- Fake Apple Store Is Now The “Smart” Store
- Review: The Audi A7, A Transformer In Disguise
- Daily Crunch: Mainframe
- BART’s Interference In Subway Protests, A Step In The Wrong Direction For Digital Freedoms
- Just In Time For The New NFL Season, Taptu Brings Fantasy Football To Mobile Readers
- Virgin America Chrome App Helps You Choose Where To Go, What To Pack
- Mozilla Brings The Sign In Button To The Browser Level
- Skimming Jonathan’s Card For Fun And Philanthrophy
- Video: Lockheed’s “Samarai” Drone Spins Like A Maple Seed
- Google Adds Google+ Public Posts To Its Social Search Results, Ho-Hum
- Leaked FCC Doc Reveals Details Of AT&T’s Strategy For T-Mobile Deal
- Microsoft Patents Flat-Slider Phone Form Factor, Multi-Touch Gaming Mice
- Elaborate 404 Page Is So Unfunny It’s Funny
- Reading In Four Dimensions: “Books Are Only Going To Get Better And Better, But There Will Be Fewer of Them”
- YC-Funded MobileWorks Aims To Be A Hands-Off Mechanical Turk
- Are We Ready For A True Cloud Phone?
- Review: Audyssey Lower East Side Speakers
- TinyChat iPhone App Lets You Video Chat With Up To 12 Facebook Friends
- Canon Lens Shot Glasses, For Drinkin’ And Shootin’
- Sprint: Yeah, About That 4G BlackBerry Playbook We Announced? It’s not happening.
Posted: 13 Aug 2011 06:27 AM PDT
MICGadget has some action shots of the Kunming “Apple” store that raised so much Internet ire and mirth a few weeks ago. Although the insides are the same, you’ll notice one big difference: the apple is still there but the text has been replaced by a nail-salonesque sign dubbing the shop the “Smart Store.” They still sell Apple products, but now they’re smarter.
As we’ll recall, the owner of the Kunming store used to be an authorized dealer until he began to react to the vagaries of the market and sell things at a bit of a premium. He’s now selling a grey market gadgetry since his license was pulled. That said, the store is still open for business and able to supply all of Kunming’s Apple needs.
Posted: 13 Aug 2011 05:15 AM PDT
The Audi A7 is different. The executive five-door fastback sits nearly atop Audi’s lineup, starting out at $59k with my tester wearing $80k on its window sticker. Excluding limited run sports models, a fully decked-out A7 is the third most expensive car Audi sells, placing only lower than the massive A8 sedan and R8 supercar. Still, even looking like a modern and practical station wagon, the A7 is a niche car but perhaps one with a broad appeal.
The 310HP 3.0 TFSI supercharged V6 screams within the engine compartment yet the A7′s full-size stature prevents it from achieving true sports sedan status. The 2+2 seating configuration doesn’t make for the best people mover. Even the rear fifth door seems to suggest that the A7 has plenty of room for cargo, but it doesn’t; the trunk’s effective storage space is actually rather small. This identity crisis is further supported by the sheer number of creature comforts and available technology packages. The A7′s big brother, the stately A8, is Audi’s flagship and the A7 is not going to challenge that title. Yet the A7, despite the strange downsides, might actually become the most memorable Audi from this current generation and define the brand for years to come.
Neither of the screens are touchscreen, yet four soft buttons surrounding the rotating knob allow additional controls as dictated by the selected screen. A small touchpad does provide for some fun tricks, though. When in radio mode, six numbers glow indicating favorite stations while navigation destinations can be inputted by writing them out with a finger. It’s clever.
Audi’s MMI is among the top infotainment systems currently on the market. The system is clean, organized and best of all, lacking in drama. For example, Ford’s MyFord Touch system has a huge “Wow” factor but almost an equally huge learning curve. That’s not the case with Audi’s MMI. You sit down, put your hands on the controls, and go, “This is nice.”
This screen is exactly like the one found in the A6 and A8, and can control most media, telephone and navigation functions. There’s also an enhanced trip computer, fuel efficiency gauge, and compass. A steering wheel mounted scroll wheel and two-way navigation button makes flipping through the tabs and menus a non-issue. This simple control scheme sets it apart from competitors.
T-Mobile is the data source of choice and Audi dealers supply and install the SIM card upon vehicle delivery. It’s up to the car’s owner to pay the bill but they’re not tied down to T-Mobile — any SIM card tied to a data plan will work. This connection allows for more than just Google Earth. Through the my.audiusa.com portal, owners can send destinations to the vehicle’s nav system and update address books. The data connection also feeds weather, gas price info and weather info right to the car.
My tester was fitted with the $5,900 Bang & Olufsen option. Turn the car on and twin tweeters proudly rise out of the dash. Owners can pop in a CD and the system impresses with crisp highs and solid lows throughout a full soundstage — just don’t turn on SiriusXM and brag about how much the system cost. The expensive audio system actually disappoints when the source material is anything but the best. SiriusXM is weak and flat while HD Radio has a sort of crackle — and forget about FM. Car manufacturers have lately turned to bespoke audio companies for their expertise and branding. The B&O system in this Audi is more about the latter. Listen to a lot of Eagles CDs? Opt for it. Everyone else should save their cash.
Not all the technology is about fun and games. The A7 has an optional night vision mode that turns the secondary display within the dash cluster into an infrared scope. The view is rather limited, and I found, at least during the warm week in August I had the A7, it didn’t pick up animals or even humans. This makes the function teeters on the edge of being a novelty but could potentially be helpful when the air outside is cooler.
The A7 also packs a standard assortment of next-gen collision detection tools and safety features: multifunction heads-up display, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, front and rear radar sensors, back-up cam, and a rather annoying blinking light that flashes on the dash and HUD when you tailgate someone even at low speeds. The top of the line Prestige model, which I had as a tester, even features adaptive headlights that pivot 15 degrees when turning. Most of the safety features are found within the A7′s $5,800 Innovative Package; I can’t imagine the car without any of these. In fact, I daresay that these functions are the second part of the A7′s draw but not the primary.
Audi vehicles sell because they are awesome driving machines. The A7 wears the Audi badge with honor, and does it credit. It’s a fantastic experience, but one marred ever-so-slightly because of its aforementioned confusion. The 3.0 TFSI provides more than enough juice for the A7 to sprint to 60 MPH in a spirited 5.4 seconds. The 8-speed Triptronic is smooth and efficient as the A7 is rated at 18 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. I bested the EPA’s numbers and saw 29 mpg during a 350 mile trip to Lake Michigan.
The A7 is a blast to drive and should provide enough thrills for most. It’s a proper sports sedan masquerading as a fastback. The Quattro all-wheel drive system helps the A7 hug the road while a self-deploying rear spoiler rises out of the fifth door for some additional helpful downforce at speeds over 80 mph. The A7 shares a wheelbase length with the A6 and is just 1.1-inch longer overall. In fact the less-expensive A6 measures up almost better than the A7 with slightly more rear seat head and leg room. Plus it has a rear center seat. The A7 is, in a sense, an executive long wheelbase sports hatchback. (get that?)
But none of those traits are potential deal-breakers. They combine to give the A7 a honestly unique feel. The A7, especially when considering its high-tech cabin, is a car built for a new type of buyer that wants something radically different, which the A7 achieves in the most subtle, but effective ways. It’s easy on fuel, a blast to drive, and loaded with accessible technology. I was, in the end, pleased.Click to view slideshow.
Posted: 13 Aug 2011 01:00 AM PDT
Here are a selection of yesterday’s Gadgets stories:
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 11:42 PM PDT
As many may be aware by now, Bay Area Rapid Transit, also known fondly as BART and San Francisco’s version of a municipal subway system, has been on the receiving end of quite a bit of criticism over the last 24 hours. The criticism stems from BART temporarily interfering with cell service in four of its stations in order to stifle potentially violent protests that centered around an earlier shooting by a BART police officer.
The incident, which occurred on July 3rd, involved 45-year-old Charles Blair, who was shot and killed by a BART officer after the (apparently homeless) man pulled a knife and rushed the officer and his partner, according to SFGate.com. Organizers and activists had organized a protest in select BART stations to speak out against what they deemed to be another rash and unjustified response by authority to violence in its transportation systems.
Unfortunately, this is something that BART has been through before, with the much-publicized killing of Oscar Grant in 2009. After a fight in a BART station, officers attempted to detain Grant, whereupon one officer drew his gun and shot Grant in the back. The whole incident was captured on cellphone cameras, was then later posted on YouTube, reaired on national news, and was viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
As CNET reported at the time, many people took to Twitter and other forms of social media to receive updated information on the incident and ensuing trial, in which the officer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Many disagreed with the verdict, however, and the many protests and violence that followed this case was no doubt prompted by the mass availability of information (including the sensitive footage of the actual killing) on the Web and social media. For good or ill.
That is not to say that BART had reason to censor cell phone activity in this most recent situation, but there’s no doubt they were fully aware of the precedent, and it wouldn’t be ridiculous to assume that this (and other situations liked it) may have influenced their reaction.
Now, as to the legality of BART’s cell communications jamming, as has been reported by SFAppeal among others, BART did not necessarily employ blocking methods that are explicitly outlawed by the FCC and, instead, according to a statement issued by the transit authority, simply “asked wireless providers to temporarily interrupt service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform.” Which is not necessarily out of line.
However, as CNET and tweeters have pointed out, it is still difficult to avoid comparisons to Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak, who ordered Egyptian carriers to essentially turn of the Internet to prevent citizens from organizing. Naturally, Twitter has already created its own hashtag for the BART kerfuffle: #MuBARTek. Although the comparison may be a little dramatic, it’s certainly understandable.
Even if one takes the stance that BART was acting under the law, and acknowledges that BART will probably regret its actions (if it doesn’t already), the United States was outspoken in its condemnation of Mubarak for the Egyptian government’s interference in digital communication and, while this certainly isn’t an incident of nearly the same scale, it does make the U.S. look hypocritical, as the U.S. government pushes for macro web freedom and freedoms in all forms of digital communication. If we are to supposedly hold ourselves to high (or higher) standards, then this kind of action is really not acceptable.
As Marvin Ammori, an oft-cited lawyer and expert in internet law, media law, freedom of speech, and cybersecurity, pointed out in an insightful and well-written post, though many have been up in arms over BARTgate being a prime example of a glaring first amendment violation, in the big picture, it’s hard to argue the case. There’s a lot of wiggle room in the courts for scenarios in which a government agency suppresses free speech not because of its content, but in content-neutral terms to protect citizens from violence or danger. Higher courts will often rule against it being some kind of sweeping violation of first amendment rights.
As Ammori points out, BART officials believed that protests in its stations “could lead to platform overcrowding and unsafe conditions for BART customers, employees and demonstrators”, which do indeed “sound like content-neutral reasons”.
Of course, as Ammori goes on to say, BART did indeed turn off “the phone network at a specific time that it expected a protest, and a protest directed at transit police”. And the transit authority’s reasons for doing so were certainly due to the fact that they expected that the protests could potentially turn violent. Thus, “if BART was trying to suppress speech because of its content or to stop violence”, he says, “it likely can't meet the constitutional test and has violated the First Amendment”.
Whether or not BART is guilty of violating first amendment rights, and is eventually taken to court, many experts are calling for further FCC scrutiny of this decision, and there likely will be.
And as scrutiny, investigation, and analysis of these types of incidents are slow-moving, especially when they involve a government agency, many hackers have of course already begun tweeting in support of the protestors, and Anonymous has already released a digital flyer with the hashtag #MuBARTek, as first reported by CNET.
Whatever the case, many of us can likely agree that this is a step in the wrong direction for freedom of speech in the U.S., especially as it relates to freedom of communication by digital means and cannot allow the silencing or interference of government agencies in protests or demonstrations. How, if not for potentially violent demonstrations, would this country have accomplished any sort of civil, philosophical, or governmental progress forward?
Undermining the authority of Internet or cellular discourse, no matter how small the incident, sets the wrong precedent and sends mixed signals to other countries and burgeoning digital communities around the world. It’s just not good policy, and it makes us look stupid.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 09:10 PM PDT
From its founding in 2007, Taptu was a startup that specialized in search and touch-based interfaces for mobile, launching a realtime mobile search engine in conjunction with OneRiot back in 2009, for example. In November of last year, however, the startup made the smart decision to bring its mobile search proficiency into the news reader market, launching Flipboard-like Android and iPhone apps that brought an interesting value proposition to bear on the burgeoning mobile reader market: Users could aggregate more than 5,000 mixed streams — no paltry number, and far more than that offered by the competition.
In April, Taptu launched on the iPad with a sleek and clean design that, again, worked to differentiate itself from competitors like Flipboard, Pulse, Flud (and perhaps Editions) by bringing its proprietary mobile search tech to bear on the aggregation of thousands of news sources, rather than relying on those tired RSS feeds.
As some readers may know, the National Football League had been in the grips of a contentious lockout that put the 2011 season in jeopardy. The owners and players were recently able to come to terms, ending the lockout on July 25th, and allowing the pigskin show to go on. Seeing as football is back on, not wanting to miss out on a golden opportunity to expand their feature set, Taptu is today entering into a new athletic domain with the launch of a NFL fantasy football news stream for Taptu users on both smartphones and tablets. The new stream enables fans to receive updates on every critical stat and news item in realtime, allowing fantasy footballers to field a competitive team each and every week.
As my colleague MG wrote last week, the sports world has largely been underrepresented on tablets and news readers, because ESPN (the behemoth of sports content) has basically been absent from the space — at least in terms of partnering with other developers or startups to syndicate their content. But last week, Pulse dropped a bomb on the news reader tablet market by announcing that it was the first player in the space to receive an infusion of ESPN content, along with existing content from Bleacher Report, Yahoo Sports, and so on.
While this was a big win for Pulse, there is still an even more coveted, niche demographic that remains underrepresented on tablets, which would be none other than fantasy sports. Fantasy sports are currently played by over 27 million Americans; it’s becoming an increasingly popular pastime (and money maker). And for those who are involved, or have friends who play, fantasy sports are by and large a rabid group.
Though it depends on the sport, in order to field the best team each week, fantasy sports players have to consume a lot of information about who’s playing well, including what players are injured, or under-performing, etc. Fantasy sports enthusiasts consume a lot of news and statistics, they do their homework, like analysts, or enterprising journalists — obviously a great customer to have if you’re a mobile startup.
Over the next 30 days, loads of football fans will be building out their teams on their desktops and mobile devices in preparation for the start of the season. And now, thanks to Taptu, those fans no longer have to visit multiple websites to get the lowdown on a trade or injury. Plus, Taptu’s fantasy feature lets users mix and match from football’s big publications and blogs into one stream, making the information easy to read and glance over.
And, in a nose-thumbing at Pulse, Taptu will feature breaking news from ESPN, SB Nation, Fox and CBS Sports, among others. To find the app’s fantasy football stream, users simply go to the “Stream Store” and look for the fantasy football icon, click “+”, and the stream will be added to a user’s news collection. As before, Taptu is available for free on iOS (here) as well as Android phones and tablets (here).
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 08:41 PM PDT
While other airlines also have branded Chrome apps and extensions (like the American Airlines Cents-per-mile Extension HOT STUFF I KNOW), Virgin has at least tried to be interesting with Traveler. To provide content for the app it’s partnered up with UrbanDaddy, offering its curated granular travel recommendations for Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Chicago and well as packing tips for all destinations.
To use the app users input can in their gender and the where, when and kind of trip in order to get suggestions for what to pack and where to go, presented in a visual list form.
Users can also select their specific traveling preferences to build Trip Inspiration boards based on criteria like Trip Vibe and Must Do activities. Users can pick from a selection of images or add their own images from Picasa to their boards.
The app then recommends destinations that correspond to the “mood” of your Inspiration Board (so far it’s only recommending New York, SFO and Los Angeles for me, maybe it’s broken or maybe I’m just hyper urban). And, because why waste a lead gen opportunity, it directs you towards buying Virgin tickets to these destinations. Of course.
And if anything this is one slick piece of airline marketing. Which is what Virgin is all about I guess.
You can download the app here.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 07:16 PM PDT
If you’re on a website that uses accounts, the sign in button can be anywhere. Sure, there are some common best practices, but I can think of dozens of sites that put them all over the place. Mozilla is looking to fix that, by bringing the sign in to the browser level.
A new experimental extension that Mozilla has released for Firefox does exactly this. When it’s installed, you’ll see a new “Sign In” button just to the left of the URL box. Clicking this, pops open a window that prompts you for a username and password for the site you’re on. It then shows you when you’re signed into a site, and gives you one-click ability to sign out. Easy. Simple. Nice.
Of course, the site you’re on has to support this functionality. But Mozilla has made it easy to do so, as they outline in their post on the subject. And the best part is that this can be used with any type of log in — it can be a broad one like OpenID, or specific ones like a blog or even Facebook, Twitter, etc — again, if those sites were to implement something like this.
One important note:
Essentially, Mozilla is just creating a common place for the sign in button to reside within the browser chrome itself. Though they also note that it will support cookies if the site turns that functionality on as well.
While this is open for any site/service to use, it is also an extension of another Mozilla project: BrowserID. As they announced here last month, their idea for this new web identification system is similar to something like OpenID, which has never quite caught on (Mozilla also says it’s more secure and seamless). Mozilla is trying to re-think identification on the web from a high level.
Beyond BrowserID (which is an open technology anyway), Mozilla doesn’t have any real skin in this game. But some of their competitors could. For example, Google is in the process of implementing a signed in experience for their Chrome browser. This already works with Sync, but Google is working on profiles for Chrome as well. Being signed in on the browser level also allows you to be signed in to Google sites, which is key for something like Chrome OS.
Meanwhile, Facebook has been working with RockMelt on a Facebook signed-in experience for that browser (which, coincidentally is also based on Chromium).
And on a broader level, both Google and Facebook have been thinking about this always-signed-in experience quite a bit. This is especially important in mobile, where it can be more annoying to type in usernames and passwords over and over again. This, along with the focus on being a central identity for the web has led to projects like Facebook’s Single Sign On.
So while Mozilla may have mostly noble intentions here, I still suspect we’re going to see more along these lines from their competitors that aren’t quite as noble. That’s not to say they’re meant to be evil, just done for more selfish reasons. Google already has their browser. I’d bet that Facebook will have one sooner or later. This could help Mozilla, as they could end up as the truly open alternative.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 06:55 PM PDT
If you’ve been reading the internet regularly this week, you’re probably familiar with Jonathan’s card, a “social payment experiment” amounting to a public Starbucks gift card. You might have bought a coffee with it. You might have contributed to it. You might have suspected it of being a Starbucks viral (it isn’t).
What you probably haven’t done is set up a script to skim money off the card in order to use it for your own nefarious purposes. And by “nefarious purposes,” I mean feeding starving children in Africa. Here comes the ethics!
Sam Odio, who sold Divvyshot to Facebook last year and is currently working on launching Freshplum, whatever that is, has detailed a hack he put together that rather subverts the Jonathan’s card philosophy. Uninspired by the admittedly uninspiring premise of “yuppies buying yuppies coffees,” he set up a script that checks the card’s balance and alerts him whenever it hits a given amount. He then transfers the money to his own card. Just today he’s “earned” $625.
At first I thought this was just an unbelievable jack move by Odio. Odious, if you will. But I too am less than amused with the results of the card (bloggers and entrepreneurs buying bad coffee) than with the idea, which is of course compelling. And of course we run a conference (now coming to Beijing!) called Disrupt, and a Hackathon where this exact behavior is encouraged. It’s just not always quite so — impertinent.
But is impertinence reason to condemn? It’s a social media experiment, after all. Pass a plate around with a dollar on it and you might get the plate back with a hundred — or some else might save you the trouble of counting your money. The idea of a public, unsecured money-transfer device usable all over the country is its own end, and this subversion of the model is just part of the process. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I think Odio’s response (turn it on its head) is exactly correct, and I’m glad to see the money going to a good cause (the card is actually $10 above its face value on eBay).
Furthermore, the original experiment is ongoing — it wouldn’t be much of an experiment if it didn’t survive its results. But how will the people who donated feel? Likely cheated — but that’s not really rational, is it? They put their money on the plate. They didn’t buy the plate. Will they continue to donate? Will people clone the script and race to the bottom, transferring pennies to their own balances? I’d say this experiment just got a lot more interesting.
Update: Oops, Starbucks shut the card down almost the moment I posted this. So this experiment just got a lot more over. Well, it would have been interesting.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 05:30 PM PDT
Anyone who lives near a deciduous forest knows the joy of the maple seed, or as we called them when we were kids, helicopters. Their single wing spins the seed, slowing its descent — so why shouldn’t a similarly-designed wing be able to spin faster and actually fly upwards? Lockheed Martin has demonstrated a new drone platform, not quite a nano air vehicle but still simple and light, that does just this.
Looking at it, you’d never think the Samarai would fly. But fly it does, and remarkably well at that. Apparently getting it into the air wasn’t the hard part; after all, if you move a wing fast enough, it’ll lift, right? On the other hand, learning to control this single-wing design isn’t exactly intuitive. Traditional aviation ideas don’t apply when your entire craft is spinning.
Check out the video:
The design was developed in Lockheed’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratories in New Jersey, and the idea is to make a UAV platform that could be easily carried by soldiers and deployed just by throwing it. The video shows the Samarai doing vertical take-off and landing as well, so it sounds like throwing isn’t even necessary.
The payloads and sizes are flexible, since apparently the design is easy to scale by using 3D printing methods. This isn’t the first maple-seed project: students at the University of Maryland demonstrated a small version, and Lockheed themselves were looking to it as early as 2006 as a potential nano air vehicle platform. I guess it took them longer than they expected.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 05:03 PM PDT
In a move that was pretty much inevitable in Google’s overall strategy of eventual Google+ integration into most if not all Google products, the search engine has announced that it will now be including publicly shared Google+ posts in its “social search” results.
Users logged into their Google+ accounts will eventually see a “Blah blah shared this on Google” if they’re searching for a keyword that matches up with something that’s been posted by someone publicly in one of their Google+ circles. As someone who rarely paid attention to my “social search” results before, I’m pretty meh about how useful this is.
But, since the “social search” results already included Twitter, Flickr LinkedIn and Quora, this isn’t at all a earth-shattering move. In fact, as Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan points out, the service may already have been live and what we’re seeing today is just the public announcement of it.
Google says they’ll be rolling out the feature over the next couple days. What I’ve really got my fingers crossed for is the return of Google Realtime Search.
Update: After getting confirmation from Google, Danny Sullivan responds, “It’s new. Posts you share on Google+ now appear and rank better. Previously, only posts you shared elsewhere would.”
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 04:36 PM PDT
A partially-redacted letter from AT&T lawyers to FCC officials was accidentally posted on the FCC website today, and it reveals quite a bit about AT&T‘s strategy for its proposed acquisition of T-Mobile. Unfortunately, the filing has come and gone on the website, but the folks over at Wireless Week took down some notes for us.
Here's what's up: AT&T faces heavy competition since its biggest rival, Verizon, has been implementing its LTE network at a much faster pace. Verizon has plans to build out its network to the point where it would provide coverage for up to 97 percent of the population, and the expansion is already underway. AT&T's initial plan (sans T-Mobile) only provided for 80 percent, and the company has yet to get its first set of cities rolling. So not only has Verizon been moving faster, but it's also been covering more ground.
According to Wireless Week, the letter from AT&T lawyers to the FCC gives us our first-ever peek into how much it would cost AT&T to match Verizon's planned LTE footprint, had the company not chosen to acquire T-Mobile. This is going to blow your mind, so get ready. The price of expanding its LTE coverage to rural areas would have cost AT&T $3.8 billion. But the letter also says that the $3.8 billion price tag and the speed at which AT&T would have to deploy made that impossible.
"AT&T senior management concluded that, unless AT&T could find a way to expand its LTE footprint on a significantly more cost-effective basis, an LTE deployment to 80 percent of the U.S. population was the most that could be justified," AT&T counsel Richard Rosen said in the filing.
Yet, AT&T is willing to throw down a staggering $39 billion to swallow up T-Mo and get that 97 percent foot print up and running. Confused? Totally understandable. Let's parse through this together, shall we?
While this isn't quite as bad as it looks, it's still not good. Rosen isn't just straight up lying when he says AT&T needs a cost-effective route to make its LTE plans a reality. These carriers have to spend, well $3.8 billion-ish, to bring coverage to rural areas. The problem is that there are way more towers to build, each of which covers far fewer people than in metropolitan areas. That means the return on investment isn't nearly what AT&T would like it to be.
Wireless Week spoke with ABI Research analyst Phil Solis, who seems to understand where Rosen and AT&T are coming from. “You really do get diminishing returns,” he said. “They’re making the case that if they’re allowed to acquire T-Mobile, they’ll have so many revenue benefits that they’ll be able to afford the extra coverage. It would help.” But that doesn't really change the fact that we end-users would be left with a duopoly. What's best for AT&T isn't what's best for everyone, and it's the FCC and DoJ's job to make sure the public interest is protected at all costs, regardless of AT&T’s preferences and financial situation.
What's interesting is that the letter revealed that AT&T decided not to spend that $3.8 billion in the beginning of January. But according to Bloomberg, Sprint could have potentially been in talks with Deutsche Telekom during the same period, with its own plans to acquire T-Mobile. Bloomberg reported on March 8 that multiple sources familiar with the matter confirmed that Sprint and Deutsche Telekom were in "off and on" meetings about a possible T-Mo merger. It's entirely possible that those conversations started in January, or even earlier, and Bloomberg only got wind of it towards the tail-end of the situation.
If that's the case, AT&T may have tried to shell out a $39 billion premium just to keep T-Mo out of Sprint's reach, citing costs to cover its tracks. I'm no economist, and have no way to figure if AT&T would actually be saving money by paying $39 billion for T-Mo instead of $3.8 billion to build it's network. But it seems a bit shady, no?
AT&T vehemently denies that any new or suspect information was released with the leak. "There is no real news here," said AT&T spokeswoman Margaret Boles in a statement. "The confidential information in the latest letter is fully consistent with AT&T's prior filings. It demonstrates the significance of our commitment to build out 4G LTE mobile broadband to 97% of the population following our merger with T-Mobile. Without this merger, AT&T could not make this expanded commitment. This merger will unleash billions of dollars in badly needed investment, creating many thousands of well-paying jobs that are vitally needed given our weakened economy."
There's really no way to know for sure what we should believe here. The only thing we can do is hope that this leak puts a little extra pressure on the FCC and DoJ to really carefully consider the deal that's been placed before them.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 04:26 PM PDT
We’ve seen a lot of interesting patents from Apple over the last few days, but Microsoft loves to patent things too — and they’ve just been granted a nice little pack of designs for mobile phones in a special slider format, and some Kinect and mouse tech to boot.
They’re not patenting a plain slider, of course. They’re patenting a few specific designs of sliding mechanism by which, once you finish the sliding action, the keyboard and the screen are “positioned in a substantially similar plane.” That is to say, mostly flush. Check it out:
The advantage is, potentially, a more comfortable typing experience. Many complained about having to type around the G1′s “chin,” and other phones with sunken keyboards have similar problems. My issue with a design like this is that the additional hinges and such might end up increasing the weight and decreasing the sturdiness of the phone. The second design does look more interesting, though, lowering the display rather than raising the keyboard. That could actually work.
What I’d like to see is some patents on a slider keyboard with keys that are actually fun to type on. Or maybe a slide-out keyboard for a tablet that doesn’t increase the weight the thing by 500%.
Microsoft was also granted a patent that clearly relates to the Kinect — it’s about determining the potential space for gestures and tracking user movement within a sort of cone. I wouldn’t say this is particularly exciting, but if you’re interested in the Kinect and Microsoft’s implementation thereof, it could make for some fun reading this weekend.
More up my alley, Microsoft has patented a method of interacting with games via multi-touch mice. I’m pretty surprised this patent flew, since games are just a form of software, and there must be hundreds of patents in play regarding the interaction of software and multi-touch surfaces. I mainly liked looking over the patent because they use illustrations that hearken back to the days of yore, when multi-touch mice were a novel proposition.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 04:05 PM PDT
In Spanish it’s vergüenza ajena, in German it’s called fremdshämen and plaatsvervangende schaamte in Dutch. What it is is second-hand embarrassment, and I just felt it, after being linked to this overly elaborate 404 page from startup Nosh. The “humorous” video, which simulates some kind of web hipster recconnaisance mission for a “rogue” web page is one of the most vergüenza ajena – inducing things I’ve ever seen. I am actually laughing at how unfunny it is.
Sure, I’ll give the Nosh boys props for originality — At least they didn’t copy Groupon’s Unsubscribe page … But honestly startup dudes, isn’t your time better spent in the office making sure the Nosh site doesn’t crash instead of out in a field pretending to kill a silly replica web page in order to come up with a “creative” 404 page.
And besides, how many people are using Nosh frequently enough that they’d get to the page in the first place!?
Okay some of you may think this is THE BEST 404 PAGE EVAR OMG, Gruber. But seriously Internet, I dare you to name one geniunely LOL-worthy moment in the entire wet noodle of an attempt at humor. Name one.
Oh well, at least it’s not this.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 03:55 PM PDT
Andrew Losowsky is having a busy week. For one thing, he has just been appointed the new Books Editor for the Huffington Post (disclosure: Aol blah blah blah) and his latest essay – Reading in Four Dimensions – has just been released as a Kindle Single.
In the essay, Andrew discusses the future of publishing and specifically how the Internet has added a forth dimension to the reading experience. It’s a fascinating essay (and a bargain at 99c) and provides a veritable Smörgåsbord for thought for any of us who are interested in the future of publishing, and the sharing of information. In the video below, Andrew shares some of the key points from the essay – how print brings permanence to digital publishing, how the concept of “publishing” has translated online and the value of paper books in our increasingly digital world.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 03:19 PM PDT
If you regularly have to deal with a lot of repetitive data entry or sorting, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The promise is appealing: you can hire workers to complete basic tasks for a relatively small amount of money. And, in theory, everyone wins. You get your tasks completed on the cheap, and your outsourced workforce gets to make some supplementary income from the comfort of their computers.
Unfortunately things are a little more complicated than that. Coordinating these jobs requires quite a bit of effort to ensure you’re getting quality results — you need to choose workers, figure out what price to set, and so on — and it isn’t necessarily easy for newcomers to get started. And then there the concern that Mechanical Turk workers aren’t getting paid enough.
Now a Y Combinator-funded startup called MobileWorks wants to provide an alternative to Mechanical Turk — one that’s as easy to use as possible, with no hands-on management required once a task is submitted. In fact, MobileWorks is promising a service that’s so hands-off that developers can use it as a sort of API — you make your data request, and a human ‘returns’ the result, with no intermediary steps. And they’re promising that its workers will be paid better than they are on Amazon.
Of course, Mechanical Turk and similar services require hands-on attention for a reason: you’re dealing with real people, many of whom are untrained, and aside from their modest pay they don’t have a particularly strong incentive to produce work of the highest quality.
MobileWorks knows this, but it thinks there’s a better solution than micromanagement. The company has set out to build a workforce comprised exclusively of workers who output consistently good results, to the point that users don’t have to worry about managing their tasks.
MobileWorks first got its start in January, when it set out to launch a service for crowd-sourcing tasks that would be completed exclusively by workers on mobile devices (in other words, people would be entering data from their cell phones). The company began approaching mobile retailers in India, asking them to identify and recruit customers who might serve as good candidates. The retailer’s incentive? Anyone wanting to be a MobileWorks worker would need a mobile data plan.
The MobileWorks team says that this worked well to seed its workforce with high quality workers, but that it’s since recognized that there are tasks that are better suited for completion on a computer, so it’s letting workers use computers as well. And it’s also letting its initial workforce organically recruit their friends and family (they say that these workers have an incentive to ensure that the people they recruit are also solid workers). The workforce is now up to around 150, mostly in India and Pakistan.
As for wages, MobileWorks says that the majority of its workers were earning less than $2/day before joining the service, and that after working 2-3 hours per day they’re earning $4/day.
The other key to ensuring quality, says MobileWorks, is that most of these manual tasks fall in one of twenty or so buckets. So the company is doing everything it can to optimize around these common tasks (which currently include data scraping and form entry), to make it easier to both submit a task and for workers to complete them. And the team says it has algorithms in place to ensure quality.
MobileWorks has set the bar very high for itself — if users notice that some of their work is coming back with shoddy results, they’re going to quickly learn to distrust this hands-off approach. And the service’s quality controls won’t really be tested until it starts reaching scale (it gets much harder to ensure high quality jobs when you’re employing thousands of workers rather than 150). But there’s certainly room for improvement in this space, and if they nail it, a large potential market.
We’ll keep an eye on MobileWorks’s progress going forward.
MobileWorks is a crowdsourcing platform for businesses and developers that is more accurate, faster and effortless than any existing solutions. Whether doing complex web research, tagging images or converting...
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 03:06 PM PDT
As we approach the fall, all the rumors of the Apple empire descend upon us. And this year may be the craziest yet because for the first time since the iPhone’s inception, Apple did not release new hardware in the summer. And there are still whispers of an iPad revamp as well. iOS 5 is coming. iCloud is coming. And then there are the iPods which are traditionally updated in the fall timeframe each year. Things are already getting crazy enough that potential Apple announcement dates are topping Techmeme one minute, and then stories debunking those dates are the top story in tech the next minute.
This will only get worse.
But there’s a reason people write up these rumors. Because people read these rumors. And the reason they do that is because sometimes those rumors are correct. And more often than that, they’re at least somewhat correct. That hope keeps peoples’ imaginations running wild. Now it’s time for me to indulge that.
One rumor that caught my eye this week was the talk of Apple looking into releasing an “iCloud Phone” alongside a new iPhone 5 this fall. This actually isn’t a new rumor so much as it’s a repurposed one. If you’ve heard talk about the “iPhone 4S”, this is the same potential device. It’s the “cheap iPhone” that TechCrunch and others have written about in the past. Given the smoke out there, it would seem that there’s something to this rumor. Even Apple’s executives have hinted at the possibility.
But the iCloud angle is a particularly interesting one. That doesn’t mean it’s entirely accurate necessarily, just interesting. First reported by Apple ‘N’ Apps, Trevor Sheridan writes:
He cites three independent sources on the information, and notes that a modified iPhone 4 design is likely to be used for such a device.
Reducing the internal storage in the iPhone is certainly one way Apple could reduce the overall cost of the device. Plus, Apple has spent the past year and a half perfecting the manufacturing of the iPhone 4, so you can be sure costs in that regard have come down. On the face of it, this makes some sense.
But the larger question remains if the world is ready for a cloud-based smartphone? And there’s a side question: what if this cloud phone is a data-only device?
To the first question, with Apple rolling out iCloud this fall, the timing could be right. Apple hasn’t turned on things like music streaming from the cloud yet, but they easily could. They recently did this with an Apple TV update for television shows. If you have an always-connected device, this concept could work. Storage would be needed for apps and perhaps a little for offline usage, but overall, maybe Apple could get away with a device with just a few gigabytes or so of onboard storage.
The second question is different. After we reported on Apple’s work on a cheaper iPhone, a few people reached out wondering if the iPod touch could simply morph into this product? In other words, Apple could upgrade the iPod touch with an iPhone 4 body, including the 3G radio.
If that’s Apple’s thinking for this product, it may be the perfect opportunity to create a phone that doesn’t offer traditional phone service. As in, it would be data-only.
Now, the carriers probably would have a hard time with this concept. But if Apple sold it as more of an iPod touch with 3G capabilities, they may bite. The carriers are currently making no money off of the iPod touch, which is a hugely popular product. It remains WiFi-only. If they offered a $29-a-month data plan, or pay-as-you-go, it could be a really compelling new source of revenue.
And to consumers, Apple could tout it as more of a “lite” phone. It can do everything the iPhone can, except make phone calls. And really, thanks to apps like Skype, FaceTime, etc, it can do that too — maybe they just don’t play that up as much at first.
Without full $60 or $70-a-month plans for cellular minutes and data, the carriers probably wouldn’t subsidize the cost of such a device down to $0. But they might be able to get close if Apple was able to make the device cheaply enough. The low-end iPod touch is currently $229. But then again, contracts are one more headache for consumers, so maybe Apple would be more in favor of selling the device cheaply without a contract, and allowing consumers to pay for 3G service on the go, like they do with the 3G iPads.
The concept of a data-only phone has been around for a while. In November of 2009, we reported that Google was looking into possibly offering their own Android devices which would be data-only. This didn’t happen, obviously. Instead, Google not only fully hopped into bed with the carriers for their Nexus devices, they got really close for maximum snuggling and abandoned their broader Android dreams.
Whether or not Apple takes this path this year, it’s pretty clear that this is the future. Eventually, carriers will exist as data dealers. All information, including voice calls will happen over this pipe. Cellular phone service will just be an optional add-on if you’re in an area with a bad data connection. Apple could kick-start this movement in the coming months. Or they might not. But someone will.
[image: flickr/jesse kruger]
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 02:51 PM PDT
Short version: A solid pair of laptop or desk speakers, unremarkable but warm and powerful, with an understated and attractive design. More attention to detail would help justify their price, though.
When it comes to PC speakers, the go-to brands like Harman-Kardon, Klipsch, Logitech and so on provide good, predictable performance. I saw these speakers announced a little while back and felt it’d be good to take a break from the usual suspects. I’m glad I did — Audyssey’s LES speakers aren’t a knockout or anything, but they hit a nice Goldilocks zone of size, power, and fidelity.
The design is meant to evoke the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I’m not sure how or why, but whether you see that neighborhood in the speakers or not, you can at least agree that the design is straightforward, handsome, and understated, perhaps to the point of being plain. The speaker enclosure itself, with its red rubberized stripe gripping the one-piece stand, is nicely done and reassuringly speaker-shaped. The stand, while sturdy and partially rubberized, doesn’t seem as considered.
On the right speaker you have a red/green power indicator LED, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the volume knob, which you press to power the speakers on or off. The indicator is tastefully dim and of an olive hue, not the traffic light green often found on devices. I was not impressed with the quality of the volume knob: there’s very little weight to it, and lots of wiggle. And the volume level notch is so shallow as to be nearly imperceptible most of the time.
They have 3.5mm and optical audio input on the back, and the speakers connect with standard speaker wire. Might have been nice to see something more substantial as a connection method.
As you have no doubt figured out by now, this is a two-speaker setup, not 2.1. Normally two-speaker systems are budget items, given away with cheap laptops or plugged directly into your iPod. The LES speakers are different, more like bookcase speakers on your desk than anything. They’re powered, with decent-sized drivers; Audyssey claims “Small speakers that can't produce bass, speaker cabinets that make noise, distortion, or even poor sound quality at low volumes are all problems that are solved by Audyssey Smart Speaker technology,” and “We don't boost the bass and distort the sound, we actually enhance the performance of the driver to give you deeper sounds.” They won’t be blowing your windows out or anything, but it’s safe to say they’re well beyond the capabilities of your average two-speaker set.
I actually prefer these over the Logitech Z623s I recently reviewed, which sound great, except I’m always worrying about whether I’ve got the sub at the right level — and at any rate, separating the low end into a separate channel has always kind of bothered me, though it’s really only a problem when the falloff between the satellites and the sub isn’t well thought out. The LES speakers have a nice level response throughout the spectrum, and while you won’t be getting teeth-rattling bass, that’s not really the intention of compact speakers like these.
Some experimentation led me to the discovery that these speakers sound best on a flat EQ, or something close to it. Depending on what you’re listening to, you might want to bump or scoop it a little bit, but for the most part they produced an even, rather warm sound that easily reached up into the highs and descended into lows without distorting or falling off too much. If anything I felt that a certain bit of mid-low spectrum was overemphasized, taking over the rest of the sound during this or that part of a song, though I’m starting to think that’s a resonance issue with my desk. At any rate I don’t have the same issue with other speakers.
They get plenty loud, though the sound is fairly directional and you’ll want to stay in the sweet spot if you can. Movies and games sounded good.
One quirk I wish Audyssey had thought twice about is the auto-off feature. If you don’t use the speakers for a while, they turn off automatically. No problem, you think, saves a little power. But they don’t turn back on when you come back and hit play again. I know, it’s a small problem to have to hit the button and turn them on, but I wish they’d just implemented an auto-on feature as well.
I also think that treble and bass adjustment knobs wouldn’t be out of place. I know you can EQ stuff, but it’d be nice to do that on the back of the speaker as well for when they’re in a less customizable audio environment.
For apartment living or use in, say, a studio environment, these are a great choice. Or for a dorm room, where space is at a premium and subs just irritate your neighbors. They’re tastefully if not beautifully designed, produce good sound with plenty of power, and provide a simpler and perhaps more faithful audio environment than 2.1 setup. If you’re confident enough to tweak your sound a little so it’s sending the right stuff to these, I’d say they’re a great choice for personal audio. But I hope they’ll consider paying a little more attention to the user experience details in the next version.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 02:21 PM PDT
Video chat startup TinyChat has released its first iOS app, TinyChat FB, which allows you to video chat with up to 12 Facebook friends from your smartphone. TinyChat co-founder Dan Blake tells me that what sets TinyChat FB apart from other services like Fring or Tango or even Skype is the fact that end users don’t need to have the service installed in order to participate in a chat. Facebook, which just launched its video-calling partnership with Skype, still doesn’t have this functionality for mobile.
Users can connect to the app with Facebook after download and it will immediately show them a list of their Friends. Clicking on a user will allow you to invite them to chat, sending them a link on Facebook with the message “I’m video chatting on my iPhone, click the link to video chat with me.” Toggling back to your Friends list will allow you to invite others to the chat and you can remove users by pressing long on their name in the Users tab.
TinyChat FB works on the iPad 1, iPad 2, iTouch 4, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. The web component is Flash-based.
My biggest issue with this is that I can’t think of any reason why people would want to Facebook video chat with 12 people. Blake insists that people do, namely teenagers. “Tiny Chat right now doesn’t have a Buddy List and that’s where it needs to be,” he says “Skype is definitely the juggernaut. We’re here to give you more creative ways to use TinyChat over Skype.”
He also says that this app isn’t the be all end all for TinyChat mobile, and that a full featured client for the service is on its way.
TinyChat does over 30 million minutes of video chat a day according to Blake, bringing on a 100K new users a day. The app has raised $1.5 million in funding from triumvirate of Ashton Kutcher, P.Diddy and Lady Gaga and others, who, come to think of it, would probably make a pretty interesting video chat group.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 01:12 PM PDT
Lens-related ephemera seems to be a soft spot of mine. Canon thermoses, Canon mugs, Nikon Mugs, Nikon bracelets — the fun never stops. Or, alternatively, it never starts, if you’re a Pentax user. All you get is great cameras and an amazing lens selection.
For the photographer who likes a tipple now and then, or just loves things that look like lenses, consider these twee 24-105mm zoom shot glasses. I can’t vouch for the image stabilization, but you can’t fault them for their size.
Their capacity is 1.5oz (i.e. a normal shot glass), they’re made of sturdy glazed ceramic, and they cost $18 for a set of three over at Photojojo.
Posted: 12 Aug 2011 12:32 PM PDT
Waaaay back at CES in January, Sprint and RIM announced that they were cooking up a version of the BlackBerry Playbook that played friendly with Sprint’s 4G network. And then… nothing. Months went by, with nary a mention from either of the companies involved.
Alas, it looks like the Sprint 4G Playbook will be buried before it’s even born. Blaming a “lack of demand from business customers” (read: everybody who wants a tablet right now probably already has an iPad or a Xoom), Sprint has killed off plans to launch the device.
It’s unclear whether or not RIM will go on to sell a Sprint-friendly version of the tablet themselves, though it seems rather unlikely. Selling CDMA phones without the carrier’s support is tough enough — but an ultra niche object like a half-baked enterprise-focused tablet? Blyeck.
As the Wall Street Journal points out, this.. isn’t good news for RIM. Sprint was the one major carrier who was willing to back the Playbook — neither AT&T or Verizon wanted to have anything to do with it. While Sprint still offers the WiFi only version of the tablet, it doesn’t seem like they’re planning to stick by the Playbook for much longer. Nail, meet coffin.
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