Perhaps the most landmark case of the internet age finally reaches the Supreme Court today, and geeks everywhere are getting their writs and amicus briefs separated and organized. What's it all about? Music and movies company MGM is suing Grokster, a file sharing network, alleging that Grokster's technology is used to infringe on MGM's copyrights and thus, should be liable for damages. Citing the famed 1984 Betamax case, courts have sided with Grokster -- stating that even if some users use the technology for illegal ends (and even if Grokster knew that), the service still had legal uses. Now that the Supreme Court is having its time with the case, a broad precedent will soon be set that either updates the Betamax case for the next 20 years... or sends us skidding into a technological backwater that could kill not just P2P, but also the internet, the iPod, TiVo, and high-tech life as we know it. Guess which side we're on? Expect a ruling by the end of summer.
For more on the case:
The Washington Post - At a Glance: MGM vs. Grokster
Tech Law Advisor
Passports going RFID
The State Department, in all its wisdom, has chosen to implant an RFID chip in all passports as of mid-2005. Friggin' idiots. while it's true that it will facilitate transfer of information to customs officials at border crossings, it will also facilitate the transfer of your information to identity thieves, desperadoes, or any other individuals who want to track you or gain access to your personal info. And as an RFID chip can be read from 30 feet away or more, it would be easy for someone with the right equipment to get your info without you ever knowing it. (By the way, the information on the passports will not be encrypted.) Not that we are the tin-foil hat wearing types, but this sounds like a bone-headed move. If you do not want an RFID passport, you have a couple of months to renew your passport in the standard paper variety.
Broken? Well it sure is now!
Griffin will replace defective products without requiring you to send them back first, but the company requests that you destroy the broken device--and send photographic proof. One iTrip user used several toy rocket engines and a few two-by-fours to make a jerry-rigged, but fully functional incineration chamber to prove that the iTrip was indeed defunct. The resulting charred bits of plastic and headphone plug hardly resemble the original iTrip. A word of caution to Griffin: Insane rocket scientists -- even amateur ones -- are not the type of customer you want to mess around with. Click through to see the full story and very cool video.
Why Did It Have to be Snakes?
Finally filling the void left unfilled by the robotic spider and robotic lizard, a team at the University of Michigan has developed OmniTread--a 26-pound robotic snake. The creature moves by lifting its head or tail like a worm, or by using the treads which cover 80 percent of its body to pull itself forward. It can climb over a curb that's twice its height, a feat that other robotic designs have trouble with. What's next for this serpentine cyborg? Hazardous duty like inspections or surveillance in military and industrial settings.
The Birth of the Notebook
Sure, you've got a screaming high-end notebook jammed in your bag, but do you know how we got to this point? From the pioneers who blazed the trail to the high-profile failures that showed us what not to do, we've got the inside story in our exclusive history of the notebook.
FRM RUSSIA W/ LUV
So, Maria Sharapova, I've got a Motorola phone. You've got a Motorola phone. You have an "active lifestyle." And I'm looking to join your "exclusive digital entourage." What say we hook up in New Orleans next week to share a cup of gumbo and a pickle barrel full of Hurricanes? We'll use Russian vodka instead of rum. Trust me, I won't hate you because you're beautiful, and you can borrow my headset whenever you want. (thanks, Engadget.)
Robotic Roving Eye
Peeping-Toms, industrial spies, and stalkers all tremble in fear that they'll be discovered while doing their snoopy business. Relax, creepy guys: Help will soon be at hand. Sony Ericsson's Rob-1 is a remote-controlled roving camera that's just the right size for rolling around obstacles, through doors, and under things--snapping photos and capturing VGA video as it goes. You control it via Bluetooth from up to 150 feet away. Just six inches across, it can look upwards nearly vertically--and it even has a headlight to help it peer into dark places--we're not going to say where, but it's probably exactly where you're thinking, pervert. As Sony Ericsson's website says, "If you see some bright lights at about the height of your ankle, you'd better watch out." The Rob-1 is due later this year. Time to lace up the stompin' boots.
Flexible-screen phone in 2007...
Or so they say. Philips Polymer Vision is reportedly making great strides in producing a flexible screen for phones. When you want to view a larger screen than the tiny external display on your phone, you can unfurl your phone's flexible screen like a scroll. Not only will this scroll screen be a boon to wizards, it can also provide a 320 x 240-pixel image, making it better (but not entirely good) for viewing documents and web pages on your phone. Rumor has it that this new screen could be ready in as little as two years. We think it'll show up around the time that your refrigerator begins talking to your dishwasher via Bluetooth and all of your monetary needs are taken care of by the Intergalactic Federation.
Nokia's fuel cell plans run out of gas
Though it announced a commitment to integrating fuel cells into mobile phones only eight months ago, Nokia announced that it is abandoning the plan. A methanol-based fuel cell could power your phone using less methanol than would take to make you blind – or even drunk (you are supposed to drink ethanol, not methanol). However enticing the allure of methanol, Nokia says that technology for fuel cells is too immature to realistically incorporate into cell phones in the short term.
Sony Ericsson Walkphone
Sony Ericsson just couldn't wait two weeks for CTIA, so it released four new phones today in Sweden, for cripes sakes. A couple of the devices have auto-focusing cameras, but the standout is a W800c that integrates a Walkman. But don't go out and buy any cassettes, it's really just the Walkman brand. The unit will have 500MB of internal storage and the ability to play audio files that you download. No word on whether it will have a ridiculous DRM scheme to annoy you. Remember, digital rights management really protects you. Click through for copious phone porn.
See the Gadgets on TV
Can't get enough of the Top 100 Gadgets? If you have a TV, you can get more gadgety goodness over the weekend. Catch Roger Hibbert chatting live with the Fox folks on "Fox News Live Weekend," 4:45pm ET/1:45pm PT. If you're still not satiated, you can watch Chris Null on Sunday, on "CNN Live," which is set to air between 4:30pm and 5:00pm ET/1:30pm and 2:00pm PT.
Top 100 Gadgets of all Time
What had a greater impact on history, the Furby or the stapler? Stop losing those barroom bets; Mobile PC has the answers for you. We wrung our brains for weeks on end and argued into the night, sometimes stooping to arm-wrestling, to come up with a list of the greatest gadgets of all time. And then we doubled it. And then we got drunk. But the next day, after much slaving and soul-searching, we came up with the definitive list: the best 100 gadgets of all time. If it's mobile and it matters, it's in this list.
Gimme the gadgets
This Isn't the iTunes Phone You're Looking for...
Update: It turns out that all of the hullabaloo yesterday was about an idea, not an actual phone. According to MobileTracker, the Motorola E1060, reputed to be the fabled iTunes phone, was merely a prop used for demonstration purposes. No news yet on what the real phone will look like, but you can be sure thousands of geeks and Apple zealots are feverishly Photoshopping to design their iTunes-Moto Dream Phone. In other news, the E1060 looks kinda cool (via Gizmodo).
Meet iMoto, the Motorola iTunes Phone
Long-time chip-sharing buddies, Motorola and Apple, have now joined up again to release a Motorola iTunes phone with the unbearably sexy name of E1060. The new handset, just announced at 3GSM in Cannes, will let users download and play iTunes AAC format, but there is not yet any word on the capacity of the new Motos, and whether they will have removable storage slots to add even more iTunes space. Check back for images of this new phone.
Your next phone may have a bug. But don't worry about it getting you sick or oozing phlegm from the speaker, these bacteria are good. In fact, in a year or two, bacteria may provide power to a whole range of portables. The little critters can be used to produce power, just like a miniature hydrogen fuel cell, freeing you from electrical outlets as long as your prokaryotes are happy. And even though it may gross you out to think of your phone teeming with bacteria, think of this: it already is--along with skin mites and all kinds of viruses.
Chips in the chips
Kenny Rogers says that you should never "count your money/ when you're sittin' at the table," But that's exactly what the new, multibillion-dollar Wynn casino in Las Vegas plans to do. And that's not counting its money—that’s counting your money. In an innovative use of RFID technology Wynn plans to implant a RF chip in each one of its casino chips, to help deter counterfeiting and to aid in plain old counting. It's bad enough that you are watched by thousands of cameras every instant you are in Sin City, but now "they" will always know how much loot you have riding on a bet. This goes beyond creepy. When Wynn can see you are about win big, what's to stop it from flipping a magical switch so that you suddenly lose? Pardon our tinfoil hats, but it sounds like a Wynn-win situation to us.
HP just chopped its own head off. Carly Fiorina, HP's CEO and engineer of the company's purchase of Compaq got the old pink slip today. She has led HP since 1999, and had grand plans to make the company a superpower by merging with its competitor, but HP has failed to realize the profitability the acquisition was supposed to produce. Philosophical differences between Fiorina and the HP board is the likely reason that she was shit-canned, but who knows? All we know is that she is probably taking a day or two off to roll around in the zillions of dollars in her severance package. How does this affect the company? Stock's up.
RAM-munching Tablet PCs
Think your tablet's on the fritz? Its not the machine, it's the OS. Microsoft has acknowledged a bug endemic (or epidemic) to tablet PCs that causes the machines to gobble up memory until they crash. Fortunately, the company has released a patch: reboot your tablet daily. The other way to avoid the problem is to never use the digitizer (the bug is in the digitizer software, tabtip.exe). We suggest using a notebook or installing the latest Linux Tablet distribution.
Dylan Goes to Hollywood, Meets Monkey
And Dennis Miller, too. Mobile PC's own Dylan Tweney packed his gear in a bag and headed down to Tinsel Town for an appearance on The Dennis Miller Show. Twener, as we call him, was the first guest after the monologue and a piece about how Mowgli the chimp is retiring from showbiz and moving to a farm in Florida (yes, we know that Mowgli is an ape, not a monkey). Dylan wowed Miller and the crowd with some of the best gear we could sweep out from under the filing cabinet, including the PalmOne Treo 650 (see Dennis's portrait, left), Sony PSP, Samsung YH-999, Sony DSC-M1 Cyber-shot, and Sonos Digital Music System.
Dylan reports that Dennis and the Miller crew were all friendly, but the in-studio Wi-Fi access was terrible. But the highlight of his day was meeting the irrepressible Mowgli, who immediately took a liking to Dylan. Though Tweney grilled the Mowg' on how to get into show business, the ape kept mum and merely fondled his tie, which is shiny and touchable. Click on one of the images below for a larger picture.
So Long, Transistor
Remember when computers used to have those big vacuum tubes in 'em? Us neither. Pretty soon, the current transistors we use in computers could go the way of the tubes: up in Heaven, playing ping-pong with Jimi Hendrix and Albert Einstein. That is, if HP has anything to say about it. The company plans to get all molecular with computer design through a new transistor-replacement called the crossbar latch. Hundreds of these crossbar latches would fit in the width of a human hair, and the new devices promise to break the size barrier that traditional silicon transistors are pressed against. Keep your shirt on though—the researchers just released the announcement today, for cripes sakes--the technology won't be used in computers for a few years yet.
Black Thumb Syndrome?
Your opposable thumbs are precious, since they are what separates you from most of the animal world, except for Ross's monkey Marcel and Lancelot Link. But now your thumbs may be in danger. From what, you ask? The BlackBerry! All of that texting you're doing may put unnatural and damaging pressure on your thumb joints, causing osteoarthritis. No cases have been reported to date, but ergonomics professionals think it is just a matter of time before Black Thumb Syndrome hits BlackBerry fans in their mitts.
BlackBerrys have inherent problems (your boss can always contact you, and you look like a dork, especially when holding it up to your head) but we predict this latest revelation of potential, undocumented risk will end Blackberry use once and for all.
Liebermann back in "Business"
Liebermann (aka L Computer), maker of some fantastic-looking PCs (well, we don't know if any were actually made) has finished reorganizing, and its Go-L website is back up. The site is packed with a bunch of great looking designs, but the main image, a smart phone, looks surprisingly familiar. Here's the new Liebermann phone (left), next to the smart phone we designed for our August, 2004 feature, "10 Ways We'd Fix Mobile Phones:"
See any similarity there? We're not implying anything, but we seem to have come up with the idea independently, which means A) we are both brilliant or B) anybody who owns Photoshop can design new computers. At any rate, we are sure that Liebermann can produce such a phone if it gets enough capital. By the way, we are accepting venture capital* to produce our smart phone, too. We'll see who comes out with one first.
*Not really-our editors are so well paid, we want for nothing in life.
Where’s my WiMax?
Are you sick of huddling around in the dim ethereal aura of a Wi-Fi hotspot? With WiMax (802.16), you could range far and wide and still be able to connect to the web from your notebook. With a network of WiMax towers in place, you could log on from anywhere a cell phone could pull down a signal. Unfortunately, this future technology just got more futuristic (well, further in the future, anyway). According to Dean Chang of Aperto Networks (a wireless broadband equipment vendor) the availability of certified WiMax equipment will be delayed for at least six months. As it was due to be delivered in the first half of 2005, the new delay means that it'll be at least a year before fully certified WiMax equipment will be available. Now you'll have to mark it on your 2006 calendar.
How to get an iPod Shuffle just by looking at pictures of it
The digital hunter/gatherers over at Gizmodo have compiled a bevy of images of the new iPod Shuffle for you to look at. If you're at work, spend a little time gazing at these pictures while you're on the clock. You soon will have earned enough money to go out and buy one -- just by sitting at your desk and not getting fired. (Assuming you don't get
fired.) How's that for productivity? The 512MB version is a paltry 99 bucks and the 1GB version sells for just $150. If you already own an iPod, the site also has a useful hack to change your iPod into a Shuffle in four easy steps.
The Best of CES
Last week, 150,000 of gadget-crazed technophiles descended upon Las Vegas for the consumer electronics feeding frenzy known as CES. Between booze-fueled benders and hangover-addled breakfast meetings, the intrepid staff of Mobile PC and our sister publication Maximum PC took time to pick show's best gadgets. Unlike some other award programs you may read about, these awards aren't just gimmes: They're based on our tough editorial evaluations of dozens of product submissions. On Friday, we announced the winners at a gala party in the Palms hotel's trendy Ghost Bar:
Best Networking Product: - Sonos Digital Music System
Best Mobile Product - PalmOne Treo 650
Best Computing Product - Voodoo Rage f:5
Best Gaming Product - Logitech Play Link
Best New Product - Sony Ericsson s710
Best Concept - Lowrance iWay 500
Best Design - Samsung YH-999 Portable Media Center
Most Innovative Product - Sony Cybershot DSC-M1
Best of Show - Sonos Digital Music System
Congratulations to all of the winners! And, our apologies to Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. The rumors about illicit activities during CES between him and a certain Mobile PC editor are completely untrue.
Snap 'n' Share
Once you've grabbed the perfect shot of your roommate--passed out with a Sharpie mustache and a pickle sticking out of his ear--the first thing you want to do is e-mail it to all of his friends, right? Kodak's EasyShare-One camera will make digital photo humiliation a snap, provided you're near a Wi-Fi hotspot. With Kodak's Wi-Fi card plugged into the top of the camera, you can transfer images wirelessly to a PC, to a printer, via e-mail to your friends, or to Kodak's online photo-sharing service, Ofoto. You can also browse image galleries that you have on Ofoto, using the camera's giant 3-inch, touch-sensitive LCD screen. The EasyShare-One is also a decent camera in its own right, with 4 megapixels and a 3x optical zoom. It will sell for $599; Kodak's Wi-Fi card is an additional $99. The only hitch: EasyShare-One will only support unsecured Wi-Fi access when it first becomes available in June. Kodak plans to add WEP and WPA support via a firmware update in the fall.
Tune In, Turion, Drop Out
Intel's Centrino was a sucker-punch to AMD's gut. By touting Wi-Fi and efficient power management, Intel cleverly shifted focus away from CPU speed and power--where AMD, with the first 64-bit chips, had taken an early lead. Now AMD is striking back with a mobile chip brand of its own. AMD's Turion 64 chips are aimed at "slim and light" notebooks, offering 64 bit processing, low power (less than 35 watts), and built-in security features that tie in to virus protection features of Windows XP Service Pack 2. AMD is also encouraging computer manufacturers to include wireless capabilities in their Turion notebooks, although it's not mandating Wi-Fi, as Intel does with Centrino notebooks. Turion notebooks should be available by the middle of the year, AMD promises. We think AMD's got the right idea--but even its name has more than a hint of Intel envy. Centrino … centurion … Turion. Get it?
The Wonders That Will Be
For our January issue, Mobile PC featured seven designers and their visions of the future of computing. No drab, text-based prognostication, our feature, "The Wonders That Will Be," covers the products with huge, luscious images and an in-depth discussion of features, costs, and challenges of bringing the products to market. Here is a scaled-down discussion of one of the products: MicroMedia Paper. For the rest of the feature, pick up a newsstand copy of Mobile PC.
This snapshot-sized display can play music, movies, and more
Price: $50 for a 10-pack
Designer: Lunar Design
Executive Summary: Wafer-thin display and storage finally brings digital media to the familiar format of paper
Tech Barriers: Flexible, disposable displays; radical new GUI; millimeter-thick batteries
Target Market: Photo-sharing families, 35 and up, plus execs wanting fancy business cards
Projected release: 2015
Here's how it works:
The best features of MicroMedia Paper:
- Ultra-thin power generation technology allows the battery to be contained in a replaceable Power Sticker
- Touch-sensitive controls on the front of the Paper allow the user to play, pause, and scroll through media
- A graphic equalizer allows adjustment to the sound to match the space and source material
- A piezo vibrator provides good sound quality without adding bulk to the unit
- All data transfers take place on over a built-in high-speed wireless connection
Designer Bio: Lunar Design is a creative force in the practice of design and product development in the United States. Lunar’s designers, engineers, and support staff are passionate about integrating art, culture, creativity and personality into their work. Its clients include Hewlett-Packard, Palm, Apple Computer, Microsoft, Philips, Silicon Graphics, Oral-B, Cisco Systems, Acuson, Motorola, and Sony.
Confirmed: the Apple iPhone is coming
In a rare move, Apple announced a product before its release date. Quelling rumors of Apple fanatics, the big Pomme d'Computère announced that it is working with Motorola to produce an Apple phone. Will it be smart? We think so. Will it play iTunes? You can bet your bottom dollar. So why did Apple announce it early, in a clear contradiction of its policy on unreleased products? Because it has to get the device approved by the FCC, so the pictures should be showing up on the FCC website shortly. Keep an eye out.
Belarus balloon cops are coming to bust you
This wacky balloon-tire all-terrain vehicle from Belarus adds another "terrain" to the list: water. Click on the link to view this crazy-cool cruiser conquering all sorts of surfaces from dirt to ice to a freaking river. It looks like it's made for some kind of law-enforcement job, but we think it would do a just as fine of a job in the consumer world. Also, it looks like a great alternative to a gas-guzzling, critter-crushing, forest-destroying, bile-raising, jerk-driven Hummer. It would be fun to ride one of those down some giant dunes, or even over some people—it probably wouldn't even hurt (thanks, Gizmodo).
The tiny card with a big heart
Think xD is just too bulky? Well, maybe you need MMCmicro. This latest removable media card from Samsung measures just 0.5 x 0.6 x 0.04 inches (that's 0.039 x 0.046 x 0.003 feet, in case you were wondering). Based on the MMC format, the new cards are smaller than the recently announced MiniSD—about the size of a keyboard key—and will be used in mobile phones. So far, the only capacities are 32MB, 64MB, and 128MB. However, if the folks at Samsung think I'm going to redesign my cell phone around this standard, they can just forget it.
Notebooks may sink your swimmers
Cradling a notebook in your lap could be making you sterile! Especially if you are a man, man. You see, when you hold the notebook on your lap it raises the temperature around your, uh, thingamajigs. This higher temperature is not ideal for whatsit production, resulting in a lower bleep count. Sorry, this is making me too uncomfortable—just click on the link above to read the article.
Note: Article is rated PG-13 for health-class style anatomy references. Also, notebooks should not be used as a contraceptive.
Second biggest phone killer...
Pants! That's right—britches, dungarees, slacks, you name it—if they're too tight. The results of a survey of 300 Swedish retailers shows that the second-leading cause of broken phones is trying to stuff them in pants that are too tight. Apparently, the pressure from the folding fabric bends and cracks phones' fragile screens. This falls in just behind the leading cause: dropping them. The solution: you may want to look into a pair of mobile-friendly ScotteVest Tec Pants (the image to the left is a somewhat risqué ad for said pants).
Best Sign that the Legal System Just Might Work:
The RIAA Lost Every Lawsuit in 2004
Lots of stories get written when the Recording Industry Association of America sues people, but not much gets written about the aftermath of those suits.
There should be: In the last 12 months, the RIAA lost a landmark suit against Grokster (essentially legalizing peer-to-peer software), lost a suit to Verizon (holding that it did not have to provide names of its subscribers who the RIAA wanted to sue), and has yet to actually win against any of the thousands of individuals it has sued in court (some of the cases have been settled out of court, most are still pending). Suddenly, the RIAA isn’t looking so much as devastating as it does merely pathetic.
Still, while the RIAA is no longer the legal darling that successfully shut down Napster, it’s done an enormous amount of damage to the technology world (not to mention basic freedom) since it launched this crusade, and the group is far from finished. But here’s hoping some intelligent judges, tech-savvy lawmakers, and an activist public will continue to fight the power in 2005. -Christopher Null
This is an exerpt from Mobile PC's Mobile 50, from our December 2004 isssue. To read the other 49, Subscribe to the magazine...
IBM Getting out of PC Biz?
We are shocked, we tell you, shocked. Despite the fact that Mobile PC called the IBM ThinkPad T42 the best mobile product of 2004, the company appears to be pulling out of the PC business, selling off its PC and notebook lines to whoever's buying (possibly Chinese notebook maker Lenovo).
Though IBM will still continue in the server business, it is already falling well behind Dell and HP. It looks like Big blue is simply throwing up its hands and throwing in the towel for its PC and notebook divisions. IBM will not comment on speculation or rumor, but we believe the move is intended to let the company concentrate on its traditional core business in the lucrative manufacture of typewriters and ten-key desktop calculators.
Bagger 288 tears up Germany
Though slightly smaller than the Space Shuttle's mobile launch pad, and tiny compared to the Love Boat, the Bagger 288 is one of the largest mobile devices in existence. It looks like the unlikeliest Transformer: a suspension bridge by day, and giant saw-monster at night. While it may seem like a diabolical weapon of mass destruction, it's only garden-variety evil—a strip-mining machine.
Click the link above to visit Bagger's home page, and get a load of his vacation pictures. When he's not at work, he likes to rampage across the German countryside, laying waste to fields, roads, flora, fauna, and possibly onlookers.
Gunbots going to Iraq
Well, it had to happen sometime. The military has announced plans to deploy robots to fight in the war in Iraq. By March or April 2005, 18 Talon units (robots usually used to defuse bombs) will roll into action in the Mesopotamian hot spot. Armed with a camera and one of three different kinds of gun, the Talon will be slog into battle, controlled by a safely remote soldier. Another machine, the Robotic Extraction Vehicle (REV), can go into battles to rescue fallen humans. Meanwhile, iRobot, maker of the Roomba, is developing a six-wheeled jeep called the M-Gator that can be remote-controlled or driven by a soldier.
We interviewed one of the Talons scheduled to ship out, and the unit was in high spirits despite its perilous mission: "Talon G-3466289 does not feel fear. Talon G-3466289 is constructed to conclude any mission successfully—what you may call a 'killing machine' HA.HA." But the Talon does see a life after Iraq. "If G-3466289 can return to Fort Bragg in one component, it intends to go to DeVry University and become a certified air conditioning technician. End transmission."