It’s no surprise that Sony charging $50 to remove trialware from its PCs has gone over like a lead ultraportable. Sony is merely passing along the lost revenue from deals it would ordinarily strike with these providers of software and services. Still, making the tradeoff so explicit is tantamount to admitting that, not only is there no user benefit to these programs, but there is a price on the penalty of having them.
Also, one must question how receptive consumers will be to offers that they absolutely did not want on their PCs, but for which they didn’t want to pay the equivalent of five percent or more of the notebook value. Even at a lower price ($20), Sony would gather far more consumers opting in. It is a thorny time for trialware with Vista’s beefier requirements already making consumers more wary of performance slowdowns. And ultimately, it is in Sony’s interest to have more consumers who are delighted with their notebook experience. Competitive pressure may force its hand toward that.
Update: Reversed. Blogosphere outrage FTW!
I certainly agree with Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam that mainstream consumers will be in no hurry to abandon the subsidy model. But in addition to seeing whether more sophisticated customers will shell out $200 or more to run advanced wireless devices on Verizon’s network, we have to see how Verizon will price open access before understanding the impact it will have on new or integrated devices in the market.
McAdam acknowledges that consumers won’t sign up for multiple $50 per month plans, and at Gearlog, Sascha Segan notes that Verizon might offer incremental device access for $5/month. This is the kind of scheme that Sprint has talked about for Xohm as well although Sprint has acknowledged there should be an unlimited access cap.
There are already a number of devices other than handsets that are obvious candidates to work on a high-speed wireless network — portable navigation devices, handheld gaming consoles, MP3 players/Internet radios, and more. Consumers are already buying these devices. Sure, adding WAN modems would add cost, but it’s really the high price of wireless broadband that is holding them back. Verizon needs to offer a cheap tier of service that entails either limited data or limited speed. Such pricing would go a long way toward enabling the kind of creative innovation that Dash Navigation has enabled with only a GPRS connection at its disposal.
There’s a pretty exciting report coming from the Financial Times that Apple is negotiating with the major music record labels to build in access to their catalogs into the price of the device. Such a move would be consistent with rumors of an Apple DVR in that it would show that Apple is intent on keeping the value on its hardware products, the roots of the company. As many have speculated, while Apple has sold over four billion songs, the iTunes store hasn’t been a major profit center.
According to the FT, the labels want $100 per device, which would be prohibitive for where popular models such as the iPod nano are today. Also, I’m not thrilled with the idea of the license being tied to a device. That seems like a step backward from the trend of DRM-free music sales; even DRM tracks can be used on an unlimited number of iPods.. Nevertheless, if Apple (or any other company, for that matter) and the labels can pull it together, it would represent a digital music renaissance, taking us full-circle back to the early days of “free” digital music and the explosion in discovery that went along with it.
Recent Apple patents showing a flip-design iPhone and a DVR that might be able to exchange guide data with an iPhone (as well as give talk show hosts really bad haircuts) remind us that, while Apple has shared technology (operating systems, video and graphics support, iTunes support) among its entrants in each of the “three-screen” products — Mac, iPhone/iPod, and Apple TV, there really hasn’t been that much active collaboration among them at this point outside of being able to start a TV show or movie on one device and finish it on another (a cool feature, to be sure).
It’s fine for Apple to move slowly here. Consumers don’t buy “synergy”, they buy products. But just as I’ve credited the Apple store with providing an environment for letting consumers experience the iPod and expose the iPhone (particularly during the holiday season), Apple’s retail presence could make some of these difficult home networking concepts more palatable. The living room is definitely the weakest link and while the DVR market has been an extremely tough not to crack, Apple TV remains Apple’s weakest link in the chain.
Today Microsoft and Adobe announced that Flash Lite will be licensing Flash Lite and Reader LE for Windows Mobile devices. Flash Lite may not be able to accommodate everything that the desktop Flash player can do, but its inclusion should open up the door to more content viewable on Windows Mobile devices. Of course, Microsoft has its own competing standard for such content in Silverlight, but with its arrival on mobiles not slated for some time and with Silverlight still not able to read Flash content for some time, so I see it as more than a stopgap measure.
Adobe has seen a number of operators, such as Verizon Wireless here in the U.S., use Flash Lite as a platform for user interfaces. Enabling Windows Mobile to include such functionality should make that operating system a more viable contender for mainstream handsets.
Mark Cuban takes The New York Times to task for debasing itsesf by calling its blogs… “blogs.” Rather than having the Times’ imprimatur validate the blog, he argues, calling its blogs “blogs” drags the venerable newspaper down into that dangerous dystopia of dubious diatribe known as the blogosphere. Journalists, don’t go there alone at night if you value your kidneys. Once bloggers start moving into your publication, your media property values will sink like a stone.
The Times’ struggle against Internet commoditization began when the newspaper — like every other major news organization — established an editorial presence on the Web. Refusing to call its online presence a “Web site” in favor of something that nobody understands would not have changed the fundamental dynamics of the Web’s low barrier to entry. (That said,, the Times now follows Mark’s advice to tie into its print recognition by branding its Web site “all the news that’s fit to click.”) If blogging is as commoditized as Mark portrays it, then a flashy rebadge isn’t going to help much.
Also, I don’t see how Mark can dsmiss all of the positive connotations of blogs — intimacy, feedback, conversation, perspective and modernness. Calling the Times’ blog “realtime reporting” doesn’t convey any of this. “Reporting” may reflect the Times’ traditional brand value, but doesn’t distinguish beyond what the Times may be doing online or, for that matter, what CNN does on television. Indeed, the Times could be doing a lot worse than blogs in attracting some sources of traffic.
Mark closes by referencing HBO’s “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” marketing slogan, but that’s an easy distinction to make in a bandwidth-constrained medium by a premium cable channel. Over a decade ago, HBO (once better known as an acronym for Home Box Office) shifted its emphasis from commercial-free movie airing to creating its acclaimed lineup of original, exclusive TV series. The slogan, which came later, reflected the reality. It didn’t create it.
Today, Pandigital, one of the most successful digital photo frame vendors, takes the wraps off a new display product aimed at the kitchen. The kitchen is often an activity hub of the home, but limited progress has been made turning it into a digital hub. Nonetheless, that hasn’t been for lack of trying, particularly for Internet appliances. 3Com’s ill-fated (and perhaps just simply ill) Audrey was targeted at the kitchen, as were a few incarnations of the pricey Icebox device, which integrated a television, DVD player, and Web browser along with a washable keyboard. The PC most explicitly designed for use in the kitchen today is the HP TouchSmart PC.
There have also been a few specialized grocery list organizers and simple digital reminders, such as the Simpliciti Aurora, the inexpensive Jenda, the even more recent SmartShopper, and the imminent Audiovox Digital Message Centers. Like the Audiovox product, the Pandigital Kitchen HDTV/Digital Cookbook/Digital Photo Frame (yes, that’s its real name), includes a digital photo frame, reflecting Pandigital’s main business. And like the Icebox, it includes a TV (albeit a digital one). There aren’t may details about the digital cookbook part.
The 15″ screen with 512 MB of RAM will cost $399 whan it’s released in June. The TV will support 720p output. The specs say it will be able to display pictures from Picasa Web so there is probably some network connectivity. At $399, it will be a relatively niche product, but Pandigital will try to cover the decor bases by offering black, white and stainless finishes for this unique hybrid.
Ars Technica writes about an interesting new package being released by longstanding Mac and Windows developer Symantec that is surely a sign of the times. Symantec is bundling Windows and Mac versions of its Anti-Virus protection in one package for Mac users who are running virtualization software from Parallels or VMWare, One can now Seussically say that Norton clears for two.
I haven’t considered the ability to run Windows programs as a functional driver of the success behind in the wake of Apple’s Intel transition, (although the assurance that it can has probably removed some psychological barriers), pinning it down more to price/performance improvements. However, apparently Symantec believes that double-dipping Mac users will appreciate the extra, and perhaps proactive, security blanket even though, as Ars notes:
While we haven’t heard any reports of a virus striking a Windows VM and taking advantage of this Mac OS X directory access, it certainly is theoretically possible. There are also products like MacDrive which can grant read/write access of an entire Mac-formatted volume to versions of Windows from 98 on. Both of these situations could bring a Mac’s OS X boot volume into the sights of a malicious application.
I also continue to be surprised (but only slightly) that Apple has not included virtualization itself in the OS by simply buying Parallels or developing their own solution. Apple has supported other architectures before and advertised the Mac’s ability to run Windows on national TV (in two different commercials). Apple describes Boot Camp as an option that mazimizes compatibility, but the tradeoff in convenience is not worth it for most users. Besides, including virtualization software would allow Apple to make a stronger case for beefier Mac configurations.
Finally, speaking of Windows running on Macs, I seem to remember some statements from Microsoft that it would clarify its OS support of the hardware once Boot Camp became released code, which it now is. I suppose Microsoft has its hands full supporting Vista on machines that it has already certified, even those it perhaps shouldn’t have.
Yesterday Slacker released a firmware update that addresses some of the glitches I described in my post yesterday, including the WPA password key problem and some stuttering I was occasionally hearing twoard the beginning of songs (anathema for flash device). The firmware upgrade was transparent and the Portable now automatically connects to the last access point used, which is the way it should be. By the way,
unllke the Zune, the Slacker Portable can sync over Wi-Fi even when it is running on batteries.
However, I’d still like to see better status reporting on the home screen (or maybe even in the less prominent About screen) when a sync is complete because clicking “Connect” to see the status starts a sync again.
Glitches aside, it’s worth noting that the Slacker Portable provides a positive and unique portable music experience, picking up on some of the best aspects of last year’s innovative Sansa Connect, which unfortunately was tied to a premium music service that is slated to be shut down.
Slacker’s PR team also tells me that the Portable’s battery is indeed removable by inserting a pin into what looks like a reset hole.
This weekend I had some time to check out the Slacker Portable, the device component of its free-tiered streaming music service. I’ve got more pictures after the break. Slacker describes the device simply as a “personal radio.” I was never fond of the “personal video recorder” term for describing devices like TiVo, but at least this has no “digital” or “Internet” techie nomenclature.
Some first impressions:
- Immediate out of the box experience is very good. Since Slacker knows the details of your account, they can populate the device with your custom stations. Unpack and press play (well, sort of, since there is actually no “Play” button on the device, just a “Pause” button that does double-duty).
- On the other hand, the first sync attempt failed without an error message. The new station that I added appeared on the opening menu, but there was no music available in it. A follow-up attempt closer to my access point worked just fine, except that the Portable isn’t remembering my network access key, which is quite annoying.