Anyone for a Geely Ge?

Friday, 27th February, 2015

The great ‘Chinese fake-away’

And what on earth is a Geely Ge, you might ask?

In answer to your question it’s a copy of the Rolls-Royce Phantom, manufactured and sold in China for just £30,000 - a reduction of £220,000 below the cost of the genuine product.

“Over the past few years, Chinese motor manufacturers have been producing scores of ‘fake’ British cars — from phony Rolls-Royce Phantoms to copies of Mini Coopers. And it’s not just our cars the Chinese are ripping off. For if you name any British luxury brand, you can bet your bottom yuan that somewhere in China will be a factory producing cheap and shoddy copies”.. thus spake The Daily Mail in their article of 8 December 2014 taking a peek at how China is seemingly “ripping off our iconic designs and flogging them for a fraction of the price”.

And it’s not just expensive motor cars, or Louis Vuitton and Mulberry items which are being copied, it seems. A few years back those canny communists focused on Bang & Olufsen products too, notably the A8 earphones. At first they could be quite easily distinguished from the real thing when placed side-by-side. But over a relatively short period with the manufacturing process becoming more sophisticated, copies became less & less dissimilar from the real Mccoy.

The great 'Chinese fake-away'

Nowadays, it’s the relatively cheap and cheerful BeoPlay A2 Bluetooth speaker. Retailing at a normal price of 349 euros the identical product (sans original packaging) sells over the Internet at ¥1699.00 (around 230 euros). These A2 speakers are apparently the ‘real thing’: actual Bang & Olufsen products but without original boxes or paperwork (Web link deliberately withheld on our part!)

Whether it’s a cultural thing or not, the Chinese are in some cases manufacturing quite open imitations (not in all cases, of course) and getting away with it “surprisingly”, according to the newspaper article, “quite within Chinese law”.

Like always, it’s a case of caveat emptor… companies like Bang & Olufsen - like most Western companies which have their products copied in China - are seemingly powerless to stop the lucrative racket.

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Blind tech

Tuesday, 24th February, 2015

Technology-friendliness & the visually impaired

Imagine for a moment that you are partially-sighted; at worse blind.

Most believe that blindness is binary in that one either sees or one doesn’t see. In truth, it’s not like that at all…

There is, in fact, a very broad spectrum between being fully-sighted and being completely blind. Few are completely blind with some having acuity issues, while others have blind spots but otherwise clear vision. Most are somewhere in between:

…visual impairment is an entire spectrum of acuity, and indeed a range of different types of conditions - perhaps affecting focus, clarity, colour-perception, peripheral or central vision, movement perception, and more. Accordingly, there are a wide range of different ways that software and hardware can assist visually impaired users (Source)

So it’s true to say that almost everyone has their own unique way of seeing (or not seeing at all).

Imagine also for a moment that you wish to buy a new audio or video product and you are in some way ’sight-restricted’. It’s here that being able to use one of your other senses - that of touch - would come in immensely useful if you were in some way sight impaired. Luckily on the market today is a whole new array of household equipment for the blind or partially-sighted: telephones with large, high-contrast buttons; talking clocks and talking weigh-scales. There are electronic item locators; non-standard remote controls with fewer, but larger and clearer buttons in a variety of significant and memorable shapes. There’s even a mobile phone designed specifically with the blind and partially-sighted in mind, the Odin VI ; and even a headset designed by Microsoft which talks visually-impaired people around cities! So you’d be forgiven to think for the moment that designers are bearing in mind more and more the partially-sighted user.

And as far as computer software is concerned, VoiceOver for Mac doesn’t just tell you what’s happening; it helps you make things happen. It can tell you what’s on your screen, and is able to walk the user through actions like selecting a menu option or activating a button using a keyboard or trackpad. VoiceOver enables complete control of a Mac computer, with no need to see the screen. And it’s already built in!

When you first enable VoiceOver on a Mac, you’re asked if you’d like to take a brief tutorial; I did. After the first couple of minutes, I closed my eyes, and really used it. I wept.

These technologies are a lifeline for visually impaired users. Accessibility isn’t about providing simplified or alternative content, it’s about ensuring everyone has equal access to your existing content. VoiceOver (and similar technologies on other platforms) allow blind or partially-sighted users to fully experience your apps, and, by extension, to communicate and be productive and express themselves. In this day and age, visual impairment need not hinder use of a computer or the Internet (Source)

However, most technology companies are not this far-sighted (if you pardon the pun) towards the blind and partially-sighted. No one company is to blame, and no one company is to be congratulated either… but imagine using the new BeoSound Moment if you do indeed have sight problems. The new BeoSound Moment User Guide Video (below) demonstrates that if you are in any way partially-sighted, you’d really have very little chance in being able to control most of the device’s functions.

YouTube Preview Image

Lack of Sight isn’t the Problem. People Are.

Isn’t it really time that software developers and technology designers woke up to the fact that there is no ’standard’ person? Why design something to be used by people of ‘normal’ cpabilities and totally forget or sideline those who are anything less than physically able, just for the sake that the product looks ’swish’?

There are 360,000 people in the UK alone who do not possess the abilities that a fully-sighted person has - and about two million with some degree of sight loss. That’s around one person in 30. (Source).

It’s predicted that by 2020 the number of people with sight loss in the UK will rise to over 2,250,000. And by 2050, the numbers of people with sight loss in the UK will double to nearly four million. This is because:

  • the UK population is ageing and as we get older we are increasingly likely to experience sight loss
  • there is a growing incidence in key underlying causes of sight loss, such as obesity and diabetes.

Around the world it is estimated that 285 million people are visually impaired of whom 39 mln are totally blind and 246 mln have low vision (Source)

Why is the minority totally excluded at the expense of making products for the majority when technology already exists to make it useful for everyone?

It will take time for designers to become more aware that others exist less able than a ’standard customer’. But at the end of the day companies CAN design super-looking products, and HAVE designed super-looking products, that everyone can use, without excluding a sizeable population of consumers who want to be a part of the fully-sighted majority… but have been deliberately excluded through just the simple act of not trying.

BeoSound Moment - friendly or otherwise?

Looking at the above video, and imagining that you are blind or partially-sighted, just how many marks out of ten would you give this new product for user-friendliness? Not a lot, we would guess.

And with so many people around the world - many of whom are potential customers - who are either blind or partially-sighted, there’s a whole world of people deliberately excluded by technology companies on the basis of good-looks and ’sexy minimalism’ alone.

Bang & Olufsen have designed products before with the visually-impaired in-mind like the Beovision 6002 Commander remote control handset (shown below) with its ‘up-hill and down-dale’ series of tactile buttons which allowed for easy use by the visually-impaired. Why can’t the company do it again and show the tech world just how it can be done (with style)?

Beovision 6002 Commander

Read also: How technology is changing blindness: Six talks on how those who can’t see can drive cars, take photographs and more

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Back to the drawing board?

Friday, 20th February, 2015

BeoSound Moment - An Unfinished Product?

Let’s face it… the BeoSound Moment as it stands at the present time, is an unfinished product.

It may be finished as far as the hardware is concerned, but the software still has a long way to go before it can be said to be a product worthy of the marque ‘Bang & Olufsen‘.

The product should never have been released in its present form; it would have been far better to have announced it at CES 2015 and then to have waited a few more months until it had become more ‘polished’ and refined, and able to fulfil well those features that it was set out out to do. It was announced and subsequently rushed into dealers’ showrooms as it met the diary of CES 2015 in early January and as a way of appeasing the stock market at a time when company shares at that time were plummeting like almost never before. It also kept quiet dealers who were desperately needing a new main product for the upcoming year.

Many people who have used (and bought) the product in the few short weeks since CES have reported problems which should not be plaguing a product such as this, at the price that is being asked for it. Sure, with software updates, these problems over time may well be ironed out (or until BeoSound Moment Mark 2 is released) but this should never have happened like this.

BeoSound Moment - back to the drawing board?

So what’s going on? What problems are being reported? What are people saying about it?

We at BeoPhile still think that the LG Boom, er, BeoSound Moment still looks like a lump of wood. But looks-aside, the useability of the unit leaves much to be desired. There are just too many problems and niggles to be listed, but here are just a few of them:

  • Firstly, on the wooded UI, one seemingly has to sweep the wrong way (i.e. to the left to get the device to play the next track). This, for us, is counter-intuitive (although we do ’sweep’ from right to left with a book, of course, at least in Western countries). We feel that it is more intuitive to touch/swipe towards the right of the dial to summon up the next forward track, and not the other way around.
  • Bang & Olufsen has been famous for years for around-the-house music with its MasterLink feature… as there is no MasterLink built in to the Moment, nor is there any MultiRoom facility as yet on the Moment, customers will have to wait for this quite important (we think) functionality to become a much-requested & much-needed reality, especially at the price being asked for it.
  • Bang & Olufsen firstly promoted Spotify with their BeoVision 11 Smart TV. So users subscribed to Spotify as a result of buying their new TV. Now that the Moment is out, there is no Spotify… only Deezer. So what are B&O customers supposed to do… have two Premium accounts - Spotify for their TV and Deezer for their Moment? Where is the thought in any of this?
  • The BeoSound Moment promotes Bang & Olufsen’s proprietary Intelligent PatternPlay in that the product analyses users’ listening patterns, memorises them, and uses this information to create a listening experience ‘both familiar and explorative’. The company says that “Over time, BeoSound Moment will gradually start to know your taste in music, and ‘be able to play what you most likely want to hear, without you even having to ask. Just like friendship, it only gets better with time”. Promoted as new and innovative, PatternPlay is not new at all. Samsung has been using something similar in their Android TouchWiz music players for about a year, which they call Music Square. And now along comes Deezer’s own ‘Flow‘ doing the same job:

Deezer Flow

“Can’t be bothered to create a playlist? Don’t know what to listen to? Let Flow do the work for you!”

The more you listen, the more Flow learns your tastes, the better the recommendations’.

Also sprach Deezer on their new Flow feature which takes a subscriber’s existing music library and combines it with past streams allowing for non-stop tailored music.

Sounds like B&O’s PatternPlay? Not by name but certainly by nature…

In much the same way as Bang & Olufsen’s PatternPlay, Deezer’s Flow provides for an ‘instant and personalised radio channel’ based on what’s in a subscriber’s music library and what has been listened to in the past.

Available to all users, those with free Deezer accounts will only have the option to skip five tracks per hour.

  • As far as functionality is concerned, the BeoSound Moment seems, according to many users, very slow in implementing commands. Swipe the wooden touch area… and wait. The ‘Mood’ screen (on the reverse side) acts in a similar way… touch and wait… and then some more before anything happens.
  • The method of choosing an artist’s name should be far easier on the Moment than it presently is. For example, by entering an artist’s name the device should start searching through owned digital copies and Deezer’s library. The Moment should then decide which is comparitively the better copy and then start playing. But it doesn’t. Instead, an artist name can only be sought by entering the first character of the name. And ONLY the first character! So for example, to obtain songs by Superfox, one enters an ‘S’ and then have to scroll methodically through the whole collection of very many artists’ names - all beginning with the letter ‘S’ - to get to where you want. It really would be much easier and quicker to take out your CD and play it on a CD player if you wished to save time and effort!
  • As there is no built-in DAB/FM radio, playing an Internet radio station on the Moment again has its time-wasting frustrations: firstly one has to create a collection of favourite stations using your Deezer account. But with 70,000+ to choose from, the Moment is not programmed to be able to search by a station’s name. Instead one has to go through a ‘genre’ first and then to save it as a ‘favourite’ before the station can be summoned again.
  • Once favourite songs have been saved within a Playlist then it should be relatively easy to summon them again in the future. It isn’t. The problem here is that to hear the song you have touched from within the Playlist itself gives the user little feedback as to what the machine is doing: have I touched the song title correctly? Did I miss touching the song title exactly as I should? Is the machine still thinking about it? All of this plays on the user’s mind as he/she is wondering just what’s happening. Why is the device taking so long? Would I be better touching the song title again… just in case? Just what’s going on within the ‘brains’ of the device is and can only be anyone’s guess. And any partially-sighted user who has difficulty seeing the small characters on the fingerprint-covered screen gets off far worse than a fully-sighted user, apparently.
  • And honestly, if someone is not Internet/computer-savvy they would just give up the ghost and continue to buy CDs or vinyl records (which may not be a bad thing in this age of ‘exuberance’). ‘Convenience’ is just a word which is bandied about when all of the time, none of this expensive equipment is ‘convenient’ at all. Fine for showing off to the neighbours, but as far as practicality is concerned it’s a non-starter.

Bang & Olufsen’s basic principle used to be that ‘technology exists for the sake of humankind - and not the other way around’. With what we have seen here at BeoPhile with te company’s attempts at creating something ‘playful’, the Moment is anything but. With the BeoSound Moment, the days are seemingly gone as far as people actively listening to what they wanted to hear. Instead, the company’s new philosophy is to create a totally passive audience when, at the swipe of a finger, everything is done for you (mainly because it’s just too difficult and time-concerningto do much else!) OK, some people may well want an easy life - and be prepared to pay the price for it. Others most certainly will not. There’s probably a market for the BeoSound Moment as it stands (albeit small) where it serves as just an expensive on/off switch for piped Deezer muzak. Anyone who wishes to listen to their music more specifically probably will stay away. At least just for the moment.

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The new Beolit 15

Thursday, 19th February, 2015

As BeoPhile previously stated, Beolit 15 has been unveiled to the consumer marketplace.

The device is a “powerful portable Bluetooth speaker with True360 omni-directional sound, up to 24 hours of continuous playtime from a single battery charge, the acclaimed Bang & Olufsen Signature Sound and featuring premium quality materials such as anodised aluminium and full grain leather”.

Again designed by Cecilie Manz - designer of the Beolit 12 - the Beolit 15 (as with her BeoPlay A2 portable speaker) revolves around Bluetooth technology.

“Thanks to the innovative True360 sound solution everyone gets to enjoy the same music experience no matter where they are placed in the room. The built-in battery with up to 24 hours of playtime on a single charge allows for total flexibility, so you can bring Beolit 15 with you wherever you want”.

“At B&O PLAY we constantly push ourselves to innovate – but also to constantly refine the best to be even better” stated Henrik Taudorf Lorensen, Head of B&O PLAY: “Beolit 12 was released in 2012 and is a great and iconic product. With Beolit 15, we have taken that product and refined it even further - completely redesigning the acoustic structure and bringing in many of our recent innovations like True360 sound and great battery life. We believe it is the best music system of its kind in the market”.

Beolit 15

Bluetooth 4.0 technology theoretically makes it easy and fast to connect and play music from any Bluetooth device. A touch of a single button and a matter of seconds – and you’re ready to enjoy your music, states the company.

“Beolit 15 stands out with its anodised aluminium grill smoothly wrapped around the speaker and its full grain leather strap that lets you carry it around your home easily - yet it blends in with its clean lines and cool colours”, said Cecilie Manz. “The speaker body is made from strong and durable polymer and there is a non-slip rubber tray on top of the speaker for mobile devices. It’s a product built to last – all over the house. You could call it a strong little workhorse – dependable and unspoiled.”.

Beolit 15 is available in three colours: Polar Blue, Natural Champagne and Shaded Rosa and is priced at EUR 499 / USD 599 / DKK 3699.

Read more…

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