Sticky Tiki Taggy

image It says something about the promise of Tikitag that its champions were able to convince telecom equipment behemoth Alcatel-Lucent to spin out the initiative into a separate venture. Aiming to create an Internet of things that have little to no intrinsic intelligence (and clearly oblivious that many a commenter has beaten it to the punch), Tikitag’s first product is a kit that includes an RFID reader and a number of tag stickers that can be encoded with, say, a URL. Move the tagged object to the encoded reader and the PC takes some action such as displaying a Web site that provides more information about the object.

NFC in general obviously has huge potential, but I’m less sure about the launch product. Perhaps it will become one of those products that geeks buy for less technical friends and relatives, joining the ranks of MSNTV, Presto and Ceiva. At the Showstoppers tech media event last night, Tikitag PR representative Ann Revell-Pechar said that she had  put a tag on a picture of her daughter so that when her mother held it against the reader, she could call her granddaughter via Skype.

It would surely be helpful if the reader didn’t need to be tethered to the PC, but over time I’m sure that most phones will include RFID reading capabilities. In any case, Tikitag insists it’s trying to launch a platform here, and welcomes others to expand on the technology.

Fitbit could be the first mainstream wearable computer

image Tikitag wasn’t the only batch of atoms to come out of the week that saw scores of startups launch at DEMOfall and the TechCrunch50. One I particularly liked was Fitbit, a clothespin-like device that includes an accelerometer and an OLED display that I hope you will be able to turn off. It essentially measures all your activity throughout the day (and night) and reports it.

With its Web component, it can be compared to he Nike+ system, but there’s an even older predecessor called SportBrain that started out using a dial-up connection. It’s recharged in a little dock and sends updates to the Internet whenever it gets within range of a PC.

At $99, the device is affordable and will likely be snapped up by fitness enthusiasts. It also looks like the developers have gotten the product small and convenient enough where it can have a good run before its functionality is integrated into advanced smartphones like the T-Mobile G1 that are increasingly sporting accelerometers.

RealDVD legality still a bit speculative, but defensible

imageReal looks like it will have a big hit on its hands with RealDVD if consumer interest matches the media interest I saw in the product at Pepcom’s Holiday Spectacular (PDF link) show last night. The table was so crowded that it wasn’t until the booths were being torn down that I had a chance to catch up with Real corporate communications VP Bill Hankes, who  kindly took a few minutes to talk about the software with me after we both explained that we weren’t lawyers.

As Dave Zatz has reported, Real has a license from the DVD Copy Control Association, but I’ve countered that simply having the license, as Kaleidescape did, is not a guarantee of the legality. Bill said that Real believes RealDVD is legal because it preserves CSS and layers more encryption on top of it (that said, I seem to recall Kaleidescape employs some pretty serious encryption as well and of course its solution is a closed box) and that the usage that RealDVD allows falls under fair use. Although, again, the scenarios that Real envisions for RealDVD (streaming around the house, etc.) sound very similar to what Kaleidescape allows. .

Regardless of the letter of the law, the key question is whether Real can avoid a legal challenge by the studios. Bill admits that the studios are concerned about the product, but says that Real is having productive discussions with them about some of the opportunities it affords them (such as introducing fresh trailers a la BD-Live) in an age where DVD sales are flat.

“I’m a PC” ads evoke old Microsoft, Apple advertising

imageNow that I’ve used a bit of parody to point out how some of Microsoft’s challenges with Vista aren’t really its fault, I’m again addressing Microsoft’s Vista commercials. I didn’t find the second Gates-Seinfeld spot to have as pronounced a latent message as the first, although I defended both ads’ general direction in a podcast discussion with Gene Steinberg this week (iTunes link here, MP3 file here).

The new “I’m a PC” commercial, Web presence, and what Michael Gartenberg points out to be the social aspects, though, take things in a different direction and is doing unto Apple what Apple did to Vista, mischaracterize it. As I said early on in the Get a Mac campaign, one reason the commercials worked was that they avoided the bad taste that the Switcher campaign left in many PC users’ mouths. The “Get a Mac” ads don’t really stereotype PC users, they stereotype the PC (although Hodgman’s behavior has become more bizarre as the campaign has progressed.). Reassociating the person and the platform again portrays Apple as the snide PC user-mocking company of yore. However, with Apple’s surge over the past few years and Apple stores opening their doors to millions of PC users, can that label stick? And are even satisfied PC users offended by the “Get a Mac” campaign?

The ad also evokes recent Microsoft advertising history as this notion of the PC as an empowering tool sounds very similar to Microsoft’s messaging in the “Wow starts now” ads that ran at he launch of Vista, with the new twist that acknowledges Windows’ ubiquity (which Get a Mac has also done in an ad in which PC says, “I’m still the king.”) . But that’s not necessarily bad. It reinforces that — while there may be more cause to grumble than on a Mac — the vast majority of the vast array of Vista users are being productive on the platform.

Slacker G2 is an impressive redo

imageIf the recent announcement that the excellent Slacker service would soon be available on Blackberry devices got you thinking Slacker was abandoning its own hardware, it’s time to hit Pause. I’ve been trying out Slacker’s sequel to its original innovative but flawed portable device. The Slacker G2 is dramatically better in just about every respect — user interface, controls, build quality, materials and portability, to name a few. Slacker has also traded in the original player’s large canvas case for a slick silicone shell that includes an integrated belt clip.

Gone is the troublesome touch strip. The scroll wheel (which no longer feels mushy like the original player’s) brings up the menu system simply by scrolling to the bottom of the screen. Also, while I continued to encounter problems with the original player such as forgetting Wi-Fi passwords and intermittent stuttering at the beginning of a song, those problems have not appeared with the Slacker G2.

There are, of course, a few trade-offs. The title bar overlays a bit of the album art while the bottom of the screen with track information feels a bit cramped; such are some of the sacrifices of moving to a smaller screen. Also, the battery is no longer user-serviceable. Still, while I am looking forward to the Blackberry version of Slacker (Slackberry?) and still want an iPhone/iPod touch version, the Slacker G2 looks like it will take the prize for the most improved consumer electronics product of the year. Slacker’s claim that it has developed the best portable Internet radio experience on the market rings true.

The flying tube is now one in a series

image I’m en route to the DisplaySearch HDTV Conference, blogging this at 35,000 feet thanks to Gogo, the incredible in-flight Wi-Fi service from Aircell. American Airlines has done a good job promoting the service including lots of signage in its JFK terminal, an info card in the back seat pocket, and a short video played just after takeoff (which I couldn’t see due to a technical malfunction. It seems to be the “How It Works” video on Gogo’s site.

The service has been rock-solid since I logged on nearly five hours ago — very responsive and with seamless bridging of cells. While it hasn’t been quite fast enough to handle video (at least Hulu) consistently, I got through a couple of stuttering SNL sketches. One needs access to a browser in order to connect. (Also, ironically, I can’t use the “connected” Kindle since wireless WANs are still verboten on US aircraft. Sony, add Wi-Fi to the Reader!) Regardless, transforming one of the last bastions of digital solitude will have transforming implications for frequent travelers and in-flight entertainment. A $12,99 for a cross-country flight, it’s a no-brainer.

Gogo’s domestic partners include American Airlines, Virgin America and Delta Airlines while competitor Row 44 has been testing with Southwest and Alaska Airlines. JetBlue has been offering limited Wi-Fi. I hope, though, that JetBlue steps it up. I like the airline, but it will be hard to go back.

RealDVD allows questionably legal DVD transfer to PCs

image A grail that may not be among the most holy will soon be attained by consumers as Real Networks will today unveil RealDVD. It’s premise is simple — provide a simple and legal way for consumers to copy or rip their commercial DVDs to their hard drive. Upon loading up a DVD with RealDVD installed, you’re given the option to play or save the DVD along with the gentle reminder that you should not save the DVD if you do not own it, digitally reminiscent of the “Don’t steal music.” sticker that came with iPods. Indeed, for personal movie pirates, RealDVD will be a Netflix subscription’s best friend.

The good news is that RealDVD faithfully replicates the DVD experience — all the menus and extras are there. And you can even pick up movies where you left off. I had feared that there might be some pretty unsavory catches such as a limit to the amount of time in which you could watch the DVD or the number of DVDs the program could store. However, DVDs are confined to an authorized PC or portable hard drive and there is no compression beyond that of the original DVD so a dual-layer disc could consume nearly 9 GB of disc space. Portable hard drives are inexpensive these days, but one benefit to RealDVD would be eliminating a second device in terms of the portable DVD player. There also doesn’t appear to be any portable media player support lined up at launch.

Still, RealDVD is a nice option for the business traveler looking for an alternative to buying (or repurchasing) movies online. It will have an introductory price of $29 (regularly $39) and consumer swill be able to authorize four other PCs at $19 per license. It will be available later this month. We’ll see  whether Microsoft, Apple, or other companies will follow suit in offering similar capabilities.

Update: A cNet story leads me to wonder whether RealNetworks obtained authorization from the DVD Copy Control Association in producing RealDVD. (The New York Times story essentially confirms that Real has not done such licensing.) The legitimacy of such a license was what was at the heart of the Kaleidescape lawsuit as far as I know. I expect this product to get challenged by the MPAA.

Here’s some footage of RealDVD:

First Microsoft Seinfeld ad wins on a few fronts

It’s a bit out there — particularly with the ethereal music and outtakes of shoes in the shower and Spanish-speaking onlookers — but I give the first Seinfeld commercial for Microsoft a thumbs-up for a few reasons.

We often think of Microsoft today as a sprawling entity which, even in the consumer market, fighting three fronts online against Google, in videogames against Sony, and in the MP3 market versus Apple. Gates, however, is strongly identified with the PC, and reintroducing him to the public after all the media around his retirement brings back some of the lightheartedness associated with his public persona. The club card is probably the funniest part of the ad and maybe a bit of a nod to Jerry’s old Amex commercials. (That said, I think some of Gates’ CES videos were funnier than this commercial.)

It’s a good teaser, and the talk about cake at the end creates an intriguing positive association reinforced by the word “Delicious.”  But the commercial is more than a teaser. The whole “shoe that fits” scenario is a clear lead-in to finding the right PC for you, which brings a fresh and more relevant spin to the old arguments of Windows offering more choice.

Finally, it’s “getting people talking” and focusing attention away from the bad publicity around Vista that’s had fuel thrown on its fire by another pair of guys.

TiVo announcements push luxury alternative position

It looks like most of what came out of CEDIA this year was thin TVs and powerful projectors, the latter of which rely on screens that make even the thinnest flat-panel look obese, but TiVo, which has been positioning like mad as a media company lately, remembered that they still need a way to get their service onto boxes in living rooms — and in ways that less dependent on an MSO’s fiat.

First from CEDIA is a the TiVo HD XL DVR that brings it back close to the price of the now-discontinued Series 3 at $599. It lacks the Series 3’s classy chassis, but beefs up recording capacity while reclaiming THX certification and the posh remote. At least for the custom install market, box looks don’t matter much anyway because professional installers often hide the electronics. But the HD XL will also be sold in made to the less-elite masses at retailers such as Magnolia and Amazon.

The more important development for TiVo in terms of scale would be news that DirecTV, which had forsaken TiVo after becoming cousins with NDS, will introduce a new set-top box that brings the DirecTV TiVo experience well into the 21st Century. However, details appear short at this point, and DirecTV may well position TiVo over the price of the NDS solution. That would reinforce TiVo as a luxury niche alternative, but it’s something that you can build on.

Dell dealing on Inspiron mini positions netbooks well

imageYou can continue to deride netbooks as underpowered toys if you like, and I agree with many of my fellow analysts that they will account for a niche in overall PC shipments this year, but there’s no doubt that netbooks are challenging the PC status quo in many ways — “retro” and alternative operating systems, newcomer brands such as Sylvania, and interesting distribution potential, such as via cellular operators.

Dell is definitely positioning these products in an advantageous way by offering its Inspiron Mini for $99 with purchase of a select other PC, reinforcing the message that this is a sort of computing peripheral. (Dell has offered similar promotions on monitors and printers in the past.) It’s also a fresh arrow for the company to tuck into in its challenged upsell quiver. Of course, I’ve argued previously that the lower-cost Linux configuration lives up to that designation better.