Google’s new book scanner really sucks

Very MacGyver.

SugarSync sweetens the deal with version 2.0

There are many shared drive alternatives out there from startups with momentum (Dropbox, Box) to operating system players (SkyDrive, Google Drive) to little-known but competent competitors (HiDrive). But SugarSync takes a different approach, preparing us for the day when storage and bandwidth will be affordable enough to have virtually everything we create in the cloud (or at least, that which we need to readily access).

The new version of the service’s PC and Mac-based software, takes a streamlined user interface and search across multiple PCs as well as an activity log so you can confirm what’s been synced. Another useful new addition seems like an obvious one, a “do not sync” preference when working on computers with limited storage or perhaps used over a stingy cellular connection. A forthcoming Android app also provides the flexibility to sync photos in the background, something that Apple limits to iCloud today.

It would be handy if SugarSync’s search could find documents on PCs even if they’ve been excluded from sync. Then, assuming the PC was online, it could be retrieved remotely a la AcerCloud. SugarSync says it considered adding the feature but held off for now due to privacy concerns. However, it may eventually get added as a preference.

On Microsoft’s Xbox Surface gaming tablet rumors

Tablet games, as the heir to PC games, are more graphically impressive and immersive; they will come to walk the fine line between casual and hardcore games that even the home consoles must navigate these days.

My latest Switched On column for Engadget discusses how Microsoft’s rumored 7″ powerhouse would mesh with industry trends.

Apple-HTC cross-license could weaken Apple litigation

Florian Mueller at FOSSPatents:

In any future situation in which Apple seeks injunctive relief against an Android device maker, the Apple-HTC license agreement will have to be shown to the court and the parties’ lawyers, and other adversaries will hold it against Apple, claiming that Apple’s willingness to sell a license to HTC covering a given patent means that it can be compensated with money for the continued infringement of such a patent.

Office on iOS and Android: Microsoft returns to its roots

With all the vertical integration and feather-ruffling of the new Microsoft (you know, the one with the sedate logo), it’s important to remember that the company has not abandoned its traditional business models of licensing and supporting multiple computing platforms (especially the one controlled by Apple) any more than it’s ready to dump desktops and notebooks as it embraces the tablet with Windows 8.

That’s why it’s refreshing to see that Microsoft apparently plans to bring Office, and from the looks of it, in optimized form — not only to iOS — but to that target of its legal ire, Android. This should be a win for Microsoft. Office is not the killer app that it once was, but having Office available on other platforms helps expand the power of the franchise as those platforms grow.  The competitive impact to Windows Phone or Windows on tablets should be negligible as Microsoft has long since moved past the corporate synergy argument in promoting those platforms, even as it has boosted it by tying its music and entertainment to the vibrant Xbox brand versus the now buried Zune one.

Staples won’t unlock as many lockers for Amazon

Apple has them; Microsoft is building them. Despite all the advantages of online pure plays, a physical presence in the real world has its advantages. Amazon’s partnership with 7-Eleven took advantage of the latter’s broad reach (8,000+ locations in the U.S. alone) and the almost completely noncompetitive relationship between the two retailers (despite the occasional accusation that a taquito tastes like it’s been in a box for a couple of days). It’s now expanding that presence with Staples, which has a much smaller number of locations (fewer than 1.600 in the U.S., where more than three fourths of its stores are based). And Amazon sells just about everything you can find within a Staples store.

Indeed, it’s easier to see what Staples gets out of the deal. Those looking to pick up their Amazon purchase might remember that they need to pick up some printer paper or ink. At least Amazon gets to give consumers an option at which to pick up their wares in an environment that may be a bit less chaotic than one swirling with Slurpee-seekers.

Xbox Surface: Microsoft doubles down on tablet gaming

The Verge reports that Microsoft is working on developing a high-powered 7-inch gaming tablet dubbed Xbox Surface. It would represent a modern-day Xbox contrast — launching a primary gaming platform on Microsoft hardware but supporting multiple mobile OS tablets and smartphones as second screens via SmartGlass.

This appears like a radical change of strategic direction  and in some ways it is. Microsoft had previously kept its homegrown hardware to home console games, eschewing competition with Sony and Nintendo in the portable space. But the vertically integrated Xbox Surface would be a new platform whereas Microsoft positions SmartGlass as a “companion” that it opens to all tablets to enhance the gaming and entertainment experience. It’s a smart way to hedge with attacking the market that’s real today (console games) while experimenting in the one that’s developing (multiscreen).

Zagg snags first keyboard cases for the iPad mini

Even before the iPad mini’s strong opening weekend, the race was on as to which company would be first to give it the clamshell treatment. It’s not too suprising that Zagg, which leaked the iPad mini’s availability prior to its official announcement, looks prepared to win that race with a pair of accessories. In contrast to their current folios, in which a split back works with a keyboard groove in which to place the iPad, the ZAGGkeys Mini 7 and the less elegant but presumably more ergonomical  ZAGGkeys Mini 9 have more of a Surface-like layout, with a kickstand in back of the case and the keyboard rolling out in front. This makes for a fairly large footprint.

The usual landslide of cases and other iPadaphernalia has also started pouring in with announcements from Kensington, Griffin and others.

On crowdfunded iPad carrying and propping accessories

Manatee looks like it could be a great aid to those with limited mobility or the bed-ridden. However, while Realize says that the product was named after the parts that grip the iPad since they resemble a manatee’s arms, there is a fair possibility that some would begin to resemble the endangered sea cow with prolonged supine use of the product.

 My latest Backed or Whacked column at TechCrunch discusses three products that can be used to support the iPad while standing, sitting and even lying down.

OLPC in the real (developing) world

Orth has never seen a pile of laptops sitting unused because of a lack of teacher buy-in or Internet access. She described what she has seen to me instead: Fourth and fifth graders are reading “Tom Sawyer” and “Voyage to the Center of the Earth” on their computers, who never would have had access to the physical books any other way. Kindergarteners learning their numbers, colors, and letters on the computer, and first graders using them to design machines and later build robots. In her team’s experience, the computers not only get more out of class, they motivate kids to keep coming to class in the first place because they view the exercises as games.

Great reality check by Sarah Lacy.