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The Brydge for iPad – Review

March 3, 2013 1 comment

I have been meaning to write this for some time now that the Brydge is shipping and it’s been in my hands for the past couple months. Click here to see the video overview of the Brydge if you are not familiar with this iPad keyboard and cover.

The Back Story

A few years ago a friend, Eddy, and I were working together for a startup. The startup was on its last legs and during the summer of 2008 there was no light at the end of this tunnel as most venture capitalists were not willing to invest with the impending financial decline. As a result, we both had an extended vacation. At this point I decided on a career change to pursue Internet marketing with the consumer division of Symantec, started this blog and co-authored a web-comic with another friend.

Eddy went down a different path of self enlightenment and discovery. Eddy was always very creative and good at building things whether it was carpentry, electronics or other types of design. For exaample, while we were still at the start up, he worked evenings and weekends building a Segway. After our days at the start up ended, he spent most of his time at the techshop as a prototype builder-for-hire. When he wasn’t being paid to build something, he was building things out of his own curiosity. Things like colorful 3D printers back in the pre-hype days of 3D printers.

Fast forward to 2012 and Eddy emails me a Kickstarter link to a bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. This was his latest project and it had raised $800K. The promotional tagline for the Brydge was that it made your iPad look like a Macbook Air. This was definitely an interesting concept and the protoype looked very impressive in the videos. There have been other iPad keyboards on the market so what made this one so different? Having known Eddy for so long, I had the impression that it was not only going to be well designed, but functional and might actually make my iPad look like a MacBook Air.

The Review

The Brydge is pretty much what it promised it was going to be in the original Kickstarter campaign. There are now three versions, the Brydge with a brushed aluminum keyboard with or without speakers and a third version with a polycarbonate keyboard. The brushed aluminum version definitely feels more like a Mac keyboard with the same texture and a good weight. The Brydge supports iPad 2, 3rd and 4th generation models.

The element of the keyboard that most impressed me is the ease with which you connect the iPad by sliding into the clamp or hinge of the Brydge. The clamp is extremely well designed, very solid and feels sturdy. Setup is as simple as pairing a bluetooth device to your iPad.

Carrying around the Brydge connected iPad is like carrying a Macbook. The iPad easily folds down on the keyboard, looking like a clamshell and goes to sleep. There is a little extra weight added onto your iPad with the Brydge, but that makes the product feel that much more stable when placed on a table with no fear of the iPad tipping over when it is open. The clamp also alllows you to display the iPad in a range of angles depending on your preference, going from 90 degrees or greater if you want to get just the right angle to view a movie on your iPad. If you can image giving a presentation on your iPad or letting your kids use it for games or videos, this flexibility is a life-saver.

The keyboard itself works great and is very responsive, springing back upon touch as I type. You’ll have to get used to the width of the keyboard which matches the length of the iPad resulting in a more compact layout. Nonetheless, it takes no time to adjust and you’ll be blogging away in minutes. Also, the keyboard sleeps after a minute or so of non-use further maximizing battery life. Typing a key wakes the keyboard up within a second or two. One hidden gem of the keyboard is it runs up to 2 months between charges…seriously?

The Brydge is available online at www.thebrydge.com and goes from $150 for the polycarbonate version to $220 for the brushed aluminum with speakers. The aluminum version are on back order due to high demand. I have used the Brydge with and without speakers and find the speakers to be a nice to have, but not needed for everyday use.

If you happen to get the Brydge sometime in the near future, you’ll wonder how you were able to use your iPad without it especially when typing emails, blogs or note-taking. In the meantime, here is a closeup of the Brydge for your visual pleasure.

You still have a Blackberry?

February 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Some habbits are hard to give up whether that is staying up late, sleeping in on the weekends or giving up on your Blackberry. I’ve been a BB user for the past 15+ years and it has been faithfully supporting me througout every phase of my career. These days when I bring out my BB and lay it on the meeting room or restaurant table, it suddenly becomes a topic of conversation. I hear stories of how those that have switched to an iPhone can now browse the web that much easier or download some fabulous apps from the App Store.

Great, I think to myself “Is it time for a change?” Considering I still have my BB, the answer has been no.

Now the answer is not so straight forward. Having an iPad for the past few months, I have a new appreciation for the amount of productivity the next gen of mobile devices bring. I can use my LinkedIn app on my iPad but not my BB. I can easily visit my bank apps on my iPad but not so easily on my BB. The list is getting longer by the day.

So has the market changed faster than I have? That will always be the case. Or has the value of mobile devices surpassed what my PC can deliver with regards to ease of use and productivity for specific needs. More likely. The fact that I am writing this on my iPad with a bluetooth keyboard is a good indicator.

That leaves me with a more difficult decision these days. When will I switch from BB to a new phone that gives me even more productivity than what my PC delivered.

Status Quo Vs. Innovation: Kindle 2 Buries Text-to-Speech

March 1, 2009 1 comment

Short-SightedOne of the biggest challenges to innovation is the status quo. While the defenders of the status quo, a.k.a. the short-sighted ones, would like to continue to protect their territories, markets and margins, they are continually being pushed by innovation. Ultimately, the ‘short-sighted ones‘ have to make a choice to embrace innovation or try to block it.

Amazon.com chose the later when faced with objections from the Authors’ Guild about text-to-speech capabilities in the Kindle 2. Seth Godin writes about other recent missteps by similarly short-sighted groups.

Ultimately the Kindle 2’s fate will be determined by the market. Hopefully a challenger to the Kindle 2 will appear with full text-to-speech capabilities so that those with impaired vision will be able to enjoy literary works like the rest of us.

Unlocking Business Opportunities

Kindle 2

What Amazon may not have fully thought through are the businss opportunities in a market enhanced with text-to-speech. For example, they could offer a selection of voice over actors for any book on the Amazon store. This could range from Paris Hilton reading The Little Engine that Could all the way to Patrick Stewart reading Moby Dick. How about having a selection of actors reading Moby Dick and let the customer choose which one to hear? What if Amazon offered it up in a marketplace like iTunes at a price of 99 cents where voice actors can upload their versions of stories that can be imported into the ebook on the Kindle 2?

And what real leverage does the Authors Guild have over Amazon? Can’t Amazon simply choose to not distribute books that disagree with their text-to-speech implementation on the Kindle 2? But the Authors Guild does not have to be locked out of this potential revenue stream and, in fact, the more voice-enabled books there are, the more books they will sell. Maybe I am just naive to think everyone would benefit or maybe the Authors’ Guild are short-sighted?

Amazon may have such a plan in place and they are simply working through logistics. I hope that is the case. There are other platforms, besides the Kindle, that can also take advantage of integrating text-to-speech into ebooks. Android already has a few text-to-speech and ebook apps on the marketplace. The next step would be to combine the two and allow users to upload their audio readings of the books. Eventually more well known voice actors i.e. LeVar Burton may join in and offer their interpretations at a slightly higher premium price.

There will continue to be ‘short-sighted ones’ that prefer the status quo in the face of change. In those cases, just look at how these organizations fared:

1. The RIAA and MPAA are losing the battle to justify lost revenues in light of the trend towards file sharing networks

2. Microsoft’s anti-trust activities failed to maintain browser marketshare against alternatives offering innovation

3. The Republican party completed an epic fail in losing the presidency and any influence in the house and senate in election cycle 2008

All I can say is that if you favor innovation then you will NOT chose to click that ‘Add to Cart’ button for the Kindle 2. 

Photo Credit: dekuwa , rajeshvj

My Android Speaks Sweet SMS to Me

February 25, 2009 1 comment

I mentioned in an earlier post the convenience of having your SMS message popup even when the screen is locked, well how about having the message spoken to you when it arrives? There is really no technical reason why it can’t come to fruition considering Android has a Text-to-Speech (TTS) app that can be downloaded and there are already apps that take advantage of TTS.

Using the phone in the car

This past weekend I found a new app called SMSpeaker, made by the same people that brought you Speaking Pad. It costs $.99 from the Android Marketplace which made it a difficult decision to test, but for the good of all G1 users I decided to give it a go.

Once installed, the app does exactly what it says. When a new SMS message comes in, it is read aloud. Pretty straight forward. You can also have it repeat the message if you missed by simply tapping the screen. This will come in handy with the newest California law banning texting and driving. Here is a video of the SMSpeaker app in use.

While testing, I found the app very handy if your phone is sitting across the room because you can now hear the SMS message and who sent it. This also brings up a word of caution because the SMS message may not necessarily be something you want other people to hear. Take for example, you may be planning a surprise party for your girlfriend or making arrangements for a boys night out which you really do not want read out loud.  On the otherhand, it could be an interesting intercom-like system to send audio messages to your wife or kids. As with any app that comes out, you can adapt it how you see fit.

There are other Android apps that could benefit from TTS integration. Take for example Twidroid or any Twitter app for Android. Short 140 character tweets are ideal for TTS, but there would need to be some filter on which tweets are spoken so you hear the ones that are from those twits you would want to literally hear from.  If the implementation is right, this is an app I could imagine paying for.

Taking the Next Step

As with Augmented Reality, we are only scratching the surface of the benefits TTS will bring especially for those with imparied or degraded vision. My father, for example, wears glasses for reading and has a lot of trouble reading his Blackberry because his glasses are not always around. I saw this first hand a few months back as he was struggling to read the small screen and text. Imagine being able to simply click on a message and have it read out to you.

So while all of these touch screen phones have brought a great user interface , where does that leave those that are unable to see the screen? The developers of SMSpeaker are already pushing ahead with more apps that will bring benefits to an audience larger than the everyday mobile phone user. 

Photo Credit: Tim Caynes

SMS Messaging with Android on the G1

February 22, 2009 5 comments

It seems like there are a ton of SMS apps on the Android Marketplace, but can they all be great? I thought I would share what is working well for me and maybe that will help a small percentage of Android and G1 users find something that works for them as well.

DISCLAIMER: To be honest, I’ve had a very limited exposure to all the SMS apps in the Marketplace. I usually try to test a few and then once I find one that works well, I stick with it. If the developer of that app continues to add interesting features and fix issues then the barrier for me to switch apps gets to be higher. Trying new apps that do the same thing as the one I have become accustomed to is really not my thing. So if you are looking for a review of all the SMS apps on the Marketplace, try AndroidGuys, AndroidApps or just Google sms+android+app+review.

SMS Messaging

Chomp SMS

I am probably what would be classified as a low volume SMS user. Most of my contact with friends and colleagues is, in order of use, via e-mail, IM and Twitter. SMS comes up fourth because I mainly use it to very quickly communicate with friends when I am not at the computer or they are not at the computer. So the apps I selected and now use daily are based on my own selection criteria. Yours may be different and thus these apps may not suffice. To each their own.

First off, the built in SMS app is OK but definitely not great. There were a number of bells and whistles missing and it takes two Marketplace apps to compensate for these shortcomings.

Chomp SMS adds a very cool interface that allows you to see your SMS conversations as word bubbles. It also adds an on-screen keyboard,  a highly sought after feature for sending off quick messages without needing to open the keyboard. Finally, you can text multiple recipients from a single message. For those of you that don’t have root access to the G1, thus no auto-rotate, Chomp SMS also has a auto-rotate option. There is a video review of the Chomp SMS app on Youtube for anyone interested.

SMS Alerting

SMS Popup

To make SMS on the G1 even more convient, wouldn’t it be great if the messages popped up on the screen as they came in making it easy to read them? It would be even better if the messages displyed even when the screen was locked so that you didn’t have to unlock the phone just to read SMS messages. Add to that being able to set a different LED color for SMS messages and you have almost a complete SMS alerting app.

That is where SMS Popup comes in. In addition to all of these features mentioned above you can also set the notification to vibrate and set reminders of unread messages. There is a video review of this app for those interested.

I’ve run with both of these apps for a few weeks and not had any issues with crashes or usability. You’ll notice that in order to get the close to perfect SMS experience you need both apps, but that is a small price to pay primarily because they are both FREE

That rounds up my SMS review for the G1 and Android Marketplace. There are a lot of other SMS apps on the market and I am sure they all have their benefits. If any of the apps mentioned above start to falter, I’ll be shopping for something new so let me know which ones are comparable or better in your opinon.

G1 Android Wishlist for 2009

January 2, 2009 2 comments

Potential

2009 is the year of Android and G1, at least that is my hope. There is a lot of potential in this product, but potential doesn’t get you success or superbowl rings, just ask Tony Romo, T.O. and the Dallas Cowboys. I found a post talking about a Top 10 G1 wishlist which covered the most important feature missing in the G1, the on-screen keyboard. With the upcoming ‘cupcake’ release that will hopefully be remedied. Unfortunately as of Jan.1 in CA, there is no more texting and driving so my #1 reason for wanting the on-screen keyboard is no longer valid. Not to worry there are a few other reasons for wanting the on-screen kb which I will not bore everyone with unless you really want to hear it.

Continuing on with the G1 Android wishlist, here are a few that I think can take this product from just a smartphone to my most favorite gadget EVER!! At this moment, that spot is being held by the Flip Mino HD, which I got a few weeks ago and absolutely cannot live without.

SIDEBAR When I was growing up one of my responsibilities was family video recorder. I had to lug around these giant video cameras to record family vacations and social events on VHS tapes. The weight of this on my shoulder alone cost me any shot at a professional sports career. The fact that I had no hops, just average speed and was 5’6″ didn’t help either. Fast forward 15 years and the video recorder is the size of a cell phone, records in HD and is as easy as pushing a little red button. If I had this when I was growing up, then my mom or dad could have been the one recording and I would have been able to protect my shoulder for football, basketball or baseball. I guess these things happen for a reason. 

Back to the G1 Android list, here are a few things that I think will continue to fully exploit the G1’s potential. (In no particular order)

1. Better integration with the accelerometer and screen rotation in all apps. It is already integrated into the video player and Steel showed that you can do this with the web browser, what about other apps like fBook, WikiNotes, photos?

2. More battery life. I am tempted to buy the higher capacity battery. Power Meter is a very cool utility that takes on managing the battery for me, but I need to be able to go longer between charges.

3. More apps that integrate camera with context like shopsavy and wikitude. Augmented Reality is not a future innovation, it is here and getting integrated in many places. There are a ton of opportunities to blend context into the camera that will make people happier, more aware of their surroundings, save them money and connect them to the world among other things. We are just scratching the surface of what is possible and I would love to see the G1 be the device to bring AR into the hands of consumers. Read my earlier post about AR for other uses.

4. Mario Kart + accelerometer integrated would be killer. This is a personal wish based on the cravings of my innerchild. But it would be cool, no?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Luigi Travels the Rainbow Road in Mar…“, posted with vodpod

Hope you enjoyed my take on the G1’s potential.

Photo Credits: Cheryl Syverson

Augmented Reality – G1 app to add context to the stars?

December 20, 2008 5 comments

I just read Jennifer Bruin’s blog post on an app for the G1 called Wikitude AR Travel Guide. The app employs augmented reality, AR. If you don’t know anything about AR, like me, reading the wikipedia entry is very helpful.  

After reading it, I can think of other ways to employ it for everyday use. Here is an interesting idea.

 G1 + AR = Astronomy 101 for Everone

astronomy

Ever find yourself lying down on a field of grass or hood of your car, looking up at the stars in the clear sky and wishing you learned how to identify the Big Dipper, Polaris or Orion? Never? Ok, but what if you did? What if you can take your G1, point it to the sky and have it identify constellations for you as you look through the camera lens? Think of all those millions of children that never had the opportunity to learn about the stars or astronomy, now having all this information in their hands. In addition to identifying the stars, there can be more context of each star given on the screen, like origin of the name, when it was discovered and other interesting stats. Make astronomy fun again. (was it fun to begin with?)

Take it step farther and incorporate interactive learning so that the patterns are not just being identified for you, but the G1 is teaching you how to identify them yourself like in this tutorial.

With this kind of app, an interesting case can be made for the G1 to be subsidized by schools for students. Isn’t learning supposed to be fun and interactive?

Interested in Augmented Reality? Read this wrap up of milestones in 2008 for AR.