With Sheraton deal, Surface digs a bit deeper

imageIn an Analyst Angle column I wrote for RCR Wireless News about  AT&T’s adoption of Microsoft Surface for its showrooms, I argued that having the table-based kiosks available in stores would benefit the wireless carrier and be good for the industry. Some wrote to me saying that what the wireless carrier really needed was a greater number of skilled store workers and not gee-wizardry, but of course those things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are complementary.

In fact, when I was interviewed for Fox Business News on the day of the iPhone 3G launch, there were no iPhones at the store that was the site of the interview. There were, however, two Surface computers and, yes, they were being used by curious customers months after their introduction.

One interesting angle in this deployment is the branding of applications on Surface. The most interesting is CityTips, which may help reduce some of the load on concierges at the hotels by serving as a local guide to restaurants, bars, etc. I’m sure it won’t contain much that couldn’t be found on a laptop, but it’s a pretty common scenario for group outing planning to happen in a hotel lobby.

Other apps include he Sounds of Sheraton playlist creator, which would be a lot cooler if it could be used to deliver CDs (yeah, I know but lots of hotel rooms still have players) to a guest’s room, and Sheraton Snapshots, which seems like the weakest of the three as all it does is let you surf photos and information of other Sheraton properties. That’s the kind of thing that can be done at one’s leisure. When you’re a tourist, you’re interested in what’s happening in town, not at other hotels.

Vongo makes smart move to service provider distribution

image

If your company is a startup, I’m generally not a fan of trying to distribute your product or service exclusively through established TV and landline service providers such as Comcast or Verizon. Mobile apps via wireless carriers are but one exception. But if you’re Starz Entertainment and you have relationships with these service providers and your product is a movie distribution service based on subscription, then it’s also a different story.

As a standalone service, the cost of acquiring customers to Vongo must have been expensive. But by taking advantage of the existing billing relationships that Verizon’s FiOS TV has with its customers, Starz Play as the revamped service will now be known, will garner more exposure and, more importantly, more bundling opportunities. As Netflix has shown, a sustainable number of consumers like a subscription option for movies on demand. It’s just unfortunate that the handoff from Vongo couldn’t have been made more seamlessly.

10″ looks like a better screen size for netbooks

image Speaking of proportions, according to OC Register, Averatec will enter the netbook market this fall with what looks like a pretty well-equipped netbook with a nice design as well, and available at retail for under $500 this holiday season.

I’ve had the opportunity to get hands-on with a number of these products and am coming to favor those with 10″ screens, at least aesthetically, for a few reasons. First, they simply look less toy-like, a complaint I’ve heard levied a number of times against other netbooks. Second, they address the problem of either having a cramped or compromised keyboard versus having an unusually large bezel around the screen, thus resulting in a better-proportioned look. I have some concern about 10.2″ models being a bit less portable than, the 8.9″ variety that has attracted much interest, but these should still be ideal airline tray companions.

iPod looks that won’t stop a clock dock

Almost three years ago to the date, I wrote a Switched On column looking at the iHome iH5, which pioneered the iPod clock dock market. It spawned a great business for SDI Technologies, which owns the iHome brand as well as the rights to use the Timex brand for clock radios.

Now SDI is releasing the iH41), its first dock specifically created for the iPod touch. Like the handheld computer itself, it can be used in a vertical or horizontal orientation. The clock display rotates, and, while I’m not necessarily a fan of many devices that can be used in multiple orientations, I’ve always had an odd soft spot for rotating displays, like the front-panel electronic logo on the new Dell Studio Hybrid.

iPod speaker docks have been a successful endeavor for other companies, too, such as Bose and Logitech, but I frankly never liked the way many of them have the iPod protruding from the top like it’s on some kind of pedestal. And the form factors of other dockable iPods, such as the classic and nano, had their small screens enveloped by massive speakers flanking them. The scroll wheel — which works so well on the go — isn’t an ideal way to control a docked iPod.

The iPod touch and iPhone don’t solve these problems completely, but their more generic appearance help them look less out of place docked, and the touch UI is better for a home environment. In addition, of course, the ability for them to stream music over Wi-Fi via Pandora (and soon other services), bring new value to speaker docks.

Sylvania to enter expanding netbook market

Sylvania, one of the TV brands featured at  Wal-Mart, just announced that it will be entering the netbook market with the webcam-enabled 8.9″ LED-backlit “Sylvania g netbook MESO.” .The rest of the specs seem in line with what we’ve seen from other entrants — 1.6 GHz Intel Atom, 2.2 lbs, multi-card reader. It will be available with an 80 GB hard drive running XP Home or Ubuntu Netbook Remix. The MESO will follow the VIA C7-based Sylvania g that the company has offered. with gOS.

In addition to the onyx color pictured, it will be available in snow, solar and blossom, known to the less marketing-oriented as white, yellow and pink. Sylvania’s entry is but one of a number of these products that we’ll be seeing from nontraditional PC companies in the coming months. In addition to technology, it looks like distribution will be a key differentiation point for these products. But even at $299 for some models of netbooks, the market dynamics will be much different than they were for companies hoping to repeat the success of digital picture frames with netbooks this holiday season.

Update: A few blogs have linked here noting that Wal-Mart will be selling the product for $299. I’ve updated the post to clarify that $299 has been an entry price point for some products in the category and isn’t necessarily the price of this product. Also, while Wal-Mart does carry Sylvania TVs, there’s been no indication that Wal-Mart will carry this netbook.

This film rated “L” for “Legal”

MPAA planning website to find legal movies onlineFrom Variety comes word that he MPAA plans to develop a Web site that will direct consumers to legal sources for movies. Sources note that the the purpose of the site is to direct consumers to legal sources for their feature-length video entertainment. I doubt that the MPAA will be able to become much of a destination for movie lovers, but it may be able to syndicate its content to sites such as Fandango or IMDB.

It also looks like the site may be media-neutral, that is, it won’t distinguish whether the title is available on disc or via download. Therefore, it is far from the download promotion  association that I blogged about last year, but could help drive awareness of the multiple sources for digital downloads.

There are 2m Centros out there and they’re going online

Unlocked Palm Centro SmartphoneThere’s news from Palm today that its small and inexpensive Centro has now sold two million units and that, according to AdMob, it’s one of the  most popular phones for accessing the mobile Internet.

Such rankings are not quite the endorsement of a quality Web experience as they might seem (and as they were widely touted as representing when similar statistics were tossed about regarding the iPhone)  as users who buy phones like the Centro probably have Web access in mind as one of their purchase criteria. Nonetheless, the Centro’s success has been a testament to the power of more mass-market-friendly pricing and the rising interest in QWERTY devices that are blossoming despite the iPhone’s form-factor influence.

From a software perspective, it’s an interesting coincidence that news of the Centro’s popularity breaks on the same day as Microsoft releases results of its “Mojave Experiment” aimed at showing users the advantages of its PC operating system. Of course, PCs are different than smartphones. However, Palm’s race to bring out its Nova operating system to replace the likely-to-sunset Palm OS does not seem to be deterring the Centro buyer much. Developers, though, are a different story.

Mojave Experiment seeks to sandbag Vista haters

imageMicrosoft has offered a fairly weak (so far, more is coming) answer to the Vista backlash with the Mojave Experiment, which plays a small trick on users who have never used Windows Vista. After getting their initial assessments of Vista, often based simply on what they’ve heard  (unclear whether that’s in the media or word of mouth), Microsoft shows them a ten-minute demo of “Mojave,” which is really Vista. Smile, You’re on Candid Kernel.

Of course, the  participants are surprised, and we perhaps should not expect a huge amount of excitement about operating systems from folks who were so ignorant or uninterested in them enough to not recognize the ruse. Clearly some of the featured users had a change of heart, but the reactions still seemed underwhelming, mostly better acceptance. Furthermore, most of Vista’s issues stem around older PCs with legacy hardware, and any operating system is going to do a better job on a controlled system. I’ll bet you a service pack that the laptop on which Vista was shown was packing a serious processor and video memory.

While 84 percent of those who participated were XP users — those who are the hardest to sway to Vista — 14 percent of those were from people using even older versions of Windows. I’d certainly hope Vista could impress those users. In addition, 22 percent were Mac users,  but Microsoft doesn’t say what version of Mac OS they were using. It could be Mac OS 9 if they included pre-XP users. In addition, among the many — oft-repeated — sound bites presented in the clip montage, we don’t know which came from users of which operating systems.

So, small point taken, Microsoft. Don’t believe everything you hear or read (unless you read it here,of course.). The next questions, though,, are how do you find these tainted users, how do you expose them to Vista, and how do you ensure that their real world experiences better match to the ideals of “Mojave.”

No disaster recovery for free Web storage services

image On the heels of MediaMax/TheLinkUp shuttering its doors, TechCrunch reports that AOL will close down two of the more well-conceived online storage experiences, XDrive and Bluestring. The former gave away five gigabytes of online storage space accessible via the Web as well as a Windows and promising Adobe AIR application. This may actually mark Xdrive’s second death as the original version offering free storage went down during the dotcom bust along with competitors iDrive, Netdrive and others. The latter was another personal media sharing site albeit one that provided automatic uploading of content folders to the Web for free.

What killed them? Storage is cheap but bandwidth is expensive. Microsoft is still offering a little bit of storage space in the cloud via Windows Live SkyDrive and of course there are a number of subscription-based backup plays like Mozy and Carbonite. And Cucku gets around the hosting problem by enabling consumers to back up their hard drives to a friend for free. But none of the online backup plays have very robust media sharing features yet.

Steve Baker guest-blogging at TWICE.com

image I’m pleased to share that my esteemed NPD colleague Steve Baker, who has been an astute follower of the PC market for decades and has great insights into technology retail (he was an original employee at Staples), is now guest-blogging at TWICE.com. He joins a number of friends there, including the erudite Stewart Wolpin and his excellent grousefest Harmonic Distortion. Also, speaking of industry trades in the blogosphere, I recommend Audrey Gray’s blog at E-Gear. She posts only about once per month, but she makes the most of it.