Which handtop is tops?

In 2003, I spent a few days with a Tiqit Windows handheld or “handtop.” That product and the similarly themed Flipstart PC, have yet to ship to consumers, but the third proposed handtop around at that time from Oqo finally did. Following the introduction of the Sony Vaio UX50, MeanSquare’s Miscellany posted an excellent comparison of the two Windows handtops last month and fiound that the Sony product came out on top in terms of performance, battery life and display. However, the Oqo remains a much smaller product.

With Oqo turning more toward the enterprise, I would expect that its next product may sacrifice some portability and style for greater functionality and especially battery life.

GigaBeat vs. Zune’s zombies

No, it’s not a cross between 1960s Japanese and 1940s American monster movies. iLounge got some hands-on time with Zune and its initial report doesn’t turn up anything dramatically threatening to the iPod. As with Vista, Microsoft is paying more attention to eye candy and animations with smooth transitions (I must admit I’m a fan of the “dissolve”) and overlays of letters while scrolling are a nice navigation aid. Beyond that, it looks like Apple’s competitive advantage is still intact. The Zune has no scroll wheel and it’s thicker. As I’ve advocated, it also looks like Microsoft has put the kibosh on iTunes reimbursement as well. Toshiba’s GigaBeat S has the aided navigation and it’s just as small as the iPod with a larger screen like the Zune.

Of Zune’s much-touted Wi-Fi features, iLounge notes that you can “lend” a song to a friend for a day (what’s with the content industry’s infatuation with a 24-hour cycle?) While iLounge does a fine job of pointing out limited utility of this feature until both the Zune and its store achieve critical mass, it does represent one of the first advantages that protected music might have over unprotected music.

For example, you can stream MP3s across a home network, share them on as many PCs as you like, and download them to practically any portable music player, but Zune would only enable peer-to-peer sharing — even in its limited form — only for protected music. Microsoft may be banking on users wanting to reanimate a bunch of deactivated music files on their Zune as a distant way of driving viral music purchase. Microsoft will probably also work to enable this kind of sharing on Zune’s community-focused music service as well, where it can spread more quickly.

CEA tries to pick up E3’s pieces

CEA today announced that it’s formed an advisory group to look into a “gaming and entertainment event” in the spring of 2007, making no bones about its desire to again serve as the focal point for the games industry. For all the success of CES, E3 is “the one that got away”; its split in 1994 left a wound in CEA’s side that’s never healed.

If the big videogame companies pulled out of E3, why would they join a trade show of similar scale hosted by CEA? For one thing, E3 has always had more of a circus environment than CES; the industry has grown up. Also, CES attracts more mainstream media, which is important for expanding the videogame space beyond the fanboy blogs. And while the Xbox and PlayStation groups are their own entities within Microsoft and Sony, both corporations are CES exhibitors as are Intel, nVidia and ATI, er, AMD.

On the other hand, while CEA has long been adept at making overtures to content companies, they haven’t quite cracked that nut to the extent necessary to create a true alternative to E3, where most of the large booths were from software publishers such as Sega, Activision, Atari, EA, Namco, Konami, Square Enix and NCSoft.

When is a platform not a platform?

The Wireless Report asks whether advanced music phones will ever be able to compete with the iPod and comes up skeptical owing to the product’s extensive ecosystem. I’m more bullish on such products. Yes, we’re in the early days but we’ve already seen great strides forward and even Apple concedes that music phones are bound to improve, hence the empty admission that they’re “not doing nothing” in the space.

Something I haven’t seen much coverage about regarding the iPod is that, despite its increasing functionality, media support and vast range of accessories that have developed over the years, Apple has not opened it up to developers the way Palm did with the original Pilot. Want to develop a new game for the iPod? You can’t. One could argue that a platform or API didn’t really save the PDA in the end, but it continues to be important in the realm of smartphones, which could be the iPod’s future and is certainly one direction for portable digital music in general.

Low-tech and high ratings

This gem from last month in the LA Times about how AM radio is enjoying great ratings comes via Zatz Not Funny. There’s an ironic observation on how Howard Stern’s departure from broadcast has resulted in at least a bit of a backfire but how FM may become a more formidable competitor in talk due to competition from satellite radio.

I was surprised to see no mention of HDRadio, which can boost the quality of both broadcast systems, bring AM (back) into the stereo era, and could enable at least FM to answer the quality level of XM and Sirius.

Logitech whacks Wi-Fi’s waiting game

As we continue to trudge toward a MIMO-based Wi-Fi standard that is robust enough to withstand the assault of microwave ovens and cordless phones, companies seeking to simplify wireless digital music distribution aren’t standing still. Squarely between Wi-Fi witholders Soundcast Systems at the point-to-point entry level and Sonos aimed at the Magnolia set.

Now Logitech is expanding its ho-hum 2.4 GHz-based Wi-Fi-alternative music streaming system marketed with the “Music Anywhere” logo in a dramatic way by adding a sleek remote control that can integrate with iTunes and other jukeboxes while streaming DRM-protected files by capturing processed audio output and then digitally encoding it again; the resulting system is the Wireless DJ Music System. Even with a two-room limit, this should be an exceptionally easy to use, flexible and robust system available for a fraction of the cost of the Sonos product.

My-lo point is no Bluetooth

Sony recently introduced Mylo (My Life Online), a device with a resurrected name that resembles its PSP (but is actually much smaller) and boasts an integrated slide-up keyboard. Early coverage labelled it an instant messaging appliance, perhaps a higher-end version of the Wi-Fi-enabled K-Byte Zip-It, but it really is more of a mobile Internet appliance akin to the larger but comparably priced Nokia 770, which Nokia unfortunately sometimes treats like an open-source science project.

Two main differences are that the 770 has a high-resolution screen better suited to Web browsing and Bluetooth. The absence of Bluetooth in Mylo is a quandary; I’d prioritize it more highly than Wi-Fi. If Sony is concerned about the difficulty of pairing or the availability of DUN-capable phones among young hipsters, it should recognize that they can already get a capable Bluetooth-enabled handset (and headset) for less than the Mylo.

In any case, like the 770, the Mylo has the de rigeur music and photo capabilities as well as an integrated Web browser. Mylo reportedly uses Trolltech’s QTopia operating environment; let’s hope its browser is better than the PSPs and that its keyboard is better than the Vaio UX‘s. Unlike the 770, it includes a Skype client and hotspot directory, the latter of which it wouldn’t need (as much) if it had Bluetooth.

They build cathedrals in Cupertino

Via Digg comes an Infoworld article on the Australian LinuxWorld site (whew) regarding Apple’s retreat from OpenDarwin, its highest-profile open source initiative. The article claims that Apple was actually never all that cooperative with the open source movement. Perhaps they didn’t need to be for Darwin, but while the Mac version of Firefox is excellent, it’s a shame that there isn’t a full implementation of OpenOffice 2.0 for the platform yet.

It’s unclear why Apple open sourced Darwin; the InfoWorld article likely accurately describes it as “an experiment” even though NeXT engineers had plenty of BSD and Intel experience. Apple had issues with hackers trying to get the Intel version of Mac OS X running on non-Apple hardware, something that hasn’t become much of an issue since the OS started shipping there and may now be moot in light of Boot Camp and Parallels, so perhaps that led them to withdraw.

So, maybe the retreat from open source is “new,” but Apple’s embrace of proprietary design certainly tracks back to the company’s roots. Apple has little to fear regarding this:

Of course, there is a certain amount of hubris associated with such a top-down approach. It means that all the risk is placed squarely on Apple’s own shoulders. If the judgment of Steve Jobs and his lieutenants remains sound, Apple will doubtless continue its string of successes. If not, they will have no one but themselves to blame.

Or, to paraphrase Guy Kawasaki in a recent interview regarding Apple, the key to its success is hoping that Steve Jobs continues to think up great products. So far, his track record is pretty darn good.

The wait for the wake

One of my pet fascinations over the past few years has been wondering why there are no “real” MP3 alarm clocks. With portable MP3 CD players available for about $25, you’d think that some company would offer such capability in a clock radio but, alas, such a product is difficult to find below the prices of expensive and bulky table radios. Besides, we don’t need half a gig’s worth of digital music in our alarm clocks anyway, much less iPod docks. Playlist support would be nice, though; geeks culd create sleep and wake mixes.

Philips almost got it right with the Shoqbox but it just wasn’t a great alarm clock and wasn’t priced like one, either, and the same applies to the iRiver Clix Cradle. Well, Americans may not be able to get something small with a decent snooze features, but it looks like our UK brethren can. The aptly named MP3 alarm clock has a simple smart design and even boasts an SD slot for about $60. How does it sound? Who cares?  The sleepy U.S. clock radio market — which now feebly markets aux in jacks as “MP3 line in” — could use such a product.

“We three” kill E3

I indulge those who note that software drives the videogame industry — and it would certainly have been damaging to E3 if, say, EA and Activision pulled out of the conference — but the hardware oligopoly of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo deciding to pull out of the show is what really killed the major event. Next Generation’s analysis is guilty of the same kind of exaggeration that killed the conference itself; the list could stop at the second reason. Next Generation should also be careful to avoid any schadenfreude as its history has also been marked by a significant collapse and attempt to rise from the ashes.

In other coverage, News.com buys the association’s line and says that the 2007 show will likely be an invitation-only affair (let’s hope not) while Penny Arcade looks at the more emotional side of E3’s “evolution” in ESA’s euphemism, and a comic is worth a thousand words.

Of many major tech events from the ’90s that have faded away — Comdex, PC Expo, summer Macworld and now E3 — one most wonder if another is on the chopping block. CES continues to grow out of control, but it would require a much stronger coordinated effort to bring down that show — Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Philips, Samsung and LG would all have to walk, and yet you’d still have big booths from many other exhibitors including HP, DirecTV, Creative, Intel and Microsoft — not that my feet would mind seeing CES scaled back a bit, or at least having its growth slow. CEA has just done a better job of diversifying the exhibitor base.