The Sphero

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When I arrived at my first CES, one of the first things that I saw and experienced in depth was the Sphero. They had a medium sized booth, with a little track and some ramps. There were all of these tiny little white balls rolling around on it, and I must say – it looked pretty cool. A chat and a demo later, I saw what it was. It was a little ball that rolled around and was controlled by your iPhone or iPad. That was about it. The people at the booth told me that they would be evolving it and making it into an API for any developer to use, and that the product would be sold eventually for under $100. The prototypes at the stand were functional, but barely. A small drop and they would fall apart. Upon pressing the “boost” button, they would go crazy and lose their bearings. Not to mention that those were all they had with them, so when one broke down beyond repair they were simply down one. It looked promising. The concept was cool, it seemed flexible, it could definitely be something cool. After all, it was just a ball – which left plenty of room for the imagination of customers and developers.

It’s one year later. I’m back at CES. Upon walking into the convention center, I can see a giant rotating sphere that seems to be a giant model of the sphero. Upon arriving under said banner, I saw something big – much bigger than the year before. The booth was much larger, there were tons of spheros everywhere, and there were video presentations on TV monitors and banners and everything. Much, much, MUCH bigger than last year. It looked like they had really grown. Here they had these balls that were made out of a very solid plastic, had inductive chargers, sphero logos embedded on each one, and none of them were out of control. Heck, they were rolling them down concrete stairs! I checked over and they had really gotten somewhere.

The Concept

As I said before, this thing is a ball. It now has open APIs that any iOS or Android developer can use to integrate the sphero with their apps. The range of applications has grown, and there are apps available that can make the sphero a fake golf ball or even take advantage of the sphero’s accelerometer and gyroscope to use it as a game controller. The range of applications is constantly growing, so buying a sphero isn’t just buying a ball – it’s like buying a phone, who’s functionality will keep growing with more applications and updates.

The Ball

The Sphero itself doesn’t take up much space. It’s white, hard plastic that has no spaces or anywhere that the plastic snaps together or comes apart. In fact, it doesn’t have a charging port. If one were to look inside of a sphero (which would be very difficult considering that they would need to saw or melt open the outer shell), he would find an array of devices. There’s some motors as well as a main motherboard which contains a compass, accelerometer, gyroscope, bluetooth card, and a bunch of other robotic computing stuff. They would also find the multicolor LED that lights up the ball in any color you want. The sphero contains a standard lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which is charged through an inductive charger. For those of you who don’t know what an inductive charger is, it’s basically a charger that charges a battery through a material without having any physical contacts. These are sometimes found in electric toothbrush chargers, emergency flashlight chargers, and more recently on electronic devices such as the Palm Pre or the duracell powermat. To charge the sphero, just set it in its dock with the heavier part of the sphero on the bottom. Like magic, the sphero will start charging. Cool! To wake the ball up, just shake it. Yup. No switches here, just shake it as if it were a two week old container of orange juice and it will light up and be ready to play. Set it down on the ground, open up your iOS or android device, and start rolling. The sphero connects to your device through bluetooth. A user will notice a tail-like figure on the top of it. This shows the orientation of the sphero relative to the control mechanism in the application. If one picks up the sphero and spins it, she would notice that the mechanism inside would constantly adjust to maintain the set orientation. That’s part of the robotics at work. Overall, the sphero is one intelligent, intuitive ball.

The Interface

Sphero provides a few apps to demonstrate the basic functionalities of the sphero. The main app, Sphero Drive, simply allows the user to drive the sphero around. Here you won’t find any steering wheels or throttle nonsense – just a circle with a little sphero-shaped control in it. This eliminates the confusion that often comes when you’re driving a device towards you. With a steering wheel, it ends up becoming reversed, but with this interface, it’s not a problem. Put two fingers on the screen and rotate them, and you’ll see a blue dot on the sphero. Point it right towards yourself, then pushing the sphero in the app forward will cause the sphero to roll forward. Pushing it right will make it roll right. It’s as simple as that.

Apps

At the moment, Sphero has been releasing many different apps. One of them is the standard “Sphero Drive” application that I was mentioning up there. Others like Chromo use the sphero as a controller, and one app allows the user to play golf with it. At the moment, there are many different applications being developed and there’s always new ones available. Conclusion The Sphero is available from both Sphero’s website and now many brookstone stores for $130. I will say, that it is not a cheap toy – but think of it as a console, where there’s always new games out that you can buy. If you’re a developer, you can use Sphero’s open API to integrate it into your applications for free. Check out the sphero website for available apps, purchasing the Sphero, and using their free API. http://gosphero.com

P.S. Thank you Sphero for sending me the finished product!

My Take on iPhone vs. Android

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People ask me about phones all the time. They wonder what they should get for their budget. 

Whenever someone is looking for a smartphone, they always have the exact same question:

iPhone or Android?

Yes, it is the most debated question in smartphone history, similar to the Mac vs. PC battle. And like the Mac vs. PC battle, neither will ever reign superior to the other on all fronts. 

After a lot of thinking, I came to one definite conclusion: Macs or PCs will never be “better” than the other. PCs have more games and more flexibility. Macs have always been trusted for multimedia and are made very carefully. PCs can be upgraded for years and years. Macs have tightly integrated components. 

Neither the Mac or the PC will ever be superior. Macs are right for some people, PCs are right for others. Macs tend to be more refined and user-friendly, but PCs are flexible and can be modified to be lightning fast and always stay up-to-date. 

I’ve also concluded that it’s the exact same with the iPhone and Android phones. 

Android phones are like beta tests. 

They feature the latest and greatest of technology. In an android phone, you’ll find 3D cameras and screens, NFC chips, 4G LTE, new software technologies, and tons of other fancy technology. However, this technology never comes quite perfected; there’s always some little glitch somewhere, and you end up with more of a learning curve to master and take advantage of all of these newfangled capabilities. 

iPhones are like refined, tested, and perfected production products

When Apple decides to integrate a new technology into their iPhone, they really integrate the technology into their iPhone. In an iPhone, all of the technology is closely integrated and embedded into the operating system. This often means more stability, more user-friendly, and easier-to-integrate APIs for developers. 

In conclusion,

iPhones are better for some people and Androids are better for others. Some prefer android because they want to have the latest and greatest and be able to be part of the future. iPhones are for people that want a solid, integrated, working phone that is easy to use and doesn’t take much effort or comprehension of technology to use the more advanced features. Either way, there is no winner. 

Sales of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus are Illegal.

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Seriously people, I’m not kidding.

The phone that I just recently purchased (and love) is now illegal to be sold in the United States.

The culprit? Apple, as expected.

Apple filed a boatload of patent infringement lawsuits against samsung, and where there’s money there’s power. Apple won the lawsuit against Samsung with flying colors, and now the sales of the flagship android device are banned in the United States.

I’m one of those people who thinks that Apple is using its patents too harshly against the competition. It’s like a towel company saying to another towel company “HEY! We have white towels! You’re not allowed to! We’re the only ones who can sell white towels!!”

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Apple has fought (and mostly won) many different lawsuits with Samsung, HTC, Motorola, and every other company who dares set food in the world of creating a smartphone that could possibly compete with the iPhone. Apple went against HTC for the user interface. Motorola initiated the lawsuits against Apple saying that they infringed some their, then Apple said that Motorola infringed THEIR patents, then Motorola said that Apple infringed MORE patents, and the story goes on. In fact, nobody really knows what the patents were about in te first place.

The list goes on. In fact, there’s an entire wikipedia article full of them!

I don’t like the way Apple does things. That’s for sure. Profitable or not, it’s just not fair.

Iranian? Good Luck Getting your Apple Product

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Well, isn’t this surprising.

An 19 year-old student and her uncle were at an Apple Store shopping for an iPad and iPhone at a mall in Georgia. They were talking in Farsi, and when an Apple employee overheard she said “I just can’t sell this to you. Our countries have bad relations.”

Leave it to Apple to discriminate not only against other platforms, companies with similar home screens, or any other firm that dares to threaten their authority, but also against people from different parts of the world.

Apparently, this isn’t the first time that this has happened at an Apple store. Another customer, Zack Jafarzadeh, went with his friend to a different Apple Store and received similar treatment. “We never talked about him going back to Iran or anything like that. He was just speaking full-fledged Farsi and the representative came back and denied our sale,” said Jafarzadeh to WSBTV. “I would say if you’re trying to buy an iPhone, don’t tell them anything about Iran. That would be your best bet.”

It gets better. An Apple Store manager told a news team from WBSTV about their policy, which said the exportation, sale, or supply of Apple products from U.S. to Iran is not allowed without prior authorization by the federal government. The manager explained Apple Stores have to “rely on customers to be honest.”

And here’s the best part. An Apple Store employee apologized and recommended that they buy their products online. Hah!

So when a US citizen and her uncle come into an Apple store speaking Farsi, they aren’t allowed to buy anything and are basically instructed to purchase the products as long as no Apple employees need to look at them.

This is how Apple rolls, everybody. I could be annoyed at the employees, or the manager, or the Store, but really, Apple is to blame. The same thing can happen anywhere in the US, as long as Apple decides that selling an iPad to a US citizen that speaks Farsi is breaching a US law stating that it is illegal to enter Iran with “laptops or satellite cellphones” without U.S. consent.

Android, anyone?

MightyText: Desktop SMS through your Phone

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Over the years, there have been many different solutions to texting through your computer.

A couple of carriers would allow you to text over their web interface, but it was usually very unreliable and, well, bad.

Google Voice allowed you to get a phone number that could be used through your computer, phone, or any other internet connected device – but this required you to get a completely different phone number.

iMessage allows you to text from your computer if you have an iOS Device, but this only works for Macs and iOS.

Well, there’s finally a solid solution for us android users: MightyText.

It’s really simple. Install the free app on your android device, install a browser plugin, and you’re good to go.

The entire system works through the cloud. When a text is received on your phone, it pushes the information to the MightyText servers, which then push it back down to your computer. This means that the system will work even if you aren’t anywhere near your phone, as long as your phone and your computer are both connected to the internet.

The computer interface is web-based, and the browser plugin allows notifications to pop up when you receive a new text. The interface isn’t half bad, and if you decide to sync your contacts with Google, then you can get all of the names in the text interface as opposed to all of the phone numbers.

As I said, it’s completely free, and all that you need is an android phone running 2.2+ and an internet connected computer.

Get it on Google Play

Install Browser Plugin (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and IE (but hopefully not))

Koush Brings us Root Free Tethering

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Koush, you have improved the lives of android users once again.

In case you don’t know, Koush is the creator of ClockworkMod, the custom recovery that is used by rooters worldwide.

Koush has now brought us a root free USB tethering solution, for all of you who are either having problems with rooting (like if you have a rooted Galaxy Nexus and you updated to 4.0.4 OTA and your root is gone and no matter what you do you can’t get it back, *cough* *cough*) or if you don’t want to root your phone out of fear of destroying it.

It’s an extremely simple application. On your phone, you download the app for free from the android market Google Play. The free app is a 14 day trial, but you can buy the full version as an in-app purchase for $4.99 (worth it!).

Once you’ve downloaded the app on your phone, you just need to get the drivers for your computer. Now, you’re probably going to be downloading this app because at the time you don’t have internet, and Koush has thought of that as well. In the android app, you can download the app files onto your phone then transfer them onto your computer for installation. Genius!

The small connection application is available for Mac, Windows, and even Linux. Ubuntu users rejoice!

Once you’ve installed the driver, you’re ready to go. Tap the USB icon on your phone, click start on your computer, and in a few seconds, your computer will be connected to the internet through your phone’s network. Easy as that!

If this comes in handy for you, I highly recommend that you buy the app. Koush has created some amazing things for android, and without him flashing ROMs would be nearly impossible.

Thank you Koush for all of your contributions to Android!

Click here to download the app for Android.

How to Wirelessly Transfer Files to a Galaxy Nexus

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As you may know, the Galaxy Nexus does not have an option for USB Mass Storage. To transfer any files directly from a computer to the phone, it is necessary to plug it in with a USB Cable and open Google’s proprietary Android File Transfer application.

But what if you don’t have a cable? What then?

There’s a couple things you could do. Email works for smaller files, however for larger files things may go slowly and fall apart.

If you have a server or CloudApp or Puush account, you could upload it and then email  the link to yourself. This would work usually, however the Galaxy Nexus’s download manager often will download most of it, then suddenly fail at the end.

There’s also Bluetooth, which is often unreliable. I can’t transfer any files between my Mac and my Nexus over bluetooth, as it gives me a random warning which is just not worth trying to figure out.

There’s really only one good way: DROPBOX.

In case you don’t know, Dropbox is a service that allows you to have a folder on all of your computers that constantly stay in sync. When one file is added on one computer, it magically appears in the Dropbox folder of all of the other computers too. You have 2GB of space, and the real important part is that they have an Android app as well.

Simply open your Dropbox folder, transfer the file in, and wait a few moments for it to upload to the cloud. Then, open the free app on your Nexus. Tap the file that you just uploaded from your computer, and it should download and open. Voila, that’s how to wirelessly transfer a file from your computer to your Nexus without using bluetooth, servers, or anything else that’s ridiculously unreliable and confusing.

Download Dropbox for your Computer

Download Dropbox for Android

Spotify for Android gets Overhauled

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Pretty new artist page

Spotify is by far the best music service I have ever come across. For $10 a month, I get all of the new songs streamed to my computer and phone. For the price of one album a month, I can have as many songs and listen to all of them as many times as I want without any ads or issues. It’s magical!

The only problem is the the android app. It really lacks – the interface is a little bit hard to use, it doesn’t offer as much functionality as the desktop app, and the graphics are quite low resolution.

Well, not anymore. Spotify has released a preview of their new app, which features facebook- and twitter-like slide-out menus, cleaner, easier graphics, and a nicer, more refined playing menu. The interface is also a lot faster in general.

A nice new player interface

The application isn’t available on Google Play quite yet, as they’re working on adding a few more features like Last.fm scrobbling, folders, and more. However, if you’d like to update now, you can still download the preview of the new app.

First, you’ll need to open Settings > Applications and check the box that allows you to install applications from unknown sources. Next, open this post on your phone and tap here. The apk file should download. Next, pull down the notifications and tap the downloaded file. Follow the steps and in a few taps you’ll be enjoying the new spotify interface!

I’m excited that spotify is finally cleaning up their Android app – it was getting a bit, well, old.

Instagram Bought by Facebook for $1 BILLION

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Remember Instagram, the fun little quirky photo sharing service that just released an Android application?

As you may know, they’ve been growing in size since their launch and Instagram has become an extremely large and popular service.

Because of this, it was inevitable that they would eventually be purchased by an extremely large company… and who better than facebook?

First of all, $1,000,000,000 is a lot of money. A LOT. I didn’t really think that Instagram could be worth that much.

Second, a little note to Zuck and the whole facebook crew: Please, please, please, please don’t screw this up. Please don’t force it to be built in to the facebook interface. Don’t try to stick instagram into facebook, you’d be doing everybody a disservice. Also, don’t just get rid of the entire thing to eliminate competition.

We will have to see what Facebook is hoping to do with this photo-sharing giant, and I honestly hope that they don’t screw it up.

Instagram for Android

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Finally. At long, long, long, long, long, long, long last. Instagram has released their official Android Application.

In case you don’t know, Instagram is a photo-sharing platform which incorporates different fun-style effects and third party sharing into the mix. It’s been available for the iPhone since late 2010 and has collected over 30 million users. Yeah. Whow.

There were many speculations of an Android App over the past while, but no confirmed release date.

Now that Instagram has released their Android version, they are well on their way to a giant user base. After all, Android does have more of a market share than the iPhone.

As far as the application goes, it’s the exact same as the iPhone with one important exception: The android application does not have the tilt-shift function, a popular option among Instagrammers. (Tilt-shift is where a selected part of the photo is in focus and the rest is not.)

If you are an android user longing for some instagrammal love, click here to download the free app for android. Enjoy!

Google Ditches Android Market for Google Play

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Play logo

Android Market, the typical android counterpart to iOS. Widely used, known, and enjoyed.

Recently, Google added Movies, Music, and Books to the Market. Thanks to the general nature of the word Market, no name change was necessary.

All of your music showed up in the separate Google Music app. Your movies in the Google Movies app. Simple enough, right?

Google disagrees.

Google has completely ditched that entire scheme around a new name: “Google Play”. Google Play is the new name for the Android Market, while the Google Music app has changed to “Google Play Music” and movies changed accordingly to “Google Play Movies.”

Honestly, it’s nice that they’re congregating all of their purchases under one name, however “Google Play Movies” sounds like someone with awful grammar trying to say Google Plays Movies. I think they just need a semicolon – Google Play: Movies… actually, no. They just should have gone with something other than Play.

The new logo and name are all that has changed – the general interfaces are still identical, so nobody needs to freak over yet another interface change. However, it’s still a bit annoying that Google decided to mix everything up – all at once – and will probably manage to confuse a lot of people in the process.

Google Chrome for Android Beta Released

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Android has always had a great browser built into it, but that browser was never Chrome.

Well, that’s about to change.

Kind of.

Today, Google has released a beta version of Chrome onto the Android Market… for Android 4.0 ICS phones. Luckily, thanks to my Galaxy Nexus, I get to try it out and give you this review.

First off after opening this app you’ll notice a pretty little googlicious introduction to the app.

Firstopen

Quite simple, quite clean, quite google.

I’m going to warn you in advance – many of the features in the Chrome for Android application are identical to those that are available on the desktop version of the browser.

Tabbing

In my opinion, the tabbing interface has been improved from the tabbing of other mobile browsers. Instead of just a list of tiles, Chrome gives you a very pretty sorting-through-a-card-deck like interface.

Tabbing

Don’t want a tab? Just slide it off to either side and it will make a spin-like motion into nothingness. These little effects add some very nice feel to the app.

Slideoff

Sync

The other coolest feature of the Chrome for Android application would be its ability to sync with Google Chrome for Mac and Windows. If you’ve signed in to Chrome on your desktop (Wrench thing > Sign in to chrome…), then all of your bookmarks, history, and tabs are already synced up.

This means that you can easily retrieve them on the new tab page in Chrome for Android. This grants access to one, extremely awesome thing: live tabs.

Basically, if you have a set of tabs open on your computer and need to go somewhere, you can just leave your computer and all of your tabs will show up on Chrome for Android.

Gettabs

Pretty awesome, right? I must say, it’s not perfect – It takes a while for the tabs to get synced, and there isn’t an easy button to tell your computer and/or phone to sync. Remember though, this app is only in beta.

It’s the same deal with bookmarks – they will all get synced across your phone and computer(s).

Feel/Speed

If you use Chrome for Desktop on a daily basis, you already know the feel of the app. Google’s minimalistic style and code makes the app very light and quick to the touch. Pinch to zoom works fine, things render great, and the only thing missing is (of course) flash. But hey, who needs that anyways? We have HTML5!

In fact, lets compare. First, here is the html5test.com result for the built-in browser.

Html5def

Not bad, actually – Firefox Mobile’s score is down the drain.

Now, lets test out chrome:

Html5ch

Sweet!

As I said, who needs flash anyways?!

Conclusion

Chrome Beta for Android is definitely a nice browser – if you have a device running Android 4.0 in the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Australia, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Argentina, or Brazil, it’s definitely something you should try out.

Otherwise, I don’t know when Chrome for Android will be released to the masses.

Enjoy!

Link to Chrome Beta in the Android Market