Archive for November, 2008

Nokia's Comes With Music is everywhere, but is the message getting through?

Having spent a fair amount of time driving around London over the last few days, one thing is evident: Comes With Music, Nokia’s all-you-can-eat music service, has definitely launched in the UK, backed by a costly ad campaign and a big holiday season push by retail partner Carphone Warehouse (prime time TV ads shown during X Factor, if I recall correctly). But how well is the message getting through?

On that note, I decided to pop into one of Carphone’s larger stores to take a closer peek at the display advertising for Comes With Music — there was plenty of it — and to ask a few subtle questions about how well the concept is resonating with consumers.

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Mass market who? Vudu targets high end home theater crowd

Set-top box movie service Vudu already targets the home theater crowd with its higher end XL offering, but now the company is taking up a notch with the release of the Vudu XL2.

Described as being “designed specifically for professional home theater installations”, the XL2 sports an aluminum case that houses a 1U rack mountable unit, uses the “highest quality components”, and like its XL sibling, features a terabyte of storage — enough to store more than 500 standard definition movies. Other high end features include IP and IR control to allow the XL2 to be integrated into “most high-end home control systems”, along with 1080i HD output over component, and the ability to route and switch HD signals through the home with the use of off-the-shelf video switchers. The result, says Vudu’s Tony Miranz, makes the XL2 a home theater installer’s “weapon of choice”. At a premium price, of course.

The Vudu XL2 will be listed at $1,299 and is available today exclusively through more than 1,000 Vudu-certified custom installers, says the company.

It’s interesting to see Vudu continue to pursue the high end home theater market, a natural fit, in terms of the company’s recent focus on HD content. It also helps to differentiate Vudu’s offering, on a hardware level at least, from competitors such as TiVo, Apple and Microsoft. But does that make it the right strategy?

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TiVo bridges the pizza to TV gap

Not content with trying to solve the PC to TV problem, TiVo has teamed up with Dominoes Pizza to “give broadband connected TiVo subscribers the ability to order pizza for delivery or pick-up, and track delivery timing, right from their TV sets.”

While ordering a pizza directly through the TV, all without leaving the couch, seems like a neat idea, it’s utility maybe limited, particularly for the laptop generation. As Dave Zatz points out, the 10 foot UI of a TiVo will have a hard time beating the efficiency of the 2 foot browsing experience provided by a PC. And since many people, myself included, already watch TV with a laptop (or netbook) at hand, why not just visit Dominoes’ website or any takeaway delivery service of choice, and place an order that way.

See also: I’ve jumped on the Netbook bandwagon

However, for those users that don’t always have a PC on their lap, the Dominoes integration could provide an additional revenue stream for TiVo, presuming the company is getting a healthy kick back from Dominoes. On that note, the pizza tie-in isn’t the only e-commerce feature integrated into the company’s set-top box. Users also have the ability to “find and purchase products on related to a customer’s favorite TV show” and can purchase cinema tickets through Fandango – all via their TiVo remote.

Weekly wrapup: last100 has left the ReadWriteWeb building

After a short hiatus, 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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Internet TV news

Vudu boasts more HD content than the rest (but is the biz model the right one?)

Set-top box movie service Vudu is claiming to offer more High Definition content than any of its competitors — Apple TV, Netflix, XBox 360, and even Blu-Ray itself — reports CNet. And while content is mostly King, I’m still unsure about the company’s business model.

New Xbox 360 games carry Netflix streaming promotion
In a joint marketing effort with partner Microsoft, a 48 hour ‘Gold’ pass to XBox Live that includes the Netflix promotion, can be found in the box of US retail copies of the newly released James Bond game, although access to Netflix on XBox 360 won’t be available until later this month when the previously announced Dashboard update is rolled out.

See also (from last week):

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Zatz Not Funny: TiVo, Flip MinoHD, CES Unveiled and more

A periodic roundup of relevant news from our friends at Zatz Not Funny (one of my all time favorite blogs)…

Flip goes HD, adds FlipShare software

Mari Silbey: Pure Digital unveiled its anticipated Flip MinoHD today packaged with new FlipShare software for editing and sharing… One of the issues with the Flip camcorders to date has been keeping a sharp focus for close-up shots. According to a Flip spokesperson, the MinoHD doesn’t necessary solve that problem, with the minimum focus range staying at 80 cm. However, it’s likely not a significant concern for casual users, particularly with the new HD resolution.

(Ed. I looked at purchasing a Flip but after reading multiple reviews I’ve plunged for the more expensive Sanyo HD800 – review coming soon).

Dave dumps XM (again)

Dave Zatz: See ya, XM. I was on the fence and you pushed. Our time together has been mostly positive, but the massive lineup modifications yesterday without any advance notification isn’t the proper way to treat your customers. So I’m walking.

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It's official: 3's "Facebook phone" unveiled

At a launch event this morning here in London, the mobile carrier “3” and sister company INQ Mobile unveiled the much anticipated “Facebook phone”. That’s not its official name, nor is it an official offering from Facebook — although the social networking site did have a hand in the phone’s deep Facebook integration.

Alongside the built-in Facebook client, the device — dubbed the INQ1 — includes apps for Windows Live Messenger and Skype, a web browser, widgets for Google and eBay and others, as well as music site being integrated into the phone’s media player (“scrobbling” of tracks only not actual streaming). However, its the way in which Facebook and the other included social apps have been integrated with the INQ1 that stands out.

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iPhone app climbs Apple's 'walled garden' to display photos on TiVo

DVRPics is a new application for iPhone and iPod touch that enables you to stream photos to a networked TiVo so that they can be viewed on the TV.

Currently only one photo can be selected at a time — a limitation the app’s developer blames on Apple, since third-party developers aren’t given direct access to the iPhone’s photo library. However, a version of DVRPics that supports photo slide shows is next on the app’s road map. The app costs 99 cents from the iTunes AppStore (iTunes link).

Interestingly, DVRPics isn’t the only TiVo-related app for the iPhone. After a quick search I discovered an app called DVR Shows (iTunes link) that enables you to see what recordings are stored on your TiVo via an iPhone or iPod touch, including full program details. Unsurprisingly, you can’t actually stream those recordings to the iPhone or even use the iPhone as a TiVo remote a la iTunes or the recently released iPhone app for Sonos.

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I've been playing with Nokia's new touchscreen phone – the 5800 XpressMusic (aka the Tube)

Hands-on: Nokia XpressMusic tube 5800

See also: Video demo: Nokia XpressMusic 5800’s media playback features

Ever since Nokia officially announced its new consumer touchscreen smartphone, the 5800 XpressMusic (aka the “Tube”), I’ve been dying to get my hands on the device. Not because I was expecting an iPhone killer — it isn’t and probably wasn’t really intended to be — but because I was curious to see how well Nokia could adapt its S60 user interface for a touchscreen phone. After a few days playing with the 5800, albeit a ‘prototype’, here are my initial impressions.

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Vudu's boast: more HD content than the rest (but is the biz model the right one?)

Set-top box movie service Vudu is claiming to offer more High Definition content than any of its competitors — Apple TV, Netflix, XBox 360, and even Blu-Ray itself — reports CNet. And while content is mostly King, I’m still unsure about the company’s business model.

From CNet:

Indeed, a quick examination of competing services seems to bear out Vudu’s claim. We counted more than 1,100 HD movies available through Vudu’s box (including about 200 that are also offered in Vudu’s Blu-rayesque HDX format), compared to 391 on Xbox Live Marketplace, and something south of 700 on Apple iTunes. (Netflix will be kicking off its own HD streaming service later this month with a mere 300 titles.) By comparison, Amazon’s Blu-ray inventory–i.e. the total number of Blu-rays available–shows a total of close to 2,000 titles, though that includes TV shows and pre-release discs.

However, while Vudu’s catalog clearly beats its Internet set-top box rivals, along with holding its own against the fledgling Bu-ray format, there’s little to distinguish the service in terms of pricing – rentals range from $0.99 to $5.99, and purchased movies range from $4.99 to $19.99.

In fact, when you consider that the Vudu set-top box is a one trick pony compared to most of its direct competitors who also offer various additional functionality, such as gaming or the ability to bridge the gap between the PC and TV, the Vudu proposition appears to deliver a lot less value for money: buy our hardware ($299) so that you can start purchasing our wares. It’s like charging people to enter the store. Instead, Vudu should find a way of giving its set-top box away for free or at least making consumers feel like they’re not paying for the box.

How so?

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Forget iPhone or GPhone, 3 to debut "Facebook phone" next week

Just don’t call it the F-phone

A new low cost cellphone that puts Facebook and other social applications at its center will debut next week on Hutchinson-owned 3 in the UK and Australia, according to Unstrung. The new handset has been designed by another Hutchinson subsidiary, INQ Mobile, and is the first of a number of “low cost social mobile” offerings in the pipeline.

Apart from a dedicated Facebook client the device will also include applications for Skype, email and IM.

INQ Mobile’s CEO, Frank Meehan, told Unstrung that the company’s goal is to build cheaper 3G phones — two to three times less that the average smartphone — in order to persuade more consumers to start using mobile data.

“For 85 percent of our customers, we can’t really sell more than voice and text,” he says. “You need to drive data usage higher right across all the handset segments. You want the majority of customers, not the top-end of the community that rules strategy at the moment.”

Meehan says that with regards to Facebook integration, INQ worked closely with the social networking company in order to offer better integration than is available on existing handsets. Unlike the iPhone, for example, INQ’s Facebook application runs in the background so that users can automatically receive updates from their Facebook friends. “So Facebook becomes like SMS and can be used in the same way as SMS,” says Meehan.

Interestingly, before heading up INQ, Meehan was involved in the development of the first dedicated Skype mobile phone, also sold through 3, which we enthusiastically reported on just over a year ago.