Where to put your headset when it’s not set on your head

In looking at some headsets recently, I had a great conversation with Travis Bogard, executive director of product management and strategy at Aliph, makers of the excellent Jawbone line of headsets. Travis shared that Aliph views the evolution of the headset into something that wil become such an everyday wearable aid that it will be a constant audio companion even when

Today, however, there’s still significant backlash against wearing your headset all the time. That leads me to question where people who use headsets put them when they are not wearing them. Manufacturers take great pains to design a headset around the shape of an ear, but that makes them somewhat awkward to store anywhere else.

Sure, a breast pocket is a safe bet but other clothes cavities don’t work as well. They bulge in shirt pockets and could take a lot of abuse in pants pockets. Few headsets come with their own protective cases; the high-tech charging one of the Plantronics Discovery 975 is an exception among current products. I recently tried a $6 generic case I bought of eBay to store a headset. While the case accommodated the headset fine it adds quite a bit of bulk. Ideally, I’d like to see cell phone cases redesigned to include a small add-on for the Bluetooth headset or a design tha could clip securely t a belt. Those would probably be the best alternatives to the unique design of the LG Decoy.

No apparent game change for audio add-ons to 3DTV

At the Newbay 3DTV2010 event yesterday, I participated on a panel on consumer acceptance moderated by TWICE executive editor Greg Tarr. Among the interesting discussions turns that the panel took was regarding audio, and whether 3D changes the game. Certainly there is opportunity – there is always opportunity. But the line about retailers needing to step up their audio pitches is an old one, and certainly one of the many parallels between HD and 3D.

Panasonic SVP Bob Perry noted that while HDTV is really the only choice available in retailers, that is not the case in terms of your audio output choice. Indeed, the audio component attach rate is challenged in the living room and more so in bedrooms where the placement of multiple speakers is tricky. Furthermore, the positioning of the television may be less conducive to creating an immersive audio experience and consumers may be consuming different content in the living room as well.

Still, here’s an interesting contrast. When you buy a top-of-the-line digital SLR, it comes without the mediocre popup flash, assuming you’ll invest in a better external one. However, even top-of-the-line televisions still come with mediocre speakers.

The HTC Evo 4G arrives at Sprint’s starting line

Capping off a week that saw the introduction of the Garminphone and the non-Droid-branded LG Ally to the growing stable of Android devices on T-Mobile and Verizon, Sprint provided more details on the most impressive Android device announced to date – the HTC Evo 4G. First shown at CTIA, the Evo 4G is thinner than I remember it looking, and includes a similar scarlet interior to the Droid incredible (which I thought that was done just for Verizon).

The event also included a pre-screening of Disney’s forthcoming Prince of Persia. The movie really has no tie-in to the device, unless the Evo has a heretofore unannounced time rewinding feature (which I would gladly pay a premium for only to go back in time and no longer need it). Sprint will offer the sleek superphone – with its large screen HDMI out, dual cameras (including one 8 GB one)  and HD video capture features — for $199 with a two-year contract starting June 4th, a few days before Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference where the company has released new iPhone models in the past.

There’s been a fair amount of discussion regarding Sprint’s data plan for the device, which I’ll refer to as “Simply Most Things”. The Evo 4G will require a $10 per month surcharge for uncapped 4G (and 3G).  You’ll also pay handsomely for its vaunted eight-device hotspot feature which is a $30 per month add-on. In contrast, Verizon throws in mobile hotspot functionality on the Pre Plus for free.

All told, on top of Sprint’s relatively low prices for other services it’s not a bad deal although the hotspot premium is excessive. At the event, I heard someone note that the hotspot pricing is designed to appeal to those replacing their home broadband with WiMax, but I doubt many Evo 4G buyers will use the device that way. I’d rather see a $20 per month 4G surcharge that included mobile hotspot features.

One of my main concerns regarding the Evo 4G, was battery life, particularly after encountering disappointing results with Sprint’s Overdrive hotspot in 4G coverage areas. A Sprint represented said that if you’re streaming video, you’ll get about two hours, but more typical voice and light Web access will yield eight to ten hours. I still don’t think we’ll see even that, but even the seven hour range would put it within reach of other recent Android devices.

On the new iPad commercial (iP-Ad?)

imageApple’s rolled out a new commercial for the iPad that begins by asking the question “What is iPad?” While the device may be positioned between a PC and a smartphone, the new ad is nothing like the lighthearted “Get a Mac” campaign or the task-focused iPhone ads. That’s not much of a surprise, though, as the iPad is more of a new category as opposed to the well-established PC and handset markets that Apple revolutionized.

The visuals and usage scenario depictions are effective; the narrator’s voice is more gruff and the music is harder-driving. The copy never directly answers the question of what the iPad is, but instead starts out with a number of its attributes. including the kinds of media it supports. Among those are “more books than you could read in a lifetime" which sounds like a challenging statement. (You never hear cable companies hear that they offer more shows than you could watch “in a lifetime” and they even carry a network called Lifetime). All in all, it extends the iPad’s original messaging around form and function while downplaying any definitions. This should play well to those who would appreciate the device, but doesn’t do much to push the fence-sitters. I expect we will see advertising more aimed at that that next wave as the iPad app library grows and diversifies from iPhone app offerings.

The WIRE: Week of May 2, 2010

Each week, The WIRE tracks my contributions to other publications and Web sites.

Switched On: A new spin on external hard drives, part one, 5/6
In my weekly Switched On column, I started a discussion of Seagate’s new GoFlex line of drives, connectors, docks and enclosures, including the PogoPlug-powered GoFlex Net and the GoFlex TV that succeeds Seagate’s FreeAgent Go Theater competitor to WDTV..Seagate has essentially converted its entire consumer branded line to GoFlex, which separates the drive from the connector by way of a more durable SATA connector Next week’s column will go into more details about GoFlex usage scenarios.

Sony Dash: First impressions

Sony DASH - Personal Internet Device (Wifi/7" Touch Screen) HID-C10When I wrote about the Sony Dash for Engadget, I said that it signaled a more practical approach to delivering new category-shaping products by delivering new functionality for less than $200. Another other difference between Dash and some other recent Sony flops is that it has a clear lineage, serving as a mashup between a connected digital picture frame and an alarm clock, a category where Sony still participates.

One compromise that Sony had to make to reach that magic price point was to make the Dash a corded product. However, it does allow it to be used in two orientations, one being it lying flat on its back. In that instance, the screen orientation flips and the device becomes easier to see from a standing position. Another compromise includes a ascreen that certainly feels like a resistive device. In fact, I’ve found that I most effective way to operate the Dash is by cradling the top with my fingers and pressing buttons with my thumb. Perhaps it should befriend the Weighted Companion Cube.

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The WIRE: Week of April 26, 2010

Each week, The WIRE tracks my contributions to other publications and Web sites.

image CNet
No Flash flood in iPad Avoidance, 4/28
In my Volume Up blog, I shared one of the findings from NPD’s recent iPad perceptions and attitudes study (PDF), in which the lack of Adobe Flash was not a leading inhibitor  among those who said they were not interested in the iPhone. The day after, Steve Jobs published his Thoughts on Flash essay, reinforcing the reasons why Apple’s mobile products will continue to ban both Flash and Flash cross-compilers.

Switched On: Revamps in Motion, 4/27
In my weekly Switched On column, I discussed the approach RIM is taking toward evolving the BlackBerry OS, contrasting it to the overhauls that Microsoft and Palm opted for. Given the news this week that HP will be acquiring Palm, the handset company’s gamble was not sustainable given its resources, but was a valuable asset to HP. Given RIM’s position in the marketplace, an evolutionary approach that keeps it competitive without risking much may be a winning strategy.

Gadgets and Games 4/30
I was a guest on Clayton Morris’s Gadgets and Games, where we discussed many of the big stories of the week with fellow guests Andy Ihnatko and Seth Porges. These included the war of words between Adobe and Apple, HP’s acquisition of Palm, and the release of the Sony Dash, which we had on the program.

imageNPD Group Blog
Tunnels to the Television, 4/26
My first post at the NPD Group Blog this week was a response to my colleague Paul Gagnon’s post on the DisplaySearch blog regarding the future of Hulu and the television. In the post, I discussed the increase NPD has seen in networked content devices that stream music and video around a home network and across the Internet.

E-Reader Distribution Deals Kindle Sales Beyond a Nook, 4/28
This post discussed the implications of the broadening distribution of e-readers with the Nook landing at Best Buy and the Kindle landing at Target. My colleague Steve Baker had an insightful follow-up.

The Droid Incredible is impressive but wider screens beckon

imageToday, while Apple and Adobe were trading barbs, Verizon Wireless launched the Droid incredible, although it seems some who pre-ordered may still need some time to receive. I tried the handset for a few days before it met an untimely demise that was not the fault of the handset.(Sorry, no pictures. I already sent it back to HTC.)  From its specifications, the Incredible is a very close cousin of the Google Nexus One (also created by HTC), and adds HTC Sense, which is a positive for the most part. This new revision of HTC’s overlay includes the Leap task switcher, which fills the screen with small previews similar to Exposé for the Mac (and has me wishing Apple would implement Exposé for the iPhone once it can multitask.)

One of my favorite features of the Droid Incredible is the 8 megapixel camera, which is the first one I’ve used that takes acceptable indoor photos assuming the subject is relatively still. The Droid Incredible is about as thick as the iPhone 3GS, but has a removable battery. The back cover removal process, though, isn’t as slick as it’s been for other HTC devices. The optical trackball on the devices bottom works well and I still prefer Android’s dual navigation features to, say, Palm’s sole reliance on the touch screen. (At least Apple makes placing the insertion point easy with its loupe.)

Unlike the original Motorola Droid, the Droid Incredible has no keyboard, which means you must use a software keyboard. In horizontal orientation, this works fine, and Android’s autosuggest feature is helpful. But in portrait mode, the 3.7” screen is still not wide enough for comfortable typing.

Now, with new text entry-acceleration methods such as Swype and ThickButtons (which I was hoping Apple would open the door to in iPhone 4.0), one can improve speed, perhaps dramatically. But the vanilla text-entry experience in portrait mode is better on the iPhone. It’s also why, as far as Android devices go, I still favor the original Droid. For, as poor as its keyboard is, I still prefer it to having an on-screen one.

Since CTIA, it’s been hard to get excited about any Android handset with the EVO 4G coming this summer. The 4.3” screen should do wonders for soft keyboard typing in portrait mode, and that of course is but one of the superphone’s extensive features. The key question, particularly with Android’s middle of the road battery consumption and potential addition of Flash, is for how many hours during the day you’ll be able to use those features.

Reading between the lines of “Thoughts on Flash”

Steve Jobs lays out six reasons why Apple is not supporting Flash in one of his rare direct communiqués on Apple’s Web site.  Jobs says that Adobe has portrayed Apple’s reluctance to a business decision but that the reasons are mostly technical. The essay reveals it to be somewhat of a mixture although it boils down to semantics. Reasons such as impact on battery life, performance and optimization for touch are mostly technical. Jobs also notes that Adobe has not shown Flash running well on any mobile device.

As I noted in my Volume Up column for CNet yesterday, “Until now, for all the controversy about the iPhone’s lack of Flash support, it’s effectively given Apple a directional, rather than actual, disadvantage with respect to competitive phones.” The column also discussed how, according to NPD (my employer), only 14 percent of those who are not interested in the iPad cite Adobe Flash as an inhibitor.

The first reason given, openness (and I think there is more debate to how open Flash is, or is becoming) is a mix of technical and business reasons. And the last reason, the one that Jobs says is most important, is about attracting the best and perhaps exclusive apps to the iPhone. That’s more of a business consideration than a technical one, although I would argue that most (or at least smaller) Flash developers interested in using a cross-platform tool are not using it instead of Apple’s tools. They are either using Flash or not supporting the platform. Furthermore, there are plenty of uninspiring apps created with Apple’s tools.

While the essay lays out what is a rational argument, there are several instances that could be interpreted as Jobs, who has noted that he believes in karma, sees the turn of events as a natural consequence of  the companies’ courses. In the first paragraph, he draws the contrast,[t]he companies have grown apart. Apple went through its near death experience, and Adobe was drawn to the corporate market with their Acrobat products.” In other words, Adobe left Apple behind. And later he notes how Adobe hasn’t embraced changes in Mac OS, “Adobe has been painfully slow to adopt enhancements to Apple’s platforms. For example, although Mac OS X has been shipping for almost 10 years now, Adobe just adopted it fully (Cocoa) two weeks ago when they shipped CS5. Adobe was the last major third party developer to fully adopt Mac OS X.” That said, it has come to light on Twitter that some of Apple’s own apps, including iTunes and Final Cut Pro, are still Carbon, and not Cocoa, apps.

In any case, while there are still fundamental differences in Apple’s and Adobe’s motivations, and the note portrays Apple as trying to move toward the future, one comes away thinking that there could be more room for the companies to work together if Adobe could overcome these technical limitations and is serious about making Flash a credible way to develop great mobile experiences.

HP: Hello, Palm — First impressions of HP buying Palm

So, it looks as though Lenovo wasn’t the global PC maker that would up with Palm. Instead it was Palm’s Silicon Valley neighbor HP, which has been dipping its toe in WinMo waters for the past few years. WebOS will help diversify mobile offerings from the computing giant, which faced the prospects of facing tough software differentiation under Windows Phone 7 — a dilemma from its PC business that it likely had no desire to repeat in the handset space

Palm gains access to HP’s vast R&D resources, global distribution and corporate clout while HP gains instant entry into the carrier portfolios of three of the four major U.S. carriers as well as an increasing number abroad. In the post-iPhone world, it’s clear that major PC companies need to have a serious play in the handset market. WebOS is an elegant, powerful operating system, but its performance continues to need help and Palm did not have the bandwidth to focus on suddenly hot tweener devices years after the fall of the Foleo and months after the rise of the iPad. WebOS may appear in HP smartbooks such as the Compaq Air’Life and perhaps even down the road as an embedded pre-boot environment. This seems to be a good fit from a technology and product offerings perspective.

There’s more to come on this story, to be sure.