Could stores reallocate resources using electronic shelf labels?

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At this year's Retail Business Technology Expo I was introduced to a company called DisplayData, which put me on to a nifty little device called an electronic shelf label, or ESL.

Electronic labels, which can be updated remotely, are displayed under products in a store, replacing traditional paper labels.

This eliminates the need for staff to manually change paper displays so the workforce can be re-deployed to different in-store tasks, increasing efficiency.

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The labels, which are very similar to technology currently being trialled in the Sainsbury's in Old Street London, use electrophoretic display technology.

This essentially means the display is full of capsules containing ink which will either be coloured or not depending on its electric charge, giving them the appearance of pixels.

Stores can use this technology to cut down on the cost of paper labels (every little helps) but it also gives them the ability to change prices at the click of a button.

This gives them endless opportunity for utilising specific times of day, creating deals based upon daily trends and footfall, or shifting stuff that's not selling.

The labels work well with perishable items such as fresh produce, which often needs to be shifted before the end of its shelf life.

A representative from DisplayData said to fully utilise the potential deals and optimise sales, staff would have to change paper labels around the store approximately 500 times a day. This is obviously achieved much more easily with electronic labels.

The store can develop their own applications to control the labels with provided APIs to match the store's needs.

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A communications hub sits in each of the stores, which feeds information from the top to the price tags. Each tag can also be used as a Bluetooth beacon to feed deals and vouchers to a customer's phone if they have a mobile coupon or wallet scheme, driving further sales.

The control hub is capable of controlling up to 65,000 labels, and the labels give feedback about whether they have updated and if they are broken.

Retailers are constantly looking for new ways to give value and purpose to visiting stores, and this solution does that whilst saving paper. 

3D Printing for work and home

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An introduction to home 3D printing options, the Velleman 3D Priner and the makersCAFE

3D printing was a big mover at International CES in Las Vegas this year. Not only were smaller firms all completely owning the space, but Intel announced during its keynote it would be using its Intel RealSense 3D technology to power HP's new Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer.

This printer is designed to use several jets to print in a variety of materials, producing parts that are good not just for rapid prototyping but for immediate functional use.

With reports from Gartner stating startups are holding off buying 3D printing technologies due to the high cost, I decided to look into whether it's easier to have a printer in-house or whether it may be easier to outsource to an external agency.

I got my hands on a self-assembly printer from Rapid Online - the Velleman 3d Printer K8200. This product is meant to act as a starter kit, allowing you to easily print designs at home without having to shell out a ton of money to get your designs made elsewhere. The printer itself is £333.32, and spools of plastic used for printing come in at around £22.

What could be easier?

As it turns out, a lot of things. Setting up this printer took a very long time, and I don't mean building it from scratch, because I had someone else do that.

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I was under the impression I could download a free pattern online, plug the printer in and begin my journey towards owning endless numbers of plastic knickknacks.

I was wrong.

The Rapid Online website suggests you use free-to-download slicing and 3D printing software Repetier version 0.84 or higher, which again wins on price because it's free.

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It was simple to download, and pretty easy to use alongside the handy step-by-step guide provided by Rapid Online.

Where the problems started were finding patterns I could easily print out using the printer. There are a large number of settings that need to be very accurate in order to make sure the pattern is properly sliced in a way the printer understands, since this particular printer works by building the plastic pattern line by line.

It didn't matter what I tried - every pattern got at least 80% through a print and then went wild and left me with a big ball of hot plastic mess.

Branded with TT Charcoal & Teal. Related link and Similar Video filmstrip included.

 

As it turns out, you need at least some level of expert knowledge even to print the simplest of patterns. So as much as the Velleman printer was easy to use and came with very clear instructions, I still couldn't quite make it work for me.

That's when I turned to option two.

I headed down to a 3D printing space in Shoreditch called the makersCAFE, presented by Jaguar Shoes Collective, where you can go to get your 3D designs printed and have a cup of coffee while you wait.

They have the printers, and you pay for the resident 3D printing hotshots to help you with your designs so you can print them.

But it comes at a price, around £2.50 per 15 minutes of printing for a small item, with the price per quarter of an hour decreasing as the size of the printed item gets larger (the prices are on ther Maker's website).

You could even go for the risky option and print without consulting the Makers, but you'll still have to pay if it goes wrong.

This option works well if you want one item printed or need help with your ideas, concepts and designs, and was definitely better for someone with as little patience as me.

As founder Soner Ozenc explained to me, this is exactly the solution 3D printing was meant to provide, and is hardly ever the answer to mass production.

Ozenc has a background in engineering and product design, and set up the café to change the face of manufacturing by giving 3D printing a physical face-to-face presence.

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He hopes to use the café of expand on his online RazorLAB business which offers automated assistance for your laser cutting and engraving needs.

This makes the business scalable - it's online and offline - and people and come to the café to intro to the tech, then carry on using the service online once they feel confident with the brand and their own designs.

Or you can just grab a coffee and watch others do the hard work. 

New Raspberry Pi 2 opens doors to Windows

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In this guest post David McClelland shares his thoughts on the announcement of the Raspberry Pi 2. 

Performance boost plus Windows 10 support for new Pi PC.


The new Raspberry Pi 2 was announced today promising a performance boost to make it 'the second PC in the house'.


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Raspberry Pi 2 claims x6 performance boost

The credit-card sized computer debuted in 2012 and has since been embraced by schools, maker communities, industrial automation engineers and even the UK Space programme.

At today's launch event its creator Eben Upton revealed a ripened Raspberry Pi with a quad-core ARMv7 processor and 1 GB RAM, claiming 6 times the speed of the previous B+ model.

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Eben Upton, Raspberry Pi creator, reveals the Raspberry Pi 2

This improved performance opens the door to a range of additional applications in schools and industry, as well as in the home. 

Its in-home credentials may have been further boosted by the announcement that the Pi 2 will support both Ubuntu Linux and, thanks to a 6-month collaboration with Microsoft, Windows 10.

However, exactly what you'll be able to do with a Windows-powered Pi isn't entirely clear, even whether it will include a desktop user interface.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Upton confirmed that the version of Windows 10 that Microsoft is to make available for free would be an IoT edition "more like what Microsoft did for Galileo [an Intel-based Arduino-compatible developer board]. 

Microsoft has yet to make a statement about its exact capabilities, we don't want to create an unjustified impression as to what capabilities it's going to have."

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A range of accessories are also available for the maker-friendly Pi

Despite the power-up the Raspberry Pi 2 maintains full compatibility with previous versions, sporting the same credit-card form factor and, importantly, the bank-card friendly price.

Since its release total sales of the maker-friendly machine have topped 4.5 million, and Upton anticipates a further three million units will ship this year alone. Not a bad return when initial sales projections for the Raspberry Pi were only in the 'tens of thousands' range.

The Raspberry Pi 2 goes on sale today priced at £24.94 + VAT

Images: David McClelland


Logitech ConferenceCam Connect - why communication has changed

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Logitech this week launched its new conference camera, the ConferenceCam Connect, aimed at small conference rooms catering up to around five people.

According to Logitech representatives, 21 million "huddle rooms" exist globally designed for small groups of people to have meetings or conferences, but only around 1 million of these are video enabled.

But as the world is becoming more and more mobile, and you can't always go a day without having to speak to a customer or colleague who is based away from the office, so having a collaborative environment is quite important.

Smaller businesses can't afford to have all of these rooms kitted out with large telepresence suites to solve this solution, making smaller portable solutions such as this conference camera more popular.  

The number of ways to communicate by video has also grown, and now includes applications such as Skype, Jabber and GotoMeeting, with everyone having their own preferred method.

The ConferenceCam Connect aims to cater to some of the needs laid out by research into collaboration and communication in enterprises by providing a portable chassis that is able to connect to any mobile device to run a call, like the Logitech Mobile Speakerphone P710e, and can also connect to many of the available video presence applications people like to use.  

Last year a survey by Ovum and LogMeIn found 92% of employees in the UK stated the number of meetings they attend is going up, but 70% of the meetings attended were marked as a waste of time.

Logitech has found the increased mobility of many firms is leading to employees preferring to use a video application to join a meeting from home where they can multitask while taking in the information as opposed to making the commute for a meeting that may not require all of their attention.

So while large businesses might still invest in things like telepresence, it's expensive, it's not portable and there's no flexibility, and most people prefer to use anything, anywhere to bring remote workers together and increase the time which can be spent face-to-face, without physically having to be in the same room.

Specs at a glance:

  • PC and Mac compatibility
  • Miracast support
  • 90 degree field of view
  • 4x digital Full HD zoom
  • ZEISS glass lens with autofocus
  • 360-degree sound with 12-foot diameter range
  • Battery life 3-15 hours depending on activity
  • Kensington security slot 

What platforms does it support? Cisco Jabber and WebEx, Citrix GoToMeeting, Blue Jeans, Google Hangouts, Lifesize, Microsoft Lync and Skype, Vidyo, Zoom and others. The product will be available worldwide with a suggested price of £449.

Smart Kapp - An image capture dry-wipe whiteboard

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SMART technologies, the company which brought interactive whiteboards into our classrooms, has developed a new dry-erase whiteboard capable of sending images to your smartphone. 

 

The digital capture white board is designed to replace the paper flip-chart often seen in meetings and conferences. 

 

It comes with a dry-erase marker, a board rubber, and a power cable. And that's it. 

 

The setup was designed to be as simple as hanging a whiteboard in a meeting room. All that's needed to use the mirroring capabilities is for one person in the meeting to have a smartphone running Android or iOS. 

 

Windows phone is currently out of the loop, but images can be taken from the board via USB as well. Negotiations are currently taking place over the direction of using Windows Phone with the Kapp, so watch this space.


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One person takes control of the meeting by scanning the board's QR code through the dedicated app, or tapping the NFC spot. Once activated, anything on the board will appear in the smartphone session. 

 

Snapshots can be taken of the board at a specific point in time to ensure important information isn't erased, and people can be added to the meeting using links which are trashed after the meeting ends, or emailed images of the board while the meeting is in session.


The board is programmed to recognise the measurements of of a dry-wipe marker and mirrors any indication of pressure on the app. So technically, you could use a stylus with the same diameter as a marker tip to write secret messages on the board that would only register to smartphone participants. 


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In particular the company has seen great interest from the hotel industry for use in conference rooms, and hotels would no longer have to worry about providing paper.

 

But the most interesting thing about the board is the vast number of industries interested in this particular product - something unusual for a business-focused gadget.

 

"Dry erase boards are ubiquitous, there's no particular industry where you would say 'it's just for these guys and them only'." explains Christine Alford, manager of SMART marketing communications.

 

This week the company announced a huge 84 inch model of the board, the Kapp 84, which is now available on pre-order, and premium services offering a free upgrade to the smart mobile application to allow up to 250 participants per session.

 

The smaller version will set you back £599, while the 84 inch board is £849. 







29 thoughts I had while trying to set up a new Windows 8.1 machine

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Everyone has their Achilles heel of technology, and although I've been very familiar with the Windows operating system until now, Windows 8 machines are far too stressful for me to get my head around. Here are 29 thoughts I had during my most recent attempt at setting up a new Windows 8.1 machine: 

1. So many terms and conditions 


2. Scroll through...


3. So many! 


4. But it's ok, because I get to customise with a pretty colour.

 

5. Not very business-like, but let's go for PURPLE. 

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6. What, I need a Microsoft account to use a computer now? 


7. Maybe I can skip it... 


8. No, no I can't. 


9. Two factor authentication takes such a long time!


10. At least it's keeping me safe. 


11. Wow, it's taking a long time to set up!


12. I wonder if it's frozen? 


13. Have I broken it? 


14. It says don't turn off... 


15. "Almost ready"

 

16. Really? 


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17. You've been saying that for 5 minutes now.


18. I've broken it and I've not even done anything yet.

 

19. Finally the desktop! 


20. The panels are sort of cool


21. I like how some of them update in real time. 


22. Why does anything I try to open go straight to classic view? 


23. What's the point of the panel view if that's just going to happen? 


24. I keep forgetting Windows button doesn't do Windows button things anymore...


25. How do I find the settings? Where's the control panel?


26. This operating system doesn't know what it wants to be.


27. How do I get to my documents? Where are those guys hiding?


28. How do I use this app store, where are the things I need?


29. Never mind, I'll do it on my phone.

CES 2015: A summary of this year's Consumer Electronics Show

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As a first-time attendee of CES I distinctly remember thinking on my flight over to Vegas: "What have I let myself in for?"

It turns out the answer was a week of no sleep, motivational videos designed to make you cry and more gadgets than I could shake a stick at. It doesn't matter what time it is in Vegas, there's always something going on, and with the show spread over three major areas across the city it's almost impossible to take everything in.

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But here are the top trends I noticed during my week in Sin City:

People aren't interested in JUST data collection anymore

One of the biggest themes of the week was the concept that devices that collect data are no longer useful unless they are able to interpret it and make changes for the better.

At the show, Shawn G DuBravac, chief economist and senior director of research at the Consumer Electronics Association, discussed the need for a "feedback loop"  whereby the analog input method for digitisation and curation is then used to influence and change behaviour, feeding back to the original input method.

It was widely agreed across the conference that until this feedback loop occurs, digital and connected technology will not contribute towards a better and more convenient standard of living.

Everyone is focussed on making things "better"

CEA representatives were saying it, Samsung's CEO was saying it, the big boss at Intel was saying it - everyone agreed that the internet of things and other connected technologies could act as a gateway towards a better existence for human beings.

According to Samsung's keynote at the opening of the show, "better" means different things to different people, and the public said the technology of the future should "be faster", "save time" and "track efficiency".

And that's just everyday life - Intel spoke about how its RealSense technology can allow automated drones to more easily navigate on their own, allowing easier drop off of items such as medical supplies.

The firm also shared its plans for a more diverse workforce by launching its own Diversity in Technology initiative, aiming to improve not just technology but the industry itself.

The wearables market is as confused as ever

The last few years at CES has seen wearables move from a possible future concept into a full blown industry segment. The problem is, wearables still don't know what they want to be.

In the CES Marketplaces innovation hall technology booths were split into sections, which included Wearables, Health & Wellness, Fitness & Technology, Smart Watches and Sports Tech, all of which contained, amongst other things, wearables of some kind.

Some of the products could have landed in any of these categories, and the line between several of these segments is very thin.

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With fashion designer Lauren Bowker claiming earlier this year that she doesn't like her scientific designs being referred to as wearable tech, it's clearly an industry that, although has many products already embedded into people's lifestyle, doesn't know where it's going.

I think wearables is a technology category becoming a bit too big for its boots, and it needs to decide where its loyalties lie - fitness, wellness or convenience.

3D printing is actually going somewhere

Last year 3D printing seemed like a gimmick that would never take off. Now it's a legitimate industry used for activities such as rapid prototyping, and many products surfaced at CES that could expand the opportunities of the 3D printing market.

Intel's plans to integrate Intel's Core i7 processors within HP's upcoming HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer is a step towards fast printing for functional items such as chainlinks and other working parts for the engineering industry.

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A 3D printing pen that allows users to draw a functioning 3D object was also on display in the Marketplaces hall, as well as many smaller 3D printers for home use that could solve expensive outsourcing problems for wannabe engineers.

From a concept people scoffed at to a range of technologies with practical uses, the 3D printing industry has come along in leaps and bounds.

The Chinese market is booming

Once technology was only manufactured in China on behalf of other businesses, but now Chinese companies are huge, and producing products for both domestic and international markets.

From smartphones to smarthomes, China definitely had a huge presence at the show this year, and the trend doesn't look to slow down any time soon.

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The internet of things and smarthomes are both the fastest growing and least developed segments

Everyone was talking about the current proliferation and development of the internet of things this year, including the smarthome and how connected devices can help to improve people's lives and save people time.

However much like wearables, some of these technologies still don't quite have the edge that's needed to make them as useful as they could be.

We discussed earlier technology must provide information that allows users to manipulate and improve their environment in order to fully prove its usefulness.

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What was also highlighted by Samsung's CEO was the need for greater collaboration between different industry segments and regulators to ensure the internet of things is able to properly move forward and work seamlessly.

Looks like we have a lot to keep an eye on over the next year! 

CES 2015: Hands on with Samsung's Galaxy Note Edge smartphone

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The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge's curved touchscreen is in my opinion one of the strangest design choices for a smartphone to date.

The device has been available for some time now, but seeing it in the flesh I was able to test this concept first-hand and I became aware of how difficult the device is to use.

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The curved screen real-estate itself is quite useful as it's easier to reach with your thumb, but it all depends on you holding the handset with your right hand.

So not only is the device inconvenient for left-handed people, but it's also too big. I would say if you're going to produce a smartphone with the purpose of having an easier-to-use touch screen you don't then develop a handset so big it doesn't fit in your hand.

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The curved part of the screen acts as a sort of notifications bar so you can easily access everything going on, similar to the pull down feature on an iPhone or in the new LG Flex 2.

On a positive note, the 5.6 inch screen has an AMOLED Quad HD+ display that is super sharp, and colours are really vivid.

One of the more useful features of the phone is the ability to multi-task with split screening allowing you to look at two applications at the same time, which could be quite useful if watching video or taking notes from a presentation or web page.

The device, which runs Android, has a 16mp camera and dual SIM ports, as well as 3GB of RAM and up to 18 hours of battery time during medium usage.

And the device comes with a "new and improved" S Pen for using the touchscreen.

The bad news? It comes in at around £700, but it was announced this week the phone is available for a slightly cheaper price tag through Verizon in the US. Better start saving. 

CES 2015: The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 with new AnyPen technology

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Lenovo launched its new affordable smartphone at CES this year, the A6000 smartphone available in the Indian market through exclusive online partner Flipkart.

What I found more interesting was the launch of its new AnyPen technology which, as the name suggests, allows you to use anything you want as a pen for the Yoga tablet 2.

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The tablet itself is quite light, and has the Yoga-style battery across the bottom which allows for a nice comfy hand hold for when using vertically, and holds the kickstand for when using horizontally on a flat surface.

The Yoga 2 runs Windows 8.1 and has in Intel Atom Quad-Core processor to ensure speed. Its 8 inch display in in HD and the devices features front and rear cameras.

The AnyPen function proves very good for reaching small fiddley bits of the screen, especially for example when using the desktop function on Windows 8 where the icons can get quite small on the 8inch screen.

I tested the screen out using a fork and a pen-knife, which I was worried about at first until I was informed that the screen is scratch resistant.

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There is one catch though, your chosen stylus must be conductive in order to work, so anything metal works a treat.

When using applications such as word can be fun with AnyPen, and your handwriting is converted into text-based words to allow you to review them ahead of inserting them into the document to ensure they are correct.

The tablet is currently available for a price tag of around $279, and stick on an extra $20 to use the AnyPen feature. 

CES 2015: Nokia launches new entry-level smartphone

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This week Microsoft's mobile arm Nokia announced its new smartphone aimed at emerging markets, the Nokia 215.

Designed to be its cheapest internet-ready smartphone, the 215 is available at a starting price of $29 and is available in single and dual SIM.

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It's meant to be cheap enough to give the 60% of people still lacking internet access an in.

But what does internet ready actually mean?

Well apparently the phone will enable applications such as Opera, Bing search and Facebook, allowing users to use the handset to access basic internet needs.

In order to use these services they will need to have a 3G data service with their SIM, which will depend on the carrier they are using.

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The handset itself if extremely light and small, easy to use and manages just like the old Nokia handsets from back in the day.

It comes in several different colours, and is built to last. Speaking of lasting, the battery runs up to 20 hours on mid-level usage, and can last up to 29 days on standby.

The handset has a VGA camera, a built-in torch and Bluetooth 3.0.







CES 2015: First look at the HP Sprout

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The new HP Sprout is a Windows 8.1 based PC with built in 2D and 3D scanner, and it is amazing!

The sprout features an overhead scanner, a multi-touch flat pad on the bottom and an HD 23 inch monitor in the middle to eliminate keyboard and mouse use.

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The overhead scanner includes 14.6 megapixel high-res camera as well as Intel RealSense technology to allow 3D scanning.

The user can place items on the 20-point trackpad and 3D scan them for use on the PC for various purposes such as visual design and 3D printing.

On display with the Sprout were several 3D printed items including a functional chainlink capable of lifting a significant weight, printed in around 30 minutes. This really shows the possibilities of 3D printing not just for rapid prototyping, but also for fast manufacturing.

Both the monitor and trackpad are touch-enabled, so 3D items on-screen can be manipulated using the hands, and navigation is fast and simple.

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The PC features 8GB of expandable memory, and a 1TB hard drive, and of course has a 4th generation Intel Core i7-57905 processor for speed.

I have to admit this device is very fun to use. Being able to scan-in already existing objects and then change them on-screen to have different dimensions and colours, or use the image in the design for a poster was really cool. 

CES 2015: Hands on with the Dell Venue 8 7000

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Just a few months after Apple released its ultra-thin iPad Air 2, Dell announced its new Dell Venue 8 7000, the thinnest tablet on the market at 6mm thick.

Not only is it thin, it's also incredibly light and easy to use, with a small bezel and 2K 2560x1600 resolution OLED screen for a sharp display.

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The tablet supports Intel's RealSense cameras on the back, allowing it to take images in 3D with depth perception.

When viewing the image, the user is able to change the contrast, focus and colour of the image based upon the depth of the photo. The user can also use the tablet to measure distances between objects within a photo, which would be useful for seeing where furniture would fit in a room, for example.

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This also took photo editing to a whole new level, and I was able to seamlessly drop a picture of Intel's CEO into a picture as it resized and scaled his image based upon the depth of the original photo.  

The device has an Intel Moorefield quad core processor, and is running Android KitKat with ability to upgrade to Lollipop in the future when available.

It has one front facing camera, and three rear-facing cameras making up the RealSense, as well as a front facing speaker that runs along one side of the device.

There are two buttons on the side - a power button and volume buttons with the rest of the functionality touch screen.

Now currently available in a black/silver colour in the US for approximately $399.

CES 2015: Panasonic challenges GoPro with new wearable camera tech

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Panasonic has a lot going on this year, with a focus on its "green mobility strategy", fridges and washing machines to enhance the kitchen and let's not forget televisions.

But probably the most noteworthy part of Panasonic's presentation at the International CES in Vegas this year was their new range of fitness products, including the A500, a 4K mountable sports camera, part of the the Panasonic Adventure range for outdoor activities.

Julie Bauer, president of Panasonic's consumer electronics company, described its new wearable camera following up with the statement:

"Watch out GoPro."

Although that was the only bold move Panasonic made, they still showcased a number of interesting products and ideas, some already achieved and some they want to release into the wild.

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During the show, the wearable was on display, modelled by 'Spartan' athletes who were hell-bent on proving its durability by emerging from a pool of water and climbing a frame whilst wearing the camera mounted on their heads.

On the subject of cameras the firm also announced a set of home security cameras designed to be put around the home and controlled remotely by tablet anywhere around the house.

Those weren't the only cool thing they were exhibiting either; Panasonic demoed the concept of a virtual reality mirror able to project makeup onto to see what works well on your face. I envisage this sort of technology being used in the future to show plastic surgery patients what they might look like after a procedure, or in retail to virtually try on outfits.

Panasonic's CEO and chairman Joe Taylor also announced a partnership with Ford in order to "transform" vehicle communications and in-car entertainment using its Sync 3 technology.

But a big concern for Panasonic, as mentioned earlier, is the environment, and Panasonic has put a lot of time and effort into solutions to power vehicles and cities in more energy efficient ways.

The company spoke of its production of Lithium Ion batteries, a power source for electric Prius vehicles and other automotives, which is the number one use for these batteries globally.

It also spoke of producing scooters, called Gogoro, powered by smart swapping batteries that can be docked in power stations and swapped for a fully charged unit on the spot.

Finally the firm announced its Gigafactory which is currently under construction, designed to produce electric vehicle battery products. Panasonic predicts an annual production for 500,000 tesla cars by 2020 to be powered by renewable energy. The factory will employ 6500 workers and aim to establish more green mobility manufacturers. 

CES 2015: LG launches curved G Flex 2 smartphone

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Speaking to CES 2015 in Vegas, Frank Lee, head of LG mobile communications announced LG's new smartphone the G Flex 2.

The unique selling point? It's curved. Why is it curved? Well according to Frank it's because telephones have always been curved. This makes them more comfortable and easy to use apparently.

Running Android 5.0 lollipop, Frank claims the phone is made to enhance "design, innovation and convenience" and does that through the mantra of "beauty on the outside and a beast within."

And he's not wrong either, the 5.5 inch screen's shiny curves are extremely visually appealing, while the interior is powered by a Qualcomm snapdragon 800 processor for speed. 

Oh, and the phone also has a self healing back to prevent scratches, and can eliminate the appearance of scratches within 10 seconds of them occurring.

The screen is also more durable to avoid cracking, during videos of the drop test it looked like something about the curvature makes the phone bouncy.

Frank pointed out that the average smartphone user checks their phone every six minutes and so the G Flex 2 has a knock code and Knock on feature built in to provide summarised information to prevent having to fully unlock for every quick check.

The handset has a 1.5m camera designed for the all important selfie, and a prolonged battery life to last for out and about.

The handset can charge to 50% in 40 minutes, which is around half of the amount of time of a normal handset.

And to top it all off it looks like it also comes in a lovely red colour. 

CES Unveiled 2015: What's happening in Vegas?

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In the lead up to this year's Consumer Electronics Show, a number of companies including both startups and established brands exhibited their innovative ideas to press and industry analysts, benchmarking this year's trends.

By far this year's standout trends are automotive connectivity and bigger, better and smarter televisions, as well as an increase in internet of things connected products and ever more useful wearables.

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Among some of the familiar brands exhibiting included technology services company Accenture, consumer health technology developer Withings and networking equipment producer D-Link.

Although there were many familiar faces, there were also some new companies such as Slow Control, which were boasting a smart baby bottle, Patchworks Inc and its edge-to-edge smartphone screen protectors and Fitlinxx developing fitness wearables.

There were also a number of innovative new products including a digital pinball machine, a slate that can be used to track and digitise things written on physical paper, and a smart plant pot.

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The internet of things and wearable technology are big trends still being developed from last year's CES, but last year we also saw a lot of technology many people probably didn't need.

This year there seems to be a theme of connected technology that actually gives back - creating that ever important feedback loop to justify data collection in the first place.

During Unveiled, I overheard a passer-by claim "Anything that saves you a little bit of hassle is a good thing." and I think this year we'll definitely see more technology designed not just to save people time, but to implement a positive change in the way they behave.

It's clear we can look forward to some exciting things over the next week as the show enters full swing. 







"OK Google..."

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Earlier this year I wandered around Holborn until I discovered a life sized Google map pin pointing towards a concealed door to a warehouse.

Inside was an intricate maze of concealed doors, rooms behind book cases and tunnels in the back of fridges - an experience designed to highlight the usefulness of the various Google apps available on smartphones.

 

Google search app

The setting was a kitchen, and a very specific salad recipe made with unknown ingredients. We were encouraged to shout various commands at Google to find out what ingredients we were meant to use and what they looked like.

I use an iPhone, so Siri would usually be my go-to for such things (and I gave up on him a long time ago) and it was very reminiscent of days spent asking Siri mundane questions.

Using the "O.K Google" feature to power the Google search app was a little clumsy at times, it not always understanding my accent and misinterpreting the words. When it did pick up what I said it was useful, especially with Google Search behind it.

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Image: Google

The most useful thing about it is the app's ability to recognise context in what you're asking it. It uses key phrases in your previous sentence, such as names, to add context on any follow up questions you ask about it without having to repeat the subject matter of the search. This is pretty useful, but like all things not 100% accurate.


Google Translate

The Google translate app, although perhaps not practical in a situation that requires real-time translation, is very useful for filling in knowledge gaps.

A feature I couldn't use on my iPhone, but worked well on Android, was the real-time scanning and translation feature. Using the phone's camera, text in the user's environment, such as on labels and signs, can be scanned and translated from its current dialect into the chosen language of the user. Handy if you're travelling and don't know whether you're reading the sign for a toilet or a train station platform.

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Image: Google

There is also a feature allowing the user to type words or phrases in one language, and translate into any other language. The translation can then be read back to you in the target language to help with pronunciation.

 

Google for work

Probably the most important of the Google apps for business users are the Google apps that enable remote working and picking up where you left off on any device.

There are a combination of apps that help with this, including docs, sheets and slides for editing, and Drive for storing and file sharing between computers and individuals.

These can be used either on and offline, and also collaboratively so updates can be made and shared with other participants of a document.

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Image: Google

This sort of thing always works better if you're on a phone or tablet, as a laptop has the ability to perform most of these tasks offline without the need for such applications.

Although not all functionality is available, it still makes document collaboration and sharing a lot easier, especially on the move.

Drive for work allows users to edit files on iOS and Android devices, and on the web, and allows several people to update documents at the same time if online, and auto-saves to ensure changes aren't lost. 

What can be defined as wearable tech?

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We're slowly moving into the wearable generation, and the number of people bringing wearables into the workplace is steadily increasing.

The battle of wearable technology is in full swing, with Microsoft launching its first wearable device just months after Apple announced plans for its Apple Watch. 

When many people think of wearables, fitness trackers and smartwatches are what spring to mind.

But wearable technology can be anything from a health monitor to mobile controlled garments.

Or can it? Designer Lauren Bowker, founder of The Unseen, has roots in Chemistry and has developed a range of clothing that reacts to biological and chemical stimulus as opposed to just electrical.

Her garments, which she recently showcased at the Innovate UK event in London, are "human focussed" and include pieces that change colour depending "environmental fluctuations" or stimulation from the brain.

The first piece is made of leather and changes colour in reaction to the wind and air. Originally Bowker thought this type of technology could be used for F1 in order to assess the aerodynamics of vehicles, but began developing clothes designed to reflect the way wind and air passes over the human body.

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Another piece reacts to heat in the brain and therefore changes colour depending on your thoughts. It could be used in healthcare to communicate feelings that are hidden.

She says in the future, she hopes materials will be created for purpose, and there will be no need for disposable fashion, as one garment can be adapted to be suitable for all situations, moods and weather.  

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But she doesn't believe this is wearable tech, to her it's just material.

"Everyone is calling The Unseen wearable tech whereas we really don't want to be called wearable tech. There's wearable computing, which I see more as the smartwatches," Bowker says. "That to me is just another gadget."

Bowker points out that other fabrics such as polyester could been deemed wearable tech if the way it is used it taken into consideration, so people should be careful to address specific categories garments fall under.

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"Treat this as a design-led project rather than a recent trend." Bowker says.

A recent survey by Beecham Research found technology companies do not have the right approach to wearable technology and devices are not what consumers want to wear.

Not for profit organisation the London College of Fashion's 'Innovation Agency' works with technology companies to make technology driven clothing.

Matthew Drinkwater, head of the agency, describes working with Nokia on a digital skirt made of smartphones, and collaborating with Microsoft to create trousers that charge your phone in your pocket as just some of the projects the agency has worked on.

At Innovate UK Drinkwater showcased the Innovation Agency's Tinkerbell inspired dress, created during a collaboration with Disney using fibre optics and LEDs.

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But again, he claims wearables should centre on fashion instead of simply being another branch of technology.

Drinkwater says: "Everything before had been functionality focus and device focus, we just want to try and use tech to make something really beautiful."


Is BYOD changing the developer stereotype?

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At the recent Motorola Enterprise Appforum 2014, now owned by Zebra technologies, the usual sea of middle-aged men in suits was interspersed with many younger faces.

It's no secret that when someone says "software developer" people, sometimes incorrectly, picture a particular type of person, much the same as if someone says "beautician" or "accountant".

But the surge of BYOD and use of mobile devices inside and outside of the enterprise has meant that software development isn't all about business systems - it can include mobile, tablet and other device applications, as well as user-facing and externally-facing software.

These changes mean the traditional 'dev' label is growing to include a younger audience of entrepreneurs as well as older experience coders.

According to James Pemberton, EMEA ISV & developer programs from Zebra, the team has been making an effort to draw in a more diverse range of developers by targeting events such as Droidcon and Appsworld for Enteprise.

Pemberton points out that as development moves away from Windows into Android, and as consumer and enterprise technologies merge, the developer ecosystem has grown.

"People coming into our space are not from a mobile or .net background." Pemberton says.

"Take that to one step further, with the internet of things and zebra combination, suddenly our market for developer programmes, developer engagement is expanding hugely."

Pemberton's job is to draw new and old crowds of developer's into the ecosystem to take advantage of the wide ranges of skills out there.

"In the last year or so we've had a new influx of developers joining who are coming from the kind of web based android background, so probably of the ones who joined most recently, you could say 90-100% of those are from that new world rather than the old world," Pemberton explains.

"It's basically incremental growth."

But there were still few women in the crowd. A recent survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found the proportion of female engineers across all industries stands at just six percent, a figure that has not increased since 2008.

Pemberton explains that Zebra had been working with Google developer groups to connect with women in the industry, and has so far seen positive feedback.

Even though it's only a few 20-somethings in t-shirts at a developer's convention, it still provides hope that with a different attitude, things can and will change. 

Video Review:BlackBerry Passport

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I've spent a few weeks using the BlackBerry Passport, which was launched at the start of October.

BlackBerry positions the Passport as a business device. It is instantly recognisable by its Qwerty keyboard and large 4.5 inch display. It also supports Android and provides direct access to the Amazon Android store.

Speaking of the Amazon store, it is no way near as complete as the Google Play store and I could not even find the Kindle app. That said, I was able to use the Android British Gas Hive and Nike+ apps.

I ended up downloading the APK Installer App from the Amazon App store to get access to Google Play, when I was then able to download the official Amazon Kindle App!

Side-loading still works if you are happy downloading the APK (Android app installer file) file directly. I actually downloaded apps for my Nexus 7, then used a file manager app to copy the APK files onto my NAS drive, which the BlackBerry Passport could access. There are several APK to BAR (BB10 app) converters available online.

As a BlackBerry Q10 user, I find a real keyboard essential for creating content. In fact this blog post was written on the Q10 earlier this morning on my way to work.

The Passport's keyboard is larger, so it should be easier to use. But having tried writing long articles on the Passport, I could not get used to the layout. The most annoying feature was in fact one of the new devices big highlights - a touch-enabled physical keyboard. When you touch the keys the keyboard acts like a touchpad, for moving the cursor. While this sounds fantastic on the spec sheet, in practice, it made working on the keyboard slower, especially if you tend to rely on the delete key to make corrections. I found I was correcting the wrong word more often than not, which slowed done my progress when writing text.

Among the best features of the Passport is the screen. I found reading on the Kindle app a pleasure, thanks to the high res screen on the Passport.

For business users, BlackBerry Blend is definitely a killer app. It is a unified communications and file manger application available on iOS, Windows, and Android - giving you an integrated way to share files, text messages and email across devices.

The BlackBerry Passport has the potential to replace your laptop, tablet and smartphone and I really wanted to like it. But, even though I am old fashioned and still rely on a physical keyboard, I simply could not type fast enough on the PassPort's.

That said, the screen is superb and Blend is excellent. Let's hope BlackBerry rolls out Bland across its smartphone range.

Apple announces iPad Air 2

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Apple has announced the new iPad Air 2. We won't lie, we were expecting a more innovative name...

Somehow as soon as an Apple event rolls around, everyone already knows what's going to happen. As predicted, just a month after the release of the new iPhone 6 and iOS 8 operating system, Apple has announced its new iPad, the Air 2. 

Apple skeptics will be mockingly asking "but what's new about it?" and loosely quoting Daft Punk I'll reply: "it's smarter, better, faster and smaller." 

That's right, although the iPad Air 2 supports the same screen size as the iPad Air, it's thinner than it's ever been at just 6.1mm thick, and weighs less than a pound. Apple claims this is currently the thinnest tablet on the market. 

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Both the Air 2 and new iPad mini 3 have new retina display screens, making images look more crisp and real than real life, excellent for fuelling your Netflix addiction. Or, of course, viewing and writing documents and presentations when working on the move. 

As with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, the new iPads come equipped with improved Touch ID for secure access and use of Apple Pay authentication within apps. 

The device still offers 10 hours of battery life, and it's internals support an Apple A8X chip to boost CPU.


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Sadly, although I'm sure these new devices provide a better user experience than their predecessors, it circles back to a concept I looked at earlier this year: how far can hardware innovation really go

Can devices only continue to get thinner and faster, or is there something more to look forward to? We'll have to wait to find out. 

In the meantime, the Apple iPad Air 2 is available to order online from a starting price of around $499 (approx. £309) 

Specs at a glance: 
iPad Air 2 
  • Processor: A8x 64 bit processor and M8 coprocessor 
  • Dimensions: 240mm x 169.5mm x 6.1mm
  • Capacity: 16GB, 64GB, 128 GB
  • Display: 9.7 inch Retina display 
  • Camera: 8mpx back mounted camera, 1.2 mpg front facing camera
  • Battery: 10 hours heavy usage

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