Aspiring fashion designers can now mix and match Barbie’s dresses, shoes and handbags using Barbie iDesign, the information-age equivalent of the paper doll.
The iDesign kit, available now at ‘www.mattel.com’ for about $30 (Rs1,185), includes 50 clear plastic cards, each representing a piece of clothing or an accessory, along with software for Windows and a card reader that connects to a computer via the USB port.
When you swipe a card through the scanner, an outfit appears on an on-screen model, who can then appear on a magazine cover or in a fashion show. The shows can be customized with different themes and music, and the magazines can be printed. You can also design an outfit away from the computer, by simply stacking the cards on top of one another.
Four computer games extend the card play, with timed design challenges and a tricky style-guessing game. Additional $5 card sets come in themes such as rocker, school, casual, party, sporty, beach bling and princess, making it possible to change the look of your virtual Barbie with the quick swipe of a card. If only picking real outfits were that easy.
©2008/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Gadgets that listen and Obey
A number of devices that incorporate speech recognition are beginning to hit the market. Vlingo Corp., an 18-month-old start-up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is selling services to cellular carriers and other software firms that want to give their customers the ability to let their mouths do the walking—and the searching. Vlingo's service lets people talk naturally, rather than making them use a limited number of set phrases. Vlingo is designed to adapt to the voice of its primary user.
Big companies are also attracted to this market. Nuance started its Nuance Voice Control system last August, the same month Vlingo's appeared. Nuance's system is in use at Sprint and Rogers Communications and can be downloaded to 66 models of hand-held phones, with many more on the way.
Microsoft Corp.’s TellMe offers a speech-driven search application for cellphones that is available to customers of AT&T Inc.—only those who were part of Cingular before the merger—and Sprint. TellMe’s system is built-in on the new Mysto phone from Helio, a mobile phone operator started by Earthlink Inc. and SK Telecom, and is the engine for 1800call411, a free directory information service. Speech recognition technology has been available on personal computers since 2001 in applications such as Microsoft Office. Speech recognition, already used in high-end GPS systems and luxury cars from Cadillac and Lexus, is now spreading to less expensive systems and cars. Sync was developed by Microsoft and Ford Motor Co., and based on Nuance technology. The speech technology chief at IBM Research, David Nahamoo, says the company has an automotive customer testing speech recognition to help drivers find songs quickly while driving—no more pushing buttons.
©2008/THE NEW YORK TIMES