Accessory companies live or die according to the products Apple introduces. So with the recent introduction of the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, and Air 2 tablet, lots of innovative accessories have been hitting store shelves. Here are some of my favorites.

Logitech Any Angle iPad Case: iPad cases typically open up and position the iPad at a few different angles: more upright for watching videos, a lower angle for typing. Logitech’s newly designed case positions the iPad at virtually any angle over a 50-degree range. Available for all iPads, including mini versions., $60.

The HiRise Delux from Twelve South. Courtesy photo

HiRise Deluxe: If you worship your smartphone as much as some, you can actually put it on a pedestal. The HiRise Deluxe from Twelve South is an attractive aluminum stand you can use for charging and positioning your phone on your desk or night table. It works great for Face Time and making hands-free calls. The vertical position of the connector and the back wall of the stand can be adjusted, so it will work for most models of smartphones as long as the charging port is near the middle on the bottom of the phone, without or with most any size case. Comes in silver or gold to match iPhones., $60.

Microsoft Office: Combine an iPad with a keyboard and what else do you need? Microsoft’s Office suite with Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Formerly available only by paid subscription, Microsoft’s new management intends to play a strong role in all mobile platforms, and this is their opening move. In addition, Microsoft has partnered with Dropbox to let you store your documents on their servers. Office is available for the iPhone, iPad, Android and Microsoft phones and tablets. Free, but only for consumers, not businesses.

inCase Icon MacBook Sleeve: I carry a 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina and recently discovered this cleverly designed product that offers the advantage of a thin sleeve with the protection of a larger, more rugged case. It looks like a simple neoprene sleeve, but has an integral shock-absorbing frame that surrounds the notebook to protect it from drops. A thin flap at one end lifts opens with a magnetic catch and the notebook slides in, falling precisely into place within the frame. Versions are also available for iPads., $60-$70.

Lifeproof cases for iPhone: This San Diego company has invented the first waterproof, dustproof and drop proof cases for the iPhone. The company’s mission has been “To change the way you live, work and play with your mobile electronics.”

The idea has resonated well with those who love their phones and use them under extreme conditions: in water, snow, high and low temperatures, and dirty environments. They’ve sold millions, and by some analysts’ estimates, has 20 percent of the iPhone case market. Lifeproof is just now rolling out cases for the iPhone 6 and 6 plus, and their growth should take another leap. The new line comes in two styles: Fre and Nud. The Fre covers the display with a clear cover, while the Nud leaves the display exposed, forming a waterproof seal around its perimeter.

The new models are thinner and more stylish. If you want a case to protect your phone like no other and one doesn’t look like an industrial enclosure such as many others, you can’t beat these., $80-$100.

Keys to Go: This new product from Logitech is a stand-alone keyboard for portable use that looks almost like a thin slab. It’s nearly a full size keyboard and just ¼ inch thick. With its Bluetooth connectivity it will work with any iOS device including iPads, iPhones and Apple TV. The mechanical keys sit behind a rubberized fabric, allowing the keyboard to be easily wiped clean and is sufficiently rugged so that it can be tossed into a purse, backpack or briefcase., $70.

BookBook Travel Journal: This product from Twelve South looks like an old leather-bound book, but it’s actually a large zippered case that holds an iPad and accessories and lets you carry everything in one convenient package. It has a variety of pockets, Velcro straps and expandable bands to let you organize all sizes and shapes of headphones, chargers and cables. It’s perfect for those just traveling with an iPad. Fits all sizes with and without a cover. MacBook users will find the case useful for carrying a mouse, power adapters, hard drives and batteries., $100.

Other cases: Locally based STM offers the Harbour Case offers good protection at an attractive price. While somewhat plain looking with its black matte finish, the case provides basic protection. Its composite molded case is made up a hard outer shell and softer inner material that completely surrounds and protects the iPhone’s perimeter, unlike even Apple’s own cases. It has a hinged bottom that props up the phone vertically., $25.

A long-time favorite case I used on the iPhone 5 that offers a good balance between protection and bulk is the Tech21 Evo Mesh Case. It has a built-in compound that absorbs harsh drops. The company now makes versions for the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S5., about $35.


I signed up for Gmail in 2004 when it was first announced and have been using it ever since. I’ve stuck with it in spite of it not being particularly intuitive, and with an interface only a techie could love. But because of its inexpensive storage and excellent search capabilities, it’s possible to find emails I wrote years ago in just a few minutes.

Now Google has introduced a major improvement to reading your email. It’s called Inbox, an email program with an entirely new user interface and a new way of organizing your incoming mail.

It’s available by invitation only and open to anyone with a personal Gmail account; business users need to wait. I applied for it about six weeks ago and received an invitation three weeks later. You can send an email requesting an invitation to Inbox is free and runs as an app on an iPhone, Android and on a Chrome browser on your computer.

Inbox offers several new features that organize your incoming email and adds visual clues that let you more easily find attachments.

The items in Inbox’s inbox consist of a mix of individual emails, conversations and something Google calls “bundles,” which are emails grouped by category. As a result, the emails are not always in exact chronological order.

For example, incoming mail that relates to special offers, sales, ads, and promotions are grouped together and shown as one item called Promos. Other bundles are Travel, which groups reservations, flight information and travel announcements, and Purchases, which has receipts, acknowledgements and shipping information.

Touching an item that’s bundled in the Inbox, causes it to expand to show each of the emails. For example, selecting Purchases opened up a long list of Amazon acknowledgements and shipping alerts in chronological order. Selecting Promos brought up promos received that recently arrived and those going back several weeks.

Normal mail is grouped by conversation, similar to the way it’s currently done in Gmail.

The result of all of this bundling into categories and collapsing many messages into one is an Inbox that’s easier to navigate and find what you are looking for — much like going through a stack of file folders instead of just the contents. Google does an excellent job in figuring out which emails belong in what category, and I never encountered an email out of place.

You can choose to disable any of the bundle categories and create new ones, using rules you create. For example, you can chose to create bundles of correspondence by a specific client or project.

After reading an email, you can choose to mark it done, move it to trash or spam, or “snooze” the message to return the next day, next week or a particular time. You can even snooze it to come back when you arrive at a particular location.

Inbox makes it easy to go quickly through your inbox and ignore the unimportant messages, shifting them to return at a predetermined future time. Important messages, such as an electronic boarding pass, can be “pinned.” When a slider switch is activated, the Pinned email jumps to the top of the list.

Messages with attachments or photos display a small graphic, such as a miniature spreadsheet or Word document, making it easy to find a particular spreadsheet or image by scanning through the emails.

Searching the Inbox is very powerful and quick. For example, searching by sender retrieves weeks’ worth of emails from that person in a fraction of a second, displaying the date, subject and a snippet of an attachment. It also brings up the person’s contact information at the top of the list, which allows you to send an email or dial from the window.

Inbox has more intelligence than other email. Searching Southwest Airlines not only brought up every reservation and boarding pass, but also displayed the flight information of my next trip in a separate box.

As useful as Inbox is, I haven’t quite abandoned my normal mail clients — MacMail and Airmail — that allow me look at my messages fully expanded and in exact chronological order, just to be sure I haven’t missed one that occasionally gets hidden within a conversation or part of a bundle.

Inbox is not a replacement for Gmail. Instead, it’s a more efficient way to consume and view email. The apps for the Android and iOS are essentially the same. You can use Inbox on your desktop by using a Chrome browser.

The aesthetics of Inbox is much improved from Gmail. It’s spacious, modern, makes good use of color and seems more like an iPhone app. And new email appeared in Inbox before it appeared in my other email clients.

Inbox shows great potential as a way to reduce inbox clutter and separate out the important from the trivial. It’s novel, useful and a step forward in the evolution of email.


Now that Thanksgiving is a recent memory (and a few added pounds ago), it’s that time of the year to offer some recommendations for holiday gifts.

Sennheiser Momentum Headphones: Headphones are making a resurgence, thanks the growing interest in high-quality music. I’ve had a chance to try out several models this year while listening to high-definition audio. I found the Sennheiser Momentum over the ear headphone to provide a good balance of cost, audio quality, comfort and portability. $270.

Other very good headphones are the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBL Professional Studio Monitor Headphones for $200, and the Beyerdynamic DT-770-PRO-32 Closed Dynamic Headphone for $229. The AKG K712Pro is a terrific-sounding headphone with very large, soft earpads and an usual headband design that reduces the weight and improves comfort for long listening sessions. $359.

I’ve also recently tested the new Bose QC-25 ($299), the successor to the QC-15. While it does an admirable job of reducing background noise, the QC-25 can’t match the audio quality of any of the models listed above.

Lumix DMC-LX100 Camera: Camera manufacturers keep trying to pack bigger sensors into smaller camera bodies to produce near-SLR quality images. The new Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 is the latest camera to strive for this goal, and succeeds better than any other camera, albeit with two compromises: a slightly larger size and an external flash. But it has a terrific Leica 24-75mm f/1.7 lens that lets you shoot at very low light levels and a built-in electronic viewfinder. $899.

Dyson Handheld Vacuum: When I tested a Dyson handheld I marveled at the suction power from the small lightweight rechargeable vacuum. I used it to vacuum up coffee grounds around my grinder and espresso machine, as well as vacuum my car and office. It’s not inexpensive, but is beautifully engineered and performs like no other. There are two models, the more powerful DC58 Handheld Vacuum Cleaner at $249.99, and the DC34 for $199.99. Costco also sells a model for slightly less.

Add-on lenses for iPhones and Galaxy: Oloclip, the company that makes add-on lenses for Samsung Galaxy phones and older iPhones now has a model for the 6 series that works on both front and back cameras. It provides a wide-angle, fisheye and 10x and 15x macro options. It’s designed to be used with the phone’s case removed. $80,

TP-Link Portable charger: A new portable charger that has more power for its volume than most is the TP-Link 10400mAh Power Bank. About the size and shape of a salt shaker, it can completely charge an iPad from empty or a phone three or four times over. It’s a great bargain at less than $50.

The Coravin 1000 Wine Access System: One of the most unique products I tested this year, this product lets you pour a glass of wine without opening the bottle. You withdraw the wine from a thin needle inserted in the cork, with argon replacing the air. When you pull the needle out, the cork seals itself so as not to effect the aging of the remaining wine. The argon gas cylinders last for about 2 bottles and cost $10 each. $299,

For barbecue fans: The iGrill Mini provides a remote thermometer that lets you monitor your cooking from up to 100 feet away. I’ll be fully testing this and its big brother, the iGrill2 in the near future. $40,

The Drop Kitchen scale: This product combines a precisely accurate kitchen scale with an iPhone app to add convenient new functions to cooking. It has a silicone top and connects using Bluetooth. The app lets you alter its recipes for different portions, recalculate a recipe if you have too little of an ingredient, and displays an enlarged indicator to measure what’s on the scale. $99,

Microsoft XboxOne: This time last year I was struggling to find a new Microsoft Xbox One that was just rolling out. I ended up buying one on eBay for my two grandsons. While it was a struggle to set up, it’s continued to be a huge hit and in constant use. There are many excellent games, such as Lego Marvel, and it acts as a hub to manage all your entertainment, including cable, Netflix and other content. $400,

Watches: What’s the future of fine mechanical Swiss watches now that the Apple is designing a watch? Switzerland survived the quartz revolution and likely will survive this one. Mechanical watches provide a huge satisfaction to many intrigued by its mechanical complexity of spinning gears and coiled springs.

Most of these watches use a mechanism made by one of the companies that makes Swatch. The better ones are made in-house in small volumes and can cost from $10,000 to $20,000. But check out watches from Nomos, a company in Glashutte, Germany, the home of several of the best watch manufacturers in the world. Nomos makes its own watch movements that can be viewed through a sapphire back on some models. Models have watch straps made of American leather, sport a contemporary design and start from about $1,500. and their US distributor,

Gifting from your phone or computer: Another clever gift option, particularly for those who wait to the last moment, comes from a San Diego company, Congrats. Congrats enables users to send a custom video message and gift from their smartphone or tablet with an option to add a Giftly, a cash gift ranging from $1 to $1,000 that includes suggestions for how the recipient can spend the money. Upon receipt via the app, email or instant messaging, the video can be downloaded and saved to a mobile device or computer. Once redeemed, the Giftly is added to the recipient’s credit or debit card for immediate use. (


ResMed is a well-regarded San Diego company that makes medical devices to help those with sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. When I learned the company had developed a sleep monitor for consumer use, it piqued my interest. After all, ResMed probably knows more about sleep disorders than any other products company.

I’ve tried several devices that claim to do much the same, such as multifunction watches and fitness trackers and one that uses a headband. While they all provided some basic information, they were generally cumbersome to use and provided sketchy information that wasn’t all that helpful. The results just weren’t the effort.

The S+ from ResMed is different in many respects. Most significantly, there’s nothing to wear. It’s a rather large device, about the size of a clock radio, which sits vertically on your nightstand. The device is a white cube suspended at the top of a vertical rectangular frame that is tiltable to better aim at the user’s chest. It can be used with or without the frame, as long as it’s higher than the mattress.

Another difference is that its detection capability is much more advanced. Its internal sensors are able to detect breathing patterns and body movements using very weak radio signals. It doesn’t matter which way you are lying, with your back to the device or flat on your stomach, or even if there’s a person beside you in bed; it’s that sensitive and discerning. Other sensors in the unit measure ambient light, temperature and noise level.

When you go to bed, you open the S+ application on your phone or tablet (it works with Apple and Android) and connect it to the device using Bluetooth. You answer a few questions each night, such as how many cups of coffee and alcohol you had during the day and your exercise level.

Then you touch the sleep button on your phone and the display slowly darkens and — in theory — you go to sleep. The normally green light on the S+ shows it’s connected to Bluetooth, and slowly turns off so as not to distract you.

All through the night, the S+ monitors your sleep state, whether it be light, deep or REM, plus the number of interruptions and time spent awake. When you wake up in the morning, you can see a comprehensive analysis of your sleep patterns for that night, along with a score between 0 and 100.

The information is also uploaded to ResMed’s website where you can view it in more detail. It’s tracked with the room’s environment to look for correlations.

The results provide colorful plots, both linear and circular, and a comparison with others in your age category. There are also recommendations to improve your sleeping. You might be advised to drink less coffee or reduce exercise just before bedtime. The recommendations are more general tips than actual medical advice.

At first I found this frustrating, but as ResMed explained, it’s because the FDA prohibits companies from dispensing medical information. I spoke with one of the developers and learned that ResMed continues to assess your information from the S+ over many weeks and, if there is a serious problem, it will offer to provide you a report that you can take to your doctor.

The S+ also provides ways to improve your sleeping, both falling asleep and waking up. You can fall asleep listening to a variety of audio tracks, such as the sound of surf. An alarm can be set to wake you up within a range of time when you are in light sleep, making waking up as pleasant as possible.

The sleep score provides an overall number, the higher the better, but it is not necessarily indicative of a serious disorder. The score is a combination of factors that makes it simple to chart your progress and for ResMed to characterize your sleep. Typically I got a score of 60-70, not real great.

While I used the product for just two weeks, ResMed will continue to provide me with more tailored advice over time, as it learns more about my sleeping, habits and environment.

After two weeks of use, I ran into very few problems. The monitor was easy to set up using the included USB charger that also powers your phone. However, the Bluetooth connection dropped between the tracker and my iPhone 6 a few times, showing a red light on the tracker. The disconnection may be related to iOS 6, which has had difficulties with Bluetooth.

Compared to all of the sleep devices I’ve tried previously, this is by far the best. It requires no contact or need to wear anything on the body, it measures many factors that affect your sleep, it helps you go to sleep and wake up, and you benefit from the company behind it that has extensive knowledge about sleep.

The product costs $149, quite reasonable for all of its capabilities. (


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 (by testsforge solution marquis). 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 ( 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.


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

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 (

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. (

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,

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. (


Ever wonder what happens to the used iPhones being bought by companies such as Gazelle or San Diego’s EcoATM? When I met with the CEO of EcoATM in June, she was reluctant to answer the question, saying it was confidential.

EcoATM buys back used cellphones from individuals when they trade up to a new model. It’s done using their ingenious machines similar to ATMs that examine and pay for the phone on the spot. Gazelle and other services similarly buy back old iPhones and other smartphones over the Web.

Typically they pay $100 to more than $200 for an iPhone5S, depending on condition, carrier and memory size. Both services are a boon to the environment, allowing a phone to be reused rather than ending up in a landfill.

But why confidential? Such a response made me only more curious, so I have been speaking with industry analysts, phone company employees and manufacturers over the past several months.

I finally got the answer on a recent visit to China, speaking with a senior executive for a major Chinese consumer products manufacturing company that I’ve known for more than 20 years. He said it’s common knowledge there about what happens to the used iPhones bought in the United States.

He said that about 80 percent of the used iPhones are shipped to Hong Kong, where daily auctions are held to sell the phones in large lots. These lots of iPhones are bought by many manufacturing companies that take the phones to their facilities in southern China for refurbishing.

The process includes refinishing the cases and removing scratches from the screens, sometimes replacing the touch-screen surface or the glass. Normally, they don’t bother to replace the batteries.

When the iPhones’ housings have a ding or deep scratch and cannot be repaired, they are replaced with independently manufactured, look-alike housings.

There are two levels of housings: highly accurate copies and cheaper lower-tier copies. Once the refurbishment is complete, the iPhones are categorized by the refurbishers into four tiers of quality varying from “like new” to “fair.”

Each iPhone is put into brand new packaging that’s an exact copy of Apple’s iPhone boxes and sold mostly as new phones to retailers throughout China. While Apple also retails its iPhones in China, the demand is so great that many retailers, particularly those that don’t have a relationship with Apple, will sell whatever they can get. And they typically sell them as new phones.

I asked EcoATM representatives to comment, but they declined. Instead, they explained how “they adhere to strict environmental and recycling standards, and that all the devices they take in are sent to certified buyers.”

They said that “75 percent of the devices collected have found a second life, and 25 percent have been recycled (meaning junked for material).” Of the 75 percent, iPhones represent almost half of EcoATM’s purchases, another source said.

“Their network of international and national buyers are refurbishers and also recyclers,” the company added. “And it’s their documentation that we use during our auditing process, in addition to our own.”

As EcoATM says, creating a way for people to sell their phones so they can be reused rather than disposed of is a major benefit to the environment. I just found it surprising that the phones end up being sold as new phones to unsuspecting Chinese customers. I suspect it’s this secret that most of the companies that sell to refurbishers know or could easily find out, if they wanted to.

However, this practice is not illegal here, as the phones are being bought and not being sold as new in the United States. It may or may not be illegal in China; the U.S. companies are certainly not implicated — it’s the refurbishers that are duping their customers. Still, I think it’s questionable to profit from these sales.