Xbox Music: Farewell from the social

Janko Roettgers at GigaOM:

Xbox Music is in many ways Microsoft’s attempt to catch up with everything that has been going on in the digital music space in the last two years:

When Microsoft launched Zune, it had an opportunity to look at the landscape of subscription music players such as Rhapsody and sought to differentiate with moves such as large, panning photos of artists, smart deejaying, social integration and a few free MP3s per month. The service sputtered, but its competition hasn’t fared much better. With XBox Music, Microsoft is again turning to the freebie strategy, giving away six months of on-demand streaming, at which point you will hopefully be hooked. After that, it’s virtually indistinguishable from others on the market (or at least a combination of others on the market).

This will be a lot easier for consumers to manage than the MP3 credits were. And perhaps integration and a favored position in the living room will earn it some traction there, but with Pandora integrated into an increasing number of HDTVs and of course MusicChoice and Sirius XM on tap for most cable and satellite customers. With Microsoft’s weak market share in handsets already (and some decent competition from Nokia Music from one of its partners), it clearly will have to flesh out its strategy for other mobile platforms soon.

Thanks to Manan Kakkar for the correction.

iPod touch: not a camera-killer

MG Siegler gets very excited about the iPhone 5-inspired iPod touch, saying it will further obliterate the point-and-shoot camera market. But the only thing that gets obliterated over the course of the review from my fellow TechCrunch columnist is that argument. This is achieved via his own points which note that point-and-shoot cameras continue to improve and that a current-generation iPod touch now costs nearly 50 percent more  I’ll say. If you value quality photography, not only can you get a superior point-and-shoot for less than the price of the iPod touch (increasingly even with Wi-Fi). And, by the way,the kinds of point-and-shoots being featured right now on Amazon’s home page are for underwater photography.

The iPod touch’s camera has improved, but it’s never been a camera cannibalizer. Indeed, the iPod touch has been holding up another category — MP3 players — under more severe attack from the real cannibals: subsidized smartphones.  The digital media player market seen about everyone except Apple and semtimental Sony exit above the $100 price point. In contrast, the struggling point-and-shoot camera market continues to see robust if evolutionary (and not always profitable) competition from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Pentax and Olympus.

Even Siegler concedes that the iPhone 5 is a better camera choice than the iPod touch, but notes that not everyone has an iPhone 5. That is true, but increasingly even cash-strapped US consumers can pick up smartphones on pre-paid carriers that would effectively obviate the need for an iPod touch. Siegler probably would never consider using such a device, but to deny their influence is to favor an iPod out-of-touch.

Amazon breaks even on Kindle hardware

Jeff Bezos clarifies that at least Amazon does not lose money on Kindle hardware (other than from a potential opportunity cost perspective).  It’s about the lock-in. He goes on to repeat the not quite accurate assertion that Amazon makes money when consumers use the device as opposed to buying it.

Best Buy’s Insignia Flex taps retailer tablet trend

Offering a tablet makes sense if you’re a bookstore, especially if you’re a bookstore that  has successfully transitioned into other media services. But that doesn’t mean that every retailer has to have its own tablet. Best Buy was actually somewhat early on the 7″ bandwagon in offering an exclusive on the unfortunately unpopular Wi-Fi-only HTC Flyer. However, it is late to throw its Insignia hat into a ring that will include the Kindle Fire and Nook attacking from below and Windows 8 tablets and hybrids from above.

It’s an odd show of confidence in Amdroid tablets from a company that knows well how poorly many of them are selling. Still, the Insignia Flex appears to have an attractive design; we’ll have to see where pricing lines up but $250 to $299 is probably a good bet as is a relatively stock Android build (apart from perhaps CinemaNow). There are still those who prefer the 4:3 aspect ratio of a tablet. While there have been many announcements of 9.7″ Android tablets following the demise of the Touchpad, few have seen significant distribution.

Via Engadget

US Postal Service to trial same-day deliveries

Following in the footsteps of eBay Now, this seems like a clever way for the Postal Service to address its staggering losses.

Verizon may hack Lumia 820 price, features

You get the feeling that Verizon is still not really feeling the Windows Phone love. Perhaps it dates back to its chilly experience with the Blackberry Storm as the last remnant of a real push by an Android competitor prior to making its big Droid push and finally getting the iPhone. We’ve seen T-Mobile push out the $49 price point before. On one hand, Verizon has a much larger customer base (and would even post-merger with MetroPCS). On the other hand, T-Mobile doesn’t have the iPhone, so alternative platforms don’t have to contend directly with a major competitor there.

In any case, in addition to Verizon passing on the Lumia 920, it seems to be passing on some of Nokia’s ideas for the Lumia 820 as well.most notably the interchangeable backs and the wireless charging that one of them enables. That’s a key differentiator not only from other handsets but also from the HTC 8x and 8s. Verizon had been one of the few major carriers stocking wireless charging battery covers in the past, but it may be moving away from that, at least for now.

On Android’s tablet efforts

Consumers don’t care about how apps come to take advantage of their devices, but they do notice an experience that doesn’t measure up to what a device is capable of. Google must match its Google Play push with its Android app efforts.

My latest Switched On column discusses the various attempts Google has made to improve Android’s presence in the tablet market.

Roger Cheng on Softbank investment in Sprint

Money would go to network upgrades and purchasing Clearwire

Tempering the touchpad trend

After a period of Apple having the only large trackpad accessory for its touchscreen-averse desktop Macs (and only Macs despite its Bluetooth compatibility), PC vendors have jumped on trackpads as if they had the springy surface of a trampoline. In fact, the velocity seems to have accelerated as we approach the release of Windows 8, which is optimized for touch screens that many PCs will lack. So the trackpad has become the disembodied notebook component that enables Windows 8’s charming — or at least Charm-coaxing — multitouch gestures.

Vizio started the trackpad trend by including a Magic Trackpad-sized device with its first all-in-one PCs, going as far as ditching the mouse in favor of a remote. HP also included one with its new high-end (as opposed to the old high-end) touch-deficient Spectre One, although isn’t ready to off the rodent.

Now, if anyone can sell an external pointing device to PC users, it’s probably Logitech, which will take aim with a new T6500 glass trackpad. But it still seems that there will be a limited aftermarket for such devices. They would be of primary interest to non-touch-enabled desktop users, a shrinking part of the Windows pie (and even smaller if Microsoft makes the progress it wants in talbets). Logitech would have to bet — as Vizio appears to be doing — that the multitouch gestures of Windows 8 wlll sway people away from the classic pointing device of the mouse, even as Microsoft and others add multi-touch capabilities to that.

eBay’s proactive shopping vision

eBay today brought out the A-team copywriters with its assertion that it will make “inspiration shoppable.” Personalization was probably the biggest theme of the day with the expected healthy dollop of mobile and a heavy sprinkling of factoids about eBay customers. But in the end, three takeaways were

  • geographical expansion of eBay now, the instant-delivery service reminiscent of Kozmo of yore
  • Feed, a new eBay meld of browsing and search that resembles a Pinterest board.
  • a revamped item listing page with integrated PayPal to streamline the checkout process. PayPal, of course, was on its own roadshow last holiday season showing off how it intends to compete as a versatile e-wallet provider.

But there’s nothing that can wind up a prolonge presentation like a good concept video. eBay’s was heavy on augmented reality, showing different scenarios in which consumers could use their handsets to to identify the value of things needing to be sold, shopped for or donated in real=time or identify auto parts for their vehicles. The more curious part of the video, though, was when a woman virtually tried on outfits in a store window and then had a mini-map locate the location of the object in the mall. For all the bashing eBay did of the value of real estate, it appears it intends to expand its brick-and-mortar ambitions.