Blu-ray on Xbox 360: Why?

image FT.com is reporting that Sony is talking with Microsoft about the possibility of Blu-ray drives on the Xbox 360. This could come in two forms, of course — a new SKU with an integrated Blu-ray drive or an external drive similar to the one Microsoft offered for HD DVD. The case is tough for either one, though.

If Microsoft thought there was value in adding a high-definition or high-capacity disc format to the 360, it had a choice of two during its development before Microsoft had kicked HD DVD evangelism into high-gear. Of course, after Microsoft did that, it still didn’t add an internal HD DVD drive to the 360, citing concern about not forcing such a drive on consumers. Especially now, with a significant title library out there, it doesn’t make any sense to add cost to a home console. The 360 is clearly competitive as is.

Then there’s the external drive scenario. It made more sense for Microsoft to offer an external drive when there wasn’t much choice for HD DVD drives at retail. Microsoft was able to deliver a low-priced option by piggybacking onto the console. While I’m sure an add-on Blu-ray drive for the 360 would cost less than the standalone players out there, there are many more companies offering Blu-ray players, and now that there is no direct format rivalry, the number is bound to increase while the average prices decrease, further removing the incentive. Without an evangelism imperative, Microsoft can now focus on other means of getting high-definition video to its game console.

Are there any Xbox 360 owners out there who want an external Blu-ray drive for their console?

iPhone SDK: a new hope

image If Apple was going to be excessively restrictive with its SDK, there would have been no point in publishing it, Apple noted at the introduction that it was a “platform company” (most of the time anyway). Combined with the $100 million iFund, it appears clear that we are witnessing nothing less than the rebirth of the Macintosh now shrunk to pocket size and inviting a new breed of developers to rethink mobile application development.

Perhaps, contrary to Michael Mace’s post on why smartphone development is dead, the reason is not the “combination of splintering platforms, shrinking distribution channels, and rising costs,” but rather that native applications haven’t been distinguished enough from what you could do in a browser or via platforms such as BREW. Other factors helping development are having the App Store on the device and available over cellular connections and not having to account for countless platform and screen size variations.

Of course, these are all conditions that make it easier to dip the fishing rod. There are still no guarantees that the consumer will bite. But from what we’ve been seeing iPhone users do in terms of accessing the Web and using their music features, they have high potential to create the most successful mobile smartphone application market we have seen.

iPhone enterprise approach is grim for RIM

image Some may gawk that Apple chose to work with Microsoft on a corporate e-mail solution for the iPhone but, really, after Palm did (before it offered Windows Mobile handsets) Nokia licensed ActiveSync (in the days before it was Silverlight-friendly), there wasn’t much doubt that Apple would be amenable to doing so.

Despite now having the Exchange imprimatur, the iPhone probably won’t overtake Blackberry overnight, but its acceptance of Exchange indicates another setback for Blackberry Connect.  Still, even though many enterprises don’t have an up-to-date enough Exchange server to support ActiveSync, more of them will get there at some point. RIM certainly hasn’t helped its cause with recent (albeit brief) outage.

Despite it being positioned as the ideal enterprise mobile device, study after study has shown mobile e-mail as the killer application for these devices and you can effectively do that on a device that is a lot cheaper than an iPhone. Of course, if that’s what businesspeople are buying with their own money anyway, that could become a moot point. In fact, to some extent Apple is betting on that.

I’ve asked Apple representatives if Apple would allow a third-party Blackberry Connect application to be offered in the App Store or whether they might consider that a security risk. I should hear more on that later..

Update: RIM shows they’re down with cool consumer media, too!

Why Flash will come to the iPhone

Over at News.com, Coop joins the reaction to Apple’s “slam” of Flash, throwing in the Adobe reaction that both Flash and Flash Lite have been very successful, thanks so much. I’ve often marveled at how responsive Mac OS X feels on the iPhone. This was a thread that Jeff Atwood referred to in the post about Vista’s perceived performance. Jobs says simply that desktop Flash is too heavy for the iPhone, and that Flash Lite isn’t up to desktop performance. Essentially, he’s asking Apple Adobe to do the same thing Apple has done, which is to optimize desktop software for a mobile platform.

If you are an iPhone user, you have to read between the lines here because Jobs is essentially saying that Apple wants Flash on the iPhone (which is good news considering the scenarios I laid out as to why Apple might not) but just can’t accommodate it. That’s an engineering problem Adobe is motivated to solve given as iPhone sales grow and consumers do more mobile browsing on it.Adobe will get there. And let’s face it, few software companies have as long a history of supporting Apple technologies as Adobe.

We may not see it announced on the 6th, but Flash playback will come to the iPhone.

Toshiba continues as Blu-ray spoiler

HD DVD scores in the format warCould Toshiba become the most progressive consumer electronics company when it comes to digital distribution?

As I and others have noted, HD DVD was never the primary factor in slowing the adoption of Blu-ray. According to NPD’s research, satisfaction with existing DVD players was the most cited reason among those who had no plans to purchase a high-definition disc player when we surveyed consumers last year. Therefore, the end of HD DVD has not meant a free pass for Blu-ray.

In an interview with the WSJ, Toshiba’s Atsutoshi Nishida points out the value of a diversified corporate portfolio, noting that HD DVD was but one of 45 strategic product groups within the electronics conglomerate. He also divulges plans to stay or become relevant in the twin forces squeezing Blu-ray from the past (upconverting DVDs) and the future (digital downloads) to continue to compete indirectly with Blu-ray. Nishida points to wired technologies that are becoming wireless (a reference to HDMI?).

Of course, Toshiba’s PC strength to which Nishida refers is in notebooks, and most of the connectivity scenarios he discusses have been focused on stationery PCs (although that is changing). In any case, it seems clear that Toshiba will have more occasion to work closely with its HD DVD promotion partner Microsoft. The conspiracy theorists may have been wrong, but the format war has brought at least one major electronics company to look beyond the disc.

IOgear Mobile Digital Scribe offers Tablet PC without the PC

image Much has changed in the world of pen computing since I argued three years ago that it should be written off. One source of my dissatisfaction with the whole notion was the awkward usage of a stylus, something that Apple has banished with the iPhone. (It also banished the thumbboard, though, something I remain more keen on).

Now that the stylus is on the run from the mobile device, it’s trying to set out on its own in the guise of the ordinary ballpoint. One of the main approaches toward enabling the digital pen are from Anoto, which requires the use of special dotted paper. It’s been a success for Leapfrog with the FLY anf FLY Fusion, and is now being used in the Tag successor to the hugely successful Leap Pad. It’s been a failure for Logitech with the IO and IO2, but is also the underlying technology behind the imminent LiveScribe Pulse smart pen which slickly marries it with voice recording..

Another approach, such as that from Israeli firm EPOS. tends to cost less and don’t require any special paper. However, it needs some kind of receiver, sometimes enbedded within the top of a clipboard. I’ve tried a few such products through the years and found them to work quite well. The new IOgear product is not based on EPOS technology, but the implementation is more similar to how EPOS works. At $50 less than the entry-level LiveScribe product, it is just ahead of and costs less than its higher-tech competitor. Still, both face a rough terrain in extending computing to the province of pen and ink.

Vista’s file copying not slow, just drawn that way

imageOver at Coding Horror, my  old friend Jeff Atwood has a great post about Vista’s file copying performance and why consumers perceive it to be slower than XP’s despite an improved algorithm and solid benchmarks. It’s yet another chapter for the operating system that is struggling against formidable competition, it’s predecessor, and abetted by a parent doing what it can to make its unaccepted child more popular while still supporting its older brother.

In any case, it’s great reading for user interface developers.

CEA’s Shapiro backs digital TV coupon extension

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I got my little envelope of analog entertainment life extension this weekend courtesy of Uncle Sam. According to Broadcast & Cable, Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, says that the government should give consumers more time to redeem the coupons. There has already been some online discussion advising consumers to wait for prices to come down before using their coupons but, really, with Wal-Mart enabling consumers to keep over-the-air goodness flowing into a chunky channel changer for less than $10,  there’s not much incentive left to delay.

While CEA has a much better consumer-friendly track record than trade organizations for, say, content industries, it’s still a bit counterintuitive that Gary, whose organization represents the world’s largest TV manufacturers,  backs a product that delays the purchase of a new digital television. It leads one to question how big an impact the analog cutoff will have on TV buying. I’m sure there will be a bump, particularly in smaller screen sizes. However, particularly with a shaky economy, it will be challenging to convince those prepared to make an under-$50 investment to a digital television at mainstream sizes.

Few surprises in iPhone SDK rumors

iLounge reports indendently confirmed rumors Apple will limit the distribution and capabilities of iPhone applications. The three rumors are that Apple will distribute applications only through iTunes, that Apple will pick and choose which are distributed, and that developers won’t have access to functions through the dock connector.

Regarding the first rumor, I believe that overall it is positive if true. The inability to track down mobile applications has been one of the major hindrances in smartphone application development. In fact, I suggested in a column for LAPTOP Magazine last year that Apple do exactly this to minimize the risk of malware. Also, perhaps down the line, Apple can bring these applications to what is now the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store for accessing improved functionality over he air..

The second rumor, that Apple will handpick which applications get to be released, is mixed news but, again, no surprise. On one hand, it will help ensure a good user experience. On the other hand, it of course limits choice. We’ll have to see how heavy a hand Apple takes here, but it’s probably a safe bet that applications that impinge on potential Apple revenue streams, including Skype, instant messaging programs, and other music store clients, will be excluded. I wouldn’t expect a Windows Live Messenger client any time soon.

The most disappointing is that developers won’t be able to access iPod functions via the dock connector, scuttling or at least complicating accessories such as keyboards.This one is somewhat curious as Apple has certainly done well collecting fees for the iPod dock connector in peripherals for older iPods. So at least Apple has some motivation to open this up at some point.

If the iPhone SDK rumors are true, it means that the iPhone and iPod touch will be far from a PC ecosystem, but at least it’s better than what was available before and movement in a better direction for Apple’s customers.

Eee won’t upend notebook market per se

Over at Crave, Erica Ogg notes the concern by Mike Abarry, who runs Sony’s U.S. Vaio group, about the threat of the Asus Eee, which sells for a fraction of the price of the average notebook sold in the U.S. Mike’s comments led to a broader discussion of that historically hazy device segment that fits between smartphones and laptops both in form and function. It’s also worth noting that he didn’t think the impact of cheap ultraportables would be so disastrous if they were used as secondary PCs.

In either case, I think he has little to fear from the Eee despite its initial success. Many of the early reviews of the Eee were enamored with its simple "big button" tabs, but not surprisingly you need to dig beyond that into a fairly unfriendly file manager even to move files to a flash drive. The 7" screen simply isn’t large enough to handle Web browsing or other tasks comfortably.

I see a bifurcation coming to this emerging area of inexpensive, touch-typable clamshells — computing appliances that will sell for less than $500 and function as PC complements and inexpensive ultraportable notebook PCs that sell for more. The latter class has more disruption potential for today’s notebook PC market, but really in terms of vying for dollars from other entry-level configurations with larger screens. The Eee has straddled the middle — a viable position for a category pioneer, but the heat will be turned up if HP brings the 2133 into consumer markets. Of course, cheaper wireless broadband would help both classes.