Rise of the (Personal) Drones — A Look at the Hover Camera Passport Drone

In the future, our own personal drones will follow us around to take photos of us like our own personal flying paparazzi. It’s not too hard to see that this is where things are going.

Here’s the thing: like so many other things, the future is happening a lot sooner than most people think. It’s operating on its own timetable and has been since 2007. The Hover Camera Passport Drone (from Chinese startup Zero Zero Robotics) is that future — today.

For $500, you get a drone that folds to size of a small notebook. Its propellers are protected in a carbon fiber fence, which also should keep most fingers out of the danger zone (cue Kenny Loggins, if you like). It packs facial recognition, “body tracking” (which keeps your entire body in frame, handy if you’re doing the sort of active things people like to post on Instagram) into that small package, and can do orbits around you or take 360 degree panoramic shots on 4K video or 13 MP stills. Flight time is 10 minute on a full battery charge and the kit includes two batteries, with a maximum altitude of about 65 feet. It’s controlled by an iPhone app, and though the Hover Camera Passport Drone is being exclusively sold in Apple Stores, an Android app is also available.

I saw a display unit at the Apple Store in Ala Moana (in Honolulu) and remembering a post that some stores were giving demos, I ask the staff if anyone could show it off to me. They were giddy with excitement to play with the drone.

There’s a few kinks that needs to be worked out. The staff attempted, and failed, to install a firmware update. The Hover Camera Passport Drone also needs assistance in take off in the way of being held until its propellers generate enough lift to get it airborne. The facial recognition also seems a little finicky, taking some time to kick in.

But when the drone works, it is something to see. It follows the user around like a well-trained flying dog…that looks like a flying notebook. The video and stills, from what I could see, was sharp and good enough (at least) for social media posts. The cool factor, especially if you have even a passing interest in drones, is undeniable. It’s not a professional homebrew or DJI rig, but it’s not supposed to. It’s more like a camera on a phone rather than a DSLR.

The staff at the Apple Store I talked to said they were selling well, and gave an anecdote about a tourist buying it when they watched them fly it — which makes sense, as this is the perfect sort of impulse buy a well-heeled visitor vacationing in Hawaii would make. It’s essentially a selfie stick, but with a lot more wow factor and a lot more potential.

And while we’re comparing this to a selfie stick, people might long for the days of people walking around with poles when they realize the buzzing noise of a hundred drones at their favorite beach may very well be a thing.

But let’s face it. Personal drones are now a thing. Telling someone from 2006 that people will have their own computers in their pockets in 2007 would probably draw a guffaw. That person from 2006 would also have no idea the potential that would be unlocked because of fast cellular networking and smartphones. In same way, it’s impossible to say what good people having ready access to their own drones would be. Imagine events captured on smartphones, like the Arab Spring, now being augmented by a swarm of drones.

Those lofty possibilities aside, today’s Hover Camera Passport Drone suffers from the sort of first adopter problems you’d expect. But they’re also the sort of problems sorted out in the 2.0 version of the device. So if you’re not the type to buy the first version of something, you might want to wait to see how the next version fares.

With a solid product launch, the Hover Camera Passport shows that personal drones will be a popular thing sooner rather than later — whether it’s for better or worse, we’ll soon find out.

Apple Music: What’s in a Name? A Whole Damn Lot

When the iPhone originally launched, it didn’t come with Apple Music. It didn’t even come with a “Music” app. That was years later. Early adopters who can remember that far back will tell you that it came with an iPod app.

Which makes sense. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, the anticipation building up to the event was that Apple put a phone into an iPod. When Jobs unveiled the iPhone, he described it as an iPod, a phone and an internet communicator.

The iPod was the 600-pound gorilla in the early 2000s — the iPhone and its music services had to be put into the context of the iPod. At the time, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wasn’t excited at the prospect of an iPod that happened to make calls and access the internet.

As the iPod’s fortunes fell, the iPod app changed. If you owned the first iPhone or its followup, the 3G, you tapped on an app that looked like the familiar and iconic clickwheel device. By the iPhone 3GS, the writing was on the wall. The iPhone was a monster hit that was a phone and internet communicator that happened to also be an iPod…and the app was renamed Music.

Which brings us to the present day. Apple used to announce its iPod sales with the same fanfare they now do with iPhones, but now iPhones outsell iPods by about nine times. The iPod app begat the Music app which today begat Apple Music. The iPod is a fading memory. It’s not even a product you can access on the Apple home page.

In its time, the iPod represented a radical shift in consuming music. Rather than being limited by how many CDs or tapes you could carry, you were limited by how much storage capacity you had. While hard drives of the first iPods were minuscule compared to the 64GB to 128GB iPhones consumers use today, the fact that weeks of music could be carried in a package about the size of a deck of cards was mind blowing.

Over a decade later, Apple Music represents another radical shift — storage space doesn’t matter. Streaming does. Your mobile broadband connection — wifi, LTE — they’re your gateway to more music than you could ever listen to. Granted, Apple was late to this game and didn’t define the streaming market the way iTunes and the iPod defined the downloadable market. But when you consider that you have access to millions of tracks of music, in addition to your own collection of music that you’ve curated yourself and painstakingly ripped and uploaded, it takes the sting out of realizing that you’re now renting your music and not buying music.

You’re going to read a lot about Apple Music over the next few days. I think the access to almost everything I want to listen to (with the exception of bootlegs, small bands that never made it big but should have and my oddball collection of songs from anime movies and series that I’ve uploaded anyway) is astounding. Though I was skeptical of Beats 1, human curation of music through a knowledgeable DJ is a very good thing.

These guys are not the annoying fuckwads that make crank calls in some hick town’s “morning zoo”. The Beats 1 DJs are like the best kind of clerks at that music store you loved in the ’90s who turned you on to all kinds of music. If you’re too young to remember what a music store is, this is what consuming music was like before Clear Channel bought every radio station in America and enforced their “formats” to capture some market-driven demographic.

What Apple Music represents is the deeper philosophical change going on in Cupertino. Apple Music. Apple Watch. While those names seem like simple branding decisions, they’re really deeper, existential milestones in the history of Apple. When the iPod was introduced in 2001, the bad old days and the lean times of Apple weren’t far behind the company. Apple was sixty days away from bankruptcy when Steve Jobs returned as CEO in 1997. If it wasn’t for Bill Gates floating Apple a loan, it’s very likely there would be no Apple, at least not the company we know today.

Jobs launched the iMac — the device that he hoped consumers would gravitate toward because of its design and colors. The “i” was supposed to stand for internet, but it also stood for I, and in the individual. iMacs were not the uninspiring beige boxes PC clone manufacturers were pumping out. It was Jobs’ first hit during his second coming. Then there was the iPod and finally, the iPhone. All of them products that could only exist because of the internet, but they were also Apple’s statement that they were iconoclasts and independents that made products for individuals.

It was marketing of the highest order to appeal to the need to be unique, because Apple needed every advantage it could get at the time.

The turnaround of Apple is the stuff of legend. When Jobs passed, the company reached unknown heights and because the world’s most valuable company. Its base of users increasingly identified with the company — in contrast to the ’90s, when Apple needed to connect to its customers for its continued survival.

The mark of this newly confident Apples is its new products. Apple Watch. Apple Music. Its name alone carries the weight to carry a product with the most generic of names. It seems like a small thing, but Apple Music is a very big deal as to what Apple is in 2015, compared to iTunes in 2000.

(Also, let’s face it — the iPhone’s days as being named as such are probably numbered. Cook, Ive and the rest of the executive team are probably itching to rename it Apple Phone.)

Much was written about Steve Jobs and his involvement with Zen Buddhism. As such, he would have to embrace change.

Apple Music is representative of that change and things to come. Where does your music and the company’s library of tracks begin and end? Does it matter? Do you need iTunes for your iPhone? Yes. No. Either answer is correct. For now.

Acknowledging the internet is passé. The internet is as pervasive and ubiquitous as the wind. What Apple ultimately wants are phones and computers that communicate to each other wirelessly, accessing videos, music and photo through high speed wireless connections to its data centers. Apple wants to kill the sync cable and is inching us to that inevitable future.

But all the while, the “i” of things will still be there. Though the personal connection to your devices that an Apple Watch provides, through the human curators of Apple Music that introduce you to your next favorite band you’ve never heard before or that connection to other people that negates distances the current and future iPhone does so well.

Screenshot by the author.

Drones Shuts Down Aircraft Firefighting Operations

Forest fires in California are serious business —  between the expected heat coming in the summer, the dry winters and the drought, the state is expected to be in for a long, hot season of smoke and flames.

One of the first large fires of the season is taking place outside of Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains, forcing evacuations and threatening thousands of structures. Dubbed the Lake Fire, airborne operations were cancelled because of two planes spotting a drone flying between them. A second was spotted over Lake Arrowhead.

The airspace over forest fires are designated as no-fly zones because of the air operations involving planes and helicopters and the low altitudes the aircraft are operating in.

Mike Eaton, a forest aviation officer for the San Bernardino National Forest, said between the “difficult terrain, difficult weather, winds,” the drones were a hazard and forced ending dropping fire retardant materials on the fire.

“We had to shut down subsequent missions that could have contained — possibly — that south side of the fire,” he added.

Via KTLA. Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr.

Apple Manufacturer Foxconn Looks to Open Shop in India

If you’re big into Apple products, you’ve seen this on pretty much everything you own: “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” But if Foxconn, one of Apple’s major manufacturing contractors, has its way, your next iPhone, iPad or MacBook could read, “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in India.”

Foxconn used to manufacture Nokia phones in India until the company’s mobile division was bought up by Microsoft. Since then, India’s high tech factories have been quiet. However, China is increasingly becoming a victim of its own success, with wage inflation driving many companies out of the Middle Kingdom.

The Taiwanese-owned company is not immune to these pressures. Apple remains one of Foxconn’s one of lucrative — if not the most lucrative — relationship the company has. Quanta Computer, a rival manufacturer, also assembles Apple’s products and is one of the direct competitors of Foxconn.

As Apple’s profile rose in the late ’90s, ’00s and ’10s, so did Foxconn’s. Reports of low wages, long work hours and employee suicides at its Chinese factories were widely reported in the media and was the basis of a now-debunked one man show. Though the negative publicity also tainted Apple, Foxconn does work other American high tech companies.

Moving operations to India will also help Apple gain a foothold in its booming economy. An iPhone 6 is about US$60 more than a comparable Samsung Galaxy S6. (Foxconn explored a similar option to manufacture in Brazil because of its steep import tax and its growing middle class.)

Foxconn plans on building out about 10 facilities in India, which includes factories and data centers.

Via Reuters.  Photo by mattsches/flickr


Apple Watch Dev Kit a Go at WWDC, but No New Apple TV According to Rumors

Unlike the iPhone introduction, Apple got the message that what people really want for their Apple Watches are native apps. It about a year for the company to get the message about what its smartphone customers really wanted, with Steve Jobs initially giving advice to would-be developers to write web apps for the device.

However, Tim Cook is expected to announce a developer kit for the Apple Watch when he takes the stage at the World Wide Developer Conference on Monday. In addition, the company’s been dropping hints that it would allow deeper access to the device than it currently allows.

However, what was expected to be a slam-dunk is turning out to be not such a sure thing. Hopes were riding high that Apple would introduce a new Apple TV to replace the current version that it rolled out back in March 2012. Rumors are now surfacing that a revised device may not make an appearance.

In any case, Apple will unveil what’s new for their operating systems on Monday, June 8.

Via The New York Times. Photo by Ted Eytan/flickr

USB-C (with Thunderbolt 3) is Really Your One, True Port

Thunderbolt, the superfast connection you’ve probably rarely used (if you’ve ever used it all) is ditching Mini DisplayPort  and taking up a much more familiar connector — USB.

However, it’s probably not a variant of USB most people have seen. Intel is rolling out ThunderBolt 3 using USB-C, the connector — the only connector, that is — on the new retina MacBook Apple rolled out a few months ago.

That being said, stock USB-C is impressive and its data transfer speed of 10Gbps is nothing to sneeze at, especially for anyone who remembers the original USB spec. It can also double as a power connection for the device or other devices its connected to. A Thunderbolt 3 cable can transfer data at 20Gbps or 40Gbps and offers the same power supply options of USB-C.

It can also support two 4K displays at 60Hz or a single 5K display at 60Hz from a single cable. Thunderbolt 3 is expected to be integrated into Intel’s upcoming Skylake chip, the follow on to the current Broadwell generation.

This is of particular interest to Apple’s MacBook Pro users — the latest versions of the notebooks use the previous Haswell series of chips, which caused some confusion. However, speculation is now mounting that the MacBook Pro line, and possibly the MacBook Air line, will be redesigned around Skylake and the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C connector.

The addition of Thunderbolt 3 will make future versions of the retina MacBook a more compelling device. Though reviews of the current model have been mixed, mostly due to the processor, the faster port and the inevitability of faster processors that run cooler and adoption of USB-C and multi-port hubs will make Apple’s single port laptop a much more mass market device.

So if you’re a pro, you’ll use use the $50+ active Thunderbolt cable  to connect your bank of monitors and RAID devices at 40Gbps to your MacBook Pro. If you’re a prosumer, maybe you’ll use the less expensive passive Thunderbolt cables to daisy chain your drives at 20Gbps. If you’re just someone looking to sync your smartphone and back up your computer to an external HDD, a regular USB-C connection at 10Gbps will be more than enough.

Truly, one connector and one cable (at least outwardly), to rule them all.

Via Ars Technica. Photo by Maurizio Pesce (pestoverde)/flickr.

GoPro to Introduce 320 Degree, 6 Camera “Sphere” and Drone

If you’re someone who doesn’t surf, BASE jump or engage in some kind of activity that makes your insurance agent wince, you probably don’t have much use for a GoPro. Nice to have, but like that treadmill you’re using to dry your towels, you probably won’t use it much. Or ever.

Or, will you? GoPro is working on new accessories to its product line. First up: a sphere (though it looks more like a cube) with six GoPros to capture 360 degrees of footage.

The device is meant for VR and AR applications. The company’s working on cloud-based storage for its device in addition to cloud-based activation of the cameras — which should come in handy when you have to tun on multiple devices simultaneously and sync up the footage. It’s expected to ship in the second half of 2015.

GoPro is also taking its camera, which is a popular third party add-on to consumer drones, and attaching it its own first party remote controlled flyer. If you’re hoping for a drone to follow you while risking life (and it if happens, I’m sure your heirs will be more than happy to put it up on YouTube), you’ll have to wait until the second half of next year.

Via TechCrunch. Photo by Tom Hart/flickr.

Hawaii-Based Total Recall Technologies Sues Oculus Rift’s Palmer Luckey

Total Recall Technologies filed a lawsuit in Northern California, alleging Palmer Luckey used information he gleaned while working for the Hawaii company to found Facebook-owned VR company and startup darling Oculus Rift.

Ron Igra and Thomas Seidl, Total Recall’s partners, developed a method to display real-world scenes and display it virtually. The pair claims to have paid Luckey and had him sign an NDA and exclusivity agreement in 2011. In 2012, they allege Luckey claimed the innovations and prototype he was developing for Total Recall as his own, despite their agreements.

“At all relevant times, the information provided to Luckey by TRT was confidential, and TRT expected the information to remain confidential,” Ars Technica reports the complaint as saying.

Ryan Ozawa of this blog and Hawaii Blog, noted that in 2013: “Seidl and Ron, listed as being based in Haiku on Maui, were ultimately granted patent 9,007,430 for a ‘System and method for creating a navigable, three-dimensional virtual reality environment having ultra-wide field of view.'”

Luckey launched Oculus Rift as a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012. However, he and the company were the subjects of controversy when he sold the company to Facebook for $2 billion — some objected to selling to Facebook, while others felt slighted they were not entitled to the payouts due to VCs and traditional investors because they backed the company though Kickstarter.

Texas-based video game publisher ZeniMax also filed suit against Oculus Rift in May, alleging that John Carmack (of Doom fame) left Id Software with its IP and poached employees. Carmack took a position as Oculus CTO in 2013.

Ozawa noted that ZeniMax’s lawsuit coincides with the time period of Luckey’s alleged work with Total Recall and the Kickstarter campaign.

Via Hawaii Blog and Ars Technica. Photo by Maurizio Pesce/flickr

Gene Munster Gives Up on His TV-Made-by-Apple Dream

Of all professions, none is more curious than that of the Wall Street analyst who pontificates about Apple.

Much has been written about them. Jokingly, they are compared to weathermen — except weathermen are more often right than Apple analysts are.

While we’re talking about jokes, let’s talk about Gene Munster.

One of the most famous — or, rather, infamous — analysts in Apple circles is Munster with Piper Jaffray. I suppose all of that’s supposed to mean something to someone with their own private jet. Otherwise, Munster’s just someone scans Apple rumor sites and makes financial pronouncements as to what Apple should and shouldn’t do.

However, Apple rarely does anything that seems to make sense to analysts. In Munster’s case, he’s been saying for years that Apple will come out with a TV. Not an Apple TV, because Apple already makes that. No, he means an actual TV, like the ones you see on shelves at a Costco or bolted to a wall at Best Buy, made by Apple.

Never mind the arguments that made sense, like TVs are a low profit margin item. Or that Apple doesn’t have any interest in categories with low profit margins. Or that Apple has a perfectly good solution for most people, the Apple TV.

He’s predicted for years that a TV made by Apple would happen any day now. Logic be damned, it was going to happen and people were going to pay $1,500 for it!

I suppose if you say something long enough, it’ll probably happen. You know, like a broken clock and being right twice a day.

But Gene Munster’s finally given up the dream. He’s resigned to believing, like most people did years ago, that Apple will never get into actually manufacturing a TV. And if it means anything to Apple, Piper Jaffray is “adjusting” their expectations (it doesn’t). Apple will only release an updated Apple TV. Probably with apps. Maybe with cable integration.

At this point I was going to make a joke about Munster being the heir to the munster cheese fortune, because obviously, he isn’t very good at his day job. But keep in mind that that first year analysts make between $65,000 to $85,000 per year, plus bonuses that can hit $48,000. Six figure salaries with high five figure/six figure bonuses aren’t unheard of.

So let me make a very serious proposition, hedge fund managers, investment banks and mutual fund directors: allow me to offer the services of TekSpotting, for the purposes of prognosticating about the goings-on of Apple.

If Gene Munster can pull down that kind of cash for that kind of performance, we’re sure we can do better. We’re more than willing to talk to you, one percenters, about our forecasts regarding everyone’s favorite fruit company.

What are you afraid of? Making money?

Via MacRumors. Photo by Adam Knight/flickr.