Brainless backup captures more mindshare

Nope, that’s not a Wi-Fi access point you’re looking at. It’s the Seagate Replica, a new backup storage appliance from the hard drive giant. Replica uses a combination of hardware and software – the slick Rebit that was one of the standout software products I saw at CES – to create a continuous backup experience on Windows that comes closest to Time Machine for the Mac (minus the extensive “space warp” eye candy).

Replica is also Seagate’s answer to a variety of brainless backup products offered under the Clickfree brand by Storage Appliance Corporation, including a number of hard drives and a cable that can convert any external hard drive into a ClickFree hard drive. The company recently raised a $10 million round of Series B funding and I touched on it in in a two-part Tech on Deck column I wrote last summer. These are good options to have in the market for the nontechnical user, or might also be one of those products that geeks give non-geeks, alongside MSNTV, the Ceiva digital picture frame, and the Presto printer.

T-Mobile G1 and the case of the awkward handset design

imageWhen I first saw the T-Mobile G1, one of my first reactions  mirrored a thought I had when I saw the original Sidekick; it was that it was going to be difficult to design a play-through case for the device. Sure enough, most of the cases at Only1.com  designed for T-Mobile’s champion smartphone are of the pouch or flip variety, but there is at least one play-through option: the pictured aluminum option that the site has on sale for $25.

You have to admire the lengths the designers went to to accommodate the awkward shape of the phone, but it seems that using G1 with this additional metal faceplate dangling off would just add to its already somewhat cumbersome experience.

And speaking of the Sidekick, now that the Sidekick LX 2009 edition has been announced, I wonder if T-Mobile purposely wanted the G1 to look less like the average  horizontal side-slider so as to further differentiate it from the now Microsoft-powered QWERTY device..

Panasonic brings visual voicemail to the cordless mainstream

KX-TG7431B_L_AngleThe Europeans just do certain things better, and for a long time one of those was cordless phone standards. Now that DECT is being quickly established as the de facto standard for new handset sales in the U.S., and multiple handset support becoming an expected feature, manufacturers are having to be a bit more creative in upselling those products on something other than supported frequencies.

Before it exited the market, Thomson had taken a stab at delivering RSS feeds to phones with the InfoLink system. For a more mainstream audience, though, Panasonic is borrowing the increasingly popular notion of voice mail preview as as popularized by Apple’s "visual voicemail" in the iPhone with the ChoiceMail feature on its new cordless lineup. The higher-end models even offer a choice of font size so you can take a gander at more of the last few people to call you. The Verizon Hub also offers visual voicemail, but this may be the first time it has ever been implemented in a circuit-switched home phone.

Not that all all the cell phone manufacturers have solved this issue, but I’d like to see a way for consumers to bring their phone books forward as they switch cordless phone systems. Perhaps support for a USB drive similar to the CellStik would do the trick.

Spotify sounds like what Lala wanted to be

imageWhen I last wrote my most recent Switched On column about Lala, I noted that the company had shifted direction a bit from its initial plans to offer a service akin to Rhapsody for free, instead offering a single free listen before requiring consumers to purchase a streaming Web song. Only Lala knows whether it or the labels balked at the unlimited on-demand listening, but I can say that the Palo Alto-based Web music seller is generally down on ad-supported listening and has ambitions to be among the largest sellers of digital music online.

But somewhere out there in an alternate universe — let’s call it Europe — a startup has run with the too-good-to-be-true promise of listening on demand. It’s called Spotify, and in a recent talk with some European media, it was praised as delivering a great music experience – somewhat like Slacker except you get to create the playlists (and no offline access as of yet). Spotify joins Nokia’s possibly slow Comes with Music and the Datz Music Lounge as fresh approaches to exploring and enjoying music in Europe. Surely, we Americans will find some way to make them pay.

The no-man’s land of the 5” screen

These days everybody is thinking about portable devices in terms of screen sizes. Under 4?” You’re a smartphone. 4” to 7? You’re a MID. 9” or 10”? You’re a netbook and your parents don’t like you so they are trying to make you grow up into a proper laptop closer to 12” and $600.

At a panel of mobile experts I attended tonight, moderator Tim Bajarin asked what one device panelists would take on a trip if they could take only one and also what their ideal device would look like. It’s a simple yet fascinating question. One question you have to decide right away is how important a touch-typable keyboard is, Steve Wildstrom said he’d like to see a device with a 5” screen, probably the largest one could fit into a pocket.

But I’ve found that screens of that size pose a dilemma. Keyboards designed around them are too small for touch-typing but are actually big enough to make a thumb keyboard less efficient than they are on smaller screens. Of course, you could split the keyboard as was tried in the Pepper Pad and Samsung Q1 Ultra, but that sets off a learning curve.

Getting to be a tablet with me

imageSome of the more interesting products I saw at CTIA had nothing to do with cell phones. A great example of this was the SISO Tablo by Hantech, It’s been available from Brando for a while, but should be receiving broader distribution in the near future. Using similar technology to that which powers the IOGEAR Mobile Digital Scribe, which could also emulate a mouse when writing on paper, the Tablo turns practically any laptop with a 7″ to 15″ screen into an ersatz tablet PC.

Of course, the Tablo won’t allow your laptop screen to twist around and lay flat atop the keyboard like a convertible tablet PC. However, for about $100, it seems to be a good fit for the user who needs tablet functionality only occasionally, say, to scribble down a diagram when taking notes. And, yes, Lauren and Giampaolo, it works with Macs, too, so now there’s you don’t have to go to Fry’s to get a computer with a screen you can write on.

Nokia E71x could put Symbian on the US smartphone map

imageIt’s no secret that Symbian is the most prevalent smartphone operating system around the word but barely has a toehold in the U.S. as i has been hampered by Nokia’s poor showing in the States. But both Nokia and Symbian could well pick up some domestic share with the Nokia E71x, which Chris Ziegler at Engadget Mobile (with whom I shared a doomed episode of TechVi) reports is slated to hit AT&T. . Its svelte profile, solid keyboard and efficient if not glamorous UIs made it the E71 one of the best smartphones released last year. and by far the most broadly appealing S60 QWERTY device to ever hit U.S. shores.

Being launched by one of the two biggest U.S. carriers a a price under $100 could create significant market pull. It’s a Centro-priced smartphone that is in nearly every way superior to the Centro,. And while I personally think the E71x looks fetching in black, I think AT&T would have been wise to do some alternative colors as Sprint did with the Centro. Like the Centro, I suspect that most consumers won’t seek out third-party applications although there’s much more there for he taking for the E71x.

The same Engadget Mobile post also notes that AT&T will also roll out the Samsung Propel Pro, which stuffs Windows Mobile into the feature phone offered by the operator. This will mark the entrant of a rare Windows Mobile vertical slider, and should provide a rare opportunity to ferret out how much of a market advantage, if any, Windows Mobile offers a device that shares a sub-brand and form factor with a feature phone.

Cisco acquisition could pave way for a Wi-Fi Flip

imageAt Technologizer, Harry McCracken, again showing that he is the king of context when it comes to tech blogging, cleverly compares Cisco’s acquisition of Pure Digital and the almost fatal acquisition of Palm Computing by US Robotics shortly before USR’s own purchase by 3Com. I’d argue that in some ways there was more obvious synergy between a networking company and Palm, which would eventually morph into a smartphone company, and Cisco/Pure Digital. Clearly Cisco is striving to establish its brand in the consumer market, and the relatively inexpensive Flip gives it a means of low-priced video acquisition on which to stamp its bridge logo and feed its new NAS (that seems to have a bigger LCD than the Flip!).

This is an interesting time for the category as we are clearly starting to see more blurring between these low-cost flash-based units that have traditionally sold for less than $200 and higher-end flash camcorders that have traditionally sold for more than $500, but that is to be expected as the future of the camcorder is undoubtedly flash memory. For example, while the Flip and the Kodak Zi6 lack an optical zoom, the new Sony Webbie has a 5x optical zoom. As these large-scale manufacturers companies take better advantage of the lower price and smaller size that flash memory increasingly makes easier to enable, Pure Digital may have timed its exit perfectly

Pure Digital originally sought to use disposable camcorders to drive a DVD processing business for drug stores and mass merchants. It may be a good example of what a company can gain when its products become targets for hackers, who had found a way to get video from its original products. This may have helped the company understand the potential for an inexpensive camcorder aimed at moms first and YouTubers (who understand more options for capturing video) second. There are certainly some Apple-like aspects to its products’ designs – minimalism, simplicity, and integrated software, and smallness. (However,  I think an Apple camcorder would either have a much larger screen or no screen at all (mino shuffle).

What would Cisco do with the Flip products? Adding Wi-Fi would be a logical next step to get around the buzz-killing upload process.  Flip technology could also be leveraged in home monitoring cameras, a market to which Avaak has brought rejuvenated interest. And of course, Cisco owns what was once Scientific Atlanta, so your future cable set-top box might be a platform for videoconferencing as well. Reflecting the increasing blurriness of the category, I’d also expect Cisco to push upstream with higher recording capacity (one of my biggest gripes about the Flip) and optical zoom although I would not expect it to vie with the flagship models from Sony, Canon and Panasonic. The challenge would be to manage all this iPod touch-like platform magic with iPod shuffle-like simplicity, otherwise the mino would be lost. (The mino would be lost.)

There’s also a diamond in the rough in FlipShare, Pure Digital’s revamped video organization software that has potential to be the iPhoto of video, but right now lacks critical features like being able to import videos from sources other than a Flip camcorder (such as the hard drive)..

New dock API might enable iPhone keyboards

image It’s paradoxical that Apple will support a wild array of devices in iPhone 3.0 but, at least as of yesterday, the company did not announce general support for external keyboards via either the dock connector or the HID Bluetooth profile. I’ve blogged before that a small folding case enclosing a keyboard and an iPhone/iPod touch would be a popular accessory and provide a competitive response to other smartphones that include a QWERTY keyboard. The iPhone software will be in an even better position to capitalize on such a keyboard once mail and other applications are available in a landscape orientation.

I believe that external keyboards are something Apple hasn’t yet supported as opposed to doesn’t want to support. However, there may be hope for one even if Apple doesn’t support them generally. Here’s how it would work. You purchase the keyboard and when you plug it in to Apple’s dock connector, it pops up a special writing application custom-developed for use with the keyboard. When you’re done writing, the app could take advantage of the new in-app e-mail or copy and paste functionality to transfer the text elsewhere. This is similar to how the now-endangered landscape-orientation mail writing applications work today. Of course, it’s all a giant kludge, but one I’d be willing to endure.