Review: Powerbag Backpack

Last week, I attended CES for the first time and during my time there I was using a Powerbag backpack to keep all my devices charged. You can read what my first experience was like here. The Powerbag is a bag with a battery inside. They have got three different types (backpack, messenger, and briefcase) and a variety of models to choose from. Powerbag sent me their backpack for review, which is designed by fül. In fact, majority of their backpacks and messenger bags are designed by them.

The bag looks a bit bulky and is not the most elegant looking of backpacks, but I didn’t mind. However, from a budget perspective this backpack is definitely well priced. There are two main pockets in the back for storing your items. The largest pocket can hold up to a 16-inch laptop and it is padded on either side. The second largest pocket, has a variety of smaller pockets, a padded slot for an iPad or small tablet and a 3000 mAh battery.

In order to charge your device, you must use one of the included cables found in a small pouch located on the side of the bag. The backpack comes with a 30-pin plug for all iOS devices and two double ended micro/mini-USB plugs. Charging your devices is simple. Once you connect the device, you just press the Powerbag button, which is located on the front of the bag. Press it and it will light up to 4 LED lights hidden beneath the bag’s exterior to show how much remaining charge there is in the battery. A pretty cool feature  built into the battery is that it will automatically stop charging your devices once they are fully charged. Essentially, it is “smart” battery. In addition, the battery will automatically turn off once you remove your device, ensuring that you don’t accidentally drain it.

The battery locks into place, though it can be released by pushing on a small plastic tab. Included is an AC pack that can plug directly into the battery or connect to a port on the face of the bag for charging. Also, a USB port is built into the battery itself for other devices. During my test during CES, I was able to charge my iPhone 4S four times to full capacity from a charge of 10%, which is pretty darn good considering that the battery’s capacity is only 3000mAh.

Build quality of the Powerbag Backpack is fantastic. Zippers open and close smoothly and padding is offered on the back and suspension straps. However, it should be mentioned again that this isn’t one of the most elegant looking backpacks out there. With that being said, for the reasonable price and fantastic build quality this backpack is definitely worth a purchase if you want backup power on the go for your devices. You can purchase a Powerbag for $130 here.

Rumor: Apple to Hold iPad 3 Media Event in Early February

iPad 2 box

Well, it is that time of the year again. iPad 3 rumors are all over the place and here comes a new one today! Japanese website Macotakara reports that the unveiling of an iPad 3 along with iOS 5.1 will occur in February. Their source is an Asian supplier and a source in the U.S. Even though the event might happen in early February, the iPad will most likely still launch in early March, similar to the iPad 2 launch last year.

According to asian supplier and a source in United States, Apple seems to prepare to hold Special Event in early February.

Because Chinese factory will be in holiday of New Year, then new product is concidered to be released in early March.

Last year, the iPad 2 was introduced on March 2, and the device was made available just 9 days after on March 11th. Today’s rumor would suggest that Apple might have a longer wait time in between the unveiling of the iPad 3 and its availability date. Hopefully they do this so they can meet demand on launch day. When I waited in line for the iPad 2 launch, I wasn’t able to purchase the exact model I wanted since the demand was high and Apple wasn’t able to keep enough in stock.

The original iPad wasn’t made available until two months after its debut in January 2010, although Apple usually does put longer gaps between introduction and launch for new product categories in order to accommodate the legal approval process without risking leaks of product details.

Apple Working on New Retail Stores in France and Switzerland

In 2011, Apple rapidly expanded its stores. Last August, it was reported that the company is working on a store that will consist of a gorgeous glass roof in Santa Monica, CA. Just a month or two after, rumors of a store in Manhattan’s Grand Central started to appear, which finally became a reality earlier this month. It is gorgeous! Apple also redesigned its iconic Fifth Avenue store’s glass cube last year too. Last month, it was reported that Apple is working on a “prototype” store in Palo Alto, CA. Now, we are just 16 days into the new year and it seems that Apple has already started making plans to expand its retail stores to France and Switzerland. I remember when 4 to 5 years ago, Apple was barely expanding its stores but now it seems to be happening rapidly due to the demand for Apple products.

ifoAppleStore has discovered an article from French magazine Aix en Dialogue noting that Apple is preparing to build an interesting new store in Aix-en-Provence, France. Though the store appears to be a relatively small one by Apple’s standards, the design of this store is just mind blowing. This new store has an eye-catching design that sees the store set back on a plaza and constructed almost entirely of transparent glass with the exception of the rear wall hiding the back-of-house operations. Reports indicate that the new store could open by late 2012 or early 2013.

In addition, reports [Google translation] that they have gotten ahold of Apple’s plans for its first retail store in Basel, Switzerland. Apparently, Apple recently revised its plans for the store to meet the requirements of planning officials. Also, the current tenant vacated the location late last year, so Apple is ready to begin constructing the new store. This would be the company’s fourth store in Switzerland.

Apple Store Basel Plans

The floor plan above shows a two-level sales floor in the upcoming store and measures in at about 460 square meters (about 5,000 square feet), with nearly an equal amount of space dedicated to back-of-house operations such as storage, as well as building systems. Diagrams for the store also show a staircase in the rear of the store for getting around the two sales floors, with the ground floor having twelve display tables and the next level consisting of several other display tables and what seems to be a pair of 12-seat Genius Bars. In the meantime, Microsoft is still trying to figure out how to make their Microsoft Stores profitable.

Apple May Waterproof Future Devices With HzO Technology

Last week, CES 2012 occurred in Las Vegas and during the show some pretty interesting concept technologies were demoed. Turns out, Apple may actually maybe interested in one of them. Today, Pocket-lint reports that HzO, a Utah based company, was showing off its “WaterBlock” technology for providing water resistance to mobile devices at last week’s CES. Rumor has it that Apple might be talking to them about the possibility of including the technology in future iPhones and other devices. In addition, copy-cat Samsung is also reportedly “excited” by the technology (no surprise here).

“We showed the Samsung Chairman the technology with a Samsung Galaxy S that we had coated with HZO and he couldn’t believe his eyes,” a representative of the company told us. “Samsung is really excited by the tech.”

The company has told us that they are also talking to Apple as well, hoping to be able to let Apple make the iPhone 5 waterproof.

“We expect HZO to be in next season’s phones,” HZO told Pocket-lint rather confidently.

The WaterBlock technology consists of a coating applied to the interior device components to help them resist water damage. The coating is applied during the manufacturing process and is not visible to the user. I’m assuming people don’t drop their devices in water often, but regardless, this technology will be a money saver if integrated. Also, about time don’t you think! HzO also says that WaterBlock is a non-toxic, organic material that is safe for people to use. It also doesn’t change the aesthetics of a device or add any weight. Sounds magical to me!

However, it should be noted that it is difficult to tell how serious Apple’s discussions with the company might be, and any relevant conversations probably would be extremely confidential.

Five Things I Learned from My First CES Experience

CES Keynote stage

Ah, what a fantastic experience CES 2012 was! Now that it is over, here are the five most important things I learned from my first CES experience. I had always dreamed of attending this event, which became a reality this year. Attending CES was as amazing as I ever imagined.

1. Plan way ahead in advance.

I think, both the locals and cabbies of Las Vegas will agree with me on this that CES is probably the biggest show which happens in the city during this time of the year. Hotel and airplane ticket prices are increased significantly, and prices everywhere are much increased.. My advice would be that you should plan your trip months in advance and find a nice hotel to stay in. Word of advice: Don’t stay at “Circus Circus.” The place has lost its charm and it is pretty far away from where all the CES events happen. Luckily, I had booked my plane tickets and hotel room months in advance so it really made a difference financially.

2. Plan out your time wisely.

Not only is planning way ahead in advance important for CES, but planning out what you want to do at CES is crucial. At CES, there is simply too much to see and not enough time. The CES Expo itself is huge and the amount of people traffic-jam you encounter is insane! In addition, while the Expo is going on, press conferences and keynotes also occur during the same time.

If you are a blogger, setting up your appointments should be done as early as possible and try your best to make a day without any appointments. By doing so, you are ensured to meet some great people, but more importantly, you get a hands on experience without anyone else around to interrupt. Also, have any questions and comments ready beforehand since they only have so much time.

One mistake I made was not to plan out my schedule beforehand. I was just making up my schedule on the spot, which resulted in me not getting a hands on experience at a lot of the booths and missing a couple of events.

3.  Know the layout of CES beforehand!

Did you notice something different with this piece of advice? Yeah, that “!.” Turns out, getting around CES is a super confusing maze! Not only a lot of walking to do, but when you are inside a hotel, every entrance looks the same so it is very easy to get lost. While I was on the expo floor, I was getting lost too because it was difficult reading the paper maps they provide. Becoming familiar with the layout of both CES and Vegas is very important beforehand.

Getting around in Vegas usually consists of waiting in long cab lines or for the bus. CES usually does provide a few shuttles that run on the strip to get you to and from the show. Oh, and travel time should be counted too. Sometimes it can take an hour just to get from hotel to hotel or from your hotel to the show.

4. Things to bring.

I carried around my Nikon D3100 DSLR to take some fantastic shots. While an iPhone 4S would have been sufficient, I needed to save battery. Turns out a DSLR’s battery last for an entire day or more! I think carrying around a good camera with you at all times is important. You can view the picture I took from CES 2012 here. In addition, battery packs for all your devices is a must.  You may think your devices may last the entire day, but in reality they will only last a few hours due to the amount of usage you’ll be doing on them. I also brought a power strip since hotel rooms don’t provide enough power outlets.

In addition, I brought five extra battery packs for my devices (iPhone 4S and iPad). The battery packs weren’t needed for my iPad 2 since the battery goes on and on, but my iPhone 4S’s battery would only last me a few hours since I was using it a lot.

One device I should have brought this year but didn’t bring was a mobile WiFi hotspot. Since the number of people trying to access the WiFi network available at CES at once is tremendous, the networks crashed instantly. However, it seemed that Verizon’s MiFi was working out well for many.

5. Have fun. 

It seems that this year there was an increase in the amount of people that didn’t want to be at CES.  Even though CES is a hectic experience, it is important to have fun at CES. Luckily for me, I had the time of my life. My entire trip consisted of having a blast and by choice got very little sleep.

CES is an amazing experience and you should at attend it at least once. But with that being said, it is important to plan out the trip carefully.  I got to meet a ton of new people in Vegas, attend keynotes and hangout with friends, and learned a lot regarding where the market is headed. Oh, and I smoked a Windows Phone at the Microsoft booth! It really was all I hoped for and more.

Analysts Suggest That Apple’s iPad Sales in December Quarter Stand at 13.5 Million

Last week, Apple updated its investors relations page to inform people that it will announce its earnings for the first fiscal quarter of 2012 and host a live conference call regarding the earnings on Tuesday, January 24.  Since then, analysts and Wall Street have been predicting Apple’s numbers for last quarter. Today, a new survey of Wall Street and independent analysts reveals that all of them expect Apple to report a record iPad sales when it releases its December quarter financial results on January 24th. However, it should be noted that independent analysts usually have a 10 percent high average than the Street’s assumption of 13.5 million units.

Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt polled 42 analysts and founded that their estimates ranged from 11.73 million to 19.47 million iPad units sold during the December quarter. Last quarter,  Apple announced that  fourth quarter profits rose nearly 54 percent to $6.62 billion driven by record sales of more than 11 million iPads and nearly 5 million Macs. I suppose, we can easily expect Apple to report a new record high for its iPad sales on January 24th. In fact, it is projected that this quarter will be a $40 billion quarter for Apple.

iPad sales December 11

The low estimate came from Gabelli & Co. analyst, Hendi Susanto, earlier in the December quarter, while the highest forecast came from Apple Finance Board’s, Alexis Cabot, earlier this month. According to Elmer-DeWitt, these numbers are considered outliers. When both groups are counted together, the prediction of 13.5 million iPad units would suggest a 90 percent growth in iPad sales year over year. Analysts have had trouble accurately projecting iPad sales since the tablet’s introduction in 2010.

Apple’s Power Cables to Become Even More Eco-friendly

Oh boy, Apple is sure making some significant changes to the way it handles its environmental and labor rights. Yesterday, Apple released its annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report for 2012, but more importantly Apple is the first company to join the Fair Labor Association (FLA). This means that the FLA will monitor suppliers’ facilities from now.

To top it off, The London Evening Standard reports (via GigaOM) that Apple is also going to start requiring cable supplier Volex to spend up to $6 million retooling its production lines. By doing so, Volex will be able to eliminate halogens from the power and USB cables used in the company’s products.  This will allow the cables to be less toxic to the environment upon disposal. Clearly, Apple’s evil and doesn’t care about the environment!

 Apple is the biggest customer of Volex, 23%-owned by billionaire financier Nat Rothschild, which makes the power cables and USB leads used in everything from laptops to iPhones and iPads.

But the US firm is on a drive to move its products towards halogen-free power cables, which are less harmful to the environment when disposed of.

The start-up costs in designing and making the new cables will cost it up to $6 million in the current financial year, Volex said today, although, stripping out these one-off costs, profits will be in line with market expectation

In the past, Apple has been criticized from environmental advocacy groups such as Greenpeace, but recently the company has improved its environmental efforts in recent surveys as it continues to shift to more eco-friendly solutions. It seems that with all the announcements made, Tim Cook is trying to close this supplier labor fiasco once and for all.

Apple is the First Technology Company to Join the Fair Labor Association

Recently, Apple has made huge announcements and changes regarding the way it handles environment and labor rights. Just yesterday, Apple released the Supplier Responsibility Progress Report for 2012. The report details efforts to oversee working conditions and environmental responsibility at its suppliers around the world. In my article, I also mentioned that Apple has been criticized for not taking supplier responsibility but that all ends today. Why? Because today Apple has also agreed to allow the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to access its suppliers’ facilities to monitor workplace conditions. This is mainly due to the worker suicides at Apple’s primary manufacturing partner Foxconn. It is funny how every time there’s an issue at Foxconn, Apple’s the cause for it when in reality, that’s not the case. Foxconn also makes products for HP, Dell, Sony, etc.

In fact, this makes Apple the first technology company to join the FLA. In the press release, Apple senior Vice President Jeff Williams says that Apple routinely performs audits of its suppliers’ facilities but that the company is pleased to engage with the Fair Labor Association as an independent monitoring group.

“We’re extremely proud to be the first technology company admitted to the FLA,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of Operations. “Last year we performed more than 200 audits at our supplier’s facilities around the world. With the benefit of the FLA’s experience and expertise, we will continue to drive improvements for workers and provide even greater transparency into our supply chain.”

Apple joining the Fair Labor Association is a pretty big deal. I think it might force Apple’s peers to follow suit.

Apple Releases 2012 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report and Supplier List

In the past, Apple has been criticized for not taking supplier responsibility but that all ends today. Yesterday, Apple released its annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report for 2012, but that’s not all. This article will specifically be about the supplier progress report, but I will post many other articles regarding Apple’s other announcements regarding the environment and labor rights news today also.

This report details efforts to oversee working conditions and environmental responsibility at its suppliers around the world, and notes that the company conducted 229 audits during 2011 for an 80% increase over 2010’s auditing levels. You know, you don’t see any other company offering such detailed reports regarding their suppliers. Ironically, this still makes Apple “evil.”  Apple also notes that in 2011 it began a dedicated environmental auditing process to supplement the environmental checks that had previously been included in the standard auditing procedure.  In addition, the company reports that third-party environmental engineering experts helped conduct audits at fourteen different facilities, and some violations were found.

Surprisingly, the most secretive tech company also for the first time published a list of 156 suppliers (PDF) representing 97% of the company’s procurement expenditures. Full details on the auditing results, including summaries of the various violations discovered in environmental and much more details, are available in the complete report (PDF).

China Unicom Offering Free iPhone 4S On Contract

Just a few days ago, Apple announced that it would be launching the iPhone 4S in China and in 22 other new countries on January 13th. This means that the iPhone 4S will be just in time for the Chinese holiday season, with the Chinese New Year falling on January 23rd. Without a doubt, the launch will be a huge hit.

iPhone 4S

Today, Bloomberg reports that China Unicom, Apple’s existing iPhone carrier partner in the country, has announced details on pricing that include a free iPhone 4S for users subscribing to contracts being offered for as little as $45 per month. This promotion will begin on January 13th.  China Unicom subscribers can get a free 32-gigabyte iPhone 4S with a three-year service contract. And the 16GB model is available free for those who agree to a two-year contract.

China United Network Communications Group (CHTZ), the nation’s second-largest wireless carrier, will give users an Apple Inc. (AAPL) iPhone 4S if they sign multiyear service contracts costing as little as 286 yuan ($45) a month.

The promotion starting Jan. 13 offers a 32-gigabyte model with a three-year plan, while a commitment to two years for a monthly fee of 386 yuan allows users to get the 16-gigabyte model, the company known as China Unicom said in a statement on its website yesterday.

The subsidies offered by China Unicom seems to be much better than the carriers across the world, but the iPhone has proven to be costly for the carriers. In the U.S., customers on AT&T, Sprint and Verizon can get a 16GB iPhone 4S for $199 with a new two-year contract, while the 32GB model costs $299 and 64GB is $399. The iPhone 3GS, if purchased via AT&T, is offered for $0 with a new two-year contract.