Archives For Industry

iPhones and Old Folks

Dave Zatz —  November 14, 2011

According to Nielsen research, folks aged 55 – 64 represent the fastest growing segment of smartphone adoption (as us whipper snapper generations are somewhat saturated with technology at this point). And while I’m sorry to skew their results, we brought my 68 year old mother into the fold this past weekend.

After the last few visits with Mom, it became clear she would benefit from smartphone features – namely access to a digital rolodex and efficient web searching while on the go. But would she be comfortable with the tech? She had her doubts. But, as I reassured over the last few months, a much more capable and powerful iPhone would actually be simpler to use than her aging Nokia flip – which she had a tough time using for text messaging and routinely, but inadvertently, snapped pictures of her feet.

Of course I’m the family tech advisor and what moved this project forward was Apple opening up their Mobile Me tier by offering free email and address books under iCloud (because seniors have fixed incomes). I’m convinced Mom could have handled Yahoo Mail, but Gmail’s interface would have overwhelmed her when migrating from her Mindspring Earthlink ISP. But Apple’s solution is even cleaner, featuring a streamlined, ad-free web UI… with seemless iOS integration. So shortly after iCloud went live, I created her email account and gave her two weeks to start populating the online address book from various lists and notebooks. Continue Reading…

Another week, another HP reversal. Or is it?

As the story goes, HP outbid several suitors to pick up Palm and their webOS assets about a year and a half ago for a cool $1.2 billion. It was an interesting corporate maneuver as HP previously had minimal success in the mobile space pitching Microsoft-powered handsets to corporate America and webOS would provide an attractive, modern operating system to a broader audience. In fact, they had dreams of porting the OS to all sorts of devices, including printers and computers. But the Palm team’s sluggish development pace and perhaps uninspired hardware design continued under HP. And, despite promises to the contrary, they launched their iPad tablet competitor with incomplete software… leading to a number of unflattering reviews and lukewarm sales. Fast forward a mere two months, instead of doubling down, HP blows up the enterprise – discontinuing the TouchPad with fire sale pricing and leaving the webOS unit in limbo. Some layoffs began last month and earlier this week The Guardian reported that HP will completely “kill webOS” and lay off the remaning 500 employees in that division. Or will they? One HP exec responds to this “unfounded rumor” via an Engadget transcription that HP continues to evaluate ways to “effectively utilize that phenomenal software.”

So what’s it going to be? HP is clearly a dysfunctional and schizophrenic organization having gone through three CEOs in little more than a year and backtracking on plans to spinoff their PC business. (Keeping it around was the correct move.) After several months in limbo, I believe webOS is dead at HP – despite what execs feed investment television. Given their failure to commit, even more than their failure to execute, webOS surely belongs elsewhere. The question is will anyone offer HP enough cash for them to unload the property? Unfortunately, I’m not feeling hopeful and envision a Cisco-esque Flip flameout.

Our growing appetite for high-def video is putting a serious strain on operator networks, and the result is an enemy we all love to hate: bandwidth caps. So bearing that in mind, it’s good news to hear there’s continued progress on the development of a new video compression standard, the High Efficiency Video Coding specification, or H.265. According to Multichannel News, an initial draft of the new spec should be ready in February, with a completed standard due in January 2013.

The H.265 codec is expected to decrease the bandwidth needed to deliver video by 25% to 50%. The bandwidth savings come at a cost of increased processing complexity, but the benefits, particularly for mobile operators, make the cost worthwhile. GigaOM reported not long ago that data delivery will stop being profitable for mobile carriers in about a year and a half. Without increases in efficiency, you can bet your bottom dollar that carriers will raise data rates as a counter-measure. On the other hand, with a combination of network improvements and compression advances, perhaps we can stave off that outcome and continue to enjoy our mobile streaming services.

New video compression techniques will also be put to the test with the advent of Ultra High-Definition Television. UHDTV is said to increase the number of pixels crammed into a video picture by 400% to 1,600%. The ITU settled on an agreement for the basic tech specs in a UHDTV standard with an announcement last week.

Microsoft-TV-Xbox-Partners-Verizon-Comcast

Microsoft formally announced partners for its latest Xbox TV initiative today. In addition to Comcast and Verizon FiOS (two partners that were leaked last week), Xbox owners will be able to access content in varying degrees from Bravo, HBO Go and Syfy in the US, along with BBC in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, Rogers On Demand in Canada, Televisa in Mexico, ZDF in Germany, and MediaSet it Italy.

It’s all well and good to get excited about Microsoft TV, but there’s no major revolution here yet. In order to get Comcast or Verizon video on your Xbox, for example, you have to be an existing Comcast or Verizon subscriber as well. This is not over-the-top cable TV, freely available to anyone with an Xbox. It’s cable testing the waters of IP delivery.

Verizon has had systems in place for a while now that support delivery of linear television over IP. Although FiOS has always used IP for its on-demand content, we heard back in January that it could flip a switch for delivery of its broadcast content as well. Meanwhile, Comcast has steadily upgraded its own VOD architecture for future IP delivery, and is reportedly even testing linear broadcasting over IP on the MIT campus.

The Xbox experiment is a way for Verizon and Comcast (and others) to test out their new delivery systems. Limited adoption – built in by the inherent service limitations – will let them do a controlled introduction of new technology. They’ll stream a relatively small amount of video over IP, and be able to see how their networks hold up. If that goes well, they’ll push the boundaries a bit farther.

The experiment is a good one, and you’d better believe that every other cable operator will be watching closely. But it’s no revolution for consumers. Not yet. On the bright side, getting to IP delivery of video means cable providers will have a lot more flexibility. Once the networks systems are proven, they can start to play with business models. If the rumors of a la carte discussions are any indication, the timing is right.

4G and the Whispernet Model

Mari Silbey —  October 5, 2011

We’re still in the early days of 4G deployments and adoption, and while I’m loving LTE access on my HTC Thunderbolt, the real impact of next-gen mobile broadband won’t be felt for another year or two. When it does hit, we’re likely to see a lot of changes in how mobile devices and applications are developed, managed and priced. According to Tellabs (via GigaOM), carriers are about to lose their data cash cow, and will actually be in the red with mobile data delivery by 2013 if nothing changes. Of course “if nothing changes” is the key clause here. Things will change because no carrier is going to offer a service that can’t ultimately deliver a profit.

One of the more intriguing possibilities for future mobile pricing models is a move toward Amazon’s Whispernet model. The pricier Kindle Touch version is still bundled with free 3G mobile broadband services, but it’s now limited to Kindle store and Wikipedia access. I expect we’ll see a lot more of this – hardware providers bundling mobile broadband with devices, and even app providers bundling access with certain types of applications. There are many mobile activities that can wait for Wi-Fi, but instant gratification can be a powerful draw , and it’s a feature that many are willing to pay for.

For example, the vast majority of my mobile data usage comes from streaming Slacker or NPR. In the future, I could see Slacker bundling mobile data access with my monthly subscription to give me unlimited music streaming. I get that now, but only through a grandfathered unlimited data plan with Verizon, which I don’t expect to last forever. I wouldn’t want to pay an unlimited “tax” on every application, but if there are only one or two that threaten to put me over my monthly limit, I would seriously consider an application-specific broadband fee.

You can see how this would work for video and other services too. Netflix could bundle access with its video service. So could Amazon, either with its Kindle Fire, or with its video streaming service delivered on somebody else’s hardware. When Apple brings its iPhone 5 to market with 4G, it could bundle access to iTunes. Or it could bake mobile broadband access into its new Nano for fitness applications. The possibilities are limitless.

If delivered well, the Whispernet model is something people would pay for. And in a world of 4G speeds, it would make mobile broadband feel unlimited again, albeit in a limited way.

A different day, a different story. Experts are now predicting that connected TVs will be hot this holiday season. Jonathan Weitz, a partner at IBB Consulting says that consumers will buy up smart TVs this winter and beyond, and Parks Associates expects more than a tenth of broadband households to purchase a connected TV in the second half of 2011. That’s a pretty big shift from just a few years ago when the focus was still on upgrading to HD, and even from last year when most people were still asking me if they should buy a 3D TV. However, I have to question how radical the change really is from a consumer perspective. For example, when I spoke to Jonathan Weitz late last month, he pointed out that the vast majority of TVs sold in the next three years will be connected TVs. If connected TVs become the default for manufacturers, then sure, that’s what consumers will buy. It’s kind of like having said in the late 1990s that most people would start buying PCs with embedded modems. Yup, pretty good bet.

So let’s turn instead to the impact of connected TVs on consumer viewing habits. The two assumptions I’ve heard most frequently are that smart TVs will push more people to cut the cord on cable, and that smart TVs will lead to more interactive TV app use. On the cord-cutting front, I don’t think the impact is going to be dramatic. There does seem to be a slow drain on pay-TV subs, but for consumers who want a good selection of TV and movies, there’s still no better option than a cable or telco subscription. Just because you can access a Netflix app on your TV doesn’t mean you don’t want to be able to watch FX, or Discovery, or ESPN too.

Which brings me to the second point. What is it people want to do with their TVs? I’m still convinced that people mostly want to watch television. The apps that are likely to prove most popular on connected TVs? I’m guessing Netflix, YouTube, and other apps that offer more content rather than new functionality. I’ll caveat that by saying I do acknowledge some behaviors are changing. Parks Associates has found that one of the features consumers say they’d prefer to have on connected devices (including smart TVs) is access to Facebook. So maybe consumers do want some interactivity with their TV watching, in which case, advertisers should be all over that opportunity. However, given how many devices we can interact with, I have to question how far the pendulum is really going to swing. When I crash at night, I don’t want to tweet on my TV. I want to turn off my brain and just watch a show.

Today’s question of the day comes to us from George C…

My brother-in-law just moved from the West Coast back to Texas.  In doing so, of course he dropped his triple play Internet/TV/Cable.  He also sold/gave away his old CRT televisions.  They watched Netflix via an old computer (they didn’t know about Roku type of devices).  He and his family (wife, two younger kids) just bought a new house and he is very open to new configurations.  He is technically capable of installing software, routers, etc…. But would not delve into (for example) Myth TV, pyTivo, etc…

He’ll probably need two TVs, one for the living room and one for the master bedroom.  OTA is a possibility, as there is a clear shot to the towers.  The wife really wants a land-line “in case of emergency”.  He thinks that they can stay with cell phones (I suggested Ooma).  The house alarm system come with an independent wireless system.  He doesn’t mind paying a fair price for a device, but really, really wants to avoid recurring monthly fees. Continue Reading…