August 13, 2009
This week’s Switched On column delves into Apple’s strength in desktop widgets and progressively declining widget strength as one looks across its product line to the iPhone and Apple TV. As I mentioned in the column, no company has implemented widgets effectively across the three platforms, and even gadget-happy Microsoft has encountered the same challenges in the living room with Xbox that Apple has with Apple TV despite the former’s much larger installed base. It’s hard to see anyone but Apple and Microsoft owning widgets on the desktop, but Samsung looks uniquely positioned to offer them across cell phones and televisions, where they are a more strategic play anyway.
In the comments, one person suggested that iPhone widgets could be activated by double-press of the Home button, but I would see it as either an extended button press option or a gesture. (If Apple allowed third parties to modify the iPhone system’s behavior, you can bet that someone would have come up with extended gesture options for the iPhone. Apple has barely scratched their surface. Indeed, the Mac trackpad’s gestures are more developed than the iPhone’s.)
Let me call upon my user interface design expertise, which consists of my having sent an idea via AppleLink to Don Norrman about a way that Automator-style macros could be built in the Finder that wasn’t dismissed as completely nonsensical. Another option would be a mashup of the HTC Sense user interface and Microsoft’s Windows 6.5 lock screen. Enable an app to run active as a lock screen. When you turn on the iPhone, instead of just having the one lock screen, you could swipe to multiple screens that would display Sense-style applications without turning on the device.
This would not be as flexible as Dashboard, but would be better than what we have today, fit well with the phone usage model, and require only minimal, closed Apple-controlled basic multitasking since widgets aren’t much different than Web pages. When you unlock the device, the HTML rendering engine part of mobile Safari quits and you’re presented with the last app you had open or the home screen..
This approach could also maintain Apple’s blurring of apps and widgets, which might be a good distinction to dissolve on the iPhone, at least judging from the confusing way it’s handled in Android’s application market.
Tags: HTC Sense, iPhone, lock screens, widgets
May 29, 2009
Earlier this month, I wrote a Switched On column for Engadget that discussed how Windows 7 Starter Edition’s three-app limit left Microsoft wide open for jibes from Apple and detractors. Today, the company announced that it is lifting the three-app limit. Instead, it will rely on features such as personalization and streaming music support to distinguish the Starter Edition from Windows 7 Home Premium, which will be the default edition for developed economies.
Removing the three-app limit, which was arbitrary in this day of Web applications that Google Wave has so aptly demonstrated, will remove potential frustrations that consumers of value-targeted PCs would have experienced while still providing enough of an incentive to induce consumers to upgrade. The losers here are Apple’s commercial writers, who will now have to dig a little harder to find something to ding Windows 7 on, and Linux, which, as I’ve noted, has increasingly had trouble justifying its presence in netbooks. But the potential of other “gaptop” devices such as Qualcomm’s SmartBook initiative, may offer new hope, It’s starting to look, though, that the opportunity is more around the smaller screen size than a lower price point.
Tags: Linux, netbooks, nettops, Windows 7 Starter Edition
February 6, 2009
Since 2005, I’ve written a year-end column called The Switchies in which I’ve highlighted some of the most significant, innovative, or best products of the year. The recognition is real. However, the criteria and even categories, in which there are never other nominees but sometimes runners-up, are completely arbitrary. Call it my “best of the year” if you will.
On occasion, representatives from companies that have had products mentioned in the column have sent me a note thanking me, understanding that the column is simply a bit of a tongue-in-cheek shout-out and not a formal award. I even created a hokey contrived expansion to fit the acronym Switchie — the Saluting Wares Improving Technology’s Contribution to Humanity awards. And this time, I even joked that the awards were hastily distributed behind the Engadget trailer at CES, evoking an image of a fence operation, and that the rise in gold prices had forced a cutback in statuettes. And, of course, as it says at the end of every Switched On column, views expressed in the column are my own (and by extension not those of Engadget’s editors).
But for 2008, the Switches hit prime time for some reason. One PR representative asked me (and Engadget apparently) whether there was a logo that her client could use for winning a Switchie. I explained the deal to her. And then another company put out a press release promoting that it had won a Switchie, awarded by “the experts at Engadget.com” and quoting “the judges” yet making no mention of me or the Switched On column. Engadget, in fact, does have its own awards, which are Reader’s Choice awards.
I notified the company that the Switchie is not a formal award and is certainly not awarded by Engadget’s editors but is simply a reflection of my opinion. However, the press release is still out there. As far as I’m concerned, it’s fine to promote that you’ve “won” a Switchie (or just noting that you were mentioned in the column would be even better), but it’s misleading to characterize it as an Engadget award. I suppose I’ll have to take stronger measures next year to avoid any confusion.
Tags: engadget, Switched On, The Switchies
December 1, 2008
When I wrote for MacWEEK back in the early ’90s working with Rick LePage, Missy Roback and now IDC display analyst Bob O’Donnell, the most enduring product I reviewed was probably the first version of Acrobat.
I actually preferred a competitor called Common Ground from No Hannds Software that could produce a 300-dpi bitmap that eliminated the need to embed fonts. It also had the novel ability to create a Windows executable with the document embedded from the Mac version, eliminating the need for the recipient to download a Windows reader. Today, of course, using such a feature would be ill-advised in our age of rampant viruses.
Common Ground was eventually acquired by enterprise software vendor Hummingbird and today there’s no trace of it on the company’s Web site as Acrobat ruled essentially unchallenged for more than a decade. That was, until Windows Vista with its recursive initialism XPS (XML Paper Specification). You may remember the hew and cry by Adobe regarding Microsoft’s inclusion of XPS in Vista. but it has become another Vista technology to see slow pickup like the kind I wrote about in my Switched On column a while back.
Tags: Common Ground, Microsoft, PDF, portable documents, XPS
November 27, 2008
One of the biggest flameouts in storage at the turn of the century was DataPlay, which produced a write-once, copy-protected enclosed optical disc about the size of a quarter — in some ways the Universal Media Disc of its day. Along with Iomega’s 40 MB Click/PocketZip drive, DataPlay failed as the last attempts of optical and mechanical media to wrest control from flash memory for the future of portable devices using removable media. (I suppose you could also consider Compact Flash form factor microdrives but those primarily became embedded devices over their short run.) Had things turned out differently, we might be debating the merits of “discMusic,” not slotMusic.
As it was, both disc formats had at least one MP3 player released that supported their formats — the DataPlay-compatible iDP-100 by iRiver and the PocketZip-compatible HipZip by Iomega. The terse Wikipedia entry for DataPlay claims there was even an album released in the format by Britney Spears, which might have foreboded the company’s fall and modern-day attempts at a comeback.
In that vein, I was surprised to see the old logo as I was doing some research on Sonic’s QFlix burn-at-home DVD format for my next Switched On column. According to the now low-key Web site of the Colorado purveyor of “advanced optical solutions,” the company offers an external QFlix-certified DVD burner called the MovieWriter and a commercial “pre-key” QFlix-writing system for replicators.
More incredibly, though, it still lists the original DataPlay format in a product. The “biometric access personal storage device” includes an external USB DataPlay drive with 5 GB (10 discs) worth of media that is encrypted as it is written.. It also includes a fingerprint scanner although there is likely a good “security by obscurity” argument for the format. In any case, the security application is a dramatic contrast from the glitz evoked by the company’s large ecosystem-touting Consumer Electronics Show booth during its go-go years.
Tags: DataPlay, QFlix, removable media
December 11, 2007
With Blu-ray and HD-DVD being relatively new on the video scene, it’s not surprising that each has a logo to let consumers know that a disc is compatible with its respective formats. The HD-DVD one is an extension of the DVD logo (pictured), which informed consumers that the shiny disc they were considering contained more than just music. Each of the major video game console vendors also brands compatible software with the appropriate logo as well.
Thinking about my Vudu column posted today on Engadget and the news that the company is offering The Bourne Ultimatum in high-definition, I’m wondering how consumers other than Vudu owners might know that the movie is available on the service. Awareness of broadband video services is very low. It would benefit several companies at this early stage to develop some kind of logo signifying that a movie was available for legal digital rental or purchase. There have been a few on-air promotions showing that certain video content is available via iTunes, but I’ve mostly seen these for television shows.
It may be hopeless as, unlike with physical media, many of the video download services (iTunes, Xbox Live Marketplace, Vudu, Fanfare) are vertically integrated. However, a broadband video alliance might also have more leeway in negotiating with studios for better terms, such as the ludicrous 24-hour limit to finish watching a movie once it’s started (not that I’ve been burned by that… twice). None of the services (except maybe Vongo) seem to be competing on usage terms.
Tags: broadband, video downloads
September 28, 2007
Gizmodo has a lengthy post about Apple’s new iPhone update and its impact on unlocked phones. Apple gave advance notice that the update might render such phones useless. The whole iPhone unlocking phenomenon has touched on a lot of complex issues regarding intellectual property, consumer rights, the DMCA and so forth, but are there really that many consumers out there who so lust for an iPhone but have such an aversion to AT&T? Why don’t these people just get an iPod touch and another sleek (smart)phone? It seems like this would save them a lot of trouble.
Since my two-part column on Xohm, I’ve been accused of drinking the WiMax Kool-Aid, but I have to think that some kind of open access (or at least more open access) network would be cheered by consumers looking for most of the iPhone’s data features without being tied to AT&T. Apple’s multiyear exclusive may forbid such fraternizing with Sprint, but at least some fans of Apple’s portable wireless devices are clearly willing to go to extraordinary measures to avoid Apple’s current wireless partner.
September 4, 2007
As Ed Colligan has announced in Palm’s official blog, the company has decided to cancel shipment of the Foleo mobile companion. My friends at Engadget who called for Palm to can the device have exhibited typical class and decorum in resisting the temptation to dance on the initial product’s grave or, perhaps more appropriately given its plans for future reanimation. Indeed, Palm pegs its decision to ice the device not on external criticism, but on taking time to focus on its smartphone platform (shades of Apple delaying Leopard to focus on the iPhone) and putting the Foleo and its phones on the same platform (which makes a lot of sense, given that they are both being based on Linux).
I was certainly a fan of the Foleo hardware, less so on its initial positioning, and hope the device indeed returns. In the interim, it would be great to see Palm work native e-mail capabilities, video and WiMAX into the the “Foleo II.” Until then, bring on the EEE. And hey, Palm, if you need to get rid of one of those preproduction Foleos, let’s talk.
September 1, 2007
After continuing on his fruitless anti-megapixel campaign, David Pogue’s review of the vividly colored Finepix Z (as in Generation) touches on a topic I wrote about two and a half years ago in Switched On — the difficulty in sharing photos on the spot with others, say, at a party.
Fujifilm has enabled these cameras to beam pictures to each other the way early Newtons MessagePads and Palm Pilots could beam virtual business cards (this was quite the geeky spectacle at Macworld Expos after the Newton was launched although there’s really been no replacement for exchanging digital contact information). Pogue lays out the scenario:
August 23, 2007
Not long after my two-part column offering a more moderate pespective on the Foleo, a few of my favorite Engadget editors penned an open letter to Palm that received a chorus of amens from the community and rightly so. I don’t think you’ll find anyone in Palm’s management who doesn’t understand the software opportunity and the sad fate of the original Palm OS through its long period of misguided development and subsequent neglect amidst a dizzying series of management changes. And, yes, the Treo needs to slim down. But a slim Treo is only table stakes as a number of strong competitors (Motorola, Samsung, HTC, Apple) have slim smartphones. My Blackberry 8800 is not noticeably thicker than the T-Mobile Dash either.
So, while the open letter raises a lot of issues that Palm needs to address, following its advice is not going to allow Palm to move ahead and differentiate. It would be like telling Nintendo in the GameCube days that they needed to support HDTV because Sony and Microsoft were going to in their next generation or telling Apple that they needed to switch to Intel processors before they had introduced the iMac and titanium PowerBooks.