Crowdfunding Spotlight: ALYT

Crowdfunding Spotlight: ALYT

Apr 23, 2014

Even though sometimes these things seem impractical it is good to highlight those projects that are actively pushing the envelope and creating the foundation for the future in technology. This week I believe we have just that project in ALYT; a project that could be the dominating iPod-esque frontrunner 20 years from now or a necessary unsuccessful attempt that piqued interest but left room to be improved. We’re always hoping that these projects are successful of course and ALYT is bringing some serious innovation to a burgeoning field of tech that is beginning to show signs of cash grab mimicry.

The technology is Z-Wave and it is a standard that allows appliances and security systems to interact and create the futuristic, mythical smart-home. The technology is quite impressive and seems to has the benefit to watching the missteps of previous wireless standards such as wifi and Bluetooth. There have been a lot of developers hoping to gain an early foothold on this market which has lead to a lot of helpful products that unfortunately have not been very creative. Most of these are just simple modules that work with an existing security system, and there has not been much of an effort to make a device that ties all these devices together. This is what the ALYT aims to do. The ALYT‘s goal is to be the central hub of the house; the device that manages not just the security system but the lights, thermostat, and even the shopping list from a connected refrigerator. All these plans are possible because unlike a lot of other devices the ALYT has 512 MB of RAM which allows it to smoothly run its Android software and manage all the scheduling and security measures that accompany a fully operational smart-home.


Now this is obviously a piece of technology that is still a handful of years away from breaking into the average family’s ranch, but the ALYT seems like a very solid piece of hardware with some smart software and a very impressive looking app for both Android and iOS. It goes without saying, but as with everything now this is fully compatible with most smartphones, but what is interesting is that the ALYT comes with a 3.5G cellular connection and a battery backup in case of a power outage. It’s these little things that make me think that this little device can really embed itself into the middle of this emerging field, and it is definitely worth a look at its IndieGoGo page.

Facebook Home Announced – Available April 12th For Just A Few Android Phones

Facebook Home Announced – Available April 12th For Just A Few Android Phones

Apr 4, 2013

Facebook today announced Facebook Home, the first step in making the most personal computer in your life more personal.

During a special event today, Facebook announced a new initiative to make mobile phones more personal. The first step is to release Facebook Home, a launcher replacement for Android that puts Facebook content front and center on the device. From the lock screen, to the launcher, to even what Facebook is calling Chat Heads floating persistently above other apps.

The goal with Facebook Home is to change the way we use our most personal computer, the smartphone. The typical interface on a smartphone is not that much different from what it was 32 years ago when Windows 1.0 was released. A series of windows with icons. Home is the first step to try to flip how we think about our relationships and data and put the interactions first. It’s a good first step, but like most things will need a few revisions to be widely popular.

For one thing, at launch on April 12, only the latest of the latest phones will be able to access the app. The Galaxy S III is the oldest phone on the list, three of the devices on the compatible list aren’t even out yet. Here’s the list of compatible devices for launch: HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung GALAXY S III and Samsung GALAXY Note II. The upcoming devices that Home will work with include the GALAXY S IV, HTC One, and HTC First. The HTC First will be the first phone to come with Facebook Home as the default launcher, pre-installed.

There are three main parts to Facebook Home. The home/lock screen, the chat heads, and the launcher. The home/lock screen allows viewing of the latest of Facebook News Feed stories, at least the ones with large enough images to look good. Swiping left and right to view more stories, double touch to like, or hit the comment bubble to add thoughts to the post.

When in home screen mode your avatar will be shown at the bottom of the screen. This allows opening apps, going to Facebook Messenger, or quickly accessing the last app used.

Above, Facebook Home, Home Screen / Cover Feed In Action.

The Chat Heads feature is a system-wide persistent floating bubbles showing avatars of friends that have send Facebook Messages. The chat heads allow interaction with their message, replying, ignoring, etc.

Above, Chat Heads in Action

And finally, the launcher. This replaces the standard launcher in Android and allows both a full, alphabetized list of apps along with the default view, a grid of bookmarked apps. The launcher also has buttons to quickly post a status update, photo, or check-in.

In the short time I had with it, Facebook Home actually works surprisingly well. It has been specifically optimized to deliver the quick response that is expected of a system level app. Apparently a new physics engine was created to support the animations and keep everything smooth.

Facebook looks to open up Home to other applications in the future. This would allow access to notifications from other apps, viewing updates from other apps in the cover feed, and even interacting with other apps while the phone is locked. This is all coming and no specific details were announced.

Facebook also took a bit of time to announce the HTC First. The first device that will ship with Facebook Home as the default launcher. While this does give Home a few extra features, the phone itself is a wholly uninteresting mid-level device.

Facebook Home will be available for download on April 12 to users of the phones listed above. Others will be rolled out, hopefully quickly, in the coming months.

KickStarter Spotlight: Lifx

KickStarter Spotlight: Lifx

Sep 26, 2012

In a house with five other guys, my room is a complete sanctuary. Because it is the only thing I can control in the house, I treat it like my heaven, and I am constantly looking for ways to make it more comfortable and convenient. A while back I looked into color-changing LED lightbulbs that operated on remote control. I thought the idea was brilliant; come in at night and relax with a nice blue light or maybe spice it up depending on the mood. Either way I was wholly disappointed in the product I received as it was broken and much smaller than expected. Because of that failure I was excited when I ran across the Lifx on KickStarter.

Lifx is an LED light that connects to any home wireless network and is controlled by a smartphone. It would have been easy for the developers to just simply stop at changing the color, and I, frankly, would have been satisfied. But seeing as this is a KickStarter project, it is a safe bet that these developers did not become complacent. Some simple additions, such as dimming and batch operation are included, but the one that I am most impressed by is the ability for the light to deliver phone notifications. Imagine every time a text message comes in the room blinks green or blue for Facebook notifications. There is also an option to program lights onto specific actions and cycles, such as dimming over a period of time or turning on every day at 8 am.

There is another feature that sets all the connected lights to music and instantly gives a club atmosphere to any room. As with most other programmable devices on KickStarter, Lifx is completely open source and comes with an SDK. As I have stated here multiple times, opening a device like this to hackers and programmers worldwide is essential to a start-up project taking off. One glaring issue I saw was the price. The lowest donation reward was set at $70, which gives one Lifx bulb. That price point needs to come down in order for this to gain any kind of traction with general consumers. But assuming that happens, Lifx is an amazing product and a great example of what happens when developers continually improve a solid initial design.

Theme Thursday – Steampunk Rusted

Theme Thursday – Steampunk Rusted

Sep 29, 2011

This week’s theme is Steampunk Rusted, an attractive theme for all the steampunk enthusiasts out there.

To say the steampunk crowd are an eclectic bunch would be an understatement. Not content to exist solely in our modern era, they don’t quite dwell in the past, either. Instead, they invent a new era that melds the old with the new, creating an alternate timeline — a history that never was.

As such, the steampunk aesthetic represents a fashion, a taste for objects that eschew modern design while maintaining modern function. Featured heavily are modified clothing and gadgetry designed to look as though the Victorian period never ended and here we are today. Fond as steampunk enthusiasts are of customizing objects, it makes perfect sense that any easily modifiable entity will be made to resemble that imagery — an Android device running ADW Launcher, for example.

ADW Launcher, the customizable home replacement utility for Android, can easily undergo drastic changes in design and function simply by selecting a new theme and applying it. Taking the idea further, you can mix and match themes, designing a wholly new theme just by editing objects and settings to your desire. It’s no wonder there are several steampunk designs in existence on the the Android Market.

Featuring a grunged up interface, laced with corrosion and signs of wear, the metallic and glass elements mixed with mechanical accoutrements in the backgrounds (notice the gears on the wallpaper in one of the screenshots, below) lend themselves to the steampunk aesthetic in many attractive ways. The icons are similarly fitting, resembling small buttons with crystal caps and brass fittings.

If you like the look of Steampunk Rusted, you can take it even further with several additions, such as this Steampunk Clock widget and this Steampunk Gears live wallpaper. Steampunk Rusted also features compatibility with several other launchers, especially Panda Home.

Steampunk Rusted is available on the Android Market for US$1.29.