Gadgets get connected

 

Competition between the world's electronics manufacturers seems to be getting ever more intense - which is good news for gadget lovers.

From phones to cameras to set-top boxes, every device seems to get smarter every few months, thanks no doubt to Moore's Law. And now it seems any new product has got to have something else - an internet connection. I've been looking at two new gadgets whose appeal could be transformed by the addition of connectivity.

Livescribe pen

Livescribe pen

The Livescribe digital pen, which records audio and matches it to the notes you make with it on special paper, has been around for three years or so. It has a James Bond appeal - though it doesn't explode - and when I've used one it has always attracted interest.

The company behind it has the backing of some smart Silicon Valley investors, but I've been somewhat dubious about its long-term prospects. Isn't the pen a dying technology when most of us are now more comfortable typing - and isn't the process of transferring your notes from the pen to a computer just too cumbersome? Two years ago I wrote this about the Livescribe:

"There's just a little too much friction in the process - if you could wirelessly beam the notes and audio from the pen direct to the cloud, rather than having to plug it into a computer, then it might be a compelling product."

Well they must have been listening because the new version of the Livescribe does just that. It has a wi-fi connection, and is integrated with the Evernote cloud storage application, so that any notes or recordings you make are synced to your online account the minute the pen is online (see image above).

Now this is pretty compelling - any note you write stored online to be retrieved whenever you want. Whether it is enough to give the digital pen its breakthrough moment - sales have been treading water for the last 18 months - is another matter.

But the Livescribe people say there is evidence that even people who are heavy users of computers and smartphones still find a pen the quickest way of taking notes. The only problem is that many of us - including me - now have such poor handwriting that any kind of pen, digital or not, is not the best way of communicating.

GoPro camera

Another gadget whose appeal could be transformed by connectivity is the GoPro camera. When I started in television more than a quarter of a century ago, a broadcast video camera kit cost something like £30,000 - and if you had suggested strapping one to a car to get action shots you would have been sacked.

GoPro cameras old v new

Now there are plenty of tiny sports and action cameras available for under £300, all providing far higher quality footage than we used to get from those early video cameras. The leader of the pack is probably GoPro, a company started by some surfers in Half Moon Bay, California.

Look on YouTube for videos of any action sports - from rally driving to skiing to windsurfing - and you are likely to find material shot on a GoPro. They are also becoming commonplace in the television industry and many of the news camera crews I've worked with in recent months have used them alongside their professional kit.

Now the latest version of the camera is not only even smaller, it has built-in wi-fi enabling the user to operate it and monitor shots via a smartphone app. That is clever, but what is really interesting is the promise that a future update of the app could allow you to stream live to the internet from the camera.

That could put a high quality live broadcasting capability into the hands of all sorts of people, both amateur and professional, and could have big implications for the way live events or news are covered.

But GoPro is far from alone in this market - and the biggest name in video cameras Sony is now muscling in with its own tiny action camera. It too is wi-fi-enabled and can be controlled via a smartphone app, and it seems wireless connectivity is now becoming a feature of many cameras at all sorts of price levels.

A decade ago, wireless technology was just beginning to enter the home, with most of us still plugging cables into the wall to connect our computers to the internet. Now what has been called the internet of things is taking shape, with all sorts of products, from a fridge to a camera to a pen, having the ability to connect to the web. Just wait until they start talking to each other.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

Tax and tech

Like politicians everywhere, the UK government is torn between enthusing over new technology - and demanding a fair share of its profits.

Read full article

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 17.

    After decades of computer use, I find I cannot write nearly as quickly as I type, and my writing is an illegible scrawl whilst my typing is auto-corrected as I go. Moreover, I find trying to write for any period of time now makes my hand and arm ache.
    Now I have a tablet, I don't even go to meetings or conferences with a pen and paper, whereas I might have done instead of lugging a laptop.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 16.

    The Livescribe pen would be great if it didn't need special paper.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 15.

    "Just wait until they start talking to each other.".

    Without your permission --or with it, but you didn't read the small print.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 14.

    My wireless air con controls will not talk to my wireless weather station which in turn will not talk to my wireless surveillance cameras, but most (except the air con!) will talk to my networked PCs and servers. But I draw the line at a phone interface as apart from switching the heating on a hour or so before I arrive I can't see the need. As for cooker/washing machine I don't see why?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 13.

    If there is some standard and a means of configuring to connect to cloud services (including home brewed) of my choice, I might be interested in the pen but I don't want ties to one provider.

    I don't use the Evernote feature on our Sony PRS-2 e-reader for this reason. I do use its wifi though. It (via web pages I wrote to suit its browser) is an X10 remote and can schedule MythTV recordings.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 12.

    My comment was made out of frustration at the level of non connectivity between devices but, living in rural cheshire we only get 1.5 mbps maximum, yet pay as much as those who get 20 mbps. It would be wonderful to only have one signal, one box to plug in and for every gadget to talk to every other one.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 9.

    I use an IRIS pen that transcribes what I write into text on the computer. Have been typing for thirty years now but still find the pen much better. Also I can use it anywhere and is far more convenient then getting a laptop out. It also negates the annoying tapping of keys in a meeting.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 8.

    The Livescribe pen only makes a copy of your actual handwriting. Not much use... now, if it converted your handwriting into actual type/font, then it would be invaluable, saving hours of typing up notes.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 7.

    @5
    I get little/no phone signal in my house too (I must live in a Faraday cage), admittedly not in a rural area, but on the outskirts of a small town.... The reason for me is that 3g phones will always hang on to an inferior 3g signal over a full strength 2g signal. But at home I don't need mobile BB at all.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 6.

    I have a Livescribe pen and I do find it useful but you are right Rory - no matter how organised I try to be with it, it is a pain syncing my notes with the Livescribe software and Evernote. Whilst ultimately I am comfortable enough fiddling about (the effort for me is worth it) I think the new wifi version may well bring the idea more to the masses. I may even upgrade my smartpen!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 5.

    @4
    You obviously don't live in the rural area's theat @2 was talking about!
    I don't even get a phone signal unless I stand in a particular place in my kitchen.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 4.

    @2
    3G speed is around 7.5Mb, now I usually clock in at 4Mb, that's 500KBps. Theres not a lot you couldn't stream at 500KBps, in fact that's more than fast enough for most people.
    What's happening is mobile BB providers are throttling bandwidth (of certain types) in order to create a market for 4G.... And you by the sound of it, haven't quite worked that one out.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 3.

    I have enough trouble using WiFi at home, with multiple neighbours constantly switching on/off their routers, their WiFi channels then change and cause big interference problems, im back to using Cat5 ethernet cables. Many ISP routers also have draconian limits on the number of devices connected (to stop you sharing WiFi), if we want to connect lots of devices at home, then things HAVE to change.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 2.

    having everything in the cloud and all your data being automatically saved there is great - ask any Apple user - the issue is one of "permanent" and affordable really fast connection. 3G doesn't cut it, and, indeed, rural broadband, where it even exists, is a joke for serious use of the cloud.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1.

    No matter how much gadgets seem to interact, there is the age old problem of too many 'boxes' that do similar things - I have longed for a PVR/set top box that will allow direct editing and then enable you to output it to a Mac/PC, but I guess its not in the interests of either the broadcasters or the manufacturers.

 

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.