Archive for February, 2009

Zatz Not Funny: CBS iPhone app, Hulu on OSX, Netflix streaming, green tech disposal

A periodic roundup of relevant news from our friends at Zatz Not Funny

CBS launches iPhone app

Dave Zatz: CBS may have recently lost out on Hulu content, but they’re pressing forward with their re-imagined initiative. And, yesterday, they introduced a free iPhone app.

Get your OS X Hulu fix via Plex

Dave Zatz: When one door closes, bust through a window? OS X users still seeking a Hulu fix after the Boxee run-in should download the new version of Plex.

Netflix streaming, the Internet’s changing our brains, and Cable goes online

Mari Silbey: I’ve been virtually absent from ZNF for the last two weeks, and my backlog of posts is growing out of control. So, in an attempt to catch up, here are a few related items I’ve found interesting of late.

Dumping gear the green way

Dave Zatz: If you collect as many gadgets as I do, it’s inevitable a percentage will outlive their usefulness. Which is why LifeHacker’s recent coverage of Best Buy’s expanded recycling program is nicely timed.

Nokia and Skype partnership has carriers in a fit

It’s always interesting to see the politics of business play out through leaks in the media, and I suspect that in the case of Nokia and its mobile carrier “partners” we haven’t seen the last of it. The Finnish handset maker’s recent announcement of a tie up with Skype has, predictably, rankled two carriers in the UK, reports Mobile Today.

See also: Nokia announces online music store – takes aim at Apple and mobile carriers

Both Orange and O2 are unhappy that a Skype client will be bundled with Nokia’s upcoming N97 and are threatening to boycott the device and the company’s future Skype-enabled phones, for fear that including the application will further reduce their role to that of being a “dumb pipe”. According to Mobile Today’s source:

“This is another example of them trying to build an ecosystem that is all about Nokia and reduces the operator to a dumb pipe. Some people like 3 may be in a position where it could make sense to accept that. But if you spend upwards of £40m per year building your brand, you don’t want to be just a dumb pipe do you?

Nokia have tried several ways to own the customer over the years and operators have had to say no.”

Owning the customer, of course, is something that Apple has managed to achieve, and which 02 seems to have accepted in return for iPhone exclusivity here in the UK. Nokia, with its aggressive move into providing various web services (music subscriptions, maps, email, IM and social networking) is also trying to have a more direct relationship with the customer, presumably hoping that said services will help lock them into a continuous cycle of Nokia handset upgrades. At the same time, both companies, like any handset maker, need the carriers to stay on side so that they’ll continue to subsidize and market their wares. That seems like a conflict of interest if there ever was one, and I can’t see the issue being resolved any time soon.

Continue reading »

Too early for a streaming-only Netflix plan?

I thought it was a bit of a non-story when Netflix CEO Reed Hastings first mentioned that the company would at some point in the future offer customers a streaming-only subscription – 2010 was mentioned as a possible time frame – as frankly it’s kind of obvious that one day this will be case. The DVD format won’t last for ever, although it’s not going away any time soon, and is gradually being replaced by on-demand Internet delivered video. This week the company’s Chief Financial Officer Barry McCarthy echoed Reed’s comments, saying that a streaming-only plan will be launched in the “foreseeable future”.

However, while Netflix certainly has the distribution for a streaming-only service – Windows, Mac, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players and Microsoft’s XBox 360 games console – I’d argue that it doesn’t yet have a large enough streaming content library alone to pull in many additional subscribers.

Continue reading »

Video: Could the Nintendo DSi become the second mainstream WiFi tablet?

Following Apple’s iPod touch, could Nintendo’s revamped handheld games console – the DSi – become the second “mainstream Wi-Fi mobile platform”? That’s a claim that the company’s first attempt – the DS Lite – could have made if it wasn’t for the crippling speed of its otherwise innovative dual screen web browser.

On Nintendo’s original device, web pages simply render far too slowly, and as I noted at the time, the company didn’t even bother to offer the Opera web browser on-board the console itself. Instead, the software came stored on a separate memory card so that you have to keep swapping it out when you want to actually play a game, and then change cards again every time you want to browse the web. Both these issues, however, have been addressed in the updated DSi model, as the following video demonstrates…

Continue reading »

Would you bet your HD movie collection on a startup staying in business?

Set-top box movie service Vudu claimed a first today, offering download to-own movies in HD, albeit with a very limited catalog and high prices.

Previously, the company (like its competitors, which include Apple and Microsoft) offered HD content for rental only, but now customers can choose to pay between $13.99 and $23.99 to actually own the movies they download, which can be either stored on their Vudu hard drives or on the company’s own servers through its Vudu Vault ‘backup’ service. The only studios to be on board so far, however, are independents FirstLook, Kino and Magnolia Pictures, who together will begin by offering just 50 titles (compared to the 1,400 HD movies that Vudu makes available for rental), including “War, Inc.”, “Transsiberian” and “Man on Wire”. Moving forward, each participating studio has agreed to license new releases for sale in HD through Vudu on the same day and date as their DVD release.

See also: Vudu’s latest price cut is a start, here’s what else they need to do

Limited content aside, Vudu’s pricing remains too high, a problem not specific to the service but one that the company has failed to address nonetheless. As Streaming Media’s Dan Rayburn writes, it’s probably not Vudu’s fault, as the pricing will have been dictated by the studios themselves. Either way, as far as consumers are concerned, downloads of any sort – even in HD – shouldn’t cost the same or more than the DVD equivalent. And the issue is further compounded when you factor in that Vudu’s use of a proprietary video format (however high quality) and its copy-protection scheme means that content can’t be moved to other devices and is completely reliant on the company staying in business, which in the nascent market of video downloads is far from guaranteed.

Chumby bets on Internet-connected TVs

Hoping to move beyond being a geek’s favorite boutique gadget to something more mainstream, Chumby is partnering with chip maker Broadcom to make it easy for consumer electronics companies to embed its widget platform into Internet-connected TVs, Blue-ray players and set-top boxes.

Chumby’s content, which is currently available on the company’s own Internet-connected device – a cross between an alarm clock radio and digital picture frame – consists of “over 1,000 widgets in 30 different categories” such as news, entertainment, music, and sports. Content partners include CBS, MTV Networks, The New York Times, Pandora, The Weather Channel Interactive, and AOL’s SHOUTcast and Scripps Networks. Chumby can also access “thousands of Internet radio stations and podcasts”, along with a user’s own content and that shared by friends within their Chumby social network.

See also: Chumby gets $12.5M… here’s why it’s taking off

Of course, Chumby’s platform isn’t the only TV widget offering, with Yahoo’s Widget Channel making a big splash at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Internet-connected TVs and accompanying widgets were also the talk of CES in 2008 – back then Sharp, Samsung, Panasonic and Google made related announcements, although not much seems to have materialized since then, suggesting that the market for Internet widgets on the telly is far from proven. In that sense, Chumby isn’t too late to the game.

Video demo of Chumby’s widget platform running on a TV after the jump…

Continue reading »

Why you may never see Spotify on iPhone

The video demo of the upcoming version of Spotify for iPhone (and iPod touch) that was yanked from YouTube has reappeared via Tech Digest. The mobile version of the streaming music service looks as polished as Mike Butcher over at TechCrunch UK first reported, although now that I’ve had a few hours to ponder its existence, I can see a number of reasons why Apple may never allow Spotfy into the iPhone App Store. Spotify isn’t the only music streaming app for iPhone (and therefore iTunes competitor) but it differs in two crucial ways:

  • Unlike or Pandora, specific tracks and whole albums can be streamed on-demand, as apposed to having to be content with the choices or recommendations of the app itself – with no limits aside from the size of Spotify’s music catalog.
  • According to reports, Spotify on iPhone is able to cache tracks referenced in the playlists it creates so that the service can still be used outside wireless coverage. This solves one of the major drawbacks of streaming-only offerings and makes Spotify a much more direct iTunes competitor. Interestingly, Slacker offers similar functionality in its Blackberry mobile app but stripped off-line plackback from the company’s iPhone version.

Concept: iPhone app management in iTunes done right

I have a fascination with all things usability, and when it comes to the art of user experience, Apple is second to none. But that’s not to say that they always get things right or that ideas from Cupertino can’t be improved upon. They can – just ask Palm with its Pre smartphone and webOS.

More proof comes via a concept video published on YouTube, demonstrating a much better way to manage iPhone apps via Apple’s desktop iTunes software. As Gizmodo explains:

The concept is simple, and wouldn’t require a change of habit by iPhone/iPod touch users: in iTunes, users see a representation of their various home screen(s), with which they can remove, move or sort apps. Sorting options are an obvious addition—sorting by most-used is what most people do manually (and imperfectly) anyway, so having a one-click option for that would be an immediate improvement. If custom sorting is your game, this will make the previously cumbersome process almost instant.

The result is simply brilliant and if the comments left on YouTube are anything to go by, Apple should hire this guy and get to work immediately putting his ideas into the next version of iTunes. As per usual, video demo after the jump…

Continue reading »

Spotify for iPhone in existence, S60 version on its way too

I recently hailed Spotify as my streaming music service of choice but bemoaned the lack of a mobile version. That’s set to change, reports my friend Mike Butcher over at TechCrunch UK, with a working version for Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch already in existence – though not yet publicly available through the App Store – along with a Symbian S60 version in development.

See also: Spotify, a very compelling music streaming service

Interestingly, Butcher says that it’s rumored that the iPhone client will only be available to users who use the paid-for version of the service, which is certainly one way for Spotify to sell more subscriptions. Right now the audio ads that persist on the free version of Spotify aren’t intrusive enough to make me want to switch to the paid version, but adding more value through a mobile client could make the difference. Especially if playlists can be ‘cached’, as Butcher suggests, so that you’ll still be able to use Spotify on the go even when you’re without a wireless connection. This will also help to save on battery life too, which can an issue with any mobile streaming service, not just Spotify.

After viewing a video demo of Spotify running on the iPhone (which has since been yanked from YouTube), Butcher says that, with the addition of a mobile client, the service “could even give the iTunes store a run for it’s money”, since it gives instant access to millions of tracks. “Assuming Apple lets it into the App Store of course”.

Official video ad of Spotify after the jump…

Continue reading »

Weekly wrapup: Mobile World Congress

Here’s a summary of the last 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.

Enter your email address:

Note: Blogging was a little light last week on last100. Apologies, normal coverage should resume this week!

Mobile World Congress

This week was a big one in mobile, with plenty of news coming from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona…

MWC: Five handsets that caught my eye

This week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona has seen a flurry of handset announcements boasting, amongst other features, more megapixels, support for HD video, OLED screens and touchscreen UIs. Here are five handsets that caught my eye.

Continue reading »