Category Archives: Random Comments

IKEA wants to sell you a TV that’s part of the furniture

(Credit:
IKEA Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

It’s a problem that has plagued the monied for decades.

How do you ensure that your TV goes well with your furniture? How do you find a cabinet upon which your TV might perch with regal grace? And how do you deal with all those cables?

This problem has been affecting me this week, as my TV — as well as the surround sound, speakers, woofers, and everything else — was fitted by three hairy men who sniffed a lot, and I have no idea how to take it apart in order to change the furniture around it.

Galloping to my aid in IKEA.

It is launching something called the Uppleva. This is a TV that’s built in with the cabinet on which it stands.

Actually, there seem to be several different cabinet designs that happily fit your brand new, many-sized
LED TV. It’s truly made for those who want no trouble. There are no cables. And the TV has a DVD and Blu-Ray player, as well as being Wi-Fi enabled.

As you watch the promotional video, a few questions might scoot across your brow.

Who makes this TV and is it any good? Doesn’t the remote control look a lot like a
Wii? And, perhaps, wouldn’t it be fun if Apple got into furniture design?

I know that many people believe that Apple will stick to creating software for TV. But dreamers might experience adoration through owning a TV set made by the tasteful souls in Cupertino.

But wouldn’t it be the definition of sublime if Apple created furniture upon which its TV might feel at home? Steve Jobs was, at heart, a designer. He spent weeks wondering which washing machine to buy. Wouldn’t furniture design be a logical step forward?

As for IKEA, this whole TV and furniture ensemble ought to retail for less than $1,000. It’s available this month in Stockholm, Milan, Paris, Gdansk and Berlin.

One can only hope that when it arrives at one’s house, one doesn’t have to put the TV together from a little IKEA drawing. That would be awkward.

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Scout navigation app: Basic route guidance for free

Scout navigation

The main interface for Scout shows drive times to preloaded work and home addresses.

(Credit:
Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

In light of Apple’s recent announcements about its Maps app, the idea of another navigation app for the
iPhone might seem redundant, but Apple’s program will have a hard time matching the route guidance capabilities of Telenav’s Scout.

This recently released free navigation app builds on Telenav’s extensive experience in mobile navigation. Telenav came up with a new interface design and made the app free as a way of competing in the increasingly cutthroat world of navigation software.

Scout’s major drawbacks are that it is strictly an online app, and voice prompts require a $9.99-a-year subscription. I also found some aspects of the interface a little bit subtle, making it not always apparent how to find certain features and begin navigation.

Most people won’t have a problem with Scout’s online requirement, as the majority of navigating is done in places with a data connection. When I drove into an area with no cell reception, Scout’s maps disappeared, although it did still show a line indicating my direction on the screen. Unlike some other navigation apps, Scout can’t preload maps for a route.

The main interface combines a small map, a search box, points of interest, and buttons for home and work addresses. These buttons automatically compute the drive time for the home and work addresses saved in the app, showing these times right on the main interface. This feature can be particularly useful for people who want to determine the best time to head for work or home, as the drive times will take traffic into account if the app includes the voice guidance annual subscription.

When I first started using Scout, I did not notice any favorites or recent destinations list, and found myself looking up addresses repeatedly with the search box. Poking around the interface, I finally found that touching the Drive button took me to a screen with a recent destination list, a link to my phone’s contacts, and similar saved addresses.

Similarly, after finding a destination with search, Scout brings up a nice little card for the place that includes the address, phone number, crowdsourced reviews, and a button to share the location through e-mail or text messaging. But there is no button that says “Navigate” or “Set this address as a destination.” Instead, I had to touch the address on the screen, which caused Scout to calculate routes.

Scout offered three routes for each destination I chose, then required me to pick one of them and push the navigate button to begin route guidance. It seemed like a lot of steps to go through to begin navigation, but it was nice to have the multiple routes shown right from the start.

Scout navigation

Scout’s route guidance graphics include lane suggestions on freeways, the speed limit, and estimated arrival time.

(Credit:
Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

Without the voice prompt upgrade, Scout is a purely visual navigator, and does not take traffic into account. But it worked very well as long as I could clip the phone somewhere in the
car where I could see it. Its turn instructions were easy to follow and shown well in advance of upcoming turns. It also shows maps in 2D or 3D views, at the driver’s preference.

Adding the voice guidance subscription, Scout became much more useful. In fact, I found that I began to rely on it for most navigation, even if I already knew my route. With the upgrade, it does an excellent job of integrating traffic. Frequently I would start out on a trip, and Scout would announce that it adjusted the route based on a traffic problem up ahead. It is quite satisfying to go cruising down a clear road, imagining that somewhere nearby is a massive jam-up.

The voice prompts made it unnecessary to put my phone up on the dashboard, as they included the names of the streets on which I would be turning. These voice prompts also talked through multiple, close-together turns before I reached them, giving some advanced preparation. I was also able to turn off my iPhone’s screen, saving its battery, and still hear the voice prompts.

On arriving at a destination, Scout does not automatically end its route guidance, which would be nice. Instead, I had to either touch the end-trip button, which kind of disappears in the lower right-hand corner of the route guidance screen, or shut down the app. Unlike some other navigation apps, Scout doesn’t automatically resume a route when it is shut down and then restarted.

One other feature that might keep Scout relevant once Apple’s maps app becomes generally available is its integration with the Scout.me Web site and in-car infotainment systems. The Web site is supposed to let users select destinations on their PCs and share them with the phone app. That would be useful when, for example, getting an e-mail with a physical address and pasting it into the Web site. However, the Web site is still in beta, and never linked up with my phone.

The other component of the Scout ecosystem, integration with cars, will have to wait until automakers implement the compatible software. Telenav has a strong working relationship with Ford, so I would expect it would be the first automaker to incorporate Scout. With full implementation, drivers should be able to find a destination using the phone app or Web site, and send it to the car’s navigation system.

Scout is available for the iPhone as a free download. Voice prompts, with traffic routing, can be added for a price of $9.99 per year. Click here to download Scout.

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Fleetwood Macintosh: #FailedTechBand names on Twitter

(Credit:
Twitter)

The top Twitter trend yesterday, #FailedTechBands, is a hilarious play on words that includes some clever imaginary band names.

According to trend-tracking site Topsy, the trend started with a tweet from Mashable features writer Christine Erickson that read “Fleetwood Macintosh #FailedTechBands.”

Click through this CBSNews gallery to see more of these creative musical monikers.

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‘Kinect Glasses’ coming from Microsoft?

Bespectacled gamers in an image from the alleged Microsoft document.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET)

If a supposedly leaked, 56-page Microsoft document is the real deal, we’ve now got more details on the Xbox 720, as well as on the next version of Kinect. We’ve also got an intriguing glimpse of a Google glasses-like project called Project Fortaleza.

Our sister site CNET UK has a report on the document, which was written about by The Verge earlier today. Among other things, the document says the 720 console will feature Blu-ray functionality for showing high-def movies and will be able to play films in 3D. Check out the CNET UK story here.

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Saab to live on as electric car manufacturer

The Saab 9-3 ePower, a prototype electric test vehicle.

The Saab 9-3 ePower, a prototype electric test vehicle.

(Credit:
Saab)

The show’s not over for Saab. An investment group agreed to buy the Swedish automotive manufacturer and plans to build electric
cars for the Asian market, according to an article in the Detroit Free Press.

Saab’s savior is a Chinese-Japanese investment group, whose key player is energy tycoon Kai Johan Jiang. Jiang founded the alternative energy supplier National Bio-Energy Group in China, and his other company, the National Modern Energy Holdings, owns 51 percent of National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB, the company set up to buy Saab, according to BusinessWeek. The remaining 49 percent of National Electric Vehicle Sweden is held by Sun Investment, a Japanese company that plans to bring technology to the table to help build Saab’s electric lineup.

Saab Phoenix concept (photos)

The first electric vehicle will be the 9-3 Electric Car, according to blog SaabUnited.com, with plans to build a new generation 9-3 EV based on the Phoenix platform that debuted in 2011. The company will leverage its existing ePower program to quickly bring the EVs to market.

Saab expects to produce its first EVs sometime in 2013 or 2014, and the vehicles will be built in Saab’s existing facilities in Trollhattan. Interestingly, the new buyers have purchased the patents for the 9-3, but not the 9-4, 9-4x, or 9-5, reports SaabUnited.com. GM has refused to supply parts for the 9-4x following any change of ownership, according to MotorTrend.

The Saab 9-3 ePower.

The Saab 9-3 ePower.

(Credit:
Saab)

The Saab 9-3 ePower.

The Saab 9-3 ePower.

(Credit:
Saab)

You wouldn’t be alone in wondering if this sale will just be another short-lived iteration for the brand that can’t seem to build any traction. The market for electric cars isn’t exactly booming in the U.S. or in China. In fact, the auto market in China has seen a dramatic slowdown, and electric car manufacturer BYD reported a 90 percent drop in sales, according to CRI.com.

Source: Detroit Free Press

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Fun photography masking tools on iOS

iPhone(Credit:
CNET)

There are a ton of image editors available for
iPhone that let you play with photos — many of which I’ve talked about here. But a specific set of editors lets you create a mask or let you superimpose one image on top of another for some really cool effects. Recently, a popular
Mac photo editor made its way to iOS (the third in this collection) and I thought I would put together a few apps to see how they compare.

This week’s collection of iOS apps let you add unique effects to your images. The first lets you superimpose images on top of each other and offers a ton of tools for tweaking the results. The second lets you blend images together and create masks to make them seem more realistic. The third doesn’t bother with two images, but instead lets you add effects to only a portion of the image.

Superimpose

You’ll need to adjust color levels to make the Cat who took over San Francisco believable.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Superimpose (99 cents), true to its name, lets you superimpose images onto other images with sometimes beautiful, and sometimes silly results. The interface has a lot of elements and can be quite confusing at first, but with some practice you can make some pretty cool looking projects.

You start by loading a background image where you want to superimpose something on, then load a foreground image with what you want to superimpose. Use the Home screen and touch the top-left button to either snap a new picture or pick one from your library. Obviously, this part is pretty straight forward, but when you see the amount of buttons and icons you’ll be working with, it gets pretty confusing. Across the bottom there are four buttons including Home, Transform, Masks, and Filters. With each button you press, you’ll notice that it changes the seven buttons that are across the top.

On the Home screen you can use the top-left button to either snap a new picture or pick one from your library for both the foreground and background. From here you can touch the Mask button, then hit the gear icon in the upper right to choose the tools for making a mask (I found this completely unintuitive — why not have the mask tools in plain sight?). You also have sliders for hue and saturation, brightness and contrast, and the ability to adjust color levels. Many of these are under the Filters button, but there doesn’t seem to be any filters in the traditional sense (retro, sepia, artistic, or otherwise). Though the app works well enough, the layout of the interface leaves a lot to be desired.

Superimpose has some sharing options when your finished, letting you share to Facebook or Twitter, or you can simply save it to your iPhone photo library.

Superimpose does it what it advertises, and there are certainly a lot of options, but it seems like I wouldn’t use most of the buttons when making this type of photo project. Still, if you want to combine elements from two images this app has the tools for the job — it just might take some time to find them.

Image Blender

Many of the effects in this app give your image that dreamy quality.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Image Blender ($2.99) is a much more simple app (admittedly with far fewer tools than Superimpose) that makes it easy to blend two images together for a cool effect.

To get started, the interface has a small blank box on each side on the bottom that you’ll need to tap to load your background image on the left, and your foreground image on the right. A slider in the middle acts like a fader, adjusting the opacity of both images so you can make one more visible than the other. You’re only obvious options at the top are to Blend or Save the image, but touching the screen lets you also arrange your photos or create a mask for that superimposed effect.

Arranging is fairly self explanatory: You can drag to move either your foreground or background picture to your liking, and you can pinch to zoom if you want to change the size of either shot. The masking feature lets you touch to erase parts of the foreground or background image to create the effect you want, but it’s not perfect. You don’t get brush tools here beyond a toggle between concentrated brush or one with blur effects. These do the job, but different sized brushes would definitely help when you want to make the effect perfect. Still, after a few tries I found it pretty easy to superimpose one image over another and I can tell it will be easier after more experimentation.

When you’re done with arranging and adjusting your mask, you have the option to add some effects to your project. Touch the Blend button in the upper left to bring up several presets you can swipe to browse and test. You get 19 different blending modes to choose from that change the effect in various ways. When you’re finished, you have the option to save your project to your camera roll or export it to another compatible app for more editing (on my iPhone both Tilt-Shift Generator and PhotoToaster are available, but there are undoubtedly several others).

Image Blender is a much more simple tool than Superimpose, and it definitely gives you solid results with a little work, but it’s not perfect. Nonetheless, if you want a less complicated tool to blend images together, this one does the job fairly nicely.

Color Splash Studio

Use your finger to “brush” the color back into your image.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Color Splash Studio (99 cents for a limited time) was formerly a fun photo-editing tool for Mac only, but is now available for on-the-go image projects on your iPhone.

The app basically has one function it does very well (along with a ton of variables): Color Splash lets you take a photo, apply a mask to a portion of the photo, then colorize the selected area with really cool-looking results. You start by either snapping a new picture, selecting one from your iPhone photo library, or grabbing an image from Facebook.

The interface makes it easy to go through the process with buttons across the top for the different tools, and buttons on the bottom for fine-tuning your image. Once you’ve selected your photo, you’ll first want to have it display in either Grayscale, Sepia, or Bluetone monochrome, selected under the Effects heading at the top of the interface. Don’t bother with dramatic effects just yet, just select from these three. When you touch the Effects button again you can now create your mask. Use your finger to paint over the subject of your image to bring back color only on the subject.

Next, you’ll want to perfect your mask so it only covers the area of the image you want. To get more precise, touch the Pan and Zoom button in the lower left so you can touch up your mask and switch between the monochrome and color buttons on the bottom to make your outline perfect. For fine adjustments, touch the brush button to select a smaller brush or you can select brushes that offer differing levels of intensity the further you get from the center. Though a bit time consuming, fine-tuning your mask is one of the more satisfying actions in Color Splash.

When you’re finished, you’re ready to play with some effects and make adjustments. The Dramatic Effects section mentioned above only offers three filters including Soft, Dreamy, or Hard Light. But once you’ve selected one of these effects, you can move on to the Adjust button and use sliders to fine tune color saturation and hue with dramatic results.

When you’re fully satisfied with your Color Splash image, touch done. You can save the image to your iPhone library or share it with a number of social networks including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Flickr. You can also send via e-mail, print using AirPrint, or even turn your image into a postcard you can have made and sent for a fee — all from within the app.

Color Splash doesn’t have the plethora of features found in other image-editing apps, but the results from this one-trick-pony are great looking. If you want to experience how a splash of color can turn a photo into art, I definitely recommend this app.

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