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Monday, November 28, 2011

Tablet computing use is flourishing

Nov. 28, 2011
by Mark Ollig

Apple’s iPad is, of course, on top of the computing tablet world, and the latest numbers show no significant letup in its popularity.

The research firm, eMarketer publishes analysis and data regarding digital marketing, media and commerce.

They just released new survey numbers and predictions about the use of tablet computing devices among Americans.

By the end of this year – which is almost upon us – the research firm predicts at least once every month, there will be 33.7 million Americans, or 10.8 percent of the population, using a computing tablet device.

By comparison, in 2010, there were only 13 million US tablet users, with the majority, 11.5 million, being Apple iPad users.

It seems like we have had tablet computers with us for a long time, but it was only recently, April 2010, when the first Apple iPad tablet was made available to the public.

By the end of this year, an estimated 33.7 million US citizens were using tablet devices on a monthly basis. Of this total, 28 million used iPads.

Tablet users aged 18-34 represent 31.5 percent of this year’s total users, while those aged 35 and over make up 55.5 percent.

With the many accessories one can add to a mobile computing tablet, it seems more folks are simply abandoning their laptops and opting to use tablets instead.

By the end of 2012, it is estimated there will be 54.8 million US tablet users of this number approximately 42 million will be operating iPads.

The 2012 numbers indicate a 62.8 percent increase from this year.

Looking ahead to 2014, it is predicted the 18-34 age group will account for 34.8 percent of all tablet users, while those over age 35 will account for 49.3 percent.

All signs show steady growth in the use of tablet computing devices continuing into the future.

One very interesting number is the research projection showing 89.5 million US tablet users by 2014.

This number alone represents 35 percent of all US Internet users.

Of the 89.5 million, 61 million are anticipated to still be using Apple iPads.

As tablet computing devices continue being introduced into more school teaching curriculums, I look for the total number of tablet users to be much higher than the 2014-projected 89.5 million.

Unless some “killer tablet” appears in the marketplace, Apple’s iPad will continue its dominance as the consumer’s preferred tablet computing device for the foreseeable future.

But hold the phone.

The new Amazon Kindle Fire just might be the tablet to make a legitimate charge at iPad’s dominance.

Another research firm, ChangeWave Research, released survey information showing the Amazon Kindle Fire will be right behind the Apple iPad as the tablet of choice for this year’s North American holiday shoppers.

Currently, 74 percent of iPad owners report they are very satisfied with their mobile device, the researching group said.

It is stated by eMarketer, that many of the tablets used in 2014 will be made up of newer-styled tablet devices which will have replaced the older tablets.

Not that your humble columnist has any inside knowledge, but I’ll take a guess that Apple will probably be releasing their iPad 5 during 2014.

Another prediction says that instead of sharing a tablet computer among many users, each user will be buying their own tablet, much the same way a person now buys their own smartphone.

There were no hard numbers provided for iPad tablet competitors such as the new Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet, BlackBerry Playbook, or Samsung Galaxy Tab, which currently trail behind Apple iPad tablets in total units sold.

However, there are numbers which do forecast a slight decrease in iPad tablet users by 2014.

The research by eMarketer shows by 2014, the number of iPad users will be down to 68 percent. While this is still a substantial percentage, it does represent a 15 percent decrease from today’s numbers.

By 2014, one out of three online users will be using some kind of tablet computing device.

Although yours truly has used an iPad tablet, I still prefer my laptop; however, I can understand why tablets will most likely overtake laptops/notebooks for accessing the Internet – from a portability perspective.

I still see tablet computing devices as more of a media content consumption device; however, with more innovative accessories being added to them, they are in fact, becoming viable user content creation devices in their own right.

Tablet computing devices are also being used creatively in displaying content to consumers in various venues, such as art shows.

One tablet owner I observed – at a recent college art show in Minneapolis – skillfully exhibited his paintings on the display screen of his iPad to interested buyers who had gathered around him.

I learned on that day tablets also make excellent mobile content presentation devices.

About Mark Ollig:
Telecommunications and all things tech has been a well-traveled road for me. I enjoy learning what is new in technology and sharing it with others who enjoy reading my particular slant on it via this blog. I am also a freelance columnist for my hometown's print and digital newspaper.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Medical robotic devices show great promise for society

Nov. 21, 2011
by Mark Ollig

“It may be difficult to predict the future, but the era of an aging society is definitely coming.”

These words were spoken by Professor Eiichi Saito.

Saito is a professor of rehabilitation medicine at Japan’s Fujita Health University.

With nearly one in four Japanese aged 65 and older, new computerized robotic devices are being tested in hopes of providing greater assistance and independence to this segment of the population.

During a recent demonstration, Saito, who normally uses a walker, instead strapped a computerized, metallic brace device called an “Independent Walk Assist” onto his right leg.

Saito’s right leg is paralyzed because of polio.

With a smile, Saito proceeded to effortlessly rise up from his chair, and walk across the stage floor. He then easily walked up and down a flight of three stairs.

He noted his improved ability to walk and bend his knee more naturally using the computerized metallic brace device, rather than the walker. He also said how much easier it was for him to rise up from the chair.

The power and sensors for the movements made by the computerized metallic brace came from a small backpack Saito wore.

Another robotic computerized device was demonstrated by a health care worker. This device showed how it could lift and move a disabled patient from his bed, to another location.

These demonstrations were being presented in front of reporters at a Toyota showroom facility in Tokyo.

Officials from Toyota said the sensors, motors, and computer software technology used in their automobiles, are now being utilized in new computerized devices to help people become more mobile.

What they learn from these new devices will be most likely used in future cars as well, Toyota said.

According to Akifumi Tamaoki, general manager of Toyota, additional tests and user feedback are needed from more people to insure the safety and reliability of the new devices.

Robotic healthcare devices by Toyota will become available in the marketplace during 2013.

A video showing the two demonstrations can be seen at

The “Stride Management Assist Device” by Honda, can assist people who have lost strength in their legs due to aging, or other physical conditions.

This device is not intended for those who have lost total mobility in their legs; it is used for those who need an “assist” in their walking.

The assist device lifts each leg at the thigh, using a small motor to help the user as their leg moves forward and backward.

The unit weighs about 6 pounds, and includes a belt worn around the hips and thighs.

The device uses hip and ankle sensors, which send data to a computing processor externally attached to a portable device, positioned on the small of one’s back.

The Stride Management Assist Device can help not just the elderly, but also those who have trouble walking from other physical ailments, such as strokes.

“It’s supporting and stabilizing,” commented CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, while demonstrating the device during the CBS “The Early Show” television program.

This device also helps lengthen the walking stride of the user.

“This actually engages more muscles than if you take shorter strides, so it’s actually preventing subsequent muscle atrophy,” Dr. Ashton said.

A team of scientists from Sweden and Italy have developed what is thought to be the first artificial robotic hand that conveys feeling back to the human user.

Called “SmartHand” this prototype is a five-fingered, self-contained robotic hand, with four motors and 40 individual sensors.

A team of scientists in Sweden attached this robotic hand to a 22-year-old amputee, Robin Ekenstam, who had lost his right hand to cancer.

They connected nerve pressure sensor endings onto selected areas of skin on Ekenstam’s right arm. These sensors will stimulate specific receptor areas of his brain’s cortex.

The sensor endings were also attached to the tiny sensor receptors in the robotic hand fastened to the end of Ekenstam’s arm.

I watched video of Ekenstam controlling the fingers of the robotic hand while grasping and picking up a filled, plastic water bottle. He then proceeded to pour water from the bottle into a cup sitting on a table.

Ekenstam’s brain was picking up information from the sensors inside the artificial hand, and the artificial hand was receiving signals from his brain.

“It’s great!” Ekenstam exclaimed, “I have a feeling that I have not had for a long time. When I grab something tightly, I can feel it in the fingertips, which is strange, because I don’t have them [human fingers] anymore. It’s fantastic.”

Robin Ekenstam could once again touch and feel by using his new robotic right hand.

Scientists say it has taken 10 years to get to this stage.

“First, the brain will control them [artificial hands] without any muscle contractions; secondly, these hands will be able to give back feedback, so that the patient will be able to feel what’s going on . . . by touching, just like a real hand,” said Christian Cipriani, who authored the May 2011 research paper, “The SmartHand Transradial Prosthesis.”

To watch a remarkable video about this new bio-engineered robotic SmartHand, go to

About Mark Ollig:
Telecommunications and all things tech has been a well-traveled road for me. I enjoy learning what is new in technology and sharing it with others who enjoy reading my particular slant on it via this blog. I am also a freelance columnist for my hometown's print and digital newspaper.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How many apps are on your mobile device?

Nov. 14, 2011
by Mark Ollig

In 2007, Apple first introduced apps, or mobile device software applications, designed to be used on their new iPhone.

Our good friends over at the Pew Internet and American Life Project just released a new report regarding adult users of cell phones and mobile computing devices, and the types of apps they use.

Pew defines an app as, “an end-user software application designed for the mobile device operating system, which extends that device’s capabilities.”

The Pew report starts off by disclosing half of all adult cell phone (smartphone) users have apps on their phones.

These include apps which originally came bundled with the phone, and the apps downloaded from online platforms such as, Apple’s App Store, Mac App Store, and Amazon Appstore.

Just what kinds of apps are users downloading?

Pew’s July 25 - Aug. 26 polling data released the following survey results.

Of all adults polled, 74 percent like apps which provide them with news, weather, sports, and stock information.

Apps for communicating better with friends and family were downloaded by 67 percent of adults surveyed.

Apps that educated and assisted in learning were downloaded by 64 percent of all adults questioned.

Downloading an app containing information about a visited destination was reported by 53 percent.

Support for making online purchases and assistance with shopping, were the reasons 46 percent of surveyed adults downloaded these types of apps.

Apps for watching movies or TV shows on mobile devices were downloaded by 43 percent.

Apps which tracked or managed one’s health information were downloaded by 29 percent of the adults questioned.

It is one thing to have lots of apps available on our mobile devices, however, it is a bit surprising when discovering we hardly use many of them – some apps we rarely use at all.

Pew found 51 percent of adults saying they only use a “handful” of apps per week, while 17 percent report “using no apps on a regular basis,” on their cell phones.

As for yours truly, names of apps I use on a daily basis include: Weather, Mail, Calendar, Stocks, Fluent News, Facebook and Twitter.

Apps I use during the week are: YouTube, NASA News, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Kindle (e-book reader), iHeart Radio, my bank’s app, and a tech news reader app.

Other apps I use include: Dragon Dictation, Chess, Flick Bowling, C-Span Radio, US History, US Documents, Spanish (translator), Skype, Calculator, Speed Test, Battery Magic, and Maps.

My occasionally used apps are: Crime Reports, Police Scanner, Flight Track, iBartender, Dragon Dictate, and Ali Audio Jabs (this app contains 10 spoken phrases from boxer Muhammad Ali).

Currently, the top downloaded free iPhone app is, “Facebook Messenger,” followed by, “Hardest Game Ever.”

“Zombieville USA 2,” followed by the popular, “Angry Birds,” is the top downloaded paid iPhone app at this time.

Coincidentally, the top downloaded paid iPad app is also, “Zombieville USA 2.”

“Sprinkle: Water Splashing Fire Fighting Fun!” is presently the top free iPad app, followed by “Adobe Reader.”

The report revealed 52 percent of the adults polled paid $5 or less for an app, while 17 percent said they paid over $20 for an app.

There are quite a few apps available for free, and many priced at just 99 cents.

Pew’s August poll reports 60 percent of all adult cell phone users downloading apps to their phones belonged in the 18 - 29 age group.

This represents an increase of 8 percent since May of last year.

In the 30 - 49 age group, 46 percent reported downloading apps to their phones during Pew’s August survey, which is an increase of 15 percentage points since the May 2010 polling data.

As for the last age group, 50 and better, Pew states 15 percent responded saying they had downloaded apps to their cell phones when polled during the August 2011 survey.

This represents a 4 percent increase from the number polled in May 2010.

Pew’s latest results also showed a steady increase in the use of tablet computing devices by adults.

This data revealed 10 percent of US adults owning mobile computing tablet devices such as an Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, or Motorola Zoom.

Among adult tablet computing device users, 39 percent use six or more apps per week.

Of these same tablet owners, 82 percent reported downloading apps to their cell phones as well.

There are approximately 500,000 apps available for the iPhone, and over 100,000 apps for the iPad.

And so my faithful readers, we continue the transitioning of ourselves away from stationary computer desktops plugged into a wall, and into a more mobile computing lifestyle.

With seemingly countless apps available to us, we are using more of them on our mobile computing devices for communicating, reading e-books, accomplishing our work, accessing information, and enjoying leisure-related computing activities.

As we come to an end of another Bits and Bytes column, let me play a random phrase from my Ali Audio Jabs app for you.

“This brash young boxer is something to see, and the heavyweight championship is his destiny.”

Have a great week!

About Mark Ollig:
Telecommunications and all things tech has been a well-traveled road for me. I enjoy learning what is new in technology and sharing it with others who enjoy reading my particular slant on it via this blog. I am also a freelance columnist for my hometown's print and digital newspaper.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Microsoft's 'Kinect Effect' for real-world applications

Nov. 7, 2011
by Mark Ollig

It has been one year since Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console scored a big hit with its motion-sensing “Kinect” add-on device.

Kinect is a combination of the words “kinetic” and “connect.”

Kinect was originally announced to the public as Project Natal, during the June 1, 2009 E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), by the famous filmmaker, Steven Spielberg.

The Kinect device (which holds the Guinness World Record as the fastest-selling consumer electronic device), allows users of the Xbox 360 home entertainment and video game system, to become more physically immersed in them, by using hand gestures, spoken commands, and physical movements.

Instead of video game players using hand-held controllers, the player’s themselves physically (and vocally) become the controllers and communicate with Kinect, which is attached to the Xbox 360 console.

Kinect provides Xbox 360 game users with a more engaging playing experience, via its full-body sensor tracking of the participating players.

Just step in front of the Kinect device’s sensors and it will recognize you, and respond to your gestures, vocal commands, and movements.

Kinect’s human “skeletal” sensor tracking system monitors the movements of up to six people.

Kinect can track 20 separate physical skeletal joint movements of two active players.

The two active players can be shown as live avatars on the Xbox 360 games display screen.

Kinect includes four microphones, supports single speaker voice recognition, and can locate the source of sounds around it.

Processing power for Kinect is obtained by using one of the three Xbox 360 console Xenon CPU processor cores.

Microsoft is employing Kinect’s technology with the Xbox 360 console, and moving it into real-world applications.

Microsoft, in their Oct. 31 press release, stated that the new commercial version of Kinect, which they call “Kinect Effect” will give “. . . businesses the tools to develop applications that not only could improve their own operations, but potentially revolutionize entire industries.”

Microsoft’s concept video demonstrating commercial uses for Kinect is viewable at

Microsoft’s website showed real-life examples of how Kinect technology has improved the quality of life for people who are overcoming physical challenges.

In one example, persons with learning challenges at the Royal Berkshire Hospital (across the pond in the UK) were shown using the Xbox Kinect system as part of their rehabilitation exercises.

People in the hospital’s neurological rehab unit are being matched to specific interactive Kinect game titles, depending on the severity of their learning challenge.

The hospital also says the games have helped stroke patients physically, improving their balance, mobility, and coordination.

Another beneficial example of applying Kinect technology is at the Lakeside Center for Autism in Issaquah, WA.

The Lakeside staff uses Kinect technology in its therapy and skill-building programs.

Lakeside uses Kinect’s motion-sensor capabilities to observe patients' motor skills, and by using Kinect’s voice-recognition technology, improvements can be made in a patient’s social interaction and language development.

In Cantabria, Spain, some resourceful inventors at a technology start-up, called Tedesys, are developing applications using Kinect technology that will allow doctors to obtain vital patient information – while operating on them.

Because surgeries can last for hours, a doctor may need to look up details on a certain operating procedure, or obtain information from an MRI or CAT scan.

In these instances, the doctor would need to leave the sterile operating room environment to get the information – and then re-scrub, in order to come back into the operating room.

Using the Tedesys-developed Kinect application, the doctor is now able to simply use hand gestures or voice commands to look at information hands-free – without ever having to leave the operating room.

“Using Microsoft Kinect, they [doctors]can check information on the patient without touching anything, and in this way they can avoid [the risk] of bacterial infection,” said Jesus Perez, Tedesys’s chief operating officer.

After enabling the Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope using Kinect’s Windows Software Development Kit (beta version), a Microsoft researcher, demonstrated how he could easily maneuver around our galaxy with just a wave of his hand.

Another Microsoft demonstration showed an ordinary lounge chair atop an electrically motorized wheeled platform. The wheeled platform was drivable using hand-gesturing motions from the person seated in the chair using Kinect technology.

“I think it opens up this realm of new experiences that are all about kinetics, not only physically-immersive games, but all kinds of new experiences,” said Jeremy Gibson, a game design instructor at the University of Southern California.

Gibson also suggested the main reason Kinect has moved from the living room into real-world uses, is because of how widely available the advanced technology is.

In his classroom, Gibson teaches game design and game prototyping. He and his colleagues teach students to develop applications using Kinect on the Xbox 360. Gibson says this gives the students hands-on experience using the new technology before they “enter the real world.”

In what began as an Xbox 360 gaming add-on device, Kinect technology is quickly evolving into some very useful, real-world applications that are improving the quality of people’s lives.

To learn more about the Kinect Effect, go to

About Mark Ollig:
Telecommunications and all things tech has been a well-traveled road for me. I enjoy learning what is new in technology and sharing it with others who enjoy reading my particular slant on it via this blog. I am also a freelance columnist for my hometown's print and digital newspaper.