Archive for July, 2012

In the second Back to the Future flick, Stephen Spielberg envisioned a future with flying cars, one that according to the date on the DeLorean’s dashboard is just three years away. That gives GM and company several months to get on the ball, but in the meantime, there are still trains, planes, and land-based automobiles to get from point A to point B. Getting with the times not a moment too soon, Amtrak announced it’s now accepting eTickets on all of its trains. Welcome to the Internet era, Amtrak.

“eTickets deliver the convenience and flexibility expected by passengers and its innovative technology is transforming other aspects of how Amtrak does business,” Amtrak chief Joe Boardman said in a statement (PDF).

Amtrak’s eTicket system lets travelers print their ticket at home and skip waiting in line at the ticket window, or present their eTicket to the conductor using their smartphone. Everything should run smoothly at this point, as Amtrak piloted the eTicket program on five routes prior to Monday’s national rollout.

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The high-profile and long-anticipated Apple versus Samsung trial kicked off in San Jose, California yesterday morning with a jury selection process consisting of a 20-minute question and answer session in which a pool of 74 potential jurors was whittled down to 10. Those 10 individuals — seven men and three women ranging in occupation from social worker to an unemployed video gamer seeking a software degree, according to CNN — will hear arguments from Apple and Samsung in a case the latter described as “fighting over rectangles.”

Kevin Packingham, Samsung’s Chief Product Officer, sat down for an interview with Wired ahead of the trial to discuss the dispute and patent wars in general. In response to a question about Apple’s focus on design patents, Packingham broke it down into simple terms.

“I would say the patents we’re struggling with — where there’s a lot of discussion and litigation right now — are around these very broad design patents like a rectangle,” Packingham told Wired. “For us, it’s unreasonable that we’re fighting over rectangles, that that’s being considered as an infringement, which is why we’re defending ourselves.”

As far as Packingham sees it, consumers clearly want their smartphones and tablets in the shape of a rectangle, and the fight with Apple is “whether you can deliver a product in the shape of a rectangle.”

“A rectangle did not come out of R&D investment that we’ve made,” Packingham continued. “Some of our products happen to be in the shape of a rectangle, but I wouldn’t consider that to be an art or a science that we’ve created.”

Samsung’s rectangular theme figures to be a major theme in the jury trial, and it underscores how silly patent law has become. There’s a neat write-up in InformationWeek that argues the real losers in this trial are “you, your company, and our economy,” and we’d have to agree.

Apple’s claim against Samsung is that its Galaxy products copy the look and feel of Apple’s iPad and iPhone devices, and for that, the Cupertino company wants $2 billion in damages. Samsung’s products could also be banned from sale in the U.S. if the jury sides with Apple.

The situation stinks for consumers, but as they say, don’t hate the player (Apple), hate the game (patent law).

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As much as we’re in love with the Ultrabook category’s thin and light form factor, we’re not nearly as smitten over the low display resolution that plagues the majority of first and second generation models. Even larger models like Acer’s 15.6-inch Timeline and HP’s equally sized Envy both sport 1366×768 screen resolutions, while Samsung’s 15-inch Series 9 taps out at 1600×900. Well, as luck would have it, I stumbled upon Vizio’s online collection of PCs, including a 15.6-inch Ultrabook model that finally gets the resolution right.

The fact that Vizio’s 15.6-inch Ultrabook boasts a 1920×1080 display resolution isn’t some grand revelation — after all, Vizio revealed as much a little over a month ago when it officially announced a line of PC products that were first introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. However, it’s now available to purchase, and as I’ve discovered, 1920×1080 is a rarity in the Ultrabook space.

Full HD comes at a cost. Vizio, traditionally a value oriented brand, kicks off its 15.6-inch Ultrabook category with a $950 model that also includes a Core i3 3217U processor clocked at 1.8GHz, 4GB of DDR3-1333 RAM, Intel HD 4000 graphics, 128GB solid state drive, 802.11n dual-band Wi-Fi, HDMI output, two USB 3.0 ports, 1.3MP webcam, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. For $50 more, Vizio upgrades the processor to a Core i5 3317U clocked at 1.7GHz, while it’s flagship $1,250 model features a Core i7 3517U processor clocked at 1.9GHz and twice the amount of solid state storage (256GB).

These aren’t inexpensive Ultrabooks, though they are larger than most — 15.6 inches versus 13.3 inches and 14 inches — with a screen resolution to match the added real estate. For the record, Vizio also sells a series of 14-inch models starting at $900, all of which feature a 1600×900 resolution and solid state storage.

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Good news for Android users who are fans of Spotify. The spunky streaming music service just launched its free unlimited radio feature on the Android platform for users living in the U.S., bringing the service up to par with its iOS counterpart that received the same upgrade about a month ago. Previously the only way Android users were able to listen to free music on the go with Spotify was to sign up for a 48-hour trial.

“Exciting news for Android users! Starting today, you can now enjoy Spotify on your Android for free!,” Spotify announced today. “Our latest app now offers free radio – the only radio where you can save the songs you love. It’s never been easier to discover, save and enjoy an unlimited amount of music on the go.”

The entire catalog — “millions of songs” — is available on mobile. Music listeners can fine tune their streaming experience by creating stations based on artist, album, or playlist, and then give songs a thumbs up or thumbs down. Essentially the same can be said about Pandora, and like its rival, Spotify will interrupt the stream with occasional ad breaks for free users.

Unfortunately for Kindle Fire users, Spofity is still not available in the Amazon Appstore for Android.

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The modern Olympic Games are a tradition over a century old. During this period, this quadrennial event, arguably the greatest sporting spectacle on Earth, has encountered its fair share of hiccups and problems (as you’d expect). From terrorist attacks to political games to outright cancellations, the Olympics have seen it all. But the 30th edition of this sporting extravaganza, which is currently being held in London, is having to contend with a completely new kind of problem: Twitter-happy attendees.

Apparently, London’s wireless networks are under heavy pressure from all the tweets that are coming out of the Games. So much so, in fact, that Olympic organizers believe it was heavy Twitter and text traffic that prevented TV commentators from receiving crucial timing information during the men’s cycling race on Saturday. The problem occurred when GPS transmitters on the athletes’ bikes failed to transmit timing data in wake of network congestion. In a bid to remedy the situation, the organizers then asked spectators using Twitter on their phones to stop doing so.

“From my understanding, One network was oversubscribed, and OBS are trying to spread the load to other providers. We don’t want to stop people engaging in this by social media but perhaps they might consider only sending urgent updates,” Mark Adams, a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, told The Guardian.

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