Foleo’s full circle

Palm’s first product was a device that fit in your pocket designed as a companion to products with a big screen and keyboard. It’s latest is a device with a big screen and keyboard designed as a companion to products that fits in your pocket.

I’ll have more to say about Foleo soon, but couldn’t resist pointing out that bit of irony. For now, I’ll say it’s not the only paradox of Palm’s latest mobile companion.

Microsoft Surface has only skin-deep beauty for now

Later today the blogosphere will be aglow with news and commentary regarding Microsoft Surface, the company’s pricey coffee table computer that features multit-touch direct object manipulation and physical object recognition. The sheer novelty of Surface will no doubt enable it to draw attention in public venues, not unlike those Reactrix installations that seem in some ways a crude prototype of Surface.

Surface is cool for manipulating and resizing photos and maps and I can see how it could be helpful with good ol’ productivity, allowing you to spread documents around a dgital desk more similarly to how you would on a physical one. That said, it seems you could reap most of those benefits implementing a subset of the technology on a more standard-sized PC, and apply them in more situations.

I’ll say this about Surface — the user interface looks very clean. Micosoft has come a long way since the days when endless rows of cryptic gray toolbar buttons dominated Windows.

Childish locks

At Engadget, Ryan Block writes about Qigo, a system for enabling access to premium online content via physical keys. As Apple has proven with the iPod and iTunes store, it’s still a lot easier to sell atoms than bits, and Computer Associates will soon offer its Internet security software on a 2 GB USB flash drive that pops into a credit card holder.

While most kiddie gadgets are modeled after their adult counterparts, the Qigo concept seems similar to the Tiger Net Jet.

Universal media access not in the cards

Over at CrunchGear, Mike Kobrin opines that memory card usage in MP3 players and music-playing smartphones, which is that they will be the key to sharing your media across your various devices. With this, he reveals Sony’s aspirations for Memory Stick circa 1999. And alas, this dream wasn’t even realized by its more popular and capable rival SD. Mike could counter that things are different now since the cards are getting much bigger; 8GB microSD will be here before long. Still, not many MP3 players support removable memory although SanDisk certainly has its reasons.

As I suggested when I criticized Motorola’s promotion of these cards as bringing the ROKR Z8 up to par with standalone MP3 players,. I disagree. Memory cards haven’t even emerged as the primary way that digital cameras — their most popular host device — exchange photos with other devices, and any removeable media is simply doomed to be out of date within minutes in this age of constant content acquisition.

Mike decries Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for this kind of sharing, but it’s not a problem with the networks. It’s a weakness of there being any kind of reliable cross-platform, cross-device synchronization. Indeed, this is a holy grail of consumer technology and something I plan to bring up the next time I speak with the DLNA.

Retried street-side Wi-Fi

GigaOm compares the approach of WeFi to two other startups attempting to create a quilt of Wi-Fi from the patches of consumers’ homes. Wasn’t this the original business model of Sputnik and now-gone Joltage Networks in the Wi-Fi mini-bubble circa 2002? Fon seems to have been the most successful of these so far, but I have a lot more faith in service-provider initiatives from MetroFi, EarthLink and others; even these will require some fresh thinking to make the numbers work.

The iPhone may rise as others don’t sync

Om Malik’s post on GigaOm that improved Mac media management software for Nokia’s N-series of “multimedia computers” — the kind you use to talk to other people with cellphones — will soon appear reminds me of a concern I have regarding Mac users of other smartphones in the fast-approaching post-iPhone world. In its early days, iTunes synced to several different brands of MP3 players, including those from Rio. That support waned precipitously following the release of the iPod.

Now Apple has a built-in synchronization architecture in Tiger and the architecture is open to lots of different cell phones. Will that also shut down and become closed after Apple releases the iPhone? I wonder what Brian Hall of Mark/Space — purveyors of software that connect the Mac to mobile devices never intended for it — has to say about it. I remember Brian from the days when the company did alpha paging software!

Apple stores versus Sony stores

A little over a decade ago it was as fashionable to praise Sony and bash Apple as the reverse is today. The New York Times indulges in the latter. One retail consultant cited in the story exhibits impressive buzzword proficiency in griping that Sony Style stores are not “energized” and “shop-able.” Another floats closer to Earth in saying that Sony’s stores lack an “emotional connection” before concocting that Apple store visitors just “walk in, absorb the fumes and feel like the smartest technophile in the world.” Hey, if Apple could patent that magical vapor, they sure wouldn’t need the Genius Bars.

Randall Stross, the piece’s author, also takes aim at those foolish but uncited analysts who predicted Apple store failure. Judging from the prediction, though, it sounds like they were financial analysts. As the article notes, flagship stores are now all the rage and there may be more to come.

I’m probably not on the record for it but, Gateway stores be damned, I knew the Apple stores would be at least a partial success because of the company’s well-established brand loyalty. However, that would have extended only to the then-faithful. I thought that much of the Apple stores’ growth would cannibalize that of independent dealers and surely some of it has. (That said, I recently stopped in at Tekserve, where I received the usual excellent level of service, to find it thriving as I’d never seen it — and I used to live around the block from it. Tekserve complements the Apple store very effectively, and its strong focus on Mac repairs has probably paid off handsomely as Apple has revitalized.).

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A laser blue for less than two

I’ve been participating in some debate recently regarding the possibility that the HD-DVD camp will have a $199 player available for the holidays. It’s been fascinating to see the HD-DVD camp play price against big brand selection.

A sub-$200 HD-DVD player could happen by that time frame, at least for Black Friday promotions. I have some doubts that such a low price would create a significant advantage as hi-def optical is still catering mostly to videophiles at this point. Content selection will still be limited by the holiday but having a hot franchise like The Matrix, which was such a juggernaut for DVD, will certainly help. Me? I’m holding out for Gigli.

One colleague argues that it’s never too early to play the price card, and I’m sure we’ll see a unit jump. At $199, HD-DVD could become a discretionary second player for home theater enthusiasts bought into Blu-ray but not necessarily convinced that it will win or unwilling to wait out the war. But low-priced purchases represent a low investment. It won’t take long before the content libraries represent more of the total format investment than the player. Having a larger installed base of HD-DVD players out there will certainly prolong the war and pacify Universal, but I’ve still yet to speak to anyone in the industry who believes that two formats are sustainable over the long-term.

HP + HDTV + IP ≠ FUD

My friend and fellow Engadget columnist Jeremy Toeman takes HP to task for promoting “HDTV 2.0,” a marketing sobriquet for the notion of a television connected… to home networks and the Internet at least. What does this have to do with “HD”? Not much, except that the higher resolution makes it easier to display text and the more generally available digital inputs facilitate the attachment of computing devices. (Tracing the tortured history of digital television in the U.S. through Grand Alliance days, it looks like Microsoft in retrospect won the war over progressive scan.)

Does having another marketing term such as “HDTV 2.0” add to the confusion? Yes. Does “full HD”? Yes. How about contrast ratios and refresh rates and three different microdisplay technologies? In terms of impact, HP will be lucky if the notion of connected television becomes important enough in consumers’ minds to raise any fear, uncertainty or doubt. This is particularly true for tasks other than receiving on-demand video over IP, where the goal is to emulate the familiar, evolving mainstream cable experience. But HP is still free to compete in the marketplace of ideas. The TV, so often a big piece of passive glass for which intelligence extends only to image processing, has a timely opportunity to play a larger role in the home network as consumers seek to minimize the clutter of the home theater.

Welcome DisplaySearch

It’s my pleasure to welcome my colleagues at DisplaySearch to the blogosphere. These world-class experts on the display market and its supply chain have already put up a number of illuminating posts and they’re responding to comments, so if you have any interest in displays (which drive practically all consumer technology), you should definitely check it out.