SciTechBlog
April 13, 2010

Learn to play the piano without trying

Posted: 11:13 AM ET

Atlanta, Georgia - Thad Starner, a pony-tailed Georgia Tech professor, started a talk at an emerging technology conference here with a question for the audience:

"How many of you want to play a musical instrument but don't because it takes too much time to practice?"

Several people raised their hands.

"Yep, I'm the same way."

His solution? A yellow and black glove, stylish enough for Michael Jackson, and fitted with buzzers just above the knuckles.

The glove is designed to teach people to play uber-simple piano licks while they're doing other tasks - or, in other words, while they're not trying to learn.

To this point, Starner wore the glove during his lecture. The buzzers in the glove vibrated his fingers one at a time, teaching him the piano fingering for Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." He wore an earbud that played the simple melody in one of his ears, in synch with the finger stimulations.

In trials, Starner said this kind of background learning works rather well. In the most recent test, subjects completed reading comprehension tests while wearing the glove. Nine of 16 of them were able to play the melody perfectly.

Starner said he'd never done this sort of while-giving-a-presentation test of the piano glove before. At the end of his talk, he played Beethoven's simple song without trouble.

After the presentation, Starner said the true value of his project may not be in learning the piano but in rehabbing patients with brain and spinal cord injuries. He said he worked with a quadriplegic man, in his 70s, whose hands were so clawed up that he couldn't button his shirt.

The finger-stimulating glove helped him get that ability back, he said.

And he learned a little piano in the process.

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Filed under: computers • multi-tasking • Music


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April 7, 2010

iPad destruction videos go viral

Posted: 10:10 AM ET

The Web's latest viral video hit comes from the popular online series called "Will it Blend?"

The premise of the show is simple. A guy in glasses and a lab coat (who just so happens to be the founder of a blender company) puts stuff in a kitchen blender and then declares the objects blendable or not.

Monday's iPad blender test has been watched 2.8 million times on YouTube.

So does the iPad blend? Tom Dickson, the show's host and founder of Blendtec, says yes in the video, as he pours the ashy remains of an iPad onto the counter top.

But with a caveat. Dickson has to bust the iPad into two pieces for the 9.7-inch screen to fit inside the appliance.

A number of other iPad-destruction videos are getting passed around the Web, too. Some guys decided to bust their iPads within moments of purchasing them.

Not everyone is happy about this trend.

On the Apple-fan blog Macgasm, Joshua Schnell seems disturbed:

"Why is it that all these people on the internet want to destroy iPads? It makes me weep," he writes.

Some environmentalists see the stunts as wasteful.

Referring to the young men who smashed iPads right after purchasing them, the green blog Treehugger writes:

"This joker and cohorts need to go tour some of the horrendous precious metal mines, the manufacturing facilities, an e-waste dump and get first hand experience with how much goes into creating and disassembling one of these devices so that they begin to grasp that this is not funny."

What do you think?

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Filed under: Apple • iPad


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April 5, 2010

Steve Jobs drops by Apple store on iPad Day

Posted: 12:27 PM ET

Apple CEO Steve Jobs stopped by the company's Palo Alto, California, store on Saturday as people lined up to buy Apple's new lust-device, the iPad.

The Apple guru, wearing jeans and a black hoodie, sneaks out of the store unmolested in this video, shot by CNN affiliate KTVU. Jobs is said to live nearby.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Jobs sauntered into the store about noon and spent about a half-hour inside, chatting with shoppers who appeared stunned to see him.

During his visit, Jobs gave a brief demo of the iPad to a young customer, according to this report.

Jobs, who is a cult hero among Apple fans, has called the iPad "magical" and "revolutionary."

For more on the iPad, check out our list of 12 commonly asked questions about the iPad, and this Wired story on choosing the iPad configuration that's right for you.

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Filed under: Apple • iPad • Steve Jobs


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So, do people actually like the iPad?

Posted: 10:30 AM ET

After months of hype, dozens of reviews, plenty of television promos and an Easter weekend appearance at an Apple store by the high priest of gadgetry himself, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, the company's long-awaited iPad is finally in the hands of consumers.

So how did they like it? Is the iPad a runaway early success? Here are a few ways to measure:

  • Sales: On Saturday, the day the product was released, Apple says it sold 300,000 iPads. Analysts estimate the company sold between 300,000 to 700,000 of the touch-screen "slate" computers over the weekend.
  • [Read the full story on sales at CNNMoney.com]
  • Anticipation: 300,000 iPads is about what analysts expected Apple to sell on opening day.
  • Comparison: The iPhone - which some think is basically a smaller version of the iPad - launched in 2007 as Apple's greatest hit in recent memory. Analysts estimated 200,000 iPhones were sold on the day it debuted, which is a third less than the iPad. The iPhone sold its millionth unit 74 days after it hit the market.
  • Reviews: The mainstream press wrote mostly glowing reviews for the iPad in advance of its release on Saturday. Some consumers have expressed disappointment with their purchases. Others find pros and cons, but many say they really love the device. [Here's a wrap-up of reviews from CNN iReporters].
  • Mainstream appeal: By some accounts, most of the people who bought iPads already were Apple fans - i.e., nearly three-fourths of them already owned a Mac, according to a Piper Jaffray survey. How the device will fare with people outside the Cult of Mac is a question up for debate.
  • Apps: Apps - or the games, applications and programs that run on a gadget - really made the iPhone sing with consumers, because apps determine what a device can do. More than 1,000 apps have been designed specifically for the iPad's 9.7-inch screen, and the New York Times says developers are rushing to update them now that the device is out. Consumers already have downloaded more than 1 million iPad apps, according to an Apple press release - so that's about three apps per iPad to date.
  • Revolution: Some analysts expect the iPad to revolutionize the area of tablet computing, which Microsoft and others have tried to push on consumers in the past, but with only limited success. The iPad's success may buoy the entire tablet market, says USA TODAY. The newspaper says once-stale tablets "may be the new hot thing."
  • Debauchery: Finally, if the hackers don't like your gadget, you know you have a problem. But, in what could be read as a good or bad sign for Apple, a video of someone "jailbreaking" the iPad has already surfaced.

Have you gotten your hands on an iPad? If so, let us know what you think of it, either by posting a comment below or by submitting a video to this CNN iReport assignment. (You can find other consumer reviews there, too).

Also, if you still have questions about what the iPad is and what exactly it does (don't worry, some people in line to buy the device still were unsure of what it was), here are two guides to understanding the iPad, and picking the right one.

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Filed under: Apple • Apps • iPad


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April 2, 2010

Which iPad apps are getting the early buzz?

Posted: 01:42 PM ET

So what exactly can you do with the new Apple iPad?

That question will likely be best answered by what apps - or mobile applications - become available for the touch-screen device.

Ahead of the iPad's Saturday release, Apple decided on Thursday to put more than 2,500 iPad apps up for sale on its App Store, giving techies a first glimpse at an answer to that all-important question.

Reviewers who already have the iPad are weighing in. Note that these apps are generally pricier than those for the iPhone or iPad Touch. The big difference? iPad apps are bigger, allowing for fancier designs.

Here are a few iPad apps that caught our eye:

  • eBay: It's free and has bigger photos of products, theoretically making it easier and faster to sort through them.
  • Marvel Comics: The iPad's 9.7 inch screen shows off color books better than grayscale e-readers.
  • The Elements: Reviewers are in love with this app, which is basically a multimedia e-book about the periodic table of elements (think of your childhood place-mat gone digital). The price is steep, though, if you're used to $0.99 iPhone apps. It sells for $13.99.
  • NBA: Reviewers say this app is great for statistics fans, since graphs and court diagrams are easier to show off on a bigger screen.
  • Epicurious: The preview photos of this recipe-book app look pretty cool. And the app is free.
  • Netflix: You still need a Netflix subscription, but this free app lets you stream movies and TV shows offered by Netflix onto the iPad's large screen.
  • EA games: Scrabble, Need for Speed and Tetris are getting buzz from CNET. Some gamers hope the large screen will make games more engaging on the iPad than on the iPhone. Others are skeptcial. Some titles could just look over-inflated.
  • Box.net: Sites like Box.net and Dropbox archive documents "in the cloud," so you can access them from anywhere. Wired says these services are a whole lot easier to use on the iPad's big screen.
  • iWork: Apple's suite of apps costs $9.99 and are aimed at business and student types. They help you create presentations, documents and spreadsheets.

Check out the Apple App Store through iTunes to see a full list of the iPad apps available now, with prices and screenshots. With the exception of the iWork apps, we haven't tried these programs yet, but we'll report back as soon as we get our hands on an iPad.

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Filed under: Apple • Apps • Games • iPad


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April 1, 2010

From 'sensual' to 'disappointment,' iPad reviews are in

Posted: 01:13 PM ET

In case you've been sleeping under a rock with your iPhone turned off, there's some big tech news coming up on Saturday: Apple's iPad goes on sale. And the pundits are already chiming in.

Here's a point-by-point about this new "slate" computer, which is like a touch-screen laptop without a keyboard, or, as The New York Times writes, "basically a gigantic iPod Touch."

  • Overall impressions: Most tech reviewers are pretty gaga over the iPad, but there's some variance in how much they love the device. The Chicago Sun-Times is ready for a commitment ceremony, declaring the iPad "pure innovation" and "one of best computers ever." The New York Times isn't as sold.
  • Typing: The iPad doesn't have a keyboard, so you have to tap on the screen the screen to type. NYT says it's "barely usable," plus: "When the very glossy 9.7-inch screen is off, every fingerprint is grossly apparent." Wall Street Journal takes the opposite view: "I found the iPad virtual keyboard more comfortable and accurate to use than the cramped keyboards and touchpads on many netbooks."
  • Better than a laptop?: WSJ says the iPad is "pretty close" to being a laptop killer.
  • Multitasking: You can't run more than one program at once on the iPad, which disappoints the blog Engadget: "There's no multitasking at all. It's a real disappointment. All this power and very little you can do with it at once. No multitasking means no streaming Pandora when you're working in Pages ... It's a real setback for this device."
  • Creating documents: The WSJ likes the virtual keyboard, but doesn't think it will work for all business functions: "If you need to create or edit giant spreadsheets or long documents, or you have elaborate systems for organizing e-mail, or need to perform video chats, the iPad isn't going to cut it as your go-to device."
  • Multimedia books: BoingBoing says colorful, clickable books and apps make the iPad. It highlights those from Marvel Comics, Reuters news agency and the Epicurious recipe site.
  • Color books: USA TODAY says the fact that your can read books in color on the iPad is a big deal. You can't do that on many e-reader competitors: "Judged solely from a sizzle standpoint: There's no contest. Titles on the iPad such as Winnie the Pooh (which comes preloaded on the iPad) boast colorful illustrations. The 6-inch Kindle screen is grayscale."
  • No Flash: The iPad doesn't support Flash video. NYT: "Apple has this thing against Flash, the Web’s most popular video format; says it’s buggy, it’s not secure and depletes the battery. Well, fine, but meanwhile, thousands of Web sites show up with empty white squares on the iPad — places where videos or animations are supposed to play."
  • Cameras: The iPad doesn't have a camera, which means you can't use it for video conferencing. USA TODAY makes another point along these lines: There's no USB connection to hook up the camera you already have. But the paper says there's a workaround: "Some will decry the absence of a USB port or other connectors, which might let you hook up a printer or bolster storage. Everything comes through the standard iPod-like dock connector on the bottom of the iPad. You can purchase a $29 iPad Camera Connection Kit..."
  • Maps: "Maps become real maps, like the paper ones" on the iPad's larger screen, NYT says.
  • Love factor: Some writers seem to be just downright in love with the device. Scary in love with it. From BoingBoing: "The form just feels good, not too lightweight or heavy, nor too thin or thick. It's sensual. It's tactile ... the iPad hits a completely new pleasure spot."

Anything else you want to know about the forthcoming pleasure device known as the iPad? Let us know and we'll do our best to find you answers. Also, if you pick up an iPad on Saturday, let us know what you think at this CNN iReport assignment.

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Filed under: Apple • Apps • iPad


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March 16, 2010

iPad keyboard delayed until May

Posted: 01:42 PM ET

If you plan to pick up an Apple iPad the day it's released, it looks like you'll have to put up with typing on its touch-screen keyboard for at least a month.

According to Apple's product Web site, the iPad keyboard accessory - which lets people peck away on a tactile keyboard instead of on a full-size touch-screen - will not be available for purchase until May. The Wi-Fi-connected version of the much-anticipated iPad, which is essentially a laptop computer with a touch-sensitive screen and no keyboard, is available for pre-order now and will ship to the public on April 3. (Thanks to AppleInsider and Electronista for picking up on this first). The iPad does have a Bluetooth connection, leaving open the possibility that you could connect another type of wireless keyboard to the iPad.

As I pointed out in January, the iPad's full-size, touch-screen keyboard feels a bit goofy at first. I don't look at my hands when I type, and on the iPad there's no way to make sure your fingers are tapping the right keys without looking down to check. The whole screen is glass, so you can't feel the difference. Other people apparently feel the same way about touch screens. An industry analyst who sat next to me at the iPad unveiling in San Francisco literally screamed with joy when Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the company would sell keyboards with the iPad.

It still appears they will. You just might have to wait a bit.

Other iPad accessories have been delayed, too. Ars Technica notes that a camera connection accessory is "currently MIA." MacWorld says an iPad case has been delayed to mid-April.

What do you think? Will not having a keyboard at launch hurt iPad sales? Will it make a difference in your decision about whether or not to buy the device that Apple has called "magical and revolutionary?"

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Filed under: Apple • iPad


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March 14, 2010

Advocate: Fast Internet must also be cheap

Posted: 05:11 PM ET

The National Broadband Plan, funded as part of the federal stimulus, does some good things, a citizen advocate said Sunday, but doesn’t appear to do enough to drive down high-speed Internet costs for people who can’t afford it.

The Federal Communications Commission has rolled out the highlights of its plan – which aims to bring affordable broadband access to everyone in the country – and is expected to present the full plan to Congress this week.

From the outline and advance news of the details, however, Derek Turner, the research director for the nonprofit group Free Press, says it doesn’t appear the plan takes a hard-line on cost. And he says high connection costs are the biggest roadblock to universal high-speed Internet access.

As long as a small handful of broadband providers have a lock on the market, they’ll keep prices high, said Turner, speaking Sunday at the South By Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas.

“This is a market that has natural monopoly-style elements,” said Turner, noting the massive infrastructure costs of running broadband to new areas. “We’re never going to have as much competition in broadband as we do in breakfast cereal.”

While the Broadband Plan, approved by Congress early last year, focuses on improving infrastructure all over the nation, Turner said only about 5 percent of the population doesn’t have broadband because they can’t physically get it.

One strong component of the plan, he said, is a move to revamp an existing telephone bill fee people pay to help subsidized phone service for the poor and expand it to include Internet. But a $10 reduction in monthly fees, for example, won't do much good for a poor family looking at a cable, telephone and Internet bill over $100.

"That's corporate welfare and I think it's a waste of money," Turner said.

Turner presented some interesting statistics on the issue – most of them reminders of the “digital divide” in the United States.

Only 41 percent of households that earn less than $35,000 a year have broadband access, Turner said. And only half of minority households have it.

Price is a main reason the United States has slipped to 22nd in the world in broadband adoption, he said. In France a consumer can get 100-megabit-per-second broadband service for about $33 – $2 less than someone in Austin can buy 3-megabit service.

Turner said he's still confident that Congress could improve the plan before it's finalized.

"I'm actually very hopeful for some positive outcomes," he said, "because I've seen stranger things happen in Washington."

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Filed under: computers • Internet • SXSW • SXSW Interactive


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March 8, 2010

iPad ad debuts during Oscars

Posted: 12:21 PM ET

The Oscars made history Sunday night - it was the first time a woman won Best Director, and the first time an ad for Apple’s upcoming iPad aired on TV.

The ad, which aired several times during the awards show, follows the same simple formula as Apple's iPhone commercials by featuring unidentified users navigating the iPad with catchy music - “There Goes My Love” by The Blue Van - in the background.

Among the iPad functions highlighted by Apple in the ad: Displaying newspaper articles and e-books, playing movies, showing maps and pictures and typing on the iPad’s touch-screen keyboard.

After the commercial's debut, the iPad became a trending topic on Twitter and on blogs.

The new ad wasn’t Apple's only presence at the 82nd-annual Academy Awards. Steve Jobs was spotted on the red carpet - in a tux, not his usual black turtleneck. The Apple CEO, who presumably was there supporting Disney/Pixar's “Up,” is a shareholder and member of the Walt Disney Company’s Board of Directors.

The iPad will be available in the United States April 3. Customers can begin pre-ordering the device March 12.

What do you think about the iPad ad?

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Filed under: Apple • iPad


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March 5, 2010

Sony to launch challengers to iPad, iPhone

Posted: 12:26 PM ET

Sources have told the Wall Street Journal that Sony is planning on making a challenger to Apple’s iPad that will have all the capabilities of a netbook, a Sony Reader and a PSP, the company's handheld gaming device.

At a Sony news conference in Tokyo, Sony’s CFO Nobuyuki Oneda didn’t provide any details but expressed the company’s desire to compete against Apple’s newest gadget, due in stores next month.

"That is a market we are also very interested in. We are confident we have the skills to create a [great] product," said Oneda. "Time-wise, we are a little behind the iPad but it's a space we would like to be an active player in.”

The WSJ also reported Sony is making a new smartphone - containing Sony Ericsson mobile technology and capable of playing PSP games - to compete against the iPhone. Both devices are expected to work with Sony Online Services, an online store due to launch in March and sell music, movies, books, and other downloadable applications for mobile products.

The iPad challenger and the new smartphone are expected to launch sometime in 2010, but no details about specs, price or design have been released.

Sony has tried to get into the phone/gaming gadget arena in the past. A patent was filed in 2006 for a device that looked like a PSP on one side and a smartphone on the other, but such a device has never hit the market.

Apple sold 8.7 million iPhones in the last three months of 2009. The company announced Friday that the iPad will be available April 3.

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Filed under: Apple • iPad • iPhone • smartphones • Sony


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About this blog

Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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