Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

September 23 2010

Device update: The latest multifunction innovations

Gadget manufacturers are busy putting the finishing touches on their holiday battle plans, and that leaves us in a lull until things pick up in October.

In the meantime, I've still been able to dig up a few exciting announcements and breaking news stories. In last week's update I referenced a study by Informa Telecoms & Media. While that study reported large growth in the ereader market, it also predicted that by 2014 dedicated ereaders would eventually lose favor to multifunctional portable devices. The material include in this week's update shows strong support for that conclusion.

HTC Desire Z Android phone adds ereader

htc_desire_z.jpgWhile previously known for their work with Microsoft smartphones, since 2009 the Taiwan-based manufacturer has switched its core function to the Android operating system. The latest model HTC has announced is the Desire Z. Based on Android 2.2 (Froyo), the device will feature a 5-megapixel camera, 1.5 GB internal storage, and an expandable microSD memory slot. Since the device is primarily a smartphone, it has a wide variety of connectivity options including 3G, GPRS, EDGE, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, and Bluetooth 2.1. It also has a standard micro USB 2.0 adapter.

The Desire Z will come preloaded with a variety of HTC widgets, including an ereader. The coolest features HTC Sense provides come into play when the unfortunate occurs. Are you prone to misplacing your phone? Ever had to find your phone when it's in silent mode? Well, through you can send a message to your phone to ring loudly, so you can find out which stack of papers it's hidden beneath. It can even help you pinpoint the phone's location and see it on a map. How cool is that? If you actually lose your phone, HTC Sense can lock the phone and erase all of your personal data. You can even post a reward message to the locked screen, in case a stranger finds it and wants to help reunite you with your lost baby.

enTourage eDGe dual-display ereader caught in wild

entourage.jpgWhile the enTourage eDGe is not scheduled to be available until later in September, this week photos of the device appeared on the Internet and quickly fueled speculation that the device would begin shipping soon. Considered one of the first devices to incorporate dual screens, the eDGe can function as a tablet or a notepad.

Weighing approximately three pounds, the Android-powered device will be available in 3G and WiFi 802.11 b/g models. With one screen you will get a 10.1" touchscreen, which will also be Wacom-pen enabled. On the other the enTourage eDGe will feature a 9.7-inch E-Ink display capable of showing 8 shades of grey. Internally the device will have 4 GB of storage, with 1 GB reserved for the system. It will come with an SD slot for additional storage.

Not only will the device serve as a nearly perfect proxy for reading with the screens able to open clam-shell like, the touchscreen can rotate 180 degrees to turn the device into a full-fledged tablet. For input, the device comes with a stylus for input on the reader and the tablet as well as a virtual keyboard. A separate keyboard can plug in to one of the device's two USB ports. In addition to ereading, the enTourage eDGe will be capable of audio playback of the most common formats as well as video playback, include Adobe Flash Lite.

With an expected price tag way above most e-readers, $549, it's hard not to acknowledge that you're getting much more than just an ereader, a tablet, or a netbook. In fact, you're getting all three, which makes the device very appealing for anyone looking to get a solid ereader as well as a multipurpose computer.

Dell's Convertible Duo tablet

dellinspironduo.jpgStaying with the multiple configuration devices, Dell has announced a computer that serves as both a tablet and a netbook. The Inspiron Duo is a 10-inch netbook at heart, but through the use of two axis points that are hidden within each side of the display, a simple flip of the display converts the Duo into a tablet. The design has been labeled "netvertible."

While the Duo was unveiled at the recent Intel Developer's Conference in San Francisco, not many details about the hardware, availability, or pricing were announced. What is known is that within the Duo lies a dual-core Atom N550 processor running Windows 7 Home Premium.

Other news

Originally unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in early January 2010, recent reports indicate that the Blio eReader software will be ready for Windows starting on Sept. 28, 2010. Users of iOS and Android devices will have to wait, as there's no official timeline for Blio coming to those platforms.

In other ereader application news, the Gutenberg eReader application began shipping this week from the Google Android Market. For $2.99 the Gutenberg application allows users to access free e-books on demand from the Project Gutenberg catalog. With built-in search capabilities, users can search by author, title, or subject. If necessary, users can even use a full Google search for titles. They can also browse through the library by genre. Customers can try the application for 24 hours before buying.


April 05 2010

iPad falls short on cloud integration

Apple urgently needs to improve its strategy on the cloud. The iPad and the iPhone are perfect smart terminals for cloud computing. At some level Apple knows this, as it was pushing a MobileMe discount with iPads this weekend. But when you get your hands on an iPad, you realize that Apple missed a real opportunity for deep integration with its cloud offerings.

iPad CoverageI've been a MobileMe user for a little while, since the transition from .Mac, and I like how it is integrated with OS X setup. On the iPhone, I love the over-the-air syncing of my bookmarks, contacts and calendar. I had expectations that the iPad would take this a step further.

However, the iPad is no more advanced than the iPhone in its cloud integration. I would have loved to have switched on the iPad, keyed in my MobileMe login, and automatically had my email, browser bookmarks, calendar and contacts set up for me, as well as the ability to load in ebooks through my iDisk, and have my photo galleries available.

Instead I was forced through the painfully overloaded iTunes application, and had to tether my device via USB to get all of my content on it. Setting things up was a crazy dance involving configuration in both iTunes and in the iPad's settings panel. To make matters worse, the iPad doesn't want to charge over USB. This means I need to plug it in twice: once to the charger, and then somewhere else to sync. Decent cloud access would have mitigated this a little.

I was genuinely surprised that the iWork and Photo applications for the iPad don't have built-in support for MobileMe. Email appears the be the only generally universal way of getting things out of the iPad.

Both OS X and Ubuntu offer me a much more pleasant out-of-box setup experience for connecting and synchronizing with cloud services. I suspect that because the iPad is divided up into little silos for each application, and iPhone OS doesn't offer any general notion of cloud services, it can only be this way for now.

I am hoping for a future where all I need to supply a device with is my identity, and everything else falls into place. This doesn't even have to be me trusting in a third-party cloud: there's no reason similar mechanisms couldn't be used privately in a home network setting.

I think the iPad is an amazing piece of hardware, and the most pleasant web browsing experience available. It is still very much a 1.0 device though, and its best days certainly lie ahead of it. I hope part of that improvement is a simple story for synchronization and cloud access.

Somewhat to my surprise, I'm equally as excited about the upcoming Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid) release for netbooks as I am by the iPad. The iPad is not yet a netbook-killer.

February 26 2010

A Prism for Jolicloud: Web-Centric Desktop Apps

I recently bought a netbook and installed Jolicloud, a Linux/Ubuntu distro designed as a replacement for, or companion to, Windows. Jolicloud was a revelation, something fresh and new in the seemingly snail-paced world of desktop computing. The bold idea of Jolicloud is that the browser is the operating system. It's all you need and you don't need to even think about it. The browser is a core service that supports all applications but it can recede into the background and let applications take the foreground.


The Samsung N210 netbook had Windows 7 Starter installed. I'll admit my discomfort with Windows. It's actually not so much the operating system itself, as it is the ecosystem that surrounds it. The desktop is cluttered with icons from the manufacturer and other add-ons, which seem to activate on their own. I don't want them yet I can't disable them easily. I realized that Windows has become like a carnival, with barkers trying to get my attention (and money) at every turn. I tried Windows 7 long enough to realize that it was really no different on a netbook than it was on a desktop. Windows. Same old, same old.

In fact, I bought the netbook to see if it was suitable as a computer for my mother. I want to help her be connected online to her family but she was frequently confused by the Windows desktop and its many applications and pop-up windows. AOL was just as confusing, layered on top of Windows. I tried moving her to Gmail and removing what I could from the desktop but it still became cluttered and she became so confused that she cancelled her Internet service. (I don't live in the same city as my mom so my ability to provide ongoing tech support is limited.)

A friend, Alberto Gaitán from DC, recommended trying Jolicloud on a netbook. Jolicloud was developed by Tariq Kim, who also created NetVibes. He had a vision of devices running an Internet Operating System, influenced by ideas from Tim O'Reilly. Here's an excerpt from the Jolicloud manifesto:

Jolicloud ... combines the two driving forces of the modern computing industry: the open source and the open web.

Jolicloud transforms your netbook into a sophisticated web device that taps into the cloud to expand your computing possibilities. The web already hosts a significant part of our lives: mails, photos, videos, and friends are already somewhere online. Jolicloud was built to make the computer and web part of the same experience.

Jolicloud offered something new on a non-Mac device -- peace of mind. I found an operating system that was adapted to the netbook, just as Apple has modified its core system for different devices. As much as it is an advantage for Apple, it is a disadvantage for every other computer manufacturer to ship their devices with a largely unmodified version of Windows. One gripe I have is that Windows doesn't use the more limited display space efficiently.


The Jolicloud user interface is simple and well-organized. Jolicloud is derived from Ubuntu and indeed some of the features I'm praising may also be present there. Quite frankly, it's been years since I've explored a Linux desktop, believing them to be hopelessly clunky and awkward, a generic imitation of existing windowing systems.

But the big leap forward in my view for Jolicloud is how it adapts web sites to function more like desktop applications, an interface paradigm mashup of the iPhone and desktop. In Jolicloud, I launch Gmail as an application, and dozens of other services I use such as Twitter and Facebook can be organized as desktop interfaces. Like the iPhone, Jolicloud provides an Apps directory where you can choose applications to install on your netbook. In addition, Jolicloud provides cloud-based services for data storage. Jolicloud allows me to use a netbook as an alternate computer without really having to organize my data and service specifically for that computer. (I even find myself moving away from Mac-based software to web-centric services that I can use from any device.)



I learned that some of the magic behind Jolicloud's web-centric model was made possible by the Prism project from Mozilla Labs. Mark Finkle, a Mozilla developer, created Prism but he's now working on a Firefox mobile browser. Prism development seemed to stall for a while until recently. Prism, which will work on any operating system, allows you to turn a website into a standalone application, even creating an icon for it so that you can place in on your toolbar. If you find yourself fumbling through tabs to get back to your mail or calendar, Prism can help you move your key applications into separate windows so they can stand on their own as desktop applications.

On a netbook, Prism gives you a full-screen view of your application, and drops most of the browser functions. It's as if the browser disappears into the operating system as a core service, one that's shared by dozens of applications.

Interview with Matthew Gertner

I caught up with Matthew Gertner by email who has done work on Prism, particularly adapting it for Zimbra Desktop. He has been posting information about updates to Prism on his Just Thinking blog, an additional source of information on Prism developments.

Q. What I like about prism is that it makes one think of the browser as a service provided by the operating system; it allows a website to become viewed and organized as an application. It is a metaphor that is now much more prevalent given the iPhone and its apps. But Prism anticipated that direction.

MG. I am a great believer in web applications. Particular strengths are the use of well-established, simple and standards-based languages for application development, incredible multiplatform support and lack of explicit install/uninstall. At the same time, there are clearly weakness as well, tied in particular to the fact that the browser was never designed to run applications.

Prism is one attempt to get the best of both worlds. Environments like
iPhone OS and Adobe AIR take a slightly different tack. Rather than
using the same web languages for software development as the
traditional browser, they have their own languages (CocoaTouch, Flex,
etc.) and development tools. So I wouldn't make a direct parallel
between Prism and something like the iPhone. The latter runs apps that
are as much like traditional software as like websites. It's true that
some of the goals are the same, and they often use web protocols
(HTTP, XML, etc.).

The big advantage of Prism, at least in the near term, is that no
development is required to make an existing web app look more like a
traditional application. You just run it in a Prism window instead of
a normal browser window. You can then customize the app with more
desktop-oriented features (tray icon, popup notifications,
drag-and-drop, etc.). With iPhone or Flex you basically have to
reimplement the entire client.

Q. I am also interested in understanding the status of Prism. It has been available for a while and it looked the original project lost some steam and then it regained some life. Is that so and if so, what or who got it going again.

MG. Prism was invented by Mark Finkle (now working on Mozilla's mobile browser) as a Mozilla Labs project. These projects are basically experiments that let Mozilla try out new ideas without committing to making a new product. They can then observe how users and the development community react. In the case of Prism, it was quickly picked up by Zimbra (then part of Yahoo) for Zimbra Desktop, and they ended up hiring me to improve Prism based on their requirements. Both Yahoo and Zimbra were awesome about donating my work back to Mozilla so that other Prism users can benefit.

I also have a few other clients using Prism, and together their
contributions have helped move the product forward tremendously, even
if it's been a relatively drawn-out process as you point out. I can't
comment on Mozilla's future plans for Prism.

Q. Jolicloud makes use of Prism but I had not heard of Prism previously but it can be used on a desktop. Are you seeing it used in other contexts outside of Jolicloud.

MG. See above. The biggest user is probably Zimbra, but there are others I work with and doubtless many I don't even know about. Basically if you want a multiplatform single-site browser, Prism is still the only game in town.

More on Prism

I've downloaded Prism to my Mac and used it to replace my Mail App icon with a Gmail icon on the toolbar. You can "applify" any website.


I can see other uses for Prism, even for creating web-based content that looks less like a website and more of an interactive experience like the CD-ROM game "Myst." There's an opportunity to break away from the constraints of the current web design paradigm, and perhaps learn from the lessons of iPhone apps. Interactions can be embedded in the application without any dependence on the browser functions outside the view window.

I'm not so sure my mom can handle the netbook but I'm going to try it. Jolicloud does allow me to customize the interface to those applications (websites) that she needs to use, which is essentially email and maybe Facebook. That's what's remarkable about Jolicloud and the ideas that inspired it -- you can customize a device and simply its interface by integrating it more deeply with the open web.

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.
No Soup for you

Don't be the product, buy the product!

YES, I want to SOUP ●UP for ...