While I avoided the lines at 4:00 in the morning, I couldn’t resist stopping by the local King of Prussia Mall later in the day yesterday to see how Black Friday was shaping up. Frankly, the mall wasn’t as crowded as I expected it to be, but there were still more than a few folks in the Sony Style store, and the Apple Store could have used traffic cops to keep the hordes at bay. Of the Sony products available, one customer rep I spoke to said the laptops were getting the most attention, specifically the VAIO NW and recently launched VAIO CW series. I asked about the Sony Reader products and was told they were being more heavily promoted at a kiosk elsewhere in the mall. Blu-ray players? Not doing so great, unlike last year. Despite the discounted price, this stack of Sony BDP-S360 players didn’t get one interested passerby in the time I was there.
Meanwhile at the Apple Store, it was difficult to move a foot without running into another body. According to the employee I spoke to, the hottest sellers of the day were the Nano and the iPod touch. I also got a quick glimpse of the new mobile payment system in action. Actually, I overheard one clerk asking another where to find the cash drawer he’d just opened with his iPod, so possibly there are still a few kinks being worked out. However, everyone seemed happy with their gadget shopping experience, and I even convinced a guy behind the roped off area to give me a close-up shot of the iPod he was using to ring up orders. Unfortunately, the shot’s blurry because I didn’t have time to adjust my camera settings before I had to move on.
More shopping photos below. Anyone else have stories of braving the stores yesterday?
TiVo will become the exclusive provider of middleware and user interface software for Virgin Media’s next generation set top boxes. Virgin Media will become the exclusive distributor of TiVo services and technology in the United Kingdom. Virgin Media currently anticipates its first TiVo co-branded product in 2010.
In other partner news from the call… The fabled, new DirecTV TiVo hardware will indeed launch next year. And, in my opinion, surely juice TiVo’s subscribers numbers. Although no specific timeline has been provided. The Comcast and Cox TiVo initiatives continue to sputter along. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if either, or both, cable providers pull the plug at some point.
Are we looking at it with a view of adding subscription services in there and pay-per-view movies? Yes, we are looking at that.
However, a company spokesperson acknowledges that free video supported by advertising does “resonate most” with viewers, so I doubt we’ll see it go away. Having said that, I have very little use for the current incarnation of Hulu. It’s content library still exhibits the “random crap syndrome” – which I had hoped would be cured when Hulu exited from beta. Didn’t happen. Still hasn’t happened. Shows come and go. Good luck finding an entire season/series. (ALF doesn’t count.) And then there’s the restrictive playback policies. No PS3 for you. Screw you too, Boxee. I appreciate the Internet as my video transport mechanism, but I prefer to watch television… on television.
So bring on the pay services, I say. I’m an adult with an adult salary and limited free time. Offer me something worthwhile at a not-outrageous fee, and I’ll pay for premium content and the convenience of quality aggregation. Should Hulu manage to provide it.
You are eligible to become one of the first television viewers to register for the ZillionTV service for a 1-Time payment of only $99 (plus tax). The ZillionTV Device and motion-sensing remote are FREE, including FREE shipping. There is NO monthly subscription fee. The ZillionTV Service is all about putting you in control. Choose the movies and TV shows you want to watch, when you want to watch them; choose the ad categories you want and view for FREE, or watch no ads at all and pay a nominal ‘pay-as-you-go’ fee. Gain access to a compelling combination of new and classic TV shows, Hollywood movies, classic movies, sports, documentaries, music and so much more.
So the first take away is, as I suspected, the formerly “free” ZillionTV hardware/service is out the window. And the few times I’ve seen startups charge for advance or “beta” access, it seemed to coincide with serious organizational dysfunction. We do know Zillion’s dumped about 30% of their staff, rethought their business model, pushed their official launch into 2010, and replaced their CEO today. Of course, as a gadget guy, most of that is background noise. I’m far more interested in finding out what happened to their sexy hardware renders, as this D-Link router-looking STB shipping during the pilot fails to inspire.
With the Showtime EBIF app already raking in dough on TV sets across the country, the cable network has decided to go mobile. Showtime launched its own iPhone app this week complete with teaser episodes, video extras, and broadcast schedules. Given that the EBIF version may not be available in your area, the iPhone application is a nice alternative for testing the Showtime waters. Personally, I’ve never been willing to pay the extra fees for premium cable channels, but maybe if I knew more about what I was missing, I’d dole out the cash. I’m not likely to buy a whole season on DVD, or even waste time on episodes in my Netflix queue, but if you put an episode right in front of me, I’ve got nothing to lose. And that’s what Showtime is counting on.
The iPhone app is, naturally, free. But if you’re still hesitant, check out the pics below. The application is powered by mobile ad specialist Transpera.
While it’s true Apple’s App Store is a huge hit, with thousands upon thousands of iPhone and iPod Touch offerings, most are worthless and/or marketing fluff. Like the new myStarbucks. It looks pretty but doesn’t do much of anything. Probably the top feature is the store locator, but I’m not sure you can trust it… It indicates that my preferred weekday SBUX, which closed permanently last week, is open for business. The UI is more attractive than the default Google Maps, but the results appear quite similar. So why even blog this app? Because of what it might one day offer… A second app was also released which allows one to manage their Starbucks debit card and can be used to make purchases. Payment scanning is only available in select Seattle and Silicon Valley coffee shops at the moment, but this is an interesting model worth tracking.
It may not be free like the fine NPR app, but a one-time $3 fee for the new ESPN Radio seems like a small price to pay to aggregate and access a great deal of sports talk. It features live streaming from several ESPN Radio affiliates, including the morning shows and college football broadcasts. You can also stream SportsCenter highlights on demand and bypass iTunes to directly access a few dozen ESPN podcasts.
A former Sling Media colleague and current blogging ally picked up the Zune HD at launch, as that’s how us gadget fiends roll.
I’ve been tracking Microsoft’s hardware refresh as well, but given the capabilities of current flagship smartphones, I just don’t have a place (or pocket) in my life for a portable media player (PMP), web tablet, or gaming device that doesn’t integrate ‘cellular’ connectivity. I also find fault with Microsoft’s ability to more tightly integrate the Zune experience throughout their product lineup – Windows Media Center, Xbox 360, and Windows Mobile. A missed opportunity for sure.
“Right now our product roadmaps didn’t line up perfectly” is how MS describes the current state of affairs. Contrast that with Apple’s more harmonious ecosystem. However, whether or not Zunes are sold out, post-launch improvements are coming. And Microsoft’s new hardware platform is beautiful – both the OLED screen and physical design. In fact, I prefer its looks over the iPod Touch and iPhone (although I’d appreciate physical volume controls). But, according to my pal,
Regrettably, this thing isn’t as user friendly as any iPod I’ve ever used. On an iPod, I was adding movies immediately but with the Zune HD they need to sync up. All of my content was available by default in iTunes where I wanted it, but here it’s where Microsoft thinks you store things (My Documents/My Movies) rather than where I store things. So I have to go through the settings and add locations.
Then there’s the ads… Initially, he had a difficult time getting apps loaded onto the Zune HD when I inquired about the ad chatter:
If I can get this thing to sync up any games I’ll get right on that. When I download it goes to 100% and then tosses up an error that says the location has changed, been deleted, been moved, been ostracized, been excommunicated or is, otherwise, simply unavailable. Oh, it’s available.
Eventually he succeeded and I cringed at the pre-app advertising. In the video above, you can see both a static Zune Pass banner ad or a Kia Soul video commercial pop up prior to gameplay.
Un-flippin’-believable. I can see this as being annoying. But if the revenue from those ads goes to the developer and not Microsoft, I’m perfectly okay with this. It would encourage a developer to make a game free at the get-go and to make a game that encourages people to come back.
Therein lies the problem. These are not third party or independently developed games, offsetting company-incurred dev costs via a legitimate monetization route. These are Microsoft-produced (or contracted) apps. It’s sorta like a commercial coming up each time one launches the freebie Apple Remote on an iPod Touch. That wouldn’t fly. Ad-supported entertainment is an American tradition, starting way back in the Golden Age of Radio and currently funding nearly every informational web site. But it’s just chintzy for a behemoth like Microsoft to take this approach, especially as the underdog in this space. My suggestion: Provide the ad-serving platform, but leave the commercial interruption to the third party developers. And, for heaven’s sake, give your customers an option to purchase an ad-free edition. It seems to be working out OK on Apple’s competing platform.
But it’s not all bad news. Despite these annoyances, he seems pleased with the Zune HD and sees it replacing the functionality of multiple devices he previously (?) traveled with. And providing new features, like HD Radio. So we’ll give him some time to live with it a bit longer before rendering a final verdict.
Unlike TiVo’s successful David v Goliath battle with DISH/EchoStar (SATS), things may play out a bit differently this time. First, there’s likely no smoking gun. Based on the evidence presented, it sounds like DISH may have helped themselves to an early TiVo prototype which was subsequently reverse engineered. Second, digital video recording technology may not be as patentable as TiVo would like. (Not to mention, it’s possible Judge Folsom and the Eastern District Court could run out of patience with TiVo’s community stunts and their own nationwide reputation. Then again, maybe not – these cases keep them in the spotlight and are good for the local economy.) Lastly, given the language in yesterday’s call, TiVo may just be looking to force AT&T and Verizon into some sort of licensing deal.
Another difference this time around, is that the defendants are relying heavily on third party tech. Verizon has constructed their own FiOS TV DVR software, but currently runs on Motorola hardware. AT&T’s set-top box platform is also Motorola, but the U-Verse software is largely Microsoft (MSFT). So it’ll be interesting to see how Moto and Mister Softee, plus others such as Broadcom, could be pulled into the fray. As an observer, and given TiVo’s pressure to license, I hope their contracts with DirecTV (DTV) and Comcast (CMCSA) are called into evidence.