Automotive Market to Fuel Apps and App Stores [GigaOM]

idriveThe automotive industry is fertile soil for the kind of apps that have revolutionized the mobile space over the last year, according to a report released today from iSuppli. The appeal of in-car applications is easy to see. Drivers could use such offerings for navigation purposes and location-aware services, while passengers could pass the time with casual games or other entertainment genres. And as we become increasingly connected, we’re likely to see a host of other gadgets and platforms embrace such models, from TVs to dedicated portable music players and gaming devices.

A handful of companies showcased auto-application initiatives at last month’s Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany: BMW demonstrated a new app store that delivers offerings directly to the vehicle or via a PC; Nokia unveiled a solution that integrates a smartphone with the car’s in-dash computer systems; and Parrot is developing an Android-based device that offers “automotive implementation of all smartphone features.”

But I think the key to success in the era of the app store will be interoperability. Consumers won’t want to establish accounts at multiple app stores and shop at device-specific outlets every time they want to check out the latest offerings, which is why I think Nokia and Parrot have the right idea — and why BMW is moving down the wrong path with its own branded app store. The smartphone won’t necessarily have to serve as the hub of any scenario where consumers use apps across a bunch of different devices, but it should serve as a kind of vehicle for apps, enabling users to access them from multiple platforms in different ways. BMW would be wise to partner with a mobile player — or at least a player like Amazon or Facebook looking to enter the app-store space — as applications move well beyond smartphones.

Snow Leopard Bug Deleting Entire User Accounts [Data Loss]

Tech news site ITWire reports that a reproducible bug related to guest accounts in Snow Leopard is deleting entire user account data. That's a very bad thing. From ITWire, here's what's happening:

According to multiple topics on the Apple Support discussion boards, the problem can occur when a user logs into their Mac's Guest account — whether by accident or on purpose — and then tries to log back into their regular account.

In some cases, users have reported finding their regular account empty of data, as though it were a brand new account.

The current workaround: disable the Guest account. Apple isn't offering any response to this yet, and details are slim, but just to be safe, you may want to at the very least steer clear of your guest account for the time being. [ITWire via Neowin]

StackOverflow Shares its Mojo: White Label Q&A for All

stackexchange_stackoverflow_oct09.jpgAt this point, most programmers have already heard about StackOverflow. First started last year by celebrity coders Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood, coding Q&A site StackOverflow crowdsources programming solutions for all to see. The site is popular for its Digg-like voting interface, clean design and, of course, its useful information. The duo has since begun licensing the software behind StackOverflow to provide companies with customizable Q&A forums on a number of topics.


stackexchange_stackoverflow_oct09a.jpgWhen ReadWriteWeb last covered StackOverflow in January, the company was planning to produce a spin-off site for IT professionals. The group has since launched StackExchange: a white-label service that allows users to create Q&A forums on topics of their choice. Some of the existing StackExchange sites include SharePoint Overflow, Math Overflow and Epic Advice for World of Warcraft players. Because the company allows users to rebrand the tool, override style sheets and insert HTML, forum owners can insert advertisements and generate their own revenue. StackExchange then takes care of your site infrastructure and hosting. For small communities with 1 million monthly viewers or less, the service is available for $129 per month. For those with higher-traffic sites, the service costs between $1000 and $2500 per month.

Last month Wikia CEO Gil Penchina spoke to ReadWriteWeb about the revenue potential of enthusiast sites. If you already have a dedicated niche community, StackExchange may be a good add-on solution for you. While there are only a few gaming, parenting and language-specific white-label communities, there's plenty of room for fan site expansions. Can someone say Vulcan trivia site? To check out StackExchange, visit


Hey Chicken Little, The Cloud Is Not Falling

chicken little(the sky is falling)We sure are hearing the chickens running around in a panic about the dangers of cloud computing following the massive data loss involving T-Mobile Sidekick customers. And, as usual, the cacophony sounds more like a bunch of pundits ruminating about the great dangers that may be ahead instead of the reality at hand.

The problem is - most of them are making zero distinction about what constitutes a cloud computing service.The Sidekick disaster was not the result of a cloud disaster. It was a centralized data center that had poor oversight.


DevCentral clears things up with their distinction between cloud services and applications.

A "cloud service" is used by IT, by developers, by the technical community at large. What consumers access is an application, and nothing more. They aren't the user of the cloud service, they are the consumer of an application deployed in a cloud environment. Google Docs is an application. Gmail is an application. Twitter is an application. None of these are "cloud" services, even when using APIs designed to integrate them with other applications; they are still, always and forever, applications.

We do not question the severity of what happened to Sidekick customers. It looks like about 1 million people are affected. They lost it all. Pictures, calendars and a whole host of information.

These customers had no choice about what happened. They relied on T-Mobile. And T-Mobile relied on Microsoft/Danger for storing the data. This was not a cloud catastrophe. Update: Hitachi Datasystems is now being fingered as the source of the problem.

But since we are on the topic, there are some basic lessons that can be learned about what to think about when working with a cloud service provider. This is not a complete list. Feel free to add your own pieces of advice.

Lesson #1

If you are storing your data in the cloud for your customers to access, you better know if the company you hired is actually the one managing your data. If your vendor is outsourcing your data to another provider it could be a recipe for trouble.

Lesson #2

Know who you are working with and make sure there will be no surprises. Sofftware-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers who don't keep customers posted about changes or upgrades can be real trouble makers. All kinds of mix ups can occur. A SaaS vendor recently pulled this one on its users. Customers had no idea about the upgrade. They had no control.

Lesson #3

Make sure your provider has safety valves in place. How is the data backed up? Let's say, again, that the SaaS provider does an upgrade but there's a nasty bug fouling things up. If the cloud configuration has a safety valve in place then the customer can mitigate the issue pretty easily

Lesson #4

Don't use just one cloud service provider. Security experts make the point that you don't put all your eggs in one basket. Look at multiple cloud service providers so if there are issues, damage is limited.

Perhaps, overall, the greatest lesson out of the Sidekick disaster has nothing to do with the cloud at all but more so about the applications that people use in the enterprise. Facebook? Twitter? Those are applications that may be more troublesome than cloud computing services due to their vulnerability to attack and lack of control over the data.


So, Tweetie 2 Is Awesome. What’s Next?

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 1.14.22 PMAs we noted on Friday, Tweetie 2, the new iPhone Twitter client by Atebits, launched in the App Store. We did a preview of it a few weeks ago, noting that it was the best Twitter client out there. Judging from the response on Twitter and elsewhere, most seem to agree. So what’s next?

Atebits has a short post today outlining what we can expect from them coming up. First and foremost are all the small bug fixes for Tweetie 2. Noting that despite the name, Tweetie 2 is a 1.0 release, developer Loren Brichter says the bugs will be fixed “soon.” But the bigger story is what he wants to squeeze into the next release of Tweetie:

  • New-style retweets
  • Per-tweet geotagging
  • Lists

Of course, all of those are contingent upon Twitter having the APIs for those features ready to go. But the Geolocation API, for example, is already partially deployed and should be a go soon. Brichter notes that Tweetie 2 was built to take advantage of all of these new features, and we saw that the other week when geolocation unexpectedly went live and tagged everyone’s tweets just off the coast of Africa.

Both the Retweet and Lists features are also currently being tested and tweaked as they near launch.

We also know that Atebits is preparing a new version of its Tweetie for Mac client, that will sync with Tweetie 2. And in his blog post, Brichter hints at another project he’s been working on not related to Tweetie. “Oh, and I haven’t been all Tweetie all the time, there is this other thing… stay tuned,” he writes.

In terms of how well Tweetie 2 is actually doing post-launch, Brichter declined to comment on specifics, but noted that it was the “#1 Top Grossing app in less than 24 hours, and currently #2 Top Paid overall.  Pretty frickin’ insane,” he wrote to us in an email.

Update: Oh yes, and I have asked Brichter about the all-important Push Notification functionality. I will update when I hear back, but it is coming at some point. For now, try Boxcar.

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German Chancellor Tells Google: “You Can’t Just Go Around Scanning Books”

google_germany_flag_logo.pngOn Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel used her weekly video podcast to attack Google and the Google Book Settlement. According to Merkel, the Google Book Settlement disregards international copyright laws. Merkel, who mostly focuses on the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair in her rather anemic video, also stressed that Germany will do its best to protect German authors against what the government considers to be blatant copyright infringement. Both Germany and France filed complaints against the Google Book settlement last month.


"The Internet Should Not Be Exempt From Copyright Laws"

According to Merkel, the German government wants to protect its authors. Google, according to Merkel, is "just scanning books without any regard to copyright law," and "the Internet should not be exempt from copyright laws," she also adds.

In this context, it is important to note that Germany has always been extremely protective of books as a cultural product. Book retailers, for example, have to sell all new books at a set price and can only discount older or damaged books under a limited set of circumstances. It's currently not clear if these price-fixing rules also apply to eBooks.

"eBooks Won't Replace Traditional Books"

merkel_small_library.jpgMerkel also stressed that she doesn't believe that eBooks will ever replace traditional books  - though she does mention that 'new' technologies like audio books have changed the book market over the last few years.

Google Books and the Google Book Settlement have obviously been mired in controversy from the beginning. Just last week, Google's Sergey Brin defended the project in an op-ed piece in the New York Times. The Google Book Settlement is currently on hold, and Google has until November to present a revised version of its plan.


Online Audiences Demand Paranormal Activity Into Theaters [NewTeeVee]

Halloween is here, which means that it’s scary movie season — otherwise known as the only time a year I’ll willingly sit through a horror flick, because I get scared EASY. But when I do watch them, I definitely prefer the theatrical experience, because it’s gonna be a long long time before at-home technology can capture the magic of sitting in the dark with a hundred other terrified people.

It’s that experience which is the key to Paramount Pictures’s release of Paranormal Activity, a DV horror film with no stars, no budget, and some of the year’s biggest scares. Directed by Oren Peli and released by Paramount Pictures, the film has been gathering Blair Witch Project-esque buzz for a while now, thanks to two years of test screenings and a limited release schedule driven by intrigued fans like myself, who were able to literally demand the film be distributed widely.

The start-up Eventful used the pre-release buzz for the official website, where visitors could hit a Demand button on the front page — if the site received 1,000,000 million Demands, the film would receive a wide release. When I voted on Friday afternoon, the tally was approximately at 930,000 (I couldn’t actually tell for sure, because of how fast the numbers were flying upwards) and it was cool to see it tip over 1,000,000 shortly afterwards. The film will go national on October 16.

This weekend, Paranormal earned $7.1 million playing on 160 screens, setting a major record for a limited release. All that with only a $2 million advertising budget, according to the LA Times.

There’s some irony to the fact that people are turning online to request a theatrical experience, but it works in conjunction with the official trailer (embedded above). For the trailer doesn’t get into plot, doesn’t tell you about the actors — it just shows audiences reacting in terror to an unsettling and scary set of images, with plenty of people physically shaken by what’s happening.

Speaking from my own experience, yeah, it’s a slow build, but it really is that scary. And maybe it would have been just as terrifying in my own home on my own TV, but when I see a horror movie, I prefer to know that I’m not the only one scared to death.

The Founder Institute’s Adeo Ressi on his plans to leave no entrepreneur behind

adeo-ressiAdeo Ressi is best known as the founding member of TheFunded, the site where entrepreneurs can rate venture capitalists. Earlier this year, he got into the startup training business, with the launch of the Founder Institute. It’s not just a clone of better-known incubator Y Combinator. Ressi targets founders far earlier in the process, before they’ve even come up with an idea, and the Institute also introduced a new funding model, where investors in one company actually get shares in all the companies.

The Founders Institute just graduated its first class, with 66 people creating 54 companies — that’s more than any incubator I know of. I interviewed Ressi about the institute, his methods for predicting startup success, and about his plans to expand The Founders Institute geographically.

VentureBeat: Where did the idea for The Founder Institute come from?

Adeo Ressi: TheFunded takes about 200 CEO applications per day and as many as 80 or 90 percent of those applications are not really qualified to be contributing members of the community. They have a badly formed business or they’re not very sophisticated. So, I was looking for ways to help CEOs build better businesses — you know, I was thinking of making TheFunded Lite, which would be the lower-end version of the site, for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

I realized that’s not only denigrating, but I’m not sure that it would really be helpful. I thought, what you really need to do is have a training program to help these founders build better companies. That got me thinking, well, how do you build a world-class training program? Thinking through that led to The Founders Institute.

VB: How close do you feel you came to achieving your goals for the first class?

AR: Well, the vision of the whole institute is to launch 1,000 companies a year. I set out with a macroeconomic goal, which was to help get us out of recession and go back to innovation by forming hundreds of companies in different geographies. Of course, when you model it out, you have to assume failure. You have to assume that not everyone who applies will get in, and you have to assume some people who get in won’t graduate, and you have to assume some people who graduate will fail. The model calls for maybe two companies out of 50 being wildly successful.

What’s interesting is, my whole mindset shifted when the sessions started. The rallying cry of the whole program is now, “Leave no founder behind!” If you go into the program assuming a failure rate, it would be like teaching a high school class and saying, “Well, you know a lot of my kids are going to be drug addicts. I can’t do anything about it.” You want to enter with belief and the vision that 100 percent will be successful. My view is, I will not stop at anything until 100 percent of everyone who finishes the program is successful. I don’t see failure as an option or an acceptable outcome.

VB: Well, how do you go about implementing that belief?

AR: This is one of the most interesting things. I’m a firm believer in testing, and not standardized testing in the classic sense. I had a researcher develop a blended personality, aptitude, and intelligence quotient test. It’s in five parts and each part tests all three of the desired metrics. It takes candidates about an hour to finish. All of the applicants had to take the test.

With this test, with greater accuracy than 95 percent of published social science research, we can predict the following two things: First, the quality of the idea that you will develop in the program — we don’t actually ask you for the idea when you apply, because everybody knows as an entrepreneur, your idea will change. And the second thing is how you will perform at building your business during the four months of the program, which we think is a proxy for how you will perform building your business. Some famous entrepreneurs have asked me to take the test.

VB: Wait, so how do you quantify idea quality? Or success at building a business?

AR: We tried to measure idea quality and of course performance, objectively, using a numeric scale. I’ll give you simple example. A few people dropped out of the course, so on course performance they got a 1. Idea quality and course performance are managed on objective metrics, and then we correlated those with the test results.

What this means, Anthony, is dramatic. There’s some early data that suggests there can be a test that can predict your success as an entrepreneur — not with certainty, of course. There’s always the unknown factors, like running into an investor who screws you. But it appears that a test can, in fact, identify the key traits and characteristics that may make you a successful entrepreneur.

We can find people who may be stuck in a day job at Pfizer or Microsoft or Apple or Google, and we can tell them, “You have the propensity to come up with a great business idea, and you have the great stamina and fortitude to build an entrepreneurial business.” I think we can do this today, and I think within a few years’ time, we’ll be able to additionally measure probability of building a successful business. But to be able to find the people who really could be great entrepreneurs, but are not, is astounding. That has a profound impact to investment strategy, and it has a profound impact on economic development.

I want or one or two more classes to validate the model and then we’ll talk about it more publicly. It’s potentially game-changing.

VB: Can you be specific about what kind of success you’ve seen so far?

AR: Seventy-nine founders entered the program and 66 people graduated, with a total of 54 companies between them.

So we lost a bunch of founders because of life circumstances — people got transferred or moved. There were some other reasons that we lost founders. A couple of them did not want to join the bonus pool and participate in the shared equity upside, and we don’t make that mandatory, you just drop out of the program. We lost, interestingly enough, a few founders couldn’t really develop a fleshed-out idea. If you really didn’t have an idea for a business at the end of the program, we didn’t feel it was fair for the founder to graduate.

VB: And you’re launching a new program in San Diego?

AR: I went down to San Diego; we had an informational meeting there. About 100 founders showed up, and so we’re going to launch the application process tomorrow. [Since the interview, the San Diego institute started accepting applications, as has a program in Washington DC.]

By the end of 2009, we are looking at least three more locations and as many as six. Since the goal was to launch a thousand businesses a year, the only way to do that is to be in multiple locations. And since the first semester was so successful with the graduation rates, the quality of the founders, the quality of the experience, we really wanted to strike while the iron’s hot.

Plus, we’re in the middle of a horrific downturn and it truly is a great time to start companies, because they will hopefully bear fruit as the economic conditions improve. As the economy gets better, these companies will grow.

Easy Projects.NET Adds Interactive Gantt Charts [WebWorkerDaily]

Easy Projects.NET, a project management web app that Darrell liked when he reviewed it a couple of months ago, has added improved Gantt charting functionality. The new full-screen “Interactive Gantt” interface is reminiscent of desktop PM apps like Microsoft Project and should make it easier to track project progress. It should also make it much faster to create and edit tasks on the fly, with drag-and-drop task scheduling, resource planning and activity assignments.

It’s good to see a web app vendor taking a step in this direction and making its tool more suitable for “serious” PM work. Most project management web apps don’t have decent Gantt charting; it’s one of the reasons why I still prefer Microsoft Project for planning, and why many project management professionals say that most PM web apps are not really project management tools at all.

Gantt chartIf you’d like to try Easy Projects.NET Interactive Gantt charts, a 15-day free trial is available.

Have you tried Easy Projects.NET? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

The Best Way to Search for an Old Post on Lifehacker [Reader Guide To Lifehacker]

We frequently get emails from readers having trouble finding an old post on Lifehacker. They've tried the site's search box but still aren't having any luck. It's not you, it's us. There's a better way.

Unfortunately Lifehacker's search doesn't always do the job of turning up content as well as it should, so when you're having trouble finding what you're looking for, turn your query over to the people who do search best.

That's right, Google. I've been writing for Lifehacker since 2005, and I never use our internal search. Instead, I use Google's site: search operator to get Google to do the searching for me. Just take the query you were planning to use with Lifehacker's search, paste it in the Google search box, and add to your terms. Google will limit its results to only Lifehacker, and the results are almost always better than Lifehacker's default search engine's results.

In fact, I use Google site: searches for almost every web site, so it's not just Lifehacker. I even use a bookmarklet to quickly perform site: searches for any site I'm visiting.

I'd love it if Lifehacker's search turned up better results on its own, but it's a lot more important to us that you can find what you're looking for, so rather than use our search engine, using Google with the site: search operator is your best bet.

For Power Sharers, Google Docs Now Lets You Share Folders And Upload In Bulk

Sharing a document online is not something many people do yet. And for those of us with our toes in the water, it is usually a one-off thing. You want to share a spreadsheet around a single event, or are working with someone outside your organization. But as you get used to it, you become more comfortable and start using Google Docs more frequently or find one or two people who really like to work that way. At least that is what Google is hoping will happen, which is why it is making it easier for power sharers to use Google Docs by sharing entire folders. You can also now bulk upload multiple documents at once, instead of doing it one by one.

Before today, you could only upload and share documents one at a time. Now you can just dump as many as you like into a shared folder and share the whole set. (See details here). I can see shared folders now becoming shared workspaces on Google Docs. It’s kind of like Dropbox in that way. Actually, I’m surprised it took Google so long to introduce such basic features. If Google Docs is going to scale across the Web, it needs to encourage each user to upload and share as many docs as possible as a regular part of their workday.

But then, maybe we weren’t quite ready for it until now. Or maybe Google wasn’t. In any case, it’s been a highly-requested feature. Let the sharing begin.

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Sorry, Sidekick users: it’s probably time to say a good-bye for good to all your contacts


After a serious server crash last week at Danger, the data services provider for the T-Mobile Sidekick smart phone, many users lost all their personal data. The Microsoft subsidiary announced Saturday it’s likely losses will not be recovered. So even if you don’t own a Sidekick yourself, don’t be surprised when multiple new groups asking for your contact information crop up on Facebook this week.

In a letter to it’s customers, T-Mobile wrote:

Based on Microsoft/Danger’s latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device - such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos - that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger. That said, our teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information.

The number of Sidekick users who have been affected has not been released, but Twitter and user support forums are abuzz with stories from those who have lost valuable data. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, who lost his contacts on his Sidekick, has been especially vocal on Twitter, starting the hash #tmobilesucks and sending out tweets calling for class-action lawsuit by T-Mobile customers.

For now, T-Mobile has halted all sales of the Sidekick. The permanent impact that the massive failure will have on T-Mobile and Danger is unknown, but web chatter suggests many customers will not be going back to the Sidekick.

The Sidekick was one of the first mobile devices to provide online backup of data - these help to protect the customer in case they lose or damage their smart phone. Many other companies have followed suit by backing up information to the cloud. This crash and resulting loss of data will hopefully be a reminder to other companies to have reliable data backups.

Sidekick users have been advised by T-Mobile to not remove the batteries or let the batteries die, because of the risk that additional information could be lost.

Chrome OS Peeks Out Its Head A Bit Further. And What Is The Touchpad?

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 10.45.00 AMPretty much every morning and every night I download the newest build of Chromium for Mac (the open source builds that will eventually turn into Chrome for Mac). While we made an auto-updater to do it for you, you can also manually find the latest builds here. This morning, I visited this site and noticed something new: A Chrome OS folder.

Sadly, this is Linux-only for the time-being, but that makes some sense since Chrome OS is Linux-based. And lest you think it’s just the Chromium for Linux build, there are already other folders dedicated to that (including a 64-bit variety), and the Chrome OS builds weigh in at 139 megabytes versus around 19 megabytes for Chromium.

Last month, we poked around some of the open source Chromium directories and were able to find some interesting information about Chrome OS. This included limited information about a status bar and a navigation bar, both of which will likely be key parts of Chrome OS. A scan today of various directories brings up even more interesting information.

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 11.48.14 AM

Here, you will find some information about the compact navigation bar (there will be a “main menu” button), there’s some sort of “clock menu button,” there is some kind of document viewer called “GView” (that will at least be able to view PDFs), there will be a network menu button, and this is all being tested on a “touchpad.”

Wait, what?

Yes, at the bottom of the page, you will see two files that reference something called “touchpad.” From the language in these files, it’s not entirely clear if this is refering to a notebook trackpad or some sort of touch tablet that Google is testing Chrome OS on. Here’s an example:

Add touchpad speed factor setting to Chrome OS touchpad settings page. Created slider widget with native gtk widget.


Make vertical edge scroll false by default. Fixed sensitivity parameter values and inverted the relationship between touch sensitivity preference and synclient parameter value.

It could go either way, but the wording on the latter makes me think that it’s just for notebook trackpads, so don’t get your hopes up about an “Apple Tablet Killer” just yet. Still, it seems reasonable that with a lot of manufacturers gettings into the tablet game again, Chrome OS will eventually work on them as well.

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 12.34.23 PM

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Notebooks vs. Netbooks: Can You Tell the Difference? [GigaOM]

Netbooks, as they were originally envisioned, may already be a dying breed. It’s all thanks to the PC industry, which, instead of innovating on what seemed like a promising form factor, has turned it into the all-too familiar notebook, except cheaper. The problem with PC makers is that they’re not terribly creative; they typically don’t invest a lot of money on innovation. And why should they? After all, they’re no different than makers of household detergents, earning pennies on the dollars. So they do one of three things:

1. Try to copy Apple (which is a good thing). 2. Try to copy each other (which is not a good thing). 3. Take design cues from either Intel or Microsoft (which is a certifiably bad idea).

So when Asus came up with a tiny netbook called EeePC, all the other PC makers followed suit. But since they couldn’t really distinguish themselves by either design, price or software, they — notably Samsung and Hewlett Packard — did the next best thing: started competing with each other on “features,” among them bigger screens, bigger keyboards, bigger hard drives and better graphics. In other words, they moved away from the very reasons the EeePC became a hit in the first place.

A few months ago, after talking to Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, I wrote a post in which I argued that netbooks were nothing but cheap laptops that would eventually pull the PC industry into a self-imposed death spiral. Many disagreed with my argument, pointing out key differences between the two devices such as memory upgrade capability and screen size.

There are, however, some new development that make my thesis about the non-existent differences between netbooks and notebooks even stronger:

  • Samsung is offering a memory upgrade (2GB) to its N310 netbook that costs $479. Microsoft doesn’t allow companies to sell netbooks with the Windows XP home edition with more than 1 GB memory, so this is Samsung’s way of getting around that restriction.
  • ASUS is readying a 12-inch version of the EeePC. It has the innards of a netbook but with more memory, better display and Windows 7. I can’t tell if this is a netbook or a notebook. Go figure.
  • Nokia is releasing its Nokia Booklet 3G, yet another product that’s going to cause further market confusion. (Gizmodo review)

Sebastian was right when he said Windows 7 was ushering in an era of profitless prosperity. We are seeing the end of the netbook as we (briefly) knew it.

Photo courtesy of Liliputting.

How to Build a DIY Digital Camera Scanner [DIY]

Instructables user DHagen was sick of feeding coins into a public copy machine, wanted quality copies, but didn't want to spend much cash to get his own photocopier or scanner, so he did what any DIYer with a digital camera would do:

He built his own DIY copy machine/scanner using less than $20 of material (mostly plexiglass and a few various nuts and bolts). After building the camera mount apparatus, DHagen details how he snaps, crops, and converts the picture to PDF, but we'd recommend skipping that hassle altogether and using a previously mentioned photo-to-document tool like Qipit, Snapter, or scanR to accomplish similar results with less work on your part.

If you've gone the DIY scanner route in the past, let's hear how happy you've been with the results in the comments.

User interfaces for AR

People intuitively understand that Augmented Reality (AR) opens the door to compelling new ways to interact with technology and our environment. Yet the AR implemented on mobile phones today (e.g., touch on a point of interest on the live video which is on the phone’s screen and get more information) is only the tip of the iceberg. It's dangerous to predict too far into the future, and there is a risk that talk about haptic (touch) interfaces and heads-up displays for AR will seem like just hype. But new ways of interacting with digital data on the real world are not hype to those who work on them.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics at Tuebingen and the Swiss Federal Polytechnical Institute in Zurich (ETHZ) are members of a worldwide community conducting studies with users to evaluate how touch and sight work together in multimodal interfaces for AR applications. These researchers are making great strides in the direction of “next generation” user interfaces, inventing devices that take advantage of increasingly powerful and sensitive sensors (one and then two cameras, Assisted GPS, 3D magnetometer, or 3D accelerometer).


In most consumer mobile AR applications released to date, AR interaction is mediated via haptics--the user touches a highlighted area of the screen to request to more information associated with an object or point on the planet.

But we perceive our environment using a combination of all senses, and researchers are developing haptic interfaces that go beyond the “touch for more info” model. Dr. Matthias Harders of the ETHZ Computer Vision Lab works on applications of AR for training surgeons. At the upcoming ISMAR 09 meeting, Drs. Benjamin Knörlein (ETHZ), Massimiliano Di Luca (Max Planck), and Harders will present the results of their ongoing research on the use of haptics and AR interfaces. Their studies show that delays for haptic feedback result in decreases in the user’s perception of “stiffness” in the interface. In contrast, visual delays (where there is a delay between the touch and the response) caused an increase in perceived stiffness. Understanding how vision and touch interact to affect the user's perception can help AR developers finetune the interface so that it accurately maps that perception.

Such studies may, one day, be helpful for designing AR training for neurosurgeons so, please, pay attention!

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Today, the information associated with a Point of Interest (POI) in a consumer AR application is frequently presented on the small screen as either text in a box or bubble, or arrows for navigation. These are easy to understand and "good enough," given the low level of accuracy and speed in today’s sensors. Their results are fine for a tourist trying to locate a subway stop, but would not be suitable for a utility crew registering the precise position of an underground electrical cable before digging.

One drawback of overlaying text or diagrams on a live video showing on a mobile phone screen is that the user must hold the device in the correct position, pointing at the target. Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs) offer a hands-free, heads-up alternative. For at least a decade, researchers in dozens of laboratories and companies have worked on the development of lighter and more reliable HMD technologies. Many research systems, systems designed for professional training applications, and military applications (e.g., night vision goggles) use HMDs.

While popular consumer applications which use HMDs are likely to be more than three years in the future, the cost is falling, performance is rising, and more applications for HMDs exist today than many realize. For example, the Academy of Art and Design at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland has developed a system called LifeClipper2 which uses a heads-up display that allows the user to experience the changes proposed for urban renewal or development projects. LifeClipper can help city officials and other stakeholders more fully understand the impact of those projects before they're actually built.

Many mobile phone AR applications require the user to hold up a mobile handset for several minutes, and that's tiring. But avoiding that fatigue isn’t the only compelling reason to explore the future of HMDs. [Note: Thanks to V-VM of Nokia Research Center for reminding me that there may be camera phones designed with the lens and screen positioned in such a way that the user would not need to hold up their arm to view the world at eye level. But then the user would be looking down, which might also be awkward when walking.]

HMDs have three other noteworthy advantages. First, in bright light conditions when a mobile-phone screen may be difficult to see, these displays remain very visible for the user. The heads-up display can even become the user’s sunglasses. Don’t you think I look chic in these shades?

Christine Perey wearing last year's model of the Nokia gaze tracking system [photo credit: Toni Järvenpää]

Second, when the display is resting on the user's ears and nose, as eyewear, their hands are free to do something else. If, however, the display is near the eye, the question of how the user selects the point of interest becomes more problematic. Scientists at the Nokia Research Center in Finland have been working on using eye gaze to point. Gaze detection and head position tracking for directing user interactions are the purpose of the device worn in the photo to the left.

Finally, although the field of view is still much less wide than that required for many AR and VR applications, an HMD can provide a more “immersive” user experience than a small handheld screen at arms length. Frequently, HMDs also have integrated ear pieces to augment the visual with sound. Using sounds (for example, 3D audio) and synthesized or natural speech for presenting information to the user is yet another area of exploration which is sure to be underway in research labs around the world.

To appreciate the full potential of new user interaction paradigms being developed for and studied with AR, a test drive is valuable. At ISMAR 09 in Orlando October 20-22, 2009, Vuzix, a manufacturer of a wide range of HMDs will be among several in the business exhibiting their latest models. As part of the research demonstrations, Nokia Research will be showing the current prototype of its gaze tracking, using hardware which is much lighter than that which was used a year earlier (shown above). A YouTube video showing how the new model might work in the future can be watched here. Microvision, another manufacturer of commercial HMDs and pico-projectors, will be participating in one of the ISMAR Workshops on October 19, 2009.

iPhone Homescreen Exposé Concept: Would you use this?

In boiling the smartphone experience down to a couple of buttons and a bunch of colorful icons, Apple has managed to nail one thing that had hindered smartphones before it: the user interface. Even after a couple of major build updates, the overall interface remains the same; one button takes you home, where all of your apps are organized page by swipe-able page. Unfortunately, this simplistic system starts to show its faults as it scales. When the group of apps you're looking for is on page nine and you're on page two, you've only really got two options: search for the specific app you want, or put some serious mileage on your swiping finger. It's like having to turn through each page of a book to get back to where you left off. A Swedish design house has come up with a solution which looks - well, it looks very Apple. We're left wondering, however: would anyone use it? Check out the video after the jump.

CrimeReports Maps Out Local Crimes [Crime]

If you want to check out a neighborhood you're planning on moving too or just want to see how things are looking in your corner of Sunnyvale, CrimeReports mashes up local police reports with map of the area.

CrimeReports will display, when data is available, a variety of crimes including homicide, breaking and entering, robbery, theft, theft of/from a vehichle, assault, and sexual offenses by default. You can also add in other crimes like kidnapping, arson, alarm responses, and proactive police activity like community policing and vehicles stops.

All of the above have color coded flags that can be easily read on the map. The flags are identified in the left hand column or by mouse click—both give you the type of crime and the location. You can also adjust the range of dates displayed to the last few days, last week, two weeks, month, or a custom date range via calendar. CrimeReports is a free service and requires no login.