Consumer Electronics – Stay N Alive

Review: The MINI Microphone for the iPhone and Android

I’m a sucker for good sound.  I actually have a pretty nice Microphone I use with my computer for production use in podcasts, or when I get interviewed, and I love to have a good sound to go with the things I create.  That’s why when I saw Chris Pirillo promote the MINI Microphone for the iPhone, I had to try it.

The MINI Microphone looks like a little black egg, and you can take the case off (the case you could add a string to and tie it to something if you’re worried about losing it), revealing the Microphone jack you can connect to your iPhone, Android, or similar device that accepts a Microphone jack.  You pop it in, and immediately you have a microphone with better sound quality for your recordings, or so they say.

When I tried it it wasn’t quite as good a change as I thought.  In fact, speaking through the built-in Microphone, I noticed a much wider range of sounds than with the Microphone plugged in.  The main advantage that the MINI Microphone gave me was a reduction of outside noises and a stronger focus on my own voice.  If I had the choice, I would probably stick with my iPhone 4’s nice, built in microphone over the MINI.  In the end, there is a higher range of Bass and Treble in the built in sound than what the MINI provides.  If I were in a room full of noisy people however, I might try the MINI Microphone to reduce some of the outside noise.

That said, the Microphone is only $2.82 on so you may want to try for yourself.  Regardless, I’ll let you be the judge – check out this clip I did on where I compare the difference:

The iPad is the Context-Aware Monitor You Can Take Anywhere

For those that don’t follow my Twitter or Facebook or FriendFeed streams, a few weeks ago I bought an iPad.  I was sitting down at the Pool in Hawaii next to Chris Pirillo (we were both speaking at a conference – tough life, huh?), and he pulled out his iPad and immediately started working right there in Paradise.  It was that which convinced me I needed to see what this device could do for me and why it was special.  But what does make it special?  Why is it so “magical”?

I’ve been debating that over the last several weeks.  I have a 17″ Macbook Pro that works great and I can take it anywhere I go that I need a full computer.  I have an iPhone that I can take everywhere else and access the internet, take brief notes, and get things done.  Why would I need an iPad?

I had this discussion with a co-worker the other day, and it got me thinking.  He suggested that the value in the iPad is not what it is, but what it could be, and most of all where this technology in general is going.  He suggested the concept of bringing his iPhone or Android phone with him wherever he goes, and if he’s near a monitor and keyboard, pulling up an entire OS experience on the monitor via Bluetooth connection.  That got me thinking back to the iPad – in reality, the iPad is about context.  It’s about having a monitor-sized device that you can carry around in your backpack and display, in a large form-factor, images, video, and text that are relevant to the place you are at that very moment.  It’s the monitor I can carry everywhere I go, but more than that – the potential is it could very well be a monitor that communicates with my iPhone, a monitor that communicates with my car, a monitor that communicates with my keyboard at work.

Steve Gillmor inferred this in his Keynote at the Kynetx Impact Conference recently.  The Kynetx platform is all about providing a unified API experience that enables developers to provide contextually relevant experiences no matter where the user is.  The iPad, in many ways is doing just this.  It’s transforming the web from being just data endpoints that require their own displays that stay static, in one place (like TVs and Computer Monitors), to adaptable display interfaces you can take with you wherever you go.  Now, instead of needing a TV, you can take the TV with you.  Now, instead of your desk needing a monitor, you can take that monitor with you.  Now, instead of needing displays throughout your house to control your thermostat, lights, music, etc., you can do all that with a device you have wherever you go.

One of the big rumors for the upcoming June 6 WWDC Keynote by Steve Jobs is that Apple will be announcing a new Apple TV device that is based on the iPhone OS.  When you think about it, this idea is not that far-fetched.  Now, on the same operating system developers are writing applications for that already stream TV (think Slingbox or Netflix), surf the web, pull up your favorite magazine publications, and more, developers just need to change the screen size to adapt the experience for that specific screen size and experience.  For instance, the Scrabble application, when purchased on the iPad, has a mode that you can play Scrabble with different opponents around a table and allow those opponents to use their iPhones as letter holders so no one else in the room can see each opponent’s letters.  The two different screen sizes adapt, and work with each other.  The iPad, in that case, adapts to become the board in a board game.

The future of tech is in that contextual, ubiquitous experience.  In the future, you’ll be able to take your iPad with you and when it detects a keyboard it will provide a different experience that works with the keyboard than the one that doesn’t.  Future iPads will detect where you are, and provide new UIs based on the location you are at currently.  The future of the tablet device will adapt based on the environment around it and provide an experience that fits the size and form factor of the screen it was built for.  The future computing experience is about each display and/or device in the room adapting to the experience the user is having at any given moment.

This isn’t about your desktop becoming more portable.  This isn’t about your iPhone becoming bigger.  I believe what the iPad has done is rather reinvent the monitor, making the monitor itself more portable, smarter, and more adaptable than ever before.  What I’m carrying around in my hands with my new iPad is not a new type of computer.  It’s a monitor, a display interface, that follows me around wherever I go.

If you’ve got an iPad and you like this concept, be sure to check out the Air Display app, by Avatron Software, Inc., which turns your iPad into an entirely separate monitor that you can add to your existing Mac when it’s nearby.

What do you think the iPad is?

My Favorite Technology of CES 2010

CESOverall the Consumer Electronic Show of 2010, while amazing and overwhelming and definitely worth my time, has been a disappointment when it comes to innovation. The big things of the show have been 3D, new consumer video devices, and, well, that’s about it. So I’m at a bit of a conundrum as to who or what my favorite technology at the show is. If I were to pick one though, it would have to be the demo by TCL (The Creative Life) of their 3D TV Technology that doesn’t require glasses.

Passing by the booth you can’t miss it – they’ve surrounded 4 TVs by mirrors (no relation to the technology), and when you look at the TVs, you do a double-take. You’re seeing 3D, just as you would in traditional 3D glasses, but without the glasses! I never knew this was possible!

The technology revolves around basically mimicking the 3D glasses technology right on the TV screen itself. That, and an optical illusion of just the right flicker with the speed your eyes process information, and they’re tricking your brain to thinking there’s full 3D objects inside those monitors!

I saw a lot of 3D technology at CES. Some are special 3D TVs that you have to buy the TV to get the full 3D experience, but they require glasses. Others are adapters you hook up to your Sony PS3 and you can play games in 3D (due EOY 2010 Sony told me – I’m actually excited for that one and may buy a PS3 because of it). I talked to a guy in the elevator at my hotel that works with devices you put right up to your eyes like glasses to get the experience.

However, no one wants to buy a new TV right now. I just can’t see consumers buying a TV just so they can put on glasses and watch TV through those glasses. These new 3D TVs without the glasses enable you to do that, no glasses required, and I think they make much more sense.

While the TVs aren’t available for probably at least another year, there are still a few issues though. For one, you can only watch 3D on the TVs. They’ve either got to make a dual mode so you can watch either/or, or consumers will have to get used to watching nothing but 3D television, something not everyone in the industry is sure consumers will want. Also, the videos they were showing had to be custom-made for the TVs. They don’t yet work with traditional 3D movies and I think that will be required.

What I liked about this technology though is that they were showing what could be. They’re thinking to the future. That’s what I wanted to see at CES this year. Everyone else is looking to the present and past from what I’ve seen so far. Kudos to TCL for making me think forward this CES.

Here’s some video I shot – of course you can’t see the 3D in the video, but at least it gives you an idea. You can follow all my raw, unedited footage on my personal Youtube channel.



Steve Ballmer’s CES Keynote: Microsoft’s in Trouble

Steve BallmerThis week I am at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada to see what’s happening with the latest in consumer gadgets.  The show kicked off on Wednesday, where I was just barely able to make it to the Steve Ballmer keynote, where he talked about what was supposed to be the “future” of Microsoft.  The problem was, as compared to the Bill Gates Keynotes of the past, there was little “future” about it.  Ballmer focused on previous products, some that have been out for years now, making the Keynote, as I said earlier on Twitter, well, boring.  Based on his Keynote, with all the launches Google and Apple are doing lately, I think Microsoft may really be in trouble!

A very large portion of what Ballmer talked about was focused on Windows Media Center, showing the capabilities it has in the Home Media Center.  This is something I have said before that Microsoft has long had a strength in and I wished they would focus on more.  I am thinking they’re finally realizing this and trying to get more eyes on it.  The problem is, there was no innovation in this area, making the demo a bunch of technology that I’ve been using already for 3 years now!  Perhaps I’m the only one, making this “new” to most people.

The rest of the keynote was spent demoing the already-launched Windows 7 and the various types of PCs that run it.  There were no real announcements other than the fact that Natal will be launched the end of this year (even though they had no Demo), and that there would be a new version of Halo.  Beyond that, nothing.

The Future for Microsoft

Based on the content of Ballmer’s keynote, I have to worry about the health of the software giant for the future.  Will they be able to keep up with their competitors, who are already releasing some extremely innovative technology?  Microsoft has a lot of potential – I just wonder if they’re behind on getting to that potential.

For example, one of the things they did cover in the Keynote was the capability to download Zune and Media Room videos and play them anywhere – on your TV, on your computer, or even on your phone.  I think the full experience is something Microsoft can leverage.  Being able to play this stuff anywhere (and I would argue that anywhere should also be my iPhone), is a powerful point for Microsoft!  Let’s hope they push this further – from the tablet PCs to the TVs to even the Cars with Sync and other Microsoft technologies I should be able to pass this content around (and preferably in an open manner).

What Will We See From Microsoft?

After this keynote, if I were a Microsoft investor, I would be a little worried right now.  There was very little innovation announced the other night!  Let’s hope, alongside Natal (Microsoft’s controller-less body-controlled gaming experience) and Halo, that Microsoft can fully integrate their technologies across the board into many parts of each user’s life.  Microsoft needs to start embracing their Zune brand more (which, the hardware wasn’t even mentioned during the keynote).  They need a brand new, Microsoft-branded phone that they have control over similar to the Xbox.  They need a completely brand new interface that integrates Bing, Zune Marketplace, Windows Media Center, Sync, and many other Microsoft technologies that works on Mobile.

If Microsoft can do this successfully (which they were close, but were unsuccessful at portraying during the Keynote), they would have a pretty serious product on their hand.  However, I don’t know what Ballmer was thinking during this Keynote.  Based on the content, you would think that Microsoft the company was just like the power at the beginning of the keynote – dead.

Comcast – Definitely a Different Company Than They Used to Be

comcastI’ve been a Comcast customer most of my adult life. I have to admit unfortunately that most of that was not by choice.  I remember the days of going day after day of support calls trying to just get internet access, or to get the right speeds, or one time they claimed I had a modem when I had actually sent the modem back to them already.  They had a serious reputation with the Better Business Bureau back then. The customer was almost never right. Today they convinced me they’re a new company though.

It all started about a month and a half ago when I left to Boston to spend some time with my parents and just get a change in scenery.  I decided to cancel my Comcast Internet service, since it would be a waste to have it on for a month with no one using it.  Yeah, I’m cheap in that way.  Anyway, the guy we cancelled with was very friendly, understood our situation, and told us it would be free to terminate, and just a $39 (or so) installation fee to set it back up. I was happy to accept that, considering it was far cheaper than what we were paying per month in internet service.  We cancelled with no issues.

Coming back from Boston, I called Comcast again to set up our internet, hoping to have a connection ready when we got home.  The guy on the phone this time told me it was now costing $50 to install the service.  I told him what the other guy told us, and it didn’t seem there was much he could do.  We escalated it to his supervisor, and with almost no hesitation, not only did he bring it down, but he said he could give it to us for $25, AND they were willing to give us a deal at half the price per month we were paying before.

There was one caveat.  The local technicians couldn’t come out for an entire week.  As a blogger, CEO of a startup, and overall internet-dependent to be fully productive, this was a serious problem for me.  There was nothing this guy could do.  I was soon to be just another dissatisfied customer, as I was used to being with Comcast, at least so I thought.

I decided to make one last-ditch effort to get internet at an escalated time frame – I was even willing to pay for it!  So I sent a message on Twitter asking Frank Eliason (@comcastcares) if they might be able to help me.  As always he was very helpful, and had me e-mail their support staff.

It took a couple days, but yesterday my wife got a call from their support team saying someone would be out yesterday if any appointments opened up, or today for sure if that didn’t happen.  Sure enough, today I got a call from their support staff saying someone would be here, 2 days earlier than we were expecting.  The support person even left me his phone number and told me to call him if I had any problems at all.

The technician came, installed my internet, and I’m now a happy customer.  This was one experience I have to say I’m satisfied and really impressed me with Comcast.

The Caveat

Now, Comcast is better than they were before, as I mentioned earlier.  However, they’re still not where they need to be.  Here are a few things that would have made this experience even better for me:

  • First, Comcast needs to get rid of the need to have a Twitter account to get the service @comcastcares is giving people.  Sure, @comcastcares cares.  I love that team – I’m happy that at least those of us on Twitter have access.  But my Dad won’t join Comcast because he has had similar experiences and he is not on Twitter to get that level of service.
  • Second, I shouldn’t have to go to @comcastcares in the first place.  Local reps need to be given the authority and access that @comcastcares is given.  It’s not fair that I have to go through 2 steps every time I need good service from Comcast.  I should receive the service I need, from people that have access to it, on the first try.
  • Lastly, the local technicians need to trust the customers more. I’ve never had a local technician from Comcast come by that didn’t think they knew more than me (not that I know much, but that’s besides the point).  If I say this works just fine in Safari and we’re going to use Safari, work with me on that.  If I want to connect via my router because it will work just the same, work with me on that (or bring your own laptop to do the set up).  Believe it or not, there are customers who have been in their shoes before.

In all however, I had a great experience with Comcast.  They’re doing better.  They’re not all the way there, though, and hopefully this new direction is a sign of much better things, all across the board, to come for the company.  Thanks to Frank Eliason and the team there for pushing such a great program throughout the company!

Best Buy Fails to See Amazon as Competition

best buyThis last week, along with traveling back to Salt Lake City from Boston, I was also able to celebrate my birthday for the 32nd time.  I decided, in celebration, I was finally going to bite the bullet and go out and purchase a Blue Ray DVD Player.  So I did my shopping, and found the best Blue Ray player for the price which I could find was an LG BD 370 Network Blu-ray Disc Player, which, at cheapest rate, sold on Amazon for $217.21.  It has BDLive, Netflix and Youtube streaming, along with all the other cool features you can get in a blue ray player.  Load times are also very fast.

While I was ready to purchase on Amazon and wait for my shipment, I decided to search around locally to see if I could find something I could pick up that day, since it was my birthday, after all.  I found one at around $229 on, and sure enough, it was available at my local store.  I knew Best Buy offered price matching – they hang a huge banner from their store advertising such.  I also love that I can earn points from them, and since it’s my birthday month, I get quadruple the points for my purchases this month! I also had a $10 gift certificate I had earned from previous purchases.

So I headed over to my local Best Buy, eager to purchase my new player, found the player, picked it up, and even got a copy of Coraline
to watch with the family that night.  The DVD happens to play in 3D, 2D, normal DVD formats, and has a downloadable version you can save to a Mac, PC, or iPod/iPhone.  I took it and a Coke to drink that night over to the checkout counter, and to my surprise, the lady handling my purchase wouldn’t match the Amazon price I had printed out before coming to the store!

“We don’t match online prices,” she said.  I responded with “well, you do realize Amazon is a competitor, right?” She then responded with something to the effect that it was their policy.  She then proceeded to offer me an extended warranty plan, adding, “I bet they don’t offer that online, do they?” Despite the irony of that statement and the good laugh I got from it, I left it alone, purchasing the item at full-price since it was only a $10 difference, and while Best Buy seemingly couldn’t afford that difference, it wasn’t a huge deal for me, especially since I had the gift certificate.

That experience however has made me think twice about the next time I find something cheaper on Amazon, or elsewhere online.  Since I can’t price-match at my local store, why buy local at all?  All their competitors, CompUSA, Circuit City, etc. have gone fully online.  Who exactly is Best Buy price matching with any more?

I think in the future, when I see that lower price on, I may just take it, give Amazon the business, and have the order delivered to my door rather than wasting my gas to go to Best Buy.  Sorry Best Buy, but your competitors are much more appealing to me right now.