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23
Mar
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Switched On: Return of the digital hub


Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

In the heyday of Palm organizers, when even the speeds of 3G data seemed like a distant fantasy, a debate raged as to whether the future of pocket devices could belong to one or two devices. Those who favored two devices argued that you didn’t really want all the bulk and battery consumption of a pocket computer in a small device that you wanted to use primarily to make calls. They failed to anticipate that technology’s relentless integration would enable these “pocket computers” to become the minimal-millimeter smartphones of today and that data networks would support access to apps ranging from social networking to mobile video that would trump voice for many users.

But at Samsung’s Unpacked 5 event at Mobile World Congress last month, the star of the now less ostentatious show was not the latest generation of the flagship phone running the world’s most popular mobile operating system. Rather, it was a small wrist device running a virtually unknown platform. And these products have no internet connectivity on their own. In fact, one of the benefits of the new line of Gear devices from Samsung is the broader variety of the company’s smartphones that support them. If you believe in the promise of the smartwatch or Google Glass, you’ve at least partially vindicated the two-device proponents from two decades ago.

The future personal mobile landscape, though, will likely incorporate not just one or two personal devices, but multiple ones that are not only on our person but also in proximity.

The future personal mobile landscape, though, will likely incorporate not just one or two personal devices, but multiple ones that are not only on our person but also in proximity. In 2010, Switched On discussed why the digital hub, as the vision once espoused by Steve Jobs for the future of the PC, gave way to the cloud as the centers of our digital universe. That mostly remains true as far as media is concerned as smartphones still lack the large amounts of vast storage reservoirs that can be embedded in a PC (or at least were prior to the SSD trend).

But a new generation of wearables and personal devices that provide feedback on our exercise, posture, food intake and simply offer silly sounds. Some, like Moov, already include adaptive scenarios for the use of multiple instances of the product worn in different locations on the body. The digital spokes of the PC focused on acquiring and sharing media while the new generation focuses on sending sensor and environmental data. While vastly different in function, size and design from the MP3 players and digital cameras that were once served as tethered outposts for acquiring and using PC-based media on the go, they still lack the native network connectivity of their forebears. That the smartphone has become a digital hub for a new generation of peripherals represents the passing of another torch from the PC.


Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a technology, media and telecom advisory firm, and founder of Backerjack, which covers crowdfunded product innovation. He blogs at Techspressive.

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23
Mar
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App Store and iTunes Prices in UK May Increase Up to 20%


appstore.jpgApple’s iTunes and App Store downloads may see a price increase next year when new UK laws take effect.

The Guardian reports that the most recently introduced budget closes a loophole that allowed digital downloads to avoid UK taxes.

The budget document said: “As announced at budget 2013, the government will legislate to change the rules for the taxation of intra-EU business to consumer supplies of telecommunications, broadcasting and e-services. From 1 January 2015 these services will be taxed in the member state in which the consumer is located, ensuring these are taxed fairly and helping to protect revenue.”

Digital download retailers such as Apple and Amazon presently avoid the UK’s 20% VAT by selling from countries such as Luxembourg where the tax rate is only 3%. Under the new law, downloads to UK customers will be taxed at the higher 20% rate.

The change appears to affect all digital downloads including music, apps, and e-books, and will take effect on January 1, 2015.

    



23
Mar
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IRL: Torque Audio t103z headphones


Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we’re using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL: Torque Audio t103z headphones

Hey, we’re not here to judge, OK? We won’t say anything about you using Apple’s pack-in EarPods and you can keep your thoughts to yourself about us paying $180 for in-ear headphones. Cool? Cool.

I came across Torque Audio at Engadget’s recent Expand conference and was genuinely impressed with its t103z headphones. As an avid musician, it’s unlikely you’ll find me without a pair of buds in my shoulder bag or back pocket. My addiction to quality audio is actually what first tempted me to ditch my iPhone 4s in favor of an HTC One. For me, it’s as much about evaluating the production of Ellie Goulding’s latest track as it is about casually enjoying the groove — and hopefully picking up a few studio tricks in the process. It only took one week with the aluminum-encased t103zs before they became my go-to pair of reference headphones.

The ability to “mod” headphones might seem gimmicky, but these have honestly filled a hole in my listening experience that I hadn’t realized existed. Torque’s t103zs have a seriously flat (read: unaltered) sound. The punchy stabs in Lady Gaga’s “Applause” and heavy mid-toned guitars of Switchfoot’s “Dark Horses” have never sounded so full and expansive, especially compared to the noticeable compression when played through Apple’s EarPods or the Beats headphones that came standard with the HTC One. Not to mention the t103zs offer a premium metal-and-polycarbonate feel that I completely geek out over.

The true appeal of the t103zs lies in their Passive Acoustic Valve Technology and interchangeable parts, dubbed TorqueValves. Each set of TorqueValves employs a technique known as subtractive equalization, which uniquely adjusts the EQ of your audio by physically cutting specific frequency ranges. For example, by reducing the volume of treble frequencies, the “perceived loudness” of bass frequencies becomes much more apparent in the mix. Without diving any further into the backend of digital audio, this process is innately different — and results in less distortion — than, say, selecting “Bass Booster” in the iTunes Equalizer window or toggling Beats Audio on an HTC One. To be fair, the amount of audible distortion and tonal coloration from the alternative — additive equalization –ultimately depends on the skill of the listener’s ear, but theoretically it’s always there.

Out of the three different pairs of TorqueValves that come in the box, I’ve found myself partial to the “sparkling crisp highs” of the Clear Valves. They do a great job at exposing delay tails and vocal stacks from my favorite Kimbra tracks I’ve only ever enjoyed through custom, triple-driver Westone Elite Series ES3X monitors. When I’m looking for an accurate, real-world audio reproduction of my latest studio project, Torque takes the cake. The t103zs are the best single-driver headphones that have ever graced my ears.

– Andy Bowen

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23
Mar
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Apple Maps Flyover Adds 3D Views of Perth, Saint-Tropez, and Cordoba [iOS Blog]


MacPrime.ch notes that Apple has recently added three new locations to their Maps Flyover feature found in iOS.

perth
The new locations include Perth (Australia), Saint-Tropez (France) and Cordoba (Spain).

The 3D flyover features was introduced in iOS 6 and based on the technology of C3 Technologies which was acquired by Apple in 2011. Apple has been slowly expanding coverage since its launch and maintains a list of 3D-enabled locations on their website.

    



23
Mar
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Gadget Rewind 2005: Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP)


It’s our 10th birthday, and to celebrate we’ll be revisiting some of the key devices of the last decade. So please be kind, rewind.

Engadget was lucky enough to get ahold of one before the end of 2004, but the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) was officially launched in the US in March 2005. This made picking a portable a difficult decision for impatient consumers who were wavering between the Nintendo DS and the PSP. The DS had already arrived by late 2004 and details about the Sony release were still a bit fuzzy. So, you decided to wait and snag the PSP, and according to the 2004 Engadget Awards, both editors and readers agree that you made the right decision. It offered several options including external storage, a 1.3-megapixel camera add-on and the ability to handle an array of image, audio and even video formats. The PSP also had a high-resolution 480 x 272 LCD and content looked great … at least as long as the battery held out. The PSP had a rechargeable 1800mAh battery, but all the bells and whistles led to rapid depletion if you used it as a truly portable device.

All those extras packed into the PSP ran the price up well past the competition. The Nintendo DS retailed at around $150, while Sony slapped a $250 price tag onto the PSP. You did have the whole PlayStation franchise behind it, though, with games like Twisted Metal, Wipeout, Metal Gear and plenty more. Although the PSP had a lot going for it, battery life and device size left room for improvement and that’s just what Sony did over the next few years. By 2007, the PSP had shed some weight and arrived as the Slim & Lite (PSP-2000) version. After numerous iterations, the PlayStation Vita arrived in 2012, still looking a bit like the original PSP — and still taxing the battery like the IRS — but rocking a stunning 960 x 544 OLED display.


Did you own a Sony PSP? Add it to your Engadget profile as a device you had (or still have) and join the discussion to reminisce or share photos of your device with other like-minded gadget fans.

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23
Mar
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Inhabitat’s Week in Green: Gigafactory, eVolo Skyscraper Competition and super-powered bionic plants


Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week’s most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us — it’s the Week in Green.

First, the bad news: A new NASA-funded study predicts that industrialized society could completely collapse in the coming decades due to growing inequality and overconsumption of resources. Officials in Paris are taking emergency measures to curb emissions after air quality monitors found that air pollution had risen to hazardous levels in recent weeks. And large-scale famine could be closer than we think: A new report finds that climate change could affect food production much sooner than previously thought.

And if you’re eager to see what a post-apocalyptic world might look like, a Swedish developer has created a Google Street View hack that shows what city streets would look like if nature were to take over. But people around the world are taking steps to reverse course. The US Navy, for example, recently revealed plans to beam solar power from space to earth. And Goldman Sachs recently released a report that states solar energy could soon become cheaper than fossil fuels.

Part of the reason solar energy could soon achieve grid parity is because Elon Musk‘s lithium-ion “Gigafactory” is expected to reduce EV battery costs by more than 30 percent. But that’s not the only thing on Musk’s plate: This week, Musk responded to New Jersey’s ban on Tesla sales, arguing that car dealerships have a “fundamental conflict of interest” when it comes to promoting gas cars and electric cars. In other green transportation news, a team of students from Helsinki teamed up with UPM to create a car that replaces traditional plastic parts with biomaterials like wood. In an effort to cut down on the junk that parents must acquire, designers Yue Han and Zhao Chang Sheng designed a hybrid stroller that transforms into a tricycle. And the folks at Kolelinia Lab recently unveiled the Halfbike, a clever upright tricycle that combines the motion of running with biking.

3D printing has the potential to change the way we make all kinds of things — including buildings. DUS Architects has begun work on an entire house that will be made using 3D printing. The firm recently showed off several pieces of the home’s facade, giving the public some insight into the process. In other design news, the world’s second-tallest living wall was recently completed in Medellin, Colombia. The 300-foot vegetated wall features hundreds of native species that can withstand strong winds. In response to the Fukushima catastrophe, a former Facebook employee spent two years building a floating tsunami-proof capsule in his backyard. We also featured the futuristic winners of this year’s eVolo Skyscraper Competition — including a tower that creates its own building materials, a pollution-fighting skyscraper for LA, a vertical hyper-speed train hub and a twisting wood spire that can be built without a single nail. If the beginning of spring has you dreaming of spending time in the back yard, check out the Garden Igloo, a 2.2-meter-tall geodesic dome that can be used as a greenhouse, playground or even a Jacuzzi cover. But for the adrenaline junkies, this tiny tree house in Baños, Ecuador might be a better fit. The tree house features a swing that dangles over a steep cliff.

Plants are incredibly efficient at converting sunlight into energy, but a team of researchers at MIT is looking to improve on nature by creating super-powered bionic plants that can use photosynthesis to harness solar energy, detect airborne pollutants and more. In other green tech news, scientists at the University of Colorado designed a new toilet that zaps poop into biochar using nothing but the sun. Researchers at the University of Washington have built a two-dimensional light emitting diode that they claim is the world’s thinnest LED — it’s 10,000 times thinner than a human hair — that can be used as a source of light. Clothes washing is one of the most energy-intensive household processes, but a team of Chinese designers wants to change that. The team has developed the Waterwheel washing machine, which combines the mechanism of modern spinning washing machines with traditional washing techniques used in ancient China. In wearable tech news, Kolon Sport has created a new survival jacket that features a personal wind turbine that can be used to power up the jacket’s heating system. And scientists at Ming Chuan University have created a high-tech knee brace that stores kinetic energy and converts it into heat that can be used once you finish your workout.

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23
Mar
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Assassin’s Creed: Unity brings a French flair to stealth action on PC, PS4 and Xbox One


Assassin's Creed: Unity

We hope you’re making good progress on Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, because there’s already a sequel on the way. Ubisoft has unveiled Assassin’s Creed: Unity, a follow-up that takes the stealthy game series to Paris during the French Revolution. Clearly, you can expect guillotines to play an important role. You’ll get a tiny hint of the experience in the teaser video below. However, it’s worth noting that the trailer only shows Unity coming to PCs, the PS4 and the Xbox One — there’s no mention of the Wii U or previous-generation systems. We’ve reached out to Ubisoft to check on platform support, but there’s a good chance that the developer is focusing all its attention on higher-end hardware this time around.

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Via: Joystiq

Source: Ubisoft (YouTube)

23
Mar
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Google’s lightweight image format makes YouTube pages load 10 percent faster


We all want the internet to be faster, right? Well, Google is hoping to make that happen one YouTube thumbnail at a time. Its leaner WebP image format has been used on the Play store for some time now, and Mountain View’s latest venue for the faster-loading files its video service. The outfit says that the switch has resulted in up to 10 percent speedier page-loads, and overall it’s shaved tens of terabytes off its internal data transfer rates every day. The Chromium Blog says that this should help lower bandwidth usage for users as it rolls out, and, what’s more, that there’s a test-version of WebP running in Chrome’s beta channel that’s faster yet. How much so? It drops image decode speeds by 25 percent. If that means faster access to super hero videos and pictures of lazy dogs, sign us up.

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Source: The Chromium Blog

23
Mar
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MLB at Bat for Windows Phone adds push notifications and pitch tracking


Opening day is here! …sort of. This year’s quest for a World Series ring kicks off Down Under today, with the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks squaring off at the Sydney Cricket Ground (yes, they’re still playing baseball). Of course, everyone else is still playing Spring Training games until the weekend of March 31st. But Major League Baseball is making sure all of its mobile app ducks are in a row ahead of time. In particular its Windows Phone MLB at Bat app is getting a long overdue update for the 2014 season. Now you can get live pitch-by-pitch tracking for games and set up push notifications for scores and news. Those features have been available on iOS and Android for quite sometime now, so this is less a major step forward and more about feature parity. But still, we’re sure those that fall in the middle of the baseball and windows phone fan venn diagram are extremely happy.

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Via: Technet

Source: MLB at Bat

23
Mar
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Alt-week 3.22.14: Inner-selfies, new fashion for astronauts and the glory of Venus


Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.

We’re not saying medicine is jumping on the bandwagon, but a new camera could usher in the era of the “inner selfie.” What’s more, astronauts are getting the 70′s sci-fi fashion they deserve, and Venus shows off its glory. This is alt-week.

2014 might go down as the year of the selfie thanks, to a certain picture taken at a little shin-dig. But if you ask a team at Georgia Tech, it’s actually the year of the inner selfie. Why? Because it’s recently taken the wraps off its latest creation: a tiny camera that can shoot high resolution 3D pictures inside the human body. However, it’s not quite like the shooter on the front of Bradley’s Galaxy Note 3, in fact the team’s device doesn’t have a lens at all. Instead, it uses ultrasound and an array of sensors to relay data back to a video monitor, which then presents the information in visual form. It’s not the first camera to work this way, but it’s certainly the first small enough to be used safely in human arteries and blood vessels during surgery. The tiny camera has been designed to be extremely power efficient too, shutting down sensors when not needed so that it’s average power requirement is just 20 milliwatts. More importantly, this stops the camera getting too hot while in use, and harming (potentially fatally) its host. The device still needs to be trialled, and ultimately seek FDA approval, but already the team is working on a smaller version that could be mounted on a 400-micron diameter guide wire!

If you’re an Engadget reader, we’re going to go out on a limb and guess that when you were younger “astronaut” was fairly high on you list of acceptable future jobs. Heck, maybe it still is. If part of the attraction of the gig (apart from, you know, all that obviously cool space stuff) was donning the iconic chunky space suit, then you might want to get that application form off to NASA stat. Why? Because a forthcoming, and frankly less childhood dream-worthy skin-tight outfit could be the astronaut’s future fashion preference. The new suit isn’t about surviving space walks, or looks (of course), it’s about preventing some of the effects that Zero G can have on the human body in day to day living. Common issues include expansion of the spine (by up to three inches in come cases) and wasting muscles due to the lack of resistance. The “Gravity Loading Countermeasure Skinsuit” is tight and stretchy, and it’s designed to emulate the more familiar force of One G on the body. European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen will be the first to test out the new kit in 2015, with the UK’s Tim Peake potentially donning it during his forthcoming time on the ISS. And you thought we’d have to wait until the 25th century for fashion like this?

We’re all familiar with the wonder that is a rainbow. But, what about a ‘glory’? Well, that’s what you are seeing above, in images captured by the ESA’s Venus Express orbiter. Glories occur in a similar way to rainbows — light being refracted/reflected through water — but require special conditions: spherical clouds comprised of equally-sized droplets, with the sun shining through them head on. This particular glory occurred about 70 kilometers above the surface of Venus, and measured some 1,200 kilometers across (about 750 miles) as observed by the craft that photographed it. Quite a trek to find that — we assume extra large — pot of gold then.

Seen any other far-out articles that you’d like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that’s too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.

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