Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Will Apple's iPad succeed? We'll have to wait

Apple head man Steve Jobs finally announced the news that everyone thought was coming: his company will release an iPad tablet computer in 60 days.

The new machine will run $499 to $829, depending on storage size and wireless connectivity and I think, in time, it will prove to be a huge hit. I think if I'd spent big money on a Kindle, which I almost did before Christmas, I'd be very upset.

But will this thing sell? I was shocked at the price point after hearing for weeks that this device would sit somewhere between $799 and $999. Still, until the public gets its hands on the thing -- and us journalists get to do some in-field testing -- we'll just not know what the audience will be.

But given the success of iPod and iPhone, I think this will be a similar hit. The iPad appears to do a lot of things well and will be more than enough computer for most people. I think the $499 model with 16 gigs of storage and no 3G built-in, will be the model most people go after. I'm just not sure how much people are going to take this out of the home daily.

It'll be great for people who travel alot. You'll have your "world" in your briefcase, your hotel, your spa.

From what I can see, this is a better e-reading experience than the Amazon device, and it does so much more. The New York Times app demoed on the unit bodes well for reading magazines and newspapers in their native formats on the screen.

Being able to sit on the couch or the patio and read a true digital magazine or paper will help separate this from even a good laptop computer or netbook.

And the games looked very pretty during the demonstration. I can see kids choosing something like this over a PlayStation 3, because of the portability factor throughout the house. Parents might like that as well, because it's a unit they would use, too.

Pictures and video showed the unit to be beautiful and viewing angles clear, especially from reports from those who've seen it. The unit has a 9.7 screen with a 3/4 inch bezel around it. It's not quite as big as a sheet of notebook paper, but it's a great device to take on an airplane or a trip. Apple says it has up to 10 hours of battery life.

This is the highly portable netbook that is slick, does a lot of things (probably) well, and to be honest, might be able to replace most people's desktop or laptop. You can run Apple's iWork suite of applications on it.

A stand and keyboard accessory will allow you to "dock" your iPad to create a true home workstation. One of big questions, typing on the machine, appears to be simple with a touchscreen keyboard about the same size as you'd encounter on an notebook.

A few nitpicks:

-- It's missing a camera on the front and back for portable video conferencing.

-- No multi-tasking.

-- 3G wireless from only AT&T (again). A lot of people hoped that Verizon would be a part of this thing. The good news is that the $14.99 and $29.99 wireless price points ($14.99 for 250 MB/month and $29.99 unlimited) are pre-pay. I thought AT&T might allow current iPhone users to tether their iPhones to iPad to share the $30 per month they already pay for data.

-- No TV subscriptions. The screen would've been great to match with a subscription service for network programming (which may be coming). This will only show movies downloaded from the iTunes store.

-- You know better versions are coming and the price will drift southward. iPad 2011 will probably add things like the camera that people wanted the first go round.

-- I almost wish a 3G contract was available so AT&T could subsidize the cost of the unit. Given that a $599 iPhone can go for $99 with a contract, the iPad could've been really affordable with a contract, though that contract price would've been higher than the current pricing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

McGraw Hill CEO confirms Apple tablet; official announcement Wednesday

In a video interview with CNBC today, McGraw Hill CEO Terry McGraw said Apple's new tablet, that will be introduced Wednesday, will support its vast library of e-books. McGraw said 95 percent of his company's materials are on e-book format. He predicts the tablet will be a hit in the higher education and professional markets.

"The tablet," he said, "is going to be terrific."

Other than that somewhat solid piece of news, rumors continue to make the rounds as Apple gets ready to unveil its device Wednesday in San Francisco.

There are rumors that the iPhone will open up to multiple mobile carriers in addition to a Tablet announcement.

Other blog and print rumors have the tablet with extra long battery life, sub $500 pricing and auto-updating content. Most analysts believe it'll run iPhone apps out of the box and believe it will be offered by multiple carriers with a data plan.

The official news is almost here. The wait is almost over.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sprint boosts wireless network in Charlotte

Sprint wireless customers, are you noticing better signals today?

Sprint recently added 49 new cell site in Charlotte, 60 in Raleigh, Durham and Fayetteville, 27 in Winston-Salem/Greensboro and 12 in Myrtle Beach.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Get ready to pay for your HULU TV fix

Looks like HULU is going to start charging for content soon.

The popular Web site -- founded by NBC, Fox and ABC three years ago -- allows users to view HD-quality episodes of some of most popular TV shows, like "Grey's Anatomy," "Bones" and "The Office." Only the most recent shows are available, going back about five episodes.

Currently, users do not pay for the content, but see ads during viewing. There are also banner ads on the site.

But high-ranking officials from Fox and NBC have expressed a desire to increase earnings for HULU, for which the bandwidth costs are enormous.

This week, the Los Angeles Times quoted a source close to HULU as saying the Web site was looking at a subscription-based model that would allow viewers to see a show's entire back catalog. The $4.99 fee would grant access to the entire library of content. Another subscription-based model would allow users to view shows ad-free.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What do people want from the Apple tablet? Under $700 and no data plan

The hottest news in the tech world continues to not be real news at all. It's people speculating what we'll see in the new Apple tablet that most industry analysts expect to be announced at Apple's media "event" Wednesday in San Francisco.

Retrevo, an electronics marketplace, recently asked some of its consumers what they expected from this rumored 10-inch touchscreen device. More than 500 randomly selected users of the website were asked about the device between Jan. 16 and Jan. 20.

A few highlights from the study:
  • No one polled will spend more than $700 on the device.
  • 44 percent said they would not buy it if it was tied to a monthly data plan.
  • 39 percent said they needed 3G connectivity to make them buy the device.
  • iPhone owners expressed a preference for running iPhone apps over Mac apps by a 3:2 margin.
  • 75 percent said they needed at least six hours of battery life.
  • 38 percent of women need an eBook store, compared to 25 percent of men.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

And the best cellphone service in Charlotte is....

Got an interesting question from Twan, a young female newcomer to Charlotte. Twan is moving here next month from New York to start a new job (amazing you found one here, Twan!). Right now, she's in a month-to-month cell phone contract in the Big Apple that she'll be ending.

When she comes here, Twan wants a smart phone and a good price for it, and she was asking me who I felt had the best network in Charlotte, with price being a consideration.

I've had Cricket, AT&T (when it originally introduced GSM and $99.99 unlimited plans) and then SunCom and T-Mobile. Now I'm back to AT&T, using a 3G iPhone.

I'm jealous of the $69.99 everything plan from T-Mobile (unlimited calls/text/web) and Sprint's $99 everything plan. Both are much cheaper than the "all-you-can-eat" $120 plans from Verizon and AT&T.

I never had much problem with the SunCom/T-Mobile regional plan I had except in certain areas of south Charlotte near Sardis Road and north Charlotte, anywhere past exit 18. People tell me now, however, that T-Mobile's national service is pretty good around here and even when traveling.

My wife had Sprint during the Nextel merger days and absolutely hated it. She couldn't keep a call for more than five minutes. I've got friends now with Sprint that have no trouble with it. Cricket has unlimited local minutes and smart phone plans for as little as $40.

So there's lot of options.

My question to you is to help me find an answer for Twan.

Who's the best in town and why?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

As Apple tablet launch nears, rumors run wild, and iPhone news

On Monday, Apple sent out invitations to a Jan. 27 event in San Francisco. It's expected that the company will officially announce its rumored new tablet computer.

The rumor mills have been churning ever since.

The Wall Street Journal reported that book publisher Harper Collins and other publishers were in talks with Apple to offer its products for the new tablet. The e-books would have added features.

Sports Illustrated showed off a demo late last year of what some books and magazines might look like on the tablet.

HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray has said that enhanced e-books (with video, interviews, social networking) could sell for $14.99 to $19.99 a copy, up to double current best-seller prices, according to the Journal.

Also of note, several videogame makers have been invited to attend the event, leading to speculation that Apple might also be positioning the tablet as a big gaming device, which makes sense given the popularity of the current small screen iPhone and iPod touch as best-in-class handheld game systems.

A 10-inch screen would allow a near home console experience that you could take with you anywhere.

Another hot topic has been the name of the device. There've been reports and rumors of trademark applications for iPad, iSlate, MacTab, iTablet and more.

Last up, Boy Genius is reporting today that inside sources at Apple claim the new iPhone 4.0 software will allow users to multitask using different applications at the same time, plus some graphical changes to make navigation through the operating system faster and easier. The report also claims the updates will only be for iPhone 3G and 3GS and will make them more "full fledged computers."

Loving all the rumors, but it will be interesting to see who is right come next Wednesday.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Apple announces "event" for Jan. 27: Tablet? New iPhone?

On the same day that Verizon and AT&T both announced rate plan reductions, Apple announced a Jan. 27 "event" at 1 p.m. in San Francisco.

The event is titled "come see our new creation."

Of course, that creation is widely expected to a new tablet computer that will have a 10-inch screen and allow users to surf the internet, read full color magazines and newspapers, play games and watch live video. It'll also run apps from Apple's uber-popular App Store.

Fox News is reporting that the event will include the tablet debut, new iPhone 4.0 software and Apple's new iLife 2010 software suite. Expect the rumor mills to run wild before this announcement. There's already reports of a 22-inch touchscreen iMac home computer.

Not sure what Apple has planned, but the expectations for the tablet are very high. This hardware, if it's real, could have a similar impact on the tech community as iPhone did. It's something to watch out for.

Friday, January 15, 2010

AT&T responds to Verizon, cuts wireless plans

First came reports Thursday that Verizon was reducing its wireless plans. Now AT&T has taken less than 24 hours to respond.

AT&T announced new unlimited prices plans, which can be ordered beginning Monday. Current customers can switch plans without penalty or contract extension.

Feature phone customers can get unlimited talk time for $69.99. Family talk customers can get unlimited talk for $119.99. Texting is still $20 for unlimited individual plans and $30 for families.

Smartphone customers, including those who use the popular iPhone, can get unlimited voice and data for $99.99. The new family Talk unlimited plan, which voice and data, is $179.99. Texting is $20 for individuals or $30 for family talk.

The changes bring AT&T in line with Verizon.

Wonder who goes lower next? Sprint offers unlimited talk, data and text for $99. Interesting to see which of the big two gets there first.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Verizon about to reduce wireless plan costs?

According to several internet reports, Verizon Wireless is planning some big changes to its wireless plans next week.

There will be new names for plans, and decreased costs across the board, but the big news appears to be a 30 percent decrease in the price for the Unlimited plans. If the reports are true, Big Red's unlimited plan with voice, data and text will go for $119.98, compared to chief rival AT&T Wireless, which charges $99 for unlimited minutes (compared to Verizon's new $69.99 price point), plus $30 per month for unlimited messaging and data.

Sprint offers a $99 plan with unlimited minutes, texting and data. T-Mobile has a similar plan for $79.99.

Let the price wars begin.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

And the best handheld gaming system is....iPod touch?

This is Games N Gadgets week at the Charlotte Observer. Throughout the week, Monday-Sunday, we're going to look at some popular and not-so popular Games N Gadgets. If you have any ideas for things you'd like to see us review, please email


The most popular handheld system is, of course, Nintendo's DS and DSi units. The best handheld system, in my mind -- especially for hardcore gamers -- is the Sony PSP 3000.

The PSP Go has downloadable games only, which forces you to keep your old system to play your library of Universal Media Disc games for the old PSP.

I like the PSP 3000 over the DS options because of better graphics and a more realistic gaming experience. There are more adult-friendly titles available, plus a built-in microphone, WiFi and integrated Skype service. The new anti-glare screen thankfully allows you to play outdoors and still be able to see the action.

But while the DS and PSP are great handheld systems, I've got to crown a surprising entry as serious contenders to the throne: Apple's iPod Touch and iPhone.

Yes, you've got to download games, but the games are relatively cheap. Madden football, for example, is $6.99 instead of $19.99 or $39.99 like you'd sometimes find for traditional handhelds.

You can download multiple free titles for the iPod Touch that aren't bad, including trial versions of games. And while Sony's new download game system is good, it cannot yet match the selection at the App Store.

A lot of people already have iPods and iPhones and don't have to pay for new hardware, and being able to have one device do the job of several gives youngsters (and the young at heart) one less thing to worry about losing.

I hadn't really thought about the iPod and iPhone as serious contenders to the big two until my mother bought my son an iPod Touch for Christmas.

My son has the Sony and Nintendo systems, but enjoyed taking his $25 gift card to the iTunes store and buying multiple games and downloading about 4 gigabytes of free ones.

I thought the newness might wear off and he'd go back to Mario on DSi, but he's always on his iPod Touch, checking the weather, getting sports score updates, listening to music, searching the App Store for free games -- or begging Dad for another gift card.

The full-color screen on the Touch and iPhone presents games at least as well as the other two, though the touchscreen controls take a little while to get used to. But during times when money is tight, buying one device that can do a lot of things well might be better than buying another that is only truly good at one thing.

Also this week

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Buick LaCrosse, the best American car in ages

This is Games N Gadgets week at the Charlotte Observer. Throughout the week, Monday-Sunday, we're going to look at some popular and not-so popular Games N Gadgets. If you have any ideas for things you'd like to see us review, please email


Got a chance to drive Buick's new 2010 LaCrosse recently. It's one of the key cars in GM's post-bankruptcy strategy and it's aimed right at one of the best cars in the world: the Lexus ES-350.

And Buick hits the target.

The LaCrosse, other than a small sub-13 cubic square foot trunk, is a better looking car, a better riding car and will turn more heads. Of course, Buick will need to upgrade its dealership experience if it really wants to compete with Lexus. It'll need the red carpet treatment and the free loaners, to start.

But inside LaCrosse is spacious, and about as quiet as I've encountered in a car under $50,000. You literally do not hear the outside.

The interior is well thought out. The usual plastics and hard surfaces we've seen from GM in recent years is gone. The seats, filled with supple leather, are comfortable enough to put in your living room, and have plenty of support, especially in the lumbar region.

The car rides smoothly, but not with the usual GM bounce. The car handles like a cross between a German sports sedan and a Japanese car and starts at $28,000. Well equipped, you're talking about $35,000.

The car comes with two engines, a 3.0 liter, 255-horsepower V6 and a 3.6 V6 that kicks out 280 horses.

Interestingly, the bigger engine gets about the same gas mileage (17/26 to 18/27) as the smaller one.

The car I drove had the smaller engine and felt plenty strong. The car felt nimble and solid at the same time, and this being a column about Games N Gadgets, I was fascinated by all the toys abound.

You had GM's excellent OnStar package which helps with directions and emergencies (with someone to talk to instantly for help). The OnStar folks can unlock your car.

The Bluetooth phone had some problems with buzzing over the speakers when connected but worked seamlessly for hands-free calls, and your speedometer appeared in the bottom of the windshield, so you didn't have to take your eyes off the road to see it.

I also loved the hard drive in the powerhouse stereo. You could hear a song you liked on the radio and pause it or rewind it.

You could download all your favorite songs, iPod-like, right into the system, and this stereo rivals the Mark Levinson brand for Lexus and the Elliott Scheiner unit in upscale Acuras.

All said, the LaCrosse is an excellent package that doesn't look like any Buick sedan we've seen in awhile. A new smaller Regal sedan has recently been modeled and shows GM's new direction.

The question is: are people buying it?

Also this week

Beyonce and Nintendo team up for digital fashion line

Singer and actress Beyonce' Knowles and her mother, designer Tina Knowles, have teamed up with Nintendo. The pair will provide designs for the fashion-themed "Style Saavy" game for the Nintendo DS and DSi.

Players can incorporate the designs on their digital creations in the game.

Nintendo and Beyonce started their relationship last year with an ad campaign for "Rhythm Heaven," a music-themed game for DS and DSi. The video game company has a series of new ads around the pair's latest venture that will air on Nickelodeon.

"American Idol" on your wireless phone?

AT&T Wireless customers can get exclusive mobile access to video clips of the most outrageous "American Idol" audition moments by texting "YES" to "8008." That will you a link to the webpage containing the clips.

Customers must have unlimited data plans to view the clips.

New clips will be posted each Wednesday and Thursday during the first four weeks of this season's competition, which kicks off tonight.

-- If you're seriously into all things Idol, you can play the American Idol Trivia game if you're an AT&T customer and text "PLAY" to "5005".

Spider Man 4 scrapped, series to get 'reboot'?

Looks like Columbia pictures is killing its planned "Spider Man 4" movie, firing director Sam Raimi and stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. And they're doing all this to send Peter Parker back to high school.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a big risk.

In case you missed it, the first three Spider Man films, which picked up with Parker in college and later proposing marriage to girlfriend Mary Jane, grossed more than $2.5 billion worldwide at the box office alone, not to mention DVD sales and video game tie-ins.

Anticipation of a fourth film, with Spider Man battling the Vulture, was quite high. But some of these series reboots have worked in the past. The Batman series was rescued from silliness with the most recent two films, which have explored Bruce Wayne's darker side, for example.

Now, we get Spider Man going after the "Smallville" and "Twilight" teen crowd. Avi Arad and Laura Ziskin will produce the film along with Marvel Studios. Expect a 2012 release. The studio said the film will focus on Parker as a teenager struggling to deal with normal teen problems and superpowers (and no jokes about the CW network here, either).

Monday, January 11, 2010

That oven from the Mr. T infomercial? It really works

This is Games N Gadgets week at the Charlotte Observer. Throughout the week, Monday-Sunday, we're going to look at some popular and not-so popular Games N Gadgets. If you have any ideas for things you'd like to see us review, please email

First up is the Flavorwave Turbo Oven. You've probably seen the ads on TV, like below, with actor Mr. T (a.k.a B.A. Baracus from the hit '80s show "The A Team").

The infomercial is intentionally silly, but the oven, which goes for $138, really does work. It uses halogen heat, infrared waves and convection style cooking to cook food really fast and thoroughly. My kids say the stuff I'm cooking tastes as good as Applebee's, and coming from my kids, that's a huge compliment.

Better, I can see fat drippings collect at the bottom of the large glass bowl you cook in.

I'm usually skeptical of most things infomercial, but when I opened the box and felt the heft of this thing I was impressed. I put in some frozen chicken breast and it cooked them in about 18 minutes, no defrosting necessary. The breasts came out tender, if unseasoned. I tried some more with some seasoning on the frozen breasts and a little soy sauce and water at the bottom of the bowl (the food sits on a raised platform).


I'm not much a cook (something Mrs. Wertz will attest to) but I find myself constantly using this thing. Man, food comes out perfectly almost every time. Frozen fries from Harris Teeter come out crunchy. Add some breadcumbs and some egg beaters and you get (somewhat) guiltless fried chicken.

You can reheat take-out pizza and not get the soggy microwave crust. Steaks are amazing.

My only complaint was all the add-ons that you want -- to allow you to grill, sear and cook bigger items like turkeys -- cost extra, about $12 each.

Well, I actually had two complaints.

In the ad, they show the ability to cook veggies with your food. And you can, but the drippings from whatever is on the highest tray always get on the food underneath. I think the folks at Thane would do well to make a bigger turbo or give you a deal for getting two (the, you guessed it, Twin Turbo).

As far as infomercials go, this one is a winner. I even used it outside a few weeks back instead of the BBQ grill. It cleans up easier and if you season the food well, it tastes just as good.

Count me convinced, and like Mr. T might say, I pity the fool who disagrees.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Will Apple's tablet be as big as the iPhone?

The 'net is buzzing about the possible release of a rumored Apple Tablet. Most industry insiders expect the announcement of a machine, rumored to cost between $500 and $1,000, at an upcoming Apple Event later this month.

Apple hasn't commented on the rumors, but I've not seen this type of buzz since the iPhone debuted, and maybe this device can have a similar impact.

Besides all the rumored names -- iSlate, MacTab, iPad, etc -- the machine is rumored to allow you to surf the web, play games, music and watch HD movies. There are also rumors that it might serve as a keyboard for, say, an iMac, or a remote for the Apple TV product (similar to NetFlix online). Most folks also think it'll be a Kindle-like e-reader, but also one that might help the ailing print magazine/newspaper/comic book industries, by allowing readers to view the content the way they traditionally would on the printed page. But now those online pages would be interactive with ads and videos and photos.

Instead of going to the mailbox to pull your new Sports Illustrated or Charlotte Observer, you get an alert on your tablet to download the new product.

Sports Illustrated recently released a demo of what an interactive magazine might look like.

A product like this would save students from lugging around heavy textbooks and families from having large stashes of papers and magazines in the garage (if yours is like mine). Everybody might get a little greener. I guess my only issue is price. If you want everyone to have it, $500 to $1,000 isn't going to get it there.

There's also a debate over whether the device will have a 3G card built in for internet access along with WiFi or just, say, a USB port to allow you to plug in a 3G card if you choose. I think tying it to a 3G provider, so long as it's more than one, might not be a bad thing. It would tie you to a $30 or $50 monthly contract, but it would drastically drop the cost of the machine. I think Apple could also work out some sort of deal with content providers who stand to gain from a device like this to make it cheaper to the public.

I wonder, though, if AT&T customers who have iPhone might get a break if they sign up for a new agreement and AT&T allows users to tether the iPhone to this tablet device for coverage.

Lots of questions.

Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that textbook maker Coursesmart -- a digital publisher of five major textbooks -- thinks the Apple Tablet will be better than traditional e-readers like the Kindle, which doesn't have color graphics or ways to scribble notes onto the digital pages.

Coursesmart executive VP Frank Lyman thinks the tablet could allow students and other consumers to interact with the written material through the use of colors and videos and links.

Here's a video Lyman created to show the possibilities (embedded from WSJ site).

I find equally interesting the news that Apple has purchased Quattro Wireless which is a big-time mobile ad company.

Something big is brewing. It'll be interesting to see what happens next.

Monday, January 04, 2010

"God Mode' In Windows 7

Thanks to reader Larry L, who passed this onto me.

Apparently, Microsoft has put a power mode in its new Windows 7 OS. Using it allows you quick access to all kind of customizable and maintenance features in one place.

Just create a new folder name it something and enter a simple cut-and-paste code. Click here for more info