CEA’s Shapiro backs digital TV coupon extension

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I got my little envelope of analog entertainment life extension this weekend courtesy of Uncle Sam. According to Broadcast & Cable, Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, says that the government should give consumers more time to redeem the coupons. There has already been some online discussion advising consumers to wait for prices to come down before using their coupons but, really, with Wal-Mart enabling consumers to keep over-the-air goodness flowing into a chunky channel changer for less than $10,  there’s not much incentive left to delay.

While CEA has a much better consumer-friendly track record than trade organizations for, say, content industries, it’s still a bit counterintuitive that Gary, whose organization represents the world’s largest TV manufacturers,  backs a product that delays the purchase of a new digital television. It leads one to question how big an impact the analog cutoff will have on TV buying. I’m sure there will be a bump, particularly in smaller screen sizes. However, particularly with a shaky economy, it will be challenging to convince those prepared to make an under-$50 investment to a digital television at mainstream sizes.

Few surprises in iPhone SDK rumors

iLounge reports indendently confirmed rumors Apple will limit the distribution and capabilities of iPhone applications. The three rumors are that Apple will distribute applications only through iTunes, that Apple will pick and choose which are distributed, and that developers won’t have access to functions through the dock connector.

Regarding the first rumor, I believe that overall it is positive if true. The inability to track down mobile applications has been one of the major hindrances in smartphone application development. In fact, I suggested in a column for LAPTOP Magazine last year that Apple do exactly this to minimize the risk of malware. Also, perhaps down the line, Apple can bring these applications to what is now the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store for accessing improved functionality over he air..

The second rumor, that Apple will handpick which applications get to be released, is mixed news but, again, no surprise. On one hand, it will help ensure a good user experience. On the other hand, it of course limits choice. We’ll have to see how heavy a hand Apple takes here, but it’s probably a safe bet that applications that impinge on potential Apple revenue streams, including Skype, instant messaging programs, and other music store clients, will be excluded. I wouldn’t expect a Windows Live Messenger client any time soon.

The most disappointing is that developers won’t be able to access iPod functions via the dock connector, scuttling or at least complicating accessories such as keyboards.This one is somewhat curious as Apple has certainly done well collecting fees for the iPod dock connector in peripherals for older iPods. So at least Apple has some motivation to open this up at some point.

If the iPhone SDK rumors are true, it means that the iPhone and iPod touch will be far from a PC ecosystem, but at least it’s better than what was available before and movement in a better direction for Apple’s customers.

Eee won’t upend notebook market per se

Over at Crave, Erica Ogg notes the concern by Mike Abarry, who runs Sony’s U.S. Vaio group, about the threat of the Asus Eee, which sells for a fraction of the price of the average notebook sold in the U.S. Mike’s comments led to a broader discussion of that historically hazy device segment that fits between smartphones and laptops both in form and function. It’s also worth noting that he didn’t think the impact of cheap ultraportables would be so disastrous if they were used as secondary PCs.

In either case, I think he has little to fear from the Eee despite its initial success. Many of the early reviews of the Eee were enamored with its simple "big button" tabs, but not surprisingly you need to dig beyond that into a fairly unfriendly file manager even to move files to a flash drive. The 7" screen simply isn’t large enough to handle Web browsing or other tasks comfortably.

I see a bifurcation coming to this emerging area of inexpensive, touch-typable clamshells — computing appliances that will sell for less than $500 and function as PC complements and inexpensive ultraportable notebook PCs that sell for more. The latter class has more disruption potential for today’s notebook PC market, but really in terms of vying for dollars from other entry-level configurations with larger screens. The Eee has straddled the middle — a viable position for a category pioneer, but the heat will be turned up if HP brings the 2133 into consumer markets. Of course, cheaper wireless broadband would help both classes.

HP 2133 has a form factor that’s nice, need a great price

image in December, I wrote that HP was the most likely of all major PC vendors to respond to the ASUS Eee PC ultraportable notebook given its history with mobile devices such as the old 95LX and Jornada series. The detailed screen shots and specifications of the HP/Compaq 2133 have made it the device that is receiving the most Web traffic at UMPC Portal.

On paper, the 2133 looks just about perfect, addressing the screen resolution and keyboard imitations of the Eee. The trackpad buttons may be unusually placed, but they can’t be much worse than the Eee’s stealth two-button trackpad. And, look, it can balance on its corner defying the laws of physics — that’s gotta count for something. Of course, key details such as price, processor speed, memory/hard drive configuration and battery life have yet to be divulged, Rumor has it that HP will price the 2133 at a point where it is practically an impule buy, but here’s my E-Z guide to determining its potential based on price for a usable configuration:

Price Potential
$499 Grand slam, transformative
$599 Home run
$699 Respectable
$799 Jornada 800

Optimus Maximus disappoints us

Ryan Block has posted about his experiences with a  shipping Optimus Maxmus and comes away frustrated by its lack of practicality. I’d gotten hands on myself late last year at the Wired Store 2008 on Greene Street . It offered a chance to compare Guitar Hero III and Rock Band head-to-head, see how well you like your Lenovo in leather, and even pick up a few free magazines.. Probably the most disappointing product I saw there was the Epson MovieMate projector with integrated DVD that was in a tiny home theater area. the speakers sounded hollow even in the small room they were set up in.

The Optimus Maximus struck me as a tank with disco lights. I too found it hard to type on but chalked it up to it being a pre-production version. Apparently, that wasn’t the cause.

NYT solution to Microsoft’s Google threat: buy SAP?

image Last May, I posted a response to a Randal Stross piece that I thought unfairly compared Apple and Sony stores. However, his Digital Domain piece today on how Microsoft should buy a large business software company such as SAP instead of taking on Google has me scratching my head.

Mr. Stross advocates that, rather than taking on a strong and nimble competitor such as Google, Microsoft should stick to its knitting and acquire a large software company such as SAP as opposed to another strong Web player such as Yahoo!, which one of his sources characterizes as “an old-style Internet access, in decline, and at a premium.”

This is like a trainer recommending that a boxer with a black eye lift more weights to improve his arms..Buying SAP may lead to further consolidation in Microsoft’s strongest market, but it does little to help it gain ground on the Internet advertising gold rush that Microsoft fears Google will use to launch applications that compete with its cash cows. Following Mr. Stross’s advice would effectively mean withdrawal from the online space. There’s a case for Microsoft spinning off that business, but for now Microsoft still sees the Web as its manifest destiny.

If Microsoft were to buy an enterprise vendor to address the Google threat, it should be salesforce.com. Such an acquisition would enable Microsoft to make a stronger foray in software-as-a-service. It could offer real applications to counter what Google might only hope to build one day under the pressure of an offering that is difficult to shoehorn into its free, consumer-focused, ad-driven model

Out of the Box again named a Top 100 Analyst Blog

Thanks again to Jonny Bentwood at Technobabble 2.0 for naming Out of the Box a Top 100 Analyst Blog. This marks the second consecutive time the blog has made the list even though the methodology has changed a bit from the last time.

While Out of the Box did relatively well in Jonny’s subjective ratings, its overall ranking would be higher if we had more inbound links — which would help Google PageRank and Technorati numbers — and Google Reader subscribers, so if you like what you read here, please link and subscribe. Thanks.

Mathematical mouse not greater than the sum of its parts

I was a fan of of the early Adesso keyboards that brought the original Microsoft “ergonomic” split-keyboard design to the Mac. Back then, the company had only a few products, but lately its gotten into all kinds of input devices, including the CyberPad A4, which uses ink capture technology that I’ve found works well on similar products.

So, I was curious to try its combo mouse and keypad, which looked similar to a product I’d read about in mid-’07. At least it looked less awkward if less functional than one full-on calculator alternative and more aesthetically inviting than another.

Unfortunately, this keypad-mouse was disappointing. Accommodating the keypad makes it huge and it didn’t move well on a glass surface. The keypad, while a little small, is fine. And the double-wide scroll wheel works OK, but it doesn’t tilt. Also, I’d like to see the cord cut, maybe with a Bluetooth version. All in all, it’s better to go with a separate keypad unless your laptop has only one USB port.

Sony looks good in specs

In speaking with several reporters about the victory, I noted NPD’s research last year that found satisfaction with existing DVD players to be a more common reason for abstaining from the high-definition disc market than the format war with HD-DVD. As digital media gadfly and PR veteran par excellence Andy Marken notes, “The difference is now the BD folks won’t be able to blame Toshiba for holding back the success of high def disc sales.”

Blu-ray was the second must-win AV standards war after LCD vs. plasma that the company has won in the past few years by leveraging selective specification superiority — curious for the consumer electronics company that is so frequently identified with being a lifestyle brand. Blu-ray’s main technical difference vs. HD-DVD was that it offered 50 GB per disc as opposed to 30 GB.

Sony and the BDA didn’t make the capacity argument directly to consumers as much to the trade media, particularly before studio support became more relevant. However, Sony was the first company to proselytize 1080p or “full HD” to consumers, which has helped to give large-screen LCD the upper hand.

Further momentum behind BD can only help promote 1080p TVs (not that they seem to need much help). It will also be very interesting to see how much the standardization of Blu-ray now helps sell the PS3 after the PS3 was kind enough to do the same for Blu-ray since 2006. Sony’s content holdings may not have been enough to overcome the challenges of UMD as a movie format, but the virtually guaranteed support of Blu-ray by Sony Pictures was a validation of Sony’s integration of hardware and content. Of course, the equal loyalty of Disney and Fox was critical as well.

Nuviphone is a GPS thriller, not an iPhone killer

If you were wondering why Steve Jobs sneaked in some enhancements to the iPhone’s location capabilities in advance of the February SDK unveiling, tonight may have provided a clue. In advance of its official release at GSMA Mobile World Congress (and the first shipments of the Dash Express), Garmin unveiled its Nuviphone, which combines communication, navigation and some basic MP3 playback features — Industrial design inspiration courtesy you-know-who. Wilson Rothman has captured my pointing out the name’s similarity to a certain popular interactive voice response system.

Garmin isn’t releasing specifications or a features list given that the device won’t ship until the third quarter. On the data front, though, the Nuviphone will support at least POP and IMAP email and Web browsing. It also takes digital stills an video and — here’s the slick part — geotags them so you can send a photo to another Nuviphone, after which that recipient can be directed to where the photo was taken. The Nuviphone has a 3.5″ screen but a wider aspect ratio than the iPhone.

As for other comparisons, it’s not a smartphone in that it does not have an open OS. Garmin says that developing an SDK is technically possible but not something the company is pursuing. (I think it should.) And I also don’t expect the Internet or media features to set a new bar.

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