Archives For Industry

Cisco has announced it’s closing down the Flip business and folding the UMI video conferencing product into its Business TelePresence line. The news comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that WorldGate, maker of the ill-fated Ojo video phone, has finally shut its doors for good. Bye bye, badly-managed video products. Hello, smartphone and tablet world.

As an early Flip camera fanatic, I’m sorry to see the brand die, but Dave called it a year ago. Not only was the product outside of Cisco’s wheelhouse, it also had a limited window of success because of the video functions being loaded into smartphones. I currently own a Kodak Zi8 video camera. It’s a great little device, but I don’t think I’ve pulled it out of my bag since last June.

As for the two video phone products – really, what were those guys thinking? Even perfectly executed, the Cisco and Worldgate (briefly Motorola) SKUs were awfully expensive alternatives to free video Skype on the web. Yes, Apple has been successful at introducing a product we don’t really need for hundreds of dollars, but the iPad does a lot more than just video, and in the case of the iPad 2, video calls. Oh yeah, and that video calling thing? Watch Apple make it a hit. I still think video calling is a killer app. Just not for the UMI or the Ojo.


Amazon has launched a new Kindle initiative and product, whereby they run full screen screensaver ads and homescreen footer banner ads on e-reader hardware in exchange for a $25 discount. The WiFi-only “Kindle with Special Offers” runs $114, versus the original $139 ad-free Kindle 3. As Harry McCracken points out, the one time savings runs only about 18%; he wonders if this product might more appeal to those interested in the deals themselves rather than the small discount.

Like Harry, I suspect this is a bit of an experiment on Amazon’s part. And why we’re not seeing this Kindle rev launch at the $99, or lower, price point. Can Amazon generate a large enough stable of advertising partners to keep this going, will a sizable percentage of readers take action on the ads, assuming an even more sizable quantity of Kindle purchases. Continue Reading…

Hulu screenshot Q1 2011 revenue report

Hulu posted some pretty awesome revenue numbers last night, including projections that the company will make close to half a billion dollars in 2011 and drive 300 million dollars in revenue to its content partners. However, all of that success comes with a price. Like every other over-the-top video provider, Hulu has had to limit its catalog in order to keep content owners happy and stay financially viable. And that makes it hard to maintain loyal viewers. The company says it is on track to exceed one million Hulu Plus subscribers this year, which suggests growing interest in Hulu’s premium platform. But I have to question whether that growth is sustainable over the long term. Once the ability to access television online becomes more commonplace, will Hulu be able to continue wooing consumers and survive  as a stand-alone platform?

Two arguments against Hulu come to mind. First, now that cable companies are taking TV everywhere, Hulu has to contend with an industry that is masterful in paying out cash to its content providers. In a shootout between the two, I’d bet on the cable companies. Second, Netflix has proven, so far, that it’s possible to be a successful streaming company. However, even Netflix faces serious challenges in the future, and it’s hard to imagine that two companies in such a difficult space can survive without strong differentiation. Netflix has a serious leg up on Hulu with more than 20 million paying subscribers to date. Can Hulu really compete with that?

Hulu certainly still has options ahead, including the opportunity to build out an original content strategy and/or offer live television. And it still has Comcast as an investor, albeit one without management control now that the NBCU/Comcast merger has come to fruition. Will that be enough? Only consumer audiences will tell. But I’m less optimistic now than I was six months ago, particularly given how quickly cable companies have pushed their iPad TV apps to market.

Apple 1, Mirror Worlds 0

Mari Silbey —  April 5, 2011

In a reversal of last year’s jury verdict, a federal judge in Texas concluded that Apple did not infringe on patents owned by Mirror Worlds, a company founded by computer science professor and luminary David Gelernter. At issue were patents relating to the Spotlight, Time Machine, and Cover Flow features in the Mac OS. Originally, jurors decided that Apple had willfully infringed on Mirror Worlds patents by copying the company’s interface design, which showed a series of files as image cards. However, U.S. District Judge Leonard Davis did not agree with the jury verdict, stating yesterday that there was no infringement, and no evidence to support the jury’s damage awards of $208.5 million per patent.

For Mirror Worlds, I guess it’s easy come, easy go. But as for David Gelernter, you can’t deny the man had a breakthrough design concept at a time when most people were still thinking of directories and folders as the only possible way to organize computer files. And interestingly, although Apple was the focus of this lawsuit, it’s actually Google, in my mind, that first took the Gelernter concept (implemented by Mirror Worlds in the short-lived Scopeware Vision software) to its most useful conclusion. Google’s desktop search software isn’t visual in the way that the Mirror Worlds idea was, but it does offer chronological streams of data outside the file-folder paradigm. Today, I still use folders for my files, but I also rely heavily on desktop search, particularly where email is concerned, for a chronological look at my file archives.

Over on Daring Fireball and The Loop, Google is (rightfully) called out for taking development shortcuts, leading to further fragmentation, and failing to release Android Honeycomb source code to the community. Given their respective focus, the authors tie it all back to Cupertino:

Can you imagine if it were Apple delaying a software release.

Well, there’s something that has been bothering me for awhile. Facetime. It’s a pretty killer video communication solution primarily because, in typical Apple fashion, it’s dead simple to use. But, more importantly, it’s integrated into every current iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch — meaning there’s a huge installed base of potential users. However, Facetime communication is currently limited to Apple’s ecosystem. And that’s not something I’d normally have any problem with. Yet Steve Jobs announced Facetime as an eventual “open industry standard” – implying other services on other platforms would ultimately be able to utilize the Facetime protocol. About ten months after launch, there’s been no further public communication or movement on the interoperability front.

While my wife and I are iPhone 4 owners, many of our friends, family, and colleagues are on alternate platforms… and we’d like to simply Facetime with them via their Skype, QIK, or Yahoo Messenger apps.

The New York Times is starting to roll out digital subscription plans in Canada this week, with US and international subscriptions set to take effect on march 28th. Readers will be able to view the paper’s home page for free, and read up to 20 articles per month at no cost. You’ll also be able to access the “Top News” section of the company’s mobile apps for Android, BlackBerry, and iOS for free. For anything else, you’ll need to pay up.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • If you want full access to the web site and smartphone apps, you’ll need to pay $15 every four weeks.
  • For full access to the web site and the tablet app for the iPad you’ll need to find $20 in the couch cushions.
  • Full access to the tablet and smartphone apps plus the web site will run you $35 every four weeks.

Existing newspaper subscribers will be able to continue accessing all of the digital content for no additional charge. That includes customers who sign up for weekday only, or Weekender Friday-Sunday only service. Because the New York Times is currently offering a 50% discount for up to 12 weeks on some print subscriptions, I can actually sign up for the weekday print edition and digital editions for $3.70 per week, compared with $3.75 per week for the web and smartphone plan. But after a few months that price would double.

Read the rest of this entry »

One of the things that Steve Jobs highlighted at the most recent Apple event was the dominance of the iOS app market, and the ability of users to access content better through iOS than any other mobile platform. Argue the Apple premise if you like, but it is undeniable that content and app availability drive platform success. I was reminded of this today when I received an email from the support department for the Slacker music service. Last night I tried to update my credit card information on the site, and an error message popped up. According to Slacker support, I have to access my account information from IE or Firefox on a PC. Chrome is not supported.

I can’t come up with another example of a time I tried to access something using Chrome only to find it unavailable, so I’m not suggesting that Chrome won’t continue to succeed among desktop browsers. However, it is disheartening to find that browser compatibility is still a concern even with a popular, well-established consumer site. And that got me thinking further. Forget desktop browsers. What about all those tablet operating systems and mobile browsers hitting the market? How are companies going to keep up with such a diversified landscape?

It was bad enough when we were talking Mac vs. PC. Or more recently, Apple vs. Android. But now we’ve got iOS versus Gingerbread versus Honeycomb versus WebOS versus Win 7, and on, and on. The fragmentation discussion has been going on for months, but the situation’s on the verge of getting so bad it almost makes me nostalgic for the old “I’m a Mac. I’m a PC,” ads. It also gives me serious pause in committing to any cloud service, knowing that if I change my mobile platform, I could lose access, or at least partial functionality in the future. For example, should I pay the annual Slacker subscription fee knowing that I haven’t decided what tablet to buy yet? Tablet competition is good, but I could do without the compatibility issues that are sure to be a bigger problem soon.

I’m not generally a fan of DRM, because so-called digital rights management software basically limits what users can do with the software, books, music, and movies they download. If you pay for an eBook or a movie you should really be able to access it on any device you choose, write in the margins, or do just about anything you would be able to do if you bought a physical copy of the book or movie.

But there are some situations where DRM may be a necessary evil. Streaming audio and video services like Netflix and Hulu wouldn’t exist without DRM, because content publishers would never license their material. And I’ve actually been really impressed with the way public libraries have used OverDrive‘s system of DRM-laden books to essentially replicate the experience of taking out a book from a library.

Essentially each library will have a limited number of licenses for a book. Users can check out those books and read them on supported devices, such as an iPhone or Android device using the OverDrive Media ConsoleBluefireAldiko, or a similar app. If the library has just one license, when you check out that book nobody else can check it out until you return it. If you check out a book for three weeks, your license expires when your time is up and you won’t be able to read the book anymore. But now another reader can check out that title. And if you finish reading before your time is up, you can “return” the book.

The system closely resembles that of walking into a library and checking out a book — without leaving your house. But it turns out that book publishers aren’t as impressed with this system as I am. Read the rest of this entry »