Archive for November, 2007

The Mobile Web remains far off, and inevitable

zumobi and yahoo go phonesThree recent posts on the Web discuss the coming of the Mobile Web. One thing we can all agree on: It’s a big deal. What we don’t agree on is this: When will it get here, and will it be what we as consumers need?

The Register recently conducted a poll of its readers with more than half believing that “always-on mobile Internet access” will become “fundamental” to how they work. Recognizing that its poll is skewed — techies read the “publication”, not my insurance-salesman neighbor — The Register nonetheless rightly notes that once availability, accessibility, traffic structures, hardware, and other issues are sorted out the Mobile Web will finally arrive.

“When the technology passes the always-on threshold,” The Register writes, “you can expect people to use it with impunity.”

Which brings me to my second bit of news.

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Why the AppleTV is outdated already

Why the AppleTV is outdated alreadyThe online video landscape has changed dramatically since the AppleTV was launched last January. Along with a range of me-too video download stores competing directly with iTunes, there exists a confusing mix of ad-supported destination sites run by the television networks themselves, including Hulu, and the catch-up service, NBC Direct, complemented by desktop Internet TV applications such as Joost and Babelgum (again, both ad-supported), as well as video aggregators like VeohTV. Perhaps recognizing this, Apple CEO Steve Jobs himself has sought to reposition the company’s set-top-box away from “completing the story”, in terms of Apple’s digital lifestyle strategy, to being relegated to the company’s hobby.

And yet its still difficult, if not impossible, to get content originating from most Internet TV services onto a television, something which the AppleTV solved with regards to iTunes. So why has the AppleTV failed to ignite the market for PC to TV devices? That’s the question posed by Tom Krazit, over at CNET’s Crave.

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Weekly wrapup, 19 – 23 November 2007

Here’s a summary of the week’s digital lifestyle action on last100. Note that you can subscribe to the weekly wrapups, either via the special weekly wrapup RSS feed or by email.

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Top digital lifestyle news

The big news this week was Amazon’s entry into the eBook space (see ‘Amazon to launch eBook device and service‘). The company launched its own eBook device “Kindle” and accompanying U.S.-only eBook store and service. One notable difference between the Kindle and other competing hardware-based eBook readers, is the ability to purchase and download content over-the-air using the mobile broadband standard, EVDO.

In Internet TV-related news, the set-top movie box service, Vudu, has starting offering HD content. Beginning November 23, Vudu is giving every new buyer copies of both “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy” pre-loaded on their set-top boxes in HD. They also will have the opportunity to download the third movie in the trilogy, “The Bourne Ultimatum”, to own for $25 when it becomes available in mid December.

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Review: MediaGate's MG-350HD (another PC to TV device)

Disclaimer: MediaGate is currently a last100 sponsor.

Review: MediaGate MG-350HDPitched by the company as an AppleTV alternative, MediaGate’s MG-350HD shares much of the same media extender functionality, whereby photos, music, and videos can be streamed from a PC to a TV. In addition to streaming, when fitted with an internal hard drive, the MG-350HD can operate as a network attached storage device to house and playback all of a user’s home media.

In the looks department, the MG-350HD is no stunner, but it’s far from ugly either. Resembling the shape of a typical external hard drive with the addition of the give-away 802.11g-compatible WiFi antenna, the device has a solid and durable feel to it. The front panel features a navigation pad, media playback controls (start/stop etc.), status lights and an infrared receiver. The inclusion of physical controls adds clutter to the design and seems a little frivolous at first — until the day you misplace the supplied remote, that is. On the rear of the device are a plethora of connectivity options: including USB device/host ports, DVI out, S-Video out, digital coaxial out, component-video out, Ethernet, optical out for 5.1 audio, composite-video out, and stereo RCA audio outs. The S-Video, component and composite video options will come in handy for those without a HDTV, although, as the name suggests, the MG-350HD is geared towards a High Definition world. Unlike the AppleTV, MediaGate’s device doesn’t require a Widescreen television and can be operated in 4:3 mode.

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Xbox Live five years on – what's next?

Xbox Live five years on - what's next?Microsoft’s Xbox Live has come a long way since it launched in November of 2002. Xbox Live started out as a multiplayer gaming network, but today the 8 million users with Live accounts do much more than just play games. Users can download movies and television shows, chat with friends, and more. Even Microsoft now describes the service as a “comprehensive unified online entertainment network”. Marketing-speak at its finest, but it’s true – Xbox Live is a key component of Microsoft’s connected entertainment vision. In this post we look at the state of Xbox Live today, and explore some of the ways Microsoft will likely enhance it in the future.

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ERA asks for an early Christmas present the recording industry won't buy

era logoNow this would be one heck of an early present: The Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA), which represents retailers who sell entertainment products such as music, DVDs and games, has asked the music industry to end digital rights management by Christmas.

The ERA blames digital copy protection for the slow growth of digital music sales in the UK. ERA Director Kim Bayley told the the Financial Times that DRM is “stifling growth and working against the consumer interest.”

As evidence, pre-Christmas sales are not off to a bang-up start. The music industry makes at least 40 percent of its annual revenue in the fourth quarter culminating at Christmas. The traditional sales build up has started later than usual, and it has industry participants like the ERA nervous.

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Vudu is still trying to get our attention, this time with Jason Bourne

vudu bourneYou got to give Vudu credit. These guys are trying hard to win us over.

The latest promotional move involves Vudu and Universal Studios Home Entertainment looking past the current HD-DVD/Blu-ray format wars in favor of what some industry observers say is inevitable — download-only distribution.

Beginning November 23, Vudu will give every new buyer copies of both “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy” pre-loaded on their set-top boxes in HD. They also will have the opportunity to download the third movie in the trilogy, “The Bourne Ultimatum”, to own for $25 when it becomes available in mid December.

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SpiralFrog loses $3 million in three months

SpiralFrog loses $3million in three monthsSpiralFrog, the ad-supported music download service that we reviewed back in September, is bleeding cash at a rate of $1 million per month over the last three months.

Marshal Kirkpatrick, over at our sister blog Read/WriteWeb writes:

According to financial filings required by the company’s investors and dug up by Joseph Weisenthal at PaidContent, the company reported a Q3 loss of $3.4 million on revenue of only $20,400, leaving only $2.3 million in the company’s bank account.

Such huge revenue losses based on a measly turnover of only $20,400 doesn’t seem to bode well for SpiralFrog’s business model. It’s hard to comprehend how the company has such high operational costs, although it’s a lot easier to decipher why there has been such low take-up of the service. Getting music for “free” sounds great until you factor in the inconvenience of having to log in regularly to sit through more ads and surveys in order to stop the music you’ve already downloaded from expiring so that it will continue to play. Couple this with the fact that the music only works on a Windows PC through Windows Media Player — no transferring to portable devices, let alone an iPod — and it’s clear that SpiralFrog is no competitor to piracy or other more traditional download services such as iTunes.

The company’s answer? Marketing, marketing and marketing — including ‘hiring’ bloggers.

From SpiralFrog’s SEC filing:

“Execute marketing campaign in the United States aimed at 13-34 year olds, through one or more of the following approaches: hire gorilla marketing firms for unconventional promotions; consumer targeted press releases; advertising on some of the youth community sites; or hiring ‘bloggers’ to attract attention to us on the internet.”

Also see: Music industry: five alternative business models

SyncTV ushers in a la carte TV: only pay for the channels you want to watch

sync tv logoSeveral years ago I worked on a research project for a major U.S. newspaper. One outcome was this: not everybody wanted to pay for the whole paper. They’d rather spend a quarter for Sports than 50 cents for everything.

The same can be said about cable TV. Not everybody wants 500 channels. Not everybody wants to subscribe to a series of premium channels when all they want is one.

SyncTV is seeking to break the current business model where single programs can be bought at iTunes or Amazon Unbox for $2 or streamed for free from ad-supported network sites. SyncTV will allow people to subscribe to a specific channel and download any program from it.

The service, which will cost $2-$4 per channel a month, will be offered in “home-theater quality” (DVD quality) with some programming in high-definition. SyncTV brings a la carte programming to the masses, where viewers pay only for the channels they want to watch. (FAQ.)

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Amazon to launch eBook device and "service" later today

Amazon to launch The eBook is nothing new, and nor are hardware-based eBook readers — I’ve even read a number of eBooks over the years on various Palm devices, for example. However, later today Amazon is set to unveil the latest stab at an dedicated eBook device and accompanying service called the “Kindle”.

Richard MacManus, editor of our sister blog Read/WriteWeb, has the details:

This week, wrote Steve Levy in a rapturous article in Newsweek, Amazon will release the Kindle – an e-reader that uses E Ink and will have Internet connectivity. The latter point is what will differentiate the Kindle from its chief competitor currently, the Sony eReader that was launched in 2006.

Levy wrote in Newsweek that the Kindle ” will change the way readers read, writers write and publishers publish.” He unleashes other doozies of hyperbole too: “the iPod of reading” and “the first ‘always-on’ book”.

The Kindle will cost USD399, which is $100 more than the Sony eReader. But the wireless Internet connectivity easily makes the increased price worth it. The wireless is via a system called Whispernet – which according to Newsweek is based on the EVDO broadband service offered by cell-phone carriers, allowing it to work anywhere and not just Wi-Fi hotspots.

The Kindle will be able to hold 200 books, with new releases being offered for just $9.99. Also, apparently blogs will be part of the service – at a cost of either 99 cents or $1.99 a month per blog.

There are quite a few issues that might hold back adoption of the Kindle, namely the tricky balancing act that is DRM and eBook formats, the user experience of the device itself, and the age-old question of whether people really want to read books — most of which aren’t time sensitive — electronically.

I also have a feeling there maybe another issue at stake.

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