Archives For Gadgets

The Week in Media Extenders

Dave Zatz —  February 10, 2009

With improving sales and increased consumer awareness of network-sourced content, perhaps AppleTV will graduate from “hobby” status later this year. At the very least, Apple’s showing a bit of life around this initiative by distributing a customer survey. AppleInsider breaks down the questionnaire, which covers media type/origination, display devices, and audio output. I hope Apple’s also doing market research amongst tech savvy folks who haven’t made purchases to help guide them.

In other media extender news, both the SlingCatcher and Vudu have seen recent price drops. While incremental reductions are fairly typical, with the exception of Apple products, more dramatic moves often indicate sluggish sales. At launch, the Catcher retailed for $300 but now clocks in at $200. With firmware updates are on the way, Amazon’s $166 may be even more compelling.

Although Vudu is primarily a video-on-demand box, rather than what we’d typically classify as an extender, they have also “permantly” slashed prices. Originally listed at $299, Vudu now runs $149… plus the cost of movies. However, free access to YouTube, Flickr, and other Internet media is currently available as a public beta. As I’ve said before, I quite enjoy the Vudu experience. So, I hope they’re able to find success at this new price point, by licensing their tech, and/or receiving a funding lifeline.

The Amazon Kindle 2

Dave Zatz —  February 9, 2009

After months of leaks, speculation, and zero inventory, Amazon’s second generation e-reader has arrived. The Kindle 2 ($359) is slimmer and sleeker than its predecessor and has implemented a mini five-way joystick for navigation. The refreshed screen now displays 16 shades of grey and supposedly turns pages 20% quicker – which hopefully improves upon the somewhat distracting redraw/blinking e-ink situation seen on v1. (Ars digs the new display, CrunchGear does not.)

Much of the negative commentary I’ve heard or read today (still) centers on Kindle pricing – which many feel may be too expensive. However, keep in mind the initial hardware cost includes access to reasonably priced New York Times best sellers ($10/pop) and a lifetime of Sprint wireless data services (aka Amazon Whispernet). Having said that, TechRepublic figures you’d need to purchase over 50 books to come out ahead. (Not that these sorts of tech acquisition decisions are based largely on value.)

Personally, I’m not interested in owning Kindle hardware – I don’t read enough books. Plus I’d prefer to limit the number of single function devices I need to charge and carry. Which is why I’m more excited by Amazon working to “make Kindle books available on a range of mobile phones.”

Tech On TV: Ghost Whisperer

Dave Zatz —  February 9, 2009

Once again, I’m swiping inspired by Engadget’s Screen Grabs series to cover an interesting mix of tech on TV. I’ve never seen Ghost Whisperer and don’t know what it’s about beyond the title. However, I was on a call with the television playing in the background when the relatively ancient XM SkyFi and boombox (upper left) caught my eye. Also, I was surprised to see a MacBook Pro in this scene… with a sticker hiding Apple’s iconic logo. On the other end of Jennifer Love Hewitt‘s flip phone conversation appears to be a Palm Treo 750 (Windows Mobile) – which was my primary handset for about 6 months in 2007.

We knew Amazon Video on Demand was headed to Roku‘s media streamer ($99) early this year. And now, via their forums, we have word that the service has entered private beta. I had hoped Amazon VOD functionality was hidden within the recent 1.5 software update, however it’s rolled into a more significant 2.0 upgrade. Which potentially means a longer wait. Although, the refresh may also contain YouTube access. Look closely at the screengrab above for some (possible) visual confirmation. I can’t say YouTube excites me all that much. But combined with Netflix and Amazon, Roku’s negotiated quite the impressive trifecta for such a tiny, inexpensive box. But what I really want to know (still) is: Will Amazon VOD be offered in HD?

While catching up on Secret Diary of a Call Girl, and inspired by Engadget’s periodic Screen Grabs column, a few bits of tech caught my eye last night. Season 2 is just getting started (in the US, anyway), and the first thing that struck me is the opening sequence resembling the (former?) Zune desktop software – colors and swirls. Episode 2 also pretty prominently features a Nokia phone and a Macbook Air.

Along with Engadget, I caught the OQO mini notebook on Lie to Me this week. However, with all spottings like these, it’s safe to assume a certain percent are paid placements of one sort or another. For example, we know OQO has worked with television and film marketing firm Eclipse in the past to get their wares on TV. (This is the kind of advertising I can tolerate!)

All pics can be enlarged:

Will Your TiVo Tweet?

Todd Barnard —  January 30, 2009

TiVo programmer Ryan Rose has hacked his washing machine to send text message notifications over Twitter when his clothes are done. He did this for a practical reason, to prevent forgetting about his laundry which might sit in the damp washer and mildew. You can follow the washing machine’s activity on Twitter (412 people, including myself, already do) to be instantly informed when Mr. Rose’s laundry is done. Why would you want to? More on that later… Here’s video of “PiMPY” in action:

I’m a big fan of Activity Streams such as Twitter and FriendFeed. Once current user contributions across all the social web sites are freely distributed, with an emphasis on privacy, a new web era will arrive. My vision originates from Professor David Gelernter‘s “Life Streams” as defined in his 1993 book Mirror Worlds: The Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox – How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean.

Apparently I am not alone in my opinion that Activity Streams are the next big thing. Some of the most influential people in social media (MySpace, Google, Plaxo, Comcast, Nokia just to name a few) recently attended a DiSo meeting to discuss the future of how their user’s activity will be published. (Ian Kennedy, formerly of Yahoo and now head of Nokia’s Ovi service, kindly recorded the DiSo meeting using his phone.) One of the points discussed during the event was that activity streams are not just generated by people but that machines, like PiMPY, can also broadcast what they’re doing. Mr. Rose’s place of employment is noteworthy, and it got me thinking about the possibilities of machines with their own activity streams – particularly TiVo. Continue Reading…

Sneak-peek screenshot of new FrameChannel UI due in February

Chances are reasonably high that you’ve never heard of FrameChannel. Wireless photo frames are still new in consumer adoption terms, and the idea of a content provider for these frames is a bit counter-intuitive. (Aren’t you just supposed to put your own pics on them?) Nonetheless, FrameChannel is expanding rapidly. At CES, FrameChannel was represented in about twenty different booths, and over the holiday season, ten different companies sold digital frames with access to FrameChannel content. Since its founding two years ago, parent company FrameMedia has inked deals with 30-40 providers including Reuters, Getty Images,, WeatherBug, and at least one financial news aggregator. Want RSS feeds of your own photos from one the many online photo sites? You can get that with FrameChannel too.

FrameMedia has a good head start in what promises to be an interesting new media space. Think of a customized online portal, and then picture it on a frame in your living room. Microsoft’s interested, and has its own beta FrameIt service (more on that later). There’s also reason for other large aggregators like Yahoo and Google to get in on the game. But, for right now, FrameChannel appears to be ahead of everyone. And FrameMedia has a plan for it to stay that way.

In talking to COO and co-founder Jon Feingold last week, the key to FrameChannel’s future success is both distribution and the ability to deliver content intelligently. For example, if you’re tagged in a photo on Facebook, or there’s a live game happening with one of your favorite sports teams, FrameMedia’s goal is to have FrameChannel deliver that data when it’s important to you, i.e. in the moment, but probably not so much in a week, or two, or three. FrameMedia is also laser focused on integrating with as many photo sharing sites and social networks as possible. The company wants to make sure you can access your content no matter where it’s stored, in addition to the best of everything else on the Web. Continue Reading…