Even if consumers don’t know what cloud computing is, they’re probably using it.
‘neb·u·lous’ – adjective – cloudy or cloudlike – Dictionary.com
‘Lick’ has a lot to answer for. In 1963 Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider, ‘Lick’ to his friends, wrote a memo to his colleagues entitled ‘Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network’. It began apologising for his postponement of a meeting, but by the end he had laid the groundwork for a term which still baffles consumers nearly 50 years later. Lick stressed the importance in computers developing “a capability for integrated network operation… such a network as I envisage nebulously”.
The phrase ‘Cloud Computing’ was born. It probably wasn’t the best description, Licklider admitted in the same memo “as you may have detected… I am at a loss for a name”, but the analogy stuck. Today Gartner predicts the Cloud Computing Market will be worth $150 billion by 2013 and that by 2014 60 per cent of server workloads will be spent processing Cloud data. It cannot be stopped and it should not be stopped. It already dominates consumers’ lives and, as one report observed, this year’s CES (the world’s largest consumer tech event) “should have been called the Cloud Electronics Show”.
So what on earth is it? The simplest definition of Cloud Computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, where the service is provided over a network (typically the Internet). Pure Cloud Computing includes web email such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo email; social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and ‘streaming’ Internet entertainment services like Spotify, Netflix and BBC iPlayer. A great deal of productivity software lives “in the Cloud” as well such as Google Docs and Microsoft’s Office 365. Modern file synchronisation and backup services are all ‘Cloud-based’ too including Apple iCloud, Dropbox and Microsoft SkyDrive.
It isn’t technically correct, but an easy rule of thumb is to substitute ‘Cloud’ for ‘Internet’. Yes it really isn’t all that difficult, but despite continual media hype, most consumers have no idea what Cloud Computing is or how it works. In August last year the NPD Group announced research which claimed just 22 per cent of consumers were familiar with the term, though 76 per cent of respondents reported using some type of Cloud-based service in the past 12 months.
“Whether they understand the terminology or not, consumers are actually pretty savvy in their use of cloud-based applications,” concluded Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for NPD. “They might not always recognize they are performing activities in the cloud, yet they still rely on and use those services extensively.”
Little else matters. Henry Ford didn’t care whether customers understood the inline four-cylinder monobloc flathead engine inside the Model T and he didn’t require them to define precisely what an automobile was. Ford just wanted consumers to buy it and by doing so in their droves they created a new sector that took society to the next level. Cloud Computing is no different and the benefits to its widespread adoption are arguably even greater.
This is no tongue in cheek statement…
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The rPAC may have a single focus, but it is brilliant at it.
Price as reviewed £150.00
- TI Burr-Brown PCM5102 DAC chipset
- 138mW headphone amplifcation
- RF Suppression
- Asynchronous USB
- 3.5mm & phono output
- Independent volume control
The Arcam rPAC is a USB, bus powered DAC (digital to analogue converter) and headphone amplifier that forms part of Arcam’s new ‘R Series’ line of streaming music products – which also includes the excellent drDock. The rPAC has a very simple purpose: make listening to music from your computer better. How it achieves this is rather complex, but you wouldn’t guess that from the setup or design.
Out of the box the rPAC is perhaps the most basic looking device you will see this year. It is a 100 x 62 x 25mm rectangle with USB power and RCA sockets on one side and a 3.5mm jack on the other. On the top are plus and minus volume buttons and a discrete LED which is red when plugged in, switches to green when processing audio and flickers to acknowledge volume adjustment.
Construction and Setup
Despite this minimalism Arcam has continued the good work it started on the drDock as the rPAC is exceptionally well made. The exterior is heavy cast aluminium with a tasteful matt black finish and a damped rubber base. Much like a heavy bottomed glass, the weighty construction (it tips the scales at 300g) feels good in hand and, as the rPAC will most likely live on a desk, makes it mechanically stable and means it isn’t easily knocked over or out of place. We suggested the drDock paid homage to the design and finish of the Apple TV and this is even more apparent here.
You won’t need the instruction manual to get setup… This is a sample. Read the full review on TrustedReviews.
An iPhone/iPod/iPad dock with integrated DAC and HDMI? Yes please!
Price as reviewed £199.00
- Integrated DAC
- SPDIF and Auxiliary audio outputs
- Charge and sync with iTunes over USB
- Video output over HDMI
The Arcam drDock is the curiously named new addition to Arcam’s iPod dock lineup. Succeeding the irDock and rDock it greatly expands upon both, adding a host of useful features. Its raison d’être is to be the quality interconnect between your iPod, iPhone or iPad and a high end AV system and/or television. To do this it features a built-in DAC as well as SPDIF, analogue and (for the first time) HDMI outputs. It will also charge your iDevice and synchronise it with iTunes over USB. This is quite the feature list but, as with its award winning speaker dock the Arcam rCube, the company has delivered in spades.
The most obvious place to start is the design. The drDock is part of a wave of new ‘R Series’ products from the company (which includes the ‘rDAC’ which we will review in a few days) and they feature a unified aluminium construction and matt black finishes. In photos the drDock looks good, but in hand the build quality is exceptional. Arcam has pulled out all the stops to give the drDock a premium feel, and it succeeds. The overall effect is a little akin to the Apple TV with clean lines and a full rubber base (rather than cheaper rubber feet) which adds solidity and a feeling of quality. The connectors are beautifully carved out too with the SPDIF and analogue connectors finished in signal-friendly gold.
The design has also been radically altered. The sunken well connector of the irDock and rDock have been removed so that iPod touch, iPhone and iPad devices can all sit comfortably. Interestingly the irDock is also surprisingly heavy (415g) which, while not usually a desirable quality in gadgets, is ideal here as an iPad can dock comfortably without feeling like it may topple over at any moment.
That’s the outside, so what about the inside? The beating heart of the drDock is Arcam’s internal Burr Brown DAC, a model used across the new R Series. The DAC takes any iDevice out of the equation by stripping the digital audio before it hits their inferior circuitry and processing it directly before sending it on to your AV system or TV. Also worth mentioning is…
This is a sample. Read the full review on TrustedReviews
For those not in the know, Dropbox is a file hosting, backup and synchronisation service. It works by giving users a single folder which automatically synchronises content added or deleted across multiple devices as well as backing up online. Edited or removed files are kept for up to 30 days online and ‘sharing’ folders can be setup between friends, family or colleagues. Dropbox offers users 2GB of storage space for free, premium subscriptions provide 50GB, 100GB or ‘Team’ accounts for companies.
Dropbox wasn’t the first company to stumble upon this formula, but it has been the breakout success story. We look at why.
The Landscape before Dropbox
Houston is right, there may not have been thumb drives in Minority Report, but when the Science Fiction film was released in 2002, the real world was overrun by them. IBM and Trek Technology were first to market in 1999 with 8MB devices and as capacity increased and size reduced the tech savvy would even boast about whose thumb drive was the best. The technology was impressive, but blinding. Users lost sight of the fact they were mere extensions of the floppy disk and actually a backwards step from the lightening fast Intranets of their schools and universities.
“I graduate and for me it’s back to the Stone Age,” argues Houston. “Where I am emailing myself stuff I’m carrying on a thumb drive. A couple of times I must have put it in the wash… and prayed I hadn’t destroyed it. But I felt like I was just always one stupid move away from disaster.”
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The world’s most secure mobile phone looks, but doesn’t come, cheap.
Price as reviewed £1,320.00
- 1024bit encrypted digital identification via 2nd Crypto SIM
- Uniquely generated 256bit AES call connection
- Self destructs if tampered with
- 5hrs talk time, 250 hrs standby
- Two E2s required for encrypted calls
- 2.4in 320 x 240 pixel display
- Triband GSM (900, 1800, 1900MHz)
There is a famous scene in The West Wing where a bemused politician’s aid is told by a military official why ashtrays on nuclear submarines cost $400. “It’s off the USS Greenville, a nuclear attack submarine and likely target for a torpedo,” he explains. “When you get hit with one, you’ve got enough problems without glass flying into the eyes of the navigator and the officer of the deck. This one’s built to break into three dull pieces. We lead a slightly different life out there and it costs a little more money.” The scene could have been written about Tripleton’s Enigma E2 secure phone…
Announced late last month the Enigma E2 is no ordinary phone, in fact according to its maker it is the world’s most secure mobile phone. This is not due to an add-on or app, the E2’s security is at a base level built into the hardware and using a custom secure operating system. The result is extreme with 1024bit RSA asymmetric encryption and 256bit AES symmetric encryption with a further two-way user authentication. Unsurprisingly military, politicians and high end enterprise are the intended customers, rather than those living in fear of the latest Facebook privacy leak.
Interestingly, given all this technology, on the surface the Enigma E2 looks like a handset you might buy for an elderly relative. This is because when the E2 isn’t being uber-smart it is being extremely dumb. The specs read like a handset from a time when Nokia ruled the phone world: a 2.4in 320 x 240 pixel display, triband GSM (900, 1800, 1900MHz), a 3MP camera, microSD card slot, WAP 2.0 web browser, unified email inbox, FM radio and Bluetooth. There is MP3 and MPEG4 audio and video playback, but we can’t see much of the latter being done on such a small screen.
The build quality is also nothing to write home about. The E2 is 100 per cent plastic with four different finishes and the faux-metal side band is a bit tacky. Furthermore the video and camera buttons on the side are small and the microSD card slot cover feels particularly flimsy. The screen is also very dull by modern handset standards and the low screen resolution feels jarring in 2012. At 94.5g and 115 x 50 x 14.7mm the E2 isn’t particularly light or compact either.
Furthermore encrypted calls take their toll on the battery life with it lasting for only up to five hours of talk time, though standby is healthier at up to 250 hours. At least it charges over microUSB, though like the microSD card slot it has a similarly flimsy cover. As you might have guessed by these covers, the E2 isn’t ruggedised to withstand additional impacts or to be water resistant. Of course in theory none of this matters because, like the $400 ashtray, the value is in how it performs…
A price-busting portable speaker with tonnes of functionality, but there’s a but…
Price as reviewed £60.00
- 2x 3W speakers
- Bluetooth with A2DP wireless streaming
- Wireless speakerphone
- Integrated, rechargeable battery
- Mini USB charge port
- 3.5mm auxiliary jack
Logitech has broken new ground recently impressing us all with its first premium speaker dock, the UE Air. Now the company is back on more familiar ground with the Mini Boombox, a small, portable speaker designed to make the best of the impending (possibly?) British summer.
The Logitech Mini Boombox looks nothing like its showy premium big brother, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The curved rectangular design is akin to a river-worn stone and its smooth edges feel comfortable in hand. At just 219g it is only a little heavier than a big screened smartphone and slightly bigger than a tin of hardboiled sweets. In short, Logitech has aced the portability part.
It hasn’t done too badly in terms of durability either. A choice of red, white and black finishes are available and these differential sections are made from rubber to resist bumps, scuffs and drops. The rubber feet on the bottom of the Mini Boombox provide similar protection with the only weak spot being the piano black top, which reveals touch sensitive controls when the speaker is switched on.
Notably the top is only connected to the rest of the speaker at the front in order to create a vent for the bass, but this does make it feel weak in hand so hope any impacts take place elsewhere.
Controls and connectivity
What of these controls? Play, pause, skip (hold to scan) and volume make predictable appearances and are responsive to the touch, but worthy of note is the dual function Bluetooth/Call key. Calls first – the Mini Boombox has a built in mic that allows it to be used as a speakerphone, the call button used to answer/end calls. This is a sample, continue reading the full article at TrustedReviews
Siri reignited interest in speech recognition, now the company behind Siri has released its…
Price as reviewed £120.00
- Over 99 per cent potential accuracy
- Five minute initial setup
- Dictate wirelessly using an iPad or iPhone
- Post straight to Facebook & Twitter
- Compose emails & search Google Maps
- Transcribe audio files
There is something undoubtedly cool about typing without using your hands. The problem is, what seems like such an elegant solution is often more trouble than it’s worth. Speech recognition software has been around for years, but lengthy voice training and hit and miss accuracy have scared many of us away from trying it again. That is a shame, because today it is a whole new ballgame.
Nuance has been around since 1992 in various forms. Its technology powers Siri, the party trick behind the iPhone 4S, and it has been the dominant force in the voice recognition market virtually ever since. Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5 is the company’s latest attempt to teach us that speaking to our computers is not a waste of time. It succeeds.
As a “.5″ release you would think NaturallySpeaking is more about evolution than revolution, but happily that is not the case. Version 11.5 brings a host of new features including smartphone integration, support for social media, a raft of new commands, welcome refinements to the UI and further improvements to the accuracy and speed of the speech recognition engine. Arguably the most exciting of these is smartphone integration because it has the potential to revolutionise the way people use the software.
A rare deviation. This article is not written by me, rather I am a part of it giving career advice to aspiring journalists for an article in the Guardian.
My Big Break in Journalism: Writers Reveal their Routes into the Media
What does it take to get a journalism career started? A handful of high profile reporters tell Jack Oughton how they got their foot in the door, and offer advice for budding journalists
Keen to find out what the journalists and writers that I look up to did to get to where they are today, I devised a mini career questionnaire and sent a few tweets and emails to get some answers. I asked: what’s the one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring journalists? What was the most important thing you did for your career? And, what is good journalism to you? Here are some highlights from what they had to say.
[Cut to my section. I don’t have rights to republish in its entirety.]
Gordon Kelly is a writer and journalist specialising in technology, music and film. He works freelance as a features writer for TrustedReviews, the BBC and Wired, produces internal magazines for a number of major companies and teaches courses in media relations
“Remember the 5 Ws [who, what, where, when, why]. It is basic, but how you order information is fundamental to better writing. If I’m allowed a second: don’t be afraid to say you don’t understand. Journalists spend their time talking to specialists. Better to ask a question at the time than feel foolish in print later on.
At my first job my editor made me write nothing but NIBs (news in brief) for the first week. NIBs could be no shorter than 23 words and no longer than 27 words. The lesson was crucial: quickly identify what is and isn’t important and work out what is the heart of the story. Now being able to see the hook of a story, feature or editorial is arguably my biggest strength. To this day if I’m struggling with something I try to summarise it in 23 to 27 words.
[Good journalism is] stories that engage. Different industries and different titles will have a huge influence on what and how you can write, but from these boundaries I think it is important to convey to the reader: ‘this is why you should care’. From cats stuck in trees to front page news, if you don’t care about what you write, why should anyone else?”
Read the entire article here with further advice from the likes of Guardian Technology Editor Charles Arthur, renowned freelance journalist Elizabeth Pears, BGR executive editor Zach Epstein, Tom Warren – Senior News Editor at The Verge and founder of WinRumors, Guardian Money editor Hilary Osborne and Dan Raywood, online news editor for SC Magazine.
Google has given us a glimpse of the future with Project Glass. How realistic is it?
“I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle.”
There is fundamental interest in being able to see more than the naked eye can perceive. The analytics of the Terminator, witnessing the magnetic spectrum like Geordi La Forge, Cyclops’s ability to fire laser beams – enhancing vision takes us straight to science fiction and a world of almost infinite possibility. A world that Google this week let us dream may not be that far away…
Had it come from any smaller company, ‘Project Glass‘ would be dismissed as a pipe dream, the ambitious vision of a design student trying to attract the attention of a high profile employer. However, it comes from Google’s labs, and the company is deadly serious. “We think technology should work for you—to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t,” it proclaimed. “A group of us from Google [x] started Project Glass to build this kind of technology, one that helps you explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment.”
A promotional video (above) accompanied the announcement demonstrating how core smartphone functionality (mapping, social media, video calls, etc) could be integrated into a pair of lightweight glasses using virtual reality. Google showed off a concept design and then, as if to demonstrate the strength of its conviction, a few days later company co-founder Sergey Brin casually turned up to a public charity event wearing a pair (below). A timescale appeared (late 2013) and even a price range was mooted (£300-£500).
There is a logical reaction to all of this: “what nonsense!” The Project Glass video has already been subject to numerous parodies and it raises more questions, both in terms of hardware and software, than it answers. Looking at the hardware you have to question battery life in an age where we can barely get a smartphone to see out a day. In addition there are questions of durability, heat, fit (especially for those who already wear glasses), processing power, always-on internet connectivity and much more. Just wait for the campaigns to begin about them cooking your brain.
I’ve long said Apple deliberately plays down the importance of Apple TV. My review for Wired UK points out how Apple TV is the glue which holds the Apple universe together.
Wired Rating 8/10
Wired: Stylish hardware, refined software, 1080p playback and seamless audio and video AirPlay integration with existing Apple products
Tired: Apple TV remains little more than a TV conduit for more capable devices and without them it flounders
Is it better to be a jack of all trades or a master of one? In today’s ruthless technology jungle the former seems to be true. Convergence crushes single purpose products and we buy by ticking off an ever longer checklist of features and minimum requirements. Against this background the Apple TV is a little odd. All it does is interact with other Apple products and services, but it does so brilliantly.
The modest, but intense focus is reflected in the Apple TV itself. Now in its third generation and its fifth year Apple’s so-called “hobby” has no time for a distracting redesign. It still looks like a small, square tin of the world’s most expensive hardboiled sweets, it still measures 98 x 98 x 23mm and it still weighs exactly 270g. In fact the only way to tell the difference from the previous Apple TV is to look at the box which has “1080p” written on a single side.
This references arguably the biggest feature of the new Apple TV: the jump from 720p HD video support to “Full HD” 1080p. To achieve this there are further subtle tweaks under the hood. The processor has been upgraded from an Apple A4 chip, as seen in the iPhone 4, to a single-core version of the previously dual-core Apple A5 fitted inside the iPhone 4S and iPad 2. Elsewhere Apple has decided not to mess with a simple formula. There is HDMI, Ethernet and WiFi (802.11b/g/n) connectivity, a port for optical audio output and a power cord.
As such the Apple TV sticks squarely to the Cupertino company’s tried and tested formula. The most compelling reason to buy it is the software and the fact it gets considerably better the more Apple products you own. Read the rest of the review on Wired UK