Intelligent e-mail management
Managing e-mail is the bane of just about everyone's work life. At Demo, an interesting new plug-in to Outlook debuted that could help you reduce the maddening clutter.
Liaise, developed by a startup of the same name, watches what you type in Outlook and parses the meaning of key phrases. Let's say I've sent a report to someone on my team asking him to comment by the end of the week. Liaise will interpret my request as an action item and will interpret "end of the week" as Sept. 25, the end of this business week. My log will tell me that the employee owes me some work by Friday. If I send the same person a comment on his work, Liaise will note that as well. If I scheduled a meeting with the person, the application will print a report listing all of my Outlook interactions with him.
The software runs locally, reducing security risks, and doesn't force the user to train the application. Liaise also offers a synchronization service that allows all users of the application to view an update log of all of the group's Outlook interactions.
Great sound from plastic film
The flat-panel TV in your living room looks great, but if you don't hook it up to a separate audio system, the sound is terrible. That's because those fashionably thin screens simply don't have the room to host a conventional speaker. And what's true of a TV is equally true of laptop computers: LCD screens won't get thicker and tiny speakers can only get so much better.
Enter Emo Labs with a new audio technology to fill the sound gap. Simply put, Emo takes a thin, plastic sheet containing small electronic "actuators" along the perimeter and embeds it around the LCD. The sheet, made out of the same commodity plastic found in water bottles, acts as a surprisingly powerful speaker.
Conventional magnet and cone speakers push air inside the speaker box against a diaphragm. Emo's technology actuates a thin membrane along the side of the screen that creates an efficient, piston-like motion in front. The vibration of the screen amplifies the sound.
Emo demonstrated the technology with several different devices, but the show and tell that got my attention was the iPhone demo. An Emo exec simply plugged it into a screen, dialed up some music, and let it rip. Even within the confines of a crowded, noisy demonstration area, the sound was loud, clear, and in stereo.
The company hopes to land contracts to embed the screens in home electronics products sometime next year. No doubt manufacturing costs, quality control, and the public's perception of the quality of sound on existing systems will be major issues to overcome. But the technology is flat-out cool.
Smartphones breath new life into an old idea
Marketers have long hoped for a way to combine the Web with print publications and brochures by using tags that take a viewer to the Internet. It's been tried a number of times, but nobody wants to type in URLs by hand or use clumsy scanning devices.
But that's changing. New smart tagging technology from Microsoft is being used by Ford, the Amsterdam public transportation system, and a number of European magazines and newspapers.
To use the tags, the customer must first download a free app from iTunes or another app store. Launch the app, snap a picture of the tag with your smartphone, and you'll be taken to a Web page with more information.
Getting more advertising may not be to your taste, but these smart tags have numerous applications. Here at Demo, smart tags on the wall let me check the day's agenda or get information about a company without hunting around for a Web site. At a bus stop, it could give me route information or arrival times; at a museum, more information about a painting I like. And so on.
All in all, Demo Fall 09 was an upbeat event, surprisingly so given the state of the economy. Maybe tough times brought out the best in the presenters. Or perhaps real innovation proceeds at its own pace, regardless of the ups and downs of the market.