Monthly Archives: August 2011

Wacom Inkling easily converts hand drawings to vector

I saw the video below of the Wacom Inkling early this morning, so at first I wasn’t sure whether it was real or a dream. But lo, the product page remains even after a couple of coffees, so Wacom’s newest digital drawing capture device must really be a genuine pen-and-ink clipboard that captures, stores and then transfers your real-life drawings to your computer as layered vector files.

If you’ve ever used a tablet before, you’ll know that the Inkling is a pretty amazing prospect. Wacom’s drawing tablets have always tried to mimic the experience of drawing on paper, but the majority of the time you’re applying a pen to a blank plastic surface and then looking up at a screen to see what you’re drawing; it’s not anywhere near the same as sketching on paper, and it comes with a significant adjustment period. Even using the expensive Cintiq line, which lets you draw directly on a display built-in to a drawing tablet, doesn’t really feel like drawing on paper.

With the Inkling, digital drawing feels like traditional drawing because it is. The Inkling is basically an A4-sized clipboard that works with any old piece of paper you have lying around, complete with a pressure-sensitive drawing stylus that’s actually a pen. You draw on your paper clipped to the Inkling using the pen, and a detachable sensor records your strokes so that you can later upload them to your computer via USB. Tapping the sensor also creates new layers, so that you have a more flexible file to work with after import. The Inkling is wire-free and rechargeable with an estimated 8-hour battery life, so you can use it wherever you want, and the pen takes standard Mini Ballpoint refill cartridges, so there’s nothing expensive or specialized to replace.

Using Wacom Sketch Manager software that ships with the Inkling, you import your images as vector-based drawings that you can then manipulate in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, as well as Autodesk Sketchbook Pro or Sketchbook Designer. You can also save files as plain old unlayered JPG, BMP, TIFF, PNG, SVG and PDF files if you’d rather not do much advanced editing to them after upload.

If the Inkling still doesn’t impress based on my description, check out the official video from Wacom below. It pretty much guarantees, along with the relatively inexpensive $199 price tag, that I’ll be ponying up for one of these when it arrives mid-September.

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$699 with contract? Good luck, HTC Jetstream tablet

On Wednesday ATT announced the HTC Jetstream, the company’s first Google Android tablet that will support the carrier’s upcoming LTE network. Similar to other tablets running Android 3.1, the Jetstream uses a 10.1-inch display, but with a twist: The capacitive touchscreen works with the HTC Scribe digital pen accessory for note-taking and drawing.

ATT is supplementing the Jetstream with a new 3-GB data plan that costs $35 a month. Customers who agree to a two-year contract on the new plan will be able to purchase the Jetstream for $699, a subsidized price likely to put many consumers off.

To a gadget addict like myself, there’s much to like about the Jetstream on paper: a 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, support for today’s HSPA+ mobile broadband networks as well as future LTE networks, a new version of HTC Sense software for improved usability and dual camera sensors, including an 8-megapixel rear camera, to name a few key specifications.

But ATT seems to be betting on LTE as a key differentiator here and perhaps as justification for the relatively high subsidized price of the Jetstream. I think that’s a mistake. We’ll see when the tablet hits stores on September 4, at $699 with contract, reportedly $849 without.

ATT needs only to look at the tablet pricing of its rivals Verizon and Motorola Xoom to get an idea of how well a tablet with a two-year contract will sell at $700 or more. Simply put: It won’t, at least not well. Granted, the Xoom certainly faced other issues outside the initially high price, because it was rushed to market with some key flaws: general instability, a limited number of tablet-optimized applications and a promised LTE hardware upgrade where “coming soon” meant six months later. In a sense, LTE support for the Jetstream is also “coming soon,” because ATT hasn’t yet launched its LTE service. And when it does, it will only be in 5 markets to start and 10 more by year-end.

While I expect that HTC’s hardware and software won’t face the same problems as the Xoom, it still needs to answer a key question: What justifies the price premium over an Apple iPad 2, which can be had without a contract?

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US DOJ files suit to block AT&T, T-Mobile merger

ATT is now facing a huge potential roadblock on its proposed merger with T-Mobile: Bloomberg reports the U.S. Department of Justice has filed an anti-trust suit to block the deal. Claiming the merger would “remove a significant competitive force from the market,” the filing suggests the deal would create an anti-competitive environment if allowed to proceed. ATT has recently taken steps to alleviate such sentiment, saying Tuesday it returned 5,000 onshore customer service jobs from offshore locations as a result of the merger.

T-Mobile stands to gain quite a bit if the deal doesn’t go through. Deutsche Telekom, the parent company of T-Mobile USA, will earn a $3 billion payoff, while T-Mobile USA will receive a small portion of ATT’s existing wireless spectrum and reduced roaming rates on ATT’s network.

It will take time before we see the outcome of the just-filed suit, but I can’t help but think back to Om’s thoughts when the proposed merger was announced; they echo the thoughts of the DOJ:

The biggest losers of this deal are going to be the consumers. While ATT and T-Mobile are going to try to spin it as a good deal to combine wireless spectrum assets, the fact is, T-Mobile USA is now out of the market.

T-Mobile USA has been fairly aggressive in offering cheaper voice and data plans as it has tried to compete with its larger brethren. The competition has kept the prices in the market low enough. This has worked well for U.S. consumers. With the merger of ATT and T-Mobile, the market is now reduced to three national players: ATT, Verizon and Sprint.  Net-net, U.S. consumers are going to lose.

Handset makers, competitors and Google all have much to lose by the deal as well, but if the $39 billion merger doesn’t go through, it looks like the biggest loser will be ATT. The carrier will lose cash, spectrum holdings and the ability to add T-Mobile’s unique 1700 MHz frequency to ATT’s LTE network expansion plans.

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AT&T will fight for its right to T-Mo

Updated: After the Department of Justice surprised pretty much everyone by suing to stop ATT from acquiring T-Mobile, the nation’s No. 2 carrier isn’t taking defeat lying down. It has vowed to fight the suit in a statement released this morning. That in itself is unusual; generally when the Department of Justice says no, companies walk away from their deal (such as when Direct TV walked away from DISH back in 2002). But with $3 billion in cash and about $3 billion worth of spectrum on the table, ATT is ready to fight.

From Wayne Watts, ATT Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel:

We are surprised and disappointed by today’s action, particularly since we have met repeatedly with the Department of Justice and there was no indication from the DOJ that this action was being contemplated.

We plan to ask for an expedited hearing so the enormous benefits of this merger can be fully reviewed. The DOJ has the burden of proving alleged anti-competitive effects and we intend to vigorously contest this matter in court.

The statement continues with ATT’s assurances that this deal will help solve the nation’s spectrum exhaust situation, which has been refuted by those who understand that adding T-Mobile’s existing spectrum to ATT’s existing spectrum does not magically make more spectrum. ATT also reminded lawmakers that the deal will create billions in investments and more jobs. A detailed refutation of those claims can be found here.

A quick read of the complaint shows that the DOJ looked at the merger not at a local level as has historically been the case in wireless merger agreements, but with an eye toward how this affects wireless coverage across the nation. Significantly, it realized the value of mobile data and competition in nationwide mobile broadband access as a reason that this deal would be harmful.

So now, ATT will fight this in court, but if a case is not determined by Sept. 2012, ATT will owe T-Mobile the $3 billion breakup fee as well as forfeit some spectrum it has in the AWS band according to Chris King, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus. As for timing, he wrote:

DOJ does not need to seek a preliminary injunction (which has a higher burden of proof) because the companies cannot close while the case is still pending at the FCC. We would be astonished if the FCC were to approve the deal while litigation is pending before the District Court. This means that the likely next step is a discovery schedule and a trial scheduled. The trial schedule depends on the district court’s schedule. If approval is not provided by September 2012, we understand that ATT is required to make the breakup payment to T-Mobile.

So now it’s time to watch a court battle royale and start asking ourselves, what happens to T-Mobile if it gets an infusion of cash from a breakup fee and more spectrum? Also, some of us will be asking, “Where the heck was the FCC in all of this?” The statement from Chairman Julius Genachowski reads like someone who has been asked a tough question and then replies with, “Um, yeah, what she said.”

Update: Based on a blog post over at Public Knowledge, which is of course, happy about the DoJ’s action, ATT’s willingness to fight may not matter, and the FCC’s seeming inaction here shouldn’t last.

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Now you can use your home phone for Skype calls

For those of us who have been writing about VoIP, Analog Telephone Adapters (ATAs) are not such a big deal. ATA is doohickey that connects to your broadband connection on one end and an old-fashioned phone handset on the other. In its heyday, Vonage was using low-cost ATAs to lure customers. Now Skype finally has joined the party. In a blog post, the company outlined the pricing:

Just connect your home phone, broadband and landline to the phone adapter and enjoy the freedom of making Skype calls anywhere around the house from your home phone. You can also receive Skype to Skype calls from other Skype users on your landline phone using the Connect•Me Home Phone Adapter.

• FREETALK Connect•Me + more than 60 minutes** of complimentary calls to landlines and mobiles via Skype ($39.99)
• FREETALK Connect•Me + 12 months of calls to landlines and mobile phones in the U.S. and Canada and 200 minutes**of calls to international landlines and mobiles ($59.99)
• FREETALK Connect•Me + a 3-month Unlimited*World subscription to the US and Canada plus landlines in 40 other countries ($59.99)

These new ATAs, similar to the popular MagicJack adapters, are made by Spanish-based Freetalk and are embedded with SkypeKit; the services and APIs that consumer electronic devices use to plug-in to Skype.

I think the ability to receive Skype-to-Skype calls on the landline helps Skype toward its ambition of becoming the new phone network. That’s why I feel Skype should be giving these ATAs away, just as it gives away its mobile apps. The easier it is for people to use the Skype network, the more likely they are to spend money buying minutes for calling people on non-Skype phones. And that can’t be a bad thing for Skype.

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Forget gas; future Ford cars may run on the cloud

Ford continues to think ahead with connected cars, showing off a concept car that’s as intelligent as the best smartphones. Thanks to mobile broadband, access to a driver’s calendar and entertainment preferences and smart engineering, the Ford Evos is an example how the cloud can power cars of the future. In conjunction with the IFA show in Berlin, the auto-maker is showing off the Evos concept vehicle in this video, released today.

As impressive and futuristic as the Evos concept is, many of the features don’t seem too far-fetched because of their “connectedness.” Why couldn’t a car re-route you to a more scenic drive if your early work meeting was cancelled or postponed en route? If you have a favorite Internet radio station, perhaps your car should know about it and auto-tune on the drive. And Ford has already touted smart mapping apps for electric vehicles that automatically direct you to the closest recharging station.

We’ve seen so many personalization options in smartphones — where the devices start learning about us and act as intelligent secretaries — that in my mind, these concepts are a natural progression to vehicles. Cars can easily have the sensors and silicon to make this future a reality, but having access to our digital identities in the cloud is the fuel for this future. We’ll talk more about this connectedness among the Internet of things at our Mobilize event later this month, where I expect to hear about many other intelligent devices.

Related: Om’s interview earlier this month with Ford Motor Company’s chief technology officer Paul Mascarenas, on how connectedness will change cars.

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Samsung’s Galaxy S II debuts stateside for iPhone rumble

Samsung finally welcomed its Galaxy S II to the U.S., unveiling three models for ATT, Sprintand T-Mobile Tuesday night that will do battle with Apple’s iPhone this fall. The device, available for months internationally, is pretty much what has been shown around the world though the Sprint version, the Epic 4G Touch, and the T-Mobile model will feature a 4.52-inch Super Amoled Plus touchscreen.

The Galaxy S II has been a huge seller for Samsung, which sold 5 million units in the first 85 days after launching internationally in early May. Samsung initially estimated 10 million sales within the first seven months of the phone’s retail debut. It will likely be a hit in the U.S. though it will have to compete with a new iPhone from Apple, that may pack a punch depending on what rumor you believe.

As with the original Galaxy S, the phones are generally the same with some details unique to each carrier’s device. The basic specs are: Android Gingerbread 2.3.4, 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8 megapixel rear-facing camera/camcorder with 1080p HD video capture and a 2 megapixel front-facing camera. It comes with 16GB of storage and supports a microSD card with support for up to 32 GB. All the phones are labeled 4G, meaning 21 Mbps HSPA+ for ATT and T-Mobile, and WiMax for Sprint.

The phones will feature Samsung’s Media Hub for accessing media and sharing video through an HDMI-cable, Social Hub for organizing social networking feeds and enterprise features like Virtual Private Network support, Quickoffice, Cisco’s WebEx, Exchange ActiveSync and hardware-based data encryption. The company has partnered with Vlingo for robust voice-activated actions. There’s also Samsung’s Kies Air service, which allows people to manage their phone and transfer files through a PC or Mac browser over Wi-Fi. My colleague Darrell put a Canadian version of the Galaxy S II through its paces and generally came away very impressed, high praise for an avid iPhone user.

Missing in the announcement was word of Verizon Wireless, which is reportedly holding out for another Samsung device, the Droid Prime, that will reportedly sport Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Sprint’s Epic 4G Touch, will go on sale for $199 on Sept. 16. ATT’s Samsung Galaxy S II, which comes with a 4.3-inch screen, and T-Mobile’s version, also known as the Galaxy S II, will appear sometime after the Epic 4G Touch. Their prices have not been announced.

This will no doubt ratchet up the competition with Apple, which is in the midst of suing Samsung for patent violations and has been successful in stalling some sales of Samsung Galaxy Tab tablets. The Samsung Galaxy S was one of the Android devices that looked most similar to the iPhone in hardware and software design and while Samsung has tinkered with the TouchWiz UI, including some nice navigation between screens, there are still points of contention I imagine. A screen capture feature, for example, utilizes a simultaneous press of the home and power buttons, which is something the iPhone already does.

But more importantly, it further cements that Samsung is likely to be the chief standard bearer for Android as it goes toe to toe with Apple for mobile supremacy.  The two are neck-and-neck in smartphone sales and now with the Galaxy S II on American soil, we’re set up for a great battle this holiday season. Now we just have to see what device comes out of Apple’s corner.

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So which is it HP, do you want a tablet business or not?

Hewlett-Packard’s decision to kill off its nascent tablet effort, the TouchPad, was stunning, but at least it seemed decisive. But now the company is muddying the waters by suggesting that the fate of HP’s webOS tablet isn’t sealed.

In an interview with Reuters, Todd Bradley, the head of HP’s Personal Systems Group (PSG) said the company could resurrect the TouchPad. “Tablet computing is a segment of the market that’s relevant, absolutely,” Bradley said.

So which is it? Is the TouchPad still in the mix or does HP still plan on jettisoning it? It may come down to whether HP can successfully spin-off PSG into its own company, which Bradley said was preferable to selling the computer business to another manufacturer. And Bradley expects to run the spin-off company if that happens.

But overall, it seems like more uncertainty and indecisiveness from HP, which is becoming its calling card of late. Bradley repeatedly talked about the TouchPad business as a marathon not a sprint, but the company then abruptly gave up on its webOS devices, while trying to figure out what it wants to do with the webOS operating system. The change seemed part of a larger move to remake HP into a business software and technology company similar to CEO Leo Apotheker’s last company SAP. Dow Jones columnist Al Lewis recently wrote that all the recent moves seemed to be part of a bigger plan to euthanize the company in one year.

For what it’s worth, I think it makes sense to hold on to webOS and the TouchPad and see what Bradley can do with it. And I can understand Bradley holding out hope for the TouchPad, if he can take over the PSG spin-off. Tablets are a fast-growing business that could be around for years to come and HP — or whatever spin-off that takes on the computer business — can benefit from the continued work behind the tablet.

And though it was an incomplete product, the TouchPad is still arguably the best challenger to the iPad. It’s now largely sold out thanks to a $99 fire sale. I hope Bradley isn’t motivated simply by the recent sales boost, which has more to do with the incredible price. It should be that the TouchPad is a solid product that is worth supporting and definitely should have gotten more than six weeks on the market.

Too bad that HP made such a mess of announcing its plans to get out of the PC business and end its webOS devices. With a little more patience and some smarter thinking, the company could be telling a more measured and confident narrative than the confusing one its muddling through. Instead of hinting at a resurrection, HP could have seemed a lot more composed and clear about its plans if it just showed more poise and patience. Now, it’s just adding more confusion and the company’s stock is taking the brunt for all this ham-fisted messaging.

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    Meet 10 hot startups presenting at Mobilize 2011

    A year ago, the mobile landscape was markedly different. Widespread LTE deployments weren’t in existence. The patent fight among handset makers had yet to become a war of mutually assured destruction, and Google hadn’t decided to buy a handset maker. As we discuss these topics and others at our Mobilize 2011 event in San Francisco, we’re also going to be addressing hot new apps and solutions to help manage the data deluge in our LaunchPad competition.

    We wanted to give our readers the chance to meet the companies before they present on Monday Sept. 26 in San Francisco, so without further ado, the winners of the Mobilize 2011 LaunchPad competition are:

    • B Labs – provider of deep technology virtualization software that enables work and personal life separation in mobile devices
    • Flixlab – a social video platform that automatically makes great movies from the videos and pictures on your smartphone, and even your friends’ smartphones
    • Localmind – a real-time, location-based QA platform that leverages social check-in services, so you know what’s happening around your city right now
    • Mobiflock – provides smartphone management and safety services for parents, individuals, and businesses that fill the mobile security gap
    • Parse – Heroku for mobile apps; Stop writing server code and instead, power your mobile apps with our cloud platform
    • Quantance – offers unique power management products that dramatically improve mobile data speeds and applications connectivity for tablets, smart phones, and other popular data devices
    • RightScript – a mobile medication management system that links patients with their doctors and health plans
    • Tackable – location-aware mobile software that connects people to information, ideas, and things they’re looking for; simply post a tack to get started
    • VoiceBeam – provides a communication accelerator that lets users ‘beam’ their voices to others, circumventing voicemail and phone calls, and modernizing push-to-talk for the smartphone era

    So come check them out in four weeks as well as executives from Sprint, Square, Instagram and Twitter so you can learn all about where mobile is going in the year ahead.

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    Dolphin Browser on iOS is solid, but will you use it?

    Boasting 9 million users, one the most popular third-party browsers for Google Android devices, Dolphin Browser, is now available for Apple iOS devices. The free software is my recommended way to surf the web on both smartphones and tablets running Android and the iOS version retains several of the key features. The app supports true tabbed browsing, easy access to bookmarks and settings through the use of virtual screen space and a new feature that only just arrived on the Android version: Webzine mode, which shows blog posts in a pleasing, easy to read format.

    I took the iOS version of Dolphin Browser for a spin on my iPod touch and found it useful, but limited as compared to its Android counterpart. I’m a fan of tabbed browsing and it is faster to navigate through open web pages in Dolphin over the native Safari browser. I also like the presentation of Dolphin’s Webzine view over the Reader function in the upcoming iOS 5 software. Dolphin also supports more than two dozen gestures for browser navigation, toggling settings, or quickly loading a particular webpage, although the gesture function requires a tap before drawing. Full-screen / desktop mode is an option as is private browsing.

    Similar to Opera’s browser, Dolphin has a customizable Speed Dial feature where you can set up favorite sites; Tapping the URL field on a blank tab brings up the stored sites. Next to the URL address bar is a button to share a web page via Twitter or Facebook. Standard bookmarking is also available and easy to get to. Just like in the Android version, you can swipe the browser “off screen” to the right to see bookmarks. Swiping the browser to the left provides one-touch choices for Full Screen mode, Downloads, a gesture, clearing browsing data or additional options.

    Overall, the browser is relatively fast and feature filled; at least for a first version. Just as Safari does, Dolphin scored the maximum 100 points when I ran the Acid3 test, showing compliance with JavaScript and other web standards. And for the SunSpider test, which checks JavaScript performance, Dolphin scored a laggy 11,512 milliseconds while Safari turned in a far faster score of 3,660.9 ms. Note: Lower is better, indicating that Safari will handle JavaScript much faster. Overall, I found Dolphin rendered pages nearly as quickly, however.

    But there’s a huge barrier to adoption for any third-party browser on an iOS device which could keep many from even trying the Dolphin Browser: Apple allows one, and only one, app to be the native web browser, and that’s Safari. That means any tapped links from email, Twitter or other sources will always open up in Safari. It’s an inconvenience that some won’t want to deal with, which is a shame because Dolphin for iOS looks promising.

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