Friday, August 29, 2008

Rogers Wireless Extends $30/6 GB Plan-UPDATED!

Not surprisingly, Rogers Wireless has reportedly extended its $30/mo. for 6 GBs of data usage 3G cell phone plan to accomodate buyers of the just-announced BlackBerry Bold. The plan, which was initially announced as a promotion the day before the highly-coveted iPhone was released, was also made available to customers buying any 3G device on the Rogers or Fido network.

Rogers says that, after monitoring customer usage, very few people have even come close to the 6 GBs worth of usage. I'd tend to agree, knowing that, after almost a month of heavy data usage with the iPhone 3G, I barely managed to cracked 2 GBs.

The promotional $30 plan will now run until the end of September instead of the end of August, so Bold buyers need not worry about joining the line-ups of back-to-school last-minute shoppers just so they can get the extra GBs worth of surfing. From October on, Rogers will supposedly add new plan options that include 500 MB of data for $25/mo. or 1 GB for $30/mo. An idea I had alluded to months ago has also been adopted by Rogers: the company will be offering unlimited data for the first three months of certain plans so that customers can observe average usage and adjust the plan accordingly if needed. I have to give credit where it's due, and this is a very smart move on Rogers' part.

Existing Rogers customers looking to upgrade to a new 3G device like the iPhone or Bold should keep in mind that the purchase price of the actual phone will vary depending on where you are in your current contract. For example, a colleague of mine who's in the third year of his current contract was told that he could get the Bold for $444: slightly more expensive than the$399 price tag given to new customers.

It seems like Rogers dodged a bullet on the issue of unlimited data for now. But data usage will become even more intense. Networks are getting faster (I'm blown away by how quickly a web page can load on the BlackBerry Bold!), and people will begin to adopt new on-the-go activities, like video streaming. It might take a few years, but we'll probably hear cries for unlimited plans once again; and hopefully carriers will oblige.


Here's a full list of new BlackBerry data plans to be offered by Rogers Wireless starting October 1, 2008:

$15/mo. = 2 MB of data (such a plan doesn't currently exist)
$25/mo. = 500 MB of data (used to include just 4 MB)
$30/mo. = 1 GB of data (currently the 6 GB promotional plan)
$50/mo. = 2 GB of data (currently not available)
$60/mo. = 3 GB of data (currently not available)
$80/mo. = 8 GB of data (currently not available)
$100/mo. = will not be available. Rogers previously offered 1 GB and then 6 GB for this amount, but will not be offering a $100 plan going forward.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Back-to-School Shopping Isn't Over Yet!

As we creep closer and closer to the Labour Day long weekend, you'd think that most students and parents have already completed the lengthy back-to-school shopping process that includes grabbing everything from new backpacks, to computers, and clothing. But according to several surveys, retailers, both in-store and online, can gear up this weekend for a rush of last-minute shoppers.

An Angus Reid study, conducted on behalf of Staples Business Depot, finds that many consumers plan to start their back-to-school shopping later this year; while a Visa Canada survey claims that 13% of Canadians are eager to shop online between now and Labour Day.

Both studies are optimistic about the amounts Canadians will spend on back-to-school gear. Angus averages more than $200 per person ($20 more than last year), while Visa is much more generous for online shoppers, claiming that they'll each spend $881. 40% of these respondents indicate that they'll spend more online this year than they did last year. But Visa does note that 41% plan to buy computers online, which explains the inflated amount.

The Visa study also finds that 30% of back-to-schoolers choose to shop online instead of in a store, due mainly to convenience, and perceived better prices and selection.

The best advice for retailers out there? Offer great deals this weekend, send flyers or e-mails to customers outlining these enticing deals, and make sure stores are well-staffed to accommodate the rush of parents and college-bound teens looking to stock up for the school year. Keep in mind that many won't be perky about the end of summer, so anything you can do to excite them will help.

Happy Labour Day Weekend!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

CEDIA EXPO: Gearing up for the Show

CEDIA EXPO 2008 takes place next week, and the industry is gearing up for the best of the best in the custom A/V world. As Lee Distad points out on our sister Website, the current U.S. housing crisis doesn't exactly bode well for companies that thrive on high-end A/V systems in new homes. But there's still plenty of new technologies and interesting trends to be observed in that area; and plenty of potential customers looking to adopt the latest and greatest.

What do I expect to see at the show?

HD video distribution is probably going to be a hot topic. How effectively can this be achieved right now? And what new products are out there that can handle transmitting such a heavy amount of data? Belkin's FlyWire, first shown at CES, will likely be fully-functioning at the show, so I'm looking forward to a demo. The product, which is scheduled for Canadian retail availability in October for about $1,000, is said to be able to distribute HD video from one location to another, up to 30-feet away.

Just as we saw at CES, it'll be no surprise to see the most recently-introduced thin-bezel flat-panel TVs; as well as more 1080p displays that we can count on all hands and toes. Not to mention a multitude of innovative mounting systems for them that tilt, shift, and fit in awkward places.

Music and video storage is becoming of greater interest to consumers, especially as they continue to collect hundreds and hundreds of DVD movies and music CDs. While dedicated media servers have always been popular among the custom installation crowd, will we see a greater focus on the PC storage side? After all, the idea of the media PC as part of your home theatre is becoming even more apparent now than ever. What's more, how will companies approach the potential changes to copyright law in Canada that could effectively deem the majority of these products illegal?

Blu-ray will quite obviously be at the forefront of the DVD arena, along with Toshiba's recently announced XDE up-converting DVD player that serves as a mid-level product between standard DVD players and Blu-ray. It's a clever idea for the company now that it is officially out of the HD DVD business: why not have a solution that lets you play your existing DVDs while still enjoying a better viewing experience?

Naturally, products centred around the iPod music player haven't slowed down any (nor has consumer interest in downloading music) and we're likely to see some higher-end products in this realm. Of particular note already are the RED-I tube amp and speaker package from Fatman (which also works with the iPhone!); SpeakerCraft's new iPhone interface for its MODE multi-room home A/V control system; the Wadia Digital 170iTransport “high resolution” iPod dock that has component video outputs for viewing videos in full, DVD quality; and Xantech's XAN-XIS100 iPod dock with an HD component video output.

Finally, as the residential housing market hits a crunch, the commercial market continues to flourish. Even with the residential market taken into consideration, many dealers tells me that commercial applications are a huge part of their business. Will we see more products targeted toward commercial applications, whether they be restaurants, schools, or MDUs?

Stay tuned for more information for CEDIA EXPO, which takes place September 4-7, 2008 in Denver, CO.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Wii Games Look Promising

Just as news hit that the Nintendo Wii has become the first of the big three gaming consoles in Canada to sell one-million units, I had the opportunity to check out some of the latest games for the console.

Guys will love the new Star Wars game, where players can duel one another with lightsabers by waving the Wii Remote about. The game reminds me of the look and feel of the old Streetfighter and Mortal Kombat games. Rather than just pushing buttons, however, players need to physically move their hands about to take a swipe at their opponents in battle.

Wario Land: Shake It!, featuring Super Mario's Mr. Hyde-ish alter-ego, includes lots of jumping, brick-breaking, and money grabbing. A neat feature in this game is the ability to shake the actual Wii remote to accomplish tasks, like jiggling an enemy until money bags come out of him! Signs throughout the game hint at what buttons to press on the Wii Remote to accomplish certain moves: such as hitting "2" and the "right" navigation button to built momentum and break a massive brick.

Rayman Raving Rabids TV Party is apparently the third installment of the game for the Wii console (already!?) What sets this one apart, however, is its use of the Wii Balance Board, available and used with Wii Fit. One function includes sitting on the Balance Board, with the Wii Remote in one hand and the Nunchuk in the other. Then, move side to side to manuevre your Rabbid Rabbit around poles while he rides an upside-down cow (yes, a cow!), and tilt back to go faster. The concept is similar to Wii skiing or snowboarding, but it adds a neat dimension to the experience by actually getting you off your feet and onto your butt!

The most family friendly of the new games, however, is Wii Music, which is actually nothing like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, despite prior beliefs. Select from a number of popular songs or nursery rhymes (Matt from Nintendo says that the game will include about 50 tunes upon launch), then select the instrument of your choice from more than 60 selections. Use the term "instrument" lightly, though: along with the standard piano, electric guitar, and violin, you can also sing, play to the tune of dog barks, and even beat-box! Practice the desired instrument for a bit, then jam with your friends as each of you takes a desired portion of the tune (melody and harmony are great starters, followed by more difficult background parts, like percussion). While you can push a button to see the proper musical notes appear on the screen, it's still difficult to determine exactly how you should strum your Wii Remote as a guitar, or manipulate the violin with the Nunchuk and Remote. Any wind-based instrument requires that you simply place the edge of the Remote up to your mouth, then move your head up and down to control volume, and press buttons in tune with the song. Whether you're a musician or a young child, the results upon the first try are hilarious, and it'll bring some laughs to parties. Parents beware, though. If you think baby rattles can cause a racket, wait until you get 4 kids together in a Wii Music jam session!

While these games will satisfy Wii gamers during the holiday season, many are likely on the edge of their seats for the upcoming MotionPlus controller attachment that provides 3D-like motion simulation that sees your on-screen character responding to real-time to wrist or arm movements; not just general body movements. The first game to be compatible with it is the highly-anticipated Wii Sports Resort, which is scheduled for availability next spring.

Aforementioned games that aren't yet on store shelves (with the exception of Wii Sports Resort) should be hitting stores in time for this holiday season.

While it's not for the Wii, I was thoroughly impressed with an upcoming recipe "game" for the Nintendo DS. It has about 250 recipes, combined with detailed written, video, and verbal instructions. Once you select a recipe that you'd like to make, step-by-step instructions are provided on screen and dictated by a virtual chef. If you're told to perform a task that you aren't certain how to do (e.g. deveining shrimp), just hit the "more details" button and you'll receive detailed written instructions, or in some cases a video, that demonstrates what you need to do. You can input ingredients to get dish ideas, alter the serving amount, and even create digital shopping lists so that you know what's needed for the desired recipe. If you decide to make substitutions to recipes, you can log them in a notepad. For someone like me that often cooks with a laptop and recipe Website page on the kitchen counter, I find this to be a really neat idea!
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Monday, August 25, 2008

Microsoft Pits Seinfeld Against "Cool" Mac Guy

Microsoft has reportedly hired Jerry Seinfeld to be featured in the company's new ad campaign, and the partnership has been getting a flurry of attention from the media.

We've all seen the humorous "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" Apple commercials that pit "cool, hip guy" actor Justin Long against uber-geek actor John Kellogg Hodgman. While Long portrays the calm, creative computing experience, Hodgman always looks uptight, upset, and jealous of the Mac brand. Will Microsoft create a similar ad campaign that replaces corporate geek with funnyman Seinfeld? When you think about it, the choice couldn't have been better. While Seinfeld is a stand-up comic, he is best-known for his role on the widely popular sitcom of the same name. His character's claim to fame? Being completely "plain", unfashionable, and not extremely good-looking, yet being able to snag the hottest girls, and plenty of them, at that. Cross this over to Microsoft Windows, and you instantly see the similarities: a brand with a reputation for being not as attractive as Mac, so to speak, yet somehow, it manages to get most of the customers out there. And more keep on coming.

I can honestly say that I'm looking forward to this campaign, and what Seinfeld will bring to the table. Will he mock Mac with some funny banter against another character? Or will he make light of unfortunate issues that Microsoft has had to deal with as of late (namely with Vista). Because Seinfeld is such a universally popular TV program, it would be neat to see ads that incorporate popular sayings, quotes, or characters from the show itself. And with a reported $10M paycheck from the campaign, Seinfeld should be up for anything...well, perhaps just not the "puffy shirt" or man hands!

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Friday, August 22, 2008

What Will They Think of Next?: The Pet Doorbell

When you're dog needs to go outside, how does it let you know? By ringing the doorbell, of course!

Ok, not quite, but a company called PetSafe has created a product that lets your pet do just that. Instead of training the animal to bark or scratch at the door when it wants to get out (or back in, for that matter), just mount the pet doorbell onto a wall near the door or to the door itself. Then, attach a small SmartKey to the pet's collar, and a tune will sound whenever the pet comes within up to 3-feet (or as close as 3-inches) from the device. There are 4 volume settings on the unit, which operates via RF, and the bell itself can be turned off if need be. The unit operates via 3 C-sized batteries; and up to 5 SmartKeys on five pets can be used with one doorbell.

While I find it difficult to believe that any pet owner wouldn't already have a doggie door, or have trained a pet to let him know when he needs to go out, I'm sure there are applications where this item might come in handy. Apartment and condo dwellers first come to mind; along with any renter that might not be permitted to build a pet door. And hey, if you'd just rather hear a sing-song tune than a loud dog bark, it might be worth spending the time to train your dog to use this sensor.

Then, of course, there's also the prestige of high-tech gadgetry! The PetSafe pet doorbell costs US$90.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

BlackBerry Bold Update: What Sets it Apart?

The BlackBerry Bold officially launched today through Rogers Wireless, and Canadians can be proud that we're the first North American country to have the device! The Bold features some enticing, though not earth-shattering, upgrades in comparison to previous generation models. Here's the scoop:

As previously mentioned, it has WiFi access, which can help save dough since you can surf using WiFi when available instead of using up your cellular data minutes. Of course it's also a 3G device, operating on Roger's HSPA network, which makes it the fastest BlackBerry product currently on the market. According to Rogers' John Boynton, that's "not by a little, but by a lot." In addition to the faster 3G/HSPA network, the Bold also has its own quicker internal processor at 624 MHz.

The feature most-touted by Rogers and RIM, however, is sharper screen, which boasts 480 x 320 pixel resolution: the same as the iPhone, but at a much smaller size, this results in a really clear, punchy picture. Video is striking on the display, though I'm not sure how many people watch videos on their phones. Nevertheless, because the device is 3G, it also now supports streaming video content, which will make full use of the high resolution screen. Like the Curve, the Bold lets you shoot short video clips, as well as 2 MP digital still photos.

A really useful upgrade is 1 GB of built-in memory (as well as the standard microSD/SDHC card slot) for storing documents, music, etc. In terms of the former, the Bold uses Dataviz Documents To Go to allow BlackBerry customers to actually edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents; not just read them. While making major edits will be cumbersome on such a small screen, this can come in handy for making quick notes to a file, or more likely, an Excel sheet.

A question I've had about multi-use smartphones in the past is: how can you use the phone for its primary function (voice chatting) while it's also being used as a web browser or a navigation device? With the Bold, you can continue chatting (logically with a Bluetooth headset or other device) while the hardware is being used to navigate to a location, or while you're sending an e-mail.

Aesthetically, the Bold is finished in black chrome with a leatherette backplate (thanks: no fingerprints!), and the keyboard employs a slightly revised design. During my short time using it, I didn't find it any easier, nor more difficult to use, than previous generation BlackBerries.

After having gotten used to browsing the Web on an iPhone, it was a sub-par experience with the Bold, to say the least. It's obvious that with a much larger screen and touch functionality, you're going to get a more robust browsing experience. With that said, even on the tiny Bold screen (which is not touch-sensitive), I found it easy enough to scroll through Websites (using the trackball) and zoom in/out of pages as needed.

Other features include stereo Bluetooth support, and a new application called Media Sync, which allows for syncing DRM-free iTunes songs to the device for listening on-the-go. Naturally, this model is also compatible with the multitude of third-party, downloadable apps currently on the market.

The magic question on everyone's mind is always price: how much is it? The BlackBerry Bold will cost you $399.99 on a 3-year voice and data plan that totals more than $45/mo. The limited time $30/mo. for 6 GB of data option that Rogers announced prior to the iPhone launch does in fact apply to any 3G phone from the carrier including this one. You have until August 31, 2008 to take part in this plan, which is arguably the most attractive one the carrier currently offers.

While I haven't had extensive play time with the Bold just yet, I can say that my original stance still holds true: if you spend more time browsing the Web, downloading apps, and listening to tunes, the iPhone is probably the better choice. But if you're a business user that swears by on-the-go e-mailing, the BlackBerry is still king; and the Bold is clearly leader of the pack.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back-to-School Gadgets: Part 2

I discussed a few back-to-school gadget suggestions last week. Here are a few more to whet the appetities of back-to-schoolers, and everyone that's shopping for them:

LCD/DVD Combo: Why these combo units haven't been more popular than they have been is beyond me. For a kitchen or a dorm room, they're the perfect space-saving, affordable option. Toshiba's 19" 19LV505C can support a multitude of DVD formats, as well as CDs, and boasts features like virtual surround sound and HDMI connectivity. $449

Wireless Keyboard & Mouse: Isn't it great to be able to write reports or surf sites while lounging on your bed or on the couch? A wireless mouse and keyboard makes this easy; especially if you want to use a big screen TV. I first saw the Logitech Dinovo Edge ($200) at a trade event back in April, and after a few minutes with it, I was hooked. What makes it so cool? The mouse is actually built right into the keyboard itself, making remote operation a breeze. The Bluetooth-enabled, full-sized keyboard (a mini version is also available) can also work with the Sony PlayStation 3.

Digital Photo Frame: Trendy students will want to look trendy, whether it's in a dorm room or a shared apartment. What do you do when you live with 6 roommates, but only have room on the wall for one photo or two? A digital photo frame lets you rotate images constantly from either built-in memory or an inserted memory card. A really neat model hails from eStarling, and lets you send updated images from the Web and via WiFi from a Facebook account.

Networking Adapters: Extra ports are always needed when you can't find them. In addition to the traditional power bar, USB hubs and other such devices can always come in handy. A neat device from Belkin called the Powerline networking adapters allow you to connect multiple Ethernet devices that might be situated in hard-to-reach spots. The top-of-the-line model has three Ethernet ports for connecting up to three devices, like a gaming console, set-top box, or PC, along with a single-port adapter that plugs into your router.

Portable Recording Device: Being able to record a lecture or discussion group is certainly helpful for any student. Belkin has a neat model in this area as well. Called the GoStudio ($120), it works in tandem with an iPod for recording audio, then easily uploading it to a PC, or simply playing it back right from built-in speakers.

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How Bold is the BlackBerry?

While I'm not actually a smartphone owner myself (I know, it's hard to believe, isn't it?) I do find myself somewhat excited about the upcoming launch of the BlackBerry Bold. As the latest incarnation in the BlackBerry family, this model looks sleeker, sexier, and has some exciting new features that might not rival the iPhone, per se, but it will pique current BlackBerry users' interests.

For one, it will have integrated WiFi, which is an important features for Canadians. Why? We arguably spend more on data than most other countries do, so to be able to log on to a WiFi network whenever one is nearby and surf without using cellular minutes is a huge advantage. Even in a paid WiFi network, like a coffee shop or certain airports, you might find the pricing to be more affordable.

A nicer, crisper screen, and a revamped interface are two other potentially new features. One advantage that the new breed of touch-screen devices has over the BlackBerry is the fact that the screens are larger, and therefore much easier to use when navigating Web pages or documents. While the screen might not be bigger, better resolution could make a world of difference for some.

This new device launch comes at an opportune time for BlackBerry: just as there are loyal Apple/iPhone followers, so, too are there loyal BlackBerry users waiting for the latest and greatest. The latter group just isn't as vocal! Can the Bold meet their expectations as a valid step-up from the currently available Curve and Pearl? Time will tell.

One thing's for sure: if you're an avid business user that's constantly on-the-go, and who sends tons of e-mails and text-based messages to colleagues, the BlackBerry is likely still your number-one choice. But when it comes to cool, intuitive web browsing, and fun apps, the iPhone may just have RIM beat. Now if only we could combine the best of both worlds...

Stay tuned for more information tomorrow once I've had a closer look at the Bold.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Best Buy Says "Yes" to Customer Reviews Online

Best Buy Canada just announced that it would allow shoppers to rate products and write customer reviews on its Website. While some might think this is a bad thing (what if someone - *gulp* - says something bad about a product?) others will agree that it's actually a good thing. Why?

When customers can read reviews, both good and bad, from other "regular" people, it builds credibility. The same goes for manufacturer Websites. While you will have to bite your tongue and put up with a few negative reviews (let's face it: no product is 100% perfect!), this also leaves the chance for a happy customer to jump in and say "no, I bought that same product and had a great experience with it"). Aside from that, it shows the faith you have in your products, much like offering a lifetime warranty can do.

On that note, reading customer reviews can be as helpful for a retailer or manufacturer as it is for other customers. If you read comments from 20 people, all of whom say they wish product X had feature Y, wouldn't this seriously convince you to consider adding said feature into the next generation model? It can also help you to improve products and features from the get-go, while also better understanding your audience as a whole. After all, in many cases, the people writing the reviews make up the very market you're trying to target!

This brings me to another interesting point: policing these comments. This is an issue that we've dealt with first hand with our sister Websites and, to some degree, this blog as well. While you need to accept negative commentary about anything, whether it's a product, service, or company, where does one draw the line? What's more, you'll almost always receive a comment or two that simply says something like "X product sucks" without any reason given to defend the opinion. Should these be allowed, or removed from public view? After all, everyone is entitled to his opinion. But then again, an opinion that can't be backed up really is just nonsense, and really holds no value when it's shouted from the rooftops to every Internet surfer in the world.

Then you come to the educated, justified opinions that might also contain profanity, or malice toward someone. Maybe it's the salesperson that sold a product, or the retail store where it was purchased. Are these allowed? On the one hand, it has been backed up by a personal experience.
On the other, does everyone need their "dirty laundry" aired to the entire Web world? Back in the day, angry customers would write letters, stamp 'em, and cross their fingers in hope that the "big boss" would eventually read it. Today, log on, type away your rant, and hit "submit", and your opinion easily just reached millions.

The issue of online commentary has been an ongoing one, and anyone who permits customer reviews, comments, and forums on their site likely discusses it often. While I personally feel that any (or at least most) comments should be permitted, others I work with feel that anything that isn't backed up by an educated opinion shouldn't be permitted. To either end, where do you draw the line? It really does become a sticky situation.

Nevertheless, I give kudos to Best Buy for opting to take the risky route of letting customers say what they feel about a product. Hopefully customers will use the functionality in a way that will benefit other shoppers, and not just as a spot to rant about nothing.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

UofT to Make One of World's Top 20 Fastest Supercomputers

Canada's University of Toronto says that it will build the country's most powerful and energy-efficient PC together with IBM. The PC, which will be able to process up to 360 trillion calculations per second, and store 60 times more data than the Library of Congress Web archive (five petabytes, if you even knew those existed!), will also likely break to top 20 list of fastest supercomputers in the world.

The PC will be built by IBM and UofT's SciNet Consortium, which includes the University of Toronto and associated research hospitals. It will employ a hybrid design, which gives it the capability to run multiple software applications at blazing speeds.

Adding to our country's accolades is the fact that the PC will be the second-largest system ever built on a university campus, and the largest supercomputer outside of the U.S.

The UofT system is expected to be fully operational by next summer. Hey, if we can't kick butt in the Olympics, at least we have information technology research to fall back on!

It's highly unlikely that we'll see a PC like this one in someone's home any time soon: this baby will be used for major data analysis and research in areas like future risks, regional climate change, and the examination of modern scientific mysteries. But just imagine that one day, your kids, or their kids or grandkids, could be using a PC like this one to power their homes. And they'll look back fondly to those "ancient times" when something like a quad-core processor was the bee's knees of home computing technology.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What Will They Think of Next?: The iPig...No, I'm Not Kidding

When I received an announcement in my inbox today about something called the iPig, it naturally caught my attention. Is this a joke? After having seen a toilet roll that doubled as an iPod dock a few years back at CES in Las Vegas, I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't. Sure enough, upon opening up the e-mail, there staring back at me were three little piggies, each with an iPod docked atop, and glaring speaker-grille eyes.

A company called Speakal, based out of Culver City, CA, has created this modern day spin on the piggy bank. No, you won't be able to save your money within these piggies; but you will be able to play back your tunes via their four speakers and 4" sub that deliver 25-watts of power and "360-degree sound distribution." In addition to iPods, each hog also has a 3.5mm input jack for connecting other devices.

While the iPigs come with a remote control (that can also control the iPod's menu) you'll never guess how you can also adjust volume: just touch the left and right ears to turn the sound up or down! Oce the iPig is turned on, his mouth blinks happily as you navigate through tunes and menus.

Nothing surprises me in this industry anymore; and each new strange or funky gadget attracts its own quirky group of followers. There truly is something for everyone. Just don't be surprised if a child asks you for the iPig this Christmas instead of a rickety old piggy bank that he can use to save up money for the next best iPod to dock in it.

The iPig comes in yellow, pink, and white, as depicted above, and sells for US$139.99.

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Back-to-School Gadgets: Part 1

Sadly, it's already "back-to-school" season; the time that signals the end of summer break for kids, and the impending return of the colder winter days for adults. Naturally, my e-mail inbox has been inundated with back-to-school gadget pitches over the last month.

While kids returning to school will obviously require the basics (notebooks, pens, pencils, fashionable new clothes, etc.), some nifty gadgets might also come in handy. Here are a few suggestions:

MP3 Player: While an MP3 player isn't exactly an educational toy, kids do need something for downtime. I've been using the neat pebble-shaped Samsung YP-S2 Pebble player (hence the name) to listen to tunes while I go to the gym or for a run. What's neat about it is that it comes with a lanyard that has earbuds attached to it. Pull the lanyard around your head, and clip the earbuds into your ears. Then, just wear the player like a necklace. A handy clip will secure it to your shirt so that it doesn't bounce up and down while you walk. It's also really easy to get tunes onto the device: connect it to your PC using the included USB dongle and just drag and drop the desired songs into the player's folder. Then control playback via dedicated buttons on the face. Available in five shiny colours (black, white, red, green, and purple), each pebble can hold 2 GB worth of tunes. $60

All-in-One Printer: Students like to save space, especially when they're working with a tiny desk in a tiny dorm room or computer room at home. The HP Photosmart C4385 is a neat option that permits printing, copying, and scanning of documents all in one compact unit. What makes it even more convenient is that the AIO can operate wirelessly, helping to reduce clutter even more. $130

SanDisk Cruzer Pattern USB Flash Drive: Fashion is as important as function these days when it comes to gadgets. Student that want to store or transfer important presentations or notes can use this flash drive, which comes in gray or black, each with floral-like etching on the exterior to add some "flare". A clip allows it to be easily secured to a backpack or belt; and U3 technology lets password-protected applications run right from the 1GB or 2GB drive. $10 or $15

Targus Wireless Presenter with Laser Pointer: University students looking to impress during their class presentations will appreciate this laser pointer that employs 2.4 GHz wireless technology which allows it to work for up to 30 feet away from the display. You can move page up/down, resume a screen, and even darker a screen while dictating your information to the class. $40

Digital Camera: There are so many neat and affordable digital camera options out there today that really, the choice is up to the individual and what he's looking for. Nikon's Coolpix L18 will appeal to the fashion-conscious student because it comes in a variety of colours (black, sapphire, and ruby). But it also employs some pretty impressive features, like a 3" LCD, 8 MP sensor, and an Easy Auto mode that lets users literally point and shoot while the camera does the rest. $140

Notebook PC: As with the digital camera market, there are so many options in the notebook arena, that it's all a matter of what you'll be doing with the PC, and what option best suits you. Gamers will likely gravitate toward something like the Toshiba Qosmio X300 that can serve as the device for "fun" time as well when it's down to business. It employs all the "extreme" features one would want, from 4GB of memory to up to 500 GB of hard drive space; touch buttons, and the latest graphics processors. It becomes even more versatile, especially for the dorm room teen on a budget, via HDMI-CEC technology for connecting to a Toshiba LCD and viewing content on the big-screen. $2,000

Notebook PC Bag: Naturally, when you have a notebook, you also need something to carry it around in. If fashion is the primary concern (which, let's face it, it is with many students!), then the Acme Made boutique-style bags will fit the bill. The designs are gorgeous (even the insides will impress), while still being functional to carry a notebook along with accessories and other files and folders. Pricing TBA.

Stay tuned for more back-to-school gadget suggestions; you still have a few weeks left of shopping!

[Photo: The Acme Made line of fashionably notebook bags].

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Best Buy Puts Vending Machines in Airports

According to The Retail Bridge, Best Buy has plans to put 12 vending machine-like kiosks selling travel-related gadgets into U.S. airports. The move is part of a pilot program that will initially involve airports in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The decision makes sense: after all, Bose has successfully been selling its noise-canceling, travel-friendly headphones through vending machines in airports for a long time now. While the average customer might not be willing to charge $350 on a whim to his credit card to enjoy some peace and quiet, the constant business traveler who's about to embark on a 10-hour flight might welcome the option.

However, these kiosks will reportedly sell much more than just headphones. They'll also spew out products like mobile phones, computer accessories, digital cameras, flash drives, and portable audio players. These sound like much the same things that airport convenience stores sell. Will this take away business from these guys, or just add a wider selection of name-brand products?

Frankly, I don't care where I buy a laptop charger if I've arrived at the airport and realized I've forgotten mine. However, on that same note, it's more likely for a vending machine to be annoyingly "out of order" than it would be for an airport store to be closed. Nevertheless, if this program should extend beyond the 12 pilot locations in the U.S., and perhaps even expand into Canada, we can look forward to yet another means of getting technology on-the-go.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Facebook, MySpace, Hit With Virus

It was only a matter of time. Popular social networking Websites Facebook and MySpace, have reportedly been hit with a virus that sends an infected message to people appearing to come from one of their "friends". The message asks that the member click on a link to watch a video on YouTube. Supposedly the fake redirect site is really convincing, even including the name and profile photo of the perceived sender.

This virus totally nullifies heeded warnings not to open e-mails from unknown senders since the e-mail masks itself as originating from someone you do know. We have come to a point where you're almost always flinching as you open an attachment, fearful that it might harm your PC and compromise sensitive personal or business information.

The best advice? Invest in a well-known anti-virus application, and make sure that updates are constantly downloaded. And always keep yourself informed about the latest viruses and hacks by reading reports (like this one!)

While the Web and all that it can offer can be tempting, never believe everything you read. When in doubt, pick up the phone and call the perceived sender of an e-mail to ensure that he really did send you something before you open it. The extra minute it takes to do this will be worth the avoidance of a whole lot of worry and headache.

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Olympics Opening Ceremony Brings People Back to the TV

A reported four-billion people were expected to tune into the three-hour opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics this morning. I managed to catch a bit of the event. It was a true, visual spectacle with thousands of participating dancers and performers outfitted in colourful, traditional garb, and celebrating the culture of the country.

The event was not only visually stimulating; it was also educational about Chinese culture, highlighting the country's four great inventions: paper-making and movable type printing (two things very important to this industry, not to mention publishing!), the compass, and gun powder. Each was celebrated with an over-the-top performance, some including thousands of people and elaborate props. The most interesting was the highlights of movable type printing, where the performers hid underneath rows of what looked like oversized keyboard keys, raising and dropping them in sequence to create a mesmerizing presentation.

Some questioned the purpose of showing three full hours of cultural and musical performances to introduce an event that's all about sports. But sit down and watch five minutes of it (if you managed to PVR it this morning!) and you'll be in awe of the grandeur; not to mention the obvious massive amount of preparation that went into the event.

So what does this have to do with technology? Two significant things will come out of this for our industry: for one, people will obviously be paying a lot more attention to their home theatres while the Olympics take place; and two, dealers may have just found themselves some great, new demo material!

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Are People Really Using Mobile Multimedia?

A major trend in the mobile phone arena is toward multimedia functions: the ability to download and/or listen to music on your phone, watch videos, capture photos, and browse the 'net. People must be asking for these features, or else we wouldn't be focusing so much attention on them, right? According to a recent study by research firm Parks Associates, U.S. consumers aren't exactly making use of all the fancy features available on their phones.

More than half of U.S. consumers surveyed that own a video-capable mobile phone, for example, said they've never watched a video clip on it. Interestingly, almost 40% have never played a song on their phone either! Close to 60% said they've never browsed the 'net on their mobile. This isn't surprising, though, since even the most basic phones today have web browsing capabilities and, with the high cost attached to occasional browsing, you're better off waiting until you get home!

So does this mean that consumers don't really want all the features that are being incorporated into these devices, or have they simply not reached past the eary adopter phase? Assuming these numbers are similar in Canada, we could certainly attribute them to high price tags attached to utilizing such services. Unless you purchase a pre-defined package, per/kilobit Web browsing, for example, typically costs $0.05/kb. As you can imagine, this can get pretty darned costly!

In addition to the cost factor, Parks attributes the lack of consumer uptake of mobile multimedia to the fact that people simply aren't familiar with the services, and what exactly they can offer.
"Buy before you try is always a tough sell," explains John Barrett, Director of Research at the company. "Many consumers are hesitant to pay for a new, unfamiliar service, but they will remain unfamiliar with the service until they or someone they know uses it."

Barrett suggests that a "free taste" could help entice customers to get on board with features like mobile video. He uses Japan and South Korea as examples of countries where such services are free, and there's widespread adoption . In Italy, he adds, additional fees are required, and usage has, not surprisingly, been limited there. "It's in everyone's interest to offer some free programming."

The "3 months free" offer has pretty much been standard across various industries. Perhaps the mobile phone industry should look into adding such promotions to encourage customers to use these advanced features and functions.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Fun, Time-Wasting Websites

Canada is one of the most "connected" nations in the World. Canadians love to do things like read news stories online, update personal blogs, download or stream music and video, and e-mail. But there's one activity that's often overlooked: basic, time-wasting, web surfing. You might engage in such activity on a mobile device while you're waiting in the doctor's office or on a road trip; or perhaps at home while you unwind from a long day at the office or in class. Then, of course, there are times when you might just want to take 10 minutes to check out what's out there in that big world wide web. Given this, I've decided to provide some interesting Websites that are great "time-wasters" or stress relievers. While I'm still stumped as to the reason behind the Web address, I was recently made aware of this Website, and it had me in stitches. All it contains is photo upon photo of cats in various states of mischief, along with witty, purposely misspelled captions that dictate what they're likely thinking. It's all clean fun, and the images, which are uploaded and captioned by both the owners of the site and contributing web users, change constantly, so there's always something new to enjoy. Have you ever wondered what song was the top tune on the Billboard charts on the day that you were born? I came upon this Website the other day, which lists the top tune for every day from 1950 up until 2007! It's a neat one for curious minds, and you might find it fun to send your friends and family members their "top" song. Ever wonder where a popular saying originated? This Website lists tons of famous sayings like "close, but no cigar" and "cold turkey" and discusses their origins. While it isn't as comprehensive as some of the other online databases I've seen, the list includes many of the most commonly uttered sayings. Everyone has had a weird dream at some point in their life, and wondered what it could mean. Type any search term into this site, and it will provide you with a number of possible scenarios and what the dream could have meant. While you have to take such results with a grain of salt, it can be fun to analyze your thoughts and figure out what could be going on in your subconscious mind. There's no denying that Gizmodo has struck a cord with web surfers, offering tidbits of information about weird, and sometimes comical, gadgets that you might not have heard of elsewhere. The clever captions and propensity to jump on the rumour mill of technology has also made this site a favourite among techies. Social networkers will know what it's like to have that urge to log in just to check out "what's going on" with all of your friends. Need to kill some time before a flight? Sign in and sift through your friend's latest photos, browse new groups, or post your own comments and notes. Visiting YouTube is like eating potato chips: you can't open up the site and not have just one! Often times, people will have a purpose for visiting the video site, but once you're there, interesting other search terms pop into mind. Before you know it, you've spent 20 minutes watching funny Mac commercials and user-generated content.

While one should always make sure not to spend too much time on the Web, it can be fun to sometimes move away from your typical "top 5" sites when you do and check out some hidden (or not so hidden) gems of the online world.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Victory in Cablevision DVR Case...For Now

Several cable networks filed a suit two years ago that attempted to stop U.S. cable operator Cablevision from creating a network digital video recorder (DVR). The product would allow Cablevision customers to record programming onto a central network in the home rather than to the cable box itself. Naturally, the protests echo two words we've heard many times before in the consumer electronics arena: unauthorized reproduction. Not to mention that customers will continue to be able to skip through commercials, making it that much more difficult to sell advertising between programming.

The argument that such a DVR would be "reproducing" work is, in my opinion, ridiculous. The customer would be storing and/or "reproducing" the content for use in his own home; maybe to watch at a later date, maybe to watch two or three times, and yes, probably to watch while flipping past the commercials. Either way, it's like he's taking a CD in playing it in the stereo in his living room versus his portable Walkman. Does it really matter where or how he enjoys the content if he's paid for it?

The latter point about skipping over TV commercials is one that has become a real bone of contention in the TV world. But many networks have, rather than sit with their arms folded and bottom lips in the pout position, picked up on new and more clever ways to incorporate advertising within the actual content rather than in between it. This ranges from blatent product placements (even more so than usual), to in-show, one-minute rants about a product. I've even seen entire movie trailers being shown during a TV program, and touted as an "exclusive first look". Really, you're being tricked into thinking that by watching this show, you get to see this trailer while no one else does. But in actuality, you're watching a commercial without even knowing it!

The reality is that, despite the pushback from networks who insist upon getting rid of new technology devices like the DVR in question, traditional TV advertising as we know it simply won't continue forever. While some might frown upon the in-show ads, we do need to understand that someone or something needs to pay the bills. Some actors, like daytime talk show host Ellen Degeneres and nighttime talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, have even been said to add humour to the product pitches so that they become part of the program in a seamless and entertaining way.

We can certainly expect the networks involved to appeal the New York court's decision that overturned the ruling, and will essentially let the product be made. Nevertheless, the Financial Times cites Cablevision as saying that it will "waste no time in rolling out the technology."

While this case only pertains to laws in the U.S., it could certainly spill over to places like Canada, where we have our own battles with copyright law, DRM restrictions, and unauthorized (or perceived to be unauthorized) content reproduction.

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