In the early mid-‘90s, I worked with a group of Wall Street technologists who were doing some early business applications with wireless data. The team included several fans of the HP DOS clamshell palmtops such as the 95LX and the 100LX. EPOC, the precursor to the Symbian operating system, spent its formative years on devices like this from Psion, such as the popular Series 5. And asHP flirted with Windows CE in its Jornada line, it experimented with various combinations of keyboard usability and screen size, even creating a netbook-sized product with an 8” screen and trackpad called the Jornada 820.
But I’ve seen little since those days to capture the combination of utility and portability of those early HP handheld computers updates for the Internet era. We now have tons of smartphones with keyboards, some of which are quite usable, but nearly all are designed to be used standing up. (The HTC Touch Pro 2 is probably the one that comes closest for tabletop usage). Other mid-screen devices such as he Nokia N810 and Samsung Mondi have sliding keyboards and are designed similarly.
Along with others, I have been wanting for some way to connect a keyboard to the iPhone to simulate a clamshell, but that would require Apple adding Bluetooth or dock connector input support. Most MIDs or UMPCs focusing on the 4” to 7” screen size are tablets although something like the UMID mbook M1 looks intriguing, but it’s clear that there are a too many compromises stuffing Windows XP onto a 5” screen.
By using a proxy server and what some have deemed too-aggressive compression, the DataWind PocketSurfer devices delivers fast Internet access. While its no platform, changes to its historically unpopular pricing and refreshed hardware, it could become an alternative for those who want simple Net access on the go.
A few weeks after Yamaha upgraded its capitalization defiant MusicCAST multi-room Sonos competitor, Bose – which has been another “traditional” audio manufacturer that has dabbled in multi-room functionality – has trotted out the SoundLink wireless speaker for extending PC audio. As is customary for Bose, few details regarding specs are available but it has acknowledged that the system uses a proprietary wireless connection. My guess is a 2.4 GHz signal like those used by by Sony in its S-Air systems or EOS Wireless in its multi-room system. Having used some of these proprietary PC-based point systems in their early days, I wonder if Bose has done anything to filter out system sounds from the PC since the system comes without software.
In any case, using the PC as the audio source certainly brings some advantages, such as great choice in audio selection, but more systems are tapping directly into Internet music sources. Even some iPod speaker docks without integrated networking can now take advantage of the iPod touch’s Wi-Fi access to stream at least half a dozen Internet radio selections. I suppose the market for this is bedrooms where consumers are already using a laptop as the main audio source but want more flexibility in the placement of the speaker.
I’ve seen many reactions to the WWDC keynote that characterize the iPhone as something less than a compelling upgrade (while bemoaming the price of said upgrade) and pointing to the new $99 price of the original 8 GB iPhone3G as the bigger news out of WWDC. The entry-level iPhone is poised to be an aggressive challenger to many competitors, but some argue that it may be too aggressive against the iPhone 3G S.
I agree that the improvements in the iPhone 3G S are not as dramatic as the ones we saw in the move to the iPhone 3G, but the app ecosystem will add value to video capture on the new model. The extra $100 for the 16 GB 3G S is not a lot when amortized over the cost of a two-year AT&T agreement. And then there is AT&T’s 7.2 Mbps network upgrade, which could make the iPhone 3G S much faster at network operations in addition to local operations.
Regardless, Apple does very well with premium products. The 16 GB nano does quite well despite there being 8 GB models; it’s long been that way with higher iPod capacities. And especially with the iPhone, it’s in Apple’s long-term interest to accept some cannibalization of the high-end now in the name of extending the platform. I was surprised, for example, to see that there were already 5,000 Android apps and that the platform is accounting for 9 percent of mobile Web traffic according to charts that were presented at WWDC. Apple may lead in the smartphone app race, but it’s a long way to the checkered flag.
Prior to the first reviews hitting the Web, there had already been some backlash against Palm and the Pre with Mike Elgan presuming that the Pre wouldn’t be able to top the iPhone with consumers and David Coursey offering five reasons the Palm Pre would not prevail. (While I share some of David’s concerns about the long-term high competitive stakes, though, I don’t think it would be realistic for any true “startup” to land a coveted hero smartphone slot at a major US carrier).
Palm was also somewhat notorious throughout the Pre’s development cycle about not letting people get much hands-on time with the device, leading some to suspect that it had something to hide.
Well, if it did, it has sure fixed it by now. The Palm Pre is a compelling handset, and easily the strongest competitor to the iPhone to date. It is good enough to attract consumers to Sprint based on its merits, but may not be as successful in that as the iPhone has been for AT&T due to Palm’s lack of brand cachet relative to Apple and the relatively limited exclusivity window that was revealed by Verizon Wireless recently.
Earlier this month, I wrote a Switched On column for Engadget that discussed how Windows 7 Starter Edition’s three-app limit left Microsoft wide open for jibes from Apple and detractors. Today, the company announced that it is lifting the three-app limit. Instead, it will rely on features such as personalization and streaming music support to distinguish the Starter Edition from Windows 7 Home Premium, which will be the default edition for developed economies.
Removing the three-app limit, which was arbitrary in this day of Web applications that Google Wave has so aptly demonstrated, will remove potential frustrations that consumers of value-targeted PCs would have experienced while still providing enough of an incentive to induce consumers to upgrade. The losers here are Apple’s commercial writers, who will now have to dig a little harder to find something to ding Windows 7 on, and Linux, which, as I’ve noted, has increasingly had trouble justifying its presence in netbooks. But the potential of other “gaptop” devices such as Qualcomm’s SmartBook initiative, may offer new hope, It’s starting to look, though, that the opportunity is more around the smaller screen size than a lower price point.
I had a chance to catch up yesterday with Avaak, the Demo-launched company that wil be bringing the Avaak Vue system to market later this year. One part of the company’s messaging that I hadn’t heard was the focus on its “peel and stick” cameras to encourage ad hoc webcasting.
The company acknowledged as i suspected that the first-generation Vue will be focused more on telepresence than security applications per se. That’s a bit of a strike against it as security seems to be the best justification for buying a bunch of networked webcams. Avaak also talked about social networking aspects of the system, which I think will be even more of a niche. But if it can be done securely, perhaps there’s opportunity to bring in remote relatives to a ceremony in a home and I can certainly see commercial applications. However, as PogoPlug is showing in relation to the NAS market, secondary applications (in its case, file sharing) can emerge as a viable alternative to a primary application (backup).
As to the Vue’s incredible battery life, I finally got an estimate on what the company considers to be the “typical use” that will enable a year’s worth of usage – ten minutes a day, which I think is more than fair. Some quick math, then, reveals that Vue should be able to broadcast straight for about 2.5 days from a full charge.
I also hadn’t seen any announcements from Avaak about pricing or archiving, but the news here was good overall as well. Avaak plans to include the first year of video storage (up to 2 GB) included in the purchase price. For subsequent years, the price would be an incredibly reasonable $19 per year for that amount of online storage. Avaak is also taking a smart approach to heavy users, saying it would welcome an opportunity to structure a tier of pricing to appeal to them. Overall, I remain very keen on this product and its potential to break open the market for networked cameras.
Steve Jobs’ podcasting run was brief but memorable; Apple’s CEO took to the microphone to demonstrate the podcasting studio features in GarageBand during his Macworld Expo keynote in January 2006. He elicited laughs from the audience by creating a podcast called “Super Secret Apple Rumors” in which he reported, “The next iPod will be huge – an eight-pounder with a 10” screen.” The mock rumor was illustrated by a spoof of Apple’s silhouette iPod ads featuring someone holding a briefcase-sized iPod classic under his arm.
And yet, just a few years later, rumors are indeed circulating that Apple may be working on a media tablet and that the company has ordered a large quantity of 10” touchscreen panels from Wintek. Even Apple’s largest MacBook doesn’t weigh eight pounds (in fact, Apple promotes the 17” MacBook Pro as the thinnest and lightest 17” notebook), but it would be a sublime prank on the rumormongers if Apple foretold of a 10” iPod years in advance right before their eyes.
When I spoke with Laptop Magazine regarding the Palm Pre,, one of the questions was whether the Sprint exclusive helps or hurts the imminent first webOS device. I leaned on the side of help. Sprint’s customer service has been steadily improving and the Pre would get overshadowed at AT&T. I also considered the long history of launches that Palm and Sprint share.
Upon further thought, though, there are at least two more synergies between Sprint and Palm. The first is that both companies are on the comeback and certainly the Pre will attract a lot of attention to the revitalized carrier. It won’t be iPhone-level attention, but it will certainly help Sprintt’s flagging post-paid business.
The second is Sprint’s focus on mobile. As Palm noted in the Pre launch, Palm, unlike many of its competitors with interests in consumer electronics (Samsung, LG) and PCs (Apple), does only mobile products. And while Sprint certainly has wireline assets, it is more of a wireless pure play than AT&T and Verizon. With limited exclusivity, Sprint and the Pre won’t be “2gether 4eva” but the companies’ many commonalities and long history should make for a strong launch.
Technologizer notes that the Foleo may be reincarnated running webOS, Palm’s new operating system. Like Harry McCracken, I was sympathetic to the idea of Foleo when it was announced and before the netbook craze hit full-force. However, the requirement to have a cell phone tethered to what was otherwise a functional client resulted in a split personality. In contrast, Celio Corp.’s REDFLY takes a better approach by turning the “laptop” into a thin client, and completely relying on the snartphone’s operating system and connectivity, but the applications are not there yet for it to be a consumer product.)
A webOS-powered Foleo could have many of the characteristics that I ascribed to a potential iPhone OS-based clamshell without some of the iPhone’s limitations. Palm, of course, does not have the issue with smaller keyboards that Apple seems to, and webOS merrily supports multitasking in a way that is more visually akin to a PC user interface.. webOS is even slated to get support for desktop Flash nest year. And Palm has no fear about cannibalizing more expensive notebook PC sales (although it must be cognizant of netbook pricing, an issue that blindsided the initial Foleo).
Still, if the Foleo returns, it probably won’t be for a while. There is just too much opportunity for Palm in the smartphone space and the competition is thick. But it’s certainly an opportunity once the company has covered its international bases with webOS smartphones. Until then, feel free to go back to obsessing over Android-based netbooks.
Go out with a bang, as they say. Pure Digital’s last camcorder as an independent company before its imminent acquisition by Cisco is the revamped Ultra, available in SD and HD versions for $149 and $199. The new Ultra includes several significant advances over the previous generation, including a rechargeable lithium battery in the box (although it can still run on alkalines) and two long-awaited improvements – a bigger (2”) screen and longer recording capacity of two hours. The HD version also has an HDMI output port, although no HDMI cable is included.
The Ultra definitely feels brick-like compared to the diminutive Flip mino, but I think the additional flexibility is worth it. (The waterproof case for the old Ultra doesn’t work with it due to changed button placements; Pure Digital is planning a revised one.) The Flip’s limited recording capacity had really caused problems for me in the past, so I’m pleased to see it expand even though there’s no memory card slot, which is nice insurance in the event that the camcorder itself ceases to function (as my MinoHD did). I’ve used a Kodak Zi6, but the tendency for its arm to swing out is an annoying design flaw. I am looking forward to the svelte new RCA Small Wonder that Audiovox showed at CES, which trades in a pop-out USB arm for a microSD slot.
Pure Digital is now aiming the Ultra at its traditional audience of moms while positioning the mino toward the YouTube uploaders and that’s well-reflected in the design of the products. However, I remain skeptical that, with the possible exception of “extreme” helmet cams and , there will be much pickup for these inexpensive camcorders among younger consumers, who are comfortable using their digital cameras and phones to upload video. And in the case of cell phones, uploading wirelessly to YouTube will clearly be something more common in the future. So much of YouTube content is around the spontaneous capture, which means the spoils go to the camcorder you always have with you.
I’ll have more to say about competition to the Flip elsewhere, but Erica Ogg quotes me in a great post that includes an interview with Pure Digital CEO Jonathan Kaplan in which he makes the bold proclamation, "The way Apple has revolutionized music, we will revolutionize video." Let’s start with FlipShare importing and transcoding the dizzying number of file formats out there.