Vocal Ostentatious Concierge Experiment

To all the not-rich-enough-to-have-a-personal-assistant spendthrifts, I ask this: are personal concierge services a bad idea or is just trying to scale them a bad idea? I remember when a previous incarnation of Root.net tried creating one online and now VOCE is asking $500 up front to participate in a wireless one.

It’s one thing if, say, you’re a Centurion card holder and want to use AmEx’s muscle to help you track down a Wii. But, it seems to me that as Internet access on phones gets better, most of the reference end of this kind of service won’t be as important. What would have value to me would be someone trustworthy to help with errands (a higher end version of the concept behind the possibly returning MyLackey.com) or someone to whom I could delegate complex tasks like, oh, a personal assistant.

VOCE’s home page shows a pearl in a PEBL. Can I also order a pebble in a Pearl?

From BoingBoing via Gizmodo.

Alpine climbs the iPod integration mountain

So far Apple has taken a two-pronged approach to the automotive market, doing high-profile direct deals with manufacturers such as Ford, GM and BMW while leaving the aftermarket integration to the dominant players there. With awkward user interfaces and limited playlist access, early attempts were crude (as my former barbershop chorus director is fond of saying).

Aftermarket head units have come a long way, though. CrunchGear has a nice rundown of the Alpine IDA-X001 with its miniature iPod-like graphical display, which makes it appear as if the iPod has conquered car audio almost as handily as its destroyed the boombox market with the bazillion speaker docks available for it (OK, just a few zillion, but really who’s counting?). At $450, it’s a big step up from your average dashboard light show, but it also supports HDRadio, so buy it and do your part to help XM and Sirius show that the satellite radio industry has some formidable competition.

How the dodgeball bounces

My fellow Jupiter Research alumni and I were excited for Dennis Crowley when Google acquired dodgeball, but it seems that it wasn’t a happy marriage as Dens (as his hipper friends call him) and his co-founder Alex Rainert (whom I met briefly at some Motorola party for the original ROKR, the product of another unhappy collaboration) have parted ways with Google and, for now, each other. Dennis becomes my second former Jupiter colleague to leave Google in the past few months with Pat Keane heading to the interactive division at of a three-letter network and picking up some three-letter titles in the process.

Dennis has joined the dungeon masters at area/code which, like former Jupiter CEO Gene DeRose’s company House Party (now being led by former Jupiter EVP of sales and marketing Kitty Kolding), brings people together in the world of atoms. Both companies seem to be leaning on promotional sponsorship opportunities as well. Whereas House Party focuses on the intimate setting of a host’s home, area/code games can envelop a whole city or even larger area. It sounds like a creative, exciting endeavor that should hopefully give Dennis more excuses to wear ’80s arcade character costumes.

Of course, I wish Dennis and (belatedly) Patrick great success in their new gigs, and continued success to Gene, Kitty and their partner Parker Reilly at House Party.

Hulk say, “Next Hulk movie will be smash!”

Sega sent out a release today that it will be creating video games featuring Marvel characters Captain America, The Incredible Hulk and Thor. These will be released in coordination with new movies starring the superheroes. At least the first two have some strong potential. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Captain America movie does boffo bucks as Variety would say. But hearing about a new Hulk movie reminded me of my favorite Onion article ever. Congratulations, big guy!

WiMAX crop getting ready to drop

Katie Fehrenbacher lists some WiMAX devices that will soon be coming stateside as Sprint rolls out its third national network and I can’t say there’s a real compelling consumer electronics product in the batch. Assuming the price-performance advantage is there, PC Cards and EpressCards should be popular but low-volume products like Nokia’s N800 and Samsung’s Q1 aren’t going to drive network usage. When Sprint announced its plans for its 2.5 GHz spectrum holdings, it dangled visions of connected cameras, camcorders and portable video games, but it will take some time to make the case to major hardware companies to integrate WiMAX. Also, the cost and chip size will have to be right as space and battery life are always at a premium on portable products.

Radeoff

I spent most of Sunday troubleshooting and replacing an ATI Radeon 9800. (I know, not very 1337, this is an older PC.) My nearly superhuman intuition regarding computers was invoked as a burning smell emanated from the PC. Of course, I was glad to see it was the video card and not the motherboard. I touched the non-functional fan and it fell off the card — not a good sign. I downgraded to a 9250 from VisionTek with a nice, stationary heat sink. Hopefully this should last me until I’m ready to upgrade my rig.

I’ve long had both Macs and PCs at home, but after using a Dell as my primary desktop since about 1998 (moving from a Power Computing PowerWave), I’m seriously considering moving back to the Mac, although probably not until next year. I’m not yet sure whether I would want to run Windows in dual-boot mode or virtualized.

emoze woes

I’ve seen a couple of products in the past couple of years that let you sync your non-Blackberry to a Microsoft Exchange server that didn’t yet support ActiveSync, but they required client software with a local connection to the server. The paradox is that mobile users tend to have laptop, so these users don’t have a PC sitting connected to the server all day, and hanging on a VPN all day also isn’t generally considered a best practice.

At CTIA, I was excited to hear that Israeli company emoze, which is delivering free push e-mail, had implemented screen-scraping as RIM did for Outlook Web Access users. At first the product worked great, but then it stopped receiving updates. I’ve reinstalled it several times and then spoke with their tech folks today, who say there is a known issue with the T-Mobile Dash that causes emoze to disconnect from the server. The recommended fix is to leave the backlight on. I reinstalled emoze again and it again grabbed a bunch of email but it’s still not in sync, now dropping out around March 27th.

Ryan’s million-word march

I extend a hearty congratulations to my friend and editor Ryan Block on passing the 5,000-post mark and, perhaps more incredibly, the million-word mark blogging for Engadget. Jeremy Toeman totally shows me I’m not his BFF by letting Dave Zatz but not me contribute to what may be the closest thing to This Is Your Life in a blog post honoring the achievement, noting that he’s only written about 290 in the same amount of time. Cheer up, Jeremy. They go a lot slower when they’re multimedia extravaganzas.

Peter Rojas brought me to Engadget in its first year and Ryan has been one of the key reasons writing for the site has been such a delight. He is a “writer’s editor” who always provides the highest levels of support and stands for the highest standards of professionalism and one of the finest people with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of working. Anyone I meet who knows Ryan loves him, even his robot clone from the future that’s been sent back in time to kill him. Oooh, sorry Ryan, guess I should have told you about that earlier. My bad.

In preparing this week’s Switched On column on Soda Club, I had a blast collaborating with him on the text in the lead graphic, which parodies the nearly subliminal warning on the Fight Club DVD. Thanks, Ryan.

Speaking of Switched On, I should note the column will be moving to Monday starting next week.

Lingering Leopard

There was strong reaction today to the news that Apple will delay Leopard by a few months as a result of shifting resources to the iPhone. I’m quoted on Macworld.com speculating that the delay might be due to contractual obligations between AT&T and Apple, but I no longer believe that that could be a factor. In any case, as Tim Bajarin  says in the article, four months isn’t a big delay for an operating system cycle.

Elsewhere on the site, Dan Frakes calls for calm among Apple’s frantic fans who think that the Leopard delay is the beginning of the end for the Mac. (Remember when such evangelists would have called for the head of someone who suggested such a thing during Apple’s struggles in the mid-’90s?) Citing the breadth of Apple’s Mac lineup and that the notion of what a “computer” is has changed, he rightly calls such concerns “overwrought and overstated.”

But Dan’s reasoning that Apple has long offered more than just computers, implying that little has changed, is also a bit oversimplified. None of the other Mac peripherals that he cites, such as monitors, printers and PDAs, were as strategic a cash cow as the iPod. And few, other than Newton, were platforms the way the iPhone and arguably AppleTV is. (For the record, Apple never sold the Apple Pippin, except to Bandai.)

Simply put, these are higher-growth opportunities than StyleWriters ever were and allow Apple to reach far beyond the Mac installed base. That said, Apple’s Mac business is not only broad, but it’s very healthy, As today’s iPhone announcement reinforced, Apple’s “three-screen” strategy has Mac OS X at the heart of it, and the Mac is not only the premiere device for that software, but serves as the critical “second screen.”

Wii and PS3 on the Web but not home nets

Nintendo has been a bit cagey picking and choosing its convergence, or at least non-gaming functionality, battles. Today the company announced the “final” version of the Wii Web browser, including functionality that has struggled as a standalone device (or maybe it’s been that subscription-fee bugaboo again). The Wii may even be muscling in on MSN TV’s core audience.

On the other hand, while the company has offered limited photo viewing via its SD card slot, there are no DMA features, which the Xbox 360 is including as an obvious Trojan Horse play. Wii has all the hardware on board to be a decent DMA though I doubt we’ll be seeing the “Wii Elite” (Weelite?).

Of course, at the other end of the horsepower spectrum, Sony has eschewed DMA features on its PS3 as well. This could also be remedied with a simple firmware update, but Sony has shied away from streaming from its PC to the television (but is going the other way), going straight to the Internet in terms of its upcoming Bravia module. On the other hand, Sony’s PC line is now unusual in that it makes only laptops and media center PCs intended to be directly connected to televisions.

Incidentally, Next Generation reported yesterday in the continuing consumer frustration with Wii supply despite its retail success. You heard it here first, folks.