Two — no, three — things in life are sure: Death, taxes, and the fact that storage manufacturers will continue to cram ever-more ridiculous quantities of memory into tinier packages.
SanDisk announced a new 32-GB microSDHC card on Monday, effectively doubling the maximum storage capacity of the tiny, less-than-dime-sized memory chips found in many modern smartphones. This is the maximum capacity that the HC-format microSD cards can hold, so any further advances will have to wait until manufacturers start installing microSD-XC slots in their phones.
The advance means it is now possible to swallow an entire 7,000-song iTunes library, or 10 hours of uncompressed HD video, without gagging.
SanDisk says its new card will be available for purchase on its website starting Tuesday, and through retail channels shortly thereafter.
With a retail price of $200 and a weight of just 0.5 grams, you’ll want to be extra-careful with this minuscule memory chip, as it’s worth about 11 times its weight in gold.
To achieve the increased capacity, SanDisk did two things: Switch to a 32-nanometer production process, and stack eight memory chips vertically inside the microSD card.
The first change refers to the size of a typical memory component, which is now around 32nm, or about the same size as the circuits used in Intel’s latest Core i3 and Core i5 chips. Using smaller circuitry enables the company to cram more bits onto a wafer of silicon.
The second change is pure micromechanical engineering. Although a microSD card is only 1mm thick, including the plastic housing, SanDisk’s engineers have managed to squeeze a vertical stack of eight memory chips inside it. Each chip holds 4 GB of data, so altogether the stack holds 32 GB.
“You’re basically talking about an entire jukebox on a flash memory chip the size of your pinkie fingernail,” said SanDisk vice president Eric Bone.
In music, timing is everything. When you’re dancing with an enormous machine, it’s even more important to get the timing correct, down to the microsecond.
For its latest video, released on YouTube Monday night, pop band OK Go recruited a gang of very talented engineers to build a huge, elaborate Rube Goldberg machine whose action perfectly meshes with the band’s song, “This Too Shall Pass,” from the band’s new album, Of the Blue Color of the Sky.
For nearly four minutes — captured in a single, unbroken camera shot — the machine rolls metal balls down tracks, swings sledgehammers, pours water, unfurls flags and drops a flock of umbrellas from the second story, all perfectly synchronized with the song. A few gasp-inducing, grin-producing moments when the machine’s action lines up so perfectly, you can only shake your head in admiration at the creativity and precision of the builders.
Those builders were Syyn Labs, a Los Angeles-based arts and technology collective that has a history of doing surprising, entertaining science and tech projects that involve crowds of people, at a monthly gathering called Mindshare LA.
OK Go developed a reputation for making catchy, viral videos four years ago with the homemade video for “Here It Goes Again,” which features the band members dancing around on treadmills. The company ran afoul of music label EMI’s restrictive licensing rules, which required YouTube to disable embedding, cutting views to 1/10 of their previous level. Now, the new video is up — and it’s embeddable, so the band seems to have won this round with its label — and is already generating buzz on YouTube and on Twitter.
Planning for the video began in November, when Syyn Labs secured a warehouse in the Echo Park area of L.A. But it wasn’t until January that work really got going. The video was shot on Feb. 11 and 12.
“A Rube Goldberg machine is in its essence a trial-and-error thing,” Adam Sadowsky, the president of Syyn Labs, told Wired.
Sadowsky explained how many tiny details needed to be just right for the machine’s timing to work out.
For example, the wooden tracks used to guide metal balls at the beginning of the video had to be cleaned and waxed to keep dust from slowing down the balls and making them stick. And the angle of that board was set at a precise 3.4 degrees of incline, which was perfect for the timing but sometimes led the balls to jump the track.
Given that each of the machine’s dozens of stages need comparably precise adjustments, it all adds up to a lot of labor by a lot of people.
“It took about a month and a half of very intense work, with people on-site all the time,” Sadowsky said.
Sadowsky estimates that 55 to 60 people worked on the project in all. That includes eight “core builders” who did the bulk of the design and building, along with another 12 or so builders who helped part-time. In addition, Syyn Labs recruited 30 or more people to help reset the machine after each run.
Because of the machine’s size and complexity, “We needed to bring in every resource we could to help reset,” said Sadowsky.
Even with all those people helping, resetting the whole machine took close to an hour.
The video was shot by a single Steadicam, but it took more than 60 takes, over the course of two days, to get it right. Many of those takes lasted about 30 seconds, Sadowsky said, getting no further than the spot in the video where the car tire rolls down a ramp.
“The most fiddly stuff, you always want to put that at the front, because you don’t want to be resetting the whole thing.”
OK Go hired Syyn Labs to produce the contraption according to certain specifications. One example: The machine couldn’t use any magic.
“That was really important,” said Sadowsky, “because we are all engineers, and we love magic. We love computers, and servomotors, and fire, and all of that stuff.” All those “magic” tricks — basically anything your mom can’t understand — couldn’t be in the machine.
The band was also heavily involved in the project for the final two weeks of its construction, and the band members are right inside the machine during the video, of course.
“We wanted to make a video where we have essentially a giant machine that we dance with,” said the band’s Damian Kulash, Jr., in a short “making-of” video posted on YouTube.
Otherwise, Synn Labs’ engineers went to town, dreaming up the most outlandish and elaborate mechanisms they could to “dance” along with the music. The results are impressive.
Oh, and OK Go’s treadmill video from last year? It makes a cameo appearance in the machine too.
“It really was a labor of love,” said Sadowsky.
See below for more videos about the making of “This Too Shall Pass.”
A new app invites you to command your iPhone in the same way that Captain Kirk addressed the Enterprise’s computer.
Siri’s visual interface displays a transcription of what you say, then hands the data off to an appropriate web service or search engine.
Siri, an artificial intelligence-based voice-recognition startup, launched an iPhone app incorporating its technology on Friday. With the app running, you can address requests to your phone verbally, asking it things like, “Will it rain today?” or “Where is a good place for pizza nearby?” and “I’d like a table for two at Il Fornaio tomorrow night at 7.” The Siri app parses the sound, interprets the request, and hands it off to an appropriate web service, such as OpenTable, Yelp, CitySearch, and so on. It displays the results onscreen as it goes, giving you a chance to correct or adjust your request via onscreen taps.
It’s the most sophisticated voice recognition to appear on a smartphone yet. While Google’s Nexus One offers voice transcription capabilities — so you can speak to enter text into a web form, for instance — the Nexus One doesn’t actually interpret what you’re saying.
The voice recognition and interpretation abilities built into Siri have their origins in artificial intelligence research at SRI, a legendary Silicon Valley R&D lab that was also the birthplace of the mouse and of the graphical user interface. Spun out of SRI in 2007, Siri garnered a lot of attention for its ambitious plans to develop a virtual personal assistant. Actually bringing the product to market has taken quite a bit longer than expected.
In a demo shown to Wired.com, Siri responded quickly to spoken requests, answering questions about restaurants, directions and the weather with relative ease. It’s well-integrated with about 20 different web information services, and Siri representatives say that their application programming interface will allow many others to connect in the future.
From our initial testing on an iPhone 3GS, the app was zippy and smooth. Siri understood broad requests like “Find Chinese food nearby” and more specific ones like “Find Nearest Chase bank.” Impressive, and much more efficient than searching for businesses in the Yelp iPhone app.
The Siri app is free, and the company says it has no plans to charge end-users; the goal is to make money from referring customers to services via affiliate fees.
Siri is available for download in the iTunes App Store. It requires an iPhone 3GS, because it relies on that phone’s faster processing power, but Siri representatives say a version compatible with the older iPhone 3G is in the works.
Verizon’s MiFi was one of our favorite products of 2009: It takes a 3G wireless data signal and turns it into a Wi-Fi hot spot.
Now Sprint has one-upped Verizon with the Overdrive, which takes a 4G signal and turns it into a Wi-Fi hot spot.
On Sprint’s WiMax-based 4G network, the Overdrive, which is about the size of a drink coaster, will reliably deliver 3 to 4 Mbps of download bandwidth, Sprint executives say, with peak speeds as fast as 10 Mbps. Upload speeds will be slower, but could peak as fast as 4.5 Mbps.
Because the 4G network isn’t available everywhere yet, the Overdrive also works with Sprint’s widely deployed 3G network, which delivers 600 Kbps down and 100 Kbps up, Sprint says.
The router then takes that internet connection and blasts it out as an 802.11b/g signal, with an “extended range” of up to 150 feet. It will support up to five simultaneous device connections.
In demos, the Overdrive router was used to deliver streaming Netflix movies, Skype conversations, and webcam views simultaneously.
Overdrive also contains a GPS receiver (accessible to network applications via a programming interface Sprint provides) and a MicroSD card slot, which can be used to store up to 16 GB of data for local access.
Overdrive will sell for $100 with a 2-year contract at $60 per month for unlimited 4G data downloads, and up to 5 GB of monthly data on the 3G network.
LAS VEGAS — Microsoft detailed plans for XBox 360 enhancements, a new gesture-driven interface for the XBox and a tablet-style Windows PC tonight at a keynote presentation kicking off the Consumer Electronics Show here.
It was the second year as CES headliner for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who took over the keynote spot from his former boss, Bill Gates, last year.
After a power outage briefly plunged the stage into darkness and delayed the start of the keynote by over 20 minutes, Ballmer ambled onstage in his trademark V-neck sweater. He touted the company’s successes with its recent Windows 7 launch, outlined its plans for enhancing home entertainment and tying together the “three screens” through which people experience media today (television, PC and mobile devices). He provided more details on upcoming enhancements to the successful XBox 360 platform and XBox Live online service.
“From the largest screen on the wall to the smallest screens in people’s pockets, we are delivering the entertainment people want,” Ballmer said.
It’s been a good year for Microsoft. Ballmer reprised the launch of the company’s search engine, Bing, which he said has attracted 11 million users since its launch. There are now more than 39 million Xboxes in use around the world, and XBox game sales have totaled $20 billion since the platform’s launch, Ballmer said.
And, Ballmer said, “the Zune HD device is getting rave reviews.” That is true — Wired’s review of the Zune HD is quite positive — but the device still has a single-digit share of the portable media player market.
But the centerpiece of Microsoft’s business in 2009 was Windows 7. After taking well-deserved criticism for its launch of Windows Vista in 2007, Microsoft bounced back with many much-needed enhancements in Windows 7. For the most part, the critical and consumer response to Windows 7 has been excellent. The operating system is more streamlined, easier to use and prettier to look at than Vista, and it seems to have injected new life into what seemed like a staggering personal-computing dinosaur. Ballmer called Windows 7 the fastest-selling computer operating system in history, and touted figures showing that it drove a 50 percent increase in PC sales the week it was launched, and a 50 percent year-over-year increase in overall sales of Windows PCs.
The Mac, it seems, has not killed off Windows.
But with rumors of an upcoming Apple tablet looming large in many observers’ minds this week, Microsoft — along with many other computer industry companies — can’t afford to ignore the persistent irritation that is Apple.
Accordingly, one of the gadgets shown by Microsoft tonight was a tablet-like device, produced by HP and running Windows 7. Not the “Courier” tablet that Microsoft previewed in 2009, this is more akin to old-school Tablet PCs, albeit with no keyboard and running the now-multitouch-enhanced Windows 7.
HP said the device would be available later this year, but provided no details on pricing, availability or specifications.
Another not-so-subtle message from Ballmer’s keynote: Apple’s iPhone hasn’t killed off Windows Mobile, either. Microsoft partners shipped 80 different Windows Mobile-based phones last year, Ballmer said, and indicated that more would be coming in 2010. As an example, he showed off the HTC HD-2, a new WinMo-powered phone that will be available on T-Mobile. The HD-2 will feature a 4.3-inch LCD screen and will be about as thick as two poker chips.
Microsoft pushed the message that it’s an entertainment company, too, on two fronts. One was the announcement of Media Room 2.0, software for viewing multimedia content (videos, audio and photos) on your computer. The new version lets you view content on any screen in your home, from a phone to a PC to a TV, Ballmer said.
And the second entertainment front is the XBox 360. Microsoft entertainment and devices division president Robbie Bach took the stage to show off the company’s achievements here. Fresh from the wildly successful pre-holiday launch of Modern Warfare 2 (one of the highest-grossing videogames in history, according to Microsoft), the company promised more games exclusive to the XBox platform to come in 2010, including Tom Clancy Splinter Cell, Crackdown 2, Mass Effect 2, Fable 3 and Alan Wake.
An update to the Halo series, Halo Reach, will enter beta testing later this year. In an unusual twist, anyone who bought the previous title, Halo ODST, will be invited to take part in the Halo Reach beta test, which Microsoft anticipates will include as many as 2 million testers.
Microsoft also showed off a new XBox Live feature called GameRoom, featuring more than 1,000 old arcade games from the likes of Atari and Intellivision, like Tempest and Pac-Man. Users will be able to create “virtual game rooms” that their XBox Live avatars (and those of their friends) can walk around in. Virtual quarters, one assumes, will be available without limit.
Finally, Bach showed off the company’s gestural interface for XBox 360, Project Natal, which first appeared at E3 last year. Natal will be available in time for the holiday season in 2010, Bach promised, as a camera plus software that will work on all existing XBox 360 systems. Developers are currently working on Natal-enhanced games and applications that will be available when the system launches.