolling around Shenzhen earlier today, we decided to stop by at the China Optoelectronics Display Expo to feast our eyes on AUO's "world's largest" 71-inch 21:9 3D LCD panel. Phew, what a mouthful, but this 240Hz ultrawidescreen is indeed larger than the sub-60-inch offerings from Vizio, JVC, and Philips. But is it any good? We put on our passive 3D glasses and found the experience to be surprisingly comfortable and effective (even at about 40 degrees from the center before we hit the wall), though the glossy screen's reflection of the neighboring booth was slightly off-putting. This would probably be less of a problem at your humble abode, anyhow.
In terms of availability, AUO told us that China-based TCL will be the first to pick up this beast of a panel, and the final product should be out in August. Apart from that, we couldn't squeeze out further info about other brands, so you best be writing to your nearest dealership to import this exotic cinema TV. More eyes-on pics in the gallery below.
HP isn't really trying to keep its 12.1-inch EliteBook 2760p convertible tablet a secret these days, but honestly it might not matter even if the company tried -- the ever-reliable FCC made plenty of pictures and documentation available in a filing by Sierra Wireless. That's the company that supplies theQualcomm Gobi3000 dual-mode GSM / CDMA cellular radio in this tablet, you see, which should be an attractive option for business travelers -- though we don't see any mention of it in the first three Elitebook 2760p models confirmed on HP's website. What's that, you say? Confirmation? Yes, indeed, as HP is already listing three versions starting at $1,499, with the base model nabbing you a 2.3Ghz Core i5-2410M, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi and a 320GB hard drive. FCC pics below, and lots more details at our source links.
It looks the same, it works the same, and though it's three-tenths of a millimeter thicker than the original, Sprint's Nexus S 4G has one major difference: it sports a WiMAX radio. Today, the freshest Gingerbread smartphone goes on sale, just as planned, bringing the same 4-inch curved Super AMOLED screen, 1GHz Hummingbird chip and NFC capabilities your T-Mobile counterparts have enjoyed for months plus the promise of Google Talk video chat. Find it for $200 on-contract directly at Sprint, or shave $50 off the sticker price if you're a brand-new customer by trying Best Buy instead.
The percentage shift in the chart above tells most of the story here. According to Comscore's latest report, Android's share of the US smartphone market grew an impressive six percent in the three-month period ending in March to land at 34.7 percent, and RIM took the biggest hit as a result, slipping 4.5 points to a share of 27.1 percent. That's still enough to keep it ahead of Apple, however, which held its own with a slight gain to 25.5 percent. Both Microsoft and Palm / HP slipped just under a percent each to land in a distant fourth and fifth place, respectively. As for mobile OEMs, things stayed almost identical during the three month period, with Samsung, LG, and Motorola occupying the top three spots, and only Apple seeing any significant gains thanks to the Verizon iPhone launch -- although that still wasn't enough to push it above RIM for the fourth spot. Hit up the source link below for all the numbers.
Do you ever feel like Portal 2 is making your brain overheat? You should get that checked, and thanks to researchers in Norfolk, Virginia, there's an easier way to do so. The Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters has developed a device the diameter of a poker chip that sits atop a patient's head; by detecting the microwaves that all human tissues produce, it calculates brain temperature without the need for messy skull-popping. The waves pass through the bone to give doctors precise, up-to-the-minute results, which can help prevent brain damage due to overheating. One possible use for the technology is helping hypoxic (oxygen lacking) infants, who can be treated with cooling therapies. Of course, you can probably make do with that old home remedy: just put a bag of frozen carrots on your head next time GlaDOS has you stumped.
Much like their home countries, Apple and RIM share much in common, but contrast in important ways. Both companies are among the few that produce their own software for their cellular handsets. Apple, a personal computing pioneer, sees market expansion in smartphones. RIM, a smartphone pioneer, sees market expansion in mobile computing. Looking at the tablets on offer, Apple has been just as adamant in decrying a 7-inch display as RIM has been defending it, the latter saying that it sought to create an ultramobile device with the PlayBook.
Apple designs products for consumers that have relevance for enterprises. RIM designs products for enterprises that have relevance for consumers. This has also been evident with the PlayBook, which has taken heat for its lack of native e-mail and calendaring options. RIM consciously put these on the back burner because it wanted to appease CIOs concerned about data theft, even though it meant a less appealing launch product for consumers. Another parallel: RIM has suffered as AT&T delays in supporting Bridge, just as Apple struggled with AT&T supporting tethering on the iPhone.
Indeed, when Steve Ballmer took the stage at BlackBerry World in Orlando, it brought back memories of a scene that leads off the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, when Bill Gates appeared on screen at Macworld Expo in 1997 to announce a deal that would make Internet Explorer the default browser for the Mac. Fourteen years later, Google has replaced Netscape as Microsoft's archrival and the BlackBerry has become a prize for Bing.
If Apple was able to pull itself back from a "near-death experience," can RIM regain its lost luster too?
Despite some missteps and significant market share losses, RIM is nowhere near the state of financial crisis that Apple was in back then. However, in both cases, the appearance of a Microsoft CEO has been a sign of confidence in a platform against which Microsoft competes. So, if Apple was able to pull itself back from what Steve Jobs has called its "near-death experience," can RIM regain its lost luster too? Has it hit a bump in the road amidst a transition or is it in freefall as Nokia was prior to its recent overhaul?
Apple has one demonstrated advantage compared to its northern neighbor, and that has been an acute sense of timing. Like the big cats for which its Mac operating systems are named, Apple has shown a strong pattern of pouncing on the industry at just the right time. When the right components become affordable enough, Apple envelops them in a luscious layer of user experience to drive mass adoption. RIM, meanwhile, has seen growth stall since miscalculating the challenge of iPhone and its mercenary competitor Android.
Nonetheless, a key reason for optimism is the one-two punch of RIM acquisitions QNX, which handles the nimble, low-level plumbing of the BlackBerry Tablet OS, and TAT, which is infusing the historically efficient but stodgy RIM user interface with a sense of imagination, whimsy, and exploration. We have seen the beginnings of RIM assembling these pieces in programs such as the PlayBook's scrapbooking app, and also in sprucing up the workaday calculator with flourishes such as watching the calculation history get torn off like paper from a vintage adding machine. Here, RIM -- like Apple -- controls its own destiny. Unlike Nokia's position with Windows Phone 7, it need not, for example, keep reigns on a user interface direction to avoid disturbing consistency with competitors.
The challenge, as was acknowledged several times at BlackBerry World, is time. The core components are there. Now RIM is racing competitors to synthesize its acquisitions. It must create a competitive experience with headroom to grow across a suite of its own core apps, those of its developers, and, most importantly, expand from a dual-core tablet platform into a revitalized line of BlackBerry handsets. The sand in the hourglass is the goodwill of corporate and carrier customers that RIM says still have strong demand for its products and trust in its approach.
Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) is executive director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.
Inhabitat's Week in Green: Cities of the future, the Aqua Star, and 0-60 in 3.4 seconds... with a go-kart
What will the high-tech city of the future look like? This week Inhabitat brought you a sneak peek as we took an exclusive look inside Abu Dhabi's carbon-neutral Masdar City, which just opened for business. We also brought you brand new photos of the world's largest wooden structure, and we spotted several innovative solar-powered buildings - Sweden's rotating photovoltaic cog building and a self-sustaining pod home that can be perched on any roof.
Green transportation also took off with a blast this week as the Linde E1 Electric Go-Kart set a Guinness World Record by traveling from 0-60 in 3.4 seconds and Synergy's folded-wing glider plane announced plans to compete in the CAFE Green Flight Challenge. We also saw greener vehicles gear up around the world as France announced plans to deploy a fleet of all-electric garbage trucks next week and Nissan unveiled the NV200 -- New York City's taxi of tomorrow. And for those looking for an underwater escape this summer, don't miss out on the Aqua Star - a submersible electric scooter capable of charting the ocean depths.
In other news, this week we showcased several high-tech concept gadgets made from paper - an origami cell phone that folds into a flat piece of cardboard and the world's first interactive paper computer. We also brought you a sensor glove that could help stroke patients recover through gaming, and we covered a clutch of wired home furnishings that bring new meaning to the term geek chic -- from an interweb chaise made from 1,100 feet of coaxial cable to an analog cassette tape chair, to a modern computer mouse made from fine wool felt.
Windows Phone 7 updates Bing to find music and barcodes, provide turn-by-turn directions and send speech-to-text SMS?
Developers are getting plenty of toys alongside Windows Phone 7's "Mango" release, but there may be extra baubles for regular users, too -- Microsoft will reportedly add a few features to Bing in the near future which could prove particularly useful. According to the latest episode of the Windows Phone Dev Podcast -- which hosted Microsoft's Brandon Watson as a guest -- a new function called Bing Audio will act like a Shazam for recognizing music (and will sell you Zune tracks) while Bing Vision will use your smartphone's camera to read barcodes and do optical character recognition, plus potentially provide support for augmented reality apps. There's also allegedly turn-by-turn voice directions for Bing Maps and a native podcast player, and one more potentially exciting thing -- voice-to-text for sending SMS messages without lifting a finger. Hear all about the rumor at our source link, at just about the 40-minute mark.
Assuming you own a Sensefly Swinglet CAM or some other high-res camera-equipped UAV, you could be just minutes away from turning your plain old 2D aerial photos into comprehensive 3D maps. Pix4D, a new software program coming out of EPFL -- the same institute that brought us this race of altruistic robots -- takes images shot using an aerial drone to render 3D maps in the cloud in just 30 minutes. Users upload images taken with their flying machines, at which point Pix4D kicks into action, defining high contrast points in the phots and pasting them together based on those points. It then renders a 3D model, overlays the graphics, and spits out a Google Earth-style map. So what's with this 4D business? Well, its developers claim that users can easily see the progression of any model by deploying their Sensefly drone whenever they see fit, throwing the added layer of time into the mix. You can see the fruits of Pix4D's labor in the video after the break.
Whoops. If you'll recall, Sony held what can only be described as an emergency press event in Japan a week ago in order to issue a number of assurances about the resumption of service as it relates to the PlayStation Network and Qriocity. Seven days later, things are still as dead as they were pre-Cinco de Mayo. This evening, the company's Senior Director of Corporate Communications Patrick Seybold punched out a quick update to let the world know that they could actually leave the house and find something else to entertain 'em -- like it or not, PSN isn't coming back online today. The reason? On May 1st, Sony was apparently "unaware of the extent of the attack on Sony Online Entertainment servers," and now, it's spinning its wheels in order to restore security on the network and "ensure" that user data is safe. Mr. Seybold seems to understand that you're overly anxious about getting back into the swing of things, and he's even going so far as to ask your trust that Sony's doing "everything [it] can" to get the lights blinking once more. Oh, and if you were planning on visiting that source link just to find the newETA... don't. Sony's planning to update you "as soon as it can."
Here's hoping there's more than a few military-style marches standing between us and a complete robotic takeover. If not, we've got some dire news: these are not simply miniature Roombas as they may appear, but 15 so-called Khepera bots capable of spelling out GRITS (for Georgia Robotics and Intelligent Systems) to demonstrate grad student Edward Macdonald's Master's thesis for the department. The diminutive robots aren't told where to go in the letters -- instead, they determine their spots via a control algorithm, positioning themselves relative to their fellow rolling machines, so that if one is removed from the equation, they quickly reform the letter without it. Fortunately, they haven't learned to spell "KILL." Yet. Get to know your new robotic overlords a little bit better in the video after the break.
The leaks should've already told you most of everything you need to know about the Lenovo ThinkPad X1, but here's some affirmation of perhaps the most relevant bit of info, the release date. Amazon has listed the ultraslim 13.3-inch laptop for pre-order, giving it the extremely specific price of £1,292.52 ($2,120) and a shipping date of May 20th. That's a heftier price tag than you'll find on Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air, however Lenovo will provide you with the latest generation of Intel processor -- in the shape of the 2.5GHz Core i5-2520M -- 4GB of RAM, 320GB of HDD storage, a backlit keyboard, and a promised eight hours of battery life. You don't need us to tell you that there hasn't yet been a laptop that's combined the thinness, processing power and battery endurance on offer from the X1. We'll be keen to check these mighty specs out for ourselves when it launches, but if you're already convinced, hit up the source link to get your pre-order in.