April 14, 2004

Gadget Update & Tomorrow's Office

It's been awhile since I linked to some cool gadgetry, so this is a long overdue treat: Mobile surround sound, tiny big hard drives, and cool peeks at the office of the future.

5D1 USB Headphones1) Surround Sound Headphones: Love your 5.1 surround sound system at home, but miss it on the road while watching DVD's on your laptop? Fret no more. The 5D1 USB headphone looks promising. It generates surround sound by adding more speakers that pop out like little wings to surround your head. Don't have a 5.1 sound card in your laptop? No problem: The 5D1 includes its own via the USB connection, so it bypasses the normally mediocre ones included in many laptops. The corded remote control includes buttons to control the surround effect, volume, and muting. One of the drawbacks is that the extra speakers are not the "closed" type, so they leak sound that others in the area could hear. Another is that they don't appear to be noise canceling, a must when traveling.

So far, the various gadget sites are pointing to a Japanese web site via Babelfish translation, so they're probably difficult to get. I'd love to try them out, just to see if they really deliver on the hype. If anyone spots one here in the states, let me know. [Links courtesy of Engadget and The Red Ferret Journal.]

IVDR drive and adapter2) IVDR: Yet another "universal" portable hard drive standard is being released. It stands for "Information Versatile Disk for Removable". With a catchy name like that, clearly no one bothered to get the marketing department involved. The Register has a nice summary of the new cartridge format that was "formulated by 38 companies, led by Japanese giants Fujitsu, Pioneer, Hitachi, Sanyo, Sharp and JVC, but backed by storage specialists like LaCie, Seagate and Maxtor." Now there's a lot of electronic heavyweights, so it will be interesting to see if this thing catches on. Remember IBM's Microdrive? The first IVDR device is being shipped by Japan's IO Data, so it may be some time before it's available in the states.

Per The Register article, the new format was designed to make it easier to transfer very large files between computers, automobile entertainment systems, home audio and entertainment systems, and TVs. The cartridge slides into an adaptor (which looks akin to an external USB flash card reader) that in turn hooks up to whatever system via a USB 2.0 port, where it gets its power. Here's a big drawback: This particular device will work with a USB 1.1 bus, but you'll need to use the bundled AC power adaptor, IO Data said. The big plus is its relatively large storage capacity for its diminutive size: IO Data's version provides 20GB of unformatted storage capacity in a 1.8 inch hard drive. The general idea is that you can load it up with audio and video files, and plunk it into whatever player system you're using at the time. It's definitely priced a lot cheaper than the largest capacity flash drives, which are currently only a few Gigs. [The Register link courtesy of Engadget.]

3) Tomorrow's Tech: Last but certainly not least: Business Week offers us "Sneak Peeks at Tomorrow's Office". Now this is truly cool technology if any of these actually ever make it to market: Giant wrap-around displays, stress-sensing chairs, 360-degree view videoconferencing, and more sound compelling. Microsoft is working on a system that enables "an e-mail or voice-mail message to arrive at whatever computer or phone you're closest to. Drop your cell phone on your desk when you arrive at work, and special chips in it will route cell calls to your office number." Of course, one of the reasons for using a cell is to have those private conversations or voice messages you don't want to have on the office phone system.

I particularly liked the idea of auto-summarizing software, if it actually works well enough:

"A more advanced version of this software would realize that you've gotten distracted during a conference call (sensors in your office might notice that you've been swinging around in your chair), and then give you a typed summary of the most important points the callers discussed. Essentially, it would act as a personal assistant, says Forsythe, who uses the software already and believes it will be commercialized within two years.

Meanwhile, researchers at Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), famed for inventing laser printing and Ethernet, are developing so-called summarizing programs, which should help, say, an office worker who's asked to develop a presentation on a 400-page report overnight, says Mark Stefik, research fellow and manager of PARC's Information Sciences & Technologies Laboratory. The program can sum up the main points and present them in grammatically correct sentences -- and in just a few pages."

Perhaps the scariest one is the use of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) to sense when you arrive in your office, thus alerting your computer (and your boss?), which boot ups and opens to the page you last looked at the night before. Just a couple of problems with this one: First, I'm not a fan of having any RFID devices on me at any time. If it's not embedded in my clothing, then it could be something I might lose, which gives rise to all kinds of nasty security and privacy issues unless there's some additional authentication required. For now, I'd rather see this genie staying put in the bottle.

Lastly, I loved the ideas relating to the displays. Large wraparound monitors sound very useful, although I'm still waiting for the Minority Report-style virtual displays. Computer displays built into restaurant tables (think Starbucks) is another -- although I'd be leery of using any public terminals due to lurking malware such as keyloggers that snatch up vital login names and passwords. But the unsuspecting general public would probably eat it up -- almost literally.

Keep in mind these are "incubator" ideas and technology. Some may eventually make it to market after undergoing usability testing and modifications to make them "consumer-friendly". In the meantime, it's fun to consider what our workplace may be like in five to ten years. [Business Week link courtesy of Gizmodo.]

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard