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October 29, 2009

Apple stores supposedly transitioning from WinMo to iPod Touch

Anyone who's ever been to an Apple store for an appointment or service knows the weird procedure where someone greets you at the door, takes your info, and then wirelessly sends it to some other Apple people who then come greet you when it's your time. Same for making payments away from the main desk and so on. It all works, but it's a bit odd, and even weirder is that some of that mobile check-in and checkout is done on non-Apple hardware (Symbol, actually) that's running Windows CE software. Supposedly it was done that way because Apple mobile gear couldn't handle bar codes and credit cards and such.

I always thought that was strange because there are all sorts of scanning and credit card processing apps available for the iPhone. And, in typical iPhone fashion, they are being used in cool, innovative ways. For example, there's an app ("Red Laser") that scans a barcode and then instantly checks the Web for the best prices for that product. That way you always know whether you're getting a good deal. There are also numerous apps for credit card processing. That should not come as a surprise in an era where banks are starting to allow you to remotely "deposit" checks from an iPhone.

Anyway, the folks at ifoapplestore.com now report that Apple stores may be transitioning to iPod Touches with an advanced scanner accessory and point-of-sale POS software for checkout. Other businesses are probably following in their path. And I can easily see iPhones and iPods being used in more industrial applications thanks to all those ruggedized cases available now (my favorite one is the Otterbox Defender). Can iPhone-based industrial-strength vertical market apps be far behind?

Posted by conradb212 at 06:36 PM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2009

Windows 7

Well, the much advertised public release date of Windows 7 has come and gone. The equivalent of "War and Peace" has been written on how wonderful it is and on how Microsoft "got it right" this time. Maybe they have and maybe they haven't. Here at RuggedPCReview.com, we've used Windows 7 on some of the rugged hardware we've had here for testing and evaluation recently and, frankly, it looked so much like Vista that we barely noticed anything was different.

At this point, I have mixed feelings. Almost all the rugged hardware that comes in here still runs Windows XP or the Tablet PC Edition or, increasingly, one of the embedded versions of Windows. It was actually interesting to see all those "XYZ recommends Vista" tag lines on manufacturers' websites and promotional materials when most of their machines really still ran XP.

So now Windows 7 is here, and Microsoft has been quite successful in creating the buzz that it's new and leaner and faster than Vista. Some of the industry pundits were practically falling all over themselves heaping praise upon Microsoft, so much so that it was almost embarrassing. Steve Wildstrom at Business Week, whose straightforward opinions I greatly respect, was quite critical over the unacceptable upgrade from XP to Windows 7 (reinstall every app from scratch) and how long the upgrade takes, but he also then said Windows 7 was "something truly better."

I think whether or not Windows 7 is indeed something truly better will eventually determine the fate of Windows 7. It looks so much like Vista that had it not been for Vista's questionable reputation, Microsoft probably would have simply called the "new" OS Vista Service Pack 3. As is, that wasn't an option. From a PR standpoint, Vista was so damaged that almost anything would look better. So creating something that is not as bad as Vista is like General Motors improving the Corvair back in the 1960s. It really was a pretty good car in the end, but Ralph Nader's "Unsafe at Any Speed" had damaged the Corvair beyond repair. So from that point of view, having Windows 7 look like Vista and simply saying it's better than Vista may not have been a great idea.

But let's assume that Windows 7 is better than Vista and that Microsoft really has learned and listened. Then you still have the problem that a good number of users will have to upgrade from XP to Windows 7, which so happens to be perhaps Windows 7's most frustrating point. That particularly applies to corporate users where many shops never migrated to Vista at all. It's conceivable that Windows 7, Vista-like though it is, may indeed cause a lot of companies to finally make the migration from XP, but that may mostly be because by now XP is two generations out of date and Microsoft very actively discourages the use of XP.

Only time will tell. It seems almost unthinkable that the world will wholesale reject another Microsoft OS the way Vista as rejected. I mean, a company cannot continue to have 90+% of the market when its new products are rejected. This is why Windows 7 is hugely important to Microsoft. If it's another failure, and the coming weeks and months will tell whether the media enthusiasm will give way to user frustration or not, then, Redmond, we have a problem. If the Vista flop is forgiven like Windows ME was eventually forgiven, Ballmer & Co will likely breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Does it all matter in the rugged space? Not as much as it matters in the consumer and commercial markets. The major players will make sure their product lines are able to run Windows 7 well. And an increasing number may look to Windows Embedded, now that it's called Windows Embedded Standard and "XP" has been banished from the name, though for now it's still really XP (Windows Embedded Standard 2011 will be Windows 7-based).

As expected, Apple is having a field day with the Windows 7 release, running one funny "I'm a PC and I'm a Mac" commercial after another. And just as many would love to have iPhone ease-of-use and functionality on their industrial handhelds, many wish the Mac OS were available on rugged machines. But it's not, and so we truly hope that Windows 7 will give the world a productive and reliable computing platform to work on.

Posted by conradb212 at 07:37 PM | Comments (0)

October 07, 2009

Getac to offer multi-touch on its V100 rugged Tablet PC

Multi-touch has been all the rage ever since Apple showed the world the effortless elegance and utility of the iPhone's two-finger pinch and spread to zoom in and out. So what is multi-touch? Basically, it means the touch screen is able to accept simultaneous input from more than one position. While on the iPhone, multi-touch is currently limited to two fingers, there is theoretically no limit as to the number of simultaneous touches.

What is multi-touch good for? Well, Apple's super-elegant zooming certainly go everyone's attention, but multi-touch can also be used for things like rotating with a two-finger screw in or screw out motion. In addition, multi-touch can be used gestures and the functionality can be built into vertical market custom applications.

While Apple iPhone achieves its multi-touch capability with projected capacitive touch screen technology, that wouldn't work very well in industrial applications where users often wear gloves. For those applications you need a more traditional resistive (pressure-sensitive) touch screen.

There are currently a number of companies working on providing resistive multi-touch systems. Among them are Stantum, Touchco, SiMa Systems, and several others. Some of these products are in the development stage, others are currently available, and each technology is targeted at certain types of applications.

On October 7, 2009, Getac announced that its V100 rugged Tablet PC will offer a multi-touch screen that can be used with or without gloves. According to Getac's press release, this marks a first for rugged computers, and the multi-touch feature will enable users to rotate maps and pictures, zoom in and out of manuals and other documents, move and edit, navigate, and employ a series of special gestures that go beyond what is possible with traditional touch screens that only recognize a single touch.

While the technology used by Getac wasn't mentioned in the press release materials, Getac added an explanatory page to its website (see here). Getac resellers and developers will certainly have an interesting tool to work with.

Posted by conradb212 at 05:54 PM | Comments (0)

Gorilla Glass -- lighter and tougher display protection

On October 6, 2009, Motion Computing announced that their C5 and F5 were the first Tablet PCs to use Corning's Gorilla Glass. What is Gorilla Glass? In its press release, Motion states that it is "thin-sheet glass that was designed to protect against real-world events that cause display damage."

To learn more I scheduled a call with Corning's Dr. Nagaraja Shashidhar. To prepare myself I checked Corning's very informative page on Gorilla Glass. They have some videos there that show the glass being bent and steel balls falling onto it. The glass neither shatters nor breaks. In fact, it's hard to believe it's glass at all. It looks more like a very thin sheet of some polycarbonate plastic or acrylic. But it is glass.

The secret, according to Dr. Shashidhar, lies in a special chemical ion-exchange strengthening process that results in what Corning calls a "compression layer" on the surface of the glass. The primary purpose of that layer is to act as an armor that guards against the nicks and tiny cracks that then result in the glass breaking. And even if there are tiny nicks, the layer keeps them from propagating.

What's amazing is just how thin the glass is. Corning makes it in thicknesses ranging from 0.5mm to 2mm, or 1/50th to 1/12th of an inch. The Gorilla Glass used in the Motion tablets is just 1.2mm thick, yet it provides the protection of a much thicker layer of protective glass at a fraction of the weight. And a thinner layer of protective glass doesn't only mean less weight, it also makes for a more natural feel when using the tablet. With thick glass it sometimes looks like the tip of the pen hovers far above the actual screen. That's not the case with the Gorilla Glass-equipped Motion tablets.

I had actually had some face time with a Motion F5 tablet with the new glass before Motion announced it. I took the opportunity to not only examine the new display, but also benchmark performance and battery life with the new and more powerful processor Motion now uses for the C5 and F5. I also did side-by-side comparisons between an original Motion F5 and the latest model (see full report).

I must admit that it's a bit hard to figure out all the F5's display technologies. You start with a Hydis display that now has AFFS+ technology for not only a totally perfect viewing angle in all directions, but also superior brightness. You then add the Gorilla Glass cover that significantly increases the durability of the display. On top of it all is Motion's View Anywhere, which is an anti-reflective sputtered coating on the front side of the glass that is optically bonded to the display.

How does it work? Extremely well. Between the super-wide viewing angle (which makes for an unbelievably "stable" display) and the excellent sunlight viewability, this is a machine that you can really use outdoors. The Gorilla Glass adds peace of mind (no, I didn't try to break it). And the Gorilla Glass also has another benefit that may turn out to be quite a selling point for Motion: it's nearly immune to smudges. There's nothing worse than a display that's full of grime and fingerprints, and that just doesn't seem to be an issue with Gorilla Glass.

So there. It's a funny name, Gorilla Glass, but it's definitely a good thing. And I am not surprised that Motion is the first to have it on a tablet. They always seem to adopt new stuff first.

Posted by conradb212 at 02:47 AM | Comments (0)