Sesame Street 40+ Years Later

My kids were Sesame Street kids and they were all the better for it.  OK, Cookie Monster ate too much sugar; the Count might have been a bit scary, and Oscar did grumble a lot, but it was the one show we could watch as a family, each delighted in our own way.

This week I fast forwarded to see the future of kids television. It’s what happens when Sesame Street teams up with Microsoft Xbox Kinect. Unlike so many other Sesame Street software products, this one stays true to the spirit and looks of the characters and setting.

The live launch of Sesame Street Kinect TV.

Some of the greatest clips from the show’s 40+ year history, combined with Kinect’s imaging and augmented reality let kids literally hang out on Sesame Street, interacting with Cookie Monster, Grover, and Elmo. Because the Kinect imaging system can scan your image and place it on the screen, you find yourself live, on Sesame Street. And because Kinect can track your gestures and movement, as well as respond to voice commands,  you are anything but a passive bystander.

As you count with Elmo you might be physically tossing coconuts into their carton. Or you might be jumping to burst bubbles to learn count, swatting letters to spell a word, or dancing along to a new song.  Maria Montessori, who believed that kids are multi modal learners and learn best when all of their senses are engaged would be happy to see this programming in action.

Sesame Street understand  that kids (and their parents) needed a bit of humor and narrative to be engaged learners. Microsoft seems to understand that kids who learn with their whole bodies stand a chance at a higher understanding of a concept. All in all, a great team to tackle learning in the 21st century. When the product ships this spring, I’ll meet you on Sesame Street.


Zen and the Art of Asus

It takes guts to announce an ultrabook – the sleek format PC competitors to the MacBook Air – just a few days after the death of Apple’s Steven Jobs, but that’s exactly what Jonney Shih, Chairman of ASUS did at the launch of their new ZenBook line of laptops.

The ZenBook (ASUS UX21 and UX31) has a sweet combination of low price, sleek design, and impressive performance. And just how “sleek” is the ZenBook? Very similar to the MacBook Air: think about a PC slightly larger in surface area than an iPad, and just over half an inch at the back and only .11 inches in front. You could loose it between your Wired magazine and your kid’s school artwork.

Features like Instant On (automatically boots up your PC without wait times), Intel’s second generation Core processor (optimized for mobile devices), solid state storage, Bluetooth and USB 3.0 add some real substance to the slim lines. The company claims 10 hours of battery life in standby and the company demoed an impressive sound system powered by and Bang & Olufsen ICEpower. With a starting price of $999, the ASUS ZenBook is in the lead for the ultrabook form factor race that’s about to heat up.

In my quick feature tally of ZenBook versus MacBook Air, it was a pretty even heat. The only feature that the MacBook boasts that’s missing in the ZenBook is the backlit keyboard and MagSafe powercord (to avoid tripping on a wire and sending your light-as-air computer flying across the house).  The MacBook still uses USB 2.0 which is not as fast when recharging your connected mobile devices. Both are available in with 11 inch and 13 inch screens.


The Skinny on 3D, From a PhD

Dominick Maino, PhD, our favorite specialist in pediatric and binocular vision is presenting his newest thought on the 3D Vision Syndrome at the American Academy of Optometry this week.  The man is a fountain of knowledge about how 3D works, when it works well, and when it doesn’t.

If you’re thinking about making the leap to 3D TV, gaming, education, or even a night out at the movies, you’ve got to go through this presentation first.  If not, you need your head, not your eyes examined.


New Headsets from Plantronics Means Good Things for Busy Parents

I’m not one for walking around the streets looking like a plainclothes detective; nor do I like driving with a Bluetooth headset (it’s still distracting) but I sure like wearing Bluetooth around the house and office.  No one I’m talking to needs to know that my hands are busy cooking dinner, scrubbing floors or just clearing the desktop while we talk. I haven’t perfected the art of exercising while talking, but I’m working on it.

So it’s in the spirit of parent-dom that I looked at Plantronics new headset lineup.

Marque M155 is the lightest of the bunch offering Bluetooth earpiece that weighs only 7 grams (my internal gram converter isn’t too sharp, but this is really light on the ear).  The price is pretty light, too – only $60. The headset will take a verbal command to answer, and comes with voice instructions that pair with your smartphone.

Moving up the chain, is the new Voyager Pro HD. The Voyager line is the one with the secretary-like microphone and is the best for eliminating background noise, wind and other annoyances when you’re speaking. The coolest feature on this headset is proximity sensing. The Voyager knows when it’s near your ear versus when it’s shoved in your handbag: it turns on when it senses your ear, pauses music if you’re playing it, and shuts itself off when left on its own. You can listen to music, books, get instructions from your GPS, and pair it with multiple devices. A little too big to be a fashion accessory (some might consider this a good thing), but the Voyager Pro HD might be the most utilitarian headset ever. The Voyager Pro HD retails for $99.

And for those of you, like me, who can lose headsets as often as our keys and sunglasses, the answer might be the M20. It’s only $30 and the battery life is stellar.

The sweetest part of the deal is Plantronics new Vocalyst service, which allows you to send email and receive voice transcriptions of your emails, update Twitter and Facebook, make notes to yourself, check the weather, and dial into a conference call – all hands free.  Now if only they could install a “find me” app that would beep when I set them down somewhere.  Vocalyst is powered by Dial2Do, the first year of Vocalyst is free, after that it’s a $25 annual subscription.


Counterintuitive? HP Pushes for Print as the New Delivery Medium

The whole world is moving towards screens. Screens to read magazines, screens for textbooks, and screens for all sorts of information on the go. HP is putting their money on the old printed word in a new, broad strategy announced today.

All of the new HP printers are connected to the web and able to receive content – just like your email account, the printer has its own IP address. HP claims 10 million+ web-connected printers are on desktops already.

And HP has quietly been launching content in the form of apps – everything from Daily Read and Disney, to Leapfrog and Leadership advice in the form of print apps that can be scheduled to be sent directly to your printer.  The HP ePrint Center manages the apps online. Coupons and offers sent to your printer are also a big component of the program.

The biggest part of the announcement comes from a Conde Nast-HP agreement to send Conde Nast magazines including : Allure, Details, Epicurious, Glamour, Golf Digest, Self, and Wired right to your home printer. Stephen Nigro, Senior Vice President at the Inkjet Group, said the magazines would be printed in their entirety and be formatted to look good on your printer.

Just in case you were starting to have visions of your ink consumption going through the roof, listen up. The new HP Instant Ink pilot will let you order monthly shipments of ink – that show up whether you need them or not for $5.99 (consumer pricing).

Bucking the trend of reading on screens, HP believes that print is ever portable, enjoyable and available on demand. It’s an ambitious direction that defies current trends.  So, are you up for an inked world?


Consumers Showing Need for a Tech Slowdown?

The economic climate, a mature CE-saturated environment, and an “enough already” attitude may cause many high tech companies to rethink their strategies. We’re seeing two steps forward and one step back everywhere.

A few cases in point over the last few weeks:

Netflix: In an about face that showed NetFlix listens to its customers, the company decides not to separate its DVD and online services (and believe me, Qwikster was a poor name for a mail-delivered DVD service). The customer base has spoken. They’re not ready to get rid of DVDs yet.  Although, if you read David Pogue’s recent column you can see Netflix’s about-face hasn’t won back the hearts and minds of its members yet.

The 3D Market: Much to the dismay of TV set manufacturers, 3D has not been a catalyst for new purchases in any real quantity yet. Is 3D television going nowhere fast? Probably not, but the adoption rate is slower than the industry would like. Most people are happy they have their DVRs, BluRay and remote working. 3D glasses are not particularly sociable and there’s a dearth of content. Industry leaders like Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner and Chairman of HDNet, posts on his personal blog, “The future of 3D is not sports. A bunch of guys are not going to spend a lot of money on glasses to look goofy sitting next to each other.”

Online-only gaming systems:  SONY’s Worldwide Studios boss, Shuhei Yoshida, went on record saying that the world is not ready for an online-only delivery system. Thus the Playstation Vita, the new handheld gaming system we’ll see next, will support physical media as well. “We believe the time is still not right to go download-only as a platform”, said Yoshida. “Some PS Vita titles, like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, will be close to 4GB in size, which could be too large to download for consumers who do not have a fast broadband connection”, he said. He went on to say that some consumers like shopping in retail stores, talking to knowledgeable store clerks, and buying and playing games on the spot.

Consumers seem to be putting the breaks on jumping the next tech chasm. The economy and information overload weigh heavily into the slowdown.

KidVuz: A YouTube-Like Site Especially for Tweens

Why, you ask, isn’t there a version of YouTube that’s a bit more kid friendly? That’s what KidVuz – a video sharing site for tweens – is creating. Jennifer Wagner, a pop-culture-parenting blogger, offers a review of KidVuz.

Nearly 100% of Kids in US Play Video Games

According to a new kids and gaming study by the NPD group, video gaming popularity among kids ages two to 17 is still growing at a rapid pace with 91% of kids in the US using electronic games of some type. Equally as impressive, the market for gamers gets younger and younger with preschool gaming showing the biggest increase. KidScreen offers a deeper look at this revealing study.

It’s a Small (Mobile) World After All

Malaria, infant mortality, and maternal health are the three biggest health concerns in developing countries and their populations are often rural. What would it take to help these countries tackle their most vexing health issues? It’s going to take quite a bit, but developing countries are where the growth in the tech market will be, and many tech companies are stepping up to the plate because it makes good business sense as well as fulfills a corporate responsibility.

Intel announced its World Ahead program to assist emerging countries through the use of technology. Its latest effort, the 1Mx15 Health Program promises to bring healthcare training to one million healthcare workers through the dissemination of medical information on laptop computers. The first country targeted for the program is Sri Lanka. Mike Gan, from the World Ahead program, said that Intel’s experience with ethnographic research, as well as its open platform for content providers and equipment all contribute to the company’s interest in the program.

According to The Economist “the emerging world is enjoying the most spectacular growth in history. Its share of global GDP (at purchasing-power parity) increased from 36% in 1980 to 45% in 2008 and looks set to grow to 51% in 2014. Emerging-market consumers have been outspending the Americans since 2007; by last year their share of global consumption had gone up to 34% against America’s 27%”.

Clearly Intel seems to be on the right track with their “doing well by doing good” strategy.

Tech Geeks, Creative Types, And Their Smartphones

Some fun new data from Qumu, the internet business video platform provider, indicates that Americans think that the release of a new smartphone matters to anyone – 88% of Americans, to be precise.  Who do they think a new smartphone release – say, the amped-up new iPhone 4s being released October 14 – would matter to? Tech Geeks (69%), Teenagers (56%), Creative Types (26%), People Who Are Promiscuous (8%), and People Who Can’t Get Dates (5%). That last one’s got me.

They also had some things to say about smartphones and apps at work – 91% believe that smartphones or tablets “are at least somewhat influential in their owner’s tendency to misbehave at work”. And 76% believe that apps featuring things like pornography, social networking, and games should be banned at work. We all know the 8-hour work day doesn’t really exist as such, but banning apps at work seems a little Big Brother…