Amazon Fire Phone


David Pierce, The Verge:

The five (yes, five) cameras that peer out from the phone’s front panel are nakedly shown, and they just feel out of place, like exposed screws in luxury furniture. Yet they’re the only distinctive thing about the Fire Phone [...]

Maybe Amazon should have made the four corner cameras more like screws. The camera on the back is a 13-megapixel shooter that’s slow, but rewards you with photos as good as any other Android phone.

FIREFLY is a tool that recognizes objects:

Most of the time, as long as you have a package of some kind — a box, a book cover, a barcode, a big logo — Firefly will at least get close, but it’s not nearly as accurate as it needs to be.

But it’s better at identifying songs, movies, TV shows, email addresses, URLs, and phone numbers.

DYNAMIC PERSPECTIVE is a fancy word for Amazon’s take on 3D. The four screw-like cameras in front of the Fire Phone tracks your head and shifts your perspective accordingly. The lock screens are cool, and so is a game called To-Fu Fury, but I’m guessing the real deal is to take a closer 360-degree look at the stuff you want to buy from Amazon.

When I watched Jeff Bezos tilting and flicking the Fire Phone to bring up hidden panes on the left and right I thought that could get tiring really quick. I guess it does:

You’re entirely reliant on gestures and flicks of the phone to access these menus. Most apps have no indicators or helpful icons; you just have to open every app and twist the phone around like a lunatic to find things. You can’t even see the time without tilting your phone just so. An errant buzz is your only indication that you have a notification, prompting you to cock your wrist or swipe down from the top bezel to open the notification windowshade. None of this is explained, none of it is intuitive. Dynamic Perspective makes everything look cleaner, but makes actually using your phone a lot harder. I don’t need my phone to be clever, or spartan. I need it to be obvious. The Fire Phone is anything but.

Another feature I thought could get annoying is Auto Scroll, where you tilt the screen to scroll text. Auto Scroll sets the scrolling speed at the angle at which you opened up the article. You’re probably going to end up scrolling too slow or too fast, and ultimately turning the feature off. Whatever you do don’t put down the Fire Phone in the middle of reading something.

Joshua Topolsky tweeted: “My quick personal take on the Fire Phone: it is functionally and aesthetically awful”

There are some good points: Mayday, a free year of Amazon Prime, and unlimited online storage for your photos taken with the Fire Phone. I’m sure you’ve heard of Mayday, where a real person takes a look at your screen (not you), and helps you figure out answers to your questions. For those who need a real person to help the Fire Phone is the only smartphone option. Let’s hope Mayday agents continue to be fast and friendly.

If you take most of your photos with your smartphone the unlimited photo (not video) storage is great. Unfortunately you might not have too many nice photos to store if you’re trying to take photos of things or people that move.

I’m most interested in how Amazon and third-party developers will use FireFly and Dynamic Perspective to improve the buying experience from Amazon. If FireFly gets faster and more accurate in identifying analog and digital objects, and if more stuff on Amazon makes use of dynamic perspective so potential customers can get a better look, I think the Fire Phone can become a nifty shopping tool.

But today a smartphone is not merely a tool for buying stuff. A smartphone is your portable computer and it needs to do a lot more than make buying stuff quick and simple. For starters, your smartphone is your camera. The camera has to be a good enough so it doesn’t make you want to go out and buy a real camera. (Maybe Amazon wants you to do just that: use your Fire Phone to buy a real camera on Amazon.) Amazon needs to make the Fire Phone camera better by making it faster. A faster more capable camera should improve FireFly too.

Second, your smartphone, especially one you pay US$199 up front, is a fashion statement. The Fire Phone doesn’t get you any points in this department, especially with those screw-like cameras on the front. A case — preferably one with a front cover — would be a must. The Fire Phone is functional, but functional doesn’t have to mean ugly.

I subscribe to Amazon Prime; I depend on Prime for almost everything I buy, including peanuts. I also signed up for a free month of Amazon Kindle Unlimited; I like it so far. If only the Amazon Fire Phone was more like the LG G3 with tie-ins to Amazon’s services. In my world I have the option of carrying only one smartphone, and from what I have seen that one smartphone will not be a Fire Phone.





The Impact of Ancestral Exposure to Synthetic Fungicides, Plastics, Pesticides, Dioxin, and Hydrocarbons to Your Health


PLOS ONE:

Environmental compounds including fungicides, plastics, pesticides, dioxin and hydrocarbons can promote the epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of adult-onset disease in future generation progeny following ancestral exposure during the critical period of fetal gonadal sex determination.

In other words, your grandparents’ exposure to fungicides, plastics, pesticides, dioxin, and hydrocarbons negatively impacts your health, today. So be good to your future grandchildren and reduce your exposure to these poisons.





Samsung Level vs. Beats Audio


Chris Ziegler at The Verge on the Samsung Level Over:

My current daily-use set is Beats’ Studio Wireless, a $379.99 model that also features ANR and goes head-to-head with the Level Overs: both are over-the-ear designs with Bluetooth support, optional wired use, phone controls, and price tags that are well beyond impulse-purchase range. It’s just that the Samsung’s ANR is way better — the artificial hiss is far less noticeable, and it’s so powerful that the effect can be a little unnerving the first time you turn it on. The outside world just immediately disappears, replaced with nothingness. (And unlike the Studio Wireless, the Level Over’s ANR can be turned off if you so choose.)

The sound coming out of the Level Over is cleaner and truer than the bass-heavy Beats Studio Wireless.

Dan Seifert reports the Samsung Level On puts less pressure on your cranium than the Beats Solo 2, and with a more balanced sound. But David Pierce thinks the Level In is no match for the Beats Tour. Finally, Sean O’Kane puts the Level Box way over the wimpy Beats Pill 2.0 claiming Samsung “hit a home run”.

Samsung is going after Beats because Beats is now a part of Apple. And anything Apple Samsung’s gotta beat. Samsung 3: Beats 1.





A New Digital Tattoo for Moto X


Weird.





Lenovo: Americans Don’t Want Small Windows Tablets


Agam Shah, PC World:

“In North America, we’re seeing stronger interest in the larger screen sizes for Windows tablets and are pleased with initial customer demand for the ThinkPad 10,” said Raymond Gorman, a Lenovo spokesman, in an email.

Lenovo stopped selling its ThinkPad 8 and Miix 2 in North America; both sport 8-inch displays.

“In other markets, particularly Brazil, China, and Japan, the demand for ThinkPad 8 has been much stronger, so we are adjusting our ThinkPad 8 inventories to meet increasing demand in those markets. If market demand for ThinkPad 8 changes, we will re-evaluate our strategy,” Gorman said.

Not surprising Americans like larger, and equally not surprised to see countries like Brazil, China, and Japan prefer smaller.





The Trouble With IBM


Nick Summers, Businessweek:

As the Government Accountability Office reviewed the award, documents showed the CIA’s opinion of IBM was tepid at best. The agency had “grave” concerns about the ability of IBM technology to scale up and down in response to usage spikes, and it rated the company’s technical demo as “marginal.” Overall, the CIA concluded, IBM was a high-risk choice. In a court filing, Amazon blasted the elder company as a “late entrant to the cloud computing market” with an “uncompetitive, materially deficient proposal.” A federal judge agreed, ruling in October that with the “overall inferiority of its proposal,” IBM “lacked any chance of winning” the contract. The corporate cliché of the 1970s and ’80s, that no one ever got fired for buying IBM, had never seemed less true.

The article was written a few months ago in May, but large companies like IBM cannot change on a dime in such a short time, so I think it’s safe to assume IBM was and still is late to the game of cloud, and trails Amazon by quite a bit. But Rometty promises this:

“Let me start with this idea that we are going to lead the IT industry through this change,” Rometty said. “I’m very clear with my words in that this industry is going to reorder. It will not look the same 10 years from now. And we will be the leader in this industry.” Cloud sales delivered as a service, she said, were growing rapidly, on pace for $2.3 billion in 2014. IBM’s total revenue is $100 billion. “Look, this is not the first time we’ve transformed,” Rometty said. “This will not be the last time.”

IBM’s enterprise partnership with Apple is a good start.





Vantablack


The Independent: Developed by British company Surrey NanoSystems, Vantablack is a material made of carbon nanotubes that absorbs 99.96% of light.

It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing. Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss.

I wonder if you could sprinkle a little Vantablack on LCDs.





Apple & IBM Enterprise Partnership


Arik Hesseldahl, Re/code:

“If you were building a puzzle, they would fit nicely together with no overlap,” Cook said of the relationship. “We do not compete on anything. And when you do that you end up with something better than either of you could produce yourself.”

Calling Apple the “gold standard for consumers,” Rometty said the team-up will allow the two giants to address significant opportunities facing large businesses. “We will get to remake professions and unlock value that companies don’t yet have,” she said. “We’re addressing serious issues that before this had been inhibiting deployment of wireless in the enterprise.”

Instead of building a new division at Apple geared toward selling to and supporting enterprise customers, Apple teamed up with IBM. I’m glad Cook knows what Apple is:

“We’re good at building a simple experience and in building devices,” Cook said. “The kind of deep industry expertise you would need to really transform the enterprise isn’t in our DNA. But it is in IBM’s.”

If Apple was a company that went after its competitors head on this enterprise partnership with IBM is a move toward penetrating Microsoft’s and Blackberry’s strongholds.





RE2PECT






Samsung’s Poor Q2’14 Results


Reuters: Samsung’s 2014 second quarter operating profit is estimated to have fallen 24.5% Y/Y to 7.2 trillion won (US$7.12 billion).

[...] Samsung said second-quarter earnings would be hit by slower global smartphone market growth, competition in China, inventory buildup in Europe and the strength of the won, which appreciated by around 9 percent on average against the dollar during the second quarter.

What does Y/Y growth really tell you? I’d say, not much. 2014 is a different year with new challenges and opportunities. In three months Samsung made over $7 billion in operating profits; the company is doing something right. Are any other major brands making this much money? Apple, of course, but anyone else?

Chinese competition. Big names such as Huawei and Lenovo as well as lesser known brands such as OnePlus make high end smartphones that compete with the Galaxy S4 and S5 for much less. Take the OnePlus One for example: packed with high end components (a 5.5-inch 1920×1080 LCD, 13 megapixel f/2.0 camera, 2.5 GHz quadcore CPU with 3GB RAM, etc.) that outperform the highly touted and affordable $349 Google Nexus 5, but for $50 less, and for less than half the price of a Galaxy S5 ($660 at T-Mobile in the US).

If Samsung continues to compete on hardware alone the company will eventually lose to competition from China.





   



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