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Rumors reported by Silicon Alley Insider last week indicate that TechCrunch Michael Arrington’s Linux-based CrunchPad web browsing tablet has gone into hibernation. Perhaps due to higher than anticipated production expenses. Arrington had promised “a big announcement” during the summer months… which never materialized. So something’s definitely up. And I expect it’s the realization that launching a gadget, versus web, startup requires a much more significant investment of capital along with additional risk. And, as a small player, the CrunchPad team would have a difficult time sourcing components at the best rates. A Dell can pull off a minimalist $199 tablet. A startup cannot. But this doesn’t mean the CrunchPad is dead. Like Arrington, I believe there’s a market for a simple, couch-based computing platform. So let’s hope the delay is due to lining up investors and a product team with experience building, marketing, and supporting a consumer electronics device. If not, many of us will gladly overpay for Apple’s Kindle-crushing iPad next year.

Normally, I tend to think that most regulations are bad. In a free market, businesses should be allowed to operate with a wide degree of latitude. At the same time there is a pragmatic part of me that understands there can be exceptions to this. Everyone should have the right to free speech, but that doesn’t make it right to run cigarette ads on Saturday morning cartoons or to claim that you’re a Doctor when you only bought your degree from an Internet spammer.

For the most part, the television world has been forced to accept reasonable restrictions in exchange for the public bandwidth they use to deliver their content. In the Internet world though, the content rules are more like the old west because consumers are opting into the service by paying for it. As long as you have the quickest draw, your behavior doesn’t matter as much and so far companies like Netflix have been more concerned about digital market share, then doing what’s right.

Maybe it’s because internet audiences are still small compared to television or it could be that it takes time for rules and standards to develop and emerging markets don’t tend to care about these things. Whatever the reason though, there are parts of the television experience that aren’t making the jump to the internet.

Specifically, I’m talking about closed caption data. For years, television studios have been legally required to provide this information, so that people who are hard of hearing can also enjoy the content. While there are some technical issues associated with adding this kind of data to a video file, technology is at a point where you’d think it should easily support this. The Matroska container for example, is able to include optional sub-title information along with video and audio data. Alternatively, because online delivery can microstream to people, files with the embedded sub-titles could made available to viewers who opted into them. This would involve keeping multiple copies of the same movies though and so far the digital movie industry hasn’t wanted to bear this cost.

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Hands On with the TwitterPeek

Dave Zatz —  November 3, 2009 — 6 Comments

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While I don’t do late night television, I too have been playing with the TwitterPeek. We still see contrarians and youngsters haven’t embraced the platform, but there’s no denying Twitter has become quite the phenomenon. Perhaps it’ll even defy our collective Web 2.0 ADD and stay strong, long term.

What makes TwitterPeek notable is that it marks the first dedicated Twitter-only device. Yet we don’t know if the market is ready or interested in such a solution. In talking to Peek CEO Amol Sarva, I get the sense he too is quite curious (and optimistic) in how consumers will respond. As they’re reusing the Peek Pronto hardware platform, this doesn’t seem like much of a company gamble. (Peek’s 30 person company expects to be profitable within 12 months.) TwitterPeek runs $99 with 6 months of (T-Mobile) wireless service or the better deal of $200 for lifetime access. As a convergence proponent and full-time smartphone user, I am somewhat skeptical. But we’re mainly here to talk gadgets…

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The compact TwitterPeek hardware and interface will be appreciated by any pre-pearl Blackberry owners. Clickable scroll wheel on the side, situated above a back button. Considering the price, including cellular service, the hardware exhibits good build quality and has pleasing, if innocuous, looks. However, the keyboard is just OK. The keys are raised well and have good travel, but they are stiff (could loosen up with more use) and small.

TwitterPeek does a decent job of channeling the Twitter experience. You get all the stuff you expect including your feed, direct messaging, retweeting. And you get some stuff you wouldn’t expect such as searching your feed, Twitpic integration (viewing), and server-side reformatting of short link web page content.

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Given Peek’s origins as an email-centric device, the repurposed TwitterPeek UI does suffer a bit. The main Twitter feed shows only excerpts of each 140 character tweet, in what would be an email subject field, requiring you click into a message to see it in its entirety. Unlike most mobile Twitter clients. However, once reading individual tweets, keyboard shortcuts allow you to quickly jump to the previous (p) or next (n) entry. But folks with as many followees as I, may have a difficult time being efficient. Another limitation for power users is TwitterPeek’s ability to solely handle one Twitter account. Amol hopes to find a market amongst corporate tweeters, yet most I know manage multiple accounts including their own.

All in all, the TwitterPeek is an OK device and the pricing isn’t unreasonable with a lifetime of wireless coverage. However, given the massive market penetration and expansion of smartphone devices (beyond “geeks”), which run Twitter clients and house cameras, it remains to be seen if the TP will gain traction with consumers. But I do credit Peek in giving it a shot. Go big, or go home.

Click to enlarge:

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Since I’ve pretty much had my say, finding no value in one-dimensional television-based tweeting, I’ll just leave you with a few pics from the Xbox Live Preview that landed on my 360 today. Despite my negativity (or maybe it’s only apathy), I will add that the Facebook and Twitter visuals are quite nice.

Cash Register on White with Clipping Path

The interwebs are abuzz (OMG!) with Hulu’s confirmed exploration of paid tiers and pay-per-view, in addition to the current ad-supported video content model. News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch, as quoted by the Associated Press:

Are we looking at it with a view of adding subscription services in there and pay-per-view movies? Yes, we are looking at that.

However, a company spokesperson acknowledges that free video supported by advertising does “resonate most” with viewers, so I doubt we’ll see it go away. Having said that, I have very little use for the current incarnation of Hulu. It’s content library still exhibits the “random crap syndrome” – which I had hoped would be cured when Hulu exited from beta. Didn’t happen. Still hasn’t happened. Shows come and go. Good luck finding an entire season/series. (ALF doesn’t count.) And then there’s the restrictive playback policies. No PS3 for you. Screw you too, Boxee. I appreciate the Internet as my video transport mechanism, but I prefer to watch television… on television.

So bring on the pay services, I say. I’m an adult with an adult salary and limited free time. Offer me something worthwhile at a not-outrageous fee, and I’ll pay for premium content and the convenience of quality aggregation. Should Hulu manage to provide it.