Broad-banding together for movie downloads

With Blu-ray and HD-DVD being relatively new on the video scene, it’s not surprising that each has a logo to let consumers know that a disc is compatible with its respective formats. The HD-DVD one is an extension of the DVD logo (pictured), which informed consumers that the shiny disc they were considering contained more than just music. Each of the major video game console vendors also brands compatible software with the appropriate logo as well.

Thinking about my Vudu column posted today on Engadget and the news that the company is offering The Bourne Ultimatum in high-definition, I’m wondering how consumers other than Vudu owners might know that the movie is available on the service. Awareness of broadband video services is very low. It would benefit several companies at this early stage to develop some kind of logo signifying that a movie was available for legal digital rental or purchase. There have been a few on-air promotions showing that certain video content is available via iTunes, but I’ve mostly seen these for television shows.

It may be hopeless as, unlike with physical media, many of the video download services (iTunes, Xbox Live Marketplace, Vudu, Fanfare) are vertically integrated. However, a broadband video alliance might also have more leeway in negotiating with studios for better terms, such as the ludicrous 24-hour limit to finish watching a movie once it’s started (not that I’ve been burned by that… twice). None of the services (except maybe Vongo) seem to be competing on usage terms.

A pink tiger as a purple cow

TigerDirect.comTechnology retailer TigerDirect seemed to have had its heart in the right place when it rebranded Black Friday "Pink Friday" in honor of a campaign to aid the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer charity. I ordered something from the retailer a few days later and, lo, it arrived today in a pink box in honor of the effort. Even the invoice came on stationery with pink print. Kudos to Tiger Direct for some fun follow-through on the Pink Friday campaign and for supporting the charity..

Seeking the skinny on a MacBook mini

15-inch MacBook ProWith the 2008 Macworld Expo around the chronological corner and Apple finally in (and by the looks of initial success, for the long term) the cell phone and set-top categories, rumor-mongers are running out of easy targets. One of these is an Apple ultraportable or MacBook mini. It’s not an unreasonable one at all as Sony, for example, is already in the sub-12" market.

In general, ultraportable notebooks have been slow sellers in the U.S. That was before the invasion of the cheap Asus EEE (and coming competitors) but Apple isn’t generally known for swooping in at the low end of the market.. Also, Sony has the right idea in embedding WWAN connectivity in its ultaportables; Apple, on the other hand, has even put off 3G in its cell phones. Still, Apple’s notebook market share continues to grow, so the timing may be right.

As I’ve written, Apple can take a few different paths here. The company could do a great job of something integrated with Foleo-like physical dimensions (sorry, 7" is just too small for OS X (and arguably other desktop operating systems, too), bundling an iWork suite for more of a mobile productivity appliance for $599. If it went this route, the device might not even be called a MacBook. But if Apple’s notebook family grows by shrinking next month, it’s far more likely that it will be a premium-priced 12" MacBook Pro with an SSD.

Digital shackles raise hackles

The Beeb reports on Western Digital’s decision to limit file sharing of certain kinds of files using its Anywhere Access software. This is likely to generate as much if not more backlash than the Belkin router “parental controls” spamming fiasco of 2003. It smacks of someone in legal cautioning the company about limiting liability, but hardware companies are better off excluding the feature wholesale than driving bad PR in taking the moral high grand regarding what their customers should be able to do. Let DRM do its job. Or not.

This move is particularly ill-timed as more options are opening up for the legal sharing of music.

Maybe the “r” was for “rejected”

Less than two months ago, Engadget reported on the rCard digital business card, with its 1.5" video-capable screen. Nilay Patel captured the Web site’s hype, characterizing the $25 digital tchotcke as "the most highly anticipated innovation of the decade."

Well, a digital stroll over to the former rCard Web site reveals that we may need to anticipate it a bit more. The site says that the rCard is no longer available via the site and to contact the company for more details. However, neither of the sites linked to has any apparent information about the device. Oh well, while they may not be $25, there are other credit-card sized portable video players to cram into one’s wallet..

MovieBeam fades to black

Engadget et. al. report that Movie Gallery, which picked up the troubled MovieBeam service from Disney earlier this year, is preparing to shut down the service. One of the challenges that the product faced was limited coverage area and finicky antenna placement. However, the device had an unused Ethernet jack. Finding some way to use it for the service would have made it a standalone competitor to Vudu and Xbox Live Video Marketplace as well as removing the phone line dial-up requirement for account authorization. All that said, as long as you could get the antenna placed in a good spot, MovieBeam was a pretty clean, enjoyable user experience.

The Engadget post notes that customers have begun receiving phone calls that the service will shutter on December 15th, but that seems like an odd way to manage a shutdown. While the news only recently broke, I (a MovieBeam user) have received no service shutdown e-mails. Furthermore, the MovieBeam Web site has yet to be updated with any news and the device itself still lists movies on tap for at least two weeks after December 15th. Perhaps all that will change on Monday.

If I were Vudu, I’d try to find a way to buy the customer list and market to it. Practically all of the MovieBeam titles available on the service are also available there, plus thousands more.

Google’s wireless ambitions are up in the air

Today, Google made it official that it will bid in the 700 MHz spectrum auction and there’s a flurry of media and excitement around it — most of it premature. How much will Google bid? Will it partner to do it? Will it win? And what will it do if it does win? At least the other shoe has dropped on Verizon Wireless’s open access announcements earlier this week. CEO Eric Schmidt has defended the hedge by noting that it will mean open access regardless of who wins due to FCC requirements.

Even if Google does win, we shouldn’t necessarily expect for it to be a branded carrier. Remember that one of the conditions it wanted from the FCC was mandatory wholesaling. So.. much as with Android, there may not be a “Google Wireless” but lots of different MVNOs using Google’s spectrum as infrastructure.

How Kindle can succeed in “failure”

The blogosphere punishes neglect. I caught up with the always-enjoyable LiveDigitally to discover that it’s had a makeover (I like!) and a fine piece by Jeremy Toeman on why the Kindle will fail. Here’s the rub, though. Jeremy is using mass market breakthrough — millions of units per year — as his criterion. In fact, Kindle can be a profitable business for Amazon at much lower volumes, and can be an effective enough customer retention tool that Amazon is inclined to keep it around as long as customer spending is profitable enough to offset bandwidth subsidization for things items such as free chapters and Web pages.

The scenario of needing Kindle’s EV-DO book-buying capabilities before one heads off on a flight may not be so common per se, but one place where Amazon will be very happy to have EV-DO working is at the doorstep of — indeed, even inside — every Barnes & Noble and Border’s.

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A signature’s call

I’ve been thinking lately about the notion of “signature phones.” Lots of wireless operators have exclusives but it seems that some grow to be especially associated with that operator, ideally in an iconic way, even transcending specific models to extend to generations of products. They don’t have to be smartphones although they’ve tended to be. Here’s how I would assign them today:

  • AT&T: iPhone (duh). This was probably ingrained from the introductory Macworld keynote.
  • Verizon Wireless: Hasn’t historically had one, but the enV is gaining momentum as its Sidekick. Voyager definitely has potential here and VZW is promoting it.
  • Sprint: While Treo was probably once a signature phone for Sprint, Touch may be the closest today although it may not be compelling enough.
  • T-Mobile: Sidekick, although Shadow may be up and coming as a rival.
  • Helio: Ocean

Overall, signature phones have been good for operators, but too much focus on them can distract from other benefits such as network coverage (which helps explain why Verizon Wireless has never let one emerge). There are also risks involved if the phone moves to other carriers (like Treo) or if another signature phone tries to take the industry in another direction (as the iPhone has done to the Sidekick). It’s interesting to note that none of these devices have been made by the top three global handset companies. Also, the concept may expire as U.S. operators move to more open access.

Failures to connect

RCR Wireless has an amusing retrospective where it looks at some of the biggest wireless flops ever to attempt a connection. Actually, some of them weren’t cell phones (the infamous Gizmondo) or even had a cellular radio (the once and perhaps future Foleo). Mike Dano reaches way back into the circular files to retrieve the NeoPoint 1000 smartphone, though. Amazon, which often acts as a museum for discontinued products, has the CDMA handset’s vital stats.

The photoguide finishes off with the Motorola T900 pager and the demise of the paging industry (kingpin SkyTel is still around although SmartBeep, late of the humorous commercials, is gone). Let’s not forget, though, that two-way paging was the birthplace of the Blackberry. My question, though, is how can any such history be complete without Modo?