“Get a Mac” ads evolving

Three new Apple ads recently broke. “Angel/Devil” is probably the least entertaining and does the least to highlight the Mac’s advantages. At this point, the commercials are starting to portray a kind of “Abbott and Costello” vibe with the PC character becoming less corporate and geeky and now just plain comically silly. This may be in response to more people identifying with and liking John Hodgman’s character. This is especially true in “Trust Mac,” in which Hodgman’s incognito antics are so silly that Justin Long cannot keep a straight face through the commercial.

…but I get up again.

Those were the words that followed “I get knocked down,” part of the chorus to the song Tubthumping by one-hit wonders Chumbawumba, which may have inspired the name for Chumby. Via Engadget, DYI World reports that Chumby is an Internet appliance that seeks to finally bring the clock radio into the age of the Internet and digital music for “less than 150.” Chumby has a lot of potential as a platform, but looks like overkill. All we need is the time, some MP3s, and maybe the weather. In any case, you can’t buy it yet.

Children’s Machine arrives on the scene

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) recently announced that its device designed for use by children in developing countries is now claled the Children’s Machine 1 or CM1 (an homage to project adviser Seymour Papert) and will begin field trials in September. According to Ars Technica, the device now has 512 MB of integrated flash memory — more than 11 times the storage I needed to store all of my Mac applications and documents throughout college — and can be further expanded through USB slots and an SD card slot. The open-source word processor Abi Word has been modified to use the product’s “Sugar” user interface based on Fedora Core Linux.

Other impressive specs include a camera for taking stills and videoconferencing, a microphone and speaker — perhaps for VoIP — and an 8″ screen with an incredibly high resolution of 1200 x 900 pixels.

I wrote last year that such a device would likely to be of interest to American school districts although doing so might raise the ire of OLPC partner AMD. With a different industrial design, it would also be a godsend on cramped airline trays for business travellers (and more practical than the far more expensive UMPC. It will be interesting to see whether the folks at AlphaSmartc an integrate some of the best technology from the CM1. Its $249 Neo costs almost 80 percent more than the CM1 wth a fraction of the capabilities.

Which handtop is tops?

In 2003, I spent a few days with a Tiqit Windows handheld or “handtop.” That product and the similarly themed Flipstart PC, have yet to ship to consumers, but the third proposed handtop around at that time from Oqo finally did. Following the introduction of the Sony Vaio UX50, MeanSquare’s Miscellany posted an excellent comparison of the two Windows handtops last month and fiound that the Sony product came out on top in terms of performance, battery life and display. However, the Oqo remains a much smaller product.

With Oqo turning more toward the enterprise, I would expect that its next product may sacrifice some portability and style for greater functionality and especially battery life.

GigaBeat vs. Zune’s zombies

No, it’s not a cross between 1960s Japanese and 1940s American monster movies. iLounge got some hands-on time with Zune and its initial report doesn’t turn up anything dramatically threatening to the iPod. As with Vista, Microsoft is paying more attention to eye candy and animations with smooth transitions (I must admit I’m a fan of the “dissolve”) and overlays of letters while scrolling are a nice navigation aid. Beyond that, it looks like Apple’s competitive advantage is still intact. The Zune has no scroll wheel and it’s thicker. As I’ve advocated, it also looks like Microsoft has put the kibosh on iTunes reimbursement as well. Toshiba’s GigaBeat S has the aided navigation and it’s just as small as the iPod with a larger screen like the Zune.

Of Zune’s much-touted Wi-Fi features, iLounge notes that you can “lend” a song to a friend for a day (what’s with the content industry’s infatuation with a 24-hour cycle?) While iLounge does a fine job of pointing out limited utility of this feature until both the Zune and its store achieve critical mass, it does represent one of the first advantages that protected music might have over unprotected music.

For example, you can stream MP3s across a home network, share them on as many PCs as you like, and download them to practically any portable music player, but Zune would only enable peer-to-peer sharing — even in its limited form — only for protected music. Microsoft may be banking on users wanting to reanimate a bunch of deactivated music files on their Zune as a distant way of driving viral music purchase. Microsoft will probably also work to enable this kind of sharing on Zune’s community-focused music service as well, where it can spread more quickly.

CEA tries to pick up E3’s pieces

CEA today announced that it’s formed an advisory group to look into a “gaming and entertainment event” in the spring of 2007, making no bones about its desire to again serve as the focal point for the games industry. For all the success of CES, E3 is “the one that got away”; its split in 1994 left a wound in CEA’s side that’s never healed.

If the big videogame companies pulled out of E3, why would they join a trade show of similar scale hosted by CEA? For one thing, E3 has always had more of a circus environment than CES; the industry has grown up. Also, CES attracts more mainstream media, which is important for expanding the videogame space beyond the fanboy blogs. And while the Xbox and PlayStation groups are their own entities within Microsoft and Sony, both corporations are CES exhibitors as are Intel, nVidia and ATI, er, AMD.

On the other hand, while CEA has long been adept at making overtures to content companies, they haven’t quite cracked that nut to the extent necessary to create a true alternative to E3, where most of the large booths were from software publishers such as Sega, Activision, Atari, EA, Namco, Konami, Square Enix and NCSoft.

When is a platform not a platform?

The Wireless Report asks whether advanced music phones will ever be able to compete with the iPod and comes up skeptical owing to the product’s extensive ecosystem. I’m more bullish on such products. Yes, we’re in the early days but we’ve already seen great strides forward and even Apple concedes that music phones are bound to improve, hence the empty admission that they’re “not doing nothing” in the space.

Something I haven’t seen much coverage about regarding the iPod is that, despite its increasing functionality, media support and vast range of accessories that have developed over the years, Apple has not opened it up to developers the way Palm did with the original Pilot. Want to develop a new game for the iPod? You can’t. One could argue that a platform or API didn’t really save the PDA in the end, but it continues to be important in the realm of smartphones, which could be the iPod’s future and is certainly one direction for portable digital music in general.

Low-tech and high ratings

This gem from last month in the LA Times about how AM radio is enjoying great ratings comes via Zatz Not Funny. There’s an ironic observation on how Howard Stern’s departure from broadcast has resulted in at least a bit of a backfire but how FM may become a more formidable competitor in talk due to competition from satellite radio.

I was surprised to see no mention of HDRadio, which can boost the quality of both broadcast systems, bring AM (back) into the stereo era, and could enable at least FM to answer the quality level of XM and Sirius.

Logitech whacks Wi-Fi’s waiting game

As we continue to trudge toward a MIMO-based Wi-Fi standard that is robust enough to withstand the assault of microwave ovens and cordless phones, companies seeking to simplify wireless digital music distribution aren’t standing still. Squarely between Wi-Fi witholders Soundcast Systems at the point-to-point entry level and Sonos aimed at the Magnolia set.

Now Logitech is expanding its ho-hum 2.4 GHz-based Wi-Fi-alternative music streaming system marketed with the “Music Anywhere” logo in a dramatic way by adding a sleek remote control that can integrate with iTunes and other jukeboxes while streaming DRM-protected files by capturing processed audio output and then digitally encoding it again; the resulting system is the Wireless DJ Music System. Even with a two-room limit, this should be an exceptionally easy to use, flexible and robust system available for a fraction of the cost of the Sonos product.

My-lo point is no Bluetooth

Sony recently introduced Mylo (My Life Online), a device with a resurrected name that resembles its PSP (but is actually much smaller) and boasts an integrated slide-up keyboard. Early coverage labelled it an instant messaging appliance, perhaps a higher-end version of the Wi-Fi-enabled K-Byte Zip-It, but it really is more of a mobile Internet appliance akin to the larger but comparably priced Nokia 770, which Nokia unfortunately sometimes treats like an open-source science project.

Two main differences are that the 770 has a high-resolution screen better suited to Web browsing and Bluetooth. The absence of Bluetooth in Mylo is a quandary; I’d prioritize it more highly than Wi-Fi. If Sony is concerned about the difficulty of pairing or the availability of DUN-capable phones among young hipsters, it should recognize that they can already get a capable Bluetooth-enabled handset (and headset) for less than the Mylo.

In any case, like the 770, the Mylo has the de rigeur music and photo capabilities as well as an integrated Web browser. Mylo reportedly uses Trolltech’s QTopia operating environment; let’s hope its browser is better than the PSPs and that its keyboard is better than the Vaio UX‘s. Unlike the 770, it includes a Skype client and hotspot directory, the latter of which it wouldn’t need (as much) if it had Bluetooth.