The Fourth Good Idea (The One That Works!)

Good idea #1 – On every iPad, Apple includes a slot for an SD card. That way, I can copy a file from my computer, insert it into the player without any fuss, and edit a document or watch a movie.

Didn’t happen.

Good idea #2 – Recognizing the error of its ways, Apple introduces a $30 accessory called the Camera Connection Kit. It includes two small white blocks, one of which allows the insertion of an SD card into an iPad. But only for transferring pictures. Forget about editing a Pages or Numbers file, or watching a movie.

Good idea #3 – Seagate introduces GoFlex, a lightweight, portable disk drive that connects, wirelessly, to any iPad. The secret is a wireless network created by the device; that’s how the connection to the iPad is made. The capacity is 500GB, a very healthy amount of space for all sorts of files. Unfortunately, Seagate’s interface technology proves difficult to use, and, at least for me, it seems to work less often than other devices. (Seagate has provided help, not once but several times. New Year’s Resolution: Since I love this idea, I will try again and get it right.) It costs less than $200.

AirstashGood idea #4 – Maxell introduces AirStash. It’s a small wireless network, and it worked the first time. There are three parts, well-integrated. The first is an app, clean and simple, just a list of files organized by file type (movies, etc.) The second in an SD card (up to 32GB). You insert the SD card into your computer, load it up with files, and plug it into the third part. That’s a device roughly the size of a large cigarette lighter. On one end: an SD card slot. On the other, well, nothing you need to make the connection (more on that in a moment). You find the AirStash network in the list of available wireless networks, make the connection, return to the app, and just watch the movie (or whatever it is you want to do). From time to time, you need to recharge the AirStash battery–that’s the third part, a USB plug that you insert into any computer or USB/AC adapter for the recharge.

My test device was loaded with several good films: I watched The King’s Speech and Inception, and both played flawlessly.

Sorry, but I can’t resist:

Good idea #5: AirStash is updated so that it can be used without shutting down the WiFi network that you usually use. Right now, that’s a flaw. I hope it will be fixed.

So, that’s the story. AirStash is a product that really works. And it’s simple enough that I was able to write an article about half as long as usual, simply because, well, this really is a simple product to use, and to explain. Whoever made this happen, good work! (And thank you for solving the problem that Apple never should have created in the first place!)

AirStash Phone

Here’s a look at the AirStash app for the iPhone. Simple, straightforward and intuitive.

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Next-Generation Camcorder

Just when you thought you’d need only your cell phone to shoot video, Sony introduces two new ideas that may change the game a bit: a gyro-stablized lens and a built-in projector. Have a look at the new, remarkably small Sony HXR-NX30, a $2,000 camcorder just arrived from the future.

Weighing about two pounds and stretching to a foot with battery attached, this small HD camcorder solves a constant problem for journalists and other hand-held videographers: the gyro system is, essentially, a built-in Steadycam-like feature. Without the extended balance mechanisms. Small enough to tuck into a medium-sized shoulder bag.

The built-in project is fairly modest, more useful for screening the days’ work on a hotel wall than for a public screening. Still, the projected images can be as large as about three feet (diagonally), and if they aren’t beautiful HD quality, they are far, far better than the images you’d be watching on the built-in 3-inch LCD screen.

Although the results are suitable for professional purposes, this is, in essence, a prosumer camcorder. It’s nice to see nearly 100GB of built-in memory (which goes quickly when shooting in HD), and it uses SD cards. There are XLR connectors for professional microphones, and a decent amount of control for just about every application. And there are a gaggle of other useful features, all common in this price category.

The news here is the built-in stabilization. Many will purchase this camera for that feature alone. And, hopefully, we’ll see lots of cameras with a similar feature–it should become standard in two or three years.

Secrets of Memory – Exposed!

I just received a piece of plastic, about the size of a postage stamp, containing as much memory as a MacBook Air: 64GB. And that made me wonder: is the 64GB on the Monster Digital SD XC USH-1 Class 10 Vault Series card (got all that?) the same as the  64GB of flash memory inside the Air?

Well, no, it’s not. Not according to Mike Ridling and Mark Morrissey, the President and Head of Storage Technology at Monster Digital.

We started at the beginning: spinning disks. Over the decades, the disks became smaller, and when Apple used the technology in the iPod, 1 in 3 units failed. So, Apple went shopping for a better solution.

At the time, flash drives had been around for about five years, and they were popular, but limited in terms of storage capacity. Camera manufacturers were experimenting with ways to store large number of images in a non-volatile format (that is, when the power goes off, the stored material remains). Then, Apple adopted flash memory for their portable devices–and the market shifted from spinning disks to non-volatile, highly portable, small-sized memory.

What’s inside that SD card? A tiny controller that routes data into and out of the card, and organizes the data on the card’s silicon chip so that it’s accessible and so that the card lasts as long as possible (but not forever).

About six years ago, the Secure Digital Association (SD = Secure Data) standardized the metrics for both memory capacity (64GB) and access speed (Class 10). In fact, the access speed matters–but the information is not always easy to find in your device’s instructions. If you own a big DSLR, buy Class 10 cards. Ditto for any camcorder that costs more than, say, $600-700. A Class 6 card is sufficient for a lesser camcorder or a more modest digital still camera. If you’re using the card in a smart phone or a low resolution camera (say, 2-3 megapixels), then a Class 2 is all you need. Of course, Class 10 cards cost more than Class 2 cards.

If you require higher transfer rates, you’ll want a UHS-1 compatible card, but note that not all of these cards are compatible with all devices. (Monster emphasized that their card works with a lot of different devices.)

Right now, the largest available SD cards are 128GB, but we’ll see 256GB in a year or so. Somehow, through the miracle of engineering, the cards are able to store more data but they don’t become larger (more data is stored within the available space). This means we can expect compatibility for a longer period of years.

Now what about the 64GB SD card in the 64GB MacBook Air? Can I simply double my storage capacity with the purchase of a $200 memory card? Well, sort of. The SATA3 solid state drive in the MacBook Air transfers data at 6GB per second. How does the SD card compare? Well, it’s slower. A lot slower: 80MB per second. This is why the SD card is better suited to, say, storing documents and transferring documents on the Air than, say, running Photoshop. In fact, the 64GB and it’s big sister, the 128GB are ideal for storing either almost 25,000 photographs, nearly 11 hours of HD video, over 1,000 hours of digital music. It’s ideal for use in an HD video camera, for example.

I did ask about whether technology was changing quickly enough to affect my thinking about the next generation Air (coming in May, we think). The answer came as something of a surprise: a new external drive for the Air (and other devices) that would plug into the new Thunderbolt port. Offering a transfer rate of about 10GB per second (1/6 of the internal drive, but a heck of a lot faster than the SD card), this is probably the next step in portable memory for portable computers.

And what about iPad storage? Yeah, it’s kinda messy. Apple really didn’t design iPads for external storage, so the solutions are workarounds. That probably won’t change in the future.

So, I’ve learned to use terms such as “transfer rate” and “Class 10” with some knowledge that I lacked yesterday. And, I’ve gotta say, I have a soft spot for Monster. So, thanks to the two executives who helped me to navigate this technology.

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