Pebble takes second step in smartwatch space

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Pebble has brought out its second generation smartwatch with the $249 Pebble Steel Watch, a more fashionable, and expensive version of the original $150 Pebble offering from last year. The watch is being shown at the current CES International trade show in Las Vegas.

The Steel Watch will be available in either a brushed stainless or black matte finish as the company develops a look that would not look garish on an executive. It replaces the plastic cover with Gorilla Glass and comes with both steel and leather straps.

The battery life is good for between 5 and 7 days and it is waterproof to 5 meters. The company has added a tri-colored LED and as with the earlier model will run both the Android and the iOS operating system. Scheduled to ship at the end of the month the move coincides with the launching of the Pebble Appstore, a place where users can easily find apps designed to run on the device.

Pebble, the Kickstarter favorite, wow the market when its funding effort went massively over the amount that the company founders were seeking, something that slightly harmed the company, at least public relations wise, by forcing it deliver the product late because it needed to build significantly more than it had expected in its early run. Not that this is not a problem that most startup companies would kill for.

Pebble was certainly one of the groundbreakers, if not the groundbreaker in the wearable computing technology with mainstream devices that connected a watch with a cell phone to bring data to your wrist. There were already sports specific devices that did some of the same features in areas such as golf and running but none that seemed to serve as a pure extension of your mobile phone.

That started a land rush by larger mobile developers to lay claim to this space as well, with Samsung, Apple, Google, Sony, Dell and others delivering products, planning to or simple becoming part of the rumor mill that they have one in the works.

Samsung, Qualcomm and Sony have already brought out products with the Samsung Gear, Qualcomm Toq and the Sony SmartWatch and I am sure this year we will see a wave of additional devices introduced to the market, much like how the tablet space exploded a few years ago. A number will be simply me-too devices while others will take the time to create truly differentiated offerings.

LG ready to ship high-end G Pad tablet

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The fall tablet rollout continues as LG delivers the details of its LG G Pad 8.3 as the company seeks to establish itself as a contender in the small to midsized tablet space with an offering that should start hitting stores later this month.

The tablet, originally shown at IFA in Berlin last month, has an 8.3-inch display with 1920 x 1200 resolution but LG worked hard to keep the bezel small enough so that the tablet could be easily used in one hand. It is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 1.7GHz quad-core processor.

It features 2GB of RAM as well as 16GB of storage that can be expanded to 64GB via a microSD card It has a 5MP rear facing camera and a 1.3MP front facing camera. It runs on the Android 4.2.2 operating system release.

The company plans to release the tablet in the U.S. in the upcoming weeks according to reports and then follow that up with a European launch. It is expected to be first available next week in Korea but pricing for the U.S. model has not yet been announced.

The release of the G Pad 8.3 puts the company directly in competition with the growing number of developers cashing in on the demand for the smaller than 10-inch tablets with high quality smaller form factor offerings.

One of the top complaints against the 10-inch and larger models is that they are too cumbersome to use with one hand and need steady support for use, something that is not an issue with the smaller models.

Apple’s new iPads are expected later this month, the actual date of introduction is still a point of speculation at this time. Others that have refreshed already include leaders such as Amazon and Google.

Then of course there are lower cost models, usually ones with a lower resolution screen, less storage and fewer other bells and whistles, which does not mean that they have no role in this market, just not in a heads-up competition with the top of the line offerings.

There is also the growing corporate space where much larger storage is seen as a must. It will be interesting to see how the market segment breaks out going forward and if one tablet will suffice to work in all spaces or if it will be broken down by both size and market segment, with different leaders in the differing areas.

Dell targets both consumers and corporate users with latest tablets

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Dell has released a new line of tablets and notebook computers in its new Venue family as the company strives to maintain its position in the market as its behind the scenes buy-out continues to play out to a conclusion.

The company, which is no stranger to the tablet market having had both a Windows RT offering earlier as well as its XPS lineup, delivered four new tablets. Dell is describing its new line as “ultrathin,” with a pair of tablets running the Windows 8 Pro operating system and two of the tablets operating on the Android operating system.

There are two offerings in the Venue Pro series, an 8.1-inch model and an 11-inch tablet, both of which will run the Windows Pro operating system. They both have stylus and keyboard options.

The Dell Venue 8 Pro features a 1280 x 800 display with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage as well as Office 2013 Home & Student as a standard feature. It is powered by the Intel quad core Bay Trail microprocessor.

The Dell Venue 11 Pro features a 1920 x 1080 resolution display. It supports a maximum of 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage along with WiDi and NFC support. It also features a user removable/replaceable battery that can provide 11 hours of usage time and also has a quad core Bay Trail processor from Intel.

The Dell Venue 7 has a 7-inch 1280 x 800 pixel display with 16GBs storage with a microSD slot for additional storage; it is powered by a 2 GHz Intel processor and uses the Android operating system. The other Android model, the Venue 8, has an 8-inch display with the same resolution and processor as the Venue 7, but also comes in a 32GB storage model.

The $149.99 Dell Venue 7, $179.99 Venue 8 and $299.99 Venue 8 Pro will be available Oct. 18 while the $499.99 Venue 11 Pro will be available sometime in November.

I expect that the road to acceptance in the tablet space for Dell will be a bit harder than for other major hardware developers that have name recognition. The company is currently in the process of being taken private and that has to raise a few flags for potential customers, particularly in the enterprise space where the Venue Pro line appears to be targeted.

Friday Grab Bag: March Madness Changes, NBCSN Push

The NFL’s Pro Bowl, seemingly the one property that it has never managed to get fans to watch, is undergoing a major change as the league tries to once again salvage the event, this time by eliminating the traditional AFC vs NFC format.

Instead the league will be take the top two vote getters and make them team captains and they will then select players for their respective teams from the pool of players elected by the fans in a fantasy draft style effort.

Goodbye NBC Sports Network, Hello NBCSN
Branding seems to be all important these days and with the sports network wars heating up prior to the latest entrant of Fox Sports as a national provider and NBC is taken steps to establish its brand, and it looks like the transition is scheduled to be completed by the upcoming Winter Olympics, according to Awful Announcing.

If you are familiar with the NBC Sports Network moniker, wave goodbye as the network has been slowly phasing it out and replacing it with its initials, NBCSN.

Dell is looking to computer on a stick to help reverse its fortunes
Dell has an internal development effort code-named “Project Ophelia” that according to reports is basically a computer that runs the Android operating system and all of it is in the form of a USB stick, according to a report in Quartz.

The basic premise came from a company called Wyse that Dell acquired a year ago. Ophelia is designed to run a large number of operating systems including Windows, Google’s Chrome, and the Mac operating system in a virtual mode running in the cloud. However the fact that this might kill off Dell’s existing PC business may be an issue.

Tablet shipments head to top of the pack
Maybe Dell is onto something about killing its PC business. NPD DisplaySearch is reporting that shipments of PC tablets are expected to reach 364 million next year, a number that more than doubles the estimated 177 million standard notebook and ultra slim PCs.

The company had previously predicted that tablet sales will overtake notebook sales this year and it now looks like that trend will continue going forward, driven by growth in all regions, particularly emerging markets.

Microsoft’s Surface Tablets have quite a price tag
When Microsoft entered the tablet market there is no doubt that the company had some expectations for the platform, however having it cost the company $900 million, which is the amount that it took in a charge in its latest earnings report for the write down on unsold Surface RT tablets.

The RT was the first model to hit the market and it started shipping them last October. In addition the tablet platform has raised $853 million in revenue, according to its annual report.

NCAA makes alterations to March Madness brackets
The NCAA is seeking o keep teams closer to their true seed level with a number of changes in bracketing rules that will take effect with next year’s tournament, primarily relaxing conference and regular season rematching restrictions, according to Sports Illustrated.

Among the moves will be one that could change how the top three seeds from a conference are bracketed and may now be in the same one, as well as changing how early conference rivals can play, now moving up to the round of 32.

Friday Grab Bag: ESPN’s Open Coverage, Dell Smartwatch?

The Guardian is reporting that Dell could be the latest to throw its hat into the ring with a smartwatch offering. Dell’s global vice president of personal computing told the paper that it was exploring ideas in the wearable computing space.

With Apple, Samsung, Google and just about every major player in consumer electronics and/or computing it is no surprise. The Kickstarter success story Pebble and its smartwatch has to be something that everybody is watching. The company was oversubscribed as it sought funding with $10 million pledged and an exclusive deal with Best Buy with a preorder of 85,000 watches.

ESPN to broadcast The Open Championship
If you are hoping to catch a few rounds of the 142nd Open Championship, golf’s oldest major, you are in luck as ESPN will be broadcasting all four days next week from July 18-21.

The network will be reaching out to fans not only via live television broadcasts and encore presentations but also live radio, and a range of digital offerings for computers, tablets and other mobile devices. It will also be using digital technology to enhance its broadcasts with technologies such as Flight Tracker.

[Editor’s note: You can also follow via The Open’s own app, online at The Open’s website and on social media like twitter. Go to The Open website for all info.]

Microsoft to slash Surface RT prices?
The Verge is reporting that Microsoft will be cutting the price of its entry level 32GB Surface RT tablet down to $350 with the version with the Touch Cover keyboard will be $450 as will the 64GB Surface RT without the cover and $550 with the cover.

The news comes as reports are also emerging that the company has an additional two more Surface tablets on the drawing board that it will release sometime in 2014. ZDNet reported that a recently seen Microsoft roadmap includes the tablets as well as a host of additional offerings from the company ranging from an Windows Office App Store to enhanced Skype support.

Apple Store hits 5th Anniversary
The Apple App Store, now no longer a pawn in a patent battle, also had other news this week as it celebrated its 5th year in business providing apps and tools, initially for the iPhone but now also includes apps for the iPad as well.

The success for the store can be seen in the fact that the number of apps it offers has grown from 500 at birth to approximately 900,000 now. There has been over 50 billion app downloads in the five years.

Google updates maps app
Most people I know use Google Maps on a regular basis and they will be happy to hear that not only has the company updated the program but made it faster as well, a common complaint. The company has made the Android updates available now with iPhone and iPad updates coming soon.

It has navigation features that include warnings for bad conditio0ns on a trip including accidents, offline map saving and better exploration features according to an early review in The New York Times.

Apple Enters the 7-inch Space With iPad Mini

The suspense has been gone for some time but now that Apple has officially taken the wraps off of its latest member of the iPad family, the 7-inch iPad Mini we can actually look at the details and see how it compares to its rivals in this space.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook officially unveiled the latest at an event held in San Jose, Calif. today, seven months after its last iPad release. Apple’s iPad Mini is 53% lighter than the last generation iPad at 0.68 pounds, and has a 7.9-inch Retina screen with a 1,024 x 768 resolution, the same resolution as the iPad . Apple said that since the displays are the same resolution there should be no issue using existing iPad apps on the newest tablet. It features a 5MP backward facing camera and is capable of connecting to a 4G LTE network.

The iPad Mini starts at $329 for a 16GB version, $429 for the 32GB model and $529 for the 64GB model and Apple will start taking orders for the tablet on Friday and said that it expects to ship the Wi-Fi version at the end of next week with the cellular version to ship two weeks later.

Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller said that the iPad Mini’s rivals in the 7-inch space were failures. Well Apple will have the chance now to show that it is better since its two top rivals, Amazon and Google, sell their 7-inch tablets at cost with the Google Nexus 7 starting at $199 and the Amazon Kindle at $159, both significantly lower than what Apple is selling the iPad Mini for.

There is no doubt that the company has had tremendous success with the larger iPads since its debut, with over 100 million sold and a dominating, almost 70% market share so far. This might be why Apple had been originally disparaging of the 7-inch market but the success first of Amazon’s Kindle tablet followed closely by Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Google’s Nexus 7 have shown that there was a large demand out there for smaller devices.

Tablet market no longer just Apple vs. Android
It should be noted that while Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Google have been getting all of the press for their popular 7-inch offerings, more are expected from additional companies, starting with Acer’s announcement of its Iconia A110. The 7-inch tablet is approximately $30 less than the Nexus 7 at $230 and will have a 1024 x 600 resolution display, but this is another Android-based system.

However the Windows 8 revolution is about to hit us as Microsoft seeks to establish itself as a major player not only in the tablet operating space with its Windows 8 operating system but also as a provider of hardware with its Surface tablets, all of which will be unveiled this week.

Plenty of the Windows 8 hardware OEMs such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Asus and Lenovo have already taken the wraps off of their devices in advance of the official unveiling and Intel has talked about the features that t will bring to the space with its technology and processors. However, so far none of the OEMs, that I am aware of, have talked about 7-inch tablets, although Samsung has offered one in the past. I suspect that just like Apple they will be visiting the space, and soon.

It would not be an Apple event if there was just one center of attention. The company announced a new 13-inch MacBook Pro that features its retina display technology, a notebook that weights in almost a pound lighter and 20% thinner than previous versions. Currently available it has a $1,699 starting price tag. Then there is a Mac Mini at $599 and a new iMac with up to a 27-inch display and an interesting new hard drive/flash combo starting at $1299 for the version with a 21.5-inch display.