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Thursday, December 29, 2005

10 Greatest Gadget Ideas of the Year - New York Times

10 Greatest Gadget Ideas of the Year - New York TimesDecember 29, 2005
David Pogue
10 Greatest Gadget Ideas of the Year

ON New Year's Eve, don't be surprised to witness more heartfelt celebrating than usual; 2005 was not a year noted for its tidings of good cheer, and plenty of people will be happy to see it go.

Still, there were inspiring and gratifying success stories if you knew where to look - and the high-tech industry was one of them. Google Earth redefined how we think of our planet, the Razr phone proved that people do care about beauty, and the iPod - well, you know all about the iPod.

But some of the year's greatest joys weren't new products, but aspects of new products. Here and there, you could find tiny touches of brilliance: clever steps forward and new spins on old features that somehow made it through committee, past the bean counters and under the radar of marketing departments.

Here they are, the 10 best gadget ideas of 2005:

THE FOLDING MEMORY CARD After taking a few digital photos, the next step, for most people, is getting them onto the computer. That usually involves a U.S.B. cable, which is one more thing to carry and avoid misplacing.

SanDisk's better idea is to take the memory card out of the camera and stick it directly into your computer's U.S.B. port.

That's possible with the SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus card. It looks just like any other SD memory card, except that it folds on tiny hinges. When you fold it back on itself, you reveal a set of metal contacts that slide directly into the U.S.B. jack of your Mac or PC. The computer sees the card as an external drive, and you can download the photos as you always do - except that you've eliminated the need to carry around a cable.

THE VOICE MAIL VCR Voice mail is a delightful invention. But trying to remember which keys to press - for replay, skip, delete and so on - is not so delightful, especially if you have more than one voice mail system to learn. Thanks to Palm, then, for adding VCR-style buttons on the touch screen of its coming Treo 700W cellphone. You just tap Skip, Play, Delete, or whatever. The phone remembers which touch tones to play so you don't have to.

THE FRONT-SIDE TV CONNECTOR The home-theater explosion is all well and good, but one less exciting aspect never appears in the photos: the rat's nest of cables. Depending on how permanently your TV has been built into your cabinetry, getting behind it to plug or unplug something is either a royal pain or a full-blown construction project.

Hewlett-Packard's latest microdisplay (rear projection) TV sets solve the problem sweetly and simply: everything plugs into the front. A broad tunnel lets you hand each cable to yourself from the back, an illuminated connection panel makes it easy to see what you're doing at the front, and an attractive door hides the whole ingenious system.

THE BIGGER-THAN-TV MOVIE Most digital still cameras today can also capture video big enough to fill a standard TV screen (640 by 480 pixels) and smooth enough to simulate standard TV motion (30 frames a second). But Canon's PowerShot S80 model goes one step further: it can capture videos at even higher resolution (1024 x 768 pixels).

Why on earth would you need a video picture of higher resolution than the TV itself? Three reasons. First, your videos will look better on high-definition sets. Second, the videos fill much more of your computer screen when played there. And finally, that's so much resolution, you can isolate a single frame and grab it as a still photograph.

TV à LA CARTE It's always seemed crazy that TV companies would spend $1 million an episode writing and producing a program that is shown only once. Yet the obvious solution - making past shows available for purchase on the Internet - gave TV executives nightmares of teenage download pirates run amok.

It took Apple to persuade them to dip a little toe into the Internet waters. ABC took the first plunge, offering iPod owners five shows' worth of archives for a perfectly pitched price of $2 each - and no commercials. NBC came next with a broader menu of shows. The concept was a hit, the floodgates have opened, and the era of downloadable, reasonably priced, lightly copy-protected TV episodes is finally upon us.

THE OUTER-BUTTON FLIP PHONE First came the cellphone with a hinge (the flip phone). Then came the flip phone with an external screen, so you could see who was calling. Problem was, this arrangement deprived you of the option to dismiss the call or send it to voice mail. If you opened the flip phone to get to the Ignore button, you'd answer the call - unless you'd turned off the "opening phone answers the call" feature, in which case you lost one great convenience of having a flip phone to begin with.

The solution? Add buttons on the outside of the phone. When a call comes in to the LG VX8100, for example, its external screen identifies the caller - and the small buttons just below it are labeled Ignore (let it ring until voice mail picks up) or Dismiss (send it directly and immediately to voice mail). You get the best of all cellular worlds, without ever having to open the phone.

THE FREE DOMAIN NAME A domain name is what comes before the ".com" in a Web address - like, or Getting your own personal dot-com name has its privileges - for example, your e-mail address can be - but it costs money and requires some expertise.

It took Microsoft, of all companies, to make getting your own dot-com name free. Its new Office Live online software suite for small businesses, now in testing, will offer a domain name, Web site and e-mail accounts free. Yes, you'll see ads on the screen (unless you pay for the adless version) - but plenty of people won't mind viewing them in exchange for a free, professional-looking Web presence.

THE MODULAR DVD SCREEN If you tallied up the amount of money you've spent on L.C.D. screens, you'd probably go white-haired in horror. One on your laptop, one on your digital camera, plus screens on your Game Boy, camcorder, portable DVD player, car dashboard and so on.

Audiovox has taken a small step toward reducing that redundancy with its Shuttle DVD player. It's a portable, battery-powered DVD player (available in three screen sizes) that hangs from the driver's-side headrest, for the benefit of the young audience in the back seat of the car. But the beauty of the Shuttle is that you can also buy docking stations for it: a car-ceiling mount, for a more permanent and central position; an under-cabinet mount, complete with AM-FM radio, for the kitchen; a cable-ready tabletop stand, with stereo speakers, for the home; and so on. The player and screen move with you from place to place, so your investment isn't sitting wasted every time you leave the minivan.

THE FAMILY-PORTRAIT BURST MODE If you've ever tried to take a family portrait, you know about Ansel's Law: the odds of somebody's eyes being closed increases geometrically with the number of people in the group.

That's why Casio digital cameras, in self-timer mode, automatically shoot three consecutive snaps, a fraction of a second apart. You've just tripled your odds of getting one decent shot.

THE HYBRID HIGH-DEFINITION TAPE JVC and Sony developed the first camcorders capable of recording in spectacular wide-screen high definition. This would have been a perfect opportunity for them to introduce yet another type of videocassette - some expensive, proprietary new format that wouldn't fit any other camcorder (and would generate millions in sales).

But they didn't. Instead, these HDTV camcorders record on everyday $4 drugstore MiniDV tapes, the same kind used in regular camcorders. In fact, you can mix and match high-def and standard video on the same tape. It took a lot of engineering to cram so much more video data onto the same amount of tape, but for home-movie buffs, it was a surprising, generous, kind-hearted move.

And there you have it: 10 of the year's best small, sweet improvements in our electronic lives. Come New Year's Eve, raise one tiny toast to the anonymous engineers whose eccentricities or idealism brought these sparkling developments to life.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Brighthand — Price for Treo 700w Leaked

Brighthand — Price for Treo 700w LeakedPrice for Treo 700w Leaked
By Ed Hardy | Editor-in-Chief

Dec 27, 2005

At this point, a great deal is known about Palm's first Windows Mobile smartphone, the Treo 700w. Still, a few critical details remain a mystery

The device was announced months ago, and rumors have filled in many of the details Palm didn't want to reveal, including the fact that this model will almost certainly be introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show early next month.

But there are a few vital facts that are known... until now. Someone has leaked one of these -- the price.

For many months, this Pocket PC will be available only from Verizon Wireless. And, according to a post on HowardForums, it will cost $500 with a two-year contract.

This is the lowest possible price. With a one-year contract it will go up to $550, and it will be $620 for those who aren't signing a new contract at all.

When this smartphone was formally unveiled, Palm warned that it would cost more than its sister model, the Treo 650, did at its launch. This is because the 700w will be the first model from this company to offer EV-DO.

This means it will it will be able to supply typical data transfer speeds of 400 to 700 kilobits per second (kbps). That's well above any other Treo.
Still Not Known

Neither rumors nor Palm have yet revealed every detail on this smartphone.

The speed of its Intel processor is not known, nor the capacity of its swappable battery.

Still, the post on HowardForums did say that the Treo 700w will offer 4.6 hours of use time, or 360 hours in standby mode.
More About the Windows Mobile Treo

This Pocket will have 64 MB of storage. Because it runs the latest version of Windows Mobile, this will behave similarly to the NVFS storage in the Treo 650, and won't be erased if the device's battery runs down completely.

Windows Mobile TreoThis model will have Bluetooth short-range wireless networking, but not built-in WiFi. Still, users will have option of using a WiFi SD card.

It will be a CDMA-based smartphone that, as previously mentioned, supports EV-DO.

This Pocket PC will have a 240-by-240-pixel display, like HP's most recent Windows Mobile smartphones.

Those considering buying this device should be aware that Palm has said that a similar model Treo with support for GSM/GPRS networks will not be available earlier than the second half of 2006.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 - Winners and Losers 2005 - Winners and Losers 2005Winners and Losers 2005

What were the best and worst tech stories of the year? Our expert separates the good from the bad. In some cases, they're the same.

Dan Tynan
Tuesday, December 27, 2005

It was the best of years, it was the worst of years. In fact, 2005 was a lot like any other year, only for some reason it seemed longer than most. It was a year where blogs and podcasting threatened to overtake mainstream media, where a Web search giant tried to be everything for everybody but instead became a magnet for critics, and where the recording industry won a major battle against peer-to-peer file sharing only to shoot itself in the foot (and every other appendage) over a disastrous copy-protection scheme. And that's just for starters.


Here, then, are one observer's completely unscientific and highly opinionated picks for the biggest winners and losers of the year in technology.

WINNER: Google

Meet your new best friends, Sergey and Larry. Want a free e-mail account? No problem. A blog? Satellite maps? How about a searchable library of every book ever written? Here, have some free Wi-Fi. Oh, and don't forget to enter the stuff you want to sell into Google's new classified ad/online garage sale/whatever-you-want database. No charge, and no need to say thanks. Remember that silly dot-com-era notion that you could make money by giving things away? Guess what? It actually works!

LOSER: Google

What does a company with staggering amounts of computing power, the world's best brains, and a share price north of $400 do? Anything it darn well pleases. But the next thing you know it's getting sued for copyright violations by the Association of American Publishers and becoming part of the hacker's tool kit. Google's seemingly unquenchable ambition and near-monopoly on everything it touches--otherwise known as "Microsoft Syndrome"--is making more and more people nervous.

WINNER: Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP)

Think of it as a Game Boy for arrested adolescents. Sony managed to squeeze one of the world's most powerful gaming systems into a unit slightly larger than a paperback novel. The PSP also holds photos, plays MP3s, and displays major Hollywood releases on its 4-inch LCD (though with some price tags approaching $30, the PSP's Universal Media Discs can cost more than a comparable DVD). It comes with a Wi-Fi-enabled Web browser, and rumors of a cell phone add-on abound. On the downside, it does not make daiquiris--yet.

LOSER: Motorola Rokr E1

The Rokr was supposed to be the new "It" gadget, a marriage between the world's most stylish cell phone and the planet's best digital music player, the IPod. But it was roundly panned for its skimpy 100-song capacity, painfully slow data transfer, and sluggish interface. This marriage is destined to be shorter than one of J. Lo's.

WINNER: The Survival Blog of New Orleans

Operating from the offices of Web host DirectNIC in downtown New Orleans, the Interdictor blog kept posting during the worst of Hurricane Katrina, powered by a 750-kilowatt diesel generator and a fiber-optic hookup. Blogger Michael Barnett and his colleagues slept in the air-conditioned room where they kept the servers, and blogged throughout the crisis. The Interdictor's live Webcam offered some of the first images of the city following the disaster, and the blog has continued to cover the region's recovery and rebuilding.

LOSER: The FEMA Web site

Though it hardly counts as the worst of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's transgressions during Katrina, the FEMA site where displaced people could apply for federal aid worked only with Internet Explorer and JavaScript. Relief workers using donated computers were forced to use the notoriously insecure browser to enter hurricane victims' personal information. Seems like everybody at FEMA was doing one heckava job.

WINNER: Apple Computer

Apple started the year with the Mac Mini, a pint-size $499 Macintosh sans monitor, and ended it with the long-awaited video-enabled IPod. In between, Apple announced it would start using Intel chips in its new line of Macs. The first Intel-based Macs should debut at around the same time as Windows Vista, which could lead to the first serious OS competition since, oh, 1989. All in all, a very good year in Apple-achia.

LOSER: Apple Computer

For a company that turned rumor wrangling into an art form, Apple proved mighty touchy when rumor sites revealed information about the Mac Mini and other products weeks before the company's official announcements. Touchy enough, in fact, to sic their legal beagles upon them. In one case, a California judge ruled the sites could not protect the anonymity of their sources (that ruling is currently under appeal). Apparently, the sites broke St. Steven of Jobs' 10th Commandment: Thou shalt not release information without prior approval. The result? Apple still doesn't have the information it sought, but did get a ton of bad PR.

LOSER: Cisco Systems

When Cisco Systems learned a third-party consultant planned to discuss security flaws in its software at last July's Black Hat conference, the company demanded he change his presentation and instructed conference employees to tear the relevant pages out of the Black Hat program. No matter; Mike Lynn gave his presentation anyway, and the resulting uproar over Cisco's response blew back in the company's face. Cisco says it has fixed the flaws Lynn identified. However, Lynn has recently claimed that Cisco's Internetwork Operating System--software used by thousands of Internet routers--is riddled with other bugs, some more serious than the one he revealed last July.

WINNER: Juniper Networks

In November, Cisco's primary competitor in the router market, Juniper Networks, hired a new networking security expert. His name? Mike Lynn.

LOSER: Sony BMG Entertainment

Adding copy protection to CDs is onerous enough, but Sony BMG Entertainment and its tech partner First 4 Internet went completely beyond the pale. Insert certain Sony BMG CDs into your PC's disc drive and they would secretly install First 4 Internet's XCP software, which not only limited the number of copies you could make, but also made your system vulnerable to hack attacks. Sony BMG then posted a "fix" that made matters worse, before issuing a recall of the music CDs, offering refunds, and promising to discontinue using XCP. It turns out the record company knew about the vulnerability for at least two weeks before blogger Mark Russinovich made the news public last Halloween. Thanks for sharing, Sony.

EXTREME LOSER: Sony BMG Entertainment

Researchers at Information Security Partners recently identified a security flaw with SunnComm's MediaMax, an alternative copy-protection scheme found on other Sony BMG CDs. The flaw could allow a remote attacker to hijack a user's PC. This time, Sony responded with a patch almost immediately--which was quickly found to have the exact same flaw. Can you say "consumer boycott?"


Kudos go to Apple and ITunes for holding fast to a $1-per-song pricing scheme (for now at least) in the face of extreme pressure from the record labels, as well as for convincing Hollywood to allow its video content to be downloaded (for $2 per show). Since the announcement in October, more than 3 million videos had been sold at press time, proving that people will pay for media online if it's fairly priced and easy to get. Let's just hope downloaders aren't watching them while driving.

LOSER: The Grokster Decision

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Grokster v. MGM, holding that providers of P2P networks could be held liable for inducing copyright infringement. The impact on illegal file swappers--who have plenty of other options for doing what they shouldn't be doing--was negligible. But the decision dealt a blow to the rights of ordinary consumers by narrowing the reach of another famous copyright case. The 1984 Betamax decision kept the VCR from being sued out of existence and led to the creation of a $20 billion video-rental industry, as well as the DVD and other innovations. The Grokster decision may make technology companies more reluctant to bring new ideas to market.

WINNER: Wikipedia

You can't do a Web search on any major topic without this wiki popping up near the top of the results page. Heavily linked, authoritative, and constantly updated, the world's largest interactive encyclopedia came into its own this year. According to Hitwise, Wikipedia became the second-most-visited reference site on the Web this year, trailing only

LOSER: Wikipedia

Popular, yes. Accurate? Not necessarily. Because its entries can be edited by anyone, the Wikipedia can be the source of dubious or biased information. Like the entry on "Swiftboating" that was recently Swiftboated itself by an anti-John Kerry partisan, or the article that falsely implicated an innocent man in the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. To the wiki's credit, both items were quickly pulled and corrected; contributors are now required to register for the site, which should, theoretically, limit the number of spurious entries. But with more than 800,000 articles in English and well over 1 million in 15 other languages, foolproof policing is well nigh impossible. Then again, the Journal Nature compared Wikipedia to the venerable Encyclopaedia Brittanica and found hundreds of errors in both--though the wiki had slightly more.


TiVo fans everywhere were crushed last September when the digital-video-recording service began responding to Macrovision's copy-protection signals, which can automatically block recording of pay-per-view and video-on-demand programming or delete them from your TiVo box after a week. Before you know it, TiVo won't let you fast-forward through commercials or replay those wardrobe malfunctions.


No, not that browser-on-your-TV gadget that Microsoft bought in 1997 and effectively killed. I'm talking about original programming broadcast on the Web using podcasts, video blogs, and the like. It really got started in 2005, and most of the content is, well, god-awful. But the potential for a smarter, weirder, funnier form of TV is enormous. Memo to Hollywood: Watch your back.

Dan Tynan writes the Gadget Freak column for PC World magazine. He is author of Computer Privacy Annoyances (O'Reilly Media, 2005) and writes The WitList satirical blog.

Monday, December 26, 2005 & Korea Lead in the Adoption of Consumer Technologies

Dallas, TX December 23, 2005 -- Taiwan and South Korea lead the world in the adoption of consumer technologies, according to Global Digital Living™ (GDL), a new international study from Parks Associates.

GDL surveyed over 10,000 households in 13 countries and ranked nations according to their proclivity to adopt and use MP3 players, video-on-demand (VOD), home networks, computers, online services, and similar advanced technologies. The United States proved the most receptive to TV-related technologies (such as DVRs and digital cable) but fell behind Taiwan and Korea in the adoption of computer-related technologies. Europe countries generally placed behind North America and developed Asian countries like Japan in the adoption of all categories surveyed.

“Each nation has particular strengths and weaknesses in terms of technology adoption,” said John Barrett, director of research at Parks Associates. “Canada, for instance, is a very impressive market for home networking while Japan is the undisputed champion for mobile phones, with over one-half of all Japanese households using mobile phone features like e-mail or photo messaging every month. Of course long commute times in Japan encourage the use of mobile phone entertainment features.”

The results of the Global Digital Living™ survey were released to coincide with the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas where Parks Associates will be on-hand to discuss the results (South Hall, booth 25539). For additional information on Global Digital Living™, visit or contact 972-490-1113.

About Parks Associates: Parks Associates is a market research and consulting firm focused on all product and service segments that are “digital” or provide connectivity within the home. The company’s expertise includes home networks, digital entertainment, consumer electronics, broadband and Internet services, and home systems.

Founded in 1986, Parks Associates creates research capital for companies ranging from Fortune 500 to small start-ups through market reports, multiclient studies, consumer research, workshops, and custom-tailored client solutions. Parks Associates also hosts Fall Focus and co-hosts CONNECTIONS™ (in partnership with the Consumer Electronics Association) each year.

Contact: Jenny Barrett or Chelsey Tyson

Parks Associates