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December 26 2012

Four short links: 26 December 2012

  1. Arduino IR Remote Control — control your Arduino project via your TV’s remote control. (via Arduino)
  2. holler — WTFPL-licensed Javascript library for real-time in-app notifications via the commandline (uses node). (via Javascript Weekly)
  3. First Tweets — numbers of “first tweet from my new {X}” giving indications of the popularity of each. Not good for Surface, alas.
  4. It’s Clear Verizon is Blocking Google Wallet Anti-Competitively — Verizon blocked Google’s mobile payments app until Verizon’s own was available. One irony of course is that in conjunction with Verizon, Google worked to gut meaningful network neutrality rules that would have prevented this very thing from happening on wireless networks.

May 18 2012

Why I haven't caught ereader fever

iPad 2 illustrationO'Reilly GM and publisher Joe Wikert (@jwikert) wrote recently about how he can't shake his ereader. I read his story with interest, as I can't seem to justify buying one. I was gifted a second-generation Kindle a while back, and it lived down to all my low expectations. The limitations were primarily the clumsy navigation and single-purpose functionality. I loaned it to a friend; she fell in love, so my Kindle found a new home.

At this point, I do all my ereading on my iPad 2: books, textbooks, magazines, news, short form, long form ... all of it. I will admit, I found the new Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight that Wikert acquired somewhat tempting. The technology is much improved over the second generation Kindle, and though I haven't yet played with one in the store, I bet the execution is much more enjoyable. Still, my original hang-ups prevail.

First, I don't want to be locked in to one retailer. On my iPad, I have apps that allow me to read books bought from anywhere I choose. I can buy books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and other smaller retailers, and they will all work on my iPad. True, this spreads my library around in a less-than-ideal organization, but the ability to buy books from anywhere is more important to me.

Also, I'm not so sure ebooks and ereaders will have a place down the road, making the value proposition of the investment that much less appealing. Much like the music journey from records to MP3s, digital reading technology is advancing, and perhaps at a much faster pace than its music counterpart. Jani Patokallio, publishing platform architect at Lonely Planet, recently predicted the obsolescence of ebooks and ereaders within five years, suggesting the web and HTML5 will become the global format for content delivery and consumption. And publications such as the Financial Times and MIT's Technology Review already are dropping their iOS and Android apps in favor of the web and HTML5.

I doubt my iPad will become obsolete any time soon. I look forward to the day books are URLs (or something similar) and we can read them anywhere on any device — and that day may not be too far off. I think I'm so attached to the iPad experience because it simulates this freedom to the best of its ability.

Ereader shortcomings also are likely to present a rich content hindrance, even before a shift to a web/HTML5 format gets underway. In a separate blog post, Wikert talked about a baseball book that missed its opportunity by not curating video links. He wrote: "The video links I'm talking about would have been useless on either device [his Kindle or Nook], but if they were integrated with the ebook I would have gladly read it with the Kindle app on my tablet." As publishers start realizing content opportunities afforded by digital, I think my iPad will serve me better than a single-purpose ereader.

Another hang-up I have, and this is likely to do with my general aversion to change, is the form factor. Most ereaders are somewhere around mass-market-paperback size, and the Nook Simple Touch and Simple Touch with GlowLight are nearly square. I prefer hardcover or trade paperback size — about the size and shape of my iPad. I might be able to get past this particular issue, but given the others I've mentioned, I just can't justify trying.

I will have to surrender to Wikert on the battery life and weight points — the one thing I really liked about the Kindle was its feather-light weight and the fact that during its short stay with me, I never had to charge the battery. I expect the surrender to be temporary, however. I have faith in our engineering friends — two years ago, a research team at MIT was using carbon nanotubes to improve the battery-power-to-weight ratio ... I can't imagine it will be too much longer before life catches up to research. In the meantime, I expect to remain happily connected at the hip to my iPad.

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January 20 2012

Kindle Fire: Three pros, five cons

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("Kindle Fire Lessons Learned"). It's republished with permission.

I don't regret spending the $200 I paid Amazon for my Kindle Fire. I tried it out and decided it wasn't for me, so I gave it to my daughter instead. Even though I no longer use the Fire I wanted to share the things I learned about the device and myself over the past several weeks. Let's start off with the good side of things.

Kindle Fire pros

Kindle FireForm factor — I prefer the Fire's size to the iPad's. It's nice being able to wrap your hand around the entire device and the lighter weight is a big plus for the Fire. Of course, it's the same form factor as RIM's PlayBook, and given how poorly that device has performed it's clear you need more than just a great form factor.

Meets the needs of typical consumer — The Fire wasn't for me but my daughter really likes it. That's why you see so many good and bad reviews of it. Consumers who want a cheap tablet are OK without all the bells and whistles of the iPad, for example. Early adopters, or those who want to push the technology to the limit, are disappointed though. More on the early adopter in a moment ...

Connection to Amazon content — There's no question Amazon is using the razors and blades economic model here and the Fire is clearly the razor they're willing to sell at little to no profit. Connectivity to Amazon's ebooks, video and audio content is second to none with the Fire. And tying in the Prime membership program will only lead to more Amazon products being sold.

That's it as far as pluses go. Now let's talk about the minuses.

Kindle Fire cons

Connection to Amazon content — As easy as it is for Fire users to access Amazon content it's just that difficult to access anyone else's. If there's one thing I've learned from the Fire it's that my next tablet will not be locked in to one provider's content. That probably means I won't be buying from the typical content providers, of course. I don't mind paying more for that capability, by the way. So if Samsung comes up with a terrific tablet that meets all my needs, and it's $100 or so more than the Fire, I'm in.

Awful for the early adopter/tinkerer — As noted above, the Fire is pretty good for the typical consumer. But if you're buying it to root and open it up you'll be disappointed. Even if you go through the rooting process you'll quickly find some of the apps in the Android Market simply won't run on it (e.g., NHL Gamecenter App, the swipe keyboard, etc.) And if you do root it, watch out for those unsolicited auto-updates.

Auto updates — This one's ridiculous. How in the world can Amazon think that forcing OS updates on every Fire owner is the right thing to do? Amazon, take a page out of the Apple book and let your customers decide when and if they want the update. I couldn't help but feel the auto update was intended more to penalize rooters than to fix problems and offer more functionality. It also reminded me of the unfortunate "1984" debacle Amazon brought upon themselves a few years ago. Really stupid.

"Silk" browser — This has to be the biggest embarrassment of all for Amazon. Remember how excited Bezos was when he demo'd the Fire's lightning-fast browser at the press event last year? It turns out the browser isn't that fast after all. In fact, in my totally unscientific side-by-side testing, the Fire almost always loaded pages slower than both my iPad and my RIM PlayBook. Even with all these other issues I figured the Fire would offer a browsing experience that's second to none. The results were considerably weaker than promised. I'm disappointed that Amazon hasn't come out and admitted their failure here. It's remarkable that they still prominently feature the Silk browser on the Fire's product page. They seem to be in denial about it as they haven't even hinted it will be fixed in a future software update. As much as I criticize Apple, this is something Steve Jobs never would have let happen.

Missing a "killer" app — This is the reason why I had to keep my iPad handy throughout my Fire use and am stuck (for the time being) on iOS. Zite is my go-to app. I use it every single day. It's outstanding. It's a free app but I'd gladly pay as much as $10 or $15 for it, especially now that I'm totally addicted to it. There's no Android version of Zite ... yet. I can't even consider another Android tablet until Zite is available. Flipboard is a close second and it too doesn't exist in the Android world. Amazon should have invested some money with the developers of apps like Zite and Flipboard to make sure they were available when the Fire launched. Better yet, wouldn't it be nice if a Fire-specific app or two came out that made the device irresistible? I'd love to be talking about a Fire or Android app that's unbeatable but not available on iOS. I can't think of a single one.


I realize I'm a fairly unique user and that plenty of Fire owners are perfectly happy with their purchase. That's great, but I'd also love to see Amazon step up, act like the market leader they're trying to be and address these shortcomings.

I'm convinced that my next tablet will be an Android-based one. The only Android tablet I'll consider though is one that gives me access to all types of content, not just content from the company who sells the hardware. Heck, as closed as they are, even Apple lets you install e-reader apps from Amazon, B&N, etc. One of the reasons they can do that is they're confident they've got a terrific piece of hardware and you'll want to buy it over the competition. They also charge a premium for it. I've learned it's worth paying a premium, as long as it's not ridiculously high, for the ability to choose from multiple content providers.

So while my next tablet won't be the cheapest on the market, I won't make the same mistake twice and limit myself to one source of content for it.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

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January 12 2012

Commerce Weekly: Report criticizes "feeble" mobile strategies of posh retailers

Here are a few of the items that caught my eye this week.

Report says 44% of prestigious retailers have "feeble" mobile strategies

Few high-end retailers are moving as quickly as they should on mobile commerce, according to a new report from research firm L2. In its first survey of premium brands' mobile strategies, L2 looked at the mobile and tablet platforms of 100 prestigious retailers — names like Dolce & Gabbana, Clinique and Cartier. In spite of their high margins, L2 found that most were taking a wait-and-see approach to mobile commerce, even though U.S. m-commerce sales are expected to grow from $6 billion in 2011 to $31 billion by 2016, according to Forrester.

In its report (and accompanying video, below) L2 scolds the laggards, reporting that:

  • 30% of brands haven't developed a mobile app
  • 33% don't have a mobile-optimized site
  • 16% have no mobile strategy at all

L2 placed 44 of the 100 brands it surveyed in the "feeble" category. At the other end of the spectrum, only four companies seemed to be doing enough right to earn a place in L2's "genius" category. Sephora topped the list, thanks to solid mobile and tablet apps, and successful cross-promotion of its mobile offerings across the rest of its digital platform. Nordstrom, Macy's and Net-a-Porter rounded out the top four.

It may look like a dismal showing, but as Lauren Indvik pointed out at Mashable, it may be enough to lead the rest of the retail competition. Indvik cited figures from Jesse Haines, group marketing manager for Google Mobile Ads, who told Mashable that a survey of major advertisers in early 2011 found only 21% had launched a mobile site at the time.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Sprint triples your chances to use Google Wallet

Samsung Galaxy Nexus with Google WalletIf you're like me, you've begun to see point-of-sale devices promoting the capability to pay with Google Wallet around town — for example at Whole Foods, Radio Shack, and CVS. Google has a nifty little map app that shows you where in your zip code you can wave your NFC-enabled Sprint Nexus S 4G phone to pay for — oh, you don't have a Nexus S 4G phone? Yeah, that's the problem: I've yet to see anyone actually making a purchase in the wild.

Sprint said this week it will do what it can to help by introducing two more phones that support Google Wallet: Samsung's Galaxy Nexus and LG's Viper. That brings the total number of phones that support Google Wallet to three. Both of the new phones store the payment applications on a secure embedded chip. Buyers will need to use either Google's Prepaid Card or a Citi Mastercard. The secure chips can also store coupons, points and offers.

Google will need all the help it can get from Sprint to spread the base of Wallet users, at least until the other carriers, all of whom are founding members of Isis, decide to let Wallet onto their phones. Verizon's decision in early December not to allow Google Wallet on its Android phones has cast a shadow of doubt on the whole business.

Meanwhile, all the players in the mobile payment system continue to run trials and tests to see where the soft points are. Visa said this week that it has certified six mobile devices to handle NFC payments using its PayWave system, a point-of-sale device that can process Visa payments wirelessly from a mobile device or a PayWave fob or card. On ZDNet, Zack Whittaker reported that in the U.K., Visa is hoping to roll the technology out as far as it can in time for this summer's Olympic games.

PayPal's mobile volume exceeds its own expectations

The volume of mobile payments is rising faster than expected, as shown by PayPal's announcement that it processed nearly $4 billion worth of mobile payments in 2011. That's up from $750 million in 2010 and $141 million in 2009. David Marcus, vice president of PayPal Mobile, made the announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. A year ago, Marcus told VentureBeat, the company predicted it would process $1.5 billion in 2011, a figure it later revised upward to $2 billion. Marcus credited, among other things, Starbucks customers using PayPal to top off their cards and the rise of iPad-based e-commerce.

Next stop: moving offline to point-of-sale devices. PayPal announced a trial using PayPal at the register in Home Depot stores, with no NFC required. For now, it's a limited test with a handful of PayPal employees who can use a PayPal card or just enter their mobile numbers in a point-of-sale terminal to pay for their DIY supplies. PayPal expects to roll it out to a wider audience later this year.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


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November 23 2011

Four short links: 23 November 2011

  1. Massive Wikimedia Donation -- I missed it when it happened, but the State Library of Queensland made the 4th largest ever donation of high-resolution out-of-copyright images to the Wikimedia Foundation. The image metadata are available through Wikimedia under liberal licensing terms, too. This is what your national and state libraries should be doing!
  2. Clea.nr -- strip all the crap from around YouTube pages. (via Ed Tech Ideas)
  3. Nabi Tablet (Toys R Us) -- ruggedized Android tablet for kids, $199 price point. (via Mark Osborne)
  4. Face-Tracking KiddyZoom Video Cam (YouTube) -- I'm always startled most when the future turns up in kids' toys. Tablets and face-tracking? Soon it'll be face recognition ("hello mommy!" says the doll), brainwave-triggered activity, and 3D printers. (via BERG London)

October 26 2011

Mobile analytics unlock the what and the when

When applied appropriately, mobile analytics reveal both what happened and when it happened. Case in point: "Let's say you have a game," said Flurry CTO Sean Byrnes (@FlurryMobile) during a recent interview. "You want to measure not just that someone got to level 1, 2, 3, or 4, but how long does it take for them to get to those levels? Does someone get to level 3 in one week, get to level 4 in two weeks, and get to level 5 in four weeks? Maybe those levels are too difficult. Or maybe a user is just getting tired of the same mechanic and you need to give them something different as the game progresses." [Discussed at the 2:21 mark.]

This is why a baseline metric, such as general engagement, deserves more than a passing glance. The specific engagements tucked within can unlock a host of improvements.

Byrnes touched on a number of related topics during the full interview (below), including:

  • Why mobile developers are focusing on engagement: Once you engage a user, do they stick around? If it costs you $1 to acquire a user, how much return will you get — if any? Byrnes said app engagement has grown in importance as developers have shifted their thinking from apps as marketing channels to apps as businesses. [Discussed 30 second in.]
  • Tablet apps vs smartphone apps: A tablet app isn't the same as a phone app. Flurry has found that tablet applications are being used "a number of times longer" than phone applications, but tablet consumers use fewer applications overall. [Discussed at 3:28]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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October 17 2011

Open Question: What needs to happen for tablets to replace laptops?

Open QuestionI've owned an iPad since you could own an iPad. I upgraded from iPad 1 to iPad 2 because the thinner form factor, faster response and Smart Cover were too hard to resist. So, I suppose you could say I'm a fan — both of the iPad itself and the overall tablet experience it provides.

But here's the thing: I now often carry a tablet and a laptop and a smartphone. The dream of one device to rule them all has morphed into a hazy vision of three devices that are all somehow necessary (tablet for browsing/consuming, laptop for real work, phone for on-the-go updates/camera — how did it come to this?).

Now, I know there are people out there who can bend a tablet to their will. I don't have that super power. "Inputting" on my tablet is an exercise in hunt-and-peck futility. More often than not I delay long email responses and other typing-intensive work until I'm stationed in front of a proper computer. This is why my tablet experience, in its current form, can never replace my laptop experience.

I bring all this up because participants in a recent back-channel email thread did something really interesting: They ignored the question of where tablets fit in now and instead examined the specific features they would need before tablets could replace their laptops. The focus was shifted from how tablets currently work to how they should work.

Here's a few tablet wish lists from the email thread (republished with permission; names withheld).

Participant 1:

I want a laptop with a removable screen that acts like a tablet — in other words, a dockable tablet. I want it to have great voice recognition. I want it to have Swype, so I can input text without having to "poke type" at a virtual keyboard with fingers or thumbs — and so I can input text one-handed quickly and easily. I want it to have great battery life in tablet mode, augmented by a second battery in the dock. I also want it to have a stylus, but the stylus should slide into the tablet, like my old Windows phone (v 6.5), so it doesn't get lost easily.

The dock would have a touchpad, the large battery as mentioned earlier, and would have extra USB ports so I can hook up other peripherals. The dock should obviously have a built-in keyboard and a reasonably large hard drive (250 GB or so). The total weight should not be much greater than existing lightweight laptops (a little heavier because of the extra battery). The tablet should be chargeable from the dock battery, so that if I run out of tablet power and place it in the dock, the tablet recharges from the dock battery. I want it to have a decent rear-facing camera (I don't care much about a front-facing one), Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC, Bluetooth, ambient light sensor, accelerometer, speakers, and (optionally) 4G cell radio capability.

Participant 2:

I find it hard to fault my Lenovo S12 — 3 pounds, 6 hrs of battery, great keyboard, 250 GB hard drive (no CD drive), HDMI output, 3 USB ports, Wi-Fi, ethernet, Windows 7, Office 2010. It makes tablets seem like Vespas (not to denigrate Vespas — just being realistic).

I've tried to take my iPad to meetings, and I've seen people with that toy keyboard Apple offered initially (though I like the looks of some of the new case/keyboard combos), and I've seen people do great presentations with an iPad. But input is the barrier. I've never had an opportunity to use Swype, but it's an intriguing solution. Voice recognition also seems plausible if you're not in a public setting.

I think what I really want at this point is a 1-pound S12. Lenovo has an interesting Android tablet, but it all comes back to the keyboard and input, doesn't it? If Windows 8 can deliver both the traditional desktop experience and a tablet experience that builds on WinPhone7, that gets closer to what I want. If I can get to three screens (TV-Tablet-Phone) instead of a dozen or whatever it is, that would be good.

Your take?

As you can see, people on the thread indulged their specificity. I'd like to invite Radar readers to do the same thing by addressing these open questions:

  • Do you use multiple devices throughout the day? If so, which ones?
  • How about when you travel — which devices do you pack?
  • Have you tried going tablet-only? What worked? What didn't?
  • And finally: What improvements do you need to see before you go tablet-only?

Please weigh in through the comments or Google+.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

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October 04 2011

iPad vs. Kindle Fire: Early impressions and a few predictions

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers' project "Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience." We'll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It's republished with permission.)

Who knows for sure how the Kindle Fire will do? It's crazy how confident some folks are about who it will kill, maim — or catapult to corporate dominance. The dang thing hasn't even been touched yet by more than its birth parents and a close relative or two. (Me, I got a finger or two on it at last Wednesday's press conference. I can't add anything concrete to what you've probably already read.)

But what I can do is offer one man's report, a year and a half in, on how I use my iPad. My goal? Compare and contrast the iPad's talents with what we know the Fire will deliver. From there, maybe there's a conclusion or two to be drawn about how this new tablet matches up against its two main competitors: the Color Nook and the iPad.

So, to begin with, here's a rough tally of my iPad usage:

Most Frequent Tasks (~ 1 hour/day)

  • Email (Mail app)
  • Zite
  • Twitter (Twitter app)
  • Safari (general surfing)
  • Facebook (via Safari)
  • New York Times app

All together these six activities consume the majority of my iPad time. I list them roughly according to how frequently I use them, but the difference between the first and the last isn't much, I'd bet.

Next Most Frequent (~ 15 minutes/day)

  • Various newly released apps (or ones I've just learned about). I wrote a book last year recommending the "Best iPad Apps." This year I'm working on another book about designing digital books. So I need to keep up with what's new.

Periodic (~ 1/2 hour/day, every couple of days)

  • Kids book apps with my two young daughters
  • Flipboard
  • iTunes (for podcasts while stretching or cooking)

As I mentioned, for professional reasons I'm always playing with new apps. When apps like Our Choice or The Wasteland launch, I get them &mda and probably play with them a dozen or so times to get a feel for how they work. The only three I've ever added to my regular rotation are Twitter, the New York Times, and Zite. But I wonder, really, how unique that makes me. Don't most smartphone and tablet owners hear about new apps from friends and others online and then spend a little bit of scattered time trying new ones out?

Probably worth mentioning: the vast majority of my computing time gets spent on the laptop (a MacBook Pro) I'm typing on right now. Second place: my iPhone, which I use mainly for email, Twitter, ebook reading, web surfing, and phone calls. Let me wrap up this iPad audit with a few general observations:

  • I rarely use 3G (I've probably paid for three month's worth of service in the one and a half years I've owned both 3G models‚ the original and the iPad 2).
  • I don't read ebooks on the iPad very often. I find it bulky and too big, and prefer my iPhone (for plain text narrative) and print (for everything else).
  • I only pull it out on the subway (I live in NYC) when I can get a seat. Holding it in two hands requires more balance than my genes are ready to deliver.
  • I don't really like typing on it. It's okay for a few sentences (a quick email reply, for instance); anything longer and I wait till I'm at my laptop.
  • I'm not very conscious of missing out on Flash-enabled websites. I'm aware, of course, that many sites still use Flash, but I guess I just don't visit those sites.
  • I rarely sync my iPad to my laptop (maybe once a month, or maybe even longer). Feels like every time I remember that I'd like to sync (to get some new photos on it or refresh my music) I decide I don't have enough time. With the coming release of Apple's iCloud service, this will all likely improve, but it remains to be seen how completely, and how well executed, Apple's wire-free efforts go.

Now, what does all this mean when it comes to the Kindle Fire? I am of course getting one (and may have some big writing-related news on that front in the coming days … stay tuned!). But if I wasn't Pete the Gadget Geek, and I didn't yet own any tablet, knowing what I know now about how I use the iPad, which one would I get? Here are the big factors I'd consider:

  • $200 seems incredibly appealing. Like many other working professionals (a little bit of disposable income, worried about paying for two kids' educations, second homeless), I worry about spending $500-plus each time Apple releases a new "must-have" device.
  • The only item on my iPad use-case list that feels hard to match is all that new app reviewing I do. The key question: will "long tail" apps show up in Amazon's Appstore for Android? I'd bet, in many cases, yeah.
  • The Fire's smaller screen size seems as much a plus as a minus. Won't know for sure, of course, till I've had a chance to play with it, but at a minimum it will be easier to operate one handed.
  • Given my current subscription to Amazon Prime (which I will likely never give up), I suspect I'll watch more TV and movies on the Fire than I do on the iPad.

So, what's my prediction about the Fire's fate? Way too soon to say, of course. But if I were a betting man, here's where I'd put my money:

  • Nook Color will be the big loser in all this. There's just not enough compelling content there to win a showdown with the Fire (if it performs as well as it did in last Wednesday's demos).
  • iPad's growth will slow from hockey stick-like to something still enviable and profit-worthy. But a year from now, we'll no longer be forced to say what we must right now: there really is no tablet market; there is only an iPad market.
  • Amazon will sell, as Mr. Bezos predicts, "many millions" of these Fires.

Webcast: Digital Bookmaking Tools Roundup #2 — Back by popular demand, in a second look at Digital Bookmaking Tools, author and book futurist Pete Meyers explores the existing options for creating digital books.

Join us on Thursday, November 10, 2011, at 10 am PT
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August 30 2011

Four short links: 30 August 2011

  1. Data Monday: From PC to Tablet (Luke Wroblewski) -- some great stats here. Sales of Apple's iPad pulled in 30% more than all of Dell's consumer PC business in just the first half of the year.
  2. Munki -- munki is a set of tools that, used together with a webserver-based repository of packages and package metadata, can be used by OS X administrators to manage software installs (and in many cases removals) on OS X client machines.
  3. Crustache (GitHub) -- a fast C implementation of the Mustache templating engine. (via Hacker News)
  4. Minecraft Cube in Real Life -- clever hardware hack with projection and Arduino sensing.

August 26 2011

To page or to scroll?

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers' project "Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience." We'll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It's republished with permission.)


Designers of digital books and magazines face an elemental question: to page or to scroll? Might as well ask: Android or iPhone? There is no single correct answer. Here, I'll chip off a teensy portion of the tussle: some very specific use cases in which it feels like the content itself helps point to the right choice.

I think vertical scrolling is good for long magazine articles or even chunks of a lengthy narrative (chapters in a book, for example). The unbroken, flowing layout matches the mental state you engage in when following a writer's extended argument or story. In the case of magazine apps like Project and Wired, these vertical dives into individual articles contrast nicely with the horizontal swiping required to move between articles; that action, I think, matches the kind of browsing we do while flipping through a magazine looking for something to read.

Furthermore, in a long, vertically scrolled piece — a New Yorker article, for example — the only material that's important is what's visible on the screen. The reader of a 5,000-word profile doesn't "need" to see beyond the text they're currently viewing. If the article is interesting they'll keep scrolling down. If not, they'll stop. My point is that there's no risk readers will miss the remaining text because it's submerged off screen. If they bail out, they'll do so intentionally, because the writing failed to hold their interest.

In contrast, where I think scrolling is a bad idea is with any kind of table of contents or other place where you want an audience to pick from a content collection. Anything "below the fold" gets diminished attention. The home page of The Atavist app, for example, showcases the titles available for purchase.

Catalog page for iPad app The Atavist
Catalog page for iPad app The Atavist

But look at that poor, hair clipped fella down at the bottom of the screen; even more are hidden further below. Unless a user knows more selections await, they'll miss out on a chance to read some of the great stories this startup publishes.

The problem here is the same one grocers have known about for decades: stuff that's at eye level sells better than stuff that's not. Similarly, when a table of contents dumps its listings on a long scrolling page, the stuff that's off-screen doesn't get as much attention.

Better, then, to design a birdseye-view style home page — one that gives visible placement to all the main categories. The Fotopedia Heritage app, for example, does a nice job giving viewers multiple points of entry into its photo collection.

TOC for photo browsing app Fotopedia Heritage
TOC for photo browsing app Fotopedia Heritage

The only stuff not given full top-level placement are other apps the publisher is promoting; three are shown in the bottom row and others await by clicking the downward pointing triangle. Seems like a good decision.

And thanks to the fluid qualities of a digital display — think: content that refreshes, showing different versions; modal pop-overs; and so on — lots of quick peek opportunities exist for those who choose to confine their TOC content to one screen. The cover of the business book Bold: How to Be Brave in Business And Win cycles a new photo and pull quote onto its TOC every seven seconds or so and offers drill-down menus into the main parts of the book.

TOC for business book app BOLD
TOC for business book app BOLD

Finally, copywriting and visual design are especially important in any effort to turn the TOC into a single-screen effort since the page not only needs to "sell" what's featured, it also has to effectively describe which sub-categories are available for further exploration. Entertainment Weekly's Must List app does a nice job on both fronts. The variable-sized content boxes break up the visual monotony that a fully symmetrical grid creates and suggests, subtly, what's most important. And the tabs at the bottom of the screen — Movies, TV, and so on — let the user further explore the stuff they like.

TOC for Entertainment Weekly's Must List app
TOC for Entertainment Weekly's Must List app

One last example I can't resist throwing in: Music discovery app Aweditorium. Its home screen is a nearly endless mosaic of tappable album art. Their neat twist? To let users know that choice awaits in every direction, there's a birdseye view tucked into a mini window at the top left of the screen.

Home page for music discovery app Aweditorium
Home page for music discovery app Aweditorium

It's a nice, quick visual way to say, "hey music lovers, there's much more to explore than we could fit on one screen."

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August 15 2011

Honeycomb and the Android tablet tipping point

There are encouraging signs for Android tablets, including release of the tablet-friendly Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), strong early sales for the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer, and critical acclaim for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. But these positive signals have yet to translate into a robust inventory of Android tablet applications.

Marko Gargenta (@markogargenta), author of "Learning Android" and the forthcoming "Programming Honeycomb," discusses the state of Honeycomb and the adoption pattern of Android tablets in the following interview. Many of these topics will be further explored at the upcoming Android Open conference, which Gargenta is co-chairing.


We've been hearing about the lack of apps designed specifically for Android tablets. Why is this area slow to develop?

Marko GargentaMarko Gargenta: It's true that there aren't as many Android apps designed specifically for tablets. The reason for this is two-fold. On one hand, most of the existing Android apps will happily work on tablets. On the other hand, developers want to see a sizable market share for tablets before they invest their time. It appears that we're at that tipping point where the number of Android tablet devices out there supports the development costs to create tablet-optimized applications.

What are the biggest technical challenges for Android tablet apps?

Marko Gargenta: Honeycomb brings a couple of new concepts to app development, namely Fragments and new UI capabilities. Developers need to learn how these work in order to take advantage of the new features. While not too complex, they do take some time to master.

The other technical challenge is the emulator. In previous versions of Android, the emulator worked great and most developers did not need a physical device for development. But the Honeycomb emulator is extremely slow. That means developers need actual tablet devices, which are somewhat pricey compared to subsidized phones.


What's your take on Honeycomb thus far?

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1Marko Gargenta: I like Honeycomb and the general direction of Android for tablets. I think the tools have a ways to go in order to be more appealing to developers. The issues with tablet tools are the same we see with smartphones, but they're amplified on the tablet side. In addition to the emulator issues, there's also the quirks and steep learning curve of Eclipse, a powerful and feature-rich tool that many developers use for Android development.

That said, I think Honeycomb is overall a well-designed platform. The Android team took a holistic view at how tablets are used and they developed a platform that addresses that view. At the same time, Honeycomb isn't as polished as the iPad. There aren't any major features missing in Honeycomb when compared to iOS, but there are differences in the ecosystems: the economics, the user bases, the distribution, etc.

How difficult would it be for an iPad developer to transition apps to Honeycomb?

Marko Gargenta: There are two types of iOS applications: native and those based on WebKit (web applications wrapped in a native app shell). WebKit apps are easy to port and many tools exist to help with that. Native iOS apps usually require a total rewrite. It's like starting a new project with very little reusable code.

Which Android tablet do you use?

Marko Gargenta: I use the Motorola Xoom. I have it rooted, and I've reinstalled the operating system many times to experiment with how it all works. It's certainly a heavier tablet than others on the market, but it's also fairly rugged.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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July 15 2011

Publishing News: Newspapers finally test tablet-content bundle

Here's a few highlights from this week's publishing news. (Note: Some of these stories were previously published on Radar.)

Philly newspapers jump on tablet bandwagon

PhillydotcomlogoTwo newspapers announced plans this week to take a bold step into the digital era. Sister newspapers the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News announced they'll be selling discounted Android tablets, complete with built-in content, to subscribers in late August. (Note: models and pricing are yet to be determined — we'll update as more information becomes available.)

In an interview with AdWeek, CEO and publisher of the Philadelphia Media Network Greg Osberg said the move will help the papers leverage digital content as well as give them data on how readers consume that content:

No one in the U.S. has bundled the device with content. We want to gain significant market share in this area, and we want to learn about consumer behavior. Our goal is to be the most innovative media company in the United States.

Implementing this type of project certainly will put them in the lead in terms of digital innovation in newspapers. The underlying idea isn't completely new, however — Business Insider estimated in 2009 that the New York Times could buy a Kindle for all its subscribers and save money if it ceased print production. The Business Insider post pointed out, "that as a technology for delivering the news, newsprint isn't just expensive and inefficient; it's laughably so."

As newsprint costs become increasingly laughable and inefficient, the Philadelphia test might just be a solid step toward the new "print" model for newspapers that they so badly need to survive.

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The Google eBookstore gets its first ereader platform

PhillydotcomlogoGoogle and Iriver had a big week in publishing, too. Iriver launched its Story HD ereader, the first ereading platform to tap into the Google eBookstore. In a post for Google, Pratip Banerji, product manager at Google Books, said the Story HD launch is a milestone, but there's more to come:

We built the Google eBooks platform to be open to all publishers, retailers and manufacturers. Manufacturers like iriver can use Google Books APIs and services to connect their devices to the full Google eBooks catalog for out-of-the-box access to a complete ebookstore. You can also store your personal ebooks library in the cloud — picking up where you left off in any ebook you're reading as you move from laptop to smartphone to e-reader to tablet.

The $139.99 device will be available on July 17 at U.S.-based Target stores.

The digital page eliminates footnote frustration

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers' project "Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader: A Buyer & Builder's Guide to Digital Books." We'll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It's republished with permission.)


Footnotes have got to be one of the more frustrating aspects of ebooks today. For starters, woe to the fat fingered among us who read on a touchscreen device. Even simply tapping the asterisk takes a couple jabs. Once you hit the tiny target, off you go to Footnote Land, the return from which depends on how well you understand your e-reader's "Back" button system.

Even in print, getting readers to shift their attention from body text to note is a tough sell. Schlepping to the bottom of the page — or worse, the end of the book — takes time, disrupts focus, and offers rewards that appeal mainly to the PhD set.

Now, of course, dedicated readers are perfectly capable of taking these kinds of excursions and preserving their attention. Heck, nursing mothers plow through War and Peace amidst interruptions. But the point is: in an age of ever increasing distractions and info temptations, we need to minimize obstacles to good reading flow — especially those that occur within the document itself.

The flexibility of the digital page offers promise.

The Shakespeare Pro iPad app offers one nice approach:

Embedded glossary in the Shakespeare Pro iPad app
Click to enlarge

The dotted underlines signal which words have available definitions. It's noticeable but unobtrusive; nice. (The same couldn't be said if instead we saw the classic blue web page link; the implicit message there is "I am a path to another document"). Having a touchscreen device is, of course, a key part of this design's success. Assistance is provided, at a tap, at the point of need. Clearing the note requires as little conscious thought as blinking; tap anywhere outside the box and it goes away. And a one-touch icon (the slightly open paged book in the upper-right corner) lets readers toggle the links on and off.

  • This story continues here



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July 12 2011

Is the enterprise dead as a tablet strategy?

In "HP's Tortured WebOS Positioning," Jean-Louis Gassée makes the assertion that the consumerization of IT renders the "enterprise-only" pivot null and void.

I disagree, but first some clarity for those who aren't familiar with the term "consumerization of IT."

When the enterprise lost its mojo

Once upon a time, large enterprises (think: Fortune 2000 companies) were widely perceived to be the ideal customer, owing to their large size, well-defined and massive IT budgets, wide range of solution needs, and target-ability from a sales perspective.

All sorts of hardware, software, hosted services and consulting services companies — not to mention a significant chunk of the venture capital industry — fed off of this massive ecosystem, the impact of which meant that innovation began in the enterprise, and then trickled down to the consumer.

However, when the dotcom bubble blew up at the end of 2000, coinciding with the end of the over-hyped Y2K project "pig trough," enterprises lost the impetus to spend aggressively on IT.

In parallel, they began to (rightly) question the return on investment for the many projects they had funded. In broad terms, this led to a reclassification of IT from being a strategic asset, and core differentiator, to being a liability, and a necessary evil.

Basically, the CFO trumped the CIO going forward.

The neutering of the enterprise from an IT perspective coincided almost perfectly with the second coming of a consumer-focused Apple (which frankly, has never grokked the enterprise).

Now suddenly innovation began originating in the consumer realm, and then trickling to the enterprise after it was proven to be a safe investment.

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Is the enterprise dead as a player in tablet devices?

Call me naive, but speaking from the perspective of an iOS developer (and someone who used to sell a bunch of hardware and software solutions to enterprises), I think an opportunity exists for some tablet maker to penetrate the enterprise.

Why? Apple's model of controlling both the value-add hardware channel and the software distribution channel is a decided anathema to enterprises, which typically prefer working with and through VAR channels (i.e., Value-Added Resellers) and System Integrators (SI).

Similarly to VARs and SIs, the Apple model heavily complicates the types of solutions that vendors can provide, the pricing that vendors can achieve, the ability to not broadcast key customers to competitors, and the like.

And don't even get me started on Android as an alternative. Here, Google's focus on free, loosely-coupled, "good enough" and ad-supported is a distinctly different set of sales and support assumptions than the enterprise, which is all about high-touch, custom and deeply integrated, has come to expect.

Thus, in the bigger picture the open questions are two-fold. One, is whether there exists a vendor in the tablet space other than Apple that is going to properly set and meet market expectations, as opposed to perennially over-promising, and under-delivering.

This, of course, requires an actual product discipline, inclusive of coherent evangelism, a clear roadmap and release strategy, and a culture of focused execution and iteration — especially on the software side of the equation.

Here, the litmus test is actually kind of easy. Until one of these manufacturers stops talking about Adobe's Flash as a feature (versus a bug, until it works caveat-free); or touting Snapdragon processors and their clock speeds (customers buy outcomes, not attributes), Apple is going to remain the only credible player in tablets.

There is just too much of a halo effect working to Apple's advantage, and the company has high execution credibility in this domain.

By contrast, RIM, the long-time enterprise leader of mobile devices, has clearly (so far) screwed the pooch with their confused PlayBook strategy. And Gassée's piece covers HP's early tablet missteps.

Attacking undefended hills

HP, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft all have logical entry points, from a solutions perspective, into the enterprise via tablet computing. But they must get focus and religion on attacking the "undefended hill" (to use an HP axiom) that is the enterprise tablet.

Simply put, no one is credibly focusing on this customer and its surrounding eco-channel.

Which brings me to the second question: Does there exist even one enterprise with sufficient vision to be "greedy" from an investment and innovation perspective while every one of their peers is acting scared (to use a Warren Buffett axiom)?

After all, it only take one serious proof point to ignite a market, and if HP, et al are really serious, proving out the enterprise should be a core focus.

Netting it out: It's too early to proclaim game over when the stakes are measured in the billions of devices, the budgets are measured in the billions of dollars, and a sleeping gorilla lies naked, unfed and uncared for in the enterprise.


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March 04 2011

Running up the score: Thoughts on iPad 2 announcement

iPad 2There was a moment during the end-stages of the PC wars where it was so totally clear to everyone that the game was over. Well, everyone but Microsoft. Despite having won in a blowout fashion, Microsoft showed no signs of slowing down. They were still stepping fully on the gas pedal.

At the time, the sheer aggression of it all prompted a commentator to note that Microsoft was crushing the competition 99-0 (in football terms), yet they were still running up the score.

I bring up this point up because it helps frame my takeaway from Wednesday's iPad 2 announcement.

For while it may be tempting to see the battle between iOS-powered iPads and Android-powered tablets as likely to be close, the truth is that Apple is blowing out the competition. The competition has no offense, no defense, and in the words of Steve Jobs, is getting "flummoxed."

And they should be. Why? Because comparisons to Android's strong competitive effort in the smartphone realm hide the fact that in the media player realm — arguably the closer analog to the iPad's domain — Android is a total non-entity. This speaks to the simple fact that when you remove the artificial "pull" of mobile carriers from the media/tablet realm, Android devices are hosed.

Strong words to be sure, but consider this: we have already established ad infinitum that a tablet is a "tweener" device — not quite a PC, but more than a smart phone. As such, it's a discretionary buy.

Now putting aside the fact that Apple just sold 15M iPads in only 9 months of 2010, yielding $9.5B in revenue, it does not follow that other entrants into this segment should expect even remotely comparable success anytime soon. Here's why:

Dumb channels + undifferentiated + more expensive = fail

Apple retail store

Discretionary buys are heavily reliant on smart sales channels, where features, benefits and outcomes can be articulated. These channels ensure that early adopters achieve success in their nascent usage, which means they'll continue to use the product and spread the word.

As Jobs beat into the ground during the iPad 2 keynote, Apple has this channel advantage you might have heard of: It's called Apple retail, and they know how to sell-sell-sell. The Android Army by contrast has ... has ... (crickets chirping).

Playing effectively in such a domain requires competitive pricing (unless you really think someone is going to outflank Apple on the high-end), and both hardware and software differentiation.

The early data on competitive pricing is not encouraging for the would-be tablet competitors, where Apple's $499 entry point on iPad has the competition flummoxed to the point of trying to only be a couple hundred dollars more than iPad.

Meanwhile, is there anyone that approaches Apple on hardware design? On a mass-market level, the answer is "no," but I will grant you that here the competition is in the ballpark, and certainly can approximate Apple's efforts and innovations.

But, when it gets to software differentiation I would submit that the very reason device OEMs are turning to Android is that they get discombobulated trying to understand software platforms, let alone execute on them.

Having cut my teeth professionally in the most hardware-centric of segments — network infrastructure and embedded systems — I can tell you that hardware people not only don't grok software, they see it as something to be put in a corner so as not to conflict with hardware performance.

This is an anathema to the Apple vision of an "apps lifestyle." This is one reason that despite the iPhone basically being an iPod with a phone wrapper, it still lacks a comparable iPod-iTunes competitor (see "Android's Missing Leg").

Remember the dig by naysayers that the iPad was merely an oversized iPod Touch? I am guessing that having seen the first few Android-powered tablets beginning to enter the stage (Galaxy, Xoom) that the Android Army really wishes they could be as compelling as an oversized iPod Touch.

This, of course, should be no surprise since the apps lifestyle is a somewhat derided concept in the Android universe. As such, most non-Google Android apps are the sloppy second creations of their superior iOS siblings.

So why is Apple running up the score?

Here's where the game starts to get ugly. When you are selling underpowered, overpriced products through uneducated channels, it's much harder to get the proverbial dogs to eat the dog food than in the carrier-friendly model.

Had Apple done nothing new on the tablet front, then perhaps in a year the Android forces would have found the trinity of hardware design, software capabilities, and developer ecosystem to activate a forward march.

But during the PC wars Apple was on the other side of Microsoft running up the score, and Apple knows the bitter taste of being under-resourced, outmanned, and outflanked. Apple won't stop running from its PC-whipped past into a Post-PC-dominant future until the competition waves the white flag.

Hence, when I look at the announcement of a seriously compelling iPad 2, I see this as Apple saying to the competition: "Your victory is not an option. Either retreat, or get beat."



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February 04 2011

Ereading Update: Ebooks, tablets, and app confusion

During the recent announcement of Amazon's 4th quarter results, Jeff Bezos highlighted that Kindle books have now overtaken paperback books as the most popular format on Amazon.com. While Bezos had previously predicted that ebooks would become the most popular format by the 2nd quarter of 2011, he admitted, "this milestone has come even sooner than we expected."

So not only are ebooks the most popular format, but the growth of ebook adoption is even faster than Amazon predicted, a strong sign that ebooks are now mainstream. Or, to put more simply, ebooks are the preferred format for readers. So now what? How does this shift impact authors, agents, publishers, and bookstores?

With such a clear tipping point, it is important to recall that this is just now happening, so it is going to take some time before everyone accepts this shift and realizes what it means for their business. While many in the industry could see this shift approaching and started the process of adaptation, I think the shift has come much earlier than most anticipated.

Tablet market remains hectic and very competitive

I can't recall a more competitive market than what we are currently witnessing for tablet computers. While Apple continues to sell iPads like hotcakes, competition is beginning to eat into the market. According to Strategy Analytics, the iPad lost ground in Q4 of 2010. The iPad took 75% of the shipments, which is quite a decrease from the earlier 96% share.

Samsung is reporting that they've shipped some 2 million Galaxy Tabs in the two months they came onto the market in November of last year. Unfortunately they are experiencing an above average level of returns. The researchers at Strategy Analytics have found that the customer return rate for the Galaxy Tab is 15%, compared iPad's return rate of 2%.

Again, the battle of the tablets will be won by the company that delivers the best software experience. Unfortunately for Apple, this is where their closed garden approach to software may ultimately diminish their share of the tablet market. I'd be very surprised if an open solution didn't gain the most favor for owners.

Software may offer a competitive advantage in the long term, but vendors are currently focused on hardware. Below I take a look at two new devices.

The LG G-Slate

slate.jpgThe G-Slate will launch using Android 3 Honeycomb, and it will be the first tablet to launch on T-Mobile's 4G network. The G-Slate will have an 8.9-inch screen, a dual-core 1 GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU, 32 GB of internal memory, two cameras (5 megapixels on the back and 2 megapixels on the front), LED flash and HD (1080p) video as well as stereoscopic 3D recording capability.

The T-Mobile G-Slate will be among the first 4G tablets to fully benefit from the tablet-optimized Android 3.0 platform, which was designed from the ground up for devices with larger screen sizes.

Brainchild launches the Kineo Android tablet for schools

kineoHands.jpgAimed at the education market, Brainchild's Android-based Kineo features an 800MHz dual-core processor, 256MB of RAM and 2GB of storage, as well as WiFi connectivity, an SD card slot and an HDMI output for streaming data through HD television screens.

In a way, the Kineo represents the first signs of the second level of integration of tablets into society. Considered more utility than a resource, these specialized tablets focus on solving a singular problem.

Other news

Things started to get messy when Apple blocked the Sony ereader application because it would have gone around Apple's proprietary purchase system. Sony responded by conceding to Apple's demands and adopting Apple's in-app system. Apple responded by clarifying that apps must only provide equal access (an option) to the Apple in-app purchasing system.

Interpretations of these requirements differs. So far, there are many applications currently in use on iPads — like the Kindle app — that take iPad users to a website for them to complete purchases. Apple has not indicated if they will crack down on these applications. Amazon has yet to comment on the prospect of having to include an Apple purchasing option. Currently it is estimated that 40% of iPad ebooks are bought directly from Amazon. Another 12% are bought from Barnes and Noble Nook bookstore. What's at stake is the automatic 30% cut that Apple takes on all iBookstore purchases.

While I've mentioned this before it bears repeating: Apple must concede that they will not own ebook distribution like they do for digital music downloads. What's confusing is that Apple is a hardware company. Yes, they stumbled onto the iTunes monopoly, but iTunes was only a utility to get people to buy more iPods. So with an already commanding lead in tablet sales, why jeopardize that lead by forcing users to stay within their walled garden? We live in a highly networked world and consumers no longer accept inferior service delivery. They merely route around the failure and get what they need from the next suitable replacement. Time will only tell whether customers care more about Apple's "it just works" strategy or freedom of choice.




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October 21 2010

Device Update: New companies enter the ereader market

Two ereader trends are emerging:

First, the rate of new devices in the ereader market space is slowing down. The IFA Berlin electronics show and the Frankfurt Book Fair were high-water marks. Since then, the overall rate of new product announcements has dropped.

This is probably explained by the second trend: Pundits and analysts are already making their recommendations for the holiday shopping period. What most manufacturers are realizing is that the window of opportunity for gaining any significant share of holiday-related purchases is rapidly closing.

The combination of these trends means that until the new year begins, there will probably be fewer product announcements than we've seen in past months.

That said, there have been a few devices announced recently that merit consideration. What's most surprising about this set of new ereaders is that they're from companies that aren't strongly associated with personal electronic devices.

E FUN's Android tablets

NEXT2-Front_l.jpgE FUN, a consumer electronics designer and marketer, is set to introduce Android-based tablets this fall. The Nextbook line will feature a 7-inch color ereader dubbed the Next1, and a 7-inch color touchscreen TFT tablet, dubbed the Next2. Both will feature 2GB of internal storage, as well as an SD/MMC expansion card slot. The Nextbooks will also include a variety of Android-based applications such as an MP3/photo viewer, a video player, and the Kobo eReader, which will have access to the Borders eBook store. Since the tablets run Android, they will also include the Adobe Flash application. For connectivity, the Next1 will offer only a USB port, while the Next 2 will offer USB and 802.11g Wi-Fi. Each of the Nextbooks will come preloaded with 25 ebooks.

Preliminary information indicates that the Next1 will have a suggested retail price of $149.99 and the Next2 will be available for $199.99. Initially, the devices will be available from the Home Shopping Network.

bModo's Windows7-based touchpad Tablet PC

bmodo12_windows7.jpgThe bModo12 is an all-in-one tablet that aims to combine tablets and netbooks. The tablet will feature a 11.6-inch LED HD capacitive touchscreen with a 1366x768 resolution. It will be powered by Intel's 1.66 Ghz Atom processor and feature an HD video accelerator. In addition, the bModo12 will include 1GB of internal RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and a SIM card slot for 3G connectivity.

Additional hardware capabilities include: Bluetooth 2.1 and 802.11 b/g/n connectivity, a 1.3 megapixel camera, 2 USB Ports, an SDHC card slot, and a Mini HDMI port. The Microsoft Windows 7 Premium options will include an ereader, Internet Explorer, and support for standard PC applications.

bModo has also included a launcher application called Bossa Nova2 that will allow users to switch between a Windows 7 desktop and a Bossa Nova graphical user interface, which is designed to optimize the touch capabilities of the device.

BenQ Launches nReader K61 with 3G and WIFI

Following on the footsteps of their initial introduction into the ereader market, the K60, BenQ announced the availability of their newest model, the K61. This new model comes with several upgrades, including integrated WI-FI, 3G, and a touchscreen. Additional hardware specifications include 2GB of internal memory, USB support, and an SD-card slot capable of adding 16GB of additional storage. Now available in Taiwan for slightly more than $300, the K61 features a 6-inch touchpanel with support for drawing and taking notes.

Other news (and a tipping point for copyright infringement)

The biggest news last week was the unveiling of Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7. Windows Phone 7 is mostly a response to the iPhone, rather than the iPad or other tablets. While it's safe to assume the new Windows Phone 7 mobile platform will soon see ereader applications from Amazon and Kobo, PC Magazine says there's currently a shortage of applications available for the new mobile platform.

Perhaps the most striking news this past week was an article by Adrian Hon about his experiences with ebook copyright infringement. Hon relates his experience purchasing the hardback copy of Iain Banks' latest novel "Surface Detail." Out of curiosity, he checked to see if he could find a copy of the book online to load on his iPad. As he rationalizes, he already bought a copy of the book, and he'd rather not tote around the 627-page tome. Not only did he find a high-quality EPUB copy of the novel, but he also found copies of other bestsellers.

Why is Hon's article important? I've been tracking this topic for a while and until now, the only books that were being shared online were in PDF format. I think it's a tipping point because current best-selling hardcover books are now available simultaneously on file sharing sites. This provides clear evidence that people are sharing purchased EPUB files.

In my opinion, ebook copyright infringement hasn't really been a real threat to publishers. It's been more like the pink elephant in the room that senior executives discuss. Hon's article should be enough proof to make publishing executives recognize that the threat from ebook file sharing is now real and it will affect ebook sales.



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August 09 2010

Four short links: 9 August 2010

  1. Maslow's Hierarchy of Robot Needs -- born to be a t-shirt. (via waxy)
  2. paper.li -- read Twitter as a daily newspaper. An odd mashup of the hot new tech and the failing old. Will newspapers live on with modern meanings, like "records" and "cab"?
  3. Eureqa -- software tool for detecting equations and hidden mathematical relationships in your data. Appears to be a free-as-in-beer service with open source client libraries. (via Pete Warden)
  4. Samsung Patents Tablet with Front and Rear Touch Input -- The idea is to let users control the device without touching the screen, and perhaps allow them to perform multi-touch inputs from the screen side and the rear side at the same time. (via azaaza on Twitter who says he worked on it at Samsung four years ago)

July 13 2010

Four short links: 13 July 2010

  1. Super Me -- a game structure to give you happiness in life. Brilliant idea, and nice execution from a team that includes British tech stars Alice Taylor and Phil Gyford. (via crystaltips on Twitter)
  2. Android Tablet -- the PanDigital Novel is a wifi-enabled book-reader that's easily modded to run Android and thus a pile of other software. Not available for sale yet, but "coming soon". A hint of the delights to come as low-cost Android tablets hit the market.
  3. Batch Processing Millions of Images (Etsy) -- 180 resizes/second, done locally (not on EC2), with much fine-tuning. This is how engineering battles are won.
  4. BitCoin -- open source digital currency project.

April 08 2010

Who is the iPad for?

Many have written about how the iPad heralds a new paradigm in computers. Computers today are too complex. The iPad is the device that our parents will use so they don't have to worry about the dark, scary underbelly of the file system.

iPad CoverageDuring a recent panel at Mobile Portland, both the audience and the panelists discussed the shortcomings of the iPad as being obstacles for themselves, but that these problems wouldn't slow the iPad because the tech-savvy audience wasn't the target demographic for the iPad.

Despite the fact that everyone believes the iPad is targeted at those who need a simpler computer, Apple itself has never made that argument.

You cannot use an iPad without a computer. The iPad cannot:

  • Install operating system updates without connecting to a computer.
  • Back up data and software without connecting to a computer.
  • Print documents without somehow emailing or sharing the document to a computer.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a recent survey found that the people most interested in the iPad are the typical leading- and bleeding-edge adopters.

In the long run, the iPad may yet revolutionize computing in the ways that people hope. It certainly holds the promise to do so. A lot will hinge on when Apple addresses system updates, backups and printing.

If these issues are tackled in the 4.0 version of the iPhone/iPad's operating system, which will likely arrive this summer, look for a surge of interest from people looking for a simple computer during the back-to-school and holiday season.

Until then, I keep thinking about how Mobile Portland's tech-savvy audience—the crowd that argued that the iPad wasn't meant for them—responded when asked if they planned on buying an iPad.

Nearly every one of them raised their hand.

March 24 2010

Four short links: 24 March 2010

  1. The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble -- hilarious economics parable.
  2. The ZenPad -- look for more Android-powered tablets. (via azaaza on Twitter)
  3. Diigo -- browser plugin to archive, highlight, and annotate web pages, then share and collaborate on those augmentations. (via an annotation of Zittrain's Future of the Internet and How to Stop It)
  4. So Long, And No Thanks for the Externalities: The Rational Rejection of Security Advice by Users (Microsoft, PDF) -- To make this concrete, consider an exploit that affects 1% of users annually, and they waste 10 hours clearing up when they become victims. Any security advice should place a daily burden of no more than 10/(365 * 100) hours or 0.98 seconds per user in order to reduce rather than increase the amount of user time consumed. This generated the profound irony that much security advice ... does more harm than good. (via Greg Linden)
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