How Kindle can succeed in “failure”

The blogosphere punishes neglect. I caught up with the always-enjoyable LiveDigitally to discover that it’s had a makeover (I like!) and a fine piece by Jeremy Toeman on why the Kindle will fail. Here’s the rub, though. Jeremy is using mass market breakthrough — millions of units per year — as his criterion. In fact, Kindle can be a profitable business for Amazon at much lower volumes, and can be an effective enough customer retention tool that Amazon is inclined to keep it around as long as customer spending is profitable enough to offset bandwidth subsidization for things items such as free chapters and Web pages.

The scenario of needing Kindle’s EV-DO book-buying capabilities before one heads off on a flight may not be so common per se, but one place where Amazon will be very happy to have EV-DO working is at the doorstep of — indeed, even inside — every Barnes & Noble and Border’s.

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A signature’s call

I’ve been thinking lately about the notion of “signature phones.” Lots of wireless operators have exclusives but it seems that some grow to be especially associated with that operator, ideally in an iconic way, even transcending specific models to extend to generations of products. They don’t have to be smartphones although they’ve tended to be. Here’s how I would assign them today:

  • AT&T: iPhone (duh). This was probably ingrained from the introductory Macworld keynote.
  • Verizon Wireless: Hasn’t historically had one, but the enV is gaining momentum as its Sidekick. Voyager definitely has potential here and VZW is promoting it.
  • Sprint: While Treo was probably once a signature phone for Sprint, Touch may be the closest today although it may not be compelling enough.
  • T-Mobile: Sidekick, although Shadow may be up and coming as a rival.
  • Helio: Ocean

Overall, signature phones have been good for operators, but too much focus on them can distract from other benefits such as network coverage (which helps explain why Verizon Wireless has never let one emerge). There are also risks involved if the phone moves to other carriers (like Treo) or if another signature phone tries to take the industry in another direction (as the iPhone has done to the Sidekick). It’s interesting to note that none of these devices have been made by the top three global handset companies. Also, the concept may expire as U.S. operators move to more open access.

Failures to connect

RCR Wireless has an amusing retrospective where it looks at some of the biggest wireless flops ever to attempt a connection. Actually, some of them weren’t cell phones (the infamous Gizmondo) or even had a cellular radio (the once and perhaps future Foleo). Mike Dano reaches way back into the circular files to retrieve the NeoPoint 1000 smartphone, though. Amazon, which often acts as a museum for discontinued products, has the CDMA handset’s vital stats.

The photoguide finishes off with the Motorola T900 pager and the demise of the paging industry (kingpin SkyTel is still around although SmartBeep, late of the humorous commercials, is gone). Let’s not forget, though, that two-way paging was the birthplace of the Blackberry. My question, though, is how can any such history be complete without Modo?

Revisiting Roku

Back in April, I wrote a couple of columns about the Squeezebox, now offered by Logitech. In the first one, I mentioned that it and the Roku SoundBridge were generally acknowledged as the best in their point-to-point class, but I hadn’t gotten any hands-on time with the SoundBridge until recently when I checked out the SoundBridge Radio. There’s a lot to like here. The all-in-one design eliminates the clutter of separate speakers although sound quality won’t compare with the best table radios.

That said, it has dual alarms and a generous snooze bar. And I also liked that there’s an SD slot if you’re nervous that some interference will prevent your favorite tunes from streaming you from your dreams. Older SoundBridges had a Compact Flash slot, but the Squeezeboxes have been constrained to local network and broadband music sources. Roku, unlike Slim Devices/Logitech and Sonos, has been relatively quiet on the deal-making side with broadband music service providers.

The user interface is also pretty easy although text entry is less efficient than on the SqueezeBox. A great setup feature, though, is that it recognizes iTunes playlists without needing to install separate software like the geeky SlimServer. For that reason, it is a better fit for people who place the most emphasis on simplicity in accessing music from their PC.

Rolling back the megapixels

Wal-Mart has a number of interesting quasi-retro tech products for sale this holiday season. In addition to being one of the few brick-and-mortar outlets for the (hard-to-find as of now) RCA EZDVD1 Memory Maker DVD burner that docks with the Small Wonder camcorder, the retail behemoth is offering a 1/2″ thin 3MP digital camera for $50 from Philips, which sat out the digital camera growth years in the U.S., but which has offered a novelty keychain offering available in drug stores and such. (Update: I’ve received confirmation that the EZDVD1 won’t be available at Wal-Mart but will be available at Amazon in a few weeks.)

It would be interesting to see if this creates up-rezzed version of those cameraphone-quality pictures or is more akin to my first 3 MP Canon PowerShot, which took some great pictures in its day. The lack of any optical zoom isn’t promising, although I will guess that it does better than the DXG models we tend to see in this price range.

Three megapixels seems excessive for Web usage (but, hey, the digital camera market is all about excessive megapixels these days). This could be OK for snapshots, or it could be a candidate for either a second camera or a child who has outgrown toy cameras. Kudos to the ambitious copywriters invoking Hollywood icon glamor by noting that the camera would “look at home in the hands of Fred Astair or Audrey Hepburn.” Their estates must be proud.

Logitech makes Lukwerks part of its works

News comes this morning that Logitech will acquire WiLife, makers of the simplest to install digital video home surveillance system in the market. When I tried the product last year, I had some struggles with its HomePlug underpinnings, even though I’d previously had good results with HomePlug. In any case, the software is very well-done and this will fit well into Logitech’s product portfolio.

Logitech has a strong track record of building acquisitions such as Intrigue, which developed the Harmony remote, and Connectix’ QuickCam business, which greatly accelerated its webcam business. Indeed, Logitech should leverage the QuickCam brand with its new acquisition.

Digeo time-shifts Moxi’s retail release to next year

For a while, it looked like TiVo was going to have some direct retail contribution this year for the first time since the demise of the Replay Networks’ retail DVRs. Digeo had planned to bring its Moxi Media Center and satellite unit, the Mixo Mate, from its Charter Cable deployment into home theater specialists. Apparently, though, the transition hasn’t been as smooth as Digeo would have liked and the company is delaying the debut until next year to optimize the retail customer experience.

In addition, there’s no sign of the screenless DVR Archos discussed at the launch of its 5th Generation platform on Archos’ Web site.

LG phones need to get smarter

Fall CTIA is the less device-centric of the two annual wireless shows. Some attribute that to it being bumped up close to CES, but I think it has more to do with the spring CTIA show coming on the heels of the even larger European 3GSM show, a handset announcement bonanza. So, there wasn’t that much really new on the device side of the show, but it did provide an opportunity to get hands-on with some recently announced products, particularly from Samsung and LG.

I liked Samsung’s Juke (differentiated form factor and inexpensive) and the BlackJack 2 is a strong contender to the Motorola Q9. I was less drawn to the somewhat chunky and industrially styled i760 side-slider, but a colleague has ordered one and is satisfied so far.

The LG Voyager really brings the ball forward from the company’s successful enV. It is by no means an iPhone-killer as it has been portrayed. In fact, it’s not even a smartphone at all. But it should be. It’s not so much that the Windows Mobile UI would dramatically improve the overall user experience, but getting a few decent communications (IM, Web) and media applications on the Voyager would make it a formidable Sidekick competitor.

LG is the only top-five cell phone company that doesn’t offer a smartphone. It would be interesting if they offered Symbian’s OS (they are a licensee) as it would be nice to have more options for that operating system in the U.S. market, particularly on the CDMA side.

As for the Sidekick, I had been more interested in the Slide than the LX (which I’ve dubbed the “Widekick”), but, having now seen them both, the LX is not appreciably thicker than the Slide. The Sidekick would definitely benefit from a touchscreen, if only to address its longstanding need to reveal the keyboard in order to dial a number.

When Boot Camp gets the boot

Apple today announced the availability of Boot Camp on October 26th and will support the release with a multi-faceted marketing campaign stretching across at least print, the Web and of course its own stores. I wouldn’t be surprised if John Hodgman and “the other guy” reprise their roles in the long-running “Get a Mac” series of TV commercials as well.

One question I’d received from reporters is what happens to Boot Camp under Tiger, which is officially a beta. The straight scoop is that Macs configured with Boot Camp will continue to dual-boot and Windows partitions will remain intact. However, Boot Camp itself will expire at some point, after which the configurability, such as the ability to add new volumes, will no longer be available. This isn’t as ideal as continuing to support Boot Camp under Tiger, but overall is a pretty good compromise.

Now that Boot Camp will be release software, it will be interesting to see to what extent Microsoft will support Mac hardware. Until now, the official company line has been that Boot Camp was beta software and that it would have more to say once it was released.

Bits you can’t put down

On a recent trip, I finally finished my first book on my Sony Reader — John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise. (It definitely had its moments, but I could have done without the hobo name list.) This was actually the second book I had read on a dedicated eBook device. The first was back in the days of the RocketBook/Rocket eBook product that was purchased by Gemstar and eventually disappeared. That book was a late draft of Michael Wolf’s Burn Rate.

Overall, reading on the Sony Reader, which won the Switchie for portable product of the year last year —  was a good experience. I’d definitely like to see better contrast and a background that is closer to paper-white, backlighting, and some kind of map to physical pages in the print edition. I’d also like to be able to jump around bookmarks and footnotes more interactively within the context of the book. While the new edition of the Sony Reader has some of thee benefits and an improved button layout, I will stick with my first-gen product for now.

By far, the biggest frustration with this particular book on the Sony Reader is that the book sometimes presented intricate charts that were simply impossible to read on the device. Improvements or alternatives to the Reader’s book format should overcome this limitation.