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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. 

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. 

"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.

 

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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. 

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.

Android One - smartphones for consumers in emerging markets

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For many, information and education are unobtainable. However, the internet has provided 'knowledge' to those who need it since its birth. It does not matter who you are - of you have an internet connection you can find out anything you want.

Android's new Android One initiative aims to help people in under-developed countries not only access the internet, but use it to its full potential.

At Mobile World Congress this year, Facebook's Mark Zuckerburg claimed most of the cost of accessing the internet is acquiring a data plan as opposed to an internet enabled device, and people are discouraged as they don't see the need for internet access.

But on the Android official blog, Android names hardware, software and connectivity are the main barriers to access. It aims to combat these by offering the Android One range - a set of smartphones with features such as expandable storage and dual SIM capabilities.

To ensure these devices suit the needs of the emerging markets, they will be made of affordable components from hardware partners Micromax, Karbonn, Spice and MediaTek, and gain regular Android updates from Google. To lower the price of data, those already using an Airtel SIM can download software updates from free in the first 6 months of phone ownership, as well as 200MB worth of Google Play apps.

Indian retailers are already selling the devices at a starting price of 6,399 rupees, and phone manufacturers such as ASUS, HTC and Lenovo have jumped on board.

Android aims to expand the programme into Indonesia, the Philippines and South Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) by the end of 2014. 

Google launches new Nexus 5 smartphone with Android KitKat OS

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Google has revealed its new LG-made Nexus 5 smartphone, a lighter, thinner version of the previous Nexus 4. Despite the change in size, the touchscreen itself is actually bigger, and the device runs the new version of the Android operating system, 4.4 KitKat.

The new KitKat OS promises more Google features, including voice searching and the new Hangouts App which allows all of your messages to gather in the same place for easy access. Just say "OK Google" and you can send a text, Google search, play a song, or pretty much do anything you want.

The new Android OS also aims to use less memory on your phone to ensure that more smartphone users with lower-end Android devices can take part.

The handset is sleek and slim, and includes a 5-inch full HD display. It also claims to be the fastest Nexus yet, including 4G/LTE Wi-Fi and enhanced camera lens all for a starting price of £299.

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Image: LG

The Nexus 5 is already available in certain countries on Google Play, and soon it will be available from chosen retailers. Android KitKat comes with the new smartphone, and will soon be available for previous Nexus models and other smartphone devices.

Check back to Inspect-a-gadget at a later date for a hands-on review of the Nexus 5.




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MessagEase - the alternative touch keyboard

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We started off texting using a numerical keypad on our Nokia 3310s. Slowly and painfully keying out "How r u m8?" by repeatedly sequencing through a group of letters sharing a button with a number on your handset. 

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Next came predictive text, where our phones acted clever and would try to guess what you were typing through single key presses. But this didn't always go to plan. 

One of the decent things BlackBerry did was popularise the QWERTY keyboard, so we all went back to typing out full words on our smartphones, fingers frantically moving across the screens.

Now, there's MessagEase, a new text input technology designed particularly for smartwatches, smartphones, wearables, tablets, and smart TVs. The keyboard is designed for two finger usage - capitalising on new technology's small retail estate. 

The video below shows how the nine large keys can be used with only two fingers. It looks rather baffling - but so did predictive text messaging when it first came out.

Ready as an app for iOS, Android and Windows 8 tablets, the technology could revolutionise typing if it can get on the smartwatch bandwagon - a screen which is particularly smaller than what we are all used to. 
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Samsung Galaxy Gear watch: winners and losers

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According to the official press statement from JK Shin, CEO and President of IT & Mobile Division, Samsung Electronics, the Galaxy Gear is all about integrating smart device technology deeper into people's everyday lives, and bridging the gap between the mobile device and fashion worlds.

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But at 36.8 x 56.6 x 11.1 mm, it's pretty bulk as a fashion accessory. And at $299 it's not exactly cheap. For the same money you could probably buy a decent automatic watch rather than an 800 MHz processor with a wrist strap. Ah, but an automatic watch only does hours, minutes seconds and date...the Samsung runs Android apps.

I think the one area Samsung is likely to win some business is with sporty types. I own a Garmin 310 XT watch, which tells the time, but also monitors my heart rate, pulse, pace and, if I was on a bike, cadence (and if you're into triathlons, it is also waterproof). And at under $300, it's a great investment for fitness training, as compared to having a smartphone on an arm band or precariously mounted on a mountain bike's handle bars.

The quality of the apps will determine how good a sports watch the Galaxy Gear really is. But the two apps available at launch, RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal, are developed by third party apps companies.Unlike Nike and Garmin, which both have dedicated software for their sports watches, Samsung has given not indication it will be developing its own fitness apps.

Fitness functionality aside, I'm really not convinced of the Samsung Galaxy Gear's credentials as a watch. Remember the Casio calculator watch from the mid 1980s? Personally, I don't think I'd need to access an app on my wrist. Let's see what Apple brings out.

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