First Microsoft Seinfeld ad wins on a few fronts

It’s a bit out there — particularly with the ethereal music and outtakes of shoes in the shower and Spanish-speaking onlookers — but I give the first Seinfeld commercial for Microsoft a thumbs-up for a few reasons.

We often think of Microsoft today as a sprawling entity which, even in the consumer market, fighting three fronts online against Google, in videogames against Sony, and in the MP3 market versus Apple. Gates, however, is strongly identified with the PC, and reintroducing him to the public after all the media around his retirement brings back some of the lightheartedness associated with his public persona. The club card is probably the funniest part of the ad and maybe a bit of a nod to Jerry’s old Amex commercials. (That said, I think some of Gates’ CES videos were funnier than this commercial.)

It’s a good teaser, and the talk about cake at the end creates an intriguing positive association reinforced by the word “Delicious.”  But the commercial is more than a teaser. The whole “shoe that fits” scenario is a clear lead-in to finding the right PC for you, which brings a fresh and more relevant spin to the old arguments of Windows offering more choice.

Finally, it’s “getting people talking” and focusing attention away from the bad publicity around Vista that’s had fuel thrown on its fire by another pair of guys.

TiVo announcements push luxury alternative position

It looks like most of what came out of CEDIA this year was thin TVs and powerful projectors, the latter of which rely on screens that make even the thinnest flat-panel look obese, but TiVo, which has been positioning like mad as a media company lately, remembered that they still need a way to get their service onto boxes in living rooms — and in ways that less dependent on an MSO’s fiat.

First from CEDIA is a the TiVo HD XL DVR that brings it back close to the price of the now-discontinued Series 3 at $599. It lacks the Series 3’s classy chassis, but beefs up recording capacity while reclaiming THX certification and the posh remote. At least for the custom install market, box looks don’t matter much anyway because professional installers often hide the electronics. But the HD XL will also be sold in made to the less-elite masses at retailers such as Magnolia and Amazon.

The more important development for TiVo in terms of scale would be news that DirecTV, which had forsaken TiVo after becoming cousins with NDS, will introduce a new set-top box that brings the DirecTV TiVo experience well into the 21st Century. However, details appear short at this point, and DirecTV may well position TiVo over the price of the NDS solution. That would reinforce TiVo as a luxury niche alternative, but it’s something that you can build on.

Dell dealing on Inspiron mini positions netbooks well

imageYou can continue to deride netbooks as underpowered toys if you like, and I agree with many of my fellow analysts that they will account for a niche in overall PC shipments this year, but there’s no doubt that netbooks are challenging the PC status quo in many ways — “retro” and alternative operating systems, newcomer brands such as Sylvania, and interesting distribution potential, such as via cellular operators.

Dell is definitely positioning these products in an advantageous way by offering its Inspiron Mini for $99 with purchase of a select other PC, reinforcing the message that this is a sort of computing peripheral. (Dell has offered similar promotions on monitors and printers in the past.) It’s also a fresh arrow for the company to tuck into in its challenged upsell quiver. Of course, I’ve argued previously that the lower-cost Linux configuration lives up to that designation better.

capital offenses

imageOn this 46th anniversary of the death of Edward Estlin Cummings, I offer an alternative presentation of the names of some tech companies and products officially spelled in all caps (as opposed to those that just have their logos stylized in all caps such as Sony, Samsung, Nokia and Broadcom):

vudu (noteworthy in that its logo is stylized in all lower case)

Thanks to Paul, Richard and Eric for brainstorming help for this important art project via Twitter.

By the way, if you’re a Cummings fan in the New York City area, you may want to check out the production of “Him” at Walkerspace from September 4th to the 13th.

As Palm seeks to regain its touch, I touch the Treo Pro

The Palm Treo Pro.I had a chance to talk with Palm today and get some hands-on time with the Treo Pro, which will be offered unlocked in the U.S. for $549. Perhaps at some point, Palm will get AT&T to pick it up (it doesn’t support T-Mobile’s 1700 MHz 3G network) and those willing to commit to a two-year contract will be able to  pick it up for $299 or less.

In short, I liked what I saw — the appearance, feel, the finish, and — most importantly — the direction toward accommodating users with thoughtful touches. In at least one respect, though, Palm is behind the curve. Palm is retaining reliance on the stodgy old stylus with its touch interface. This is an enterprise device and there are good reasons for Palm to shy away from developing an overlay like the consumer-oriented TouchFLO that take Windows Mobile in a lush but inconsistent direction. Palm touts the Treo Pro as embodying work-life balance, but we won’t really get a true sense of its approach to lifestyle mobility until next year.

I’ll be sharing a trio of perspectives about the Treo Pro in the near future.

Why Fi? Sony joins the multi-room iPod dock market

Just a few days after my Switched On.column on musical mashups in which  I talked about the possibilities of combining the Cerulean TX+RX with the EOS Wireless multi-room system, Gizmodo reports that Sony has introduced its own multi-room iPod dock, joining EOS Wireless and Klipsch. Unlike the EOS satellite speakers (which include a modest downward-firing subwoofer), the Sony satellite speakers offer remote control over iPod playback yet the system is priced competitively with the EOS Wireless speakers. A $400 kit will include the dock (which includes AV out but no speakers) and two external speakers, pegging the price of the main dock at about $240.

Also, like the EOS Wireless system, there does not appear to be a way to control the playback volume of satellite speakers from the main dock. Perhaps that would be possible, though, with an iPod touch application. While none of these products offer the flexibility or sophistication of Sonos, they are much simpler to set up than Wi-Fi-based systems and represent a great opportunity to make multi-room music more approachable.

The sudden momentum we’re seeing toward scrapping Wi-Fi for multi-room music has to have the folks at Logitech scratching their heads. The company entered the multi-room music market with products like the Wireless PC Music System and Wireless DJ that used a similar 2.4 GHz scheme. Both were part of its “Music Anywhere” system that Logitech promoted as “a better wireless solution with plug-and-play simplicity, digital audio clarity, and no home network required.” But that went out the window when the company acquired Slim Devices and its Wi-Fi-based Squeezebox.

Boxee improves the media center with social networking

imageOn the heels of my Switched On column on how PC companies should focus more on the notebook as the new living room PC, the alert team at Stage Two Consulting set up a meeting at Boxee‘s SoHo’s office, which is, um, close to those of Pando’s (which makes me wonder whether Boxee would integrate a Pando client at some point because it could be handy and oh such juicy lawsuit bait).

In any case, Boxee, which began life under the pirate flag of the Xbox Media Center, has won praise for its user interface, which I agree is a fresh, fluid and engaging departure not only from Front Row and Windows Media Center but also previous attempts at creating clones of them (such as MythTV) from the open-source community. Company co-founder Avner Ronen compares what Boxee is doing for the open-source media center UI to what Firefox did for the open-source browser.

Rather than overwhelming you with infinite entertainment choices, by default it filters up the top recommendations and consumed items from those in your social network. Of course, it can also broadcast out your entertainment choices. Boxee, like the Dash Express, can also post what you’re doing to Twitter and other social networks. The software is still in alpha, and thus has some serious feature gaps. Search, for example, is in the queue, and the company notes that recording of cable content will get a lot easier with Tru2Way. Boxee runs on Macs and Linux with a Windows version slated soon, and we talked about a number of potential paths to the living room..

I’ll be sharing more thoughts on Boxee in the coming weeks.

Even if the iPhone’s reception isn’t clear, Apple needs to be

image The vocal minority amplifying around the blogosphere’s echo chamber is now broadcasting across morning news shows regarding the iPhone’s alleged reception problems. There are likely steps that Apple could take to improve reception, but if this were a true defect, I think the response would be so overwhelming that you wouldn’t be able to get within 100 yards of an AT&T or Apple store.

Even retaining a degree of control that most cell phone manufacturers would give their SEND buttons for,  the iPhone is a very unusual product for Apple in that it has had to rely on partners (phone carriers) for a core part of its user experience. But of course because of Apple’s high profile and tradition of owning the customer experience, many of the fingers of blame are pointing at it. So it needs to offer an acknowledgement, an explanation, another :”open letter” — something beyond a discreet missive.

The company has set a great precedent extending service for customers struggling with MobileMe. Surely  it’s not in a position to offer similar free service for those having cell phone problems. As a relative newcomer to the cellular industry banking billions on the iPhone as a Trojan horse for OS X, Apple has too much at stake with the iPhone 3G for it to stay shrouded in a cloud of questionable reliability. And phones are too important to their consumers to deal with disappointment for long.

Wireless connectivity is what it is. Not to necessarily knock AT&T’s network quality, but the iPhone has likely attracted many newcomers to 3G (certainly from AT&T’s existing subscriber base) and, in what may be the cause of even more of the griping, switchers from Verizon Wireless and Sprint that may be used to dealing with more mature 3G wireless networks. As a company that is pioneering  the way or many new broadband wireless users, Apple is getting some arrows in its back.

Back in 2003, Steve Jobs noted that downloading music illegally was bad karma, and yet the company has consistently lambasted struggles that Vista has had, many of which have been the result of driver and other issues that are the “fault” of Microsoft’s ecosystem partners — karma indeed. If this keeps up for much longer, how long will it be before a straight-laced personification of reliability stands aside a harried deadbeat as they intone, “I’m a Nokia phone.” and.”.. and I’m an iPhone 3G.”?

  • Wii getting DVD playback may finally help end the travesty of people moving while watching TV #
  • Atom is apparently doing well. Of course, that’s *shipments.* Let’s see how well they sell to consumers. #
  • I applaud Vudu’s approach to “getting out of jail cheap” assuming it includes movies not finished within 24 hours #
  • New Switched On column posted: Rethinking the living room PC #

Phone 3G will go head-to-head with rivals at Best Buy Mobile

The AP is reporting that Best Buy will become the first independent retailer to offer the iPhone 3G in the U.S. Carrying the iPhone is certainly a feather in the wireless cap of Best Buy, which has been rolling out its Best Buy Mobile stores and stores-within-a-store. Best Buy, of course, also has Apple-staffed sections within a store so it will be interesting to see where the iPhone will be merchandised (likely in both sections).

Best Buy is also in a great position to highlight some of the many iPhone-compatible accessories that would not be carried in an AT&T store and, of course, the retailer has a far larger footprint than Apple stores. However, it may mark the first time the iPhone has been put side by side with other handsets with large touchs creens from other carriers in the U.S.