Ryan’s million-word march

I extend a hearty congratulations to my friend and editor Ryan Block on passing the 5,000-post mark and, perhaps more incredibly, the million-word mark blogging for Engadget. Jeremy Toeman totally shows me I’m not his BFF by letting Dave Zatz but not me contribute to what may be the closest thing to This Is Your Life in a blog post honoring the achievement, noting that he’s only written about 290 in the same amount of time. Cheer up, Jeremy. They go a lot slower when they’re multimedia extravaganzas.

Peter Rojas brought me to Engadget in its first year and Ryan has been one of the key reasons writing for the site has been such a delight. He is a “writer’s editor” who always provides the highest levels of support and stands for the highest standards of professionalism and one of the finest people with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of working. Anyone I meet who knows Ryan loves him, even his robot clone from the future that’s been sent back in time to kill him. Oooh, sorry Ryan, guess I should have told you about that earlier. My bad.

In preparing this week’s Switched On column on Soda Club, I had a blast collaborating with him on the text in the lead graphic, which parodies the nearly subliminal warning on the Fight Club DVD. Thanks, Ryan.

Speaking of Switched On, I should note the column will be moving to Monday starting next week.

Lingering Leopard

There was strong reaction today to the news that Apple will delay Leopard by a few months as a result of shifting resources to the iPhone. I’m quoted on Macworld.com speculating that the delay might be due to contractual obligations between AT&T and Apple, but I no longer believe that that could be a factor. In any case, as Tim Bajarin  says in the article, four months isn’t a big delay for an operating system cycle.

Elsewhere on the site, Dan Frakes calls for calm among Apple’s frantic fans who think that the Leopard delay is the beginning of the end for the Mac. (Remember when such evangelists would have called for the head of someone who suggested such a thing during Apple’s struggles in the mid-’90s?) Citing the breadth of Apple’s Mac lineup and that the notion of what a “computer” is has changed, he rightly calls such concerns “overwrought and overstated.”

But Dan’s reasoning that Apple has long offered more than just computers, implying that little has changed, is also a bit oversimplified. None of the other Mac peripherals that he cites, such as monitors, printers and PDAs, were as strategic a cash cow as the iPod. And few, other than Newton, were platforms the way the iPhone and arguably AppleTV is. (For the record, Apple never sold the Apple Pippin, except to Bandai.)

Simply put, these are higher-growth opportunities than StyleWriters ever were and allow Apple to reach far beyond the Mac installed base. That said, Apple’s Mac business is not only broad, but it’s very healthy, As today’s iPhone announcement reinforced, Apple’s “three-screen” strategy has Mac OS X at the heart of it, and the Mac is not only the premiere device for that software, but serves as the critical “second screen.”

Wii and PS3 on the Web but not home nets

Nintendo has been a bit cagey picking and choosing its convergence, or at least non-gaming functionality, battles. Today the company announced the “final” version of the Wii Web browser, including functionality that has struggled as a standalone device (or maybe it’s been that subscription-fee bugaboo again). The Wii may even be muscling in on MSN TV’s core audience.

On the other hand, while the company has offered limited photo viewing via its SD card slot, there are no DMA features, which the Xbox 360 is including as an obvious Trojan Horse play. Wii has all the hardware on board to be a decent DMA though I doubt we’ll be seeing the “Wii Elite” (Weelite?).

Of course, at the other end of the horsepower spectrum, Sony has eschewed DMA features on its PS3 as well. This could also be remedied with a simple firmware update, but Sony has shied away from streaming from its PC to the television (but is going the other way), going straight to the Internet in terms of its upcoming Bravia module. On the other hand, Sony’s PC line is now unusual in that it makes only laptops and media center PCs intended to be directly connected to televisions.

Incidentally, Next Generation reported yesterday in the continuing consumer frustration with Wii supply despite its retail success. You heard it here first, folks.

Things with moving parts

product imageA couple of nifty and decidedly analog gadgets showed up in the blogosphere recently. CrunchGear covers DiscEraser, which scars a CD or DVD surface so that it is unreadable by a drive. This should come in handy for the childless who needs to destroy discs. I probaby wouldn’t use it for NSA materials, but it should be good enough for most casual personal information. As CrunchGear notes, it’s small enough to fit in a desk drawer and results in no plastic shards, which is a good thing. It’s $13 and comes in a variety of pretty pastels colors ideal for dishing out is disc-destroying damage.

Over the weekend Gizmodo featured the Grip Bag Holder to help carry multiple plastic grocery bags. I can see its use but for neighborhood grocery shopping I recommend the Hook ‘n’ Go (pictured) offered by Hammacher Schlemmer for carrying up to eight bags without crushing the eggs.

Windows Vista SideShow: The second act

Ryan Block digs the digital jewel box concept and offers some good suggestions for improving it. The digital jewel box could easily be combined with a SideShow-enabled digital picture frame or other kinds of elaborate touch-screen controls. SideShow is one of the Vista’s most differentiating features. Unfortunately, the company that pioneered the idea doesn’t even have its hardware up to the expensive SideShow spec.

Speaking of (or rather linking to) Art Lebedev Studios, probably my favorite product is the company’s plush smileys. At least they’re shipping and affordable by mere mortals. I could also see them coming in useful if I had a mopey personal blog.

Apple TV and cable a la carte

I received a fair amount of feedback on my Apple TV vs. TiVo column from a few weeks ago, but none on the headline. Come on, people! Doesn’t anyone remember the famous New York Post headline? Anyway, some readers have suggested that Apple TV is really more competition for cable itself than simply TiVo. For that argument, I will consider cable as coming without DVR service, since cable DVRs are unavailable without cable, and we’ve already considered Apple TV vs. TiVo, which is one of the best retail options for those who would want DVR service without cable or satellite.

TiVo’s business model was initially designed to make it an attractive partner for cable, but such is not the case with Apple TV. Apple TV dips its toe into what some regulators have been asking for in “cable a la carte” but goes even further. Whereas cable a la carte advocates would like cable providers to offer only the channels they want, iTunes sells content by the series or even the episode.

Apple claims that it now offers 70 percent of the primetime offerings of major broadcast and popular cable networks such as Bravo. Of course, cable and satellite providers offer over 1,000 hours per week of programmed entertainment, even though we’ve all heard the complaints about there being “500 channels and nothing on.” When asked in an Engadget Mobile interview about broadcasting TV to cell phones a la MediaFLO, Helio CEO Sky Dayton  responds rhetorically, “When was the last time you watched linear programming?”

Nonetheless, there’s still a lot on broadcast and cable that isn’t on iTunes, or isn’t on iTunes until the followiong season. As was the case for TiVo, if your tastes don’t wander outside iTunes’ selection (which will certainly grow), buying your content from iTunes may make sense, but for now Apple TV can’t compete with the breadth of cable or satellite television that most consumers value.

SlingCatcher in the Rye

Erica Ogg at News.com’s gadgets blog writes that Slingbox support of AppleTV would open the “intriguing new possibility” of streaming music from iTunes on your home computer to your cell phone. I’d recommend that she check out Avvenu’s smartphone client. I have used the desktop version of the Avvenu music service and think it’s the slickest remote PC music experience I’ve seen yet.

Nevertheless, Sling Media’s race to support AppleTV raises questions about how this support will differ from that of its own forthcoming hard drive-equipped television accessory, the SlingCatcher. SlingCatcher stands to be a triple-threat, capable of receiving content from a PC, Slingbox, or the Internet. It’s the third source that might benefit from having a Slingbox and SlingCatcher (or perhaps a future combination of them) connected to the same television.  And with an expected street price of $200, available for only two thirds of the price. Of course, Sling won’t have access to Apple’s advertising budget, so perhaps supporting AppleTV is the least they can do to thank Apple for resurrecting the digital media adapter category.

Scott Kelby’s The Digital Photography Book

If you already know the basics of exposure, white balance, aperture, shutter speed and the like, but want to glean some wonderful insights about becoming a better photographer and have about 90 minutes and $20 to spare, I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more efficient way than reading Scott Kelby’s The Digital Photography Book published by Peachpi Press. Eileen picked this gem up for me at an Orlando Banes & Noble before CTIA and I finished it tonight.

Scott, who now is to Photoshop magazines what Leo Laporte is to podca– (sorry, Leo), netcasts, is a longtime Mac geek. Like others who gained fans writing for Mac publications such as David Pogue and Andy Inhatko, he imbues his tech writing with humor. He comes at the book from the angle that he and you are out on a shoot and he’s giving you advice as if you were any other friend.

I’m not sure if the book lives up to that level of familiarity, but the format is nonetheless refreshing and I commend Scott on selling Peachpit the concept. The book also reflects Scott’s finely honed aesthetics and, while he refers to many pros throughout the book, some of his own included photos are gorgeous.

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What a tangled Web

Enjoying The Hoax this afternoon reminded me of a couple of high-profile online April Fools’ jokes this year that have turned out to be real. One was ThinkGeek’s 8-bit tie that the company is already working on producing. An even more elaborate joke was Gmail Paper but, aside from the delivery aspect, it’s really not too conceptually different from what Presto is trying to do, is it?

Mobile video could use mobile Apple TV

At Autoblog, John Neff makes a strong case for Apple TV in the vehicle. John characterizes the AppleTV as a kind of iPod for the car and, indeed, Apple refers to both the iPod and Apple TV as “iTunes accessories.” However, a more accurate if perhaps less flattering analogy would be as a successor to the short-lived Rockford Fosgate OmniFi DMP1. Apple has identified the in-vehicle market as an important one for digital content, but the mobile specialist channel is a difficult one to crack; it doesn’t exactly jibe with Apple’s holism vs. horsepower image marketing. I just can’t picture Apple’s little white set-top box being groped by a bikini-clad model posing next to a pimped-out Scion xB against a lightning matte background.

So, Apple’s main thrust here has been to partner with the automakers themselves for iPod integration, leaving the current car deck market leaders such as Pioneer and Alpine to devise their own aftermarket iPod integration products. These have made good strides in the past two years. My own fringe adaptation for Apple TV may be easier to implement. Still, for the enterprising mobile specialist, Apple TV could make a very good — and when compared to the old OmniFi, inexpensive — Wi-Fi-enabled mobile media center.