Mac back in black

Apple yesterday rounded out its portable lineup with the 13" widescreen MacBook, replacing both previous iBooks and the 12" PowerBook, Apple would have benefitted on the low end from a Core Solo procesor in the $799 range. Still, going widescreen will be a huge boon for the most portable of MacBooks and the black exterior — which will be the first for a Mac since the PowerBook G3s — should attract Mac businesspeople concerned that white is a bit too "consumerish." There was simply too little separating the iBook from the PowerBook in the 12" size. iSight and MagSafe will also be welcome additions.

Now the only thing Apple really needs in its portable lineup is wide-area wireless.

Making Wii appeal to us

With Sony's pricing the focus of so much debate at E3, relatively little attention has been paid to the pricing of Nintendo's Wii and its unique (yes, even in spite of Sony's motion-sensing PS3 controller) controller. Some have speculated that Nintendo may sell Wii for under $250 — well below popular configurations of its next-generation rivals — but Nintendo is still mum on the price, for now saying only that it will deliver "more fun for less money."

Assuming that Nintendo could sell Wii for $250 profitably, I'd suggest a $299 bundle that included the casual Wii Sports game shown at its media event and a second Wii Remote controller. Part of the appeal of early consoles was how easily they facilitated family play by including a second controller. Wii Sports nicely highlights the controller's versatility and interaction model and would not cannibalize any league-licensed sports offerings from, say, EA.

Discussing this idea with friends at E3 led to the trivia question of which US console was first to ship with only one controller. I now think it was NEC's ill-fated Turbo Grafx 16. The system lacked a second bundled controller partially because it had only one controller port. For even two to play, one needed to purchase the five-player TurboTap accessory.

Kinder, gentler Macintosh commercials

Apple's come a long way from the insecure militant definsiveness that characterized the days of Guy Kawasaki's EvangeList mailing list. It's switcher campaign of several years ago was generally viewed as having mixed results. Apple put a human face on the Mac vs. PC debate, but the implication that those who hadn't made the switch were somehow still putting up with inferior technology left a bad taste in many PC users' mouths.

Apple's new commercials now personify the computers themselves. The "PC" (which looks a bit like a Bill Gates who's let himself go) is generally dressed in a suit or sport jacket while the "Mac" is an unapologetic, slightly scruffy hipster. The two generally seem to get along and even hold hands in one ad. Most derision of the PC is done as the kind of playful teasing that would occur between two friends. An iLife ad shows that iPods and iTunes can work with Windows, but doesn't make the case that they work better on a Mac (and they do, due to AppleScript and iLife integration).

In any case, the friendly ribbing approach works well for Apple to take in these days when its computers can run Windows and of course is well-timed as the company takes advantage of Windows Vista's delay. Vista would address several of the PC deficiencies addressed in the commercials.

Why more important than “Wii”

There's been much negative reaction to Nintendo's name for the console formerly code-named Revolution. It may be the company's highest-concept name ever. Apart from a fair amount of mispronunciation that Nintendo concedes that the console will receive, though, the literal name of this game is not the figurative one.

Nintendo has been hammering home that the name is consistent with the console's backward compatibility and controller design that will broaden its appeal beyond the core console "fanboy." After all, "GameCube," while perhaps not inspiring, could not have been more descriptive, and that didn't help Nintendo escape a distant third place in the home console market.

The problem has been that, far too often, Nintendo's definition of inclusion often reverts to the lowest common denominator of its kiddie core audience and those nostalgic to relive their days in it. Nintendo has proven adept at furthering its platforms' agendas with its first-party titles, such has been the case with the varied input methods of the Nintendo DS. But it also tends to fall back to the easy money of its franchises, and it will need to move beyond that to become truly inclusive.

Now you can spell it “Napstr”

Napster today announced a free tier of service that enables consumers to listen to a song five times before asking them to pony up for the subscription service. This will go a long way to boosting Napster's mindshare. Indeed, while much attention has been focused on which company will be the Flickr of video, Napster now has an opportunity to become a sort of Flickr for music, that is, a blog-friendly (if not yet tag-friendly) resource that enables consumers to share music in a legal way that embraces the spirit of its original namesake; this has groundbreaking promotional value.

Its new free service not only steals much of the thunder from Yahoo! Music as a source for sampling, but one-ups that service with easy Web accessibility and even Mac support. Alas, though, Napster needs to close the gap between its limited free service and its full service. Creating even one middle tier of service that lacked downloads to portable devices — useless to most of the market at this point anyway — would help reinforce the psychological groundwork that Napster is now laying with its advertising and free access, that you can enjoy access to on-demand music without having to own it.

Yahoo!’s fourth screen is Google’s radar

Earlier this week, Yahoo! acquired most of the assets of Meedio, one of a handful of Windows Media Center-like software products that had its roots in open-source. The other major Windows-based products are from SageTV and Media Center predecessor SnapStream, with Linux offerings MythTV and Freevo still options for the open source crowd. Whereas Medio had become a commercial product, Yahoo! will give away its rebranded version Yahoo Go!.

Following last year's acquisition of Konfabulator technology — now called Yahoo! Widgets, Yahoo! now has platforms in place for each of the major "three screens" of TV, PC and mobile phone. However, even though Yahoo!'s acquisition strategy has created a predictably disjointed family of products, the diversity of the products demonstrates the tremendous differences in context that media companies will face developing a three-screen strategy.

In these times when Google has been aggressively adding many sites that rival Yahoo!'s, Meedio's acquisition provides fresh fuel for the old rumor that Google would acquire TiVo. Unlike Meedio, which is still simply Windows software, TiVo has actual eyeballs in front of the glass it commands, and Google could afford the kind of generosity that would eliminate its odious monthly fee, boosting TiVo's popularity. EPIC may not be far away.

And then there were less than Digital 5

Mediabolic acquired Digital 5 today, bringing inevitable consolidation of the home networking middleware market. Digital 5 had actually powered many of the early "connected DVD" players as well as the NetGear networked music player, but such products were beyond the home networking state of too many consumers' homes. Competitors remain, however, including Fabrik, the software behind the recently released Maxtor Fusion NAS drive from Seagate, and Implicit Networks, which developed the server software for the Acoustic Research MediaBridge digital media receiver.

Mediabolic has made good inroads with Intel and some of the networked storage vendors. It now needs to make more inroads with mainstream consumer electronics companies. At CES, DLNA was encouraging these giants to look more seriously at home networking than they ever have. That's a good climate for Mediabolic business development.

Out of the Box is a month old!

I’ve now been blogging for a little more than a month — 23 posts in the first 30 days.

Navigating Sony’s GPS options

I’ve had a lot to say about mobile navigation this week. First came a presentation on the state of the market given to institutional investors. Also, my Engadget column this week focused on fusing portable video with GPS devices. Last year, I’d had discussions with one portable video device manufacturer planning to do just that, but it seems those plans haven’t yet come to fruition.

However, a reader pointed me to software for the TomTom Go that will enable it to function as a video player. Developing this should be pretty trivial as
TomTom’s portable navigation software and devices are based on Windows Mobile.

Of course, one reason many eyes are on this space is because of Sony’s entry with the Navu-U. The Navu-U a great product… for 2004. I haven’t found it particuarly easier to use than, say, a TomTom Go (although the text may be more legible) and the icons that lacked labels were, of course, confusing. Sony touts its front-firing speakers, but I’ve never heard anyone complain about GPS directions being hard to hear. Sony should follow through on concept designs that would add GPS to the PSP. UMD would make it easy to update maps and a simple USB connection could link the antenna.

Microsoft should embrace U3

From U3, –the company supported by SanDisk and msystems hoping to replace hard drives with tiny flash-based key fobs that we move effortlessly from computer to computer — comes news that it is expanding support in Japan. I've been somewhat surprised that Microsoft hasn't done more to embrace this initiative as it's an interesting new usage model and way to add value to Windows applications. While the phenomenon is in its infancy, there's no similar architecture around Mac OS or Linux. I'm sure Microsoft would rather that all of its applications already be purchased on whatever PC you use, but this is one of those cases where the company has to put on its platform developer hat.

Microsoft is better served by having people move their applications around this way than having them get their word processors from Google or Michael Robertson.