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Location-Aware Services: What You Need to Know

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Social media services such as Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla and Foursquare are pushing into the next big thing in Internet media hype: location-aware services.

But what exactly is this new phenomenon?

Location-aware services, at its core, enables these applications to utilise your current physical location to enhance the user experience of the service. This is done through GPS technology built into many of today’s smartphones and laptops.

Sounds scary, right? George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four must be coming to mind, as this new step may be likened to a “big brother” move. Well, it’s not all that, actually: location-aware services, as I’ve mentioned above, will actually enhance your use of these products, as they become more intelligent, making them easier to assist you in accessing information pertinent to your current location.

The big news amongst bloggers is the announcement from Facebook that they’re planning on introducing a new “location-enabled” feature to the site. This is big, because of Facebook’s mammoth size, and especially for us South Africans, this means that the addition of location will affect us, as over a million South Africans use the social networking site daily.

Initially, location was envisioned to be attached to status updates, so that your friends would know where you are at the time of posting the status (much like what Twitter does at the moment).

However, after seeing the potential of location, Facebook has some new plans. They haven’t explicitly announced them yet (more info will be available at the f8 conference next month).

What’s interesting is that Facebook’s approach is to integrate location as a “place”, that will be attached to Pages (especially for restaurants). Here’s what we imagine this to be: you login to Facebook via your mobile whilst out and about. A new section on the app, possibly labelled “Places to Go”, will appear. You select this, and a list of restaurants, businesses and shops near you (in perhaps a set radius) appears, allowing you to select a Page linked to the list to learn more about that place, and perhaps get directions to the restaurant or shop. If it is something like this, it’d be pretty cool, and at the same time would be a spin-off to businesses, allowing them greater exposure.

So businesses and especially restaurants should take this new move to heart, and if not already done so, step into the digital age by getting a Facebook page. This will enable them to be ready to go when Facebook launches this new feature within the next month.

OLPC: What's Happened with the Project

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The One Laptop Per Child project, initiated to oversee the production of educational laptops (namely, the XO-1 model) that were designed to benefit children in developing countries, who didn't have access to computers, and thus the power of learning through the Internet. The project started in January 2005, and its mission was:
To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning.
—(OLPC Mission Statement)
According to Nicholas Negroponte,
It's an education project, not a laptop project.
To sum up its history, the project was relatively successful in its execution. The team managed to deploy the notebooks to a range of developing countries in need, and those schools in need benefited from the introduction of this technology to their students, many of whom hadn't even seen a computer in their lives.

Of course, this project didn't come without controversy: there were criticisms that the laptops' software, a variant of the open-source Linux operating system, was detrimental to the development of computer skills that would be a spin-off of these students' use of the technology; some argued that a lower-end version of Microsoft Windows would expose these students to what "real-world" computing was all about.

While I do believe that these critics have a fair point, the bottom line is that Microsoft's (MSFT) software is ridiculously priced; it would prove difficult for the OLPC Foundation to market their laptop if it had Windows, as there would be a significant price increase.

Anyway, since the deployment of the XO-1, the OLPC Foundation has announced the development of its successor, the XO-2 (naturally). It's a significant upgrade from the rather clunky-looking XO-1, and features a dual-screen layout that alludes to the fancy e-readers with are so common in the developed world.

The screens in question are Pixel Qi Dual-Mode screens, and they have been used already on the Asus Aspire One netbook. Interestingly, the XO-2 is being called a "netbook" now, which brings it into the
"modern age" of mobile computing, and shows that this appears to be a far more serious device than its predecessor.

The XO-2 will also continue to use the customised open source software popularized by the XO-1. The battery is expected to be a 16 - 20 WH LiFePO battery, offering up to 8 hours with moderate use. Storage will be, as with the XO-1, available via NAND flash.

So far, it looks promising. From the OLPC wiki, here's what's expected of the dual-mode screens:
At least three modes of operation are expected:
  • Book mode - the handbook is used as a notebook or book reader, and viewed with its hinge vertical.
  • Laptop mode - the "lower" (right hand) display of the handbook displays a keyboard, leaving the upper display for application windows.
  • Tablet mode - when flat, the handbook provides a surface for drawing, writing, and games.
No plans are in place for a release date, but developing countries are in for a treat if this project is realised. Let's just hope the pricing won't let it down.

Good Reads: The Social Network for Readers

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Good Reads is the social network to go to if you're an avid reader (like me). I found it by chance, actually, whilst browsing through the list of companies funded by GigaOM founder Om Malik, through his startup venture capital company, True Ventures (I highly recommend you check out some of their other, quite interesting startups too.)

Good Reads is very easy to navigate around, and you can easily connect with your friends right after registration, as the site links to Facebook and your Gmail contacts, amongst a few others.

Interestingly, Good Reads was started and funded privately (before True began backing them, after they began taking the web by storm) by Otis Chandler.

Once you're all signed up, you can begin adding books to your virtual "shelves". You have a total of three shelves: Read, Currently Reading, and To Read. You can then go about searching the site for titles to add to these shelves. Subsequently, you can also rate books on a five-star ranking system.

But the magic really happens when you share your shelves with others: Good Reads has an intelligent "connection" tool that assesses what books you're into, and finds friends with compatible tastes, who can then automatically recommend good reads to you (and vice-versa).

What's also great is that you can purchase books in your "to-read" shelf via Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and a few other online retailers. (Unfortunately for South African users, Exclusive Books is not partnered with Good Reads.)

You can also write and read reviews on books that you're interested in, and join reading groups and discussions to really get into the books you like, and to get diverse opinions on what other like-minded readers have to say about your "good reads".

And finally, a cool feature is the ability to update your friends on your current status on the book(s) you're currently reading — that is, to give a "live" page-count of where in the book you currently are.

Visit Good Reads at www.goodreads.com.


Earth Hour. Let's Unite to Save the Planet Through Technology

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The reality is that technology is a main cause for climate change. But as users of technology, and enthusiasts of computing, we have an obligation to the planet. And Earth Hour, an initiative started by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), is a great opportunity for you, as a tech-savvy user, to make your stand against this vile plague that's consuming the planet.

Earth Hour asks that you switch off your lights for an hour on Saturday, 27th March 2010. This global campaign, one of the largest in the world, and perhaps the largest collective stand against climate change, is to ensure awareness of the reality of climate change: that's it's there, it's destroying the planet, and we as humans are partly to blame, due to our industrial actions.

That's why, as users of technology, we at Byte Lounge pledge to you to join this global stand, this uniting of the world to curb carbon emissions and broadcast our message to those in our society that are still ignorant, or want to remain ignorant due to their guilt of playing a role in destroying the planet, by becoming a part of Earth Hour 2010.

It's simple, really: all you have to do is switch off your lights for an hour tonight, at 8:30pm.

But as Byte Lounge readers, I've got a challenge for you: let's take it a step further, and publicise and use clean-energy technology, or cut down our computing use during Earth Hour. We can do this by:
  • Running our computing devices at half-power, or no power at all.
  • Use energy-efficient sites. Did you know that Google has its own clean-energy version? It's called Blackle, and you can access it at www.blackle.com.
  • Making sure that, if game consoles are not in use, they're turned off, as "standby mode" still sipps power, and can be detrimental in the long-run.
Let's make the stand against global warming together. Visit the official Earth Hour website here.

Do you have any ideas on how to curb carbon emissions? Share them in the comments below.

Weekend Reading — What to Read on Byte Lounge

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As we near our 100th post, here's a compilation of some of our recent articles from 2010 that you should check out. Read insights and opinions, plus check out some of the great technology headed for us in the near future.

  • Why You Should Be on Twitter Right Now: Read all about the meme that's taken the Internet by storm, connecting people with their favourite icons and celebrities, and why you should be on the network now, if you currently aren't.

These are just some of the many articles currently on Byte Lounge. You can read the rest of them by navigating through our Archives, accessible via the menu on the right.

Silicon Valley, Here's Why You Should Invest in South Africa

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Recently, I posted about how the first-ever uncapped Internet deal in South Africa would pave the way for Silicon Valley startups to invest in this country's lucrative and emerging technological market. Today, I'm going to tell you why they should invest in South African technology, and why South Africa perhaps needs to start the trend here, on African soil, by creating our own "Silicon Valley".

South Africa is currently leading the African continent into the Internet age, with the new Seacom cable connecting the country (and subsequently, the continent) to Asia and Europe. It's ultra-high speed Internet, and as time goes on, we predict prices to come down drastically.

Couple that with the success in our own "social media" technology (MXit, anyone?) and we can easily say that this country is on the road to developing our tech industry.


South Africa can be considered the "gateway" into the African continent, a market that many Silicon Valley startups have expressed interest in expanding into — the large marketshare to be gained, coupled with the "ethical goodness" that would spin-off from their ventures is sure to build brand image, at the least.

By investing in the emerging technological sector in this country, these startups will inevitably gain a foothold into other African countries, as they beta-test their products in an already tech-savvy environment such as South Africa, at the same time learning more about how to do business in a foreign land such as this.

I strongly believe that the time for only the major tech companies that started in and around Silicon Valley (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo) to permeate international markets successfully, is slowly coming to a close, as there certainly is opportunity for the smaller Web 2.0 startups to start branching out into newer markets, learning more about world business through their interactions with foreign investments, and ultimately growing the world economy. At the same time, they will be given more room to innovate, something that I feel is sorely needed in the dense cloud of startups that have suddenly sprung into existance in America.

Africa presents the opportunity for these technological startups to explore the fields of clean energy, cost-efficient communications and social media, fields that are starting to define what Silicon Valley does today. It's no longer only about the microchip: it's about expanding technology to bring the world closer.

Silicon Valley, the time to invest in South Africa is now. And with the FIFA World Cup just around the corner, the timing couldn't be better.

Free The Web SA: The Movement for a Better Internet Experience in South Africa

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To put it simply, the Internet offered in South Africa can be summed up into one word: bad.

Speaking as a broadband user of about three years, my experience with some of the major broadband suppliers in this country has not fared well. Coupled with exuberant prices and dismal support for a diverse range of computing platforms, the web experience in South Africa can almost be described as parallel to that of China's oppressed Internet access.

That's why I jumped at the chance to add my support to a new movement (online, of course) for change in the way South Africans access the web — and I don't mean access in the experience wise, I mean access at the most basic level: purchasing a decent network package that delivers for what you pay.

For years, us South Africans have been taken for a ride by fat cat Internet monopolies flaunting disgracing deals that empty our pockets and bank accounts faster than the network speed we're after. These companies play on the apparent ignorance of the basic web user, who, they feel, can be taken for a ride and made to pay their exuberant fees for meagre access.

Well, the reign of these unscrupulous Internet providers has finally come to an end, I am delighted to report. The massive online movement, started on Facebook — which, I might add, has gained my respect as a force to be reckoned with when persuading for big causes —has been so successful that MWeb, one of South Africa's largest Internet providers, has recently announced uncapped Internet access at R219.

This is a quantum leap forward, to paraphrase Apple, in my opinion, for South African Internet users. It represents the hope for a better web experience for the future, and Internet access for more of the population. With the 2010 FIFA World Cup coming up very soon, the world's eyes will be trained on us, and, especially, the eyes of investors hoping to stake fortunes in our rich economy.

While the large population has predicted that the more "physical" industries will be invested into, I have a strong feeling that Silicon Valley startups wanting to break into the African market with their exciting and ambitious ideas, will be particularly interested in our technological finess, and by having a strong Internet access platform, with a large userbase, their plans can certainly be made possible. And, of course, this will lead to a better South Africa, and in a macroscopic perspective, a better Africa, for all.

New HTC phones for South Africa in April

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HTC fans across the country will rejoice at the news that the smartphone maker will be releasing two new models in South Africa on April 12, 2010.

The phones in question are the Legend and Desire.

Here's a little overview of each phone:

HTC Legend
The Legend, the smaller of the two new phones, has a 600MHz processor, and runs the Android 2.1 operating system. It also sports HTC's Sense user interface. Furthermore, it is constructed as a unibody design, which will certainly aid its durability (speaking from experience of owning a MacBook unibody, this type of design is really strong.)





HTC Desire
The Desire is the more powerful mobile, sporting an impressive 1GHz processor, and is said to be comparable to the Google Nexus One phone. What's really cool about this phone is its 3.7" AMOLED screen, providing vivid colours on a good-sized display. It has a 5 megapixel camera, and also runs Android 2.1.

At the moment, it's unclear which South African carrier will be selling these phones, but as they've been available via Vodafone in the UK, it's likely that VodaCom will push it into our market come April 12.

The Legend and Desire will be pivotal to HTC's success in this BlackBerry and iPhone-dominant market. HTC, once the prime provider of smartphones for the professional sector, lost ground when Apple's iPhone launched in 2008, a stylish phone that seemed to offer so much more (in typical Apple style, of course), than what HTC had. Thus, this pairing of an HTC mobile with the more open-ended Android platform, will hopefully help the phone maker to regain its lost ground. Look out for the two models, April 12.

Why You Should Be on Twitter Right Now

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Twitter: love it or hate it, its the tech meme that has literally taken the world by storm. It's revolutionised the way we communicate, get the latest news and information, stay on top of the latest trends, and ultimately express ourselves. It's even taken us one step closer to communicating with our favourite celebrities and icons.

But there's still a majority of Internet users that remain cynical about the web app. Now while I understand that the premise of "wanting to know what random people are doing every two minutes" does not appeal to everyone, the unfortunate reality is that these web citizens have been drastically mislead as to the actual function of Twitter. And it's partially us Twitter-savvy users to blame.

We have advertised the service in the wrong light — emphasising the following of arbitrary people, and the position of the service as a "bordem-buster" web app.

Well, the bottom line is that Twitter is not a "boredom-buster" app. It's perhaps the 21st Century's most powerful marketing and social-influence technology, a platform that has incredible spin-offs for both businesses and individuals in enhancing brand image (be it corporate, or personal).

And if you're currently not on Twitter, and not using the service to publish your opinions in a concise format, then you're clearly behind in the tech world. A recent study estimates that Twitter has experienced a 1500% growth in users in in March 2010. It's moving the world, and you certainly need to get on now, or risk being left out in the near-future, when new and exciting features are added to the platform.


But the most beautiful thing about Twitter in my opinion, is the limitation of your tweets to 140 characters. This forces users to say more, with less. It embraces the concept of minimalism, another trend that is creeping into the modern, tech and lifestyle savvy society. It forces you to become creative, teaches you skills on expressing with less, and allows you to consume a lot more information a lot more quickly.

Twitter: love it or hate it, it's changing the world.

Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/RahulDowlath

Viewer Request: LED Projectors Part 2

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Continuing on from the first part of this post, I want to look at an offering from 3M, their MPro120 Pocket Projector. Now in the first part of the review, we saw that while the Samsung was classed as a Pocket Projector, it really could not pull it off with a weight of just under 1kg.

The MPro120 succeeds where the P410M fails; weighing in at 154 grams. This makes the MPro120 very, very portable, more when you see the dimensions: just 120mm x 60mm x 24mm (L x W x H). That is smaller than an A5 sheet of paper, and can fit in a breast-pocket or comfortably with your laptop.



Bundled with the Pocket Projector are, an AC Adaptor, Mini Tripod, and a Audio/Video cable that allows you to connect your computer/laptop via a VGA port. It is possible to connect one's iPod Touch or iPhone. However, an optional cable is needed if you intend to use the Pocket Projector in that manner.

The MPro120 can display at a maximum resolution of 640x480, which is the standard VGA resolution, and can project screen sizes ranging from 8 inches as a minimum, upto a maximum of 50 inches. Providing the juice for this projector is a (rechargeable) lithium polymer battery which lasts up to four hours on the low brightness setting, and three hours on high brightness.


Those who have used the MPro120 say that in normal light conditions, the quality of the image produced leaves something to be desired, but once the ambient light is reduced, the MPro120 really shines (no pun intended), giving picture quality that is remarkable for such a small device.

If you are looking for a portable projector that is good for presentations and (occasionally) movies, then the MPro120 is a very attractive option. Check out 3M's Website for the latest pricing and other details.

Get the Latest Oscar Scoop Online

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Oscar weekend is upon us once again, and the world's eyes turn this evening to the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood where the best of the best of showbiz are awarded for their exhilarating performances on the silver screen.

So, in the build-up to the 82nd Annual Academy Awards, I'm going to tell you about a few sites that'll keep you on the pulse of what's happening on the red carpet.

IMDB's "Road to the Oscars 2010"
The Internet Movie Database has a live page that provides the latest from Hollywood, including winners of the pre-Oscars awards, and insider gossip on who's expected to bag what. Check it out here.

The IMDB Live Twitter Feed
Along with their updated website, IMDB is running a Twitter feed directly from the Kodak Theatre. Be sure to follow it to get definitive Oscar coverage, especially if there's no TV nearby to watch the red carpet interviews.

Oscar.com
The ultimate online Oscar experience is, of course, the official Oscar website. Watch live red carpet interviews, inside coverage of the awards, and celeb gossip from Hollywood in the build-up to the awards. This year, the Academy will be following in the wake of previous entertainment awards such as the Grammys, in embracing the social revolution by integrating the Oscar experience online through their official Oscar.com website.

The above three sites are great for keeping up with Oscar excitement. So, the big question really is: who do you want to see bag the big awards? My hopes are Up for Best Animated Feature, and Avatar for best Special Effects, Set Design and Director.

Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Follow Us on Facebook!

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In case you didn't already know, Byte Lounge is now on Facebook. You're invited to become a fan of us on everyone's favourite social networking site, and keep up with the tech pulse.

On the Facebook page, you'll have access to:

  • Connect with fellow Byte Lounge readers
  • Share your opinions on tech
  • Engage in discussions on trending tech topics
  • Get the latest updates to your Facebook Home screen when a new post is up on the blog.
So navigate to facebook.com/bytelounge and become a fan today!

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