GEARbits clients should be receiving their 2016 mid-year analysis reports very shortly. 

Thank you again.
- Craig

When Amazon introduced its first consumer search robot, the Echo (pictured), I jumped at the chance to get on the waiting list for one. I was really excited about having a persistent search presence in my house. I use voice search a lot on my Android device, so not having to get my phone out (or go find it) first was attractive.

The $99 (intro price; now is $199) device is meant to sit in your home listening for a wake-up phrase, at which point it will respond in some useful way. Here's Amazon's introductory video:

It arrived yesterday and I got a chance to run it through some voice search tests. The results were a little mixed. Sometimes it wouldn't understand what I was asking, whereas other times I thought the answer it returned was just a bit off. This may be no surprise once you realize that Echo relies on Microsoft Bing for its Web search results. 

o, I decided to compare the results returned by Echo with what my stock Nexus 5 Android smartphone (using Google Voice Search, of course) provided. Here's a video of that process (apologies for it being in portrait), with a table of the results below.

SearchAmazon EchoGoogle Search
What does ABS stand for?"ABS is an abbreviation of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and anti-lock braking system.""ABS stands for Antilock Braking System. When you press on the brake urgently, the ABS applies and releases the brakes hundreds of times a minute. That helps keep the brake from locking up the wheels and sending you into a skid. It helps you keep control and stop in the shortest distance under most conditions."
"What's a wampa?""Hmm. I can't find an answer to the question I heard."[brings up Wookiepedia entry for "Wampa"]
Also, see discussion below.
What was yesterday's closing share price for Tesla Motors stock?
"Sorry, I couldn't find the answer to the question I heard.""Tesla Motors closed down 0.08% yesterday at 218 dollars and 43 cents."
What is the nearest galaxy?"The nearest galaxy is Milky Way.""According to Hubblesite Reference Desk FAQs, the nearest spiral-arm galaxy is Andromeda, a galaxy much like our own, the Milky Way. It is 2.2 million light years away from us. Andromeda..."
What is the [pause] fear of the number 13?"Sorry, I didn't understand the question I heard." (It stopped listening during the pause)"According to Wikipedia, triskaidekaphobia is fear of the number 13 and avoidance to use it; it is a superstition and related to the specific fear of the 13th person at the Last Supper."
How many calories are in a hard-boiled egg?
"Sorry, I don't know the answer.""78 calories in one large."
What is tomorrow's weather?"Tomorrow, in Cincinnati, you'll see intermittent clouds and can expect a high of 62 and a low of 35.""Tomorrow's forecast for Cincinnati is 62 degrees and partly cloudy."

After the video was shot, I wondered if my phrasing on question 2 threw off the Echo. So, I went back and re-asked the question this way: "What is a wampa?" The Echo's response is on the left (captured from the Echo app) and the Google Search result is on the right (unlike in the video, it actually read aloud the text shown in quotes).


No, Echo, I didn't say "the wall," I said "a wampa." Yeesh. And I was standing right next to it in a quiet room.

Clearly, Google and Android outperformed the black cylinder. Google's Hermione Granger-esque insistence upon answering every question thrown at it is simply impressive. While seven questions isn't a scientifically rigorous number of tests, I can say that I fully suspect Amazon's Bing-powered Echo will continue to provide sub-par results.

Considering this difference in voice search performance, if you then add all of Google Now's voice-powered functionality (e.g., adding events to calendars and creating voice notes with alarms), it seems that Google's competition has a long, long way to go to catch up.

Also, it makes me realize how very much I want a persistent, whole-house Google Now system so I can initiate searches, add items to my to-do list, and interact with the entire Google ecosystem without having to fumble for my phone. Or maybe a watch can do all that...but not yet.
I started a collection of comics (I guess you can call them that) that I've made over the past few years at a new site:

Where does the #drawninpowerpoint hashtag/name come from? Well, first, and most obviously, I actually do "draw" everything using Powerpoint. No, it's not a great drawing tool, but it's good enough, it's on every PC I own, and I know how to use it. And my standards are low. And second, the thrill of living day-to-day, constantly wondering when the cease-and-desist letter will come from Microsoft's lawyers is just hard to pass up.

So, go check it out. If it's not funny, at least it won't take up much of your time.

I bought a new car that is substantially wider than my old car and I end up having to park close enough to our garage wall, which is concrete, for the doors to swing open and hit it, especially the back where the kids sit. And they’re rarely all that careful when exiting or entering the vehicle.

So, I decided to put up some protective padding. I wanted something squishy but sturdy, and not so thick as to be in the way when walking between the wall and the car.

I bought 4 linear feet of this Apache Mills anti-fatigue mat at Lowe’s:

I cut three pieces out of it: 24” x 12” (2 pieces) and 48” x 12” (1 piece)

I marked on the wall with chalk where they needed to be to line up with the doors’ contact points. I did this with the car pulled in both frontward and backward (just in case). Also, since the wall is concrete, and I don’t like putting holes in concrete when I can avoid it, I glued them on using LOCTITE PL Premium Construction Adhesive:

I just criss-crossed the glue bead across the back (solid surface) of the mat pieces and pressed it up against the wall. Holding it there for 5 minutes left it retained in place. Pro tip: Do not skimp on the glue as it’s difficult to hold the mat steady against the wall to prevent it from sliding down while the adhesive is setting and curing if enough isn’t used.

Here’s how it turned out:

You can see in that last photo that it’s not very thick. But, because it’s closed-cell foam and pretty dense, it stops the door firmly but gently.

Finding the mat at Lowe’s was the hardest part. Total cost for everything was ~$20, which is cheaper than those ready-made garage door pads they sell, and I think this mat material works better. And the gray is very neutral, especially against concrete.

Anyway, I’m pretty happy with it.

Three trends seem prevalent in consumer electronics today:

1) Greater integration with the Internet and social media - Pieces of consumer electronics that do not talk to the Internet are getting more and more rare. Submitting to the user's choice of social media is also an increasingly popular function.

2) More sensitivity to older users (in some ways) - Older users, such as Boomers, are a larger and larger portion of the CE-buying population, so paying attention to them for usability and use cases makes a lot of sense. But, many devices are still quite difficult to set up and troubleshoot for anyone who isn't facile with networking and other technical concepts.

3) Less emphasis on durability - As the pace of CE replacement increases, companies are finding it less worthwhile to make their devices last a long time. Simultaneously, mobile devices are often evaluated on weight, and lightweight materials can often be less durable.

These three trends will continue to morph as the CE industry adapts to changes in the technological infrastructure and demographics in the marketplace.
In a democracy, every citizen has some influence over what the government does. That influence does not require wealth or position; it is bestowed simply by virtue of one's ability to vote and speak up.

In a publicly traded corporation, however, the only influence an individual who is not employed by the corporation can have is by owning shares in that company, and that cannot be done without wealth. And, even worse, one's influence increases with one's wealth. In a world where wealth is not evenly distributed, influence is concentrated in the hands of the wealthiest minority. That is called a plutocracy. 

These issues of limited public influence are even greater when it comes to private companies, as the public (who are not employees) may have effectively NO influence over the corporation at all. There is no opportunity to direct the company to stop doing things that harm society.

Some may argue that the public has influence via the market. If a company behaves badly, punish it by not buying its products or services. If enough people punish it, it will change its ways. The flaw in that thinking is that, once again, one person's influence over that company is directly related to how much money that person has. Wealth = influence, so we are back to a plutocratic state.

So, we turn to the only democratic mechanism we, the public, have to influence industry: laws. As laws are set by the government, and government is influenced by all who can vote, this translates into influence over industry that does not depend on wealth.

This also highlights the need to ensure that money's influence over who gets elected remains small. Once money begins determining who gets elected, and politicians start being accountable to only those with wealth, we arrive back at plutocracy.

If you are in the top 0.1% of wealth-holders in the United States, you already have outsized influence on politics and legislation. If the rest of us have any hope of keeping our preferences and needs reflected in the actions of both government and industry, that tiny minority's influence must not be allowed to continue to grow, lest it supercede all others for perpetuity...or at least until violent revolution occurs. And that is not something anyone should desire.
I ordered a $15 dog toy made of leather and rope from Sundance Catalog. This one (click any screen shots to open full size in a new window):

It arrived. I gave it to our dog to play with. Within 15 minutes, she ate half of it. Over the next 12 hours, she threw up twice, acted generally unhappy, and we ended up taking her to the vet to make sure nothing dangerous was stuck in her stomach or intestines. After 2 days on a restricted diet, all the parts had passed. 

I wasn't very happy that this supposedly "durable" toy took our dog only 15 minutes to destroy. And I wasn't pleased that it seemed to her like food...good dog toys don't give that impression. So, I went on to Sundance Catalog's website and wrote a 1-star review basically saying what I said in the above two paragraphs.

That review was rejected for supposedly violating their review guidelines:

So I checked out their review guidelines:

So, I wrote another review which adhered strictly to these guidelines. Here's the text of that review:

That one was also rejected.

Suspecting that any 1-star review would be rejected, I scoured their website for a good 20 minutes and found not a single review with less than 3 stars out of 5.

So, I'm wondering...which of their guidelines did my reviews actually not follow? Curiously, they've not answered that question. I guess the reason is that it doesn't, but having 1-star reviews might tarnish up their otherwise pretty website.

If companies are going to let customers review products, they should let them do just that. Otherwise, why bother risking negative feedback? Because now that I know what they think of my opinion, I sure won't be buying anything else there.


On July 1, Sprint began offering the Galaxy S III from Samsung. Much has been written about this phone (see list of reviews below), so I'll be focusing on my perceptions of it and try to provide some tips and suggestions for apps and accessories that I've found to work particularly well.


The Samsung Galaxy S III (hereafter, GS III) is dimensionally gigantic, yet thin and light. At 5.38" tall x 2.78" wide x 0.34" thick (136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm) and just 4.69 oz. (133g), it is quite a marvel of engineering. The screen is particularly amazing, with those deep blacks and vibrant colors characteristic of Samsung's 4.8" 720p Super AMOLED screen.

Physically, there's a lot to like, here. First, despite it's overall dimensions, because it's so thin, it slips into (and out of) pockets really easily. The back comes off to access the microSDHC card slot as well as to swap out the massive 2,100 mAh battery. The external speaker is among the loudest I've used, and the earpiece speaker is similarly loud and clear. The camera generates some stellar photographs (more on that below).


For some, the physical home button will be comforting, yet others will wonder why add something that can just break. There's also NFC (near-field communication) hardware onboard, for doing things like Google Wallet and Samsung TecTiles, as well as all the standard wireless and sensor tech.

Inside is a screaming fast Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.5GHz dual-core processor supported by a very generous 2GB of RAM. That's noteworthy because it gives the phone extra headroom to keep apps in memory rather than closing them out and writing their data to flash storage; that improves the overall impression of snappiness, a sensation backed up by benchmarks.


Also helping out on that is that the flash storage onboard (either 16GB or 32GB, depending on model) seems really, really fast. This is especially noteworthy when installing a large app to internal happens much faster than on, say, my Nexus 7 despite the Nexus having a faster, 5-core Tegra 3 processor onboard.

All that's great, but there have to be some trade-offs right? Amazingly, not really. The only minor quibble I can make about the GS III's hardware is that the HDMI output via the USB slot requires a special Samsung adapter to plug into an otherwise standard MHL adapter. The Samsung adapter is cheap, though - I found it online for less than $9 - but it's the principle of the thing...why couldn't they just do standard MHL? Regardless, once you have the adapter, video mirroring works great, as this demo video shows:

Also, the design of the phone is such that when the phone is laying face down on a surface, the sides slope inwards, making it a bit challenging to actually pick up. Finally, Samsung decided to integrate the NFC hardware into the battery, meaning you can't go pick up a cheapie extra battery off eBay if you also want the NFC to keep working. But, all told, those are some amazingly slight complaints compared to all the great tech, here...Samsung has done a stellar job on the GS III's hardware for sure.


Finally, speaking of the battery, I had no problem getting the GS III to last all day on a single charge. When spending most of my time in Wi-Fi environments, I'd often go to bed after 18 hours or so with a third or more of my battery remaining. When spending more time using cellular data (in my case, 3G...see below), the phone would end the day a bit lower. But, I found that I had to have some pretty massive Angry Birds sessions or watch a lot of video for the battery to require charging before I hit the sack. So, I expect most people will find it lasts all day most, if not all, of the time. But, if it doesn't, and there's no charger handy, it's easy to pop in a spare battery. Having options is nice.


Regarding software, well, here's where the GS III becomes a little more of a mixed bag. It comes with Samsung's newest version of TouchWiz, a UI overlay on top of the stock Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich. TouchWiz is designed to be simple, both in terms of use and appearance. I don't personally mind it, but I don't prefer it over, say, HTC's Sense. To be quite honest, Android has gotten to be so mature in its usability (thanks a lot to Matias Duarte) that these manufacturer overlays are becoming less and less necessary. But I digress. TouchWiz is like a have to try it for yourself before you can make a final judgment.


That said, there are a few high points within the TouchWiz environment. First is the camera app, which, when paired with the GS III's very capable 8MP still / 1080p video sensor, makes for truly enjoyable picture- and video-taking experience. And I can honestly say that I've never before thoroughly enjoyed taking pictures with a phone, but the GS III made me nearly giggle with delight at both the camera features it offers (like panorama mode and HDR mode and smileshot mode...all these actually work great!) and the photographs it produced. Here are some examples I took with the GS HDR shot on top and a vertical panorama of three overlapping captures (stitched automatically in the phone) on the bottom (click to open up full-size images):



AllShare Play is a Samsung app that provides both DLNA-like media streaming within a wireless environment and media streaming from a source (e.g., a home server) to the phone across the Internet. It works pretty well, at least within my Wi-Fi network, although there are better apps for that (such as BubbleUPNP) if you don't need the Internet-streaming functionality.

Also, TouchWiz includes Kies Air, which "enables Wi-Fi device-to-device connections and browser-based  management." In short, it lets you manage the files, media, etc. on your phone via a web browser on a PC that's connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the phone is.

While not part of TouchWiz, Samsung and Sprint have made a deal with Dropbox that gives the GS III owner 50GB of free online storage for up to 2 years. That's a pretty sweet deal since that kind of account cost $99 per year until Dropbox upped it to 100GB just recently. And, neither AT&T nor Verizon offer this deal, so Sprint's version of the GS III is just a little bit sweeter in that regard.

No review of the Galaxy S III would be complete without a discussion of S-Voice, Samsung's attempt at replicating Apple's Siri or Google's Voice Search. Summarily, it's not very good. It recognized me only about 40% of the time, often getting tripped up on homophones (e.g., "how much does a Galaxy S 3 weigh?" was interpreted as "how much does a Galaxy S 3 way?" and returned no answer). Here's one where the answer was sort of close, but not correct.


When it did, it gave helpful, relevant information more than half the time. For simple things like weather reports, driving directions, unit conversions, and sports scores, it was generally fine, at least when it understood me ("where is the nearest ice cream parlor" turned into "where is the nearest sixteen curler"). Wolfram Alpha powers the background interpretive search function, but I'm not sure where the transcoding of voice to text is happening...regardless, it needs work to be useful.


You call up S-Voice by double-tapping the home button. Unfortunately, Samsung doesn't give a way to map that double-tap to something else, so you can either use it or just turn it off. However, a free utility called Home2 Shortcut allows you to assign pretty much anything you want to that double-tap action. I assigned the stock Google Search (since the Galaxy S III doesn't have a dedicated search button), which is then a single tap away from Google's much more polished Voice Search feature. And, with Jelly Bean, it's leaps and bounds better than S-Voice, so I hope Samsung just eliminates S-Voice in future updates to this phone and just maps us directly to Google's voice interface.

Sprint has added minimal carrier software to this phone. It included Sprint Zone (an account management and promotions app) and a Sprint Hotspot app (which basically makes setting up the phone's Wi-Fi hotspot functionality a bit easier than within Android's settings). However, Sprint requires the user to pay an extra $29.99 per month for hotspot functionality. They've also included a visual voicemail app for free, which is nice since some other carriers charge extra for that.

As you likely know, Ice Cream Sandwich isn't the latest version of Android. That would be Jelly Bean (4.1). There are rumors that Samsung will be releasing a Jelly Bean update for the GS III within the next month or two, so we can only hope Sprint gets that to its customers sooner rather than later.


In addition to hardware and software, the "third leg" of the smartphone stool is, of course, the cellular carrier that provides it wireless voice and data service. Sprint is the third-largest carrier in the US. Back in late 2008, Sprint hitched its 4G cart to Wi-Max, a wireless standard that differentiated it from all other US carriers. Well, fast-forward to 2012 and that gamble is looking like a poor one, as Sprint is in the process of transitioning over to LTE for its 4G service.

While LTE provides better penetration into buildings and better speeds overall, the downside is that Sprint is just now rolling it out. So, chances are very good that you do not have Sprint 4G LTE service where you live or work, humbling the otherwise impressive Galaxy S III by relegating it to mere 3G (EVDO) speeds.


And Sprint's 3G speeds are not stellar, at least not in my experience. At home, I consistently get below 400 kbps down and well under 1mbps up (see above speed-test). While it's certainly a first-world problem, that's just not very fast when compared to the cellular data speeds we generally expect in urban areas. At work, I fare a little better: between 1mbps and 1.5mbps down, but still under 1mbps up (see below). Combined with the lackluster pings typical of cellular networks, Skype or Google Talk video chats aren't going to be very enjoyable, if even possible, and large downloads should probably wait for Wi-Fi.


Unless you're on a Wi-Fi network, until Sprint's LTE rollout makes it to where you live, realize that the GS III will feel a bit poky when doing anything involving the Internet. And that's a shame, really, because this phone deserves data service to match its blistering performance on everything else it does.

When I alerted my Sprint contact about my 3G data issue, he asked if I would mind including the following statement in my review (I don't mind...they did, after all, loan me this GS III for a month):

"Sprint is taking steps to improve our network experience. Sprint's Network Vision plan is designed to consolidate multiple network technologies into one seamless network with the goal of increasing efficiency and enhancing network coverage, call quality and data speeds for customers. Network Vision is expected to provide improved reliability and coverage for 3G and 4G; improved voice call quality and faster data speeds; better device performance at the same price point; and ensures Sprint can remain a technology leader, giving the customer the service they want, when and where they need it.


Sprint is on track to reach 12,000 cell sites with Network Vision in 2012 and to largely complete the program in 2013. So far, in 2012, we've launched six 4G LTE capable devices that are able to take advantage of the benefits of our Network Vision upgrade in the 15 cities where we've rolled out 4G LTE."

So there you have it. I hope it works out, because the US needs as many high-quality carriers as it can get...even 4 isn't enough, in my opinion, and we certainly don't need to get down to a 2-way battle between AT&T and Verizon.


This is pretty easy, I think. If you're on Sprint, don't want to switch carriers (or can't), and want/need a new phone, there is no way you'll regret getting a Samsung Galaxy S III. This is just about the most tradeoff-free phone I've ever's truly amazing. Just try to be patient until they flip the LTE switch in your city. 

Sprint is asking 2-year-contract prices of $199.99 for the 16GB model (in white or blue....nope, no black or gray for some unknown reason) and $249.99 for the 32GB model. Unsubsidized prices are $549.99 and $599.99, respectively. 


As far as I can tell, the numbers and suits are accurate as of March 1, 2012.

Click for full-sized image
by Craig Froehle

You might call me a "Grammar Nazi,"
But I want to set the record straight;
I am a language vigilante
And I didn't come here to debate.

I'm a walking encyclopedia
Of punctuation and language rules.
If you ever doubt my credentials,
Here's a long list of my former schools.

I have accounts on all the websites.
I intend to point out each misdeed.
Your sentences are abominations
And your spelling makes my eyes bleed.

If you don't want me to hassle you,
Then adopt a better attitude.
Start to love subject-verb agreement
and confusing who with whom is rude.

The art of using semicolons
Is a subtle one, I will admit.
But substituting "your" for "you're"
Is an egregious crime to commit.

And when you confuse which and that
Or mix up adjectives and adverbs.
Please know I speak the truth when I say
I'm not the only one it disturbs.

Oxford commas are not optional.
Don't let anyone tell you they are.
Hyphens and dashes are different;
That you don't know that is just bizarre.

Knowing where commas go near quotations,
Is a sign of a civilized mind.
If I don't yell about your four-dot 
Ellipsis, know I am being kind.

When you see a comment with nothing
But asterisked words and silent rage,
You'll know that I have visited
Your blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.

But realize that my cause is just 
And my goal is nothing too extreme.
I simply want an error-free Web.
Is that too optimistic a dream?

As I've done now for several years, here are a few guesses as to what shall come to pass in the tech industry during 2012. One caveat: my predictions are generally based on observations of the US/North American market, and may not make much sense if considered from the perspective of somewhere else.

1. Patent disputes in the mobile industry will escalate, threatening to tear it apart, and leading to some a significant change in tone, if not actual multi-player agreements, to reduce the risk for all (major) parties. While they could continue this miserable dance of who's-pissing-on-who-in-what-country, I think more rational heads will start to realize that it's really not doing anyone any good...except the corporate lawyers, of course.

2. RIM, maker of the Blackberry and perennial loser of market share, will be approached for acquisition, if not acquired outright. A reasonable scenario, I think, has Apple scooping them up solely for their patent portfolio, if not also their back-end server technology, which would help Apple move further into the corporate back-office (a market they've done little to woo so far).

3. Continuing on the smartphone theme, I think Google's Android will surpass 50% US smartphone market share during 2012 and end the year at around 55%. Apple's iOS will pass 30% of the smartphone market and end 2012 with about 33%. That leaves ~12% for RIM and Microsoft to split, with my prediction putting them each at 5-7%.

4. Google will announce that it's abandoning Chrome OS and consolidating all its OS efforts with Android. Those 527 Chromebooks that were sold instantly become collector's items.

5. Apple will release a crapload of new products in 2012. The iPad 3 will have a Retina display  with 2048 x 1536 resolution (although, technically, that would be only 253 pixels per inch, far less than the iPhone 4's Retina display), a better front-facing camera, and 4G. Apple will also release, or at least announce, an iTV, which will include a camera on the front bezel and everyone will suddenly wonder why TVs haven't had cameras for the past 60 years.

6. I think the new laptop category called "ultrabooks" will expand significantly (from the 3 or 4 models currently available) and sell pretty well. IMO, there's a fairly compelling value proposition in a 12-14" laptop weighing 3 lbs or less with a fast processor, great battery life, and 120+ GB of solid-state storage for under a grand. Intel and the computer OEMs all have vested interest in getting consumers to spend more than the $400 they've become accustomed to, and a lot of people seem to be tired of buying 15.6" behemoths with miserable specs and battery life that's measured in minutes.

7. The number of tech IPOs will jump dramatically in 2012. There's been a big backlog, with only a few brave souls venturing forth recently (e.g., Zillow, Groupon, and Zynga). In 2012, I expect we'll see Facebook, Yelp go public, and maybe even Evernote and Twitter. The improving economy will make it hard to resist some instant wealth for these privately held firms.

8. Sprint will abandon its unlimited cellular data policy and go with a tiered pricing structure like every other major US carrier. The public's reaction will be swift and ugly, but ultimately ineffective at making Sprint regret the change. Moreover, Sprint will continue to turn on its nascent LTE network, making it increasingly hard to sell WiMax 4G phones to its customers. 2012 will not be a good year for the yellow swoosh.

9. Microsoft will release Windows 8 to a shocked and confused public, who will mill around the OS aimlessly looking for a Start button. Ballmer will try to convince everyone that it's better while simultaneously telling us how to make Windows 8 look like Windows 7. With Windows Phone not taking off, increasing competition for Office from web apps, the brightest spots for Microsoft will be Exchange, Xbox, and licensing revenue from Android device OEMs. Windows 8's launch will be far less successful than Windows 7's was, despite being available for a wider variety of hardware platforms.

10. In 2012, the major manufacturers of family cars will continue to struggle with the public's perception of electric cars. While additional cars will come out, none will sell terribly well. The only exception will be the Tesla Model S, which will start arriving in customers' driveways and help quite a bit in convincing America that an electric car isn't really as bizarre and scary as it thought. Tesla will be approached as an acquisition target by a large international automobile manufacturer. 

Check back in about 365 days to see whether or not any of these predictions came true, mostly true, or not even close. Until then, have a great 2012!
Since 5 years in a row makes a tradition in my book, it's now once again time to revisit my predictions for 2011, and see how they panned out...or not.

1. The Apple iPad 2 (or whatever it's called) will be available with a front-facing camera and 4G (LTE), but will have the same screen resolution as the iPad.  We should know about April.

Mostly right: Yes on the FF camera (albeit an incredibly low-resolution one) and yes on the same resolution as the original iPad, but no 4G LTE. Heck, not even the iPhone 4S has LTE. C'mon, Apple...what's the problem? Afraid of battery life complaints?

2. Nintendo will launch a new Wii console with HD output, DVD playback, and a Kinect-like video camera accessory.  I think the first two are a lock, but the third part of that is more wish than expectation.

Again, mostly right. Nintendo launched a new console, the Wii U, and it does have HD output (although the multi-function controller, which includes a screen, is the main differentiator). But, like it's predecessor, it still won't play DVDs or Blu-Ray. Why, Nintendo, why??? The Wii U will be available early in 2012.

3. At least one of the smartphone platforms (iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, WP7, MeeGo, webOS, Bada) will go away for good.  My money is on Bada.

This was perhaps my most cynical prediction and I wasn't really that confident in it. But, amazingly, we saw not one, not two, but three smartphone platforms become abandonware in 2011. MeeGo was killed off when the Linux Foundation decided to move whole-hog towards Tizen, an HTML5-based OS. Nokia abandoned Symbian when it was clear there was no hope of it gaining traction in the smartphone space. We'll see if their cozying up to Microsoft and Windows Phone will prove to be a smart move. Finally, HP did, then didn't, then finally did open the cage and let webOS into the wilds of open sourcedom, likely to never see another smartphone installation again. So sad. Ironically, Bada is still going strong at Samsung, amazingly selling over 10 million Bada handsets in 2011. To whom, exactly, I'm not quite sure.

4. 3D will continue to grow, but not substantially and will mostly be relegated to gaming and in-theater movie experiences.

Perhaps I was a bit too US-centric in this prediction. According to NPD DisplaySearch, while 3D TV sales were so low that 3D actually lost ground in the US, it has grown in popularity in Europe and China. Given Sony's recent entry into 3D gaming TVs and systems for the home, it seems pretty clear that, at least in North America, gaming and theater experiences are the only things keeping 3D in people's minds. Whether or not the rest of the world knows something we don't, or soon follows suit, is yet to be determined.

5. More Android tablets/slates will be sold in 2011 than iOS tablets/slates.  That assumes, of course, that the tsunami of Android slates we should see at CES results in products you can actually buy.

Ha ha ha...not even close. All the estimates I've seen have iPads outselling all Android tablets by multiples in 2011. It's not clear to me why that is, especially now that Android phones are outselling iPhones by almost a 2:1 margin. That said, given the new Kindle Fire, Nook Color, and some other rather serious tablets running Android (e.g., the Asus Transformer Prime), and rumors that Google itself might release a Nexus tablet in 2012, this coming year might see that gap close somewhat.

6. At least one of the DSLR manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax/Samsung, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma) will cease producing DSLRs and/or be acquired by another company.  My guess is Sigma, as I really have no idea how they can afford to put out mediocre (read "poorly selling") DSLR after mediocre DSLR.

Yes, but it wasn't Sigma (I still have no idea how they generate revenue). Pentax was purchased by Ricoh, who wants to get into the digital camera biz in a big way. Sony, Canon, and Nikon continue to dominate the DSLR market, with Olympus (who might not be around in a year), Panasonic, and others trying to carve out share in the Micro-Four-Thirds market.

7. By the end of 2011, Windows Phone will have the third largest app catalog (behind iOS & Android).  That shouldn't be too much of a stretch, as its growth curve means it'll surpass Blackberry's 15,000 apps or so in a few months.

Yep. Apple still has the largest, with Android catching up quickly, and Windows Phone a very distant third. Although, if Nokia can execute on hardware and marketing as it has in the past, and Microsoft can continue to spend those Android licensing revenues on writing solid updates for Windows Phone, Redmond might just crack the top 3 smartphone platforms sooner than you think. RIM certainly isn't doing anything to stop them.

8. Google will struggle to establish content licensing agreements for Google TV, ending 2011 with a still-lackluster platform.  Unless Google is willing to toss a bunch of cash at the networks, that isn't going to win this on charm alone.

I'm not sure I could've nailed this more accurately. By any definition, Google TV was a huge disappointment for Google (not to mention Logitech) in 2011. Licensing problems kept certain content from being available, and platform software issues kept the user experience from wowing anybody. Better luck with the reboot, Goog.

9. Facebook will become the 2nd largest (most trafficked) website in the world (overtaking  Heck...maybe the largest.  A reminder that being successful doesn't mean doing anything to significantly improve the human condition.

If you look at these numbers, Facebook is indeed at #2, well behind Google and just in front of Yahoo! and MSN. However, if you add Google and YouTube together, as well as and its MSN/Live properties together, Microsoft is still #2. But, the single-site statistics suggest that Facebook is a quickly growing superpower regardless.

10. Twitter will be acquired by another company. Fingers crossed they aren't evil.

Nope. Honestly, I had hoped that Google would buy Twitter, make it a stable platform, and integrate it into its other properties and services. Instead, Google did something I didn't think they were capable of:  making a robust, vibrant, and successful social media platform from scratch. Google+ grew faster than anyone imagined and is well on its way to being the quickest to 100 million members of any online service anywhere. I can just hear Larry and Sergey asking, "Who needs Twitter?"

So, 8-ish out of 10 were mostly least incompetent job so far. Anyway, I'll be posting my predictions for 2012 tomorrow, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, here are GearBits' previous years' predictions and results:
2004:Predictions, No Results
2006:Predictions, Results
2007:Predictions, Results
2008:Predictions, Results
2009:Predictions, Results
2010:Predictions, Results


So you think Google+ is dying, eh? Your stream seems to be drying up or decaying into a mundane trickle of banality. Well, I'm sorry to say this, but it's probably not Google+, it's you. You may be doing it wrong.

I'm no "SEO expert" or social media guru, but if you want Google+ to be a dynamic, inspiring, fascinating river of content and ideas for you, I suggest doing four things:

1)      Understand yourself. Without a good understanding and appreciation of what you're passionate about, you'll meander among seemingly random posts, never finding that group of people who will light up G+ like a Christmas tree for you. If you can identify those topics that you most enjoy discussing, it will help you to find others who share that passion much more quickly and effectively. And those people are the point of social media platforms like Google+.

2)      Engage. Now, you need to engage those people in a meaningful way. If you can start to do that, the conversations you'll begin having will make it easier to find even more people who can provide content of value to you. Engagement is more than punching the +1 button on the occasional pretty photo or commenting "Nice!" on a useful infographic. Engagement is also more than just making a lot of posts. Meaningful engagement means making substantive comments and interacting with others to enhance the intellectual value of a post -- or even over a series of posts --  whether it's yours or someone else's. In a nutshell, engagement requires conversation...there's no avoiding that.

3)      Post publicly. This is a potentially confusing recommendation for some people, as they've come to believe that circles on G+ are meant to restrict the audience for your outgoing content. In some (rare) cases, that's true, such as when you want to keep a post private and give access to a small number of other people (e.g., close friends, family members, or a spouse). Personally, I use circles to limit the audience when I post photos of my kids, as I'd rather those not go floating about the Internet. But for more general content, restricting the audience hurts your ability to engage. For example, if you're posting a link to an interesting article about a new camera that's coming out, limiting that to being visible only to your Photography circle is a mistake. One reason is that you just can't be sure who is going to be interested in seeing that, and by restricting who gets to, you remove the possibility of serendipity. That guy who you circled because of his fascinating posts about cooking just might be looking for a new camera. Not letting him see that is actually a disservice. After all, if he's not looking for one, ignoring your post is as easy as, well, doing nothing. A better use for circles on G+ is for focusing your incoming content into sub-streams that are more homogeneous, which might make it easier to read if you're not bouncing around lots of different topics from incoming post to incoming post. Or, using circles to quickly catch up on what close friends and family are doing, whose posts might get lost in the torrent of those high-volume political activists you're following, is incredibly easy. So, use circles mostly just for two purposes: (a) restricting access to outgoing posts for privacy (not relevance) reasons, and (b) focusing/filtering your incoming content for easier reading.

4)      Be consistent. Unless you're famous, it can be challenging to develop a social media community that you're comfortable engaging and sharing your online existence. It's going to be doubly difficult if you only pop in once or twice a week for a little while. While you may only be following a few (dozen/hundred) people, many of those who you want to see your original thoughts, reshared posts, or external links follow lots of people. As a result, your post might just be another drop in their otherwise fast-moving stream. I've not seen too many people satisfied with the quality of their G+ experiences who don't interact at least several times a week, if not daily. It doesn't need to be obsessive, but consistent attention matters a lot. Assuming you are making posts and comments people enjoy, the more frequently people see you (or, more accurately, your avatar), the more they'll start to value your presence in their stream and the more they'll engage you back. If you only appear once every blue moon, you'll never develop enough social persistence to become an indispensable thread in their online social fabric.

To sum up, I've found Google+ to be a rich, dynamic, and rewarding social network. But, to make the most of it, you'll need to do some introspection and understand what floats your boat; meaningfully engage those with similar passions; post publicly as much of your content as can be safely shared; and do all that regularly. If you do, I think you'll find Google+ quickly becoming a cherished part of your online, social experience.

All Done
For her birthday, my daughter received a grow-you-own-crystals kit: the Creativity For Kids Growing Crystals Undersea World by Faber-Castell. When we decided to break open the box and I read that the crystals grow over several hours, I realized that a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old were not going to have much patience to "watch" that.

So, I decided I wanted to create a time-lapse movie of the crystals growing, so the kids could enjoy at least that later on.  

To do that, I took a Motorola DROID Razr, on loan from Verizon, and installed this Time-Lapse video recording app by [Android Market link]. I've used it before and it produces good results.

I then built a simple fixture from LEGO blocks to hold the phone at the right angle and elevation.

Not shown is a lamp I placed to illuminate the crystal kit. As this was going to happen over a 12-hour period, and light conditions in our kitchen were going to change a lot (from before noon to almost midnight), a constant light source was needed.

Not shown is assembly of the kit, which contains three pieces of cardboard treated with some  chemical (I wasn't able to find out exactly what kind of crystals these are) that you then treat with a saline brine. The crystals start appearing within an hour after you do that.

If anyone knows what chemical reaction is involved here, please let me know.

So, here's the video:

Below are some close-ups of some of the prettier crystal growths.
Then, to top things off, we pulled out the microscope and looked at some of the crystals. Here are some at around 150X. Pretty cool.

As the stuff isn't toxic (unlike some of the older kits that use really nasty stuff that can etch granite and ruin just about any surface it gets on), it's not a bad way to spend an hour for kids (or grown-ups) interested in science.