The Kindle Family and the Kindle Fire

Pardon the pun, but Amazon is on fire. Amazon’s tablet, the Kindle Fire, is coming soon, and the site recently released the Kindle Family, three all-new e-readers that are “smaller, lighter, and more affordable than ever before.”

The latest generation Kindle is the most compact Amazon e-reader yet. Claiming to be “pocket sized,” the new gen is lighter, the casing is smaller (though the screen is still 6 inches), and it flips pages 10% faster. The Kindle Touch is the e-reader without the oh-so-cumbersome buttons–I actually love the page-turn buttons and keyboard on my third gen Kindle, but techies will surely love this new feature–as well a smaller, lighter design. The Touch also has the new X-Ray technology, which “lets customers explore the “bones of the book.” With a single tap, readers can see all the passages across a book that mention ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places or topics that interest them, as well as more detailed descriptions….” THAT is incredibly useful, especially for students (like me) who use their e-readers for required reading; it’s like having an annotated copy of the book alongside yours. Add 3G (and 50 bucks), and you have free Internet on the go.

With this pricing, it’ll be tempting to buy everyone a Kindle for holidays:

Latest generation Kindle – $79
Kindle Touch – $99 (November 21)
Kindle Touch 3G with free 3G – $149
Kindle Fire – $199 (November 15)

The Kindle Fire, however, is the e-reader on steroids. Not only is the reader full color, but it also offers Fire users Amazon’s secret club of digital content: over 100,000 movies and TV shows from Amazon Instant Video, over 17,000,000 songs for purchase from Amazon MP3, Kindle e-books, graphic novels, hundreds of magazines, and popular Android apps, all running on the innovative and powerful Amazon Silk. With the Kindle Fire, I would miss easy-to-read the graphite screen in the other Kindles, but all of the extra features are impressive. One of each would be ideal, I suppose…

Lowering the prices of new Kindles and upping their game with the Kindle Fire was a smart move on Amazon’s part, especially with the rapidly-growing popularity of tablets.

Hipstamatic: The high-tech way to take low-tech photos

We have 12 megapixel cameras with macro settings, HD camera phones, and other ridiculously good photography equipment. Yet, for some reason, the idea of taking grungy, overdeveloped photos in wonky colors is still incredibly appealing.

Enter Hipstamatic, the coolest app for taking film-like pictures on your phone. The site, whose slogan is “Digital photography never looked so analog,” brags that the app bring back “the look, feel, unpredictable beauty, and fun of plastic toy cameras from the past.”

A “Hipstamatic 100″ was a cheap, plastic toy camera developed in the 1980s, but it was a commercial failure. As an iPhone app, however, the concept has had considerably more success, selling well over a million times by last year.

Continue reading

GroupMe!

This is so fun.

GroupMe is a free, private group conference chat program, which works through SMS, smartphone apps, and even through the website. Basically, you can chat for free wherever you are, with whomever has GroupMe.

You can sign up through your phone number and/or e-mail address, and then create a chat room. The site and apps are super user-friendly–think Skype or iChat.

This program is very useful if you’re like me, living away from family and friends, or if you’re someone always on the go. My sisters (in Boston and Durham) and I (San Diego) use GroupMe to keep an ongoing conversation, rather than attempting–and failing–to Skype regularly. This way, we can keep each other updated on our own time. Similarly, my boyfriend uses GroupMe to keep in touch with his old work buddies in Florida. The possibilities are endless.

GroupMe 3.0 offers even more to users. The Questions option allows anyone to “ask a question to spark a conversation. Direct it to a few people or an entire group, or even post it to Twitter and Facebook and let the world respond. There’s no pressure—Questions are opt-in, so everyone can decide whether they’d like to join the discussion.” Also, users can send a Direct Message to another user if they don’t want the rest of the chat to read something. The site says: “Just tap on a user’s avatar anywhere you see it, and have a one-on-one conversation without ever leaving the app.” Easy peasy. Also, Featured Groups gives users a space to discuss a common interest, like Ke$ha, Dexter, Dave Matthews Band, and more.

Chat away!

The Google+ project, “real life sharing rethought for the web”

I haven’t written on here in so long because everyone decided to come stay with me in July. San Diego tends to be a good vacation spot, so friends and family are eager to visit, especially in the beautiful summer months. That’s fun for me, but no fun for my blog.

Because I have a moment, I want to write about the Google+ project. There has been so much buzz about this new network. According to a post yesterday by mashable, Paul Allen of Ancestry.com has estimated that “Google+ has approximately 9.5 million users worldwide, with 2.2 million joining in the past 32 to 34 hours.” That’s a lot of people already. I thought maybe I would jump on board this morning to see why Google+ is already so popular, but I hit a wall when I found out that Google+ is in a so-called limited field trial: “Right now, we’re testing with a small number of people, but it won’t be long before the Google+ project is ready for everyone. Leave us your email address and we’ll make sure you’re the first to know when we’re ready to invite more people.” At this point, anyone else with an invite is not allowed to join either, because they have reached their capacity.

I remember this happening with Gmail years ago, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. So they want to work out the kinks, cool. That’s better than Facebook changing things every other day, in my opinion. Speaking of Facebook, is Google+ about to be the next big social media site? It is certainly possible, with how many people are already on Google. Facebook could easily become another Myspace, with its childish and unnecessary apps and games; Google+ already seems to be more sophisticated. As long as Google keeps it simple, I think they’re on to something.

Based on what I can see in the demo, I love the idea that users can group friends into “Circles,” which can prove to be a necessary organizing tool when sharing photos and posts online–“Circles makes it easy to put your friends from Saturday night in one circle, your parents in another, and your boss in a circle by himself, just like real life”–this is exactly the important piece of social media that Facebook currently lacks. Instead of sharing everything with everyone, we have control.

Though some of the components of Google+ are new and innovative, creators have borrowed a few ideas from other online programs. “Huddle,” which turns different conversations into one group chat, is an awful lot like the Groupme smartphone app, which allows users to start private chat groups with the people in their contacts. Also, the “Sparks” tool is reminiscent of StumbleUpon, which also finds relevant snippets of the web based on a user’s interests. Do we care that Google+ is taking these ideas? I certainly don’t mind, because I’m still waiting for a program that integrates all of my favorite sites and apps. Maybe Google+ will eventually do that.

Ebooks versus print books: will they coexist?

Though I adore my Kindle now, I wasn’t always on board with the ebook craze. Before I had tried one out in a store, I was convinced that the screen would hurt my eyes and that using one would somehow take away from the enjoyment of reading. When I finally picked up the demo in Walmart, I fell in love. The graphite screen is so easy to read, and without the backlight it doesn’t hurt my eyes.

I got the Kindle WiFi for my birthday in February and proceeded to load it up with the free classics and a few books from the Kindle Bestsellers List. I noticed that I even read more now that I have an ebook, with its portable library and Whispernet technology.

Don’t get me wrong; I love me a good print book, the older the better. I enjoy going to used book stores and picking up old gems for half price or a few cents. I have found old hardbacks at yard sales and J.M. Barrie books from the early 1900s at Mom-and-Pop book stores in the UK for a few pounds each.

Are ebooks going to outrun my dream of having a small library in my house? Probably not. According to an article by Robert McCrum of guardian.co.uk, the last few years have signaled a rapprochement between print and digital culture. He quotes Jason Epstein, retired chief editor of Random House, who believes that the industry will split into two paths: “Some publishers may experiment by setting up their own freestanding digital start-ups… a separate, self-financed, digital industry will coexist with many functions of the traditional firms as the logic and the economies of digital technology increasingly assert themselves.” The article compares the print book to the wheel or the spoon: once invented, it cannot be improved. Yes, the ebook is an improvement of sorts, in that it saves trees and offers a speedy and efficient way of reading and carrying multiple books (and it’s just plain cool), but the book itself, as an invention, is perfect. As Stephanie Duncan of Bloomsbury’s Library Online project puts it, “Ebooks are only a format, just as paperbacks were a new format in the 30s. The value and joy of reading lies within the book itself, not the wrapper it comes in.”

Punishing pirates: ISPs to crack down on illegal file sharers

Internet Service Providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are trying to finally reach an agreement with entertainment providers on tougher punishments for those who illegally share intellectual property, such as music and movies, online. According to an exclusive article by CNET, “The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the respective trade groups for the four major record companies and six top Hollywood film studios, have labored for years to persuade ISPs to take a tougher antipiracy position.” First-offense subscribers may receive a cease-and-desist letter of sorts, called a Copyright Alert. After sending a few of these notices, participating ISPs will have to take more serious action.

The Pirate Bay, one of many bittorrent trackers, often makes a mockery of antipiracy laws on their website.

To deal with the toughest cases, ISPs can select from a “menu” of responses outlined in the plan, such as throttling down the suspected pirate’s bandwidth speed, or limiting Internet access. ISPs may also require the accused to attend a copyright law education program. However, termination by a network is not required under the proposed agreement, sources told CNET.

They may have had a good run, but “the proposal appears to have the potential to become one of the most potent antipiracy strategies ever implemented,” so file sharers may finally be reaching the end of the rope.

Groups such as The Pirate Bay, however, do not yet seem to be shaking in their pirate boots. On the bittorrent site, which boasts to be the largest in the world, users can read lists of e-mails from media and entertainment companies making what TPB calls “legal threats.” They also list links to their responses to these messages. The cheeky side comments are what truly demonstrate how little TPB actually cares:

“Microsoft: email (we get tons of these)
iRacing: letter (yes, they sent us a PDF) our response (the actual response was a 1MB BMP file, but well…)
Prophecy House: email and our response (he also called us, talking about the antichrist)

No action (except ridiculing the senders) has been taken by us because of these. :-)
(we used to have a nice graph here, but it’s simpler to just say: 0 torrents has been removed, and 0 torrents will ever be removed.)”

Clearly, they’re calling someone’s bluff. Though their approach to it isn’t very nice, I can’t help but understand why. How do ISPs have the authority to cut bandwith or restrict Internet access, if users are paying for it? Surely, there will be an addition to these service providers’ Terms and Conditions if/when they are able to pass these new antipiracy laws. After that, will bittorrent trackers and other file sharing programs start shutting down, like Limewire did in 2010? Maybe then The Pirate Bay will hold their fire.

Apple OS X Lion

If I didn’t think my 5 year-old Macbook would implode, I would buy the new Apple operating system, OS X Lion. The new features–250 in all–demonstrate exactly what I love about Apple, which is the company’s ability to extend the limits of our everyday technology. First, the system will make more use of the touchpad, which users can use to zoom, scroll, navigate between apps, and to get a bird’s-eye view of all open apps. Also, apps will now be full-screen. Why was this never the case? What exactly is the purpose of having two little vertical strips of desktop showing? Even Photobooth will be full-screen, which will probably make it even more addictive.

Apple OS X Lion full-screen feature.

Resume and Autosave will make it nearly impossible to ever have another moment when the battery dies or something goes wrong, and crying commences because you never clicked the save button.

I won’t get too preachy about Mac computers, but they’re a pleasure to use. The application integration that Apple has always strived to provide makes finding and working on files a cinch. Rather than simply making new computers that look cooler or run faster, Apple also gives users better understanding and command of its devices’ functions. And when you understand a device, you’ll use it more and–more importantly for the company–stick with it as new products hit the market.