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eReaders and tablets have flooded this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

Advances in technology have made it possible to manufacture these devices with a longer battery life and at an “ever-decreasing cost,” according to the NY Times.

“There are a billion and a half Internet users on the planet today, and a lot of them are primarily using it for entertainment and social networking,” said Glen Burchers, director of global consumer segment marketing at Freescale, a chip company hoping to power the new tablets. [via A Deluge of Devices for Reading and Surfing]

Consumers will soon be able to pick and choose from a wide range of products specifically designed for reading and/or surfing the Internet, for around the price of a netbook. Perhaps these WiFi-ready reading devices will help to rescue, or at least keep afloat the floundering print & publishing industries.

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Bonnier R&D and design firm BERG partnered to explore the future of digital magazines. Below is a conceptual video for  Mag+, a prototype for a future issue of Popular Science. According to Bonnier, they tried to capture the essence of magazine reading and create an experience where “high-quality writing and stunning imagery build up immersive stories.”

Sports Illustrated has their own take:

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3D HDTV was another buzzword at CES 2010, but the technology has been hyped up too much.

Watching Avatar 3D was a great experience, but I can’t imagine having to wear bulky 3D glasses over my glasses every time I wanted to watch TV. That would be a (dizzying) pain. I hope 3D TV doesn’t become standard.

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I’ve compiled the features & tech specs of the eBook readers out on the market and whittled them down for your convenience. Major product perks are in bold–which one will you buy?

Amazon Kindle (6″ screen, 2GB, 10 oz.) = $259
Amazon Kindle DX (9.7″ screen, 4GB, 19 oz.) = $489

  • Audiobooks, eBooks, newspapers, and magazines are available.
  • Supports TXT, MP3, and Audible natively; many other file formats by conversion.
  • 3G wireless and has a basic web browser.
  • 16 levels of gray; 4 days of battery life with wireless on, 2 weeks of battery life without.
  • Charges via USB or power adapter. Has 3.5mm audio jack and built-in stereo speakers.
  • Features image zoom, bookmarking & annotations, dictionary, and text-to-speech.
  • International version of the Kindle has global wireless access.
  • *Kindle DX auto-rotates for reading in landscape or portrait mode and supports PDFs.

—–Barnes & Nobles Nook (6″ EInk + 3.5″ color touchscreen, 2GB expandable, 11.2 oz) = $259

  • eBooks, magazines, and newspapers are available.
  • Supports EPUB, eReader, PDFs, image & MP3 files.
  • 3G Wireless and Wi-Fi, but no web browser.
  • 16 levels of gray; 10 day battery life without wireless.
  • Features bookmarking & annotations, dictionary, and text-to-speech.
  • Charges via USB or power adapter. Has 3.5mm audio jack and built-in mono speaker.
  • *Lend books out to friends & family on their computers, cell phones, or Nooks.
  • Personalized screensavers, wallpapers, and backplate; runs on Android OS.

—– Sony Pocket Reader Edition PRS-300SC (5″ screen, 512MB, 8 oz.) = $199
Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-600BC (6″ touchscreen, 512MB expandable, 10 oz.) = $299

  • >1 million public domain books available from Google. Magazines & newspapers TBA.
  • Supports ePub, PDF, BBeB Book and other formats by conversion.
  • No wireless and no web browser.
  • 8 levels of gray; 2 weeks battery life.
  • Charges via USB and has a 3.5mm audio jack.
  • *Touch edition supports freehand annotation, images & MP3 files.

eReader devices such as the Amazon Kindle are made for a tiny niche of consumers who want digital content (magazines, books, newspapers) on-the-go. A laptop or smartphone is excessive and even inappropriate for a purpose so simple as reading.

Why? Our computer displays are like TVs. Good for motion pictures, not so much for scanning pages of print.

Transmissive LCDs, prevalent across consumer electronics, require a backlight to illuminate the layer of liquid crystals. These screens are fine indoors, but appear dull and muted if brought out in daylight. For serious reading, they should set at decent refresh rates to avoid eyestrain (above 60Hz, please).
The displays on eReaders, however, are different.
kindledx
Without delving into the technology, eReaders use eInk displays that deliver high readibility (high contrast + high resolution) with much less power consumption.

eInk displays are reflective–if you bring it out in the sun it only gets brighter–and can be viewed comfortably from any angle. That’s why the eReader beats a laptop or iTablet when it comes to reading. Think of your eyes.

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One obvious downside is you can’t read in the dark. And damn, these things are expensive for not having an color. But I still want one! I love reading newspapers, but they don’t always fit in my bag and it’s troublesome when they accumulate. I enjoy the tangible nature of paper, but again, it piles up.

To Amazon and all the other eReader manufacturers: cut your prices, throw in the option of an LED backlight, and start developing those color eInk displays.

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Also, eInk is thin and can be made very flexible. Even if eReaders don’t take off in popularity, I can see eInk replacing paper in many forms.

Adam Benton imagines this is what it will look like:
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 “Apple is working with the four largest record labels to stimulate digital sales of albums by bundling a new interactive booklet, sleeve notes and other interactive features with music downloads, in a move it hopes will change buying trends on its online iTunes store…The new touch-sensitive device Apple is working on will have a screen that may be up to 10 inches diagonally. It will connect to the internet like the iPod Touch – probably without phone capability but with access to Apple’s online stores .” [via FT]

It had to happen. Apple couldn’t have held out forever on this netbook market. People are scrambling for every penny in this recession, especially in California (where they are experience a fiscal nightmare to end all nightmares). A lower price point will be much appreciated.

Patents have been afoot; there have been rumors about an affordable, oversized iPod Touch AKA “iTablet” for months. How much will it cost? What kind of screen will it have? And how gorgeous will it look…

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vaioWIf Sony is willing to stoop down and serve out netbooks (VAOI W Series, starting at $499), then the sky’s the limit. A Sony executive once condemned $300 laptops as a “race to the bottom” that would hurt the PC industry in the long run.

At IDC2009, I had the privilege of meeting Steven Batiche (Director of Research, Applied Sciences Group, Entertainment & Devices Division – Microsoft Corp.) and listening to his presentation on advances in surface computers. He pulled up a slew of videos demonstrating conceptual and working prototypes from the Microsoft design labs–I was utterly awestruck.

Until then, I had been steeped in Apple’s powerful marketing campaigns and lost sight of the obvious: that Microsoft is an immense international entity with resources that, if leveraged appropriately, could surpass Apple a hundred times over. Microsoft’s research & development rocks, as far as I’m concerned. They are doing some unbelievable experimentation with surface computers (think Microsoft Surface but 100X more awesome).

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How do I begin to describe that which has the feel of pure fiction? It’s better if I show you:

This is the Productivity Future Vision montage from Microsoft Office Labs . Though a concept video by all rights, it is very much grounded on research and is a plausible articulation of  what to expect by the year 2019. There is more artistic license on the software side, but the actual hardware is all too real. Many of the “concepts” have been prototyped or are somewhere along in development.

From the video, we see:

  • Speech, text, and cultural translation.
  • Low cost, multi-touch, edge-to-edge displays; flexible, transparent displays.
  • Software clusters brought together in a natural user interface.
  • Active workspaces with rich graphics, achieved with ambient projectors and thin OLED displays.
  • Large displays allowing for different user inputs (touch, mouse, stylus).
  • Mobile devices with modular form factors that can access sensor networks and information resources. Image analysis and projection abilities.
  • Seamless secure data sharing and integrated workflow tools between devices and across networks.

Check out the coffee mug at 4:12 – it’s to die for. Nothing is impossible! The music makes me feel very optimistic.

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You’ll see technology becoming more invisible, but working harder for you in both your work and personal life. Imagine a future where creating a document with a colleague will be as easy as having a conversation. Making connections with people and your content will be secure and seamless. Relevant insight and information will be delivered proactively and in context to the task at hand.

Mobile devices will be more powerful than desktop computers of today. Technology will connect you with the information you need, when and where you need it, whether it be your local coffee shop, an airport, or a roof top in Hong Kong. Software will be there to make getting things done as efficiently as possible in new ways that are more natural.

[“Productivity Re-Imagined” via Microsoft Office Labs]

The beauty of electronics — complexities hidden away inside simple exteriors.

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The 3rd generation iPod has always been my favorite because it lacked physical buttons. The futuristic face was one piece with an embedded touchwheel and 4 touch-sensitive ‘buttons’ that glowed orange with the backlight. Unfortunately, in later models, it was replaced by the more functional (but less cool) mismatched grey clickwheel.

I picked a used 15GB 3rd Gen iPod off eBay to have as a collector’s piece and a backup external hard drive. The battery was shot, so I bought one of those 1100 mAh DIY battery replacement kits. The instructions certainly looked easy enough – right?

ipodftw

First, I was trying to preserve the integrity of the casing, prying ever so gingerly…yeah, that didn’t work. Apple iPods are like little white fortresses. At the point where the screwdriver drew blood (ow, my thumbs) I resorted to brute force.

The directions were wrong. The best point to stab it open was near the TOP around the headphone jack where there were no accursed latches, not the suggested point 1.5″ down on the side. After I got it open, it was relatively straightforward: I disconnected the hard drive and switched out the battery.

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The Interactive Displays Conference last week was absolutely fascinating. I’ve some things to wrap up before I can post about it.


Sony VAIO P Series – 8″ LED backlit 1600 x 768 display, ~1.5 lbs. Up to 60GB hard drive or 128GB SSD. Up to 4 hours battery life, 8 hours with larger capacity battery. 2GB RAM. Windows Vista. Starting at $899. [Hands-on review of the VAIO P @ EnGadget

Whoa, a trackpoint? I never learned how to use one of those things properly. The VAIO P is interesting. Sans trackpad, the laptop has much less depth (reminds me of a clutch), while keeping a wider screen and keyboard. I have to wonder if the most convenient place for a trackpad is underneath the keyboard (it leaves a chunk of empty space). Why not make the screen even wider, and stick a multi-touch trackpad to the right of the keyboard? It could double as a numeric keypad and for right-handers, it’s on the same side as a mouse.

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Dell Adamo – The ultrathin luxury laptop brand was officially unveiled. Specs, pricing not available. Dell’s making a design statement with the Adamo, which (gasp) has a slim charger. So far, I like. [Hands-on gallery @ Engadget, more prototype photos @ AnandTech]

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HP Voodoo Envy 133 – The Dell Adamo really reminded me of HP’s Envy 133 laptop, which was unveiled in mid 2008. 3.4 lbs, 0.7″ thick.

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Dell Mini 10 – Built-in TV tuner, mobile broadband, & GPS!!! I should probably get a digital TV tuner myself…hm. 

Dell also announced a partnership deal with AT&T that will allow users to buy a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 (MSRP $499) for $99 with a 2 year Internet service contract from AT&T. [via eWeek]

Dell’s industrial designers have been on point lately. The sleek new Studio XPS 16 is niiice.

Netbooks are miniaturized, no frills, bare-bones versions of their larger laptop counterparts, boasting solid wireless connectivity and basic mobile computing at an extremely low cost. Prices range from $250-$800 (averaging ~$400), depending on the brand and set of specifications, e.g SSD vs. HDD, 3-cell vs. 6-cell battery, and so on. They come in screen sizes between 7″-10″ and weigh between 2-4 lbs, i.e. light as a MacBook Air at a fifth of the cost. Although not as aesthetically pleasing as an Air, netbooks are durable, reliable, and far from ugly. 

Personally, I think netbooks are awesome. I’m a minimalist packer that dislikes heavy loads, so lugging around my PowerBook G4 was out of the question. That gorgeous thing stays put on my desk at the apartment. As a student on-the-go, I needed a decently powerful, internet friendly, and portable computer to have with me on eight hour runs between campus and work. You know, to check email, RSS feeds, current events, and maybe play a little MS Pinball if a lecture gets a bit dry. No, I didn’t want an iPhone and I didn’t want to pay the high price of a UMPC (why, Sony, why ??). So I bought a netbook. . . which should bring me to reveal which one I own, but since I’ve been too lazy to take more pictures of it–the review will have to wait. 

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Netbook History 101:
Before 2007, affordable “portable” laptops were clunky 12-15″ abominations weighing at or above 6 lbs. True “ultraportable” laptops (aka UMPCs) were available, but commanded premium prices well above $2000. Cheap, lightweight notebooks simply did not exist. 

The non-profit OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) initiative led the way in building the first lightweight, rugged, low-cost, and kid-friendly laptop. Personal computers with Internet access are powerful educational tools, so OLPC sought to make and distribute $100 laptops to developing countries for classroom use. The XO laptop came out to  be ~$200 with their “Give a laptop, get a laptop” program. Intel quickly followed suit, developing the $200 Classmate PC, which is now in its second generation. They look like toys but pack all the same features of a laptop and, mind you, are built to withstand children (who can prove to be very destructive). These were coined as sub-par laptops, or “subnotebooks.” {Left: OLPC XO Laptop, Right: Intel Classmate PC}

Although subnotebooks were fully intended to be marketed in developing countries, they heralded the way for the netbooks in today’s retail markets. Asus followed in the footsteps of OLPC and Intel and developed the tiny Eee PC, an ultra mobile Internet device targeted at the general public. The primary market was sales in traditional retail channels, with later plans to ship the Eee PC to schoolchildren in third-world countries. {Below: Asus Eee PC 4G}

Smart move. Launched in late 2007, the Eee PC was a hit on the American retail market and quickly gained popularity worldwide. The Asus Eee PC changed everything: a 2 lb. laptop with a 7″ screen, standard ports, built-in WiFi & webcam, all at a starting price below $300. They were tight, compact, easy to use, and inexpensive; customer reviews on Amazon remain overwhelmingly positive. Asus had no idea the Eee PC’s portability would have such broad appeal for kids, first-time computer users, bloggers, students, and mobile workers alike.

The market was there. Consumers wanted cheap, lightweight laptops. Then all hell broke loose, as every electronics manufacturer on the planet jumped the bandwagon, rushing to put out their own “netbooks”. This was a confusing time, because the netbooks churned out were virtually indistinguishable, offering roughly same specifications in different shells for a variety of prices. You had the Acer Aspire One, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10, the Samsung NC10, the MSI Wind, the HP Mini-Note 2133, etc…and many models of the Asus Eee PC [see Lilliputing.com for more]. Dell was the last to join in with the Inspiron Mini 9 & the Mini 12. Models after models were introduced as manufacturers tried to edge out the competition by improving specs. 

At the end of 2008, the dust has cleared and the Asus Eee PC continues to dominate netbook sales. Netbooks are no longer thought of as “subnoteboks” but rather as versatile, understated, mini-laptops. Be sure to read the reviews to make sure you’re not getting a really shitty one.

Netbooks presently share these features: 10″ screen, Intel Atom 1.6Ghz processor, a webcam, and 1-2 Gb RAM. The real differences lie in what storage disk you choose, whether you go for 6-cell (longer battery life), personal aesthetics (color, size/arrangement of the multi-touchpad & keyboard), and cost. Competition keeps quality up and prices down, with the exception of high-end or designer notebooks.

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Where does the netbook/PC industry stand now? I’m interested to see how it all plays out during a recession. 

The PC industry ended the year on a decidedly gloomy note, with very few bright spots…It’s telling who didn’t jump on the [netbook] trend: brands that like to associate themselves with upmarket style and quality. Apple CEO Steve Jobs essentially dismissed the idea of an Apple Netbook in September, and Sony denied it has plans to market an inexpensive Netbook. A Sony executive even went so far as to declare Netbooks, a “race to the bottom,” in terms of price and quality, driving down the price of all laptops. [Year In Review via CNet]

He means that if mainstream PC buyers start to find their needs met by a lightweight, simply featured, inexpensive portable, it’s likely to impel all of the major players in the industry to pile on by lowering their prices. And that’s in an industry with already low margins for retailers and manufacturers. [Sony leery of the Eee PC? via CNet]

Nicolas Barendson, a senior executive at Sony U.K., says that laptops with 7-10″ screens don’t meet consumer needs and that the netbook market will “evolve” into a different form factor. “We think that the proposition in the market today is not the future of netbook … the form factor is not properly designed for the consumer’s needs … So there’s a lot of quantity sold, people are disappointed by them, and it’s not small enough to be pocketable and not big enough to be a PC.” The company, he says, will have a “different proposition” to the range of nearly-identical netbooks. [via BBG]

So, Apple & Sony will not be rolling out netbooks anytime soon. It’d be wonderful if they did, and those netbooks would be oh-so gorgeous. Unfortunately, those premium brands are more likely to churn out a “less expensive” ultraportable ($800-$1500) than a dirt cheap netbook. Can you imagine if Louis Vuitton suddenly start selling plain white tees? It would crush the brand image.

Hmm…what is the future of the netbook? What will be that perfect form factor? 

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On an unrelated note, this is Lenovo’s ThinkPad W700ds. This beast of a mobile workstation supports a 17″ and 10.6″ LCD dual display setup intended for for photographers, graphic artists and application developers. The 11 lb laptop is so wide it has room for separate numeric keypad.

Also, Dell has pitched smaller, greener consumer desktop PC with totally recyclable packaging.

Dell’s Mystery ‘Adamo’ Could Be Thinner Than Air” – A recent dig through Dell’s trademarks turned up a couple of curiosities – “Adamo” and “Adamo by Dell.”According to the documents, the trademarks cover computer hardware, including possibly desktops and laptops. 

Aesthetically, it’s doubtful that Dell’s Adamo could rival the Air, but Dell could easily manufacture something thinner & lighter than Apple. It’s about time that Dell’s image receives a serious overhaul. Their products well regarded for function and affordability, but their products have a reputation for being large and clunky. Dell’s VP of consumer sales and marketing said it himself, “I think we need to get some iconic products out there, so people associate Dell’s brand with other things.” I can’t wait to see what Dell comes out with.

According to an anonymous source, Dell plans to market the machine as the “world’s thinnest laptop,” and it’s definitely going after Macbook Air market share. Adamo was slated to be released this month, but has been pushed back until at least February.

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Apple will unveil netbooks next month, says analyst
Citing evidence that included the gloomy economy, climbing sales of the least-expensive laptops and comments CEO Steve Jobs made in October, Gottheil said Apple would show a pair of netbooks at January’s conference…

The above is highly unlikely, but a fun thought. Consumers have gone to great lengths to run MacOSX on their netbooks. Apple should join the market and introduce some sort of ultraportable to fill in the $300-$800 price gap. Boing Boing Gadgets put together the “Mac OS X Netbook Compatibility Chart” in case you wanted to make a netbook “hackintosh.”

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Asus to launch touchscreen, dual core, and cheap Eee PCs – One word. AWESOME!!!!

More Info on the Asus S101, The MacBook Air that You Can Actually Afford – The Asus S101 is a oxymoron, a “high end” netbook. Not a fan of the color scheme. At that price I’d probably step up and get the new MacBook.


EeePC 1002HA hits stores – Asus is insane, they’ve blown through so many models from the original 7″ EeePC 700s to now. Apparently Asus does not plan to go larger than a 10″ screen.


It’s a mega-mini — Dell’s Inspiron Mini 12 – This blurs the line between a conventional laptop & a netbook. I have to admit, Dell’s aesthetics are improving. The Mini 9 & 12 are cute!


Review: a weekend with the HP Mini 1000 netbook – I wanted to get my hands on the 10″ from HP, but Costco didn’t have any out on display.

Intel-Powered Convertible Classmate PC: The Touch Netbook to Emulate
Touchscreens on their netbooks should be standard, since there’s issues with the undersized keyboards. There’s a guy on eBay (Fido-Dido) that sells the modded Asus EeePCs & Aspire Ones & touch panel kits so you can install them yourself.

Coby to intro sub-$100 “Midget PC” – An even lower end netbook?

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Apple Exploring 3D Desktop and Application Interfaces – Dozens of Apple patent applications were published today revealing research that Apple had done in 2007 on many topics encompassing future versions of Mac OS X. The most intriguing is a series of patent applications which describe a “Multidimensional” user interface.

Rumor: Zune Phone Is Coming to CES 2009 – A what?

HP to unveil a flexible plastic display prototype – Reminds me of E-ink displays. Can these be used in netbooks?

Sennheiser announces wireless, unconnected ear buds – I can see these getting lost easily. Would I want to have to charge my earphones?

Citroen have designed the Hypnos, a diesel-electric hybrid concept car – The interior is crazy!

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Blagojevich Denies Any Criminal Wrongdoing via NYTimes
Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois, who has been accused of scheming to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, said on Friday that he would not resign and insisted that he had done nothing wrong.

Bush Announces Deal to Stave Off Bankruptcy By Automakers via NYTimes
President Bush announced $13.4 billion in emergency loans to prevent the collapse of General Motors and Chrysler, and another $4 billion available for the hobbled automakers in February, with the entire bailout conditioned on the companies undertaking sweeping reorganization plans to show that they can return to profitability quickly.

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