Green Tech: Unlocking the Power of Play

Jessica O. Matthews and Julia Silverman are on a mission to show the world that the value of play can not only be measured in smiles but in very real economic and social terms.  Both Harvard students had volunteered traveled extensively in Africa and also shared a passion for soccer: the continent’s (and the world’s) most popular game.  In an engineering class they got the chance to marry these two passions, capitalizing on an opportunity to improve living conditions in African through the continent’s love of soccer.
What does such an ambitious project look like?  A sOccket, a small generator cleverly disguised as a soccer ball that charges as you play with it!  Three hours of LED illumination is stored in the sOccket per every half hour of playtime.  It can also charge small electronic devices like a cell phone.

This ingenious solution isn’t just making an economic impact by delivering renewable light energy to many rural areas.  There are important health benefits as well because most of the developing world still relies on on kerosene lamps that pose huge safety hazards: the fumes inhaled by children in kerosene-light homes is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

The sOccett vs. huge public health threats is been a game that’s garnered the attention of an international audience.
Today there are more than 6,000 sOcckets “kicking around”, literally, from Africa to Mexico to Brazil.  Uncharted Play, the organization founded by Matthews and Silverman to distribute their product received overwhelming support from corporate sponsors principally because of how easily and effectively the tool integrates into daily life.  As Matthews explained, “Why don’t we give you something that you already like to do and get what you need.”

And sOccket has yet another a new fan, President Obama.  During his recent trip to Africa his team set to work distributing the item to many African nations and on a tour of a facility that manufacturers the ball he even showed off some of his soccer skills! A huge goal for the two Harvard girls who knew just how powerful play could be.

The Giants of Iowa: Reuse, Re-rigged

The world of reuse is sometimes relegated to all things tiny: tiny homes, tiny devices, tiny art.  But in Iowa reuse is going not just big, its going gigantic, 8 stories to be exact!  That’s because in the middle of Iowa’s rolling farmlands there is, surprisingly, a mountain climber’s paradise where a number of unused grain silos have been converted into ice climbing walls.

In the fall of 2001 Don Briggs, a professor and climbing enthusiast, was helping a friend till his farmland in the municipality of Ceder Falls when he made a bet that he could scale one of the silos looming in the distance.  In the end, he won the bet and discovered that the most workable way to reach the peak was to ice climb it.

Briggs has now developed an intricate icing process by rigging hoses at the top of the structure which slow-drip downwards creating a semi-malleable wall of ice that changes depending on wind and weather conditions.

Since the silo opened for business it has attracted both beginners and experts alike and exposed a community famous for their flat farmlands to a taste of mountain life, close to home.  To learn more check out Silo Ice Climbing.

Are smartphones emasculating?

Posted on March 06, 2013 | Android, innovation, mobile, smartphone

At the recent TED conference in Long Beach, Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, proposed an unexpected argument.

Wearing a pair of Google Glasses, he told the conference attendes that his latest invention would help fight the antisocial and “emasculating” habit of compulsive smartphone checking.

He argued that, on a smartphone, everyone is isolating themselves by constantly looking down to check in on email or social media. In his words, “you’re standing there just rubbing this featureless piece of glass.”

In contrast, Google Glass allows people to keep their head up as digital information is overlaid onto their world, no matter where their gaze is pointed. The innovation moves towards fulfilling one of Brin’s long-held dreams to give users highly relevant information without actually having to run searches.

The technology is exciting to imagine but both his smartphone attack and the potential impact of Google Glass have ignited debate across the internet.

At Information Week, Thomas Claburn, focuses on the sexist undertones of Brin’s remarks (is he implying that isolation is unacceptable for men but fine for women?) and gives male readers a variety of ways to reclaim their smartphone. These range from armoring it in a suitably rugged case to developing new ways of interacting with our touchscreens so users can slam and hammer their touchscreens (rather than the ‘feminine’ touch or tap).

Over at Wired, Ryan Tate explores the ways that Google Glass might affect the way we interact. He agrees that there are all sorts of social problems around smartphones, but ponders if those same problems may be evident, if not exacerbated, when people are constantly looking at the little displays attached their face. In his words, “Surely losing your friend’s eye contact halfway through a sentence would be emasulating and socially isolating in its own way.”

What do you think about Brin’s argument? Do you see your smartphone as emasculating? Are you excited or appresenive about the possibility of Google Glass?

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Uchek turns your smartphone into a mobile urine lab

Posted on February 27, 2013 | Android, Apple, innovation, iPhone, phone, smartphone, Tech tips

TED fellow Myshkin Ingawale wants to harness technology to help people to better understand their own bodies. Drawing on the powerful cameras and processing power of smartphone technology, he has created an Uchek – a urinalysis app for the masses.

Unveiled at the TED conference today, the seemingly simple app is easy for anyone to use: a chemical strip is dipped in urine, a picture is taken of the strip with a smartphone and Uchek analyzes the strip to produce an accurate and easy-to-understand result.

With the color comparisons as a guide, the app creates an almost instant breakdown of the levels of glucose, bilirubin, proteins, specific gravity, ketones, leukocytes, nitrites, urobilinogen and hematuria present in the urine. This information is particularly helpful for those managing diabetes, or kidney, bladder and liver problems.

The app delivers the information in language that everyone can understand (positive or negative results or descriptors like “trace” or “large”). If you don’t know that the presence of leukocytes might indicate a urinary tract infection, you simply tap on the leukocytes tab for more information. “The idea is to get people closer to their own information,” Ingawale, 29, explained.

Ingawale is optimistic it will be made available to iOS users soon and an Android version is in the works.

According to the GSMA, the organisation which represents the mobile industry, mobile health service could help save one million lives in Africa over the next five years. According to Michael O’Hara, chief marketing officer at the GSMA, “Mobile health has immense potential to improve people’s lives since it increases patient access to quality healthcare whilst reducing costs”. Much like other health-related smartphone apps, Ucheck is not meant to diagnose disease. Rather it is meant to make you and your doctor better aware of your health issues.

We’re excited to see what other smartphone technology emerges from this year’s TED conference!

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Sustainable living: Superheroes on Wheels

Do you have what it takes to go by bike from the the southern tip of Argentina to the northern tip of Alaska? Do you have what it takes to do it blindfolded? Christi and Tauru do.  This legally blind pair have put the rest of our sustainable living adventures to shame, they have been making the epic journey over the past 11 months, peddling their way across America, in its entirety, on a tandem bicycle.

I caught up with Christi and Tauru after the lunch rush in the rural Bolivian equivalent of a food court.  They immediately stuck out to me as an American, all smiles and about foot taller than everyone else.  As we shared a meal of spicy milanesa their story unfolded.  The two had met in the corporate world, Tauru was an established career man and Christi, a motivated intern but neither felt deep down that they were cut out for the corporate world.  When Christi hosted a brown-bag lunch/info session about her own vision condition (she was born blind in her right eye and 20/200 vision in her left eye) and how to work with low-vision colleagues, Tauru was eager to connect with someone with whom he could share his own experience: he had recently been diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease and was facing eventual blindness.

The two hit it off.  It didn’t take long before Tauru, an avid traveler, proposed the idea of the bike trip to Christi, “He said hey, want to quit your job and travel the world?” She couldn’t resist.  So, in the midst of a financial crisis they traded their secure jobs, homes and lives for the open road, and embarked on their first epic journey from California to the east coast of the United States, after Christi learned to ride a bike for the first time! “We met great people doing that and we thought what a great way to travel the world, let’s take the Americas in the other direction.”

And so, in January the two arrived, tandem-in-tow, in Argentina. But the motivation behind this trip is not just bragging rights; their main priority is the work they do off the bike, in hospitals, community centers and schools for the blind where they raise awareness about vision impairment, educate, mobilize and inspire those with impaired vision.  Tauru says they hope to convey that, “the dangers are definitely there, the challenges are definitely there, but hopefully we can inspire others to go out and do things too because life is short… and nothing is impossible.”

If you want to know how Christi and Tauru keep the bike wheels rolling, economize, and their best survival tips (spoiler alter: a lot of ham and cheese sandwiches) listen to my full interview here. You can also keep tabs on them through their website and via Facebook. ExchangeMyPhone is happy to report that the pair has just recently crossed into Panama and are still going strong. We are always happy to continue to feature people changing the world in amazing, sustainable and meaningful ways.  Hats off to Christi and Tauru!

Startup Office Envy: The West Coast Edition

Simply being located on the West Coast of the United States is enough to incite envy among East Coasters as we bundle up for another fall and winter.  However, these awesome tech startup offices don”t stop there and, fair warning, they will probably have you updating your LinkedIn profile and checking out flight fares to San Fran and LAX.  Here are ExchangeMyPhone‘s top picks for the most enviable tech office spaces the Pacific coast has to offer, where innovation thrives inside and out.

west coast map

AirBnB
If you haven’t already heard, AirBnB is the online matchmaker for travelers and residents that lets people rent out their homes or extra rooms to their peers for short-term stays. Seeing as this is the start-up that ‘started up’ a revolution in travel accommodation it only makes sense that their own digs would reflect their passion for that “home away from home” feel.  And AirBnB does not disappoint.  Hands down the coolest thing about their San Francisco office is, rather than take office inspiration from outside sources, they took it from their own listings! So when AirBnB staffers go to work they go to offices modeled after one Berlin artist’s pad, a Soho loft, a Hong Kong bachelor pad and our personal favorite: a rural mushroom cabin in Aptos, California.  And, ever a stickler for the details, the AirBnB designers even worked with the apartment owners to make sure the smallest touches were true to the original listings.  So, should we have this meeting in the Parisian garotte or the Swiss chalet?

AirBnB west coast office

Zynga
This San Francisco office is sort of like stepping inside a disco ball, but seeing as the company is one of the largest providers of social game services, it is only fitting. You enter the work space through a neon glowing tunnel and the lobby is complete with sequined decorations and a vintage Winnebago they fondly call the Zyngabago. In the basement they even have a game room where Mafia Wars is king. But the best part? Employees are actually encouraged to bring their pooches to work with them and the entire office is totally K9 friendly.

Zynga startup office

StumbleUpon
You may have squandered innumerable hours in the black-hole of procrastination that is StumbleUpon but there is no wasting time, or efficiency, in their office.  In their San Francisco home, the center piece is definitely innovation. Even the conference rooms are named after great inventors: for instance, the  Pasteur room is fully equipped with beautiful and fully-functional vintage microscopes.

StumbleUpon startup office

But StumbleUpon isn’t just a pretty face, they also take into great consideration the well-being of their employees.  Check out these perks: catered breakfast and lunch daily, $100 of Uber credit for transport at month, visits with the massage therapist who stops by twice a month, and a chance to win a new iPad for Hack Week, an annual event in which employees work together on “out of the box” ideas for StumbleUpon and one idea is chosen to be implemented.

Urban Airship
Urban Airship (provider of easy, affordable way for mobile publishers and developers to deliver real-time push notifications and in-app purchase content to their app users on multiple platforms), is all about transparency when it comes to their brand identity and their office space.  They began, like many start-up boot-strappers in a shared, incubator-like, office and loved the open feel.  So, even a lot of success and their own stuffing office later, they don’t have any private offices and it’s one of the reasons they moved into the wide-open space of their current office last year.

Urban Airship startup office

Added perks? Friday happy hour (from their in-house keg), a celebratory, engraved bell for the sales team to ring after big deals are made, and finally, no vacation policy! This is a technique that the founders credit Netflix for; you take the time that you need when you need to take it, and you put it on the shared calendar for the entire company to see. People know when you’re going to be gone and can plan accordingly around gaps and releases. As for now, no one has abused the policy.  And why would you? With a homey office, scavenger hunts around Portland and flexible vacays its not a place you’d want to avoid.

Pinterest
Pinterest is synonymous with beauty.  It is basically all about a feast for the eyes but, oddly enough, their Palo Alto pad is a bit of a contradiction.  Tucked away on a suburban block in an unmarked building, these guys have no time for frills and fancy break rooms: namely because they can’t take breaks.  With a staff of only 25 people, Pinterest has exploded in the past year and now drives more online traffic than Google+, Youtube and LinkedIn combined! Understandably, that leaves no time for decor. But ExchangeMyPhone predicts that this will be an office to keep your eye on, with the sort to gigantic success they are seeing we don’t think they won’t have a fold-out snack table for too much longer.

Pinterest startup office

Tech innovation: The creative, creepy, crazy-cool world of 3D printing

Posted on October 08, 2012 | eco-economy, green business, innovation, makers, Start-up

By now, most of us have heard of what some people are calling the next big tech innovation, akin to the personal computer: rapid prototyping, aka 3D printing. When explaining the usefulness of this new advancement in plastics, one often hears about the “parts” scenario.  For instance, if you lose a screw for your glasses, a head for your screwdriver or your kid throws our their retainer out with their lunch, rather than going through the hassle of getting a replacement you can simply print one from a 3D printing template.

But practicality is only one of the advantages that 3D printing has to offer. As the medium proliferates, the ideas of what can be printed become more innovate, wacky and sometimes ridiculous. Here is ExchangeMyPhone’s round-up of the top 5 wildest 3D printing creations:

Bones & Organs
Though Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein might be the first thing that comes to mind when you picture someone printing a pancreas, the intersection of 3D printing and the medial world is anything but Haloween-ish; it is vastly improving the quality and longevity of lives. German scientists are already implementing the new technology into their pedagogy and have had great success printing artificial blood vessels and synthetic capillaries. The technique has also been implemented in the U.S. to create “bionic arms” for children with paralysis that are easily extended as the child grows.  Scientists liken it to a Lego approach: adjustable and easy to assemble so that the parents can even make the adjustments from home. Bone grafts have also been successfully printed and put to use. Looking forward, scientists are getting closer to perfecting the printable replacement organ.

Mummy Cloning
No, it is not the next movie franchise out to replace Twilight, its simply one of many ‘out-there’ application of 3D printing. Why is this necessary you ask? Well if you remember back to your Ancient Civ class, and King Tut’s mummy, you’ll recall how unique and well preserved it was: a tremendous resource for archeologists and just an awesome thing to gawk at. But, because King Tut is getting seriously old now, he can’t travel very much and stays mostly in Egypt. Now, thanks to 3D Printing however, there are two identical Tut mummies and the clone version is currently on display in New York. This was created using a Belgian 3D printer, and then freshened up by a makeup artist for increased authenticity. Our verdict: creepy AND cool.

¡Dios Mio, 3D Burritos!
Burrit0bot is 3D printing’s first Tex-Mex creation and it is getting hype as hot as its flavor. The brainchild, and consequent thesis project, of NYU Interactive Telecommunications grad, Marko Manriquez, Burrit0bot is still in revisions and doesn’t actually produce a burrito from scratch (you must supply the tortilla). It does, however, allow you to personalize your burrito preferences such as the critical guacamole salsa ratio from a mobile app.

And just in case you’re thinking that the Burrit0bot idea doesn’t have the same meat as the medical application of 3D printing, Manriquez begs to differ. “Burritob0t invites critical questions about the food we regularly consume, particularly in regards to fast food (labor practices, environmental consequences, nutritional value),” the Burritob0t website explains. “Mexican fast food is emblematic of the assembly line: it is mass-produced in an era of modern consumables, appropriating a false authenticity. Burritob0t, in turn, aims to encourage dialogue about how and where our food is grown, methods of production, environmental impact, cultural appropriation, and, perhaps most importantly: what our food means to us.”

Chocolate for Dessert
Brits might be known more for their tea habit than their sweet tooth but the biggest advancements in chocolate technology are coming out of England. The first chocolate printer was developed by Dr. Liang Hao at the University of Exeter who is now also the founder of Choc Edge, the company that distributes the printers, after the prototype sparked so much commercial interest. “We’ve improved and simplified the machine, so now it is really easy to use,” said Dr Hao, “You just need to melt some chocolate, fill a syringe that is stored in the printer, and get creative printing your chocolate.” So essentially, the technique remains unchanged the ink is merely replaced by yummy chocolate. We have a feeling Willy Wonka would approve!

There’s No Place like…Wiki
If you already depend on Wikipedia for most of your information, maybe its time you just give in, or better yet, move into the Wiki house. Design firm 00:/ has just unveiled their WikiHouse, 3D- printable house at the Milan Furniture Fair. The house gets its name from its open-source platform so anyone with a 3D printer can download and share the home’s templates.

What else makes this the coolest house on the block?
- Its a no-bolt construction
- Emphasizes locally-sourced materials
- Easy DIY construction
- NO POWER TOOLS NEEDED. Instead, the house is pieced together like a puzzle or an IKEA bed
The WikiHouse operates under the creative commons license which facilitates the sharing of new solutions among users and promotes a global dialogue between developers and the public.

iPhone 5 Review – What the Experts are Saying

Posted on September 19, 2012 | cell phone, innovation, iPhone, Mac, mobile, smartphone, Tech tips, Upgrade

At its launch event last week, Apple’s vice president Phil Shiller described the iPhone 5 as “the most beautiful product we have ever made.”

He demonstrated how the Apple engineers have improved on the iPhone 4S by creating a larger 4-inch screen, faster processor, improved camera, improved battery life, LTE support and introducing a new lightening connector.

In the days after launch, the phone became the fastest-selling device in its history. Pre-orders topped 2 million in its first 24 hours of availability and doubled the 1 million in sales done by the iPhone 4S in its first 24 hours of  its availability.

But what will everyone actually think when they get their hands on the much ballyhooed iPhone 5?

The phone is set to hit the shelves on September 21st but a few lucky reviewers have gotten a chance to get their mitts on the newest member of Apple’s family a few days before the rest of us.

So what do they think?

They are giving it a huge thumbs up.

The hardware is popular across the board with nearly every reviewer praising the new 4-inch screen, comfort in hand and ‘premium feel’.

Not surprisingly, many are disgruntled with the new dock connector. They agree that the performance is brilliant but they are frustrated that they it no longer fits any of their accessories.

With that quibble aside, their overall excitement is palpable:

TechCrunch: “I really do believe this is the best iPhone upgrade that Apple has done yet (besting the iPhone-to-iPhone 3G jump and the iPhone 3GS-to-iPhone 4 jump). As such, it’s the best version of the iPhone yet. By far.”

The Wall Street Journal: “The world’s most popular smartphone becomes significantly faster, thinner and lighter this week, while gaining a larger, 4-inch screen—all without giving up battery life, comfort in the hand and high-quality construction.”

Engadget: “Thinner. Lighter. Faster. Simpler. The moment the iPhone 5 was unveiled we knew that it was checking off all the right boxes, folding in all the improvements and refinements people have been demanding over the past year.”

The Telegraph: “Starting the phone, loading apps, or taking photos – everything is faster on the iPhone 5. Benchmarking with the Geekbench app has shown that the iPhone 5 is not just faster than the iPhone 4S but it also outperforms Samsung’s Galaxy S3.”

Next week, we will compare the iPhone 5 to its competitors in the field but, in the meantime, do you plan to buy an iPhone 5? What new feature are you most excited about? Let us know.

If you are tempted to buy the new iPhone 5 but are put off by the hefty price tag, you can always subsidize your upgrade by selling your old iPhone (or any other phone) at ExchangeMyPhone.

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Startup News: The Enviable Office Tour, NY Tech Addition

Posted on August 15, 2012 | innovation, Start-up, tech offices

The tech startup has not always had the most glamorous stereotype: it has often provoked an image of two dudes in their parents’ garage. Are their businesses brilliant? Yes. Beautiful? Heck no. But nowadays that couldn’t be further from the truth. Tech startups are snatching up prime SoHo real estate and designing unconventional, modern, fun-loving office environments that move as fast as they do. And yes, they are making us all very jealous.

Blip.Tv
Blip employees are experts about two things: monetizing, incubating and popularizing original video content and bringing the party to the office. Unlike Youtube, the material on Blip is hand-picked by their editors, who developed the idea after loving the first web-series they saw and resolving to create a place where independent and newbie producers could showcase their work. Plus, Blip always shares the pie: they have a 50/50 policy with creators when it comes to advertising revenue.

Blip.Tv

So what kind of office environment does it take to keep a place like this churning out great stuff? Apparently, Nerf-sniping their coworkers and a lot of beer pong. During their tour of the SoHo office, Business Insider found that every Blip employee is armed with a Nerf gun, and not afraid to use it. They also have a pimped-out kitchen complete with a beer tap, which they also aren’t, apparently, afraid to use: they even beat College Humor in a beer pong championship hosted by Gawker. Jealous yet? Did we mention that they can write on their conference-room walls? All this, plus they spend their days watching T.V.!

Gawker
No, these are not photos of New York’s trendiest new bar (though it could be, located at the intersection of three of the city’s hippest neighborhoods: Nolita, SoHo and the Bowery, a.k.a. hip junction.)

Gawker

It’s actually the Gawker office, the blog-based “source of Manhattan media news and gossip”, and it is complete with wooden-paneled ceilings, leather upholstery, and yes, mood lighting. But unlike the city’s trendy bars, this office is clique-free and has an anti-hierarchical design; even the highest-up executives and the founder work in the “common ground” of the office’s open seating plan. And, just so they don’t get on each other’s nerves too much, there are phone booths inside the office.

Thrillist
The Thrillist office in NYC takes the prize for the best chotchkies, no contest. In one look around their office the kid in you will be distracted by any number of awesome knickknacks: the vintage twister set, the fully-loaded blackjack table, a giant carpet with Executive Director, David Blend’s face on it (a gift for being “employee of the decade”), a pool table, and Jägermeister tap. Hmm, we’re sensing a pattern here…

But Thrillist employees aren’t letting any of these awesome doodads get in the way of building their dude-empire: Thrillist is a daily newsletter to bros and hipsters alike, men off all makes, tipping them off on things like good eats in their neighborhoods, new music and a news feed of stuff that, according to their website, “doesn’t suck, you already have your job for that.”

Thrillist

Birch Box
Don’t worry, we’ve got the ladies covered too. Birch Box provides more than 100,000 customers monthly with personal, luxury, home-delivered beauty boxes. The founders met at Harvard Business School and aimed to provide a service that “helps consumers cut through the clutter of the retail world to find products that really work for them.” Needless to say, it’s taken off in a major way, and they now also offer a men’s line.

Their office, like their products, leaves you feeling glowing and fresh: it is so beautiful and colorful it looks like “I Feel Pretty” is probably playing on repeat 24/7. But the Birch Box folks aren’t just pretty faces; the office supports their employees’ minds and bodies too with a small sharing library and a 2-min work-out break every hour, gotta love that.

Birch Box

Fab.com
When a company’s mission is to help people improve their lives through design, they gotta have the décor to back it up. Luckily at New York’s virtual marketplace for design lovers with deals galore, Fab has it in spades.

Fab.com

Stamped
Have you ever argued with a friend about who first discovered the best pizza joint, that movie no one can stop quoting, or found that hilarious cover song? Well now when you find it you can stamp it, with the Stamped app, and prove it when others try to steal your glory! You can also share all your favorite stuff with your buddies and see what they are into too, so I guess there’s a more egalitarian angle too.

At ExchangeMyPhone we have a huge appreciation for all things analogue embodied perfectly by this newly-minted start-up’s home. Even the name Stamped and the logo were inspired by a specially commissioned rubber stamp from Casey Rubber Stamps. Throughout the office you can find an antique “emergency phone”, a vintage radio and NYC map and of course an enviable collection of retro rubber stamps. Are we forgetting anything? Yes, you guessed it, there’s beer here too, a whole fridge dedicated to it in fact!

Stamped

*Photos and footwork courtesy of businessinsider.com and their wonderful office tours

Next iPhone may be unveiled on September 12th

Posted on August 01, 2012 | cell phone, innovation, iPad, iPhone, Mac, mobile, smartphone, Tech tips

According to reports from iMore, Verge and the Grey Lady, the new iPhone is only 6 weeks away.

Apple is expected to debut the new iPhone at a special event on Wednesday September 12, 2012, with the release date to follow 9 days later on Friday, September 21st. The iPad mini (a 7 inch, scaled down version of its former self) is also expected to be announced at the same event.

The specifications for both are the subject of much debate, but, if you are keen to own the latest and greatest tech, it seems wise to heed Gizmodo’s advice and hold off on buying any Apple accessories.

One of the new iPhone’s most drastic changes is expected to be the dock connector. We afraid to tell you that your old 30-pin dock connectors are probably going to be rendered useless, replaced by a skinner 19-pin port. If they do go to a smaller port, there will be no going back.

Another change is expected to be the size and shape of the new iPhone. Gizmodo recommends holding off on buying everything from cases to cables, chargers and adapters. In all likelihood, they will no longer work with Apple’s next generation smartphone and, if you ignore the inevitable fire sales, “your future self will thank you.”

What do you think? Will you be queuing up to buy the sixth generation iPhone?