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Monthly Archive for: ‘October, 2012’

  • Take Back Your Mobile Bill (Give Back Something Too)

    Einstein likely would have been flummoxed given the chance to read his mobile phone bill. Page after page of inscrutable charges leave mobile consumers forever perplexed as to whether they’re getting what they paid for with their mobile service. According to Todd Dunphy and Tom Pepe, cofounders of Validas, wireless waste (paid-for, unused minutes) estimates for the US hover around $52.1 billion monthly.

    Validas helps enterprise mobile customers find efficiencies in breaking into consumer territory, via a new mobile app out this month called Vera.  Currently Validas services about one-third of the Fortune 500 companies, helping them better understand their mobile usage.

    This fall the company is offering Vera for regular-Joe consumers. Vera monitors your mobile usage and determines whether you’ve chosen the plan that best fits your needs. Through the same program used to analyze corporate data, Vera analyzes your personal or family plan each month. A recommendation engine provides money saving alternatives. “80% of users are oversubscribed to their plans, by about $20 a month,” say the company’s founders. That means you can save more than $200 a year by putting Vera to work.

    To add icing to the cake, Validas offers its users a chance to take their savings and donate them to charity. At launch, Validas is backing the 7Bar Foundation, a microfinance organization that helps women worldwide. A donation is as easy as a one button click.

    Vera’s official launch is on November 14th, with a special fashion show at the United Nations.

  • Kid’s Android Tablets Invasion

    What’s $150, looks just like mom and dad’s version, and will be flying off the shelves this holiday season?

    Answer – Tablet PCs made just for the kids. In time for the holidays, there are now more than 15 different kid-centric tablets. Tablets, like doctor’s kits or toy vacuum cleaners, are aimed at kids who like to play grown-up. They’re also aimed at the parents weary of sharing their iPads and phones, and anxious for their kids to learning, exploring and communicating.

     So what defines this new group of tablets for kids..?

    • They’re all based on Android 4.0.
    • They all offer internet connectivity via built-in WiFi.
    • They all have a camera.
    • They’re all in the $150 range.
    • They all have been made extra durable with protective glass on their 7-inch screens.
    • They all come pre-populated with content: mostly books and games, and much of it free content, with quality quite varied.
    • They all have some form of parental controls built-in.

    On the downside, these devices are all going to require some parental involvement and for some parents, learning a new tablet may be too much to bear. And parents who want book-centric experiences for kids may opt for the Amazon Kindle or B&N Nook. My guess is that by next year at this time, only the best in kids tablets will survive.

    While there are a good variety of kid-tablets out there – Kurio7, Nabi, Inno, LeapPad – here are a few of the latest:

    Tabeo: ToysRUs thinks tablets will be so important this holiday that they launched their own custom tablet this past September. Parental support, preloaded apps and a sturdily-designed 7-inch capacitive multi-touch TFT LCD screen are the hallmarks of Tabeo. Pre-loaded with 50 apps, including Angry Birds, Freddie Fish, and Cut the Rug, with more than 7,000 additional apps available to download for free from the Tabeo App Store. Be prepared to get some ToysRUs marketing materials (invitations to watch upcoming best selling toys, etc) distributed via the Tabeo. The guts of the machine include Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), a built-in speaker, microphone, G-sensor and front-facing camera.

    Early reviews are mixed, with the worst complaints including overheating, short battery life and ease of use issues.

    Meep: This is a Halloween-colored tablet from Oregon Scientific. One of its big differentiators it that parents get to keep virtual coins stocked up, and kids redeem the coins to download software. Future plans include accessories like musical instruments that plug into Meep.

    Early reviews have praised the ease of use, but complained about the unit freezing and lag times.

    Lexibook: Lexibook, headquartered in Paris, has a full line of tablet products, not just one. There’s something specific to each age group: 3-6, 6-10, 10-12, and 12 and up, both in hardware and software functionality. This makes Lexibook the most targeted of the bunch.  Learning curriculum as well as entertainment like video and music are included as part of the out of box experience. Plenty of educational curriculums are included, though it’s fairly basic, worksheet kind of stuff. More grown-up software like Spotify and Angry Birds are available on the Lexibook store.

    Most of the customer reviews were from the UK, but many felt the company had to make the tablet easier to scroll and make the content more accessible to English speakers.

  • CEA Executive Board Elects Three New Members to CEA Foundation Board of Trustees

    10/19/2012| 03:29pm US/Eastern

    CEA Executive Board Elects Three New Members to CEA Foundation Board of Trustees

    Arlington, VA - 10/19/2012 - The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® Executive Board elected Bruce Borenstein, president and CEO of Voxlinc LLC, Julie Kearney, vice president of regulatory affairs for CEA, and Robin Raskin, founder of Living in Digital Times to the CEA Foundation Board of Trustees on Tuesday, October 16. The election took place during the association’s Industry Forum in San Francisco, California, where all current Foundation Board of Trustees members were also reelected.
    “Since its official founding in June, the CEA Foundation is working hard to provide seniors and people with disabilities with technologies to enhance their lives,” said John Shalam, founder of VOXX International Corporation (formerly Audiovox) and chairman of the CEA Foundation. “With extensive backgrounds in the consumer technology industry, Bruce, Julie and Robin will expand leadership across the board and open doors to new opportunities for this charitable organization.”
    The CEA Foundation is a charitable foundation affiliated with the Consumer Electronics Association. The foundation’s mission is to bring their considerable resources and access to technology to those who would otherwise never get to use it. The leadership of the CEA Foundation includes Shalam as chairman, Larry Richenstein as vice chairman, and Veronica O’Connell as secretary and treasurer.

    Bruce Borenstein  is president and CEO of Voxlinc LLC, the selling arm of Voxtech LTD of Shenzen China. Borenstein has over 30 years of experience in the consumer electronics and technology businesses and is currently responsible for global revenue generation for one of Voxlinc’s brands.
    Julie Kearney is vice president of regulatory affairs for CEA. Kearney represents CEA’s more than 2,000 member companies before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other government agencies.

    In 2008, Robin Raskin founded Living in Digital Times, a company that produces numerous lifestyle exhibits and conferences including many at the International CES ®, the world’s most important technology event, owned and produced by CEA.
    Previously elected CEA Foundation Board of Trustees members who will continue service include the following:

    • John Shalam, chairman and founder, VOXX International Corporation
    • Larry Richenstein, president and founder, Unwired Technology
    • Veronica O’Connell, vice president, congressional affairs, CEA
    • Shawn DuBravac, chief economist and senior director of research, CEA
    • Stan Glasgow, chairman (retired), Sony Electronics
    • John Godfrey, vice president, government and public affairs, Samsung
    • Robert Heiblim, principal, BlueSalve
    • Loyd Ivey, chairman and CEO, Mitek Electronics and Communications
    • David Rodarte, president and COO, NuVo Technologies
    • Paul Sabbah, president, Stamford International
    • George Stepancich, CEO, Invisionate, LLC
    • John Taylor, vice president, LG Electronics

    The CEA foundation is currently launching its first series of grants to support its mission. More information will be available on the organization’s website, coming soon.Those interested in contacting CEA about its foundation should contact Tara Dunion at tdunion@ce.org or 703-907-7419.

     

    About CEA

    About CEA Foundation: The CEA Foundation is a charitable supporting organization of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). It was established with the mission to link seniors and people with disabilities with technologies to enhance their lives. The Foundation is launching its first series of grants to support its mission in 2012. For more information on the CEA Foundation please visit www.ceafoundation.org

     
  • You Can’t Eat ‘Em But You Can Buy ‘Em: Halloween Apps

    Not too sure how the kids would feel if you coughed up an app instead of candy, but these might grab their fancy and not be bad for their teeth.

    Oceanhouse Media’s Halloween offering: In Trick or Treat PictureMe, parents add their child’s photo to this personalized omBook and see them dressed up in adorable Halloween costumes such as a silly scarecrow, pudgy pumpkin and playful tiger.

    The Dr. Seuss classic What Was I Scared Of? delivers a message about fear and tolerance as a character is repeatedly frightened by an empty pair of pale-green pants, only to learn that the pants are just as afraid of him.

    The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin tells a story of tolerance and self-acceptance as a very unique pumpkin shows that being different can sometimes save the day.

    The Berenstain Bears Go on a Ghost Walk has Papa Bear in charge of the Bear Country School’s Ghost Walk, where he quickly learns that one bear’s fun is another bear’s nightmare.

    In The Witch With No Name, a witch searches for her name using a special crystal ball that calls for potion ingredients like the smell of a moldy sock and a giant nose hair. Makes good use of the compass, camera, gyroscope, and microphone in an amazing and unique way that is different than any e-book out there. 

    Lego Halloween Creationary: In this entertaining guessing game, you earn points as you watch Halloween themed Lego creations unfold. The time keeps you on your toes and the items include creatures, costumes and more. One of the best parts is that this app is free!

    Wanderful Story Book’s “Harry and the Haunted House: Originally written by Mark Schlichting for the revolutionary Living Books series, “Harry and the Haunted House” stars a cast of kids with overactive imaginations. As they attempt to retrieve a lost baseball from a spooky house, kids experience delightful animation and an engaging reading experience.   

  • Internet: Opiate of the People?

    Marx blamed religion. Nancy Reagan blamed drugs. But the opiate du jour is the Internet. So check your dopamine at the screen. Two important trends are emerging as Internet behavior continues to go under the microscope.

    First. We over-share because we experience chemical changes in the brain from doing it. Like sex, junk food or any other craving, our dopamine systems are busy at work, getting jazzed for the hunt.

    Next, and the newer finding is that the most seductive information is the stuff doled out in smaller bites presented randomly. Tailor-made for Facebook and Twitter are those small shots of “you never know what you’re going to find” information. Couple it with the Pavlovian bell that lets you know something new is waiting and you’re hooked. The taste of the unpredictable make us want more. Just like our hunter/gatherer forbearers, we’re on the hunt – just for a different sort of prey.  

    And it’s not just hunting: putting yourself out there for discovery is a mind trip too. At Harvard, research findings indicate that disclosing information about yourself on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram and Pinterest activates the same sensation of pleasure. Self-disclosure, they say, is self-rewarding.

    The culprit is a neurotransmitter: dopamine. Dopamine was “discovered” in 1958 by Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Ake Hillarp at the National Heart Institute of Sweden. Dopamine release is involved in all sorts of brain activities – including mood, attention, motivation, seeking and reward.

    Originally, the thinking was that dopamine release was the reward; new research shows that dopamine actually plays part in getting you juiced up to seek reward. Now researchers report that hedonistic dopamine gets as turned on just as much by abstract concepts as it does by sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

    Further, if you remember your Skinnerian psychology, variable schedules of reinforcement – the unexpected doses are more gratifying that regularly scheduled doses, whatever the hunt. Our emails, twitters and Facebook posts and notifications are gratifying because we never know exactly when they’ll show up.

    By checking our communications, we’re constantly stimulating our dopamine systems. Twitter, with its haiku like 140 characters, gets you highest of all if you believe the “short bursts of pleasure on a variable schedule” to its core. A retweet is truly orgasmic.

    Dopamine systems have historically remained in check for all but the most addictive personalities. With a 24×7 diet of information, today’s seekers may need and require more to be sated.

  • A Bright Future for the High Tech Death Market

    Death is on our minds, in part because the demographics are moving towards an aging population, and in part because dying is one really expensive process. In a $17 billion dollar a year business, memorializing and burial were among the sacred bastions untouched by technology. But the afterlife has begun.

     .RIP?

    .RIP is  the new TLD (Top Level Domain name) up for approval before ICANN, the committee that doles out TLDs. Whether people scoop it up to memorialize the dead or complain about .RIP-offs remains to be seen, but the name is likely to be there for the taking sometime early next year and created with the idea of a memorial web domain.

    DIY DEATH

    In the age of on-line planning for everything, death can’t escape. Control freaks can spell out their wishes on FinalFling,  an online safety deposit box where you can lay out your personal plan and make your accomplishments in this life abundantly known. From  choosing music to recitations, the site provides a playlist guide for your big day.

    COSTCO CASKETS

    The death business has lots of costs that add up quickly. From coffins and urns to acknowledgement notes, from body preparation to hearse rentals, it’s traditionally not been an industry where price shopping is encouraged. Now, sites like eFuneral are offering a shopping list of funeral services along with a place to put out your competitive bid for funeral services. The site caters to funeral planners including families, hospice workers, and the funeral parlor industry itself. Like a dating service, consumers are able to submit requirements, specify a price range, and await a bid. Discount coupons for everything from flowers to coffins await. The service, like many similar online services, is free for consumers with a variety of pricing plans for businesses.

    FuneralOne, another online planning service, suggests that 1/4 of all funerals will be planned online in the next 5 years. The site targets funeral homes, offering them services like online tributes, webcasting, social media, online memorial services and more, providing a technology infusion for burial services. Eventbywire offers parlors as well as individuals webcasting and online tributes. Both acknowledge that their businesses are rapidly growing.

    Costco, as many of your might know, now offers a variety of caskets you can order online, though the pricing seems similar to most funeral parlors.

    For activists looking for the latest information on funerals, there’s Funerals.org. Did you know that NY is one of the few states that does not let you serve as your own funeral director, and that some states outlaw retail sales of caskets?

    OPEN FOR VISITORS

    Not only has the funeral gone high tech, so has the aftercare. QR codes etched into headstones are available in England from QR-Memories, and from Philadelphia company Digital Legacys. Snap on the QR code and your smartphone is immediately transported to the loved ones online memorial.

    The technology may even add a new dimension to cemetery destination travel.  In England, “a future of burials reliant on mobile video and projection” are being tested. The Future Cemetery Project they’re studying “uses an immersive, interactive, multi-media audience experience to engage heritage site cemetery visitors with the UK’s dynamic cultural past.”

    We all know that death is in the future. Just over a month ago, we buried my father. In our moment of intense grief and pain, our family had to reckon with the after-death equivalent of shopping at Tiffanys. All told, burying Dad cost us about $15,000, no technology included.

    The upside of death tech – price choice, more ways to memorialize, and more ongoing tributes. The downside? Just one more thing to have put on the to-do list. 

  • ReadWriteWeb’s Buying a Mobile Phone in Six Easy Steps

    From dispelling the myth of the perfect phone to deciphering hardware specs, from looking at the apps running on each of the platforms to establishing which carrier is best in your area, ReadWriteWeb gets a gold star for this easy to use series.

  • 3D Printing: Why Does this One Differ From All Others?

    By now, you’re either living under a rock or you’ve seen the plastic trinkets being churned out by the many hot new 3D printers on the market. I attended this year’s Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. It may have been the largest gathering of 3D printer aficionados yet. The MakerFaire brings makers – people who like to tinker, do it themselves, and play with all sorts of materials from compost to fiber optics – together in one place.

    Following in the footsteps of nascent markets including PCs and mobile phones, the 3D printer world is overflowing. This year it’s not enough to simply be able to do 3D – you’re going to have to do it well and begin differentiating your product from the others. According to John Arabella, the chief of the 3D Print Village at the Maker Faire, the 3D Print Village has grown from 15 enthusiasts when it first began to more than triple that size in 2012.

    Printers will begin to fall into different categories based on a variety of characteristics. Most 3D printers use a plastic composite material (it comes in a string-form) which is heated to melting and is used to “print” the object. The object is designed using a CAD drawing that is sent to the printer.

    What makes one 3D printer different than another?

    Price: You can find 3D printers for beginners for prices as low as $350. It goes up from there but $1500 – $2000 is the average range for a printer that might have cost $10,000 just a few years ago.

    Resolution: The fineness of the detail, the higher the resolution, the more closely the layers are painted on, making the final product more smooth and precise.

    Build Volume: The size of the object you can build with a printer varies from little game pieces and jewelry to large prototype designs for buildings or cars.

    Open Source vs. Proprietary Software: Most of the printers come with a software design program.

    Speed of Printer: How quickly can the printer lay down layer after layer of material.

    Type and cost of filament: The filament is the plastic/resinous compound that is used to build the objects. Some printers offer their own filaments specially made for their printers; others use off the shelf filaments. These vary in what they’re made of but it’s usually a polymer of some sort that can be heated to melting and then quickly hardened.  

    Here are a few noteworthy candidates…

    Best To-Market Story: MakerBot Replicator 2: The darling of MakerFaire, this 3D printer requires no assembly by you, but it’s manufactured  in Brooklyn. As a matter of fact, the company just opened a retail store in Noho that sells the printers, supplies and made objects. I saw Pettis and Chris Anderson address an adoring crowd at MakerFaire. They made a persuasive argument for local manufacturing and for the maker spirit. The latest version of the Makerbot printer costs just over $2,000 but unlike predecessors it’s designed to be up and running “out of the box”,  which will appeal to makers who prefer not growing their own machines (BTW, this is similar to the old PC mentality when PC makers wore badges of honor for building their own PCs; then Apple got smart and started shipping ready-to-wear). The MakerBot filament is made from corn, and according to the manufacturer, the objects are less likely to expand, crack or grow rough once built. And the Replicator 2 was built to look sleek and professional, touting a 100 micron resolution, which is about the thickness of a sheet of paper.

    For a bit less money and more portability look at the $1500 Afinia. They lack some of the panache but seem like a thoughtful design.

    Kickstart Darling: Form1 managed to achieve their KickStart goal in a single day. They are the current talk of the town. Form1 uses a technique called stereolithography, which uses lasers to draw on the surface of a  liquid resin that hardens one layer at a time.  The company says that this allows it to achieve even higher resolutions and smoother designs.

    DIY Award: Mendel RepRap is named after the geneticist and is the grand-daddy of many commercial 3D printers. It’s all open source. It’s all

     
    open source, and you can buy the parts to make your own printer that can cost as little as $500. Ultimaker also caters to the DIY crowd, selling kits and consumbales.

    Back-To-School: For only $399 you can get the new Printrbot jr. At just over six pounds, the Printrbot folds into a smaller package which makes it great for schools.

    Tree Huggers Delight: For those tired of looking at plastic doodads, Laywood d3 is a filament that looks like wood. It’s made from 40% wood and 60% binding polymers. The finished product looks and feels like wood.

    Community: Cube, a $1300 printer, lets you download print plans from a shared store and upload objects for sale, creating a community of 3D engaged individuals. The Cubify Invent software is easy to use, making this a good starter system. And the printer is WiFi enabled – no need to attach your PC manually.

    Noticeable Omissions? EPSON, HP and Canon have remained mum about 3D printing plans. Are they behind the times or readying their salvo?

    To keep up on the 3D printing scene, head over to www.3ders.org and read about the nearly 75 printing companies at MakerFaire.

Living in Digital Times Focuses on Technology for Life's Transitions