Archive for February, 2008

Chumby – one advert too many!

February 28, 2008

Sceptical piece from Newswireless today about the “cuddly Internet alarm clock”:

We’ve been waiting for the Chumby since November, when NYT reporterMatthew Haughey tested a pre-production gadget which is, basically, an Internet-enabled alarm clock. He said it was “fun”:

With today’s ever-faster processors of increasing complexity, it’s good to know that some gadget designers still remember how to have fun. Chumby is a powerful little device with WiFi, a 3.5-inch screen and an interface that you can customise. If you are wondering where the fun lies, it is also covered in leather and has something called a squeeze sensor.

Some of the fun leaked out of the squeezy internet alarm clock today, when a review of  “Chumby, the Internet Beanbag” appeared on Fox’s Science News pages.

It can replace your alarm clock, rousing you with podcasts, Internet radio, or music you load on a USB drive. It can play your iPod’s MP3s through the built-in speakers. You can put it on the kitchen counter as a Web radio that shows pictures from your Flickr account when you’re not listening.

Except, it seems, you can’t:

We found we couldn’t use it as an alarm clock, because the screen is too bright even in ‘night mode.’ That’s a pity, because it’s easier to set the wake-up time than on any alarm clock I’ve known.

And, the reviewer confessed:

It’s tough to criticize the Chumby, first of all because it feels like I’m being mean to a koala bear, and secondly because the manufacturer can send software upgrades over the Internet to the devices. Some of what I’m criticising now could be fixed by next week, though of course the screen size will be the same and there will still only be one control button.

But it isn’t just the bright night light that would make most owners want to put a blanket over this internet pet.
It’s the advertising, too. As John Markoff (who somehow managed to buy one way back last year) said:

The terms-of-use on the Chumby Website reserves the right for the company to insert its own widgets (a.k.a. advertisements) into my widget stream. Like everybody else in the Web 2.0 era, Chumby is hoping to subsidize its business and the Chumby network by selling ads. Ads on my alarm clock? Is this the cool site of the day or a step closer to “Minority Report?”

For some, of course, like Markoff’s colleague, Saul Hansel, the advertising bonanza isn’t enough:

For now, people who want the sort of interactivity offered by Chumby will be happy to have access to its collection of widgets, and some content companies will be glad to pay something to reach those users.

But I’m not sure in the long run how much value the Chumby Network provides. It is simply a server that collects Flash widgets and downloads them to devices. It’s hard to imagine that if the concept of connected devices takes off that there will only be proprietary widget-serving networks. There has to be an open standard for this.

That may actually miss the point, all the same.
For all the irritations of the limited first-edition chumby, it looks like its decision to go for Flash may give it a real advantage over other Internet devices: immunity from today’s generation of spam and viruses.

As the blurb “what is a chumby?” puts it:

Keep in touch without being a slave to your computer.

But despite all the enthusiastic reviews available, it’s worth recalling a rather similar approach for something called the That was an Alan Sugar dream – an ordinary telephone, but with a screen which would display adverts. It would also target direct mail advertising. It remains a potential, not real success.

Advertising is a great way to make money, but it really is approaching the time when the blacklash kicks in. This is the age of the fast-forward PVR, the Adblock Firefox Add-on (“it’s a snap to filter elements at their source-address”) and the advert overkill that makes people actually avoid TV channels which offer too many ads

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Ah no; “Kindle” isn’t mobile outside the US

February 22, 2008

A new e-book on the market – the Amazon Kindle – and only the American market it seems, for now. It holds 160 books. Why?

Kindle is a mobile device, and in America it’s a mobile – in the sense that it uses the EVDO mobile data network. That alone makes it Euro-unfriendly.

Alan Rusbridger has been playing with the Kindle, and expressed some annoyance with Amazon’s decision to pretty much make it impossible to use it outside North America

You have to buy the machine in the US, and can register for an Amazon Kindle account only if you can supply a US billing and credit card address. It won’t work on any European network, but you can get round that by hooking it up to a laptop via a USB cable.

(see his piece for further details). And, he goes on:

Until Amazon decides to take an interest in Europe, only a few gadget junkies are going to bother to go to these lengths. Which is a shame, because the Kindle is really rather lovely. The black-and-white screen is as close to reading print on paper as anything I’ve yet come across.

And even in Europe, a book takes all of 20 seconds to download and sync. Changing font size, making notes and clipping bits of text are all pretty simple. Page-turning is fast. The controls are rather more intuitive than the Sony. And battery life is impressive.

 The machine costs $399, which is not cheap. On the other hand, there is a staggering amount of literature now available from sites such as Project Gutenberg. At there are hundreds of out-of-copyright books ready formatted for the Kindle. All free. Amazon promises that the Kindle will hold 160 full-length books, so your suitcase is going to be a good deal lighter in future.

But why the “160 books” setting?

After a brief discussion over cold coffee, the NewsWireless team has concluded that it has something to do with the size of Flash RAM chips. As any camera or mobile phone user must have noticed, it’s almost impossible to buy a standard SD card for more than $20 these days, and they tend to hold two gigabytes of data, at least, if you do.

For example, the PQI 8G SD card costs a mere $44 bux from Supermediastore.

PQI 8GB Turbo Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) Class 6 Memory Card - Retail Package (Free Ground Shipping)

PQI 8GB Turbo Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) Class 6 Memory Card – Retail Package (Free Ground Shipping) Get Free Shipping
Product Code: ME-001-9978
Manufacturer: PQI
Mfr part #: SDHC-8GB

Product Ratings:  


And if you want to buy a 256 megabyte Flash chip, you’re going to struggle; they’re on the “remainder” table, along with serial port modems and floppy disk drives.

But the “typical book” is under a megabyte in size; and so Kindle’s claim to have “space for 160 or 170 books” implies that Amazon has a 256 megabyte Flash chip in there.

Pretty much, that would suggest that Release 1.0 of the Kindle is thrown together using left-over chips which the Flash makers are dumping on the market as they move towards denser silicon.

Would you actually want more storage? – a good question, for another time. As sceptics pointed out, most people read fewer than a book a week, and so storage for 50 books should last you a year – even if you got a project to study aphid mist in the Linden tree and had to collect 40 different botanical text-books for the purpose. So Rev 1.0 can manage OK with free Flash chips.

But for the future, it’s usually the case that usage expands to fill available space.

Provide a Kindle Mk II (a WoodStove Mk I?) with 8G storage, and we’d bet that within six months, people will be complaining that it’s too little. See NewsWireless for more…

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Wireless Open Office? Or a confusion of identity?

February 21, 2008

I watch out for Wireless stories, and when NewsNow threw up this one I was puzzled:

Sneak preview of the forthcoming OpenOffice 3
Open Office isn’t normally a wireless subject, so I read on with amazement

Screenshot Although few consumers are aware, the developers behind OpenOffice are some of the largest corporations, with both Sun and IBM teaming up to work on the next version, OpenOffice 3.

The story went on to explain:

The next version has been previewed by the Sun developers and a few new features have emerged. For OS X users, there will be a true native version of the office suite. For existing users, expect to find full PDF integration, a new charting system, an Outlook-style PIM, a report builder and much more. Native support for reading Office 2007 documents will be included.

With Sun, IBM and others on board, you can expect this to be taken seriously in the corporate market. Buy a multi-seat office license across workstations and it’s a serious amount of money. Any free product is seen as a worthwhile alternative.

And it ended up with a link: OpenOffice 3 preview link. So: where’s the “wireless” hook?

I suspect, sadly, that NewsNow has a script which looks for well-known wireless companies, like Broadcom, and Orange, and Nokia. And of course, that well known mobile provider “3” – run by Hutchison 3G in the UK and Italy and Australia. Shome mishtake poshibly?

Yes, Goohoo is about Yahsoft and Microgle – advertising, stupid!

February 1, 2008

Lovely piece about where Microsoft and Yahoo think they’re going… read  nWendy Grossman’s net.wars


“It’s often said that the hardest thing for a new technology company is to develop a second product. Microsoft is one of the few who succeeded in that. But the history of personal computing is still extremely short, and history may come to look at DOS, Windows, and Office as all one product: commercial software.”

Can Microsoft really chase Google?

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