December 28, 2011

Maryland maker of Kindle cases sues Amazon

It wasn't too long ago -- in May, actually -- when I was getting pitched by a PR representative hired by M-Edge Accessories to write about its growing business and how it was working with Amazon to sell its range of Kindle/tablet cases.

But somewhere along the way, apparently, the relationship soured.

The Odenton-based company last month filed a federal lawsuit in Maryland that accuses Amazon of unfair business practices. (The WSJ reported it this morning, saying that it was filed last week. In fact, last week, M-Edge simply amended its original complaint, which was filed Nov. 18. Anyway....)

In the complaint, M-Edge blasts the massive web with multiple accusations, including "patent infringement, unfair competition, intentional interference with contracts and economic relations, and false advertising."

Indeed, the first sentence of the meat of the lawsuit characterizes Amazon's alleged behavior toward M-Edge as "a classic example of unlawful corporate bullying."

M-Edge has 50 employees. Amazon is much, much bigger. The company makes a wide range of Kindle and tablet cases, and says in its complaint that it's products used to be top sellers. But M-Edge claims that Amazon "de-listed" them from their website. At the heart of the complaint, M-Edge says it had a contract with Amazon to pay it 15 percent commission for M-Edge accessory sales -- but in January last year, Amazon allegedly wanted to up the rate to 32 percent.

Since Amazon sales accounted for 90 percent of its business, M-Edge eventually signed a new contract in July last year, the company claims.

The allegations are interesting, and gives a one-sided view of an interesting relationship between a tiny company (M-Edge) and a goliath (Amazon) as the goliath launched the Kindle and watched it grow into a big business. I'm waiting to see how Amazon responds to the lawsuit. Meanwhile, I'm waiting for comment from M-Edge.

Here is the lawsuit, which really is more interesting than anything I could write about it:

M-Edge Sues Amazon

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:08 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

December 13, 2011

BaltTech's top five list of gadgets for the holidays

I was on WYPR's Maryland Morning yesterday to talk about tech, and I covered what I think are some cool gadgets to give as gifts this holiday season.

Without further ado, here's my top five list of gadgets:

1. The Lytro -- starts at $399. What's special about it: It uses new technology to capture the entire field of light in a photo, allowing for incredible manipulation of the digital image after it's taken. You'll never have out of focus images again.

2. Twine -- starts at $99. What's special about it: This little gadget allows you to hook up things -- not just computers and phones -- to the Internet. For instance, you can set it up with a sensor to Tweet you if your basement floods.

3. Amazon Kindle Fire -- sweet starting price at $199. The Kindle Fire lets you shop the entire Amazon catalog of stuff, from books to songs to videos. This could be a hot seller for people who just want a decent tablet, and aren't willing to pay the Apple iPad premium of $500 or more.

4. iPhone/iPad/smartphone Accessories -- accessories are now a huge business. people love to adorn their phones and tablets with cool cases. I'm interested in the ZaggFolio, an iPad case that turns the device into a laptop-like experience, with a full keyboard. $99:

5. The Withings Wi-Fi body scale: $160. This scale connects to your Wi-Fi network in your home. You step on it and it takes your weight and other body measurements and beams the numbers to a Web application and an iPhone application. You can track your weight effortlessly and overtime, and the charts are automatically updated. Very cool.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gadgets

October 30, 2011

Hey Apple: I don't want to talk to my TV

Nick Bilton's post in Bits last week -- about Siri being the technology that would power a bona fide Apple television -- troubled me.

It's not that I'm attached to my remotes. I have three and I'm always losing them. It's just that I don't need another thing in my house to talk to. That's what my wife and three kids are for. Even my two cats are starved for attention -- I should be talking to them more than my TV.

And how would this really work? I'm sitting on the couch with my wife. She's reading a book. I'm talking to the TV. So my wife has to listen to me talking to the TV, PLUS the TV itself? Uh-huh. I can tell you: that ain't happening.

Does anyone appreciate how hugely annoying it will be to live in a house where someone is talking to their TV? And what if you want to flip the channel to a program that you don't want your mom upstairs to know you're watching?

There are too many things to worry about here!

Another point: many of us work all day talking to people. We spend hours on the phone, in interviews and meetings. The last thing I want to do at night is to demand my vocal chords talk to the Apple boob tube.

I understand that Siri is cool technology and I do see it's potential in a range of devices. And I'm sure there will be many people who really do want to talk to their TVs. I just won't want to hang out with them in their living rooms.

I just hope Apple gives us other ways to control it, too, i.e. a regular remote, or an iPad/iPhone interface. Pretty please, Apple?

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:42 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets

October 20, 2011

Lytro: a light field camera that makes "living pictures"

Huh? Light field? What's that? And why is it in a camera?

I vaguely remember reading something about light field cameras awhile ago and passed it off as future tech that wouldn't see the market for some time.

But I was wrong.

A company called Lytro is bringing light field camera technology out of the lab and putting it in a little eight-ounce body starting at $399. They unveiled it yesterday.

The killer tech behind it is that the camera is able to capture the entire light field in your shot, and not just a single pane of light, according to the company. This effectively means that you can shoot out of focus and then re-focus the shot after it's been taken. Or you can choose to focus on a part of the photo that was previously out of focus.

No auto-focus and no shutter lag, the company touts. So you're presumably taking pictures faster. Here's a photo gallery of Lytro photos.

Killer possibilities for the photographers and photo editors of the world, for sure.

But some of us like zooming in and focusing, don't we? I mean, part of the fun of photography is making choices about what to shoot in the field. It's an exercise of the mind, not just the eye and the fingers. It's not about snapping away at everything and focusing later in post-production.

Or maybe that's what it will soon be about.

Once again, it seems photography is on the verge of changing all over again with light field technology.

Below is an embedded image of a Lytro camera shot. Click on the image with your mouse to re-focus it. Pretty cool stuff.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

October 12, 2011

AirPlay mirroring in iOS5: Oh, this can be big -- really big -- for Apple TV.


When I finally get around to downloading iOS5 for my iPhone and iPad, I'll certainly appreciate the 200+ new features that Apple is introducing with this big, free software upgrade, such as full Twitter integration, iMessage and Reminders.

But the big one I'm looking forward to? AirPlay mirroring. (SplatF's Dan Frommer's post about his most anticipated iOS5 updates got me thinking about this topic this morning.)

So what is AirPlay mirroring and why will it matter for users and the Apple TV? (Note: As a commenter below states, the AirPlay mirroring feature is only available for iPhone 4S and iPad 2.)

AirPlay is Apple's Wi-Fi content-streaming technology that enables you to push music and video from your iDevice to your television, with Apple TV ($99) as the wireless intermediary that makes it happen. Since I've owned an Apple TV, I've streamed photos, videos, and music from my iPhone to my TV. For instance, I take a bunch of photos of my kids playing outside and later, when we're inside, I flash those photos quickly on my TV. Wirelessly. Simply.

Now, AirPlay mirroring will allow you to mirror the entire iPhone or iPad, including all your apps. Suddenly, you can presumably start playing an iPhone game, and shift it to play on a bigger screen.

Or how about that Keynote or PowerPoint presentation you've been preparing? Imagine you have a demonstration to present to a group, and there's a 50-inch TV in the conference room. You bring your slim Apple TV and your iPhone/iPad and, bam!, you're giving a presentation without a laptop.

I really believe if Apple sets up a couch, a big-screen TV, an Apple TV and an AirPlay-enabled iPhone or iPad in each Apple Store, the company will see its Apple TVs fly off the shelves in short order. So much for Apple TV as a side "hobby," as Steve Jobs once called it.

I really believe AirPlay mirroring can be the sleeper hit feature of iOS5, which actually drives more hardware sales for Apple.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:37 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: *NEWS*, Apps, Big Ideas, Gadgets, Wireless

August 29, 2011

Amazon tablet could take a bite out of Apple's iPad: report

An analyst with Forrester Research predicted today that if launched an Android-based tablet in the fourth quarter, it could end up selling three to five million units -- a significant chunk that could eat into the iPad's market, according to a Reuters report.

The article notes that Apple has sold 30 million iPads, while its rivals -- Motorola, Research in Motion and Samsung, to name a few -- haven't been serious competitors.

What I like about this speculation:

1) Amazon has had some success with the Kindle, so these rumors point to indications that it may be gaining confidence in designing hardware. And apparently, Amazon is willing to sell the Kindle at a loss, and make its money through ebooks -- so it is indeed a "nasty competitor," per the Forrester analyst.

2) E-books are turning into a big business, and Amazon is a huge player -- meaning that users of an Amazon tablet will have access to a robust ebook marketplace at their fingertips. Amazon is also selling other virtual goods -- i.e. music, videos -- as well as physical goods. I wonder how an Amazon tablet can change the retail physical-goods buying experience, as opposed to just the virtual one.

What doesn't make me optimistic about an Amazon tablet offering:

* Apple's now got 100,000 iPad apps. Android Honeycomb has a pittance of around 300, according to Forrester/Reuters. Tablet buyers want confidence that they will have a deep catalog of apps to choose from. Not a month goes buy that I don't discover a new iPad app that completely changes how I use the device. App developers aren't building tablet apps for Android. It's the chicken-egg scenario all over again for Amazon.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:36 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

Cool app: University app turns smartphones into live broadcast tool for security

Computer scientists at the University of Maryland have built a first-of-its-kind smartphone app that automatically connects students and staff with campus police by opening up video and audio feeds on their devices.

The app is called "M-Urgency," and for now, it's going to work with Android phones. An iPhone version is coming for the campus.

I have more details in my Sunday story about the app and the burgeoning business of campus security apps.

But don't expect those quaint "blue light poles" -- the ones with the phones that patch you through directly to campus security -- to go the way of the dodo bird anytime soon.


[Image source:]

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Apps, Gadgets, University Tech

August 22, 2011

BestBuy offering free iPhone 3GS with contract

Word is out on the Internets [MacRumors] that Best Buy is offering the iPhone 3GS for free with a two-year contract with AT&T.

It's a "Deal of the Day" so this may mean it's only a one-day deal.

If you've never owned an iPhone before, should you jump on it?

My recommendation: If you must get an iPhone, save your pennies up and get the iPhone 4. Or at least wait another month or two for the next generation iPhone.

The iPhone 3GS was an excellent phone -- 18 months ago. But there's a lot you can do now with iOS that seems clunky on the 3GS, i.e. Facetime and Skype video chatting with ease. iPhone 4 is also a faster experience, and the retina screen causes far less eye strain. If you sign up for a two year contract with 3GS, that's a long time to go with yesterday's tech.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Smartphones

August 15, 2011

Survey: 13% of Americans use cellphones to avoid interactions

In a report today from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 13 percent of Americans indicated that they use their cellphones to avoid real-life interactions with others.

The survey tosses out a number of statistics on the habits of American cell phone users.

Some more:

* Half of all adult cell owners (51%) had used their phone at least once to get information they needed right away. One quarter (27%) said that they experienced a situation in the previous month in which they had trouble doing something because they did not have their phone at hand.

* Cell phones can help stave off boredom – 42% of cell owners used their phone for entertainment when they were bored.

* One third of Americans own smartphones. And it's in that demographic's usage patterns do you have a window into our mobile future: Fully nine in ten smartphone owners use text messaging or take pictures with their phones, while eight in ten use their phone to go online or send photos or videos to others. Many activities—such as downloading apps, watching videos, accessing social networking sites or posting multimedia content online—are almost entirely confined to the smartphone population.

[Thanks to @johnbhorrigan, who tweeted out the Pew report.]

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:02 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Apps, Big Ideas, Gadgets, Smartphones, Wireless

Motorola Mobility added to Google's Circle

Big news on a Monday: Google is buying Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion -- a 63 percent premium over Motorola's stock price.

Google CEO Larry Page laid out some of the rationale for Google buying the handset maker, which makes cellphones tied to Google's Android platform, in a company blog post this morning.

Already, bloggers and tech journos are slicing and dicing the deal for meaning.

* Business Insider makes the point that with Google owning a hardware maker now, it's competing head-to-head moreso than ever with Apple.

* Larry Dignan over at ZDNet's Between the Lines blog gives six reasons why the deal makes sense. Among them: Google is getting tons of patents for wireless via Motorola, and patents help you ward off lawsuits. Also: mobility is the future of computing and Google needs to better integrate the hardware/software experience for Android.

* Here's the Wall Street Journal's straight-news take on the deal.

* So is Google now a "mobile company"? New York Times' DealBook discusses.

* Engadget's post is worth checking out, if only for the Photoshopped Google hearts Motorola graphic.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:24 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Wireless

August 9, 2011

Baltimore not very "iPad-friendly": report

Why is Men's Health always hatin' on Baltimore?

The latest indignity from the magazine, which featured a story today on its homepage titled: The Top 10 Muscles Women Love", disses our natives' technology/gadget habits.

Mashable reports on a survey by Men's Health that ranks 100 U.S. cities in terms of "iPad friendliness."

Plano, Texas, came in first place. Baltimore came in 97th. (Toleda, Ohio, came in last.)


Mind you, in March, Baltimore ranked #58 on their list of most socially-networked cities in the U.S.

Hey, at least we're not Stockton, Calif., which ranked 98th in the iPad friendly survey and 95 in the social media networking survey.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 5:15 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

Amazon Kindle getting social -- but does it get it?

kindle-social.jpg So it looks like Amazon is trying to make the Kindle experience more social. There's a good write-up in The Atlantic that discusses the new social features of the Kindle and the website, where the e-reader's public notes feature is integrated with Twitter and Facebook.

I'm not a Kindle user so I don't have a feel for how much of a demand users have to be "social" on Twitter/Facebook while trying to read a book.

Amazon's been steadily adding "social" features to the Kindle platform over the past year. But do you want to be social while trying to enjoy the peace of mind of reading a book? I dunno....

I guess I can see some usefulness in it.

As The Atlantic writer notes, readers may enjoy the ability of sharing lending versions of e-books with others in their social networks.

But it's also not in Amazon's interest to make it too easy for people to mass-lend their e-books, cuz it could potentially hurt Kindle sales. Or not?

Tim Carmody, over at Wired, has a good rundown of the details of how Amazon's pimped-up social network is behaving for users. Growing pains are evident.

I suspect we're seeing the early stages of social network experimentation for Amazon. There are rumors they're building their own tablet to compete with the iPad. Building a social network around books (and Amazon does music, and millions of other stuff, too) may be just the beginning.

Amazon could build a social network that incorporates and integrates both the virtual AND physical worlds better than anything out there right now that Apple/iTunes or Facebook/Twitter or Google/Microsoft could ever hope to accomplish. One that's powered by its deep reservoir of customer reviews and integrates well with its Amazon hardware, i.e. e-readers and tablets.

(Image via FastCompany)

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:24 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: *NEWS*, Apps, Gadgets

June 21, 2011

Apple TV vs. Roku

Anybody who's paid attention to me here or on Twitter knows that I love Roku.

But this past weekend, I had to make some room on my television stand for its bigger-named competitor: Apple TV.

For fathers day this past weekend, my wife gifted me the Apple TV. We already had a Roku player for a couple years, but I have wanted to experience the Apple TV and how it integrates with other Apple devices, such as the iPhone and the iPad.

For people who want to stream such multimedia content as Netflix, Youtube, Amazon Video on Demand, and iTunes, these two devices can individually satisfy some of your needs.

In a video below, I cover some of the main features, similarities and differences between Apple TV ($99) and Roku (starting at $59). There are big pluses for both devices: Apple TV works very well with iDevices, plus offers iTunes, Youtube, Netflix and compatibility with many apps in Apple's App Store. [I've yet to play with the Boxee, another device that brings Internet content to your TV; it costs $199, which puts it in a different price point than Apple TV and Roku. And what about Google TV? -- I've heard so many poor reviews of it that I haven't even had an itch to try it out.]

Roku is an exciting upstart company with a device that's attracting scores of media companies to develop independent multimedia content for its platform. That means more choices for the consumer. If you value independent fare, take a close look at the Roku.

Take a gander at the vid below, then let me know if you have any follow-up questions or points to make.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:02 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Gadgets

June 10, 2011

The new HP TouchPad -- do you care?

I finally got around to reading up on the HP TouchPad today. It sounds like a pretty decent device, one that differentiates itself technologically from the Apple iPad and Android tablets in certain ways.

But it represents a fourth signficant mobile/tablet platform (behind Apple, Android, BlackBerry) that tech consumers have to wrap their brains and fingers around. Even though HP, which bought Palm, is dovetailing its tablet with the Pre smartphone, is it too late to the game for it to draw market share from the iPad juggernaut?

Here's what's cool about the TouchPad: It runs on the tablet version of WebOS, which has been critically acclaimed as a well-oiled response to Apple's iOS. The tablet incorporates some pretty nifty wireless features that connects a Pre smartphone to the tablet wirelessly. You can touch the phone to the tablet and share web pages, for instance. And you can wirelessly charge the TouchPad.

And if a call or text comes in on your Pre, you can receive it on the tablet. That's cool. To boost its attractiveness to smartphone-using consumers who mostly have BlackBerry, Android and iPhones, HP should consider enabling that feature with non-HP phones, if technically possible.

The other thing that is appealing is the app switching interface that webOS offers. For high-use multi-taskers, webOS purportedly enables app switching that is smoother than the iOS/Android experience, many think. (My experience has been with a first-gen Palm Pre -- the app switching, I found, was good, but not necessarily a make-or-break reason to adopt the platform.)

The TouchPad price is $499 for a tablet (16GB version) that offers video chat and Wi-Fi; but there isn't a 3G option yet, the way Apple and some Android tablets offer. HP said it will soon partner with AT&T for a 3G version later this summer.

Pre-ordering begins June 19, and the TouchPad will hit stores on July 1.

All in all, I worry that HP's tablet offering will essentially be competing for third place in the market, against BlackBerry and its Playbook, and behind Apple and Android.
But it is good to see a company as big as HP staking its claim in the space and continuing to drive innovation.
Expect to see Apple adopt (er, "borrow"? hehe) some of the innovations that HP is bringing with webOS and the TouchPad.

Here's a video of the TouchPad:

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:55 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

May 26, 2011

Google: Hand over your wallet and no one will get hurt


The buzz for awhile now is that your smartphone will also become your wallet. That day is just about here.

Google today introduced what many had expected: a mobile payments system that marries a mobile phone, a mobile app, your credit card, and a new technology called "near field communication." (aka NFC)

The whole offering is called Google Wallet.

Basically, with phones that have the NFC chip, you'll be able to wave your phone -- like a magic spending wand! -- and plunk stuff on your virtual credit card. Google Wallet will also automatically ding you with coupons and loyalty points for whatever consumer programs you're signed up with.

Citi, Mastercard, First Data and Sprint are the partners on the effort with Google. If you use Mastercard's PayPass technology, then you can use Google Wallet, too.

Don't be surprised, dear reader, to see other mobile wallet solutions coming your way in the next year. Visa and AmEx have their own plans cooking. And who knows what Apple really has planned for its iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad junta.

Want to know more about the mobile payment scene? Here's a story I wrote last week about Micros Systems Inc. of Columbia, Md. rolling out a mobile payment app for restaurants.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 5:24 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Big Ideas, Gadgets, Smartphones

May 20, 2011

AT&T's COWs at the Preakness

Maybe you've been to a large event where cellphone reception has been spotty due to the huge crowds.

Many large venues, such as sports stadiums, are nowadays working with telecom companies to add fixed gear that helps with cellphone communications traffic.

Wireless companies also have more mobile technology that they can deploy on the spot, to boost cellular transmissions. Meet AT&T's "COW" -- or cell sites on wheels. The company has deployed two of them to Pimlico Race Course, in preparation for the huge crowds tomorrow during the Preakness. Upwards of 100,000 are expected to attend -- and many will have smartphones that will stretch the capacity of wireless networks.

The COWs are in addition to the free Wi-Fi network that the Maryland Jockey Club is deploying during the event.

So, if you're planning to use your iPhone or Android, for instance, to play with the Preakness's smartphone app, during the day, hopefully you won't experience any delays or glitches.

Here's the AT&T COW in a Pimlico parking lot:

Photo courtesy of AT&T Wireless

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: East Coast, Events (Baltimore area), Gadgets, Wireless

May 19, 2011

Near field communication mobile payments coming to restaurants, via MICROS-Verifone partnership

What timing... Just this week, I wrote a story about MICROS Systems Inc. of Columbia, Md. jumping into the field of mobile payments with a smartphone app called Tabbedout.

Now, word comes out today that MICROS has partnered with Verifone to develop a near-field communications solution for the hospitality industry. What's NFC? Basically, a special chip installed inside your mobile phone allows you to use it as a kind of "mobile wallet."

Presumably you can link your phone directly to your bank account or credit card. And kapow! You are waving your phone around and spending money. Ah, the sweet smell of progress: it's never been easier to burn through your cash!

In addition to making payments with your phone, you'll be able to use NFC technology to take advantage of mobile coupons and promotions. Imagine the possiblities, say, if you can link NFC tech to social media apps, such as Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare -- so with a wave, you can send out a status update that you're at a particular restaurant.

Scary or useful?

It looks like Verifone has designed systems for white tablecloth restaurants as well as quick-casual. You could use your NFC-enabled phone right at the table, which will have a little wireless gadget (see below image from Verifone) that you wave your phone in front of. Here's an example.


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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:14 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Big Ideas, Gadgets, Wireless

May 17, 2011

Paying with your iPhone, browsing menus with your iPad


In today's story about technology in the Baltimore area, we take you to two popular destinations in Howard County, Md.: Houlihan's and Victoria's Gastro Pub.

At Houlihan's, the Columbia restaurant has enabled a smartphone app called Tabbedout to work with its point-of-sale terminals, where orders are punched in and credit cards are run. Tabbedout is made by an Austin, Tex.-based company and it's being marketed in partnership with MICROS Systems Inc., a big player in POS terminals for restaurants.

Basically, you input your credit card info once into the Tabbedout app and then you can request the tab -- and pay it -- with a few swipes of your finger while at the restaurant.

At Victoria's, also in Columbia, management there is allowing its restaurant to be used as a test bed for MICROS's iPad menu app, which is under development. The app allows beer and wine drinkers to browse the restaurant's extensive libations selection (250 beers enough for you?), and keep track of the beers you drink as a beer club member.

It remains to be seen in which direction MICROS will go with the iPad app, but don't be surprised if one day soon you're able to download your favorite restaurant's iPad app and interact with it, say, as a member of a diner's club, even when you're not there.

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May 16, 2011

Do you ever wish you could just unplug?

Do you feel overwhelmed and, perhaps, addicted to your smartphone, social media or the Internet -- or all three? Do you regularly wish you could just unplug, if you could just find the discipline to Put. Your. Phone. Down.

My story in yesterday's newspaper considered this topic from the perspective of some people who choose to take a "media fast", an "Internet Sabbath" or an "Internet Sabbatical." The idea has different names, for sure, but it's basically about setting time for yourself to unplug from digital life, slow down on the multi-tasking, and live in your physical reality, not a virtual one.

Gin Ferrara, a community manager at NewsTrust, was game enough to let me interview her for my story. She's an advocate of such media fasts. In fact, you can see her talking about her experience with the idea -- media free week -- in this video where she presented at a recent Ignite Baltimore event.

One area that I forgot to mention in my story (and I'm embarrassed for forgetting this) is the role that technology can actually play to help us better manage our relationship with technology -- does that make sense?

When people talk about unplugging, many mean they wish they could put down the work BlackBerry and not be reachable on the weekends by their bosses. When it came to smarter email management, I thought of Jared Goralnick. For my story, I interviewed Goralnick, founder and CEO of Awayfind, a tool that helps you get a handle on your email inbox. Basically, checking email can be a huge, compulsive time-suck. I probably check my email inbox a 100-200 times a day, but only a tiny fraction of that time am I receiving something I need to act on immediately. So Awayfind, a Made-in-Maryland company by the way, helps ferret out the important emails from the not-so-important ones.

"If you’re successful, you spend less time in your inbox," Goralnick said. "We’re a big fan of minimizing interruptions."

Personally, I think Goralnick is spot on. Lately, I've found myself feeling more refreshed and productive and focused when I'm working out of the office then while at the office. And then, it hit me. At the office, where I have MS Outlook, I'm constantly being distracted by email alerts that pop up (I have to change that setting), while outside the office, I don't have that distraction.

I probably get 300 emails a day. I can't keep up with them. About 90 percent is horrible spam. But I lose emails -- including ones from my bosses -- in the stream.

It's frustrating. And, by the end of the week, all I want to do is unplug.

Below is a picture of Gin and her husband, David Pepper, at home with Scrabble -- a game they play during their media free weeks.


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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:52 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Big Ideas, Gadgets, Social Media

May 13, 2011

Stolen laptop recovered with help of technology, Twitter followers

Sean Power (or @seanpower) riveted the Twitterverse last night with his play-by-play of his efforts to use technology and the Twitter crowd to reclaim his stolen laptop.

His computer had been stolen days before in New York City and Sean had to fly to Canada in the meantime. But on his computer, he had free, open-source location-tracking software, called Prey, that alerted him when his laptop was being used. His laptop's webcam took pictures of the alleged thief, and tracked him as he surfed the Web, used Skype and even logged in to his bank account!

Sean ends up calling the guy and arranging for his computer to be given to two people, who apparently heard about the drama as it unfolded on Twitter, and offered to help Sean.

It's a crazy tale of high-tech and, um, crowdsourcing, I suppose, your stolen laptop's recovery. Hit up the links over in Geekwire to dig further into the story.

Here's a question: how popular is the Prey software today after Sean's story?

Here's their video of how the software works:

Prey Project introduction from Carlos Yaconi on Vimeo.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:

April 21, 2011

Drug-dealing robots in Baltimore

Not illegal drugs, silly.

In case you missed it, I wrote about a Baltimore-area company that spent $30 million on robotic technology that automates the dispensing and packaging of pharmaceuticals for institutional clients, such as nursing homes and assisting living facilities. Mind you, these aren't humanoid robots -- rather, they're bulky, heavy, boxy beasts.

The company is called Remedi SeniorCare, and it's run by Michael Bronfein, who built up NeighborCare into a national player in the institutional pharmacy business. (Institutional pharmacies basically supply medications to, what else?, institutions, such as nursing homes, hospitals and even prisons.)

I got a tour of Remedi's facility in Rosedale, with these incredible robotic automatons that pretty much eliminated the need for humans handling, packaging and labelling thousands of medication orders per day. Pretty incredible stuff.

Here's my story on the company and the industry it's playing in. Like my headline?

And below is one angle of the robot, known as the Paxit system.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:17 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets, Venture Cap

April 20, 2011

Borrow Amazon Kindle books -- from the library

Amazon today announced that it will soon enable Kindle users (including those using Kindle software on Apple and Android devices) to borrow Kindle books from more than 11,000 libraries across the country.

This is good news for the digital reading platform and helps keep libraries part of the books ecosystem. (Okay, maybe that's a stretch.) The cool tech feature of Amazon's "Kindle Library Lending" service is that you can make digital notes in the e-books you borrow, and the notes are saved. So if you borrow the book again, or choose to buy it, your notes are maintained.

In a printed book, mind you, the library doesn't like it when you write in the margins.

Here's the original Amazon news release, for more details.

FYI -- Amazon is partnering with a service called Overdrive to make Kindle books available through local libraries. There's also an Overdrive app for the Apple iPhone platform that offers a similar service. But iPhone/iPad users also have access to the Kindle app, too.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:58 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*, Apps, Gadgets

April 19, 2011

BlackBerry PlayBook: As hard to find as an iPad 2?


I popped into a RadioShack this morning in Baltimore and asked whether they had any of Research in Motion's new tablet computers, the PlayBook.

Nope, the two clerks said. And one said only nine of the 18 stores in -- presumably -- the Baltimore area were getting any initial shipments.

Coincidentally, I am in the market for an iPad 2. So I called a couple of Best Buys in the Baltimore area, and the Towson Apple Store. And guess what? No iPad 2's in stock either.
That doesn't surprise me.

Part of the reason that the iPad 2's are so hard to find is that Apple can't make them fast enough, and demand for them supposedly is higher than for the first one. We'll have to see how demand is for the PlayBook and whether RIM can actually put enough of them in stores for consumers to actually walk away with one.

I'm more interested if any BlackBerry fans have gone out today to buy the PlayBook. Got any first impressions you want to share? Drop 'em below.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:46 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

April 17, 2011

iPad 2 at Toys R Us: on sale today

Multiple online reports are saying that the iPad 2 is available -- starting today -- at Toys R Us stores.

Supposedly only the Wi-Fi models will be sold at the Toys R Us stores, not the 3G-enabled ones. Starting price is the usual: $499 for a 16GB iPad 2.

Apple's distribution of the iPad 2 is deeper and broader than the original iPad. Demand for the device remains huge, while supply is constrained, and yet Apple continues to expand the retail points that are making it available.

I think Apple sees a huge opportunity to flood the market with iPads, seeing that there remains no meaningful competition on the horizon yet this year. The company's only problem is that it can't seem to make them fast enough to supply demand.

Toys R Us is a smart place to launch an iPad. It's one of the most kid-friendly digital devices to ever launch, and Toys R Us is all about making kids drool for stuff. Plus, Toys R Us stores often contain Babies R Us stores, with young parents looking for all sorts of gadgets for their toddlers. The iPad, by the way, is great for toddlers. My daughter is growing up with one.

Apple is clearly trying to get iPads into the hands of kids -- and parents -- as early as possible.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:58 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Gadgets

April 12, 2011

Bye-bye Flip camera

flip-camera.jpgMy, how fast the market changes. Just a few years ago, the Flip camera was a blockbuster seller and a bit of a revolutionary.

It represented easy video recording on the go. And it was relatively cheap and practically idiot-proof to use. But alas, the smartphone wave seems to be sweeping the Flip away.

With more and more consumers shooting HD video with their iPhones, Androids and BlackBerrys, who needs a Flip?

Today, Cisco announced that it will be shutting down its Flip camera business and The Flip camera and laying off about 550 employees.

Cisco bet big on Flip barely two years ago, buying its maker, Pure Digital, for $590 million.

It's too bad they didn't find a way to make the technology work for them and for the consumer, but it's also a sign that people are increasingly using one device -- mobile phones -- for a lot of their digital media creation uses.

Personally, I used a Flip several years ago, when they first came out and it was okay. But, smartphones (or even an iPod Touch) now are generally equal, if not better, and more functional.

Will you miss the Flip?


Update: Random thought-- Why the heck didn't Cisco ever build some network connectivity into  the Flip?! I don't follow Cisco closely, but when I first heard the news 2 years ago that it was buying Flip, I thought: Cool. Here come the networked cameras. But they were never Wi-Fi or 3G enabled. What's the story behind that?

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:54 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

March 24, 2011

List of tablet computers: the iPad's competition

The folks at Webbmedia Group (based in Baltimore!) did all the hard work so you don't have to -- they compiled a list of 30-plus tablet computers, including specifications and features, that are on the market, or soon to hit.

The usual suspects are on there, such as the Apple iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the upcoming RIM/BlackBerry Playbook. But did you also know about the Kno, the Vizio and the LG Optimus?

If you're closely watching the tablet market and are looking for something other than an iPad -- which pretty much IS the tablet market right now -- take a gander below. Thanks for putting this together, Webbmedia.

Tablet Matrix Q2 2011 by Webbmedia Group

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:10 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

March 21, 2011

The "iPad toddlers"

I just read a post on that I wholeheartedly nodded my head in agreement with: it was about the so-called "iPad toddlers," or what I like to call, the "touchscreen generation."

The iPad is not only a popular device for adults. It's also become a computing device that toddlers are gleefully interacting with -- because it's so darn easy to use.

My daughter is 2 years and five months old, and she's been interacting with an iPhone since she was 6-8 months old. The iPad she's taken to with a delightful fury. She doesn't really care to watch TV, but she knows how to open and close apps and find Dora the Explorer on Netflix on the iPad.

The iPad as near-perfect toddler computing device became evident to me recently. I sold my first-generation iPad a few weeks ago and we haven't had one in the house since. I've ordered an iPad 2, but it's probably weeks away from delivery.

In the meantime, I've introduced my daughter to the household laptop. She's learned to play a few games on it, but that's it. Navigating the file system is far more difficult for her, and she keeps touching the screen in an effort to interact with it. She has more difficulty using the trackpad on the laptop to move the mouse on the screen and select stuff. Sure, she'll eventually grasp it as she gets older. But there's no way my daughter would have been interacting with a laptop at 20 months, the way she did when we put the iPad in her hands.

The traditional computer or laptop requires better hand-eye motor skills that a two year old doesn't quite possess. But the iPad offers a more direct touch experience.

My daughter has even tried to touch the screen on our HD television to select video options on Netflix, for instance. She's growing up with a touch screen mentality, with an expectation that she interacts with a screen, and not just passively consumes information from it.

So, parents, what's been your experience with touchscreen devices and your young kids?

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:09 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets

March 14, 2011

Buy back programs: Buy. Sell. Repeat.

This past weekend, I took a look at the proliferation of "buy back" programs in the consumer electronics retailing industry with this piece, which appeared in the Sunday paper. Best Buy is the latest retailer to come out with a program. Walmart, Target, Radio Shack and various wireless carriers have their own, too.

Personally, I find myself taking care of my gadgets better knowing that there's a market for them. It also gives me some buying comfort knowing that there's a multitude of ways to sell "old" gadgets to help fund the purchase of new ones. What are your thoughts on this trend? Which buy back programs do you think are the best right now?

Best Buy employee Rustam Ibragimov, left, explains the company's buy back program to customer Robin Wilson, from right, and husband Roger, of Frostburg who are buying a laptop computer. The couple purchased the buy back program and an one-year repair service warranty on the computer. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam / March 10, 2011)

Go-go gadget buy back
Retailers want to sell you gadgets, buy them back later, and then sell them again

By Gus G. Sentementes, The Baltimore Sun

You know that shiny smart phone you bought six months ago? There's an even better one hitting the market right about now. Or how about that flat-panel TV you bought last year. Now they come in 3-D.

With the ever-quickening pace of technological advances, you can be left in the digital dust.

Retailers now have a solution for consumers — and for themselves. They will buy back your old gadget in hopes that you turn around and buy the next best gadget on their shelves.

Under these "buyback" programs, big-box retailers and online merchants give cash or credit for a piece of used electronics. Best Buy, the world's largest consumer electronics retailer, launched its program earlier this year.

"Technology is changing so fast that the consumer a lot of times feels they're being left behind, so they'll postpone buying," said Cynthia Jasper, an expert in buying behavior and chair of the consumer science department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "So it's a way to make the consumer feel at ease."

For retailers, buyback programs are another way to lure customers into stores to spend on pricey gadgets such as smart phones, laptops, tablet computers and televisions. Retailers also see buyback programs as an alternative revenue stream because they can sell used products through online outlet sites.

One California start-up has put its own twist on the concept. Its vending machine model, called the "ecoATM," is an automated kiosk that accepts used gadgets and pays the consumer in cash or gift cards. The company behind the Redbox movie rental kiosks, Coinstar, has invested in ecoATM, which has already deployed some of the machines in California.

Retail industry experts say the consumer electronics market is evolving the way markets in used cars or used textbooks did. And if consumers believe their gadgets will retain some value, they might be more willing to upgrade sooner rather than risk the device becoming outdated and worthless, industry experts said.

For years, early adopters of gadgets have used eBay and other online outlets to eventually sell them and use the cash to defray the cost of the latest models. With the new buyback programs, that kind of electronics consumerism could become the norm.

Many consumers already trade in — and up — their cell phones, as those who lock into contracts are often given credit to upgrade to newer models. Sprint, AT&T and Verizon have introduced their own buyback programs, some of which aim to lure customers from other carriers.

"The electronics business is built on people upgrading their products," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD Group, a technology research firm. "Anything to increase the turnover is a benefit to the industry."

Consumer electronics retailers typically have thin profit margins, but some are finding a lucrative market in buying and reselling lightly used gadgets.

Dale S. Rogers, a logistics and supply chain expert and professor at Rutgers University, estimates that the secondary market for consumer electronics is worth about $13 billion in annual sales — or about 10 percent of the total consumer electronics market in the United States.

Rogers said that brick-and-mortar retailers increasingly feel threatened by online commerce and are strategizing ways to keep consumers coming through the doors. Best Buy's program, for one, requires customers to come into the store to sell back products.

"The brick-and-mortar, big-box retail store is experiencing some difficulty these days," said Rogers. "It's real easy to buy online, so these buyback programs are really a great way to get you into the store."

Under Best Buy's program, the consumer who buys a gadget pays an upfront fee, which varies on the type of product, to participate and is guaranteed a resale price of 10 percent to 50 percent of the item's original price. Most gadgets, except for televisions, have to be sold back within two years to qualify for a resale. Televisions have a four-year window for re-sale.

Best Buy then resells the products through its outlet center, through other online channels, or recycles them.

Robin Wilson of Frostburg, who purchased a buyback plan from the Best Buy store in Timonium when she purchased a new laptop recently, said it was the first time she had ever considered selling back a gadget. She liked knowing she would get at least some money back. She and her husband bought a used Apple MacBook Pro for $975 and a 1-year warranty for $139. Buying the warranty allowed them to get a discount on the usual "buyback" rate of $69.99 for laptops, for $25, she said.

With the buyback plan she purchased, Wilson is guaranteed to get back anywhere from $195 to $487.50 in Best Buy store credit, depending on when she trades in the laptop over the next two years.

"You usually can't do anything with [computers] because they're not worth anything after a couple years," Wilson said. "This seemed like a pretty good deal."

Some consumer advocates are critical of Best Buy's program, saying consumers have other options for selling their used electronics without paying an upfront fee.

Best Buy officials say that with the fee, consumers are guaranteed a minimum return. The company also promotes the convenience of in-store resales as a key benefit.

"Let us take care of it for you," said George Creighton, operations manager at the Best Buy store in Glen Burnie.

TechForward, a start-up company in California, has been offering this "guaranteed buyback" model for several years, partnering with clients such as Radio Shack and CompUSA, which offer the option to consumers. The terms of TechForward's program are similar to Best Buy's.

It had partnered with Best Buy to develop the retailer's own program, a federal lawsuit filed last month in California alleges. TechForward contends that Best Buy stole its trade secrets and launched its own program — with a major commercial on Super Bowl Sunday this year — and ultimately cut out the small company.

Best Buy representatives declined to discuss the lawsuit.

As part of the lawsuit, TechForward revealed that one of the ways it makes money is by closely tracking the rate of return for different gadgets. The company can turn a profit from those who never take advantage of the buyback plan., a Boston-based company founded in 2006, gives consumers the going market price for a gadget, whether it's a smart phone or an Apple iPad.

It has also developed its own technologies for quickly assessing the worldwide market for electronics. Gazelle users can get an online price quote for their equipment, ship the product for free to the company and get paid within two weeks.

Some of Gazelle's retail partners include Walmart, Costco and Kmart. Consumers can trade in electronics through these retailers' websites and get store credit, or they can opt for cash back.

Kristina Kennedy, a Gazelle spokeswoman, said the company calls the nascent industry "recommerce." The March 2 announcement of the Apple iPad 2 led to a watershed moment for the online service. Owners of the original iPad flocked to the website and sold 2,400 units on the day that Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the second version.

"That became the biggest day of business for us in the company's history," Kennedy said.

"What's really spurred our business is the pace of innovation," Kennedy said. "The last couple years have seen some very exciting products to come out in consumer electronics."

Baltimorean Dawn Ward has sold two smart phones, including an iPhone 3G in October for $80, through She's excited about all the options she now has to sell her gadgets.

"For the consumer, it's awesome," Ward said.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:34 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Smartphones

March 10, 2011

iPad 2 review roundup -- so where's mine?

Yours truly isn't on Apple's short list of journalists to get an early review model of the iPad 2, though I don't know why. Instead, we get to read the same stuff from the usual suspects of reviewers who end up holding some sway over those who rush out to buy this device when it first appears (which is tomorrow, March 11).

No knock on Engadget, or Walt Mossberg or David Pogue -- their reviews are informative and well-crafted.

Personally, I'm a fan of John Gruber (Daring Fireball blog) and his thoughtful review of the iPad 2. Gruber really grapples with the issues of hardware, software, industrial design and how we humans interact with devices. And he seems to have some good sources within the Apple fortress who inform his discussion of their products.

Anyhow, maybe I'm cranky today--blame it on the rain. But Apple should do more to get the iPad in the hands of more tech journalists, and not just the usual folks.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:12 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

March 9, 2011

Seeking recent users of "buy back" programs for gadgets

Hey gadget lovers: have you recently sold back a digital gadget (cellphone, tablet computer, laptop, iPod?) to an online "buy back" program? Did you purchase the new buy back program from Best Buy when you bought a gadget from them recently?

I'm researching a story about consumers using buy back programs and web sites to get money back for their used devices. I'm looking for Maryland consumers who've sold back their devices this way (or on eBay/Amazon) for some differing perspectives on the practice. Why do you do it? Is this part of your normal routine as a consumer? Are you an early adopter?

If you wish to share your thoughts on this, email me directly at and we can chat. You can also leave your commentary below! Many thanks.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gadgets, Smartphones, Wireless

February 28, 2011

iPad 2 expected to debut Wednesday -- will Steve Jobs?


The media has been invited to an event in California this Wednesday, where everyone believes a next-generation iPad 2 will be unveiled. (That's the invitation image above.) Will Steve Jobs, who has taken a leave of absence for what is reportedly cancer treatment, be there to unveil the device? Ten days ago, Jobs attended a meeting of top tech execs in Silicon Valley, with President Obama -- the San Jose Mercury News has a photo of the dinner here, with Jobs sitting to the left of the big man himself.

The iPad has been Jobs' baby. The first iPad has been a huge hit, selling millions and turning many assumptions on their head -- mainly that people don't really know what to do with a tablet computer. Truth is, you can do a lot, once you get used to having the device in your life.

So, the word on the street is that the new iPad will have some incremental enhancements that many are expecting. It should be faster and lighter, with a slightly better touch screen (though not a full "retina" display like the iPhone 4). It should have both a front and a rear facing camera for shooting photos and video, and it should come Facetime-enabled, meaning you can hold video chats using Apple's software. I'd expect it to also be Skype-compatible, if not immediately out of the gate, then by the end of the year.

There's also a good chance you'll see a new iPad that works on both CDMA (i.e. Verizon) and GSM networks (i.e. AT&T), or different versions for each network. Some are even reporting there'll be a white iPad, not just the brushed aluminum bodied ones.

What I'd like to see: native printer support for more models other than HP. Right now, I'm using a $10 app called Print Central for printing to a WiFi Epson printer in my house. It works wonderfully with WiFi printers, at least with my Epson. But it would be nice if I didn't have to spend that extra 10 bucks.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Wireless

January 8, 2011

Mario Armstrong's CES wrap-up: the best and worst

Mario's final broadcast is dedicated to the best & worst finds at the 2011 Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas over the past several days.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

January 7, 2011

Mario Armstrong at CES: Gadgets, Gaming, Computers, Home Tech

Watch today at 1 p.m. EST. Latest updates from Mario Armstrong at CES. And at 5 p.m., Mario talks coolest startups, emerging tech, and auto tech.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

January 6, 2011

Opening day at CES with Mario Armstrong, 2 pm and 5 pm

Mario Armstrong leads opening day coverage of the Consumer Electronics show in Vegas at 2 PM EST. Then he's back at 5 p.m. for more coverage, of green gadgets, wireless tech, and tablets.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

January 5, 2011

Day 1 at CES with Mario Armstrong: the pre-game show

Today at 4 pm: Mario Armstrong takes us on a tour of what to expect at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

January 4, 2011

Mario Armstrong: BaltTech's guide to Consumer Electronics Show 2011 in Vegas, baby!

The annual Consumer Electronics Show is kicking off in Las Vegas this week, and local/national tech commentator Mario Armstrong is going to giving live updates from the convention floor. For those who don't know, CES is where tons of new gadgets are released and pitched every year, from stuff that will actually go on sale to concept products that manufacturers are still tinkering with.

We'll be embedding Mario's live video feed here everyday, so tune in. Most broadcast times start in the afternoon, so grab some lunch or a cup of coffee, and waste some time at work (but at least look like you're working hard, you slacker.)

Here's Mario's schedule:

* Weds. Jan. 5th 1-2p PST (4 pm EST):
THEME: Pre-CES show consisting of CES overview, what to expect, behind the scenes, press announcement news etc…

* Thurs. Jan. 6th 11a-12n PST (2 pm EST):
THEME: Opening Day consisting of previous nights CES Unveiled event and top 3 gadgets from Unveiled, show will cover news & announcements.

* Thurs. Jan. 6th 2p-3p PST (5 pm EST):
THEME: Green Gadgets, Wireless & Tablets

* Friday Jan. 7th 10-11a PST (1 pm EST):
THEME: Gadgets, Gaming, Computers, Home Tech

* Friday Jan. 7th 2-3:30p PST (5 pm EST)
THEME: Coolest startups, Emerging Tech, Auto Tech

Saturday Jan. 8th 1:30p-3p PST (4:30 pm EST)
THEME: BEST & WORST of CES -- totally dedicated to the best & worst finds

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets, Wireless

Eye-Fi: send your pics from your fancy DSLR camera to your iPhone

eye-fi-card.pngI own a pricey DSLR camera, a Canon, that I hardly ever use because I'm always snapping pics with my iPhone and emailing them to friends and family, or uploading to Facebook or Twitter.

It's a trend in digital camera usage that has shifted for thousands, if not millions, of people, as cell phone cameras have gotten better and the social networks we feed with pics circumscribe our lives.

That's why I never really paid much attention to Eye-Fi's photo memory cards that could upload photos from your camera to your computer or the Web (via a Wi-Fi network.) The product just didn't offer enough instant-gratification for me.

The truth is, my Canon was getting dusty, while the iPhone became the main photo workhorse in my house. I was hardly uploading pics from my Canon to computer anymore, maybe a half-dozen times a year.

But today, Eye-Fi announced a new product development called Direct Mode (which will be available later this year). And it may encourage me to do two things: 1) actually buy an Eye-Fi product and 2) persuade me to use my DSLR camera in conjunction with my iPhone to take photos and share them on the Web, wherever I am. It just might make my camera relevant again.

The new Eye-Fi cards (starting at $49) offer the "ability to transfer high-resolution pictures or videos directly and wirelessly from their camera to their smartphone or iPad within seconds," according to a company press release that landed in my inbox today.

So, basically, I can carry around my Canon, shoot great pics, effortlessly upload to my Iphone and then share with the world? That sounds like as good as it's gonna get in the realm of digital photography and mobile devices, unless the DSLR makers completely redo the guts of their cameras and embed them with cellular transmitters and GPS chips.

Well played, Eye-Fi. Well played.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:54 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Gadgets

December 13, 2010

Catching the 3D wave: Direct Dimensions' cool tech

michael-raphael.jpgMy colleague, Jamie Smith Hopkins, had a great one-on-one with Michael Raphael, the president of Direct Dimensions, a 3D imaging company based in Owings Mills.

The company has created digitized 3D images of everything from submarines to sculptures. At the moment, the firm is digitizing portions of the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

It plans to spin off a company called ShapeShot, which will specialize in digitizing/3D-izing people's faces for use in online communications and video gaming.

Imagine inserting your face into a video game or even a movie?

Here's the interview.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:21 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Gadgets

November 30, 2010

Maryland tech gifts: a guide

Many consumers now think "buy local" when it comes to food, or in choosing to shop at small local storefronts as opposed to national big-box chains.

But how about buying local when it comes to technology purchases, especially around the holidays?
BaltTech compiled a list of products — hardware, software, accessories and games — that originate in Maryland, and could make for holiday gifts. Your dollars also would help to support Maryland's technology entrepreneurs and businesses.

If you're still shopping, here's the local list of tech gifts by category:

Home Audio: Polk Audio is a Baltimore-based company that produces speaker systems for cars, boats and the home. Check out the $299 I-Sonic iPod radio dock. (

Console/PC gaming: Maryland has a pretty robust video game industry. Check out Sparks-based Firaxis Games' popular "Civilization" video games, including the newest fifth installment. $39.99 to $49.95 ( Bethesda Softworks, based in Rockville, makes a lot of video games for PC, Xbox and Playstation, and even the iPhone. Fallout 3 is a recent title that was designed by a Loyola University grad. $15-$43 (

Mobile device cases: M-Edge, of Odenton, Md., makes several cases for the Amazon Kindle, Apple iPads, and electronic readers by Sony, Borders and Barnes & Noble ( The Latitude Jacket for Kindle costs $34.99. ZeroChroma, a new Baltimore company, makes unique cases that double as stands for use with Kindles, iPods, iPhones and iPads. The iPad case, for $69.95, is very useful. (

Cybersecurity: Got a friend or a relative who hates it when people glance at their laptop monitors while he is working? Oculis Labs' Private Eye software might strike his fancy. The Hunt Valley-based company's software uses a computer's webcam to detect when someone other than the computer owner is looking at the monitor. It blurs the screen when it detects an eavesdropper or if the user turns his head away. $49.95. (

Baltimore-themed: For that recent transplant to Baltimore, help her learn about the city's geography and history with an audio tour. Baltimore Audio Tours sells a CD or digital download for an MP3 player that delivers an auditory tour of the city. $12.97. (

iPad/iPhone games: Jumbalaya is a $1.99 word game for sale in the Apple App Store designed by Fastspot, a Baltimore-based interactive design agency that works on iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. It's addicting. And you can give it to someone through iTunes. (

Gift cards: Don't want to burn the mental energy of choosing a gift for someone? Go the gift card route. Save some money by buying discounted gift cards through, an Ellicott City-based company. Some stores include Cheesecake Factory, Bed Bath & Beyond and Radio Shack. (And for those who receive unwanted gift cards, you could sell them through GiftCardRescue.)

Got an idea for a Maryland-based technology product that might make for a good holiday gift? E-mail it to me and I'll try and share on the BaltTech blog.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:59 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Apps, East Coast, Gadgets, Gamers, Geeks

November 24, 2010

Baltimore Hackathon: I'd call it a success


These folks only had a weekend. Imagine if the Baltimore Hackathon lasted a week!

I'm belatedly and quickly recapping the first-ever Baltimore Hackathon, which took place over the past weekend at the Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore. (Arthur Hirsch of The Baltimore Sun had a nice write-up of it, in case you missed it over the weekend.)

Dozens of hackers, geeks, programmers and tech enthusiasts participated. Millennial Media, a thriving Baltimore startup that's a dominant player in the mobile ad space, doubled the contest cash prizes at the last minute. And people broke out their soldering irons and laptops for a long weekend of hacking and modifying.

The proof is in the Flickr Photostream!

I was only there for most of the last-day presentations, and I must say, I was impressed with what the teams and individuals were able to pull off in a short weekend. There must have been around 20 presentations or so, I'm guesstimating. The judges, who included Chris Brandenburg, cofounder of MIllennial, chose the best individual and team efforts. (Chris blogged about it here.)

Here are the results with some descriptions of each -- sorry, I didn't get the names of the winners.

Best Individual Hardware: Black Candy Audio Scrambler Pedal (a modified guitar thingamabob)

Best Individual Software: iPad Interactive Ebook (a children's book!)

Best Group Hardware: RotoFoto (a rig that enables you to produce 3D rotating photo images with a cheap camera)

Best Group Software: Headline Split-Testing (for auto-test alternate headlines on blogs, and automatically choosing the one that's most popular with readers based on click feedback.)

Audience Favorite - Nickel for Scale (a device that can measure a hand, using a nickel for scale, so you could quickly make, say a ring with a plastic prototyping machine)

One of the sponsors,, gave out prizes for those who made best use of their programs for integrating voice and SMS applications in their projects.

Best Tropo App: Call-the-Door - a service that allows you to call a door, punch in a code with your phone, and unlock it.

Best Tropo App Runner-Up: Parking Spot Locator -- uses a sensor to let you know when a parking spot is free, and auto-dials your phone.

Best Tropo App 3rd Runner-Up (tie): CloudRant and Voicebump -- CloudRant generates word clouds based on commonly used words in conversation. VoiceBump enables a blogger to call a phone number, speak a blog post, and auto-transcribe it to a blog.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:35 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Apps, Big Ideas, East Coast, Events (Baltimore area), Gadgets, Geeks

November 22, 2010

Note to Rupert: My iPad's Web browser will eat your "Daily" newspaper for lunch

It's a brisk news day in tech this Monday before Thanksgiving. Here's what I find interesting:

* First up, iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch users woke up to a little dash of Christmas right before the holidays: It's the new iOS 4.2. The software update brings some goodies to the iDevices, especially the iPad. For me, three features that tap the devices wireless capabilities are new: AirPlay (play music over Wi-Fi); AirPrint (print stuff over Wi-Fi) and Find My iPhone (find your lost or stolen iPhone via 3G or Wi-Fi). Hit Engadget for a review of iOS 4.2

* Next, Netflix just launched a new "streaming-only" monthly plan, for $7.99 a month. But they jacked up prices on "streaming + DVD" plans to $9.99 a month and up. People are complaining on the company site that Netflix doesn't offer new enough content on its Watch Instantly stream to justify a streaming-only price at $7.99. I tend to agree. I'll be taking a closer look at Hulu Plus through my Roku now.

* Here's a hypothetical: if you're a billionaire media tycoon who makes a lot of money off newspapers, but feel threatened by the Web, what would you do if a device like the iPad magically appeared? Why, try to re-create newspaper economics on this Internet tablet of course! This isn't a hypothetical: Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is working on an iPad-only digital "newspaper", called The Daily, that publishes once a day on the device. Really? Really. Bwahahahahahaha!


(Photo of Rupert Murdoch via PaidContent)

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:57 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Geeks, Good Reads

November 19, 2010

iPad selling for $399 at T.J. Maxx this holiday season

Word on the street is that T.J. Maxx, the discount retailer chain, is selling Apple iPads for $100 off the retail price that you'll find them for sale at the Apple Store and other retailers.

Engadget's got some proof in the way of store photos -- apparently, the chain is holding back most of its supply for Black Friday.

If you're completely itching to buy an iPad before Christmas, the $399 price for the 16 GB Wi-Fi version is certainly a bargain at T.J. Maxx.

But there's already tons of speculation that Apple will be releasing a version two iPad in the first quarter next year. So, if you have the nerve to wait a few more months, you can probably get the newer device -- though at a price point premium.

But if you can't resist the $399 deal, by all means, get ready to scavenge for them at T.J. Maxx.


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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

November 17, 2010

Samsung Galaxy Tab: The first real iPad competitor

My review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab on Verizon:

The Samsung Galaxy Tab fits in my pocket.

Let me say that again: Samsung's Galaxy Tab, the first credible Android tablet -- and iPad competitor -- to hit the market, actually fits in my front pants pocket. That simple fact alone makes me consider the Galaxy as a much more portable and mobile device than its larger competitor, the Apple iPad.

The Galaxy tab is easy to use with one hand, while the other hand holds it. It's not too different than holding a paperback book, in fact. It weighs about 0.8 pounds -- or little less than half the weight of an iPad.

To me, setting aside certain differences in software and hardware, the potential Galaxy Tab customer will do well to know how they plan to use this device. Do they think they'll just keep it mostly at home as an easy/quick access device to the Internet? Or will they be bringing on the go with them a lot, and potentially subscribing to a wireless access plan?

I, for one, have an iPad and use it 90 percent of the time at home. Thus, I want the bigger 9.7 inch screen on the iPad for easier reading and watching videos. However, the 7-inch form factor of the Galaxy Tab is appealing for me, for the simple fact that I'd like to have something like this to slip in my Dockers. And no, I don't carry a man purse.

The Tab starts at $600 for sale by most wireless carriers. PC World has a great breakdown of prices among AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. Take your pick.

Here's what else I like about the Galaxy Tab:

* The overall fit and finish of Samsung's hardware is very good, very solid. They've done well with it. It isn't sexy chic, like the iPad. But it feels good in the hand.

* The screen is bright, vivid and all around gorgeous. My eyes are just drawn to it. * It's got front and rear facing cameras that shoot video (the iPad doesn't have cameras yet, but look for next year's model to catch up.)

* Awesome contact and calendar integration with Google and Facebook. Your Google and Facebook contacts and calendar items (i.e. birthdays of all your friends) gets sucked into the device's Calendar app. VERY COOL.

* Other Google software, i.e. Maps and Places, are a unique, location-based offerings that you won't probably won't get on non-Android devices.

* It plays Flash video/animation. In the few sites I experimented with it on, Flash worked. But I've heard it's a battery drain. And the sites often take some time to load up. I'm not convinced that Flash-based content yet "works" in the mobile environment.

Here's what I'm so-so on about the Galaxy Tab:

* The web browser is meh. It just doesn't feel as responsive and as precise as the mobile Safari browser on the iPad. On some sites, such as, it kept forcing me to view the mobile site, when I wanted to read the main site.

* There are a lot of pre-loaded Samsung and Verizon apps to choose from, some of which just appear duplicative and confusing. There's a "Gallery" app, a "Video" app, a "VCast App", a "VCast Music" App, a "Music Player" app, and a "Media Hub" app. Huh?

* The Android Market apps that you download generally don't make use of the entire 7-inch screen. They're sized for the smaller mobile phones. That means you have wasted bands of black space around the apps you're using. Kindof a bummer.

* General navigation using Android's latest software iteration, "Froyo.", or 2.2. Here, I have to show my bias for the simplicity of Apple's iPhone/iPad software, which is so easy a baby can use it. Android's screens add a minor layer of complexity, but it's a layer nonetheless. You have a home screen, where you can navigate left or right to find your apps and widgets. Then, you also have an "apps" directory that allows you to navigate more pages of apps. I just find it a little too much for my primitive brain. Maybe I need more brain cells.


Honestly, this Galaxy Tab is the first Android device that I've actually really liked and would strongly consider buying. The iPad indeed has a competitor. But Samsung and the carriers would be wise to work on dropping the price into the $500 range, to compete with Apple's iPad entry at $499.


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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Gadgets

November 15, 2010

Baltimore's ZeroChroma launches: unique cases for mobile devices

I did a Q&A with Brian Le Gette, original co-founder of 180s (you know the company that makes those funky behind-the-head ear warmers) and we talked about his latest venture: ZeroChroma.

Le Gette (below left) teamed up with Dave Reeb (right) to design a patent-pending collapsible swivel stand that pops out of the back of a flat case. The design has great potential for many different kinds of applications, but for now, Le Gette and Reeb are focused on the mobile device case market.


The pair are doing a product launch push this week and, early next year, their hope is that their cases for Apple iOS devices are stocked in the Apple Store and Best Buy.

For those investment banker types out there, ZeroChroma is a self-funded operation that's based here in the Baltimore area but does manufacturing in Taiwan. Le Gette said their goal is to keep the company small and nimble and largely "virtual" and "in the cloud." They don't have a fancy headquarters office yet, in other words.

So far, I've tried out their cases for the iPhone and iPad and have been impressed with their finish and functionality. I particularly appreciate the iPad case, which is flexible enough to rotate from portrait to landscape mode. If you find yourself watching a lot of video while sitting at a desk, or in an airplane, this case may be for you.


You can even lower the iPad to a gentle typing level, which is very useful for those of us who do a lot of typing on the iPad. The cases range in price from $35 to $70.


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November 9, 2010

iPad adoption accelerating in the enterprise, survey shows

The iPad is about to crash the enterprise's I.T. party, according to a recent survey.

Roughly three-quarters of information technology executives at more than 800 companies expect to deploy the iPad and other iOS devices within the next 12 months, according to a new survey today from BoxTone of Columbia, Md.

BoxTone, which provides managed services for companies that deploy mobile devices to hundreds and thousands of users, surveyed their customer bases on the iPad. Their survey showed that more than a quarter expect to roll-out the iPad "immediately."

Another interesting stat: more than 50 percent of these companies plan to deploy at least one iPad application in the next 12 months.

BoxTone gathered the data during a series of Webinars with Fortune 500 companies, including half of whom were executives from Fortune 100 companies.

Alan Snyder, CEO of BoxTone, said: “The iPad could be part of one of the biggest IT asset expansion and replacement waves of the last two decades. Impressed by its form factor and user experience, companies are just now budgeting for large scale rollouts in 2011, with most organizations viewing the iPad as a high-value application delivery platform."

For more details on the BoxTone survey, see below:

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

November 4, 2010

Microsoft Kinect: Don't make me sweat!


Microsoft last night launched its new Kinect peripheral, which hooks up to their monstrously popular Xbox 360 video game console and enables the user to use his body as the controller.

It seems like a fascinating, well-engineered piece of hardware, one that advances the state of the art and will likely fly off the shelves for the holiday buying season. I expect it to be a big success, mainly because there's nothing else like it on the market for gamers. Xbox is huge among dedicated gamers and the Kinect will likely attract more casual gamers and young families who are looking for "lite" gaming activities for their young kids. That demographic has long been the domain of the Wii, which has its own Wii Fit set-up for people who want to work out with their video game console.

All that said, you won't catch me ponying up money for a Kinect ($150 for the hardware or $300 bundled with an Xbox). Why? Because I don't want to work that hard while playing video games.

Call me old school, but all I want is a controller. A simple touch screen is better. When I want to veg out, I play Angry Birds, which involves one, maybe two, finger swipes on a touch screen. Dead simple. No sweat, literally. I have a Wii, but half the time, I feel like I'm flailing aimlessly with the handheld remote. And sometimes I break a sweat.

No, I don't want to have to hit the showers after I play a video game.

No, when I play a video game, it usually means I'm tired, I'm coming off a long day, and I want to think less, and move even less. The last thing I want is exercise. I'm not saying I don't need exercise, I just don't need it in my gaming experience. Why would I want to break a sweat, as David Pogue covers in his New York Times column about the device today.

Plus, you haven't truly gamed until you have callouses on your fingers. What will the young whippersnappers of the Kinect era have to show for their video game prowess? Dislocated shoulders? Broken vases in their parents' living rooms? Lower body fat? Pshaw!

[Image from RedEye]

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gadgets, Gamers

November 3, 2010

Baltimore inventor wants to give away his patents

My colleague, Lorraine Mirabella, had a great little story this week about a Baltimore inventor who's willing to give away his patented inventions in hopes they will come to market.

Here's the beginning of the story:

Inventor Mario P. DiForte has spent more than four decades thinking of ideas for gadgets, tools and products. If there's a better way to practice baseball, drive a car, talk on a cell phone, prevent illness on airplanes or rescue a person from drowning, DiForte thinks he has a solution in his arsenal.

Now, at 66, DiForte is battling heart problems and fears that nearly two dozen unsold inventions may never do more than gather dust on the shelves of his Glen Arm home. That worry has sparked what DiForte believes could be his biggest concept of them all: He intends to give his ideas away.

The catch: DiForte says he will hand over patents, including pending and provisional ones, on 22 products to "legitimate" companies only if they agree to make the products and create jobs. And he wants to shepherd his brainchildren through production as a paid consultant, even if only on a part-time basis. It's a sweeping offer. It means he would agree to take no licensing fees or royalties from product sales.

To read the entire story, here's the full page.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Gadgets

October 21, 2010

Windows Phone 7: the reviews are coming

Windows Phone 7 mobile handsets are making their ways into the hands of the technology press, and the reviews are dribbling onto the Internet.

For those Microsoft fans who've been waiting to see the software giant's new mobile phone platform, the time is nigh. The phones will debut Nov. 8 on AT&T and T-Mobile. The phones are the Samsung Focus (AT&T) and the HTC HD7 (T-Mobile), both for $199.

Will Microsoft's offering compete with Apple's iPhone, Google's Android and even Research In Motion's BlackBerry?

So far, the reviews seem pretty good, not stellar. But good. The key will be how quickly Microsoft iterates and updates the platform to truly compete with the other heavyweights and attract developers who can build sexy apps for consumers.

Here are a few I've read so far:

* Windows Phone 7 review, Engadget's take, by Joshua Topolsky

* Microsoft's New Windows Phone 7: Novel, But Lacking. By Walt Mossberg, of All Things D and the Wall Street Journal.

* A Windows Phone 7 'review' by a non-reviewer, by Mary-Jo Foley of the All About Microsoft blog.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:07 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Smartphones

October 20, 2010

You know what's not open? Apple's "live" events

You can't watch Apple's live news events through Internet Explorer, or Firefox or Chrome.

Nope, you need to access the live stream via Safari or an iOS device. There's a live event right now where Apple is unveiling new software and other stuff.

In the realm of mobile platforms, Steve Jobs may take a shot at Android and say that the debate isn't about open/closed systems, but rather, fragmented vs. integrated.

But in the realm of reaching out to Apple's current and future customers -- on whatever platform they may be on -- the fact of the matter is that these Apple events are closed, partisan productions that are pro-Apple all the way.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gadgets

Samsung readies iPad competitor for Nov. 11

galaxy-ipad.jpgLooks like the first serious contender to the Apple iPad (far left) will be the Samsung Galaxy tablet (right), which is slated for release Nov. 11.

Here's the skinny: It will be $599 through Verizon, and you can get mobile 3G broadband internet access for $20 a month (no contract lock-in).

It's a 7-inch touch screen device that offers Wi-Fi accessibility, Web browsing and support for Adobe Flash video formats (a common format that the iPad doesn't support.) It offers the latest Android software build, 2.2, as well as a host of Verizon-designed apps for music, video, maps and other services.

It will also have a front and rear facing camera, enabling video chat. It comes in two sizes for storage: 16GB and 32GB, but has a microSD expansion slot that can take another 32GB card.

Compare this to Apple's larger 9.7 inch iPad, which starts at $499 for a Wi-Fi only version and $629 for a Wi-Fi+3G version. The iPad doesn't have a front or rear facing camera, and no microSD expansion slot for adding memory.

But many expect that Apple's next iPad version will have at least a front and rear facing camera, among other new attributes, in its next release next year.

The question for some will be how well the Android OS works on a 7-inch tablet form factor, because reportedly even Google, maker of Android, says the 2.2 version isn't suitable for tablets. The iPad also has a bigger, more mature ecosystem of apps for users to choose from, at 250,000+, compared with Android's 90,000.

The other hurdle may be psychological. The entry level price point of $599 is, well, not $499. Average consumers could convince themselves to spend "under $500" for an iPad... but $600 leaves the realm of "excited impulse buy" and ventures into "Is it worth it" land.

Here's a good spec-by-spec comparison of the Galaxy vs. the iPad.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:59 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

Apple event today: "Back to the Mac"

Check Apple's website around 1 pm Eastern/10 am Pacific for a live video feed of the company's "Back to the Mac" press event. Unfortunately, you can only watch the live video on a Safari browser or an iOS (iPhone, Touch) device.

(Sheesh -- get OVER yourselves, Apple. Make it available through other browsers. So lame.)

Rumors about that the company will release updates to its ultra-thin MacBook Air laptop computer and its iLife software suite -- and maybe even preview a new operating system, allegedly called "Lion." Boy Genius Report, a tech site, also did some sleuthing and discovered that Apple's own discussion forums had been prepared for several new products, including a mystery one.

Apple events are closely watched by geeks around the world, partly because the company -- and its CEO Steve Jobs -- can keep secrets pretty well and put on a good show when it's time to release products. Apparently bookmakers have started placing odds on what will be announced. This is too much.


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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:38 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

October 13, 2010

Annapolis company's tech used in Chilean miner rescue

Zephyr of Annapolis makes gear that people wear so that their vital signs can be monitored remotely.

One of their products, the BioHarness, has been worn by the trapped Chilean miners to monitor their heart rate, breathing and other vital signs for the past couple weeks.

Zephyr's products have applications in first responder scenarios, defense and military, and research and training. Below is a photo of the BioHarness worn by the Chilean miners:


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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Wireless

October 4, 2010

Google TV wants to rock your living room

:: Become a friend of BaltTech on Facebook::

Google released more information today about Google TV, their attempt to marry Web content (video, social media, etc.) to that big flat-panel TV you wish you could do more with in your living room.

It's basically a big tease, meant to get geeks like you and me salivating about channeling Internet content -- and apps! -- through your TV. But can Google and its partners deliver a software/hardware experience that makes Internet-on-your-TV a fun and effortless experience. (There are two ways to get Google TV: 1) through a TV specially built with Google TV inside or 2) through a small Google TV box you plug into your TV set.)

That's the thing about my TV now -- all I need is .001 percent of my brain cells to operate it. I turn to my TV when I want something completely brainless to do. All I have to say, Google, is that you better make Google TV as dumb-proof as possible.

Don't make me think!

That said, I must admit, I'm feeling the tech-lust organ in my body starting to tingle (it's right next to my spleen, folks)... Google TV is starting to look sweeter and sweeter. Let's hope it lives up to the mounting hype.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:01 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: *NEWS*, Big Ideas, For The Home, Gadgets, Web Dev & Apps

September 24, 2010

Target selling the iPad starting Oct. 3

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Here are some details on Target selling the iPad, starting Oct. 3. Apparently, Target credit card holders will be able to apply their five percent discount on the purchase. Many analysts predict as the iPad gets into mainstream stores -- um, Target ain't a bad place to be if you're a hot electronic gadget -- sales of it will go through the roof.

Hit the link for the details.

Continue reading "Target selling the iPad starting Oct. 3" »

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:05 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Gadgets

September 14, 2010

Beer tap tables -- bottom's up!


I had a chance recently to see the Draft Master beer tap table in action and, let me tell you, it sure poured some smooth, tasty Guinness.

Writing about how these tables are hitting American soil from Ireland definitely was one of the more delightful assignments I've had for the paper in recent years. That said, rest assured, I did not perform any acts of journalism while inebriated.

The Irish company behind the tables, Ellickson International, has some grandiose visions for the tables. For one, it hopes to be building beer tap tables that are connected to the Internet and allow for gaming and ordering food and performing other Webby activities (Facebook at your beer table, perhaps?)

We'll see if their vision ever becomes reality.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Gadgets

August 2, 2010

Maryland's computer history museum -- courtesy of Bob Roswell


In the mid-1980s, as part of his computer business, Bob Roswell began accumulating a surplus of unsold and unwanted computers that he couldn’t bring himself to throw away.

As advances in computing marched on through the 1980s and 1990s, Roswell took those computers and put them to new use: as historical exhibits. Today, Roswell (above, holding a "core memory")runs what appears to be the largest computer history museum in Maryland. It can be found at System Source Inc., a computer services company in Hunt Valley operated by him and his business partner, Maury Weinstein.

“He’s got some rare things there that took him a while to get,” said Joyce Little, professor of computer and information sciences at Towson University. “It’s grand, it’s really grand.”

[Check out some photos of Roswell's computer museum]

Over the years, Roswell has assembled a collection of authentic and replica computing gadgets, from the abacus to the mobile device. He gives about three 30-minute tours a week, mostly to students of his company’s computer classes, though the exhibit is open to the public during work hours.

“It’s a hobby,” said Roswell, 52 during a recent exhibit tour. “We’re not ready to compete with the Smithsonian or anything.”

Roswell’s collection of computer artifacts is far larger than what is on display. He has a few hundred items on display, with thousands more — hard drives, monitors, dot-matrix printers and other gadgets — stored in his computer company’s warehouse. The continuing challenge is to sort through it all and make a determination on what is worthy enough for showcasing.

“I can’t begin to display it all,” said Roswell, a computer science graduate from Yale University.

Continue reading "Maryland's computer history museum -- courtesy of Bob Roswell" »

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 4:30 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets, Geeks

July 30, 2010

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer : Lots of talk, but no iPad competitor...yet

Fortune's tech blogger, Philip Elmer-DeWitt has a pretty good post recapping Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's comments on the tablet market, dominated right now by Apple's iPad.

Microsoft has been in the tablet game for years, but was never able to bring the product into the mainstream. Apple has done it in a matter of months. Which is why Ballmer's comments during Microsoft's annual meeting with financial analysts are interesting and kinda fun to read.

(Note: I'm not a Microsoft hater; it just makes for intriguing news to see a CEO scrambling to make his company look relevant in a hot consumer space, the tablet market.)

My favorite quote from Balmer:

"We've got everything on our side if we do things really right." (emphasis mine)

That's a big if, Steve. Microsoft got Windows 7 right, though (and it's selling like hotcakes) so I'm not gonna count you guys out in the tablet market. But it seems like, by now, Apple will likely have a year's lead in the tablet marketplace.

Will we see a Windows-based tablet by the end of the year? I hope so.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:41 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets

July 23, 2010

Hidden camera in "Chicken Soup for the Soul"

chicken%20soup%20for%20soul.jpgI'm having a hard time picturing this tech set-up. What kind of video camera was this guy using in order to pull this off? And was he shooting in HD?

Via The Los Angeles Times:

A Carpinteria man has been arrested for allegedly spying on a woman with a video camera secretly tucked into a copy of "Chicken Soup for the Soul.’"

The 30-year-old woman found the camera trained on her bed through a hole cut near the inspirational volume’s spine.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s detectives arrested Donald Lee Bedford, 54, Thursday and seized computers and other items from his home.

They also found recordings in the camera of the woman and her boyfriend "in various states of undress,’’ according to a Sheriff’s Department spokesman.

Bedford is a friend of one of the victim's relatives, authorities said.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:19 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

The cheapest touch screen computer in the world

iPad, watch out. India has developed what is heralded as the world's cheapest touch screen computing device.

It costs about $35.

The goal is to get the device into the hands of students in India, and to drop the price eventually to $10. It runs on the Linux operating system, and features a touch screen, Web browser, video conferencing capability and even an option for running on solar energy.

Check out a report by Reuters on the gadget.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

July 16, 2010

Apple press conference: Free iPhone 4 cases for every owner, says Steve Jobs

At Apple's iPhone 4 press conference today in Cupertino, Calif., Steve Jobs declared that iPhone 4 owners will receive a free case for their handsets in what is widely regarded as a cheap fix to the antenna problems that have surfaced with a tiny percentage of users, according to the AP and other news sources.

Jobs said the company has sold 3 million iPhone 4's in three weeks, with a complaint rate of only .55 percent.

iPhone 4 owners will have a choice of an official Apple bumper case, but the company can't make enough of them, so it will allow consumers to buy cases by other manufacturers and receive a refund from Apple.

Apple will make a Website available for the cases late next week.

Tune in to GDGT or Engadget for their live blogs. (BaltTech, unfortunately, wasn't invited to the event... :-( Whattup, Steve Jobs?!)

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:00 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Smartphones

June 17, 2010

Hacking Apple iPad for the car

Local car-computing gurus featured on their blog this week a cool video showing how an iPad was modified to work in a car. Pretty sweet! But please, folks -- don't take your eyes of the road.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For The Road, Gadgets, Geeks, Startups

May 26, 2010

Clear broadband Internet service coming to Baltimore "within two weeks" -- maybe June 1st?


What's old is new again, right?

Hey Baltimore, looks like we're gonna have some more options for our wireless broadband Internet needs -- again. A company called Clearwire, which took over Sprint's XOHM network (which first launch in Baltimore in 2008), is relaunching the service in Baltimore "within the next two weeks," a company official told me by email yesterday.

The new service is called Clear.

So what is Clear? It's wireless broadband built on the WiMax protocol, which basically means that Clear is turning Baltimore into one big Wi-Fi hotspot. So, you can sign up for home service or "on-the-go" service, and use the service anywhere in the Baltimore area. (I haven't seen coverage maps yet.)

The basic $30 a month service for the home gets you download speeds similar to DSL. For $10 more a month, you get triple or quadruple the speeds of DSL. If you sign up for a 2-year plan, you save money on your monthly payments, and the modem device (see left) you need for home setup is included. If you want month-to-month payments, you have to pay for the modem yourself.

The network was built a couple years ago by Sprint, which launched its XOHM service (essentially the same technical specs that Clear now offers) in September 2008. But Sprint sold off its XOHM subsidiary to Clearwire, and for awhile, it wasn't accepting new customers in Baltimore, though existing customers kept their service on.

Baltimore, by the way, was the first test market for XOHM/WiMax in the United States. I wrote the story when it debuted in Baltimore.

Right now, there are signs that Clear could launch in Baltimore as early as June 1st. Speed & Mobility LLC, an authorized dealer of Clear hardware, tweeted last night that Clear would launch in Baltimore on June 1st. And Millennium Computers, a computer store in Elkridge, tweeted several days ago that they'd start selling Clear equipment on June 1st, also.

UPDATE: I was reminded by John Taylor in Sprint PR that Baltimore will be one of the markets getting the soon-to-be-released HTC EVO 4G -- "America's first 4G phone". This is a cellphone that will be able to tap into the WiMax network offered by Clear/Sprint (this gets a little confusing because Sprint will be selling 4G service for its cellphones off the Clear network.)

Below is a Sprint salesman talking about the HTC EVO 4G coming to Baltimore:

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Wireless

May 12, 2010

Google, Verizon to launch tablet?

So now we get word that Google and Verizon want to put out a tablet together -- this news comes to us courtesy of a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The two companies have watched on the sidelines as Apple has blown out of the gate with its iPad, reportedly selling up to 1 million units in a month's time.

What do I think? I think the companies are moving way too slow in this environment. It looks like Apple will have at least a 6 month to 1 year headstart against any competing tablets. By the time competitors like Google and Verizon get their act together to release a tablet, the Apple iPad App Store will probably have tens of thousands of apps. And Apple will have released version 2.0 of the iPad, I'm sure.

I'm not counting out Google and Verizon however, because clearly there is a huge spot in the market for Android-based products.

But all I have to say is: come on, guys. What's taking so long?

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:20 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets

May 5, 2010

Thoughts on the iPad


I recently became the owner of an iPad -- the WiFi + 3G 32 GB model that just went on sale this past Friday. Having had four solid days of using it, I think I'm going to hold on to it. For now.

Here's what I like about it:

1. It's fast and responsive. From booting up in a matter of seconds to switching between apps and manipulating images on the screen, I detect virtually no lag. The A4 processor that Apple is using handles its business well. The Safari web browser is fast, too.

2) It has a robust battery. Using it as much as I did through the weekend, I found that I could go for about 36 hours before I needed to recharge it. That does not mean I used it for 36 hours straight, mind you. The battery life is estimated around 10 hours of straight use.

3) It offers a new way of interacting with others, not just a new way of interacting with a device. What do I mean? This tablet is fun to pass around and show and share things with others. One night, my wife and I used it buy stuff online from Amazon, pay bills and do other tasks -- all while sitting across from each other at the dining room table. We just kept passing it back and forth. For us, this was new behavior. It also brought joy to my 18-month-old daughter, who loved the bigger screen while she played with some educational/kids apps I had downloaded. We also drew with our fingers using Adobe's free Ideas app.

4) Great screen. The touch screen is luminous. I find that when it's dark, it's easy to spot the fingerprint smudges. But when the screen is on, it's brightness cuts through them and you hardly notice them. Mind you, this screen is so bright and powerful that I've found that I've had to dim its brightness, especially when reading books. The virtual keyboard, I confess, takes some getting used to. As a guy who types 60+ words a minute, the keyboard has reduced me to "hunt and peck" typing. But I expect that to change as I get accustomed to it.

5) I don't have much of a problem with the quality of iPhone apps that are expanded to fit the iPad screen. Sure, they're a little jagged around the edges, but they're far from unusable. ipadNYT.PNG

6) Favorite apps so far: The Netflix app and the ABC video player are super cool. Kudos to those two companies for jumping on the new platform and giving users a lot of options to watch quality content on the iPad. The New York Times' "Editors Choice" app (left) is very cool and perhaps the best expression of a newspaper in a digital format that I've ever seen. They got it right.

7) I like the minimal nature of the device when it comes to a lack of ports and other doohickeys. I like how thin and light it is. Apple has chosen to sacrifice some functionality for making a device that's light and easy and fun to use -- and I think that only means people will use it even more.

What I don't like about it:

1) iPad apps are more expensive. And there seem to be fewer free ones in the App Store. If most apps you bought on an iPhone are the price of a cup of coffee, the apps in the iPad App Store are the price of a grande mochachino.

2) The iTunes software that you have to sync your iPad with is becoming a chore to deal with. But, while some say the iPad isn't a true standalone computing device because you have to sync it with iTunes on another computer, I actually see that as a potential strength. If you lose it or it gets buggy, it's relatively easy to just reboot the device and reload your apps and much of your content, without losing the farm.

3) User profiles: as a device that my wife and I will use together, the iPad needs the ability to configure apps and user preferences based on individual users who are authorized to use the device. This device wants to be shared between people -- let them create their own profiles and log-in settings.

I look forward to the next update to the 4.0 update to iPhone OS, which I think will make navigating the iPad a bit easier. For one, I'm looking forward to having folders to store related apps in. This would cut down on flicking from screen to screen to select apps.

Also, multitasking is expected in 4.0 -- and the iPad could really use it. The bigger the screen real estate, the more ambitious your tasks and projects tend to be.

All in all, for a first generation device, I'm surprised at how polished it is. I was expecting something a little rougher around the edges. Granted, it's still missing a bunch of things that many people are craving right now.

The two biggies, I think, are a built-in camera and Flash support. I'm not so rabid about including a camera in the iPad. I understand the desire for video-conferencing, and I could see that working well.

But generally, I don't see this device as a natural fit for taking pictures and shooting video while on the go. For that, I'll stick to my iPhone or a small digital camera. I'm also not so disappointed in the lack of Flash.

If Steve Jobs' criticism of Flash is to be believed, the last thing I'd want is a mobile device like the iPad that's balky and slow due to Flash support. It would defeat its purpose as a light, lightweight and thoughtlessly easy to use device.

I'm waiting to see if/how/when competing manufacturers make tablets that do support Flash, to see if it can be done well. For me, "done well" means Flash doesn't eat the battery and cause crashes or system slowdown.

I have yet to use the AT&T 3G network on the iPad, but I have no reason to believe that it would not be a good experience here in Baltimore. At the moment, my AT&T data service on my iPhone in this city is excellent. My phone coverage, however, is average to mediocre. I still get dropped calls with regularity. But again, if I'm just surfing the Internet on AT&T's 3G network in Baltimore, I can't say I've had any problems with my iPhone. If I encounter any problems with the 3G network on the iPad, I will definitely post an update to this post.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:00 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Gadgets

April 20, 2010

Hey CrackBerry lover-lovers: OS 6.0 got leaked

Tech blogs were abuzz today with news of a BlackBerry OS 6.0 leak -- the latest operating system for the popular handsets.

:: InformationWeek calls it a "major revision" that will offer multitouch, a new browser, and an updated inbox. Hooray for BlackBerry.

:: Boy Genius Report, I think, got the scoop earlier today on the new OS that reverberated across the Web. They've got some pretty slick screen shots of the new OS in action. Makes me definitely want to put down my iPhone and play with a BlackBerry as soon as this new OS comes out.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 4:44 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Gadgets, Smartphones

Gizmodo's scoop: new iPhone revealed?

Gizmodo paid a source an undisclosed amount of money $5,000 to gain possession of an Apple phone that was found in a California bar. The blog has covered it a bunch of times already this week.

Here's the supposed "full" story about how the phone was found and ended up in Gizmodo's hands -- but without the interesting details on how much El Giz paid for it. Giz also has an official-looking letter from Apple asking for its property back. I'm convinced that Giz has a real Apple iPhone in its posession.

I'm just not sold on the fact that this is anything but a working model used by engineers. I think the one that ends up in consumers' hands will just look better. Guess we'll find out in a few months if the version Gizmodo had was the real deal.....

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:14 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Smartphones

The kitty and the iPad

This is an amusing video bringing together two of my favorite topics: kitties and tech! (On a side note, would you let your kitty touch your shiny new toy with its paws and claws?)

Unfortunately, what the video doesn't capture is the cat's disappointment that the iPad doesn't play Flash-based videos. Hehehe.

P.S. Thanks to my wife for spotting this and sending it along to BaltTech.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:30 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Gadgets

April 19, 2010

True story? Top-secret next-generation iPhone 4G found hanging out in a California bar

Over the weekend, the gadget blogs absolutely lit up with speculation that an iPhone 4G -- the rumored next-generation handset expected this summer -- was actually found in a San Jose, Calif. bar. (This sounds like a geek joke: "Two iPhone 4Gs walk into a bar and one turns to the other....")

Of course, images and videos of it have filled the Web. So far, gadget-blog Gizmodo seems to have it in hand, while Engadget has followed the news, too. It's rumored, btw, that Apple Inc. did lose a prototype and wants it back.

It'd be interesting to see if Apple DOES move to try to claim this phone, if it is indeed theirs. In the meantime, for a company that loves secrecy as much as Apple, if this indeed is the iPhone 4G, that's gotta be a major gaffe on their part.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:11 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Gadgets, Smartphones, Wireless

April 16, 2010

Baltimore iPad app makers gettin' busy

Without an iPad in hand months ago, the folks at Fastspot in Baltimore used pieces of paper to mock-up how they'd play the new word game they designed. Watch the video!

My story about Baltimore-area iPad/iPhone developers hit the paper and the web today -- check it out here. You should also take a gander at the video we shot of Fastspot, a Baltimore interactive design firm, and the iPad game it built: Jumbalaya.

Interested in another iPad app by a Baltimore company? Check out TwitterTube, by Emagine Web Consulting of Pikesville.

One of the more interesting things is that there's a growing ecosystem of businesses that are sprouting up to support iPad/iPhone and other mobile apps.

For instance, Gregg Weiss, a Florida businessman, operates two Websites -- iPad App Developers and iPhone App Developers -- that links developers with companies needing someone to build the apps for them. Gregg also works closely with two companies that help market mobile apps: Appular and Appency.

I think the question that's on everyone's mind is if the iPad will turn out to be as big -- or bigger -- than the iPhone? Or will it be a moderate success?

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:21 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*, Apps, Gadgets

April 14, 2010

HTC Droid Incredible spotted on Verizon's Website


The onslaught of Google's Droid-powered phones continues:

Engadget spotted the HTC Droid Incredible on a Verizon Website today, and snagged a photo of it for its blog.

Not much is known about the phone except it's expected to launch April 29, for $199. 

Any Droid phone fanboys and girls out there? What's your early take on the Incredible? 

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 5:25 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Wireless

April 12, 2010

Microsoft's new Kin phones -- a semi-smart social phone


Partners Microsoft, Sharp and Verizon announced a new pair of phones today called Kin, which are built around social messaging services like Twitter and Facebook. The phones are really geared toward people who are constantly chit-chatting via such status services and text-messaging. They won't run third-party applications.

(Whuh? A phone making news because it won't try to have a huge app store?)

Here are some links to learn about the Kin: Engadget's hands-on; CNET's article; BetaNews' take on it; and Microsoft's official news release on the devices.

Watch this video of the Kin demo from Engadget. Notice the new style of user interface for the Kin. Could you see yourself using a phone like this?


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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 4:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Apps, Gadgets, Smartphones

April 5, 2010

Hands-on with Dave Troy's iPad


Tech entrepreneur and Google-Fiber-for-Baltimore volunteer Dave Troy (left) was among the first to get an iPad on Saturday. He shares with BaltTech his thoughts on the new device. Feel free to share your thoughts of the iPad in the comments below.


This morning (Saturday) I bicycled to the Annapolis Mall Apple Store with my wife to pick up the iPad I had reserved a few days ago (16GB, WiFi-only, $499.00). Predictably the lines were long and people were excited; at 9:00 the giddy staffers were working the crowd into a frenzy of applause, which seemed a bit much for the occasion. We're at the mall; it's 9am — just sell us the dang gadget.

The sales process was handled efficiently; I was given ample opportunity to play with the device before completing my purchase (foreplay?) and I must say that first impressions of iPad are breathtaking. The thing is flat-out beautiful. Sure, it's like a giant iPod Touch, but it feels just-right and very different all at the same time. Everything seems new again, and that comes from an obsessive attention to detail: the way the page curls work in the iBooks reader app, the multiple modes of use for portrait and landscape orientations, the way it sits in your hands, and the devastating speed of the thing. It has been said it seems about 50% faster than the iPhone 3GS; that's about right.

I challenge anyone to use iPad and not come away thinking two things: 1) I want one, and 2) everything else seems obsolete. It is that good; it's the perfect machine for browsing content, exploring interesting apps, keeping in the kitchen or by the bed, and generally just using for whatever you might be doing casually. Contrary to some early speculation, it is perfectly suited for writing and taking notes, especially in the landscape orientation.

I wrote this review on the iPad and save a few minor annoyances was almost entirely unconscious of the on-screen keyboard. The only nit might be the requirement to switch keyboard modes to access numbers and some punctuation, but you do get used to it. (A keyboard accessory is available for folks with that need.)

The email app is easy to setup, just as on the iPhone, and is a joy to use. Web browsing is fast and seamless, and HTML5 videos are awesome; they appear in-place in a web page and a simple spread of the fingers floats them into full-screen mode. It is simple, intuitive and fun. Browsing on a standard PC or Mac will seem dull once you have had a little time with the iPad. And so far I have not missed Flash once.

I could go on waxing poetic about its virtues, but you will find a lot of that in every review. While I do not consider myself a fanboy Apple user, I do tend to think they have gotten many design details right lately and that the iPad is going to be a big deal, primarily because it advances us past the 25-year old mouse-plus-keyboard paradigm that Apple popularized with the Macintosh.


Continue reading "Hands-on with Dave Troy's iPad" »

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:27 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Gadgets

January 29, 2010

Mobile ad leader "excited" about Apple iPad

The Apple iPad could be huge for the nascent mobile advertising market -- now advertisers can expect to have ads that display in tens of thousands of iPhone apps displayed on a new portable device. And, it appears Apple has positioned itself to take full advantage of the growing industry with its recent purchase of Quattro Wireless. paulpalmieri.jpg

Another big mobile ad company, based here in Baltimore, Millennial Media, is also bullish on the iPad's prospects for mobile advertising. Paul Palmieri, Millennial's co-founder and CEO (left), shares his thoughts below:

As the CEO of the leading independent mobile advertising network and technology provider, I am excited about the opportunity to extend our market-leading advertising solution to the new iPad ecosystem of application developers, publishers and advertisers. 

I wanted to share a few of my initial thoughts on the iPad after yesterday’s announcement:

The iPad is a big mobile device, not a stripped down PC. This isn’t a surprise to us. We have been predicting for years that tablet devices would ultimately be based on mobile platforms. Why? I see a couple of reasons for this:

* First, the mobile experience is inherently different from the desktop experience. Devices and applications (and ad networks) built from the ground up to serve mobile users deliver a far superior experience. Trying to cram the wired web into smaller, mobile devices just doesn’t work for mobile consumers. millennial-media.gif

* The other primary reason is that mobile users are more willing to pay for content and are much more responsive to advertising (if done correctly) than web surfers on the wired web. Publishers and application developers see the potential of extending the smart phone ecosystem of pay and advertising- supported applications and mobile web-based content to a new category of device that is from its inception, inherently mobile. 

Continue reading "Mobile ad leader "excited" about Apple iPad" »

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:44 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Gadgets, Wireless

January 28, 2010

Apple iPad: pros and cons


As I reported (along with the rest of the techy and general media), Apple Inc. introduced the highly anticipated iPad tablet computer yesterday.

In general, I think, it was about what people had come to expect after months of speculation. As always, I expect Apple to add more bells and whistles to the thing -- and drop prices -- in six to 12 months. I might be a relatively early adopter, but I'm not bleeding edge, preferring to mull over a tech purchase and consider closely my own use patterns and needs.

That said, I sketched out some preliminary pros and cons of the iPad, as I perceive them. What am I missing? Of course, there's a little irony that I used a cheap Office Max yellow-lined pad in my analysis of a $500 pad-like machine. (Here are Apple's official tech specs for the iPad.)

The way I see it, if Apple managed to eliminate just two of my cons -- I'd say any two -- I'd feel more excited about the iPad. Til then, it's entered "wait, see and touch" land in my thinking -- which means many more future visits to the local Apple Store. (Aside to wife: Sorry, honey.)

That said, I think natural customers of this device will be iPhone and iTouch users, as well as those looking for netbooks to use primarily as a Web browsing device. I think that if most iPhone and Touch users are honest with themselves, they use these gadgets to do a LOT of Web surfing and content consumption -- and they may unconsciously be pining for more screen real estate to do these tasks on.

The iPad may not be an instant success, but I think the new category that Apple is taking a gamble on is here to stay.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:23 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: *NEWS*, Apps, Gadgets, Wireless

January 27, 2010

LIVE Apple iPad coverage today

For updates via Twitter, follow @gussent.

Apple-media-invitation-2010-01-27-580x393.jpgHit refresh every minute or so!

Whenever possible, BaltTech will be featuring live reports from the Web to participate in covering Apple's big event today, where the company is expected to unveil a new "tablet" computer. Other sources of info include Engadget and Gizmodo.

PLEASE HELP: I will be looking to feature (and embed) live streaming video OR audio of the Apple event in this blog, so you can watch it in real-time. So if you find such a feed, please shoot me a Tweet with the link at @gussent or leave in the comments. In the meantime, check out The Sun's Read Street blog for a live Twitter feed!Many thanks!

IF a tablet is announced today, here are some questions I'll have about it:

* How much will it cost?
* How does it interact with existing iPhone apps? (And does it run a version of the iPhone operating system?)
* What kind of e-book experience does it offer?
* What kind of gaming experience does it offer?
* Does it do live video-conferencing?
* How will the iTunes store change to accommodate it?

What other questions do you have about the device? Drop a note below.

Live blog updates:

1:00 pm... Huge applause
1:03 pm ... Steve Jobs... we have over 140 apps on app store and 3 billion downloads from users.
1:04 pm ... Jobs talks about huge revenue gains for apple in last quarter....
1:04pm... revenue from ipods, iphones, macbooks... "apple is a mobile devices company... that's what we do." Jobs.
1:05pm Jobs: Apple, by revenue is the largest mobile device maker in the world... (when you talk about mobile/portable in total)
1:06: Now let's get to the main event (jobs teasing the crowd... instead, takes crowd back to 1991 and the first powerbook, as the first modern laptop computer)
1:07 Is there room for another category of devices? Of course we thought of this question for years as well (brief outage
1:09: third category of device have to be better at gaming, e-media than a laptop or a smart phone... some people say 'that's a netbook.' the problem is that netbooks aren't better at anything... they're just cheap laptops. (big laughs)
1:10: We call it the iPad
1:11... it's the best browsing experience you've ever had... (it looks like a big fat iPhone, folks)
1:12: describes how to email... almost lifesize keyboard.. "it's a dream to type on."
1:12: iPad is an awesome way to enjoy your music collection... (Jobs running through the various applications...i.e. YouTube in high-def...)
1:13: Jobs making lots of comparisons and saying it's better navigation experience than a smaller smartphone (Leo Laporte's feed just fuzzed out)
1:14 Jobs shows how easy to easy to buy movie tickets with iPad ("grab the tablet that's in the kitchen...")
1:18: Jobs shows off closeup of the virtual keyboard
1:19: shows off how to manage photos on the iPad
1:20 (Editorial: So far, folks, I think we're about par for the course here. .. No huge surprises if you've been following the tablet rumor mill the last few weeks)
1:21: Built in ipod in the iPad... no surprise there. (Leo Laporte's audio feed is glitchy again)
1:22: Jobs showing off the calendar function
1:24: Jobs showing off Google Streetview and how to find restaurants (sushi in San Francisco, for example)
1:24: Showing off video now, i.e. Youtube in HD.
1:27: movies, tv shows, music videos [so far, this device is heavy on pushing iTunes and YouTube content]
1:28: ipad is half an inch thin and weighs 1.5 pounds. 9.7 inch display ("super high quality", Jobs says)
1:29: Jobs going over tech specs of the iPad [appears to be around same size as Amazon's Kindle DX]
1:30: wireless networking
1:30 Ten hours of battery life [commentator asks, are those Apple hours or real hours?]
1:31 Now talking about the Apps and the Apple Apps Store
1:32 New apple exec explains how the iPad can automatically increase the size of apps originally designed for iPhone so they can be used on the iPad
1:35 Editorial: will this iPad be an ergonomic nightmare for people who try to type with it?
1:40: [Experiencing some technical problems on the live feed]
1:40: Showing off the gaming experience on the iPad.
1:41 [Editorial: Listening to Leo Laporte's feed... I have to say, if Apple prices this at $999, I don't think it'll be a winner. Just my 2 cents]
1:42 NYTimes content looks really nice on the iPad.
1:44: Electronic Arts about to show off games on the iPad
1:48 Very cool racing game being demo'ed... [Game console makers may have something to fear from this portable device]
1:49 Now Major League Baseball will show off what it has to offer on the iPad
1:52... here we go: the ebook reader. Jobs makes direct comparison to Amazon Kindle ... new app is called iBooks. ("we're going to stand on their shoulders," Jobs said of Amazon.)
1:53: will have five of the largest publishers in the world supporting iBooks... "and we'll open up the floodgates for the rest of the publishers this afternoon."
1:55 Jobs explains how to navigate on the ebook pages...
1:56 "And that is iBooks..."
1:57 [FYI: Gizmodo has some good, clear photos of the iPad over at:]
1:57: Jobs introduces updated iWork software productivity suite for the iPad
1:59 New versions of Keynote, Pages and Numbers software....
2:02 [Editorial: I'm not sure anyone was expecting Apple to configure iWork to work on the iPad....pleasant surprise? This device can also be used to do some productive work, too.]
2:06 Showing off how to use Pages to make spreadsheets.. [Aside: Imagine that: making spreadsheets with your fingers!]
2:10 $9.99 for each of the three iWork software apps... [Cheaper than I thought -gus]
2:12 Back to Jobs: syncing with iTunes.... 3G wireless data built in... Now what's it cost for data: U.S. Telecom typically charges $60 a month ... we 've got two awesome plans... first gives u 250 MB per month: just $14.99, or an unlimited plan for $29.99... AT&T providing the data .... No contract. you can cancel anytime....
2:23: Okay, folks, I'm stepping away from second-by-second blogging of the event... what do you think so far of the iPad?? Drop comments below!!

Leo LaPorte's live broadcast from the Apple event:
Live Broadcast by Ustream.TV

Live Videos by Ustream

First-person iPhone footage of the Apple event today:
Free video chat by Ustream

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:23 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: *NEWS*, Big Ideas, Gadgets, Gamers, Geeks, Media, West Coast, Wireless

January 4, 2010

The 3D tech behind the rumored Apple "iSlate" tablet?

Welcome! Follow BaltTech on Twitter at @GusSent!


Some of the recent reports that predict Apple will launch some type of "tablet PC" next month have mentioned that the long-rumored device will have 3D graphics.

So what does "3D graphics" really mean and how could it be implemented? I found a recently-released patent filing which I traced back to Apple (#20090303231, Dec. 10, 2009) and which discusses in great detail a "touch screen device, method and graphical user interface for manipulating three-dimensional virtual objects." If Apple chooses to incorporate some of the features it outlines in this patent filing, it could essentially mean that that user-interaction experience for the iPhone or a potential "Tablet" will be markedly different in some respects than the iPhone interface we're currently using. (The image above is taken from Apple's patent filing.)

According to documents filed with the USPTO, Apple obtained the rights to this patent application from three French citizens: Fabrice Robinet, Thomas Goossens, and Alexandre Moha. The inventors assigned the patent to Apple on Sept. 29, 2008. It's not clear if those citizens are Apple employees, per se. (Update: Actually, Mr. Moha is a product and engineering manager at Apple, per his LinkedIn profile; Mr. Robinet is a software engineer at Apple, again, per LinkedIn, and Mr. Goossens is an Apple software engineer (thanks to Baltimore's Bill Mill for digging up Goossens!) Regardless, searches under Apple's name in the patents database doesn't retrieve this patent, because the names of the original French inventors are still on it. (I wonder why that is? Hmmm. :-)

In patent filings, companies typically lay out a current problem or hurdle in a field of technology which they then propose, to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, that their new innovation will address.

In this case, the patent application states: "...[T]here is a need for electronic devices with touch screen displays that provide more transparent and intuitive user interfaces for navigating in three dimensional virtual spaces and manipulating three dimensional objects in these virtual spaces."

So, what is the essence of this patent filing and Apple's interest in it? Let me try and distill it for you:

*) This patent filing is meant to cover the implementation of three-dimensional image-handling on different types of devices, including multi-touch sensitive tablets.

*) The 3D images, or "virtual objects," that can be generated include an icon, a virtual game object or a virtual game character. Basically, your icons and characters on this device will have a three-dimensional quality in a two-dimensional space, which could lead to novel ways of interacting with the device.

Perhaps this - 3D graphics -- is the future of Apple's interfaces for its portable multi-function devices. What do you think?


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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:11 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, West Coast

December 30, 2009

Engadget "official blog" of 2010 CES, but retains independence, says Aol

engadgetCEA.jpg This morning, I received a press release from Aol Communications declaring that its insanely popular Engadget blog will be the "official blog partner" of the Consumer Electronics Assocation's 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show from Jan. 7-10. From the press release:
"Engadget will provide live coverage of the 2010 International CES on both its domestic and international sites, and will have extensive presence at the show, including interviews, product news and reviews, updates on CES events and commentary by a team of Engadget editors from across the globe."

Good for Engadget, I thought. But what did this mean for its journalistic independence? (What if, for example, the White House declared The Washington Post the official news source for the Inauguration? Would people be skeptical of the Post's relationship with the White House? Probably.)

So, in the interest of transparency, I sent the following three questions to Kurt Patat, director of Aol corporate communications, who originally sent me the press release:

* What does “official blog” status really mean for Engadget at CES? Will Engadget be able to cover news from the event from a journalistically independent perspective? What if, for example, the event is a relative dud compared to previous events – would Engadget report that?

* Will Engadget editorial staff get exclusive (earliest) access to products and interview subjects that wouldn’t be afforded to other bloggers/journalists who are covering the event?

* What is the financial (or quid pro quo) relationship between Engadget and CES/CEA for this event? Did Engadget pay CEA for the right to be marketed as the “official blog”? Should any financial or transactional relationship be made as transparent as possible for readers of the Engadget blog?

To see Kurt's answers (which he sent me promptly by email this morning), hit the jump.

Continue reading "Engadget "official blog" of 2010 CES, but retains independence, says Aol" »

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:22 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Geeks

December 23, 2009

The case of the "racist" HP webcam

By now, you may have seen the viral Youtube video (above) where a black man and a white woman point out the shortcomings of an HP Media Smart web cam when it came to tracking the man's face. It's a video -- titled "HP computers are racist" -- that's done with some fun, but it's darn effective in pointing out an embarassing shortcoming of the HP product in a way that quickly became a PR headache for the company.

The topic of facial-recognition tech intrigued me, so I called up Bill Anderson, head of Oculis Labs in Owings Mills, which makes Private Eye, a sophisticated face and gaze-tracking software for security uses. Bill's been working on face-recognition tech for awhile. Below are key points and quotes from my interview with him today:

* There can be settings or environments where a facial recognition system finds it very hard to understand what it's looking at, Bill said. "A very white face like mine ... will not get picked up on some backgrounds if they are a pinkish or yellowish kind of color."

* "It's a relatively hard problem to make a facial recognition packgage smart enough to find faces in arbitrary environments," Bill said.

* "There's actually less difference between human skin tones [black vs. white], as far as the camera is concerned, than meets the eye."

* Computer software can't compete with the brain in terms of facial recognition. "The human brain has a disproportionate amount of its processing power dedicated to face recognition. A huge part of the brain is hard-coded to recognize faces. It starts since birth. It instinctively locks onto faces.... You can think of it as the human brian is several orders of magnititude more capable than the best supercomputers we have on earth, in terms of recignizing faces. That's the competition."

* Software typially is only capable of a "few bag of tricks" in its capacity to find and recognize a face, Bill said.

* Typical steps in software to find faces include: The software first is designed to locate an oblong shape (the head), then it goes looking for the eyes, which are typically two darker spots in the upper part of the oblong shape. Then the software goes looking for a nose, or a mouth, or lips. Once through those steps, the software determines whether it has a candidate for a face. That's just the "first pass."

The second pass involves gauging skin tone, considering intensity and color. "There a narrow band of intensity [regardless of actual skin color] that's unique" to all human skin, he said. "It's looking at something that looks like skin," he said.

The third pass will look for motion, to determine if the image is "acting like a face," and not a static object, like a poster of a human face, Bill said. "Our software looks for motion, because a face moves."

* What Bill thinks might have gone wrong in HP's case: "My guess is that of the various parameters the software uses to determine a face, that face was probably triggering only some of those parameters. It probably found the head and eyes.... but there was something else it didn't find. Something didn't pass that threshold. I don't think it was skin tone because his skin was clearly not the same as the background behind him. It wasn't a contrast problem... Now, it could've been the color band of the skin set by the software was a little bit too low, and the software was looking for skin tone that fit within a certain color band. It could've been the way that his skin tone looked at that particular lighting

* Bill has 250 people in his beta program who help test Oculis software. "We've had issues too, where software would not recognize a face."

* There are good (software) packages out there, but there are no perfect packages out there... and there probably never will be. They're just working at an incredible computational disadvantage compared to the human brain."

* Said Bill: "Having looked at that ["HP computers are racist"] video, I think the software we're using would've found it's face. I'd love to try. I'd suspect that HP has a little bit of work to do to fix their algorithms. I'm sure they'll fix them, but it's a little bit disappointitng they didn't have it working right the first time."

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:31 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Gadgets, Geeks, Startups

December 1, 2009

Shopping hangover?

What did I miss?

I didn't hit the stores on Black Friday or surf the web yesterday for Cyber Monday deals. Did I miss anything? I usually don't take advantage of "blockbuster" sales on items, because the sales are usually on items I don't really want anyway.

Black Friday shopping traffic and sales results may have been marginally better than last year, according to the news reports. Meanwhile, Cyber Monday sales were reportedly strong.

Did you buy anything online? If so, what? And from where? Links please!

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:16 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Gadgets

October 29, 2009

Men are for Playstations, women are for Wiis?

Admittedly, I am late to the Wii party. For my fourth wedding anniversary this month, I bought my wife and I a Wii. In addition to Wii Sports, which comes with the console, I picked up Mario Kart.

Now, I've played with Play Stations and XBoxes before, and they are amazing machines. My younger brothers have a Play Station 3, which I can't help but spend hours playing whenever I visit them -- to my wife's chagrin.

But I noticed that she was never interested in picking up the controllers to play with the PlayStation.

Many months ago, however, I remember my wife saying she'd be interested in a Wii. I stowed that tidbit away in my tiny Neandearthal-ish brain -- until a recent trip to a Best Buy, where I was drawn to the Wii display.

Within minutes, another small fold in my Neanderthal brain was triggering the impulse to buy, buy, buy. I picked up a box of Wii. Soon after, I was approached by a man who said he worked for Sony, who happened to be in the store. He said, for a $100 more, I could own a PlayStation 3, with built-in Blu-Ray player and Netflix streaming, and tried to get to check it out.

Fair enough, but I told him I didn't really care for Blu Ray and I already had Netflix streaming through my Roku player.

Plus, I said, my wife would really only play video games with a Wii. For some reason, I instinctively thought I could get away with buying a Wii as an anniversary gift, but a Play Station 3 could land me sleeping on the couch alone for a couple nights.

Sure enough, later that night, I watched my wife play Wii bowl, Wii tennis, Wii golf, and Wii boxing. It was delightful.

This was surely a first. Aside from enjoying great literature and warm, heartfelt talks, my wife and I now had another cool thing in common: we game together.

So how about that, ladies? Do you prefer the Wii to other gaming systems, and if so, why?

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:03 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events (DC/No. Va. area), Gadgets, Gamers

New patent filing: Apple wireless headset with integrated media player

I think this is a new, never-before-seen product that Apple seems to be working on: In a patent filing made public today, Apple calls it a wireless headset with integrated media player. What it looks like is a Bluetooth-enabled iPod that can connect to your iPhone, but also has integrated memory for playing back MP3s, and a microphone for allowing you to talk and make audio notes to yourself that you can then save to the device.

In one permutation of the device, it could be operated using voice commands, and with one or two earpieces. applewirelessheadset.jpg Some descriptive language from the filing:

"The media player may be an audio player, capable, e.g., of playing audio files such as MPEG-3 ("MP3") files. Optionally, the media player may include a recording function as well, so that a user can record voice notes. In addition, if the headset is being used with a telephone (mobile or landline), the availability of a recording function could make it possible for the user to record all or part of a conversation. Similarly, voicemail messages received on the user's telephone could be uploaded into the headset for later off-line playback."
And some more description:
Alternatively, given the presence of a microphone in the headset (primarily for use with a telephone), the media player could be configured to respond to voice commands, which could allow more complex commands, including commands to play particular content. In addition, the microphone could be used to detect the ambient noise level, and to adjust playback volume accordingly.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:32 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gadgets

September 16, 2009

Gadgets that save you money

netflix_player_by_roku.jpg With your help, I'd like this blog post and subsequent comments to be about electronic gadgets that are useful and save you money.

Here's what you can do: State the gadget and present your case for why you think it saves you money. Give realistic costs in your argument.

This post was inspired by OneFineJay's suggestion via Twitter a few days ago. I hope he shares with us what his most money-saving gadget is. Here's mine:

Last week was my birthday, and my wife shocked me with a gadget gift, of all things. I was expecting an electric razor ('cuz I'd asked for one) but the box instead held a Roku digital media player. (Thanks, dear. You know I'm always grateful for any gift that comes with yellow, white and red cables for plugging into other electronics equipment!)

The Roku is a small black box you hook up to your TV, and here's what it allows you to do: You can sync it with your Netflix account and use it to watch the "instant" movies from the rental service, straight to your TV. (Here's a good, recent USAToday story on the company.)

You can also sync it with your Amazon Video on Demand account to watch movies and tv shows from that service. Or, if you're a baseball net, you can get access (for a fee) to MLB.TV premium.

So, here's how the cost breaks down:

*Roku player: $99
*Netflix subscription: $9/month
*My monthly DSL bill: $23/month

So, for $32 a month, I can watch a lot of movies and TV shows, on demand, commercial free. Sure, it's not premium stuff, like HBO, but it's not bad either. I feel like I'm saving money vs a regular cable plan and that it is providing value to me.

For someone who eschews cable, I'm leaning toward thinking the selection, quality and the price point feels about right. Thus far, I've had Roku plugged in for less than a week and I've watched Wall-E, a Thomas Jefferson documentary, and Say Anything (my wife's favorite John Cusack film, I learned). I've got another 10 or so movies in my "watch instantly" queue.

Pluses: affordable startup and recurring costs, extremely easy to set up, good quality video. Minuses: Netflix needs to make more "watch instantly" movies available, Roku should partner up with more content services, like Youtube or iTunes, if it can, or allow you to tap into your own stored content on your home computer.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:05 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Gadgets

Would you pay for the mobile version of the WSJ?

The_Wall_Street_Journal_app_270x404.jpgI never understood why the Wall Street Journal, which charges for its online edition, launched an iPhone app (two, if you count All Things D) that gave away its content for free.

Now we know that free doesn't mean free forever.

The Journal's owner, Rupert Murdoch, said the news publisher plans to charge non-subscribers $2 a week for the mobile version (on BlackBerries and iPhones), and $1 per week for online-only subscribers.

Subscribers to both the print and online editions would get it for free, according to this <ahem> free report from Reuters.

I used to have a WSJ online-only subscription, until they more-than-doubled my rate over the course of two years.

I was stupefied they gave away their content on the iPhone for free. But now that experiment in free appears to be over.

And I, of course, wonder how many people who are not already subscribers will be willing to pay to read it on their smartphones.

The truth is, though it was free, I didn't really use the WSJ iPhone app that much. The content that was funneled through it was good, but not overwhelmingly special.

All Things D satisfied my tech itch, and I hope that stays a free app. But even if not, there are still numerous sources on the Web and on my iPhone that will fill the gap.

What do you think? Would you pay for the WSJ app now that you've had a chance to experience it for free for so many months?

(photo credit: Image of WSJ via CNET)

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:26 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Apps, Gadgets, Media, Smartphones, Web Dev & Apps

September 8, 2009

Reverse 911 for your television?

You've heard of "reverse 911" communications systems, right?

That's where a police department can mass-dial thousands of homes an hour to make a pre-recorded announcement about a safety hazard. Perfect for when a child has gone missing, for example, and they need a neighborhood's help.

Well, Sony is trying to take that approach one step further: to your television set.

The technology giant last year filed a patent application for "reverse 911 using a TV." The filing states that emergency communications are transmitted by television "broadcasters, cable television systems, wireless cable systems, satellite and radio service providers."

Sony believes it can do the same thing using the Internet and a networked television.

The company believes networked televisions, which will have their own IP address, will become more common. How will such an emergency broadcast system work?

The reverse 911 message will come over the Internet and across your TV display. If your TV is off, the message will have the capacity to turn the TV set on (yes), so you could be alerted even when you're not paying attention.

How about that? Do you feel comfortable with Sony potentially building TV sets that can automatically turn on  in your home thanks to a signal from the government?

Mind you, it's just a patent filing and such a system may never get built. But it is now possible to do.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For The Home, Gadgets

September 1, 2009

Lockheed Martin's virtual reality simulator worthy of The Matrix

A recent patent filing by defense contractor Lockheed Martin gives us a peek into a portable virtual reality simulator the company is cooking up.


The patent application is titled: "Portable immersive environment using motion capture and head mounted display." Basically, it includes head gear and handheld controllers and a powerful computer system that integrates motion capture, virtual reality, kinematics and computer-aided design.

A motion-capture camera system captures the users' motions and a virtual reality simulator then generates "scaled avatars within a three-dimensional virtual reality simulation." So not only are you viewing virtual reality, your motions can move your avatar through the virtual space.

Cue the virtual reality movie The Matrix, anyone? 

One nifty trick the patent app cites: the simulator is able to scale a person's avatar in real time. For instance, a 5-foot 4-inch user of the device can be scaled in real-time to be a 6-foot 2-inch avatar, and the images that the person sees through their headset will be from the perspective of the taller avatar. Get it?

What's different about their system, the Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin notes, is that it integrates motion capture and virtual reality. People who use it can interact with both real and artificial virtual reality environments, according to the patent application.

And it's not just for one user -- you can get immersed in a virtual reality with a group of people, include a trainer in whatever training exercise you can dream up. Below are detailed diagrams of the headset and the portable computer system. 


Such a system has all sorts of implications and applications, from military training scenarios to virtual gaming. Wonder if Lockheed Martin has ever considered putting out a kicking high-end video game system for consumers?

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:30 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Gadgets, Government Tech

August 31, 2009

Skype's proposed new communication device: Skyping with your TV remote?

Skype, the Voice-over-Internet telephony provider that allows you to make cheap calls and free video chats, appears to be working on a companion communication device for its popular software application that would work with a computer, gaming system or television.

A patent filing made public last month shows that Skype, which is owned by eBay, is working on a device (or devices), with a speaker and microphone in some permutations. Among the possibilities are devices that could connect to a computer, video game system or television.

The filing by Skype comes with diagrams, including Fig. 3 below, which shows a rectangular box with a screen and an attached headset. Another version of the device, in Fig. 5 would be a smaller Skype box (those little round knobs, 505 and 506, are a built-in speaker and a microphone) that would connect to a television (501) and would work with a remote control. 


In the new world household, one device becomes another. In this case, your TV could become your Internet telephony center, too. Skype engineers envision hooking the device up to a television with a companion remote control. When a call comes in, you can use your remote -- which has a built-in speaker and microphone -- to take the Skype call.

(Aside: Wouldn't it be funny if that same remote just happened to be IBM's patent-pending auto-blogging remote, which would be able to auto-Twitter?

The point of the device seems to be to give Skype users a more dedicated way of receiving phone, video, SMS and instant messages. But it doesn't appear to have a video camera embedded in the device, so you'll still need a separate Web cam to do your Skype video chats.

The patent makes a few references to enabling users to field phone calls on gaming systems that don't interrupt their programs for Skype calls, so perhaps this is a new gadget geared toward gamer geeks.

The inventors listed on the filing are Duncan Lamb, Marek Laasik, Manrique Brenes, and Gareth O'Loughlin.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:20 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets, Gamers

August 28, 2009

Discovery e-books in bookstores and libraries?

There are a few more goodies in the news I reported yesterday of Discovery Communication's patent filing for an e-book reader.

The Discovery e-reader is a portable viewing device with a high-resolution LCD display, and would be a direct competitor to the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader. (Discovery has thus far declined to comment on the patent filing.) But according to the schematics, the Discovery e-reader will have line in and line out jacks, and coaxial in and coaxial out jacks -- which suggests multimedia capabilities, too. Discovery appears to be setting up its own virtual e-book store, and has some previous patents on electronic book formats.

But there's another wrinkle to what Discovery wants to do: in the patent filing, there are diagrams of an e-book system that could be used by book stores and libraries. I wonder if they're devising a system where you can go to a library and, instead of taking out a paper book, you can borrow an e-book reader with multiple books stored on it. See below -- what does the diagram suggest to you?


So how will consumers get the e-books on the device? From the patent filing: "The distribution network may be an electronic book store, an Internet web site, a wired or wireless telecommunications network, an intranet, a radio program delivery system, a television program delivery system, including cable television, satellite television broadcast, and over-the-air broadcast, for example. The electronic book distribution network could include direct delivery through a mail delivery system of electronic books on a fixed media, such as a CD-ROM, for example."

Wow. That's a lot of different options for it. Make sense for a big broadcaster like Discovery to leverage all its assets in delivering the electronic content in a variety of ways.

It's unclear if Discovery has set-up any partnerships yet with their reader, but in another diagram depicting a virtual menu on the gadget, it shows options for accepting a fax or other message type, and reading the Cox news service, U.S. News and World Report, and Fodor's Travel Service. See below:


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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets

August 27, 2009

Discovery Communications working on a Kindle competitor?

Discovery Communications, which produces such cable channels as Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, may be working on its own e-book reader, according to a U.S. patent application made public today.

The diagrams included with Discovery's patent application, which was filed in February and made public today, depict a rectangular device with physical controls for user navigation. The device would be for reading e-books and "providing for e-commerce," and would be a direct competitor to the Amazon Kindle electronic book reader and the Sony Reader digital book reader.

Below is a sample diagram from the patent filing:


A phone call was placed this afternoon to Discovery's corporate communications office seeking comment. I'm waiting on a return call.

The Silver Spring-based company holds a patent on some security and copy protection features, and earlier this year sued Amazon for their alleged infringement of them with their Kindle and Kindle 2, according to this CNET article.

But it appears the disclosures in the patent filing today are the first signs that Discovery is seriously considering entering the e-book fray.

Hit the jump to learn more about the Discovery patent filing.

Continue reading "Discovery Communications working on a Kindle competitor?" »

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:02 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Big Ideas, Gadgets, Media

August 26, 2009

IBM building a TV remote that will auto-blog for you?

What do you buy your blogger friend who's also a couch potato? Why, IBM's proposed new auto-blogging remote control, of course.

Engineers at IBM have been developing a TV remote control that can be programmed to auto-blog while you watch whatever it is you want to watch, according to the patent filing.

How does it work? Let's take a look at a snippet from the patent filing, which was submitted last year but didn't show up online until April.

A viewer selects a media program to view by use of a remote controller with networking capability. Upon the viewer wishing to send a blog posting to a blog, the viewer determines whether a tag to be included in the blog posting is to be a pre-existing tag or a custom tag, wherein the blog posting comprises program information about the media program useful to identify the media program. If the tag is to be a pre-existing tag, the viewer selects the pre-existing tag from a plurality of pre-existing tags using the remote controller and if the tag is to be a custom tag, the viewer generates the custom tag using the remote controller. If a protocol provided by the remote controller to send the blog posting to the blog allows a snapshot of the media program to be included in the blog posting, the remote controller takes the snapshot of the media program and includes it in the blog posting.

So, basically, IBM has built a pretty potent little remote control that can be networked. You can set it to automatically post what you're viewing to your blog. (The patent talks about posting automatically to a microblogging service -- probably Twitter.)

The patent also references Joost, the social network for video watchers. One might surmise that IBM is looking for a way to do what Joost does for online viewers, but for your television set. One of my favorite parts of the patent offers this rationale for the remote:

"...more than ever, people wish to be able to share their comments with others in real-time as they experience life. In the case of television, for example, one of the joys of watching television is discussing with one's friends the juicy bits of a favorite show or the latest television program."

I contacted an IBM spokesman who couldn't help me ferret out more details in time for this posting. He could only confirm that the patent filing -- for "automatic blogging during media viewing" -- was indeed theirs.

Want to read the full filing? Go here.

But come back and let me know what you think? Do you watch so much TV and share your viewing habits so often with others that you'd need such a remote control?

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:15 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Big Ideas, For The Home, Gadgets, Social Media

July 10, 2009

Working for the cult of Mac

Two local businesses shared their stories with me on how they're making a pretty decent living servicing Apple products to different kinds of customers in the Baltimore area.

One is MacMedics, which has been around for 20 years and is based in Millersville. The other is Chesapeake Systems Inc., which is based in Hampden.

Here's the top of my story, which ran in yesterday's print edition, and is online here:

Dana Stibolt was in his early 20s when he started seriously tinkering with Apple computers at his parents' computer shop in Severna Park. It was the late 1980s and the computer that he taught himself to fix was called the Macintosh Plus.

What's interesting to note is that both of these businesses have done well because they've specialized in some areas of Mac product expertise. MacMedics offers consulting on networking, including integrating Macs and PCs; while Chesapeake has expertise in Apple's video hardware and software offerings, i.e. Final Cut Studio, and building out enterprise systems for companies that do a lot of video work.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 7:43 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Gadgets

July 9, 2009

Baltimore hackerspace formed. First project: Use Twitter to change your lamp's color.

baltimorenode.jpg Some fellas have gotten together to form Baltimore Node, a self-described hackerspace where computer/techy-minded people can get together to work on interesting little projects.

(A hacker, by the way, is not necessarily a bad, evil person. Hackers can be good, as I'm sure the folks involved with Baltimore Node are.)

Hackerspaces have been popping up all over the world. Members use the Web to connect with each other and other spaces -- just check out the site for the big picture.

Baltimore Node's first group project will take place tonight, from 7-10 p.m. (Event details.)

They'll be building lamps whose color can be changed by simply Tweeting a hexadecimal color value to it.

Now, hackers, why would you want to do that? Short answer (I think): Because you can.

But, more importantly, it's an excuse to dip your toes into Arduino, a nifty open-source hardware/software programming platform that enables people to create interactive gadgets.

Learn more about Arduino here. Anybody going to build an Arduino lamp tonight? If so, take a few pics or video of your creation and share with us.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:04 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Gadgets, Geeks

July 7, 2009

The University of Maryland's guitar hero?

coilguitars.jpg I know next to nothing about electric guitars. Several years ago, I was lucky enough to get a tour of Paul Reed Smith's fascinating guitar factory in Stevensville, for a story I wrote about his business. Some big rockers use PRS guitars, including Carlos Santana and Creed.

So, knowing what I know about PRS's local growth into a big-name guitar company, I was interested to read about the work of Bruce Jacob, a University of Maryland electrical and computer engineering professor, in the field of electrical guitar-making. (What a cool field to be working in, huh?)

It seems Jacob -- with the help of students and partners -- created some new electronic gadgetry that allows you to squeeze many more different sounds out of the same guitar. They formed a company, Coil LLC, that, in addition to guitar-building, is also sponsoring audio electronics development at the university with the help of a $135,000 state grant. It's located in the new TERP Startup lab, a tech-incubation program for university faculty, students and entrepreneurs.

Coil LLC, started selling guitars this week via their Website.

To get a full rundown on what Jacob and Coil are doing, check out this news release out of College Park (which, incidentally, mentions PRS guitars.) And to watch young dudes jamming on Coil guitars, check these videos out. Gnarly! Rock on!

Oh, and if you're daydreaming of quitting your day-job and learning how to build guitars, Jacob even offers a course: ENEE 159b: Start-Up 101 - Electric Guitar Design.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gadgets, Startups, University Tech

Recent fave: 13-year-old reviews Sony Walkman

sonywalkman.jpg For those of us who remember owning a bona fide Sony Walkman back in the '80s, this cheeky little review by a 13-year-old will bring back some memories.

The review is titled "Giving up my iPod for a Walkman," and it's been making the Internet rounds lately. 

This part made me chuckle, hard, and helped me realize I am indeed of the older generation. Not the iPod generation, but the Walkman generation.

It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape. That was not the only naive mistake that I made; I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was in fact used to switch between two different types of cassette.

Kids these days. They might have their Touches and iPhones and iPods and Zunes now, but never forget, Generation X (I think that's us, right?), we were there first to have portable music in our hands, in our ears and on our hips, with the proliferation of the Sony Walkman (which, incidentally, recently celebrated its 30th birthday.)

Love the photos in the article, too. I, too, was once a young teen strapping his Walkman to his belt, jamming to whatever it was I listened to back then, and wearing jams. (Photos of yours truly during this period are mysteriously missing from the historical record.)

If you still have your Walkman, share a pic of it with us over on the Flickr group. Vintage photos of you with a Walkman, back in the day, however, would be much preferred. ;-)

(Photo credit: AP Japan, the original Walkman)

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Gadgets

June 27, 2009

Local Apple consulting firm inspects fake iPhone 3G bought on eBay

MacMedics, a Mac consulting and repair firm with offices in the Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia area, tipped me off to the latest curiosity to hit their shop: A fake iPhone 3G that almost looks convincing, but not quite.

A customer bought it on eBay, thinking it was the real deal -- and quickly discovered it wasn't when he started handling it. Dana Stibolt, founder of MacMedics, took a video of the fake and explained in a blog post that the customer needs an authorized Apple service provider to inspect and document its fakeness, in order for the guy to try to get his money back from PayPal.

There's a good chance the fake came from somewhere in Asia -- just watch the vid below:


Update: Dana tells me he'd never seen a fake iPhone before.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:54 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Gadgets, Smartphones

June 25, 2009

Maryland Tech: Protecting your computer screen from the "shoulder surfers"

billAnderson.jpgEvery once in a while, I get to see -- and sometimes write about -- a fascinating new product before the consumer masses get to it. It's one of the cool perks of being a journalist, really.

That happened to me recently, when Bill Anderson (left) of Oculis Labs Inc., in Owings Mills, gave me and some colleagues here at The Baltimore Sun a demo of his new software: "Chameleon" and "PrivateEye." (Here's my full story on how he launched his company and came up with the idea.) 

Here's what Chameleon does: it uses sophisticated gaze-tracking technology to dynamically render the words and images on a computer monitor so that only the authorized user can read them. It's accurate down to about one single character. If someone is peeking over your shoulder (aka "shoulder surfing"), all they will see is dummy text that is constantly changing. You, the user, will be able to read the text you choose to read wherever your eyes wander on the screen.

I tried reading the documents -- a Word and an Excel document -- over Anderson's shoulder, and I could not. I had no idea where his eyes were and the text was constantly changing on me.  

For now, big government agencies involved in military/intelligence operations are the most likely ideal customers because it requires some special hardware (the gaze-tracking equipment), and the price tag ain't cheap. Anderson bills Chameleon as a way for people to protect their monitors, which can be critical in battlefield and intelligence operations, where super-spies with powerful telephoto lenses can peer over your shoulder from a very long ways away.

For consumers, there's a lighter-weight version, PrivateEye. Here's what that does: It taps into your computer's Web cam (that's the only hardware you need) and uses face-detection technology so that your computer knows when you turn away from the screen. As soon as you turn away, the screen softly blurs. Ideal for office situations where privacy of information is paramount, such as medical settings, financial institutions, law firms, etc.

Anderson gave us a tour of the software and we shot some video. Check it out below!

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:46 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Gadgets, Government Tech, Startups, Venture Cap

June 15, 2009

The new tools of a young journalist

tylerwaldman.jpg While covering Constellation Energy's press conference on how they think the PSC screwed up last week, I got a tap on the shoulder from this guy on the left.

He's Tyler Waldman, a student at Towson University and an intern at WBAL Radio. Notice I said radio.

Yet Tyler (who keeps the Tyler Tech blog) is carrying a little Flip Mino video camera, which of course is branded with the W-B-A-L. logo. 

Tyler was kind enough to introduce himself to me at the presser. Previously, we were only virtual acquaintances, on Twitter (he's @aresef).

I was heartened to see that as an intern at a radio station, he's also learning to shoot video, even if it's with a teeny-tiny camera (which, apparently, shoots some pretty darn good high-def video, I hear.)

The Web has torn down the walls among different kinds of media (print, TV, radio) and given us all the same level playing field. 

It's so important for the next crop of journalists, like Tyler, to get early experience in doing journalism with whatever tools can help him tell the best story, and one that can be consumed by the most amount of people.

Kudos to Tyler. Keep at it. Just remember to keep lots of spare batteries on hand for the gadgets you'll have to carry!

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Gadgets, Media

June 8, 2009

News from Apple today: New MacBooks, Snow Leopard and NEW IPHONE 3GS

News is starting to trickle out of Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference in San Francisco. I'll post highlights here.

In case you're wondering, I'm following updates at and listening to audio at (And Gizmodo is live-blogging with photos)

Live video from an attendee:

1st update: a new 15-inch MacBook pro. Apple says customers are really digging the new unibody design that they recently debuted. And it's got some impressive specifications, including a powerful battery. Shipping today. Updates also with 13inch to 17inch MacBook Pros. starting price: $1199.

2nd update: The MacBook Air (that super-thin computer) getting a boost in processing speed. Apple sez it's got the "greenest" (environ-friendly) laptops in the world.

Update 3: Starting to hear about Apple's new Snow Leopard operating system, which is an upgrade from last year's Leopard release (drat! I just bought Leopard 2 months ago.) Apparently, Snow Leopard will save you 6GB of disk space after upgrading from Leopard (thanks Apple for not being such a disk space hog!)

Update 4: Upgrades to Safari (Safari 4 available today) and Quicktime.

Update 5: Apple's now supporting in full, Microsoft Exchange. You are now free to move your contacts between your work and personal computers.

Update 6: Dude, this roaring crowd needs to chill. I can't hear jack on the audio!!

Update 7: "Let's talk about the iPhone"!! Something's is coming?!

Update 8:: Sold more than 1 billion apps through the App Store (Aside: yeah, but how many of those apps were deleted by people who were bored by the stupid free stuff in the App Store??) I delete at least a third of the free apps I download cuz they're stinky and one-dimensional.

Update 9: Showing a snoozer video about the importance of technology and what developers can do if they develop on the iPhone platform. Snoooooore. This feels very Microsofty. (hehe ... that's a joke)

Update 10: Talking about the iPhone OS 3.0.... first new feature: cut/copy/paste, which should've been added, like, 18 iPhones ago. Duh.

Update 11: Able to rent and purchase movies right from your phone" (Thanks for helping me spend more money, kind sirs. Plus audiobooks. And supporting iTunesU, too.) Oh, and let's not forget important editions to parental controls.

Update 12: Tethering! Be still my heart. Sharing your iPhone's Internet connection with your laptop. Works for both Macs and PCs. Wired and wirelessly over Bluetooth (magic!) Requires carrier support. Laughter among the crowd. Guess we'll be paying even more for that flexibility.

Update 13: Crazy multilanguage support for the iPhone.

Update 14: Some pretty cool new security features for the iPhone. FindmyiPhone service debuts, for MobileMe customers. Can send lost/stolen phone remote web command, to protect your private content. If you find it again, you plug it back into iTunes and everything is restored. (Aside: Maybe MobileMe will finally be worth the price now?)

Update 15: Coming to a new iPhone operating system near you: in-app purchase. (Aside: So my apps now will try to upsell me? Will they become extremely annoying?) Plus: support for peer-to-peer connectivity. Great for gamers. Your iPhone will "find" other iPhones in your immediate area and you can play games with others.

Continue reading "News from Apple today: New MacBooks, Snow Leopard and NEW IPHONE 3GS" »

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:07 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Gadgets

June 3, 2009

Video: The Home Servidor

I met an interesting chap last week: Donavon West. He's an independent software developer who works out of his home in North Baltimore. He's also a tinkerer, with a fascination for both new and old tech -- and how to combine the two, at least aesthetically.

I wrote about one of his creations, which he's calling the Home Servidor. Take a look at the video below (BaltTech blog's first video!) for a little tour of it. (Note: no cigar was harmed in the making of this video and I don't condone smoking them. <cough-cough>)


To celebrate the spirit of hackery, anybody else out there doing interesting mashups of new and old tech? Drop a note in the comments. Maybe I'll show up at your front door with a video camera. ;-)

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:02 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, For The Home, Gadgets
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About Gus G. Sentementes
Gus G. Sentementes (@gussent on Twitter) has been writing for The Baltimore Sun since 2000. He's covered real estate, business, prisons, and suburban and Baltimore City crime and cops. He was one of the first reporters at The Sun to use multimedia tools and Web applications -- a video camera, an iPhone -- to cover breaking news. He hopes to cover Maryland geeks and the gadgets and Web sites they build, and learn -- and share -- something new every day.

Gus has a wife, a young daughter and two feuding cats. They live in Northeast Baltimore.
This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:

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