When you think of innovation in personal computers, it’s usually Apple that comes to mind. But you might be surprised to learn that one of the most innovative computers in recent years has come from Hewlett-Packard’s printer division in San Diego. In fact, Apple’s innovations can’t compare, as the company is mostly focusing on increasing display resolution, using faster processors and making thinner housings.

HP’s new Sprout computer, announced earlier this month and now available from HP and retailers, is an imaginative new desktop computer that integrates elements of a tablet, display, camera and scanner into a single attractive product.

It’s able to do everything we now use a computer for, but adds so many new capabilities that it establishes a class of its own. I expect it to mark an important milestone in the evolution of computers. Before Sprout, there was little reason for people to upgrade their computers other than for faster processors and bigger screens.

While the word “breakthrough” is overused, it clearly describes the Sprout. And surprisingly, when you start using it, much of what you do is natural and intuitive, particularly for those used to using tablets.

Sprout looks like a conventional all-in-one computer, but has a pedestal rising up from behind that extends over the front of the monitor, and a large, thin, white pad that sits in front, much like a placemat.

The 20-inch touch-sensitive pad displays a projected image from the projector at the top of the pedestal. The pad becomes a second display, in addition to the 23-inch LCD monitor.

In typical use, the monitor displays the Windows 8.1 desktop and the pad displays Sprout-specific applications. You can also display other apps, documents and files on the pad by flicking them downward from the monitor.

HP’s Sprout looks like a conventional all-in-one computer, but has a projector that extends over the front of the monitor, and a large, thin, white pad in front that displays a projected image. Courtesy photo

In my testing, I opened a browser on the pad and went to the New York Times website to read news stories, much like a newspaper on my desk. I could use the pad to zoom in and scroll the image. Bringing the image closer and being able to enlarge it also makes it a great solution for those with vision issues.

The pad can also be used for game playing. In one app developed by DreamWorks, I was able to move images on the pad to create my own movie on the monitor. In another, I “played” a projected musical keyboard on the pad, while the monitor displayed and played back the music I was composing. The pad can best be thought of as a 20-inch touch tablet in its functioning. The Sprout can digitize both two- and three-dimensional objects. Simply place them on the pad and a high-resolution camera captures the images.

One example I saw was the ability to take a three-dimensional object and create a 3-D scan of it in the computer. Once in the computer, I could rotate and tilt the image and send it to others. A future application would be to use the computer to scan an object that could then be sent or printed out on a 3-D printer, another area where HP is active.

A business application I tried was collaboration using HP‘s MyRoom collaboration software. I was able to mark up and sketch ideas on one Sprout using a stylus and the pad, and it was instantly transmitted to another, where a second person could do the same in real time. It’s all done over the Internet and does not require a phone line.

Sprout sells for $1,899 including the 23-inch display, a reasonable price for its capabilities.

Like most products, there’s the product and the story behind the product. Brad Short, an HP engineer, invented the concept in 2009 and showed it at an HP innovation fair. It attracted enough positive attention to become a small project for investigation by a team of five led by Brad. It was code-named Houdini. It was much like Sprout, but without the second screen.

The results were positive enough to turn into a full project staffed with a full cross-disciplinary team (engineering, marketing, design) that grew to 60, led by Louis Kim, a product management VP in the printer division, and with experience in PCs, phones and software at HP in Houston, Barcelona and eventually San Diego.

I was brought in by Kim in early 2011 to work with the team during the product’s early stages. My role was to help find ways to accelerate the development and leverage outside resources.

Small risky projects are always a challenge in large corporations, where the norm is to be risk averse. As a result, Kim secured a dedicated location where his team could work apart from the main organization in a somewhat stealth mode.

But while physically isolated, they were caught up in a reorganization, as HP struggled to improve its financial performance through downsizing and reorganization.

In March 2012, the printer and PC organizations merged, Houdini was cancelled and the team was disbanded. But a small core team remained, including Short and Kim, committed to find a way to keep Houdini alive, now renamed Merlin.

With support from a consumer-marketing expert and a design manager, they pitched Merlin throughout HP in Cupertino; Palo Alto; Fort Collins, Colo.; Houston and New York as well as external customers, and technology partners, including Intel. Kim estimated they met more than 160 people. During these pitches, Short continued to evolve the product concept.

All this effort finally paid off when Ron Coughlin, SVP of consumer computing, decided to fund Merlin. In January 2013 it was demo’d to Meg Whitman, HP’s CEO, and received her enthusiastic support. The small core team pitching Merlin grew into a full program team once more, expanding to Palo Alto and Asia. Dion Weisler, HP’s EVP of PCs and printers and the future CEO of the split off HP Inc., has continued funding the program to its recent launch.

As far as it has come, there’s still much left to insure its success. It needs support from developers and software companies to create new applications, much as Apple needed support to make the iPad a success. And it needs continued support from HP and its partners. But whatever happens, this is a product that has the potential to change what we now know as a desktop computer.


 Imagine being able to enjoy a glass of wine from a bottle without opening it and without affecting the aging of the remaining contents. That’s the premise of an ingenious product developed by an MIT graduate with a career in nuclear science and medical implants.

Greg Lambrecht’s dream was to pour wine from a bottle without removing the cork so he could enjoy a single glass and then put the bottle back into his cellar where it would continue to age. He spent more than a decade of development before introducing his product.

As one who enjoys wine and who even plans vacations with my wife based on the wine regions of the world, the Coravin seemed too good to be true. I’ve tried many devices through the years to extend the life of an open bottle of wine, such as pumps that remove the air and gas that fills the empty space of the bottle.

In my experience, nothing preserves an opened bottle of wine for more than a few days to a perhaps a week. The problem is that once the wine is exposed to air, oxidation begins to occur, which hurts its quality. The only solution that has had some success has been expensive dispensers, mostly found in wine bars, which prevent air from entering the bottle.

The Coravin is allows you to pour a glass of wine without removing the foil or the cork. Courtesy photo

The Coravin (www.coravin.com) allows you to pour a glass of wine without removing the foil or the cork. Instead, the device pierces the foil and cork with a thin hollow Teflon coated needle that lets you access and pour the wine into a glass. The cork is never removed. Argon, an inert gas, is used to pressurize the bottle, which both propels the wine out through the needle and preserves the remaining contents by reducing contact with air.

The device is about the size of a large corkscrew and is made of chromed metal and heavy black matte plastic. The small argon cylinder is screwed into its handle, and the device is placed over the neck of the bottle, held in place with a spring-loaded clamp. The top is then pushed down, carrying with it the needle and spout, as it easily pierces the foil and the cork.

The bottle is then tilted in position for pouring, initiated with a short push on the trigger that forces more argon into the bottle, causing the wine to slowly come out of the spout. One glass takes about 30 to 45 seconds to pour, with three or four quick trigger pushes each 10 to15 seconds as the wine slows down.

After pouring, part of the unit is slid upward, extracting the needle. The cork then seals itself, so that the bottle can be put back into your cellar or wine rack in its normal near-horizontal position.

The Coravin 1000 comes with two argon cartridges about the size of a thumb, and retails for $299. A replacement cartridge, good for about four bottles, costs $11, or about 75 cents per glass.

I’ve been testing the Coravin using a bottle of 2005 Château Prieuré-Lichine, a Bordeaux Margaux. I extracted a glass on day 1, day 5 and day 10, and found that the wine tasted the same, as best as I could tell. I have always been able to detect a noticeable degradation using other devices, such as a Vacu Vin pump.

The significance of the Coravin is that it provides much more flexibility in drinking wine. You no longer need to use a half-bottle, waste part of a large bottle, or even consume more than a single glass at a sitting. You can select a different wine each day if you choose, pair wines with dinner, all without needing to consume entire bottles at one time or within a few days. And when you have guests, each can have a wine of their choice.

I heard about this device from my son and daughter-in-law, both wine sommeliers and owners of a fine restaurant in the Bay Area. They offer wine by the glass, but have a limited selection because they want to serve only wine that’s not degraded from being open for more than a day. This device would allow than and other restaurants to expand their list, and even offer premium wines that would normally not be sold by the glass.

While my test worked well, a true test would be to spread the tasting from a bottle over many months or even years. Lambrecht claims he has conducted such tastings and there is no deterioriation over a span of years.

Other reviewers and wine experts also report very positive results. Alder Yarrow, editor of Vinography, wrote “I’m sitting at my kitchen table, enjoying a glass of 2000 Pontet-Canet from the same bottle that I opened 63 days ago and it tastes exactly the same as it did when I first opened the bottle.”

When the company first introduced the product, testers found that some defective bottles cracked from being pressurized by argon. The company now includes a zippered neoprene sleeve that zips around the bottle for protection.

Are there negatives? Pouring a glass of wine takes longer, the needle needs to be occasionally cleaned with the included wire, and the spout should be rinsed after using, all minor. Perhaps the biggest issue for some would the cost of the argon and the device.

But all this is a small price to pay for having incredible flexibility in being able to choose your glass of wine. This is also a great product for people who buy young wines to cellar until they are ready; they will no longer have to guess when the bottles are ready. The cost is minimal compared to having to pour an expensive bottle of wine down the drain because it spoiled!


Not surprisingly, I was one of the 4 million early adopters who went right out and bought an iPhone 6 the first day it became available, replacing my iPhone 5S. In addition, I’ve been using an iPhone 6 Plus on loan from AT&T.

While most of you probably have read the details of each phone, I want to focus on whether it’s worth upgrading and, if so, to which phone.

I’ve enjoyed my iPhone 5S for just over a year. It’s been as good a phone as I’ve ever owned. It’s compact, has high-speed data and an excellent camera. Its one major drawback was its mediocre battery life; it required recharging during the day. So there was really no good reason why I couldn’t continue to use it for two more years.

But with Apple’s big announcement of the iPhone 6, I, along with others, found the newer and thinner form factor to be more attractive and liked the idea of a larger display. Then there was the appeal of Apple Pay, a new payment service that’s built right into the phone. Sounds cool, right?

Apple does an amazing job to get us to think of iPhones as a short-term car lease, getting into a new phone whenever a new model is introduced, rather than when we really need a new one. And Apple is making huge margins on this strategy. For example, they charge $100 more for a 64GB memory version than 16GB, when their cost for the extra memory is in the low $20s.

Now that I’ve used the 6 for more than a month, I’ve found it to be another excellent phone, but the novelty is wearing off. The iPhone 6 is not the revolutionary advance Apple wants us to believe it is; it’s simply another iPhone with a slightly larger display, a different industrial design and a few enhancements.

The benefits certainly don’t warrant the $650 cost, if you buy the phone unsubsidized. It feels a little smoother in the hand and its slightly larger display is nice, but it’s just an incremental advance.

I haven’t had much opportunity to try Apple Pay as yet, but I’m sure I will like paying from my phone. Expect it to take years to be widely available. And just how different is it to take out a phone than a wallet? You’ll still need to carry your card, should you decide to buy gas or pay a parking meter requiring you to swipe your card — you can’t slide the phone into the slot!

One of the drawbacks of a new phone, particularly those from Apple, is it’s usually not quite finished when it’s first introduced. That’s true with the iPhone 6. While the iPhone 5s synched perfectly with my cars, the iPhone 6 doesn’t work with my Mazda 3. Incoming calls cannot always be answered and, when they are, the caller’s voice doesn’t come through.

Other users report that the phone has trouble working with BMW, Toyota, Lexus, Acura and several other brands. This is reminiscent of the iPhone 5’s problems when it was introduced; it didn’t work with Bluetooth headsets from Plantronics or Jawbone.

I was hoping for improved battery life of the 6 over the 5, but they perform pretty much the same. The iPhone 6 battery rarely lasts through the day.

My phone is the T-Mobile version with Wi-Fi calling. It generally works well, but I do get a high number of dropped calls, even though I’m using a top-of-the-line Asus router.

After a week of use, its distinction from the 5 is barely noticeable. It has the same apps, the same general appearance and an excellent camera. The best feature is the slightly larger display, but it means stretching your finger to a button at the top corner of the screen. When I first started using it, I was reminded of Steve Jobs’ comments about how the 3.5-inch display is best for one-hand operation.

If I had to do it all over again, I probably would not have been so quick to upgrade.

The iPhone 6 Plus is appealing in a different way. While it’s not going to be confused with a tablet — it has less than half the screen area of an iPad mini — it offers several benefits. Its large screen makes reading easier and watching videos much more enjoyable. It’s almost large enough for reading e-books, and it’s still thin, light and small enough to be carried in a side pocket.

Some apps become more usable and useful with the larger 6-inch display. It’s especially good if you are use the calendar, where you can get a better look at your schedule. Web browsing works better and the larger, higher resolution screen displays images more clearly. But it doesn’t quite feel like a phone and is less comfortable in the hand.

So what should you do? It depends on your needs. For those wanting primarily a phone, stick with the 5S or upgrade to a 6 if you are due for a subsidized phone or changing carriers. For those wanting a large display, the 6 Plus is a good choice, especially for those who can benefit by the larger text. But remember, Apple’s iOS8 is what really make an iPhone as good as it is, and it works essentially the same on the 5S as on the new family of iPhones.

Extra for Joesentme Audience:

Checkout this nifty device from Simple Matters on Kickstarter that provides a personal alert when a special phone call comes in or you want to be reminded of an appointment. It’s a beautiful design and  very useful . product. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ditto/ditto


This month I attended Dreamforce, the world’s largest software conference, put on by the $5.5 billion company Salesforce, founded in 1999 by Mark Benioff.

I was there as part of the introduction of Neil Young’s Pono high-resolution music system and my involvement in its development. Pono is building its worldwide community of music lovers using the Salesforce platform. That includes its website, stores and social community at www.ponomusic.com.

Since I focus primarily on consumer technology, I was surprised to discover just how powerful a force Salesforce has become in the business-to-business community.

There were more than 145,000 visitors from nearly 100 countries for the four-day event at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. That’s about the same number that attends the Consumer Electronics Show each January in Las Vegas.

The conference was so big that a section of Howard Street, which runs between the North and South Halls of the convention center, was shut down to traffic, to make it safe for participants to travel between halls.

Mark Benioff, founder of Salesforce, spoke at Dreamforce, the world’s largest software conference, in San Francisco. Bloomberg photo

Salesforce’s first product was software that manages sales activities, a category known as customer relations management (CRM). CRM software had been around for decades with such products as ACT!, and others from Microsoft and Oracle.

Salesforce, however, was the first to create this type of software that makes use of the cloud. The information generated by its users from sales calls, order taking, correspondence and follow-up activities are a natural for cloud-based software.

Having all this information on the cloud means that the data could be added and accessed from devices other than a computer, just about anywhere and anytime. In addition, the data now becomes instantly available for others to use.

Benioff’s focus has been to create an on-demand information service that’s part of a category called SaaS or Software as a Service. He believes that businesses need to transform into customer-focused companies using social media and mobile cloud technologies in order to better connect with their customers, partners and employees.

Much of this is done through new products that Salesforce has developed or acquired, grouped into six areas of cloud services:

• Sales Cloud, which covers sales force automation, CRM activities and data prospecting.

• Community Cloud and Chatter connect every employee with the files, data and experts they need anywhere, anytime. It also provides a social network for business.

• Service Cloud, a software service that provides customer support and a customer help desk.

• Analytics, which helps users interpret and make the best use of the data.

• Marketing Cloud provides access to marketing tools through the cloud.

Salesforce has also become a platform where developers can create new capabilities well beyond what Salesforce offers. Many hundreds of these companies were on display at the conference.

Dreamforce, unlike many business events, felt anything but stuffy. It was an upbeat event with speakers — including Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Ariana Huffington, Eckhart Tolle and Neil Young — addressing social and environmental issues. Bruno Mars gave a free concert at City Hall.

Benioff, Salesforce’s chairman and CEO, is a noted philanthropist, having built two UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland. The company puts aside 1 percent of its equity, 1 percent of employees’ time, and 1 percent of its product for charitable use. Attendees to the event helped donate 3 million meals to charity and $9 million to children’s hospitals.

Benioff’s presentation noted how every industry is changing because of the ease of being connected and the explosive use of mobile devices. His address touched upon how many trillion interactions occur each year and how Salesforce is one of the companies playing a significant role in these interactions to make us more productive and effective in our work.

That’s exactly what was on display at Dreamforce: products you could only have imagined a few years ago,


Here’s an assortment of small gadgets, some so small they rarely get noticed, but useful in their own special way.

I’ve struggled to organize my unwieldy keys — a couple of electronic key fobs for my car and my wife’s, several conventional keys for home and office, a magnetic fob for my office front door and an ID tag for my gym.

Ordinary key cases rarely work with the large key fobs, so I’ve tried putting everything on a large key ring, but that’s awkward to carry in your pocket, with keys sticking into your legs. Enter Nite Ize, a company in Boulder, Colo., that makes little gadgets such as carabiner clips, flashlights and small tools.

I came across their KeyRack Locker that finally provides a workable solution. It has six miniature carabiner clips that are double-ended, spring-loaded S hooks (called S-Biners). They attach to the larger KeyRack.

The S-Biners come in steel or colored plastic to easily identify keys by color. They’re easy to quickly add or remove in order to slim down what you carry or put aside those keys you don’t need, such as at valet parking. What is most impressive with Nite-Ize is its clever design, good engineering and low price. The key system costs just $10 (niteize.com).

An Oregon company, the Leathershop, has developed a very small but elegant leather wallet designed to hold as many as 20 credit cards or business cards in a form perfect for those wanting a side-pocket wallet with little bulge or bulkiness. The Palm wallet is made of a single piece of heavy, beautifully hand-finished leather from the famous Chicago leather company Horween.

The wallet is held together with polished brass rivets. The flap fits under a strap that runs the full width of the front. Its internal width is precisely designed to fit a stack of credit cards. There are three dividers, including a slot in the front, to hold one or two of your most frequently used cards, such as a license and credit card.

Currency is folded in half and slips in the back of the wallet behind the cards. While the wallet is expensive at $120, it’s one of the most compact (2.75 inches long by 4.25 inches wide by 1 inch deep) and best-constructed compact wallet I’ve tried. (http://theleathershop.com.)

With so many of us using iPhones and other smartphones as our cameras, Olloclip has developed a family of add-on lenses that expand the phone’s photographic capability. The Olloclip snaps over the phone’s lens, clamping to the body, to provide a variety of new photo possibilities.

The current 4-in-1 design for the iPhone5S provides a fish-eye lens, wide-angle lens and two macro lenses. The Olloclip is well-made of glass and aluminum, and designed not to scratch your phone, but it requires you to remove your phone case first, if you use one. One limitation is that the lenses don’t focus, but rely on the phone’s lens and, in the case of the macro lenses, positioning the phone at the correct distance.

I’ve tried the lenses and they work well, particularly the close-up lenses that let you get within a half-inch of the subject. The wide angle nearly doubles the field of view and the fish-eye provides a 180-degree field of view of a circularly distorted image. There are versions for the iPhone 5S and the Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5. A version for the iPhone 6 is on its way. ($70, olloclip.com)

While hardly high tech, a company called Harry’s has been running sales campaigns over the Internet. Called to my attention by a reader, it’s a company that offers serious competition to Gillette.

Harry’s sells a sleekly designed razor and blades for almost half the price, along with a variety of shaving products you’ll not find in your local CVS. The products are nicely packaged and shipped at no cost.

As a long-time user of Gillette razors that cost close to $4 each and typically last about a week, I’ve found Harry’s blades to last at least as long, shave equally close and cost about $1.80. Harry’s is a great example of how a small company can compete with a huge corporation — such as Procter and Gamble, which owns Gillette — through the Internet with a very good product. (harrys.com).