April 17, 2011
I’ve liked the direction of the Pogoplug hardware and Dropbox service for some time, so I was curious what would happen when the former got into the turf of the latter in the converging fields of personal clouds. That’s what happened with Pogolug 3.0, which enables you to turn a PC into the equivalent of a Pogoplug for free. A few years ago, a startup called Avvenu did something quite similar. It was scooped up by Nokia, renamed Ovi Files, and ultimately discontinued. Pogoplug competitor TonidoPlug has offered a software implementation for some time. And then there’s Weezo, which looks pretty impressive, but I’ve had issues with it traversing certain firewalls. And there are lots of other approaches out there as well.
So I will be using the Pogoplug 3.0 software for a number of things, including using certain PCs as ad hoc servers for when I quickly need to share a file. But at least until Cloud Engines implements true true two-way sync – the magic behind the Dropbox and Evernote clients – I’ll be sticking to Dropbox’s 2 GB limit for a number of sharing tasks. Pogoplug may have a harder time implementing sync because it potentially has to do multipoint sync across multiple servers and perhaps move massive amounts of data around (like SugarSync), but it clearly has to be on the roadmap for the company.
Tags: Box.net, Cloud Engines, Dropbox, Gogobeans, NAS, personal clouds, PogoPlug, SugarSync
April 13, 2010
It was called Project Pink, a name so embedded in the team’s head that the Microsoft team that spoke to a small group of media gathered for a satellite launch event in New York City couldn’t avoid mentioning it. However, the accent color and default user interface are green. Forked off from the core Windows Phone 7 team, the Kin One and Kin Two explore a question that Microsoft claims it painstakingly researched: what do 15 to 25 year olds obsessed with social networks want from their handsets?
Their answer is a Windows Phone that doesn’t run apps, but instead has social networking integrated into its user interface and has solid imaging capabilities. The Kin One has a five megapixel camera whereas the less visually distinctive Kin Two has an eight megapixel camera and 720p video capture capabilities. With the exception of that HD video, the Kins will send nearly all of their information up to the cloud for review in an impressive, but potentially visually scale-challenged, Silverlight Web site called Kin Studio. Microsoft was not shy about coming up with catchy names for different parts of the Kin experience.
The Kin’s user interface is also like no other. Rather than the lines of text like many feature phones or a grid of icons like many smartphones, it takes Windows Phone’s “Metro” design of tiles and blows them out to large squares featuring items to share and people to share them with A small circle on the screen called “the spot” sends them off to be shared. Kin can also share via social networks, but still requires that you manually pick which of the three social networks supported by Kin – Facebook, MySpace and Twitter – receives the update. A classic 1.0 deficiency, sharing photos via Twitter is not supported, which leads me to think that Twitter is planning to launch its own photo sharing service.
Kin faces a number of challenges, but without yet knowing the price of the device, and how it will compete with capable, inexpensive smartphones such as the iPhone, Palm Pixi and Droid Eris, much will come down to how Verizon Wireless –– Microsoft’s exclusive launch partner in the U.S. – prices the service. I take it as a good sign that Verizon representatives did not say at launch that the standard data pricing plan would apply. On the other hand, Kin will be shooting a lot of data up into the cloud all the time, and is a much more mobile device than the iPad on which AT&T offered Apple special pricing.
The second, longer-term challenge will come from the quickly evolving nature of social networks. It is a challenge to keep up with rising stars in social networks and their related services. For example, the Kins support neither Foursqure nor Gowalla, Perhaps Microsoft is waiting to see which one rises to the popularity of Twitter. Or that might spell bad news for the company, as it currently offers its own Bing Maps to convey location information with the handsets.
Tags: Kin One, Kin Two, Microsoft, smartphones, social networking, Veirizon Wirelesss
March 17, 2010
In Bloomberg BusinessWeek, John Chambers argues for a national broadband plan, making the case that it should be considered a key piece of our national infrastructure. It’s not surprising that Cisco would favor policy that helps create more opportunity for networking equipment. But Chambers argues that Cisco would support such expansion for the good of the general welfare even if networking were not its core business.
Indeed, the editorial is somewhat gutsy given that some of Cisco’s largest customers are service providers that risk competition from government-provided broadband. Furthermore, such a plan would likely be wireless, and thus create a managed WWAN that would bypass Wi-Fi, cutting out Cisco’s Linksys router business (although there could be dual-mode devices, such as many handsets or Barnes & Noble’s Nook).
There’s one poor comparison in the piece’s argument, which compares national broadband with putting a man on the moon. Prior to the space race, and indeed not until very recently, there had been no substantive private efforts to put humans on the moon (Ralph Kramden’s threats and Frank Sinatra’s desire to sing among the stars notwithstanding). However, while the U.S. may lag in terms of the percentage of consumers using broadband, private industry has provided an acceptable solution for a high percentage of Americans.
A better example may be the government’s creation of the Internet (or, I would argue, GPS). There were certainly computer networks prior to the Internet, but not one to which they were all connected. It’s that all-encompassing option that the national broadband plan would seek to provide.
Tags: Cisco, ISPs, john chambers, national broadband plan, one of these days alice, public policy
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
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
April 21, 2009
When I last wrote my most recent Switched On column about Lala, I noted that the company had shifted direction a bit from its initial plans to offer a service akin to Rhapsody for free, instead offering a single free listen before requiring consumers to purchase a streaming Web song. Only Lala knows whether it or the labels balked at the unlimited on-demand listening, but I can say that the Palo Alto-based Web music seller is generally down on ad-supported listening and has ambitions to be among the largest sellers of digital music online.
But somewhere out there in an alternate universe — let’s call it Europe — a startup has run with the too-good-to-be-true promise of listening on demand. It’s called Spotify, and in a recent talk with some European media, it was praised as delivering a great music experience – somewhat like Slacker except you get to create the playlists (and no offline access as of yet). Spotify joins Nokia’s possibly slow Comes with Music and the Datz Music Lounge as fresh approaches to exploring and enjoying music in Europe. Surely, we Americans will find some way to make them pay.
Tags: datz, digital music, lala, spotify
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.
Tags: digital hub, iPhone, user interface
February 19, 2009
It looks like Hulu distribution has been tightened up over the past few days. Maybe NBC and Fox are rethinking the power of the destination now that they have spent big for a SuperBowl ad featuring closeted alien Alec Baldwin.
Dave Zatz adroitly points out that this is likely to have a chilling effect on other solutions that deliver Internet video to the television and I would argue that it may also cause the major TV manufacturers who were all aflutter about Internet video on their wares to temper their embrace.somewhat. However, as seems to be made clear by the apologetic Hulu blog entry regarding the removal from Boxee, Hulu has a limited voice in what their content players do. Have patience, little Hulu. One day you may grow up to be the next Comcast and will get to enjoy the same kind of tortured negotiations as the regulated aggregators sharing the coax ride into the home.
This ties into another theory I have as to part of the motivation behind the Boxee move and it doesn’t have to do with a blind desire to keep broadband TV shows off the television. Unfortunately, I can’t share much about it now but, as they say, stay tuned.
In another example of out-of-the-Boxee thinking, Sling Media is embracing social media in its own way with its recent initiative that lets you share what you’re watching with your Facebook friends, another baby step in the leveraging of personal relationships to drive exposure to TV programming.
Tags: boxee, broadband video, hulu, sling media, tv.com
January 21, 2009
This post is a bit off the menu, if you will, but I harbor some doubt about how popular Subway Now, the sandwich chain’s online and wireless pickup service, will work. As anyone who has ever been to a Subway knows, the sandwich is made before you by the eatery’s “sandwich artists.” I’ve long had a pet theory that people – at least abused Manhattanites – enjoy going to Subway in the middle of a work day because it provides an opportunity for them to bark orders interactively at somebody else – “Not too much sauce! More lettuce!” It’s the opposite of Seinfeld’s famous “Soup Nazi” experience. Once, I had to contain myself as a woman in line ahead of me– delighted that the perparer had finally accurately gauged that she wanted enough mayonnaise on her sandwich to enable the top layer of bread to float above the vegetables drowning inches below — purred in anticipatory self-reference, “Yeah, that’s how she likes it.”
Such immediate feedback and nuance will be hard to recreate in the asynchronous bit stream that is online sandwich ordering – just three easy steps. (It shouldn’t be a quiz, no?) And Subway is bringing back an expedited version of its former long-running Sub Club loyalty program for a limited time. Oder three sandwiches via Subway Now and your fourth is free. In any case, even if you order via Subway Now, you still have to get yourself to the store to pick up your order. Be sure to walk there and make Jared proud.
Tags: online ordering, sandwiches, subway, subway now
December 13, 2008
This isn’t one of those Macworld Expo predictions posts that will inundate the blogosphere in the coming weeks. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple announce Safari 4 at Macworld Expo as Google’s Chrome browser has left beta.
Chrome has mostly been portrayed as bad news for Firefox, particularly given Google’s previous support for the Mozilla browser, but it may also serve to blunt the impact of one of Apple’s most recent — and most questioned — Windows software dalliances. As folks who have had their cars damaged as they drove through jungle parks will tell you, a safari and chrome don’t mix, and the competitive browsers are yet another case of Apple and Google making for strange bedfellows.
Speaking of Safari (and for that matter, iTunes) for Windows. using Apple applications for PCs reminds me of the bad old days of Microsoft Office for the Mac when Microsoft would ponderously overlay the Windows user interface onto its software in the name of preserving cross-platform consistency (as opposed to today where it simply asks Mac users to use software with the name Windows in it). It was as user-hostile move for Microsoft as it is today for Apple, which should change the button designs, fonts, window styles and controls to match Windows conventions better.
Tags: Apple, browser wars, Chrome, Google, Safari