Samsung Reportedly Debuting Stores-Within-A-Store At Best Buy Locations For Galaxy S4 Launch

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Samsung will reportedly be launching Samsung Stores in select Best Buy locations ahead of the Galaxy S4′s U.S. launch, a new report from Geek.com claims. The new sections, which will occupy spots close to the mobile department, will feature Samsung branding throughout and highlight a number of Samsung products, not just the upcoming Galaxy S4, though that flagship device will be the core focus.

The report from Geek.com says that at first the Samsung Stores will only be appearing at certain high-traffic locations, with training to begin for employees in the mobile departments at those stores soon. The store-within-a-store concept will roll out to other Best Buys following the launch later this year, with the ultimate goal of puting one in every U.S. location. We’ve reached to both Best Buy and Samsung for comment, but have yet to hear back at publication time.

Of course, there’s a good precedent for this sort of thing at Best Buy specifically, and it was set by a company that Samsung is generally keen to emulate: Apple. Apple’s dedicated mini-stores in Best Buy locations are unique in that they replicate almost exactly the in-store displays of Apple products in the company’s own standalone retail stores. It sounds like Samsung’s new in-store locations will resemble the Apple versions in both form and function, with the main intent being to have staff and space to properly demonstrate Samsung’s devices separate from those made by other OEMs.

If these Samsung Stores become a reality, it’s likely going to have the most effect on its fellow Android smartphone manufacturers, rather than Apple, however. Samsung is already setting itself apart from the competition in terms of market reach and global sales, but distinguishing itself on the physical retail floor will institutionalize a choice between Samsung and ‘all the rest’ for in-store shoppers.

Samsung is getting bolder in its marketing efforts, as was painfully apparent from its lavish, confusing Broadway spectacle earlier this month. If it wants to stand out, physically separating itself inside of Best Buy locations is another very good way to do so.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Where Have All The Physical QWERTYs Gone?

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It’s approaching three years since I emailed and got a reply from the late Steve Jobs. The topic of my caffeine-fueled missive that sunny day in June 2010 was the industry’s move towards touch-based interfaces and, specifically, Apple’s one-size-fits-all approach regarding the iPhone’s lack of a physical QWERTY keyboard.

I have a disability that can make touch and other physically demanding interfaces more challenging, I explained to Jobs, and whereas the mouse-driven GUI that he helped usher in with the Macintosh had inadvertently put me on a level playing field, were touch to ever become the dominant mode of input, it had the potential to turn that world upside down.

“That’s obviously a bit dramatic”, I wrote on TechCrunch at the time. “There will always be lots of different products on the market, but it’s a possibility nonetheless.” Fast forward to 2013 and what was only a possibility has all but become a reality. Survey the mobile landscape and it’s filled with people fondling their giant slabs of touch, happily typing away on glass.

At this point I know I’ll likely get ripped apart in the comments. In the battle of the physical vs virtual QWERTY, the market has spoken, they’ll say, and those who don’t favour touch are squarely out of touch. And sadly, the evidence is heavily stacked on their side of the argument.

Survey the mobile landscape and it’s filled with people fondling their giant slabs of touch, happily typing away on glass

In the first few years of the iPhone’s existence, a ton of hybrid physical QWERTY/touch smartphones from competitors entered the market, ready to differentiate themselves from Apple by talking up their superior typing experience. But they failed to stop the Cupertino juggernaught. Typing on glass, while not ideal, was good enough. Arguably it wasn’t until Android OEMs ditched their, largely, clunky slide-out keyboards and wholesale copied and then supersized Apple’s all touch form-factor, did they begin to turn back the tide.

Meanwhile, continues the argument, the likes of Nokia fell by the wayside, plagued by an antiquated user interface that, in a desperate and confused attempt to respond to the market, tried and failed to crowbar in touch before the company finally jumped onto Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform, sans physical QWERTY.

Furthermore, BlackBerry, which seemingly built its whole business off the back of its physical QWERTY-touting credentials, chose to release its first comeback device as the BB10-powered Z10, another all touch grey slab, rather than the Q10, which combines touch with a physical QWERTY in the best BlackBerry candybar tradition. It’s also been suggested that the Canadian handset maker may even view the Q10’s hybrid approach as a way to wean its traditional customers off a physical keyboard entirely, a gateway device if you will.

So yes, putting aside the fact that the market can only speak to what is put in front of it — I can’t recall a single candybar QWERTY powered by Android that was anything more than a mid-tier or low end device — it would seem that the market has indeed spoken.

But it may not have had the final word yet.

That’s if — and it’s a big if — the BlackBerry Q10, when it finally hits the market next month, surprises everybody and sells in sufficient numbers to smash through the totalitarian all touch screen. And just like the Mac had ensured before it, for this hack and others like me, 2013 won’t be like 1984 after all.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

The Dash Car Dongle Wants To Make You A Better Driver By Syncing With Your iPhone

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I love my tiny little Mazda, but I’ll be honest — I still don’t completely understand how it works. That’s never really bothered me before (I’d much rather geek out over a phone or something) but a Kickstarter project from a small team in Boston has me itching to pay more attention to what’s really going on under the hood. Long story short, Dash combines a Bluetooth 4.0-enabled dongle that plugs into your car’s on-board diagnostics port with an iPhone app that gives you up-to-date information how on your car is holding up.

Yes, I know that probably sounds very familiar.

We’ve seen a few startups tapping into that particular port recently — Carvoyant inked deals with local auto dealers to more broadly distribute its always-on diagnostics and tracking gadget earlier this year, and Y Combinator-backed Automatic got plenty of attention for taking a similar concept and combining it with an awfully handsome iPhone app interface. Dash’s approach seems to resemble the latter slightly more than the former, but at their core they’re all trying to accomplish the same mission: to improve the driving experience by shining light on data that wasn’t always easily accessible.

So should you consider Dash over something like the ultra-slick Automatic when both devices are both slated to cost around $ 69? That all comes down to how you feel about the little tricks that set Dash apart from the oft-hyped California startup’s service.

In addition to tracking fuel usage, passing along notifications when your car’s components have gone awry and letting people locate their cars on a map, Dash users can use their smartphone as a secondary display of sorts for realtime information like current speed, engine RPM, and fuel economy. The big idea behind latter is that you’ll be able to find an environmentally-friendly sweet spot while cruising along, though chances are you’ve already got some sort of indicator telling you how fuel-efficient your driving is if you’re driving a more recent car. Still, since U.S. cars from as far back as 1996 have ODB ports there are plenty of drivers who could stand to benefit from this sort of info.

Oh, and a side note: if Dash appeals to you because your car’s built-in speedometer and tachometer don’t work, you should really get that taken care of first.

In case you were hoping to bring your social fixation into your car too, all that driving data can be automatically uploaded to an associated online Dash account. From there people can compare their own metrics to their fellow Dash users and pick up on best practices for squeezing optimal performance out of their rides (sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a way to mock them mercilessly for driving like your grandmother). What’s more, users can also record and share in-car video with speed and engine information overlaid on top of it, well, just because.

Those of you looking to make your iPhone an extension of your car have to consider that the Dash still seems like a long way from fruition. At time of writing the team’s Kickstarter campaign has raised just over $ 15,000 from backers, and is ultimately shooting to top $ 750,000 before May 11. Should the Dash team meet that lofty goal though, they hope to get the first batch of dongles out sometime this June — just in time for summer roadtrip season. Sadly, just like with Automatic, Android users will have to wait until later in the year to get their mobile car diagnostics on.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

This Week On The TechCrunch Gadgets Podcast: 3D Printing, Ouya, And The Facebook Fone

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This week on the TechCrunch Gadgets Podcast we celebrate episode number two of everyone’s favorite audio file! We also talk about 3D printing, the Ouya console, and the Facebook Fone AKA the FF.

This week we are joined by our quiet intern, Michael Seo.

We are slowly by surely working the kinks out of this process, so bear with us. However, we invite you to enjoy our weekly podcasts every Friday at 3pm Eastern and appreciate all those who listened to our inaugural effort last week. 17,000 listens is nothing to sneeze at and we sincerely love you for putting up with us.

Click here to download an MP3 of this show.
You can subscribe to the show via RSS.
Subscribe in iTunes

Intro Music by Rick Barr.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Apple’s Long-Rumored Game Controller May Soon See The Light Of Day

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I’ve long believed that touchscreens leave a certain something to be desired when it comes to playing games, and if a new (and very curious) report holds true, Apple may feel the same way. According to PocketGamer.biz’s Jon Jordan, Apple has been meeting with developers on-site at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco to talk about a forthcoming Apple game controller.

Jordan’s multiple developer sources claim that the Cupertino company has booked a meeting room under an assumed name to talk about the game-centric device, though they weren’t able to shed any light on what the thing will look like or when it will actually see the light of day. That said, Apple is expected to hold an iPad-centric event in April so it’s possible that this controller may be officially unveiled in just a few weeks.

At first glance, the prospect of Apple churning out a game controller of all things seems downright silly, but after chewing on it for a while the notion doesn’t seem quite as outlandish. You’d be hard-pressed to think of OS X as prominent a platform for gaming as Windows is (though some big-league developers are working to change that), but iOS plays home to a staggering number of games and it’s not inconceivable to think that Apple would want to enhance the sorts of gaming experiences available to iPhone, iPod and iPad users. As such, a game controller seems like the sort of thing that Apple would agonize over getting right, and it appears that Apple may have been doing just that.

In the site’s 2012 review of the 3rd generation iPad, AnandTech’s Anand Lal Shimpi and Vivek Gowri let slip a tantalizing tidbit when discussing the iPad’s faculty as a gaming machine: ”I know of an internal Apple project to bring a physical controller to market, but whether or not it will ever see the light of day remains to be seen,” the review reads.

What’s more Apple has been seen bulking itself up with patents that relate to a potential gaming push for at least a few years now. This patent from 2008 describes an accessory that wraps around a portable electronic device with touchscreen (sound familiar?) and includes a standard D-Pad and button, while this one spotted in 2012 takes a slightly different approach. Either way, these patents plus the AnandTech comments make it rather clear that Apple has been mulling over a physical game controller (or something like it) and it may be time for those ambitions to come to fruition.

I’ve reached out to Apple, but the company has declined to comment.

(Also, here’s hoping it looks nothing like the Pippin controller pictured above.)

TechCrunch » Gadgets