All posts by Juan Carlos Bagnell

Juan has been obsessed with consumer electronics since before computers had GUI’s. Out of college he worked on a JIT computing contract which supported DOE facilities in New Mexico. He’s been featured on numerous podcasts and radio shows lending his tech insights. You can also find him in LA directing voice over actors and producing spoken word recording.

Steam Unveils radical new Game Controller design for Steam Machine and OS

steam controller game pad steamos somegadgetguyHow crazy does this thing look?

Unveiled today, this is one of the major announcements coming our of Steam as they make a push to compete in the living room arena currently occupied by game consoles. Following the reveal on SteamOS and Steam Machine program, now we know how you’ll control and interact with your games from the couch.

This owl-like pad features two clickable high-resolution touch sensors in lieu of traditional analog joysticks. Traditional triggers and buttons flank the sensors, and new haptic feedback sensors should improve upon the current force rumble we’re used to today. Valve claims that this setup should be more sensitive and accurate than current controller tech, and should close some of the gap between controller gamers and the advantage that Mouse+Keyboard gamers enjoy.

A screen in the middle of the controller feeds info to the player, and the entire surface is one large button. Instead of a touchscreen which could be accidentally brushed by the player, to engage with single functions, the entire surface requires enough force to click it.

Lastly, Valve is touting a high degree of compatibility and  hackability. It’s currently compatible with any version of Steam, and will obviously work with SteamOS and Steam Machine products released in the future. A new set of APIs will be made available to developers once the controller leaves BETA. Plus Valve will make select tools available to consumers allowing them to participate in hardware hacking and design.

The design is already proving somewhat controversial in discussion online. I’ll be curious to try it out as I feel dual analog sticks slow me down (WASD FOR LYFE!), so if Valve as found the trick to smooth out that experience then sign me up!

(via Steam)

Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine buy Beats Audio back from HTC

dr dre jimmy iovine billboard beats audio

What we do know, is Dr. Dre and Mr. Iovine are looking to seriously expand the reach of the Beats brand to include more pro gear, speaker systems, in-car audio, and more consumer electronics. Maybe we could see Beats branding on other phones, tablets, and tech like we did back during their HP partnership.

What we don’t know, is why the pair of producers parted ways with HTC. We can speculate that the Beats brand is becoming a vanguard for a new crop of consumer designer audio, developing consumer mind share that rivals companies like Bose. Unfortunately HTC hasn’t been able to boost its own image in the world of smartphones. While delivering critically acclaimed handsets, they still haven’t cracked the consumer nut yet, with sales of their flagship and mid-range phone lagging.

HTC announced the sale should be finished by end of year, and that Beats will still be a valued partner, but we don’t know what this new relationship will resemble. While Beats is a popular brand, HTC has partnered with other audio companies in the past, like Dolby for the HTC Surround.

(via NASDAQ.com, pic via Billboard)

Google celebrates 15th Birthday with Piñata Doodle game and new Hummingbird Search Algorithm

google 15 birthday doodle pinata search hummingbirdHappy Birthday Google! Why didn’t I get a B-Day reminder on G+?

The present to open is an entirely new Search algorithm dubbed “Hummingbird”. This is a complete departure from their previous search updates. Instead of focusing on keywords and meta-data, the things SEO gurus always push, Hummingbird is Google’s first attempt at semantic search. Good SEO will still matter, but good content will matter more.

It’s an ambitious undertaking as computers aren’t always great at judging what we mean by what we say, but ranking content by what its made up of, instead of its keywords, should mean that organic search terms should provide more meaningful results. Users should get better hits now simply by asking the questions they would ask other people. Real live humans don’t like having to parse terms. Now typing “Where can I find the best pie in San Francisco?” should get us closer to eating good pie than before where keywords would’ve been pulled out of that query.  Hopefully in execution it should start to resemble the way IBM’s Watson is able to make meaningful responses to conversationally asked questions.

Get the full scoop at Inside Search, or hit up Google.com to try it out, and while you’re there play the Piñata Doodle Game! BIRTHDAY!

New York State converts “Rest Areas” into “Texting Zones” – #ItCanWait

bbabf52b-0b5a-40ae-b99f-1bac04c00162_9898528395_03f2fc134a_oIt’s nothing more than a change of branding, but it helps get the word out.

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that the state will be placing some 300 signs on highways and roads directing motorists to “Texting Zones”. These 91 zones around the state are already established Rest Areas, where drivers have pulled over for years now. For those who might not have considered the possibility, any place you can pull over and stretch your legs, would also make for a good spot to use your smartphone.

Even though New York has laws on the books against texting while driving, the state saw a 365 percent increase in citations this year over the same period of time in 2012. Making something illegal isn’t always enough to get someone to change their behavior. We have to make a behavior socially unacceptable, and New York’s Texting Zones should help raise a little awareness.

People don’t seem to be impressed by the statistics regarding distracted driving, and we here in LA see some despicable behavior during our commutes, so the more we can do to curb this behavior the better.

(via Elizabeth Harris on FB, via Yahoo)

Do we need mid-range phones anymore?

WP_20130728_004

Nailing pricing in the mobile industry is a delicate and necessary balance. We accept $50 tiers separating the highest of high-end premier phones all the way down to the cheapest off contract entry level affair. Where a phone lands on that spectrum can make or break a device. Premier phones typically make sense. You put the most cutting edge gear into a slab and we expect it’ll be around $200 on a two year contract. Ditto the low end, slide in well known low power hardware and a price between $100 and $200 off contract can be compelling. The mid-range is a lot trickier. Which leads me to wonder, do we even need mid-range phones anymore?

It’s around that $100 on contract price point we start really running into issues. Purpose building a phone for that price point is becoming an increasingly dicey proposition. Manufacturers can still make a nice device at that price, usually with very few compromises, but you still need to ask your consumers to accept a “lower end” experience while paying more than the entry level kit. Often those compromises involve less storage, lower resolution screens, and reduced processing power. All those things which make using a phone nicer.

htc one mini synthetic benchmarks somegadgetguy video reviewAlso there’s a certain cachet to using a premier phone. Geek is chic. It’s fashionable, and we recognize the difference between Galaxies and iPhones like we do the difference Audi and BMW.

Outside those image concerns, we also have a timing problem. Tech devalues fast. If you need to exist at the bleeding edge, you pay a tax not unlike buying a new car. If you can wait a month or three, what was once a premier expensive handset can usually be purchased at a mid-range price. For example, at $100 on a two year contract you can get a perfectly acceptable HTC One Mini. Not a bad buy by any means. I’m really enjoying it. However, for that same $100 on contract you could also get an LG Optimus G Pro phablet. I just sat through a commercial offering a promotional deal for the Galaxy S4 for the same price too. Is the HTC One Mini as “good” as the GS4? Probably not.

We also see around a two year lifespan for phones. Apple popularized this with the iPhone. When a new iPhone is released the current iPhone drops in price. At carriers you can often find phones like the Galaxy S3 still kicking around. The GS3 still gives phones like the HTC One Mini a run for its money in terms of specs and it’ll carry more of that fashion statement. To continue a bad metaphor, people will be more impressed by last year’s Lexus than this year’s Toyota.

iPhone5c_34L_AllColors_PRINTLastly, manufacturers could save a little money by purposely pushing older premier phones into the mid-range. Releasing a phone comes with its own unique design, quality assurance, and support issues. Bug fixes, software updates, warranty issues, a company goes through that once for their top of the line gear, then they could purposely ride that investment for several years after. It would also be a boon to third party accessory manufacturers, knowing that their R&D will have a longer tail to recoup. That can only improve a company’s ecosystem when customers know they can count on accessories, replacement parts, and service for a while after they purchase, even if they purchase late.

I’m usually the first person to celebrate more choices and options, but right now we’re in an era where even successful companies are trying to manage consumer and stock holder expectations against risk. Unless I’m missing something glaring (and please point it out in a comment if I am) releasing a phone into the mid-range seems like the riskiest move a company can make…

Amazon heats up the Tablet Market with Kindle Fire HDX

Kindle Fire HDX Family (Photo: Business Wire)Tablets are hot right now. Google just ramped up the 7″ market with the New Nexus 7, offering up one of the most powerful small form factor slates at a market disrupting price. The only game in town right now for that kind of price competition is Amazon, and they’re not sitting idly by.

Dropping the bomb quietly tonight, Amazon took the wraps off their refreshed Kindle Fires. The new HDX line of 7″ and 8.9″ tablets now feature higher resolution screens and faster processors. Featuring a completely redesigned chassis built out of magnesium and a molded glass-nylon alloy, the new tablets have shed a significant amount of weight. The new 8.9″ Kindle weighs in at only 13.2 ounces.

On board now are Qualcomm 800 series CPUs, basically the peak of mobile processing at the moment, and backed up by 2GB of RAM. Storage options now include 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. The 7″ tablet is sporting a 1080p screen while the 8.9″ moves up to a 2560×1600 resolution display. To my knowledge, that’s the smallest screen yet to feature that high a resolution, handily topping the iPad’s Retina screen for pixel density.

feature-accessory._V355642688_Amazon is claiming 12 hours of run time, and there are 4G LTE versions for AT&T and Verizon. Pricing is super competitive. The 7″ Fire HDX starts at $229 and the 8.9″ starts at $379. The older Kindle Fire will remain as a low cost option starting at $139 for the 7″ and $269 for the 8.9″.

Also on tap is a new “Origami” case which looks pretty spiffy.

Pretty exciting stuff for the Kindle ecosystem.

Full press release (and a few more pics) after the jump, or you could just head directly to Amazon and push the button on a pre-order.

Continue reading Amazon heats up the Tablet Market with Kindle Fire HDX

My Morning Commute – Woman watches video on tablet while driving

WP_20130924_08_53_17_Pro__highresWe have to be better than this people.

We all get comedically outraged when we see bad tech behavior from people operating motor vehicles, when we recount those stories at dinner parties. However, there’s something sickeningly shocking about actually confronting this behavior head on. Out in the wild. Actually on the street. That momentary, icy chill when you realize that someone values their video watching more than the lives of all the people around them on the road.

Distracted driving has become one of my causes. It’s already illegal to use tech in this manner, but that doesn’t seem to act as much of a deterrent, and over 100,000 crashes a year involve technology. We need to do a better job of making it unfashionable. We need to make it as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving. We can be responsible tech citizens.

Moments after I took this photo, I honked my horn to see if I could snap her out of it. She didn’t even flinch before she turned to merge on I-405.

And yes, the irony of me using my phone to snap this pic isn’t lost on me.

For more info on the dangers of distracted driving, I would humbly ask you check out www.ItCanWait.com, please share the free documentary From One Second to the Next (directed by Werner Herzog), and you can also check out a recent event held here in LA to encourage people to sign the pledge to curb distracted driving.

PSA: Surface 2 Pre-Orders are now GO!

LB_8705Announced yesterday, Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 are refreshed versions of Microsoft’s Tablet and Slate PC experience. Surface Pro 2 crams a full version of Redmond’s newest OS into a device little bigger than an iPad. With improved battery life, faster graphics processing, and new accessories, this could be the premier mobile Windows experience.

Now pre-orders are open for business, and you can lock in your place in line for a Surface Pro or Surface 2. If you’re shopping a new tablet or laptop, you might be able to knock out two birds with one stone. The new Surface docking station might help you knock out that third “desktop” bird too. These tablet hybrids should ship in late October. I’m wearing shades the future is so bright.

Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 Pre-Order page.