The CTIA show opportunity

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association has announced that, beginning in 2014, it will combine its two annual trade shows to a single “super show”. The move, prompted by direct competition with Mobile World Congress (MWC) and, less so, by the Consumer Electronics Show (CES, which had a big wireless news year in 2010 but not as much since) is long overdue. I stopped going to the schizophrenic “enterprise and apps” fall show a few years back and last year was looking like my last one for the spring show. Similar to E3, the CTIA show stands to suffer if a few key companies don’t show up or make major announcements. And increasingly, that has been the case.

It’s somewhat surprising that CTIA has lost so much handset momentum to MWC with four of the major OS developers (Apple, Google, Microsoft and RIM)  and at least three major hardware vendors (Apple, RIM and Motorola) headquartered in North America. Nokia remains the only major European handset vendor with most of the rest (Samsung, LG, Sony, Hoawei and ZTE) based in Asia. Nonetheless, MWC, offering Barcelona’s beauty and hotel room shortages, has won.

On one hand, the new “super show” will still likely pale in comparison to MWC and there is the danger that trying to preserve the enterprise focus of the fall show will reinstate the multiple personality disorder that the fall show used to have. On the other hand, there isn’t  a lot of competition for wireless news in the fall with IFA not having a major wireless focus. In addition, particularly with the rise of prepaid smartphones and carriers, there may be an opportunity for the show to take on more of a holiday retail focus than it has in the past. CTIA probably won’t be able to attract the major ecosystem providers with the shift, but it does have a chance to entice some of the major handset vendors such as Samsung and LG to return to product introductions.

Archos takes on net-top box, removes the box

Whether it’s shipping tablets with hard drives or kickstands or game controls or making funky Android-based alarm clocks or DECT cordless phones, Archos often goes the extra mile to differentiate. Its latest Android venture outside the realm of tablets is the TV Connect. In contrast to boxes like the Vizio CoStar that feature Google TV branding, the TV Connect sits atop your television and offers a multitouch experience with the help of its beefy, Sony-challenging keyboard-equipped remote control.

The TV Connect isn’t the first device to stuff Android into a TV-based webcam. The TelyHD achieved that earlier although it does not offer full access to the Google Play marketplace. At $129, it costs more than the CoStar or a number of HDMI-based Android “sticks”, but may come the closest to replicating the Androd tablet experience on your television.

The Strobist shows how it’s done low-end

Contrary to the Gizmodo headline, hardware does matter as the good-natured David Hobby complains plenty about his Toy Story-themed two-megapixel toy camera during his Chinese photo shoot. And while the strobes he may be working with are chintzy Nikon SB800 ripoffs, having access to external lighting (much less someone to hold it) is an advantage that few photographers have in their daily shoots. This is to take nothing away from Hobby, who works through many challenges to capture some compelling shots. My favorite one is  of the Lamborghini, Ultimately, it is the singer and not the song.

Microsoft gains greater distribution for Surface RT

Staples’ decision to carry the Surface RT probably won’t do too much to help such a consumer-focused device, but Best Buy’s carrying of it is bigger news. As much as the additional distribution will help Microsoft, Best Buy may be the bigger winner. Not only will it add to Best Buy’s selection, but it will drive store traffic to offer exposure to a host of other Windows RT and Windows 8 devices. In contrast, there was little to cross-sell Surface customers at Microsoft’s popup stores beyond perhaps a copy of Halo 4 and it stocked only two Windows devices beyond Surface.

Christie Street brings welcome changes to tech crowdfunding

DoorBot is but of the latest in an increasing number of DIY connected products. It is an interesting product taken alone, but made far more interesting and useful since the developers are integrating with the Lockitron Internet-controllable appcessory.  But what may be even more interesting than DoorBot itself is the site on which the campaign for it is being launched: Christie Street. The name refers to the street on which Edison developed the light bulb, showing that not everyone shares disdain for the man most commonly associated with the incandescent bulb.

There are two things about Christie Street that stand out:

  • It positions itself specifically for inventions, not the “creative works” like albums, music videos, and photo books that run deep in Kickstarter’s roots and which are a somewhat strange fit for the kinds of high-profile tech that tend to gain a lot of attention in Kickstarter’s Product Design section.
  • It is as committed to protecting buyers — yes, buyers, not backers — via an escrow system. Is it fullproof? Probably not. But it is welcome to see a crowdfunding site take responsibility for how its users view transactions as opposed to clinging to its liability-limiting self-definition.

In short, if you’ve been a fan of noteworthy crowdfunded gadgets such as the Pebble smartwatch, Swivl rotating imaging and video base, Memoto lifelogging camera and others, Christie Street may evolve into a better destination for these kinds of projects, both for gadget creators and consumers.

iHS says e-readers are doomed to limited markets

iHS senior principal analyst Jordan Selburn draws a comparison between the e-reader and other portable electronics, such as portable media players and point-and-shoot cameras, that have seen their functionality incorporated into the smartphone. Fair enough, while the smartphone was the spiritual successor to the PDA (or basically a cellular-connected PDA with voice).

Still, while average e-reader screen sizes (and especially those of e-readers like the Kobo Pocket) are smaller than those of tablets, they were close enough where I always thought that that the defining attribute of the e-reader was the display. As soon as companies can affordably combine the color and multimedia of today’s LCDs with the sunlight-readability and long battery life of today’s e-paper, we will see the e-reader marginalized.

Apple-Microsoft Skydrive stalemate  ʦ

As I’ve written before, it’s reasonable for Apple to ask for a cut of the subscription revenue if the user signs up via iOS. But if a user signs up for a premium SkyDrive experience outside of iOS, then Apple should allow use of that app unfettered. I don’t see how this is any different than how the Kindle or NextIssue apps are handled. The iOS customer experience already suffers by forcing consumer workarounds to access services. But this kind of stalemate that keeps apps off the platform creates an even worse situation.

Apple, Google team up to bid for Kodak patents  ʦ

No one seems to have a problem with strange bedfellows when they’re protecting the money in their mattress.

Contact lenses with built-in LCDs  ʦ

Another step on the road to electronics that swim around out bloodstream.

Cookoo wins the Kickstarter smartwatch shipping race

The winner of the 2012 Kickstarter smartwatch shipping derby — entrants in which include Pebble, the MetaWatch Strata, Cookoo and — what the heck — Martian and Touch Time – is in and it seems to be Cookoo, the Bluetooth-connected watch with a traditional face and a series of fixed icons around its face that enable it to have a non-rechargeable battery. As with another highly touted Kickstarter project, Supermechanical’s TWINE, there are still a few unimplemented features, including music control and (ironically for a watch) countdown timing and alarm functionality. Other features, including SMS and e-mail notifications, are lying in wait for iOS support.

The packaging of Kickstarter projects has been a decidedly mixed cardboard box, with some products shipping in little more than bubble wrap and others in eco-friendly packaging that might qualify as origami. Despite being one of the cheapest smartwatches offered via Kickstarter, Cookoo has certainly sets a high bar. It ships in a mildly soft-touch plastic shell that not only resembles a birdhouse (get it?) that apparently can be reused as an actual birdhouse.