CES 2012: Nest Makes Home Climate Control Cool.


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Who would have thought that a thermostat could be sexy? Then again, companies like Dyson and Apple have shown just how seemingly innocuous or technical products can become something akin to a piece of art.

Nest Thermostat Retail Box and Product

Who would have thought a thermostat could look sexy?

Nest takes the idea of a thermostat and drags it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Based on a design by Tony Fadell, who contributed to the design of many iterations of the iPod and iPhone, the Nest doesn’t just control the temperature of your house – it also learns the behaviour of occupants and helps save money through this information it gathers, as well as giving users the option to select a slightly different room temperature that will result in energy, and therefore money, savings.

The philosophy of simplicity is evident in the design and functionality of the Nest. There is a dial to move clockwise/anti-clockwise, mainly to select temperature, and the centre button to access other functions.

The sensor looks for movement in the house and works out when there is no one home, and adjusts the temperature accordingly. It also suggests temperature selections that light up with a leaf to indicate that these are temperatures that will be more efficient for the house with minimum power wastage.

The Nest is also Wi-Fi enabled, allowing control via an app on mobile devices, or even through the internet, giving control to users no matter where they are.

Inside the Nest Thermostat

A bit of a handyman then you can connect this baby yourself fairly easily.

So far, the Nest has been released in the States and although they don’t release sales figures, they have sold out and currently have a two month waiting list.

Just like Dyson, who reinvented floor care, Nest has taken a rather pedestrian domestic function and converted it into a sleek device that not only controls your home’s environment, it also learns your household’s behaviour and is easily controlled through devices you might already own or via the internet on a browser.

Nest Thermostat at the CES 2012

This thermostat would look great in anyone's home.

If this product does succeed, and from all indications of demand it looks like a winner, then it’s another shining example of a previously old-fashioned home device that has been revolutionised for today’s always-connected and design-conscious market.

Here is Nest’s own Kate Brinks talking to us about the Nest’s functions and business philosophy.

 

Have you ever thought about upgrading your home’s environmental control system, and would you consider it now that you’ve seen the Nest?

 

CES 2012: Rohan Marley Talks to Us About The House of Marley

At the CES Unveiled event today in the Venetian Ballroom, one of the stands that was garnering a lot of attention was The House of Marley, all due to the presence of Rohan Marley, one of the sons of the legendary Bob Marley. As most of you may already know, The House of Marley brand offers headphones and docks in styles and designs that evoke the spirit of Bob Marley and his principles towards people and the earth.

The epitome of cool... The House of Marley have a range of headphones and docks designed and made with the earth in mind.

 

What you may not have known is Rohan Marley’s larger-than-life persona, and we caught Rohan in a very giving and personable mood when we approached him today. Despite doing interviews with mainstream and popular media outlets, Rohan gave us some time to talk about his philosophy, his fondness of Australia and, as you can see from the video below, shared some cheerful Marley loving of his own.

Like father, like son... Rohan Marley expounding the virtues of peace, love and sustainable audio accessories. A really nice guy.

The products that The House of Marley produce are all “giving” in some way – some are made from recycled plastic like the headphones, other products like docks are made from sustainably sourced wood, and even the bag that it comes in is made from cotton.

Although we didn’t see them on the stand, it appears that this CES will also be the launching pad for new products including watches and notebook bags. We’ll look out for them on their official booth from Tuesday on.

Beyond the quantifiable manufacturing call-outs, The House of Marley also donates 5% of its profits to 1Love.org, a charity and activist fund based on Bob Marley’s own ethos.

It’s actually quite refreshing to see such an affable personality in the midst of so many accessory and audio brands. The idea of a quality product helping quality of life for others in need is powerful, and would resonate with many people around the world today. The House of Marley has entered the market at a time when young people do seem to be thinking more about sustainability, charitable causes and buying products that say something about them and their beliefs.

Wear your cause... like Dr Dre before them, The House of Marley is another high profile music brand venturing into the consumer market.

At one point during our chat, Rohan offered to call out Ritchie’s Room on camera. That was an electrifying moment for me personally, and very humbling.

Good luck Rohan and The House of Marley, it was very cool to meet you. Here’s the video of our extraordinary encounter, including the awesome – and absolutely unique – call-out for our site:

 

Do you purchase products based on their environmental policies and charitable support?

Apple Announces iPhone 4GS with Increased Capacity and Improved Camera, Voice Command

The new iPhone 4S looks like the current iPhone 4 on the outside, but has a raft of upgraded software and hardware features on the inside.

Today, Apple released details on their latest update to their iPhone, called the iPhone 4S. Looking very similar externally to the outgoing model, the processor has been upgraded to the A5 dual core processor, and includes dual-core graphics.

This extends the iPhone’s ability to play higher-end games that require more graphics power, and in turn opens up a wider usage model for the iPhone as a more serious gaming device in addition to the other entertainment and productivity tools it currently offers.

The new iPhone 4S also comes with an upgraded 8MP camera, with an f/2.4 aperture, meaning casual snappers can take some impressive depth of field shots among other compositions. It can now also film in Full 1080p HD.

Another new feature announced was Intelligent Assistant, a comprehensive voice control feature. The Assistant will be able to action an extremely wide array of tasks via voice, including texting, searching the web or points of interest, find live stock prices, give directions, and set alarms.

Apple took the world from buttons to touch screen... will they now create the voice control revolution?

The assistant will also use data such as GPS location to set up other actions, like sending a text to someone when you leave a predefined area, for example leaving your office to an off-site meeting.

The phone will be released in its major markets, including Australia, on October 14th. The new iOS 5 operating system, which will upgrade the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 and latest iPod touch and all iPads, will be released on October 12th.

iOS 5 includes Twitter integration, improved notifications, over-the-air software updates, and a text chat service for iOS 5 users. A new feature of iOS 5 which was announced this morning was Find My Friends, which allows users to release their location to other users, which could be useful when arranging a group gathering or helping direct people to your current location.

iTunes Match, which has only been released for US residents at this stage, will be launched at the end of October. At a price of US$24.99 a year, iTunes will match the songs in your iTunes library to Apple’s database, regardless of whether they were purchased there, and upload any remaining songs for streaming at a high 256kb/s quality to any of your iDevices.

iTunes Match is part of Apple’s new iCloud service, which provides back up and synching of all your apps, text and MMS messages, photos and video you’ve shot, and documents. This service is free with up to 5GB storage.

As with any impending Apple event, rumours flooded the online discussions. Here’s a quick rundown of how some of the major rumours panned out:

  • iPhone 5 or entry level iPhone 4S – as it turned out, the iPhone 4S was very much an improved upgrade to the iPhone 4, retaining the same form factor as the current model.
  • Larger 4” screen – no screen change as the iPhone 4 retina screen continues.
  • Upgrade to 8 megapixel camera – this was confirmed, with a raft of improvements to the camera function with speed, resolution and full high definition video recording.
  • Expand range to 64GB capacity – this was confirmed for the iPhone 4S
  • Macbook Air-inspired sloping design – Some rumoured iPhone 5 designs included a sloping design similar to the Macbook Air. However, the emphasis on gaming would require a more symmetrical design, which the iPhone 4/4S offers.
  • Intelligent voice commands – Apple’s purchase of Siri last year has materialised in the Intelligent Assistant, which according to Apple can pretty much help with anything you need actioned hands-free on the iPhone. Personally, I can’t wait to see this in action.

We’ll be following up with a rundown of the iCloud and iOS 5 features later this month when it’s released.

Will these improvements give you a reason to upgrade your current phone to the iPhone 4S?

Apple’s Steve Jobs: The Game Changer

Here’s a true story. A couple of months ago I had to make a trip to one of our new stores to help train the sales staff. I loaded the store’s address into my GPS so I could get to the store quickly and efficiently. I had a couple of new albums that I’d purchased so I transferred them onto my MP3 player.

Knowing this would be an overnight stay, I took a couple of novels on my eBook reader, in case I had some downtime in the evening. I was a few levels through a new game on my portable gaming device as well, so I made sure that was packed for the trip to for some mindless fun in case I wasn’t in the mood to read.

The training went well, and because of the amount of people involved in the sales training, we used one of the display 55 inch plasmas to display the presentation I’d created. During lunchtime I was able to catch up on my emails and make a few return phone calls that I’d missed during training. I made sure I took some shots of the staff and the store on my digital still camera to share back at work.

Once the session was over and we’d had a (somewhat) quiet night out with the staff, I retired back to the hotel and decided to watch a TV episode I’d missed a couple of weeks ago. I still managed to squeeze in a couple of chapters of my book and cleared even more emails.

On the way back to Sydney, I was really in the mood from for a dedicated rock music channel, so I tuned into an internet radio station and enjoyed a channel pumped through my car speakers directly from the States.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. There have been many tributes and reflections this week for Steve Jobs, as news of his resignation as CEO of Apple spread. My “day in the life” story above has been replicated millions of times over around the world.

The iPhone and iPad had a part to play in all of the activities mentioned above, where it would have taken many more devices and a lot more complication to achieve without them. You can replace the words “GPS/camera/ebook reader/gaming/email/TV” with either of the two iDevices I had with me that day. Was convergence ever so apparent before now?

I could go on, from the rich educational apps that have my kids play, to the touch-enabled magazines and newspapers I probably read more than ever due to the ease of use and instant accessibility.

As the next chapter is to be written soon with the release of the next major OS update and cloud services from Apple, we’ll have an opportunity to see where these new offers take the Apple brand and further impact our social, leisure and working lives. And in amongst it, there will have been the guiding hand of Steve Jobs.

As Jobs is still an active member of Apple through his Chairman position, his influence is sure to be felt for a while yet. From nearly bankrupt to the most valuable company in the world, under Jobs’ stewardship Apple’s products, ecosystem and content delivery have truly changed the way we work, play and communicate. As an observer and participant in this industry, I can’t think of a better legacy to leave behind.

Has Apple’s products made a difference to the way you work? Do you think Apple will continue to lead the market with Steve Jobs removing himself from the helm? Feel free to comment below.

From iPhone to Android…and Back?

Ever since I migrated from my iPhone 4 to a new Samsung Galaxy S II, I’ve been keen to cover my experiences using the Android platform. With iOS 5 due to be released later this year, I thought it would be a great opportunity to see what the competitor smartphone ecosystem had to offer, and reflect on what may bring me back to into the Apple fold.

After my recent Asus Eee Pad Slider article gained a fair amount of coverage last week, including a mention in the New York Times via Gigaom and Carrypad, the senior editor of Carrypad offered me an opportunity to contribute content to their website.

Android Honeycomb V iOS5

Android's latest Honeycomb platform has fired the first serious shots across the Apple bow. Will iOS5, due to be released next month, hold its own?

Carrypad is a news and review website devoted to all things mobile, including smartphones and tablets. The idea of that iPhone/Android article that had been mulling in the back of my head then came to the forefront, and became my first article submission, which has just been posted as their feature story.

I’m going to enjoy contributing more content to Carrypad over the coming months, particularly as the tablet and smartphone market heats up and new features from all ecosystems create an even larger potential business.

Thanks to Ben from Carrypad for the opportunity to part of the writing team.

Click on this link to read the full article on Carrypad.

Connecting Your Home to Entertainment

Media players have been around for quite some time now, and they’ve taken many different forms over the years. At one point, we thought that the Windows Media Centre would take centre stage in our lounge room, but people just didn’t like the idea of having to boot up their DVD player. I don’t really blame them either.

After the “desktop in a DVD box” idea disappeared, we then saw media players start to take off from storage and network vendors, and from a rudimentary and humble beginning, they have evolved into powerful, connected devices designed not just to play, but truly deliver entertainment around the house.

One of the first media players we ever sold at Bing Lee was the Iomega Screenplay, and its interface was as crude as you could get. It was basically a file management system using a font from the 80s. But it didn’t matter, because it just worked. It was unobstrusively small, firmware could be easily upgraded via USB to update the codec compatibility, and it even had HDMI out, to match the inputs of the growing number of LCD and Plasma TVs.

One of the secrets to designing a good device that sits in the lounge room is to “hide the software”. All users want to experience is a smooth, non-buggy front end that you can navigate without referring to the manual every time you want to go from videos to music or change the input port.

The litmus test for me? If a family member starts to use the remote control without actually looking at it, then we have a winner. Who looks at the remote when changing the TV volume or channel? Media players need to be that easy, that intuitive.

Playing content in a hassle-free manner is one thing. If you can share it, and not have to make physical copies for each room to watch, even better. Network-attached storage, or NAS drives as they’re commonly known, have really begun to show promise as a consumer-level product. These days, you don’t need to know about IP addresses or advanced networking mysteries, just load the software and you’ll get a browser-based dashboard to change settings, security levels, etc. You’ll even get a shortcut to your drive’s location for easy transfers.

The new Western Digital NAS models are moving away from commercial storage functionality to be more entertainment-focused, with DLNA support, which many TVs now offer, and easy detection by other media playing devices including PS3 and Xbox 360. They will even deliver photos to an iPhone or iPad via an app no matter where you are in the world. The WD media players are no slouches either, with HDMI, 1080p output, and a pretty comprehensive format support.

The connected home is no longer just a catchphrase or throwaway line – we’re here, even though it’s probably still an open secret to many. Here’s the segment we produced for Bing Lee to help bring that secret out into the open. Check out how far media players and network drives have come.

Have you taken the step towards a connected home? What’s your experience been like? Feel free to comment below.

Acer A500 Iconia Tablet – Unboxing and Overview

Acer were the first to release a Honeycomb tablet to the general retail market, and as I mentioned in a previous blog post, they set the benchmark for the type of inputs and outputs one could previously only wish for on a tablet – mini and full size USB, HDMI, and SD Card slot are all built into the body of the A500.

One comment that I’ve noticed lately from customers is the lack of embedded 3G in the Iconia, as opposed to some of the other tablets now available in the market, particularly those offered by telcos. One thing many people don’t realise is that if they own a late model iPhone or Android phone, and have updated to the latest phone firmware, they can now take advantage of their phone’s 3G internet connection by turning on the personal hotspot function.

This allows the Iconia to find the phone as a Wi-Fi access point, and use the phone’s plan for any browsing or downloads through the tablet. Many people have a home landline account, home internet account and a 3G phone account, and don’t want yet another plan – this is an easy way to share the bandwidth available on your smartphone.

During the filming of the unboxing video that we produced for Bing Lee, we tried streaming video via a phone hotspot, and there was some buffering at the beginning of the clip but it played smoothly after that – we did have full signal strength so I’m sure that helped. Of course, you wouldn’t always be streaming video, other online activities would include downloading email, browsing the net, and using apps that require online updates.

So, who out there has been using an Acer Iconia, and how has your experience been with it so far? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Here’s the unboxing video:

Signs of Things to Come?

Although I haven’t posted a blog in a couple of weeks, I have been watching and considering a lot of the news coming out of the IT sector. In the last couple of weeks a few key events have been reported which in isolation are newsworthy, but when looked at as a group, point to a possible shift in some of the key areas of technology. All events seem to have the same basic theme underpinning them all – and that is “choice”.

Choice is what drives competition and spurs companies on to innovate, and separate themselves from the field to offer consumers a viable alternative. You may have already heard about all the news stories below, but I’m looking at them from the angle of how they propagate the theme of consumer choice.

The first one was the news that the new Generation 2 Intel processors had a fault on the motherboard that was designed to be used in the majority of retail computers. This has required a complete return of any Gen2 i3, i5 and i7 computers so they can be reworked with a new motherboard that addresses the original issue, which is related to degradation of hard drive performance over time.

Coincidentally, AMD held their launch of their new APU processors the night of the Intel recall, and it brought to mind a Steven Bradbury situation, where AMD may be able to take the opportunity to offer their processor alternative in light of the Intel issue. I’ve spent time with their new netbook APU, which we’ll be reviewing shortly, and it does impress.

AMD have a very strong new product range and vendors are looking seriously at offering more products with their new APU chip. The Intel recall may provide more impetus for computer manufacturers to produce these alternatives which will give consumers more variety to consider.

The second piece of news was the launch of the online Android marketplace. Although not the first app store launched, the online environment allows for over the air installations. In other words, your google account, which is linked to your Android phone or tablet, is all you need to enter the browser-based marketplace. When you select an app (paid or free), it will be automatically downloaded to your selected phone.

This is great because the online marketplace provides more detail on the apps on offer, and has already been touted as a more visually appealing environment in which to discover and select Android apps than directly from the marketplace app on relevant Android handsets. You can even upload reviews via the browser. This is a great example of innovation to drive choice and add value in the smartphone market.

The third interesting snippet was a report that Sony was considering pulling its artists out of iTunes in order to offer a cloud-based service for users of its TVs, gaming and handheld consoles, and Sony Ericsson mobile phones. It seemed to be the first major crack in the polished and seemingly unbeatable ecosystem that Apple has created, fusing content and hardware together in a closed loop that has to date been massively successful in changing the rulebook for music and entertainment distribution.

The alternative that Sony are offering means a very different way of consuming content, particularly as the content is in the cloud, and therefore would be accessible across multiple Sony devices. It remains to be seen whether this threat is a parting shot from Sony at Apple, or whether they are making their true intentions known.

From the aspect of choice, once again consumers would have an attractive alternative that makes use of the latest technology to deploy content. Cloud-based content and computing is the future, and companies that offer solutions based on this will have a head start as consumers learn to make the most of a non-localised computing system.

The final and perhaps most surprising piece of news to emerge was the Nokia-Microsoft alliance, which will bring Windows 7 Mobile to new Nokia Phones. Nokia and Microsoft are calling it “the third ecosystem” after the Apple and Android environments. This will be a very interesting developing story, because Nokia has not been competing strongly against the likes of the iPhone or the many and wide Android handsets.

Is Windows 7 strong enough to compete with the app-driven system that Android and iPhone/iPad users are so familiar with? Nokia and Microsoft are talking about combining Bing, navigation via NAVTEQ, Xbox Live and Office into an integrated offering on new Nokia smartphones. Right now we have no idea what this may look like, but it does have the potential to be a serious competitor and if its points of difference are compelling we may well see a three-way battle of the Smartphone market. And as I mentioned before, nothing drives innovation like deep competition. This announcement may lead to more choice and better alternatives for users’ lifestyle and usage requirements.

So there we have it: an Intel recall; the Android Marketplace moving online; Sony stoushing with Apple; and Nokia partnering with Microsoft. It’s been a big fortnight for tech news, and I do see a pattern emerging from these individual developments. It highlights that many of the major companies vying for the technology dollar spend are looking for ways to invigorate their market share and position, and consumers will ultimately be the winners with more choice in product and content, and differing platforms on which to enjoy them. And that’s what makes this industry so exciting – the possibilities are huge. We’ll be keeping tabs on all the above, so stay tuned.

Holiday Post – Escape from Technology

Happy New Year everyone, I hope you had some great time off! One question – how many of you changed your online or social media habits while you were on vacation? What is a holiday if you’re still connected?

For those of you who love a bit of snow, Thredbo is an internationally recognised skiing and snowboarding destination about 5 hours’ drive from Sydney, travelling south. Of course, that’s in the winter months. During summer, the ski fields are converted into mountain bike trails, and visitors from around the world use Thredbo as their base to walk to Mount Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia.

This was our chosen family holiday point, with plenty of activities for the young kids and a much cooler temperate than back in Sydney. It also presented me with an opportunity to consider our perpetual attachment to our beloved gadgets, away from the usual work environment.

On one such occasion, I made a lone trip up to Mount Kosciuszko. I had my Garmin GPS watch monitoring my heart rate and speed, a Shuffle with my favourite metal tracks to keep me motivated as I made my way up the mountain, and my iPhone so I could take pictures and update my progress to my friends. Of course, in my rush to get my gadgets ready I almost forgot to take survival essentials like food and water (in my case, Powerade and Binka’s Snakes).

A ten minute chairlift ride that’s not for the vertigo-affected!

It’s a 13km return trip from the top of Thredbo to the peak of Mt Kosciuszko, a relatively short distance. I fancy myself a bit of a runner, so I started jogging right from the chairlift drop-off – and immediately proceeded to hyperventilate and nearly collapse. I hadn’t taken into account the change in oxygen levels, so I was forced to merely briskly walk to the peak.

This was fortunate, though, because it allowed me time to take in the breathtaking views. It occurred to me while I was up there that this was how any animal or human would have seen this area for thousands of years. I turned off the music, took the headphones off and just enjoyed what was around me for the rest of the journey.

One destination that needs to be seen in person to be believed.

By the time I’d reached the top of the mountain, I was having some really intense thoughts about our reliance on all things techy – I’ll put it down to the brain being starved of oxygen, or the spectacular vistas I was gazing at, wide-eyed in wonder. Why are we so beholden to the very devices that are supposed to set us free? Could I forsake these material things that seem to define part of who I am? Where are all the trees up here? Am I the only one wearing sports shorts on the peak?

Not shown: Trees

Once I’d reached the peak, I had a good, long, appreciative look at the natural world around me, and asked a fellow traveller to take a photo for me on my iPhone. When I looked at the photo, I couldn’t help but notice that the 3G signal was at full strength! I quickly emailed the photo to my work colleagues back at Bing Lee and on Facebook, and almost instantly had replies, all while I was sitting up amongst this awe-inspiring view.

Shown: the only guy on the peak that wore his running shorts.

I made my way back to the chair lifts pretty quickly, being able to run as my body had adjusted to the altitude, and it was mostly downhill! But I did stow the GPS, Shuffle and iPhone in the backpack, and just enjoyed the path through the magnificent environment.

Somewhere down there is my family’s hotel room.

As I ran, I reflected on my previous thoughts while walking up. Unlike jewellery, or fashion clothing, or other self-defining purchases, tech gear almost always helps us connect to someone or something. They’ve evolved from serving you, to serving you to the masses, encouraging us to share, to communicate, and to participate. It’s not a question of to have or have not; it’s considering what the right product is to suit the purpose. The thrill I had from my live update and prompt responses on the mountain could not have been duplicated with older products and platforms.

This makes me more excited than ever to see what products I’ll be talking about to you this year. It will always be more than just about the model, its specs and design, I’ll be discussing how it makes your life better and helps you achieve what you set out to accomplish.

With that, I wish 2011 is everything you dream it to be, and I’ll be back soon with the next Ritchie’s Room instalment!

Printers for the Wireless (and impatient!) Generation (Videos Below)

Printers have evolved considerably since I first sold them many years ago as a young salesman. They’ve changed from clunky, loud and slow beasts to the more refined, design driven products that suit a living room as much as a home office.

At their core, printers serve a very simple purpose: print out something that’s currently on your screen. And based on the still growing demand for ink cartridges here at Bing Lee, there’s a whole lot of printing going on at home and in the home office.

What HAS changed significantly is what type of screen we’re using. With so much of our lives spent gazing onto the screen of our smart phones and other mobile or portable devices, it’s a far cry from the printer connected by USB (does anyone remember the days of the parallel port?) to our immovable desktop. And who wants to go through the hassle of transferring pics to another computer, then printing them out to the cable connected computer?

We all want processes and tasks to be easier, and importantly, to fit into our lifestyle. Companies that can accommodate those needs will reap the rewards. Printer manufacturers have studied this and come up with ways to make the printing process easier, and relevant to the smartphone generation.

For some time, both Epson and Canon have had apps downloadable from Apple’s App Store that allow you to print directly from your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. This makes a lot of sense, because for anyone that has any of those, there’s a good chance that they’ll be browsing the web, looking at photos on Facebook, even checking emails with attachments.

At this stage the apps only allow printing from your photo album, but if you want to print a map, email or webpage, you only need to save an image of your screen by pressing the power and home button on your iDevice and it will save an image of the screenshot, which you can then print.

There are also plenty of photo editing apps on the iTunes store that you can use to modify your image which you can then save and print from your photo album.

Here are two new highlight videos that I produced for Bing Lee from both Canon and Epson that include the wireless printing feature.

The Epson Workforce 633 is more of an office printer with fax machine, double-sided printing and auto document feeder:

The Canon PIXMA MG6150 is a photo printing multifunction with 6 ink tanks which includes a grey ink for impressive black and white photo output: