capital offenses

imageOn this 46th anniversary of the death of Edward Estlin Cummings, I offer an alternative presentation of the names of some tech companies and products officially spelled in all caps (as opposed to those that just have their logos stylized in all caps such as Sony, Samsung, Nokia and Broadcom):

vudu (noteworthy in that its logo is stylized in all lower case)

Thanks to Paul, Richard and Eric for brainstorming help for this important art project via Twitter.

By the way, if you’re a Cummings fan in the New York City area, you may want to check out the production of “Him” at Walkerspace from September 4th to the 13th.

As Palm seeks to regain its touch, I touch the Treo Pro

The Palm Treo Pro.I had a chance to talk with Palm today and get some hands-on time with the Treo Pro, which will be offered unlocked in the U.S. for $549. Perhaps at some point, Palm will get AT&T to pick it up (it doesn’t support T-Mobile’s 1700 MHz 3G network) and those willing to commit to a two-year contract will be able to  pick it up for $299 or less.

In short, I liked what I saw — the appearance, feel, the finish, and — most importantly — the direction toward accommodating users with thoughtful touches. In at least one respect, though, Palm is behind the curve. Palm is retaining reliance on the stodgy old stylus with its touch interface. This is an enterprise device and there are good reasons for Palm to shy away from developing an overlay like the consumer-oriented TouchFLO that take Windows Mobile in a lush but inconsistent direction. Palm touts the Treo Pro as embodying work-life balance, but we won’t really get a true sense of its approach to lifestyle mobility until next year.

I’ll be sharing a trio of perspectives about the Treo Pro in the near future.

Why Fi? Sony joins the multi-room iPod dock market

Just a few days after my Switched On.column on musical mashups in which  I talked about the possibilities of combining the Cerulean TX+RX with the EOS Wireless multi-room system, Gizmodo reports that Sony has introduced its own multi-room iPod dock, joining EOS Wireless and Klipsch. Unlike the EOS satellite speakers (which include a modest downward-firing subwoofer), the Sony satellite speakers offer remote control over iPod playback yet the system is priced competitively with the EOS Wireless speakers. A $400 kit will include the dock (which includes AV out but no speakers) and two external speakers, pegging the price of the main dock at about $240.

Also, like the EOS Wireless system, there does not appear to be a way to control the playback volume of satellite speakers from the main dock. Perhaps that would be possible, though, with an iPod touch application. While none of these products offer the flexibility or sophistication of Sonos, they are much simpler to set up than Wi-Fi-based systems and represent a great opportunity to make multi-room music more approachable.

The sudden momentum we’re seeing toward scrapping Wi-Fi for multi-room music has to have the folks at Logitech scratching their heads. The company entered the multi-room music market with products like the Wireless PC Music System and Wireless DJ that used a similar 2.4 GHz scheme. Both were part of its “Music Anywhere” system that Logitech promoted as “a better wireless solution with plug-and-play simplicity, digital audio clarity, and no home network required.” But that went out the window when the company acquired Slim Devices and its Wi-Fi-based Squeezebox.

Boxee improves the media center with social networking

imageOn the heels of my Switched On column on how PC companies should focus more on the notebook as the new living room PC, the alert team at Stage Two Consulting set up a meeting at Boxee‘s SoHo’s office, which is, um, close to those of Pando’s (which makes me wonder whether Boxee would integrate a Pando client at some point because it could be handy and oh such juicy lawsuit bait).

In any case, Boxee, which began life under the pirate flag of the Xbox Media Center, has won praise for its user interface, which I agree is a fresh, fluid and engaging departure not only from Front Row and Windows Media Center but also previous attempts at creating clones of them (such as MythTV) from the open-source community. Company co-founder Avner Ronen compares what Boxee is doing for the open-source media center UI to what Firefox did for the open-source browser.

Rather than overwhelming you with infinite entertainment choices, by default it filters up the top recommendations and consumed items from those in your social network. Of course, it can also broadcast out your entertainment choices. Boxee, like the Dash Express, can also post what you’re doing to Twitter and other social networks. The software is still in alpha, and thus has some serious feature gaps. Search, for example, is in the queue, and the company notes that recording of cable content will get a lot easier with Tru2Way. Boxee runs on Macs and Linux with a Windows version slated soon, and we talked about a number of potential paths to the living room..

I’ll be sharing more thoughts on Boxee in the coming weeks.

Even if the iPhone’s reception isn’t clear, Apple needs to be

image The vocal minority amplifying around the blogosphere’s echo chamber is now broadcasting across morning news shows regarding the iPhone’s alleged reception problems. There are likely steps that Apple could take to improve reception, but if this were a true defect, I think the response would be so overwhelming that you wouldn’t be able to get within 100 yards of an AT&T or Apple store.

Even retaining a degree of control that most cell phone manufacturers would give their SEND buttons for,  the iPhone is a very unusual product for Apple in that it has had to rely on partners (phone carriers) for a core part of its user experience. But of course because of Apple’s high profile and tradition of owning the customer experience, many of the fingers of blame are pointing at it. So it needs to offer an acknowledgement, an explanation, another :”open letter” — something beyond a discreet missive.

The company has set a great precedent extending service for customers struggling with MobileMe. Surely  it’s not in a position to offer similar free service for those having cell phone problems. As a relative newcomer to the cellular industry banking billions on the iPhone as a Trojan horse for OS X, Apple has too much at stake with the iPhone 3G for it to stay shrouded in a cloud of questionable reliability. And phones are too important to their consumers to deal with disappointment for long.

Wireless connectivity is what it is. Not to necessarily knock AT&T’s network quality, but the iPhone has likely attracted many newcomers to 3G (certainly from AT&T’s existing subscriber base) and, in what may be the cause of even more of the griping, switchers from Verizon Wireless and Sprint that may be used to dealing with more mature 3G wireless networks. As a company that is pioneering  the way or many new broadband wireless users, Apple is getting some arrows in its back.

Back in 2003, Steve Jobs noted that downloading music illegally was bad karma, and yet the company has consistently lambasted struggles that Vista has had, many of which have been the result of driver and other issues that are the “fault” of Microsoft’s ecosystem partners — karma indeed. If this keeps up for much longer, how long will it be before a straight-laced personification of reliability stands aside a harried deadbeat as they intone, “I’m a Nokia phone.” and.”.. and I’m an iPhone 3G.”?

  • Wii getting DVD playback may finally help end the travesty of people moving while watching TV #
  • Atom is apparently doing well. Of course, that’s *shipments.* Let’s see how well they sell to consumers. #
  • I applaud Vudu’s approach to “getting out of jail cheap” assuming it includes movies not finished within 24 hours #
  • New Switched On column posted: Rethinking the living room PC #

Phone 3G will go head-to-head with rivals at Best Buy Mobile

The AP is reporting that Best Buy will become the first independent retailer to offer the iPhone 3G in the U.S. Carrying the iPhone is certainly a feather in the wireless cap of Best Buy, which has been rolling out its Best Buy Mobile stores and stores-within-a-store. Best Buy, of course, also has Apple-staffed sections within a store so it will be interesting to see where the iPhone will be merchandised (likely in both sections).

Best Buy is also in a great position to highlight some of the many iPhone-compatible accessories that would not be carried in an AT&T store and, of course, the retailer has a far larger footprint than Apple stores. However, it may mark the first time the iPhone has been put side by side with other handsets with large touchs creens from other carriers in the U.S.

With Sheraton deal, Surface digs a bit deeper

imageIn an Analyst Angle column I wrote for RCR Wireless News about  AT&T’s adoption of Microsoft Surface for its showrooms, I argued that having the table-based kiosks available in stores would benefit the wireless carrier and be good for the industry. Some wrote to me saying that what the wireless carrier really needed was a greater number of skilled store workers and not gee-wizardry, but of course those things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are complementary.

In fact, when I was interviewed for Fox Business News on the day of the iPhone 3G launch, there were no iPhones at the store that was the site of the interview. There were, however, two Surface computers and, yes, they were being used by curious customers months after their introduction.

One interesting angle in this deployment is the branding of applications on Surface. The most interesting is CityTips, which may help reduce some of the load on concierges at the hotels by serving as a local guide to restaurants, bars, etc. I’m sure it won’t contain much that couldn’t be found on a laptop, but it’s a pretty common scenario for group outing planning to happen in a hotel lobby.

Other apps include he Sounds of Sheraton playlist creator, which would be a lot cooler if it could be used to deliver CDs (yeah, I know but lots of hotel rooms still have players) to a guest’s room, and Sheraton Snapshots, which seems like the weakest of the three as all it does is let you surf photos and information of other Sheraton properties. That’s the kind of thing that can be done at one’s leisure. When you’re a tourist, you’re interested in what’s happening in town, not at other hotels.

Vongo makes smart move to service provider distribution


If your company is a startup, I’m generally not a fan of trying to distribute your product or service exclusively through established TV and landline service providers such as Comcast or Verizon. Mobile apps via wireless carriers are but one exception. But if you’re Starz Entertainment and you have relationships with these service providers and your product is a movie distribution service based on subscription, then it’s also a different story.

As a standalone service, the cost of acquiring customers to Vongo must have been expensive. But by taking advantage of the existing billing relationships that Verizon’s FiOS TV has with its customers, Starz Play as the revamped service will now be known, will garner more exposure and, more importantly, more bundling opportunities. As Netflix has shown, a sustainable number of consumers like a subscription option for movies on demand. It’s just unfortunate that the handoff from Vongo couldn’t have been made more seamlessly.

10″ looks like a better screen size for netbooks

image Speaking of proportions, according to OC Register, Averatec will enter the netbook market this fall with what looks like a pretty well-equipped netbook with a nice design as well, and available at retail for under $500 this holiday season.

I’ve had the opportunity to get hands-on with a number of these products and am coming to favor those with 10″ screens, at least aesthetically, for a few reasons. First, they simply look less toy-like, a complaint I’ve heard levied a number of times against other netbooks. Second, they address the problem of either having a cramped or compromised keyboard versus having an unusually large bezel around the screen, thus resulting in a better-proportioned look. I have some concern about 10.2″ models being a bit less portable than, the 8.9″ variety that has attracted much interest, but these should still be ideal airline tray companions.