August 12, 2010

Yes, I succumbed. Or more accurately, iSuccumbed.

I’ve been a loyal Palm fanboy for more than a decade. I’ve had a series of Palm devices, including the Palm VII, several Treos, and finally the Palm Pre. I’ve touted Palm for years and even converted numerous (but not countless, I admit) folks to the Palm mentality.

When the iPhone was released several years ago, I was quick to disparage it. It lacked a physical keyboard. It didn’t sport a visual notifications that would linger after the screen shuts off. Its vibrate alert was dweeby. Its push email, other than for its own emails, is half-hearted. Apple is resistant to hacky-innovation. Heck, at that time, the iPhone didn’t even have copy-and-paste.

So, as millions upon millions of iPhones were sold in its various incarnations, I continued to resist its siren song. I fought the lemming lure and stayed steadfast to Palm (now HP/Palm) and its wonderful WebOS devices.

And yet, earlier this week, I succumbed.

I ordered an iPhone 4, and it’ll arrive soon. I cannot wait.

So why did I succumb? Two words: FaceTime and Apps. (Ok, so that’s three words – but somehow “and” just doesn’t count.)


Using FaceTime, two iPhone 4 users can hold a two-way videophone conversation. FaceTime also takes advantage of several iPhone 4 features: a camera in the front, and another in the back. And FaceTime makes it possible for the user to “flip” the view from front to back without having to flip the camera – a very useful feature.

Videoconferencing via a smartphone ain’t new. Not much innovation there. Yet, Apple is able to come up with hardware that works well and sell enough units that they become part of the mainstream. And because of the sheer number of devices with these features, developers and businesses take heed and develop nearly countless (ok, over 200,000) related apps.

Take, for example, ZVRS – a video relay interpreting service for people who are deaf or hard of hearing or have communication disabilities. ZVRS partnered with Apple and built an app in which iPhone users can make “phone calls” while communicating via sign language through ZRS’s interpreters. Niiiiiiiiiice.

ZVRS iPhone app

The iPhone hardware and its associated (and massive) ecosystem are the two main reasons why iSuccumbed after so long. At this time, Palm simply does not have the numbers (both smartphones and apps) to keep me. I’m certain that with HP’s recent acquisition, Palm will release new hardware – but it has waited too long, and I am moving on.

Don’t get me wrong. WebOS, I firmly believe, is still superior to iOS. I particularly love how WebOS multitasks (and the fact that it has multitasked from day one). I adore the gesture areas outside the screen on the Pre and Pixi! Yet the numbers and new hardware simply aren’t there (yet?).

No, wait. I’m at least giving the iPhone a 30-day trial period to see if I truly like it (and AT&T) enough to abandon Palm altogether.

Stay iTuned.

VPAD+ Accessories

February 23, 2009

Now you’ve got your uber-cool VPAD+ from Viable.  Now you’ve got to put it someplace!

Clear View Innovations — otherwise known as CVI Gear — has three mounts and stands for the VPAD+ which may help you decide.  All three are useful for freeing up space on your desk or counter, and for raising the VPAD+ to eye level.

The CVI Flexarm Mount is a doo-hickey that clamps to the edge of a kitchen counter or desk, and has a flexible arm that can be bent one way or another.

The CVI Pivot Mount is similar to the Flexarm Mount in that it clamps to the edge of your kitchen counter or desk.  It has a longer and straight arm that has a 360 degrees pivot for eye-level communications.

The CVI Table Stand can be put onto a table without having to clamp it to an edge.  And you can quickly move the VPAD+ and stand to another location.

All three products are made to order.  So if you want to hang your VPAD+ from up high, say from the top edge of your armoire or bookshelf, the manufacturer can make a “reverse” mount to make this easier for you.  All three products are $99.99.

VPAD+ Coming Out Soon

September 19, 2008

Viable will soon be releasing the next generation of the VPAD videophone! It’ll have the following enhancements:

  • Bluetooth technology (good for a headphone for voice carryover)
  • Built-in WiFi capability (so that means you don’t need a WiFi “stick”)
  • Dual USB ports (good for adding keyboard, mouse, headphone, etc)
  • Improved touchscreen function
  • 10-digit number dialing (which resolves a long-standing complaint of mine that it was impossible to call a VPAD except with another VPAD)
  • Browser support for WiFi log-ins (hmm, wonder if we’ll eventually be able to use the VPAD as a separate Internet browser?)
  • A re-designed user interface
  • Acoustic echo cancellation
  • Improved camera function
  • Continued upgrades automatically sent to the customer’s VPAD+

Viable states in its press release that it has listened to and incorporated feedback from many customers and testers into the new VPAD+. Also according to Viable, the VPAD+ is expected to be available for sale only from Viable for an introductionary price of $99. Nope, not free, but that means I’ll be able to buy one for my hearing mother. Customers would need to register for a “Viable Number” — a ten-digit number — and schedule home installation. (Hmm, I wonder if I can still buy one for my mom anyway …)

I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed with Viable’s ability to design and release videophones into the market at a faster rate than the MVP. Even if the first VPAD design may have come with a variety of problems, that hasn’t deterred Viable from addressing these problems and releasing a new design.

EDIT: Some additional information, thanks to commentators and Viable customer service:

  • The old VPAD’s firmware will continue to be upgraded, but the touch-screen won’t be improved much because the hardware is different from that being used in the new VPAD+.
  • The VPAD+ uses a better battery, runs for 2-2.5 hours, and will have the Viable logo on it. It’s still external, though, and user would still have to shut down the VPAD+ in order to swap cords. The battery will also be sold separately (but at least the wifi is built-in this time).

I have a Viable VPAD with a wifi “stick” and a battery pack.  It’s very nice being able to chat with friends from anywhere in my house without worrying about an Ethernet cable or having to plug it in!

A friend of mine in California has a similar set-up.  But the first time she used her VPAD wirelessly to talk with me in her kitchen, her picture was horribly blurry!  So she called me back the next day, and it worked just fine.  We were puzzled over it, but at that time we couldn’t figure it out.  A few moments into the conversation, she wanted to show me her kitchen — and she turned her ceiling fan on to show it off.  As the ceiling fan blades began rotating, her VPAD screen became horribly blurred before freezing.

A-ha!  Ceiling fans and VPADs do not mix!

For some reason, my VPAD works fine even when my family room’s ceiling fan blades come into view.  So, it’s not ALL ceiling fans.  Maybe it’s electrical interference from some ceiling fans; maybe it’s the blades with certain backgrounds that causes too much motion on the screen.  This bears further experimentation.

But wanted to let you folks know.  VPADs and some ceiling fans simply don’t mix.  I wonder if the same is true for wifi laptops — hmm.

Since May 19, SnapVRS has been making it possible for callers to be connected to 9-1-1 just by dialing “911” on their Ojo videophones.  Sorenson began doing that last year, and Viable just yesterday.  Good move, SnapVRS, even if it’s being mandated by FCC!

Callers would have to provide the address where emergency services are needed.  I find it interesting that Sorenson has paired with another company to trace your IP address to where you are calling from.  I wonder how accurate that is — and whether that company has access to more detailed information that makes it possible to link IP addresses to actual street addresses or if (like SnapVRS and Viable) the caller still must provide his/her address.

Most deaf folks I know haven’t used a TTY in years — rather, they just use videophones as well as text-based relay services through the Internet or via their pagers. But they still kept a “landline” phone line with a TTY next to it. For for? Ah, for emergencies! They needed a way to call 9-1-1, and having the TTY and phone ready was a way to make sure they’d get an ambulance or police over whenever they needed it. (Now, if only these 9-1-1 emergency providers will always respond to TTY calls …)

Viable VRS will soon be able to connect you to your local 9-1-1 emergency service provider. All you would need to do is dial “911” on ViableVision or your VPAD and click on “VRS.” If you’re using a different videophone, you would be able to dial the full address as following — please be sure to save this at the top of your contacts list!

  • Dialing 911 or via Viable Vision and the VPAD
  • Dialing via D-Link DVC-1000, Sorenson VP-100, or the Ojo
  • Dialing via Sorenson VP-200

NOTE: This 9-1-1 emergency service is not yet “live” — I’ll let you know when Viable begins providing this service.

I previously blogged about Sorenson providing 9-1-1 services a year ago. Good to see another VRS provider getting into the game, even if it’s being mandated by FCC. I’ll also let you know when other VRS providers begin providing 9-1-1 services as well.

Now, my question is: if you’ve got high-speed Internet and a videophone (or several videophones!) at home, do you even need a landline phone line installed in your home nowadays?

EDIT (6/3/2008): Viable just released a video explaining this new service.  Carla Mathers is featured in this video — good job, dear Carla!

(EDIT 10:30am: Some more information from Viable — see new blog post.)

Better sign up now for a DeafNation Expo near you! Viable VPADs will be sold at the next several DeafNation Expos for just $99, down from the full price of $699.

And Viable has confirmed that these aren’t pre-orders. People will be actually walking out with honest-to-gosh VPADs!

Viable also confirmed that this special offer is limited to one per person. If you want to buy a second VPAD, it’d cost a whopping $699.

I contacted a friend who lives near Pomona, California where the next Expo will take place this Saturday and asked him to get me TWO and ship them to me! But that was before I found out about the one-per-person limit. Dang.

Those of you who are getting VPADs this weekend – I truly envy you.

A friend of mine is thinking of flying out from DC to an upcoming DeafNation Expo just to get one of those VPADs sooner.

And Viable? You’d better stock up. You’re gonna sell out.


Brendan Steuben Steuble, the manager of the VPAD project at Viable, left the following comment with more info on the VPAD on both Amy Cohen Efron and my blog posts announcing the VPAD. Thanks, Brendan, and we look forward to getting even more information on this from you. This new videophone is certainly generating a lot of buzz and excitement!

Hi. I am the manager of the VPAD project for Viable, Inc. We are very excited by the response generated at this year’s CES unveiling. I would like to assure you all that this device is real, exists in quantity, and will be available very very soon: it is not an “idea” or “prototype”.

Of particular note is the ability of the device to provide Video Remote Interpreting, where if it is in the room and on, a deaf and hearing person can speak to each other. Also, it does not need a “public ip” address, and works inside your office, your hotel, your home, or in a wifi hotspot.

It is so easy to setup and use that a child or the most technology afraid person can use it.

Our website will have more details shortly.

My best wishes to you all and my hopes that this device helps bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing communities.

Viable certainly didn’t disappoint us. It unveiled the newest videophone, the VPAD — and it looks like it’s going to be a winner.

Viable VPAD

Some features that I think we’ll all like:

  • WiFi connectivity – that means we can take the VPAD to our local Starbucks, or on out-of-town trips to hotel rooms, or even to many McDonalds (which now provide free WiFi service).
  • Touch-screen that’s 10.2″ wide.
  • Optional keyboard via USB cable
  • Light alerts along the top of the monitor
  • Ability to hook the VPAD up to a larger TV, or even another electronic device (like gaming devices) to the VPAD
  • A slot for SD memory cards (altho I wonder what this would be for — can we record conversations? Or only use the VPAD to display photos and possibly videos?)

The Viable’s VPAD webpage even has a 3D demo mini-video. Go check it out.

When can I get my grubby paws on one? However, it doesn’t look like there’s a sign-up list as of yet. No distribution date.

And while I’m at it: SnapVRS, I don’t even have an Ojo unit. When do I get one? Sorenson, I have one of the older VP-100’s and have yet to get a VP-200. Hint-hint-hint … :-P

EDIT: Amy Cohen Efron (who scooped me with her blog post earlier today about the unveiling of this VPAD – good going, Amy!) had several excellent questions about the VPAD. Go pay her blog post a visit, and I hope she gets these questions answered soon.

EDIT (1/7/08:): Amy Cohen Efron got a great response from Viable answering her questions and more.

Viable videophone covered by cloth

Viable will be unveiling a totally new type of videophone on Saturday, January 5th (TOMORROW!) at the 2008 International CES conference.

Judging from the shape under the fabric (see picture), it looks like some kind of upright tablet / monitor. Looks like it’s much wider than the Ojo. Hmmm. (Speaking of which, SnapVRS, I still haven’t gotten an Ojo unit from you. I want one!) A source in Viable, who shall remain unnamed, confirms that this cloth-covered shape is indeed the new videophone. Wow.

The related news release seems to suggest that this videophone will be wireless (or at least be WiFi-enabled — get your terms straight, folks!) and will be “introducing to our customers to an exciting, new technology standard that blows away every other videophone currently available.”

Waitamin. The photo in the news release is named “clothvpad.png”. That suggests the videophone is being called the vpad. I Googled “vpad,” and I wonder if the vpad will look anything like the VidaBox vPad (although this model deals with home security / piping music throughout the house and does not come with a webcam / videocamera):


Whoops! The same unnamed Viable source confirmed (in an indirectly roundabout way) that while the unit will indeed be called the vpad, it will NOT look like the VidaBox vPad (pictured above). Let the speculation continue, then.

Oh, I can’t wait. Look at me — I’m actually shaking with anticipation.

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