The Tablet Is The Computer – Almost

July 1, 2011

Richard Raucci

The main tech topic for computer users at all levels today is the tablet – that ubiquitous portable device that will destroy the desktop market and become the only computer anyone will ever want, use, or need.

Everyone has a tablet

But is this for real?  Can the tablet adapt enough for the PC user marketplace to grab onto it solely, and kick their PCs and Macs to the curb?  It looks like it can – by forcing users to adapt to it.

The widespread adoption of the tablet started in early 2010, when Apple unleashed the iPad, and Android tablets hit the streets.  Until the iPad, the tablet hardware marketplace was a stratified mess – kludgy Windows PC tablets were the norm, and size and form factor were abominable.

Apple’s iPad held the idea that the OS from the phenomenally popular iPhone would be good enough for end-users in a tablet format.  They were right about that – the change in paradigm is broad, but the ease of use aspects are impossible to overlook.

Apple made the substantial innovation that a tablet forms the basis of an entirely new style of computer, by giving it a mobile-oriented OS.  This can be jarring to a user who’s used to a desktop OS, but on the other hand, it allows the tablet itself to be smaller and lighter than a scaled-down desktop tablet would be. In a way, 2010’s intro of the iPad is like the original intro of the Mac in 1984.

Original 1984 Macintosh

The first Mac was a transportable desktop, with a built-in handle, for a premium price.  It featured a point-and-click interface instead of a command-line PC interface, which was all you could get on other desktops and luggage-sized transportable PCs.

That first Mac required a paradigm shift for early computer users: you had to be able to accept that you were going to use a computer in a different kind of way, by using a Graphical User Interface, rather than a tedious text-based input system.  The Mac’s ease of use, non-threatening hardware, and novel GUI interface were light-years ahead of PC hardware and software.  This allowed the Mac to become a very popular computer, and changed the way PC software was developed, as well.  Graphical User Interfaces became the norm for computer systems, and people adapted to them.

You can have this one

or this one

In the same way, tablet OS software is changing to meet the needs of end users, and Apple is leading the pack.  The generational push in computing is being led by a company with a great deal of experience in user interface development.

Not that there aren’t snags – a tablet isn’t exactly a desktop replacement, yet.  Technology doesn’t exist that will allow a tablet to replicate a high-end desktop, in terms of components like blazing-fast CPUs and video chipsets, optical drives, expandability, and peripherals.

This gulf between a “real” desktop and a tablet is developing in two directions – in one direction, PC components are being taken out of a tablet, as manufacturers are slimming them down and streamlining them, in an effort to keep battery life up and increase portability.

In the other direction, tablet CPUs, video subsystems, and other integrated components are becoming faster and better performing, along the lines of Moore’s Law.  Competition between hardware manufacturers for the tablet marketplace also drives innovation and increased tablet capabilities – for example, the novel way of induction-charging the HP TouchPad.  Just drop it in, and it charges:

HP TouchPad Inductive Charger

Apple is also showing signs of understanding how tablet and desktop software and hardware have to merge.  The introduction of an HDMI cable – with a pass-through dock connector – shows that the idea of hooking your tablet to your desktop monitor hasn’t got past them.  This is the kind of hookup you’ll need to bypass that desktop entirely (currently, other laptops, like the Toshiba Thrive, have PC-style USB and HDMI already integrated).  And iWork apps designed for OS X have already been ported to iOS, and run quite well on the iPad.

HDMI video mirroring for iPad

Pages for iPad

HP’s webOS is another sign of how a non-PC OS can evolve into a tablet interface.  By leveraging Palm’s experience with handheld computing, webOS becomes a fantastically useful interface, with elements that are easier and more intuitive to use than iOS or Android.

HP TouchPad, running webOS 3

In Google/Android’s favor, however, is an open-source model that allows multiple hardware vendors (high-end, like Motorola and Samsung, to low end, like Coby and Pandigital) to crank out tablets in a dizzying array of models, with many price points way below Apple and HP.  As of July 2011, eBay has over 20 distinct Android tablet manufacturers with thousands of offerings listed, and over 2K listings from other non-specified tablet manufacturers.

Motorola Xoom Android Tablet

These competing vendors keep the hardware innovation moving right along – and Apple/HP can’t keep their hardware and software designs static, or they’ll fall behind.

That’s why Apple is making such an effort to make sure that the innovations in iOS 5 are novel and important, and will help users migrate not only to the cloud, but away from their desktops.  For example, iOS 5  will allow first time setup capabilities that won’t require a Mac or PC, and wireless innovations like video mirroring without the use of a cable.

It remains to be seen how tablets will evolve to compete with higher-end desktops ranging from gaming rigs with big screens to high-end laptops that have to run a full range of PC and Mac software to justify their existence.

But it seems clear that the lower-end and mid-range PC and Mac could go the way of the dodo, real soon now.


A NEAR-AIR EXPERIENCE: Logitech Keyboard Case by ZAGG for iPad 2 Review

June 21, 2011

Logitech / ZAGG’s front shell / keyboard combo may be just what you need to turn your iPad 2 into a Macbook Air facsimile

iPad 2 with Logitech / ZAGG Keyboard Case

One of the more pressing issues in moving from a notebook/netbook to a tablet lies in what’s missing from your tablet computing experience. Tablet-style computers stress features like mobility and streamlined design over common notebook features like integrated keyboards and covers.

Consequently, you can spend a fair amount of time trying to figure out the best cover for your iPad, then wrestle with a pop-up on-screen keyboard that works well for short texting and tweets, but isn’t so great for a word processing / page layout program like Pages.

My own case fiasco began after I got my iPad 2; foregoing a Smart Cover until later, I picked up a third-party back cover, then the Smart Cover, only to find out that they didn’t like each other. If I used the back cover, the Smart Cover fell off. Later I found a back cover that works with the Smart Cover, but won ‘t work with the iPad 2 dock. So it goes.

But the real issue with the iPad – for me, at least – is in how the form factor of a notebook goes missing in the design. Sometimes the iPad display appears to be a detached screen, almost as if the lower half of the computer, the part with the keyboard, just isn’t there.

For traveling, I’m used to a small netbook; open it up, and it’s ready to go, keyboard and all. It’s hard to replicate that experience with the iPad and other tablets.

However, Logitech and ZAGG have come up with an interesting case design that takes a stab at addressing these issues. The Logitech Keyboard Case for iPad 2 is a padded aluminum shell with an integrated Bluetooth keyboard. It holds the iPad face down in a snug grip, and pops up into a two-position keyboard stand for both portrait and landscape modes.

My $99 review model came in an unassuming box – Logitech and ZAGG can take a design cue from Apple, whose relatively high-priced peripherals at least come with interesting packaging. From looking at the box, you can’t even tell there’s a high-quality aluminum shell inside.

Box for the Keyboard Case

Opening the box up, I found the keyboard/case all in one piece, as well as a USB/microUSB charger cable for the case’s integrated battery and a set of transparent rubber feet for the bottom of the ZAGG shell. The charger cable worked well with Apple’s iPad 2 – USB charger, and/or you can plug it into a spare USB port on your computer.

The terse set of instructions didn’t help me set up the keyboard very well. The instruction sheet jumps into how to separate the iPad from the case, but there’s nothing that told me how to get it in (just line up the port cutouts and press it in firmly). To get it out, you have to apply a firm amount of pressure, but at least your iPad isn’t going anywhere once it’s engaged.

Once you remove it from the case, there’s a small stand that pops up to support the iPad in a portrait or landscape orientation.

It wasn’t apparent to me at first that the ZAGG case didn’t feature a way to keep the iPad connected as it flips up; this would have been a nice touch, and would have made the case work more like a netbook. As it works now, the iPad has to come clear of the case, then you have to set it down on the stand. This isn’t so hard when you’re sitting at a table or desk, but in a moving vehicle or when walking around, it can be a handful. It’s like having your screen and the bottom of your netbook come apart as a part of opening it up. Not good.

The other aspect of the disconnection between the Logitech Case and my iPad is that there’s no dock connector. True, the integrated Bluetooth keyboard doesn’t need one, but still, it would have been nice for the case to have a dock connector with a pass-through port that would allow you to charge the iPad while it’s in the stand. This type of design change would add a bit of length to the overall design of the case, and you’d need a way to rotate the iPad for portrait use, but it shouldn’t be impossible to do. (Note that in landscape mode, you can use a dock connector cable to attach to a power supply / computer while your iPad is in the Keyboard Case.)

On the positive side, pairing the keyboard to my iPad was a snap. Just make sure Bluetooth is on in the iPad’s Control Panel, then look for the Logitech keyboard to show up, and click on connect. You’ll get an access code for the case that you enter via the keyboard, and that’s it – the keyboard/case connects more or less permanently after this step.

Keyboard Layout

At the top of the case is a large padded bar, with the tilt stand located directly in the middle. It was a little tricky trying to unsnap the stand, and the instruction sheet didn’t give me a clue on how to do it, but I finally figured out that the stand comes hinged in two parts, and unfolds/locks into the front position.

Directly below that, to the left, is the case’s on/off switch, status lights for charging/Bluetooth and a Bluetooth connection button. Below that, on the keyboard itself, I found a set of dedicated iPad keys at the top left, like function keys on a full-scale keyboard. These allow you to access common functions like the Home and Search screens, the Virtual Keyboard, and a Slideshow; double-clicking on the Home button launches Multitasking view, where you can see your currently running apps. There are also helpful word processing keys for cut/copy/paste and undo/redo functions. To the right of these keys are a set of iTunes control keys, and a sleep/wake lock button. Added to the standard U.S.-layout keyboard, these keys went a long way to keeping my fingers on the keys, not on the screen, and increased the overall netbook experience.

The keyboard itself is a fairly good size, comparable to a netbook keyboard, and with the same type of mechanical design. Not too many complaints there, although the dedicated Apple keys (Control, Option and Command) are a bit cramped, and the lack of a escape (ESC) key is a hindrance.

In an informal speed test, I was able to shave a minute off a basic résumé editing task in Pages using the Logitech Keyboard. Editing the fields in the short Photo Résumé template document took around 2:30 with the physical keyboard, as opposed to 3:35 using the pop-up Virtual Keyboard included in the iPad iOS. At least for me, this shows that there’s a substantial benefit to having a detached keyboard, instead of one existing only in software that expects to share screen space with your app when you’re using it.

If you plan to switch between the Keyboard Case and the Virtual Keyboard for a test like this, or any other reason, be sure to first turn off the external keyboard or you’ll find that it is still active when the iPad isn’t in the stand. Of course, you can use this feature to access the iPad in another stand or dock, like any other Bluetooth keyboard.

Exposed iPad 2 back, as docked with the Keyboard Case

In terms of design style, the aluminum shell case works really well – it’s one of the few iPad accessories I’ve seen that seems to get the right look and feel. The deep padding protects the iPad well, and the sturdy metal construction helps the keyboard have the right solid base. The only issue lies in the exposed back – the iPad’s back area is open. It seems that an add-on ZAGG skin would go well here, although it would have been better to have something in the box that covered this issue, like the little rubber feet that come to protect the aluminum ZAGG side.

Another way to deal with the exposed iPad back is to use a sleeve case, like the Incase iPad 2 Neoprene Slip Sleeve Plus.  I found that the iPad / Case fit into it fairly well – the material stretches far enough, though it’s a tight fit – and the fluffy fake fur interior keeps both metal sides from being scratched.

Ipad 2 in the Keyboard Case, fitted into the Incase Neoprene Slip Sleeve

The only other design caveats I had are as mentioned earlier: this case seems jammed between being a real iPad/notebook adapter that would allow an iPad to rival a MacBook Air, and being just a stand with a keyboard addition. A little design rev would make this a killer product; as it stands now, it’s close, but not exactly right.



You can set the Logitech Keyboard Case at an angle, using a paperback book or some other kind of prop (like a deck of cards). Slide the book under the back to get the tilt angle, being careful to watch the iPad’s center of gravity (so it doesn’t tip over).  This slight tilt puts the keyboard at a good angle for typing on a flat surface.

Keyboard tilt, using a paperback book

I was also able to position the tilt stand all the way back, so that my iPad sat it in at a sharper downward angle. This is good for using the keyboard and the iPad while standing. To do this, fold the stand together, then push it back against the back of the case, then set the iPad into the stand.

iPad tilt, using the stand in back position


Logitech Keyboard Case by ZAGG for iPad 2

Aluminum back shell with integrated stand / Bluetooth keyboard

1-year warranty

$99, at major retailers


May 24, 2011

Richard Raucci

At the recent MeeGo conference in San Francisco, the questions came thick and fast during the Q & A after the “Where Do We Go From Here?” conference closer. This session laid out Intel’s roadmap for the MeeGo platform.

Many of the developers in the room had serious questions about Intel’s plans for competition against Android, and their policies on open hardware and open-source hardware, as did I.

One of the first questions asked was about the main differences between MeeGo and the ever-popular Android platform.

Arjan Van de Ven

Arjan van de Ven, a Senior Engineer at Intel’s Open Source Technology Center, who ran the session, told the developers, “Try making an Android device – all of the paperwork and contracts between multiple hardware vendors, it’s very hard to figure out. With MeeGo, you don’t have to think about that – it just happens. There’s complete access to the Intel hardware reference platform to developers outside of Intel. We don’t even know who’s making this stuff – when the new WeTab tablet came out, we only found out after we read about it in magazines and on websites.”

“As opposed to Android, MeeGo is a business and professional platform, designed to scale across multiple devices. Right now, Android is basically for phones and tablets.”

Personally I found that hard to believe, especially with the upcoming Chromebook, not to mention Google TV.

Another topic was Intel’s position on transparency for software development. A commenter was concerned that Intel could keep whatever part of the OS it wanted to out of the hands of developers.

Van de Ven said, “We had to look at this carefully.  Originally the MeeGo OS was closed, but now it’s open. I prefer not to do it that way again.  The problem we had was that early OS development versions have a tendency to look unfinished. We didn’t want bad screenshots of it appearing in magazines and influencing people’s perceptions of MeeGo.”

This smacks of a near-totalitarian capacity on the part of Intel to control the OS based on faulty assumptions within the company. Keeping software closed and out of the hands of developers for months because you don’t want bad press?  That’s not right.

Van de Ven countered with “Believe me, I want the OS to be open, and we’re taking steps at Intel to make sure it’s open and in the hands of developers.”

He also told developers that Intel had to create an open architecture plan. “This is hard for us to do.  We’re struggling with it. Internally, there’s lots of opposition from inside Intel. But we’re working on it.  Currently, you have to submit an architecture proposal and do the development work yourself. But we’re committed to support that work as it connects to MeeGo.”

Confused yet? This is almost as confusing as how van de Ven described the Android hardware development process.

To try to clarify Intel’s open architecture plans for MeeGo, I met with van de Ven after the presentation and asked a series of hardware-related questions.

Q. It seems as if MeeGo has features of a “closed” hardware platform, like Apple, but with open-source software as its base.  How does that compete with Android, running open-source software on processors from multiple vendors?

A. MeeGo supports other hardware architectures – for example, it can run on AMD.

Q. But Intel won’t develop that support itself?

A. No, we won’t. Inside Intel, they’re still our competitors. But from a MeeGo standpoint, we will support developers for AMD.  And they can build on other developers’ efforts through open-source software and reuse that code.

Q. How does Intel plan to meet the challenge of MeeGo’s rapid-release capabilities, where a product like the WeTab comes to market in five months?  Are there plans to meet this rate of development for your hardware?

A. Intel releases new hardware all the time, with new capabilities and feature sets.  And this goes into the MeeGo reference platform directly, so that developers can access it.

It remains to be seen if Intel can navigate the open-source waters with the MeeGo project. They’ve made a good bit of progress on the open-source software side, but the open-architecture hardware side leaves a lot to be desired.

How open is a hardware platform if developers have to get a proposal approved by Intel to develop it?  Not very.  As long as Intel is the only one making the decisions whether to support an outside hardware project, that’s about as closed as it can get.  And that can strangle innovation, which is one clear way to lose the tablet wars.

Medical Software Availability for Tablet Devices Increases As They Become More Popular

May 14, 2011

Richard Raucci

Imagine you’re a busy medical professional. While walking down the corridor of  the hospital on your way to surgery, you pull up information on patients you plan to see that day, including their full medical histories and up-to-the-minute vital signs. With the swipe of a finger, you bring to your screen updated and centralized procedure and visit records, then you access a patient’s realtime EKG information and dip into the hospital-wide medical database through a VPN connection to your hospital’s Intranet.

Stereotaxis Odyssey

Before you arrive at the operating theater, you quickly review the upcoming procedure through a multi-image interface that shows you 3-D MRI info, surgical camera views, telemetry information, and other clinical lab information as it happens.

Back in your office, you use the same device to review patient charts, including complete histories.  Using a simple interface on the touchscreen, you email patients and hospital staff and update your appointments. When patients arrive for a consultation, you use your it to show them information about their condition, including animation and cutaway views that will allow them to better understand what’s happening to them. After the visit, you can update their records and order prescriptions and referrals with the tap of a finger.

This isn’t the stuff of science fiction any more. The tablet revolution is coming to the medical world, thanks to the fact that medical professionals have adopted iPads and other handheld devices in record numbers. The plethora of BYOD (bring your own devices) and mobile flexibility options in hospitals are leading software and hardware developers to embrace the medical potential of the tablet – and to make this kind of seamless wireless integration happen for real.

In this article, I’ll take a look as several  hardware and software options available today to the medical community, and also look at others that are in development. This report came from the Heart Rhythm Society’s 2011 annual meeting in San Francisco.


GE Healthcare Airstrip

Airstrip is a series of custom Intranet apps that allow medical professionals to access patient data as it happens.  According to Sal LoBianco, Regional Director, “Airstrip is used by major hospitals to access relevant information every day”.

Apps in the AirStrip package include Airstrip OB, for obstetrics information, Airstrip Cardiology, for real-time cardiac data, and Airstrip Patient Monitoring, for patient information, including vital signs and waveform data from medical devices such as ventilators, cardiac monitors, and arterial lines, and also medications, lab reports, and EMR (Electronic Medical Record) data from various sources.

Afstat Afib Educator

Afstat Afib is an iPad app that allows doctors and medical professionals to explain cardiac afibrillation to patients, trough a series of interactive animations, explanatory diagrams, and easy-to-understand information pages.  “This is very effective in explaining exactly what’s happening to a cardiac patient,” says Alison Marcus, a consultant that worked with the AfStat Organization, a healthcare initiative dedicated to educating the public about this cardiac condition, to develop the app.

LifeWatch NiteWatch / TeleViewer

TeleViewer  is a medical report viewer for the iPhone / iPad.  It allows for custom reports to be reviewed  and sorted directly through the device, and also can be configured for instant report delivery from EMR (Electronic Medical Record) services.


Medicomp SAVI

The Medicomp SAVI Wireless cardiac monitoring system consists of an easy-to-wear sensor system that relays cardiac information directly to a BlackBerry smartphone or tablet. The BlackBerry app then processes the information and relays it to the Medicomp Cardiac Monitoring System for evaluation.  The combination of a small telemetry pendant tethered to a wireless device that the patient already carries makes the system more likely to be used on a daily basis.

Windows 7

Stereotaxis Odyssey

 The Stereotaxis Odyssey realtime monitoring / recording system allows for a multiple-window view into medical / surgical procedures as they happen. This includes camera views, telemetry information, and xray / MRI displays. An audio link provides for direct interaction, and the entire procedure can be recorded for training purposes.

The vendor provided a Windows 7 tablet to show the system in action, and it worked well, over a WiFi connection to the Intranet server that processed the data from various medical devices and live feeds from other vendors at the show.


LifeWatch NiteWatch

The LifeWatch NiteWatch sleep monitoring system is also available for Android devices (see the above listing for the iPad version).

Encapture MD

EncaptureMD is a comprehensive  medical reporting platform that covers an array of modalities for creating custom reports.  Information from Echocardiography, Vascular Nuclear Cardiology, Cardiac Catheterization,  Electrophysiology,  and OB/GYN procedures can be combined directly into standards-compliant medical reports, eliminating the need for dictation, and speeding up the review / billing process.  According to the manufacturer, EncaptureMD is currently flash-based, and can run on Android and BlackBerry tablets.  The PDF reports it outputs can also be viewed  on an iPad.

Upcoming Medical Tablet Products

Abiomed, a provider of temporary assist systems that can restore heart functions in cardiac patients, is in development of an iPad monitoring system. “The ubiquity of the iPad in the medical community – everyone has one, and doctors are bring them on rounds – means that we can’t afford to not develop an app for that.  We expect to have one on the market in the next six months,” says Alisha Phipps, a Marketing Specialist with the company.

Medtronic Carelink Mobile is an iPad app in development.  Currently pending FDA approval, CareLink is an interactive patient information system for doctors and other medical professionals.  It allows updated medical records to be viewed in a centralized database.  The portable version will allow physicians to access patient information on the fly.

Hansen Medical’s robotic surgical systems allows for delicate operations to be performed with a high degree of accuracy.  According to Megan Kundert, an executive with the company,  the visual feedback and control systems for the robot interface “will be available for the iPad and other tablet devices in the near future”.

Philips Healthcare’s iPresent is a patient / hospital information system that will allow for instant access to thousands of patient records and hospital administration / billing documents.  Development has stalled, however,  according to Lois Fenimore, a Senior Manager at Philips Healthcare.  “We’re currently developing it in-house, and allocating IT resources to it without a hospital-based pilot project has been difficult.”

Google TV: A Nail In The Coffin For Apple?

January 10, 2011

After seeing the Google TV demo / announcement at Google I/O this past March, I was skeptical but open-minded about how their conception of Push TV would hit the market. It didn’t really register with me until I started looking at upgrading my home TV set, and I reviewed the Google TV dev session material on YouTube this week to see if I should hold out longer.

This time, the material grabbed me. I was also in the market for a new laptop for my son as he starts his senior year, and I realized that if I got the Google TV, the next laptop for my son wouldn’t be a Mac.

I knew that my teenage sons had never owned a Mac, and with Push TV they may never will; they go through their lives using HP and Dell laptops, mainly because the price points are lower, Windows 7 is stable enough for them, and they can get Mac apps on their PCs – my older son uses Safari and iTunes with his iPhone 4G; my younger son uses Chrome and iTunes and a iPhone 3G. They both use IM and Facebook and YouTube constantly; they bang on their browsers daily, throwing links back and forth through a dizzying array of social media sites.

My wife and I are drawn in weekly to see what they’ve managed to find on the web, in terms of videos, baseball information, Wiki info, eBay deals, and gamer websites.

Usually my wife and I huddle around the small screen for a minute or two, but then drift off. The laptop screen is too dim, or the viewing angle is wrong, or the distortion from the small speakers is too much. Or their iPhone screens are too small, and the content is too restricted.

I realized that if they could push that Web information via their laptops and to our TV, it would make our interactions better.

And HD web content could look as good or better on a HDTV than on a PC or laptop.

And I could facilitate that by getting a Google TV as our next TV.

But I also realized that the path that Google TV takes (Android OS – Flash) would leave my sons’ iPhones out of the loop, and would kill the deal with social interaction on that level.

And that if I got a Google TV, and they started pushing video and web content to it from their laptops, they will.  Not just to share with their parents and friends they have over, but because they’re going to want to see what they find on the web on a big HD screen, with the right speakers.

And that their next laptops this year would be PCs, because they can do that.  And their next phones would be Androids, because they can do that.  It won’t so much me my choice, but what they’re going to demand, once they get hooked on the Push TV experience.

And when Google TV – Push TV takes off past the early adopters, millions upon millions of users will make the same Not Apple choice.

Blurb In The Publishing Arena

December 2, 2010

For an author who wishes to see his or her books in print, the typical methods in the past have been traditional publishing, or subsidy publishing.

In the traditional publishing model, an author contracts with a publisher to write a book (or deliver a book as written), and then receives an advance against royalties. The publisher prints and sells the books and receives the lion’s share of the profits, and the author gets a cut (less the advance). Usually the publisher is responsible for editing and proofreading the book before it’s printed.

In subsidy publishing, the companies involved generally turn this process around, and get the author to pay for the print run of the book. Any editing involved is usually at the cost of the writer, if it’s done at all. As the subsidy publisher is in business to make money, the usual controls as to what’s an acceptable manuscript are often missing or diminished.

A traditional publisher may tell your science fiction novel draft or picture book prototype needs to redone / revised and / or reject it, whereas a subsidy publisher may tell you the same manuscript / book is just fine – and then ask you for $5,000 to publish it.

Generally the subsidy publishing method hurts you as an author in a couple of ways:

1. A poor first draft is accepted, and not rejected / asked to be revised. The revision process that a traditional publisher will make you go through strengthens your written material.

2. The publishing costs are put on the author, and they’re usually for an entire print run, which can be expensive.

3. Editing, proofing, and design services are usually either nonexistent or costly, and can be slipshod.

Blurb represents a new paradigm in publishing – a print-on-demand service that allows the author to be the publisher in a novel way.

Blurb is a middle ground between traditional publishing and subsidy publishing. By allowing authors to make their own books, and freeing them from the usual pitfalls of subsidy publishing, it makes the process of getting books in print a lot more realistic.

How does Blurb differ from a subsidy publisher?

In the first place, there’s no incentive for Blurb to take in a bad manuscript. The onus is on the author to make their book the best it can be, and there’s no subsidy company to give them incorrect feedback because it makes them a buck. Through Blurb Nation, independent editing services can be found, where users can get impartial feedback.

In the second place, Blurb’s unique print service, where the entire print run can be controlled, means the barrier of entry is pushed way down. There’s no scheme to get you to pay for an entire print run. As little as 1 copy can be ordered and printed, and volume discounts start at 400 copies.

In the third place, since the editing and design of the book is up to the user, the path to a better book is clear. There’s no subsidy publisher to gum up the works. BookSmart software makes it easy to create a great book by yourself, and editing / design services can be found through Blurb Nation (as noted).

Blurb. It’s way better than subsidy publishing.

The Solio

May 11, 2010

The Solio is an innovative solar charger for almost any battery-powered device. It consists of a three panel photovoltaic system connected to an internal battery.

The interesting design feature is that it fans out like a flower, around a central ring.


It’s iPod-like in its ease of use. I discussed the product with the company at the recent Eco Live exhibition here in San Francisco, and they pointed out that following Apple design principles was one of the key ideas behind the product. They also mentioned that the product had really taken off after being named MacWorld 2005 best-of-show, and that iPod users had led the way.

My informal testing of the unit was with two devices I use almost daily, a Motorola Razr V3 and a 5G video iPod. The Solio worked flawlessly, acting like any other battery add-on pack to provide power to the device, while avoiding disposable batteries.

The Solio comes with a suction mount, which can be used to attach it to a window. For maximum charging effect, you should mount it to the window from the back side, outside of your house, although you can turn it around either way.

The device charges in 8-10 hours in direct sunlight. A system of LED flashes tell you how much power is in the unit (1 flash = 25%, 2 flashes = 50%, 3 flashes = 75%, 4 flashes= 100%).

One nice feature is that one of the panels is left exposed when you fold it up. This means that even when you fold it up, it still gets 1/3 power (as long as you leave it right side up!). This means you can stow it in a mesh water-bottle pocket in your bag, and it will get a slow supply of energy all day.

Another idea is to use a zip tie to create a carabiner mount for the Solio. Put a zip tie through the ring, and cut the excess off. Make sure the Solio is fanned-out first, otherwise the tie may prevent it from unfolding. Clip a carabiner to the loop your created. Now you can hook the Solio to your backpack and let it draw power during a hike. Note that this method interferes with the suction-cup mount. It would be nice to see a ring mount in a future model.

Speaking of future models, the folks from Solio intimated that new, larger models would be coming soon. I can’t wait, this is a cool thing, and if it came in a version with more power output and larger solar-collection surfaces, that would be great.

The Solio is available in four colors (white, silver, black, and pink). The system ships with power adapter tips that connect to most devices, as well as a USB cable that connects a standard USB-iPod / iPad dock connector cable. The package also includes a power adapter to charge the Solio from a wall socket (but that would be cheating). More tips and adapters are available from the website.

Around $99, at most online retailers, including Saks, Target, Amazon, and REI.