Archive for the 'Cool Toys' Category

29
Jan
10

Musings on the Announcement of the Apple iPad

It’s been about 24 hours since the long anticipated keynote address and unveiling of the Apple iPad.  I’ve had some time to reflect on what this announcement will mean for Apple, for consumers and for my own personal use. 

Mixed Reactions
On Wednesday morning, it seemed like even the least tech savvy folks knew that ‘Apple was announcing a tablet!’.  (Major props to those sites that were gracious enough to cover this event via liveblog – it made the situation easier to follow.)  Getting bits and pieces of information and trying to digest them while on the telephone and working with customers, I found it difficult to process the facts.  A lot of what Steve Jobs says gets lost in translation in the liveblog.  I was in a room filled with tech savvy co-workers and just about everyone was underwhelmed.  While the announcement was, in fact, a “tablet-shaped device,” the details were significantly less impressive than the grandiose expectations that analysts and random tech followers (like myself) had ascribed to it.  Nobody I spoke to seemed genuinely excited and as I collected feedback (most of it unsolicited), it largely consisted of exclamations about the poor marketing behind the name and what the iPad couldn’t do.  Overall, people seemed generally confused about what makes this product offering so special.

It’s important to point out that after years of speculation about what an “Apple Tablet” would look and behave like, the expectations were almost impossible to meet.  (It was actually a bit anti-climactic to actually see and hear this announcement since it was so much fun to pontificate over the years about what such a device might be.) 

The Keynote is the Key
The key to understanding this product lies not in reviewing the specifications and comparing it to other offerings in the market.  For those who are considering the iPad, my best suggestion is to actually invest an hour and half of your time before you spend $499 – $830.  Watch the keynote and observe how Apple is marketing it to consumers.

Unlike many other product unveilings, Apple devoted almost the entire hour and a half to explaining just one product.  (The keynote is long – if you can’t watch the entire thing, check out just the first 15 – 30 minutes of it.  (It’s available now on the homepage at Apple.com or via iTunes via podcast.)  But for the benefit of those that will only read this, I’ll do my best to share Steve Jobs’ sentiment.) 

The most critical piece of information during the keynote was explained in the first 15 minutes.  Steve showed a slide with an iPhone on the left, a MacBook on the right and and empty space in the center.  He talked about the thought that went into deciding whether there was room for a product between those two devices.  The philosophy he outlined was, ‘If we’re going to announce a product in between these two offerings, it has to be better than the phone and better than the MacBook at some things.’  He then hypothesized about whether the netbook fits in this category.  (He actually put the word “Netbook” in the empty space between the MacBook and the phone.  He explained that the company’s conclusion on netbooks is that they aren’t better than laptops or phones at anything.  He dismissed them as “slow, cheap laptops”.  It was only after going through this explanation that he unveiled the iPad that almost everyone has seen by now.

Continue reading ‘Musings on the Announcement of the Apple iPad’

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01
Jul
08

I Dream of Kindle

Kindle I remember being a bit cynical last winter when Amazon announced their “revolutionary device” that would change the game.  As a tech enthusiast, I’m probably one of the folks that they should hope gets excited about this.  Then again, I’m not a big reader, so perhaps I’m not quite in the center of their bulls-eye.  When I first laid eyes on the Kindle, my exact thought was, “you’ve got to be kidding me”.  It really doesn’t say “2008”.  I’d argue that the Sony eBook Reader is a bit more sexy than a device where about a quarter of the precious real estate on the front of the device is dedicated to a physical keyboard.  (I know, I know – version 1.0).

Being the resident techie in most of my circles, it wasn’t long before the questions started… “what do you think about that new Amazon book thingy?”  “So when are you getting a Kindle?”  My answers were always pretty smug.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understood what Amazon was trying to do.  However, I thought they could have spent a little bit more time designing something that was lust-worthy instead of a device that looks like it was designed in 2000.

Time passed… and I had forgotten about the Kindle.  Regardless of how many times I’d go to Amazon.com and see the thing staring me in the face, my eyes would move somewhere else. 

But then a funny thing happened.  I stopped thinking about the design, and started thinking about the usability.

The time that I spent not paying attention to the Kindle caused me to miss out on the key selling points.  I would pick up random features listing to Leo Laporte’s TwiT podcasts.  And the more that I’d hear, the less cynical I got about the device…

Recently, (and I can’t quite explain how I’ve arrived at this…longing) I’ve been thinking a lot about the Kindle.  I don’t know if an Amazon guy spiked my iced tea or if they flashed a subliminal message while I was reading reviews on iPhone cases.  How it happened doesn’t really matter.  The fact is that I’m starting to see the advantages.  And I want in.

So what’s the big deal?

  • I carry around two copies of the Holy Bible.  (Please don’t judge – sometimes I’ll need to reference the King James version and other times I just want to get closer to the intent via my Student Edition of the New International Version).  By no means is it a heavy burden.  But there might be a more elegant solution.  Perhaps there’s a way to keep that and several other versions of the scripture by my side.  Not to mention the hymn book that I’d like to carry, but because it’s rather big I always leave at home.  Yes, this could be the answer…and for several reasons…
  • The Kindle is searchable.  Rather than wonder where in the book a character was introduced or when a certain thought was uttered, you can simply search through the text.  (How nicely that works is another matter altogether.)
  • The Kindle is online.  Via EVDO (i.e. fast 3G speed Internet Access).  And it’s free.  (Well, you pay for the device, but they’ve committed to free online access.  Never before have I seen that kind of commitment to just giving away 3G access.  This is the stuff Verizon makes you pay $59 bucks a month for.  And yes, it’s only useful on the Kindle, but that’s not a tremendous limitation because…
  • The Kindle has a built-in web browser.  OK, so I’ve heard that it’s so poor in displaying data and rendering pages that they might as well not have included it.  But this might be enough for me.  Many times when I’m traveling home on the bus or to work, I’d like to just pull down a full page of Engadget.com and just peruse the stories.  Nothing sexy.  Just stored.  Not sure if this is going to allow me to do that, but it might be better than the iPhone experience that I have now.  Most of the time, Safari will crash as I’m scrolling through a page like Engadget.  Also, until I get a 3G phone, it’s just a bit slow.  I don’t need a great web experience.  I just want to stay up to date while I’m driving.

Continue reading ‘I Dream of Kindle’

21
Nov
07

I Love My Mets….But Not Quite This Much.

Came across this on Uncrate.com. I always use the term, “live and die with the Mets”. But perhaps this will make me think more carefully about using those words.

Eternalimage.net is selling MLB Team-featured….(ready for this?)….urns and caskets. Actually, the caskets do look quite charming. And the urns do also (that is, if you’re into the whole “ashes thing”.) But I kinda don’t get it. I mean, thinking of some of the most treasured MLB figures over time — say, for instance, the recently deceased Phil Rizutto — I don’t even see him being buried in one of these things. It kinda cheapens the experience.

I hope it’s a long time before somebody needs to make a decision about this for me, but let there be no doubt — this isn’t quite the end to my life that I’d appreciate.

(I must say…really nice design, though.)

21
Nov
07

Guitar Hero III? Good Stuff. And Rock Band?….I’m a Believer

When it comes to most games that I purchase, I’m probably being robbed. Sixty bucks for about 5-10 hours of gameplay — by my own choice. There’s probably 10-15 hours worth of gameplay in the average game today if you consider all of the “extra modes” that games usually include to increase the perceived “good value”. But after awhile, repetition sets in and I stop playing. Most sports games have lost their appeal for me. And these days, it take a pretty special game to truly make me feel that my $60 was money well spent.

Guitar Hero is probably the only game that I’ve purchased in recent years and received more enjoyment than than the $90 put towards buying it. The original Guitar Hero provided me and my friends with hours and hours of gaming fun. It was just perfect. The song list was comprised of old time favorites and new songs that quickly became favorites. Guitar Hero II had some of my favorite tracks, but the general consensus was that it just didn’t seem to have the same appeal as the original song list. In looking ahead to Guitar Hero III, the song list seemed to return to the days of glory. My Name is Jonas by Weezer, One by Metallica, Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benatar, and, my personal favorite, Paint it Black by The Rolling Stones, made this new version of Guitar Hero the game to buy. However, there’s another game that was waiting behind the curtain… one that curiously enough was developed by the folks who made the first two games.

Rock Band is being developed by Harmonix — the studio that made the first two Guitar Hero games. (There’s been enough said about the split. Let’s just say that Harmonix is now doing Rock Band and Neversoft, makers of Tony Hawk, are doing Guitar Hero. OK?)

Two guitar-based games? Two years ago, we barely had hopes that the first one would be accepted. But now we’ve got this new “Rock Band” which incorporates singing, bass and lead guitar and the drums. It all seemed kinda strange to me. What could Harmonix legally take from the old series and bring to Rock Band? And more importantly, what would my old favorite, Guitar Hero, be like without them?

Well, the verdict for both games is in. I’ve played em both. Guitar Hero III has been in my PS3 for about three weeks now. And it’s fun. Real good fun. However, the one thing that I think gamers are in agreement about is the fact that, in an effort to add some flavor to the game, they’ve detracted from some of what made Guitar Hero the ‘pick up and play’ game that had Wii-like mass market appeal. It’s almost inexcusable that upon booting the game, you don’t have a complete song list. By now studios should understand that many people treat Guitar Hero and games of the like as karaoke-type games: they get a bunch of friends and play for fun. Why force people to play to unlock songs? But let me not get into details here — I’m not writing to give a review. Let’s just say what’s most important: it’s loads of fun. I look forward to coming home after work and banging out Evenflow and Paint it Black to ease some tension for many months to come.

I had a lot of doubts about Rock Band. For one, the song list seemed a bit uninspired. There were some great songs on it (Say It Ain’t So, Dani California, Epic, Paranoid, Highway Star) but as I looked over the playlist, I saw a lot of great bands — but “wrong” songs. Anyhow, my doubts also turned to the fact that at $170, would this really be worth it? How many times would I have one other person over to play — much less three other people — to justify the cost? And this big question mark for myself and many others was the inclusion of the most intriguing part of the package — the drums.  See, we’ve done the guitar. (Guitar Hero).  And we’ve done the microphone (Karaoke Revolution).  And as much as there have been games like Donkey Konga and a few others, I had to wonder: would a drum set even work accurately? And four players?? How is all of that information going to be represented on the screen at the same time — and not give everyone a headache? (I get confused sometimes with only two guitar scroll bars on screen. Imagine four sets of streaming data??!!) And what about this new guitar? Yeah, it looks ok. But I’m used to my Guitar Hero controller. And on…and on…

Well, this afternoon, I had a chance to check out Rock Band. And…well…. I’m in love. Continue reading ‘Guitar Hero III? Good Stuff. And Rock Band?….I’m a Believer’

02
Jul
07

iPhone Line at Short Hills

It’s been a long night… first off, I’m happy to report that my experience in acquiring the iPhone was pretty ok….

Got to the Short Hills, NJ Apple Store at about 12:30 and there were about 60 people hugged around the wall and snaked around the mall in front of me. Brilliantly, I picked up a chair that I was going to use for the PS3 launch (you know, one of those expandable things) but I felt sort of elitist watching everyone else standing up and sitting down (and then laying down as time dragged on) but I’ve been through this before (Xbox 360, PS2, Dreamcast, Nintendo Wii, PSP, etc.)

The best thing about waiting was that two of my best buds from my old job came down and spend some time with me. You know you have good friends when they’ll stand and talk with you on line for an hour while you wait on the geek line — and they’re not even getting the phone themselves. Dwan, Alf – you guys are the best.

Very interesting group of folks that I waited with. I was in a bit of a ‘don’t-feel-like-chatting’ mode on Friday, so I just kinda observed. One thing about Short Hills is that it’s located in a very posh area of NJ. Put it this way — there’s no food court. You just kinda have Au Bon Pan and other upscale and overpriced places to dine. But it would seem that this was the best place to wait because combine the Mac-ish 60s culture with rich folks who can’t conceive of taking something that isn’t yours and you have probably the exact opposite of the 5th Ave. Apple Store experience. Lots of people were leaving their laptops unattended while they went to the bathroom. Very cool atmosphere in Short Hills.

Very bohemian atmosphere, but what else would you expect from the Mac culture. It was actually kind of annoying. They spend their time trying to explain everything to you as if nobody else reads the rumor sites…. I stood next to a kid and his dad. The kid was cool — had a Dell XPS 17″ (the screen was incredible) and he connected to the wi-fi and played World of Warcraft right there next to me. (Now I know why I’ll never play — it looks nice, but I spend my life wasting time in enough ways — no need to add yet another thing to the list.) I saw tons of MacBooks and MacBook Pros. And lots of people bending the hinge on the screen back a bit too far. (No wonder there are so many folks in line for the Apple Geniuses).

One thing I observed was the number of children and parents waiting in line for children. Crazy. A $500-$600 phone for your kid — and you have to sleep in line for it?? (I guess I’d do it for my kid too, but it’s amazing to think about the lengths to which parents will go). And of course, you just know kids are gonna end up getting em stolen or some other careless thing and then you’ve waited and spent $600….for nothing. Anyway…

The store employees would come out and hand us “Steve” waters. What’s that? Oh, a “Steve” water is the Vitamin Water bottle that Steve Jobs caries around and swigs off of during MacWorld keynotes — usually during the demos. (“…and you just click on it…and then…boom! <siiiiip.>)

When 6pm hit, they did a countdown and everybody gathered their crap and started moving up. They let about 15 folks in the store at a time and they roped off all of the stuff and directed you straight to the phones. “4 Gig or 8 Gig?”. They even had sales people with wi-fi registers to ring you up right there in the middle of the floor. Eventually I came out of the store with one — (thanks to God. Truth be told, I probably didn’t deserve to. Not because the phone is supposed to be so great. It’s just that God has been really good to me despite some of my actions.)

I will give my impressions in a bit, but there’s one small problem that’s in my way….. (read the following post….)

08
Jun
07

…And Why NOT to iPhone

In my previous post, I ran down a list of the reasons why I’m thinking of donating a kidney for the promise of being able to get an iPhone. I’ve gone through the list of pros and cons for months — and the pros come out on top. But there are a significant number of questionmarks that stand out in my mind and keep me from wholeheartedly giving this phone my absolute endorsement. Let’s take a second to explore some of the things that could tarnish this launch a bit. Simply put, these are a few reasons why you might want to reconsider handing your $499/$599 over to the snarky kid in the black shirt with the white logo.

1. Cost – The iPhone comes in two flavors – the $499 model with 4GB and the $599 model with 8GB of storage. And there are other phones (like the Nokia N95) that are at that same price point. But even at the $500 level, this is a sizeable investment. Considering the fact that a full featured smartphone like the Moto Q or Samsung Blackjack can be secured for less than $150 right now, I’m not sure that the experience will be $350-better. (I think it will be, but anyway…..) You have to really consider whether you’re going to make use of the Internet-based features or if you really need the iPod functionality. You can pick up an iPod with Video for $249. Or perhaps the more popular iPod Nano for $149/$199 depending on which configuration you’re looking to get. So the sum of those two items (a phone and an iPod) would still leave you money left over.

And let’s not forget the fact that if you do pick up this phone you almost have to get a data plan. (Or perhaps you can just use the phone on Wi-Fi if you have access?) Cost is definitely a huge factor to consider here.

2. Theft Target – I’m hearing that only 4 million of these will be available at launch and who knows how many throughout the rest of the year. I can just see the news story about people getting robbed when they pull out this attractive toy on the train ride home. And you thought the white earbuds said, “rob me, please”? Wait until people start flipping their fingers across the screen. You may want to consider how safe the environment is before whipping one of these babies out in public. And if it’s that much of a theft target, is it really worth the risk?

3. Synching? iTunes to Manage ALL Content? – I am a big fan of iTunes (although it has gotten a bit bloated over time). Yet and still, I’m not quite sure that this is the right application to manage the kind of data that I want to share with the phone. During the Keynote, Steve said that iTunes will manage the sync. Sure, iTunes is cool to manage the music. But I’m not sure how the rest of the content is going to work. Will it just go to each application to pull down the respective data? (Photos from iPhoto, Music from iPod, Contacts from Address Book)? Probably not, since Windows users will need to synch as well. Personally, I’d like to see a simple synching application released separate from iTunes that can be used to determine what data synchs to the phone. Perhaps this can be covered in a tab or a view on the iTunes menu. I don’t know for sure. But I have my concerns. Continue reading ‘…And Why NOT to iPhone’

12
Feb
07

BE Jack Bauer….(well, not really, but…)

My girlfriend is a huge 24 fan (like most of the world — or at least it seems that way.) I watched a few seasons and I know it’s suspenseful and I know it’s shocking and I know that Jack is as cool as hell to most, but I just can’t get into it. I watched the first season on DVD and kinda watched bits of the fifth until I couldn’t take it any more. I don’t know — to me, this guy’s getting into trouble every year. Perhaps the best way to stay safe is to stay the hell away from Keifer. And my other gripe is that, for any good dramam there have to be peaks and valleys. Something can’t be happening ALL the damn time. It seems like if Jack’s not running around tracking down plutonium or a nuke somewhere he’s having a touching moment with someone from his circle of supporters. But then again, what do I know. Anyway…

I came across this article when I was checking out Uncrate (www.uncrate.com — a very, very cool site for the style and gadget inclined). Basically they’ve broken down all of the major toys that Jack Bauer uses as he fights for freedom and to keep the peace. If you’re a fan of the show, chances are you’ve already noticed this stuff (and the true geekoids are walking around with it). But I just thought it was kinda cool to take a look at the actual gear that the character uses. The Jack Pack. The mobile phone (now different from the Treo — even Jack knows when the party’s over). Spec-Ops watch. Even his gun and his bullet proof vest. Go over and check it out here on Uncrate.com.

(Initially I was gonna say something snarky about not running around like an idiot with this stuff pretending to be Jack. But one second thought — what the hell! Go ahead. Some of my best moments as a kid were spent running around the neighborhood with a towel around my back or with homemade web shooters under my sleeves. Of course I don’t do that anymore — well, not all the time, anyway. But there are far too many uptight folks in this day and age. Do what makes you happy. Just remember to keep it under control. Walking around town with a Glock running from wall to wall using each one as cover and shouting “CTU!” everywhere you go might get you arrested. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.