Thursday, October 20, 2011

Siri poised to take Apple into search

Apple's virtual personal assistant, Siri, has led to an avalanche of buzz. Siri's ability to interpret natural language--something that other voice recognition systems just don't yet do--has won plenty of praise. And her sassy personality--yes, she seems to have a personality--has created quite a few fans.

Yet entertainment value aside, Siri is serious business; and depending on how Apple plays it, Siri gives Apple a big opportunity to go after Google's core business of search. That, at least, is the opinion of Gary Morgenthaler, a partner at the venture capital firm Morgenthaler Ventures in Menlo Park, Calif. Morgenthaler was the first investor in Siri, sat on its board until it sold to Apple in April 2010, and was on the board of voice-recognition company Nuance Communications, which provides the underlying technology for Siri.


Your phone is no assistant

You and your smartphone may be inseparable, but that doesn't mean you ought to be best friends.

That's the essential message from Andy Rubin, Google's Android chief, who spoke at the AsiaD conference this week. Not so coincidentally, he said this just days after the launch of the iPhone 4S, a chief feature of which is Siri, a voice-activated feature that Apple is billing as a "personal assistant."

"I don't believe that your phone should be an assistant," Rubin said in an interview, as reported by AllThingsD.

Rather, he said, a telephonic gadget is a tool: "You shouldn't be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone."

Apple's Siri has been the object of great fascination for many in the short time since it burst onto the scene. People have used it to sing duets, to muse on the meaning of life, and to break into a locked iPhone 4S. They've speculated about its (her) personality and whether it will ruin our civil society.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Capturing Living Pictures: Lytro’s Light Field Camera

Shooting an image in proper focus is a challenge for most budding photographers. Lytro’s revolutionary light field camera, which was officially unveiled today, aims to solve all the pain and heartache.

The Lytro camera is a light-field, or plenoptic, camera. An array of micro-lenses sits over the camera’s sensor, capturing all the light in the scene being photographed (11 million rays of light, to be precise). The Lytro then saves your image in a proprietary file format to deliver a “living picture” that you can manipulate on your computer, much like a raw file. By manipulating key attributes, you can effectively change the focus of the image. That’s right: After the image has been taken.

“There’s something about light field photography that’s just magical,” Lytro founder Ren Ng said in a previous interview with “It very much is photography as we’ve known it. It’s what we’ve always seen through cameras — we just had to fix it.”

Lytro was founded in 2006, but we first got a peep at its camera and the living pictures it produces in late June.


Bad Siri! She'll let anyone use a locked iPhone 4S

To disable Siri so it can't be used unless the device is unlocked, you turn Siri

The voice-activated feature on the new iPhone 4S will let anyone use the phone to send e-mails and text messages and make calls even if it is passcode locked, Macworld has reported.

Try it. Grab a friend's locked iPhone 4S, press the button and ask Siri to do something. I was able to send a text message, make a call and send an e-mail, all without knowing my friend's passcode. Another colleague confirmed that she could get an address and a phone number out of the phone and even see the calendar.

There is an easy fix for this situation, which was reported on by Macworld on Friday, followed by security firm Sophos today. In the Passcode Lock settings, switch Siri to "Off" (see below). This lets you continue to use the feature once your iPhone is unlocked, but keeps users from accessing these features when security is enabled.

To be clear, the phone is still locked in the sense that someone can't just grab it and make calls to any phone number by dialing. The users Siri lets in aren't able to launch apps, either. We also weren't able to send an e-mail to an address that wasn't in the contact list or to find other data for people who weren't already in the contact list.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

iPhone 4S users seeing yellowish screen tint

Some new iPhone 4S owners are saying that their screens display a yellowish tint, prompting a few of them to dub the alleged defect "yellowgate."
Posting messages at the Apple Support Forum, several of the users say that the screen looks washed out and that the whites look more yellow, especially when compared with the iPhone 4. Some say the issue is specific to the black iPhone 4S, noting that the display in the white version looks fine.

As a possible explanation, a couple of commenters said they believe the yellowish display is the result of the glue used to put the screens together not having fully cured or hardened. One poster noticed the same problem with the iPhone 4 last year and said it took about two weeks for the yellow tint to disappear.

However, a couple of other users countered the glue argument by pointing out that the screen appears washed out, which wouldn't necessarily be caused by the glue not having hardened.
Summing up the issue, one person wrote that "my 4S screen is less contrasty, and the whites are more yellow (beyond 'warm') compared to my iPhone 4 screen. The colors are less vibrant, and some are pretty washed out. I've also noticed that the screen is more directional than the 4 screen, and in some viewing angles it's more yellow, and in others it's more contrasty. I'm really hoping this is a glue issue, which could improve. I don't think I'll be able to get used to this."


Motorola announces Droid Razr

Motorola has officially announced the Droid Razr, which combines the power of the Droid branding with the iconic slimness of the Razr. Motorola says it is 7.1mm thin and is built out of Kevlar fiber and Corning Gorilla Glass, both of which contribute to the device's durability and scratch resistance. The Droid Razr also claims it has a water-repellent nanocoating.

As was leaked yesterday, the Droid Razr has a dual-core 1.2GHz processor along with support for Verizon Wireless 4G LTE. This makes it the second Verizon phone to have both these highly coveted specs--the Droid Bionic was the first. It also has a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Advanced display with qHD resolution, and the company boasts that it's the first smartphone that is capable of streaming Netflix content in HD.

It ships with Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread, 1GB of RAM, an 8-megapixel rear camera with 1080p HD video capture and image stabilization, a front-facing HD camera for video chat, 4G LTE mobile ho tspot, and remote wipe, pin lock, and government grade encryption for enterprise minded customers. The Droid Razr is one of a few phones to ship with Bluetooth 4.0, which heretofore has only been on the iPhone 4S and the Nokia N9. It has 32GB of memory--16GB on board and a preinstalled 16GB microSD card. Other features include Quickoffice for documents, Motocast for streaming or downloading media from the PC to the phone, a Smart Actions app that automates tasks and optimizes battery efficiency, and of course the Webtop application that turns the phone into a portable PC by docking it into a Lapdock 100 or HD Station.

The Motorola Droid Razr will be available for $299.99 in early November after a new two-year service agreement with Verizon Wireless. You can start to preorder the phone on October 27.


Monday, October 17, 2011

iPhone 4S: Available in-store 'by reservation only'

The iPhone 4S is now available to retail-store customers "by reservation only," an indication that the hot-selling phone is likely in short supply. Apple has asked would-be buyers to use a reservation system to request a unit the night before before heading to the company's retail stores.

The new system, picked up by MacRumors earlier today, lets buyers pick out one of Apple's 18 iPhone 4S variants, then request that the company holds the unit so they can come in to complete the purchase. The system doesn't open up each day until 9 p.m. Pacific time, with in-store pickup available the following day.

Apple employed a reservation system from the get go with last year's iPhone 4 and iPad launches. In the iPhone 4's case, that it resulted in a launch with multiple lines, whereas with the 4S launch last Friday, there was just one line and no reservations offered. With this year's iPad 2 launch, Apple moved to a similar reservation system shortly after units became scarce, suggesting the same thing's now going on with the company's new phone


RIM apps to placate for outage

Research In Motion is turning to its BlackBerry App World to try to make things right with customers who were affected by last week's BlackBerry service outage.

According to the company, BlackBerry owners will soon be able to download over $100 in free "premium" applications, which will be available through the end of the year. The applications include Sims 3, iSpeech Translator Pro, and Shazam Encore, among others. Enterprise users will also be given one month of free technical support from RIM.

In a statement, RIM said that the free apps are a token of its appreciation for customer patience.

"We are grateful to our loyal BlackBerry customers for their patience," RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said in a statement today. "We have apologized to our customers and we will work tirelessly to restore their confidence. We are taking immediate and aggressive steps to help prevent something like this from happening again."


Sunday, October 16, 2011

BlackBerry Messenger vs. Apple's iMessage

One of iOS 5's most anticipated features is iMessage, an Apple instant-messaging service that can be used only among iOS devices. This is essentially Apple's answer to BlackBerry Messenger, RIM's own internal messaging system. The idea behind both messaging services is that they don't cost anything extra and won't deduct from your text messaging plan.

BBM is for those who like the multitude of features and settings that complexity brings. However, it has quite a barrier to entry. It uses a separate app, and with that, a completely separate ecosystem from normal text messaging. You have to request contacts to be added to your list, and there are a number of ways to be added: e-mail, PIN, or bar code scanning.

iMessage, on the other hand, is built into the existing messaging structure. You won't even know you're sending an iMessage until the phone automatically detects that your recipient has it, too. The barrier to entry is thus extremely low; if you know how to text, you know how to iMessage. iMessage can also be used across all iOS devices and not just the phone; you can start a message on one and finish it on another.


From Google's Buzz to Google+

A day after announcing that Google+ has more than 40 million users, Google said that it's shutting down its previous attempt at social networking, Google Buzz.

In a blog post, Google Vice President Bradley Horowitz, one of the Google+ leaders, said the company plans to shutter Buzz "in a few weeks." He noted that Buzz users will be able to view the posts created on Buzz in their Google Profile, and download them using Google Takeout.

"Changing the world takes focus on the future, and honesty about the past," Horowitz wrote. "We learned a lot from products like Buzz and are putting that learning to work every day in our vision for products like Google+. Our users expect great things from us; today's announcements let us focus even more on giving them something truly awesome."

Google Buzz launched in February 2010. The service got off to a rocky start, with users raising concerns over privacy issues. Initially, it was difficult to make the list of a user's followers private. Those concerns led the Federal Trade Commission to press Google to agree to a "comprehensive privacy program" this past March.

Privacy issues were only one problem, though. Buzz simply never had the kind of great features that could lure enough users to make the service valuable. It certainly never threatened Facebook, the company Google, then as now, hopes to compete with in social networking. Buzz quickly faded to afterthought