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November 29, 2007

Japanese firm builds robot running Microsoft software

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:29 AM

About a year ago, Microsoft trumpeted its new software for controlling robots. Now, ZMP is selling the e-nuvo WALK, a two-legged robot that utilizes that software. It's expected to go on sale in Japan in January for $5,345.


The Associated Press has the story out of Tokyo.

Here's my coverage of Microsoft's announcement of its Robotics Studio product last December. The software was designed to be a common platform so developers could write applications that would run on several different kinds of robots.

November 20, 2007

The Kindle: A reviewer's first impressions

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 3:05 PM

You could say that Glenn Fleishman, one of the authors of the Practical Mac column, which appears in Personal Technology, is something on an early adopter. He was among the early purchasers of's Kindle electronic book reader, which was launched Monday. At least Glenn didn't have to wait in line.

Here are his first impressions of the device:

I put my hands on the new Amazon Kindle electronic book reader this afternoon, and my reaction is mixed. Amazon is trumpeting the always-networked device as solving both the problems of legibility and content delivery. It clearly has done both. But simplicity may have triumphed over usability.

Before getting into details, I should note that it's pleasant to read text on the Kindle. Despite having just four levels of gray to show images, the high density of the device's resolution -- it shows more than 160 pixels per inch -- and its clarity, stability and contrast all contribute to a very paperlike feel.

I could see Kindle replacing a stack of books and periodicals for a trip, although its monotonous text style, formatting, and justification could wear after a while. Though Amazon made good design choices, the Kindle's approach belies the importance of the 550-year tradition of typeface and book design in mechanical printing.

The Kindle is a bit of a technological marvel, I have to admit. The device is compact, and feels nice in the hands, although the design isn't up to par of its features. It feels precisely like a prototype for what the real Kindle will look like. The Kindle is full of angles, which I suppose are meant to make it easier to hold, but I find it a little awkward to use.

After plugging the Kindle into power and powering it up, I notice that I don't need to register it. I purchased it through my account, which is already preset in the Kindle.

The display takes a bit of getting used to for someone who has spent 16 years with luggables, portables, laptops, and handhelds avoiding reflection from lights. Rather, the E Ink display -- also used by the slightly cheaper, but unnetworked Sony Reader -- works best with more light on it. The 180-degree reading range is also remarkable: turn the thing nearly perpendicular to the plane of your vision, and it's still crisply readable.

I found the Kindle weighed on my hand or hands after holding it for a few minutes. The buttons for moving forward and back pages or jumping back to a previous action are large, well placed, and can be used while holding in one hand, two hands, or on a surface.

A nice touch: There's a previous and next page button on the left side, so if you hold the Kindle in your left hand, you have access to both. There's also a next page button on the right side, for two-handed operation.

I tried out a book sample (which was rather long), purchased a book, subscribed to a blog and a newspaper, and converted some documents from PDF. Purchases and conversions worked just fine.

Downloads are as fast as Amazon promised. Today's edition of The Seattle Times downloaded in its entirety -- before I had even navigated back to the home page. A several hundred page book was available in tens of seconds. Now, reading books, that's a different story.

You can't scroll on a Kindle as such. That took me by surprise; you page through it like a book and menus for bookmarking and navigation appear when you summon them.

The reason is that the E Ink display can't rapidly update. When you change pages, the "ink" is erased and then reset in a slightly disconcerting flash that the introduction to the Kindle on the device assures you is perfectly normal. It takes getting used to, and it prevents page turning from being seamless.

A nifty scroll wheel handles menu and item selection; it can be depressed like a mouse button to click on a selection. Because there's no live scrolling, a physical strip runs the height of the Kindle screen to the display's right. The bar is full of a reflective material that's selectively revealed.

As you use the scroll wheel, a section of the bar lights up as if you've scrolled to that point, next to links that are highlighted in the main page.

The interface is a bit troublesome. Navigation isn't easy. There's no button on the device to jump to the Kindle Store. Perhaps this is Amazon's nod to keeping the reader from being all about commerce. Still, I would have liked such a button.

Clicking the select wheel next to the Menu button at the bottom of the display brings up a set of contextual options, but there's a bit of a lack of streamlining to get where you need to go.

When the Kindle isn't in use for a few minutes, the display pops up an interesting screen saver: I've seen birds and Oscar Wilde so far.

(Disclosure: I worked for Amazon for six months in 1996-1997, received no stock options, left on marvelous terms, and own no stock in the company.)

November 19, 2007

Is Kindle a sign of WiMax's future?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:00 PM

On today, Jeff Bezos writes a letter to customers, about reading books -- "I love slipping into a comfortable chair for a long read....The physical book is so elegant that the artifact itself disappears into the background. The paper, glue, ink, and stitching that make up the book vanish, and what remains is the author's world."

And what also remains is Kindle, the wireless portable reading device that Amazon has been secretly working on for more than three years.

With the launch of Amazon's Kindle comes the first-of-its-kind look at what could be a whole new category of wireless devices.

In the WiMax industry, which is attempting to roll out wireless broadband nationwide, there's a lot of talk about consumer devices, including cameras, MP3 players and other devices, always be connected. Sprint Nextel talks about this the most, with Kirkland-based Clearwire also saying that's a potential outcome of having always-on Internet access.

The problem with this is determining how the user should be billed. If Kindle reaches out over the wireless infrastructure for ane-book, who pays for that airtime? The user? In the form of a monthly bill that requires a two-year commitment?

At that point, adoption is almost completely ruled out.

This is why it will be interesting to see how successful Kindle is. It is adopting a new set of billing rules that Sprint Nextel talks about for its WiMax network.

In the press release, Amazon pays for the wireless connectivity for Kindle so there are no monthly wireless bills, data plans, or service commitments for customers.

The next problem is the device's cost: $399.

WiMax is also supposedly able to help with that over the long run. Its chipsets are to be more in line with Wi-Fi, rather than the costly cellular chips that the Kindle requires.

Of course, the WiMax networks still have to be built, and it has to get enough volume for this to happen.

September 20, 2007

Cellphones trump TVs, but Internet No. 1

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:32 PM

Cellphones have become so essential, people would rather go without TV, but when choosing between cellphones and Internet access, the Internet wins, according to a new survey released this week.

JWT, a large U.S. advertising agency, asked about 1,000 people a number of technology questions earlier this month. The results show that cellphones and Internet access are playing a very important role in people's lives.

Asled how long people could go without Internet access, 15 percent of respondents said a day or less, 21 percent said a couple of days and 19 percent said a few days.

A lot of the findings seem to make a good business case for cellphone operators, as well as WiMax service providers such as Kirkland-based Clearwire and Sprint Nextel, which are all rolling out mobile Internet access.

"Mobility represents the next big shift," says Marian Salzman, JWT's executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "Older Americans are happy to sit in the same place to go online, while younger people expect to be able to connect anywhere at any time."

In fact, 48 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: "If I cannot access the Internet when I want to, I feel like something important is missing."

September 4, 2007

iPhones for sale in China, but no bargain

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:05 AM

When the hottest electronics gadget in years meets the world's biggest producer of counterfeit goods, it just seemed inevitable that fake iPhones would spawn.

What's surprising is that some unauthorized iPhones sold in electronics markets in China's biggest cities, according to a Chinese news story, are actually more than double the price. It's not clear to me whether the iPhones in question are real or copies. The phones are manufactured for Apple by Hon Hai Precision Industry in Shenzhen, one of the cities where shoppers can find the unauthorized gadget for sale.

The fact that at least some people in China are willing to shell out $1,170 for this device speaks to the nature of the world's largest mobile phone market. Here's a good photo comparing a real iPhone with a Chinese version on the right.

While Chinese consumers seem unwilling to pay much for software, they're obsessive over the latest hardware. To keep trend-conscious users interested, new versions of mobile phones are released every six months, a much shorter time frame than they're updated here.

By the time Apple releases its iPhone in China in 2008, perhaps the country's more advanced mobile phone users will have moved on to the next craze.

Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee

Angel Gonzalez
Angel Gonzalez

Kristi Heim
Kristi Heim

Benjamin J. Romano
Benjamin J. Romano

Mark Watanabe



December 2007

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