Archives For Accessories

Evolution of the Verizon Hub

Mari Silbey —  January 23, 2009 — 3 Comments

Tech specs are still fuzzy, but what we do know is that this is a POTS-based cordless phone system with a touchscreen for Internet access and integration with Verizon wireless phone services. It’s meant to act as a digital photo frame, note board, family calendar, and widget station all at once.

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Photo courtesy of the Kodak PluggedIn Blog

While gaming consoles are still attempting to make good on their role as Trojan Horse in the living room , I have a new candidate for the job: Wi-Fi photo frames. As ridiculous as that sounds, a WI-Fi photo frame is really nothing more than an IP-based display, capable of receiving IP-based content. This year at CES I saw at least two digital frames (Kodak and GiiNii) drawing content from Web sources. Once Mom buys one of these frames to show off photos of little Jimmy, it’s only a short, logical step to using it for convenient weather updates, tips, horoscopes, sports scores, and more. Yes, we’re back to my favorite topic: the widget station.

Many companies are attempting to break open the widget-station market, from the Chumby makers, to Verizon and AT&T, to Logitech with its Harmony remotes (sort of) and even the Squeezebox. However, two things are clear to me. First, widget stations are only going to be successful if they are first embedded in households for another purpose. And second, the best widget station will be one that is already designed to act as a visual display.

TVs/set-tops have already pushed their way into the widget market, and we’ll see more from that direction in the near future, but I believe there’s room for another device in the home that gives access to quick, visual, Web-based information. The question is, how far will Wi-Fi photo frames go? Will they become a regular source of video in addition to static content? Will they eventually act as touch-screen, home controllers? I don’t know, but I bet we’ll see the next iteration by CES 2010.

While walking through the South Hall at CES, out of the corner of my eye I saw a couple of Voltaic, solar-charging laptop bags. They were next to a gentleman who was happily enjoying his lunch until I accosted him. Having written about Voltaic last month, I was curious about any news or product updates. It turns out the man was a representative of the company and willing to put aside his lunch for a quick chat. While there’s not much new to report, I did get a chance to see the Voltaic batteries that hold charge once the bag has soaked up the sun’s rays. One of the problems with the solar bags is that they take so long to charge. That problem is mitigated at least in part when you can carry along extra juice.

I pointed out during my impromptu meeting that the price tag ($499) on the Voltaic makes it impractical for most. The response: It depends on a given user’s needs. And I admit, in certain rugged conditions the Voltaic bags would be invaluable. Perhaps an investment for the Department of Defense?

There are a ton of companies showing off wireless power solutions this year, with PowerMat possibly getting the most hype. While I haven’t run into the PowerMat folks yet, I did stop by the Fulton Innovation and Leggett & Platt booths at Digital Experience last night. Fulton is behind something called eCoupled technology. The technology uses inductive coupling to power devices by surface-to-surface touch. The catch? The devices have to have the right outer surface to power up on eCoupled-enabled charging products. While some of the big manufacturers are getting on board, don’t expect all of the gadgets in your gadget bag to charge wirelessly any time soon. My guess is that a decent after-market business will spring up (it exists in early form already) letting you add surface skins that support eCoupled charging.

In the meantime, companies like Leggett & Platt are creating cool new products at the front wave of the wireless power trend. Check out pics of the car console above and below. The company sees a construction application for the car hardware, letting workers charge their tools between site jobs. Huh. I have to admit, that’s not the first application I thought of. I want wireless power for my laptop, camera, Flip, Zoom, Slacker, phone, etc., etc., etc.

Also in the gallery below – an eCoupled-enabled wooden tray. Tray chic.

iphone-roadtrip

Over the years, I’ve owned several iPods. And along with them, several car charging solutions and/or car mounts. They’ve run the gamut from a low-tech cup holder to higher end solutions from Monster and Belkin. But my new favorite, by a long shot, is the latest iteration of the Griffin RoadTrip.

My recent search for an iPhone mount began when rumors of a GPS-enabled iPhone first surfaced. Other than a few clunky-looking generic device holders, I wasn’t seeing much until I stumbled upon the Griffin WindowSeat. Unfortunately, right about when I discovered the unit they either delayed the release or temporarily pulled it while adding an adapter to support the iPhone 3G. I also took a look at the highly regarded ProClip solutions, but the price ($65) and single car installation kept me away.

Enter Griffin RoadTrip. The newest version (MSRP $99, $68 @ Amazon) includes adapters for a wide variety of iPod devices, including both the iPhone and the iPhone 3G, charges the unit, looks great, and beams all audio over FM to your car stereo. The RoadTrip also nearly instantaneously identifies open frequencies to broadcast on. Which comes in handy given the radio pollution in metro areas like mine. (However, you can expect some GSM interference if using an iPhone with cellular connectivity – easily masked while music is playing. And this isn’t necessarily Griffin’s fault… I get similar interference without the mount in play when my phone pulls email, etc.)

As I’m still toting a first gen non-3G iPhone, I had assumed I’d have to load it up with my own tracks for in-car entertainment. However, Pandora over EDGE with the RoadTrip broadcasting in mono (less interference) works surprisingly well and is a decent solution since dumping XM. It’s also been nice to be able to see incoming callers without fumbling for the phone, and if the font is maxed out, I can read email – while the car is stopped, of course. I snapped a pic of Google Maps (below) to represent what I hope is some sort of future turn-by-turn GPS application… at which point I’ll upgrade my iPhone (or when Apple adds a respectable camera). And given my in-car success with Anderson Cooper’s 360 video podcast, I wouldn’t mind seeing some mobile Slingbox software.

Voltaic Systems has just announced a new computer bag – the Generator – designed to charge a laptop computer solely with stored energy from the sun’s rays. The bag comes in five colors and is available at the company’s website now.

Since energy waste and the CE industry go hand-in-hand, I’m in favor of anything that makes our shiny gadgets a little greener. Unfortunately, there are a few sticking points with the solar-powered Generator bag. On the one hand it represents an important milestone, and Voltaic Systems should be commended. On the other hand, it’s hardly practical in its current form.

First of all, it takes an hour of sun time to extend laptop battery time by 20 to 45 minutes. If it took an hour to download 20 to 45 minutes of a movie, there would be no Rokus or Vudus or any of the other movie download boxes around. Second, the bag costs $499. That’s more than a lot of netbooks today, and certainly too hefty a price tag for most of the gadget-toters I know.

Since Voltaic Systems is first to market, it deserves a hearty congratulations for the noteworthy achievement. Personally, I’ll be waiting a few more years for my first solar-powered laptop bag. Maybe Christmas 2012.

AT&T HomeManager Launches

Mari Silbey —  September 23, 2008 — 3 Comments

AT&T, the company that brings you everything IP, has just launched HomeManager, a home communication system (er, phone) with a touchscreen display that combines news and weather feeds with telephony features.

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