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CES Day 3

January 8, 2016 Comments off

Today was my final day at CES 2016, and on the docket was Tech West at the Sands Expo Center (attached to The Venetian). Full disclosure, I only did Level 2 at The Sands, which is where all the big companies were (and lots of small ones too). Level 1 was nearly just as big, but full of “science fair” booths for startups and other smaller firms without the bigger marketing budgets that, honestly, my feet just weren’t up to.

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Tech West plays host to several hot gadget areas, including health and fitness devices, kids/education, 3D printing and scanning, robotics, and home automation. I’m not the most fit athletic build you’ve ever seen, but I did snoop around and see some interesting stuff that you might be interested in. 😉

Upon entering the hall everyone is drawn to netamo’s outdoor security camera display, where they were demonstrating the ability to recognize people vs animals (vs aliens??). I’m hard to see in the pic, but I do have my #3 Russell Wilson jersey on … I won’t be blamed for missing Blue Friday during the playoffs. GO HAWKS! For the record, it correctly identified me as a person, so I’ve got that going for me.

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Withings has gotten a lot of press at CES this year for their new thermometer, but they also had some really nice looking smart watches there too. If that’s your thing, include them in your perspective device browsing.

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I stopped by FitBit’s booth to see if anything caught my eye there. I really like the Garmin device I saw yesterday (I think I want something that combines smartwatch with fitness tracker in a small tracker format) but I’ve already got a data history with FitBit (though I did take a year or so off from using my FitBit One – I just restarted before leaving for CES). While nothing caught my eye for exactly what I’m looking for, they did have their new Blaze to show off. It’s a big device, but I like that the unit itself is able to be popped off one watch band/frame and inserted into another. From a brief conversation with someone at the booth it sounds like their pricing for bands is relatively reasonable, compared to the likes of Apple.

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Peleton has been advertising their new connected stationary bike experience a lot on TV and I was interested to see it in person. I guess 9am is either too early for those party animals, or they were all out riding their bikes – nobody was home at their booth. The bike looks nice, if that’s you’re thing.

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Speaking of bikes, this Japanese company 3D printed one. WOW. They also have a turn-key solution … for whatever you want to turn a key to do. It has WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, and you can trigger anything you want through IFTTT or other methods. Would be cool to be able to turn the Internet off at home with a key. Winking smile

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There were a couple personal breathalizers at the show, though none of them were marketing themselves as “figure out when you’re okay to drive again after getting tanked.” They must have good lawyers. Puff puff and the Bluetooth connected app on your phone can tell you whether it’s time for another glass of merlot. They were even touting integration with Apple Health (remember how shit-faced you got last weekend? no, well your phone does.)

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These were nifty looking glasses (and snow goggles) with a camera in them. The lenses are replaceable, and when they’re out the frames are incredibly flexible.

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The Girl Scouts were there again this year drumming up interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) – especially for girls, I would imagine. I didn’t stay long, since they were also pushing their online ordering website … the one that charged me 33% of my order total for shipping last year, including for the 5 boxes of cookies (money) I donated to the troops overseas. WTF? SCREW THAT MESS. I excused myself before I used unladylike language – and it’s not like the kids made that decision, I’d just end up being the asshole yelling at a Girl Scout in front of 150K people.

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This is a fancy new touch screen remote control. I politely informed them that nobody can feel for the volume down button in the dark without tactile buttons. They hadn’t thought of that. I’m sure they’ll be fine (not). But of course because it’s all fancy they got a CES Honoree award.

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The one thing my wife asked of me this week was to visit the Square Panda booth. They teamed up with Andre Aggasi’s education foundation to develop some really captivating phonics and reading tools, including hardware and engaging apps for the kiddos. It’s really wonderful and I can see our 4 year old getting a lot of use out of this. Do go check them out – my wife already got a pre-order in based on my investigation today.

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Wonder Workshop was also at CES again – we got in on their initial Kickstarter campaign about 18 months ago and got a full compliment of robots and accessories from them for Christmas last year. Unfortunately our 10 year old hasn’t taken to them as much as we’d hoped, but I think that might change. They’re a great tool to teach programming concepts, as you can see in the video. New this year is a catapult. LOOK OUT CATS!

 

Edwin is the world’s first waterproof, haptic, light-up, bluetooth enabled, speaker, nightlight, learning device rubber duck bath toy. Seriously, this little device is really cool! It can be a nightlight, a play toy, a device that lets your child interact with a tablet (IOS or Android) to read books or do educational games. It can be a music box for your child at bedtime with internal tracks or you can stream Spotify or whatever your favorite music service is. I played a little game where the app told you a shape, like “rectangle”, and then you had to both find the rectangle amongst 4 different shapes on screen AND translate that into where on the duck to tap. Check them out at EdwinTheDuck.com.

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Next up is a $450 Liter Robot: Open Air. I got a demonstration – I’m pretty sure it was fake poo. The floor is rubber, and as the thing spins a weight drops to dislodge the stuff that usually sticks to the floor. If my daughter wants to stop having to clean the cat box herself, she needs to save up – the ball is in her court. 😉 Oh, and don’t worry – it has sensors to know when a cat is in there so kitty doesn’t go for a spin accidentally.

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Speaking of things that spin, Whirlpool had a big booth this year, as last year. They’ve got designer magnetic covers for your washer and dryer, including a chalk one the kids can get creative with (and then the chalk can get all over your clean clothes). Beyond that, I got a demo of their new fridge design that has adjustable shelves, but not the way you’re used to seeing them. You can slide the middle of the shelf back to make room for taller items from below, which actually has the benefit of making those back coners a lot easier to get too. There wasn’t a 21” tablet on the door and it won’t send you pictures of your current stock level like others I saw at CES this year, but this does seem like a really good idea. If I needed a fridge tomorrow I’d probably go get one of these.

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Your paper airplanes are now powered, controlled by Bluetooth, and remote controllable while sending your a VR point of view. Yeah. Welcome to the future.

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Even the Swiss have been forced to modernize their watches.

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And now, robot dinosaurs.
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HumanScale has some really cool products. If you don’t have a standing desk, for example, you can make a standing workspace with their QuickStand. Your keyboard, space for a mouse, and your screen all instantly raise up with the touch of a lever (it’s counter-balanced hydrolics instead of motorized, meaning you can adjust the height 10X quicker than the standard motorized desk). They’ve got a hydrolic desk too, if you want the full deal. If you have lots of monitors but want to keep things simple, check out their M/Power solution that serves as a set of monitor arms with a power hub and, when combined with an M/Connect USB docking station, allows you to drive all those monitors (and anything else) through a single USB3 cord to your laptop. SNAZZY!

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There are a lot of workout tech gadgets and makers, and a lot of young people hired to work out for the visual enticement of potential buyers. Some of these booths have “dancing” ladies on treadmills, full CrossFit gyms, and basketball courts that track players and the ball in real time. It’s nuts.

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I came across another Redmond, WA company and got lots of GO HAWKS! Sensoria, which happens to be started by a former Microsoftie, has a line of fitness trackers that actually ARE your socks. Great for runners, you can analyze your strike patterns, etc. and get coaching advice from their app. They have more traditional trackers as well. Side note: why is this dude creeping on the mannequin in the sports bra? SHOW SOME RESTRAINT!

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Track your dog for $5/month with this GPS cellular collar.

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Play with your cat from your office and post a picture to Instagram. That’s right, a remote-controlled laser pointer that has a camera in it.

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TomTom: Nobody buys GPS devices anymore, but we heard of these things called wearables so we’re going to give that a go.

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iHealth: with an “i” in the name, it *has* to be good.

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I’m suprised I haven’t seen this pedal-powered bike/car/thing around Redmond.

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LEGO! They’ve got a new LEGO Education kit that seems really cool for classrooms. With one kit you can build dozens of different tools and devices, all powered by a motor and Bluetooth controller. The kit also has a couple different sensors and a programming language so you can teach physical science and computer science at the same time. COOL!!!

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This company has won a crap ton of awards for putting shitty speakers inside of a headband. No joke. I inquired on this line of thinking with one of the founders – he can’t believe it either.

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In the same light, CES bestowed a “BEST of Innovation” award this year to a fish finder that you can drop into a frozen lake on the end of a fishing line. I’m not disparaging this product, but if THIS is the height of innovation this year, we need to try harder.

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Here’s one for my dad, who blew up an oven once after broiling a steak when he forgot to turn off the burner when the meal was done (he closed the oven door … we had quite a fireworks show about 15 minutes later). Basically it’s a thermostat that, if it senses that very condition, will kill power to the appliance. I love you Dad!

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Swarovski: We bring the bling!

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I have a Quell pain relief device; I bought into their Kickstarted immediately after talking to them at CES last year. It’s amazing, and has done wonders for my knee (replacement 3 years ago) and significantly reduced the amount of pain meds I needed after shoulder surger this past May. It also helps make these long days on my feet at CES more bareable. I got a chance to talk to their CEO and one of their product managers, and I took the opportunity to both thank them for an amazing product and offer a few suggestions. They’re already working on a few tweaks and improvements, which should be out in a few months. Can’t wait! If you suffer from chronic pain, I can’t recommend Quell highly enough. And no, I’m not getting any kickbacks from them – this is my own personal opinion and experience. Your mileage may vary.

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3D printing is cool, and there’s even more stuff at CES this year than last. The quality is remarkably better this year too, and we’re starting to see products that allow printing of flexible cloth-like material, printing in color (faces, etc), and all sorts of other coolness with the advances in 3D scanning. Here’s just some of what was at CES this year, and yes – that red hand is a prototype from the project that’s developing 3D printed artifical limbs!

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No stay with me here … the company behind last year’s CES darling (and purveyor of awesome e-Ink mechanical display boards) ooVoo is called Krush, and this year they went all in on an emersive VR rig called Moveo. It’s a 3-axis motion pod combined with a Oculus display that allows the participant to do just about whatever the hell they want. It was a huge booth with an LED display ceiling (because why not) for a product that, and I quote a guy I talked to here, “doesn’t really have a business plan right now, but it’s been so popular we’re going to go figure one out next week.” Ah, that .COM bubble-era spirit is still alive!

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Really nice picture frame, but even more impressive is the completely flat power cable that you can paint over. I honestly didn’t even see the vertical run of the cable until I was about 6 inches from the wall (in the 3rd/bottom picture it’s running from the blank white wall plate up to the display).

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And home stuff. LOTS and lots of home stuff. So much stuff that everything interfered with everything else wirelessly (a couple of the demos I saw were having issues, and my Pebble Steel lost connectivity to my phone 4 times, rebooting once).

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Win 2 points of off a ping-pong champ from Argentina in a game to 11 and get a free device. Many attempted. I don’t think many succeeded.

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Incredibly awesome LED bulb that looks like an old-school filament. It was just being used as a display item, so I didn’t get any product details – but I did get a pic of the base of one. I can see this being a really popular item for certain design applications. They look fantastic.

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I might pick up one of these garage winches. Each will lift 100 pounds, and they’re controlled wirelessly from your phone. Even better, they’ll communicate with each other in a gang to lift heavier stuff, and they’ll adjust gearing to make sure the load is lifted evenly if the weight isn’t evenly distributed. Perfect for a bike or other stuff you may have lying around.

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Bosch: We make some of the things, and we also make things inside of lots of other things. We also make a fridge with cameras in it so you can see what you’re out of if you’re aleady at the store.

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And to round out the day, Microsoft. Only pseudo-officially at CES. No booth, just a crap-ton of rooms reserved for exec/partner meetings and a GIGANTIC sign.

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I’ll be posting a CES recap tomorrow. Time for a late dinner and packing up to head out in the morning.

Categories: technology Tags:

CES 2016 Day 2

January 7, 2016 Comments off

Today was an earlier start for the show than yesterday (9a vs 10a) and I took advantage of the fact that everybody else was out too late partying to get a bunch of the show floor knocked out before things got a lot busier later in the day. With that bonus time and some experience under my belt on how to best navigate the show floor, I was successful in knocking out the rest of Tech East at CES 2016 (the Convention Center).

I started out getting the last bit of the Central Hall at LVCC that I missed yesterday after my unfortunate crash and burn. Thankfully my knee was in decent condition this morning; swollen and a bit sore to be sure, but functional.

I got a quick view of the Samsung area without half a billion people in it. Pretty impressive!

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Nerd porn alert, as always, from the Celestron booth. Good grief some of those telescopes are huge! It’s amazing how much tech is on those things too, from image capture and stabalization, to tracking, etc. It’s not just a couple of lenses in there.

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I spent some time in the Sony area and, since there weren’t a ton of people yet, actually got to talk to a few folks about what they were showing off. We’ve got a ~4 year old (?) 55” Sony Bravia hanging on the wall at home, and the image quality is superb, but some of these new panels put ours to shame. I don’t think Sony had anything that wasn’t 4K on display, to be honest … and now that I think about it I don’t think many others did either (unless it was a display on a fridge…). Also notable was a front projection screen that is meant to sit right infront of the wall it’s displaying on. WOW did it look nice, and a cool form factor too.

I also got to see their GoPro competitor Action Cam line; the image stabilization was really incredible (I got to hold a camera with a live viewfinder and give it a good shake). I think I still prefer GoPro from a physical format perspective since Sony’s cameras are like a pack of cigarettes on it’s side with the lens pointing forward from the top, vs. GoPro’s smaller rectangle with the lens on the wider front surface. I’m sure you could find applications for both physical formats, and I’m sure the tech specs are very similar – other than that image stabilization.

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Driving simulators are everywhere at CES this year, even for companies that I can’t figure out what their relationship to cars is. I’m guessing Konica was showing off the screens???

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I saw probably 5 or 6 floating speakers today. I guess they’re all copying the one that I believe won a CES innovation award last year. INNOVATION! 😐

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Kodak: We’re not dead yet either! What can we make you? You want a drone? How about an action cam? Oh, maybe a Virtual Reality rig? What else are the kids into these days? PLEASE LOVE US AGAIN – it was cold, dark, and scary in the land of dispair and bankruptcy, we don’t want to go back. Can you just give us a hug or something?

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Samsung Gear lemmings (the seats moved with the VR action). Pass – I wasn’t impressed when I tried this out at Faraday’s booth yesterday.

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Qualcom: We don’t make the things, we make the things inside the things. All the things.

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Intel: If Qualcom didn’t make the things in your things, we probably did. We also have cool statues in our area. Oh, and our driving simulator has a camera that watches you so we can shift the field of vision as you turn your head (that was pretty cool).

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Creative: We have to be creative because we’re really just selling the same stuff we always have, but our marketing makes it look like it’s all new.

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And now, I bring you “CES 2016: Attack of the Drones”. They were everywhere, though thankfully behind nets so they couldn’t destroy us. Big ones, small ones, all sorts of colors and lights. I will say they were all much quiter than last year. Also, I *really* enjoyed the breeze from the rotor wash – quite refreshing.

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Cool gear from Razer for multimedia (mic and 3D video capture)

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The cutest little NAS you’ve ever seen (takes 2.5” laptop-sized drives) from Synology. They also had a fancy home WiFi router that does just about everything you could want (including inbound VPN to the home and IPv6 support), plus it can do “beamforming” to direct a better signal to where your device is. I’m sure math is involved, and I’m sure I won’t understand how it works. $149 coming in April. It was already out elsewhere in the world (thanks FCC!).

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Duracell: We’re not just batteries. We’re all sorts of other cheap crap we can pay someone to put our name on too.

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Linksys had a nice booth, though a bit blue. Their new WiFi range extenders have a really cool app that helps you figure out optimal placement (not too close to waste the extender, but not too far to have a weak signal itself to deal with.

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The e-Ink both was also very cool. Not just Kindles. Their bigger displays (think a menu board or orther big display) were frankly stunning. They’ve got curved/flexible stuff too.

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Optical lens anyone? Any size – it was there.

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Lots of outdoors gear, especially solar powered charging panels. Seems to be coming of age. I really liked the little mini lantern from GoalZero. Folding stand, dimmer, you can turn on just half of it if you want, it can charge something via USB, it’s magnetic on the bottom to stick to something, and it has a tripod mount. A great little gadget to keep in a car’s emergency kit.

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Cool hearing protection gear for construction sites.

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“No” or “Meanwhile in Japan…”

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Tribe has some really cool gear. Might need to get some. They mostly sell through retailers like Best Buy, Macy’s etc.

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These guys joked that Microsoft should just buy them after learning I work on Sharpoint. At least, I think they were joking… ?

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No.

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I’ve got 3 people who work from me that are remote (work from home 2000 miles away). These rigs from Beam were very intriguing, and sure would be better than our current solution of locked down Microsoft Surface RT’s running Skype. We might not get the “mega” model, though – it might not fit in our hallway. I got to drive one around in Kansas City from here in Vegas and terrorize a couple of their employees in their support office. FUN!

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Leyard’s LED displays were absolutely stunning. This one has a 1.6mm dot pitch, and from just a few feet away you couldn’t tell it was LED (looked like a regular screen). No heat, super thin, very bright. I wish these were available when our church put in screens in our sanctuary, these would have been perfect. Too bad at the time the LED screen tech wasn’t nearly as nice. They even have panels that with a 0.9mm dot pitch, and some with a glass overlay that provides touch input. WOW!

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NASA!!!

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Very spiffy activity tracker and semi-smart device (notifications, etc.) from Garmin. Only $150 for a touch-enabled device that has most of the features of the Microsoft Band; a much better pricepoint than the $250 device we sell in my opinion. They’re still making GPS units too!

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+10 points to Happy Plugs for product packaging design: earbuds that look like musical eighth notes.

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I FOUND THE REMOTES YOU’VE ALL LOST OVER THE YEARS!

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Yet another new USB plug format – I’m suprised they went bigger given the trend to shrink everything.

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Seriously though, this booth was from Pilot Brand that has come up with a AA battery where the positive (pointy) end is held on by a magnet – remove it and it exposes a USB plug so you can recharge the battery. They also came up with a great way to expense a Ferrari. Cool!

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Sennheiser had a good both, including a 3D microphone to help you create VR experiences.

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Many people felt like this guy, so the massage chair booths were very popular.

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Star of the show at LVCC: AT&T’s WiFi network kicked ass. I uploaded all my photos to OneDrive and Google Photos yesterday and today very quickly. Unfortunately there’s no AT&T WiFi in the South Hall, so I walked back over to Central to do today’s upload.

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To round out the day I decided to treat myself with a solo test drive of a BMW 750i. The gesture control of the radio, heads up display, comfort, and raw power of this beast were remarkable. I need one. Not want … NEED.

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Categories: technology Tags:

CES 2016 Day 1

January 6, 2016 Comments off

Today was the first day of the main show, and I saw a ton. I started off over at the Tech East area, also known as the Las Vegas Convention Center. I hit the North Hall first, and then made it through most of the Central Hall before I had an unfortunate accident and slipped on a wet floor, crashing down and slamming my bad knee into the concrete. Not cool since I had a knee replacement 3 years ago. Needless to say that cut my day a bit short as I got some ice and pain meds and made my way back to the hotel. Rest assured I’ll finish up the Central Hall tomorrow (Sony and a few other big booths to finish up).

Another note – I wrote a LOT last year, and it kept me up long into the evening. I’m going to try to just post a bunch of pics this year and do some limited commentary and snarkery. Hopefully I can get more sleep, and hopefully you can forgive me for not writing an epic tome.

I got to the show before the main doors open, so I got to be part of the early crowd that flooded in right at 10am. There were a ton of people in the loby, and several companies had displays out there separate from thair main booths. Engadget had a stage for interviews and some seating – much appreciated. They also have a charging station where you can secure your device behind a locked door while it’s filling up. Pretty cool!

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10am – ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH!

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Thule – we’re more than expensive stuff on your car’s roof.

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Last year I killed the battery in my point-and-shoot camera on day 1 and nearly drained my phone using it as a camera. This year I’ve got a couple batteries I’m carying with me. This would would have matched the R2-D2 case on my phone a little closer, though.

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I was very impressed with the Libratone speakers. They sound amazing, and you can network them together throughout your home. Lots of different sizes, and they’ve got batteries so you can have portable tunes. Check them out if you’re in this market.

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Noke had a really impressive bike lock that doesn’t have a physical key – rather it’s unlocked by your phone. That also means you can share a “digital key” with your buddy and they can borrow your bike one time or on a schedule you set. Pretty cool if that’s something that you think you’d need. If not, they have Bluetooth padlocks too!

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Toast from Portland, OR was displaying some incredibly intricate laser-cut wood designs that you can put on phones, laptops, etc. While you probably need to have a bit of patience and a steady hand to install them, they’re well worth the time. They’ve even got one for the Microsoft Surface Book that covers the flexible hinge! I’ll definitely be checking out their stuff when I get home and making an order.

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There are A LOT of booths like this.

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So how do you get people interested in your stuff if everybody else makes the same thing? CaseLogic served coffee. It was a popular booth earlier in the day.

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I’ve always been a fan of Ogio’s bags, so I spent a few minutes drooling. My wife loves them too, and even has one of the handbag models.

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If the standard Xbox controller is too small for your liking, perhaps this waist-high model will suit your needs.

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I’d never live with myself if I bought one, but PureGear gave me one for free. It’s Bluetooth too. LOOK OUT WORLD!

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Incipio had a nice booth too.

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I’ve you’ve got a Macbook, check out Henge Docks. These are really cool, and quite similar to the design that Microsoft uses for our Surface tablet docks (simply extending all the various power, USB, and other ports into the device). They also have a traditional flat model too if you want to use your laptop keyboard.

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Iottie has a pretty clever design for a power station launching soon. It’s a Qi wireless charging dock that you can put your phone on (many Android and Windows phones support wireless charging natively, but there are also cases, etc. that can enable your non-wireless device – cough – iPhone – cough). But it goes further – there’s a 4000mAh portable battery that fits in the middle and also charges wirelessly, and they’re thinking of LCD displays that could show notifications or the time that could also plug into the mix. Very cool indeed.

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Otter Box – cool booth, big cases, and across the aisle Incipio was letting people trying to destroy an iPhone “dunk tank” style to show their stuff isn’t half bad either. Lifeproof was next door too.

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When I travel I have a lot of tech gear and gadgets that I typically bring around, and not a great way to keep it organized and protected. I need to get some of these little padded “Safe Pockets”. They look perfect.

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Next up was the auto tech area. This is a mix of car makers showing of new tech, component makers selling to the car makers and other customizers, and speaker/audio companies with booth babes cranking bass-y beats too loud. Here’s a sampling of the swanky stuff (and Volkswagen hoping you forget they’re purposefully killing the planet – Think New … or at least think about something else!).

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Dodge had a full-sized car as a driving simulator that actually moved (leaned side to side and forward and back). The guy driving when I walked by was INTENSE.

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Ford had a self-driving Fusion with 4 cameras on the roof spinning around a a high rate of speed. You could see the computing powere in the trunk, and on a screen above the car you could see the car’s view of all the people standing around. I’m the orange one. Winking smile

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Lastly, I’d be remiss to leave out the new media darling from Faraday Future, the FFZERO1 concept car that is supposed to be giving Tesla a run for their money. And money it will surely take you – this think looks EXPENSIVE! They had a crappy VR experience that I tried – it was a Samsung rig. Video quality sucked and the experience of driving through a couple different sci-fi worlds left me ever so slightly nauseated. Meh – stick to the car, guys.

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I headed over to the Central Hall next at the Convention Center and jumped into the fray at LG’s gigantic area. Pictures can’t do these new TVs justice – they’re absolutely beautify and incredibly thin. But I have no intnention of going out and buying one just for the sake of upgrading – the content delivery of 4K, HDR, etc. just isn’t there. But if you need to get a new TV and have the means, I highly recommend a 4K OLED screen from LG or Samsung.

LG also had a bunch of home appliances (because all these companies took the Best Buy model long ago). LG’s new thing there is a dual-washer, replacing the drawer in the pedestal with another washing unit because … they could. There’s also a door-in-door setup for their fridges now, which I guess makes sense for my kids who find it impossible to see behind a small bag of carrots to what’s back on the shelf.

LG also had a very cool model display where they were showing off cell phone camera features. I thought the display was cool – a good camera in a smartphone is table steaks these days.

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And behold, because 4K content isn’t even mainstream yet let’s go 8K!

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TiVo was there, and I got to thank them for back-porting some of the very cool new features from the new Bolt device to the older Roamio series, especially QuickPlay (running a show at 1.3X speed while keeping audio at the right pitch – no chipmonks). New from them is the ability to stream recorded content to an Amazon Fire or Fire Stick. Much cheaper than their TiVo Mini, and in theory it will work over the Internet. COOL! Oh, and the automatic commercial skipping feature from the Bolt is rolling out to Roamio users hopefully soon too – already live in San Franciso as a test market.

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Victrola – remember us? WE’RE NOT DEAD YET! Here, have some retro designs.

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I was shocked to not see more of this crap this year – but there’s always tomorrow. Hello, kitty.

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Drones!!! I’m sure I’ll see more of these over the next 2 days (I overheard there’s 3X more floor space for drones this year over last), but market leader DJI was the first I saw. I enjoyed the breeze from the blades.

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People still look stupid with VR glasses on, even if the glasses are “sleek and stylish.”

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Tonly had a speaker with a floating tweeter unit on it because … reasons.

 

AR (Acoustic Research), known for super high end speakers, was displaying some of the first outdoor speakers that look really nice – and not like a rock. Speaking of AR, they were part of a hugh complex of displays from a parent company. Pretty common these days.

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Great tag line from Klipsch.

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Had a great chat with some folks in the GoPro booth. I got a Hero 4 Silver for Christmas (thanks Amex points!) and did some time lapse videos on my drive to Vegas. I’ll do a blog post on that soon. Was able to provide a couple product suggestions that were well received too! They had some impressively massive LED displays that wowed the crowd with their quality … and I guess the content too. One was a the size of half a tennis court!

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I took a trip through the Nikon booth for camera porn. They didn’t disappoint.

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Marley Speakers are absolute works of art, and sound great too. Worth a look. The little ones look like drums (of course lots of things look like drums to me – I’m a drummer).

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The Samsung are was rediculously packed and horribly designed for traffic flow (unlike LG’s area). That said, I couldn’t tell the two companies’ products apart if there wasn’t a label. The massive screen on a fridge looks a dumb as you think it would.

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Microsoft in the house!!! (at Samsung’s PC/tablet table)

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Corning “invented” a giant “surface” that’s a touch computer. Gee, why didn’t we think of that? Oh yeah, we did that almost a decade ago.

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New Segway “ninebot” that was demo’d at the Intel keynote last night.

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And then it was crash and burn time. Janitorial staff at LVCC are assholes (it was effectively my fault for slipping, according to the idiot who was standing outside the restroom that had no slippery floor signage but had water everywhere). CES Info Booth people and LVCC first aid team were awesome and hooked me up with some ice, pain meds, and a trip in a wheelchair to the front of the taxi line (complete with embarrasment on my part). MEH! I’ve got a nasty lump on my knee where I basically pile drove it into the floor, but I don’t think anything is actually broken.

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Time to find some late dinner and hang out with my wife’s Aunt who’s in town tonight to see Celiene in concert. Here’s to a better day tomorrow!

Categories: technology Tags:

CES 2016 Day 0: Intel Keynote

January 5, 2016 Comments off

I’m back in Vegas for CES 2016! I had a blast last year and was, in typical Microsoft fashion, “super excited” to get a chance to come back this year. Special thanks to my wife for giving me the thumbs up to take the trip (and leave her alone with the kiddos)! Smile

Unlike last year, the Keynote day this year is Tuesday – with the show floors open Wednesday through Saturday. Last year it was Monday Keynotes, and show floor Tuesday through Friday. I mention this all to say that while I knew the schedule had slipped a day, I screwed up my travel plans and still arrived here in Vegas on Monday and I need to leave on Saturday. MEH! I’ll have to walk faster and be a bit more discerning on where I spend my time on the floors, no sleeping in, and no leaving early. Rest assured, dear readers, I’ll still find the cool stuff for you!

I learned from folks last year who tried to do the Samsung Keynote and then the Mercedes Keynote that it’s impossible to actually do both. While there’s an hour between, there are always long lines at both, the venue will run out of space, and the first one always goes long. So while last year I went to the second session for Mercedes at the Cosmopolitan, this year I went to the first Keynote from Intel at the Venetian.

If you want a full blow-by-blow journalistic accounting of the event, you should check out The Verge’s live blog of the Keynote. They had better seats than I did. Winking smile That said, here are the cool things that caught my attention.

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One of the big themes of the whole presentation was movement, and translating that data into experiences – from drawing to sports to music to drones to the workplace. Intel was showing off technologies that allow people to be “smart and connected”, provided a “sensification of computing” (their word, not mine), and that is “an extension of you. One of the key pieces of tech that powers a lot of what was show is Intel’s Curie platform, a $10 “system on a chip” or SOC that’s about the size of a shirt button (and not one of those crazy big ones either). There were demonstrations across three areas: sports and gaming, health and wellness, and creativity.

20160106_023130920_iOSBefore all that Intel CEO and un-energetic speaker Brian Krzanich said some stuff (marketing blah blah blah) and showed a video of some drones doing a light show in the night sky to the soundtrack of a live orchestra playing Beethoven’s 9th. Chef Boring Officer Krazanich went on to say that Inntel had “completely redefined the firework experience.” Look buddy, I know marketing BS when I hear it, and nothing exploded. Move along.

The first demo was a preeminent professional gamer who thanked her Intel sponsor for building a CPU that’s even better than the last generation. No shit?!? She then went to a console and threw down some action in Rainbow Six Siege, broadcast on Twitch, and with her image in the lower-left corner of the display. It was actually cool, using Intel’s RealSense camera tech it superimposed her on top of the gaming action like she was standing in front of a green screen (which she definitely wasn’t). I can see that being useful for teleconferences from my home office where I can crop out the rest of the room (my home office got turned into a playroom a decade ago – it’s typically a disaster area of toys).

Next came some more camera wizardry with some extra software that allows you to have a lifelike head on your avatar in a game, in this example Fallout 4. Cool factor, but not really my thing.

Blending e-gaming and real-gaming there was a demo of the freeD platform that lets you seamlessly switch between lots of different camera angles during the middle of a replay. It may have actually been letting you create your own camera angle and the software was figuring out how to render the real action from that position, but the demo was quick and that wasn’t super obviously. Cool if true, but not something I see the average Joe doing from his couch on Sunday afternoon. Maybe the NFL could use that for their instant replay system, though…?

Next came some stuff about that aforementioned Curie chip. ESPN is going to be using them at the Winter X Games coming up later in January on all the athletes’ boards/skis/whatevers. They’ve linked that up with a transmitter that should let you see what’s going on in realtime on TV. There was a demonstration of some BMX bikers doing tricks, including jumping over the Intel CEO. There was also a free runner from Red Bull – but they were too coy about what they were actually announcing to be worth saying much.

 

20160106_030725469_iOSYuneec showed off their coming-soon Typhoon H autonomous multi-rotor drone. That was pretty cool actually – it can follow you or stay in front of you, keeping its 4K camera pointed in your direction. But beyond that, it leverages an onboard CPU plus RealSense cameras to make sure it doesn’t run into anything or anyone while it tries to follow you. They had someone ride through “the woods” on my side of the auditorium and they dropped a fake tree at the drone – it missed it. Pretty spiffy!

Oakley announced a new integrated device on some *really* expensive sunglasses that keeps track of your training activities and then takes that data one step further and actually gives you coaching about pace, what routes you should do on your next training run, etc. “Radar Pace” from Oakley is effectively a personal coach that interprets all that data you’ve been tracking and helps you decide what to do with/about it. The athlete demoing it was a 3-time triathlon champion, so his next workout was a 15 mile run, with 1200 feet of climbing over 12 medium hills. Said Krzanich, “Thank God that’s customized for you!” Amen brother.

Then came New Balance who, after a brief history lesson of the company and announcing the creation of a new Digital Sport division, let us know that not only are they 3D printing shoes but they’re also working with Intel to develop the ability to take 3D scans of your feet and then custom print shoes molded to your exact needs. Oh, they’re also going to launch a wearable (smart watch) for holiday 2016 because … well, everybody else is doing it so why not us?

20160106_032506600_iOSA company call Daqri was up next with their Smart Helmet, which started shipping today. Frankly I think this is what Microsoft’s HoloLens is going after for a business application. The demo is someone wearing the helmet in an industrial setting, with the device digitizing and recording analog dial readings, diagnosing problems, and suggesting issues for the wearer to go fix (and instructions on how to do it). Ikea should have these at the impulse buy stations right before the checkout line so you can get help putting that stuff together.

Next up was creativity.

I’m sorry, but I wasn’t impressed at all. AH Rahman was on stage to show how you could use Curie-enabled devices strapped to your hands and feet to make music. As a musician I can tell you the demo bombed – it was misfiring all over the place, or more accurately not firing when intended. We were promised he’d be back for more. Please no.

There was some weird video announcement about a partnership with the Recording Academy (The Grammy’s), Lady Gaga, and Intel that would be announced during the Grammy’s in February. Consider me uninterested. The teaser video left me more confused than inspired, and frankly seemed to be featuring Lady Gaga’s ego more than anything else. She’s an incredible singer, but I don’t get her act. Then again, I’ve long ago aged out of her target audience.

20160106_033501650_iOSAlso in the Creativity section (huh?) was a very cool Segway robot from ninebot. This was used at the beginning of the show too as a “hoverboard” kind of device. The big moment of the whole show is when the thing went from personal transportation device to robot. Arms were added. “Are those my arms? Awesome!” says the robot. Teehee. We shall call him HAL. We’ll all be obsolete, if not dead within 5 years. 2016 is the year our robot overlords start to take over, and it starts with a good joke so we think they’re funny and can’t hurt us. MARK MY WORDS, HUMANITY! SDK coming later this year, with a consumer product “after that.”

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20160106_034845940_iOSNext up was an announcement for a new TV show called America’s Greatest Makers, coming to TBS this Spring. Chris Hardwick was on the video and asked us all to admire his giant head on the screen, and reminded us to use hand sanitizer to prevent Nerd Flu while at CES. I like Chris, and I’m excited to see where this show goes. I think he’s hosting? AmericasGreatestMakers.com. Very cool.

Intel chose to spend about 15 minutes of Keynote “capital” on some very important topics, focusing on The Human Experience. I was disappointed to see some folks start ditching the session at this point, but to me I think this content was some of the most important for our industry and I can only hope that other companies (including mine – Microsoft) keep pushing the bar here.

20160106_035313782_iOSDiversity. Intel made a big commitment to diversity in both hiring and retention last year for women and minorities. More importantly, they tied everybody’s pay to making sure they did just that – great idea! They exceeded their 40% goal for hiring (43%) and their retention rate was the same as “non-diverse employees” (white guys?). Kudos Intel! New goals will be announced for this year soon.

20160106_035351084_iOSHarassment. Intel’s CEO took a very explicit stand against the turd brains on the Internet who use the anonymity of the ecosystem to empower them to be complete assholes. “There are real people out there behind ever comment, tweet, etc.,” he said. We need to make the Internet a “safer and more inclusive online experience for everyone.” Amen.

Lastly, Krzanich broached the touchy topic of “conflict metals”. Everything in tech relies on some pretty specific and rare metals and other materials that can only be found in certain places on Earth. Unfortunately, one of those places is the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Mining these minerals is one of the few industries left in that area, and there are some nasty people profiting 20160106_035845647_iOSfrom exploiting people and resources there. While some may consider a boycott of those goods the way to go (ala conflict diamonds), Intel has chosen to remain engaged in the trade there to keep at least some positive industry going for the people, while at the same time investing heavily in programs on the ground to help address the political and humanitarian issues. Whatever your opinion on the right course of action, kudos to Intel for not turning a blind eye. All Intel products will be “conflict free”, and there will be a certified logo to look for in the next few months (guessing they’re trying to push this across the industry). Intel is also supporting a documentary called Merci Congo, by Paul Friedman. It comes out in a few months, and we go to see part of the trailer. Definitely one to watch. Check out http://www.mercicongo.com/ (though currently the site appears down) or https://twitter.com/MerciCongo.

20160106_040456158_iOSThe show closed with another musical performance from AR Rahman and a chorus of other singers and musicians.

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It was bad. Here’s a great summary: http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/6/10721532/intel-ces-2016-keynote-jai-ho

That’s all for me tonight! Off to the show tomorrow!

Categories: technology Tags:

Passion vs Pride: Swapping my Windows Phone for an iPhone

December 19, 2014 Comments off

It’s been a month and a half since I made a dramatic change in my life, one that I would never have believed possible just 6 months prior: I started using an iPhone as my primary mobile device.

This is a big deal. I’ve worked at Microsoft for 6.5 years and have been a Microsoft-centric infrastructure professional my whole career (including a stint working for BillG). I have been a proud Windows Phone user and advocate, and I ate more than my share of "dogfood" (Redmond lingo for internal beta testing our products). I’ve owned multiple Nokia Microsoft Lumia devices and run every OS from Windows Phone 7 through yet-to-be-released builds of 8.1. I like the platform and still recommend it to people if it fits their needs.

But on November 11th I swapped my AT&T account over to an iPhone 6 and I haven’t regretted it one bit.

Before I go further I want to point out the disclaimer on my blog – you can see it over there on the right. I have an employer (Microsoft) and an opinion (my own). What follows is my opinion alone – in no way am representing Microsoft. I’ve been very careful to only discuss publically available information here, so don’t go hunting for insider nuggets – there aren’t any.

Now I know a Microsoftie jumping ship for a competitor’s platform comes off as sacrilegious to some, including me earlier this year. Hell, I grew up a Microsoft fan boy long before I ever worked for the company, and I still have a great deal of pride in what we’re trying to deliver to our customers. I take it personally when friends slam the company and/or our products, or we’re the butt of jokes. That’s not to say I have blinders on – in some ways I’m even more frustrated then an external customer/user because I can dogfood products and provide feedback … that in a number cases has been ignored. Trust me – I’ve felt the pain of crappy OS and app builds, and I’ve opened quite a few product bugs.

All that being said, things at the end of 2014 are vastly different than what I just described, and that includes – to a certain extent – the culture inside Microsoft. I have not been immune to those changes. Microsoft has, over the past year under new leadership from Satya Nadella, moved to embrace the multi-platform mobile-first world that is the reality of today’s smartphone ecosystem. It’s no longer tenable for Microsoft product groups to sit in the Redmond Bubble and create products with an "if you build it customers will come" attitude (yes that’s an old article – but I don’t think the point is outdated).

Today’s Microsoft has (finally) woken up to the fact that we’re one of many options consumers and businesses have – and that means that means our products probably won’t live in a homogeneous Microsoft-centric environment. We’ve launched versions of Office on iOS and Android that are far superior to their Windows Phone brethren (and largely don’t exist yet in the wild on Windows’ modern app platform for tablets). We’re making great headway with OneDrive offerings for Apple and Google platforms, and just recently we launched versions of the excellent Bing MSN apps for non-Windows mobile devices too.

These changes have shown up in the Microsoft culture as well. Previously some folks were hostile towards blue-badges who walked around with iPhones or Android smartphones. I don’t see that as much anymore, though I’m sure it still exists. I certainly don’t personally feel that way anymore (no, I didn’t smash anyone’s phone before my change of heart). And I can even meld both worlds together, helping break down the bubble by not just dogfooding our iOS apps, but also living in a competitor’s experience and having that help shape my feedback on our first-party offerings. To quote my old friend and coworker Dare,

“Learning about your competitor’s product is a great way to understand your target customer’s base expectations. So you can exceed them.”

Great advice to follow.

My background

A review is only as good as the source, so I thought I’d take a few paragraphs and outline my smartphone resume. I’ve used more than my fair share of mobile devices in the last 15 years. I’ve run enterprise mobile phone accounts and have a knack for being able to quickly find the pros and cons of a device and make recommendations on whether to deploy a fleet or pass.

rim_950I got my first mobile data device back in 2000 – a glorious RIM 950. It was AWESOME! I was able to get my email in real time, my calendar and contacts were sync’d too, and because it was one of the first devices to leverage the cellular data network instead of the analog voice network it kept working in natural disasters. My wife and I moved to Seattle the day before the Nisqually Earthquake in early 2001, and after it struck all of the cell phone lines were jammed. But my RIM 950 was rock solid and never faltered. I was even able to send a text-to-voice message out via a RIM service that called our families back in North Carolina to let them know we were okay.

When RIM-turned-BlackBerry introduced the 6210 model in 2003 that integrated the same data functionality with a phone I jumped onboard quickly. I was lucky enough to be in a position to actually speak with a couple representatives from RIM about their new phone right before it was announced, play with the device for a brief time, and give some feedback. I clearly remember asking them if you could change the ring tone (something my high-end Nokia “candy bar” phone at the time could do, and with polyphonic realistic sounds to boot). Their response was classic: “This isn’t a consumer device. Business users don’t want those kinds of features.” Remember, 2003 was long before the “bring your own device” revolution, but I politely pointed out that business users are consumers too and that they should reconsider. They didn’t, and RIM/BlackBerry was forever chasing the marketplace instead of leading it because of that very attitude. Sort of sounds like Microsoft’s attitude at the time too…

My point is that to be successful in today’s marketplace a smartphone has to be the best of both worlds: a powerful business device and a feature-rich consumer satisfier.

I was a BlackBerry user until I joined Microsoft in July 2008 when I lost access to a corporate BES server to link my device to Exchange. Windows Mobile, which was our offering at the time, was complete crap, so I dinked around on a couple (horrible) WinMo devices before I finally got an iPhone, then iPhone 3G. I didn’t flaunt it and was keenly aware of the Apple stigma inside the halls of Redmond. I was on an iPhone for a couple years inside Microsoft until Windows Phone 7 launched in October 2010 when I got a Samsung Focus, then a Nokia Lumia 900, and lastly a Lumia 920. Here’s a pic of my *partial* collection back in October 2011…

phonecollection2011

Hi, my name is Nathan and I’m a mobile tech addict. From L to R that’s a RIM 950, BlackBerry 6210, BlackBerry 8700c, Cingular 3125 (aka HTC Startrek running WinMo 5.0), BlackBerry 8820, Dell Axim X51v (Windows PDA – remember those?), Samsung Blackjack II (WinMo 6.0), iPhone, iPhone 3G, and Samsung Focus. Missing are at least 4 BlackBerry models that I upgraded from (and by upgrade I mean I got a new model and someone else at my company got my 4 month old phone), and both my more recent Lumia 900 and Lumia 920 … and of course my current iPhone 6.

So anyway, I spent months weighing whether to make the jump from my trusty Lumia 920 to an iPhone 6, and I can honestly say that in the end I made the jump with a clean conscience. So without further ado, here’s my comparison and impressions of the iPhone 6.

 

Hardware

I’m not going to bore you with a in-depth dive into the specs of each device. If you want that check out Versus.com’s comparison page or a similar table on findthebest.com. Effectively they’re relatively similar phones. The iPhone 6 is notably thinner and lighter (about 30%) – and I really appreciate both differences on the iPhone. It just feels way more comfortable in my hand. It’s also nice to have a plethora of cases and other accessories available for my device, versus hunting for a cool case only to find it isn’t available for my phone.

Swapping out the Windows button for the Home button wasn’t a big deal, but I do miss the Windows Phone standard back button occasionally. The Home button almost seems gesture overloaded (single press, double press, hold down, touch and rest all do different things) and I wonder if having a single physical button take so much use will impact longevity. That said, on my Lumia 920 the power button is noticeably "softer" in click response than the other, less frequently used buttons … and it still works. Maybe a more broken-in click action on the Home button will be a good thing over time.

I also miss having a dedicated camera button to use as a trigger. Yes, you can use the volume buttons on the iPhone to trigger the camera but I honestly keep forgetting that – to do so requires a 90 degree rotation to the right, but on the Windows Phone it’s 90 left. Old dog; new tricks. 😉 My assumption is I just need to retrain my brain and I’ll be fine. Ironically I tried to use the volume buttons with my bank’s app last night to take a picture of a check to deposit it, and the app expected the left-rotation by default; it didn’t recognize the rotation to the right at all.

Camera

Speaking of the camera, much has been made of how great the Lumia cameras are. The older 920 is an 8.7 MP F2.0 lens, whereas the new iPhone is 8.0 MP and F2.2. Neither rival the Lumia 1020’s awesome camera (41 MP F2.2), but frankly I don’t think it matters. I certainly can’t tell much of a difference between the two. The iPhone’s HDR mode is substantially easier to engage (I’ve honestly never figured it out on the 920, even though there are settings for it), flash works just as well, and let’s face it – most people pump their smartphone pics through an app filter that makes them look like a shitty 1978 Polaroid snap anyway. I’ll let the bean counters argue this one – for me I’m just as happy with the iPhone 6’s camera as I was with my Lumia 920’s.

When viewing said pictures, and apps, and websites, and email, and whatnot the screen size is roughly the same between the devices as well, as is resolution. 4.7" at 1334×750 vs 4.5" at 1280×768 (iPhone/Lumia). Brightness and readability are fairly similar to me; I’ve used both devices in my car with a dashboard mount (maps – never texting and driving!) and readability in bright sunlight was never an issue on either.

Storage

My Lumia 920 is a 32GB device (there was also a 16GB flavor but I can’t remember if AT&T ever sold it) with no option for additional storage. While the iPhone can’t add additional storage either, there are at least a couple larger flavors: 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB. Apple want’s a hefty premium for the extra storage compared to micro SD card prices, but you’re going to want the 64GB flavor at least to avoid storage issues on iOS upgrades, etc. My wife had a 16GB HTC 8X Windows Phone and was forever complaining about running out of room. Don’t put yourself in that situation. Spend the extra $100 and avoid yelling at your device for running out of capacity for the next 2 years. Your blood pressure will thank you.

Cables

One of the biggest gripes I have with Apple is that they go off and do their own standard for just about everything. Where that pisses me off on the iPhone is the charging/sync cable. The Lightening connector is great – you don’t have to worry about it being reversed, etc. BUT EVERY OTHER DEVICE OUT THERE (including speakers, portable batteries, my Bose noise cancelling headphones, and just about everything else we own) uses the MicroUSB standard connector. Hell, the EU effectively required all manufacturers to adopt this as the standard to avoid the proliferation of chargers getting dumped in landfills as people upgrade. Apple isn’t playing ball … yet. Why they haven’t yet is simple – they want royalties for their own proprietary connector. $$$ Bastards. 2017 can’t come soon enough. Until then I’ve had to fork over a few bucks for a couple new cables and adapters.

Pro-tip: these little adapter caddies are awesome. Have one in each car since for now we’re a dual-connector-standard household.

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Still, it must be noted that even with the proprietary connector the accessory ecosystem for iPhone is alive and well. Windows Phone … not so much.

Other hardware notes

Here are a few other points on the hardware front I wanted to share…

  • I love having a physical switch to go to vibrate mode rather than having to toggle a switch in the UI. This was one of my "I really miss this" when I moved from my original iPhones to the Samsung Focus (Windows Phone 7) 4 years ago.
  • I miss having Qi wireless charging built into my phone. Yes I could get adapters and retrofit my iPhone to use my wireless chargers, but I’d be giving up easy accessibility to the Lightning connector port, and I use that every few weeks to upload songs for my practice playlist when I’m drumming at church. Yes I could set up wireless iTunes syncing on my home network, but I’d rather stay flexible.
  • I’m getting better battery life with my iPhone 6, and it charges faster too. This may have something to do with the age of my 920 and/or running dogfood phone bits on my Windows Phone, but I can’t deny I’m enjoying better battery performance.
  • Audio quality on the iPhone 6 is far superior to the Lumia 920 to my ears. Whether I’m streaming via Bluetooth from Spotify in the car or listening to something with my ear buds everything sounds amazing. I don’t think the Lumia 920 sounded horrible, but the difference made me take note the first time I fired up some tunes in my car (no pun intended). And while the Microsoft ads may make fun of Siri for sitting on her speaker, that speaker sounds a million times better than the built-in speaker on my Lumia.

Touch ID and Apple Pay

The last hardware feature I want to touch on is Touch ID (see what I did there?). I’ve been using a biometric fingerprint scanner to authenticate on my laptop and my work desktop for years. It’s super convenient and relatively secure (nothing is unhackable). Plus it’s fast – swipe (or in the iPhone’s case hold for 1 second) and you’re in. Combined with Apple Pay, the iPhone 6 is simply the most secure payment platform I carry around with me these days. It’s true two-factor authentication for every purchase I make with Apple Pay, versus handing your card over to a stranger and hoping for the best. How many times have you wonder what’s up when your server takes forever to charge your card? And when’s the last time someone validated your signature against the back of the card (and that’s to fake – you remembered to sign your new card, right)? Checking against a driver’s license doesn’t offer much of a barrier either. At least with Apple Pay plus Touch ID I have to have my device (i.e. the card) PLUS provide a private/secure auth token via my fingerprint (a signature that’s required and much harder to forge).

Rant: I still don’t know why the US hasn’t moved faster to how credit card payments worked in Europe 7+ years ago. When I was in the UK in 2008 I never handed over my card – even in restaurants they brought a mobile reader to me and I had to be the one to swipe it. Plus they had certificate + PIN authentication on their cards (we didn’t, and largely still don’t). Replace PIN code with fingerprint and you’ve got Apple Pay.

Wait – yes I do know why this hasn’t changed here, US financial institutions think it’s cheaper to eat fraudulent transactions than it would be to do the right thing. Behold the almighty dollar…. Anyway, Apple Pay (and similar tech) is the future. Now we just need retailers to stop blocking it for BS reasons.

Okay, I feel better now. 😉

 

iOS Experience

In general I’ve been very pleased with iOS. There’s of course been a learning curve to remember/figure out how everything works, where various settings are squirreled away, etc. – but everything has functioned as expected. I haven’t really used any of the iCloud offerings (in fact I’ve disabled even photo backup in favor of using OneDrive via our iOS app [thanks Jason!]). I haven’t used Facetime either, but I have had a few shocked replies as my text messages to friends change from green (SMS) to blue (iMessage).

Most importantly in just the last 6 weeks I’ve received 2 incremental update packages from Apple for iOS. Microsoft has never released small incremental patches for Windows Phone to the best of my recollection, no matter how much that possibility was lauded when WinPhone 7 first came out. Even moderate “point” releases have come out on a 6-9 month time scale if you’re lucky (Verizon seemingly stopped approving all updates for the last year or so until very recently). This has been a very frustrating fail for Windows Phone from my perspective.

Dated UI

I’m not going to hold punches: I miss Live Tiles and the modern Windows Phone home screen look and feel. This is perhaps the biggest downside to my migration. The iOS interface was awesome if not revolutionary when it first came out … 7.5 years ago. It hasn’t really changed since other than a false 3D perspective effect of moving the background image slightly as you tilt the phone (that’s cool the first time you see it, but never ever registers again with your eye). How much processing power – and battery – is being eaten to do that? Waste of electrons IMHO.

Yes, I can move icons for apps around on the various pages, but I have to match a strict grid. What if I want all my icons on the right 2 columns? Or just the bottom? Nope. And on those app icons there’s no info besides the occasional badge that tells you there are so many new emails or podcasts or whatever. I loved having my calendar, weather, stock, headlines, etc. info at a glance without diving into the apps. It is a longer process to figure out what room my next meeting is in on the iPhone. I’m really hoping they make some big changes here in coming releases – and so do a lot of iPhone enthusiasts I’ve seen online.

The aging UI is actually the biggest gripe my wife has as well. That being said, I saw online somewhere in the last week (sorry, I can’t find the reference now) a very valid point: on today’s smartphones how much do you really care about the core interface when the vast majority of your time spent with the device is in apps? Even on Windows Phone with Live Tiles it’s not like I’d unlock my phone just to stare at the Start screen (other than to get that next conference room). For that reason I have to look at the last 2 paragraphs and say “Yup, I agree – so what?”

Stability

iOS is far more stable than Windows Phone in my experience. Yes this may be influenced by dogfooding OS updates, but even on retail builds I found myself having to reboot my Lumia at least once a week to fix some issue or another (usually a crippling battery drain from some unknown source). In the last 6 weeks I’ve had to do that on my iPhone once when network connectivity on WiFi and cellular just stopped working. Not perfect, but an 83% reduction.

Bluetooth connectivity on iOS is rock solid, much more so than on my Lumia 920. I have a Ford Edge with My Ford Touch that runs atop the Microsoft Auto platform (which I also dogfooded – I’m serious about testing software!). Even on final/retail/gold bits on my Windows Phone and car I still had random connection issues at the start of perhaps 10% of my drives (that’s one per week or so). In the last 6 weeks I’ve had 1 connection issue with my iPhone – and I’m pretty sure that was the car. Ironically Ford seems to have come to the same conclusion I have. :-/

Contact issues

The biggest pain point I’ve had was actually integrating my Microsoft accounts – both public (Hotmail Outlook.com) and corporate (O365), and specifically around contact sync. This is especially frustrating to me because I spent a year and a half running Microsoft’s consumer address book platform that powers contacts for Outlook.com and Messenger/Skype, and syncs contacts from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’ve still got good friends running the service.

Anyway, from what I can tell on the user side of the service is that while there are some great features in the AB platform to present a unified view of your contacts when you’re on a Microsoft app platform (Outlook, modern Contacts, Windows Phone), all of that falls down pretty hard when you go to sync your account with 3rd party device. And don’t go through and delete all those duplicate contacts that magically appeared because then you start nuking your Messenger/Skype buddy relationships inadvertently. Thankfully there’s a deleted contacts recovery function available on http://people.live.com.

On top of all that there’s a Lync desktop client bug that under certain circumstances (which I evidentially hit on a regular basis) creates multiple duplicate contacts from your Lync buddy list in a special Exchange contacts folder, which is sync’d to your iPhone by default (you can hide these contacts, btw). You used to be able to disable this Lync contact create feature, but that option went away a couple years ago – I have no idea why, or even how this contact feature (without the dupe bug) is useful.

20141229_224258000_iOSThe result of all this isn’t fatal, but it’s a gigantic PAIN IN THE ASS! I had a TON of duplicate contacts that showed up on my iPhone when I first set up my accounts. Thankfully the iPhone lets you merge multiple contacts together so the end result is that I had to spend some quality time with my address book merging dupes, as shown to the right. Note, I only have 1 account each for Exchange, Facebook, iCloud, and Hotmail. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t an issue caused by iOS; I have to lay blame for this squarely on Microsoft’s shoulders (including myself since I was on the feature team that helped create this mess). In fact, this is why having Microsofties dogfood experiences on other platforms is a GOOD thing! If I had been on an iPhone 2 years ago I could have helped prioritize getting this fixed; instead we didn’t really even know this was a problem at the time.

Continuing with the contacts theme, I do miss the excellent and deep contact integration from Facebook and LinkedIn that Windows Phone gives you. It was really nice to be able to search my contacts and have phone numbers and email addresses from people I know on those two networks included in the results, even if I don’t have them as a full-fledged contact in one of my address books.

I also wish the iPhone would “translate” the business phone numbers that Microsoft publishes via our internal global address book in Exchange. Your phone number gets stored as a 10 digit number (direct line) and then an “X+5” where the +5 are just your extension. For example, if my desk phone was 425-555-1234 my business phone number would get stored as “+1 4255551234X51234”. Windows Phone has the built in smarts to deal with this stupid convention and just dials the 10 digit number, but iPhone just sends the whole damn string to your wireless carrier and their phone switch legitimately replies with the technical equivalent of “WTF is that?”. Annoying, but not insurmountable – and likely a very Microsoft-specific feature that was built into Windows Phone to deal with our internal idiosyncrasies.

iTunes

I’ve never been a fan of iTunes, so frankly I try not to use it as much as possible. I know for a fact I have a lot of company in this camp so I wont belabor the point. Unfortunately I do have a use case that forces me to use the desktop iTunes app with my iPhone: I create rehearsal playlists from MP3s for upcoming set lists with my worship band (I’m a drummer for Bellevue Presbyterian Church). I listen to the playlist for the coming Sunday throughout the week to get the tunes into my head. On Windows Phone I could download the practice tracks to a computer (that’s any Windows computer, mind you – sometimes my laptop, sometimes my work desktop, sometimes my home desktop) and copy the folder for that week’s songs directly onto my Lumia by drag-and-dropping them just as if the phone was a portable hard drive. I can then create the playlist on the phone and reorder the songs as needed.

With my iPhone that’s not possible. For whatever reason Apple thinks that 1 person = 1 computer, so you can only copy songs onto your phone from a single installation of iTunes. Right now I’ve got that set up as my work desktop since about 60% of the time I do my playlist creation during lunch on Mondays. Further, there’s no way to get music onto your phone other than via the iTunes app, so I have to do the playlist creation and sync operation via iTunes. I’m getting used to these limitations, but IMHO Windows Phone makes this scenario a hell of a lot easier.

Other iOS notes

Like I said above, I’ve generally been very pleased with iOS versus Windows Phone 8.1, even though I think of all the topics I cover in this write-up this area is the one where I’ve had the most negative experience. It’s not bad enough to make me want to go back, especially with the superior hardware and app ecosystem, but herein lies the biggest opportunities for Apple to make enhancements and for Microsoft to better support our customers on iOS.

It should be noted that I also gave up the ability to VPN into the Microsoft network from my phone since Microsoft IT requires some pretty complex encryption configurations that the iPhone doesn’t support (it can to basic VPN, so odds are you’re covered as long as you don’t work for MS). Frankly I used this all of 3 times on my Windows Phone, and that was just to approve a trivial request in an internal web app. I’m not missing the ability to VPN at all.

One other feature I do genuinely miss is incoming text messages automatically triggering Cortana to read the message and let me respond via voice-to-text. That’s SUPER helpful when you’re driving. I can get nearly the same functionality by reaching for my phone and holding down the Home button to invoke Siri, then asking to read new texts, but it would be great to have a setting toggle somewhere to automatically jump into “You’ve got a new message from John Doe, do you want me to read it?” I for one would turn it on, and from my searching online a lot of other folks would too.

Apps

This is where I’m going to start sounding like an iOS fanboy a bit. I’ve got some criticisms to be sure, but the app ecosystem on iOS is so far ahead of Windows Phone it’s not even funny. This isn’t news to anyone either. Honestly this was the tipping point for me in deciding to move away from WinPhone to iPhone – I was tired of not having access to interesting and relevant apps. I’ve always been a gadget geek (see phone history above), and frankly being on Windows Phone meant that I was locking myself out of a flourishing ecosystem that I really wanted to play in. I also wanted to be able to deposit a check at my bank without leaving home – that’s just too damn cool!

The other part of the app equation is the realization that I’m a consumer when it comes to a smartphone, not a pure business user. Even though I was smart enough to point out that obvious combination to BlackBerry more than a decade ago, somewhere along the way I forgot. Or the Microsoft culture made me forgo cool shiny new toys to support our own offerings. Or more likely both. My point is I wanted to have access to the awesome apps everyone talks about, not the stale feature-stripped versions that get published to the Windows Phone marketplace – if at all. As one of my coworkers put it just this afternoon, “I put up with app my friends talking about this cool Instagram thing for over a year before it ever showed up on Windows Phone.” Lame.

I’m going to break down the apps I’ve been using by area to help organize my thoughts.

Business functionality (email, contacts, calendar)

The built-in apps for Mail, Calendar, and Contacts are actually quite good. The biggest issues I’ve had are with contacts (as noted above in the iOS Experience section). I’m using all 3 as my daily drivers and am quite please with each. The UI for calendar is especially nice and easy to read, but I’ve found the accept/decline flow confusing as to whether I’ve actually accepted or not. Contacts work smoothly and, as discussed above, let me overcome issues generated by my data sources (Outlook.com and Exchange). I do the vast majority of my email and calendar work on my desktop via the full Outlook client, but I’ve been very pleased with my ability to quickly triage email and check my calendar. I still wish Contacts would pull from my full Facebook and LinkedIn lists though.

I of course also have Microsoft’s OWA for iPhone app installed so I can access DRM-restricted emails. I thought at first I’d use this app as my regular email client for business email, but it’s far too clunky. The calendar and contact UI is complete crap, and contact sync doesn’t seem to reliably work to the phone’s main address feed. While the contacts list is supposed to be able to show up in the main contacts app, the calendar completely lacks that integration point – meaning that if you run multiple calendars (work, home, travel, birthdays…) you’d have to check multiple apps to see if you’re busy or not. Not functional. I ended up connecting my phone directly to Exchange for contacts … then calendar … and finally email. I really don’t use the OWA app unless I have to.

I’ve tried Acompli as well (Microsoft actually just bought them) and it’s a highly-functional app as well, though I found I can’t adapt to it’s “we’ll show you what we think is important and file other messages elsewhere” feature. That’s why I have inbox rules set up on my Exchange server for – to filter all that crap out. I do like their “hovering undo” UI that lets you quickly restore an email that you accidentally swiped into the trash and I wish the regular Mail app had that.

One note with all 3 of these mail apps: I’ve always had one complaint with emails sent from folks on iPhones – the mail app ruins formatting in email threads with text showing up as Times New Roman 12pt. I’m picky – and that font looks like crap in email. I always thought it was the default iOS mail app screwing up, but I discovered both the OWA app and Acompli do the same thing. After a little digging I found the problem isn’t necessarily these apps, but rather the Outlook desktop client itself. It figures – Outlook’s HTML rendering engine is notoriously horrid. If you’re like me and want to fix this check out this great post on how to do it.

Podcasts

On the average day my 1-way commute is about 45 minutes … less if I skip the morning rush and stop for breakfast instead. 😉 To pass the time I listen to a number of different podcasts, including The Nerdist, Radiolab, The Alton Browncast, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and a few other one-offs. I started off using the built-in podcast app that comes with iOS and was pretty pleased. It downloads new episodes, let’s me easily manage subscriptions, read/unread, etc. I was also impressed with the cloud sync feature that lets me listen in the car and then pick up in the exact same spot from my iTunes desktop app, and vice versa. NEETO! I used it twice.

The pain came when I tried to listen to podcasts at 1.5x speed. My wife taught me this trick on Windows Phone – you can listen to people talking at 1.5x speed and still clearly understand what’s being said. Plus you get through an hour podcast episode in about 45 minutes. GENIUS! But the Podcast app that comes with iOS can’t handle producing a clear audio track at anything other than 1x. There’s some bug that generates a horrible “warble” in the playback that’s just on the edge of annoying at 1.5x, impossible to deal with at 2x, and downright laugh out loud funny at .5x speed. This was true via the internal speaker, headphone jack, and Bluetooth streaming.

I searched for this issue online and couldn’t find any discussion of it anywhere. I wondered if I had a bad device (perhaps something’s screwy in the processor or sound chip) so I stopped by my local Apple Store in Bellevue, WA. After a brief wait I got hooked up with their resident podcast expert who didn’t even know that feature existed. When I reproduced the issue he laughed and said, “oh you’re using the built in Podcast app – that thing is shit!” Heh. He was able to reproduce the problem on his device so he pointed me to http://apple.com/feedback (which I used) and then made some recommendations on alternative apps.

I’ve been using Overcast for the past week or so and love it. It has a cloud sync feature as well, though I haven’t tried the web playback function yet (not sure I will – I need music when I’m working – I tend to zone out voices and I subscribe to podcasts to actually hear them). The nice thing with Overcast is that cloud-based service is what’s checking for new episodes, not the app, so this should save battery life. Best yet it’s got a multi-speed playback feature with a granular slider bar that lets you hone in on exactly how fast you want to listen. I’ve settled in on 1.4x. The UI is a touch confusing at first without a clear option to mark an episode as listened to or not (something important when rebuilding your subscriptions), but I quickly figured it out. To get some of the advanced features there’s an in-app purchase of $5, but frankly I think the app is worth it. I’m more than willing to support great independent devs – that’s how I originally met Dare Obasanjo. I used his RSS Bandit desktop app way back when, provided feedback, struck up a relationship over email, privately reported a massive security hole in a newly-launched Microsoft online service, and eventually leveraged that into an interview and job at Microsoft. Networking at its finest.

Anyway, ditch the built-in Podcast app and use something else. My vote is for Overcast.

Microsoft Office

Word and Excel are good on iOS, and OneNote is especially fantastic (OneNote has a solid 5 star rating on the App Store!). WAY better than the versions provided on Windows Phone. That’s a shame, but it tells me that the Office group is investing in apps where the users are … just like other developers in the mobile app ecosystem. Catch 22 anyone?

I don’t use it on my mobile device much (on purpose), but even the Lync app is far easier on the eyes and highly functional on iOS.

I mentioned OneDrive earlier – it’s very similar to the Windows Phone version, but that’s a good thing. It can do most everything you want it to … well, there’s not much of a feature gap between platforms, though there are a number of OneDrive features I wish would launch (hi again Jason – you have my list!). I use the OneDrive app to back up my photos to my OneDrive account and then sync to my various PCs. iPhone pictures end up in the same folder my Windows Phone pictures so my workflow is exactly the same. The big bummer for picture backup is that I have to remember to launch the app every once in a while so it can upload those pictures. On WinPhone that happens in the background, but on iPhone the OneDrive app has to be in the foreground. This is obviously a first party vs. third party feature gap that likely won’t be closed; photos are uploaded in the background just fine on iPhone if you’re using iCloud. I can live with it, though.

Camera app

The iOS camera app really whips the llamas ass (that’s a good thing). It does the essentials, makes important settings easy to change (flash on/off, HDR on/off, front/rear lens) and has some really awesome features like easy high-quality panorama pictures (the Lumia panorama app always gave me fits) and allows you to do slow-mo or time lapse videos. I know there are some other, fancier camera apps out there that would let me do all sorts of other incredible things like mess with exposure and F stops, etc., but for me if I’m taking a pic with my phone I just want it to be quick and easy. If I want a pro-quality image I’m busting out my prosumer-grade Nikon DSLR.

By contrast, while most of the same features (and more) exist on the Lumia camera app, that UI is just too cluttered. By contrast I think it gives you too much control and can be overwhelming. It also lacks built-in support for panorama photos and slo-mo videos aren’t available at all. Interestingly the Lumia camera app, assuming you download it from the Store, is way better than the overly-spartan default WinPhone app. The iOS offering feels like a good middle ground.

I won’t rehash the camera hardware discussion above, but it’s relevant to read if you skipped it.

Social networking

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are all far superior experiences on iOS. Because of the much larger user base of the platform these apps are getting new features quite often. Facebook has a standing 2-week release cycle. On Windows Phone these apps are getting updated a handful of times per year and simply don’t have feature or quality parity. This is again the central catch 22 of the Windows Phone platform: developers have a tough time justifying the return on investment for a third platform (behind Android and iOS) when the user community is so small.

Other apps I frequent

These are some of the other apps I find myself using at least several times a week, if not daily.

  • Instagram – on par with the Windows Phone app, surprisingly, though it did take over 3 years from the service’s launch for even an official app to reach beta on Windows Phone. For the record, the app was last updated 9 months ago as of this writing (3/22/2014) and still isn’t out of beta mode. That’s just sad.
  • Spotify – my wife and I share a number of playlists between each other. As a 2-musician household, we love having access to all sorts of music from around the world. And no, we’re not missing Taylor Swift’s collection.
  • Waze – crowd-sourced mapping and traffic data. This is available on Windows Phone but lacks many of the social features, which is a shame (Google bought Waze and killed off development on WinPhone). It’s fun to earn points while you drive, fix the map yourself when you need to, and report traffic incidents or disabled vehicles to look out for. I’ve found it offers better traffic-based route suggestions than my car, which also gets traffic data sent to it. Waze also lets you share your drive with contacts so they can see where you are along the route and when you’ll get there. Oh, and you can look up destinations from your contacts, Facebook events, calendar entries, Waze’s own database, or the web.
  • MyRadar and Weather Underground – I’m a weather geek. These are great apps. The WU app’s user interface is a bit dated, but it provides access to the NOAA scientific forecast discussion which I love to read and can be quite funny at times. [pushes glass back up nose and adjusts suspenders]
  • MSN Apps: News, Money, Sports – these are great apps and I’m happy to see them launch recently on iOS. The News app especially curates articles from many different sources. I also use USA Today’s app as well as NBC News.
  • Flipboard – another late entrant to the Windows Phone ecosystem. I’m trying to work this into my app rotation more and haven’t used it as much as I’d like to. It’s another great news aggregator, but unlike the MSN app where “they” curate the feed for you, with Flipboard you tell it keywords, topics, and sources to track and then using that data it builds your feed.
  • LastPass – password management platform that stores your password library in the cloud as an encrypted blob (they don’t have the key and cannot decrypt). I use desktop browser plug-ins for LastPass as well. This is also on Windows Phone, but here on iOS you can authenticate to the app with Touch ID instead of your password if you so desire (way faster – you desire!).
  • ESPN SportsCenter – another app also on WinPhone, but somehow the UI on iOS just feels so much more polished and smooth.
  • Personal finance
    • Mint – great financial summary and reporting tool. Took forever to show up on WinPhone and isn’t nearly as polished or feature rich there. Have you heard that before?
    • Amex – account info and alerts, Apple Pay integration, Touch ID app authentication. Doesn’t exist on Windows Phone
    • my bank – no I’m not saying on the Internet where I bank, but suffice to say it’s one of many institutions that doesn’t have a Windows Phone app. I love depositing checks from my couch!
    • Starbucks – I live in the Seattle area. Duh.
  • Amazon Fresh – we use Amazon Fresh for grocery delivery. This app is actually easier to use than their website and makes putting our next order together super-easy. Not available on WinPhone.
  • UPS Mobile – links with my UPS My Choice account to show me what’s on the way to our house … most comes from Amazon. Not available on WinPhone.
  • TripIt – Great service if you travel a bunch (I don’t for work, but 2015 is shaping up to be a busy year on the personal travel front for our family). Technically there’s a WinPhone version of this app – last updated in March of 2012.
  • Skype – have it because before running the address book service I spent 4+ years running the Messenger service platform, and Messenger merged with was replaced by Skype (back-end service is still the same). The Messenger integration into Windows Phone 7 and 8 was awesome and blended into the same “messaging” app as SMS text messaging. Unfortunately Messenger was removed from the messaging app in Windows Phone 8.1 and not replaced with Skype. With Messenger my wife and I could seamlessly migrate a conversation between the Messenger app on a computer and Cortana voice/text interaction in the car; all that broke down with Skype. If I uninstalled the Skype app on my iPhone I probably wouldn’t miss it, and I probably need to replace it on my home screen dock with something I use more often. I’m not convinced this app always stays connected to the cloud and that I’d get notified if I got an IM or call if I hadn’t run the app recently. That probably corresponds to the horrible rating in the App Store.
  • Xfinity Home – pretty cool to be able to manage our home security system from anywhere. Not available on WinPhone.
  • Xfinity Connect – voicemail on the go and I can technically place/receive home phone calls from anywhere. Way better than Vonage’s crappy iOS app (and non-existent WinPhone app). We’re currently migrating our home phone back to Xfinity.

There are a few others I’ve installed and use from time to time, but they’re specialized and not broadly relevant so I’ll leave them out.

 

Conclusion

As you can tell I didn’t return my iPhone 6 within the 14 day return window. Please know I have done that before – most notably with a 2004 Windows Mobile device that didn’t even make it 8 hours in my possession before I packed it back up to return – the manufacturer and reseller weren’t happy. It was a piece of crap.

Like I opened with lo all those many words ago (8000 or so), I really want to support Windows Phone and see the platform succeed. Hell, I’m not just an Microsoft employee but a shareholder as well. But I have to face facts – Windows Phone isn’t where I should be right now. I’m not giving up on Windows Phone like Tim Warren did (great read over on The Verge by the way), but for me I have two bigger picture reasons for moving to, and staying with my new iPhone 6:

1. Microsoft is only going to be successful if we provide awesome experiences on every platform our users want to use. That’s not always going to be Windows. To help support that sea change I can use another platform but still use Microsoft apps and services. Not just use – test, debug, and provide constructive feedback to the product teams. Dogfood.

2. I’m a tech enthusiast and want to be on a platform that is “getting the love” from developers and services everywhere. After 4 years and slow, incremental, but of course meaningful, growth I just don’t see the Windows Phone platform as hitting that critical mass anytime soon. It’s a great platform if you just want to have solid essential functionality and have a “cover the bases” app ecosystem. There are a LOT of people in markets all over the world who that brand placement targets and who are okay with flagship devices effectively stagnating while low-end phones that skimp on features proliferate. I wish Windows Phone every success in that marketplace. I’m not in that target market.

What this guy is, for at least the next year if not longer, is a happy iPhone user in the heart of Redmond.

N2

BWme

PS – yes that’s a Lego caricature portrait on my wall. 🙂

Panama Canal Time Lapse Video

May 24, 2013 2 comments

My wife Alicea and I just took one of the best vacations ever – 2 weeks on the Disney Wonder cruise ship from Miami to LA via the Panama Canal, with stops at Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas, Cartagena, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas.  HIGHLY recommended if you get the chance!

The focus of the cruise was of course the transit of the Panama Canal from the Atlantic/Caribbean side to the Pacific.  We made the crossing on Sunday, May 12, 2013 and I rigged up a camera on our balcony to capture the event.  Check it out!

 

I’ve had a few folks ask how I did this, so here’s the rundown…

Hardware

  • Microsoft LifeCam Studio – I was hoping to take 1080p quality pictures, but ended up taking 720p pics due to processing power on the laptop I was using (more about that below); the biggest benefit of this camera over the LifeCam Cinema is it has a tripod mount receiver to screw it to a stand
  • Joby GorillaPod GP3 – flexible tripod that’s sized for our Nikon DSLR (way overkill for a webcam, but I didn’t want to buy a single-use device)
  • Joby BH1 Ball Head w/ Bubble Level for GP3 – allows you to adjust the angle of the camera independently from the flexible tripod, which is critical for fine-tuning the picture direction and level without compromising the security of the legs gripping the railing
  • USB 2.0 extension cable – I knew I didn’t want my laptop exposed to the elements, so I got a long cable to snake through the door to our veranda.
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch Ultrabook – I was originally hoping to run the camera from my Microsoft Surface RT, but the LifeCam Studio isn’t supported on the Windows RT platform. So I brought my work laptop: Intel Core i5-3427U 1.8GHz, 4GB RAM, 180GB SSD
  • Disney Wonder – DCL’s second “Magic-Class” ship: 11 decks, 965 feet long, 106 feet wide, 83,338 gross tons, 5 main engines producing 78,000 horse power, max speed 23 knots (26.5 mph), launched in 1999
  • Panama Canal – infrastructure used to allow ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans without going around the southern tip of South America (saves ~8000 miles of travel); ~48 miles long channel (ocean to ocean), 3 locks up – 3 locks down, 85 feet above sea level

Software

  • Webcam Timelapse from TNL Enterprises – free app that can both capture the pictures from the camera over time and compile them into an AVI video file
  • Windows Movie Maker from Microsoft – free app part of the Essentials Suite used to add music and onscreen text to the video

Concept and Testing

There are effectively two levers you can “pull” for a time lapse video: picture capture rate and the final video’s frame rate.  The capture rate is probably the one you will want to play with the most (see discussion below).  I left the video frame rate at the Webcam Timelapse default of 15 frames/second.  It’s ever so slightly more choppy than Hollywood movies (24 fps), TV broadcasts (30 fps), or your computer screen (60 fps or better for gaming), but with time lapse video everything is choppy so I don’t think it matters.

The length of your movie is just math:
duration of event (minutes) / captures per minute = total number of frames
total number of frames / frames per second = seconds of video

So if you take 4 hours of an event and take a picture every 10 seconds, then render a video at 15 frames per second, your final movie will be 1 min 36 sec long.
4 hrs = 240 mins
captures per min = 6    (60 seconds in a minute / 10)
240 min * 6 cpm = 1,440 pictures
1,440 frames / 15 fps = 96 seconds of video

The biggest point of advice I can make is to do some test videos before you try to capture your big event.  Make sure your webcam drivers are installed and your app can see/use the device.  Figure out how big each picture will be and ensure you have enough hard drive space to save them all.  Make sure you have line power or enough battery to last the full event you want to capture and make sure you have a way to disable any sleep timers your computer or OS may have.

For your test videos, play with the frame capture rates (how many seconds between pictures) to get something that’s both smooth and not too slow.  If you’re watching flowers open taking a picture every second is too fast, but if you’re shooting boats moving in a harbor capturing a frame every minute is likely way too slow.  There’s also the frame rate you use for the playback of all those shots to factor in to how fast people will see time pass in your movie (and how long it is).

I hooked everything up at home before we even left Seattle to make sure the apps and drivers were all in order.  I discovered then that I couldn’t run the webcam at full resolution because it kept grabbing lots of garbled or black frames.  The specs for the camera say you’ve got to have a quad-core processor to do 1080p video and my laptop is a dual-core, but I thought I’d be okay since I was taking stills.  I’m not sure if it’s the time lapse software, drivers, or combination, but the 1080p was not working well.  Perhaps the camera is slower to initialize 1080p and ever picture captured is a fresh “initialization” since I’m taking stills and not video??? Either way, the 720p setting looked just fine and in the spirit of not freaking out during vacations I just rolled with the punches.
Winking smile

We had a port of call in Cartagena, Columbia (beautiful city by the way) a couple days before the Canal crossing and a cargo ship pulled in next to our berth so I decided to set up the camera right and play around.  I’m glad I did since for that video I captured a frame every 15 seconds, which turned out to be a bit too coarse as I evaluated the output.  I tweaked the capture settings down to every 5 seconds and that looked perfect – that’s what I used through the Canal.  You can see this test video below.  15 seconds was great for some stuff (clouds, the big cranes moving along the wharf, the incredibly slow opening of the cargo doors opening on the ship), but it largely missed the tugboat going in and out a few times. The last ~2 seconds of this movie are fames every 5 seconds, and you can noticeably see the motion get smoother.

That’s actually an interesting point with the rig and method I used here – I can’t change between time-lapse and real-time in the final movie unless I sit with the computer and tweak the capture rate on the fly.  Ideally I’d love to capture everything in real time and then speed it up for large swaths of time.  That would have let me have more time to annotate some things onscreen in the Canal video (like the Chagres river followed quickly by Noriega’s prison), or use real time video at the start/end of the video.  But hey, I did all this for <$150 in hardware and free software; you get what you pay for!

My Setup

DSC_0939I set up my camera the night before we started our Panama Canal crossing to make sure I could get the sight line and horizon adjusted properly with daylight (we started the crossing before sunup) and to make sure the camera was acclimated to the outside conditions.  If you haven’t cruised in warmer climates before you don’t know the “joy” of waiting 20 minutes for your camera lens to acclimate to the high heat and humidity of outside from your cool and dry inside stateroom (it instantly fogs up).  Here’s an attempt to take a picture of a tugboat at the entrance of the Canal with our DSLR before the lens had acclimated.

DSC_1267Our stateroom on The Wonder was 8080 – nice and high on the port (left) side towards the back.  It’s also a 1br Concierge Suite that we scored as an upgrade when we checked in, but that’s a different story.  The nice thing for our purposes was that it has a double-veranda (essentially it’s two rooms side by side) so we had plenty of room to hang out on the deck and take pictures with our regular camera and stay out of the way of our time lapse rig.

As you can see, I used the Joby GorillaPod to get a nice and secure hold on the railing and then leveraged both the Ball Head and the webcam’s own “foot” to adjust the picture angle.  I actually wish the webcam’s foot wasn’t adjustable – it would have been easier to just tweak the ball joint and not accidentally move the camera itself; it took me quite a few tries to get the horizon fairly flat (and it’s still just slightly off).  If I had to do it all over again I’d want to find some sort of extension pole that would have allowed me to get a bit more out over the railing to maybe see down to the water line (there’s only 2 feet of clearance on either side of the ship in the locks!).

I knew from my testing in Cartagena that I wanted to use 5 frames per second max quality; the Webcam Timelapse app has some sliders for compression and image quality – I just maxed everything out.  I got the software settings dialed in, put my laptop to sleep, and set my alarm for 5:00a (the captain said that was about the time we’d be hauling up the anchor and heading towards the first lock).  As soon as my alarm went off all I had to do was power up my laptop, run the USB cable outside, plug in the webcam, and click the “start capture” button.  If you do this make sure you carefully route the USB cable through the door jam to optimize getting as best a seal as possible to keep the cold air in and hot air out at the same time you don’t break your USB cable.  The Disney ships use sliding doors so it was pretty easy to do if you let the cable hang vertically as you close the door.

The Webcam Timelapse app has a nice video monitor window that opens during capture so I could validate what the camera was seeing.  Note: it’s not super obvious, but you can resize that window.  After everything was up and running I took our DSLR and went up on the top deck to take pictures of the locks, etc.  Alicea went back to sleep.  Smile  The app ran all day without a hitch and captured 8,431 frames from 5:09a through 5:03p, or about 3.6GB (350KB to 550KB per picture).

Before I did anything else I made a complete copy of the frame capture folder and marked it as read-only.  Call me paranoid.  Then, with the Webcam Timelapse app still open, I ran through the convert to video flow.  It only writes .AVI files; there’s another quality slider (again, full up) and a frame rate selector (15 fps is default).  Please note this app doesn’t prompt you if you use the same file name as an existing file – use extreme caution and make sure you don’t overwrite a video file!  It took about 20 minutes for my laptop to render the movie, but when it was done I had a 3.77GB AVI file.  I dumped that on a USB stick and brought it and my Surface to dinner to show off – big hit!

Once we got home from the cruise I created a project in Windows Movie Maker and imported the AVI file in along with a couple tracks from MUTEMATH (awesome band by the way, if you’ve never heard them).  I also annotated the video with onscreen text with content sourced from our fantastic onboard lectures during the cruise by Capt Ken Pucket, a docent/narrator who came onboard with the pilot and spoke through the day on the PA system on deck, and a few reference tidbits from Wikipedia.  The final movie was bounced down in .MP4 format (693MB) and uploaded to YouTube (where I finally learned how to unblock a movie that has licensed songs in it – though unfortunately Warner Brothers blocks mobile devices from accessing the video as a result … whatever).

Summary

I think that’s about it.  This project actually got me pretty interested in doing more time lapse movies.  I too another one on the cruise of a sunset as we sailed from Puerto Vallarta to Cabo San Lucas, but the auto-adjust features on the webcam software kind of killed a lot of the colors there.  It’s still pretty cool though – check it out!

We’ve got an older Nikon D40X DSLR that I want to see if I can can run directly from a computer so I can better control color, focus, etc.  We’ve got a great view of Mt. Si from our bedroom and some beautiful sunsets from time to time – looking forward to experimenting!

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions in the comments.

 

Final Stats

Panama Canal Transit video:

  • 8431 frames (3.59GB)
  • raw video length: 9:22 (3.77GB)
  • edited video length: 9:59 (693MB for YouTube 720p MP4, 1.6GB for 1080p)

Panama Canal traversal:

  • 04:53 – anchor aweigh (up)
  • 05:09 – video capture started
  • 06:10 – vessel entering Gatun Locks
  • 07:45 – vessel leaves Gatun Locks
  • 08:31 – let go anchor (we were “holding” for traffic to clear the Pacific side of the canal)
  • 09:38 – anchor aweigh, continue crossing
  • 13:53 – vessel entering Pedro Miguel Lock
  • 14:38 – vessel leaves Pedro Miguel Lock
  • 14:51 – vessel entering Miraflores Locks
  • 15:51 – vessel leaves Miraflores Locks
  • 16:55 – start of sea voyage (pilot departs the ship)
  • 17:03 – passed sea bouy marking end of channel (video capture stopped)

Cruise details:

  • Fuel oil consumed: 444,300 gallons (main engines)
  • Diesel oil consumed: 1,663 gallons (generators during shore days)
  • Fresh water consumed: 3,127,608 (created by onboard desalinization plant)
  • Total nautical miles: 4,479
  • Departure: 6 May 2013 16:58 – Miami, FL, USA
  • Day 1: Disney’s Castaway Cay, The Bahamas
  • Day 2: at sea
  • Day 3: at sea
  • Day 4: Cartagena, Columbia
  • Day 5: at sea
  • Day 6: Panama Canal crossing
  • Day 7: at sea
  • Day 8: at sea
  • Day 9: at sea
  • Day 10: at sea
  • Day 11: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Day 12: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Day 13: at sea
  • Day 14/Arrival: 20 May 2013 06:15 – Los Angeles, CA, USA

Line Rider + YouTube = Hours of (wasted) time

July 1, 2008 2 comments

I came across an interesting post today from Tim Heuer about the site Line Rider moving to Microsoft’s Silverlight version 2.  Now forget about the fact that you’re not interested in the technologies behind this website and how it does what it does.  Just know that by watching the video below you’re about to waste an afternoon on YouTube.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!  🙂