November 1st, 2014 | Edited by Zoran Stosic | hardware
Anyone who’s tried to take a decent photo with an iPhone knows the drill: tap the app and wait longer than usual for it to open, fiddle around with the settings to make sure the flash is activated, awkwardly hold the phone (along with your breath) and finally, repeatedly tap the screen to take the shot. If luck is on your side, you’ll have a photo that doesn’t look like a typical Bigfoot sighting.
The Snappgrip is a device that aims to take all that fuss out of shooting iPhone pics. It’s a phone case that gives users an added benefit of physical buttons so there’s no need to struggle with the on-screen functions. Taking a photo, shooting video, zooming, toggling the flash and switching between landscape and portrait modes are all handled by the Snappgrip.
The button layout on the Snappgrip is just like any other camera. There’s a dial to switch modes and a shutter button for zooming and taking shots. The device is super light and curved perfectly for comfort. What’s even cooler is that the button and dial section detaches, leaving you with a phone case. That’s a sure plus for those who hate having to take their phone out of the case just to put on an accessory.
The Snappgrip is available now at the bitemyapple.co website for $70. You also get a tripod mount (for the truly obsessed iPhone photographer), wrist strap, charging cable and carrying case (that you’d probably never use anyway). As far as colors, your choice is only between the obligatory black or white, but who cares? It makes creating the next Instagram buzz a lot easier.
October 30th, 2014 | Edited by Zoran Stosic | software
At one point, the announcement of an anticipated ship date of the next release of Microsoft Office would be big news. As it is, Microsoft’s release of Office 2016 may not be the milestone some might expect.
Julia White, the general manager of Office for Microsoft, said the company would ship the next version of Office at the end of 2015, according to a report by Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet. Office 2016 (or 16), as it will be known, will be a joint release of both desktop and server apps, according to Foley. White reportedly made the announcements at the Microsoft TechEd Europe show in Barcelona.
Microsoft representatives neither confirmed nor denied the report at press time.
In the meantime, of course, Microsoft is busy signing up subscribers for Office 365, its subscription service that rolls up new updates and features into Office on a periodic basis. Office 365 is available in personal subscriptions up through enterprise licenses. In its recent earnings conference call, Microsoft said that consumer Office 365 subscriptions total more than 7 million subscribers, up 25 percent from a quarter ago, and the number of commericial subscriptions nearly doubled. To keep consumers and businesses interested, Microsoft recently revealed its roadmap of upcoming features.
Microsoft hasn’t said what features Office 16 will include, but it’s almost certain that the release will essentially “roll up” existing Office features to a certain point. Unfortunately, that will probably mean that Office customers won’t get perpetual updates, either—if history holds, that is.
Still, 7 million consumers plus an unknown number of corporate customers is still a fraction of the 268 million traditional PCs predicted to be sold during 2014, according to Gartner, even with an additional number of Windows tablets sold on top of that. Microsoft has its sights set on customers that can deliver recurring, stable revenues based on Office 365, but it still needs a dedicated base of Office users.
August 23rd, 2014 | Edited by Zoran Stosic | hardware
The iWatch won’t be an official product until it’s announced on the stage of an Apple press event, but a Thursday report lends more credibility to rumors that Apple’s smartwatch is imminent. Referencing various anonymous supply-chain sources, Reuters has reported that Taiwan’s Quanta Computer will begin production of Apple’s mythical wearable in July.
Details are scant, but the Reuters report says Apple’s smartwatch will feature a 2.5-inch, slightly rectangular, arched touch display, and will be juiced by wireless charging. The gadget will have a heart rate sensor, and connect only to Apple devices running iOS.
The watch would go on sale in October, and Apple expects to sell 50 million units within one year of the wearable’s release. LG will make the watch’s display, and Quanta—a company that already makes Macbooks and iPods—will account for at least 70 percent of total iWatch production.
Or at least that’s the news from a trio of sources that Reuters quotes off the record.
Should Apple release the iWatch (or whatever the gadget is to be called), Microsoft will be the last remaining consumer-tech giant left standing on the sidelines of the wearables space. Hardware manufacturers see wearables as the next step in mobility beyond smartphones and tablets, but an Apple wearable is far from a sure consumer hit.
The wearables market is expected to grow by 500 percent by 2018, but currently not a single smartwatch has successfully made the transition from nerd-oriented curiosity to mainstream success. The Pebble watch is just an idie cult favorite. Sony’s two smartwatches have near-imperceptible public mindshare. And Samsung’s four smartwatches, while the recipients of generous marketing support, have yet to fulfill Samsung’s own promise of being the “next big thing.”
Still, if any smartwatch stands a chance of success, it’s the iWatch. Apple enjoys the benefits of an extremely unified, consistent, user-friendly hardware-software ecosystem. So if the company can position the iWatch as the perfect wrist-worn complement to the iPhone, the Apple wearable truly could become “the next big thing.”
The keys to any iWatch success will be simple elegance and execution. How easy will it be to use apps on the extremely limited screen real estate of a 2.5-inch display? How will Apple surmount perennial wearable bugaboos like Bluetooth dropouts and short battery life? And what whiz-bang features will convince fence-sitters to put a completely new gadget type on their wrists?
If any company can figure out the smartwatch conundrum, it’s Apple. But the company will need to move quickly—and keep an eye trained on the competition. At next week’s Google I/O conference, Google is expected to demo LG’s G Watch, which runs the Android Wear OS. It essentially puts the highly acclaimed Google Now digital assistant on the user’s wrist.
Android Wear smartwatches won’t be anything like what Apple is poised to deliver in the iWatch. But they could put serious pressure on the iWatch, four months before Apple’s wearable is even released.
August 21st, 2014 | Edited by Zoran Stosic | hardware
This may be anathema for someone in the business of writing about tech to say, but I’m not all that interested in iPhone rumors. Shipping products are what grab my attention, not unicorns and phantasms. The minute Tim Cook holds up the new device is the minute it’s worthwhile to start examining features and specs, and all the speculation ahead of time is usually just the noise separating one Apple press event from the next.
So why did I take notice of this week’s report in the Wall Street Journal that Apple is going to use sapphire on the screens for at least one of its rumored iPhones—the larger, more expensive one—as well as that smartwatch everyone seems to think the company will announce next month?
Probably because I expect it to happen.
Or to put it another way, I’ve been waiting for a smartphone maker to replace the glass screens on its devices with the more durable sapphire since January 2013. I was sitting in a meeting room at that year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and a couple nice gentlemen from GT Advanced Technologies were hipping me to the merits of sapphire as a component in handheld devices.
I was working on an article about how device makers were looking to bolster your phone’s durability—particularly when it came to screens that had a nasty habit of breaking when coming into unexpected contact with concrete. It was a subject that Paul Beaulieu, vice president of the sapphire materials group for materials and equipment provider GT Advanced Technologies, was happy to talk to me about. “Certainly one of the trends in mobile devices is that they’re thinner, lighter, and more widespread,” he said back in 2013. “All of those things contribute to higher breakage rates, given current materials.”
The solution, Beaulieu contended, was to use sapphire—perhaps an unsurprising answer, given that industrial sapphire is what GT Advanced Technologies manufactures. But sapphire is attractive as a possible glass replacement for other reasons, as my colleague Marco Tabini noted earlier this year. Chiefly, it’s the hardest natural substance after diamond, and GT Advanced Technologies had developed a way to produce it on a scale that wasn’t cost prohibitive.
GT’s Beaulieu told me something else back in 2013 that I didn’t quote in that article: He believed sapphire would be put to use in mobile devices by 2014. That was months before GT wound up inking a $578 million deal to supply Apple with sapphire. And it was more than a year before Apple opened a GT-run plant in Mesa, Arizona, to start churning out sapphire crystal.
There are, of course, hurdles to reaching our sapphire-encased future, which that Journal article is more than happy to outline. Apple faces risks from everything from demands on its supply chain to the cost of the material. (The Journal quotes an analyst who estimates that sapphire screen costs about five times as much as one made from Corning’s Gorilla Glass, which Apple reportedly uses on current iPhones, and that could either mean a higher price tag on new phones or slimmer profit margins for a company that likes profit an awful lot.)
Still, for Apple, these are risks worth taking if it means producing a phone that can stand out from the smartphone crowd. “A lot of [device makers] are looking for differentiation,” Beaulieu told me 20 months ago. If the Journal’s report is true, Apple may have found a way to do that.
August 19th, 2014 | Edited by Zoran Stosic | hardware
Samsung is hoping to breathe new life into its phone lineup with a new design scheme that breaks away from the plastic, unsophisticated feel common among the company’s smartphones.
After many leaks and rumors Samsung announced the Galaxy Alpha Wednesday, calling it a “new design approach” for the company’s smartphones.
The Alpha is just below 7mm in thickness, runs Android 4.4.4, and is powered by an Exynos processor with four ARM Cortex-A15 cores running at 1.8GHz and four Cortex-A7 cores running at 1.3GHz. The screen is smaller than the current flagship Galaxy S5, measuring 4.7 inches with a resolution of 1280×720 resolution (a respectable 312 pixels per inch).
Other hardware specs include a 12-megapixel back camera and a 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera. The phone has 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, without the typical SD card slot found in many of Samsung’s other phones. The LTE modem supports download speeds up to 300 Mbps, although you’re not likely to get that kind of performance from your cellular carrier for awhile.
Given the device’s lighter build, smaller screen size and lower-range specs it appears targeted more at potential iPhone buyers than those comparison shopping an HTC One (M8) or LG G3, as those phones feature screen sizes above five inches and sturdier construction materials.
Despite the Alpha’s new design scheme, it retains much of the the look of previous Galaxy devices, with a semi-oval home button and dimpled, removable back cover. In its release Samsung says the phone will be available in four colors, which it calls Charcoal Black, Dazzling White, Sleek Silver, and Scuba Blue. Availability will vary depending on the market.
Samsung is not done releasing phones, as it next will unveil the Galaxy Note 4 on September 3. Greenbot will be on hand for the press event in New York.
The build of that device will indicate how far Samsung is willing to take its push for a new design. Earlier in August a Samsung executive sought to console nervous investors by promising more smartphone releases that had better build quality. The company experienced its first yearly profit drop and a large stock sell off by investors.
Samsung did not reveal a specific release date or price for the Galaxy Alpha, only saying the phone would be available in early September.