Thursday, September 13, 2007

iTunes, Watch Out: Rhapsody America Is Here

Today, Verizon announced that it's entering into a partnership with MTV Networks and Real Networks to bring music and video content to entertainment seekers via phone, portable music devices, and PCs.

Riding on Verizon's network will be the newly created "Rhapsody America," a collaboration between MTV Networks and Real Networks that will offer over-the-air music downloads, Rhapsody's subscription services, ringtones, and videos from CMT, MTV, and VH1. If this sounds similar to MTV Networks' and Microsoft's URGE music store, it should; many of URGE's features will be incorporated into Rhapsody America.

So where does this leave URGE? MTV Networks insists that the music store will still exist within Windows Media Player 11 for the foreseeable future. URGE subscribers can log into Rhapsody ( right now with their URGE user names and passwords to sample that service. MTV Networks' content will be merged in coming months.

iCar Wishlist

According to the Travel Industry Association, 28.9 million people will hit the roads this Labor Day weekend. With rumors of talks between Apple and German automaker Volkswagen, many will be stuck in their sub-modern four-doors dreaming of a could-be "iCar."
Although Apple and Volkswagen wouldn't comment directly on the rumors, reports maintain that Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Volkswagen chief Martin Winterkorn met a few days ago in California. This news comes on the heels of Ford and Microsoft's fall release of the Sync, an in-car communications and multimedia system based on voice recognition. Apple already works with a number of automakers, such as BMW, to offer in-car hookups for iPods. However, these rumors are hinting at a much bigger Apple integration effort.
Here at LAPTOP, we're joining the many drivers this weekend who will be dreaming of an iCar while sitting bumper to bumper. Here's hoping these features make it in the first production model.
Dashboard on the Dashboard
We can't wait to slip into our silver, leather-interior car and control everything--from the air conditioning to the gears--via a strictly touch-sensitive dashboard that's void of any buttons or control wheels. Our fingers will manipulate everything on the panel with simple finger strokes and taps. In keeping with Apple's current Mac OS X Dashboard, we're demanding customizable Widgets with everything from Google Maps to current gas prices.
Click Wheel As Steering Wheel
It's going to take some getting used to, or even a retake of your driver's test, but replacing the olden-day steering wheel with an iPod-like Click Wheel will make it easier to turn the corner; you'll merely have to slide your hand over the touch-sensitive plastic wheel. Bonus: A simple push of the center button emits a loud honk that sounds like a Leopard purr.
GPS Powered by Google Earth and Maps
The flyovers look cool on a desktop, but Google Earth really belongs in the iCar's cockpit. When paired with a high-sensitivity GPS receiver, you'll get the most out of the highly detailed satellite views. And with the power of Google Maps under the hood, you'll get all of Google's local-search mashup goodness, free real-time traffic info, and the ability to route around incidents with the new "Drag 'n drop" points feature. Oh, and Google Street View automatically engages when you enter complex intersections.
Lithium-Ion Batteries (Without the Meltdowns)
We've been waiting for a Volkswagen hybrid, and with the iPod's long-lasting battery life, we can see why they've been holding out. Taking a page from the new Nissan Mixim concept, the iCar should be an electric vehicle powered by a compact lithium-ion battery. We just hope you won't have to ship your car back to Cupertino to have it replaced.
Smart Playlists
Using live traffic updates, your music playlists will be automatically generated by the amount of congestion. When you're about to enter areas with heavy traffic, you'll be soothed by the mellowest tracks in your collection. When all that's in front of you is open highway, the bounciest and raciest pop and punk tracks will move to the top of the list. Your iCar will even customize your library based on where you are. If you're cruising down the Jersey Turnpike, for example, you'll hear Lynyrd Skynyrd's "That Smell" blaring through the Apple Hi-Fi sound system.
AirPort Antennas
Pull into the garage and you'll be able to download iTunes movies over the air to the backseat monitors for the kids to watch, or sync videos, photos, and music with your Apple TV. We're also excited about the possibility of swapping playlists with other iCar owners via Wi-Fi while you're at a stoplight-provided they have DRM-free tracks.
Stereo Bluetooth
We know, we know. Stereo Bluetooth isn't yet a feature on iPods or the iPhone-although that could change on September 5th. But the iCar will usher in a new way to sync your iTunes, contacts, and more with the Mac OS X-powered vehicle. Built-in speech recognition will let you make calls through your iPhone, as well as pull up specific tracks or artists.

Apple Launches an iPod Armada

After months of media and fan speculation, Steve Jobs announced the next generation of iPods, confirming the meat of the rumors that have been circulating lately.

The iPod Shuffle sees a refresh with a variety of colors including PRODUCT (RED), for which a portion of the sales of the 1GB player ($79) will go toward fighting diseases in Africa.

The new iPod nano, available in 4GB ($149) and 8GB ($199) capacities, features a two-inch QVGA screen and introduces the Cover Flow navigation system, which was previously available only in iTunes. Apple claims 24 hours of audio playback and 5 hours of video playback.

The sixth-generation "iPod Classic" also integrates Cover Flow, features a new all-metal body, and comes in two capacities: 80GB ($249) and 160GB ($349). The 80GB model is rated to have 30 hours of audio playback and 6 hours of video playback, while the 160GB is expected to have 40 hours of audio and 7 hours of video.

The most exciting product in today's announcement is the introduction of the iPod Touch, which basically is an iPhone without AT&T's service. The 3.5-inch iPod Touch comes in 8GB and 16GB sizes (priced at $299 and $399, respectively), includes Cover Flow, and enables users to navigate menus and flick through photos with a finger. Like the iPhone, it includes Wi-Fi, which users can use to access the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store. Once within the store, entertainment-seekers can search for music, preview it, and purchase it over the air (these purchases can then be synched to the computer-based iTunes). Apple has also partnered with Starbucks; when you're at a Starbucks location, an icon will appear on the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store that allows you to purchase tracks from a playlist of recently played songs in that store. The deal also grants you free Wi-Fi, but only within Starbucks stores.

In an effort to not totally screw over the droves of people who purchased the iPhone, Apple announced that it lowered the price of the 8GB model from $599 to $399 and that the 4GB model has been cut from the company's product catalog. Plus, compatibility with the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store will be available through a software upgrade in the near future. Steve Jobs also announced that 500,000 customizable ringtones will be available for purchase through iTunes at 99 cents a pop.

Q&A: How's The Zune Doing?

Now that the Zune has been out for a few weeks, we've heard all sorts of things about how the MP3 player is doing. Market-research company NPD Group first reported the Zune debuting as the number-two MP3 player on the market, but recently updated that by saying it has dropped to number five. Given the anticipation leading up to this product's release, we wanted to see how Microsoft feels about the Zune's early performance. We caught up with Zune marketing director Jason Reindorp and asked him how things are going with its iPod competitor thus far.

Q: Is the Zune selling as well as or worse than you expected?

JR: For us, the sales are right on track. They're exactly where we wanted them to be. This is week three, so it's kind of early for us to be thinking about share. The main thing for us is--and right from the beginning we were saying this--that this is a three-year plan. We're really thinking in terms of years and not weeks. From our retail partners we're hearing--and this is completely anecdotal--that they're seeing Zune drive what they think is incremental sales to the category right now.

Q: Who is buying the device?

The core, target audience for us (is 18- to 28-year-olds). That said, what typically happens with this kind of a device-and certainly if it's a Microsoft device-is the initial wave of people who respond to it include the target market and tech-centric people.

Q: How many Zunes are you forecasting to sell by the end of this fiscal year?

At the end of June 2007, we are predicting over one million units, which is pretty much what we were saying in the beginning.

Q: Any surprises you've encountered so far with the way people are using or reacting to the Zune?

What we're hearing from retailers is that if there's one (Zune) that's kind of hard to keep on the shelf, it's brown. We were hopeful that that would be the case because we were excited about that color treatment, but it wasn't until it hit retail that we knew for sure.

Another is in relation to the Zune Pass. What we're seeing is the downloading behavior of people who sign up for the Zune Pass is pretty different than an a la carte download-type of behavior. What I mean is people are signing up for their Zune Pass and they're downloading up a storm. When you remove the "risk" of downloading a song or an album you may not like, people go crazy.

Also, anecdotally, we're hearing people really like having a radio on the device-and this is again anecdotal-but we're hearing some people who haven't necessarily bought the device because it has a radio have been surprised by how much they use it.

Q: We haven't really heard much about people using the send feature to share music. What have you heard?

JR: With the send feature, we're hearing anecdotally that people are experimenting with it. It's a whole new idea. We've always been pretty realistic-because it's new and it's different, it's going to take people a while to understand what it is, experiment with it, and decide if they're going to keep using it. We wanted to include this feature because Zune is really focused on building community, in this case a music community, and helping people promote songs they really like with their friends and stuff.

Q: How many Zune users are actually using it, and how many are buying Zune Pass subscriptions versus the number that are buying the device?

JR: Similar to the send feature, it's a relatively new concept, a new idea, so we're encouraged to see people are signing up for it. The numbers are still relatively small because we've only been in the market for about three weeks, but it looks good.

Q: We read that people are buying Zunes but not using them, which you should be able to tell by whether or not a unit's account has been activated. Any truth to that?

JR: It's a theory we have that people are buying them as Christmas presents.

Q: What about the pink and orange Zunes that have been floating around-any plans to officially add those colors to the line?

JR: There were pink and orange ones. What we did was give the entire internal team involved in the launch of Zune, pink and orange devices as their ship gift. On top of that we opened a number of product boxes and sprinkled in an equal number of pink and orange Zunes so they would just appear in retail, like the gold wrapper in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Essentially, if somebody opens one of the boxes and sees a pink or orange one, they're numbered, it's a limited edition. They get a certificate that says congratulations, if you would like to have the original color you wanted to buy, give us a shout.

Q: We've seen them popping up on eBay and various blogs, so people are obviously paying attention to them. But has anyone called and asked you to replace a pink one with, say, a brown one?

JR: Actually, we haven't seen anyone call in and ask for the original color. They seem to be responding to them.

Q: We were wondering if Microsoft sees this first Zune as a sort of test device upon which to improve, based on consumers' reactions. Any truth in that?

JR: Not at all. We thought through several different approaches to what type of device, what size of device, etcetera, etcetera, we would put out as our first step into the market. We put a lot of thought into that and decided on this form factor and this hard drive intentionally because we thought it was a solid first step or first offering.

Q: Will there be any changes to the Zune lineup soon?

JR: All the predictable variables in terms of eventually bringing new devices, new features, going into new geographic markets (will happen, but nothing now).

Q: Any chance of a 100GB Zune in the near future? We know Toshiba is going to start producing 1.8-inch 100GB hard drive disks that might go nicely with your player.

JR: We're looking at all the same things and talking to the various suppliers that are out there, and looking at what the consumer really wants. All of that is being factored into our future strategy.

Q: How well will the current Zune work with Vista?

JR: It is compatible; it's just not currently optimized. Our plan has always been to make sure Zune is completely optimized for Vista when Vista is available to consumers, because Zune is a consumer device, obviously.

Q: Initially, there was a lot of negative buzz surrounding the Zune. Some of the analysts we spoke to at launch time expressed doubts about how it would fare against the iPod. How do you feel about that now?

JR: Michael Gartenberg at Jupiter is a great example. He is somebody that in the very early days was not quite sure, a tiny bit negative. He turned around completely and wrote another report where he expressed his opinion and felt very positive about the device. What we're seeing across the board is people see the idea of the Zune and react in one way, and when they can see the device and touch it, feel it, have it in their hands, then their tune changes.

Logitech launches Pure-Fi Elite

Remember when I told you about the Logitech Pure-Fi Dream (link below)? Well, it looks like Logitech has upped the ante and launched the Pure-Fi Elite!

The system produces 80 watts split over two 1-inch speakers and two 4-inch subwoofers. Even better, you can tweak the sound field by using the 3D spatialization feature to enhance higher or lower frequencies. Much like the Dream, the Elite will also include an LCD that displays track progress from an attached iPod or tuning info from the built-in AM/FM radio.

The Elite outputs audio from any dockable iPod and accepts general input through an auxiliary input jack. It also sports RCA and S-video outputs so you can watch video from your iPod on your TV.

Look for the Elite next month for $300.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

iRing, a new concept for iPod and iPhone!

iRing is a ... ring, it will give you the possibility to control your iPod or iPhone from your finger, things like pause/play/volume up...

The power at your fingertips!! Simple as that.