My cousin now hearts Macs

WorksFor most of the time I’ve been aware of his platform proclivities, my cousin Alan, a cardiologist, was not much of a Mac fan. However, he recently purchased a MacBook Pro and is loving it. I think he is an interesting case study for how Apple is attracting more Windows users.

He first bought an iBook for his wife, a computer novice. Then he had interest in a way to run two computationally intensive Windows-only medical programs on a Mac. After debating Parallels and VMWare, he chose the latter. The result, he says, is just "amazing"; the programs are running well in VMWare’s "unity" mode which allows the running of Windows applications in the context of the Mac operating environment. He also praised the program’s automatic configuration for Windows XP.

He’s not blind to the Mac’s faults and still prefers the way Roxio dealt with rewriteable DVDs and CDs so he’s using that Wndows program under VMWare as well.

E-ink watches have staying power

image The potential of electronic ink as a watch technology was dramatically demonstrated when Seiko showed off its $2.200  Spectrum bangle available only in Japan back in 2005. A similarly priced sequel is in the offing.

Nevertheless, a Hong Kong-based company called Art Technology is offering a more traditional design at a far more affordable price of $250 under the Phosphor watches brand. Still, I have to agree with this Gizmodo review that these initial faces fail to exploit the technology’s potential. The Phosphor Web site characterizes its current offerings as "the first in an entire line of next generation watches" so I am looking forward to future releases.

Segways stay up. And so do their prices

Sorry, Woz, I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it to Segway Polo camp this summer, but this weekend’s broadcast match reminded me that this month marks the sixth anniversary of the once highly anticipated Segway HT. One reason the device hasn’t broken out much past the tech elite, law enforcement and tour groups has been that its price remains at more than $5,000.

Part of that is likely due to low volumes. According to an article cited in the Segway’s Wikipedia entry, Segway had sold fewer than 25,000 transporters as of September 2006

Broad-banding together for movie downloads

With Blu-ray and HD-DVD being relatively new on the video scene, it’s not surprising that each has a logo to let consumers know that a disc is compatible with its respective formats. The HD-DVD one is an extension of the DVD logo (pictured), which informed consumers that the shiny disc they were considering contained more than just music. Each of the major video game console vendors also brands compatible software with the appropriate logo as well.

Thinking about my Vudu column posted today on Engadget and the news that the company is offering The Bourne Ultimatum in high-definition, I’m wondering how consumers other than Vudu owners might know that the movie is available on the service. Awareness of broadband video services is very low. It would benefit several companies at this early stage to develop some kind of logo signifying that a movie was available for legal digital rental or purchase. There have been a few on-air promotions showing that certain video content is available via iTunes, but I’ve mostly seen these for television shows.

It may be hopeless as, unlike with physical media, many of the video download services (iTunes, Xbox Live Marketplace, Vudu, Fanfare) are vertically integrated. However, a broadband video alliance might also have more leeway in negotiating with studios for better terms, such as the ludicrous 24-hour limit to finish watching a movie once it’s started (not that I’ve been burned by that… twice). None of the services (except maybe Vongo) seem to be competing on usage terms.

A pink tiger as a purple cow

TigerDirect.comTechnology retailer TigerDirect seemed to have had its heart in the right place when it rebranded Black Friday "Pink Friday" in honor of a campaign to aid the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer charity. I ordered something from the retailer a few days later and, lo, it arrived today in a pink box in honor of the effort. Even the invoice came on stationery with pink print. Kudos to Tiger Direct for some fun follow-through on the Pink Friday campaign and for supporting the charity..

Seeking the skinny on a MacBook mini

15-inch MacBook ProWith the 2008 Macworld Expo around the chronological corner and Apple finally in (and by the looks of initial success, for the long term) the cell phone and set-top categories, rumor-mongers are running out of easy targets. One of these is an Apple ultraportable or MacBook mini. It’s not an unreasonable one at all as Sony, for example, is already in the sub-12" market.

In general, ultraportable notebooks have been slow sellers in the U.S. That was before the invasion of the cheap Asus EEE (and coming competitors) but Apple isn’t generally known for swooping in at the low end of the market.. Also, Sony has the right idea in embedding WWAN connectivity in its ultaportables; Apple, on the other hand, has even put off 3G in its cell phones. Still, Apple’s notebook market share continues to grow, so the timing may be right.

As I’ve written, Apple can take a few different paths here. The company could do a great job of something integrated with Foleo-like physical dimensions (sorry, 7" is just too small for OS X (and arguably other desktop operating systems, too), bundling an iWork suite for more of a mobile productivity appliance for $599. If it went this route, the device might not even be called a MacBook. But if Apple’s notebook family grows by shrinking next month, it’s far more likely that it will be a premium-priced 12" MacBook Pro with an SSD.

Digital shackles raise hackles

The Beeb reports on Western Digital’s decision to limit file sharing of certain kinds of files using its Anywhere Access software. This is likely to generate as much if not more backlash than the Belkin router “parental controls” spamming fiasco of 2003. It smacks of someone in legal cautioning the company about limiting liability, but hardware companies are better off excluding the feature wholesale than driving bad PR in taking the moral high grand regarding what their customers should be able to do. Let DRM do its job. Or not.

This move is particularly ill-timed as more options are opening up for the legal sharing of music.

Maybe the “r” was for “rejected”

Less than two months ago, Engadget reported on the rCard digital business card, with its 1.5" video-capable screen. Nilay Patel captured the Web site’s hype, characterizing the $25 digital tchotcke as "the most highly anticipated innovation of the decade."

Well, a digital stroll over to the former rCard Web site reveals that we may need to anticipate it a bit more. The site says that the rCard is no longer available via the site and to contact the company for more details. However, neither of the sites linked to has any apparent information about the device. Oh well, while they may not be $25, there are other credit-card sized portable video players to cram into one’s wallet..

MovieBeam fades to black

Engadget et. al. report that Movie Gallery, which picked up the troubled MovieBeam service from Disney earlier this year, is preparing to shut down the service. One of the challenges that the product faced was limited coverage area and finicky antenna placement. However, the device had an unused Ethernet jack. Finding some way to use it for the service would have made it a standalone competitor to Vudu and Xbox Live Video Marketplace as well as removing the phone line dial-up requirement for account authorization. All that said, as long as you could get the antenna placed in a good spot, MovieBeam was a pretty clean, enjoyable user experience.

The Engadget post notes that customers have begun receiving phone calls that the service will shutter on December 15th, but that seems like an odd way to manage a shutdown. While the news only recently broke, I (a MovieBeam user) have received no service shutdown e-mails. Furthermore, the MovieBeam Web site has yet to be updated with any news and the device itself still lists movies on tap for at least two weeks after December 15th. Perhaps all that will change on Monday.

If I were Vudu, I’d try to find a way to buy the customer list and market to it. Practically all of the MovieBeam titles available on the service are also available there, plus thousands more.

Google’s wireless ambitions are up in the air

Today, Google made it official that it will bid in the 700 MHz spectrum auction and there’s a flurry of media and excitement around it — most of it premature. How much will Google bid? Will it partner to do it? Will it win? And what will it do if it does win? At least the other shoe has dropped on Verizon Wireless’s open access announcements earlier this week. CEO Eric Schmidt has defended the hedge by noting that it will mean open access regardless of who wins due to FCC requirements.

Even if Google does win, we shouldn’t necessarily expect for it to be a branded carrier. Remember that one of the conditions it wanted from the FCC was mandatory wholesaling. So.. much as with Android, there may not be a “Google Wireless” but lots of different MVNOs using Google’s spectrum as infrastructure.