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Quick Review: Kogeto Dot Panoramic iPhone 4/4S Add-On

Posted: 12 Nov 2011 05:00 AM PST

Kogeto Dot

The Kogeto Dot isn’t necessarily new. We spotted it back at TechCrunch Disrupt New York and found it to be quite the fun little iPhone accessory, but back then it was merely a prototype. Today, we’ve gotten our hands on the real deal and I have to say, I’ve had a pretty good time playing around with this little guy.

Along with the accessory itself, you’ll also need the Looker iPhone app to shoot, de-warp and upload your videos. You see, since Dot shoots in panoramic mode, the video looks kind of like a swirling black hole until you de-warp it. Processing the video into something watchable only takes a couple minutes tops.

The Good:

Let me start out by saying that I’m usually not a huge fan of phone accessories. Past a case (which is necessary), I’ve always felt that the cost and trouble of hooking up an accessory outweighs the final product. Dot proved me wrong. Snapping Dot in place couldn’t have been easier, and getting started shooting video took literally less than a minute. That included downloading the Looker app, which uploads to Facebook, Twitter, and

As you can see from the pictures, Dot is not to be used as an iPhone case. Anyone who does so will sorely regret it. That said, it fits snugly and securely without being a B-word to pop on and off. The clips on the side snap on super easily, and removal is just as simple. But even after such a breezy setup, my skepticism wasn’t gone.

My complaining then turned to the quality of the video itself. “It can’t be that great,” I thought. “And watching the video will probably make me nauseous with all that spinning.” Wrong again. In all honesty, I actually shot way more videos than I needed to to complete testing and get you kind folks a sample video. I was having fun, and each video I shot was even more fun than the last to view later.

As I mentioned in my video, this could actually be used for more than fun. Personally, I’d have loved to use it as a way to record interviews, letting me look at myself and the interviewee while still hearing audio. The only issue is that Dot has a 3-minute maximum for videos, so it’d have to be a quickie interview to get it done.

Luckily, the Looker app is due for a pretty significant update, which will include nixing that 3-minute max. I see anyone who travels a lot falling in love with this product, as you really won’t miss a thing shooting with Dot. In fact, anyone who enjoys mobile video or has an ounce of creativity can probably get a lot out of Dot, and it’s one phone accessory I’d actually recommend.

The Bad:

There are a few drawbacks to Kogeto’s Dot, though many should be squashed with the forthcoming update (which I’ll go into more detail on later). For one, it’s a bit awkward to hold while shooting. Since Dot shoots in 360 degrees, you have to hold the phone face down to record. You also have to remove your case to snap on Dot, meaning your holding your phone uncomfortably, away from your body, unprotected. To me, that’s a recipe for disaster so no drunk videos with Dot, OK?

Past that, you need to make sure your hand is flat while shooting, rather than curving your fingers up over the sides of the phone. Again, this leaves your phone even more unprotected, but the trade-off is keeping your fingertips out of the video. As you can see in my sample, I didn’t follow my own rules.

As far as video quality is concerned, I was pleasantly surprised. Obviously, DotSpots (videos shot with Dot) won’t be as high quality as the 1080p video your 4S shoots on its own. There’s a slab of plastic in the way for goodness sakes. But, all in all it’s just fine. Audio, however, is kind of a mess. In every video I shot there was a pretty serious audio lag, which is just annoying.

If you’re doing something more serious with Dot, rather than just shooting a fun little video to share with friends, the Looker app offers different video quality settings, including a smoother and fps settings. Video may take longer to process and upload with better settings, but you win some and you lose some.

The Update:

When all’s said and done, yes, the Kogeto Dot has been found wanting in a couple areas. But I got the chance to speak with Kogeto CEO Jeff Glasse who told me that the upcoming update will help fill in those missing pieces. Depending on how quickly Apple approves the update, this is what you’ll be seeing in the next couple weeks: real-time de-warping of video, location services integration, trimming controls, no more 3-minute limit, and possibly the ability to use the volume buttons as stop/start record buttons.

I say possibly because Apple is throwing a bit of a fit over that last one. Apparently, Apple’s developer terms state that only iOS’s official camera control can employ the volume buttons, but Dot uses its own custom control. The argument is that if game developers start implementing that functionality, it will confuse users who want to simply turn up the volume. It seems a bit unfair, to be honest, especially since Looker is a camera app and not a game. Perhaps there should be an amendment to that particular clause allowing camera-based applications to join in on the volume button fun, whether they use iOS 5′s camera control or not.

The Bottom Line

My favorite thing about the Kogeto Dot is that it changed my mind about phone accessories. I see this actually being something people use regularly, rather than a fun-for-a-few-minutes type of deal. It’s lightweight, portable, and adds a whole new layer of creativity to what once was a basic camera on your phone.

The Kogeto Dot retails for $79.99 and is available on November 15 at select Apple stores,, or at The Looker app is free to download from the ">Apple App Store.

In Defense Of The Stylus

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 02:06 PM PST


A little while back, I got an email from Atmel, one of the leading touchscreen makers, asking if I wanted to check out their latest creation: a new active stylus that works with an improved touchscreen, for stylus actions alongside normal finger-touches and technologies like palm rejection. I passed, because to be honest, it didn’t sound very exciting.

It has shown up at a few other websites, though, and I thought (slightly apologetically) that I should at least watch the video. I did. And — it’s not very exciting.

Yet despite being a third-class citizen in our world of capacitive touchscreens, being publicly ridiculed by Steve Jobs, and generally being considered a nuisance, the stylus isn’t something we should relegate to the company of floppy disks and CRT monitors just yet. Here’s why we can’t write it off.

The first styli, strictly speaking, were used by the Romans, since they invented the word. But cuneiform writing was performed with a primitive stylus as well, and certainly it was used before then, though they were probably used more for scraping marrow from mammoth bones or the like. The point is they’ve been around for a long time because they have always offered certain advantages. They still offer them now.

First, a stylus amplifies your input. With a stylus you can make quick and precise movements of a number of sizes. Ever wonder why nobody writes longhand with their finger? By amplifying small but precise movements that can be done rapidly, handwriting was made possible in the first place, as well as things like detailed drawings and paintings. Even if you’re drawing in the dirt, you do it with a stick.

Second, it dampens your input. This seeming contradiction is at the heart of why a stylus, pen, brush, or what have you is so powerful. While it allows you to amplify the movements you make by extending their effective range, it also allows for more precise control by utilizing the gamma motoneuron system. This is (if I remember correctly) a sort of global tension control in your motor system that allows you to ratchet up the tension in lots of muscles in order to have more precise control over them. Have you ever noticed that you were unconsciously clenching your jaw or tightening your neck muscles while performing an action that required great precision and concentration? That’s the gamma system’s effects spilling over onto adjacent systems while it ups the quality of your hand’s movements.

We use this system while we write and draw; haven’t you ever noticed how tightly some people grip their pen or pencil? By overshooting the tension required, the gamma system allows for tiny adjustments and quick but exact actions. The fine controls of our hands and fingers, however, are designed more around gripping and applying various amounts of pressure, not making tiny movements.

Third, you can see what’s under the stylus. This is essential to artists, of course, but it also completes a simple visual feedback loop in which you can tell what you’re touching. With a fingertip, past a certain point it’s guesswork. You see the button, you move your finger, and then you hope. But with a stylus, pen, or cursor, you see the button, you see where your control point is, you move it closer, you see it’s closer, you move it on, you see it on, and you click, or write a check mark, or tap.

You can see that these advantages aren’t just, say, 20th-century advantages, for generations that needed pen and paper to record things. A surgeon uses a sharp stylus to perform surgery. A painter uses a soft stylus to make strokes. We all use stylii with special tips to screw in screws, flip eggs, eat chinese food. The stylus isn’t a holdover from an earlier age; it’s a fundamental add-on to human physiology.

So why did Jobs mock it and leave it behind? For some time before the iPhone came out, the stylus was used because it was the only option. Capacitive screens were too expensive, or not precise enough. Resistive screens offered a compelling alternative to d-pad-based navigation, and the best way to interact with resistive screens is a stylus, not your fingertip. Jobs wasn’t ragging on the stylus, he was ragging on an old solution to a problem, a solution people hadn’t bothered updating. The uses and form factors of mobile phones are such that a stylus isn’t the best solution when it isn’t the only solution; a fingertip serves much better in most cases. But there are just as many cases, as with the mouse and the trackpad, where the opposite is true.

Think about the Courier and the Noteslate, both of which generated a froth of enthusiasm despite not being real. The idea was a sort of next-generation paper notebook, stylus and all. You wrote things, you circled things, you touched them with your finger if that worked, you used the stylus if that worked. Some might say it was more of a throwback than a look forward, a product that clung to outdated notions of how we interact with information. Outdated as opposed to when – now? Does this imaginary interlocutor think that in 20 years, we’ll all still be using 10-inch glass screens, running our fingers across them, doing pinch-to-zoom? This excellent “brief” rant on interaction design points out just how shortsighted today’s devices are: entirely abstract, using next to no natural inputs or gestures, and totally inflexible. Seeing the things cooked up with a Kinect suggest a fusion of the virtual and the real that makes a tablet’s flat, static window look positively primitive.

But clearly, to return to the topic at hand, Atmel’s state of the art touch solution isn’t what we’ve been waiting for. An improvement to be sure, but it’s a far cry from the level of detail possible with a Bic and a sheet of paper, and until the stylus and screen pass that level of usefulness, the applications are limited (though it will likely work nicely with Windows 8). What needs to happen before the stylus becomes truly relevant again?

One thing I saw earlier this year at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was a touch system by Atmel’s arch-enemy Synaptics that fairly blew me away. A capacitive screen that could detect both conductive and non-conductive items (say, a gloved hand or stylus), but passively, unlike Atmel and others’ active solutions (this has its own substantial shortcomings).

Latency was also reduced by integrating the touch sensor with the display sensor. You have probably noticed that when you write something with a pen, the line appears immediately. The fact that it doesn’t do so when you use a stylus on a touchscreen is probably more disorienting than you think; you can’t error-check your own small movements at your own rate, you must wait for the machine to catch up. Low latency is a step in the right direction, and it’s one place where high-Hz display rates could be truly useful.

Resolution is also important, as in so many other things to do with exactness and design. When I draw a short line and the aliasing makes it look like a tiny lightning bolt, I feel like giving up. The rumors of an iPad with a vastly higher resolution are nice, but they don’t help the stylus, since Apple has inoculated itself, rightly or wrongly, against stylus support for the rest of time. But Apple doesn’t make the displays, and these mega-resolution screens could help make the stylus worth using again.

The touch ecosystem and the people within it need to realize their limitations, as well. Right now finger-based interaction is still novel, still being fleshed out (so to speak), optimized, still being applied to different models. But we’re already bumping into the borders beyond which this kind of touch, the iPhone kind of touch, will be useless.

For typing, it has already proven a painful technology to use — so we have an accessory, not unlike the stylus we have mocked, for this basic act of computing. For any kind of actions that require precision, such as illustration, the capacitive screen is also useless, failing as it does to provide that feedback loop. Our interactions with tablets and phones are for the most part coarse and inexact, and entire UIs (witness iOS, which some would argue falls more on the side of simplicity than elegance) have been designed around this fact.

We’ve gotten around some of these problems with clever little tricks, and we’re constantly trying to invent new ones to expand the capabilities of what must be recognized as a very limited interaction method. Sooner or later someone will stand on a stage, as Jobs did, and ask “why are we still pointing and jabbing at our icons and applications like kindergarteners doing finger-painting?” And maybe he’ll show us, as Jobs did, how long we’d been rationalizing our poor choice in interface. Will it be Atmel on stage? Synaptics? E-Ink? Microsoft?

Whoever it is, it won’t be for a while. The stylus today, let us admit, is impractical for a number of reasons, both design and technical, as Atmel’s video and every device available shows. But as touch goes from novel to normal to mundane, the angst of users stymied by its limitations will grow, and with that angst, demand for something new. The mouse rode a wave in the 80s. The iPhone rode the wave a few years ago, leaving the mouse behind. The next one will leave the iPhone behind, an artifact of the late aughts. What of the stylus? If we have truly exhausted the its applications, it won’t return, but I think it’s manifest that we have not.

That was a long and winding rationalization for a perhaps irrational love of the stylus. But I firmly believe that its days are not done. Its weaknesses became a problem before its strengths were given a chance to shine. The stylus is as ageless as the wedge, the wheel, the projectile. We’ve reinvented all these multiple times. When technology catches up yet again to the pen, the pen will be ready.

iFixit Tears Apart The Droid RAZR, Reveals Incredible Innards

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 11:32 AM PST


The Droid RAZR was only just released today, but silly things like release dates don’t mean anything to the folks at iFixit. In a strange departure from their usual process, they’ve taken a giant knife to Motorola’s latest and greatest to show us all exactly what’s lurking under the hood.

Photos like this have limited appeal, I’m sure, but it’s a perfect opportunity to feast your eyes on a Qualcomm MDM6600 baseband chip or a Skyworks 77449 power amplifier module if you haven’t already. But seriously, if you thought the RAZR looked good on the outside, check out what Motorola had to do to cram all that good stuff inside. Regardless of how you may feel about the RAZR, iFixit’s teardown manages to illustrate how smart Motorola had to be with engineering and component placement.

Also revealed in the teardown is the RAZR’s massive 1750 mAh battery. As expected, it’s incredibly thin, and it’s nearly as big the RAZR’s entire backplate. Strangely, that didn’t keep our review unit from being a little fussy when it came to power consumption.

Now that I’ve met my daily quota for circuit board lust, you’ll have to excuse me: now I need to decide if I want to buy one of these things.

Teach Your Lego Robot How To Tweet With A Dexter Industries WiFi Sensor

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 09:09 AM PST


When I was a wee lad, Lego were dead simple: nearly every piece was a square or a rectangle, and if you were lucky, you could split two pieces off of each other without breaking a finger. Consider my surprise then when the tinkerers over at Dexter Industries managed to create a WiFi sensor for Lego’s Mindstorms NXT line of smart blocks.

The Mindstorm NXT line, to be brief, is the Lego set you buy for the person in your life who’s just a little too obsessed with robots. Essentially, you construct a machine out of the included plastic bits, and use the NXT Intelligent Brick to feed your creation commands and programs.

Now, with the inclusion of the WiFi sensor, Dexter Industries has opened up those piles of bricks to the power of the internet. To celebrate the sensor’s release, Dexter Industries has also outlined some basic projects for the fledgeling networking buff in all of us. Behold in amazement as your little robot sends a tweet! Or set it up as a web server that can figure out what the weather is like! The possibilities are endless!

Alright, I’m being glib, but these seemingly dull applications are just the tip of the iceberg. Once the Mindstorms community starts playing with these things, we’re sure to see some creative new usage scenarios. The WiFi sensor’s $99 price tag is far in excess of the rest of the sensors you can strap onto a Mindstorms robot, but it’s a neat way to teach youngsters and adults alike the basics of networking. And really, what better way to inspire the next generation of geeks than to let them figure out something complex and useful?

Unlocked iPhone 4Ss Are Available Now, But They’ll Cost You

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 07:47 AM PST


If winter’s approach finds you yearning for warmer climes, Apple’s got you covered no matter which tropical locale you’ve got your eye on. As promised way back when, Apple has begun to sell unlocked versions of all iPhone 4S models in their online store.

Here’s hoping you managed to get a good deal on that plane ticket, because Apple’s globetrotting 4S comes with some hefty price tags. As expected, the base level 16GB iPhone 4S will run customers $649, while the 32 and 64GB variants will cost $749 and $849 respectively.

The unlocked iPhone 4S will take a microSIM (even handmade ones) from any GSM provider the world over, but Apple makes it crystal clear that CDMA roaming is off-limits. It’s not a huge stumbling block considering most the of world runs on GSM, but it definitely puts a damper on anyone’s plans to try and use one of these things on Verizon or Sprint. Then again, if anyone wanted to do that, they would be better off buying from the carrier directly and politely asking them for an unlock after the initial 60 day period is up.

Really, there’s very little reason for anyone to pick one of these things up, unless you’re a frequent flier or have an acute fear of signing contracts. In either case, I wish you godspeed and good luck with your new iPhone.

Hulu Plus Will Compete With Amazon Instant Video On The Kindle Fire

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 06:59 AM PST

Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire is shipping next week, and Amazon wants to ship it with as many mainstream apps as possible. There will be thousands of apps which will work on the customized Android tablet, including Facebook, Pandora, Netflix, Angry Birds, and Zynga games. You can now add Hulu Plus and ESPN ScoreCenter to that group.

Fire owners will be able to watch thousands of TV shows on Hulu Plus for $7.99 a month. Or, they can watch shows from Amazon’s own Instant Video streaming video service, which is built right into the tablet. After all, the Kindle Fire was designed as a media tablet. Everyone who buys one will get a one-month free trial of Instant Video, which is bundled with Amazon Prime (the $79/year all-you-can-ship service from the e-tailer).

So you can pay $79 a year and get all of Amazon’s Instant videos along with free shipping, or $96 a year for Hulu Plus for just the videos. Hulu Plus has a better selection of TV shows, and many people are already members. But for people considering paying for a video subscription on the Fire, Amazon’s bundled offering is going to be hard to beat, assuming Amazon can license a competitive library of TV shows and movies over time.

Daily Crunch: Supercomputer

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 01:00 AM PST