TIME Innovation

You Can Unlock This High-Tech Padlock With Your Phone

noke
FUZ

We’re almost to the point, technologically, where you won’t have to remember a single thing.

This newfangled padlock — called Noke — has no keys, keyhole or combination for you to remember, instead relying on your iOS or Android device to unlock it via Bluetooth. Get within 10 feet of the thing, keep your phone in your pocket and you’ll be able to unlock it. You can share access with other people as well, turn off the auto-unlock-within-10-feet feature and receive alerts whenever Noke is unlocked by someone else.

“But what if I lose my phone?!” you bellow, your face red with Internet nerd rage, your hammy fists pounding against your desk until they leave C-shaped sweat rings. You can unlock the lock by pumping the doohickies in a Morse code-like fashion you set in advance, like so:

noke code
FUZ

The padlock has a battery, which lasts a year and can only be removed when the padlock’s unlocked. If you manage to run it dry, there’s an emergency backup feature as well. It’s water resistant, and there’s a special bike cable available for $20.

This is a Kickstarter project that’s been fully funded, with the promise of the padlocks being shipped out early next year. Early backers can get a padlock for $59; the final retail price is set to be around $89.

[OhGizmo!]

 

TIME Google

YouTube Videos Playing Automatically? Sit Tight

Well, that's annoying.

All the livelong day, YouTube videos have been autoplaying in my web browser (I’m using Google Chrome). I just opened 19 tabs at once, and my computer basically threatened to walk off the job. My other browsers aren’t affected, so this appears to be a Chrome-YouTube joint.

A fix is coming. It’s apparently a problem on YouTube’s end, and the team is aware of it. Check out this Google thread for updates.

[Android Police]

TIME Computers

(Not Very) Bold Prediction: $200 Laptops Aplenty for the Holidays

Inside a Best Buy Store Ahead of Earnings
Customers look at laptop computers at a Best Buy store. David Paul Morris—Bloomberg / Getty Images

For years — years! — we’ve been waiting for the $200 laptop.

Sure, laptops dip down to the $200 during super sales like Black Friday. And snagging a $179 Chromebook — Chromebooks are laptops too, you know — is now a relatively easy feat to achieve. Remember netbooks? Those things were known to flirt with the $200 price point toward the end of their collective lifespan, occasionally breaking through it entirely.

But the holidays this year will look different. Instead of searching, waiting, hoping — stampeding! — for a $200 computer, you’ll actually have a fair amount to choose from, and they’ll likely be in stock and regularly priced around $200 or less.

Over at GigaOM, Kevin Tofel passes along news of the so-called HP Stream 14, which was supposedly leaked to German blog Mobile Geeks. The Stream is apparently a 14-inch Windows laptop with very Chromebook-like innards that comes with 100 gigabytes of storage for two years, just like Chromebooks.

Microsoft doesn’t want to see Chromebooks continue to erode its share of low-end laptop sales. That’s straight from the horse’s mouth: As the Verge reports, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner recently said, “We’ve got a great value proposition against Chromebooks, we are not ceding the market to anyone.”

If that sounds aggressive, get this: Turner alluded to 7- and 8-inch models in this HP Stream line going for around $100 during the holidays. Aggressive indeed.

While ever-falling component costs lead to cheaper and cheaper computers, Bloomberg reported earlier this year that the licensing fee Microsoft charges hardware makers to use Windows on their machines has reportedly dropped exponentially for systems in the sub-$250 price range. It apparently dropped from $50 down to just $15, which of course paves the way for lower retail prices as well.

It’s the perfect storm: Chromebooks are popular low-end machines, and Microsoft wants to stem the tide. These aren’t going to be the most powerful computers in the history of computing, but if you’re looking for something that can handle simple tasks like email and web surfing on the cheap, you’ll have plenty of options later this year.

TIME Gadgets

First Smartphone Turns 20: Fun Facts About Simon

Simon Smartphone
An original IBM Simon Personal Communicator is placed next to an Apple iPhone 4S at the Science Museum on August 15, 2014 in London, England Rob Stothard / Getty Images

A tip of the hat to Simon, long referenced as the first smartphone. It went on sale to the public on August 16, 1994 and packed a touchscreen, email capability and more, paving the way for our modern-day wondergadgets.

Here’s a look at some of Simon’s history.

IBM and BellSouth first showed Simon off in late 1992.

It was code-named “Angler” and was unveiled at the fall COMDEX convention in Vegas, but wouldn’t be available to purchase by consumers until August 16, 1994. In 1995, the great Computer Chronicles TV show led its “Year of the Portable” episode with Simon.

Here’s the brief segment:

“I am totally computer-functional!”

The phone had no web browser — heck, computers were just getting decent browsers back then — but email access was a big selling point. It could send faxes, too, which is a technology people haven’t been able to completely kill off yet despite decades of trying.

It was big and expensive, but not insanely so.

By today’s standards, of course, Simon was clunky and outrageously priced. But for a do-it-all gizmo in the mid-’90s, its $1,100 price tag should elicit a mere shrug from most of us nowadays. And if you signed a two-year contract with BellSouth, you could get it for $900; that subsidized price eventually dropped to $600.

The phone itself measured 8 inches long by 2.5 inches wide by 1.5 inches thick, and weighed two ounces north of a pound. That’d be pretty clunky today, but we’re talking about the ’90s here. Everyone was wearing Hammer pants and Zubaz, so pocket space wasn’t much of an issue, right? As you can see in the above photo — where it’s placed next to an iPhone 4S — it’s big but not monstrous.

It had a touchscreen and apps.

Touchscreens weren’t exactly nonexistent back in the early ’90s, but they weren’t super common, either. Simon is believed to be the first commercially available phone with a touchscreen, though earlier PDA devices had showcased various portable touchscreen technologies. Simon’s interface could be navigated with an included stylus, and somewhat less easily with a finger.

These were the early days of mobile touchscreens, mind you. Take a look at Simon’s interface in this fascinating TekGadg video from 2011:

Best line: “I don’t think it does multi-touch, Winston.” That parting jab at Android was uncalled for, fellas.

There was no app store, of course, but the phone came preloaded with several apps. You can take a look at Simon’s user manual, which is not only chock full of wonderfully nostalgic technobabble from back in the day, but also lists the following apps:

  • Address Book
  • Calculator
  • Calendar
  • Fax
  • Filer
  • Mail
  • Note Pad
  • Sketch Pad
  • Time
  • To Do

These things weren’t called “apps” back then. They were generally referred to as “features” found in the “Mobile Office” section of the phone. Here’s a look at the alarm clock:

Email was no picnic to set up, either. It used Lotus’ cc:Mail offering, which required you to dial in to a computer running cc:Mail software that housed all your messages — the “post office,” as it were. How would you set up this post office? You wouldn’t: According to Simon’s manual, “You don’t have to worry about how to set up a post office, because your E-mail administrator or service does that.”

It had predictive typing.

The feature was called the “PredictaKey” keyboard and, according to the user manual, “always shows the six most-likely letters that you need, depending on the characters you’ve just typed.

BellSouth had apparently also been working with Apple to develop a cellular connection for the Newton PDA at the time.

An early profile of Simon alludes to a BellSouth-Apple partnership for Apple’s Newton PDA wherein BellSouth was “working with Apple to integrate cellular into the device.” The piece quoted BellSouth’s then-product-manager Rich Guidotti assuaging concerns that the two devices would compete:

BellSouth’s work with Apple is not affected by the new Simon, Guidotti said. Referring to the Newton as an electronic organizer and the Simon as a personal communicator, Guidotti added: “No one product fits everyone’s needs.”

A cellular connection for the Newton wouldn’t materialize from the BellSouth-Apple partnership, however. Built-in cellular features for the Newton were apparently nixed altogether.

Simon made an appearance in The Net.

The movie, according to Frank Costanza, is “called The Net, with that girl from The Bus.”

You could plug it into a regular phone jack.

Though Simon was targeted at deep-pocketed business people, cell service was still spotty and expensive back in the mid-’90s. An optional cable allowed Simon’s owner to plug it into a standard phone jack (remember those?) to make calls via more reliable and less expensive land-line systems.

Simon lived fast and died young.

Despite its features, IBM and BellSouth didn’t exactly have a hit on their hands. Simon spent a mere six months on the market, with around 50,000 units sold. Businessweek’s profile of the device cites Simon’s weak battery — it lasted around an hour — and the cool factor of svelter and svelter flip phones as contributing to Simon’s demise. It sounds like IBM and BellSouth kind of lost interest in the project as well, with IBM in the middle of downsizing endeavors and BellSouth pumping resources into bolstering its cell network.

Simon, we hardly knew ye. But your ghost lingers on in our modern-day communicators.

Further Reading

Microsoft’s Bill Buxton has a great info page with links to a bunch of old Simon-related material. Check out Businessweek and Wikipedia for related material as well.

TIME Gadgets

Paycheck Friday! 7 Worthy Splurges Based On Your Income Tax Bracket

It's Friday. Maybe you just got paid! You could sock that money away like a sucker, or you could act like a rational human being and blow it on something totally unnecessary and awesome. Here are some ideas for your perusal.

$0 to $9,075: Giant Beer Glass (Price: $10)

beer glass
Amazon

The economy, man. It’s rough! (It’s still rough, right?) You might not be pulling in a handsome chunk of change yet, but that doesn’t mean you should have to make four separate trips to the fridge every time you want to sedate yourself.

This giant 53-ounce beer glass costs a mere 10 bones and holds four 12-ounce bottles of suds with five ounces left over for a nice, frothy head. Or maybe dump some tequila in there instead.

$9,076 to $36,900: Wine Bottle Combo Lock (Price: $22)

wine lock
Franmara

At your salary, sharing wine with people is a luxury you just can’t afford. Wine should be like gas money for you: If someone wants to kick in a finski, then grab another glass. If not, hit the bricks. This $22 combo lock corks your wine with a four-digit passcode to keep freeloaders from wheezing the juice.

“You can afford a wine-bottle lock but you can’t afford to share?” your guests will ask. “I can afford a wine-bottle lock because I don’t share,” you’ll respond. They’ll ironically call you Fun Terry from that point on, by the way.

$36,901 to $89,350: Lawn Chair with Tablet Holder (Price: $60)

iPad Chair
Hammacher Schlemmer

You work hard all day. Okay, most of the day. Okay, you work? “Eh.” You manage to make it into work most days? Yes? Okay. Then why, when you get home at night, should you have to choose between going outside on a beautiful summer night or sitting comfortably inside playing Kim Kardashian: Hollywood on your iPad?

Merge your love of outdoor living and the emptiness of worshiping celebrities with this $60 tablet lawn chair. It’s got a 12-inch steel gooseneck that accommodates 7- to 10-inch tablets. There’s a drink holder, too! And a pouch for snacks and stuff. Go easy on the snacks, though: The chair only supports up to 250 pounds and you don’t want to get your tablet all greasy.

$89,351 to $186,350: Ear-Cleaning Whatsit That Connects to Your Computer (Price: $201)

ear scope
Japan Trend Shop

There’s finally a way to see the gunk in your ears as you’re cleaning them out! The $201 Sugoi Mimikaki Ear Pick connects to your Windows PC or tablet via USB, working as a sort of in-home endoscope.

According to the product description, cleaning your ears out this way is “safer, better and, well, just more interesting!” If I had one complaint about cleaning my ears, it’s that I’ve never really been all that passionate about the entire endeavor. My brain realizes that what I’m doing should be extremely interesting, but I just don’t feel it in my heart. This could change everything!

$186,351 to $405,100: Desktop Jellyfish Tank (Price: $366)

jellyfish tank
ThinkGeek

Listen: I’m in no position to tell a person of your stature what to do, but I can advise you that someone with your many resources should at least think about portraying a certain persona. Not weird, mind you, but eccentric.

The teeming masses are all ordering well drinks? You order top-shelf vodka with coconut water. They take simple smartphone photos? You’ll settle for nothing less than a panorama. Every photo, a panorama! They’re buying goldfish from the pet store? You, my friend, have a jellyfish. Eccentric! This $366 desktop jellyfish kit will set you up with everything you need to get started: The bowl arrives first, and then the jellyfish is overnighted to you once you’re ready to become a proud pet owner.

$405,101 to 406,750: Bulletproof Suit (Price: If you have to ask, you can’t afford it)

bulletproof suit
Garrison

Look at this weird tax bracket. Is this a political thing? It seems political.

Anyway, if you’re important enough to somehow slide into this very narrow bracket, you’re clearly important enough that your life could be in constant danger. Be careful! But that doesn’t mean you need to be walking around in a lumpy bulletproof vest all day.

“Hey, is that guy fat or what?”

“Actually, I think he’s just wealthy.”

Why not try this bulletproof suit instead? It leverages the magic of carbon nanotubes to stave off death at an undisclosed price. It’s worth it, though, right? I mean, how much could a nice suit cost? Like $200? “Try thousands and thousands.” What?! But I buy one and I still get three free, right?

$406,751+: Flying Bicycle (Price: $45,000)

flying bike
Hammacher Schlemmer

“Bike-flying? You’ve nevah beeeen?” Imagine being able to add that phrase to your arsenal.

All it’ll set you back is a cool $45,000 for what Hammacher Schlemmer is calling the “first” flying bike. You have many, many cars in your expansive garage, yes? You probably have a bike or nine as well, no? Why not add this miracle of human ingenuity: “the world’s first bicycle that doubles as a flying ultralight para-trike aircraft,” according to the product description. It cruises at low altitude for up to 75 miles at up to 25 miles per hour, for cracked ice. What are you waiting for?!

TIME Innovation

Origami-like Robot Folds Itself Into Shape and Walks Away

As a writer, the path of least resistance would be to frame this piece along the lines of small robots assembling themselves, then building bigger robots, then taking over the world. The old robot-overlord routine.

But these MIT- and Harvard-developed self-folding robots — cool as they are — don’t look all that menacing quite yet. For starters, one of the key ingredients is polystyrene, which is the same stuff used in Shrinky Dinks. That’s adorable. Second, it takes around four minutes for the things to assemble and start walking away. And third, the assembly has to be pre-programmed, so there’s still some human intervention.

Thirty years from now? That might be a different story. I’ll be retired (or homeless) on a beach somewhere, though, so I’ll just head for the water if these things start getting uppity. They can’t swim, can they? Can they?!!

In the interim, the researchers envision self-assembling structures that could be used in dangerous places like space or battlefields.

[ExtremeTech]

TIME Innovation

Microsoft Fixes Shaky Time-lapse Videos with Hyperlapse Technology

Not unlike the elderly, time-lapse videos can be boring and shaky.

Microsoft has cobbled together technology that can smooth out the jittery, choppy first-person video footage you’d normally see captured and sped up from the likes of a wearable GoPro camera.

The feature is called Hyperlapse and it’s being demonstrated at the SIGGRAPH media conference in Vancouver on Tuesday. I could sit here and try to explain in words how it all works and how the end result looks, but you and I both know that I’m going to drop a video into the middle of this post riiight… abooout… here:

Couple thoughts: A) It looks pretty great and B) I need to do more outdoor activities. These guys are rock climbing and riding bikes in their spare time. I just binge-watched a bunch of Love It or List It Too episodes that I’ve already seen before.

There’s a great money-quote from Microsoft’s blog post on the project as well:

Standard video stabilization crops out the pixels on the periphery to create consistent frame-to-frame smoothness. But when applied to greatly sped up video, it fails to compensate for the wildly shaking motion.

Hyperlapse reconstructs how a camera moves throughout a video, as well as its distance and angle in relation to what’s happening in each frame. Then it plots out a smoother camera path and stitches pixels from multiple video frames to rebuild the scene and expand the field of view.

Put another way, it’s akin to the human brain’s ability to fill in blind spots by “hallucinating” on the person’s behalf.

See? You learn about the technology and then you’re rewarded with some hallucination.

As for when people like you and me might be able to get our hands on this Hyperlapse technology in order to cut together our own sweet time-lapse videos — imagine watching me watch 10 hours of Love It or List It Too in amazing Hyperlapse — the researchers say they’ve managed to streamline the rendering process so that it can be done on a single computer. There’s no hard-and-fast timeframe for its release, though the researchers say the goal is to “eventually” release it to the public.

[TechCrunch]

TIME Gadgets

Navdy Projects Apps Onto Your Car’s Windshield

My car’s in-dash navigation system did me wrong a few months back, sending me on a wild goose chase around the greater Boston area.

In a fit of despair, tears and anger-sweat, I finally relented, pulled over and used an ever-updated GPS app on my phone, which pointed me in the right direction in less than a minute.

Not long after, my car was due for one of its 10,000-mile checkups, at which point I asked the dealership to update the GPS software with the newest routes. Should be free, right? It’s not. They wanted $200. Give me an hour and I can make you a list of 100 things I’d rather spend $200 on.

What I could do is spend a measly $20 or less on a smartphone mount for my car, but that solution feels equal parts inelegant and unsafe, with all the docking and unlocking and app poking and whatnot.

I’ll admit to being intrigued by upcoming efforts from Apple and Google to more deeply integrate my phone into my car’s infotainment system, but this Navdy doodad looks pretty interesting as well. It’s basically a projection system that sits on your dash and beams a transparent interface onto your windshield.

 GPS system
Navdy

It’s compatible with Apple and Android phones, and taps into Google’s Maps app to display turn-by-turn directions near your line of sight. You can also make and take calls and respond to notifications — tweets, text messages and the like — with simple gestures (thumbs up to answer a call, left and right swipes to navigate) and voice commands. It lets you control music apps as well, and there are no monthly fees to use any of the features. The GPS system is always updated, in other words.

It’ll be available early next year, with pre-order pricing set at $299 until early September of this year. The regular price will be $499. That’s expensive, yes, but I like the idea of being able to take it quickly from car to car (I have 13 cars*). And just a quick note that the company is using a Kickstarter-like pre-funding system wherein it collects the money from pre-orders to help fund the production of the product. The whole “early next year” thing could be a moving target.

Here’s a demonstration video of the Navdy in action:

*We actually only have one family car, and my wife drives it most often. But imagine if we had 13!

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