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NewTeeVee took a look at Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox 360 (Live) Facebook and Twitter apps. And weren’t quite sold on the experience.

[...] implementing social TV is harder than we thought. My first impression was that socializing felt disconnected from the Xbox experience. This could just be my bias since I primarily use Xbox as gaming platform, but there isn’t much overlap between my friend interaction and my playing.

The question I posed in August (Do you want Twitter on your TV?) is irrelevant at this point. Social networking functionality is most definitely creeping into our living room devices. However, beyond the ‘novelty’ factor, Twitter TV has limited value in its current form. What we need is more sophisticated integration. Both on the source device and in how/what we share. But don’t let the current state of affairs stop you from hitting up the Xbox Live Preview program.

Waiting on the Widgets

Dave Zatz —  October 9, 2009 — 4 Comments

The highlight of CES 2009 for me back in January was the unveiling of Yahoo’s Internet TV widget platform. Given so many partner announcements (Intel, Samsung, Vizio, Sony, LG) and demos, I was hopeful we’d see a glut of Yahoo Connected TV products, including HDTVs and set-top boxes, by mid-year. Yet Yahoo’s Linux-based SDK hasn’t even hit v1.0 with fewer than three months left in the year. And the widgets that have been deployed are fairly basic. Internet-sourced info is a good start, but where’s the high definition Netflix and Showtime streaming video? The concept is sound, and inevitable at this point, but can we speed things up a bit? I’m looking at you Vizio, with that QWERTY remote. (See DirecTV and Verizon’s FiOS TV for different variations on widgetized television experience.)

yahoo-widget-rate-show

A periodic roundup of relevant news… from our friends at Last100:

Adobe Flash seen running on Palm Pre – Netbooks, MIDs, and other smartphones
Adobe was already known to be working with smartphone platforms from Palm (WebOS), Nokia (Symbian) and Microsoft (Windows Mobile), along with a raft of content providers, chip makers and consumer electronics companies. The company has added Google and Research In Motion, with relation to Android and Blackberry-powered smartphones respectively, leaving Apple’s iPhone as the odd one out regarding planned support for full Flash.

Opera wants to put Internet widgets on the TV too
Opera, the Norwegian company behind the desktop and mobile web browser of the same name, wants to be a major player in the nascent Internet-connected TV space. Like Yahoo’s ‘Widget Channel’ or the boutique gadget maker Chumby’s own platform, Opera’s newly released Opera Devices SDK 10 is touting the ability for TV and set-top box manufacturers to add Internet widgets to their feature set, along with full web-browsing if required.

Social networking impressions of the HTC Hero
Having lived with the Hero for over a week, it’s easily the most social networking savvy smartphone I’ve tested, going far deeper than the efforts of most, if not all, of its competitors. For example, while the iPhone has by far the best standalone Facebook app – it’s just that. Standalone. Whereas the Hero takes a people centric approach.

BBC iPlayer on PS3 gets a makeover, higher quality video and 1080p UI
The version of BBC iPlayer optimized for the PlayStation 3 has been given a major update that delivers improved video quality and a User Interface designed for High Definition televisions that operate up to 1080p.

Mari and I have been following the Verizon Hub, from its pre-release iterations through the product that ultimately shipped in February of this year. And I’m sad to say that Verizon has decided to pull the plug. The Hub was designed to be both an Internet-connected widget station and serve as the household VoIP hub with a bit of PIM functionality thrown in to sweeten the deal. It probably wasn’t the meh resistive touch screen that did it in but, rather and as I predicted, a failure of marketing and pricing. Requiring the Hub to be purchased solely via Verizon Wireless at $200 plus $35/month with a two year contract is pretty steep barrier to entry when introducing a new product category to the mainstream.

I only know one person who picked up the Hub and it was fascinating to observe his initial excitement morph into disgust after experiencing months of issues – some technical, but most related to his account, billing, and phone number. So Verizon’s staff may not have been fully trained in supporting this device. (He ultimately managed to unwind it all and ended up back on Verizon’s typical VoIP service using his own handsets.) While the Hub is no longer being sold and has been scrubbed from Verizon’s web site, a PR rep informed me today that existing customers and contracts will be honored.

I do think there’s room on many of our kitchen counters for this sort of device. So I hope to see Verizon give it another go with a more robust platform and a better marketing/deployment strategy in the not-so-distant future. If not, one could just pick up a net-top.

(Thanks for the tip, Dave M!)

Sonos Does Twitter

Mari Silbey —  September 4, 2009 — Leave a comment

Sonos controller Twitter

The Twitter Everywhere meme is popular this week, and Sonos joins in by announcing (via Twitter) that soon owners of the multi-room music streaming experience will be able to tweet from their Sonos controllers. The new feature empowers listeners to share artist tracks with one click, or edit automated tweets before publishing.

I love this experimentation phase for Twitter. I don’t know that I have any interest in regularly tweeting my musical tastes, or in accessing Twitter from devices that don’t give me the full conversational experience. However, the idea of using Twitter in broadcast-only or receive-only mode is certainly gaining traction. Like PiMPY, the tweeting washing machine, it suggests new possibilities for both lifecasting and automated data collection.

With regard to Sonos specifically, my guess is that the company’s customer base is music-obsessed and sophisticated enough to make the new Twitter function appealing. The application will work from both the new Sonos Controller hardware and and their iPhone app later this year.

Click to enlarge:

twitter-fringe-fox-fail1

Still think Twitter on TV is a good idea? Check out Fox’s failed Fringe experiment above. Pop-Up Video or MST3K this ain’t. Bottom line: The huge Twitter overlay made Fringe unwatchable last night. And imagine how much worse it’d be on a 4:3 screen.

Zoodles kid browser

There’s a market for kid-friendly online browsing. Children watch their parents on computers and want to get in on the fun from an early age, even if they don’t quite know how. Although there are a number of kid computers (VTech, Fisher-Price, etc.), these low-end devices don’t offer the same breadth of options available on the Internet. Kids don’t want one brand of entertainment; they want many. Enter software-based solutions. Earlier in the year I talked about Kidthing, which showed up at CES. Now I’ve had a chance to play with Zoodles as well. Here’s my take on the kid-friendly browser launched last April.

What it Does
Go to Zoodles.com, and you can download the application (Adobe Air, Mac or PC) for free. Zoodles will ask you a few questions about your child to establish content parameters, and will then load the program on your computer with a Zoodles desktop icon. (Yes, you can set up profiles for multiple children.) Launch the application and you open up your child’s “toybox.” The toybox has big friendly picture buttons linking to different games, and big arrows on the right and left so you can scroll through multiple screens. The games listed come from all over the Web, with sites represented ranging from Scholastic to Playhouse Disney. More content is added on a regular basis.

The Good
The biggest benefit to Zoodles is that it aggregates a tremendous number of age-appropriate games in one place. Unlike Kidthing, all of the content is free, and I haven’t found any games that require a separate download. There’s also the advantage that the browser mixes non-branded games with commercial characters that kids (for better or worse) already know. Nothing beats the appeal of Dora or Kai-lan.

Safety-wise, Zoodles only allows kids to click through on approved URLs. That means that if there’s an ad placed next to a game, your child won’t be able to click on it and move over to another site.

A premium membership to Zoodles ($5.95/month or less) also adds in a parental dashboard feature. Although I’d be hard-pressed to sign up for another monthly subscription service, the dashboard offers a tremendous amount of control over the application. You can look at reports on what your child has played, block specific sites, games, or shows, and even promote certain skill sets (have certain types of games show up more often) that you want your child to work on. Subjects include language and literacy, life skills, math, science, and social science.

The Bad
There’s very little negative to say about Zoodles. I found it ran a bit slowly, but whether that’s the application or my netbook is hard to say. I spoke to CEO and co-founder Mark Williamson, and he suggested that part of the goal of Zoodles is to get kids able to play by themselves on a computer without constantly needing help or supervision. Sounds good, but I still found there were plenty of places where it was possible to get stuck without parental intervention. Again, this isn’t really the fault of Zoodles. Some games just don’t make it clear what to do next, or make it difficult to start over.

The Verdict
I will definitely keep using Zoodles with my almost-4-year-old. Like being on the kids’ computers at our local library, Zoodles makes it easy to find games that my daughter likes and learns from. If online safety is a big concern for you (the FCC has a new report out on the issue), Zoodles is also a great alternative to relying on filtering software. Older kids need a different solution, but for children aged 3 to 8, the free Zoodles app is the way to  go.

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