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Apple is letting Verizon Wireless sell the iPad: The trick? Verizon will only offer through its 2,000-plus stores the Wi-Fi iPad, not the 3G model. The 3G iPad works only over GSM networks (up to HSPA 7.2). Instead, Verizon will sell you a plain Wi-Fi iPad ($500, $600, and $700 for 16, 32, and 64 GB); or, for an extra $130, it'll throw in a MiFi router. That $130 is the same price difference Apple and its partners collect for a 3G iPad over its Wi-Fi–only brethren.
Verizon pairs the iPad and MiFi with plans nothing like what the carrier has offered before. These are fixed-price, moderate-use offers with no termination penalty; the terms are just like AT&T's offer for the 3G iPad, but Verizon's prices are better. Verizon will charge $20 for 1 GB ($20 per GB over that) and $35 and $50 for 3 GB and 5 GB (with $10 per GB overage fees).
AT&T charges $15 for 250 MB and $25 for 2 GB for its 3G iPad plans. Additional units of each can be purchased at the same price after the 30-day period expires or you use up all the data. Virgin Mobile offers unlimited Sprint Nextel 3G broadband with a USB modem or MiFi for $40 for a 30-day period.
Because the MiFi can handle up to five devices over Wi-Fi, one could argue that if you don't need an iPad and do need a MiFi, this is a slick deal. Buy the package and sell the iPad without even opening its box. You'll probably get a few dollars under list for it.
Barnes & Noble pushes pressure on ereader market with $149 Wi-Fi Nook: The Nook is a ebook reader that's gotten mixed reviews. Although B&N keeps upgrading the firmware, the device hasn't reached the maturity of a Kindle or Sony Reader. However, B&N made a number of interesting choices about the device and its software features that may bear fruit.
In the latest twist, B&N has released a $149 Wi-Fi–only Nook, $50 less than the repriced 3G flavor (formerly $259). The Kindle omits Wi-Fi, which would make the Nook's service an advantage, except that B&N will only be enabling AT&T hotspot automatic logins in the 1.4 firmware release, several months after the device's introduction. That's obviously a more critical feature in a device that only connects via USB or Wi-Fi.
Like Amazon, B&N is building an ecosystem of ereading that allows the same content to be read on proprietary hardware devices, and mobile and desktop operating systems using reader software. B&N's Reader app for the iPad is quite marvelous, better for reading (and formatting to your liking) than Amazon's Kindle app or Apple's iBooks program.
Later in the day, Amazon dropped its Kindle reader price to $189 (down from $259).
Two of my favorite companies are working together: Eye-Fi is updating its line of SD card-based Wi-Fi adapters to use Devicescape's automated hotspot login system. This is extremely neat, because otherwise, those hotspots are unavailable for login. Eye-Fi offers a network of 21,000 locations via AT&T (formerly Wayport, which AT&T acquired) already, where the card automatically detects and logs in. The Devicescape deal opens up the card to hundreds of thousands of additional locations.
Devicescape doesn't sell access, but rather lets you store all your network credentials via an account you maintain on its Web site. Any device or computer you use with Devicescape software obtains the right credentials for login when you're at a location in the network. Devicescape also characterizes and provides automated login for open and free locations that would otherwise have a button to check or page to navigate through.
Eye-Fi includes one year of hotspot access in its Explore X2 and Pro X2 models, and those cards will gain access to Devicescape's service in May. On 1 June, you can purchase a year of hotspot service for other cards for $30/yr. Eye-Fi has a special offer until 31 May for Connect X2 and Geo X2 users for $15/yr.
The Geo X2 was announced today, too; it's an Apple Store exclusive. For $70, the 4 GB card includes geolocation, and works seamlessly with Apple's iPhoto software and MobileMe service to transfer pictures and movies. The card also includes the Endless Memory features that deletes images and videos as space is needed that have been confirmed as transferred off the card.
Yes, I know already as a father one shouldn't play favorites. But in the Wi-Fi space, there are some clever firms I've been talking to practically since they started developing products and services in the space. Eye-Fi and Devicescape are two of that select group.
Eye-Fi took an ordinary item, the SD card, and embedded a processor and Wi-Fi radio alongside memory. The company continually improves cards' firmware and desktop software, as well as providing additional useful add-ons. It remains extraordinary to me that camera manufacturers have generally not been able to offer a fraction of what Eye-Fi can with its substantially fewer resources. An increasing number of cameras support specific Eye-Fi features and needs (such as not powering down the camera while transfers are in progress). Eye-Fi is the platinum standard for the industry, while most camera makers are struggling for bronze.
Devicescape has spent years trying to remove the need for users of mobile devices to have to enter tedious data, and enabled equipment with just a few buttons and no touch screen or keyboard to gain access to hotspots that would otherwise be unavailable. Its approach and software should have had an open embrace from Apple in the iPhone OS, and by other phone and gadget makers. Devicescape is still pushing this "many logins, many hotspots, no fuss" approach with new improvements all the time.
Barnes & Noble's Nook 1.3 software update makes the built-in Wi-Fi more usable: The company has finally enabled its promised "Read in Store" option, which connects a Nook automatically to Wi-Fi networks in Barnes & Noble locations, and allows owners to read an ebook in the store at no cost for up to an hour per day. (You can't choose among all ebooks, but some smaller set that's been made available from "more than 200 publishers" including all the major ones.) The feature is still in beta.
The company has also added a test version of a browser, which I imagine is primarily to let owners connect to Wi-Fi hotspots other than those run by Barnes & Noble. Even free locations often require a click to accept terms, or even an account for registration purposes. Boingo users and those with other accounts will be able to log in from a Nook this way as well.
The Nook includes 3G wireless, but when traveling outside coverage areas, inside in a place with weak reception, and outside the US mobile contract area, Wi-Fi will be a big help for getting material. It's unclear whether browser over 3G is included; Amazon allows browsing with an "experimental" tool in its Kindle hardware at no additional charge over 3G.
I wouldn't have expected this: Piles of reports have appeared from users who can't get reliable connections from an Apple iPad to their Wi-Fi networks. The main problem appears to be that in a place where other devices see a strong Wi-Fi network signal, the iPad apparently only receives a weak one. This isn't just an artifact of the interface: those who run speed tests find the speed highly variable, especially compared to other devices (including iPhones) on the same network in the vicinity. Some users are also getting network disconnections and reconnections.
It's very odd for a new device with Wi-Fi from any firm to have these problems. The Wi-Fi Alliance's certification program has seemingly kept at bay major issues with new devices, by ensuring that interoperability and standards testing occurs before a product goes to market. (Apple is marketing the iPad with a Wi-Fi label, but the Wi-Fi Alliance's products database doesn't yet show a certification on file.)
Apple has posted a support note about an issue with an iPad not rejoining a network that it's already connected to which seems to involve only non-Apple simultaneous dual-band routers in which the same network name is used for both 2.4 and 5 GHz bands with different security methods (WPA on one and WPA2 on the other, for instance).
I expect given the volume of complaints that we'll see a 3.2.1 release of the iPad firmware post haste.
So you might have heard about this thing Apple released on Saturday: I've had one for a day, and while it's marvelous--certainly the best computing device ever produced of its size or nature--there's nothing under the hood to do with networking that's worth reporting on. The iPad handles 802.11a/b/g/n with 2.4 and 5 GHz support for the appropriate standards.
The flavor that adds 3G and a GPS receiver is due "in late April," according to Apple. With the no-contract deal Apple snagged for 3G use with AT&T, I'm curious to see what non-US carriers agree to as 3G iPads are launched in other countries.
Apple's 3G iPad models will come with two unique aspects: only unlocked, no-contract services: It's not surprising that Apple will have Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi plus 3G variants of its new iPad mobile device. Rather, it's that Apple finally got its demands met about how consumers will control the relationship with cellular carriers.
The iPad will come with a micro SIM, a new tiny form factor for SIM in mobile devices that's not yet in real use, as far as I can tell. (I had never heard of it before today, even though it's a settled 3GPP format.) Steve Jobs said it will be simple to swap out SIMs from other carriers, so that the US version of the 3G iPad will "just work" in most cases outside the US. It won't be until June or July that Apple has carrier relationships for direct sales and data plans other than in America.
The unlocked iPad will be coupled with two data plan options from AT&T, neither of which requires a contract or (as far as I know so far) any cancellation penalty. AT&T has some services now that you can turn on or off on demand, such as navigation.
The 250 MB/mo. plan is $15/mo; the unlimited plan is $30/month. While you might scoff at 250 MB, the iPad will have the same limitations as the iPhone in terms of downloading and storing stuff over the Internet, so outside of purchasing movies, the biggest 3G drain will be streaming video. Because the iPhone OS doesn't support Flash, streaming video must all be embedded H.264 format or accessed via the YouTube app or other applications.
I'm calling the 250 MB/mo plan "your mother's plan," because it's most likely to appeal to people who won't be heavy 3G users, and will mostly use the device over Wi-Fi at home or at hotspots. However, they will want the flexibility of having 3G available wherever when they carry the device with them.
The iPad still is slated to have the disappointing pairing of UMTS for upload (384 Kbps) with HSDPA for download (ostensibly HSPA 7.2 as with the iPhone 3GS); this detail is noted on the Tech Specs page for the iPad. The iPad will likely be a heavier producing device, especially given that there's a camera connection kit (USB or SD card reader) that will let you suck photos directly into the iPad. These will sync with iPhoto when you return to a Mac (or through other means specified in iTunes on a Mac or under Windows), but uploading photos during a trip will certainly be desirable, and limited over 3G networks to the paltry 384 Kbps rate.
I should note, of course, that the iPad will have 802.11n support, but it's unknown to me yet whether this will be a single-stream radio, which would use less juice and thus be more sensible in a device intended to have a long battery life, or a two-stream 802.11n adapter, which will drain it faster. Apple uses USB for syncing large amounts of content, and doesn't provide over-the-air sync for anything directly. (You can use its MobileMe service to sync calendars and contacts.)
That means that the gating factor on most networks will be the Internet connection, not the wireless LAN. Having a 50 Mbps or so top rate with 802.11n single stream won't really be a clog on the iPad's abilities.
Gizmodo spurs sudden buzz about 802.11n in the next iPhone: Gizmodo spots a job listing from Apple for an iPhone engineer who needs 802.11a/b/g/n implementation knowledge, and leaps to the notion that the next model of the iPhone may include 802.11n.
I haven't written about this, despite what seem like thousands of posts at various blogs, because my reaction was twofold.
First: Well, duh!
Second: You don't hire a handheld engineer today with 802.11 experience that doesn't include 802.11n. It's contemporary technology.
I didn't get this buzz when I wrote in March 2009 about why and when the iPhone might get 802.11n. I thought Apple might put single-stream N into the iPhone 3GS, which it did not. It will clearly arrive in the next iPhone model as the chips are ready to go.
Single-stream N doesn't magically make the iPhone's data transfers much faster. It will definitely speed them a bit. Rather, it improves range and eliminates coverage holes, while allowing better network neighbor behavior with other 802.11n devices.
Gizmodo noted in September that the latest iPod touch revision included Broadcom's 802.11n chip that also had an FM receiver built in.
Handheld makers can turn to Devicescape for seamless login, access maps, hotspot aggregation: Devicescape is updating its Easy Wi-Fi system to offer equipment makers an all-in-one deal to consumers. Buy a camera, for instance, and the device comes with lifetime worldwide hotspot access along with no-button seamless login. Capable devices will also gain maps showing available in- and out-of-network hotspots in proximity with an annotation for quality.
This move could change the market for attaching Wi-Fi access to mobile devices if manufacturers hop on board. Selling devices that have permanent, seamless access to hotspot networks would seem to command a premium, and reduce friction in using a device. Less friction means fewer product returns; premiums and fewer returns mean higher margins.
The consumer has the cost of Wi-Fi hidden in the device price, but considers the value of the device as an overall flat rate. It's a "tax," but one that's exposed in the purchase price.
This is a classic multiple-party win. Manufacturers sell more gear at higher prices. Hotspot venues gain more users who, not paying for service, pay for goods; and additional usage produces incremental revenue for hotspot operators. And the consumer wins by having devices that are simpler to use and keep them more connected, something that the success of cell phones and the iPod touch seem to confirm is desirable.
Devicescape has been pursuing its Easy Wi-Fi approach for a few years now, after morphing from a back-end software firm that sold embedded Wi-Fi software for PDAs and other devices. Easy Wi-Fi combines software embedded or installed in a device--typically a portable device--with an account at the firm's Web site that manages which home, office, free, and commercial networks you have credentials for. Logins to known networks are automatic. (The Web account has become increasingly optional, but it's still a great tool when you have credentials for multiple networks.)
This latest transition turns Easy Wi-Fi into a very specific form of hotspot aggregator: only for equipment makers. Unlike Boingo Wireless or iPass, Devicescape won't have a customer-facing access plan. Rather, manufacturers will pay the firm per-device fees that cover unlimited eternal hotspot use by equipment purchasers.
The firm's CEO, Dave Fraser, said, "It's obvious that there's a big attraction for putting Wi-Fi into devices, whether it's netbooks, new types of consumer electronics, like media players or ebook readers," and so on. But device makers have a challenge.
Fraser said companies could "ship the device with service included, which is theoretically a great experience for the consumer, because it just works," but that's "very expensive for them." Nintendo, Kodak, and a few camera makers all included free access for a limited time to hotspot networks (Nintendo partnered with Wayport in the U.S.; Kodak and others with T-Mobile).
Those deals all expired, and new devices haven't been shipped with bundles; the exception is Eye-Fi, which offers yearly rates for Wayport hotspot access, bundling the first year in with some memory cards. Amazon's Kindle includes free Sprint 3G access, but the bookseller clearly pays a fee to Sprint for each book or media item downloaded.
Fraser noted also, that even with bundles, consumers are typically limited to the country in which a device was purchased, which doesn't conform to modern travel plans.
The second option is to "leave it up to the end user" to configure and figure out. Again, Eye-Fi is the only firm that makes mobile equipment that's easy to configure for multiple networks from a desktop computer with a keyboard. Apple gets around this with the iPhone OS 3 software by managing some hotspot connections that require a button to be clicked or a certain kind of login.
I've tested a ton of Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices, and the single most irritating part of using them is navigating admission to a hotspot, even one that you're already paying a monthly fee to use.
As I've long discussed on this site, devices without Web browsers can't connect to most free networks, because most free networks have some kind of usage policy acceptance (a link, checkbox, and/or button), or even an account to use. That means that most of the hotspots people would want to use with a mobile device are off limits. (Fraser said a survey revealed 54 percent of Devicescape's membership base "will only ever use Wi-Fi if it's free.")
Until now, Easy Wi-Fi's proposition was to insert itself at the "leave it up to the end user" phase, offering software for Windows and Mac OS X, as well as smartphones and a few other devices that allow third-party software to be installed.
Boingo Wireless tried to fill this hole in part by offering its software for integration with third parties and manufacturers. Skype is probably the highest-profile partner, with a per-minute hotspot rate (that's astoundingly high at $0.19/min.) available at present only to Mac OS X Skype users.
This is where Devicescape is attempting to step in. Added to the connection part, Devicescape will provide features to find hotspots, and a global access plan.
Fraser said, "We're offering this package at an economics that a device manufacturer should easily be able to ship lifetime access products."
He noted that Devicescape currently manages 400,000 session connections per day across all users and platforms, and this has allowed them to capture a massive amount of data about hotspots available around the world--2m access points of all kinds, which the company categorizes.
Fraser said the company scores a hotspot based on connection quality, signal strength (which obviously varies enormously), bandwidth, and the number of people who connect over time. Weighted into that are values from the most recent connections, too.
The hotspot's score is represented on a map as a blue pin with no signal waves up to three signal waves (3 on each side). The no-wave pins are from locations about which not enough information has yet been collected.
Fraser said the firm sweeps in any open access point, as well as commercial networks (which are marked with red pins). The company then attempts to figure out whether a location is intended to be accessible or not. Secured base stations aren't listed, and the firm tends to remove those in what it analyzes are residential neighborhoods. (Fraser said it's quite obvious in analyzing density what's a residential neighborhood and what's not.)
"We have an innocent-until-proven-guilty model: if we see an open access point, or a free network, we assume that it's meant to be shared until we're told otherwise," Fraser said. The company will remove any location on request. In years past, I'd have disagreed with this policy, but it's clear from my travels in the last year that a vanishingly small number of access points available from a public street or in trafficked areas that have no protection are intended to be private.
Fraser also notes--and I agree--that there's no definitive database of networks that are intended to be free and open; JiWire has a large database, but (despite a multi-year effort) it's not exhaustive since it's network-operator reported, and it doesn't show excluded access points.
Fraser said that of 2m scanned access points so far worldwide, only 100,000 meet Devicescape's criteria for reliable quality that they would offer to its customers.
As with Skyhook Wireless's method of capturing data from end users who employ its Wi-Fi positioning system to supplement wardriving, Devicescape will rely nearly solely on automatically provided data from users. "Every user ends up reinforcing and allowing us to grow the network," Fraser said.
The mapping software will be available on smartphones and other devices with the ability to display and navigate a map; the company's Web site will offer the map directly starting 20-Oct-2009.
Fraser wouldn't disclose which for-fee networks are partners, only noting that the firm had worked out terms that allow it to offer eternal access per device.
Because the software will keep the previous features, those with access to AT&T or T-Mobile or any other commercial network will be able to overlay that access into their account as well.
"We don't want to ever charge for premium access, but we do see ourselves as being an onramp," Fraser said.
Microsoft signs three-year deal with Wayport for old and new Zune owners alike: This is a nice win for Zune users, Wayport, and McDonald's, each in their own way, and it's something Microsoft can simply write off as useful marketing--and a way to get people to try the latest models of their music player, which are being released on 16-September.
The Zune doesn't include a Web browser or any Internet focused features; it's not an iPod touch. But you can use Wi-Fi to browse the Zune Marketplace for music and games, and download new songs in programmed channels, music selections created by a variety of artists and stations. Zune offers both music purchases and a subscription for unlimited music listening. The new models range from $149 for an 8 GB flash model to $249 for a 120 GB hard drive-based player.
The feature I'm most interested in is Buy from FM, which leverages the built-in FM tuner and very low-bandwidth data that's already pushed over analog AM/FM. (See my write-up of this feature from last week.) With Buy from FM, when you're listening to radio stations that participate, you'll be able to click a button and buy the song you're listening to if you're connected to a Wi-Fi network. Zune Pass subscribers can download the song at no additional charge. If there's no Wi-Fi network, the song download or purchase is queued.
Wayport's marketing head Dan Lowden said, "Obviously, it's cool because folks who already own a Zune device and just need to do an upgrade will be able to use this just as with any of the new Zune devices that they start selling as soon as possible." (Microsoft may have a little accounting work to do: Sarbanes-Oxley doesn't let you enhance a product in the market without a fee if you realize the revenue all at once.)
The benefit for Wayport is to have yet another hefty but undisclosed fixed sum underlying its fixed infrastructure costs. In the past, Wayport has done deals with Nintendo, ZipIt, and Eye-Fi to allow all devices in a category unlimited access at McDonald's locations. McDonald's obviously gets more customers, or existing customers who spend more time or visit more frequently.
A partnership with a hotspot operator means that Microsoft doesn't have to provide tools and their users endure frustration in joining a network. "We're experts enabling one click to get this network connected," Lowden said. He noted that Wayport has opened test labs to work with manufacturers in Japan, San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle. "We're working with these guys from day 1 to make sure it's one click to get connected," he said. I'd also note that San Diego happens to be where Qualcomm's headquarters are located, not that Lowden gave me any tip-off there.
And I have to just say: burn, burn, burn on Apple. Despite Apple partnership with AT&T, which relies on Wayport to operate the AT&T-branded hotspot network and resells access to Wayport's own network, iPhone and iPod touch users have no inclusive Wi-Fi service. AT&T slipped a few times and ostensibly opened up their network or released details that iPhone users would gain free hotspot access--like all AT&T's fiber and all its standard and premium DSL customers.
As Wi-Fi becomes an expected part of any handheld gadget, the venues in which Wi-Fi is used multiply beyond cafes and hotels. Lifestyle locations--which could be clothing stores, nightclubs, ski resorts, and the tops of mountains suddenly become places where people want the same kind of access they have at home. Ultima thule is already unwired.
Yes, I touched an iPhone 3G: At Apple's big developer event kickoff on Monday, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone 3G. Later that day, in a briefing, I was able to handle and use the phone briefly. It's lovely. But its inclusion of 3G service coupled with Wi-Fi, as well as a real GPS chip coupled with assistive cell-tower triangulation and Wi-Fi network location approximation means that you have a device that might fairly replace a computer for many purposes. I've had an iPhone with 2G (EDGE) service since its release, and I recently took a two-day trip with my older son leaving my computer behind. (I was able to use a relative's machine, but only did so to be able to type email more efficiently.) If Apple would simply allow the use of the Bluetooth HID profile (human interface devices) for keyboard and mouse support, a compact foldable keyboard would be the only accessory I would need.
Note that the iPhone 2G and 3G aren't more powerful than other, similar devices. Symbian platform devices from Nokia and others are in notably short supply in the US, but come in great quantities and varieties elsewhere, and have some pretty impressive computational power; Nokia owns nearly 50 percent of the worldwide smartphone market. Likewise, you can run desktop-to-mobile programs under Windows Mobile that let you have real computer applications repackaged for better use in the smaller form.
But that's not what the iPhone is about. It's a non-compromise device, even when a little compromise might help. The lack of a touch-typist keyboard hinders data entry, but it doesn't restrict any other purpose of the device. The inclusion of those keyboards is a huge compromise for all its competitors, even though it allows those competitors to act more like little computers.
And that's where it's odd for me. The iPhone is much more like a full-blown computer than any smartphone I've used. It might be the superior browser, and the fact that a single company and design vision has ensured the maximum CPU is available for each current task, and that the interface and actions are nearly always consistent across every piece of software. Contrast that with many smartphones that don't just have ugly interfaces, crippled Web browsers, and varying input methods, but also require you to learn a different approach to using nearly every different piece of software on the phone.
Apple isn't about to kill its competitors, but they are providing an odd amount of support for killing a laptop.
On a slightly tangential front, Apple CEO Steve Jobs claim that their phone's 3G speed was nearly that of Wi-Fi requires some explanation. Jobs needed a footnote: "compared to typical Wi-Fi hotspots that have about 1.5 Mbps of downstream backhaul." The iPhone is clearly processor limited for how fast it can render Web pages and handle network processing. If you stick an iPhone on a 10 Mbps-backed network via Wi-Fi, the browsing experience isn't very different than on a 1.5 Mbps-backed Wi-Fi hotspot, in my experience with the current phone.
So clearly, there's more optimization to be done and more hardware upgrades to come in order to have a mobile device that can live up to whatever network it generally works on. For the iPhone 3G, Wi-Fi is an alternative, but it's clearly not intended as a superior alternative.
Devicescape has its first operator partner for its seamless login system for mobile devices and laptops: Devicescape's approach is to remove the necessity for a device's owner to have to sign in: no tedious entry (and memorization) of account details for your camera, iPhone, or what have you to get online. The operator deal puts their software front and center in the plans of the carrier as it rolls equipment and services out to its customers, driving more use in this case of the 8,000 hotspots offered across Europe by DT. Reducing friction in getting a device on a network almost by necessity increases a network's use. The company also announced its operator service.
Devicescape recently released its 2.0 software--see "Devicescape Releases New Connection Software: No Computer Required to Configure, Gain Hotspot Access," 2008-02-05--which allows properly equipped devices to connect to a hotspot network without any prior configuration or Web site account setup.
PC Magazine identifies 10 "wacky" Wi-Fi products, although only a few are truly offbeat: The magazine rounds up items like the Nabaztag from Violet, the Wi-Fi pen, and a Wi-Fi detecting T-shirt and watch. I suppose these are more "ways to spend your cash that aren't truly useful, even though they might be fun." They also include the Eye-Fi, eStarling's picture frame, and a Wi-Fi-enabled remote control from Acoustic Research that are all a bit more practical--still about entertainment, but they actually do something.
David Pogue reviews several of the latest digital picture frames at the New York Times: I have frankly avoided reporting much on digital picture frames, even those with wireless, because so many of them seemed far too expensive for their simple function of automating a rotating display of photos. Product announcements seem to come weekly, which means that a lot of people are buying these for their parents and grandparents, loading them with photos, and then the same pictures display for the next year until the relative takes it down and claims it "broke."
Pogue makes it clear that I'm not far off in avoiding writing about these frames. He likes the Kodak EasyShare EX1011 at 10 inches (diagonal), which supports Wi-Fi, but not Mac OS X, and which can link up to Kodak Gallery to pull in new photos over the Internet from galleries you update from wherever. That really does make it appropriate for computer illiterate relatives. Or those who just don't want to monkey around. The 800 by 480 pixel resolution is also quite reasonable for that size of display. Pogue notes that the dimensions, however, put it into a widescreen orientation inappropriate for most digital photographs.
At $250, though, that's a hefty gift and I find hard to swallow despite the screen size and inclusion of Wi-Fi.
Pogue also likes the much cheaper PanDigital Wi-Fi Picture Frame ($150, 8 inches) has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi but can't use Wi-Fi to grab locally hosted photos, just from Picasa.
He has kind words for the SmartParts SP8PRT ($280, 8 inches) frame shipping in March that has no Wi-Fi but can print photos through a built-in, hidden dye-sublimation printer. I find the idea a little funky: why print from a picture frame that you have to load with photos from a computer? It seems like you'd want Wi-Fi most of all in this kind of device to send pictures to others, and they could make prints of photos they like.
Three others, he generally excoriates. The Parrot DF7200: "the resolution is so coarse...it's not a big improvement over your cellphone screen." The eStarling second attempt: "...even though this frame is much better than its disastrous first model last year, it’s still flakier than a croissant." Momento 100: "Photos from the Web arrive on the frame at half size, bizarrely floating in the center surrounded by fat black margins."
There's a lengthy comparison chart also online.
Canary Wireless hits another homer with latest Digital Hotspotter: About three and four years ago, the market became suddenly glutted with a variety of compact Wi-Fi detectors: relatively inexpensive devices designed to give you a snapshot of the radio frequency environment around you in the more common Wi-Fi band (2.4 gigahertz). Trouble is, most of them either worked poorly or provided too little information.
The original Digital Hotspotter and a combination detector/adapter from Zyxel were my two favorite devices for the amount of information they provided. A detector, to be useful, must show enough network information that it prevents you from having to open up a laptop; or enough information to help you find a stronger signal or troubleshoot what's wrong with a network.
The Digital Hotspotter (model HS-20, $59.95, on sale 15-Feb-08) really does shine, partly because it now includes support for detecting 802.11n networks, and reveals the network's top speed based on packets it's sniffing. The device has three buttons now instead of one, all along one side. The top button is the power button: hold it down to turn it on or turn it off; press it while it's on to rescan the environment. Previous and next buttons let you scan through the available networks. See this YouTube video I shot for a live demonstration.
The display now shows the network name, whether it's secured, its form of encryption, the type of 802.11 network (B, G, or N), the top speed based on it's network settings, and the channel on which it's operating. My only real complaint with the device is that it turns off its backlighting a little too quickly while I'm still trying to read the scrolling information about network speed and other parameters.
The price is a little high for the casual user, but a road warrior, network administrator, or those desiring to find open and free networks should find this a bargain.
(For the historical record, I reviewed the SmartID WFS-1 in 2004, a device with a single button and a few LEDs, which showed all 2.4 GHz activity; the Chrysalis WiFi Seeker, which looked just for 802.11b/g, showing activity with LEDs, in early 2004; the first Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter, which had no back/forth buttons, but had an LCD to show network status, in late 2004; and Zyxel's combination USB Wi-Fi adapter and LCD display network detector in 2005.)
Devicescape released version 2 of their connection software designed for mobile devices today, making the initial setup even more frictionless: Devicescape Connect allows mobile devices to log into hotspot and home networks without the user entering a single password or using a micro-browser to navigate through usage agreements. The latest revision allows a mobile device to sign up for Devicescape's service without first setting up an account on Devicescape's servers. This dramatically reduces the overhead for someone wanting to connect immediately to Wi-Fi networks.
Company head Dave Fraser said in an interview yesterday, "Without registering or going to our Web site or anything, as soon as you install the client, or power on a device with the client in it, you get immediate access to any hotspot we can get you into." Fraser noted that's any of the tens of thousands of free hotspots that are part of their system now, including Google in Mountain View or McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. Fraser said, "There's lots and lots of them in our database now. We'll automate those. You don't have to plan in advance, and register, and populate My Wi-Fi," the part of a My Devicescape account in which you list networks you're a member of.
Devicescape currently has software available for Mac OS X and Windows, as well as certain Nokia phones and tablets, Windows Mobile, and jailbroken iPhones and iPod touches (iPods touch?). Prior to its current incarnation, the company focused exclusively on providing Wi-Fi and networking software for mobile devices, and that's still a big chunk of their business; this means we can expect to see a host of devices with Devicescape software built in, ready to go. The company had no announcements about built-in device support today, however.
I hope manufacturers will be delighted with this new release, because it means that someone who buys a piece of Wi-Fi-equipped hardware can immediately use it on an open or free network, or on a hotspot network for which they are a member, such as T-Mobile HotSpot or AT&T's Wi-Fi network. CEO Fraser said, "A manufacturer can ship the device, and if you switch it on for the first time in Starbucks, it'll say, 'hey, do you have a user name and password on this device?'" (Devicescape said they set a goal to be set up to work with 100 hotspot networks by the end of 2007; instead, they hit 1,000.)
That's a far cry from my usual experience with handheld devices that have Wi-Fi, where I'm tediously entering data in a micro-browser, if it's even usable, or unable to get past an Accept button that I can't see because the device lacks any browser at all. Even the iPhone's superior Mobile Safari browser doesn't store passwords or form field entries, which means re-entering the same data every time, and it doesn't work consistently on free networks that require a button or box to be checked to accept terms. (It's getting better; it was far worse when the iPhone was first released, but Apple and hotspot operators are clearly improving compatibility with one another's offerings.)
It's a great demo in, say, a camera store or a phone store, where with a store network all ready to go, a salesperson could help the buyer unpack their new gadget, fire it up, show them how to enable Devicescape, and then get on the Internet. That's a pretty powerful sales tool.
The 2.0 software has a feature that I expect will provoke criticism: By default, a device will automatically look for all unsecured networks in its vicinity if no preferred hotspot is found, and then connect to each open network and try to reach the Internet. In some states and countries, I believe this could constitute unauthorized use of computer networks; passively scanning doesn't typically ring any legal bells. In Germany and Singapore, I believe the law is quite clear: without advance permission, any access is infringing. I think it's a bad idea for this feature to be turned on by default for that reason regardless of its positive aspects.
Fraser noted, "You can switch it off, if you don't like it, because it can be controversial." They expect to leave this feature on only for a certain period of time as they gather more information about the open networks out in the wild, and work out a way to allow folks with intentionally open networks to register with them or signal their openness. In the next release, Fraser said, "You'll have the option of saying connect me only to intentionally open unsecured networks."
Fraser said that there are benefits to register on the Web site after initially using a device. If you have multiple Wi-Fi devices, including computers that use their connection software, you can consolidate it all into a single account. The Web site is necessary for registering personal networks that use encryption keys, and for using their buddy network to allow other people access to your networks or gain access to theirs without sharing encryption keys.
But the frictionless process is designed to let people who otherwise won't be paying for Wi-Fi to gain immediate access to free locations, or to use bundled services that their operator--like AT&T--might offer. Fraser said, "We wanted something that was going to work for the majority of people out there for which Wi-Fi is really a free or bundled thing."
The software isn't yet set up to serve ads to users in exchange for access, something that's proving efficacious in some networks, and has gained some traction through a recent deal between JiWire and Boingo Wireless that gives iPhone and iPod touch users free access in many airports in exchange for viewing ads. (Disclosure: I own a small number of shares in privately held JiWire.)
Devicescape also announced a change in their developer licensing terms to make their software easier for potential partners and free software developers to use. The new license isn't open source, but they provide the source code at no cost, and deployment for non-commercial projects carries no fee.
The Sacramento Wi-Fi network is finally underway: Through $750,000 of equipment leasing from Intel and Cisco, the $1m pilot project will get going, and potentially proceed to completion. Azulstar, once the lead partner on the project, was unable to raise the $9m needed without proof of concept in place, apparently. I wondered at the time why Cisco, Intel, and IBM would be willing to let their eyes be blackened and not participate; now the project seems self-financed. The pilot buildout launches in February in downtown with a May completion date. Rates of up to 1 Mbps are ad-supported and free; $15 to $50 per month subscriptions are available for varying speeds. (I confirmed with the City of Sacramento that Azulstar is no longer involved with the project; the city's CIO said that Azulstar is no longer "listed on the partner list" that was provided by the consortium to the city.)
Cameras on San Francisco street corners deliver choppy videos: Money was invested, time spent, but the 68 cameras don't record video well enough to help in cases or bring people to justice. Nearly $1m has been spent. The cameras are wireless (not using Wi-Fi, I believe), but the real problem appears to be storage and configuration--and the fact that "surveillance cameras have delivered mixed results in studies of their effectiveness at decreasing violent crime."
AP rounds up three messaging appliances: Sony Mylo COM-2 (not really available yet, $300) has dramatically improved on its first model, the reporter says, seeing a few glitches in pre-release software, but having a much more favorable reaction than anyone did to the first Mylo. The article also looks at the Nokia N810 tablet ($480), which is a full-fledged computer with good, but not great, IM capabilities: Yahoo and AIM aren't supported out of the box, but require additional software. The Zipit Wireless Messenger 2 ($150, optional $5/mo for 1,500 incoming/1,500 outgoing SMS messages) gets a thumbs up, too.
Dash is accepting pre-orders for its $600 subscription-based navigation device with Internet connectivity: Using GPS for location and GPRS and Wi-Fi for connectivity, the Dash Express constantly updates traffic data from its own sources and other Dash devices--unclear on quite how. The Dash Express combines connected PDA features with mapping and navigation. The search is driven by Yahoo Local. You and others can email addresses straight to the device. Monthly fees are $10 with a two-year contract and $13 per month without one. The color screen is 480 by 272 pixels measuring 4.3 inches diagonally. Battery life is two hours but it comes with a car adapter, naturally.
The portable Wi-Fi instant messaging device will offer cheap text messaging (SMS), too: The Zipit Wireless Messenger 2 or Z2 will gain a monthly service plan that allows 1,500 incoming and 1,500 outgoing messages for $4.95. The service will launch in a free trial period Dec. 20, and run through Jan. 31, 2008. The monthly fees would start on Feb. 1. Z2 works with what they describe as "more than 20 cellular carriers," so one assumes that's all the major carriers in the U.S. The device also interoperates with AOL, MSN, and Yahoo IM services.
The Z2 uses Wi-Fi for connectivity, and through a deal with Wayport, has free access at 9,000 McDonald's locations in the U.S. that Wayport operates Wi-Fi at. The Zipit Web site is essentially unusable for adults, designed to appeal to kids with a form of brain damage that doesn't allow them to navigate using menus or simple selection, apparently. It costs $150 and there's free overnight shipping through Dec. 21.
After more than a year of providing hints at their capability, Eye-Fi has released their flagship product: a 2 GB Secure Digital flash card with built-in Wi-Fi for $100: The Eye-Fi Card connects over a Wi-Fi network using its own onboard processor to transfer images from the card to a computer or upload the photos to Eye-Fi's servers for further distribution. The camera has to be powered on within range of a Wi-Fi network; there's no other intervention needed.
The company has partnered with 17 major photo-sharing, photo-finishing, and social-networking services and sites to enable direct transfer to one or more of those services when pictures are uploaded, based on your choices.
The Eye-Fi is not a generic Wi-Fi adapter: that is, it doesn't magically add Wi-Fi capabilities to a digital camera. Rather, it's a separate computer that happens to live within an SD card and can access the same stored data that the digital camera can. I expect to review the unit in the next week or two.
In an interview with Jef Holove, Eye-Fi's chief executive, he explained that Eye-Fi had honed in on a very simple offering, with the potential to become more complicated later as the market dictated. He describes Eye-Fi as "a wireless memory card that lets you upload your photos," a concise summary.
The Eye-Fi's intent is to allow zero-effort uploading of photographs taken on a digital camera. I haven't seen anything close to this amount of simplicity, including in the consumer cameras that have Wi-Fi built-in from Nikon, Canon, and Kodak. Those cameras generally don't allow full-resolution Internet transfers of photos, and lock you into specific upload services, such as Kodak Gallery (renamed for the third time in a handful of years). Eye-Fi wanted to provide full-resolution uploads, no preferred service, and eliminate the effort in initiating or managing the transfer.
An Eye-Fi needs to be set up before it's used in a camera. The device comes with a small USB dock, and software for Windows and Mac OS X that can configure internal settings in the card. The software mostly exists to connect you with Eye-Fi's Web site, where you create an account, enter Wi-Fi network settings (including passwords), and enter or sign up for any of the 17 services you may use or belong to. Various settings are then installed on the Eye-Fi and it's ready to go.
Whenever you're within range of any of the networks you've configured, the Eye-Fi transfers any pictures you've taken since the last transfer. The camera isn't involved. Holove said that there are three modes that the card can work in for transfers: transfer to the host computer; transfer to Eye-Fi's servers directly; or transfer to Eye-Fi's servers and then download to the host computer.
The last option sounds a little confusing: why download photos again rather than transfer them over the local network? Holove explained that it would double the battery usage to transfer the images twice, so they opted to retrieve the images after upload rather than reduce the camera's charge.
Holove said that they estimate the card consumes about 5 to 10 percent more battery than a camera would use otherwise; they found their beta testers hardly noticed the power consumption due to the increased capacity of modern batteries and more energy-efficient camera designs. The Wi-Fi component, an Atheros AR6001, uses very little energy while idle.
If you choose to upload photos, Eye-Fi's servers automatically transfer the photos to the service you selected. You can register at all the services you regularly use, and then choose which single service gets the uploaded images when you're between uploading sessions. If individual photos size or resolution exceeds the maximum allowed by a given service, Eye-Fi's system resizes the image just for them. (I'd prefer Eye-Fi uploaded to one or more services at once, but that's not in line with their approach, which is "keep it simple at this stage.")
There's no option to downsample photos on upload to reduce the upload time, however. Holove said that in this first iteration, they wanted to appeal to what they found was a common sentiment among photographers they're aiming at: the desire to upload full-resolution images. Holove said "As storage for these [photo-sharing] companies becomes cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, it becomes more affordable for these companies to store higher res images."
The Eye-Fi is shipping initially as a 2 GB SD card because higher capacities require the use of SDHC (SD High Capacity), which isn't supported on many older and less expensive cameras. SDHC is required for 4 GB and higher memory cards, and Holove said that the firm "wanted to launch a product that would work with all the SD cameras out there."
Initial partners are dotPhoto, Facebook, Flickr, Fotki, Kodak Gallery, Phanfare, Photobucket, Picasa Web Albums, Sharpcast and Gallery, Shutterfly, SmugMug, Snapfish, TypePad, VOX, Wal-Mart, and Webshots.