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Tag: Apple

Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting Review

Posted by Andrew at 12:51 AM on December 16, 2013

Kevin Ashton coined the phrase “The Internet of Things” back in 1999, but a decade later most of the on-line gadgets in my house are still recognisable as being technology. My fridge is still a fridge, my front door still needs a key and my house doesn’t talk to me.

That was the situation until a couple of weeks when I received a Philips Hue “Personal Wireless Lighting” kit which lets me control the colour of light bulbs from my smartphone, both in the house and from outside across the internet. That’s the Internet of Things.

I can imagine that a number of GNC readers are going, “Huh? Why would I want to control the colour of my lightbulbs from my smartphone?” Until you see in action, you can’t believe how much fun and how cool it really is. Not only can you turn your house lights on as you drive up the road, you can co-ordinate the lighting with your mood or your decor. Want a Christmassy green and red? Not a problem. We’ll see exactly how it works a little later on.

So let’s take a quick look at what’s in the box of Philips Hue in more detail.

Philips Hue Box Exterior

Opening it up reveals two of the three main components, the wireless bridge and the bulbs themselves.

Philips Vue Interior

The bridge connects to your network via an ethernet cable and communicates with the light bulbs using Zigbee.

Hue Bridge

The bulbs are standard ES bulbs and there are GU10 and GR30 (SES) variants available as well. There doesn’t seem to be any bayonet cap versions (BC) so if you only have BC light fittings you might have to get some converters.

Hue Light Bulb

Setting up the system is very easy. Screw the bulbs into the lights. Connect the Hue bridge to the network with the ethernet cable and plug in the power adaptor. Load the Hue app onto your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. Job done. It’s that straightforward. The first time the app runs, it looks for the Hue bridge on the network and once it’s found, you authorise the app to access Hue by pressing the button in the middle of the bridge. It’s a layer of security that stops unauthorised people or apps from accessing the Hue.

The Hue app lets you control all the lights connected to your bridge mainly via “scenes” which act as presets for each light’s colour settings. Here’s the main screen. Each mini photograph is a preset for a number of lights and it can be just one or all three.

Main Screen

Typically the settings are based on colours picked out from the picture associated with the scene. The screenshot below shows that lamp 1 will be orange and lamp 2 will be magenta.

Colour Scenes

It’s all a bit abstract until you see it in action, so here’s a short video of my controlling one lamp using a series of the scenes to run through some colour changes. It was filmed with my smartphone, so don’t expect too much! Remember too, that this is just one light  and try to imagine all three lights working together to colour a single room.

Philips have opened up Hue to developers and are steadily building an ecosystem around both their products and other apps developed by third parties. If you are already have a Philips TV with Ambilight, Hue can further enhance the experience with additional colour lighting. Light strips and Philip’s Living Colors Bloom can take the lighting effects beyond lights and lamps.

There’s a solid community behind Hue with people contributing their own scenes and I’ll be taking a look at some of the 3rd party apps in a follow up post next week, along with a further look at the main Hue app.

Philips Hue is available from the Apple Store and the starter kit used here costs a little under £180, which isn’t cheap, but compared with the costs of some of the custom solutions in this space, it’s a bargain. Note that although it’s sold through the Apple Store, it works with both iOS and Android devices.

Finally, Philips are running a Facebook competition to come up with inspirational ways of using Hue, if you want to win some Hue goodies.

Thanks to Philips for the loan of the Hue starter kit.

A Microsoft Future

Posted by Andrew at 5:56 PM on November 14, 2013

Microsoft Windows 8Last week’s “Microsoft Fantasy” here on GNC suggested that Microsoft was in danger of fading into irrelevance; that it should retreat to servers and gaming; that it should re-orient its mobile strategy around Android. I suggest that Microsoft is now very well positioned to offer far more than its competitors. And to negate any ad hominem attacks, I’m no Microsoft fanboy – I’ve a Linux desktop, Android tablet, Nexus smartphone and a Chromebook – but I can see a better strategy in Microsoft than defeat and retreat.

There are three players in the OS space – Microsoft with Windows, Google with Android and Apple with iOS. Each of these pairings has strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft is strong in servers, PCs and gaming. Google is good in mobile. Apple’s strength lies in PCs, entertainment and mobile. Obviously there are other players, such as Sony who are strong in gaming, but they can be discounted without OS aspirations.

Microsoft is a large organisation. It can be slow to respond and doesn’t always identify and embrace future technologies as fast as it should. The internet and Internet Explorer is a pretty good example. Other times, it moves into new markets, starting slowly and building up: look at the Xbox – it’s the market-leader. Certainly Microsoft has never been strong in the smartphone market being overshadowed previously by Blackberry and Palm, but it has a track record of trying tablet-type devices. Anyone remember Windows XP Tablet Edition? No, you probably don’t, but it existed.

But let’s think about how Microsoft’s competitors can realistically move in on their turf. For all the rise of BYOD, most large organisations use Windows on the desktop, Exchange for email, Ms Server on the tin. Google is trying hard to offer software as service in the cloud but there’s still lots of nervousness about the cloud and the leaks about US snooping aren’t going to help. Apple isn’t big in business by any stretch of the imagination and this is unlikely change. Both Apple and Google are into entertainment but neither have expressed much interest in hardcore gaming. It’s certainly not impossible for a hot Android or iOS console to come out but for now I think we can discount that.

Accepting then that Microsoft is reasonably unassailable (without being complacent) in gaming or business, let’s look at mobile and tablets in particular. Both Apple’s iPad and Android-based tablets are great devices, but even the most ardent fan will admit that tablets are generally best for consumption rather than production – it’s watching videos, surfing the web, listening to music. For creation, most people return to the keyboard and mouse on a desktop or laptop. Looking at business, while opportunities exist for tablets in business without a doubt, the bread and butter is still going to orient around Word and Excel.

The trend to mobile has been going on for years: from the desktop to the laptop to the tablet. But it’s extension to new devices, not extinction of the old. When laptops came out, did all the desktops go away? No. And it will be no different with tablets. We can see the rebalancing in the slow down of PC sales but this is entirely to be expected.

And this is Microsoft’s killer advantage – a potentially seamless suite of devices and form-factors from servers, through desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Business in particular want to use what they have already invested in – ActiveDirectory, Group Policies, Sharepoint. Microsoft and its partners are responding to this with devices that offer both a touch interface via the Modern UI and a traditional desktop for legacy applications where a keyboard and mouse is needed. The bottom line is that there’s no longer any need to shoehorn in Apple or Android onto the infrastructure at extra cost.

But what about the consumers? They’re not businesses, they’ve no investment, they’re not going to be swayed by ActiveDirectory concerns. They want apps! Absolutely, but let’s be honest about apps – most key apps and popular games are available across all platforms, and the relative low cost of apps means that it is easier to jump ship to a different OS.  Windows 8 isn’t perfect, but I would lay good money that if a 7″ Windows-based tablet was available for Nexus 7 money, they’d sell shed-loads. A similar argument follows for smartphones and Windows Phone has actually been doing quite well recently with solid gains according a recent IDC survey.

Microsoft is ahead of the game in recognising that the future is not a tablet future, but a touch future, and building touch into the core of Windows is a winner. For me, all Microsoft needs to do it get the prices down, tweak the usability of Windows 8 and continue with the “Windows Everywhere” advertising. It’s a Microsoft future.

Practical Meter for USB Charging

Posted by Andrew at 5:09 PM on November 13, 2013

Practical MeterWith the plethora of USB charging power sources and charging rates, it was probably inevitable that someone would develop a meter to measure the power going to a device. The bragging rights go to Utah-based Power Practical and the Practical Meter, a USB in-line power meter. Looking much like a USB dongle, 5 LEDs show the power transfer from 1 W up to 10 W.

Originally a Kickstarter campaign that met its funding back in the July raising nearly $170,000, the Practical Meter has been today recognised as International CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree.  “Just last week we shipped out the 10,000 pre-order units we received during our Kickstarter campaign to have the Practical Meter come to market,” says Matt Ford, CEO of Power Practical. “It’s crazy that a week later we’re being honored by something as prestigious as the CES Innovations awards.

As a pure USB device, it will work with anything that charges via USB such as smartphones, mp3 players or battery packs. Practical Meter is available now for $24.99 online and includes a 3-in-1 fast charge cable with mini-USB, micro-USB and Apple connectors.

Practical Meter Charging

Mac Mini Upgrade

Posted by tomwiles at 5:04 PM on November 4, 2013

I have two Mac Mini’s — one of them I use as a computer, and the other I use as an over-the-air HD-DVR connected to my home theater.

I decided to upgrade the machine as I use as a computer to an SSD hard drive, replacing the stock 5400 RPM drive. I replaced it with a Crucial M500 240GB SATA 2.5-Inch 7mm (with 9.5mm adapter) Internal Solid State Drive CT240M500SSD1 purchased via Amazon for $159.99.

Dismantling a Mac Mini is quite a bit above my comfort level, so I took everything to a local Mac dealer I’ve had very positive dealings with in the past and paid them to make the swap.

The results are nothing short of phenomenal. Restarting the machine to fully back up takes about 29 seconds. Curiously, starting the computer from pressing the power button to fully up takes 24 seconds. This is much, much faster than boot-up sequence with the original 5400 RPM hard drive installed,

The machine has 8 gigabytes of RAM installed. Even with that much RAM, the overall feel of the computer once booted up is quite snappy comparing it directly to the otherwise identical HD-DVR machine that is still running it’s original 5400 RPM stock drive.

Hands down the best bang-for-the buck upgrade for any computer is an SSD drive. The speed boost is stark and will make a huge difference even on a machine with only 2 gigabytes of installed RAM.

If you have an older machine, particularly a laptop that has a decent processor but is in need of a serious speed bump, consider an SSD drive.

SSD prices are still high compared to conventional spinning drives, however I’ve found that simply adjusting my thinking a bit makes SSD drives much more affordable. A 120 gigabyte SSD drive sells for around $100 on Amazon. In an era of giant, inexpensive conventional external hard drives and ubiquitous home networks, it makes much more sense to use those external drives as shared storage to store photos, videos and other media, and get away from the idea of storing stuff on the computer itself. By using a 120 or 240 gigabyte SSD as the boot drive, it becomes possible to enjoy a massive computer speed boost and move media off to networked or external storage.

Mac OSX Mavericks: First Impressions

Posted by J Powers at 9:34 AM on October 23, 2013
Mavericks

Mavericks

Yesterday OSX 10.9 Mavericks was released for Mac and Macbook devices. In a new direction, Apple decided to make the update free and was available just after the keynote. Better battery life and iBooks integration were the keys of the system update. The biggest feature being Mac computers as old as 2007 will be able to install the OS.

My Macbook Pro is the 2011 model with AMD Radeon HD 6750M video graphics on top of the Intel HD Graphics (the card switches on video-intense processes). I have a Hybrid HD inside.

How the Battery Life was Extended

In Mountain Lion, I had processes stuck that would make the computer work harder. For example: When I left home I would close the lid to my Macbook Pro (Chrome being the primary window open). I would get to my destination and open the lid. Instantly, Chrome would have processes that stopped responding but would never close – such as Google Chrome Helper.

I would check my processes as the Macbook started heating up and the fan would go wild. Chrome was at 200% and its child processes also were working harder than normal. To fix this, I would have to close Chrome and go back in.

Chrome wasn’t the only program that did that. Photoshop, Audition and other non-Apple apps would also hold onto the processor.

Now with the addition of App Nap it looks like those processes are in check and ones not responding are not holding the processor hostage.

Safari and Battery Life

Safari saves battery life by not running any processes that are not within the viewing screen. At first I thought it was a virtual webpage screen – similar to what your iPhone or iPad will load up. When I scrolled through a process-intense website there were no blank spots waiting for the page to continue loading.

iTunes HD Playback

I had a friend that installed Golden Master last week. He was very impressed he could watch a whole movie without plugging in, so I had to test it out when I loaded Mavericks. I watched a full movie on a fully charged battery and still had plenty of time to do other things. Apple states its a 35% savings.

cool to the touch

cool to the touch

My Macbook Pro is Cooler

I bought one of those lap-desks because my Macbook Pro would get really hot after working for only 15-20 minutes. The fans would spin out of control to keep the machine cooler.

Today, I have been working for over 90 minutes and I can lift my Macbook up and place my hand on the bottom without feeling discomfort. Makes me wonder if there was a major bug in Mountain Lion…

iBooks

iBooks

iBooks on Mavericks

I have a non-retina display, but my model is an enhanced display (pre-retina I believe). I wanted to test out iBooks on my laptop. I was able to access my books and of course get more from the store. The pages flipped with a swipe on the touchpad.

With a simple command+ and command- I could increase and decrease font size. I could also highlight sections and post notes then be able to see the highlights on my iPad.

Maps on Mavericks

I do have to admit – I am impressed with how the maps works. I looked through my city and even found my house – saw my car sitting in the driveway. Unfortunately I didn’t get the 3D view like if I lived in San Francisco. Nonetheless, I was able navigate through and have a good comprehension of where I was.

Tagging Everything

In Mavericks you have the opportunity to tag everything for easier search. Since I wasn’t tagging things before, I probably won’t be using this feature. It all depends on how easy I can navigate Mavericks without tags.

Other features include an improved calendars and the iCloud keychain. These items I don’t use because I have Google calendar and 3rd party keychain access. Still, during setup I was able to sign in and put on a secondary sign-in email.

One 3rd party program I run called “Cinch” (snaps a window to full screen or half screen like in Windows 8) had to allowed in my security settings to run. It was the only program that required an extra step for me.

I also had to install Java Runtime to continue using my Adobe products (Photoshop, Premier Pro, etc).

Ultimately, I am really enjoying the power saver and cooler Macbook Pro. For these two reasons its a good idea to update your Mac to Mavericks. The additional programs (including an updated iMovie and Garageband) updated without issue. The update took this Macbook Pro about an hour to complete – although times will vary between different models.

Rovio gets ready for tricks and treats

Posted by Alan at 5:32 AM on October 22, 2013

angry birds friends halloween

Halloween is right around the corner and, as in previous years, Rovio is celebrating via its popular mobile games. In the past this has consisted of an update to Angry Birds Seasons, but this time around the developers are taking a different approach.

The Finnish company is rolling out two updates, this time adding zombie pigs to both the Bad Piggies game, as well as Angry Birds Friends, the weekly tournament game.

“This is the Halloween when Zombie Pigs will walk the Piggy Island! A new update for Bad Piggies, called Tusk ‘til Dawn, kicked off the Halloween celebrations by introducing 30 spooky new levels with scary Zombie Pigs searching for King Pig’s candy”, the company has announced.

In addition, beginning October 23 there will be a special Halloween tournament live on Angry Birds Friends. “Don’t worry! You’ll have new custom slingshots to fight the hordes of the oinking dead. You can purchase a new slingshot with a special power that will apply to all birds shot with it. You can change the slingshots for each bird, and once purchased you can use them permanently in both web and mobile versions of the game”.

Both updates are now available in the Google Play store and the Apple store.

Perfect Packaging by Orlebar Brown

Posted by Andrew at 4:17 PM on October 20, 2013

Apple’s a master at the complete end-to-end user experience and has elevated product packaging to an art form. Tech companies aren’t the only ones at this; I recently ordered some swim shorts from Orlebar Brown and this nondescript box arrived in the post.

Orlebar Brown Box

Pretty dull on the outside but open the box up and everything is a visual and sensory treat. The inside of the box is a rich red, the swimwear (not shown) is neatly folded within a branded drawstring bag, the clothing tags are quality card, and with Orlebar Brown one doesn’t simply get a receipt stuffed in the box; one gets a receipt in a crisp brilliant white envelope, reminiscent of an invite to an exclusive event. Glorious.

Orlebar Brown Inside Box

In all honesty, I have never seen mail order done better – I’m sold and I’m now customer for life. And that’s before I’ve even put on the swim shorts, which are equally fabulous. Now, if I can just get that six pack sorted over the winter.

Was Steve Jobs Right? iPhone 5c Not Selling As Well as Expected

Posted by J Powers at 10:35 AM on October 11, 2013
iPhone 5c

iPhone 5c

One thing I liked about Steve Jobs philosophy – he never looked backwards. When he put out a product, the version lines were drawn and you would either pay for quality or go without. Maybe his ideals were based on more than feeling. Just today, Business Insider reports that Analyst Ming-Chi Quo just slashed their estimate of iPhone 5c by one third. The phone isn’t selling that well even with the high-profile colors.

If you notice in the market, the 5c is getting some discounts. Best Buy is the first to offer a $100 trade-in credit of any smartphone for an iPhone. With contract, that makes the iPhone 5c free.

But why would you want a 5c for free when you can get a 5s for $100?

The Steve Jobs Days at Apple

Jobs focus was on the quality of a product. After all – he wanted to change the world. You don’t change the world by moving backwards.

Back in 1989, Jobs told Inc. magazine, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” So when you take an iPhone and make it affordable and looking good, then dangle a better iPhone in people’s faces for only $100 more, which phone would the public end up choosing?

That is why Apple didn’t have 3rd party computer manufacturers. That is why Apple fought tooth and nail when hackintosh maker Psystar tried to force their way in the market.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs photo: Matt Yohe

iPad Mini the Exception?

When Kindle came out and everyone was clamoring for a smaller iPad, Jobs was very vocal about it. He even said the iPad mini was not in Apple’s focus. From an article on AllthingsD: 

“The reason we [won't] make a 7-inch tablet isn’t because we don’t want to hit [a lower] price point,” Jobs said. “It’s because we think the screen is too small to express the software. As a software driven company, we think about the software strategies first.”

When the iPad mini came out, it had the older processor and no retina screen – like an iPad2. The response was decent enough to keep it going – but it really felt like Apple was taking a small chance since it didn’t put the power in the mini that the 4th generation iPad had.

Why the iPhone 5c Isn’t Doing Well?

The reality is this: iPhone 5c was nothing more than the iPhone5. It would have been better to just re-issue the 5 with less internal memory like they did with the previous releases.

Some are also disappointed that Apple didn’t move past the 4″ screen. Even Steve Wozniak has been vocal about the display size. Rumors piqued of Apple trying different options and left people scratching their heads when it didn’t happen.

Now, rumors are flying again – maybe the next model will have it… maybe.

So should Apple look back? They haven’t on their Mac lines and the new Mac Pro looks very impressive – as long as it performs as good as it looks. The iPad mini does fit a niche but it shouldn’t be a step back. Most important – the case change is only important if it has features we never expected we needed – giving it that “Wow” factor that takes it one step past the consumer expectation. That is Apple in Steve Job’s eye.

iPhone Speed Test Comparison with Every Version of iPhone

Posted by J Powers at 7:41 AM on September 30, 2013


Do you wonder how the iPhone 5S compares to the first version? Maybe you just want to compare between 5S and 5 or 4S to see if you really want to upgrade. If you don’t have every iPhone to test your theories out on, then check out this video by Everything Apple Pro.

This YouTube video tries to show you how fast the different iPhones react. The 5S, 5C, 5, 4S and 4 all with iOS7 and the 3GS, 3G and 2G (EDGE) with their highest level of iOS software.

Things We Learned from this iPhone Speed Test

  • Some cases, the 2G out-performed the newer models (it turns off the fastest, for sure).
  • 5S shows its lightning speed (when connected to Wifi)
  • You can see the size progression from each model
  • Unlocking all of them at once is pretty sweet!

It also shows that unless you want the fingerprint sensor and M7 co-processor functionality or if you want a colorful iPhone and the dynamic background of iOS7, then upgrading from the 5 or 4S might not be necessary at this time.

Jazooli’s Portable Tablet Desk Stand Review

Posted by Andrew at 2:29 PM on September 29, 2013

For some time I’ve been looking for a decent desk stand to hold my 10″ tablet but all the ones tried so far have some annoyance or niggle. Usually the stand wouldn’t work well with the tablet still in its case, but others would be bulky, flimsy, only for the iPad or just plain rubbish. The good news is that I think I’ve found the answer in the shape of Jazooli‘s “Portable Lightweight Universal Foldable Desk Stand“. They’re fibbing a little with the “lightweight” but in all other respects this is a good product. It’s solid metal, folds up, has two positions and works while the tablet is in its case. Perfect!

When folded up, the Jazooli is nice and slim, fitting neatly into a little pouch. At 200g, it’s not what I would call lightweight but the mass does mean it’s not easily knocked over.

Jazooli Folded

There are two ways that the stand can be stood up. Here it is in the upright position, which is good for viewing movies or keeping an eye on Twitter.

Jazooli Upright

For typing on the tablet, the stand has a reclined mode, aka “I-dont-want-everyone-else-in-the-office-to-see-I’m-on-Facebook-instead-of-working” mode. This position works well with ultrabooks, notebooks and small laptops to give an angle to the keyboard.

Jazooli Lying Back

There’s an extra smaller leg that pops out from the main support – it’s more obvious in this close up. The metal finish is better seen in the image too.

Jazooli Close-up

Finally, here’s what the stand looks like with a 10″ Android tablet on board. Note that the tablet is still in its case.

Jazooli Stand with Tablet

 

In summary, Jazooli’s portable foldable desk stand is currently my favourite tablet stand. Obviously your needs may not be the same as my needs but as it’s currently available from Amazon.co.uk for £5.99 and from Amazon.com for $2.55, it’s hard to go wrong!

[Disclosure: this was a personal purchase]