Time For Amazon To "Think Different"…

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As any regular reader of this blog knows, I am a big fan of eBooks. I am currently using Sony’s PRS-500, and have been both a user and advocate of eBooks since back in the days of the now defunct Rocket eBook Reader by NuvoMedia. Technology has really come a long way since then. Compared to previous eBook devces I have owned, the Sony has a great screen, is small and light, and has excellent battery life.

sony-ebook-crop

I really do like my Sony reader, and have heard good things about their most recent model, the PRS-700. However, I think I may be ready to make a switch. Why?

Because the platform and technology are only a part of the story…

EBooks are an investment. You need to lay out at least $300 to buy an eBook reader before you even get to buy and read your first eBook. You then continue this investment by building up a library of eBooks over time that are effectively locked to whichever vendor you have chosen to go with. You need to count on this vendor to aggressively negotiate rights to sell a broader selection of books in electronic format, to seek out alternative forms of electronic content you can have access to, and to continue innovating their hardware and software to maximize the value you can get from your eBook investment.

So where does Sony fall short?

Sony has a track record of introducing products with proprietary formats and then abandoning them if they fail to dominate a market segment or add significant value to their bottom line. Over the past few years, they have walked away from the MiniDisc format and shuttered their ATrak based Music Connect store. I also expect their moribund UMD movie format to be sunset soon as well. Given where Sony is as a company right now, the eBook space can only be a distraction for them. Their recent dismal financial performance will no doubt force them to tighten their focus to just those areas that are critical to their immediate business objectives. I have no confidence that eBooks will make that cut, or that Sony will invest sufficiently in expanding the content they depend on. The bottom line is that Sony isn’t in the book business – they are in the ‘gadget’ business. I just don’t see them having a real commitment to this market, and I am concerned that any new eBooks I buy will end up being an investment in another orphaned Sony format .

So what will I probably be jumping to?

Amazon’s new version of the Kindle…

amazonkindle2-lg1I was no big fan of Amazon’s first generation Kindle. It was too thick and angular for my taste, and had a generally unergonomic layout. However, it’s built in “Whispernet” (that lets you wirelessly browse, buy, and download books) is a great feature, and support from Amazon’s bookstore is a major draw. They also let you download free samples of books before buying them – a brilliant “Try before you buy” model that lets people sample a broader selection of content risk free. Now that Amazon is launching the next generation of their Kindle eBook reader, it looks like it might be the right time to make the switch.

That said, Amazon still has a lot more to do if they really want to make eBooks a viable and ultimately successful component of their overall business mix.

Here are some of the recommendations I’d like to make to Amazon:

  • Remember to focus on being a book seller – View the Kindle as a platform that lets you sell content. Think less about making a profit on the devices themselves, and more about making them a ubiquitous platform you can sell content into. Do what you can to get the prices low, and look at creating a software version of the device that can work on other mobile platforms like iPhones, Blackberrys, and netbooks. In fact, make a deal with Apple and sell ebooks through iTunes. It’s not the number of devices you sell but the overall footprint that really matters.
  • Explore new business models – There are three business models that you should latch on to. First is the Nexflix model. Make all books over a certain age “rent-able” for a monthly fee. This would create a guaranteed revenue stream for you while opening up a extremely broad selection of books to Kindle buyers. The second one is based on the business model of your recently acquired Audible audiobook division. They charge a monthly fee that lets people download (to own) a fixed number of audiobooks per month. Expand the concept to bundle both the audio and eBook versions of a book as standard, and make it available to everyone. You can even track where people are up to in either format and let them switch between them to the spot they left off in the other. This could open up the sale of Kindle devices to the entire Audible community, and broaden the appeal of eBooks even further. The third model integrates what the mobile carrier market does – handset subsidies. If people are willing to sign up to specific higher end subscription plans, subsidize the cost of the physical Kindle device. Don’t let up-front cost become the obstacle to someone having a Kindle. And building up recurring revenue streams is smart business.
  • Get more free content online – Make deals with organizations like Project Gutenberg to produce Kindle compatible versions of works in the public domain. Do what you can to become the defacto repository for all creative commons work, making them available in an Amazon friendly digital format. Work with universities to make various academic research and journals broadly available. All of these sources should be available to everyone free of charge, or with very nominal fees to cover the cost of downloading via ‘Whispernet’. Why do this if your goal is to SELL eBooks? Because you need to attract a broad base of readers to adopt digital as their preferred method of consuming content – and that won’t happen at $10-$12 a book. This is a lesson you should take directly from Apple. Free (largely illegal) P2P music downloads fueled the growth of iPods, but the growth of iPods ended up making iTunes the largest distributor of legally acquired music in the world. Priming the eBook pump is essential.
  • Let applications extend the capabilities of Kindle – Make it easy for people to do more using their Kindle enabled devices. Make services like Twitter available on Kindle so people can message around content – especially subscriptions to newspapers, journals, or web based sources. Provide hooks for integrating applications like Evernote to allow people to take and share notes across all of their digital footprints. Allow people to post from Kindle into popular blogging platforms. There is huge potential locked in the small, connected Kindle footprint. In short, open parts of Kindle up to the development community and let the platform become more than you would ever be able to make it on your own.

Based on the images I’ve seen and whispers I’ve heard about this new version of the Kindle, I believe that Amazon will have a hot product on their hands. But to make their investment pay off long term, they need to do everything they can to break this market open and really push eBooks into the mainstream.

Amazon has never been short on creative thinking, nor shy about taking chances to open up new markets. eBooks have been on the cusp of a “breakout” for over a decade, but no company has yet been able to find the magic combination of business models, content, and technologies to move them beyond their current niche audience.

Amazon – you won’t have any better luck if you just play it safe this time around.

So please – don’t…

Obama's New Smartphone…

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It’s no secret our new President is attached to his Blackberry…

Barach Obama is the first President of this country who really understands technology and has integrated it into his daily life. This is a great, and frankly long overdue, change in perspective on the role technology should play in creating a more efficient and responsive government.

obamablackberry

That said, President Obama has been fighting an uphill battle with the people charged with his security to find some way to let him continue using the Blackberry 8830 that was a staple of his campaign communications. Unfortunately, current consumer level cell phone technology really isn’t up to the demands of the job. It uses continuous pinging to find the closest cell tower, signals that anyone can zero in on to discover the location of the person using it. Consumer phones also do little to prevent eavesdropping on either the data or voice channels they transmit and receive on. Combined, these two drawbacks will probably eliminate the Blackberry from the list of phones Obama can choose from.

And that list may end up being a REALLY short one…

There is probably only one smartphone available that has been certified to support the level of security being demanded in this case – the Sectéra Edge. Sectéra Edge is made by General Dynamics – a well known military contractor – for situations that require hardened, secure communications. Here is a video clip from their website showing it in action:

The “Barackberry”, as as this handset has been jokingly referred to, is one large smartphone. Compared to your typical Blackberry, it is about a half an inch wider and taller, and almost three quarters of an inch thicker. It also weighs over twice as much – 12 ounces compared to about 5! This isn’t the type of phone that anyone but a die-hard geek would want hanging from their belt.

While the Sectéra Edge could theoretically be a substitute for a Blackberry on a technical level, it really wouldn’t be in practice. The beauty of today’s mobile smart devices is that they are truly personal. They have form factors that make them comfortable to hold and use, and they can be configured to work the way you want them to. You actually end up thinking of them more as an extension of yourself than as distinct devices.

Perhaps the most compelling and addictive aspect of today’s smartphones’ are the spontaneous, instantaneous way they let you connect to everything. Have a free minute between meetings? – do a quick check news, email, or the markets. Get a flash of inspiration at the dinner table? – send off a quick email or IM. This is how any technically literate person in business operates today. They are always on and always working.

And that’s exactly what’s expected of our President…

I certainly empathize with Barack Obama on this one. Being personally connected in that way has been a part of both my business and personal life for the better part of the last two decades. Giving that up would be extremely difficult.

It is truly addictive…

And while having to trade in a Blackberry or iPhone for a government issued “phone brick” would be hard enough on it’s own, there’s one more piece of news that makes the thought of it downright painful.

The Sectéra Edge is based on Windows Mobile…

The Palm prē Looks Interesting…

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Palm is definitely trying for a comeback…

I was over on the blog mobiledivide, and came across this short video interview with Palm’s Stephanie Richardson (part of their marketing team). It’s the first really close up look I’ve had of the prē, and a great introduction into the thinking that went behind the device’s touch interface design:

From watching this video, I’ll think you’ll see why there’s so much buzz about this device. Palm shows an understanding of interface design that seems to have escaped all of the other recent touch-based phone offerings. My favorite feature of the prē is its “Synergy” feature that pulls contextually related content together into a single display view regardless of what more traditional ‘silo’ application it may live in. Very semantic web like. Intellectual property issues aside, this is clearly the most interesting development in the mobile space since the iPhone itself.

It will be exciting to see this actually launch…

Thanks to mobiledivide for this interview. It’s an excellent site and worth both a visit and an add to your favorite feed reader…

Apple TV Finally Gaining A Foothold…

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It’s hard not to be impressed by Apple…

In their quarterly analyst conference call last week, Apple reported significant year over year growth in every one of their business lines. While some areas came in a bit weaker than expected (iPhone sales), they were easily balanced out by some that came in surprisingly strong (MacBook and iPod sales).

While not welcomed by the Apple shorts out there, this is certainly good news for everyone looking for leadership to help pull the tech sector out of it’s market slump. Given the broad drop in consumer sentiment it will take more than your typical corporation to fill that role – a company with products that are creative, innovative, and exciting.

That’s a role Apple has a track record of filling quite well…

While there was plenty of good news on the call about all of Apple’s most popular product lines, perhaps the most interesting bit of information to come out of it was an update on a niche product that Steve Jobs has referred to ‘a little hobby’ – Apple TV.
blog-appletv

It appears that Apple TV sales are up 300% from a year ago. That is a substantial increase for a product that has received almost no advertising attention from Apple. But it does get the most effective type of advertising a product can get.

Work of mouth from happy owners…

I love my Apple TV, and know that I’ve already talked at least three other people into getting one for themselves. I have no doubt that they will, in turn end, up influencing some of their friends to join the “Apple TV club” as well. It’s that type of product.

Once you have it, you wonder why you waited so long to get it…

Apple TV’s 2.0 refresh was a significant step forward for the device. One of the key features added to it in that release was support for video rentals – and it seems that movie rentals are actually one of the drivers behind its growing success.

“…it is clear the movie rental business has helped AppleTV and there are more and more customers who want to try it. We fundamentally believe there is something here for us in the future. We will continue to invest in it.

While Apple has shown some recent love to Apple TV on the software side, the hardware platform hasn’t changed since it’s launch nearly 2 years ago. It definitely needs to see a refresh, if for no other reason than to open up some of the awesome possibilities that new software updates could bring.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the things I’d like to see in the next generation of Apple TV:

Hardware:

  • True 1080p support – The current Apple TV hardware just can’t deliver on that. With flat panels getting cheaper and bigger – and all most of them being 1080p – the market is there for the full res HD experience. If Apple want’s to position digital downloads as a genuine alternative to BluRay, this is a must have improvement.
  • Bigger hard disk options – Selling a set top box today with drive sizes of 40GB and 160GB is kind of sad in an HD centric world. To keep costs low, Apple needs to create a new hardware footprint that will allow for full sized drives instead of just notebook drives. People just load up the box without worrying about running out of space. Failing that, I’d at least like to have some way for the Apple TV to make use of external drives both for storage and backup, or even integrate more directly with Time Capsule over the network.

Software:

  • Better integration of remote media – Apple currently allows Apple TV to stream content via iTunes from multiple local systems. Unfortunately, you can only connect to one systems at a time to do this. An update to the software should create an integrated view of all of the content available from any pre-connected systems. If I want to watch a particular movie, I probably don’t care that it’s on my son’s laptop or my iMac in the office. Show me everything and let me pick.
  • Support for the uPNP protocol – The uPNP protocol would allow non-iTunes devices to deliver video, music, and photos to an Apple TV. This could bring in content stored on low cost NAS devices from companies like Lacie or even on game consoles like XBox 360′s. Perhaps most importantly, uPNP brings DVR functionality to Apple TV – in a way. Both Elgato EyeTV and MythTV – two very popular DVR systems – both support uPNP streaming. This means you could record programs using these devices and simply have the recorded programs show up in Apple TV. That would definitely go a long way to integrating the oft requested DVR capability.
  • Games and Applications – This should be a no brainer. Apple has all of the pieces in place to make Apple TV a killer casual gaming platform. It could leverage either the iPhone or iPod Touch as a controller and change the console model in even more significant ways than Nintendo’s Wii did. This one probably deserves a post of it’s own.

Content:

    NOTE: I recognize that content is an area Apple doesn’t really have complete control over. Consider this a wish lists that I’d like to see Apple strongly advocate with the actual content providers.

  • Make rentals available the same time as Netflix – If the studios are serious about moving into the digital world, they need to get over making distinctions between physical and digital distribution. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a movie on iTunes that I would like to watch, to find that it is only available for sale (in standard definition!) and will not be available to rent for another few weeks. The studios let you rent these movies at Blockbuster or via Netflix, so why not iTunes? Apple needs to be a strong advocate with the studios to make this shift in mindset happen.
  • Allow HD movie purchases – With Apple now in the process of shifting their entire computer line over to DisplayPort (which supports HDCP), I’m hoping that the studios will now allow movies to be purchased in HD as well as SD. I hate copy protection for all the myriad reasons I have talked about in the past, and see it as detrimental to the market in the long term. That said, if this is a precursor to getting the necessary HD content lined up to create a digital rival to BluRay, so be it. The stronger Apple can become in this space, the more leverage it will have to transform it the same way it did digital music sales.
  • Integrate TV network streaming sites – YouTube integration opens up a world of short form video content to Apple TV owners and is a great addition to the platform. However, the one thing that is specifically not available on YouTube is the content produced by the television studios. Instead of making it available there, most studios have chosen to either developed their own individual streaming sites (keeping everything under their control), or are providing their content to shared sites like Hulu. Getting these site natively integrated into Apple TV would be a really big deal. A well designed software interface could go a long way to making this form of television access mainstream. Note that until that happens, a great 3rd party alternative is available from a company called Boxee. They have a software mod for Apple TV that adds this capability and a whole lot more to Apple TV.

I have no clue when Apple plans to do their next Apple TV refresh. But given the traction it seems to be getting in the market place, I am confident that one will be coming in the near term. I covered the things I think are realistic both technically and politically, and hope to see at least some of them there when a new version drops.

Of course, my priorities may be different than yours.

Let me know what you’d like to see in the next Apple TV release…

All "Touch" Is Not Created Equal…

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There has been a lot of noise recently about Touch-based interfaces…

Apple was the first company to really bring touch based interfaces into the mainstream. The runaway success of the iPhone and it’s “Multi-touch” interface has spawned a rush by device manufactures to integrate some form of touch into their products. Unfortunately, I think many device manufacturers are taking the wrong lesson from Apple’s success in this area.

Touch is not a virtue in and of itself.

If a manufacturer simply adds Touch as an overlay to an existing product, it’s probably more about marketing than usability, and most likely isn’t going to add much value to it. A well executed Touch implementation requires an optimized combination of both hardware and software. That’s the reason Touch based technology works so well on the iPhone – it was designed from the ground up as touch device.

I’m starting to see Touch show up more in full sized computing platforms as well. In fact, Microsoft’s new Windows 7 OS, just released to public beta last week, has been designed specifically to embrace Touch as an input method.

This is certainly a good thing.

However, developers in this space need to keep a couple of things in mind. Touch isn’t optimal for everything a user does. They need to be selective about how it is applied – the needs of the user have to come first. Also, the intended size of a device’s Touch surface needs to influence product design. Think about the iPhone. It has a small 3.5″ screen that is relatively easy to interact with directly. That identical interface could become far less convenient on a device with a much larger Touch surface. To better appreciate what I’m saying, take a quick look at this video:

If direct Touch were the primary interface method for a screen that size (I’m guessing about 20″), it would quickly become tiring to use – even excluding the typing examples. The problem you have with larger Touch surfaces is that movements and gestures are one-to-one with the size of the screen. If you wanted to move something from one side of the screen to the other, you’d need to hold your arm up – unsupported – and drag your finger at least 10″ across the surface. That may be OK for infrequent activities, but could become physically tiring for the numerous daily computing activities most people need to do. (This is probably one of the sub-conscious resistance points people have had to tablet based computing as well.)

So what’s Apple doing in this area?…

Apple clearly understands Touch computing, and has repeatedly shown incredible skill in the design of their user interfaces. So it’s interesting that instead of using direct Touch on any of their laptops, Apple has decided to focus on optimizing their trackpad design to embrace Touch-like features.

Why?…

Because trackpads are flat, “relative motion” devices. Using a trackpad, you can move from one side of a display to the other – regardless of size – by moving your finger just a couple of inches. This approach also allows a display to be placed at an optimal viewing position, while keeping the trackpad on a flat surface – a better ergonomic solution for most people. As this video shows, impressive Touch like capability can still be deliver through this arrangement:

So are there places that ‘large format’ touch interfaces can work well?…

Absolutely! Advertising, data/image visualizations, and gaming/social computing are just a few of the areas where a large direct Touch display can bring a lot of value. The best commercial example of a large direct Touch display implementation was Microsoft’s Surface computing platform – a device I’ve been very impressed with.

Touch based technology, as well as other organic technologies like Speech Recognition and Machine Vision, can open up possibilities for completely new types of computing devices. Trying to squeeze them in to the existing keyboard/mouse/display model of computing really sells them short. The compromises that requires could ultimately turn people off and delay their broad adoption.

When it’s done right, however, it can launch a revolution.

Just look at the iPhone…

A Dell By Any Other Name…

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I’m not sure Dell has the best timing here…

At CES 2009, Dell held a press event to introduce their new high-end laptop brand called “Adamo”. Their first laptop in the line was only shown briefly – more in the role of a prop for their fashion model than anything else – and no one there got to spend any time with the device.

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This initial offering in the Adamo line is supposed to be a thin, light notebook that they believe will compete directly with Apple’s MacBook Air. In fact, they are claiming it will be the world’s thinnest laptop when it’s released. It’s hard to tell from the photo if they can really back that up.

The interesting point here is NOT the laptop itself. It’s that Dell isn’t calling Adamo a new product line (like Precision, Inspiron, XPS, or Vostro) – they are calling it a new product brand.

And that’s a big difference…

A true brand needs to be able to stand on it’s own. It needs to develop a unique identity and present a compelling value to the marketplace independent of the parent brand. It’s needs to develop it’s own following – a market segment that is loyal to it.

It needs to be independent…

At the event, Michael Tatelman (Dell’s VP of consumer sales and marketing) compared Adamo to Dell’s one other successful independent brand – Alienware:

    “Alienware is our top performance brand, Adamo is our top design brand.” … “If you look at Adamo, it’s the top of design, franchise, and materials.”

Alienware was a successful independent computer gaming brand that Dell acquired several years ago. An interesting point here is that Alienware still maintains a completely independent identity from Dell, and the systems they sell are only available directly from alienware.com – not from Dell’s own web site.

The fact is, Dell has never really created a second, completely distinct brand on their own before. Every product they have introduced has been firmly anchored in the parent brand. Creating a truly new brand would be a big step for Dell, and it will require a significant investment in both management focus and marketing dollars if they hope to get it off of the ground.

Why?…

Because brands are complex and difficult to build. Successful brands need to create an emotional attachment to something iconic or aspirational – not to specific products, features or capabilities. That’s a somewhat amorphous goal, and there is simply no way to guarantee that you will be successful when all is said and done. Creating a brand requires a long term commitment. Brand value can take time to build – years or even decades. You can’t just create a new brand and expect it to mean something.

And until it means something, a brand is just an expense…

I’m not convinced Dell has the patience in this market to wait long for a payback. This feels more like an attempted quick fix rather than a first step down a strategic path – a bid to escape the compressed margins that are crushing them at the low end of the market.

For the Adamo brand to have any chance of success Dell needs to create some daylight between it and the parent brand – “DELL” – which is clearly tied to the value end of the market. People can’t feel that they are simply buying a Dell with a different name on it. They need to be buying an Adamo, and that needs to make them feel special. It isn’t necessarily logical, but then brand attachment isn’t a logical thing – it’s all about emotion.

With all of that said, If Dell really is serious about creating a new, unique Adamo brand, they are already off to a bad start.

Just look at the big DELL brand on the wall behind the model in the photo…

Photo of Adomo conference courtesy of Engadget.com..

The Macworld Announcement You Didn't See…

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Steve Jobs was missed at yesterday’s Macworld keynote…

Jobs adds so much creative insight to every product Apple delivers, and presents them with an energy and charisma unmatched in the industry. So with the recent concerns about his health, there has been a lot of speculation over what Apple would look like without his leadership. Hopefully, this isn't a glimpse into the types of products Apple would release without him:


Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

Many thanks to the folks over at The Onion for a good laugh…

Small Footprints To The Cloud…

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I’m seeing an interesting shift in the consumer market…

It’s no secret that the general computer user has begun moving away from buying desktop system in favor of laptops. They are relatively portable and energy efficient, and seem to fit into most people’s lifestyles better. But based on personal observations made recently at several computer stores. that trend may be about to change.

No – people aren’t going back to desktops. Instead, they are dropping down to systems with an even smaller footprint than laptops.

Netbooks…

The crowds that used to be around the latest and greatest notebooks on display – the ones with the 18″ HD wide screens or the BluRay burners built in – have moved on. What I saw were people crowded around these tiny systems with 3/4 scale keyboards and very modest storage and performance specs.

But with prices between $300-$400 and incredible portability…

These devices seem to have struck a chord with consumers. Even if they aren’t being purchased as the primary computer someone will use, people will still want these devices to do many of the same things – email/IM, web browsing, watching video, listening to music, and basic word processing – that full fledged laptops do. And those people that are buying a netbook as a second computer will want to move between their systems without worrying about what’s stored on one or the other, or having to buy software licenses for multiple systems.

Exactly the thing web based applications are great at…

Netbooks could definitely be one of the catalysts for a shift to cloud based services. But there is still one more thing they need to make them a tipping point device for true online application ascendancy.

‘Always on’ connectivity…

While there are external options for that offer netbooks wireless mobility today, a better solution would be for the wireless providers themselves to start selling wireless enabled netbooks just like cell phones. If you think about it, even the most expensive netbook sells for less than unlocked versions of smartphones like the Blackberry Bold or the new Storm. If Verizon, Sprint, or AT&T wanted to tap in to this segment of the market, they could easily (and profitably) subsidize netbooks and reach a target price well under $300 with subscriptions to a two year data plan.

And that’s a price point that could be attractive to a lot of people.

Of course the other option that’s been dangling around for a while is for municipal WiFi/WiMax installations to gain traction and become widespread. Given both the budgetary constraints most cities are facing, and political clout of bandwidth providers, I don’t think this will happen any time soon.

Things are changing quickly in this part of the market – even by technology standards. However things play out in this segment over the long term, I do see real demand today for small form factor computing devices at these prices. They fill a need.

But I also believe netbooks, and devices like them, are here to stay…

Why?

On the communications front, having low cost, ubiquitous connectivity could definitely reshape our expectations for how we want to leverage computing resources. The market is definitely moving in that direction. From an application perspective, the range and quality of online applications available today is impressive. And what’s really incredible is that most of them are free.

The bottom line is that connected netbooks are a great focal point for these two trends, and have all the ingredients for long term success.

And based on the reaction I’ve personally seen people have to them, I also think they have what it’s takes for some near term success as well.

I expect netbooks to be one of the hot tech gifts this holiday season…

Is This RIM's Blackberry "Thunder"?…

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RIM’s upcoming “Thunder” is supposed to be their answer to the iPhone…

Based on this video over at Crackberry.com, I wouldn’t be too sure:

[Unfortunately this link has been removed by YouTube]

Assuming this video is genuine, I’m not terribly impressed by the Thunder…

While certainly functional, it doesn’t appear to be an “Apple Killer” by any means. Needing to use a “Press and Hold” to scroll the screen seems clunky, and the process for selection/click looks more like an “ATM” style experience than a modern touch screen. That said, it may be an early prototype, or even a total – albeit clever – fake (people are becoming quite good at that these days).

But if this is the real deal we’re looking at, I’m not sure what RIM hopes to accomplish with it. Maybe they want to position it as offering an iPhone experience, but on a real network like Verizon. That approach may sound good in theory, but I’m not sure how it would play in the marketplace. Even if they don’t own one, people have a good idea how great the iPhone experience is. The bar has been set, even for die hard Verizon fans.

I have a lot of respect for RIM, but I was expecting to see something more.

Something “Wow!”.

Hopefully it will be there when Thunder is released…

UPDATE:

Thanks to a comment from reader JOHN, I have a new video to embed:

[This link has also been removed - can't keep up with the take-down orders!]

Based on John’s comment, I wanted to clarify some things in this post. The new Blackberry will be called the STORM 9530 not the THUNDER. The THUNDER will be the name of a GSM version of the device that will be released at some future date. Thanks John!

The iPhone 3G: Think Different…

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The new iPhone 3G has receive many rave reviews since its launch…

And rightly so.

It continues the elegant design cues of it’s predecessor, doubles the media memory to 16GB, adds higher speed network connectivity with 3G support, and packs in a GPS chip to location-enable all kinds of new applications.

But the hardware isn’t what makes the new iPhone 3G so special…

Bringing “touch computing” to the phone handset market was the revolutionary aspect of the original iPhone. To do that, Apple needed to invent an entirely new hardware platform. But with that core innovation now in place, the real heart of the iPhone family has become the software. The same way it is with the Mac.

And the new 2.0 software is clearly the heart of the iPhone 3G.

For this release, the new hardware just comes along for the ride…

Apple chose not to make the 2.0 software a “3G Exclusive” – it is available for the original iPhone as well. Not only that, but its available for free! And that is the beauty of committing to the iPhone. It isn’t static like most phones. It evolves and improves. Everyone that invested in the original iPhone over a year ago received a new phone last Friday.

They downloaded it off of iTunes…

With the 2.0 software architecture built from the ground up for professional applications, the new iPhone platform fulfills the promise of a true mobile computing platform (something never accomplished with Microsoft’s UltraMobile PC initiative). The integrated application store is a touch of genius, making the process of buying, installing, and updating software on the device as easy as buying a song on iTunes. And that simplicity – a hallmark of Apple products – will make the iPhone THE mobile computing device to develop for.

And as the Windows franchise has proven, applications are everything…

The iPhone is off to a strong start in this regard. There were over 500 applications available at the launch, and many of them are quite impressive. Given that the development SDK has only been available for a few months, I expect to see a lot more arrive between now and the end of the year.

I believe there is an interesting parallel between current iPhone application development and game development on a new console. While there are a few creative early releases, the initial crop of titles tend to be basic ports of existing programs, and they aren’t particularly optimized or efficient. But as developers gain experience, they are able to do more with less, and push the platforms to do some extraordinary things no one would have expected. This has lets consoles like the Sony PS/2 remain viable platforms even after the release of the newer PS/3. And I expect to see the same trend happen with the development of iPhone Apps.

So what has my experience with the new iPhone 3G been like?…

It has been largely positive, but with some frustrations. There are few external differences between the new and old handsets, and everything that I loved about the original iPhone is still true. The two major internal differences, GPS and 3G, are both great additions but at a noticeable cost in battery life. I find myself turning the 3G off on the phone to conserve the battery, switching it on only when I need it. I would love an option added to have it automatically switch on/off when going in and out of Safari.

While the 2.0 update has many usability enhancements, I have found it to be a bit unresponsive at times – something that never happened with the original software. I can touch icons or swipe across the screen and have a pause before seeing a response. On a device without physical keys, when the only response you get is visual, feedback needs to be immediate. I am putting this down to the first cut of a major software release – I’m confident that this will be fixed in the next software refresh.

I love the integration with Exchange – getting dynamic updates to my calendar are a major boost to my productivity. Unfortunately, this release of the software doesn’t provide a way for me to schedule an event on the iPhone and invite other people to it. If I am traveling and want to meet with my design team the next day to discuss a client suggestion, there is no way to schedule it via the calendar – I still need to send emails to everyone. There is also no way I have found to create email groups (eg – “Design Team”), forcing me to add people individually.

Having applications on the iPhone is fantastic. I use “ToDo” as a quick task list, news applications like “Mobile News” and “NY Times”, “ShoZu” and “Twittelator” for postings, “Facebook” for networking, “AIM” for IM’ing, and “Bloomberg” for tracking the markets.

And, of course, “iPint” for showing off the power of motion sensing interfaces…


http://www.carling.com/ipint_details.html

I don’t want anyone reading this review to think that I am down on the new iPhone 3G – far from it. As a hardware platform, it’s a measured evolution from the original iPhone, but as a software platform, it is a true revolution. I am confident that every issue I discussed in this review – even battery life – will be improved in future releases of the software. And I also expect some incredible new functionality to appear along the way as well.

That’s the beauty of Apple’s software based approach.

In many ways, the original iPhone was a proof of concept, showing that a touch based interface could go mainstream and redefine expectations for a product category like mobile phones. The 2.0 software extends this original vision to mobile computing, and represents the first true release of the iPhone as a platform. If you think about it, the iPhone is no more “just a phone” than iTunes is “just music” – they are both much more than their names imply.

I continue to be a big fan of the iPhone. The 3G release is no exception. Every aspect of it reflects a thoughtful design approach not found in many consumer products today. It is simple, elegant and powerful – far and away the best smart phone on the market.

And “smart phone” is just a small part of everything that it does.

iPhone 3G represents a totally different way of thinking about the mobile world…