This holiday, $299 is the new $199

This holiday, consumers will have at least three strong new consumer electronics products from which to choose converging around a $299 entry price — the Nintendo Wii U (basic set), the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, and the iPod touch. The other product that comes close and which may give that all a strong run for their money is the $329 iPad mini.

While these products may come with different descriptions worthy of Breakfast Club-style stereotypes — the video game, the tablet and the media player — it’s a  sign of the times is that all are platforms and converged devices. The main differences are the size of the screen they address and the maturity and the strength of the ecosystems they support.

Microsoft may roll back Start menu

Byron Acohido in USA Today:

Sinofsky successfully argued that it was crucial for the company to orient Windows PC users toward the look and feel of the all-new Windows 8 Surface touch tablet and the latest Windows Phone 8 smartphone models.

He might have won the internal debate. But convincing millions of home and workplace users of Windows that the switch was for their own good hasn’t gone well.

Microsoft’s bringing back of the Start button wouldn’t represent a retreat from the Windows 8-style touch interface or even have much practical benefit for Windows 8 users. This is a familiarity issue similar but perhaps more pronounced than the Apple Menu/dock controversy that surfaced at the debut of OS X. There are other ways that Microsoft could reconcile the desktop and touch interfaces of Windows 8 such as manually or automatically switching modes when using on a surface os opposed to on a couch or while standing.

The way Windows 8 works today, the default return to the Start screen is somewhat of an ad for the Windows 8-style interface. Don’t forget it’s there and hopefully developers won’t, either. The better way for Microsoft to push users to it, however, is to eat its own dog food and bring more settings and apps, especially Office, to that world. Engaging users with the entire screen would be much more powerful than dithering over a corner of it.

Approving Google Maps on iOS

Google is apparently following through on rumored plans to bring iOS devices with a standalone app similar to the approach it has taken with YouTube. The big question that seems to be floating around is whether Apple would approve such an app, much of it centered on the rivalry between the two companies. However, Apple would have a hard time justifying non-approval as it already has approved other mapping and navigation apps for iOS such as Waze, Scout, MapQuest and a number of map-resident apps from device brands such as TomTom and Magellan. The app store condition regarding non-competition with built-in functionality is dead and the platform is better for it.

AMD and the future of ultramobile

Sean Hollister at The Verge writes a great piece about AMD’s woes which, among other criticisms, notes that AMD stayed out of the netbook market for too long. But with the low margins and eventual collapse of the netbook market as it had previously existed, that might have been a wise business decision. Perhaps the best thing gained from being in the old netbook market would have been gaining a greater understanding of the new ultramobile market of tablets and hybrids running Windows 8 and RT with Clover Trail and ARM processors. Obviously, AMD will need to be a strong player here to be competitive and would be consistent with a move into ARM.

Dropcam now supports iPad

A bigger canvas provides a better case for buying multiple Dropcams.

ANT+ products march into their own directory

The fitness-minded ANT+ (originally Advanced and Adaptive Network Technology although most traces of its origins have been wiped from the Web) protocol created by Dynastream Innovations (which sounds like a Hollywood invention) and later adopted by Garmin (presumably to complement its Forerunner wristwear for now) now has a directory of products. The diversity of the offerings is no doubt meant to show off industry momentum. However, at 311 products listed, it also shows the protocol’s vulnerability to Bluetooth Smart, which is heir apparent to the short-range radio in billions of devices.

Nook for Windows 8: The PC is not an e-reader

As it comes to market with new Android-based tablets boasting impressive pixel density (but not as impressive as other devices), Barnes & Noble has teamed with its joint venture partner Microsoft to roll out Nook for Windows 8. Other than the relatively early adoption of a new platform, there’s not much remarkable about the announcement of support per se. However, it doesn’t indicate an intermediate step toward a Windows-based Nook.  You can use Nook for Windows 8 or Windows RT from any manufacturer that has jumped in, including the Surface, However, Barnes & Noble has invested a lot in the Android platform (coincidentally, its New York office is surrounded by floors occupied by Google). And now that Microsoft has called off the legal dogs, it sees little incentive to change. That said, the larger average sizes of Windows tablets should make for a stronger magazine reading experience for those willing to carry that weight.

Verizon smartphones to come with Amazon app suite

Prime Instant Videos are not included. Still, this smells like another step in Amazon inching toward creating a smartphone.

Droid DNA first impressions

HTC and Verizon made a credible claim of recaptuing the high-end of Android smartphones  today with the announcement of the Droid DNA, which  revitalizes the testosterone-engorged subbrand with a best-in-class resolution 5″ display. Along with the Lumia 920 at AT&T, the DNA harkens back to the golden era of carrier smartphone exclusives before Apple and Samsung went cross-carrier with their flagships.

Design elements such as he perforated edges were magnified many times in the press conference presentations but are barely perceptible when looking at the device. However, along with the the “spillover” effect on the device’s edge, it makes for a distinctive, gradually revealing design.

Other standout elements include relative comfort for such a large handset, wireless charging, and a widescreen front-facing camera. As impressive as the display was, though, particularly on video, the Internet icon on the home screen looked blotchy. Perhaps it is being scaled poorly to the new ultra-high resolution. The side volume buttons were also nearly flush with the device’s edge, an aesthetic advantage outweighed by an ergonomic disadvantage.

The tradeoffs of an iPad mini Retina display

Marco Arment:

Apple didn’t make an arbitrary decision to withhold Retina on the Mini to save money, upsell more buyers to the iPad 4, or “force” the first generation of iPad Mini owners to upgrade next year. They chose not to ship a Retina iPad Mini because it would be significantly worse than the previous iPads in very important factors.

Marco makes astute observations about the often non-obvious tradeoffs in product design. There are always compromises. However, the new Nook HD has a high-resolution display and presumably has more than three hours of battery life.