In bloom – Bang & Olufsen’s BeoLab 11 subwoofer

Danish manufacturer of high end home entertainment systems have released what is possibly the most interesting looking subwoofer so far. Winning a race that no one else was running, the new BeoLab 11 has the usual high end sound quality that you would expect from Bang & Olufsen and it is both full active and compatible with third party applications.

BeoLab-11

The unit is basically two identical loudspeaker cabinets, with baffles facing each other, creating the tulip look. It comes in silver and white and is as much about creating a distinct talking point (the company says it has a strong sculptural presence, ) in the living room as it is about bass. It would probably make a good companion piece to the Dyson Air Multiplier.

However it is not all looks, and the BeoLab 11 is the first Bang & Olufsen subwoofer to utilize the Acoustic Balance Principle and will provide a richer listening experience, enhancing low end frequencies.

The unit reproduces omni-directional bass frequencies, which means that it doesn’t need to tucked away in the corner for optimal performance. And due to the tulip design, it might not look that bad in the middle of the room. Bang & Olufsen go one further and suggest that you can hang the unit on the wall. Apparently the BeoLab 11 produces minimal vibrations making it one of the few subwoofers in the world that can be wall mounted. Why you would want to is another question, but it can be done.

Not content with eye-catching sub-woofers, Bang & Olufsen also produced BeoLink a free iPhone app available in the Apple App Store. This allows owners of Bang & Olufsen’s Master Link Gateway to fully control all their home automation equipment from their iPhone or iPod touch. The range of potential applications is pretty impressive. You can turn on the lights, unlock your front door, change CDs or adjust the volume on the TV. You can also control your gates, garage doors, alarms and A/V equipment. And as you leave the house you can press a button and turn off all your appliances, lock all your doors and set your alarms. Or you can download the app, set it to demo mode and just pretend.

iPhone OS 4.0 finally brings multitasking and six friends

Apple has unleashed an enormous update for the iPhone and iPad with its 4.0 software. Boasting 100 new user features and 1500 APIs for developers, the new software will be made available as a preview to developers today, with a launch this summer for the iPhone. iPad users will have to wait until the autumn for their update.

Apple-OS-4

Some new user features include a 5x digital zoom, Bluetooth keyboard support, Home screen wallpapers, SMS/MMS search, playlist creation and too many others to count (well, about 95 others, I suppose).

I almost daren’t begin mentioning the developer APIs, but geotagging and calendar, photo library and camera access stick out as having potential, along with a hardware acceleration feature for math functions.

However, Steve Jobs and his boys did go into detail on the the following seven “tentpoles” of iPhone OS 4.0:

Multitasking

All the information about this feature alone could take up an entire article, so we’ll keep it brief. Multitasking is coming, and you’ll do it by tapping the Home button twice. This will bring up a dock like the one on the Home screen, but it shows all open apps.

Apple is releasing a load of multitasking-related APIs to developers that will allow them to keep battery usage to a minimum. For example, a radio app only needs to play audio in the background rather than run the full app. A game can simply freeze instantly, store itself in the background where it won’t use any CPU cycles, and then you can pick up where it left off.

There’s more tinkering that can be done with notifications, and location services can run in the background too.

Folders

Apparently in by popular demand, you can now have folders for apps. Just drop apps on top of one another on the home page and they’ll form a folder. It’ll even name itself based on the type of app in there, or you can rename. The icon changes to mini images of the apps in the folder. This is a simple concept, but it’s got that software shine Apple does so well.

Improved Mail

The unified inbox is here, with fast inbox switching to help it out. There’s also support for more than one Exchange account and viewing messages in a threaded view. Perhaps most interesting is the ability to open attachments with third party apps – the lack of this is one of my biggest gripes with the iPad currently.

iBooks

It’s iBooks for the iPhone. Not an awful lot to see here, but there is wireless syncing between this and the iBooks app for iPad (so no buying books twice, I guess).

Game Center

Well, what have we here? Xbox Live for iPhone? Yes, indeed. Lots of games already have their own system for online gaming, but it looks like Apple’s stepping in to unify them. Achievements, leaderboards, automatic matchmaking and invitations to play games via push notifications are all coming. Maybe Apple’s serious about this gaming thing after all (I’d still like some buttons though…)

Enterprise

iPhone OS 4.0 offers better data protection and encryption possibilities, multiple Exchange accounts, Exchange server 2010 support, wireless app distribution for private apps, mobile device management, and SSL VPN support.

iAds

The desktop ad environment is based on search, but that obviously isn’t appropriate for app-based phones. Apple is offering a way to serve rich ad content without users having to leave an app. Video and interactivity are all possible, and no special SDK required – it all just runs in HTML. Ads aren’t very interesting, but if it can keep developers making good, free apps then it’s a major bonus.

I have to say, I’m massively impressed with this update. It’s pretty extensive, and, yes, has its share of boring and overhyped bits, but some of the features seem perfectly calculated to keep ahead of the curve.

It’s interesting that the iPad version is due so much later, as some of these updates seem obviously geared towards bringing the iPad feature list closer to desktop functionality in some areas. Strange that the iPhone should get them first, but then it is the big brother, so maybe it’s a chance for an extended test.

Steve Jobs was asked about unsigned apps in the Q&A afterwards. His response that there’s an ‘porn store’ on Android that anyone (including kids, in his example) can use, and that that wasn’t a place Apple wanted to go probably won’t help the recent views of the company as becoming slightly puritanical. However, if his point is that Apple’s profile means they’ll get blamed for anything unsavoury/offensive seen on the fruit-branded phone, then he’s probably right. It’s just not a business view that jibes well with a lot of customers.

The bad news about the update? Not all of these features will come to the iPhone 3G , including multitasking (original flavour iPhone users seem to be completely left in the cold). 3GS owners will get pretty much the full OS 4.0 experience, but Jobs says the 3G hardware is just incapable of performing some functions, including multitasking.

Apple also beat its chest in the usual way, with slides claiming 50 million iPhones sold to date, and a cool 450,000 iPads sold over the last five days in the US. The rest of the world can still look forward a ‘late April’ release, although that’s getting close, so some specifics wouldn’t go astray.

Sony iPhone headphones – something for everyone

It’s become a modern-day love/hate story for the iPod generation: The ecstasy you feel when you finally get your mitts one of Apple’s sleek little devices, is immediately overcome by the disappointment of experiencing its below-par, bundled earphones.

The limitations of the standard-issue accessories are a much-vented source of frustration for consumers who have already splashed out a small fortune on the game-changing music gadgets. Despite their iconic design, the thin casing of the earphones produces a tinny, synthetic sound and often, excessive noise-leaking. The latter is particularly an issue for “shyPod” owners, who would prefer not to inflict their dubious music taste on others.

Sony-iPhone-Headphones

However, all this could be about to change with the release of Sony’s new range of MDR-EX300iP and MDR-E10iP inline, remote-controlled headsets, designed especially for iPods and iPhones. The two new additions will join Sony’s less advanced MDR-EX38iP model, which is already on sale, and Apple’s premium in-ear earphones, in an increasingly competitive market.

The headsets’ USP seems to be that there is something for everyone. Keep-fit fanatics will be impressed by the accessibility of commonly-used functions, which are conveniently nestled together on the mini remote. This neat option will hopefully make exercising to music a fumble-free experience. The device has buttons to play/pause, skip tracks and adjust volume. It also proves handy for iPod Shuffle users, as the remote includes a button to activate the gadget’s unique VoiceOver function, while for iPhone users, the earphones’ built-in microphone is designed for easily making hands-free calls.

As for sound quality, an impressive set of stats would appear to give it the edge over competitors. According to Sony, both models of the headset features a 13.5mm Neodymium driver unit that’s oriented vertically in the ear. This combination teams extra sensitivity with powerful bass and a wide, dynamic range. The MDR-EX300iP has a frequency response of 5-24,000 Hz and the MDR-E10iP has a response of 18-22,000 Hz.

If Sony really does deliver on all its promises with the MDR-EX300iP and MDR-E10iP models, iPod and iPhone users will, at long last, be able to enjoy a multi-faceted sound experience to match Apple’s renowned innovation. It’s taken a while, but Sony might have finally cracked it.

The MDR-EX300iP and MDR-E10iP headsets come in a variety of colours, and consumers can opt for either in-ear or over-the-ear styles. They are compatible with every generation of iPod and iPhone, and are available at all good electronic retailers from May.

Auto Trader iPhone app: Number plate recognition in your pocket

Auto Trader seems to understand the point of having an iPhone app. The easy way out would have just been to make an app that let you browse their current listings in a fancy touch shell, no different to a website, but that’s not what these guys did. Instead, we’ve got a clever app that makes the most of the hardware available.

Auto-Trader-iPhone-App

Available free from the iTunes store, the famous car seller’s app first greets you with a little home screen that helpfully points out what the four menu items at the bottom of the page do. You’ve got Garage, Snap, Search and Settings to choose from.

Garage is essentially a favourites page, where you store the results of previous searches so you can easily find new cars for sale. Snap lets you take photos of licence plates, which the recognition software then reads and finds the make and model of the car. The Search screen follows on from Snap, or you can go straight there, and lets you specify which car you want to look for, where you want to find it and how much you’re willing to pay. Finally, Settings lets you tweak the app, including putting a default postcode in so you can quickly search for cars near you.

I downloaded the app and immediately started stalking random cars. You’ve got to be quite careful with the photos you take. Too far away, and it won’t be sharp enough when you resize it for the character recognition box. Fail to hold the phone steady and you’ll get the blurry picture we’re all used to from the slow shutter speeds on phones, which also won’t work. And iPhone 3GS owners will need to be careful of getting the focus right.

But! Get a decent picture and you’ll soon be bringing up pictures of the car in front of you, but more useful is the listing of sellers near you. Well, ish. When I used the GPS locator, it found me sure enough, but failed to limit the radius of results properly. Reading is not zero miles from Bath, I feel confident in saying. However, if I used my default postcode instead of the GPS it all worked properly.

Despite some slight foibles, I was pretty impressed by Auto Trader’s app. It certainly beats a website and makes great use of the hardware and software available — or, at least, tries to.

5 free iPhone apps for a greener life!

Love Food Hate Waste

Did you know the average household in Scotland throws away £430 worth of food a year? That’s almost enough to buy an iPad with! So, whether you’re appalled at food waste, or just on an economy drive, the free app from the Scottish Love Food Hate Waste campaign is worth downloading (after all, it’s free!)

One of its most useful attributes is the portion planner. Handy for newbie cooks, or even for the more experienced home cook who is catering for more or fewer people than they’re used to, it helps you get measurements just right. It also offers a useful weekly meal planner and shopping list facility (planning meals by the week is a sure-fire way to avoid waste), recipe ideas and a blender. Simply pop in the ingredients you have and it will come up with some recipe ideas. We were particularly taken with the Haggis pakora recipe, but would like to see the choice of ingredients widened in the future.

3.75/5

Walk Score

If you’re set on saving the planet by living without a car and relying on Shanks’s pony, here’s one way to help you decide how walker-friendly an area is. Whether you’re planning to move home, or just heading off on holiday or for a short break, this app will help you work out how close you are to local shops, restaurants, stations, coffee shops, bars, libraries, gyms and more. Even if you’re not fussed from an eco point of view, it’s a handy way of working out how close that hotel you’re thinking of booking for a city break is to local facilities.

4/5

Good Guide

Serious eco warriors will question the credentials of every new product they purchase, which is where the Good Guide comes in. As well as listing the health, environmental and social impact of products ranging from air fresheners to toys, food stuffs and many more, a new feature allows you to scan in the barcode to get instant results. At this moment, there are more American than UK brands listed, but if your product isn’t featured, you can suggest it be added to the app. You can then build a list of your favourite products. An easy traffic light system allows you to gauge the item’s status quickly. While it offers food for thought, I can’t imagine trawling round the supermarket and scanning in every product.

3.5/5

My Water Diary

Whether you want to save water to save the planet, or save your bank balance if you have a water meter, My Water Diary is a step in the right direction. If you don’t want to see your money going – er – down the drain, keep a tab on your water usage with this neat little app. It helps you add up water usage for baths, hair washing, toilet flushes, floor mopping and lots more. It doesn’t stop there, either; accuracy is increased by an ability to rate each action – whether you gave your hair a quick rinse or had to give it a good lathering, for instance. An easy way to raise awareness of how much water you use, all done with a sense of humour thanks to quirky icons and watery sounds.

5/5

Recycling Group Finder

If you’re not familiar with Freecycle, I’ll enlighten you quickly. You’ve had a clear out – there’s a pile of photography mags, a set of shelves you no longer have room for and a couple of lamps that you had before you repainted the bedroom. You could take them to the tip – but better to advertise them on the Freeycle website and someone will come and take them off your hands. Likewise, you can put up requests for that elusive something, from a couple of spare pieces of laminate flooring for the smallest room in the house to a baby’s cot. This app allows you to use your location to identify the nearest recycling groups to you (including the equally useful Freegle and independent groups), and join from your iPhone.  What could be simpler?

4/5

The iPhone 4: Rumour round up

Being an Apple product is much like being a celebrity on the red carpet; there is always insurmountable hype and excitement, questions are asked but nothing is really revealed and you can guarantee that whatever it is, it will be dressed in a spectacularly designed outfit.

Apple products are the celebrities of the tech world and now the iPad has been unveiled, attention has turned to the prospect of the iPhone 4GS – if that is indeed, what it will be called.  A stunning image of a silver slimline model has been circulated on the web, its design seemingly borne of Apple’s love of simplicity and the minimalistic – yet Apple continues to practice their failsafe PR method of saying absolutely nothing.

According to fellow tech sites (including Phones Review, PC World and Know Your Mobile) the 4Gs will have a better processor and longer battery life with a removable battery.  The handset will come with a 5 megapixel camera and a front-facing camera undoubtedly enabling video calling and Skype very possible.

Other sites have claimed the new iPhone will have an OLED screen and touch-sensitive casing meaning that those fancy swiping actions you make on the screen could probably be made on the back of the handset too.  The phone will also come equipped with dual core processing allowing the use of more than one app at a time – one of the major downfalls of the 3Gs, and a massive 64GB memory.  There are even rumours we’ll have our pick of colours.

Some of this speculation seems to have come from iPhone 3Gs owners who upon discovering the imperfections of their handsets, have created idealised improvements in the new model.  I guess we’ll have to wait until June to find out…

First Else Smartphone: Something else?

Tech heads have been awaiting the launch of the new First Else Smartphone for months now, and small wonder. If it’s half as good as its makers Else (formerly Emblaze) say it is the iPhone had better watch out.

The biggest selling point is its new linux-based operating system, named Else Intuition. The much vaunted sPlay user interface is designed to be intuitive and allows the user to access all of the phone’s many options with a simple flick of the right thumb.

It is packed with nice touches such as one feature called ‘Silent Interaction’. If you’re busy the phone simply notifies you of the call. You can then ask the caller to decide whether it’s urgent or the kind of thing that can wait until later.

On top of that comes a lorry load of technology: 32 GB of memory, 3G and WiFi, GPS, bluetooth and a five megapixel camera.

In fact to call it a ‘phone’ seems to be something of an under-sell. Else certainly seems to think so. “Imagine a device that is not a phone surrounded by gimmicks you will not use,” says their CEO Amir Kupervas, “where the camera literally replaces your digital camera; you get real-time push email wherever you are on the globe; almost every song and film in the world is one click away; and any one of its multitude of features is reached with no more than one light gesture of your finger.”

Impressive stuff even if the right thumb operation is a little harsh on us lefties. That, though, is a minor complaint. All in all it looks mighty amazing and while it does have a name that only a mother could love, it looks set to become the big hot new gadget of 2010 – or at least it will when Else finally gets it to the market.

As yet there are no firm details about release date or indeed what it will cost. From our point of view that’s never a good sign. But at a rough guess, Else says it will be here in late spring. Until then you can allow yourself a sneak peak at www.firstelse.com.