Friday, July 30, 2010

How to Scan Barcodes with Bing for iPhone

Earlier, the Bing iPhone app was updated with a barcode scanning function, meant to be used for comparison shopping purposes. If you’re wondering how this works, the Bing blog has just provided a handy how-to.

However, I noticed a couple of things about the way the instructions were written over there that may be confusing to new users. For one, you don’t “click” anything – you “tap.” Also, the camera is not an icon, it’s text. And you only tap to take a photo when you’re scanning cover art, not barcodes.

Based on my experiences with the Bing app, here’s how I would explain it to new users:

  1. From the Bing’s homepage, tap the word “camera” at the bottom of the page. This launches the iPhone’s camera.
  2. Point the camera at a barcode or, if a book, CD, DVD or video game, you can just point the camera at the cover art.
  3. If a barcode, the app will automatically recognize the code and perform a search. For cover art, you’ll need to tap to take a photo first.
  4. Bing will then search for results. When it finds a match, it’s displayed in a box at the bottom labeled “1 result.” (I’ve yet to scan anything where it finds more than 1 result, but that could happen, I suppose).
  5. Tap the thumbnail to see the result details. Here, you’ll find a description, images, rating, reviews and links of where to buy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

First Microsoft Hohm Gadget Has Launched

Microsoft is launching its first Hohm-enabled gadget courtesy of a partnership with Blue Line Innovations, a Canadian-based company which sells energy monitoring and management devices. Hohm, for those unaware, is a web service designed to help consumers monitor and analyze their energy consumption and then make recommendations for cost-savings measures.

Previously, using the Hohm website, the Q&A section would have to be filled out based on what you knew about your home – but unless you already had energy-monitoring gadgets installed, your answers were estimates in several cases.

Now, with the new Hohm PowerCost Monitor and WiFi Gateway, you’ll have hard data.

The device hooks up to your home’s power meter (no wiring required!) and reads actual usage. The details are transmitted to your Microsoft Hohm account which displays the data in near real-time graphs and charts (delays are 30 seconds or so). You can also view the data from a mobile device, if desired.

This is only the beginning for Hohm-enabled gadgets: Microsoft plans to connect Hohm with smart plugs, thermostats, HVAC systems, electric vehicles (it’s already in the Ford Focus Electric) and more.

The Blue Line PowerCost Monitor and Wi-Fi Gateway are available today from Blue Line Innovations and through select retailers like Frys, Amazon, and Microsoft stores. The complete package of PowerCost Monitor and Wi-Fi Gateway is available for $249, the Wi-Fi Gateway is

also sold separately for $159.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Skype SDK Now Available for Windows

Developers interested in integrating Skype into their applications can now request access to Skype’s new SDK, called SkypeKit. Available in beta format as of June 14th, the Windows version of the developer’s kit works on Windows x86 operating systems.

Access to the kit is on an invite-only basis at the moment, and interested developers have to go to Skype’s website and fill out an online form detailing their user and organization info.

SkypeKit will allow the integration of voice and video calling and/or IM features into third-party desktop applications or compatible Internet-connected hardware devices. It also offers Skype’s super wideband audio, based on the SILK codec. Developers who use SkypeKit will be able to describe their apps as “plugged into Skype” in their marketing materials, notes a company blog post about the announcement.

To request an invite to the program, you can head over here to the sign up page now.

Microsoft Research Shows off Street Slide View

Engadget (via MIT’s Technology Review) uncovered a cool Microsoft Research project called “Street Slide” view. The project attempts to create a new interface for viewing the street-level photos used in online applications like Bing Maps Streetside View.

As explained on the project’s homepage, today’s mapping applications enable users to virtually visit cities by way of “immersive 360 degree panoramas, or bubbles.” Users move from bubble to bubble, but this doesn’t necessarily provide the best visual sense of a city street.

With Street Slide, the researchers took the best aspects of the “immersive bubbles” and transformed them into multi-perspective strip panoramas. You can actually slide out of a bubble to see the street from a different perspective – a strip that’s viewed from a greater difference. When viewed in this mode, the empty space above and below the strip could be used for business logos and building numbers (addresses), or even ads.

According to the MIT article, the researchers have already made a version of this technology for mobile devices, including the iPhone. “It broadens out your visual sense to cover a two-block radius,” says Michael Cohen, a senior scientist at Microsoft Research.

Who’s hoping for a WP7 phone implementation of this tech? I know I am. In case I didn’t explain this too well, you can see Street Slide in action in the video here.

Introduction to Project Hilo

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Project “Hilo” is a series of articles and sample applications that demonstrate how you can leverage the power of Windows 7, Visual Studio 2010 and Visual C++ to build high performance, responsive rich client applications. Hilo provides both source code and guidance that will help you design and develop compelling, touch-enabled Windows applications of your own. Join Yochay Kiriaty and James Johanson for an introduction of Project Hilo, a quick tour of its architect and design principles.

Additional information about the project can be found in the Introducing Project HILO post, and on MSDN – Hilo: Developing C++ Application for Windows 7