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.

No Pre-conceived notions in iPhone OS 3.0

image I disagree with the Gizmodo assessment that Kevin Rose was spot on with his iPhone predictions. It was a pretty safe bet to say that copy and paste would be in and multitasking would remain out. Of course, he was wrong on MMS and ignored the new functionality available to developers. But where he really missed the mark was saying that iPhone OS 3.0 would answer the functionality of the forthcoming Palm Pre.

Some of the Pre’s signature software features are (foremost to me) the Synergy integration of Web data, unobtrusive notifications, and a sleek multitasking “card” interface for applications. (The last has already seen a similar implementation for Web pages in Safari for iPhone.) Still, here was no mention of support of anything like those features. iPhone OS 3.0 adds universal search, but the implementation is different than Palm’s. Besides, I see that mostly as more of a blow against RIM, as the BlackBerry’s e-mail search was a distinct advantage that it had over the iPhone. I was surprised (although pleased) to see stereo Bluetooth support added, but this is of course a feature that many phones support.

Indeed, much of the focus yesterday was on the richness of the iPhone’s API that now incorporates even more of the capabilities available in desktop Mac OS as well as a wide range of new device support for the dock connector (although maddeningly no keyboard support via it or Bluetooth). Palm has likely avoided competing head-to-head against Apple’s rich developer infrastructure and dock connector ecosystem because of Apple’s strength.

There may well be more that Apple has up its sleeve before iPhone 3.0 rolls out. For example, given the multitouch conflict between Apple and Palm, I was surprised to see no new multitouch gestures rolled out. (Even MacBook trackpads are evolving their use of multitouch faster than the iPhone.) But for the moment, it appears that Apple and Palm are each playing to their strengths.

iPod shuffle comes closer to iPod pequeno reality

image Its capacity of 4 GB may not approach the multimillion-song capacity promised in the Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Fred Armisen as Steve Jobs. But the new iPod shuffle “paper clip” as it has been called takes the smallest MP3 from the pack of gum that the original iPod shuffle was to something more akin to a stick of gum. Yet Apple says the new shuffle will still get about 10 hours of battery life despite being half the size of previous models and that the former shuffle dock has been replaced with a short cable that has a USB connector on one end and a 3.5 mm jack on the other end.

To address two of the more controversial aspects of the new design, Apple has confirmed that in the very near future (perhaps hours) we will see third-party headphones and adapters that have shuffle controls built in. Second, as to why the English voice sounds more natural when synced from the Mac, that is the result of the text-to-speech capabilities of Leopard. Using any other language or even Tiger on the Mac will result in the more basic text-to-speech.

WhisperSync, a great concept, suffers from iPhone unitasking

imageThere’s been a lot already written about Kindle for iPhone and I’ll have more to say about it soon. The Kindle iPhone app is pretty basic, in line with one might expect for a 1.0 product, but represents an auspicious start for electronic books branching out from dedicated readers, which will be a niche market for the foreseeable future.

One of the best best features of the iPhone Kindle app is support for WhilsperSync, Amazon’s synchronization technology that keeps your library and  multiple instances of a book updated to the latest reading “location”. It’s a great idea that fits in well with how one might use e-books on an iPhone, catching up on a few pages during some downtime. Wouldst that other sellers of rights-managed content were so generous and flexible with product that has been legitimately bought. Unfortunately, due to the iPhone’s multitasking limitation, one must remember to start up the Kindle application to sync book locations prior to going offline in a train or airplane and to keep it connected (or reconnect it) to get the sync back to the on Kindle. I’m sure this could all be resolved through MobileMe, but that doesn’t seem to be the case yet.

Clearly OS X is a its heart a multiasking operating system. I don’t think Apple will capitulate to the increasing competitive pressure of the Pre and other operating systems per se, but if compelling applications appear on rival platforms that require true multitasking, Apple may need to reconsider.

FireWire lives to link another day

image Last October, Christina Warren at TUAW expressed concerns that Apple might be phasing out FireWire while her fellow TUAWer (pronounced “tower”?) Mike Schramm more recently danced on the grave of the 400 Mbps spec, likening it to Polaroid film. I blogged about competition to FireWire 800 in 2007 and more recently commented about it in a TechNewsWorld article regarding the future of PC ports.

FireWire 800 is, of course, backward compatible with FireWire 400 although a physical adapter is required, and the overall standard got a boost last week when Apple announced the continuation of the port on its low-end Mac mini which, small as it is, apparently doesn’t require the kinds of tradeoffs that led to FireWire being axed on the MacBook. So apparently we will have Apple’s sexy name for IEEE 1394 around for some time to come. While I, like Christina, am a fan of FireWire’s target disk mode that USB 3.0 won’t have an equivalent for, I increasingly look at it as more of a legacy standard as Apple somewhat characterized it at the MacBook’s introduction. Apple would do more for video at this point by nailing. AVCHD support in Mac OS than continuing to promote or support FireWire, particularly given the blistering speeds that USB 3.0 promise to support.

Ending the megapixel wars: Beat your swords into tripods

image The mood was quiet but not desperate last week at PMA. Some of the standout cameras included the Sony HX1 with its crowd-pleasing “sweep panorama” mode, the chunky Kodak Z915 compact 10x superzoom, and the Panasonic Lumix GH1 micro-four-thirds system now with video. Samsung seems to be gearing up to go head-to-head against the Lumix G series with its “hybrid” NX series that will pack an APS-C sensor into something that’s more of a point-and-shoot form factor, but there were only very early prototypes on display.

An article on Crave last week noted that Olympus cannot see its consumer DSLRs going past 12 megapixels. Perhaps the industry is finally starting to see the increasing diminishing returns of higher resolution not only for better image quality per se but as a benefit to promote versus other functionality. I thought the camera that demonstrated this best was Fujifilm’s F200 EXR which uses the Super CCD EXR sensor. In short, the camera can be used to take 12 MP photos when there is ample light or 6 MP when there is less light; the other 6 MP can be used for enhancing dynamic range. This could be a small step toward cameras that can produce true HDR photos in the camera. Fujifilm isn’t the only brand to cut down on megapixels for some other aim, such as the Casio Exilim Pro FH20 high-speed cameras that use smaller photos to produce higher frames-per-second, but I like the trend

HP to offer photo key chain with multiple functions (but no fax)

IMG_0079I first wrote about photo key chains back in June 2005 and, since then, Tao and other companies have moved to bigger and in some cases OLED screens that have helped with their poor image quality but mostly they have just come down in price. So, what’s a nice brand like HP doing in a cheesy product like this? Trying to differentiate, of course. Or I suppose after coming down to (but doing a very nice job with) the 3.5” screen size there wasn’t much smaller to go.

First, the keychain has a fold-out USB connector so no more worry about losing the cable. In addition to showing your tiny slice of that which you hold digitally dear, it can display the time and date and read microSD and M2 memory cards, which is its best feature. The most questionable feature is that it can be used to charge certain models of cell phones, but only when it is hooked up to a PC. Still the UI on this thing is one of the best I’ve seen to damn it with faint praise. It should be available later this year at about $25.

Delkin’s Fat Gecko sticks to a car hood (and slower surfaces)

imageHere’s the problem. You’re sitting in an audience and want to shoot basic steady unattended video of the performance. Tripods take up too much room and monopods beg to be held like a newborn. A GorillaPod may be able to get the job done if the seat in front of you is empty, but it often is not.

Perhaps Delkin’s Fat Gecko can come to the rescue. The mounting device is secure enough to stick to a roving ATV or car on a highway, so the back of a stationery auditorium seat should be no problem if it can be set to peek through the gap between the people in front of you. Delkin will provide a choice of parts for the Fat Gecko that allow it to extend different lengths.

Here’s a little in-joke bonus for typography geeks — the font used on the Fat Gecko’s product page is reminiscent of that of a certain car insurance company that also has an association with a gecko (albeit one hat appears quite fit, being a TV star and all). Mounting a Fat Gecko on your ride, though, won’t save you 15 percent or more on your car insurance or give you a cockney accent.