SiliconFilter

The Future According to Eric Schmidt

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Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt took the stage at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this afternoon to talk about the role of technology in the “world we live in today” and how it will shape the societies of the future. Schmidt, for example, noted that the number of people who use smartphones is still very small, but “think how amazing the web is today with just 2 billion people” and what will happen when another 5 billion get online.

The Future According to Eric Schmidt

In Schmidt’s vision, societies will be split into three strata in the future and will be divided by how they use technology and how much access to it they have.

The privileged few, the hyper-connected, are likely to face a future that will only be limited by what technology can do. They will have access to unlimited processing power and high-speed networks in most major cities.

In Schmidt’s vision, this group will soon be represented by robots at multiple events at the same time while sitting in your office. For them, technologies that once looked like science fiction, will soon be available. Driverless cars, for example, will soon reduce accidents. At the same time, though, technology will actually become much easier to use and ideally just disappear.

Besides these high-connected folks, though, another group, which will also be well-connected but less so than the first group, will form the new global middle class in Schmidt’s future. This group, though, will use cheaper technologies for its work – though its members will focus less on building new services and products – and maybe use simpler technologies for telepresence, but still use technology effectively to do their jobs. This group, in Schmidt’s view, will also be made up of more sophisticated consumers and those who will be smart about using the Internet to organize politically.

A third group, though, will have no or only limited access to the Internet. This “aspiring majority,” as Schmidt calls them, will likely have some form of access to technology, but it will look different from what we expect today. Maybe, though, they will use mesh networks to create local networks that isn’t even connected to the wider Internet. For Schmidt, it seems, mesh networks represent the easiest and cheapest way to get these underprivileged users at least partly online.

What this will make possible, too, is for these users to share their experiences with the rest of the world, whether that’s a political uprising or a famine.

There will, however, in Schmidt’s view, still be elites and this digital divide will likely exist for quite a while. Technology, however will enable “the weak to get stronger and those with nothing will have something.”

Technologists will have to act now, though, to ensure that everybody will be able to participate in this future where everybody will be connected.

Ice Cream Sandwich and Chrome for Android

Very little about today’s keynote was focused on specific technologies, with the exception of Chrome for Android and the latest version of Android.

Talking about Ice Cream Sandwich, the most recent version of Android, Schmidt noted that he thought Google finally got the user interface right ‘for a global audience’ and stressed that most reviewers agreed with him. Implicit in this, of course, is an acknowledgement that earlier versions of Android weren’t quite as polished.

Schmidt was joined on stage by Hugo Barra of the Android development team at Google. Barra provided a demo of Chrome for Android, the mobile version of Chrome the company announced a few weeks ago. Schmidt used this opportunity to take a brief jab at other mobile operating system by calling Android “a real mobile operating system.” Barra demoed a number of the browser’s top features, including pre-loading, link preview, syncing between mobile and desktop, as well as the fact that Chrome doesn’t limit how many tabs you can have open at the same time.

 



10:14 am


Hands-On With Apple’s Mountain Lion: Don’t Like Change? You’ll Love this Update

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While Microsoft is working on its most significant operating system update in recent memory, Apple just released the first developer preview of Mountain Lion, the next update to OS X. Mountain Lion is scheduled for a public release in the summer. As with Apple's Leopard to Snow Leopard update, the company is clearly indicating that this is a minor update – and indeed, after spending a few days with Mountain Lion as my main operating system now, I still sometimes forget that I'm not using Lion.

The New Stuff in Mountain Lion: More About Apps than the Operating System

About This Mac

Unless you are deeply embedded in the Apple lifestyle and use an AppleTV, for example, or use Apple's default email app, chances are you won't notice too much new in Mountain Lion.

Sure, the Messages app is cool and useful – but that's really just an app that you could run on Snow Leopard as well (assuming Apple continues to support it after the general release of Mountain Lion). Indeed, most of the updates like the new Reminders and Notes apps are more about these new apps than the operating system.

Personally, I don't really care for the deeper Twitter integration, a new, more Chrome-like version of Safari or having access to Game Center in Mountain Lion. I never felt like I needed an easier way to share anything on Twitter and I don't play games on my Mac.

The interesting new features to me are support for AirPlay in OS X, as it yes another move by Apple to get the Mac closer to the living room (and maybe also a precursor to the iTV) and Gatekeeper, the new security feature in OS X that is meant to protect you from malware. If you own an AppleTV, AirPlay alone is likely with the upgrade.

The other update that you will likely use quite regularly is the Notifications bar. That, indeed, is a very iOS-like feature, but one that actually feels completely at home on the desktop, too (unlike the Launchpad Apple introduced with Lion). Only Apple's own apps currently make use of it, but once more developers integrate it into their applications, chances are you will use it all the time and wonder how you ever worked without it.

Mountain Lion Isn't Going to Turn Your Mac into an iPad

If you are worried about the "iOSification" of the Mac, Mountain Lion isn't the update to worry about. The update really isn't about convergence as it is about convenience. The deeper iCloud integration makes keeping you address books, notes and files in sync between your different devices easier, the rather useless iOS-like Launchpad app is still there, but you don't have to use it (I know I never do).

Nothing in Mountain Lion – except for maybe Gatekeeper if you set it to its most restrictive setting – takes anything away from what you can currently do in Lion.

Mountain Lion and Windows 8: Two Very Different Updates

Even though Apple obviously announced Mountain Lion just ahead of Microsoft's unveiling of the public beta of Windows 8, these are two completely different updates. With Windows 8, Microsoft is trying to reinvent its operating system to a degree that is closer to going from Mac OS 9 to OS X. While Microsoft is baking its tablet OS into its desktop OS (and we still have to see how successful it will be in doing this), Apple is just making the interplay between the desktop and mobile more convenient.



11:02 am


Taking a Step Back from the Cesspool

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The last few days allowed us to witness the rather sad spectacle of various tech writers/bloggers/journalists calling each other names and publicly airing some dirty laundry. What’s even sadder about this is that in the flurry of ad hominem attacks, the fact that all sides actually made some valid points about the current state of tech blogging got lost.

The Story So Far

Before we get started, here is a quick summary for those who don’t follow the meta discussions in the tech blogging world that closely (you can skip the next two paragraphs if you already know the story): What started this whole affair was the recent revelation that Path uploaded its users phone contact lists to its servers to make it easier to find friends who joined the service. Path apologized. The NYTimes’s Nick Bilton used this as an opportunity to highlight what he thinks is a wider issue of startups playing fast and loose with our private data. Crunchfund’s (and former TechCrunch writers) MG Siegler and Michael Arrington quickly came to Path’s defense. CrunchFund, of course, is an investor in Path.

Siegler, however, took his argument a bit further and used his post to attack the state of tech blogging as a whole and basically argues that most writers don’t know what they are talking about and have to write too many stories per day to even try. Dan Lyons then used the Crunchfund’s writers’ defense of Path to highlight the degree to which Silicon Valley – in his view – has become a “cesspool” where journalists and bloggers are often too close to VCs and angels to properly do their job, personally attacking Siegler, Arrington, PandoDaily, Techmeme (“That’s right kids. Techmeme is rigged”) and others in the process.

In between all the name calling (“nasty little ankle-biter”) and swearing, everybody actually managed to make some worthwhile points.

Problem #1: Feeding the Pageview Beast

Siegler is absolutely right, for example, when he says that the “pageview machine” that makes writers post 4 or 5 (and sometimes more) stories per day is fundamentally flawed. That kind of process doesn’t leave writers time to research stories beyond a quick Google search, gets people to write stories about statistics that are clearly wrong (stat stories are the easiest to write) and generally drives even the best writers insane after they’ve posted their 3rd slideshow of the day or just rewrote yet another press release just to make their quota. Not every blog operates this way, but far too many do.

Some, like The Next Web, have mastered high-frequency posting to the point where it’s close to impossible to compete with them on speed. Others, like Kara Swisher’s AllThingsD take a more deliberate approach and are rewarded with frequent (and real) scoops. A lot of sites fall into the middle, but most have post quotas for their writers and even those that tell their writers they don’t care about pageviews obviously do.

Pageviews, though, are more or less the only way to effectively monetize a blog/news site these days, so there will always be some pressure to post some of these frivolous stories. Nobody has found a workable solution around this yet, but I like to think that just posting good stories can be profitable, too. And if it takes a few slideshows to pay for somebody to write a good, in-depth story (and then split that story up between multiple pages to increase pageviews), then maybe that’s the price we have to pay for doing business.

Poblem #2: Befriending the VCs

Dan Lyons, however, is also right when he says that PandoDaily taking money from VCs isn’t helping the site’s credibility (and the same goes for Siegler and Arrington when they talk about Path). The standard argument here is that everything is alight, as long as you just disclose your investments, but in my view, that’s just not realistic. The Crunchfund crew, however, doesn’t pretend to be journalists at this point and their readers know their perspective. I can live with that.

PandoDaily, on the other hand, I have issues with. It’s amassing a great group of writers, but it’s obvious that those who invested in it did so to buy a mouthpiece for themselves and not because they expect huge returns. In my view, that’s a shame, because the people there could do great things, but they will always be sullied by questions about their objectivity and motives.

Just Take Deep Breath and Be Better Than This

When you take a step back, it’s clear that these are real issues the tech blogging/journalism world has to take seriously. Rewritten press releases for the sake of fulfilling pageview quotas, slideshows and fake/wrong scoops aren’t helping the tech blogging ecosystem at all. Still, I like to think this system is mostly self-correcting. Bad information gets corrected (though sometimes the damage is already done), bad “scoops” are quickly outed as such, just as we don’t let writers with an obvious bias off the hook easily.

Michael Arrington says we are better than this but that our industry is unable to change. Tech blogging today, however, is in a transition period. If there was ever a time for things to change it's now. Writers, after all, are already moving around from one site to another frequently as new success stories (The Next Web, for example) make some of the old guard uneasy.

A lot of sites are doing very good work right now (maybe even “journalism”) – let’s not get too distracted by the infighting between a few of them but focus on those that are staying above the fray.

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2:53 pm


Can Apple Keep its Cool?

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If you're reading this article on the go, pause for just a second and take a look around. What phones do you see people using? The iPhone? An array of Android devices? The business man's Blackberry? Chances are you're seeing quite a mix of all three and them some (and let's not forget the poor little Windows Phone). But what's shocking to me is that more and more, the iPhone isn't popping out of people's pockets. Rather, Samsung and HTC phones are breaking free of the fruit's chains and storming ahead. Why? Some say competition, others will tell you that Android is just plain better than the iDevice. But the real reason: the iPhone just isn't the coolest kid on the block anymore and Apple needs to fix that – and fast. 

I slip out my iPhone, check Twitter, and then shoot off a few emails. Hearing the faint whoosh of the Mail app verifying my sent mail, I slip it back into my back pocket and carry on with my day. This seems to be the habit I have with my phone, one that I'm proud to say is quasi-productive while at the same time, semi-amusing. But while meandering the halls, I'm taken aback at the rapid revision of what phones friends and strangers alike are typing away with… not iPhones.

Apple knows how to play the game – and it plays it very well. From commercials to keynotes, stores to employees, the company breaks its back to make sure the consumer feels free within its walled garden. With a relaxed atmosphere and staff, Apple draws in the teens, the adults (and apparently all of those who aspire to be hipsters), and their devices feed that feeling. But it seems like those times are drawing to an end, with Samsung's latest and greatest commercials bashing the sort of cult-like following Apple has had and showing its own phones to be… well, superior. 

 

I'd say the first mistake Apple made was to limit their phone to one carrier (in the red, white and blue) for the longest of time. Do you remember the original Droid launch commercials by Verizon? It was the Anti-iPhone. And it did spectacularly well. 

The next mistake was not mixing the operating system up a bit. I know, I know: if it ain't broke, don't fix it, but people get bored of the same tiny squares on a screen after three years and Android offers full customizability. 

And the last fall out would be not unveiling any game-changing software or hardware for the iPhone 4s.

Many pundits are saying the iPhone 5 will be groundbreaking, and that's going to give Apple a much needed bump up, but when it really comes down to it, if you want to stay on the top with trends, you need to break the ground each and every year, and then some. 

So will Apple stay cool in the long run? Maybe, maybe not. But let's not forget that Blackberry ruled the air for quite some time, and now look at 'em. It's a tough business, keeping cool, one that requires more than just a fancy phone or custom operating system. And don't look now… but I think I see Windows Phone pulling up pretty fast.



2:45 pm


Google+: It’s Time to Let the Teens In

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Facebook, Twitter and even MySpace allow you to sign up for their respective services if you're 13 and up, so why can't Google live a little? Back in June of 2011, the internet was ablaze with reviews, commentaries, and first-hand tutorials of the seemingly stellar service, and quite a few focused on how Google+ grabbed such a stupendous size of users in a short time. Google has decided to keep one group of users off the service and is doing so at its own peril: teens.


This guest post was written by Alexander Burger. He is a teen himself and would love to join Google+, if only Google let him. Alexander usually blogs at Phone-Fritz.com.


Smartphones have spread like wildfire in the past few years and more and more adults, children, and especially teens, have them. With Internet-capable devices in hand, teens can do more than just text or tweet… the revolution of what one has on them now has grabbed hold and is sticking pretty hard. Teens are probably the most sought-after group of consumers. Television ads, billboards and websites all trying to grab their attention… and teenagers being teenagers – they soak it all up. One day it's Sperry Topsiders [editors note: don't feel bad, I had to look that one up, too…], the next it's Nikon cameras, all based on who wears what, what shows where, and who speaks in such a way. Let's just say, if Jersey Shore moved to Connecticut, our tourist business would go through the roof.

But Google doesn't buy that. It doesn't see how you need to snatch up the socialites and get within the walls of schools and football fields. Does the G-Giant think Farmville flourished because of my mother's addiction to the game? No. Did Words with Friends get big because the scholars in our society decided to spend their time unscrambling letters to hit that triple word tile? No. Teens rule this terrain, teens decide whether you win, or lose, and if Google wants its social venture to come out golden, they have to play the game, they have to let them in.

So where does this leave our lack-luster social network, the one that Google keeps trying to back up with ideas like "Search Plus Your World?" It leaves them with questions about when they will open the gates and let the sea of younger students surge in and get a hold of all that popularity and more importantly, profitability.

Google+, to its credit, is a slick take on social, and one that could really be preferred over Facebook, but at the moment… it's a vacant wasteland collecting dust, pictures of cats, and absolutely no kind of human activity.



3:28 pm


Path’s Moment in the Sun Has Finally Arrived

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Path, which was founded by former Facebook developer David Morin and Napster's founder Shawn Fanning, launched in late 2010. While it got a lot of good press in its early days, it didn't quite take off either. At the end of 2011, though, Path launched version 2 of its iPhone and Android apps and the buzz around the private social networking service has been growing since. In a market that is over-saturated with general social networks like Facebook and Google+ and specialists like Instagram, Path has managed to find its niche in private sharing among a small group of friends.

While Facebook has devalued the meaning of 'friend' and Google hopes you want to organize them into neat little circles, Path makes you deliberately focus on just adding people you really want to share with by restricting you to 150 friends (that's up from 50 in the original version). I hadn't really thought about Path much until version 2 launched – and even then, I mostly regarded it as a gimmick. During LeWeb, though, it became increasingly clear that the service was on to something and during the last few weeks, Path comes up in virtually every conversation around hot startups (the other being Pinterest).

Why Now?

When Path launched in 2010, many pundits heralded this as the beginning of an age of more private sharing – a logical conclusion, given that it was around this time that Facebook was pushing people to share their lives more openly. The app was a bit ahead of its time, though.

What changed? With smartphones being even more ubiquitous than ever, Path's phone-only strategy only feels natural, while it felt a bit forced in late 2010 when the app launched. Of course it helps that version 2 of the app is likely one of the best-designed app for a mobile phone, but more so than that, I think we've finally reached a turning point where users are getting tired of the old social networks and are looking for something fresh that's easy to use and where they can be themselves without having to worry about what a future boss may one day discover about them on Facebook.

Path's Niche Could Become Mainstream Soon

By focusing on sharing photos, ideas and your location, Path also ensures that everything you do share is shared deliberately and about you. There is no link sharing on the service, no resharing of posts or anything else that distracts from its main mission.

As such, Path fits neatly into the current social networking ecosystem, as Google+ and Twitter are mainly places to share links, animated GIFs and pithy quotes, Facebook remains the mainstream social network for the mainstream and Instagram is the place to share your pictures. Path is free of marketers and brands that want to become your friends. It's a liberating mix of a private Twitter feed, Instagram-like photo-sharing and Facebook-like voyeurism without the Farmville updates.

Given enough traction, though, it's not impossible to think that Path could become a very big player in the social networking world – even though (and also because) most of the activity on the service remains hidden to the public eye.



9:08 am


The Golden Age of Tech Blogging Is Just Getting Started

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Given that the week between Christmas and New Year's Day is usually very slow in the tech blogging world, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jeremiah Owyang’s linkbait post about the end of the “Golden Age of Tech Blogging” is getting its fair share of attention today. My old boss Marshall Kirkpatrick and former TechCrunch writer Sarah Lacy already wrote some pretty good rebuttals of Owyang’s ideas, but I want to add a few thoughts to this discussion as well.

Owyang argues that there are four trends that show the end of this era (though he never fully defines what that “Golden Age” actually looked like). Let’s take a closer look at these, as I don’t think they work as signs for the end of this first era of tech blogging.

1) Corporate acquisitions stymie innovation

Owyang argues that as TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb have now been bought, the age of innovation in tech blogging is over. Nothing could be further from the truth, I would argue. The fact that these sites were acquired simply shows that some smart investors think there is money to be made in this market.

And what was the last big innovation to come out of TechCrunch or ReadWriteWeb anyway?

2) Tech blogs are experiencing major talent turnover

I’m not going into the details why ReadWriteWeb, for example, lost plenty of its writers in 2010 (including myself), but it’s obvious that lots of writers moved around last year. Again – I’m not sure how that’s a sign of how the “Golden Age of tech blogging” has passed. It simply means that writers moved to places where they could earn more money, get more benefits and better support from editors. If anything, that means the Golden Age of tech blogging for the writers themselves is still going strong, as there is clearly a market for them.

3) The audience needs have changed, they want: faster, smaller, and social

That’s not a new trend. What’s worth noting, though, is that the attention, if it really has shifted, has shifted more towards the aggregators like Techmeme. Owyang also uses Mashable as an example of a blog that has shifted its strategies in the face of these trends. I would argue that Mashable long ceased to be a tech blog.

4) As space matures, business models solidify –giving room for new disruptors

This is, of course, true in every business. Given that the cost of entry into the tech blogging world is close to zero (or $20/month for a hosting account), there has always been space for disruptors. Tech blogging isn’t an easy business, though (or an easy beat, for that matter), so we have seen relatively few people try to disrupt the business from the outside.

Oddly enough, Owyang also argues that “long gone is the scrappy new media entrepreneurs like Arrington who built a decent sized empire, cashed out, and moved on to to a traditional industry like venture capital.” This, of course, makes little sense, given that Arrington only cashed out a year ago, those at ReadWriteWeb who had equity only cashed out two or three weeks ago and that there are plenty of sites that could still cash out nicely in the future.

We’re just Getting Started

Basically then, I don’t agree that any of Owyang’s points demonstrate that the “Golden Age” of tech blogging is over. I do agree that we are at a turning point, though, but for very different reasons. I think the slow decline of ReadWriteWeb over the last year and a half, the high turnover at TechCrunch and a general sense of instability in the tech blogging world and the rising importance of the aggregators is opening up the door for disruptors large and small.



10:31 pm


Here’s a Surprise: Some of Facebook’s Users Actually Like the Timeline

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Facebook today rolled out its new Timeline feature, the highly visual replacement for its previous profile pages, to all of its user worldwide. For the first seven days after they activate this feature, users will be able to make changes to their timelines (hide stories, promote others etc.) before others can see their new profile pages. Typically, Facebook's users tend to dislike any change to the service, especially those that are as invasive as completely changing their profile changes. Oddly enough, though, the initial reaction to this update is relatively positive – at least when compared to some of the company's other recent releases.

In between the usual griping and grammatically challenged posts on the Facebook blog, there is a surprisingly large contingent of users who are defending the change. Sure there are the typical negative comments we have come to expect (some favorite: "Seriously, STOP CHANGING SHIT!" "This is sooo confusing," "THis stupid crap shouldn't count…… Timelines? really that reminds of history class… Just keep it as it is…. I'm sorry this change is alot of CRAP! You should have never invented it.") and calls to remove the feature, there is a surprisingly large number of users who actually like the Timeline.

Timeline comments

Timeline comments 2

As German Blogger Marcel Weiß pointed out to me earlier today, maybe the reason for this relatively positive reaction is the fact that this feature doesn't affect people's daily use of Facebook as much as the much-hated ticker, for example.

Another factor here could be the fact that it took Facebook quite a while between announcing the feature and actually rolling it out to all of its users. With close to three months in between the announcement and launch, quite a few users were obviously prepared for this shift and some were even looking forward to it. Now if Facebook only finally launched that disklike button its users are also clamoring for…



3:00 pm


It’s Time for Apple to Allow Real Browser Competition on iOS

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Yesterday, Google launched its redesigned search app for the iPad. It features a smart, innovative design and could, with just a few extra features like bookmarks, easily become the best browser alternative to Safari on iOS. The reality, though, is that while Apple allows browser apps like the Dolphin Browser that use iOS’s built-in WebKit framework or Opera, which renders all the content on its own servers to get around Apple’s rules, none of these can be used as the default browsers on iOS. Whenever you click on a link in an email, for example, you can’t set iOS to open Opera instead of Safari. Because of this, there is almost no incentive for users to even try a third-party browser on iOS, as the system will constantly route them to Safari anyway.

Apple’s Own Browser: Adequate but not Innovative

Apple’s own browser is perfectly adequate, but as the Google app shows, users are missing out on innovations on all levels, including interface design and faster access to modern web standards on their mobile devices.

Safari on the iPad, for example, uses the same way to handle tabs as on the desktop instead of using a design that really makes use of the iPad’s touch features.

Third-Party Browsers Can’t Compete Unless Users Can Make them the Default Choice

The Google search app shows that interesting, touch-centric browser interfaces are possible. For Google, of course, search is the central metaphor for browsing the web, but you could just replace the current search screen at the center of the app with bookmarks and links to web apps and have a great browser app.

Mozilla was late to the mobile browser game, but now it’s doing a few creative things with Firefox on Android (and lets you use plugins, for example). Opera, too, is constantly pushing the envelope with its mobile browsers. iOS users, however, are more or less cut off from all of this innovation. Sure, you can install interesting apps like Dual Browser or Atomic Browser, but chances are, you will never use them because unlike Android, you can’t switch the default browser away from Safari on iOS.

Will Apple Ever Relinquish Total Control over the OS?

Apple, of course, wants to keep total control over your iOS experience. For most apps that are alternatives to built-in iOS apps (email, streaming music, to-do lists etc.), it doesn’t really matter that other apps can’t be set as the default. For browsers, though, it’s really the only way they will ever get widespread use.

Locking the browser down made sense for Apple in the early days of iOS, when apps weren’t even on the roadmap yet. Now, however, this policy feels more like it stifles innovation than that it protects users.



4:57 pm


Google Music and iTunes Match: Modern Solutions to Yesterday’s Problems?

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With the launches of iTunes Match and Google Music, this was clearly a good week for music lovers (at least in the U.S.). With iTunes Match, Apple finally offers a cloud-based solution for accessing all your music on any iOS device, and with Google Music, Google can finally say it offers Android users a service that is competitive with iTunes.

Both of these announcement would have been really exciting to me two or three years ago. Today, however, they leave me absolutely cold. Why? Because I stopped buying music a long time ago in favor of using a subscription service like MOG, Rdio or Rhapsody. I know there are still many people out there who love the idea of owning music, but to me, it feels like Google Music and iTunes Match are smart solutions for a problem these subscription services solved for me in a long time ago.

Mog Music PlayerBoth Google and Apple are still betting on the fact that music is something people want to own – and if you subscribe to Apple’s vision, that also means you will only buy Apple products for the foreseeable future.

Don’t get me wrong. I listen to music almost all the time I’m at my computer or in the car. I love music. But unlike iTunes and Co., subscription services allow me to call up any song I want to listen to whenever I feel like it. They also allow me to listen to artists I would’ve never discovered if I just used iTunes. With iTunes or Google Music, after all, I would have to make a pretty hefty investment to listen to all the albums I listen to on MOG every month. With a subscription service, the investment remains the same no matter how much I listen.

Both Google and Apple base their services around the idea that you want to own your music. To me, music is more like subscribing to Hulu or Netflix. Sure, my music “collection” goes away when I stop subscribing or switch services – but who cares? How many of those MP3s you collected on Napster years ago do you actually listen to regularly after all?

Image credit: Flickr user lungstruck



6:14 pm


Amazon Adds More Apps for Kindle Fire and Consumer Interest is High – Is It Time for Apple to Start Worrying?

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Amazon today announced that its new $199 Kindle Fire, which will go on sale next week, will feature apps from Facebook, Netflix, Rhapsody, Pandora and Zynga. Several thousand more apps will follow next week. Until now, there really wasn’t much of a market for tablets, there was really only a market for the iPad. Clearly, that’s changing very quickly, though. With Amazon and Barnes & Noble getting into the market, their cheaper (and smaller) tablets could hurt Apple’s position as the dominant tablet player.

While Samsung, Acer, Blackberry, Toshiba and all the other manufacturers weren’t able to sell any appreciable numbers of their tablets, things are finally looking up for Android tablets – though none of the current manufacturers are likely to play a major role during this year’s holiday season.

Just two years ago, it didn’t seem as if consumers would ever warm up to tablets, but Apple clearly showed that there is a lot of interest in these devices. With the backing of major brands like Amazon and B&N, the $199 Fire and $249 Nook Android tablets now stand a chance to challenge Apple’s early lead. The new tablets are, after all, significantly cheaper than Apple’s iPad 2. More importantly, though, the fact that there is already an existing software ecosystem for these new tablets out there will give shoppers the confidence that they aren’t losing much by choosing Amazon or B&N over Apple.

iPadVsAndroidTablet69% of Holiday Shoppers are Interested in Buying a Tablet this Year – And They are Considering the Small Android Tablets

According to a new study by consumer electronics review site Retrevo.com, 69% of U.S. consumers are interested in buying a tablet this holiday season (or are at least interested in learning more about them). Out of these, 44% would consider a 7” Android tablet and another 44% say they don’t know enough about Amazon’s tablet to make a decision yet. The Nook tablet was announced after this study ended, but chances are there will be similar interested in it as well.

In Retrevo’s study, slightly more respondents said they are planning to buy a Kindle Fire over the iPad (12% vs. 10%). That’s all very much within the margin of error and when it comes to making an actual purchase, these intentions often count for very little.

One interesting sidenote: a third of respondents in the Retrevo study thought the Kindle Fire was just another eReader from Amazon.

Given these numbers, I think Apple will have another great season for the iPad, but the cheaper, smaller Android tablets now stand a chance to take a major bite out of Apple’s market. Consumers who wouldn’t have considered a Samsung tablet will likely take a close look at the Fire or Nook tablets now and may just opt for these instead of paying more for an iPad.



6:48 pm


Kindle Fire: A Minor Threat to the iPad, Major Threat to Other Android Tablets

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Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet runs Android, has a nice screen, is fast, cheap ($199), features an innovative browser, and – thanks to being an Android tablet at heart – offers support for thousands of apps out of the box. I doubt, however, that it’s a major threat to the iPad. The tablet manufacturers that should be very worried however, are those who are also in the Android business, including Barnes & Noble with its $249 Nook Color. The reason for this, I think, is Amazon’s superior ecosystem and the low, low price.

Before the Kindle Fire, There Was No Android Tablet Market

My basic theory of the tablet market until now was always that there really wasn’t one – there was only an iPad market (I must have picked this idea up from someone, but I can’t for the life of me remember where I first heard it). The Android tablets on the market today are about as expensive as Apple’s iPad, but consumers just don’t want them at that price point. In terms of hardware, they are often comparable with the iPad, though the software still lags behind in some areas.

When you talk about tablets to mainstream users, though, all they think about is the iPad. That may be due to Apple’s brand and smart marketing, or the failure of the other manufacturers to position and price their devices in the right way. The result so far has been very clear, though: Apple can barely keep up with demand and the others couldn’t find buyers.

The Kindle Fire: Let The Android Tablet Price Wars Begin

At $199, however, the Kindle Fire could change this. I doubt it will hurt the iPad (though it may siphon off some users), but it will hurt the other Android tablet manufacturers.

The Fire is a pared-down tablet – no doubt about it. It’s small, doesn’t feature a camera, and there is no optional 3G connection either. It’s a perfectly capable tablet, though, and does the things most users want to do on their tablets: surf the web (with the fast new Silk browser, that shouldn’t be a problem), read books, read magazines and watch movies and TV shows. All of this, Amazon is giving users for a price nobody else can currently match. There may not be a camera on the Fire, but I don’t think that’s a dealbreaker for many potential buyers. It does what most consumers want to do with their tablet and at $199, I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon ended up with supply issues ahead of this year’s holiday season.

What About the Nook?

As a 7” tablet from a company known mostly for selling books, the Kindle Fire also obviously competes directly with the $249 Nook Color from Barnes & Noble. The price difference here may only be $50, but I doubt B&N will sell a lot of Nooks (even if they reduce the price to $199, too) given that Amazon’s ecosystem is vastly superior to B&N’s.

Will Users Want a Basic 7” Tablet?

The tablet market outside of the iPad world is still young. It still remains to be seen whether consumers will really take to smaller tablets. I have no doubt, though, that many will look at the full-price competition from Samsung, Acer and others and buy the $199 Amazon tablet instead (and maybe a basic $79 Kindle as a stocking stuffer as well).



4:58 pm


As Music Gets More Social, is Apple Getting Left Behind?

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When I opened Spotify on my desktop this morning, a pop-up informed me that “Spotify Loves Social” and that I should discover “great music with [my] friends.” To get started doing just that, all I had to do was click “Get Started.” Spotify also conveniently pre-checked the opt-in to Facebook’s new Open Graph feature. I’m not sure most mainstream users will understand that opting in to the pre-checked Open Graph option means that all their listening data will not just be forwarded to Facebook, but that their friends will likely see everything they play on the Facebook ticker as well. As Spotify now forces its users to have a Facebook account, chances are quite a few people will sign up for this “service” unwittingly.

No matter what you think about this, though, it’s clear that the future of music is social. Facebook has partnered with everybody who is anything in this business, including Spotify, Slacker, turntable.fm, iHeartRadio, MOG, SoundCloud and Rhapsody. The one exception: Apple.

Spotify_open_graph

As Cult of Mac’s Mark Elgan rightly points out, Facebook – at least in the music world – “has become not just a competitor to Apple, but the Mother of All Apple Competitors.” Apple, of course, has Ping, its own music-focused social network. Ping, however, is not a huge hit and whereas Apple couldn’t even get Facebook to agree to let its users export their contacts to its own social network, though, the world’s largest social network was more than happy to work with all of these other streaming music services.

If Ping were a huge hit, this wouldn’t be a problem for Apple, but Apple’s social network is neither very social nor very active these days. Indeed, one has to wonder if Apple itself is still thinking about it much, as it hasn’t seen any major updates since its launch.

Two Trends that Could Hurt Apple: Social Music and On-Demand Streaming

Two trends are converging on Apple here that could unsettle it as the leading online music provider in the long run: social music and on-demand streaming. As on-demand services like Spotify, MOG and Rdio slowly gain traction (both with their paid and free tiers), users may just decide that they don’t want to buy music but prefer a monthly flat-fee that costs less than the price of a single album instead. Couple that with Apple losing out in social, and it’s clear that some people over in Cupertino must be starting to get worried. So far, Apple hasn’t been able (or willing) to offer a flat-fee plan and its social initiatives haven’t caught on, either.

Elgan argues that Apple needs its own social network for its music and entertainment business to succeed in the long run. Maybe that’s true, but I would think that a closer partnership with the existing networks – be that Facebook or Google+ – could help the company to get into the social music game. Users have pretty much reached the saturation level when it comes to new social networks. At this point, partnering is a smarter move than building your own, especially if social networking isn’t part of your core competencies.

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4:09 pm


Sorry Facebook, But That Stuff I Share on Your Site is Not the “Story of My Life”

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[rant]

Facebook’s announcements today represent nothing short of a major paradigm shift of how it wants its users to interact with its service and each other. Sure, the new Timeline is pretty to look at, but on the scale of today’s announcements, that’s just a blip on the radar. What really matters is that Facebook now sees its missions are giving you the ability to “curate the story of your life.” Thanks to the new lightweight sharing features announced today, you can now quickly share (and bore your friends with) every article and book you read, every movie you watch on Neflix, every TV show you watch on Hulu, every book you read on your Kindle, every song you play on MOG or Spotify, and every picture of food you take on Foodspotting. Doesn’t that sound like a dream come true? Isn’t that “the story of your life?”

What I Share on Facebook Isn’t the Story of My Life – Not Even Close

scrapbook_flickrZuckerberg’s idea is that we will use Facebook to keep track of the “story of our lives.” I can’t help but wonder if that’s not one step too far.

I can see the reasoning here – after all, once you’ve connected everybody, you can’t grow by just adding new users anymore.

The fact that Zuckerberg would even think that users are putting “the story of their lives” on Facebook is just creepy.

If you really feel the need to share everything you do on Facebook and you think that that’s a good representation of your life, you seriously need to get out and try living your life a bit harder. We never share everything, we never want everybody else to know everything we do and often enough, we’d rather forget stuff than keep a precise record of it.

Digital Scrapbooking

Of course, if you are really buying into this idea, you can then relive all those glorious days on your timeline/digital scrapbook later on, or even get a nice graph with all the recipes you cooked in the new Reports feature. It’s all there in a nicely designed “frictionless experience.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I have no interest in using Facebook as a repository for all this superfluous data. A picture or two from my vacations is good enough – I don’t need to keep track of every recipe I cooked, every road I drove on and every morning run. Just like I wouldn’t be interested in offline scrapbooking, I have no interest in cataloging my past exploits on Facebook either.

It’s not just the data I might collect on Facebook (I doubt I will). I’d rather, for example, see my friends make very deliberate choices when they share something with me – not the one-click-and-forget kind of sharing Facebook seems to have in mind.

While Facebook is hyping the potential serendipitous discovery that this new system could allow for, my feeling is that this will just add more noise and very little value in the long run.

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Image Credit: Flickr user Dean Michaud.



8:42 pm


Want to Join Our Private Beta? Pay Up

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A small but growing group of startups now makes its beta testers pay to join their private betas.

“Paid beta” used to be a derogatory term for software that was shipped too early and with too many bugs. Now, however, companies like Mightybell and Cabana have decided to use small payments as a way to keep their beta programs small and focused.

If you are anything like me, you probably sign up for a few private betas per day, but would you pay to join a beta program?

Paid Betas

cabana_paidWhen social goal-setting service Mightybell launched, the team there decided to go with a very small fee for joining the beta: $1. Cabana, which wants to make building iOS apps a drag and drop affair, charges between $15 and $25, depending on whether you fill out a survey at the end of the check-out process.

Other projects, most notably the cult game Minecraft, are giving their early users access to their alphas and betas for slowly increasing prices as the project slowly comes to fruition. Indeed, in the gaming industry, beta access in return for pre-purchasing a game is relatively common. Those projects, however, then also give their early testers full access to the release version, while Mightybell and Cabana still plan to charge their users a subscription fee (or may end up releasing their services for free) once they have launched.

Why Cabama Charges for Beta Access

Here is Cabana’s reasoning behind charging a fee: [list]

  1. Business Validation– One of the most important things for a startup like ours to prove is that people are willing to open their wallets and pay for the services we provide.  This paid beta will help us validate that people are willing to pay at least a small fee for Cabana.
  2. Prioritize Early Users– We know some of people who have requested invitations are very excited to start playing with Cabana right away, while others just want to look around a bit.  As we continue to shape the Cabana experience we want to make sure we let the most active users in first.  This fee, while small, will help us prioritize active early users over more casual users.
  3. Better Support– We want to make sure we can properly scale to support any new users who join Cabana.  By limiting our flow of new users we can better ensure we’re not overwhelmed and can provide a great experience to all new users.
  4. Revenue – The beta fee is not going to, nor is it intended to, generate significant revenue, but as a young company all revenue is good revenue, and it will be a starting point to build upon. [/list]

No doubt, the Cabana team makes some good points here, Putting a monetary value on joining a beta will keep drive-by testers out, allow the company to support its early users and generate some revenue. Others, however, would argue that betas should be free so that as many users as possible will register and test the system.

It also makes sense for services that plan to charge for the final product to charge for the beta – that way, early users don’t expect a free ride all the way (Mightybell has made that argument).

Would You Pay?

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of paid betas. I’d rather test the service before I pay, but these paid betas don’t even offer a trail period. Even a token amount will keep many potential testers out (and won’t make you any money anyway) and change the expectations of these users (“Hey, I paid for this. Why doesn’t it work?”).

Image credit: Andrew Magill



5:21 pm