Vita PlayStation

I learned to be a gamer with a proverbial gun to my head. If you’re going to be in the tech business, you’d better learn your way around a gaming machine. But nothing prepared me for my hands-on session with Vita yesterday.

Vita is SONY’s newest hand held gaming device. What’s unique about it is the variety of play experiences that you can have. Imagine using a front and rear touchscreen to play a game. Vita’s rear touchscreen takes up almost the entire back surface of the system. Next to the front touchscreen (it’s an eye-catching 5-inch OLED), there are the usual Playstation buttons as well as the two joystick controllers. Vita has front and rear cameras, tactile feedback, and a whopping 6-axis motion sensor system that controls the gyroscope and accelerometer.

I played Little Deviants, Little Big Planet and Sound Shapes – three games scheduled for holiday release.

Each game required using the Playstation in a totally different way, which drove me batty but may thrill the true gamer.  Little Deviants stymied me because you used the rear screen to control the terrain’s motion – not your little deviant. In other words there was this little guy rolling around a landscape that I had to create waves in for him to move. Some of the levels involved augmented reality where I used my body to site and shoot. Little Big Planet used more of the traditional Playstation buttons like my great X and triangle combo.

Connectivity is inbreed with the Vita. In addition to WiFi and 3G, many of the games will take advantage of community-boosting activities like “Near” which identifies other players near you, and “Party” which lets you chat while playing.

At $250, Vita offers an unbelievably rich experience – though as many of us know, too many riches can sometimes drive you crazy. For gamers who want to take immersive gaming to the next step it’s Viva La Vita.

The Future of Higher Ed?

Salman Khan is the brain behind the Khan Academy, a series of simple video lessons that teach math, physics, astronomy and more. Currently, his collection of 700 videos has over 1 million users. And Khan knows a great deal about the users educational stumbling blocks and successes. Inside Higher Ed has a good summary of what Khan is doing today and what he hopes to do tomorrow. It’s a great discussion of learning credentials and the prospect of 3rd party credential-ers that could exist outside of the traditional institutions.

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Trendy 2011: Tablets Up, 3D Down

Industry watchers like nothing better than to observe as trends come and go. A site that I love, The Crystal Ball Society, started by Jesse Schell, lets you record these predictions for posterity. A good thing,  since most of us will forget our own predictions  in matter of days.

Sometimes predications are a matter of WHEN not IF. As mom always says, if you wait long enough, anything can happen. So where do the next few trends fall on the predication radar screen? Beep…boop…beep…boop…

NOT ANYTIME SOON

3D – By all measures except perhaps kids’ movies in theatres, 3D has been a bust. Nintendo’s 3DS made a weak showing. Much to the dismay of the industry, very few of us are sitting in front of our TVs with glasses affixed to our noses, watching things reach out to try and touch us. Glasses-free, glasses-less, universal glasses…it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Until the ecosystem of content and delivery gets a shot of adrenaline, 3D will remain on the fringe.

The Internet of Connected Things – Lots has been written about the Internet of Things, where every appliance in your home from TVs to fridges to toasters has its own IP address and can be controlled remotely from anywhere. Smart appliances like LG’s lineup get toted out for display each year but never seem to sell particularly well. Controlling your oven remotely is a recipe for a fire drill, though new models like Connectio are on the horizon.

DOABLE

The Minority Report – There will be no more passwords, as increasingly powerful phones and sensors will store your personal biometric information, enabling machines to automatically know that YOU are YOU. Most professional laptops already have finger swipe security and many are beginning to look at face recognition.

GOING THE WRONG WAY

The Internet Connected Car – Two forces are at play against each other here: the need to be always connected and entertained at the same time, versus the need to be safe. Sadly, the entertainment part of the Internet Connected Car (Bluetooth, iPod hook ups, internet in the car) is progressing faster than many of the safety devices. Toyota Entune, BMW/Mini Connect, Audi Connect, Hyundai BlueLink, and Ford Sync AppLink are all showcasing connected entertainment systems. Onstar-like devices, drowsy alerts, and parking/vision aids are few and far between. At this year’s International CES there will be a bevy of car companies though few in the safe drivers-tech zone. Read more here.

QUIET REVOLUTIONS

Translation Engines – Like autocorrect, translating a website from one language to another was the butt of lots of internet jokes. The ability to translate a site, or an email, using free tools like Google Translate has made the world a smaller, closer place.

The Mobile Revolution – There’s no going back now: phones, tablets and new ultra books have made it possible to live the truly un-tethered life. Cloud storage, for the most part, is a pretty easy transition for  consumers used to sharing photos, music and other media from “somewhere out there”.

On the Prediction Horizon for 2012

Body-Monitoring Tech – Monitoring our vital signs from blood pressure to weight, from miles walked to heartbeats per minute will provide an increasingly accurate picture of what we’re made of. What we decide to do with all of these monitors, that’s another story. We’ll become increasingly convinced that life is a game. You’ll get points for shopping, exercising, eating well and lowering your carbon footprint – all redeemable for stuff you like. Wearable technology will become increasingly real, but lead by companies like Adidas, Columbia Sportswear and other outdoor-minded leaders. Skinner would have a field day with this stuff, but ultimately this will be the year of “a better you” because of tech.

Happy Techy New Year!

Spotting Future Stars

In 1997, I had the pleasure of being the Editor in Chief of FamilyPC Magazine (now defunct). When we did a story on “web wizards” – young kids who were doing cool things with PCs – we chose Vinny Pasceri, then the webmaster of Saychem High School in Long Island. Pasceri and his team built their high school’s website using Microsoft Front Page, and at the time they were not only one of the very few schools to have a web page, but they had a really attractive one with photos and graphics. Pasceri went on to study at Rensselear PolyTech Institute, and after graduating, he ran his own company for a short time. Pasceri has been at Microsoft since 2002, and today, he is the senior program manager on the Bing Experience Team. Good to know that talent shines and that our picks for rising stars were spot on.  Read the original Family PC story as it appeared in 1997, or see Vinny today.

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The 11th Annual Last Gadget Standing Preview

What do a baby stroller, an iPhone controlled sphere, an innovative camera, and a new gaming machine have in common? They’re all in the running in the final weeks of the Last Gadget Standing competition. Last Gadget takes its cue from the exhaustion of trekking through miles of CES trade show floors to find the winning products. In a large ballroom (or in the comfort of your own home online) we give you the best products you may have never heard of and ask you (not the journalists) to vote for the product that will stand the test of time, and change the way we use technology.

Here are a few of the highlights of this year’s competition.  Voting begins on Monday. For a complete list head to the LGS page.

  1. Origami Stroller (4Moms) – This stroller has headlights and a cell charger, plus it folds itself. High tech for the 2 month old.
  2. Sperho (Orbotix) – A rolling ball controlled by cell phone. Sort of a cross between a video game and an MIT robotics course.
  3. Lytro light field camera (Lytro) – A truly revolutionary camera that captures light in such a way that you can actually re-focus the captured images. Who would have thought it was even possible. Goto the web site for amazing demos.
  4. Telcare BGM blood glucose monitor – A cell-enabled glucose meter.
  5. Looxcie – This head-mounted video camera can stream live, while skiing, cycling, partying, whatever. It’s about the size of a Bluetooth headset, and has full motion video.
  6. eers custom fit headphones (Sonomax) – Go to a retailer, and the headphone is molded to your ear, for the perfect fit. And a perfect fit means better sound at reduced levels.
  7. Perch – A charger reminder-device that plugs in between your cell charger and the wall – it beeps if you unplug your cell phone, reminding you to take that charger home from the hotel.
  8. Swivl – A holder for a cell phone or small video camera that follows your movement, so you can be a one-person videographer, or you can set it to follow your kids as they play.
  9. Calisto 835 (Plantronics) – A computer communication device, styled like a phone dialpad, that makes it easy to use pc-based communication systems, as well as your mobile phone and home or office phone all from one spot.
  10. Basis band – A band for your wrist that measures blood flow, acceleration, temperature, and more, to provide a full view of your personal wellness.
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KAPi Awards Find the Best in Kids Tech

Disney AppMAtes

An Expert Panel’s Look at the Best of the Year

Weird. Pricey. Those words best describe the kid’s toy industry as we head towards the holiday. Analysts are saying that there’s no single standout gotta-have-it product but high-tech toys are high on everyone’s list. Preschoolers are getting $400 iPads; tweens getting their own iPod Touch. Some of most sought after toys are the LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer Learning Tablet that sells for $200. It’s sold out of most stores with parents eagerly watching to see if stores like Toys-R-Us will manage to restock the shelves before the holidays. Other trending toys include Hot Wheels Wall Tracks and Figit Friends – animatronic buddies for all.

But, lurking quietly behind the hub-bub of shopping lines and gadget blogs, there are some gems lying unrecognized. Each year a panel of 15 judges with decades of experience in the kid business get together to seek out the best that the digital world provides for youngsters. Called the Kids @ Play Interactive (KAPi) Awards, these prizes are doled out during CES at a special ceremony honoring creators of good tech for kids. Here’s an inside look at whats to come at the 2012 KAPi Awards…

Does it pay to buy an iPad?

From the looks of some of this year’s winners, it seems that some of the most creative work for kids is being done on Apple iPads. While the initial iPad investment might be a bit fear-inducing, once you take the plunge, the cost of an app is minimal.

 

DoodleCast by Zinc Roe was selected as best app for young kids. It’s a simple app that allows kids to draw and add voice to their drawings – your kids will create their own animated storybook. Best of all, it only costs $1.99 and is available on the iPad or iPhone. For older kids the winner was Bobo Explores Light by GameCollage LLC, a $5 app that lets kids explore the physical properties of light, including color and photosynthesis. In the world of digital children’s books the award went to Cinderella Nosy Crow Animated Picture Book where a 3D-like world allows kids to sweep the floors with Cinderella and more. Apple nabbed the Best Hardware award for the iPad2, with LeapPad Explorer following close behind.

Gaming

The best video game software award went to Once Upon a Monster (Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, Inc) – an unbelievably rich game for the Xbox Kinect where parents and kids can play on Sesame Street, actually controlling Cookie and Elmo with their body movements. Disney’s AppMates received an award for the most innovative technology – Disney combined a miniature car toy with embedded capacitive sensors that kids use to navigate an adventure-filled race track on the iPad screen. The game has a Cars movie theme.

Noodlewords from Noodleworks, an app that brings words to life as they dance and jump across the iPad screen, won best educational software. MineCraft by Mojang won for the best kids’ virtual world – the judges loved the “hide and seek” feel to the world.

People as well as products were recognized. Ge Wang, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Smule won the Emerging Pioneer Award. He created the Magic Piano so that people all over the world could make music collaboratively. Mark Schlichting, creator of the Brøderbund Living Books and now Noodlewords, was recognized for delighting a generation of younger readers two times over.

For more about the KAPi Awards and the judging process visit Kids@Play.