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Project Ara is Alive, Igor!

Frankenstein-Stills-classic-movies-19760768-1874-1470After years of waiting, Google’s long-delayed modular smartphone program will finally be shipping to developers this fall – only it won’t be quite the ambitious and bold design we had been expecting.

Liliputing, Ars Technica, and other sites are reporting that Google will be shipping the next round of Project Ara developer kits to developers this fall. This promise was made at Google’s  I/O conference on Friday, and it was accompanied by a much less grandiose vision for a modular smartphone.

Rather than assembling every part of a smartphone from removable components, the core of the phone will be integrated into the phone. From Ars:

The Ara body contains a fixed CPU, GPU, antennas, sensors, battery, and display. The Ara page says this "frees up more room for hardware in each module," but it also removes Ara’s promise of upgradability. The modules will now be for the camera and speakers, along with accessories to the base smartphone like a fingerprint reader or an extra display.

The new model has a 5.3″ display and room for 6 modules.  The screen, CPU, storage, antennas, and battery are not removable, but other components like the camera are removable.

project ara

In fact, one of the tricks shown off at the demo today was a voice command which made the camera module fly off when a Google rep said “OK Google, eject the camera”. (I for one love that feature; I am looking forward to doing it to other people’s phones.)

Otherwise you’ll have to use a software menu to tell the phone to eject a module; it’s not going to be quite as hot-swappable or plug-and-play as Google had previously promised.

So basically, the initial Project Ara promises were overly ambitious. Well, at least it still looks pretty nifty:

Google Postpones Project Ara Pilot

Google has ruined my fall vacation plans.

News is breaking today that Google’s modular smartphone might not be hitting the market this year as promised. The Project Ara pilot test, which was set to run time time this year on the island of Puerto Rico, has been scrapped. The Project Ara team has taken to Twitter and dropped cryptic hints about Google’s modular smartphone.

Project_Ara_scattered_parts

They have not said much, and in fact they have said so little that I’m not sure that

  1. More information is coming soon – next week, hopefully.
  2. The marketing pilot may or may not take place in Puerto Rico, as originally planned.
  3. Project Ara will eventually be available in Puerto Rico… at some point … maybe.

As I said, the hints were vague to the point of being unintelligible (I’ve seen omens that were more specific).

We’ll know more next week.

***

Do you suppose this delay is related to the other Google news this week?

On Monday Google announced that it was reorganizing itself under a new parent company, Alphabet. Among the many goals, the move was intended to free the many parts of Google, including the hardware developers, from being owned by a search engine. (Or at least that is how it is seen from the outside.)

Today’s delay could simply be a coincidence, but there’s also a good chance that the pilot was put off so that Google could focus on the internal chaos caused by the reorganization.

Again, we’ll know more next week.

Liliputing

Fonkraft Challenges Project Ara With a $99 Modular Smartphone

Google may have recruited much of the mobile device industry to support Project Ara, but that hasn’t stopped independent efforts to develop modular smartphones.

Late last year a Finnish phone maker announced the Puzzlephone, and now another modular smartphone project launched on Indiegogo.

Pitched as the world’s first crowd-sourced modular smartphone, Fonkraft is a 5″ Android smartphone with a modular screen, CPU, battery, etc. It’s built around a frame which will let owners pull individual components and replace them with upgrades, or re-purpose their phones for alternate uses.

The Fonkraft is now up for pre-order on Indiegogo. For $99 you can get budget model powered by a dual-core 1.3Ghz CPU with 1GB RAM, 8GB internal storage, and a dual-core GPU.

That’s not a bad smartphone for the price, and if you want a more powerful unit you can spring for the Fonkraft Resolution or the Fonkraft HiFi. Both models run have a higher resolution screen (1920 x 1080) and run Android on a quad-core 2.5GHz CPU with 2GB RAM, 64GB storage, and a quad-core GPU.

The HiFi’s design features a high quality speaker unit, while the Resolution has a 20MP camera. They cost $199 each, and according to the Indiegogo listing, that is about half off the $399 retail price.

And for those who can’t decide on what features they want, there is the Fonkraft Element.  This unit comes with all of the components found on either the Resolution or the Hifi, giving you the option of assembling your smartphone just the way you want it.

fonkraft

Fonkraft went up on Indiegogo yesterday, and so far the campaign has raised about $700. Assuming the campaign reaches its goal of $50,000, Fonkraft plans to produce, test, and ship its modular smartphones by September 2015. Edit: they were going to get the money either way.

I think that is a tad ambitious, don’t you?

Project Ara has been under development for over a year and a half and it has a lot of smart people working on it, but it still has no firm launch date.

And Fonkraft thinks they can beat Google to market?

It is entirely possible that a small and focused tech company can best the committee which Google has assembled, but I would bet the other way.

Update: And I was right. Indiegogo pulled the campaign.

So what do you think of Fonkraft? Are you going to back the campaign?

Intersoft’s Do-Ra Module Turns a Project Ara Smartphone into a Geiger Counter

We still don’t know for sure when Google’s Project Ara will make its way to store shelves, but when it does arrive it will have some nifty options. In addition to a cornucopia of CPU, screen, camera, and other options, Project Ara owners will be able to add a radiation sensor.

The Russian company Intersoft unveiled a prototype dosimeter-radiometer sensor at the second Ara developers conference (in January, but it only crossed my desk today). The DO-RA.Modul takes Intersoft’s existing sensor tech and shrinks it down to about the size of a postage stamp:

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Intersoft’s been working on the module since at least last July. They’ve also developed an Android app to control the sensor, and they’re hoping to have both available at the end of the year.

And given that the new module is only about a third the size of Intersoft’s existing products, I’d say that they’re going to pull it off. The current dosimeter-radiometer sensor is designed to plug into a smartphone’s headphone jack (iPhone, for example) and feed data to an app. It launched last summer with a price around $150.

do-ra_uni[1]

Speaking of nifty modules for Project Ara, Lapka is also working on a bevy of sensors ranging from CO2 to an EKG to a glucometer.

As you may know, this company has its own modular sensor platform, and it’s using its past experience and know-how to turn a Project Ara smartphone into an honest-to-goodness tricorder:

lapka project ara

I can’t find any way to tell whether those are functional models, and not just a concept mock up, but it’s nifty nonetheless.

I learned of Lapka’s plans a few weeks ago, and while I can’t wait to see them come to market I do have to wonder about the practicality. Sure, the above concept is nifty, but did you notice that the CPU and battery modules are missing?

I think that could make it a little hard to use all those sensors, don’t you?

PhoneBloks

Yezz Shows Off SmartCover, LED Flashlight, Gamepad for Project Ara

Google launched its modular smartphone project in order to speed up device innovation and make it possible for new features to reach the market in a matter of months and not years.

If the modules which Yezz is showing off at Mobile World Congress are any indication, Google’s plans are about to be wildly successful.

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Yezz is in Barcelona this week to show off a number of module ideas. All we have at this time are mockups, but some of the ideas have this jaded blogger sitting up and paying attention.

In addition to expected modules like camera, audio, battery, screen, etc, Yezz is letting MWC attendees play with a dummy game controller module developed for Project Ara. They also have an LED flashlight module, and a smartcover which slots into one of the module slots on the rear and adds a solar panel. Not only will you be able to wake up your Ara simply by opening the cover, you will also be able to recharge it simply by leaving it in bright sunlight.

Or at least that is what we’re hoping. The first  Project Ara smartphones will be sold during a pilot test in Puerto Rico in the second half of 2015. Yezz is hoping that its Project Ara smartphone will cost around $200. As I recall, Google wants to have a model selling for $99.

Update: Yezz informs me that the launch date for Project Ara has not been set, and that reports that the pilot will happen this year are incorrect.

PhoneBloks

 

Under the Hood of Project Ara (videos)

Much has been written about Google’s Project Ara, but I don’t know that the media coverage has managed to convey just how complex of an undertaking it is, or just how many tech companies are involved.project ara

Earlier today Charbax posted a couple videos in which he interviews a couple of people who are involved with Project Ara. A couple are with Linaro, a non-profit that develops open-source tools for ARM chips, while the other is with the Linux Foundation.

More than just being a new smartphone which you can swap out modules, Project Ara is pushing existing technologies in new directions, forcing engineers to come up with new solutions to problems created by Project Ara overturning the apple cart.

Charbax shot the interviews at the recent Linaro Connect conference in Hong Kong. This tech conference brings together engineers from companies spanning multiple industries.

This second video features Greg Kroah-Hartman of Linux Foundation and Greg Herring of Linaro. Each discusses the tech being developed for Project Ara.

Herring shows off the development board which the module developers will be using to design the components which I hope to one day use in an Ara-style smartphone.

Whether that will happen is another matter; at this point it’s still not clear that this whole crazy idea  will work in practical terms. As we saw with Google Glass, sometimes you don’t realize how ridiculous an idea is until you get it into the hands of consumers.

In the case of Project Ara, we’ll have to wait for the pilot test in Puerto Rico later this year.

Toshiba Reveals 5MP Camera Module for Project Ara

Google is planning to ship its project Ara modular smartphones in Puerto Rico later this year, and now it looks like Toshiba is going to have a camera module ready for those lucky consumers.

Toshiba is working on two camera modules for Project Ara, and they recently posted a video which shows that they’ve successfully built a 5MP camera module for Google smartphone. (No word yet on the 13MP module.)

project ara camera

The module packs a decent-quality 5MP camera sensor into a space the size of a thumb drive. There’s no flash, unfortunately, but that was probably left out in order to remove one more complication.

Coincidentally, Toshiba has started a special website for its Project Ara contributions where they’ve revealed that they’re working on a number of modules, including a display, Wifi, a front-facing camera+media module, TransferJet (an NFC alternative), and more.

We don’t know yet just how  many of the modules will be ready in time for the launch later this year, but we do know that Toshiba has ambitious goals for Project Ara.

While Google sees this as a possible $50  smartphone, Toshiba is looking at the many opportunities created when you can plug in and remove modules from a smartphone at will.

Image Sensor World

Project Ara Smartphone to Get Premium Modules for 13MP Toshiba Camera, Sennheiser Audio, Innolux Displays

I have my doubts that consumers will want to update and replace the CPU on a modular smartphone, but if the following screen and audio components are released then we’ll definitely see some upgrades going on.

Over the past couple weeks the folks at Phonebloks have been blogging about some of the 3rd-party developers who are working on modules for the Project Ara smartphone. While I’m not usually one to buy smartphones, if these modules do come to market then I will be taking a vacation in Puerto Rico this year – right around the time the Project Ara pilot kicks off.

To start, Toshiba is working on several camera modules. In addition to a 2MP front-facing camera, they have a 13MP rear camera (with a flash) in the works as well as a module with dual 5MP cameras. The modules will support an new image capture technology up to 900 fps , and up to 240 fps with a 1080i / 13 Mp resolution.

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Toshiba is also working on other modules, including Wifi, display, and activity measuring modules, and plans to have the first modules available in the beginning of next year. The company is also developing references design for its products.

While a camera is great, it’s not much without a screen so you can see what you are recording, and that’s where Innolux comes in.

This display maker showed off a prototype display module at the Project Ara conference a couple weeks ago. It’s based on a 4.5″ panel with a resolution of 326 ppi, and the module has a narrow border panel (only 1 mm), Gorilla 3 cover-glass (to avoid scratches) and a microphone.

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The company plans to put it into mass production in the next 9 months, and Innolux product manager Fred Van Rens also hinted that Innolux could develop 3D display and E-ink screen modules.

I plan to be keeping my fingers crossed in the hopes that the E-ink modules do happen, but even if Project Ara doesn’t morph into an ereader it still has the makings of a decent media player.

Sennheiser has revealed that they’re working on two audio modules. The first is called Amphion, and it’s basically a premium sound card shrunk down to the size of a couple of postage stamps. It includes a low-noise audio jack, a low-latency digital signal processor, and a 150 milliwatt class G headphone amp.

sennheiser_01[1]

That’s better audio than I have in most of my tablets, and what’s even better is that the audio jack is expected to serve as both a mike and headphone jack, enabling users to record high quality audio and not just play it.

The other module is called Proteus, and as you can see in the image below it includes two audio jacks. This will let you share your music with a friend, but it is also intended to let you plug in a pair of microphones for even better sound.

proteus_02[1]

Project Ara has been under development for a couple years now, and it is slowly making its way to hitting store shelves. Google announced a couple weeks back that the first market pilot will be held in Puerto Rico later this year.

The last I heard Google is planning to offer 3 different base units, enabling consumers to choose between a phablet or a more pocketable smartphone. The largest is said to be about the size of a Galaxy Note 3, while the smaller Project Ara base units  will be about the size of a 5″ phablet and one of the early iPhones.

The platform is designed so users can switch out modules to add new features. Don’t like the sound quality? That’s fixable. Want a faster CPU? Done. Want more battery life? Add a better one. Need a better camera? Just swap out your existing one.

Liliputing

Want to Assemble Your Own Smartphone? Google Shows Off Project Ara Modular Phone Prototype

3[1]The idea of assembling a DIY mobile device has long since fallen out of the mainstream, but if Project Ara is successful then that could change.

For the past couple years Google has been working on, well, they’ve been working on many hardware projects, but the one that has me waiting with bated breath is Project Ara.

This project has a goal which is as simple in concept as it is complex in practice; Google is trying to develop a platform for a modular smartphone which would enable owners to upgrade their existing phone piecemeal rather than junking it simply because the screen is broken.

In theory Project Ara will enable consumers to buy a base unit as well as components which met their needs: camera, screen, battery, wireless chip, etc. When all the parts arrive the consumer will be able to plug the parts into the base unit and have a working phone.

The following gallery should help explain it better.

Project Ara is still in the prototype stage, and it’s scheduled to hit the market early next year. Right now the only units floating around are in the hands of the original project team as well as a select handful of outside developers who (hopefully) are creating modules which you can buy.

You can see the latest prototype in the video below.

Google is planning to offer 3 different base units, enabling fans to choose between a phablet or a more pocketable smartphone. The largest is said to be about the size of a Galaxy Note 3. (Just to give you an idea of the size, that phone sports a 5.7″ screen.) The smaller Project Ara base units  will be about the size of a 5″ phablet and one of the early iPhones.

The platform is designed so users can hot swap modules without shutting down or rebooting the phone.  I’m not sure how well that will work in practice but the idea has me interested. Want more battery life? Add a better one. Need a better camera? Just swap out your existing one. Don’t like the sound quality? I’m sure you’ll find a Chinese OEM with a compatible module.

I don’t know of any plans to make a tablet sized unit, which is a shame. The larger area would enable you to add far more modules.

But even with the size limitations, I am keeping a close eye on Project Ara. While I don’t think that this is an explicit part of the plan, I am expecting one Chinese OEM or another to create a module with an epaper screen. I am going to have me some fun assembling my own Android ereader.

Liliputing

Parabola Linux Has Been Ported to the Remarkable Tablet (video)

If you are looking for new things to do with your Remarkable tablet, I just heard that someone has developed a third-party firmware for it. It’s Parabola Linux, which opens up enormous possibilities for porting software, but at the same time it comes at a cost (Wifi is not supported).

From Hackaday:

Davis Remmel has been hard at work porting Parabola, a completely free and open source GNU/Linux distribution, to the reMarkable. Developers will appreciate the opportunity to audit and modify the OS, but even from an end-user perspective, Parabola greatly opens up what you can do on the device. Before you were limited to a tablet UI and a select number of applications, but with this replacement OS installed, you’ll have a full-blown Linux desktop to play with.

You still won’t be watching videos or gaming on the reMarkable (though technically, you would be able to), but you could certainly use it to read and edit documents the original OS didn’t support. You could even use it for light software development. Since USB serial adapters are supported, microcontroller work isn’t out of the question either. All while reaping the considerable benefits of electronic paper.

The only downside is that the WiFi hardware is not currently supported as it requires proprietary firmware to operate. No word on whether or not Davis is willing to make some concession there for users who aren’t quite so strict about their software freedoms.

The Remarkable tablet is a 10.3″ writing slate designed to replace a paper notebook. The first model launched several years ago, and a second model launched just last month. Retail is $337.

This Parabola port is being sold for $20. That is not unreasonable, although I do think that a paid firmware should include Wifi.

If Your Books Isn’t Shipping During the Quarantine, Here’s Why

Everyone knows that the current quarantine is throwing a wrench in the book publishing works, but what does that really mean?

Earlier this month an editor with a leading SF publisher explained on Facebook just what is happening behind the scenes.

First, you need to know that the vast majority of our business remains in hardcover and paperback books. Hard copies, physical objects. The second strongest sector has been audio books. Ebooks are a distant third.

Selling books is a very long and complicated supply chain. Ignore editorial — writers and editors can work at a distance and electronically. It really starts with the paper. Storing paper for the big presses takes an enormous amount of warehouse space, which costs money. Printers don’t store a lot — they rely on a "just in time" supply chain so that when a book is scheduled to go to press, the paper is delivered to the printer. Most of that paper is manufactured in China. Guess what isn’t coming from China? Anything, for the last three months. Some of it comes from Canada. Guess what the Trump administration put a big tariff on at the beginning of the year?

So, we don’t have adequate paper supplies. Then consider, big printing plants are not "essential businesses". There are only a couple printers in the US that can handle the book manufacturing business. One of them shut down last week. Covid-19. We started rescheduling books like mad to deal with that.

But supposing we had paper, and a printer and bindery, the books have to be shipped to the warehouse. Again, non-essential movement. The freight drivers moving books? Staying home, as they should. Not all of them. I hope they remain healthy, because dying to get the latest bestseller to the warehouse doesn’t seem quite right to me.

Now then, our warehouse. We have a gigantic facility in Virginia. Lots of people are working there, bless them, but it’s putting them at risk. There they are, filling orders, packing boxes, running invoices. Giving those boxes to the freight drivers who take the books to the bookstores and distributors. Again, truck drivers risking their lives to bring books to the bookstores.

But think again. The bookstores are closed. The distributors are closed . No place open to deliver the books to. Some bookstores are doing mail order business, bless them, but they aren’t ordering very many books from our warehouse. Amazon isn’t ordering very many, either — because they have (correctly) stopped shipping books and are using their reduced staff to ship medical supplies and food.

So the books that distributors and sellers ordered months ago are not being printed or shipped or sold. And because of that, they aren’t making any money. And because of THAT, they are not ordering any books for months from now. Plus they aren’t paying for the books they got from us last month and the month before. Cash flow has ground to a halt.

Now, audio books….turns out that people mostly, almost 100%, listen to audio books while they commute to work. Sales of audio books collapsed about three weeks ago. Fortunately, there isn’t a physical supply chain there, so theoretically that business can restart immediately upon resumption of commuting.

I understand the situation the industry is in. I don’t have a supply chain issue, but the shutdown of all public events has cost me all of my carefully laid plans to meet new clients at conferences and trade shows. I’ve had to pull out all the projects I didn’t have time or interest for before, and see which ones can still be implemented during a quarantine.

I would expect publishers are doing the same.

image by MacBeales via Flickr

Paramount, Axanar File New Motions in Star Trek Fan Film Lawsuit

star-trek-axanarEarlier this year producer JJ "lens flare" Abrams shocked everyone when he announced that the infringement lawsuit Paramount had filed against a Star Trek fan film was "going away". (Even the defendants were shocked; that was the first they had heard of a settlement.)

Alas, the report was soon revealed to be little more than wishful thinking when Paramount filed a new motion about a month later, and now it is clear that both Paramount and the defendant, Axanar, are in this for the long haul.

TorrentFreak and HollywooReporter have each reported that the two parties sparred last week with new legal motions.

On Thursday, the defendant brought a motion to compel discovery.

Among what’s being demanded are all communications between Paramount/CBS and Abrams and Lin about fan films and this very lawsuit.

Axanar explains the basis for the request to the judge.

"Statements that Star Trek belongs to all of us and that the lawsuit is ridiculous and was going to be 'dropped' is relevant to the impact on the market prong of the fair use analysis, and Plaintiffs utter lack of damages," write defendants' lawyers. "Though these documents and deposition testimony are directly relevant to demonstrating the impact of the Axanar Works on the market for the Star Trek Copyrighted Works, and Plaintiffs’ allegations of willful infringement, Plaintiffs have either refused to produce, or produced insufficient documents."

Paramount is objecting that the document request is overly broad, unduly burdensome and irrelevant.

"First, statements made in May of 2016, six months after the filing of this suit, could not possibly have any bearing on Defendants’ ‘state of mind’ when they created the infringing works," responds Paramount’s lawyers. "Second, Defendants have provided no authority for the proposition that their subjective 'belief' has any bearing on whether or not they committed copyright infringement, or on whether or not Plaintiffs’ were damaged by that infringing conduct."

During a Star Trek fan event in May Abrams had told the audience that the case would be over soon, citing discussions with Star Trek Beyond director Justin Lin. “We started talking about this realizing that this is not an appropriate way to deal with the fans. The fans should be celebrating this thing,” Abrams said. “So Justin went to the studio and pushed them to stop this lawsuit and now, within the next few weeks, it will be announced this is going away.”

Obviously that hasn’t happened, and now Axanar is using Abrams' statement against Paramount. He is hardly an official spokesperson or copyright agent for Paramount, but Axanar’s lawyers are characterizing Abrams and director Justin Lin as Star Trek "ambassadors" in their filings, and are using the statement to rebut the charge of "willful infringement" with the argument that Axanar’s filmmakers had a reasonable basis for believing that their fan-funded film would be fine by the studios.

And they did have a reasonable expectation; Paramount has green-lighted or at least turned a blind eye to past fan projects, and reportedly approved had turned a bind eye on the Star Trek Axanar movie (right up until they didn’t).

The only major difference between Axanar and past Star Trek fan films was the scale of the work, and how many people were getting paid. Axanar had raised over a million dollars and was planning to produce a cinema quality work.

The level of funding may have been what lead Paramount to lay down ground rules for fan films which effectively killed any future work like Axanar. Paramount is within their right do do so, but –

Objecting to one work (after allowing a similar work) because it is better funded is an artificial distinction which may or may not have any relevance in court.

Paramount’s past decisions could come back to haunt them, and of course there’s still the open question of fair use.

Yes, Axanar is based on and uses elements from Star Trek canon, but is that infringement or fair use?

I wouldn’t make any firm declarations one way or the other until judges weigh in, because this case could go either way and it will likely end up before the Supreme Court.

This case could set new precedents for fair use, and it bears watching.

Old Kobo Mini Finds New Life as a Sailplane and Paraglide Computer

kobo gps computerWe’ve seen any number of re-purposed hacked Kindles over the years, including as a weather station, fridge magnet, and wireless monitor, but all of those projects pale in comparison to one hack i just found.

An ambitious Kobo owner has hacked his Kobo Mini and turned it into a GPS-equipped flight computer. And unlike the Kindle bike computer or the Nook flight computer, this Kobo Mini is a self-contained unit with the GPS receiver modded into the case.

Back in 2014 a hacker and glider pilot going by the name of Tweepy decided they wanted to find a way to run the XCSoar flight app on hardware with the following requirements:

  • sunlight readable (E-ink)
  • usable with gloves (anything but capacitive)
  • long battery life
  • running android/linux
  • GPS and/or bluetooth
  • dirt cheap

They hit upon the idea of modding a Kobo Mini so that it could tie into a GPS receiver and run the XCSoar app, but instead of using the Kobo Mini as simply the display (like we’ve seen with past projects) Tweepy instead decided to integrate the GPS receiver into the ereader, mod the shell to fit the receiver (and a larger battery) and thus have the entire system in one neat case.

Tweepy pulled this off by first wiring the GPS receiver into the Kobo Mini’s internal serial port and then replacing the stock 1Ah battery with a larger 3.8Ah battery.

There isn’t nearly enough room for either component in the Kobo Mini, but Tweepy fixed that problem by 3d-printing a "spacer" part for the shell which made the Kobo Mini slightly thicker and added a dongle for the GPS receiver.

What was really cool about this project is that Tweepy was able to reassemble the Kobo mini by reattaching the rear shell. If not for the extension for the GPS receiver, you would hardly know that this ereader had been modded.

They also came up with a second design which mounted the GPS Receiver on the front of the Kobo Mini rather than the upper edge:

kobo gps computer

With new maps, a few software updates, and of course the awesome XCSoar app, Tweepy had a great flight computer for under 100 euros.

And if you can get your hands on a Kobo mini, so can you. While researching this post I found all sorts of 3d-printed parts for Kobo ereader. Most were designed to fit the Kobo Mini and add space inside the case for things like sensors, a bigger battery, etc.

So it seems that this 5″ ereader was popular with hardware hackers, and not just a subset of ebook readers. It’s a shame Kobo never followed up on this; they might have missed out on a potential market.

DotMana via Hackaday

E-ink and Canatu Announce a 6.3″ Flexible Touch E-ink Display for Wearables

polyeraPolyera thrilled geeks everywhere when they first revealed the Wove last August. This wearable features a long and flexible E-ink screen, and is designed to wrap and unwrap from around your wrist.

Now E-ink is making it easier for other companies to launch competing designs. The screen tech company announced yesterday that it had partnered with touchscreen maker Canatu to develop a new 6.3″ E-ink panel.

Measuring just over an inch wide and six inches long, the new panel is flexible, ultra-thin, and has a screen resolution of 200 x 1040 (or about 168 ppi). E-ink expects the new screen panel to be ideal for wearable applications such as bracelets and other wrist-worn devices, and E-ink has also announced a 3rd-party SDK which will help product developers achieve a faster time to market.

They have not, however, released any photos. (The lead photo shows the Polyera screen.)

"The wearable market demands robust and durable materials and solutions. We are working with E Ink in several projects and as we share a united understanding of what high performance represents, we have teamed up to make a reference product we are sure will be a great success", say VP Marketing and Sales, Erkki Soininen from Canatu.

The new E-ink panel is expected to ship to developers in July; products which use the screen will of course come along much later.

Polyera, on the other hand, expects to ship their wearable this year.

 

 

Twitter is Switching to a 10,000-Character Limit, And That is (Potentially) Great News

2724175411_74293899db_bAsk any of its hardcore users and they will tell you that Twitter is defined by its limits. The hard limit of 140 characters forces users to convey their argument as concisely as possible.

But according to re/code, that is going to change:

Twitter is building a new feature that will allow users to tweet things longer than the traditional 140-character limit, and the company is targeting a launch date toward the end of Q1, according to multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans. Twitter is currently considering a 10,000 character limit, according to these sources. That’s the same character limit the company uses for its Direct Messages product, so it isn’t a complete surprise.

There is no official launch date set in stone, these sources say. It’s also possible the character limit could fluctuate before it rolls out the final product, which people inside Twitter refer to as “Beyond 140.” Re/code first reported that Twitter was building a product like this back in September. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.

I know that the idea of a ten thousand character tweet sounds terrible; as TechCrunch showed, it’s longer than the average blog post.

But before we get into the yelling and vowing to flee to Facebook, let’s take a look at what Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had to say. After the news broke yesterday, Dorsey tweeted a screensnap which explained why the change is a good idea. This screensnap is also an example of the problem Twitter is trying to fix, and it gives us clues about Twitter’s goals:

jack dorsey longer tweet

Tell me, did you have trouble reading the screensnap, perhaps because the text is too small or not in your language?

That is a problem I frequently have when reading screensnaps on Twitter, and I think it is the problem that Twitter is trying to solve with the 10k character limit.

If you don’t see the connection, then let’s consider the possibility that re/code got the story only half right, and that Twitter is not planning to switch to a 10k character limit on tweets.

5144798765_7d9bc93fff_b What if Twitter is instead considering giving you the option of tweeting a 140-char tweet with a long text note attached, say 10,000 characters?

That would make more sense for Twitter, it would fix the screensnap issue, and it would also explain Twitter’s participation in Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project (hat tip to Wolfgang Blau for giving me the idea).

Google launched the project with the goal of delivering web articles faster on mobile, but what if Twitter’s interest stemmed from an interest in delivering a 10k-char attachment quickly?

Web publishers could use it to share an entire article (as Mathew Ingram points out at Fortune), but Twitterati could also use it to share the text they currently put into a screensnap (they also use Twitlonger, but screensnaps are more common).

That would be an improvement over screensnaps in terms of accessibility, search, and just about any other metric.

It would also improve discussions on Twitter. As Ben Thompson reminded us this morning, people don’t click links. So embedding a supporting argument as an attachment means that it is more likely to be read.

Edit: Also, this would no longer be a problem:

Then again, Twitter has yet to officially confirm the news (not even to the WSJ), so all this is pure speculation.

And so I will leave you with a factoid.  Twitter’s proposed new limit is not nearly as long as Facebook’s 63,206 character limit on updates, and yet the average tweet is about as long as the average update (68 characters vs 65 characters).

So even when people have the option of posting longer updates, they’re generally not using it.

image by Johan Larssontashmahal