Have you seen Microsoft’s Super Bowl ad?

I live in India and have not been to the Super Bowl yet. But I know it is one of America’s biggest sporting events, viewed by millions of Americans. Naturally, this event also offers the highest brand visibility, on par with being on the national networks.

Techies might recall the Apple Macintosh “1984” Super Bowl ad, aimed at taking on IBM in the PC war.

Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UZV7PDt8Lw

That ad created a lot of interest for the Macintosh computer, in an era where IBM PCs were the gold standard.

Well, Microsoft (surprise! surprise!) might have managed to create a similar impact in its Super Bowl ad last Sunday. But this time they were not talking only about cutting edge technology — it was about technology that impacts lives. The ad is getting a lot of raves and a few rants) on Twitter.

Gleason1Getting to the point, the latest Microsoft ad features a man in a wheelchair, who uses a tablet to talk to his infant son. That man is Steve Gleason, who was once a National Football League player. And if you Google him, you’ll see that his ‘blocking the punt’ technique eventually led to a touchdown for his team, the New Orleans Saints, in a September 2006 game. This was a much needed touchdown for the ‘Saints’ in New Orleans, after almost two years.

Gleason suffers from a disorder called ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and in the spinal chord. And this severely affects his speech.

Gleason2The Microsoft ad shows Gleason using a Microsoft Surface tablet with an eye tracking app that helps him talk to his family.

The app tracks Gleason’s eye movements as he focuses on certain letters on the tablet’s keypad. And as words are formed, the app vocalizes the words using text to speech conversion. Gleason can also tweet and surf the web with this solution.

You can watch the Microsoft ad here: Steve Gleason: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JObFlEvc-Eg

Noted scientist Stephen Hawkings suffers from ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). I reckon the technology that Microsoft is offering is the similar to what Hawkings uses in his computerized communication system. The notable difference is that Microsoft is bringing the technology to the masses through a tablet and app. Unlike Hawking’s customized computer, the Microsoft Surface tablet and app will be affordable, and hence available to more people who suffer from ALS or speech disorders.

Now that’s a new focus area for Microsoft — it needs to make technology solutions that impact lives.

Hope the incoming CEO and Chairman will take note.


The Gadgets that will light up 2014

Contributed by: Arthur Goldstuck

The buzz around wearable device at this year’s CES in Las Vegas almost overshadowed a flood of groundbreaking new gadgets, but not quite. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK looks at the newly launched devices that are likely to make an impact in 2014.

It’s fairly easy to tell which new gadgets launched at last week’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas will make a big impact in 2014. They are the ones that managed to rise above the tsunami of attention paid to wearable devices. No, you didn’t have to be part of the “wrist revolution” to get recognition at CES.

These are some of the devices that stood out above the crowd, and earned the applause of the media and show-goers alike:

Parrot Minidrone

ParrotMinidroneThe A.R. Drone quadricopter was one of the great new toys of the past five years, but also established itself as both a creepy and a liberating surveillance device. Now Parrot have launched the Minidrone, a scaled-down version  piloted via Bluetooth Low Energy, and compatible with Android, Windows and iOS smartphones or tablets.

It also comes with four blades, but weighs only 50g and almost fits in the palm of the hand. That means there’s no room for an HD camera and video recording, but a downwards-facing high speed camera helps keep control – and will no doubt also be put to surveillance use. Detachable wheels allow it to drive around on the ground or climb walls. It will be cheaper than the Drone 2.0, but don’t expect much in the way of battery life.

Garmin nüvi 2798LMT 

Garmin_nuuviThe new nüvi, with 7” display, offers a feature that was previously only available on high-end luxury vehicles: a backup camera. That doesn’t mean it backs up your data, but rather gives you a rear view of what is behind your car when you are reversing. It’s wireless, meaning that you don’t need much extra wiring to make your VW think it’s a Volvo.

When wired to the reverse lights for power, the live camera feed displays every time the vehicle is shifted into reverse. A button press toggles between camera and navigation modes if the camera is plugged into constant power.

LG 77” Curved OLED TV

LGOLEDTVLG Electronics won this year’s TV wars at CES. It was no doubt their turn, given last year’s dominance by Sony, and the previous year by Samsung. But what a way to take the lead: A Flexible OLED TV is not only a curved TV unit – Samsung also unveiled one with UHD display – but it also lets viewers adjust the angle of curvature with their remote controls.

For once, it wasn’t hype when the CEO said: “LG’s Flexible OLED TV is a product that has to be seen to be believed, because it defies description.”  HH Ha, President and CEO of LG’s Home Entertainment Company, summed it up neatly when he added: “What curved is to flat, flexible is to curved.”

Samsung Galaxy NotePro 12

GalaxyNotePRO12-2Samsung wasn’t out of the picture. It crushed all comers in the tablet arena, with the launch of a new range of galaxy Tab and Note devices, and taking the maximum standard tablet screen size from 10.1” to 12.2”. The stand-out device is the  Galaxy NotePro 12.2, which swept the boards when it came to awards for tablets launched at CES. Along with the TabPRO, it claims the world’s first 12.2” WQXGA Widescreen (16:10) display, with 2560×1600 resolution. Translation: pretty sharp.

Its magazine-style user interface is  optimised for a large screen, allowing users to organise content in a dashboard with automatic feed or news updates. A Multi Window feature lets users split the screen into four different windows. The Samsung S Pen is included, while a Pen Window allows users to draw a window of any size on the screen, and instantly access in-application features within the window.

ZTE Projector Hotspot

zte-projector-hotspotIt claims to be the world’s first all-in-one Wi-Fi hotspot and portable projector, making it ideal for home or boardroom. It’s a compact 4.7 x 4.7 x 1.1” device, with a 4” capacitive touchscreen, running on Android. The combination of the operating system and Wi-Fi means content can be run directly off the Intetnet, or shared from the device to other devices in the room – up to eight can be connected. Oh yes, it projects images too, up to 120” in size.

It supports multiple inputs, including linking to a laptop through HDMI, or mirroring a smartphone screen via Wi-Fi Display. A 5000mAh battery means smartphones can also tap into it as a portable charger.

MakerBot Replicator Mini

makerbot-replicator-mini-2-xlWhile 3D printing was all the rage at CES, most of these devices for “printing” solid objects are out of reach of the ordinary consumer. Market-leader MakerBot is slowly getting there, though. Alongside the new high-end $6500 Replicator Z18 and mid-range $2900 Replicator prosumer, it also launched an “entry-level” $1375 Replicator Mini. Remarkably easy to use, it is intended to produce both toys and prototypes or complex models of objects that will be mass produced more conventionally.

Using a Smart Extruder nozzle, it converts  filament stored in cartridges in the device to produce solid objects up to 4x4x6” in volume. Astonishingly, there is only one button on the device: it’s primarily controlled via  desktop or mobile app. Now you can build the future tourself.

Sony HDR-CX900 Handycam

SonyProfessional performance in a compact body. It’s a phrase we hear often in video camera marketing, but this time it seems on the money. A 14.2 effective megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor with a wide angle 29mm ZEISS Vario Sonnar T Lens allows shooting in full HD with high quality still images. Its 12x Optical Zoom Lens “marries a wide aperture with a seven-bladed iris diaphragm to allow professional-looking videos and photos with smooth, defocused backgrounds”, says Sony. Built-in ND filters, it is claimed, take the camera from low-light to bright sunshine with little difficulty.

Razer Nabu smartband

razer_nabu2-610x343Okay, okay, wearables really will make a splash this year, so let’s end with one. The best one. Entertainment device manufacturer Razer won Engadget’s People’s Choice award in a public vote, with the Nabu smartband. Newcomers to wearables, Razer ignored the rules and built on an open platform that links to smartphones, collects physical data and communicates with other users’ bands.

It does what is now the usual, like tracking fitness data, location, sleep data, and biometrics. Band-to-band active and passive communication makes it a 4Square for the wrist, allowing users to find nearby friends. In future, it may even link you to healthy restaurants – and let you share the experience. That’s both the good news and the bad news. Can you say “oversharing”?


Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

Technology is coalescing into personal devices

Not long ago, one carried any combination of these devices as one commuted or travelled: personal digital assistant, calculator, pager, cell phone, wristwatch, glucometer, stopwatch, alarm clock, radio/CD player/Walkman/MP3 player, laptop, camera, handycam — and of course credit cards and a wallet.

However, it became too cumbersome to carry so many different gadgets/devices (not to  mention the risk of misplacing or losing these).

So R&D teams worked to merge these devices — pager functions were included in mobile phones (SMS), for instance.

You won’t carry credit cards or cash in future — your phone with Near Field Communication (NFC) and m-Commerce technologies will do the job.

Today, we carry a few devices that blend well into our personal effects — a wristwatch, smart phone, and perhaps a tablet.

All the gadgets/devices that I mentioned earlier are still there — in these three devices. But they are virtualized and available in the form of apps.

The next devices in your personal effects to undergo a transformation are the wristwatch and glasses. Sony has already launched a Bluetooth enabled smart-wrist watch. I am guessing that Apple will have theirs out this year (See: Why Apple’s iWatch will change the world!). And Google’s Glass (the future of eyewear) is now undergoing trials.

If you watched any of the Star Trek TV episodes (especially those from the 60s) you’ll see the widespread use of multifunction devices like Tricorders.

I think the next big apps for personal devices are personal healthcare monitoring systems — embedded right into your phone, watch or whatever else you are comfortable carrying around with you. These will of course communicate with servers in hospitals and clinics, to send back data about the status of your vital organs.

So don’t be surprised if your doctor calls you one fine day and tells you to go slow on that cheeseburger.

“Your LDL cholesterol levels are alarmingly high, Pete. You need to come over immediately!)