Category Archives: Consumer Electronics

Light reading September 29, 2013

Articles of interests to techs, geeks, and capitalists.

It appears Android has overtaken iOS in unit numbers of, but declarations of the iOS demise would be premature. If Apple spun out its iPhone business it alone would be ranked 10th based on revenue in the S&P 500. Bloomberg has compiled a slew of other iPhone fun facts.

This would be humorous if it wasn’t so creepy. The NSA can scan our social network, phone, email, and travel itineraries, but a federal judge allows a class action suit against Google to proceed because Gmail’s ad serving technology might violate federal wiretapping laws.

As baseball’s regular season winds down, Jonathan Mahler of the New York Times asks why such a wildly successful enterprise like Major League Baseball feels so irrelevant. Could it be that TV killed baseball? Is the Game Over?

And finally, the obligatory Breaking Bad reference. This Economist column favorably compares the lessons learned from Walter White to a Harvard B-school MBA.

Light Field Camera Coming Soon

It appears the Lytro camera I wrote about last month is almost ready to be released. As much as I want one, I think I’ll wait for a second generation model. Then again at $400 I might succumb to temptation – even if it only yields a 1.2 megapixel image. CNET published a really rough review listing about a dozen other limitations. I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to other commercially available cameras. This camera is all about “fix it in post.” If you’re a photographer like me with better Photoshop skills than compositional skills, the Lytro might just represent the future.

It’s hard to justify yet another new “toy” camera when I’ve yet to really give the new GoPro a good workout. For $300 I got waterproof time lapse photos and full HD video. I’ll be posting something from that camera soon. Promise.

The exobrain

stylized brainBack in 2009 Scott Adams of Dilbert fame described his concept of the exobrain in a blog post. He argued that his smartphone was an extension of his brain used for offloading data and outsourcing simple mental tasks. When Dilbert speaks the world listens, and the post is often cited. In later posts he expanded the concept into organizational learning – the organization’s culture is a data store. Pairing organizational culture with data storage and retrieval is nothing new. It’s called knowledge management.

As technology advances and culture evolves the idea of the exobrain as a physical device becomes outdated. Though my laptop, tablet, and smartphone have some specialized capabilities that give them individual exobrain duties, their duties converge more often than diverge. I can communication via text, voice, and video with all three. All three can search the Internet. And all three can store text and rich media. Most interestingly, and most importantly in the case of a scatterbrain like me, no one of those devices represents a single point of failure. I can get through most days without any one of those, and many days without any two.

The same cannot be said of the services these devices access. Going a day without Gmail, Skype, or Dropbox is not so simple. The crucial data I’ve either uploaded to these service or chosen only to download as needed must be available 24/7. I can’t get anywhere without GPS. I wouldn’t even know where to go without access to my calendar. The implications of this shift from dependence on device to dependence on service are pretty astounding. Big players get this. Google is building a network of services that devices must access to be viable.

He who owns the platform wins. As device dependent as Apple’s business model is, it has invested heavily to make sure the necessary services for their devices, such as iTunes and MobileMe, are available to make those devices useful.

The ideal services are those like Gmail and Dropbox that are device agnostic. They become indispensable to the user very quickly. All data is available on all devices and is always current. The second tier of services are those like Evernote. It’s a great piece of note taking software with web tools and local apps for all the major device OSes, but the functionality of the apps varies from device to device. I can take notes on my PC, formatting them to be easily read, but should I access that note from my iPad I have to sacrifice rich text formatting – forever. Livescribe is a more distant second. It uses different data models on the Mac and PC, so simply syncing your notebooks on the cloud only works if you stay within a the same OS family. The utility of an application or service diminishes exponentially as the number of data files the user must manage increases. Thus, Livescribe is flirting with irrelevance if it’s unable to solve this problem.

The Holy Grail, which the top tier services are approaching, is to become a Rosetta Stone. The user needs this service as a bridge between workflows and devices. For example, I can read a Microsoft Word document on a Blackberry without any additional software purchases as long I store it on Google Documents.

As software and services evolve in the media and entertainment space, those tools that act as a platform – accepting all formats from all devices, and make their data available for viewing on the widest variety of devices will win. The standalone editor seat will become a museum piece. Frictionless collaboration is where we are heading.

Rebirth of the newspaper?

Rupert “I bought MySpace just in time for it to tank” Murdoch didn’t seem to get the new media thing… until today. The Daily, the first iPad-only newspaper launched to great fanfare. At first blush Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch make Felix and Oscar look like identical twins, but they certainly have at least one thing in common. They know how to passionately engage millions of people at a time and make a lot of money doing so.

If the Web has been listed as the cause of death for numerous dailies and magazines, the App might be named godfather of the reborn e-pubs. While people remain largely unwilling to pay for content on viewed on the PC, the iPad and Kindle prove they are willing to pay for content on the tablet. I call it the corn flakes effect. I always paid a few bucks a week to read the morning paper at the breakfast table. I’d pay a few more bucks a month for magazines to read in bed. And I’d overpay at the airport for virtually anything to read on an airplane so I wouldn’t be stuck watching some neutered cut down version of a movie that tanked at the box office.

CNN covered the announcement nicely, acknowledging that as the iPad’s share of eyeball expanded into television’s territory.

Another report last month from ReadItLater, a web service that follows web trends, found that the time spent reading on the iPad is even crossing into primetime TV hours.

It reported that maximum iPad text consumption occurs from 7pm to 11pm, a slot traditionally allocated to reclining on the couch and watching TV.

Likely CNN is assuming it’s at the expense of Two and a Half Men, not Anderson Cooper. Even the Times gushed about the Daily’s user experience… in its own catty way.

The Daily, according to people who have seen it, is aesthetically — if not intellectually — compelling, incorporating sound, sight and motion in new ways.

“It’s got an amazing look and feel,” said Mike Vorhaus, the president of the media consulting firm Magid Advisors, who had been shown The Daily in advance and who compared it to a glossy magazine.

Of course CNN was able to dig up the requisite Luddite for its coverage.

“While anything that Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs do in collaboration is bound to be unique, we have to be mindful of the fact that the tablet is just in its infancy stage — it’s like the early days of the printed press,” said Barry McIlheney, chief executive of the UK based Professional Publishers Association.

He believes that newspapers are easy to replace because their format is adaptable to the screen but reading longer passages of texts with images are not.

Apparently Mr. McIlheney hasn’t yet caught the Economist on the iPad. The experience of reading it on the iPad is more pleasant than on paper, and all the additional online content is only a click or two away.

Before we start encouraging kids to enroll in journalism school again, we should temper our optimism for the future of the old fish wrapper. Just this week Apple announced it’s clamping down on content sellers who evade the App Store and Apple’s 30% vig. This whole thing could lose steam quickly If Apple and the content creators can’t arrive at a win-win. The iPod always worked with non-iTunes content, in a competing format no less. If Apple blocks Amazon, Sony, Conde Nast, and others from getting their content onto the iPad, the whole platform will suffer.

FanVision: Fine idea, wrong device

FanVision deviceFootball season is upon us and with come the NFL’s scramble to reach deeper into fans’ wallets. Apparently $200 tickets and $10 beers aren’t enough to keep the lights on at the stadium, so about half the NFL teams have signed up to sell FanVision mobile devices to stadium fans. FanVision (MSRP $259, street price $199) has a 4″ HD-resolution screen and receives video feeds within the stadium confines. Fans can watch the network feed to the game they paid to see live, or out of town games and highlights. From a technology perspective, there’s nothing exciting about FanVision — it’s a mini UHF TV. It receives dedicated low-power channels.

Football is the rare sport that’s more enjoyable to watch live. Seeing the whole field of play allows the spectator to understand precisely how plays unfold — who was open, who missed a block, who was out of position. TV is a closeup medium that follows the ball. Fans have no idea why the play evolved as it did, and it turns out fewer and fewer of the analysts do as well. It’s clear to even the casual fan that the television announcers are watching the line feed in the booth — just like you! That’s why they rarely add any insight.

I digress. Fact is that the average fan prefers the TV experience. It’s easier to have Phil Simms tell you what you just saw than to actually understand what you just saw. Add 50,000 drunks and 30-degree temperatures to a sport that is played rain, snow, or shine, and the owners have a problem filling the $200 seats. For the past two decades they’ve done their best to make football stadiums into giant living rooms with climate control, big screens, and incredible Surround Sound. It works. .500 teams continue to sell out. I have seats to the New England Patriots 10 rows from the field of play, and I never cease to be amazed by the number of people watching the game live on the big screen displays. (The luxury box crowd is a better example of the domestication of the NFL. It appears many of them are completely unaware that the game on the TV is happening just out the window.)

Didn’t I just make the case for FanVision? No, I didn’t. I made the case for in-stadium personal video displays. People already own decent video players — iPhones and iPod Touches, Droid phones, even BlackBerry’s in the game. Who wants yet another device to juggle? A better investment would be to upgrade the WiFi networks (currently only available in the $600 seat sections of Gillette Stadium) and let fans watch on the devices they already own – devices far more sophisticated than a tiny TV, devices with interactive capabilities.  Engadget notes the Seattle Mariners (MLB) took a step in that direction by allowing fans to view replays on a Nintendo DS. Note to owners: Mariners fans can order beer from the DS — a far quicker path to higher margins than FanVision.