Archive for the ‘Gadgets’ Category

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Barbie gets digital music player

May 1, 2007

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Mattel Inc., the world’s largest toymaker, will introduce a Barbie digital-music player and Web site to try to boost sales of the iconic fashion doll.

The BarbieGirls.com Web site, which will be accessible this week, will allow users to create a virtual character, shop with imaginary money and chat with other members, the California-based Mattel  reported. Barbie Girls, a digital-music player in a variety colors with attachable clothing and accessories, will sell for $59.99 starting in July.

Mixing the 48-year-old Barbie doll with an updated Web site and a digital-music player may help Mattel attract children increasingly drawn to electronic gadgets. Worldwide Barbie sales have gained in the past three quarters after slumping for three years on competition from MGA Entertainment Inc.’s Bratz dolls.

The Barbie Girl MP3 player, about 4.5 inches in length, may be hooked up to a computer and will be able to access more games, pets and fashions on the BarbieGirls.com Web site.

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Sandisk introduces Sansa Shaker MP3 Player

April 18, 2007

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SanDisk, the second largest seller of MP3 players in the United States, announced the new Sansa Shaker MP3 player designed for kids and families. A fun and unique music player, the Sansa Shaker features many ways to enjoy and share songs, including two headphone jacks, a built-in speaker to listen without ear buds, and the ability to play SD cards loaded with your favorite music.

Although its main target is children above the age of 8, any kid will feel attracted to this pink or blue, 2.5-inch tall MP3 player designed for stubby fingers and curious ears with its fun shaker feature to skip songs (just shake the player to skip to the next song). The device also skips songs in the navigation circular band. There is another circular band for volume.

The $40 device comes equipped with a USB cable, a 512MB SD Card, lanyard, five pre-loaded songs and a colorful array of stickers so kids can customize their device. Rounding out the specs is a 15 hour battery life from one AAA battery.

“Sansa Shaker brings a fresh approach to sharing and enjoying digital music, at a price that’s affordable for everyone in the family,” said Keith Washo, SanDisk retail product marketing manager. “This is part of SanDisk’s continuing strategy of introducing MP3 players for every lifestyle, with a wide range of features and price points.”

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SanDisk device to come with Yahoo Music

April 10, 2007

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Flash memory maker SanDisk has announced it will pair its new wireless music player with free and subscription music services from Yahoo.

Sansa Connect device will be able to use a Wi-Fi wireless connection to allow users to listen to LAUNCHcast Internet radio, browse Flickr photos and see what Yahoo Messenger friends and other Sansa Connect owners nearby are listening to. LAUNCHcast and Flickr are both part of the Yahoo network.

Sansa Connect users with a Yahoo Music Unlimited To Go subscription can also download music and listen to or download tracks their friends are listening to or have recommended.

When the 4-gigabyte Sansa Connect is not connected to a Wi-Fi network, the player behaves like a traditional Flash music player and can be connected to a personal computer. Users can play music and view photos stored either on the player or on an optional microSD card.

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Cebit 2007 looks into the future

March 20, 2007

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Cebit, the world’s largest hi-tech fair, has opened its doors in Hanover for a look at the latest technologies for homes and businesses.

There are more than 6,000 exhibitors registered and about 500,000 visitors are expected to pass through the doors.

Third generation mobiles, the digital home and broadband are key themes at the show.

But Cebit is also the right place to look if you want a peek into the future. Japanese hi-tech company NEC did just that, using Cebit to show off some conceptual ideas for what products of the future might look like.

sala_nec.jpgUnder the umbrella term of Resonantware the products aim to investigate how technology might evolve.

NEC showed an idea it called Sala that integrates a radio tag into an item of jewellery, such as a wedding ring – associated with an important event.

When the ring, earring or brooch is placed near a display device that can read the tag it calls up the images, movies or sounds the owner has associated with it.

It also showed off a concept see-through mobile phone called Flask which is powered by a fuel cell. Like many disposable cigarette lighters, the transparent sides of the phone let users see when they need a refill.

Source: BBC News

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Drop the Computer

February 12, 2007

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“WE’RE going to make some history here today,” said Steve Jobs at the beginning of his annual speech at Macworld, his company’s cult-like trade show in San Francisco. He was as good as his word. First, he launched a product that promises at last to bring digital entertainment from people’s computers to their television screens without fuss. Then he unveiled an even more impressive device that transcends the description “mobile phone”. Mr Jobs, who was so excited that he had lain awake all night, made it clear that he considered this day a watershed in the three-decade history of Apple Computer, a point that he emphasised by announcing that his firm would henceforth drop “Computer” from its name.

Indeed, Apple’s laptop and desktop computers, which are selling briskly, were hardly mentioned. Nor were Apple’s iPods, which dominate the market for portable music players. Both of the new products are really computers, but people won’t think of them as such, since they will be in their pockets and living rooms. The mobile phone—provided Apple can settle a legal dispute over the name with Cisco, a network-equipment company—is called the iPhone. It will go on sale in America in June starting at $499, in Europe in the autumn and in Asia next year. The television-set add-on is called Apple TV and will hit stores next month at $299. With these two products, Mr Jobs intends to enter and transform new industries, and ultimately people’s lives—just as he did in 1984 when Apple transformed computing with the launch of the Macintosh, and again in 2001 when it introduced the iPod, which shook up the music industry.

That Mr Jobs’ announcements had such an impact during this particular week says a lot, because the rest of the consumer-electronics, computer and telecoms industries were simultaneously congregating at the Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s biggest technology fair, in Las Vegas. There, many of Mr Jobs’ old and new rivals were talking about much the same things as he was. Microsoft’s Bill Gates introduced the “Windows Home Server”, his answer for uniting computers and television sets. Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, the boss of Nokia, a mobile-phone giant, unveiled new handsets that can hold music and videos. His rival, Ed Zander of Motorola, did the same and rode a yellow bicycle around the stage to illustrate the point that “content moves with you.” And so forth.

But all the gadgets being peddled in Las Vegas were “evolutionary”, whereas Apple’s were “revolutionary” and thus noteworthy, says Tim Bajarin, the boss of Creative Strategies, a technology consultancy in Silicon Valley. This is particularly true of the iPhone. Officially, it falls into the category of “smartphones” like the Treos or BlackBerrys that seem almost surgically attached to business people these days. But Mr Jobs used that term in mockery, since many of these phones are, to him, so patently dim-witted. Yes, they can send and receive e-mail, but why have a tiny keyboard when you do not need it for most of the phone’s other functions? Indeed, as Mr Jobs was talking, shares in Apple soared and they plunged at Research in Motion and Palm, the makers of the BlackBerry and Treo respectively.

Unlike rival products—but in keeping with Apple’s approach—the iPhone’s front panel has only one mechanical button. The thin, small slab has a touch-screen which displays whatever buttons, keys or icons are relevant to the task in hand. When playing music, the iPhone shows album covers; when writing e-mail, a small keyboard; when a call comes in, the caller’s identity from the address book; and so on. And whereas any other company would have foisted a stylus on its victims, Mr Jobs gloated, Apple lets them use fingers to scroll, drag, type and resize. Just as the Macintosh was a breakthrough in 1984 for its mouse, and the iPod in 2001 for its click wheel, the iPhone’s stroke of genius is this new “multi-touch” technology. “And boy have we patented it,” said Mr Jobs.

Along with more than 200 other patents, this technology should put the iPhone “five years ahead” of its rivals, reckons Mr Jobs. This claim is hard to judge. The iPhone is not the only phone that can switch automatically between a short-range Wi-Fi connection and a mobile-phone network, depending on which one it sniffs. But it is the only phone with a web browser (Apple’s Safari) that displays web pages in their full splendour. It is also the only phone that has “visual voicemail” to save users from the hassle of listening to all their messages before getting to the important ones—a joint innovation with Apple’s partner, Cingular, America’s largest mobile operator. And it is by far the best handset for photographs, music and videos.

In his commercial goals, Mr Jobs was more conservative. Around one billion handsets are sold each year and Apple hopes to sell 10m iPhones, capturing 1% of the market, in 2008. Yet just as the original iPod led to smaller and cheaper models, thus exceeding Mr Jobs’ initial projections, so the iPhone too could become a big family of products. This must be worrisome to Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and, above all, to Sony Ericsson, which concentrates on selling high-end music handsets under its Walkman brand.

Amid all the excitement, Mr Jobs’ biggest concern has nothing to do with Apple’s products. The risk, rather, is that Apple will become more deeply mired in a financial scandal over the backdating of share options, a practice that it and more than 200 other firms have now admitted to. Apple disclosed last June that it had awarded options with dates manipulated to make them more likely to pay out. It has since filed four statements with securities regulators, and each time Mr Jobs’ role has grown. Last month two board members, including Al Gore, America’s former vice-president, issued a report ostensibly clearing Apple’s boss of responsibility, but confusingly and contradictorily detailing bad options grants (and even a fictitious board meeting) that involved Mr Jobs.

Mr Jobs will not be in the clear until regulators give their own verdict. Many other affected firms have atoned by letting errant bosses go. For Apple, whose identity is inextricably wound up with its co-founder and boss, this might spell disaster. Mr Jobs does have able lieutenants, such as Timothy Cook, his number two, who took over for six weeks while Mr Jobs had cancer surgery in 2004. But Apple without Steve Jobs would lose its shine.

in: The Economist

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The iPhone – It’s Everything

February 10, 2007
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Will Apple pick music’s digital locks?

February 9, 2007

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Steve Jobs, the boss of Apple, has set out his stall on the future of the music industry

In an open letter on the Apple website, Mr Jobs argues that the copy protection software used to protect digital music downloads from piracy has not worked.

In the letter he outlines a world where the record industry abandons so called Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems.

“In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players.

“This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat.” he wrote.

Digital locks

Apple uses its own DRM system known as FairPlay, which means music downloaded from the iTunes store can be played on computers running iTunes that have been authorised by the consumer and only one portable device, iPods.

Users can copy downloaded songs to a CD and then copy the disc back on to the computer so that the songs can then be moved to other portable devices – but the quality of the music is affected.

Other technology and media companies, such as Microsoft, have developed their own-brand DRM. This has resulted in a world of multiple systems with no guarantees that any will work with each other.

Groups like the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which represents the music industry, have called for one interoperable system to be put in place.

But so far, the competing interests of music labels and technology companies have ensured this has not happened.

Mr Jobs says FairPlay was imposed on it by the big four record companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI.

“When Apple approached these companies to license their music to distribute legally over the internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied,” he wrote.

Using FairPlay has not harmed Apple. Its iTunes store has sold about two billion songs since launching in 2003, and accounts for more than 70% of the US digital music market.

But many argue that any form of DRM harms consumers.

“It locks consumers into specific products. It’s anti-competitive and anti-consumer,” said Becky Hogge, executive director of the digital advocacy organisation, the Open Rights Group.

The European Commission agrees.

It says the many different DRM systems should work together.

Some member states, such as France, have already approved new laws that could force companies like Apple to share its digital technology with rivals.

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