“Works With Nest” Lets Nest’s Smart Devices Talk to Cars, Appliances, Wearables, Remotes, and More


So far, Google’s Nest Labs home automation arm makes two smart, web-enabled devices: the Nest thermostat and Nest Protect smoke/CO detector. The count will go to three when the company finalizes its agreement to acquire the startup behind the Dropcam security camera.

Those products, of course, are outnumbered by vast and growing quantities of smart-home hardware and software created by other companies. And from now on, some of the most interesting things which Nest’s devices do may be actions they perform in concert with third-party gear.

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Microsoft’s Online Storage Curveball: Office 365 Now Comes With a Terabyte of OneDrive

Comparing the new plans to Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, and others

Microsoft OneDriveStarting shortly, Microsoft is upgrading the storage plans it offers for OneDrive, the online storage service formerly known as SkyDrive. You’ll get 15GB of space for free, which the company says is enough for 75 percent of users to store all the files on their PC in the cloud. (Until now, freeloaders have received a base allotment of 7GB.) Paid OneDrive tiers will offer 100GB for $1.99 a month or 200GB for $3.99 a month, a 70 percent reduction from previous pricing.

All of this is nice, but hardly surprising: It’s unquestionably a response to the similar moves which Google made with Google Drive back in March.

But Microsoft has another piece of OneDrive news which is at least a trifle startling–and which nobody else can quite match. The company is radically increasing the amount of storage it bundles with the consumer-oriented versions of Office 365, the subscription-based version of the Office productivity suite.

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After Forty-Seven Years, Computerworld, Tech Publishing’s Elder Statesman, is a Print Publication No More

ComputerworldWhen IDG’s Computerworld launched, with an issue cover-dated June 14, 1967, it declared itself to be the “first newspaper for the full computer community.” I have no reason to believe that was an inaccurate claim. And if there’s an older publication devoted to computing which still exists in print form, I don’t know about it.

But Computerworld‘s long, long run in dead-tree form is ending. As editor-in-chief Scot Finnie writes, it will publish its last print edition next week, almost exactly 47 years after the first one appeared. The brand will live on as a website, of course, and as a monthly digital magazine.

The news comes three months after the passing of Pat McGovern, who started IDG in 1964 as a research firm and put out Computerworld with a tiny staff in its earliest days. It’s sad to think of IDG losing its founder and flagship print publication so close together, but in a way, it’s also fitting.

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Amazon’s Fire Phone Event, as Tweeted By Me

I had fun furiously live-tweeting Amazon’s Fire phone event in Seattle this morning. I assume Amazon will share the whole thing in video form–but as a stopgap, here’s a recap of my tweets. More thoughts to come…

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Review: Adobe’s Ink and Slide Are Great Hardware Which Need Great Apps

The software for these high-end iPad art tools feels like rough drafts

Adobe Ink and Slide

People who are serious about software should make their own hardware.

When that famous declaration by Alan Kay gets quoted, it’s usually in reference to ambitious computing devices such as Apple’s iPhone or Microsoft’s Surface. But after more than three decades in the graphics software business, Adobe is finally taking Kay’s advice–and the hardware that it’s built is a pressure-sensitive pen and a unique digital ruler, both for use with new Adobe apps for the iPad.

When the company first showed off prototypes of its pen and ruler more than a year ago, it gave them the code names Project Mighty and Napoleon, respectively. Today, the final versions go on sale as Adobe Ink and Slide. They work with two new Adobe drawing apps for the iPad, Line and Sketch–both of which are free and can be used with or without the new hardware. (Adobe provided me with pre-release versions of the hardware and software, and loaned me an iPad to use with them.)

Adobe is selling Ink and Slide as a set, at an intimidating price: $200. You don’t need to spend anything like that to get a solid iPad stylus. (One of my favorites goes for $35.) But Adobe isn’t being completely irrational: Other pressure-sensitive styli sell for up to $120 on their own, no equivalent to Slide included. Still, it’s a lot of money–and I think that more than a few folks will be disappointed that the company isn’t offering Ink in stand-alone form at a lower price.

The good news is that both gadgets feel like the high-end iPad accoutrements they are. Adobe may be new to hardware, but it’s crafted Ink and Slide out of aluminum and sweated the details.

Adobe SketchAt first blush, Ink’s striking looks–its barrel is a twisted triangle–seem like they might favor form over function. Actually, the pen fits beautifully in the hand. Many iPad styli are too stubby or too thick; this one is just right, and it’s perfectly balanced.

What matters even more than the shape of an iPad stylus’s barrel is the shape of its tip. The iPad was designed to work with fingertips, not pen points; as a result, most styli have large, mushy tips, leaving using them feeling a bit like drawing with a tiny water balloon. You can learn to do it, but it’s not fun.

Adobe, however, gave Ink a tip which uses Pixelpoint, a technology created by a startup called Adonit, which also uses it in some of its own styli. Thanks to Pixelpoint, Ink’s point is truly pointy. It’s also pressure sensitive, letting you draw with pencil and pen tools in Line and Sketch which lay down thicker, darker lines if you press harder. Drawing with it feels more like using a real pencil, pen, or brush than with any other iPad stylus I’ve tried.

Adobe InkRather than taking a AAA battery like some pressure-sensitive iPad styli, Ink comes with a charging tube which doubles as a carrying case. Stick Ink in the tube, pop on the lid and connect a USB cable, and you can charge it up for up to eight hours of continuous drawing.

Ink is an ambitious new product in an existing category. Slide, by contrast, is something altogether new. Used with Ink and the Line or Sketch app, it lets you lay down lines and shapes with precision, letting you mix purely freehand art with elements you positioned and rendered with the help of Slide.

The gizmo is a little aluminum-topped bar, around 4 inches long, on two dinky legs. Even though it doesn’t require a battery, the iPad notices when you’ve plopped it down on the screen. In both Line and Sketch, you can move Slide around to arrange an on-screen line, circle, square or triangle–you cycle between multiple choices by pushing a button on the device–and then size it to your liking and trace it with the stylus to get a shape which simultaneously looks perfect and if it were drawn by hand.

Adobe LineThe Line app provides a bevy of additional shapes which you can position with Slide, such as french curves, trees, various people and animals, and even Herman Miller furniture. It also has a simple 3D-assist mode which helps you with perspective as you lay down lines in a drawing.

Slide is ingenious all by itself, but Adobe did another ingenious thing: It built a virtual version of the hardware into the Line and Sketch apps. Rather than sliding Slide around on your tablet’s display, you can drag around a couple of on-screen circles to position lines and shapes, then trace them with the Ink stylus. It’s a very satisfactory substitute for the Slide device, which makes it all the more of a shame that there’s no way to buy Ink by itself.

Adobe Line

Adobe Line

The virtual Slide is only one of plenty of creative features in the Line app (which emphasizes precision) and Sketch app (which skews more towards freehand drawing). They have features such as integration with Adobe’s Behance, a social network for artists who like to show off their work; and Kuler, a way to share color palettes.

But for all the ways in which Line and Sketch are nice, they feel unfinished. They’re also needlessly inconsistent with each other. And though these apps are free–and Adobe says that it intends to release updates with improvements based on feedback from users–they’re the key to unlocking the potential of the $200 Ink and Slide hardware. So their limitations are a problem.

A few examples:

  • Even though Line and Sketch have very similar toolboxes which let you choose an art utensil and a color, Line places its version at the bottom of the screen, and Sketch puts it at the top.
  • Line lets you customize the size and opacity of its drawing tools; Sketch does not, which limits the variety of effects you can get out of it.
  • Both apps are designed to work with an iPad held in landscape orientation; their interfaces don’t rotate into portrait mode, and the lines I drew in portrait orientation looked like they emerged from a spot off to the left of the pen tip.
  • Neither app offers the ability to create drawings with multiple layers, as you can in such graphics packages as Photoshop. You can import an image from the iPad’s Camera Roll and trace over it, but the two apps handle this task with different interfaces.
  • Both feature palm rejection, a technology designed to let you touch your palm to the tablet’s screen as you draw without unwittingly creating a line, triggering an action or otherwise interfering with your drawing. But like all forms of iPad palm rejection I’ve tried, Adobe’s version isn’t very dependable. And southpaws beware: In Line, there’s a little on-screen button which temporarily disables palm rejection so you can perform gestures such as pinch-to-zoom. It sits on the left side of the screen–where I kept accidentally brushing it with my palm and messing up my work.
Cat Drawing

Adobe Line

After using both Line and Sketch extensively, I found I liked Line better for the sort of precision drawing it’s designed for and for freehand sketching. Which brings up a question: Why does Sketch exist at all? Adobe says that it created two separate apps to avoid feature bloat; it’s a noble-sounding goal, but most of the few unique features which Sketch has could be folded into Line without overloading it.

Ultimately, of course, what you really want is for Ink and Slide to work in any iPad app which might benefit from them–including excellent non-Adobe offerings such as Paper, Procreate, and Sketchbook Pro. Adobe says it’s planning to open up Ink and Slide so that other companies which develop graphics software can enable the hardware in their apps. Whether they will choose to do so remains to be seen–especially since Adobe’s Ink competes with multiple other high-end styli which require their own special software support, such as Pogo Connect, FiftyThree’s Pencil, and Adonit’s Jot Touch.

The bottom line on Ink and Slide: They’re impressive, polished pieces of hardware already, but they’ll be far more compelling if Adobe beefs up Ink and Slide and third-party app developers support the devices. Spending $200 on them right now is a major investment in a vision in progress. But it’s an awfully exciting vision–and if it comes to pass, it’s going to be a boon for iPad art and the people who create it.

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Join Me for Amazon’s Smartphone Event

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, not introducing a phone in 2011

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, not introducing a phone in 2011

If Jeff Bezos doesn’t unveil a smartphone with a 3D display this morning at Amazon’s press event in Seattle this morning, a lot of folks will be very surprised–including me.

Assuming that the phone is real and about to arrive, it will make Amazon into a full-service gadget company for the first time. (It already offers multiple tablets, a TV box which streams video and plays games, and, of course, the latest variants of the Kindle e-reader which got it into the hardware business back in 2007.)

I’ll be in the audience at the event and will be covering it live over on Twitter starting at 10:30am PT. Then I’ll follow up back here on Technologizer with further thoughts once all the details are known. See you there, or here, or both, I hope.

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Parallels Access 2.0 Lets You Use Mac or Windows Apps From Any iOS or Android Device

Photoshop CC for OS X running on an iPad via Parallels Access 2.0

Photoshop CC for OS X running on an iPad via Parallels Access 2.0

Last year, Parallels–the company behind the best-selling virtualization software for OS X–introduced a service called Parallels Access.

It let you use an iPad to remote-control your Windows PC or Mac across the Internet, allowing you to run PC apps from your tablet. Other companies had done that before, but Parallels didn’t just cram your PC’s screen onto the iPad: It created an environment which made using Windows or Mac apps as much like using iPad apps as possible, with features such as iOS-style cut-and-paste and a touch-friendly app launcher which looked like the iPad’s own home screen.

When I reviewed the first version of Access, I had some quibbles but was still dazzled by the whole concept, which was bursting with cleverness and technical derring-do.

Parallels Access running on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Parallels Access running on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Now Parallels is releasing Parallels Access 2.0. There’s quite a bit that’s new–including the fact that it now works on iPhones and Android devices as well as iPads.

The iOS and Android variants of Parallels Access are similar, but not identical. For one thing, they both do a good job of hewing to the interface style of the mobile operating system they’re running on: Cut and paste, for instance, look like they should in both cases.

Both versions also have a new feature or two not seen in the other one. The iOS app lets you use the mobile device’s microphone with apps running on the remote computer, and includes a new file manager which looks like iOS while providing access to files on the distant computer. The Android app, meanwhile, lets you plunk shortcuts to specific PC apps on the Android home screen, a feat which isn’t technically possible in iOS.

Parallels Access for iOS's new file manager

Parallels Access for iOS’s new file manager

Oh yeah, there’s the pricetag. When Parallels originally released Access, it charged $80 to control one computer for one year. It quickly lowered that price. And now it’s slashed it again: For $20 a year or $35 for two years (or $30 for two years for a limited time), you can control up to five computers from as many iOS and/or Android devices as you want. There’s also a new business plan for companies which want to roll out Access to multiple staffers at once.

As before, Parallels Access is amazing: I can’t imagine anyone coming up with a better way to put OS X and Windows apps onto a mobile device which can’t run them natively. But there are some technical limitations which are beyond Parallels’ control. The OS X apps I used on my iPad didn’t have a Retina-like crispness–text was a tad fuzzy even though you can now choose between three different screen resolutions. Not surprisingly, the experience feels most like the apps are right on your mobile device if you’ve got a fast Internet connection. And for all that Access does to make desktop apps more touch-friendly, there are still tasks which are tough to perform with your fingertip, such as selecting part of an image in Photoshop.

For all these reasons, Access doesn’t reduce the need for powerful native apps for iOS and Android–and there are more of those today than there were last year when the first version of Access shipped, including Microsoft’s very credible version of Office for the iPad. But when you want to get your hands on an app or file which isn’t available on your mobile device, Parallels Access could be a lifesaver–and at $20 a year, it’s a reasonable deal even if you don’t use it all that often.

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This Post Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity, While Simultaneously Destroying Your Faith in Me


I have a problem.

Everyone knows that the only way for online journalism to succeed today is if it “goes viral,” causing people on “social networks” to “click” like crazy. And everyone knows that doesn’t have much to do with the content in question. It’s all about the headline–which, to insure maximum clickiness, needs to make absurd claims, tug at the heartstrings, and/or conceal the upshot of the article so that people don’t feel like they’ve learned anything until they’ve clicked.

Unfortunately for me, none of this comes easily. I grew up in a long-ago era when headlines were supposed to be clear and accurate. We were taught to err on the side of underpromising. I developed all of these now-obsolete habits which I’m having a hard time shaking.

But I think I’ve come up with a solution. If you like Technologizer the way it is, continue to visit Technologizer.com and follow me on Twitter at @harrymccracken and/or @technologizer. Nothing will change.

But I’m launching a new brand, Upfeedy. Mostly it consists of a Twitter feed in which I’ll promote the same old Technologizer stories, only with the most clickbaity headlines I can muster.

Herewith, a few samples:

To recap:

  • Technologizer: not clicky.
  • Upfeedy: the exact same thing, only incredibly clicky.

Thank you for your attention.


Nest’s Nest Protect Smoke Detector is Back on Sale–Without Its Nest Wave Feature

Nest Protect

Nest Labs–now a part of Google–is a two-product company. One of the products is the Nest thermostat. The other, the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector, has been on a hiatus of sorts: In April, Nest pulled it off the market after discovering that Nest Wave, the feature which let you wave your hand to turn it off in case of a false alarm, might cause it to stay silent when there was smoke which indicated an emergency. (Last month, the Consumer Product Safety Commission formally issued a recall for existing Nest Protect units–although all that meant was that owners were advised to allow their detectors to download and install an update which disabled the Wave feature.)

Now Nest Protect is going back on sale–first at Nest’s web site, and soon at retailers. But the new units won’t have the Wave feature: Nest, which said when it first disclosed the problem that it might take at least two or three months to address, still doesn’t have a fix. A company representative told me that the company is working on it, and didn’t provide an updated estimate of when it might be ready.

Nest is also knocking down the price of Nest Protect from $129 to $99–a meaningful drop, especially given that most homeowners who like the idea of Nest Protect will want to buy several and install them wherever they’ve currently got a smoke detector.

In other Nest Protect news, Nest is announcing a white paper based on data about carbon monoxide collected from Nest Protect units in the field, which use their built-in Wi-Fi connections to send back anonymous information to the company.

The actual information in the report isn’t all that fascinating: For instance, .15 percent of homes with Nest Protect reported a carbon-monoxide incident during the test period, and the company estimates that a million households in the U.S., Canada and U.K. are exposed to high amounts of carbon monoxide each year. But it’s a reminder of one of the virtues of smart household devices: The big data they collect can help us humans be smarter about important matters such as household safety. That’s sure not true of the garden-variety smoke/CEO detectors in my home.


The Future of Product Reviews Looks a Lot Like the Golden Age of Product Reviews

The Wirecutter and This is My Next go back to the basics
From 2004, a PC World review of laptops crammed onto two magazine pages

From 2004, a PC World review of laptops crammed onto two magazine pages

It’s been a long time since my responsibilities as a tech journalist involved telling shoppers everything they needed to know about a specific product category. But during the thirteen-and-a-half years I worked at PC World magazine, giving that sort of advice was what kept us in business. So even today, I’m fascinated by the challenge it presents.

In recent years, the archetypal online review of a technology product–as seen at sites such as Engadget, The Verge, and Cnet–has been long, crammed with images and specs, and well worth diving into if you have a consuming interest in the subject at hand. But back in 2011, my friend Brian Lam, the former editor of Gizmodo, launched a site called The Wirecutter with a fundamentally contrarian approach: It aimed to help busy people save time by zeroing in on the best products in major categories.

What The Wirecutter leaves out–endless detail, especially on products which aren’t the best in their category–is as important as what it gives you. And it’s been a big hit, proving that not everyone wants to set aside the better part of an afternoon to research a product purchase.

This is My NextNow Brian’s site has competition from This is My Next, a new feature at The Verge named after the prototype site which predated The Verge itself.

Like The Wirecutter, This is My Next picks a product category and cuts to the chase. The first installment, which tackles smartphones, declares that the iPhone 5s is today’s best smartphone and HTC’s One M8 is the runner up. It provides brief reviews of them and even briefer capsules on ten other phones you might be considering, such as the iPhone 5c and Samsung’s Galaxy S5. It’s all on one easily-digestible page.

Over at TechCrunch, Matthew Panzarino has a good story on This is My Next and The Wirecutter; among other things, it includes a classy acknowledgement by The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky and David Pierce that The Wirecutter provided them with inspiration for their new feature.

As seen in both This is My Next and The Wirecutter, this less-is-more approach is a refreshing and inventive way to do product reviews. But it’s also a back-to-basics move. More than other online tech reviews, what these evaluations remind me of are the ones we used to do at PC World years ago–back when we were putting them on dead trees, and competed with other magazines doing much the same thing.

For years, the mainstays of PC World‘s approach to reviews were Top 10 and Top 5 roundups. We generally crammed them onto a page or two–in a magazine, editorial space is a precious commodity, and we had less and less of it as time went on. We’d name a Best Buy or two in each category, so people who wanted a single recommendation could skip the rest of the roundup. And we wrote for people who wanted to buy useful products to get stuff done, not obsessive gearheads.

In time, of course, PC World stopped being a magazine that had a website, and became a website that had a magazine. As we retooled our approach to reviews for the online-first era, we gave readers more and more and more. Reviews got longer, and we provided them for every product we tested, not just the best five or ten in a category. We provided more photography and user reviews and raw data based on the benchmarking we did in our Test Center, and let you sort reviews by various criteria.

It was great for folks who wanted to exhaustively research the field before making a purchase–or who just liked to read reviews of new products, whether or not they were in the market for anything. But we got so giddy over the web’s limitless space and infinite flexibility that we didn’t try to replicate the service we had offered in the print-centric era, when we let readers get in, get a bottom-line buying recommendation, and then get out.

These new reviews’ brevity reminds me of magazine stories, but they aren’t identical in approach to the ones we used to do at PC World. For one thing, we were maniacal about lab testing. We wanted to grind the subjectivity out of reviews in favor of repeatable objectivity, so that two laptops were subjected to the same consistent methodology even if different people tested them six months apart. And in retrospect, we had formidable resources to throw at our roundups–in 2003, we had around twenty people dedicated entirely to reviews and testing, not counting copy editors, designers, freelancers, and various high muckety-mucks involved in the process. We even wrote our own PC benchmark, WorldBench, because we didn’t want to be dependent on anybody else’s.

We were insufficiently grateful for what we had: The staff had once been even biggest, and even at its most enormous, it was smaller than PC Magazine‘s crew. But nobody, including today’s PCWorld.com, does all the things we did back then.

Compared to the old PC World, both The Wirecutter and This is My Next are more comfortable trusting the instincts and opinions of human beings who really know the product categories they cover. (We sometimes had to reconcile weird scenarios in which the opinions of the editors–the ones they would share with friends who asked for buying advice–were at odds with what our lab testing told us.) The Wirecutter also takes into account the advice of writers for other sites–it interviewed Macworld’s Dan Frakes for a review of iPad keyboards–and published reviews at other sites. It’s as if the PC World reviews of a decade or two ago had been based in part on what PC Magazine had to say…a concept which would have short-circuited my brain at the time, but sounds downright sensible now.

I’d never maintain that the technology journalism we did back in the day was anywhere near ideal; in so many respects, the web is a far better medium for learning about tech products than any magazine could ever be. But when the print era went away, we lost something–the sort of to-the-point something which is back in The Wirecutter and This is My Next, and at least as appealing as it ever was.


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