» Archive for the 'Neat Accessories for the Knowledge Worker' Category

Apple’s iPad: Is This the Year of the Tablet?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 by David Goldes

Apple made its second foray into the keyboardless computer industry yesterday with the launch of the iPad.

Is this the year of the tablet?

Is it the year of the tablet yet, dear?

Similar devices have been around since the GRiDPad was introduced in 1989, although the GRiDPad tipped the scales at slightly over 2 kg.  Apple itself began selling the Newton as a PDA in 1996 but its handwriting recognition software and short battery life hampered its success. Microsoft’s Windows-based Tablet PC has enjoyed a modicum of success but it is mostly used by professionals such as nurses and insurance adjustors who are on the go for much of their day.

In addition, early tablets lacked today’s high-speed wireless networking capabilities as well as Internet content, which today are both more than plentiful.

With the iPad, Apple hopes to leverage the iPhone’s success and create a new category of gadgets.  The iPad supports Web browsing, e-mail, videos, music (it essentially has a built-in iPod), eBooks, as well as applications designed especially for the device.  It will also support almost all of the 140,000 applications in the Apple App Store.  The iPad uses a Multi-Touch interface and a large virtual keyboard (it can also be used with a traditional keyboard). It comes with a 9.7″ LED backlit display that provides a 178° viewing angle.  The machine will be supplied with either 16, 32, or 64 GB of flash storage, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and, on higher priced models, the ability to connect to 3G networks.

Although there was much speculation about potential partners for the 3G connectivity, Apple will continue (for now at least) to rely on AT&T’s 3G network for the iPad in the United States, despite the many complaints iPhone users have had about their AT&T 3G service.

Apple’s iPad comes at a time where there are full-functioned netbooks on the market for under $300 – and these have a real keyboard.  Granted, they lack Apple’s vaunted UI but just how many portable devices do most people really need?  Apple is betting on customers going for a superior user experience and greater Net usage [the iPad uses flash memory and that gets expensive (the 64 GB model is $699].

Where the real impact may lie is in book, newspaper, and magazine publishing. Amazon offers the Kindle, a black-and-white eBook reader, that is the leader in what is essentially a small, niche market.  Amazon has been trying to branch out with an App Store-like offering but the superior (color) interface of Apple’s iPad could put it in the lead.

Publishers are looking to Apple to create a new model that will let them advertise and monetize their content.  Taking a different path from Amazon’s, Apple is allowing book publishers set their own prices (Amazon sets Kindle pricing).  Companies such as the New York Times and game-maker Gameloft are developing iPad-specific apps.

Still many questions remain.  Will the iPad reinvent traditional media?  Will consumers want to carry yet another device (the iPad is not a phone)?   Stock analysts are bullish on Apple and the iPad.  The company’s stock rose 1.5% yesterday to $208.99 and some analysts are predicting a high of as much as $285 over the coming 12 months.

Traveler Alert – Data Roaming and the T-Mobile G1

Thursday, June 11th, 2009 by David Goldes

We’ve recently heard from multiple knowledge workers who used their T-Mobile G1 smartphones on overseas trips.   All had a common complaint: they followed T-Mobile’s recommended guidelines to turn data roaming off yet they still received a bill for hundreds of dollars of data usage during the trip.

A report from our client RJ, a road warrior who flies to Europe several times per month, was typical.  After purchasing his new G1 and turning data roaming and data synchronization off, his bill for data roaming was $319.55.  T-Mobile customer service did agree to credit him for the charges without arguing the point – but the customer service representative also said that the G1 will turn data roaming back on regardless of what he does and that “you have to either keep the phone home or keep it off during your trip.”   “It’s sophisticated,” the representative added.  The rep suggested renting a phone from T-Mobile for future trips or unlocking the G1 so RJ could purchase and use a local SIM.

We spoke with T-Mobile to better understand the issue at hand.  A spokesman confirmed that data roaming can be turned off and supplied a written statement issued by the company in December 2008.

It reads:
If a T-Mobile customer would like to use their T-Mobile G1 while outside the country, they should contact Customer Care before they leave to ask that the WorldClass feature be added to their service at no additional charge.  If they choose, customers can also disable data roaming on the G1.  This can be done by going through the following steps: Home Screen > Menu > Settings > Wireless Controls > Mobile Networks > Data Roaming.

There is, however, a caveat:
Some third party applications available for download on Android Market require access to the Internet and have the ability to turn on data roaming when in use. Customers are informed whether an application will use this feature prior to downloading, but should also be aware when traveling outside the country.

As RJ’s customer service rep put it, “It wasn’t your fault.”

David M. Goldes is President and Senior Analyst at Basex.

Amazon Kindle DX: Is Bigger Really Better?

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Bucking the trend for smaller footprint devices, Amazon announced a significantly larger Kindle eBook reader.  The electronic paper display is 2.5 times the size of the current Kindle model and, at 535 g, the weight is double the current model.  It will store 3,500 books compared to 1,500.

The new device, dubbed Kindle DX (for deluxe), costs $489, or $130 more than the current and smaller model. Amazon.com is positioning it as a new way for users ranging from students to knowledge workers to read documents, newspapers, and textbooks. It will be available for purchase this summer.

Amazon Kindle DX

Amazon Kindle DX

The Kindle costs as much as an inexpensive laptop and more than an inexpensive netbook.  Neither of these devices is ideal for reading books, of course, yet they are far more versatile in many other areas.
Amazon.com is trying a different business model to sell Kindle DXs: three newspapers, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post, will offer it at a reduced price (not yet announced) to readers who live in areas where their newspapers are not available for home delivery (subscribers must sign up for a long-term subscription to the Kindle edition of the paper, making this similar to the subsidized purchase of a new mobile phone with a multi-year contract).  Articles displayed in the newspaper’s Kindle edition do not have advertisements and Amazon keeps 70% of the subscription revenue, an arrangement newspaper publishers are reportedly trying to renegotiate.

Amazon launched the device at Pace University and announced agreements with three major textbook publishers, Pearson Education, Cengage Learning, and Wiley Higher Education, to make their books available in the Kindle store.  Six universities including Pace, Arizona State, Case Western Reserve, Princeton, Reed College, and the University of Virginia, are slated to test the device with students in the fall.

So what does all of the extra size, weight, and storage get you besides strength training for your wrist?  To start with, the display size is much more suitable for reading newspapers and books with complex illustrations.  The auto-rotate feature turns pages from portrait to landscape, something that will be particularly useful for maps, graphs, tables, and even Web pages.  The Kindle DX supports PDF files natively, so, unlike with the current Kindle, files do not have to go through a converter.   I’ll reserve judgement at this point but since I most recently favored the Kindle for iPhone over the Kindle device, I’m not sure which way this will go.

You can pre-order a Kindle DX at Amazon.com.

Jonathan B. Spira is the chief analyst at Basex.

Test Drive: BlackBerry App World

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira
BlackBerry App World Categories

BlackBerry App World Categories

BlackBerry App World is now open for business.  The new application store is available from BlackBerry smartphones with a trackball or touchscreen such as the Pearl, Bold, Curve, and Storm; it does not support older BlackBerry devices with side wheels, which means that millions of knowledge workers with these models cannot benefit from what the store has to offer without replacing their hardware.

I only had an hour or so to explore the store; for this I used a BlackBerry Bold and AT&T’s 3G network, later switching to Wi-Fi to see if downloads were significantly faster (they weren’t).  To install, I had to first go to a Web page and initiate the installation process.  That put the App World icon in my download folder (incidentally, if you don’t know to look there, you won’t find it) and I moved it to the top-level menu.  Once in App World, I found hundreds of applications in categories such as News, Weather, Finance, Games, Productivity, Social Networking, and Health.  Many are free but some were relatively pricey ($59.99).

Installing a free app was simple and easy.  I downloaded multiple apps, including Viigo and Slacker Radio, and was soon listening to the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra playing the Sabre Dance. I was able to also check the weather and news reports in Viigo while the radio continued to play.  I then added the Nobex Radio Companion and was able to choose from thousands of radio stations in the U.S.  Nobex will also e-mail you song details with links that support Apple iTunes and Amazon.com, although you can’t purchase music directly from the BlackBerry at this time (but you can forward the e-mail to your computer to make the purchase).  I didn’t download the App World’s Facebook app; it’s the same one that’s been available for the BlackBerry for quite a while.  I couldn’t find a Twitter client although CellSpin and Viigo promise to support Twitter.

Purchasing applications was far clumsier than what Apple offers in its App Store: the first time I selected an application I wanted to purchase, AP News for $2.99, instead of offering to charge it to my mobile phone number, it offered me one payment choice: PayPal.  For those users who either don’t have PayPal or don’t wish to open a PayPal account, this seems a bit limiting.  Even when I tried to make the purchase through PayPal, it didn’t go through: “There was a problem connecting to the payment system. Your transaction may not have been processed…”  The best it could then offer me was an “attempt to retrieve the application purchase.”  It turned out that the charge had gone through and I was later able to install the AP app.  After testing it, I liked the free Viigo app better for news and information.

A few naming conventions were a bit odd (of what benefit is a “Boston News Web Shortcut” or “Fox News Bookmark”?) but in general, it was easy to find and learn about new applications.  Most have screen shots and product summaries and many have reviews.  I found that e-mailing a link from App World (so I could read more about the application on my laptop) did little good as the link was only accessible from the device.

Features include keyword search, reviews, recommendations, and a folder called My World, which keeps track of downloaded applications and facilitates reinstallation and transfer of applications to a device.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Test Drive: Skype for iPhone

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 by Jonathan Spira
Skype for iPhone Account Screen

Skype for iPhone Account Screen

Skype is a popular communications tool for many knowledge workers, especially those on the go.  Released on Tuesday, Skype for iPhone, which also works on the second generation iPod touch, adds Skype calling and instant messaging to both devices and is available from Apple’s App Store, free of charge.

I installed it on the iPod touch as soon as it was available and, while there have been a few glitches, my experience has been pretty much stellar.  The application opens up myriad communications possibilities for the business traveler, including the ability to assign multiple “local” numbers to an iPhone or iPod touch at very low cost.

Skype for iPhone allows users to place free Skype-to-Skype calls when connected to Wi-Fi anywhere in the world.  To reach non-Skype users at rates that are typically a few cents per minute is just as easy.  The sound quality of the call was crystal clear for me but those I was speaking to reported that I sounded a bit distant.

Skype instant messaging is available on all supported connections (Wi-Fi, 3G, GPRS, or EDGE) to both individuals and groups. Users can also edit contacts and set their presence status.

Try it from any supported device from the Apple App Store.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Review: Amazon Kindle for iPhone and iPod touch

Thursday, March 5th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira
The Amazon Kindle for iPhone Reader

The Amazon Kindle for iPhone Reader

On Wednesday, Amazon.com released Kindle for iPhone and iPod touch, a program for reading electronic books on those devices.  The software is available free from Apple’s App Store and allows users to read books purchased on the Web or via a Kindle eBook reader.  I downloaded it to an iPod touch shortly after it became available.

Based on what Amazon has mentioned publicly, the company doesn’t believe that the free application will cannibalize sales of the dedicated Kindle device but sees it as complementary.  After using the app to read several books, I am not sure they are right.

As regular readers know, I was not a fan of the original Kindle and I haven’t yet tested Kindle 2 , although its design does appear to address a few of the shortcomings I noted in the original.

If you already own a compatible Apple device, however, the new Kindle app may be the best eBook reader for you.  Indeed, if you don’t already own one, you still may wish to consider an iPod touch for your eBooks.  Text is clear and navigating from page to page is simply a matter of touching the screen.

The app makes excellent use of the iPod touch’s small screen and I found the books I purchased very easy to read.  You can change the font size to get more text on screen or to make the text easier to read.  To flip pages, swipe the screen with your thumb or other finger.

I found the iPod’s backlit screen to be a vast improvement over the original Kindle’s; the Kindle 2 uses the same E Ink screen technology and is reportedly sharper than the original model.

The app lacks direct access to the Kindle store and does not support newspapers, magazines, and blogs (despite reports in the media to the contrary), however the devices themselves support Web access and thereby provide free access to almost all of the very publications Amazon.com sells, plus many more not available at the Kindle store.

Two major flaws, which one hopes will be remedied in future versions: there is no search from within the book and graphics can’t be resized.  In addition, there is no landscape reading mode and the software does not support annotations.

If you do own a Kindle, Amazon’s Whispersync service will keep track of where you are on either device and synchronize the two.  Books purchased on the Kindle are automatically available on the Apple device as well.

There are other eBook options for the iPhone and iPod touch. Shortcovers allows users to purchase and read books on the iPhone and iPod touch and Google supports eBook reading on a Web site optimized for the iPhone, although the books available from Google are out-of-print.

If you are looking for a good eBook solution, the Kindle for iPhone and iPod touch merits strong consideration.  The reading experience, while not book-like, is pleasant, the software is free, and the books themselves are far less expensive than the original paper versions.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Rekindling the Flame – Amazon Introduces Kindle 2

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

When the original Amazon Kindle was introduced, I tried very hard to like it.  While there were many things that it did well (see my original review), the reader experience was ultimately unsatisfying.  At the time of its introduction, however, the Kindle was certainly the latest and probably greatest eBook reader, a concept that goes back to Sony’s introduction of the Bookman in 1991 and the Sony Data Discman in 1990.

The original Bookman weighed two pounds and could play full-length audio CDs.  It was, essentially, an 80286-based, MS DOS-compatible computer with a 4.5″ monochrome display.  Even before the Bookman, Sony had introduced the Data Discman Electronic Book Player.  The Discman weighed only 1.5 pounds and books had to be created using the Sony Electronic Book Authoring System.  Its three-hour battery life, relatively low resolution, and limited content greatly limited its utility and, ultimately, its lack of success.

All of these designs, including the newest Kindle, overlook the rather profound question of what makes for a satisfying book-reading experience.

It all boils down to the fact that reading a book is just that, something one does with paper.  No amount of searchable text, clickable links, and video wizardry will replace that experience, and putting a table of contents, page numbers, and an index around words that come to the reader electronically is a different reading experience.

Books also have other advantages, including a drop-proof, shock-proof chassis, extremely low power consumption, and a bulletproof operating system.

What we read from did migrate once before. By the end of antiquity, the codex had replaced the scroll.  The codex user interface was improved over time with the separation of words, use of capital letters, and the introduction of punctuation, as well as tables of contents and indices.  This worked so well, in fact, that 1500 years later, the format remains largely unchanged.

With the original Kindle, the reader experience, while light-years ahead of reading a book on a laptop, was still greatly lacking compared to the pleasure readers continue to derive from paper books (it appears we are at the cusp of having to create a retronym, “paper books,” to describe the non-eBook variety).  My 1996 “invention” of the Lazerbook , an in-home device that printed books on demand on reusable paper, has still not yet been built but I suspect that, were it to arrive on the scene today,  readers would still prefer paper.

This week Amazon introduced Kindle 2.  Although units are not yet available for purchase (although Amazon is accepting pre-orders now) or for testing, I suspect that I will like this Kindle a whole lot more.  In addition to the new Kindle, Amazon said it would start to sell e-books that can be read on non-Kindle devices including mobile phones.  It also announced an exclusive short story by Stephen King.

Kindle 2, sporting a new design with round keys and a short, joystick-like controller, has seven times the memory of the original version, a sharper display, and it turns pages faster.  Despite these improvements, the price remains the same: $359.  At the launch, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told the audience that “our vision is every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.”  Amazon also announced Whispersync, a feature that allows the reader to start a book on one Kindle and continue where he left off on another Kindle or supported mobile device.

Apple and Google, not traditional book publishers, represent the greatest challenge to the Kindle beyond, of course, the codex.  Google has, to date, scanned millions of books, many out of print and hence not easily available in traditional form.  Readers can find several e-book programs online for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

What will the future hold? Check with me in, say, 1500 years.

You can order the new Kindle from Amazon.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

The Flip MinoHD

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

I am having way too much fun with the high-definition version of the Flip Mino video camera (Flip calls it the MinoHD and says it’s the “world’s smallest” HD camcorder).  It weighs only 85 g and can store 60 minutes of high-quality video, supports Windows and Mac (including QuickTime and iMovie), and is inobtrusive, as those you film will think you are holding your mobile phone.  Image quality is greatly improved over the original version, which wasn’t at all bad.

Here are two clips, a ride on the S-Bahn in Vienna and my attempt to conduct the virtual Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic) earlier today at the Haus der Musik museum in Vienna.

It’s good for quick product demos as well and you can easily publish an edited video to YouTube or distribute it privately via a greeting card or e-mail sent via Flip’s servers.

Virtual Wiener Philharmoniker

S-Bahn from Vienna to Stockerau

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

BlackBerry v. BlackBerry

Friday, December 5th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Some of my favorite mobile devices of the past few years have come from Research in Motion, including the BlackBerry Pearl (which we named our 2006 Product-of-the-Year in part thanks to the innovative pearl-like trackball that simplified navigation) and the 8800 series.

Now Research in Motion has introduced two new BlackBerry smartphones: the Storm and the Bold.  The Storm is the latest smartphone resulting from the touch-screen hype that started with the Apple iPhone and it is also the first BlackBerry without a physical keyboard.

It’s also the first BlackBerry I can’t recommend.

Touch-screen mobile phones suffer from a unique set of problems: the bigger screens are a drain on the battery and the user has to look at the screen to do even the most simple task of placing a call instead of getting to know the device’s buttons by feel.

RIM made the display into one big button so that pressing a button on the screen gives the user a satisfying click and you actually feel that you are pressing a button.  That’s where the innovation both starts and stops and it’s about the only thing that is satisfying when using the device.

In using the Storm, I found that pressure from my cheek would regularly turn on the speakerphone during a call.  Also, the device would occasionally slow down or freeze and then function normally.

Web browsing was much slower compared to the Bold (we’ll look at the Bold next week) – what took me 1 min. to accomplish with the Bold took over 12 min. with the Storm.  There were delays of several seconds in moving from portrait to landscape mode.  And did I mention that the Storm does not have Wi-Fi?

To select something, you highlight and then click.  Highlighting was tricky.  In a list, the phone generally refused to acknowledge my selection and preferred either the item above or below.  Scrolling was equally maddening.  Instead of starting to scroll, the phone seemed to think I was highlighting and selected a random entry before scrolling.

Once you get past these glitches, the phone itself isn’t bad.  Calls on GSM networks in Europe were crystal clear as were the few calls I made in the U.S. on Verizon’s CDMA network.  It paired immediately with the new BMW 730d I was driving and transferred the phonebook perfectly.  The built-in speakerphone was excellent.

The Storm supports editing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents.  And the display itself is dazzling.

Unfortunately, the phone’s glitches will keep you from using some of the best features in the phone until (hopefully) RIM fixes them via a software update.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Trying to Like the Amazon Kindle

Thursday, June 26th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

If you are looking for an electronic book reader, the Amazon Kindle is head and shoulders above the competition. But the question really is, do you want an electronic book reader.

I really wanted to like the Kindle, with its E Ink high resolution display that gives an almost print-like appearance, free wireless connectivity (limited to the U.S. because it uses Sprint’s EVDO network, and post modern interpretation of, well, a book.

But I found the experience of reading a book or newspaper on the Kindle strangely unsatisfying.

At 10.3 ounces (without the cover), the Kindle felt heavier than a trade paperback book although it is similarly sized. The E Ink technology takes a second to refresh when you change pages (it fades to black and blinks), which interrupts the flow of reading and is quite jarring. (On the plus side, you can read the Kindle in direct sunlight so there are pluses and minuses to the display technology).

While reading a book on the Kindle was somewhat akin to reading a book on paper, reading a newspaper was unsettling if you like to scan stories as opposed to having one average less than a full paragraph visible at one time.

Navigating through the Amazon.com store was relatively easy and a big plus of electronic book reader technology is that you can quickly download sample chapters of books you might want to read before making a purchase.

You can bookmark interesting or key passages and edit and export notes. You can also e-mail documents to the Kindle including PDF files. The Kindle always saves your place so you can pick up where you left off. Newspapers, which are normally free on the Web, require a paid subscription on the Kindle (the New York Times costs $13.99 a month) so you are paying for convenience but many books (more than 130,000 available) are $9.99, a bargain. Finally, if you lose your Kindle as opposed to a throwaway paper or paperback book, well…

You can purchases the Kindle at Amazon.com

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.


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