July 27, 2009

imageSwitched reports that KDDI is showing microSD cards that have embedded Wi-Fi, a natural evolution of a long-running trend in network-enabled memory cards. SanDisk had Wi-Fi-enabled Compact Flash cards back in the Pocket PC era and, of course, Eye-Fi has marketed a variety of Secure Digital cards with embedded Wi-Fi. Since digital cameras have a particular purpose and don’t use a standard operating system, Eye-Fi has focused the cards’ functionality on uploading photos to PCs and various photo and video services. While its prices have always been uncompetitive with the rapid dips in flash memory price-performance Eye-Fi now faces more difficult challenges as both units and average prices shrink for digital still cameras. Eye-Fi’s “Pro” 4 GB card with Wi-Fi costs $150, $30 more than an entry-level Canon A480 at MSRP.

So, Wi-Fi-enabled microSD certainly would have appeal to Eye-Fi, which could use it to expose the company to a much larger market of cell phones. Software would be more of a challenge as Eye-Fi would likely want to create client applications on multiple operating systems. Software, though, could enable new applications beyond uploading to one of my long-running bugaboos, in-the-field sharing of photos (and other media).

But while the Switched piece points out that some smartphones don’t support Wi-Fi, that’s becoming the exception these days with even Verizon Wireless warming to the LAN technology somewhat. Eye-Fi might be left to recreate its current wireless photo transfer service on feature phones  that can connect wirelessly, but relatively expensively and slowly.

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July 21, 2009

Boste SoundLinkA few weeks after Yamaha upgraded its capitalization defiant MusicCAST multi-room Sonos competitor, Bose – which has been another “traditional” audio manufacturer that has dabbled in multi-room functionality – has trotted out the SoundLink wireless speaker for extending PC audio. As is customary for Bose, few details regarding specs are available but it has acknowledged that the system uses a proprietary wireless connection. My guess is a 2.4 GHz signal like those used by by Sony in its S-Air systems or EOS Wireless in its multi-room system. Having used some of these proprietary PC-based point systems in their early days, I wonder if Bose has done anything to filter out system sounds from the PC since the system comes without software.

In any case, using the PC as the audio source certainly brings some advantages, such as great choice in audio selection, but more systems are tapping directly into Internet music sources. Even some iPod speaker docks without integrated networking can now take advantage of the iPod touch’s Wi-Fi access to stream at least half a dozen Internet radio selections. I suppose the market for this is bedrooms where consumers are already using a laptop as the main audio source but want more flexibility in the placement of the speaker.

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May 26, 2009

I had a chance to catch up yesterday with Avaak, the Demo-launched company that wil be bringing the Avaak Vue system to market later this year. One part of the company’s messaging that I hadn’t heard was the focus on its “peel and stick” cameras to encourage ad hoc webcasting.

The company acknowledged as i suspected that the first-generation Vue will be focused more on telepresence than security applications per se. That’s a bit of a strike against it as security seems to be the best justification for buying a bunch of networked webcams. Avaak also talked about social networking aspects of the system, which I think will be even more of a niche. But if it can be done securely, perhaps there’s opportunity to bring in remote relatives to a ceremony in a home and I can certainly see commercial applications. However, as PogoPlug is showing in relation to the NAS market, secondary applications (in its case, file sharing) can emerge as a viable alternative to a primary application (backup).

As to the Vue’s incredible battery life, I finally got an estimate on what the company considers to be the “typical use” that will enable a year’s worth of usage – ten minutes a day, which I think is more than fair. Some quick math, then, reveals that Vue should be able to broadcast straight for about 2.5 days from a full charge.

I also hadn’t seen any announcements from Avaak about pricing or archiving, but the news here was good overall as well. Avaak plans to include the first year of video storage (up to 2 GB) included in the purchase price. For subsequent years, the price would be an incredibly reasonable $19 per year for that amount of online storage. Avaak is also taking a smart approach to heavy users, saying it would welcome an opportunity to structure a tier of pricing to appeal to them. Overall, I remain very keen on this product and its potential to break open the market for networked cameras.

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March 20, 2009

imageAt Technologizer, Harry McCracken, again showing that he is the king of context when it comes to tech blogging, cleverly compares Cisco’s acquisition of Pure Digital and the almost fatal acquisition of Palm Computing by US Robotics shortly before USR’s own purchase by 3Com. I’d argue that in some ways there was more obvious synergy between a networking company and Palm, which would eventually morph into a smartphone company, and Cisco/Pure Digital. Clearly Cisco is striving to establish its brand in the consumer market, and the relatively inexpensive Flip gives it a means of low-priced video acquisition on which to stamp its bridge logo and feed its new NAS (that seems to have a bigger LCD than the Flip!).

This is an interesting time for the category as we are clearly starting to see more blurring between these low-cost flash-based units that have traditionally sold for less than $200 and higher-end flash camcorders that have traditionally sold for more than $500, but that is to be expected as the future of the camcorder is undoubtedly flash memory. For example, while the Flip and the Kodak Zi6 lack an optical zoom, the new Sony Webbie has a 5x optical zoom. As these large-scale manufacturers companies take better advantage of the lower price and smaller size that flash memory increasingly makes easier to enable, Pure Digital may have timed its exit perfectly

Pure Digital originally sought to use disposable camcorders to drive a DVD processing business for drug stores and mass merchants. It may be a good example of what a company can gain when its products become targets for hackers, who had found a way to get video from its original products. This may have helped the company understand the potential for an inexpensive camcorder aimed at moms first and YouTubers (who understand more options for capturing video) second. There are certainly some Apple-like aspects to its products’ designs – minimalism, simplicity, and integrated software, and smallness. (However,  I think an Apple camcorder would either have a much larger screen or no screen at all (mino shuffle).

What would Cisco do with the Flip products? Adding Wi-Fi would be a logical next step to get around the buzz-killing upload process.  Flip technology could also be leveraged in home monitoring cameras, a market to which Avaak has brought rejuvenated interest. And of course, Cisco owns what was once Scientific Atlanta, so your future cable set-top box might be a platform for videoconferencing as well. Reflecting the increasing blurriness of the category, I’d also expect Cisco to push upstream with higher recording capacity (one of my biggest gripes about the Flip) and optical zoom although I would not expect it to vie with the flagship models from Sony, Canon and Panasonic. The challenge would be to manage all this iPod touch-like platform magic with iPod shuffle-like simplicity, otherwise the mino would be lost. (The mino would be lost.)

There’s also a diamond in the rough in FlipShare, Pure Digital’s revamped video organization software that has potential to be the iPhoto of video, but right now lacks critical features like being able to import videos from sources other than a Flip camcorder (such as the hard drive)..

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February 23, 2009

Gizmodo highlights an interesting demo video of how Apple could use iTunes to do a far more efficient and effective job of app management than is resident on the iPhone itself using the richer object manipulation capabilities of the PC. Some capabilities I’ve been hoping for that are demoed include reordering screens and selecting multiple icons. I’m not sure I need the “space locking feature.” But on the other hand, it doesn’t include the screen-naming feature I’d like to see.

I think Apple would have been more open to this back at the debut of the iPhone where the device was more dependent on the computer for tasks such as activation and sideloading. Gradually, though, as the iPhone becomes a more robust platform in its own right, the notion of the computer as the digital hub – at least for peripherals – seems to be fading. What replaces it? Perhaps the PC is disintegrating into fragment computing – notebooks and netbooks depending on the mobile usage model, MIDs to rival consumer electronics, and a home server for housekeeping and personal media distribution around the home.

In related iPhone wish list news, CrunchGear reports that someone has hacked Apple’s handset to accept input from an external keyboard via Bluetooth.

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January 21, 2009

image This week, TechCrunch took the wraps off the second milestone prototype of what was to be the $200, MacBook Air-thin browsing tablet now being called the CrunchPad (not a bad name, actually). The good news is that, even though this latest prototype is a little beefy, the team still believes that the final design, should it be made, would be about 0.7”. It’s far easier for a “pure” tablet to achieve such a slim profile than a clamshell.

The bad news is that the $200 price point indeed has proven unattainable and the final product would be closer to $300 in price. Who would have thought? Even at $300, the VIA Nano-based tablet would be far more capable than the RDP-based Smart Displays Microsoft launched back in 2003 and at a third of the price. But something else has changed since those days, too – the advent of the iPhone and iPod touch, which provide a decent Web experience for even less. Unlike those products, the CrunchPad can handle Hulu and other Flash video, but those are longer usage scenarios that are well-suited to netbooks that can run native apps beyond a browser and have a real keyboard.

There are some interesting usage scenarios around the CrunchPad. It could idly serve as a digital picture frame until it’s needed or be nice raw materials for custom installers, but in general the market likely does not extend far beyond the Web-obsessed TechCrunch reader, who can use it to manage their Chumbys.

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December 4, 2008

imageNews this week that Panasonic and Samsung — the two leaders in plasma television– had invested in Sunbeam, a semiconductor company driving the WirelessHD standard, was another strong expression of support for the company that is using adaptive beam forming, and other technologies to enable mulcting high-definition wireless video delivery. Even SuNbeam’s competitors have praised its approach, but have said that it would take a long time for the technology to come to market, adding in that when 60 GH is ready for prime time, they’ll be there.. However, a recent blog post by Erica Egg at Net says that Wireless (as well as WHDI) products will be shipping by the first quarter of 2009.

WirelessHD is also backed by Sony and Sharp, so it will also likely appear in LCD televisions as well. One key difference between Wireless and WHDI is range with WHDI having more of a WI-Fri-like footprint. As a result, while both technologies will be marketed primarily as cable-replacement technologies within the home theater (as has been the case for Belkin’s delayed pre-WHDI FlyWire product), WHDI should be more interesting to convergence-minded home networkers wanting a theoretically more effective way then Wi-Fri of bridging the classic PC-TV gap.

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August 22, 2008

Just a few days after my Switched On.column on musical mashups in which  I talked about the possibilities of combining the Cerulean TX+RX with the EOS Wireless multi-room system, Gizmodo reports that Sony has introduced its own multi-room iPod dock, joining EOS Wireless and Klipsch. Unlike the EOS satellite speakers (which include a modest downward-firing subwoofer), the Sony satellite speakers offer remote control over iPod playback yet the system is priced competitively with the EOS Wireless speakers. A $400 kit will include the dock (which includes AV out but no speakers) and two external speakers, pegging the price of the main dock at about $240.

Also, like the EOS Wireless system, there does not appear to be a way to control the playback volume of satellite speakers from the main dock. Perhaps that would be possible, though, with an iPod touch application. While none of these products offer the flexibility or sophistication of Sonos, they are much simpler to set up than Wi-Fi-based systems and represent a great opportunity to make multi-room music more approachable.

The sudden momentum we’re seeing toward scrapping Wi-Fi for multi-room music has to have the folks at Logitech scratching their heads. The company entered the multi-room music market with products like the Wireless PC Music System and Wireless DJ that used a similar 2.4 GHz scheme. Both were part of its “Music Anywhere” system that Logitech promoted as “a better wireless solution with plug-and-play simplicity, digital audio clarity, and no home network required.” But that went out the window when the company acquired Slim Devices and its Wi-Fi-based Squeezebox.

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July 22, 2008

Michael Arrington wants to buy some silicon champagne with beer money. The purveyor of posts on Web 2.0 companies, who has built an online family of sites including gadget blog CrunchGear, specs out an Internet tablet at a price point that has eluded some of the world’s largest-scale device manufacturers.

Products that have been roughly comparable have included the iPod touch and Nokia N800 (although this would appear to have a larger screen than those) and Smart Displays (such as those that were made by Viewsonic). Digital picture frames with Wi-Fi might come close, but they generally don’t have a battery and often lack touch screens. Their displays often offer relatively low resolution as well.

As many commenters have pointed out, getting good performance out of Adobe Flash on a low-end computing platform can be challenging, the technical rationale behind why the technology isn’t supported on the iPhone and iPod touch. And speaking of Apple, despite the original iBookish mockup pictured, he wants the device to be as thin or thinner than the MacBook Air. Sorry, but you simply fall off the realism meter when you start making substantive comparisons between your $200 fantasy and an $1,800 premium notebook computer designed by one of the best engineering teams in the business. It looks like this will likely become another in the short history of prominent blogger-designed, open source non-products such as Dave Winer’s podcast player. At least he didn’t expect it to cost $15.

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June 19, 2008

Amidst a lineup of new notebooks and desktops under the HP, Compaq and Voodoo brands, HP finally trotted out its MediaSmart Connect Windows Media Extender, that also can utilize its own MediaSmart software solution. I understand HP’s rationale in offering both the simpler MediaSmart and the more full-featured Windows Media Center UI, but having two UIs still seems like a less than ideal compromise.

The MediaSmart Connect is certainly the most stylish of the Vista-compatible MCEs available (and I’ll include the XBox 360 in that set) although the Samsung approach — in which the Media Center Extender is mounted onto the back of the TV — may be the most transparent external device approach yet.

I also like HP’s option of the personal media drive/USB options. However, I’d like the Personal Media Drive option a lot more if it had the ability to sync with a network store such as HP’s own MediaSmart Windows Home Server or NAS product the way Apple TV can sync with multiple PCs running iTunes. I favored this approach before Apple announced Apple TV. Apple may include only a 40 GB drive with the base Apple TV, but it’s still doing so at a price that’s less than that of the MediaSmart Connect.

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