July 30, 2012
It’s a pundit’s cliché to prognosticate something like “this will be the last generation of game consoles” or “Blu-ray will be the last physical format” (maybe not). If you want to go out quite a bit further into the future, though, you can listen to the likes of OnLive CEO Steve Perlman, who says that, eventually, virtually all computing devices will go away in a world that can take advantage of ultra-high-speed wireless technology like DIDO.
Are these the ramblings of a mad scientist? Not for Perlman’s former employer, Apple, which has traditionally made money from devices supported by software and content. The latter has historically represented relatively little of the company’s revenue when compared to its well-known hardware products.
But that is starting to shift, at least on a relative basis. In a charting of Apple’s YoY third-quarter revenue shares, Stuart Carlson shows the growing influence of the iPhone and iPad over time. But look a bit further down the Y-axis from those ascendant lines and you will see that revenue form the iTunes store, while down on a percentage basis from a few years ago, now accounts for more revenue than desktops and the iPod, two products that are still strongly identified with the company. This has more to do with cannibalization of these products by notebooks and iPhones than a particular surge in digital sales. I wouldn’t expect this revenue stream to overtake iPhones or notebooks any time soon. Still, it demonstrates that Apple is positioning itself for a world in which bit distribution may pick up growing importance versus devices.
Tags: App Store, Apple, atoms versus bits, desktops, DIDO, iMac, iPod, post-hardware, revenue share
May 3, 2012
Google Play may not be the least confusing name for a digital storefornt and the collection of wares that it offers exclusives the Web apps that are offered via its Chrome Web Store. But the rebranding of what was primarily Android Market best represents what an integrated way to purchase the main digital media types – apps, music and video, and books and magazines – should be. While Amazon has subbrands e-books (Kindle Store) and its music and video service (Amazon Instant Video), but these are under the Amazon umbrella brand that is synonymous with retailing..
Apple, though, remains stuck with three different stores for music and video, apps, and books. And two of those storefronts use the iTunes name which, in addition to mixing the function of an organization tool and a storefront, is far out of date with respect to what might be considered relevant to a “tune.” Yes, Apple, can take its time in revealing how a brand makes sense after all, but “iPod” connoted something general. In contrast, iTunes connotes something specific.
Indeed, Microsoft has been on a similar path. It has the Windows (Phone) Marketplace for apps, Zune for music and videos, and its new partnership with Barnes and Noble will result in a Nook-branded e-book store. If iTunes is too broadly associated with the success of one type of digital media, though, Zune of course has the opposite problem, and I’ve never understood why Microsoft would hang on to a brand so strongly associated with a device that failed in the market. The company has decided to move on from its branding of Windows Live, but it also has been known to keep services limping along forever.
Tags: Amazon, app stores, Apple, digital retailing, ecosystems, Google, Google Play, Microsoft
April 2, 2012
Yesterday, on April Fools’ Day and the 36th anniversary of Apple’s founding, MAD Magazine launched its iPad app on Apple’s Newsstand.The launch appears to be an exclusive. I couldn’t find it on Zinio or the Kindle Store and Barnes & Noble offers only a print subscription. However, wording in the FAQ would indicate that that state of affairs probably won’t last long as it references access that consumers will have so long as their device supports the file format.
The 60-year old MAD’s lateness to the tablet party might have been more excusable if DC Comics had done more to showcase some of the unique qualities of the magazine. For example, the iconic fold-in is not featured among the sparse few pages offered in the preview edition. Moreover, MAD, like The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live, is an eminently modular production filled with many searchworthy features such as the TV show parodies, Spy vs. Spy, The Lighter Side and so on and so on. It would be great to be able to search across these features and, if not purchase them individually, at least be able to buy a past issue that included the content. The app does include a few back-issues, but here’s hoping DC builds out the back catalog to serve as a media-free alternative to more than 50 years’ worth of MAD that was published on DVD-ROM back in 2006 for $49.95 (cheap).
Tags: Alfred E. Neuman, digital editions, features, MAD, MAD Magazine, magazines, newsstands, What Me Worry?
July 8, 2011
I can now say that MusicLites, the networked speakers that think they’re light bulbs (because they are), put out some very nice audio (certainly suited for more than ambient soundtracks and better than other “whole home” systems I’ve tried) from an ingeniously discreet and fairly effective source location over your head. This is not too surprising given the audio was engineered by Artison, a high-end speaker manufacturer that would not want to compromise its brand in the name of audio novelty. While they are impressively small for quality speakers, though, the MusicLites are rather large for light bulbs. For example, each MusicLite speaker weighs about 1.75 lbs. Compare that to a compact florescent bulb that weighs about six ounces.
Before you jump in, know that MusicLites were designed for ceiling lighting wells (making them one of the rare high-tech products explicitly designed to get screwed in a recession). This isn’t to say that they won’t fit into other lamps and ceiling fixtures, but the first three fixtures I tried putting them into were all too small, and the helpful YouTube videos that Artison has put up regarding MusicLites note that even some recessed wells may have challenges accommodating MusicLites. The designers of many of these lighting products simply never anticipated anything like the product. The system has some other imitations, but as retrofits go, it seems to be a promising approach.
Tags: Artison, contros, Home Automation, lighting, mesh networks, multi-zone audio, music, MusicLites, Osram Sylvania, Sonos, whole-home audio
December 20, 2010
Smartphones put Pandora on the mainstream map and is also helping the fortunes of paid music services such as Rhapsody and Rdio, which has created an iPhone music app that is a viable alternative to purchasing music a la carte with iTunes. Indeed, a subscription music offering is also integrated into Windows Phone 7 with Zune.
But what about the rest of consumers, particularly the millions who use prepaid handset services and feature phones, and pay their monthly cell phone bill in cash? Cricket has developed an intriguing music service for its customers called Muve Music. The basic proposition of Muve is similar to those of other music renal services. One can download all the DRM songs one wants for a monthly fee. Stop paying the fee and the access to the music goes away.
But rather than dealing with a PC and sideloading, Muve downloads music right to the handset over 3G, saving time and bandwidth by heavily compressing audio with a new “good enough” Dolby encoding method. The service will launch on a single Samsung feature phone with more to come, including smartphone implementations.
Cricket has addressed concerns about navigating such a large music library on a handset by offering a Web portal into the service that allows customers to pick songs and designate them to be sent right to the handset. And while it is a relatively focused service, it has also integrated automatic playlist creation and song identification.
Muve Music also lets customers use any available track as their ringtone or ringback tone. It’s about a $10 premium on top of the bill, or about what a monthly subscription to Rhapsody or Napster would cost that allows unlimited downloading. However, it is simply another part of the bill rather than paid to a third-party music provider.
The service is the best effort to date to tie music access into the carrier offering mix, which is the best shot of them becoming mainstream. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Sprint, for example, could roll the service as is into a Simply Everything plan. More post-paid customers would care more about music access on the PC itself, and there could be issues around discounts for family plans. Cricket has leveraged the simplicity of its phone service to deliver a simple on-demand music service for a customer base that it describes as passionate about music and flustered as to the best way to access it on what is their primary music-capable digital device.
Tags: Cricket, iTunes, MOG, Muve Music, Napster, Rdio, Rhapsody, sideloading
August 23, 2010
There are products that make it and products that don’t. And then there are a few that exist in a vaporous limbo. The latter seems to be the case for Jook, a tiny and somewhat promising proximity-limited music sharing gadget with social networking ties. It debuted at CES 2009 – yes, more than two and a half years ago. An initiative of gaming peripheral maker Razer,.Jook’s Web site is still intact – frozen in time without any update or explanation as to whether it has been subject to extended gestation or cancelled.
Perhaps the company was concerned about legal action from the RIAA. But a similar product did come to market – the i2i Stream from Aerielle that allowed someone to share audio with people up to 30 feet away. Or perhaps the company figured that the illuminated Jook would have trouble competing with a simple headphone splitter cable.
Tags: Aerielle, i2i, jook, music sharing, proximity, Razer
May 3, 2010
When I wrote about the Sony Dash for Engadget, I said that it signaled a more practical approach to delivering new category-shaping products by delivering new functionality for less than $200. Another other difference between Dash and some other recent Sony flops is that it has a clear lineage, serving as a mashup between a connected digital picture frame and an alarm clock, a category where Sony still participates.
One compromise that Sony had to make to reach that magic price point was to make the Dash a corded product. However, it does allow it to be used in two orientations, one being it lying flat on its back. In that instance, the screen orientation flips and the device becomes easier to see from a standing position. Another compromise includes a ascreen that certainly feels like a resistive device. In fact, I’ve found that I most effective way to operate the Dash is by cradling the top with my fingers and pressing buttons with my thumb. Perhaps it should befriend the Weighted Companion Cube.
Tags: Chumby, Internet appliances, SonyDash, widgets
March 25, 2010
At Showstoppers this week, I had the opportunity to catch up with Zagg, makers of the Invisible Shield and a number of other neat accessories that the company as showing at the event.. One question I had was how a company that focused on inexpensive mobile accessories such as screen protectors got interested in making a high-end home AV multimedia tour de force such as the mighty Zaggbox.
Zagg’s nonobvious answer is that, in selling so many iPhone accessories, the company amassed a database of digital media enthusiasts who cried out for a solution like the Zaggbox, which is expected to sell for somewhere between $800 to $1,000. In any case, before going out on such a limb, the company plans to float the product and get feedback on it at the EHX trade show, where it may come face-to-face with its first customers, custom installers.
Tags: digital media receivers, slingbox, zagg, zaggbox
February 9, 2010
Hulu is anytime, anywhere enjoyment of some of your favorite TV shows — as long as your PC can be used in those circumstances. With Flash coming to nearly every smartphone save for Apple’s many are looking forward to enjoying their House outside of their home.
But first, there’s the realities of even today’s most advanced smartphone processors and even more limiting wireless networks. Apparently, using the latest Flash beta for the Snapdragon-powered Nexus One, you can get up to about 17 frames per second for standard-definition Hulu content (360p) and that’s using Wi-Fi.
That’s not bad, for as long as it lasts. But there may be issues in preserving compatibility with smartphone Flash as Hulu rolls out new DRM. More serious, of course, is whether Hulu, or its content partners, or its content partners’ cable customers, want you to watch Hulu on your smartphone as Hulu is authorized only to deliver video to the PC. If any of those parties decide that they don’t want Hulu being watched on handsets, we could see a redux of the recently reignited Boxee block.
I suspect it will not pan out that way, but I also would be somewhat surprised to see Hulu negotiating with the carriers or creating their own smartphone applications. Perhaps the networks will go it alone or perhaps they will anoint some new puppet aggregator to manage wireless distribution.
Tags: boxee, Flash, hulu, NBC, smartphones
December 31, 2009
The results of the multi-year effort to bring over-the-air digital broadcasts to mobile handheld devices will bear fruit in 2010 as we see the first devices that support MDTV. As I noted in a recent Webinar, the addressable market for mobile DTV includes tens of millions of devices with screens, including cell phones, notebook PCs, portable DVD and flash-based media players, rear seat entertainment systems, tablets, e-readers, portable game consoles, maybe even portable navigation devices (outside the car, of course) and digital picture frames.
But one of the more intriguing devices that can receive the new MDTV standard, as it will be called moving frorward, is the Tivit. In an interesting contrast to FLO TV, which recently rolled out its own dedicated Personal Television, the Tivit has no screen at all, but rather acts as a personal “DTV server” (or “rebroadcaster” to use terminology less palatable to the broadcasters) that can send video to nearby Wi-Fi devices such as cell phones, notebooks, and he iPod touch. Assuming MDTV lives up to its reception claims, this should be an attractive product for use in a vehicle.
Tivit’s operation is very similar to how Novatel’s MiFi delivers 3G access to Wi-Fi devices, with two key differences. The bad news is that,, unlike with the MiFi, client devices will need specific client software to support its output. The good news is that, unlike MiFi, Tivit won’t have a charge for the service it delivers.
Down the line, the two devices may be more competitive than complementary, though. Novatel has built the MiFi to be a platform, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why Novatel couldn’t deliver a MiFi equipped with an MDTV tuner that subsumed the functions of Tivit.
Tags: ATSC mobile, FLO TV, MDTV, MiFi, personal television, Tivit