A walk in June

walk_in_june“To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June”
—Jean-Paul Sartre

As spring turns to summer, we find ourselves once again surveying the tech landscape. There is much to see, but the following stories in particular caught our eye. We summarize them, but provide links should you want to explore further.

And, as always, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Sowing mistrust and dislike

Have you heard about a grassroots organization named Broadband for America (BFA)? Neither had we. But, you know, we like the idea of concerned citizens organizing in support of, or in opposition to, anything they darn well please. This is America, after all.cable_strikes_again2

Problem is, BFA is not a consumer advocacy organization made up of ordinary citizens like you and me. It’s funded almost entirely by the National Cable and Telecom Association, the principal trade association for the U.S. cable television industry.

Seems BFA (and the cable industry, by extension) is doing everything it can to defeat net neutrality.

It’s been well documented that the cable industry, which is also the primary provider of Internet connectivity to Americans, would like nothing better than for the very concept of net neutrality to go away. The industry has lobbyists out in force and has contributed generously to members of Congress.

But to promote the idea that net neutrality is evil by impersonating a consumer advocacy organization—astroturfing, as it’s called in political circles—that’s pretty low…but, you know, entirely in character.

Well done cable industry…you’ve made your customers trust you even less and dislike you even more.

Galaxy Tab S 10.5_inch_Titanium Bronze_6Samsung battles Apple for tablet supremacy

How does a hardware company wage war in the increasingly crowded tablet space? It builds even better hardware.

Give Samsung credit. The Korean-based corporation, a relentless competitor, is pulling out all the stops with its latest line of Galaxy Tab S tablets. Samsung has announced new models with 10.5-inch and 8.7-inch screens to compete with Apple’s iPad Air and iPad Mini Retina, the market-share leaders.

Samsung says the new tablets are thinner and lighter than comparable iPads, while offering larger screens. The new tablets feature Super AMOLED screens, each with 2560×1600 dpi resolutions, Exynos™ 5 Octa quad-core processors with 3GB of RAM, GPS, and all the usual motion sensors.

Curiously, the new tablets are WiFi-only, and feature only 16GB of on-board SSD storage. Nonetheless, from a hardware perspective, the Galaxy Tab S models match up very well with, and in some cases exceed, the specs of the iPad Air and iPad Mini Retina.

Given that these new devices are saddled with Android software, and a dearth of tablet-optimized apps, we think it’s fair to say that Samsung has a way to go before it can offer as compelling an experience as iPads. Still, if you are in the market for a tablet, and dead set against Apple for some reason, you could do a lot worse than these new Samsung offerings, which are scheduled for availability in July.

Universal handwriting typefacehandwritten_letters

In a promotional, but nonetheless interesting, experiment, Bic, the manufacturer of the ubiquitous Bic pens, is sponsoring the creation of a crowd-sourced handwriting typeface.

Called the Universal Typeface Experiment, a website has been set up to enable anyone to upload samples of their handwriting, which go into a database. From there, special algorithms process the handwriting into amalgams of characters that populate the ever-evolving typeface.

Eventually, Bic will end the experiment, and the finished product will be a downloadable font. For now, you can browse the letters in their current, albeit evolving state.

WWDC redux

Last week in these pages, we provided an in-depth look at information emerging from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). What we’re seeing across the blogosphere this week is more thoughtful analysis of WWDC, and what it signals for Apple going forward.

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John Gruber of Daring Fireball published a thoughtful analysis addressing whether Apple is uniquely able to deliver products, services, and infrastructure in ways that none of its competitors can. The verdict: Yes. Says Gruber: “Apple has never been more successful, powerful, and influential than it is today. They’ve thus never been in a better position to succumb to their worst instincts and act imperiously and capriciously. Instead, they’ve begun to act more magnanimously. They’ve given third-party developers more of what we have been asking for than ever before, including things we never thought they’d do.”

Dan Frommer, a long-time Apple observer, had this to say: “It turns out Apple didn’t fail at the cloud. It was just taking a while to wind up. Many of the most interesting and potentially useful features unveiled this week at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference rely on the company’s iCloud service or otherwise involve network-connected devices talking to each other. The masses will be able to take advantage of these additions on their Macs, iPads, and iPhones later this year.”

Writing for The Verge, Joshua Topolsky penned an article entitled, Meet the New Apple. In it, Topolsky states, “The big story — and the big picture — is that Apple seems to have come out of deep freeze. It feels light, like it’s moving forward. Like the cobwebs have brushed aside, and things are going to get fun again. Everything we saw at WWDC’s keynote points to a very interesting next few months for Apple…the next move Apple makes should be surprising. If the software and platform work that we saw at the keynote on Monday is any indication, the kind of apps and hardware that follow it aren’t just going to be business as usual. The new Apple may be lots of things to lots of people, but obvious isn’t one of the words I’d use to describe it. And that’s a very good thing indeed.”

FCC to investigate Netflix complaints

Some Netflix customers, particularly those whose Internet service provider is Verizon, have been noticing messages lately suggesting congestion on their ISP network. For example:

yuri-victor-netflixcropped620x350

Verizon reportedly has been none too happy about the messages, going so far as to have its lawyers send a cease-and-desist notice to Netflix.

Netflix, meanwhile, is sticking to its story that it is merely providing “transparency” to its customers, making them aware that they may not be getting the Internet speeds they’re paying for. It’s a curious approach, given that Verizon and Netflix recently signed an agreement whereby Netflix would pay the ISP for guaranteed service. Verizon claims it’s still building out this capability for Netflix.

Nonetheless, Netflix is claiming that it needs only a fraction of the bandwidth customers of high-speed ISPs are paying for to deliver acceptable quality streaming video. Why then the slowdowns, Netflix is wondering out loud.

Loud enough, it seems, to get the FCC involved. In a recent announcement, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler stated the FCC is looking into the situation.

“Consumers need to understand what is occurring when the Internet service they’ve paid for does not adequately deliver the content they desire, especially content they’ve also paid for,” Wheeler said. “What we are doing right now is collecting information, not regulating. We are looking under the hood. Consumers want transparency. They want answers. And so do I.”

At tech-52, we’ve made this point before: We are paying our ISPs big bucks for high-speed Internet, which supposedly is getting faster each year, so we can get the Internet content we want. And, for many of us, that includes Netflix content.

Now the ISPs want Netflix also to pay them. The alternative, it seems, is that their video streams may experience, ahem, interruptions. There is no technical reason why high-definition streaming videos can’t be delivered to customers.

So it must be something else. It will be interesting to see what the FCC finds. Excessive greed and strong-arm tactics, perhaps?

The magic cup

What would you pay for a cup that analyzes anything you pour into it, so you’ll know the caloric intake and how much the drink contributes to healthy hydration levels? And what if the cup sent the data to an app on your smartphone, so you could track the data over time and make informed decisions? Would you pay $99?smart_cup

That’s the price of a product dubbed Vessyl from the company, Mark One. The “smart cup” is said to use molecular analysis to determine the contents of the cup, and in some cases, even the brand of the liquid (for example, Coke versus Pepsi).

Why on earth would you need this? Well, according to the manufacturer website, because it will help you lose weight and improve your health. “Your Vessyl helps you understand how your liquid calories add up over the course of the day and week. [Warning: you might be surprised]. Instant real-time feedback will help you make the best decisions about what you do drink. And because good hydration is also helpful for weight loss, using the Vessyl to stay well hydrated may even lead to better food decisions too.”

We’re all for technology that can improve lives, keep us informed, and thereby empower us. Would we buy a Vessyl? Stay tuned…

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