Archive for the ‘Gadgets’ Category

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Tired of your friends texting on their phones while
they should be getting schnockered? This clever hack
is called the Offline Glass and it’s designed to ensure
that you and your friends don’t sit at the bar checking
Wikipedia for who starred in The Greatest American Hero and whether Tabitha will totally come out tonight oh my god she won’t she and Christian just broke up
oh god she’s with Raul and Paula and maybe she’ll
come in an hour! In fact, you can’t hold your phone
because of the unique shape of the glass’ bottom. The glass has a notch cut out of it so it will only
stand if it’s situated on top of a phone (an iPhone
works best) and you can only use your phone if you’re
also holding your beer. Knowing the average drunk
person I suspect a) this will destroy hundreds of
iPhones a night and b) this will result in lots of spilled beer, but by gosh if it isn’t a clever idea. The glass is being used in the Salve Jorge Bar in Sao
Paolo and was created by the Fischer & Friends ad
agency in Brazil. You can’t buy one but, with the right
tools, you could probably make a few. I’d like to see
someone 3D print a few of these for house parties. Whenever I go out with the TC team I make everyone
play the phone game which consists of piling up all
the phones in one place so no one can reach them. It
helps encourage conversation and, unless they’re
wearing Google Glass, the pained expression after
the first few minutes of the game is mesmerizing. Here’s to anything that helps recreate that
experience.

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Hardware is so hot right now. So hot, in fact, that
another European hardware startup is formulating an
attack on the smartphone hardware space — joining
the likes of Finland’s Jolla and Spain’s Geeksphone
to have a go at handset making. The newest comer
stepping in with a plan to shake up the “status quo” is called Kazam: a startup co-founded by a pair of
former U.K. HTC execs, Michael Coombes and
James Atkins. Coombes, who spent just over a year and a half as a
U.K. head of sales for HTC, according to his
LinkedIn, is Kazam’s CEO. Prior to HTC he
apparently worked for mobile and telecoms
companies including Nokia and Vodafone. While
Atkins, Kazam’s CMO, spent just over a year as HTC’s head of marketing for U.K./Ireland, and has
previously worked in U.K. marketing roles for freesat,
LG and Panasonic. The pair’s professional network is
clearly tied tightly to the local market, hence,
presumably, Kazam’s focus on Europe first. “Kazam will focus on Europe at the outset,”
“We are currently
establishing a network of regional sales and
marketing offices to ensure we deliver outstanding
products and customer service.” The startup has a U.K. base in Mayfair, London. Details of how exactly Kazam plans to assault the
Samsung and Apple smartphone duopoly were not
forthcoming when I asked. Atkins declined to answer
the bulk of my questions — including such specifics
as whether Kazam’s planned smartphones will run
Android and be skinned with a custom UI or keep the experience familiarly stock. Instead, he trotted out a
repeated PR mantra: “Today we are just announcing
that the Kazam brand is here, for the rest you will
have to wait and see.” It’s notable that this startup has already engaged a
PR company (Noire) — and talks about creating a
mobile brand — even before having a great deal to talk about. Which does serve to underline how
smartphones have become a game of who can shout
the loudest. A game of brash tones (as I have
previously described it). What did Atkins say? Not a whole lot. He declined to
reveal how much funding Kazam is backed by at this
point, or whether it is currently looking to raise a
round. He did at least confirm it has backers, and that
those backers have links into Asian mobile
manufacturing companies — which suggests it’s following Jolla’s manufacturing playbook. “Kazam Mobile has been set up by a group of private
equity investors, who have previously launched and
operated successful mobile telecommunications
companies and technology businesses. Some of their
current investments include NF Technology Limited,
an R&D company specialising in developing and customising mobile phone devices and tablets and
Nichefinder (S’pore) PTE Limited, a proven
technology procurement and supply company,”
He also confirmed Kazam’s plan is to launch “a range
of smartphones at different prices point/specs” later
this year. Asked whether it will look at other types of
mobile devices, such as tablets, he said only that its
initial focus is on smartphones. He added that he and
Coombes left their roles at HTC earlier this year “with the desire to build a new brand that really stands out
in the mobile space”. He also declined to be drawn on the differentiation
question but in Kazam’s inaugural press release
today Coombes said: “We believe your smartphone is
a digital reflection of who you are, and since we are
all different, it’s important that we don’t adopt a one
size fits all approach. Kazam’s dynamic structure and focus on local markets means we can react quickly to
the ever evolving and diverging needs of today’s
consumer. We aim to provide quality smartphones
that are accessible to everyone.” The release also includes a statement from Atkins
hinting that aftersales service might be how Kazam
attempts to stand out in a crowded market: “There is
a real opportunity for a new mobile brand to disrupt
the status quo. We are passionate about delivering a
truly positive mobile experience that doesn’t just stop once you’ve bought the phone. Kazam is about
stunning design, robust hardware and intuitive
technology, underpinned by outstanding customer
service.” Further details about exactly what kind of customer
service opportunity Kazam reckons it has identified
were not forthcoming. The size of Kazam’s team at this point is just Atkins
and Coombes — a few more if you count the hired
help from their external PR company. But Atkins also
said the startup has already “established an R&D
centre”. Hopefully with some staff in it, but
presumably no permanent headcount yet. Should Kazam get off the ground with its grand status
quo shaking plan it will need to significantly boost its
body count — if only to staff the network of regional
sales and marketing offices it is currently
establishing. It will also need to make decent
smartphone hardware — hardware that’s worth shouting about. Whether it will be able to deliver that
is clearly something to file under “wait and see”. Asked how a startup with inevitably bounded
resources can succeed in such a fiercely competitive
space — when veteran players such as HTC are
having such a tough time standing out despite making
cracking handsets like the HTC One — Atkins’ said
only: “The mobile market whilst competitive, seems to have stagnated.” Stagnation is one word for it. Saturation is another.
Smartphone hardware and software has achieved a
very high quality bar, with Android OEMs like
Samsung pushing high-end features lower and lower
down the price-point range to pull up the capabilities
of mid- and even budget handsets. This has resulted in a surfeit of great phones, across a very broad
spectrum of price-points. Which means precious little
room for anyone new to elbow in. Or stand out. So there are huge question marks over any startup
entering such a fiercely competitive space, especially
with so many better resourced former mobile giants
continuing to struggle. Disruption often starts small
but in a market so beholden to carriers, where the
bulk of phones sales occur, it’s especially hard for an upstart to get traction. Carriers tend to be risk averse
and have established distribution partnerships and
(incentivised) relationships with the smartphone
giants so have disincentives to push anything too
new. Going it alone with online retail distribution is the
alternative, but that route requires a sizeable marketing budget to even get noticed. Creating handsets for an underserved niche may be
one way to carve out a business, as Geeksphone has
been. Securing carrier distribution agreements to
carry your hardware is another strategy, as Jolla has
with Finland’s DNA. For now, it’s unclear whether
Kazam has any similar moves up its sleeve, but it will certainly be hoping it has enough local telco
connections — and financial backing — to give it a
regional chance of inching in. To say it has its work
cut out to make any kind of impact is an
understatement.

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Lisa Frank. Dayglo Barbie. Rainbow unicorn. Fisher
Price. A mess, trouble, confusing. Marketing
department. What are, “words used to describe the iOS 7 redesign,” Alex? Now that the Apple keynote beer goggles have worn off, the polarizing makeover
of Apple’s iOS 7 operating system is starting to sink
in. Surely, this is not it? This is not done, right? Given its “beta” label – which Apple actually uses
correctly – there’s a good chance that many of our
quibbles with the disjointed OS will be fixed by the
time of its public release later this fall. But one of the
most upsetting things about the makeover is
unfortunately one of the most visible: the icons. They’re inconsistent, they seem rushed, and in some
cases, they’re just downright ugly. Apple has billions of dollars in cash just sitting
around, and it couldn’t buy itself a set of nice-looking
icons? And don’t give me that “they only had eight months”
crap. I know plenty of people who would forgo eating,
sleeping and sunlight for less than even a single billion to pump out better icons than this in that same time frame. Well, Apple’s misstep is Dribbble.com’s gain. The
online community for designers is having a moment
as its users try to fix all Apple’s mistakes. And some
of these third-party makeovers are actually quite
good, too. Above: Apple’s version is on the right. One, in fact, is now becoming one of the most-viewed
images on the site. Ever. The iOS 7 redesign here,
created by 20-year old UI/UX designer Leo Drapeau
has, as of today, reached over 97,000 views. Drapeau, who’s currently living in Paris and is
pursuing his Bachelor’s in Web Design at a school
called EEMI, says he made his version of the
redesign in a few hours. “I was following the WWDC keynote, and I was really
excited about the overall UX and UI changes and
evolutions in iOS 7, but the icons of the homescreen
bugged me,” he explains. “So, I just wanted to refined
them a little, to make them cleaner and more
harmonized, but not to reinvent the whole design.” Drapeau downplays his work, humbly adding, “there’s
really nothing revolutionary about this post. I think it
just got popular because it was one of the first
redesigns on the site.” However, Dribbble.com’s co-
founder Rich Thornett tells us that Drapeau’s image
here is the second-most viewed attachment the Dribbble.com website has ever had.
Meanwhile, another in the set is currently the third-
most viewed shot ever, and just a couple hundred
views from reaching #2. The student designer’s work has clearly struck a
chord. The set of iOS 7 images now has ten pages
and hundreds of comments, most of them positive
and some offering tips as to how the design could be
improved a bit further with minor tweaks. Overheard at TechCrunch while clicking through
Drapeau’s work: “I didn’t realize how much I missed
the drop shadows.” And on Dribble.com: “nice,” “better,” “bravo,” and
“perfect!” Drapeau says he’s been making little updates based
on some of the remarks – for example, with the third
version of the redesign, he modified the Compass
icon entirely, bringing it closer to the real one. Since then, he has also uploaded a final update, with
all the previous changes and other improvements to
the Clock, Stock, Compass, and Mail icons, and also
added a Dark mode and Light mode, depending on the
wallpaper you use. (You can see an earlier version of the design above,
and the newer one with the more Apple-like Compass
beneath it). Since the post, Drapeau says he’s received several
work inquiries, mainly from individuals and startups,
both French and American, as well as internships and
job offers from bigger companies. But he’s continuing
with his schooling and side projects for now. iOS 7 isn’t all bad by any means, though it has a
number of issues to address between the beta and
the release. Many of those are under-the-hood
changes, however, or less obvious quirks like the
confusing lockscreen arrow or that you have to swipe
emails right to left to delete, for example. But the homescreen icons – the imagery that everyone can
relate to, designer or not – should have been given
more attention before being trotted out on stage as
the next big thing.

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Remember this ad? The ad where Microsoft
attempted to position the iPad as a chopstick-playing
toy and the Surface as a PowerPoint-editing
machine? Yeah, that’s why we can’t have nice things. Microsoft just released Office for the iPhone. It lets
users edit any Word, Excel or PowerPoint document.
As the oh-so-catchy name states, Office Mobile for
Office 365 subscribers is Office Mobile for Office 365
subscribers only, meaning the app is essentially $100
a year. It’s not “Office for iOS.” It’s just a way to open and partially edit Office files for those saps paying for
Microsoft’s pricey cloud platform. Judging from the screenshots, it looks like a quality
application. It supports rich-media content like charts,
animations, SmartArt graphics and shapes. And since
it works through Microsoft’s cloud service, all
changes saved on the phone are also made to the
original. But forget about a native iPad app. Microsoft can’t kill
the only legitimate selling point of its struggling
Surface tablet. Microsoft might have moved enough Surface tablets
to avoid calling it a flop, but the tablet was far from a
blockbuster hit. Ever since it launched the Surface,
Microsoft has supported it with constant ad
campaigns touting the tablet’s productivity chops.
The latest TV spot pits the Surface RT against the iPad, deeming its offering as the superior choice for
those who need to get work done. However, in
Microsoft’s world, “work” equals editing a PowerPoint deck. This is something you can do quite handily on the iPad using Keynote and, in fact, I suspect
Keynote users are well aware of the benefits of their
superior platform. Middle-manager infighting must be rampant at
Microsoft. On one hand, the company has to properly
support its Windows 8 ecosystem, which means it
has to position its tablet offering as the only MS
Office solution. But then, likewise, a true mobile
version of MS Office would have a better shot at fighting Google Docs. In this case the Office team
lost, relegating Office to just the iPhone — and in a
truncated version at that. Windows 8 wins, the
Surface stays slightly more interesting, and
everybody in Redmond wins. Only the consumer loses.

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Back during the heady days of 2012, before the
Pebble raised a crazy amount of money on
Kickstarter, Sony quietly released an Android-
compatible smartwatch of its own. By most accounts
it wasn’t very good, but that doesn’t mean that Sony
has relegated it to the trash pile. No, with hindsight being what it is, Sony is looking to
breathe some new life into that curious little gadget
with some help from the developer community. The
company has kicked off what it calls the Open
SmartWatch program to get developers cooking up
custom firmwares for the thing. In case you haven’t been keeping tabs on the
wearable gadgetry space, Sony launched the
SmartWatch in question last year to mixed reviews.
The concept is a very familiar one — the watch syncs
to an Android-powered smartphone and displays
messages and notifications, as well as runs a slew of bespoke SmartWatch apps. Thanks to its Android
underpinnings, you could easily think of it as a more
robust version of the Pebble or any of the copycats
that have sprung up in its wake. As iffy as Sony’s second-gen SmartWatch was, most
of the issues seemed to be rooted in its software (and
to its credit, Sony keeps pushing out patches and
updates for the thing). Sony’s is one of the prettier
smartwatches out there, and the spec list has just
enough oomph to make it an attractive choice for some frenzied late night tinkering. By stripping out
Sony’s work and starting fresh, hackers are largely
left with a blank slate, and the company is committed
to highlighting some of the most novel firmware once
they start popping up. To help kick this whole thing off, Sony has also
tapped Arduino to hold a hackathon in Malmo,
Sweden, to get antsy developers more familiar with
the SmartWatch and what it’s capable of. There is, as
always, a caveat: you may be breaking new ground
with a device that most people haven’t given a second thought to, but you’ll be giving up access to
the nearly 200 or so compatible applications floating
around in the Google Play store.