Apple patents flesh out a three-screen strategy

appletvdvrpatent.jpgRecent 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.

Flash Lite on Windows Mobile: For the good of the platform

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.

Should the NY Times call its blogs by any other name?

nyt-blogs.jpgtimes-blogs.jpgtimes-blogs.jpgtimes-blogs.jpgMark 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.

Pandigital takes another crack at the digital kitchen

pandigital-kitchen-frame.pngToday, 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.

When Macs can run thousands of Windows… viruses

norton-dual-protection-pack.pngArs 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.

Slacker’s Portable firmware update fixes some glitches

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.

The Slacker Portable arrives

hpim0271.JPGThis 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.

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What to do about portable navigation device theft

Biometric protection - GoPal P4425I’ve started to see more stories like this one about the rise in portable navigation device theft. It happened to a co-worker of mine. Unfortunately, we tend to see this happen in a number of high-growth, high-ticket portable and mobile products such as iPods and in-dash stereos that led to the development of removable faceplates.

One local TV segment noted that Long Island police have seen a fivefold increase in theft of the devices, which would be consistent with the overall unit growth we’ve seen in the U.S. This problem will get worse before it gets better although the rapidly declining prices of PNDs may remove some incentive..

Some TV segments advise not only removing the windshield mount when you leave your car, but taking care to wipe away any smudges that the suction cup might leave behind! Fortunately, PNDs are getting thin and small enough so that stuffing them into a handbag or even a jacket pocket is becoming more of an option.

Last December, Sanyo introduced a PND with a fingerprint reader. Given the trend toward voice recognition in these devices, voiceprints may become another verification tool that, if broadly implemented, might discourage thieves,

T-Mobile allegedly wants to “get more” Sprint

imageOm Malik pretty much nails the challenge that such an acquisition would have.  Sprint’s customer base would do wonders for T-Mobile’s ARPU. However, the company would be juggling four wide-area networks (and five altogether if you include Wi-Fi). On one hand, a WiMAX network would be an attractive asset for migrating those T-Mobile Broadband customers forward. On the other hand, T-Mobile could just shut down the expensive Xohm initiative and transition everything to LTE.

More iPhone application questions raised

imageMore favorable response is pouring in on the iPhone SDK, which significant capital will support, but John Gruber, whose Daring Fireball was a key inspiration for my Engadget column Switched On, points out that enforcement will have some challenges.

It leads me to another question. How easy will it be for applications to spread virally for the iPhone? I’d expect the App Store to support links and ratings, much like albums in the iTunes Store. Will iPhone applications, like other mobile ones, have the ability to share a demo or trail version with a friend or colleague? For that matter, will the App Store offer try-before-you-buy versions?

And speaking of the iTunes Store, isn’t it odd that the App Store, launching in June, will be available over EDGE, but the iTunes Music Store is available only over Wi-Fi? I have to think full-fledged games would be bigger than song downloads. That would lend credence to speculation that we can expect a 3G iPhone in June.

Update: Michael Arrington notes that when applications are not active, they quit — shades of early Mac OSes. Will we see a multitouch MultiFinder? And, again, would Apple allow a utility that would juggle multiple applications, the way Switcher did in early versions of Mac OS? He also notes John Gruber’s excellent question regarding whether Amazon would be able to deliver a version of its AmazonMP3 store for the iPhone. However, if it’s true that apps can write only to their own little sandbox, it looks like the answer would be no. Or, in any case, any such purchased tracks would not be synced back to iTunes. There’s no problem if you buy them on the desktop, of course.