Defomicron

Software, Hardware, Silverware


Entries tagged: Technology

For all of the technology stuff that didn’t fit into more specific categories, I give you this.

Apple Buys Beats

The Beats deal is real:

“Music is such an important part of Apple’s DNA and always will be,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “The addition of Beats will make our music lineup even better, from free streaming with iTunes Radio to a world-class subscription service in Beats, and of course buying music from the iTunes Store as customers have loved to do for years.”

Turkish Prime Minister Gives Speech as a 10-foot Hologram

Rich McCormick for The Verge:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivered a speech in the city of Izmir last Sunday by way of a giant hologram. Erdoğan, unable to make the trip to a party meeting in the western Turkish city, recorded his message against a green screen. In Izmir, a full-body hologram of the Prime Minister roughly 10 feet tall appeared from a coil of blue light, waving to the cheering crowd.

Where’s our holograms? #nobama

Pebble Steel: Business Class

Nilay Patel for The Verge:

The new Pebble Steel changes that. For $249 you get virtually the same internals as the original Pebble inside a tighter, smaller metal case that comes with metal and leather bands. There’s also an all-new app for iOS and Android, and a new Pebble app store that makes customizing your watch easier than ever. The little company at the front of the wearable market is pushing forward with design and software while it still has the lead — but the big question is whether it can move fast enough to keep ahead.

Unfortunately, and Nilay neglects to mention this, it seems the answer to that question is no, Pebble can’t move fast enough to keep ahead. The Pebble Steel is a prettier-more-expensive version of last year’s Pebble; the internals are the same. That’s not moving forward.

The iPod of Prison

Joshua Hunt for The New Yorker:

The pocket analog radio, known by the bland model number SRF-39FP, is a Sony “ultralight” model manufactured for prisons. Its clear housing is meant to prevent inmates from using it to smuggle contraband, and, at under thirty dollars, it is the most affordable Sony radio on the prison market.

Nest Protect Review

Dan Seifert for The Verge:

For the cost of one Protect, I can purchase the three generic smoke detectors my small house requires. Those with larger homes will see an even larger upfront cost. The Nest Thermostat is an easier sell, since it can actually make your home more efficient and save you money over time. But the Protect doesn’t make such promises, and thanks to governments and regulatory testing groups like Underwriter’s Laboratory, can’t promise to make your home any safer than any other smoke detector either.

Still, that doesn’t stop me from wanting one, and wanting the connected home of the future that it promises. If Nest and others have their way, every appliance in our homes will be connected and smarter than ever before. Samsung and LG have been showing off smart washing machines and refrigerators that tweet at every CES for years. Philips and other companies already have lighting systems you can control with your smartphone. But what Nest is doing seems to be the smartest holistic approach to the smart home, even though it just has two products on the market. The home is the next big frontier for today’s connected world — smartphones and wearable technology has already invaded our person, it only makes sense to give our living spaces similar smarts.

The Protect is not a product for today, it’s a product for the future, and if everything goes the way Nest wants it to go, the future is looking pretty bright. I didn’t think much about my smoke detector before, but I do now, and really, that’s the whole point.

I really like what Nest did the Protect, but it makes sense to me that they had to be acquired. Products like this and even their thermostat are luxury items more so even than Apple products, because the other options are so much cheaper and do the job almost exactly as well. That doesn’t stop me from wanting one, though. The best thing that could come out of the Google deal is much lower pricing on the Protect and the thermostat.

The Nest-Google Privacy Statement

Marco Arment analyzes the Nest privacy statement that came out following their sale to Google:

If you’re using Google’s services enough to give them a pretty good idea of where you are and what you’re doing, Nest could automatically turn your heat on so it reaches the ideal temperature at exactly the time you’re most likely to arrive home based on your location, travel speed, the route you usually take, and current traffic conditions. How clever and impressive! It’s even environmentally friendly!

A lot of what Google does or could do with your personal information is really cool and clever and helpful. On the other hand, for every bit of information they collect and put to use for you, they’re putting ten bits to use for them.

How Apple’s Lightning-Plug Guru Reinvented Square’s Card Reader

Kyle Vanhemert interviewed Jesse Dorogusker, formerly of Apple and now the head industrial designer at Square, for Wired:

It’s a small detail, but on such a simple device, shrinking that gap between the two parts of the enclosure has a significant effect. It makes the device seem more substantial, more considered, and generally higher quality. And yet, even after months of toiling on custom components to make the new Reader the most elegant credit card processing device in existence, Dorogusker still sees the product through the eyes of a Cupertino-bred perfectionist. He holds the new Reader between his fingers, pausing for a moment while he considers his creation. “I’d love to get rid of that seam.”

Never stop going forward.

Anthropomorphized OS Mascots

The Macalope’s Thanksgiving column.

The Joy of Technology

Linus Edwards remembering his first computer:

I remember taking it home and feeling like it was Christmas morning. I brought it down into our basement and started figuring out how to hook it up to our old TV. There was no instructions, but after numerous trial and error, I got it working. The TV started blaring out computerized beeps and the screen flickered with monochromic menus. It had a simple baseball game that I played with for awhile, and some other random discs with various software. Looking back, it shouldn’t have been that exciting, and I didn’t get much use out of the thing. Yet, I was fascinated with the fact I could take this old box of electronics, figure out how it worked, and make it do things.

Smartphones as the Hub of Our Digital Lifestyles

Tim Bajarin:

…in many ways the smartphone itself is becoming a very important hub in its own right.

If you have one of the current wearable health monitors you are already using it as an important hub in your own lifestyle. In my case my preferred wearable is the Nike FuelBand. I wear it 24 hours a day and it records my steps, gives me the amount of calories I burn and as designed, it pushes me to move more throughout my day.

Square Cash

Walt Mossberg:

Here’s how Square Cash works. Say you want to send $47.12 to your sister. You just compose an email with her email address in the “To” field and, in the “CC” field, you enter “cash@square.com.” In the subject field, you enter the amount you’re sending — in this case, “$47.12.” You can leave the message body blank, or add a note explaining you’re sending the money and why. Then, you just press Send.

This sounds like magic.

The End of the Library

Many smart thoughts from MG Siegler on the death of libraries:

It’s hard for me to even remember the last time I was in a library. I was definitely in one this past summer in Europe — on a historical tour. Before that, I think it was when I was in college. But even then, ten years ago, the internet was replacing the need to go to a library. And now, with e-books, I’m guessing the main reason to go to a library on a college campus is simply because it’s a quiet place to study.

I’ve been at NYU for a month and a half and I’ve been to our amazing library twice. Both times, I was accompanying a friend who needed to print a paper for class.

How a Journalist Tried to Save Nokia

Lauri Malkavaara:

The director brought his own iPhone home that same evening. He studied it so enthusiastically that his four-year-old daughter also became interested.

As an experiment, he gave the telephone to his daughter, and she learned to use it immediately.

In the evening as the parents were going to bed, the drowsy four-year-old appeared at their bedroom door with a question: “Can I take that magic telephone and put it under my pillow tonight?”

That was the moment when the Nokia executive understood that his company was in trouble.

This was 2007. The ultimate “shit” moment.

The Nest Protect

Nilay Patel got an early look at Nest’s new thermostat:

Tony asks me where my smoke alarm is and starts cackling when I tell him it’s sitting in a drawer, pulled off the ceiling because it inevitably goes off whenever my wife and I cook. “Every person I talk to has a story about how their smoke alarm went off or woke them up with a battery beeping,” he says. “So you take it off the wall and you take the battery out and say ‘screw this.’ They hate the products.”

It sounds like a great start. If I was a homeowner, I’d be tempted to replace all of my smoke detectors… Or maybe wait for version two:

But while multicolor LED tricks are nice, it feels like Nest is missing out on some easy wins by building a second, mostly independent product instead of an extension of the already-successful thermostat. Yes, the Protect can help make the thermostat’s auto-away features smarter, but it’s baffling that it doesn’t also send temperature data to improve its efficiency. A version with a camera seems like an easy home-security win. The average 1,500 square-foot home needs three to four smoke detectors, but adding more Protects — and therefore more sensors — to a system doesn’t have any immediately obvious ancillary benefits for Nest owners.

Next for Nest: A Smoke Detector

Jessica Lessin:

The device will be the technology company’s latest trojan horse into your home, which it wants to make as easy to control as a computer or smartphone. Think of it as the next node in the home network Nest is building device by device with the original thermostat as the hub.

Makes sense. I’m surprised no one’s joined them in building great replacements for mundane home appliances.

‘I Am TOM. I Like to TYPE.’

Tom Hanks for The New York Times:

No one throws away typewritten letters, because they are pieces of graphic art with a singularity equal to your fingerprints, for no two manual typewriters print precisely the same. E-mails disappear from all but the servers of Google and the N.S.A. No one on the planet has yet to save an Evite. But pull out a 1960s Brother De Luxe 895, roll in a sheet of paper and peck out, “That party was a rocker! Thanks for keeping us dancin’ till quarter to three,” and 300 years from now that thank-you note may exist in the collection of an aficionado who treasures it the same as a bill of sale from 1776 for one dozen well-made casks from Ye Olde Ale Shoppe.

You can’t be a terrific actor, beloved children’s toy, and great writer. It just isn’t fair.

The Apple Alarm Clock

In June, I speculated on the future of Apple TV, and that was fun. I thought to myself gee, this speculating thing is fun, I should do it again sometime. So let’s talk about clocks.

More specifically, the bedside clocks meant for rousing non-morning people in the morning. The most disruptive thing that’s happened to the alarm clock industry was probably the smartphone. I and (I presume) many others have switched full-time to using our smartphones as our only alarms. It’s terribly convenient to open the Clock app on my iPhone to quickly toggle an alarm on or off or readjust the going off of one.

(The best part is the ability to adjust my alarms when I’m out and about. There’s a German word for the anxiety felt when One’s out of the house and unforeseen events force the adjustment of the time One must wake the next morning, and One must force Oneself to remember to adjust One’s alarm accordingly when One gets home, because One remembers the last time this happened, when One forgot to adjust One’s alarm, and One remembers the hatred One felt toward Oneself that following morning when One woke up two hours too late.

I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure it exists. One, you poor bastard.)

Thing is though, a smartphone is a terrible alarm clock. Smartphones are designed to be carried with you wherever you go, to sit in your pocket until called upon. They’re meant to be held, so they are thin and light. They’re meant to do everything, so they have minimal physical buttons.

They’re not meant to sit on your nightstand for all the hours of their existence, dutifully displaying the time, all the while bottling up their desire for attention, only to let loose in the one daily moment they’re called upon. They’re not meant to be chucked across the room in anger at the realization that One stayed up way too late last night. They’re not meant to have the snooze button punched as One decides to risk it and doze for another 10-er.

Such is the purpose of the alarm clock.

The Dream Machine Next to a Dream Machine
The nightstand is no place for a smartphone.

With that in mind, I made the decision to switch back to using a dedicated alarm clock and — to my chagrin — I discovered that alarm clocks haven’t progressed at all past iPhone docks. The best you can do (and what I’ve settled on) is a $15 Sony Dream Machine1. It’s pathetic, really.

What if Apple isn’t going to disrupt the watch industry after all? What if, instead, they’re going to change the way the entire world wakes up in the morning? (OK, they’re not, but keep reading.)

If we could combine the benefits of the the smartphone alarm and the dedicated alarm clock, well wouldn’t that be dandy. We could. Next year, what if iOS’s Clock app has an API that broadcasts its alarm settings over WiFi. Alongside this new API, Apple releases a well-designed alarm clock accessory, the “iWake”. iWake plugs into a wall outlet and connects to your home WiFi network through AirPort Utility on your Mac or iPhone. Jony Ive heads its design, and we get a revival of the classic Dieter Rams/Dietrich Lubs DN 40. iWake has a single button on top (and it is one seriously great feeling button); press it once for snooze or long press it to silence the alarm for good. iWake is made of polycarbonate, and comes in a multitude of bright spring colors.

With the Clock app on your phone (or iPad, or the dashboard widget on your Mac, which now sync via iCloud), you can adjust your alarms and tell your iWake which ones to go off for. If you’re out and about and you find out you’ll need to wake up early tomorrow, open the Clock app on your phone, set the alarm and that information is automatically pushed to iCloud and then to iWake. Tomorrow morning, your alarm goes off without you giving it a second thought. Goodbye, mystery German word.

I want iWake three years ago. The technology is there but no one is doing it. While I’d love for it to come out of Apple, I realize they probably have bigger things going on. So why not someone else? This shouldn’t be too hard to do and do right. You don’t even need that Clock API I talked about to make it work, just write your own app.

Well, what are you waiting for? I have somewhere to be tomorrow, get to it!


  1. Which has actually been discontinued, but you can still pick them up at Walgreen’s, so there you go. ↩︎

USB 3.1 Spec Finalized

There was once a hope among us that Thunderbolt could usurp USB’s throne. Looks like instead it’ll go the way of FireWire, which is a shame.

Even more of a shame is that the defacto connection technology in our industry will seemingly forever have the world’s worst connector design.

Scan Items to Make Wall Mounting Them a Cinch

I’m not a huge fan of Lifehacker, but this is pretty clever.

T-Mobile Announces Jump

T-Mobile:

JUMP! from T-Mobile is designed to provide customers with total protection for one of their prized possessions: their smartphones. It offers the freedom to upgrade to a new device more affordably and protects against malfunction, damage, loss or theft - all for just $10 per month, per phone (plus taxes and fees).

This is awesome, so long as it is sustainable for T-Mobile.

Laptop Hobos

Ben Brooks:

Most coffee shops are frequented as a place to hang out, not as a place to get good coffee — that’s the culture that surrounds coffee shops.

The Unadvertised Benefits of 802.11ac

Glenn Fleishman for TidBITS:

Don’t let the speed discussion get you down, because 802.11ac does have three distinct advantages: better coverage, better performance at greater distances, and multiple-device simultaneous transmissions.

I’d add to his “speed discussion” that, with the exception of a few luck fiber customers, most home networks simply aren’t capable of gigabit-plus networks.

That a said, Glenn certainly makes the case that 802.11ac will be a worthwhile upgrade for all of us regardless, if not a must-have upgrade.

And now I want to upgrade1.


  1. Glenn, you bastard. ↩︎

‘I Don’t Want to Unplug’

Laurie Voss:

Now the little pocket-computers we anachronistically refer to as “phones” can answer all my questions, at any time, from nearly anywhere. There are few things more liberating.

When people in our community decide they’re going to “unplug”, I can’t help but question their motives. Are they doing it because they really feel that smart“phones” have cheapened our lives? Or is it for pageviews? Most times I arrive at the latter. Our lives, every single day, are better because of the tiny supercomputers we stuff into our pocket every morning without a second thought. As Voss says, they are liberating. We are free at last to go and get lost.

Simple

This January I switched from Bank of America to Simple. Simple is an “e-bank”, and what I mean by that is they don’t have physical branches. What that means for their customers is that there’s no tellers to aid you through withdrawals or deposits. Personally, I had already been using ATM’s for all of my interactions with my bank, so an online-only bank was just fine. Besides, e-banks have one distinct advantage: a real incentive to make their online presence great.

This is where Simple excels far beyond any of their competitors, online or otherwise. They’ve already been likened to Apple, and I’d agree.

The Card

It starts with the card. Have you ever seen a better looking debit card? It is simple1 and beautiful. There are no unnecessary colors or artwork. A small logo and card data; that’s all that’s there and all you need. Just compare it to my old card and you’ll see. All cards should be this pretty. Because it isn’t flashy, it won’t call attention to itself (which is smart), except when you hand it to a cashier (“What is that?”).

A minor nitpick: the numbers on the card are the same plain white, and that is sometimes troublesome when entering card information online. For the most part, it’s a nonissue. Simple claims that the numberes blending in is a safety feature. To that end I say meh. If someone’s close enough to read the numbers off my card, it’s probably because they just swiped2 it.

The App

Moving on, we have Simple’s iPhone app3. Having used Bank of America’s iOS apps for three years, I can tell you Simple’s are in a league their own. The interface is thought out and intuitive. In lieu of blue gradients, Simple has chosen to texture the interface widgets. Sometimes, this idea gets out of hand, but in Simple’s case it is just gorgeous. The icon, too, is just wonderful.

The featureset is powerful (and growing). You can check your “Safe-to-Spend” amount, see what your saving, view and add metadata to transactions, deposit checks, schedule bills and other payments, and locate ATM’s4.

I’d like to detail one feature: photo check deposits. Most banks now have them, and they’re generally terrible experiences. With Simple, they took a little longer than most but did it so much better. You take a photo of your check, and within two days it is credited to your acccount. Is that as fast as an ATM? Nope. But that’s a minor drawback for an all-around superior banking experience.

I didn’t think I’d ever enjoy using a banking app. It’s gotta get over a huge barrier, after all: reminding me how poor I am. Simple’s done it. There’s no going back.

The Site

Simple’s website is another masterpiece. Combining the standard stream of transactions with some excellent analytical data, Simple has produced a modern banking website that’s enjoyable to look at as much as it is to use.

The more you peruse the site, the more tiny details you pick up on that Simple’s considered. One of my favorites is how Simple quickly learns which day your paychecks arrive on and then averages them to let you know how much you should be expecting and when. It’ll then use that data to build graphs showing how much your spending on each paycheck. It is all very useful and helpful.

My favorite feature, however, is Goals. With Simple, the concept of having separate checking and savings accounts is gone. Instead, we have a singular account (that does accumulate interest) and Goals. Goals allow you to take money from your “Safe-to-Spend” amount and place it into a digital shoebox for spending later. It can be a fixed amount, or Simple can take a bit each day toward a “goal”. It’s ingenius; I can’t believe no one else was doing this.

Let’s back up for a moment: I’ve mentioned “Safe-to-Spend” a couple times now. What’s that, you ask? “Safe-to-Spend” is Simple jargon for the amount of money it’s OK for you to spend right now. Your disposable income. “Safe-to-Spend” takes your available balance and removes any payments you have scheduled, money you have in goals, and pending transactions. It’s genius and, again, I can’t believe it’s the first time I’ve seen it.

The Wrap-Up

The best moment I’ve had with Simple so far happened at my local Apple Store. I had stopped in to purchase an extra Lightning cable, and when I handed my card to the blueshirt he asked how I liked Simple. I told him it was great, and he told me he was still waiting on his invite, and so I sent him one, right there in the Apple Store.

Simple is an fresh take on the traditional checking account. Who would have guessed that people would be jonesing for an invite to a bank? I always though people hated banks. Simple is great. Its founders are dedicated to building the absolute best banking experience. It’s getting better all the time. If you’re interested, you can follow along with its development on their blog.


  1. Go figure. ↩︎

  2. Pun absolutely intended. ↩︎

  3. They’re on Android, too, and I’m sure that’s great. ↩︎

  4. There are over 40,000 free ATM’s nationwide. ↩︎

Photo Check Deposits

Marco Arment, on Chase Bank’s photo check deposit:

Sometimes, new technology is not progress.

Sounds gimmicky at the best of times, and downright awful at the worst.

An Ode to the Compact Disk

Linus Edwards:

Looking at the remaining rows of CDs, all resting in their growingly antiquated plastic cases, it reminded me of Toy Story. I could picture anthropomorphized CDs coming to life after the Best Buy closed for the night, lamenting how they are ignored, how their friends have been taken away, how they soon will be shipped to the surplus warehouse to spend their remaining days before unceremoniously being crushed in a trash compacter.

If a new album is coming out that I’m really jonesing for, I tend to buy the disk. It feels, as Edwards says, much more substantial and real than a list of songs in iTunes.

Surprising

All of the above are still in business.