Quibi needs a free tier

Vulture has an extensive, let’s call it, “pre-mortem” article on Quibi, the short-form, episodic video content service that’s gotten off to a slow start. The piece focuses a lot on Jeffrey Katzenberg’s involvement. However, this simple economic Catch-22 highlights many of the service’s travails:

Because [Quibi’s] point was to charge for content, it had to start out by raising an enormous amount of money in order to afford content worth charging for.

Quibi’s challenge is that it’s stuck between the rock of YouTube, which thrives on free short-form (if generally not episodic), highly viral content, and the hard place of subscription-based long-form services (Disney+, HBO Max) that offer increasingly more mainstream, well-known content and big-budget exclusives, often based on franchises.  One other high-profile subscription-based newcomer, Apple TV+, also started with a clean slate. But Apple has the advantage of close proximity to a billion screens in people’s pockets. While Apple’s service also rolled out with no shortage of star power, it is now reported to be acquiring back-catalog titles amid reboots such as Fraggle Rock.

Quibi’s content may have been optimized for a smartphone’s reorienting display, but it has failed to tap into a key element of mobile media: virality.  The service attracted criticism for being unavailable on TV at launch, but the far bigger sin of omission was not having any web accessibility. Indeed, the closest thng akin to Quibi shows from other content sources are skit shows or late-night monologues that attract millions or viewers on YouTube. A show like Will Arnett’s Memory Hole would do very well in such a format (even if its alleged namesake has attracted only a few hundred thousand views).

Quibi has also fought the perceived value of serialization. Relaying the reaction to the service, Vulture’s Benjamin Wallace posits:

Who needed Quibi to break things up into “snackable” chunks for them to begin with? As one longtime Hollywood executive told me, “I have a pause button.”

Indeed, the very brevity of Quibi’s shows make them better suited to binging. And in that scenario, there’s little practical difference between having three or four short episodes or one of more traditional length.

Most singificantly, though, Quibi missed an opportunity by not offering a free tier of service available without login, at least on a limited trial basis, and at least for a limited time. Such an approach proved powerful for Hulu which, in its early days, was also viewed skeptically as being redundant to what was already available “free” on TV. Indeed, like Quibi, Hulu had ads from its inception. But those were far more acceptable when Hulu offered a free tier, and at least today’s Hulu has an ad-free option. Quibi’s ads pass quickly enough, but they’re still an annoyance in what is marketed as a premium service.

As the Vulture article notes, Quibi will soon have its 90-day post-launch reckoning in which many of its free trials expire. If the uptake disappoints, its not too late for the video startup to offer a limited free tier, preferably without login. It’s the best way to let its content market itself.

Microsoft store closures a loss for Xbox Series X

If you were planning to take along your Olympus camera on your Segway to visit the Microsoft Store, it’s not been your week. Microsoft Stores were often the subject of derision compared to the robust traffic of the Apple Stores. Still, Microsoft’s retail locations were the best settings for showing off Surface devices at that product family grew (even though Surface has seen most of its success in corporate channels). In my personal experience with the New York flagship, the staff provided outstanding service.

Microsoft’s stores were launched at a time when the company saw itself more in the thick of the battle for consumer platforms against Apple and Google and their closure represents just the latest chapter in the company’s healthy retreat from that brutal battle. Of course, many store chains have succumbed to the dominance of online sales, especially during these times. Still, while COVID-19 may have represented the nail in the coffin for Microsoft’s mall stores, the timing of the closures takes away an opportunity to promote the launch of the Xbox Series X.

Fortunately for that product, Microsoft will retain a few flagship stores. Its first-party retail landscape, then, should match those of its main videogame competitors. The Xbox’s main competition lost its dedicated retail locations years ago while Nintendo also retains a few flagships. That Apple has been able to grow its retail stores into such incredibly efficient profit centers remains a testament to its exceptionalism among tech brands.

What’s next? Microsoft will rely more on its retail partners, notably Best Buy in the U.S., except that Best Buy, too, is planning to downsize its average retail square footage.

It’s been too long

Techspressive has been on hiatus for almost exactly six years, but I’m excited to share that I’m shaking off the dust and starting it going again!

In Surface Pro 3, no cover for the touch cover

Like its predecessors, the Surface Pro 3 can accommodate type covers in a range of hues. Unlike its predecessor, though, Microsoft has not made it compatible with the Touch Cover, once the pride of its keyboard slimming prowess. There are at least two reasons for this. First, while the Touch Cover continued to retain an advantage over the ever-slimming Type Cover, the marginal advantage was starting to shrink given the superior tactile experience of its more expensive alternative.

The other, more important reason is tied to the “laptopification” of Surface. Of course, Microsoft has always maintained that Surface — and indeed many other Windows portables — was both lapto and tablet. But it’s subtly refined that positioning over time to acknowledge more explicitly that the classifications don’t necessarily apply to the same degree. Surface Pro 3 — with its larger screen and better stability — is evidence of this. And so, with the emphasis on laptop-like productivity, it makes more sense to have a tactile keyboard despite the impressive

Is the Touch Cover dead? Microsoft might continue to keep it around as an option if the Surface RT/2 should re-Surface, in which case  bundling it in would provide further differentiation. A significant portion of buyers would probably upgrade anyway.


iOS 8’s split screens and Microsoft’s split identity

At 9to5 Mac, Mark Gurman reports that Apple may be adding some kind of multitasking (really simultaneous app display) to iOS 8, at least on the iPad; LG and Samsung have added the capability to their Android smartphones in addition to tablets, at least for some apps. Then again, maybe it won’t. The article includes the de rigueur rumor hedge:

…iPad split-screen multitasking… could be pushed back to iOS 8.1 or cancelled altogether…

…or never exist at all.

The article also includes a brief concept video by Sam Beckett showing how adding an app could be added into Apple’s current app-switching user interface. Thera are some nice elements to it, but overall  it’s closer to the tacked-on approach of LG and Samsung and clunky compared to Microsoft’s approach.

One aspect of the rumor that seems odd is that the feature would be reserved for the larger iPad. After the long wait to get a Retina display on the iPad mini and the price it commands, it seems incongruous that Apple would reserve such a feature only for the larger iPad. After all, this has at least as much to do with resolution as screen size.

iOS gaining access to multiple screens would chip away at another advantage the Mac has versus the iPad, but the article (which appears on a site with “Mac” in its name) ignores the feature in that context. (Maybe it was written outside the hours of 9 to 5.)

Rather, starting with the headline, it discusses the feature answering a feature of Microsoft Surface. But split-screen app display is not actually a feature of Surface per se: it’s a feature of Windows and not even just Windows tablets. As the article points out, it’s true that Microsoft has cited multiple app display as an advantage of Surface versus the iPad in TV commercials, but again the article down’t mention Windows once.

That split-screen app display has been so closely associated with Surface when it’s actually a Windows feature merits kudos to the Surface team, or shame on the Windows team. or both.

iLuv’s Selfy puts a great name on the meme of the moment

I’ve long been a fan of functional cases and covers (although sometimes they can be a little too integrated to the product if they are an accessory). Differentiation is particularly important in the oversaturated market for iPhone cases, that can now be had for the price of some MakerBot filament. So kudos to iLuv for getting the brand name Selfy — Hollywood’s current infatuation — for its camera with integrated remote shutter. The product hearkens back to the iPhone case with integrated Bluetooth headset that was offered by MoGo. The selfie is starting to move into the limelight with smartphones like the HTC One M8 starting to give a bit more love (and resolution) to the front-facing camera. Ultimately, though, the remote shutter is likely going to wind up on one of those Bluetooth key chain devices along with a key finder and other functions.

Google Now expands into retail product availability alerts

Chris Welch at The Verge reports that Google Now will now alert you if a product you’ve shopped for online is available at a nearby store, continuing the proactive features walk along the tightrope between helpfulness and creepiness. The key challenge with this feature is that there often isn’t a loop closed when a product is actually acquired (as anyone who has shopped for something on Amazon and then seen an endless barrage of ads for that item even after it’s been purchased). However, Google has implemented the feature in a smarter way than apps such as RetailMeNot that bombard you with messages about a whole bunch of stores selling stuff that may have no relevance to you.

Making proactive suggestions based on you and your behavior is the essence of Google Now. If you consider it an invasion of privacy or creepy, simply turn it off; there are other ways to get the weather. But over time, I suspect that more people will find its utility outweighs its imposition.

What’s up, Docs? Negative reviews.

Google recently decided to split up the components of its Google Drive iOS app into separate Drive, Docs and Sheets apps. Google Drive no longer has any editing features. It’s another chapter in the continuing saga of Google’s mobile productivity story that has included mobile Web sites and QuickOffice.

The new apps are generally receiving poor reviews — one and two stars. It’s true that they don’t provide much new functionality beyond what was found in the Google Drive app. But there is one new killer feature: offline editing. Mostly, people are whining because they must now deal with three apps rather than one despite the virtually seamless interaction between Drive and the new productivity apps. It’s unfortunate that an app should be so saddled for reasons that have little to do with the app itself.

The reaction is, of course, shortsighted.  Google is simply doing what Apple and Microsoft already do as a matter of course, which is separating its cloud storage interface from its cloud productivity app interface. And all in all, it’s a pretty compelling alternative to what the competition offers if one cares about value and cross-platform compatibility (within Google’s formats). Moreover and more importantly, it bodes well for future development of the word processor and spreadsheet. One overdue one in the Google Docs app: word count.

Aereo and the chilling effect

It’s not unusual for both sides to kick up the rhetoric during a contentious court case. Such has been the case with Aereo, which will soon defend its right to continue offering its service before the U.S. Supreme Court. Should it win, broadcasters such as CBS and Fox have vowed that they will take their programming off the air and distribute only through cable, That’s a tantalizing option for those who would like to see such prime spectrum reallocated to wireless data.

A defeat for Aereo would be a loss for consumers, but the chilling effect would be limited. Aereo’s service, of course, applies only to broadcast television and the specific legal issue revolves around the legality of having a remote antenna sending OTA broadcasting over broadband. When one considers the future of television, it seems pretty certain that OTA will give way to native IP streaming of some sort. Consumers want to hold on to as much right to view content as they see fit. But if one wants the functionality of Aereo, there are marketplace alternatives that don’t face such legal challenges.

HTC One’s Dot View is a case of love quickly lost

The new HTC One has a lovely profile and design, but the latest version of Sense remains as polarizing as ever. In almost every case, one can see why HTC chose to implement what it implemented, and the narrower font can be helpful, but rarely is it better and in some cases it’s worse. BlinkFeed isn’t a bad app, but does it really need to be one of the home screens?

The signature accessory for the smartphone is the HTC Dot View which, from a casual look at its operation, might lead one to believe is loaded with LEDs. It’s not and is a surprisingly low-tech affair like the many flat cases for the Galaxy handsets and from third parties for the iPhone. The main problem with the case is that it fails to wrap tightly around the One’s curved back, making the grip of the phone with its screen exposed a bit more awkward that it should be. Of course, you could also let the flap dangle, but that can also be awkward. As for the Dot View display, the functionality is offered via the One’s naked display and in better graphic quality.