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I remember when virtual reality tried to go mainstream in the mid-80s, big, heavy headsets and poor computer graphics let you walk around a world that looked like a big pixel. It was interesting but even the teenage me was unimpressed. Jump forward to now and virtual reality has become cheap and nimble.

Enter Google Cardboard. For about $15 you can have a virtual reality headset sent to you. Slide your smartphone in, put your headphones on and you’re off.

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Sure there are more expensive headsets from Samsung or Facebook, but why bother? The experience on Google Cardboard is excellent enough to make you lose your balance or walk into chairs.

The New York Times sent its subscribers a free headset a while back and has been putting excellent content on its VR app: NYT VR. For now it’s just a cool toy, but I can see how the marriage of cheap headsets, smartphones, and apps, will lead to new ways to communicate, learn, get the news, etc.

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One thing twitter has given us this week is a wealth of complaints about the gifts people received. I didn’t realize that so many people were so upset they didn’t get an iPhone or a car for Christmas. I wonder how their expletive-laden tweets would have sounded if they got the original iPhone prototype found here.

Yes, that looks like a Princess phone and an early computer had a baby.

 

Happy New Year!

The iPhone 4S is here (you might have heard) and so is Siri (as I’m sure you’re well aware), an intelligent, voice-activated assistant. I will spare you the effusive, almost gushing praise that has dominated most conversations about Apple’s newest product. I will say this and move on: Siri offers a completely new way of capturing information and so far among consumer electronics products, the spirit of its design best abides by the dictum, “the best interface is no interface at all.”

(Without considering history and without a proper degree of hindsight): Siri “feels” like a big moment in designing technology for humans, a significant dot in the timeline because all those that follow will similarly shed their surface elements for more intuitive (some might say less meaningful) ways of interacting with the device.

For a glimpse into how this might manifest in other types of devices, take the Lytro Camera. It is doing the same for how we capture photographic information.


 The Lytro Camera is the first light field camera to hit the market (or will be in early 2012). As a light field camera, it captures all of the available light in a scene, which without getting into the details, means for the user there is no adjusting the aperture and no need to focus. All of these details are manipulated on your computer in post-processing. This drastically simplifies the camera interface. There are just two buttons: power and the shutter.

The interesting aspect from the user perspective is the degree to which Siri and the Lytro Camera change not just how you send text messages or take pictures, but the extent to which these actions are a natural part of your daily life. Does the simplicity of sending a text message or taking a picture make it an unconscious action, requiring less thought or perhaps even less care?

According to a new survey conducted by Britain’s Tesco Mobile, the Apple smart phone is considered to be a more important invention than the toilet, combustion engine, and even birth control by British consumers.

The survey interviewed 4,000 consumers between the ages of 18-65, cataloging the one hundred top inventions in order of their reported level of importance. Inventions included everything from the technologically sophisticated-the satellite disk-to the functionally simplistic-the clothes peg.

Clearly, cell phones play a monumental role in our ability to communicate with others, organize and even entertain ourselves. But is slotting the iPhone above the steam engine and the car a realistic view of it’s importance? Brits certainly think so but I wonder how the same survey would fare across the pond.

Since Valentine’s Day just passed us by, I thought it was suitable to bring up a small company in New York, called Urban Signals, to the love-searching spotlight. This newly started company, with their iPhone app as the main focus has been gaining a lot of media attention lately.
A work in progress, the idea is to flirt and connect with people in your surroundings and see if they’re ready for bonding using the GPS capability in your phone. The CEO of the company got her vision when she realized that there were so many connections that got lost each day, and she wanted that to change. Basically you send out a signal through the app to whomever shows up on your radar with the hopes for a response. With your own profile you can easily share whatever information you want. The system is built so that abuse doesn’t take place – this works by giving the signaled person an option to respond or deny your signal request. If it’s a positive answer then you can continue engaging with that person by asking a question, similar to a live chat or messaging. Also, the radar never tells the other person where exactly you are unless you want it to do so – that’s all up to you of course and there’s a “meet up” button for that.

At their blog you can follow the ongoing development and events and see what’s next, or even follow the ‘Hook-up Van’ on its mission to connect the people of New York. Apparently, more media coverage is around the corner. I really like this idea and hope that San Francisco will experience the radar soon. It’s quite innovative, and I see this as a meeting point for more spontaneous people, that don’t necessarily want to go through several steps in order to engage with each other. Apps that are made to connect people are a brilliant thing. So what are the risks you might wonder? I don’t know yet, but I guess that wide usage will tell us more. 

Hopefully we’ll meet out there soon ready for coffee, a drink or even dinner. As their motto says, “Urban Signals is taking love back to the streets!” Check out their website here.

samsung_jitterbugThe entire world is abuzz with the recent iPhone and Palm Pre announcements.  Both of these phones are touting new functionality and means to make your life more fun/productive/etc.  While my twitter and RSS feeds keep getting fed details in little bits throughout the day, one updated phone’s release received almost no attention:  The Jitterbug.

For those who aren’t familiar, the Jitterbug is an age-targeted cell phone that cuts away all but the most basic functionality. What’s even better about the Jitterbug is the marketing campaign. It’s catchy, clear, and offers the promise of service.  The NY Times Gadget Blog says the Jitterbug is the “comfy cardigan” of a phone, and with new services like speaking to a live nurse or medicine reminders, it’s creating a revenue stream without added complexity.

On the other end of the age spectrum, Leapfrog is trying to get kids to put down mom and dad’s PDAs and pick up their own; AND developers are starting to use Linux to develop OSs for kids. Maybe age appropriate technology is the wave of the future.