The best of tech awards for 2008

The best of tech awards for 2008
NYT
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First Published: Thu, Jan 22 2009. 09 45 PM IST

Updated: Thu, Jan 22 2009. 09 45 PM IST
Good evening, and welcome to the fourth annual Pogie Awards, celebrating the very best in consumer technology! Imagine: Some 7,000 products submitted, from 93 countries.
At least eight million viewers voting by text message. A $1 million grand prize. Yeah, right. That’d be nice, wouldn’t it?
Actually, it’s just me sitting in my office. And there aren’t any prizes. Still, this is my chance to give a nod to the best tech ideas of 2008. Not the best products—in fact, sometimes they’re terrific ideas wasted on dumb products. No, these are the strokes of inspiration, the clever twists, the flashes of genius that somehow made it through committees, past the lawyers and into the marketplace.
FRUSTATION-FREE PACKAGING
You know how so many products come in clear hard plastic packages, impossible to open without a flame-thrower and the Jaws of Life? Everybody complains about them, but nobody does anything about it. Until now. Amazon.com figured: “Hold on a sec—those are anti-shoplifting packages. But we don’t have a shoplifting problem—we’re mail order!” So certain Amazon products now come in special Amazon-only recyclable packaging, free of hard plastic clamshells or twist ties.
So far, there are only 19 of them—memory cards, computer mice and toys—but more are on the way. Amazon and the environment win because these packages can go straight into the mail without a second (outer) shipping box.
You save time, hassle and the cost of a flame-thrower rental.
FREEHANDS GLOVES
Millions of people happily tap away on iPhones, BlackBerrys and Treos in warm weather. But what about the winter? Have you ever tried typing on those things with gloves on? Irt’ss npott pfrettthy. On these ingenious gloves —($20-40, about Rs980-1,960) in various styles)—the thumb and index finger tips swing open, exposing your fingertips. Tap away, get your text message out, then flip the tips back on before you get BlackBerry frostbite. (Similar: the Tavo gloves, $30. For touch screens only, like the iPhone and iPod. Special pads on the fingertips let you operate the screen without opening anything. Your fingers stay toasty.)
NETFLIX AS A SOFTWARE FEATURE
“There’s a reason we didn’t call the company ‘DVDs by Mail’,” Netflix’s chief executive, Reed Hastings, often says. And sure enough: No DVDs are involved in Netflix’s latest assault on the American home theatre. With Netflix Instant Viewing, there is no time limit, no copy protection, no waiting for movie files to download; the movie simply streams from the Internet as you watch. You’re not billed by the movie; in fact, you’re not billed at all. Unlimited streaming movies are free with any DVD-by-mail plan over $9.
Originally, you had to watch on your computer (Windows, and now Mac). But who wants to watch movies sitting at a desk? Bit by bit, Netflix has been bringing this feature to your TV by cleverly piggybacking on other companies’ set-top boxes. Netflix Instant Viewing is now a feature of the TiVo, XBox 360, and Blu-ray players from LG and Samsung. Or, you can get Roku’s $100 Netflix Player box, which does the job beautifully all by itself.
The 12,000 available movies generally aren’t recent ones. But there’s a lot to be said for instant gratification, especially when it’s free.
PHONE APP COASTERS
Not a gadget, and way too expensive ($60, meninos.us). But you can’t help loving the idea: a set of 16 coasters, each a perfect colourful giant replica of an icon on the iPhone’s home screen.
CONTENT-AWARE SCALING
Adobe’s Photoshop CS4 has plenty of snazzy new features hidden among its 500 (!) menu commands. But here’s one of the most magical: You can drag to make a photo wider or narrower (or taller or shorter) without squishing or fattening the subject. Somehow, only the background expands or shrinks, undetectably.
It doesn’t work well on every photo, but what a great idea.
ARRIVA.COM HEADPHONES
If you had invisible iPod headphones, you could endure almost anything — long ceremonies, boring meetings, dull dates—with the help of a little background music.
The closest thing you’ll find is the Arriva earbuds ($35, arriva.com), exclusively for the tiny iPod Shuffle. It’s a wavy, bendable headband that goes around the back of your head. The Shuffle snaps into the middle (against the back of your head), where you can easily control it by feel. The earbuds wind up precision-placed on your ears, and the thing doesn’t fall off when you exercise.
If you have long hair, the Arriva can be completely invisible; if not, it’s nearly so. Meanwhile, there are no cords to tangle, no chain of dangly components. It’s one piece that slips on and off in one motion.
MINI-USB CHARGING JACKS
Hail to every BlackBerry, cellphone, Bluetooth headset, Palm organizer, e-book reader, music player, cordless mouse and GPS receiver that recharges through a mini-USB jack! No more big black power transformers—recharge from your laptop. It’s the dawn of the universal, interchangeable power cord.
POWER STICK
Speaking of those hideous black wall warts: you don’t need them if you have a PowerStick ($65, powerstick.com). It’s a tiny universal gadget charger, the size of a stick of Wrigley’s, that draws its power from your laptop’s USB jack. It comes with nine short cables for the opposite end, made to fit the power jacks of common cellphone brands (LG, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia), the iPod or iPhone and anything that gets its power from a mini- or micro-USB jack (see above).
First, you travel very, very light. (I haven’t packed my cellphone adaptor in a year.) Second, the PowerStick does more than charge your gadget; It also stores a second charge, so that you’ll be able to do another recharge in the field, without the laptop. (A cool “fuel gauge” lets you know how full it is.) Finally, a processor shuts off the power when the charging is complete, which saves electricity and—according to the company—prolongs your gadget’s life.
THE SELF-SHOOTING PANORAMA
Plenty of digital cameras offer a panorama mode, allowing you to take several successive photos, side by side, using on-screen ghosted images to help you line them up. The camera stitches them together.
T-Mobile’s Motozine ZN5 cellphone/camera, however, takes the screamingly obvious next step: It snaps the second and third shots of the panorama automatically at the right moment as you move the camera into position. Why should you have to eyeball the adjacent part of the scene if the camera is perfectly capable of it?
LG DECOY
A cellphone is a great idea. A Bluetooth earpiece is a great idea. Put them together, and what do you have? A lot of hassle. Two things to keep charged, two things to track and pack. The genius behind the LG/Verizon Decoy cellphone, then, is that its Bluetooth earpiece clips right into the phone itself. You can’t lose it, you don’t have to “pair” it, and, of course, the earpiece charges whenever the phone does.
THE CELLPHONE APP STORE
What a concept: an online software catalogue, stocked with thousands of wildly creative, visually stunning, free or cheap new programs that download directly to your phone, no computer needed. It began with Apple’s iPhone App Store, then spread to the Google Android market; the Palm App Store opened next and the BlackBerry Store opens in March.
An app store turns the smartphone into something completely different: a pocket laptop, a stamp of individuality, an indispensable companion. It becomes the reason you buy one of these machines in the first place. And by making room for those 10,000 individual great ideas—the apps themselves—the cellphone app store takes the trophy as the Tech Idea of the Year.
Good night, everyone!
©2009/ The New York Times
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
CONNECT
KNOW
Want to completely wipe all the data off a BlackBerry? One simple but repetitive way is to lock the phone and then type the wrong password 10 times. If there’s no password set, or you want to clear the data faster, click Options on the Home screen. Depending on which version of software is on the phone, select either Security or Security Options and then General Settings. Next, choose Wipe Handheld and then Continue. Type in the word “blackberry” (without the quotation marks) and press Enter to erase all the data. Research in Motion or RIM, has other methods on its website. ©2009/The New York Times
Do
A little Apple-centric device might just be the device you should have the next time you’ve had one peg too many. The iBreath ($79, from DavidSteele.com), an iPod-iPhone accessory, turns Apple’s devices into a portable breathalyzer-type gadget. Blow into a flip-out tube on the iBreath and voila! It estimates your blood alcohol concentration. The small device, which attaches to the iPhone’s dock connector interface, may not be as accurate as the one the police uses, but it’s a good idea to hand over the keys if the iBreath says you’re over the legal driving limit, or edging into headache territory. ©2009/The New York Times
Write
Apple recently added an onscreen switch to disable its automatic correction. Download and install version 2.2 of the iPhone system software at www.apple.com/iphone/softwareupdate. Once it is updated, tap the Settings icon on the Home screen. On the next screen, tap General, scroll down and tap Keyboard. At the top of the Keyboard screen is an On-Off button to tap for the Auto Correction feature. Tap the button to Off. Many other settings for the iPhone’s keyboard can be adjusted. These include a feature that automatically capitalizes the first letter of the next word after a period. ©2009/The New York Times
Network
The News Feed feature on Facebook, which displays recent status updates, comments and posted photos, is a great way to see what your friends have been up to lately. But some friends may be more active, crowding out acquaintances who post less, or who are not as close to you. You can tinker with the mix. On the News Feed page, hover over a friend’s name or update with the cursor until an Options link appears. Click on the link to get the option to see fewer updates from the friend. For more ways to fiddle with the feed, click on the Options for a News Feed link at the bottom of the page.©2009/The New York Times
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First Published: Thu, Jan 22 2009. 09 45 PM IST