Apple’s announcements last week showed the strength of the company’s product design capabilities. No company can match its skills in industrial design, engineering and the integration of beautiful software and hardware. But Apple is also skilled in its ability to exaggerate. Without taking away from its accomplishments, Apple takes credit without embarrassment for features they haven’t originated.

For example, the introduction of new iPhones with larger displays comes four years after Samsung and others made that leap. For the past two years the most popular size display for other phones has been in the 5-inch range.  Just look at the offerings from Microsoft, Motorola, HTC, LG and Samsung. And Apple no longer leads the industry with the highest resolution displays. In fact, if you move from an iPhone 5S to an iPhone 6, the sharpness drops slightly.

Another example: Apple took credit for a “new” feature that enables the iPhone to dial over the Internet using WiFi when your cellular signal is poor. It announced that T-Mobile would be the first to adopt. However, Apple omitted to mention that T-Mobile has had this capability built into its phones for several years.

One of the most dramatic examples on display was the focus on the little cylindrical knob, called a crown, similar to what’s been on watches for eons. Apple calls it a digital crown and uses it to scroll, zoom and click. While the application is very clever and ingenious, the company’s video expounding it as revolutionary seemed over the top. But all of this is part of Apple’s bravado, originated by Steve Jobs, and plays to their loyal and outspoken fan base.

Now all of this is not to take away from Apple’s business acumen and often phenomenal products. One of its strategies is, in fact, not to be first in everything it does, but to wait while other companies try and fail. Then it comes up with a much better solution that’s fully thought through and well implemented, bringing along major partners to make the solution really useful. Apple takes the long view, focusing on what its customers will want and can easily use. Apple may be slow to adopt, but when it does, it’s well executed and something that resonates with the customer.

That’s what it did with Apple Pay, a way to make payments with your iPhone. Companies such as PayPal and Google have tried and failed or have yet to get off the ground. Apple may be the first to succeed because it brings along hundreds of millions of iPhone users, and the cooperation of banks and merchants.

It appears Apple has thought through security, ease of use and has the support from the major credit card companies. And its timing could not be better, with the theft of credit card information from Target, Home Depot and others.

Overall, I came away with a generally positive view of the new offerings, but intend to wait for more specifics. For example, the new iPhone 6 and 6+ offer sleeker IDs and larger displays. But Apple iPhones have had mediocre battery life, and no mention was made of whether that will be improved in spite of more power hungry displays. The reported use of scratchproof sapphire glass never materialized, possibly because it was not ready. Will that be next season’s upgrade?

Most interesting was the Apple Watch. This is not perceived as a limited purpose device like a Jawbone UP or Fitbit. It’s clearly Apple’s next platform, deserving of a new OS.  It’s the beginning.  It’s a multipurpose device that will start out performing some interesting functions, but it’s also a blank slate (or display) that can go in multiple directions, based on new software and services. It’s designed for the long run, not to be replaced with new models every year.

It displays Apple’s core capabilities such as hardware miniaturization, mechanical design and beautiful aesthetics. It’s likely the first smartwatch that both men and women would consider wearing.

Its timeless design, catering to both function and fashion, represents Apple’s entry into wearable computers. It addresses all that has been wrong with other wearable devices: size, attractiveness and functionality.

Just as few of us could envision the potential of the iPad when it was first announced — the same applies to the Apple Watch.

My take-away from the presentation is that Apple is more formidable than ever.  As Samsung comes closer to matching its capabilities in iPhones and tablets, Apple has raised the bar considerably.

The company is so good at what it does, you wonder why they have to exaggerate — but that’s Apple, and the fans love it.

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Get ready for the onslaught of smart watches punctuated by Apple’s announcement Tuesday. Smart watches and wristbands have been the hot new product category hyped by analysts, tech reporters and scores of companies that need something new to talk about and replace their maturing categories of tablets and smartphones. But based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m skeptical.

It’s been a category filled with expensive and flawed products, some even being recalled and cancelled, and a customer base that on average stops using the devices after seven months. Many companies have tried and few have succeeded.

I’ve tried several of them over the past two years and, for the most part, they are underwhelming. I’ve personally gone through the stages of awe, touting my Nike Fuel Band device; complacency, when I realized it was useful for just walking and reading the time in the dark; and finally annoyance, when I forgot to keep the device charged and it stopped working. All while my wife, Jane, kept asking why I continued to wear such an ugly rubber band, especially because it didn’t motivate me to exercise more.

She’s correct. The devices are mostly big, ugly, expensive and offer limited capabilities. They generally promise more than they deliver. And now many of their functions are available on free apps, such as Breeze.

The most useful features of the fitness bands and watches track your walking and compare your progress over time. And many tout the dubious ability to share your workout with friends on Facebook. Really? Some products, such as those from Basis and Withings, offer more health-related features, such as measuring your pulse and sleep state. While these devices are marvels of miniaturization, I found the accuracy among them lacking.

For example, distance walked and calories burned varied over a range of more than 2 to 1 among the Fitbit, Nike Fuel Band, Withings and Basis. When I tested them, none allowed you to enter your stride for accuracy, something a $15 pedometer does. Pulse measurements with the Basis and Withings were not repeatable and varied widely, and none of the devices handle bicycling, in spite of several claiming to. You’re much better off with the free apps MapMyWalk or MapMyRide.

The devices, for the most part are limited, first-generation products. It will take much more accurate sensors and better software to interpret the results and offer meaningful advice for them to become useful. While these devices can accumulate pages of data, they fail to tell you what the information all means.

The real promise of these devices is to be able to improve your health by monitoring many of your health signs and providing personal advice as to what you can do to improve, and to provide real-time information to your physician. That will take cooperation among health providers, doctors and the device manufacturer, something few companies other than Apple have the clout do.

And then there’s the question of privacy. Do we really want Google and Apple to know our health signs and risk sharing that information with others? With the recent news that photos from your phone are in the cloud and can be easily hacked, do you want your weight, exercise habits or medications to be made public by hackers?

But with all that said, I have high expectations for Apple to succeed. When Apple takes interest in a product category, the industry pays attention because the company has a history of redefining an entire category with innovations and outstanding industrial designs. While the company has its work cut out, it will be more likely to get it right.

The iPod was not the first digital player, but it redefined the category, and Apple was able to create important relationships with the record companies. And the iPhone was not the first cellular phone, but it revolutionized the mobile phone industry.

With the iWatch, as it’s been called, I expect Apple will make it part of a huge ecosystem that includes the hardware, software, apps, services and alliances with industries such as health, automotive, security, home automation as well as home appliances.

Few but Apple can get auto companies to make their locks talk to their watch, get medical providers to monitor your health signs, and persuade appliance companies to embed sensors that work with your iWatch.

Apple will find a way to make all of these disparate functions easy to access and use, as well as bring their expertise in industrial design to create a stunning timepiece. The company has the opportunity to create the next-generation watch that combines technology with an attractive piece of 21st-century jewelry.

And I expect they will add new functionality. Instead of tiny buttons, make it voice activated. Allow you to do verbal searches and get verbal answers. Use it to unlock your car, control your space by turning on lights as you walk through your house. Send you alerts that coach and remind you.

There’s a huge opportunity if it’s done right that will require a huge amount of work to miniaturize the technology, and to make it simple to use. The iWatch might just become the next big thing.

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Whatever I’m doing, I always seem to carry more technology gadgets than I need. Even though gadgets have become lighter, my bag has become heavier with many different products. Fortunately, there are some good solutions for dealing with this, as well as for those who want to travel with the smallest possible bag.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I carried a 13-inch MacBook Pro, an iPad mini, chargers for each, an iPhone 5S, an HTC One M8, a Ricoh GR pocket camera, its charger and an extra battery, a music player, Sennheiser Momentum headphones, numerous cables, a paper notebook, a bunch of pens, keys, business cards, and some reading material.

The challenge is to find a bag that does a good job organizing all the stuff while allowing you to find things quickly. Sometimes too many pockets mean extra searching, while too few mean your items are all mixed together with tangles cords.

One solution can be found in the bags from Glaser Design, a San Francisco company run by Myron and Kari Glaser. Myron told me that a vertical briefcase is an inefficient way to carry technology stuff because everything simply drops to the bottom of the bag.

The company has developed a series of modules designed to precisely fit in Glaser’s bags and allow you to store your items and easily retrieve them. They include translucent zippered organizers for your chargers and small items, a presentation binder for paper, a padded panel with movable pockets for pens, phones and business cards, and a variety of removable pockets for a computer. One even transforms into an under arm portfolio.

Leather briefcase with modules from Glaser Designs

While their products are not inexpensive, they are a much better value than designer products that cost even more. Bags begin at about $1,000 and can reach $2000, but they are considered by their worldwide clients to be the best you can buy anywhere. Accessories cost $50 and up, and of course they can be used in any bag. Myron offers free Skype consultation calls in which he will work with you to design a bag for your specific needs. (http://glaserdesigns.wordpress.com).

Some of the most innovative designs these days are coming from Tumi, which has embraced the needs of technology users. Once known for just a few conservative products such as roller bags and men’s ballistic nylon briefcases with a few pockets, they now offer hundreds of products for men and women designed for carrying technology.

For example, Tumi has developed a line of business-oriented backpacks. One of their newest and best is the Kingsville deluxe brief pack, which is exceptionally lightweight and offers a huge amount of space for items of all shapes and sizes.

The ballistic nylon backpack with leather trim has compartments for up to a 15-inch notebook, an iPad, phones, a large pair of headphones and cameras of all sizes. It’s also designed to slide over the handle of a suitcase, much like a briefcase. With a narrower width than a briefcase, it rolls right down the aisle on top of a suitcase. The 17-inch by 12-inch by 7.25-inch model is much more practical than a briefcase for holding bulky items. (tumi.com) $455.

Looking for a minimalist bag? Waterfield Design in San Francisco just introduced a vertical bag that’s lightweight and fashionable. The VertiGo 2.0 Laptop Bag is more like a large men’s handbag that also can carry your tablet or notebook. It comes in black ballistic, brown waxed canvas, with black or chocolate leather. There’s a front pocket with magnet closure, a zippered inside and two open pockets inside, an open back pocket, and key fob. There are handles and a shoulder strap.

The bag comes in three sizes and costs from $129 to $159 in a choice of colors, and is custom made in 3 days from when you place your order. (www.sfbags.com).

For the minimalist who wants to carry just a notebook and iPad in the smallest size package, look at the Thule Stravan Deluxe Attache Case, available exclusively at Apple Stores. It’s a well-padded case with a plush lining that precisely fits a 13-inch MacBook Pro or Air and an iPad, with separate pockets for the chargers and a phone. It also has tuck-away handles and a shoulder strap. $80.

For a wheeled case, I like the Briggs and Riley U116SP Baseline Rolling Cabin Bag, which offers a huge amount of space to carry your office on the go. Its main compartment is not encumbered by partitions, so you can even carry a briefcase inside. It fits perfectly under an airplane seat and easily glides down airport corridors on four wheels. (www.briggs-riley.com) $349.

Another great choice for a minimalist bag is Levenger’s Bomber Jacket Tech Traveler Briefcase. It’s a compact case made of Levenger’s heavy duty pebbled mocha-colored leather with plaid lining that snuggly fits an iPad, even in a case. It has a soft neoprene interior and several interior pockets, and comes with a shoulder strap and handles. (www.levenger.com) $179.

Searching for the perfect briefcase is an addiction many of us have. Each of these companies offers lots of different bags that will keep that addiction alive.

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Both Apple and Samsung are poised to introduce new smartphones in early September. It’s a yearly ritual that highlights the intense competition between the two leading phone makers, each vying to outdo the other. Most expect Apple to release an iPhone design with a larger 4.7-inch display and Samsung to release a Galaxy 5 with a more substantial enclosure.

But while these two companies are fighting it out, they’re beginning to face serious competition from some fast-growing competitors in China. I got a preview when I was there in July and saw how many consumers were moving away from Samsung and Apple and buying new products from Chinese phone makers, specifically Xiaomi and Huawei.

These companies were offering phones unlike what I’d previously seen in China — not the poorly made crude knockoffs with buggy software, but solidly constructed devices that look and work much like Samsung models. All of these phones run Android, the free operating system from Google.

Surprisingly, they are less than half the price of comparable Samsung models. Where a Samsung Galaxy or Note costs about $650, these phones retail for $150 to $300, and come unlocked.

China’s Huawei is now the world’s third-largest phone manufacturer, behind Samsung and Apple. Xiaomi has captured 21 percent of the sales in China compared to Samsung’s 23 percent, Apple’s 16 percent and Huawei’s 8 percent, and is expected to be No. 1 in sales in China this year. Huawei, focused more on the international market, is forecast to sell more than 100 million phones worldwide this year, double from last year. Both of these companies offer a wide variety of models, with most under $300.

I’ve been testing one of Huawei’s latest models, the Ascend Mate 2. It looks much like the Samsung Note with its thin profile and large 6.1-inch display. It’s in the phablet category, measuring 6.34 by 3.33 by 0.37 inches and weighing 7.13 ounces. That compares to the latest Note 3 measuring 5.95 by 3.12 by 0.33 inches and weighing 5.93 ounces. The Note, it should be noted, also has a digitizer that allows writing with its included stylus.

But as a full-featured phone, the Huawei is a bargain. Its display is a high-quality LCD (720 by 1280 pixels, 241 ppi), and a 13mp camera with autofocus, face and smile detection, geo tagging for selfies and Skype.

It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad core processor, has 16 GB memory expandable using up to a 64 GB micro SD card. One of its biggest features (literally) is a whopping 3,900 mAh non-removable battery that provides about two days of use. That compares with the Note’s 3,200 mAh cell and the iPhone with 1,450 mAh.

The Mate2 fully supports AT&T, T-Mobile and any GSM provider in the United States. This includes some of the no-contract MVNOs (mobile virtual network operator) such as Straight Talk, Cricket, and MetroPCS. I tried the phone on a Net 10 MVNO and the phone worked well.

The phone makes a few compromises. The display has about a third lower resolution than a top Samsung phone, yet in my use the display was plenty sharp for reading text and showed no pixilation.

Because Google provides the software, operationally there’s very little difference between this phone and other Android models. Each company offers its own user interface on top of the basic Android design. I preferred the Huawei UI over Samsung because its interface was simple and more iPhone-like, and it wasn’t loaded up with lots of crapware and hard-to-use utilities, something Samsung is notorious for doing. As a result, the Huawei is truer to Google’s reference design.

I found the phone’s size had both pluses and minuses. I liked the fact that the keyboard is larger and I made far fewer typing mistakes than on my HTC with a 5-inch display. It was also easier to browse and read websites such as The New York Times. On the other hand, the phone can barely be used with one hand. Huawei adds a clever utility that provides soft keys such as “back” and “home” to the edge of the display that make it easier to access with one hand.

As to support, Huawei says phones sold in the United States through the website will come with up to a two-year warranty, including U.S.-based customer support over the phone, and free return shipping. The phone is not sold through any carrier partners, only on GetHuawei.com and Amazon.com.

Clearly, this is one of the best phone bargains I’ve come across. Both Huawei and Xiomi have full lines of phones, most of which offer big savings over other Android makes.

What does this mean for the future? I would expect these companies to hurt Samsung most of all, who has led the Android phone market. Apple also needs to be wary. This is the start of full-featured, powerful smartphones at prices unimaginable just a few years ago.

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My wife and I just returned from a two-week vacation visiting Oslo, Bergen and the fjords in Norway, and several towns in Normandy and the Loire Valley in France. I was able to try out some products — not to make work more efficient, but to help make our vacation run smoothly. We carried a MacBook, iPad, and two phones, a Verizon iPhone and T-Mobile HTC One.

Getting connected was less important for email and work, and more important to get in touch with the surroundings to make good choices and better use of our time. WiFi connections at the many hotels we stayed in were free, but in several of them the service was too slow or erratic for browsing or making Skype calls.

While I tried T-Mobile’s new international plan in China a couple of months ago and found it to work well, this was my first time trying it in Europe. Like almost everywhere else in the world, T-Mobile offers free data and phone calls for just 20 cents a minute.

Not surprisingly, it turned out to be the most useful gadget we brought. Last time I was in Europe, I was reluctant to use my Verizon phone for data of any kind, fearful of all those exorbitant international roaming charges. I had to be extra careful: Turn it on, check out directions or a restaurant, and quickly put it back on airplane mode. Even then, I paid nearly $200 for a week of carefully monitored use.

With the T-Mobile service, there were no concerns, no worries and everything worked much as it does at home. We used data for getting directions, checking out restaurant reviews and researching the areas we visited. We gave out our phone number without a concern, knowing that a short call might cost $10 or $20 on other carriers. We made local calls, calls back home and even responded to some email messages. And we used Yelp to find local restaurants and visited the websites to check menus.

Our data connection varied from 2G to 4G, depending on location. It was mostly 3G and 4G in and near cities. 2G data, mostly in the countryside, was marginal and you wouldn’t want to browse, but it usually worked for directions and email. And with a feeling of satisfaction, we used the T-Mobile phone’s hotspot to connect my wife’s iPad and my Verizon iPhone to the Internet to check mail and make a Skype call.

In France, where we rented a car, our most important use was accessing the phone’s GPS. However, we found Google Maps to be disappointing and not nearly as good as it is in the United States. It occasionally got confused and led us astray, once when we were driving to a famous chateau in France and another time driving to Charles de Gaulle Airport.

On several walking excursions, it sent us to the wrong location and didn’t seem to know where we were. When searching for a destination, it often failed to return directions. No matter how we set it, the directions that it did give seemed to be the shortest route between two points, no matter that it was through a farmer’s cornfield!

Most noticeable was its abysmal pronunciation of French street names, even well-known names. For example, “Voltaire” was pronounced as Vault-er. I can understand the app doesn’t speak French, but to mispronounce so many words so badly made the speech nearly unrecognizable.

On the other hand, Waze, now owned by Google, worked much better. It instantly found routes, offered detours around traffic and identified accidents on the highway.

I also took along a new Garmin GPS to try out. Before I left home, Garmin had provided me a subscription to their European maps ($100). But loading the maps was a complicated process: I had to register the GPS unit by plugging it into the computer and it took several attempts to be recognized.

I then downloaded the maps onto a microSD card in the device; that took almost an hour over a fast home cable Internet connection. When I was all done, and it told me it was successful, I tried checking for the maps on the GPS, but the simplified user interface had no way to let me check its map contents, as best as I could tell.

When I arrived in Norway and again in France and turned on the GPS, it failed to show any local directions or destinations. Even if it had worked, with such complexity, I’m sad to say the Garmin is no longer competitive for either cost or ease of use.

One of the frustrations in visiting Europe is that U.S. banks still don’t offer chip and PIN credit cards. They’re standard in Europe and provide greater security because your information is read from a chip imbedded in the card — not the magnetic stripe — and it requires you to enter a PIN number. Shopkeepers bring you a handheld terminal so you always have your card in your possession.

Some credit card companies (American Express, Chase, and Citibank) offer a card with a chip, but you often have to request it, and it’s available only on premium accounts. While we were able to make purchases and pay for meals, we ran into trouble paying highways tolls and buying gas. The cards didn’t work for either, and we needed to use cash. This is just one area where we are behind in technology.

According to milecards.com, the only issuers of chip and PIN in the United States are State Department Federal Credit Union EMV Visa Platinum, Andrews Federal Credit Union, GlobeTrek Visa, PenFed’s Platinum Rewards, Promise & Gold Visa, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard and the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard.

I took along a few other products that proved useful: a portable power strip that turns one outlet into three, something very useful with most hotel rooms having a scarcity of outlets. I used the Travelocity 3 Port Travel Outlet for $15. It’s the smallest one I could find, but there are similar units from Belkin and Monster. You just use it with an outlet plug converter such as the OREI Grounded Universal 2 in 1 Schuko Plug Adapter from Amazon ($6.25), and you can charge three items at once.

I traveled with a $75 ScottEVest Pack Jacket. This lightweight jacket with a rain hood took very little space to pack, and was vital during the many rainy days. Its 16 pockets were perfect for protecting my camera and phones and even holding an umbrella and mini-iPad. (www.scottevest.com)

On the last night of our stay we found online that a flight to San Diego opened up where we could use our mileage for super saver awards, so we wouldn’t need to fly into LAX and rent a car to drive home. I immediately called United Airlines from the hotel room using Skype, knowing it would be a lengthy call. But Skype was not working well, so I redialed using the T-Mobile phone. Even a 20-minute call was only $4 and the connection was superb.

The bottom line is, if you travel internationally, it’s important to take the right gadgets. As it turned out, I used mostly the T-Mobile phone and notebook computer. I would have left the other devices home. Most important, taking along a T-Mobile phone will save you a fortune and make your trip easier and more enjoyable.

If you do consider T-Mobile, one caution is that it doesn’t have as big a data network as Verizon and AT&T across the United States, so check your local coverage. My experience over the four months of use is its coverage has been more than adequate for me throughout Southern and Northern California.

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