Private First Class Bradley Manning has pleaded guilty to leaking classified government documents to WikiLeaks. Reading from a 35-page statement, Manning said he leaked diplomatic cables to “spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general,” but denies aiding the enemy. Perhaps most revealing, Manning said that he first attempted to go to media outlets, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, but his calls were rerouted to voicemail.
The soldier, who has been held in detention for over 1,000 days, has become an icon of open information and civil liberties. Manning was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize after being widely credited for helping to spark the Arab Spring of 2010. Leaked documents corroborated long-held suspicions of Tunisia’s corrupt government, inciting the citizens to overthrow their leader and inspire similar revolutions throughout the Middle East.
While Manning’s lengthy detainment and bouts of solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day have been harshly criticized, a court found that he “has not been denied a speedy trial despite his lengthy pretrial confinement.” President Obama himself once explained that “he broke the law” in an implicit agreement with Manning’s treatment.
Manning, who pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges of misusing classified information, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
I like to use my SLR, but there are many times when I leave it behind because I’m not sure whether it’ll be able to handle the conditions I plan to be using it in. LA-based hardware startup Outex is trying to make sure that photographers can use their cameras anywhere, without having to fork over north of $1,000 for environmental protection gear, and it’s taking to Kickstater to fund the latest piece in its product puzzle.
The Outex is a flexible casing for DSLR and other interchangeable lens cameras (it works with mirrorless systems, too) created by founder JR deSouza and his cousin Roberto Miglioli based on their shared love of photography, a hand-me-down from their grandfather, and a lack of good affordable options on the market for protecting cameras during use in harsh conditions. DeSouza told me in an interview that he and his cousin needed something that would work for surfing, kayaking, shooting around the pool, military applications and more, but that didn’t mean sacrificing portability or spending a mint to buy.
In a little over a year, the company has already managed to rack up some impressive customers, including photographers working for Red Bull, National Geographic, Outside Magazine and Vogue. The Outex is being used by a lot of videographers now, too, and the company wanted to build a solution into its product that better serves that market, while also opening up new possibilities for still photography. That’s what this Kickstarter project is about: funding the creation of the “Big O,” an LCD viewfinder window for the Outex.
DeSouza says they came up with the window after first toying with the idea of adding some kind of external LCD monitor to the Outex, and then realizing that the simpler, better and more widely compatible solution would be to simply add a glass window to the case (which itself resembles a kind of camera wetsuit) that would allow the built-in monitors on cameras to be used in any circumstances. Being able to see the viewfinder while the camera was in the Outex was one of the most common customer requests, however, according to deSouza, so coming up with some kind of solution was necessary.
Seeking Kickstarter backing is a first for Outex, and deSouza explained that the reason it went the crowdfunding route this time around was actually the result of a combination of factors.
“I felt that Kickstarter would be a good opportunity to accelerate our development,” deSouza explained. “The key is to be genuine and to do Kickstarter for what it is, and it becomes a great opportunity to get the word out and discover other things[…] I really do think there’s value to the community and the discovery process that also comes along with Kickstarter.”
Outex isn’t meant to be hardcore scuba gear like the Ikelite protectors favored by professional photographers, but where those cost around $1,500, a $375 pledge gets you everything you need to outfit your SLR with protection for up to 10 meters of submersion, as well as a host of other environmental perils. With the cost of high-quality photo gear coming down, it’s only fitting that a hardware startup emerges to so challenge the price tag on some of the more expensive accessories, too.
Japanese electronics company Fujitsu has taken its time pushing beyond its home smartphone market. The company is best known for slick, slender high end smartphones in Japan but earlier this month it announced a European play — eschewing the crowded top tier of devices in favour of a niche in the seniors space, with a custom skinned Android-based smartphone. The Stylistic S-01 is designed to be easier for older people to use. Fujitsu is bringing the device to France in partnership with France Telecom/Orange in June but was showing it off at Mobile World Congress, where we went hands on.
Now Fujitsu is not the first to enter the senior mobile space. Other established players include Emporia, which basically makes simplified feature phones, and Doro, which makes a mix of devices (including dabbling in tablet software). Doro was showing off its own Android-based seniors phone at MWC last year so, again, Fujitsu is a follower here too. But late to the party though it is, it has crafted what feels like a solid and well thought through first offering.
The handset has a rubberised coating to add grip and more curves than the sleek, slick high end smartphones du jour so rests nicely on the palm and feels less inclined to take a tumble than the average slab phone. On the front, there’s a clearly labelled home button below the 4 inch touchscreen. The button is slightly convex making it stand out so it’s easy to press. The buttons on the side of the device — power and volume up & down keys on one side, plus a dedicated camera key on the other — are also labelled (albeit with icons). These keys are raised slightly but don’t feel like they stick out enough to press accidentally.
Fujitsu has made the Stylistic S-01′s capacitive touchscreen deliberately less sensitive to cut back on erroneous key presses for a target group of users which isn’t likely to be as dexterous as the average mobile owner. The screen didn’t feel awkwardly unresponsive during my hands on but on-screen buttons did sometimes need a more deliberate press — which seems like a reassuring feature for the intended user-base.
There are a couple of odd hardware touches. The Micro USB port sits behind a cover which has to be prised off with a fingernail. The cover has likely been included because the phone is dust and waterproof but it does mean that accessing the charging port isn’t as easy as it could be.
The phone is also equipped with an alarm — in case of emergencies. This makes a loud noise to alert people in the vicinity that the owner is in trouble and also dials out pre-chosen contacts. The alarm is located on the back of the device, to the left of the camera lens. The physical switch is rather small and again has to be pushed out with a fingernail or similar. Of course it’s no good having the alarm go off accidentally but in an emergency it could prove a little difficult to activate.
Android but not as you know it
Moving on to the software, this is where the phone really stands out from the Android crowd, thanks to a simplified custom UI that foregrounds key functions, tucks away complexity and does a spot of thoughtful hand-holding — with help buttons and guides and even a phone manual included on the device. The homescreen is divided up into large, clearly labelled icons that decrease in size as you scroll down to reach functions that are likely to be accessed less. The two largest buttons are the call button, and the phonebook (a much more senior-friendly way to describe contacts).
Messages and email also appear on screen at the top of the homescreen, along with three numbered buttons that can be pre-set with specific functions for quick access. Scroll further down and there’s an info widget displaying news updates and weather. Below that, there are a variety of phone functions laid out in a grid of squares — and again clearly labelled. These include Internet, camera, maps, video, gallery, a help forum and a manual. The only button that stands out as slightly obtuse is the one labelled ‘Play Store’ (thanks Google).
Android apps can be downloaded to the phone via the Play Store, or via a ‘download apps’ button. Other preloaded apps are tucked away under ‘More applications’ and ‘Orange services’ — so although the phone has been simplified, the functionality has not been removed entirely. Rather they are cleared out of harm’s way until the user feels confident enough to drill a little deeper.
There are lots of thoughtful little touches in the design, such as the Phonebook app being made to resemble a traditional filofax, and the button called ‘My number’ to help users out who can’t remember their phone number. The gallery also includes a ‘Take a picture’ button, to steer anyone who went into the gallery looking for the camera in the right direction. The back button is also clearly labelled with the word ‘back’ — rather than having a cryptic symbol to confuse people. And the browser has a question mark button at the top which leads to a help page to explain the browsing process for first time mobile web users.
Elsewhere apps are nicely stripped down, simplified and clearly labelled — such as the camera app, which has just a camera button and a flash toggle button, and the dialler app which has two folder-style tabs to show either a dial option, or history (for call log). Time has clearly been well spent by the UI designer figuring out an intelligent way to layer a smartphone for a senior user-base that will probably feel most comfortable taking small steps away from telephones in order to get to know smartphones.
NFC has always struck me as one of those things that everyone says is going to get really big next year, and the growing number of smartphones and tablets that come bearing support for the standard is proof that at least a few people care about it. But what if you want to experience the NFC lifestyle but your gadget(s) of choice don’t play nice with it? Enter Spain-based Sistel Networks, and its vWand stylus.
Put very simply, the vWand is part capacitive stylus, part Bluetooth-friendly NFC adapter — once it’s linked up to your tablet or smartphone of choice via Bluetooth you’ll have a pen that’s capable of reading from and writing data to NFC elements.
The vWand is a chubby little thing, but it’s not overly heavy thanks to its lightweight, plasticky (but comfortable) body. A pair of LEDs ride high on the vWand’s shaft to let the user know when it’s on and ready to scan, and a more-than-adequate chunky capacitive nib (not entirely unlike the end of Wacom’s Bamboo Stylus) allowed me to doodle to my heart’s content in Paper for a few moments. The real magic happens on the other end though — tapping the vWand’s butt to a set of preset NFC tags at the vWand booth prompted the connected Android tablet to fire up the messaging app, bring up the dialer, or load particular web pages.
As neat as the vWand concept sounds, chances are you won’t be linking this up to your iPad or Galaxy Note anytime soon. At this stage it’s meant mostly as a b2b device, and Sistel Networks is looking to pick up traction in a slew of fields ranging from healthcare (think doctors scanning NFC-enabled wristbands or something) to retail and logistics though company representatives didn’t completely rule out the notion that consumers would one day be able to buy one too. In fairness, the vWand certainly makes sense as a tool to be used in those lines of business, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting one just to muck around with.