Changing of the guard at Engadget

image Just wanted to take a moment to wish my friend Ryan Block well on his future endeavors now that he will be leaving behind. Yes, it’s well-known that Ryan really gets a lot of posts written at Engadget these days because he’s Veronica Belmont‘s boyfriend, but some of us remember him from the days before he reached such heights of Stedman-like blogebrity.

Seriously, though, whether it was in the days where Peter and Ryan were the dynamic duo that dove Engadget’s early days or during his master stewardship of the site since becoming its editor-in-chief, it has been a pleasure working with Ryan throughout Switched On‘s run. I am looking forward to continuing to work with incoming editor-in-chief Joshua Topolsky, who has written some of my favorite Engadget posts.

Peek pitches mobile e-mail to the parental female

image If Apple’s MobileMe is “Exchange for the rest of us,” what New York-based startup Peek is attempting is the hardware equivalent for original Blackberry. Today, of course, RIM is scrambling to play the convergence game as well as anyone, tacking on touch screens, pitching development dollars, and beefing up media support., but for a long time it was not so. The Blackberry already had momentum when it operated on a two-way paging service and couldn’t even make phone calls. It was a mobile e-mail appliance.

And that will the exact tack taken by Peek, which seeks to simplify the way smartphone abstainers access e-mail on the go. A main target is what the company calls “family commanders” (sorry, no camouflage version among its three colors) — generally style-conscious moms trying to keep up with the latest missives sent throughout the day. For example, the sealed rubbery keyboard is designed to be fingernail-friendly. While Peek, which is the name of the company, service and the sub-$100 device, will use GSM, it won’t be distributed through carrier stores. It will require a flat monthly fee and a credit card but no contract.

image Among its differentiators, the company sees its retail distribution, easy setup and single-purpose focus. SMS and instant messaging won’t be supported, at least not at first. Peek will seek greater success than previous attempts into the mobile consumer e-mail device space such as Ogo and the strange PocketMail Composer, a personal organizer-like product that used acoustic coupling to send and receive email using an analog telephone. (PocketMail’s site and even order form remain active, but the device is listed as out of stock. The company began in 1995 under the pun-embracing name PocketScience.)

Dear Slacker, Please write an iPhone app

imageI’ve long enjoyed the Pandora and Slacker Internet radio services for different reasons and the two companies have taken different paths to get their services playing on non-PC devices. I was really excited for a long time about the concept behind the Slacker Portable — a portable music player that gets loaded up with genre- and artist-driven music stations via Wi-Fi and can then be played practically anywhere with no monthly service fee required. However, the initial hardware execution left me a bit cold.

Pandora, meanwhile, has developed a simple but terrific free iPhone app that has become one of the most popular out of the gate. The main catch, though, is that since Pandora is only a streaming service, it isn’t available if you don’t have coverage. The Slacker service on the iPhone or iPod touch, though, would essentially be the best of all worlds, taking advantage of the device’s Wi-Fi, superior user interface and slim design while utilizing its storage for cached Internet radio stations that work where here is no connectivity.

I’m not sure how this would impact Slacker’s financials (the company pays a much higher licensing fee for the right to cache music locally on the device) or its strategic goals of developing a more cost-effective satellite radio competitor, but broadening device support to Apple’s mobile platform would certainly create a bigger pie from which to drive premium radio subscriptions. And competitive pressure may not provide many alternatives as it seems nearly every other Internet music site is developing some kind of iPhone presence.

Update: Looks like Slacker agrees. Laptop reports on information I’ve also received that a Slacker application is coming to the iPhone and Blackberry. Funny how, despite the success of Windows Mobile here in North America, it’s getting caught in the middle between these two vertically integrated offerings.

Getting rid of rodents

Gartner analyst Steve Prentice may just be being provocative if he is saying that the computer mouse will see a demise within the next five years. That is simply too short a window for a convention as institutionalized as the mouse to disappear as well as too short a time for some of the experimental alternatives he cites to go mainstream. Indeed, mouse R&D continues apace and it is the mouse — not the keyboard — that is driving the input peripheral aftermarket.

All that said, I was actually thinking of less dramatic challengers to the input staple a day or so before Prentice’s prediction made the rounds. How will mouse developers respond to multitouch? I suppose they could add buttons that would simulate certain gestures, but the trackpad is rapidly moving from a second-class input device to one that can circumvent many UI elements (such as scroll bars) originally designed for the mouse. Multitouch gestures are more “natural” than many mouse movements, although there aren’t necessarily intuitive.

Of course, neither is the mouse. I have an enduring memory of a computer novice circa 1990 encountering the computing appendage for the first time. She picked it up and tried dragging icons across the screen by touching them with the mouse. I wonder what she would think of a TouchSmart PC these days.

You can build a Web tablet for $200; you just won’t want to use it

Michael Arrington wants to buy some silicon champagne with beer money. The purveyor of posts on Web 2.0 companies, who has built an online family of sites including gadget blog CrunchGear, specs out an Internet tablet at a price point that has eluded some of the world’s largest-scale device manufacturers.

Products that have been roughly comparable have included the iPod touch and Nokia N800 (although this would appear to have a larger screen than those) and Smart Displays (such as those that were made by Viewsonic). Digital picture frames with Wi-Fi might come close, but they generally don’t have a battery and often lack touch screens. Their displays often offer relatively low resolution as well.

As many commenters have pointed out, getting good performance out of Adobe Flash on a low-end computing platform can be challenging, the technical rationale behind why the technology isn’t supported on the iPhone and iPod touch. And speaking of Apple, despite the original iBookish mockup pictured, he wants the device to be as thin or thinner than the MacBook Air. Sorry, but you simply fall off the realism meter when you start making substantive comparisons between your $200 fantasy and an $1,800 premium notebook computer designed by one of the best engineering teams in the business. It looks like this will likely become another in the short history of prominent blogger-designed, open source non-products such as Dave Winer’s podcast player. At least he didn’t expect it to cost $15.

The New York Times noodles the netbook market

acer_aspire_one.jpgIn a piece that casts doubt on the future of the (sigh) “netbook” market, Matt Richtel curiously provides quotes from Sony Electronics and Fujitsu, two of the more successful companies selling high-end ultraportables in the U.S., but doesn’t include any quotes from companies that have actually launched these products here, including HP and Asus.

It’s not surprising that Sony and Fujitsu would be relatively down on inexpensive ultraportables because their products are the most immediately threatened by inexpensive notebook PCs with small screens. Really, though, they needn’t worry, because anyone willing to invest $1,500 or more for a high-end ultraportable isn’t going to downgrade to this product.

In other words, at least in the UI.S., netbooks are about market expansion at a time when consumers are going more mobile. HP at least is thinking about these products in the right way, targeting students and other select demographics who need light computing on the go. Is that 10 percent of the notebook market for the next two years? Probably not. But as Tim Bajarin aptly notes in the Times piece, when you are at the scale of an HP or Dell, you’re not going to surrender shelf space or mindshare to an unknown Asian upstart.

It’s all well and good to pursue margin, but there’s no margin in a market that doesn’t yet exist. While we will see barebones Linux configurations forĀ  $300 or $400, more of the market is going to be closer to $500 or $600 where major manufacturers move plenty of Windows notebooks, many of which have at least some higher component costs.

This fall, we’re going to see a lot of activity in this market.. it’s going to get pretty bloody fast. And to be clear, the space between the smartphone and notebook PC has been a difficult one to fill. But it’s very difficult to ascertain the true potential of this device because their real opportunity is in a world of integrated, affordable broadband wireless access, an evolution of the explosive growth notebooks saw after Wi-Fi became popular.

iPhone 3G drives big numbers for little applications

image Along with the news that Apple sold a million iPhone 3Gs in its opening weekend came the announcement that 10 million applications were downloaded for the iPhone 2.0 software, which runs on older iPhones and iPod touches.

I had agreed with the spirit if not the letter of this Gizmodo post. in that the app store — which will also run on the original iPhone and the iPod touch — is in many ways the biggest difference between the iPhone 3G and earlier versions. However, 3G is an important enabler for many of these applications.

I’d love to hear what the distribution of those platforms were and how many were downloaded off of Wi-Fi as opposed to 3G or EDGE. And of course, how many were free as opposed to paid downloads. Outside of games, it’s still going to be difficult to drive sales of applications simply because the monetization of software has shifted so much in the past few years. But games for the iPhone are an interesting development opportunity, not so much because the iPhone competes with, say, a PSP, but because it does offer console-like platform stability, at least for now.

In any case, the 10 million number — an order of magnitude over the hardware sold during the weekend — is a testament to the appeal of these applications, their overall quality and variety. And a lesson to the whole industry that you can drive consumer interest in native smartphone applications and move the industry past the Java/BREW level of lowest common denominator development. On the other hand, Apple is far more incentivized to drive the platform given the revenue share for paid downloads and no carrier revenue sharing.

One number we’re perhaps more likely to get from Apple is the percentage of OS X iPhone developers who are knew to the platform. It seems to be significant. Last week I met with one of the launch developers new to OS X who was raving about Apple’s developer tools and downplaying limitations, saying what the SDK buys you is worth the limitations (and this is a developer whose application would definitely benefit from background processing.) That said, he acknowledged that the Windows Mobile tools are also pretty good.

Apple blows out the iPhone’s opening weekend

imageSo, what do you know? The subsidization model works and consumers could care less if the phone costs them more in the long-run (the long run in this case being a two-year contract) or if the power management challenges .of a 3G network compromised sealed battery life.

Apple sold one million (must… resist… Dr. Evil… impression) Macintosh 2.0’s, I mean, Phone 3Gs opening weekend, noting that it took them more than two months to move that many of the original iPhones. The media attention around the iPhone 3G, while tremendous, may have been at less of a fever pitch than it was for the original iPhone, because it was more of a known quantity and the new features were more of the “fill in the gaps” quantity, but Apple is clearly accurate in saying that price was the biggest inhibitor among those who wanted but didn’t purchase the original iPhone..

By the way, after swinging by the Apple Store on 59h and Fifth, aka “the cube”, late Friday afternoon in the amazing weather, I popped into the Nokia New York flagship store just a few blocks a way on 57th, just east of Fifth Avenue. There was a lot of excitement on the building’s facade as the store was decked out in promotion for The Dark Knight,, but on the first floor of the narrow three-story edifice there were only four consumers.

HP MediaSmart Connect seeks to reverse the DMA doldrums

Amidst a lineup of new notebooks and desktops under the HP, Compaq and Voodoo brands, HP finally trotted out its MediaSmart Connect Windows Media Extender, that also can utilize its own MediaSmart software solution. I understand HP’s rationale in offering both the simpler MediaSmart and the more full-featured Windows Media Center UI, but having two UIs still seems like a less than ideal compromise.

The MediaSmart Connect is certainly the most stylish of the Vista-compatible MCEs available (and I’ll include the XBox 360 in that set) although the Samsung approach — in which the Media Center Extender is mounted onto the back of the TV — may be the most transparent external device approach yet.

I also like HP’s option of the personal media drive/USB options. However, I’d like the Personal Media Drive option a lot more if it had the ability to sync with a network store such as HP’s own MediaSmart Windows Home Server or NAS product the way Apple TV can sync with multiple PCs running iTunes. I favored this approach before Apple announced Apple TV. Apple may include only a 40 GB drive with the base Apple TV, but it’s still doing so at a price that’s less than that of the MediaSmart Connect.

Initial thoughts on the mini-Inspiron

dellpencil2.jpgI had questioned how Dell would respond to the challenge of the Mini-Note after Michael Dell said that it would, and the preliminary answer seems to be “very well” as it has taken the high-design route. The mini-Inspiron has a lowered hinge like the MacBook Air and HP Mini-Note and the glossy red cover is strongly reminiscent of he Lenovo IdeaPad U110. In at least one picture, though, the Dell logo looks upside down when it is facing others.

Things I immediately like about the mini-Inspiron just from the picture include more traditional trackpad button layout versus the Mini-Note and a better screen to form factor fit. However, my concern is that both of these have come at the expense of the keyboard, which looks smaller than the Mini-Note’s (but hopefully bigger than the Eee’s). It also looks less chunky than other products in the class although that may just be an illusion of the photo angle. The big unresolved questions, of course, include specs (including battery life), and price.