The Podiyan

Thursday, February 25, 2010

HP Jumps Back Into the Camera Business!

Hewlett-Packard has not introduced new digital cameras since 2007, but after spending some time with their 2010 lineup of cameras and a pocket HD camcorder at PMA, it appears that their most compelling feature is the price point.

The HP CW450 is the least expensive of the bunch at just $99. The camera is powered by AA batteries, does 12.2 megapixel captures, includes 4x optical zoom, and has a 2.7-inch LCD. For just $9 more, you can step up to the HP CW460t, a nearly identical device that incorporates touch into its 2.7-inch LCD.

The thinner models, which use rechargeable lithium batteries, start at $129 with the HP SW450. It also has a 2.7-inch LCD, 4x optical zoom, and 12.2 megapixel captures.

The most expensive models are priced at $149. The HP PW550 does 12.2 megapixel captures, has 5x optical zoom on a 28mm lens, a 2.7-inch LCD, and a rechargeable lithium battery. The HP PW460t does 12.2 megapixel captures but uses a 29mm 4x optical zoom lens and has a 3-inch touch LCD.

All the models have the same inexpensive, plastic feel, which is in line with what you'd expect at these price points.

HP also unveiled a pocket HD camcorder, the HP V1020h, which is priced at $109. It captures 720p30 video, is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and has a 2.5-inch LCD. There's also an HDMI port and an HDMI cable (included) for digital connectivity to HDTVs for playback.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Canada vs. U.S.: Who Will Win in Wireless?

If you think Americans have had a tough time with their cell phone carriers, you haven't heard about Canada's woes. For years, Canada was a somnolent mobile desert, ruled by a slow-moving oligopoly of wireless carriers that often cloned U.S. product lines and required three-year contracts.

But over the past year, something very radical happened in the land of maple-flavored toques.* First, all three of the country's major carriers (and some minor players) started building HSPA+ networks. Then, since they were all using the same standard, they started competing on phones. And now, with fearless new companies coming into the game, plan prices are starting to come down, too. If this trend continues, Americans may soon be headed up north to smuggle cool phones across the border, rather than the other way around.
Here are three lessons the U.S. needs to learn before we become a mobile backwater compared to our Molson-swigging neighbors.

Lesson 1: Standards are great for consumers. Here in the U.S., we have a wide array of different wireless networks: HSPA 7.2, HSPA+, CDMA, iDEN, and WiMAX. That made sense when the networks were being built, but now it just throws up a bunch of barriers to competition and choice. Most of the world has standardized on HSPA+ and the upcoming LTE, which makes it more difficult for the CDMA, iDEN, and WiMAX carriers (that's everyone but AT&T and T-Mobile) to tap into the wide world of phones, iPads, and such.

The advantage of using a common standard is most clearly shown by the fact that now, in Canada, there are three carriers that offer the iPhone. Three. Competition! We don't have that here, in part, because our number one, three, five, six, and seven carriers all use CDMA. Apparently, Apple doesn't want to build a CDMA iPhone just for the U.S. and a few other countries, or throw over AT&T just to gain access to the #number four carrier.

Some of this will straighten itself out as Verizon, AT&T, MetroPCS, and T-Mobile all move to the next-generation LTE system over the next several years. But that's "over the next several years," and it still leaves Sprint scouring the globe for the occasional WiMAX device hidden under Motorola's couch cushions.

Interestingly, the HSPA+ transition in Canada wasn't mandated by the government. It was a business decision on the carriers' parts.

Now, this could all turn around again; we don't know how quickly the Canadians will be able to transition from HSPA+ to LTE. But for now, they have the upper hand.

Lesson 2: The consumer, not the operator, should be the customer. Right now, in the U.S., consumers are not the customers for mobile phones. This sounds weird, but it's true. Because of our huge wireless carriers and oddball standards, manufacturers are constantly kowtowing to operators not consumers. Even Apple does this; otherwise you'd be able to tether your iPhone by now.

In Canada, we're starting to see global-standard phones, such as the Nokia N-series, the Sony Ericsson Xperias, and the LG New Chocolate, that haven't been heavily tampered with by carriers. That's going to result in some exciting choices for Canadians.

This isn't just about Canadian carriers all going to global HSPA+. Canadian carriers are much smaller than AT&T and Verizon (think one-tenth the size) so they have less buying power. But I think it's safe to say that when carriers spec out phones, consumers lose. I'm not sure how to stop the carriers from interfering with phone features and choices in the U.S.

Lesson 3: More spectrum and more entrants equals a better market. The HSPA+ revolution in Canada created competition between networks and handset makers, but it didn't do much for service plans. Now, two new entrants, WIND and Mobilicity, are beginning to make waves with low-cost, no-contract plans combined with surprisingly powerful phones.

This is what Cricket, Boost, and MetroPCS have done for a while in the U.S., of course. But while our low-cost carriers have been curiously tentative about the fast-growing smartphone market, three out of four of WIND's currently available phones are smartphones. Just as WIND gets up and running, Mobilicity will hit the Canadian market and then there's Quebec's Videotron too.

A continual flow of new entrants with new ideas keeps the big guys from falling asleep at the wheel. While the U.S. has zero chance of seeing any truly new wireless carriers soon, we could get a similar shot in the arm if some of our smaller carriers merged to play in the top five. A combined MetroPCS/Cricket or a U.S. Cellular/Alltel/Revol merger could definitely throw our top four carriers off guard. Then maybe we'd have some lessons to teach those Canadians again.


Canadian Privacy Office Eyes Google Buzz!

Canada's privacy commissioner has promised to examine charges that the Google Buzz protocol may violate the country's privacy laws.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said that she had asked Google to explain how Buzz had addressed Canada's privacy issues.

"We have seen a storm of protest and outrage over alleged privacy violations and my Office also has questions about how Google Buzz has met the requirements of privacy law in Canada," Commissioner Stoddart said in a statement.

The commissioner said that she had held a conference call with Google to explain her concerns, which included the fact that Google had not consulted with the office before launching the product in Canada. Google simultaneously made Buzz available to estimated 146 million users last week.

Buzz has come under fire because, at launch, the service instantly tied users to frequent Gmail contacts as part of the Buzz program. Since Buzz allows other users to "follow" other users without permission, those contacts were exposed to the world. Bloggers and journalists worried about exposing sources and other private relationships.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint against Google in the U.S., seeking an injunction or other relief to counter Buzz. EPIC asked the Federal Trade Commission to make Google Buzz entirely opt-in, and allow users to accept or reject followers.

Although Google's headquarters are in the United States, Canada's privacy office has forced rivals to make sweeping changes. In August 2009, the office criticized Facebook, saying it did not do enough to protect user privacy. In response, Facebook pledged to embark on a year-long overhaul if its privacy practices, revamping and then rolling out the updated policy in November.

On Tuesday, Google pledged to continue to make "improvements" in the Buzz technology. ""User transparency and control are top of mind for us, and we review all products carefully before we roll them out," Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product management, said in a statement released by a Google spokeswoman. "When we realized that we'd unintentionally made many of our users unhappy, we moved quickly to make significant product improvements to address their concerns. We'll continue to make more improvements in dialog with our users."

To date, Horowitz's only Buzz post has been a reiteration of what Horowitz said he said at the Buzz launch.

"​I want to let you know today that we're just getting started. We're not launching this today because we think we're 'done'... We don't think that's how a product like this is built," Horowitz posted. "You don't pull of the covers on a completely finished work. We're launching this today, because we're just getting started... There's so much opportunity... rather than... 'navel-gazing' we're going to put the product in market and we're going to get in dialog with our users... our developers... and help inform the trajectory of the product based on real data from 'in the field' experience."

Others pointed out that the rush to market was uncharacteristic of Google. "It's called a beta program," Mike Elgan wrote, responding to Horowitz via Buzz. "I don't understand why you called Gmail "beta" for five years, but didn't call Buzz "beta" for five minutes. Gmail obviously wasn't beta in the final few years of the so-called "beta" program, and Buzz obviously is beta. Can you explain this?"


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dinosaurs: American Museum of Natural History Collections (for iPhone)

When the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) announced its Dinosaurs: American Museum of Natural History Collections free app for the iPhone, I wasted no time in downloading it, having spent many pleasant hours over the years in the museum's dinosaur halls looking at the magnificent fossil collection. I think it's a worthy addition to the iPhone of any dinosaur fan.

On opening the app, you encounter a photo of the museum's Tyrannosaurus rex head. Clicking on it takes you to a stunning color photo mosaic of a T. rex head that's composed of more than 800 images from the Museum's archive. Double-tapping or stretching the mosaic will let you zoom in on individual images, which include photos of the fossils both on exhibit and in their collection; drawings; dioramas; photos of dinosaur digs showing the terrain, paleontologists, and fossils in the ground; photos and correspondence from the museum's famous paleontologists (such as the letter by Barnum Brown announcing the discovery of T. rex in 1902); and a world map showing how the continents looked in the late Cretaceous.

You can either zoom in on images from the mosaic, or once you're in an image, go to adjacent ones by flicking either left, right, up, or down. It would be nice if there were a search function, so you could locate images of particular dinosaurs.

Features and Interface

In the upper right hand corner of each image is an Info button. Clicking on it reveals a title and caption for the image, as well as the photographer's name. You can also add a comment. But there are multiple copies of at least some of the images within the mosaic, for instance, the feathered velociraptor and the raptor claw. I'd uploaded a comment for the feathered raptor image, and when I checked back later my comment hadn't been posted, but someone else's had. Now when I look, I find at least three copies of the same raptor image, none of which have any comments. Did I miss the one with the comment? Or had it been deleted? I couldn't tell.
You can e-mail an image to a friend (or to yourself). Unfortunately, the top center of the image is watermarked with an ad: "Dinosaurs—Now Available on the iTunes App Store."

Tapping the bottom of the screen brings up a menu with three options: Mosaic, Stories, and About. The Mosaic button takes you back to the full T. rex mosaic. Stories takes you to a menu listing the names of individual dinosaurs. There are currently only six stories: T. rex, Velociraptor, and four relatively obscure dinosaurs. (The skeleton of one of them, Barosaurus, is prominently displayed in the museum entrance's lobby, though I doubt many people know it by name.) The stories provide more in-depth info about the creature and are augmented by additional photographs, drawings, and maps. The AMNH has promised additional stories to augment the sparse selection.

I could see them adding additional stories not tied to particular species; an example might be the difference between Saurischian (lizard-hipped) and Ornithischian (bird-hipped) dinosaurs, seeing that the AMNH's two main dinosaur halls are segregated into these two groups. The AMNH also plans to add additional images and info to the mosaic. The About button gives you instructions and detail about the app.

This free app should appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in dinosaurs. It's worth downloading just for the cool mosaic itself. I hope it serves as inspiration for other museums' apps.


Indian Premier League 2010 - Bidding - Photos

Friday, February 5, 2010

Only T20I: Australia v Pakistan at Melbourne Feb 5, 2010

What a game, absolutely riveting. Pakistan did so well to shoot Australia out for 127 but their batting, apart from Kamran, was abysmal against a very determined attack. Tait was quick, very quick, and his three wickets for 13 runs were incredibly crucial to Australia winning. Nannes was Nannes, Johnson came back after a horror first over, and Watson varied his pace and used those cutters to good effect. Smith, the rookie, struck two big blows on debut. Australia's fielding was sharp and Pakistan choked. Kamran's blazing fifty had them on course, despite four early wickets, but Pakistan managed to let this one go against a superb outfit. After Kamran's 64 the next best was 21 from his brother.

So Pakistan leave Australia without a single win. Another poor tour Down Under.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Skype: VoIP for iPhone Over 3G Coming Soon

Dreams of free Skype calls over 3G could soon become a reality for iPhone owners, according to a company blog post Wednesday--and it turns out it's because of the iPad.

"Last Thursday, Apple introduced the iPad, which we're very excited about here at Skype," the company said. "The SDK (Software Development Kit) which Apple provides to developers like Skype, has been upgraded for the iPad. The new version, 3.2, removes the restrictions on calling over 3G, which is great news."

Other apps already claim iPhone 3G call support--notably, iCall and Fring. But Skype claims its upcoming version for the iPhone will enable wideband audio for better clarity and fidelity.

Motorola, Verizon Unveil Android-Based Devour

Motorola and Verizon Wireless on Wednesday announced the availability of a new Android-based phone, the Motorola Devour.

The Devour will be available in March and will include Motorola's Motoblur, a social networking variant of Google's Android OS. Motoblur includes a "happenings" widget on the home screen that consistently monitors networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace and integrates updates, e-mails, and texts into a "universal inbox."

The new phone includes a 3.1-inch capacitive touch screen, and touch-sensitive navigation pad. Slide it up for keyboard access. The phone comes preloaded with apps including Gmail, Google Talk, YouTube, Google Search, and Google Maps. The Android Market will provide access to 20,000 additional apps.

The Devour also includes a preinstalled 8GB microSD card.

On the security front, contacts, log-in information, home screen customizations, e-mail and social networking messages are backed up via the Motoblur portal. GPS lets users locate a lost phone or remotely wipe it.

Customers will need a nationwide talk or nationwide talk and text plan, plus a data package for smartphones from Verizon. Nationwide talk starts at $39.99 per month, while nationwide talk and text starts at $59.99. Data for smartphones starts at $29.99 for unlimited monthly access.

The Devour supports several Bluetooth profiles, including A2DP, HID, HSP, HFP, AVRCP and GAP.