Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Is Steve Ballmer even aware of his own product roadmap?

Recently, CEO of Microsoft Steve Ballmer told an audience of developers that they planned on shipping the next Windows product in 2012. There he made the first public references to the next release, and he even referred to it as "Windows 8."

However, this report indicates that Microsoft as retracted Ballmer's statements, saying "There appears to be a misstatement... To date, we have yet to formally announce any timing or naming for the next version of Windows."

Hmm. Steve Ballmer—a CEO and loose cannon? Apparently so.

This is troubling in a couple of ways. First, in the face of Apple releasing yet another major version of its operating system, Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion," this news eradicates the hope of Microsoft keeping a consistent and competitive release cycle. Second, what kind of shape is Microsoft in behind the curtains when its own CEO either doesn't know or doesn't have the authority to speak publicly about his own flagship products?

When I first heard the news about Windows 8, I was hopeful, excited, and even proud of Microsoft for keeping on its game to maintain a consistent Windows upgrade cycle. The current version of Windows, Windows 7, was first launched in October 2009, about a month after Mac OS X Snow Leopard, the competing Apple platform. However, with Apple looking to ship a brand new version of OS X this summer, Microsoft again trails behind in their releases.

Not that they need to keep up with Apple to maintain their market-share, but Apple sure puts them to shame in the number of major iterations of each company's desktop OS. If you remember, Windows XP, released in late 2001 rode a product life cycle of almost 6 years. Whereas Mac OS X in the same time had 4 major product iterations.

Again, with the very likely possibility of  OS X 10.7 "Lion" to launch next month, Windows users will have to wait at least another year before any tangible release dates start looming around.

Just as a side-note, with the wide dynamic of Windows users, I really just dawned on me that a large portion of Windows users, i.e., large businesses and IT professionals, may not be ready for or even want a new version of Windows. Having probably only recently finally gotten the ducks in a row with Windows 7, a new version only two or three years later may actually be a hassle. Just sayin'. But that speaks a lot about how Microsoft develops and deploys, and how their customers use, their products.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Radio will not survive the Internet streaming Internet radio
This morning on the drive to my favorite breakfast joint, I tried something I haven't done in months. I tried to listen to the radio. Scrolling through the many stations, I looked for anything to catch my attention—music, talk radio, anything.

We all know radio sucks. Anybody I ever talk to about it all say the same thing: "All the stations play the same old crap over and over again." This was never more apparent than this morning when all I heard was the same cheesy Madonna song, "Like a Prayer," again and another station, which seems to have Miley Cyrus's "The Climb" on freaking repeat. From there, still going along the FM dial, I passed at least three spanish stations, and everything else in between was commercials.

Hoping for something better in the AM world, I switched over only to immediately get an ear-full of Glenn Beck. Typically, he doesn't really bother me that much, but for some reason, his voice was simply too irritating to me this morning, and I wasn't really in the mood to be preached to. Switching around the spectrum, I found a couple more Spanish-speaking programs and more commercials, until I found the best thing I had heard all morning: a jazz station. How bad is it when jazz, also known as elevator music, is the best choice for one's car-ride entertainment?

The jazz lasted for about 30 seconds before I gave up.

I couldn't help but be amazed at what garbage this medium is now. This is it? This is the best that radio has to offer? Seriously?

If radio has any real hope of surviving, networks need to focus on excellent content and real professional radio personalities that can drive listenership. Just take Adam Carolla, for example. Recently, he decided to keep doing his free podcast than to take a 7-figure salary to start a new radio gig in his hometown of Los Angeles. That's saying a lot. Beyond just competing with a censorship-free satellite radio, now podcasting has made it to the mainstream of broadcasting that will eventually take over as the premiere medium for listening entertainment.

Never has that been more obvious than now. Look at Pandora, a personalized music service playing only the music you like. And Stitcher, a mobile application for streaming internet radio shows and podcasts over the Internet. This is the generation of ubiquitous, on-demand content—content that listeners choose and support.

Not to mention, most traditional radio stations are broadcasting their content over the Internet now, too.

Soon after this debacle in my car, I opened up the Stitcher app on my iPhone and loaded up one of my favorite new podcasts, Jay and Silent Bob Get Jobs, from S.I.R. (SModcast Internet Radio)—a show that wouldn't exist without the Internet and is completely void of network executives telling people what they can or cannot say or do in their show.

Goodbye radio. We will never speak again.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

We may someday have to explain to our grandkids about archaic things called "light switches"

Much like 2010, this year's Google I/O conference made quite a number of new announcements, some projects still under development, and some of which may never see the market. Though Google may seem like it is developing a lot of concept-only products, that still doesn't diminish the excitement us geeks enjoy when we hear news like this.

Google is looking to extend the Android operating system beyond the phones, tablets, and even the TVs it currently ships in. First, the Android Open Accessory platform, which is an open peripheral development protocol based entirely on USB, will allow Android devices to plug into any hardware from third party manufacturers. Second, and even more interesting, is a new project called Android@Home.

Android@Home is Google's new concept product for home automation. The only place you've ever really seen home automation is in movies, where the bad guy's underground layer can be operated with voice commands and/or from an exquisite-looking control panel. In real life, however, home automation has never seen mainstream adoption. Previously developed systems either weren't that great, or you'd had to be Donald Trump to afford anything like it.

To give you a taste of what Google is proposing, chew on this: light switches could soon be a thing of the past. Let's imagine the possibility of placing tiny radio receivers in light bulbs that respond to the electronic cues of the automation system—a system that of course can be operated by Google Voice and its advanced voice-recognition technology.

Pretty cool, right? But that begs the question: I know that technology is supposed to make our lives easier, but how hard is flipping a switch to begin with?

via [Engadget]

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Adam Carolla turns down 7-figure radio deal to continue his successful free podcast

Podcasting is an interesting new media outlet. Everybody is jumping on the bandwagon—comedians, radio personalities, professionals and amateurs alike—but no one knows where the format will lead or what implications it may have on the whole of the entertainment industry. Struggling with legitimacy in the face of traditional media, podcasting has yet to be seen as a great money-maker beyond modest advertising dollars and its uses as a practical marketing tool for artists and entertainers. But that hasn't stopped comedian podcaster Adam Carolla who has found a large, devoted audience.

While podcasts are inherently 100-percent free, how does a professional entertainer capitalize on this exciting new medium? That is the question facing Carolla, the voice of the number one downloaded comedy podcast on iTunes, The Adam Carolla Show.

Recently on his show, Adam revealed a surprising revelation about turning down a radio deal that had been in the works for over a year. Soon after Adam as well as many other top radio personalities were let go from their jobs in in early 2009, Adam and a couple of his old radio buddies decided to embark on the podcasting venture. From its start, the podcast steadily gained momentum. During that time, he was approached with a possible deal for his own syndicated radio show—one that included a guaranteed three-year, seven-figure salary in a time where Adam says, "Radio jobs are gone... You may as well be in the saddle-making industry." About a year later, the plans and paperwork were finally put in motion, and the radio gig looked like it was sitting on go. Recently, however, Adam was faced with an internal struggle on what to do with his successful podcast almost two years after its inception. Would he take guaranteed money and security of radio and possibly forsake his audience and the podcast format? Or would he continue what he had started and see what the future holds?

Since starting the podcast in August 2009, the show has garnered a large and loyal audience willing to support it. Adam cites a recent business deal with that made a profound impression upon him about his fans and the opportunities the podcast may hold in the future. Just by clicking on an banner on before they buy something, listeners have been supporting the podcast in droves.

Adam's decision to continue podcasting is step #1 in the paradigm shift from traditional media. Podcasts, in part, feed a pervasive hunger for more on-demand content, which in turn gives more power to consumers as well as producers of media and entertainment. As the podcast's sound engineer "Bald" Bryan said on the show after this revelation, "You know, years from now, this could be a watershed podcasting moment... 'A-list radio star turns his back on golden offering.'"

I agree. It's sort of a historical moment. As a fan of Adam myself, I'm proud of his decision, and I wish him all the best in the future.

In another one of his famous/infamous analogies, Adam sums his decision up in true, Ace-Man fashion: "It's like when a guy says, 'I like fat chicks.' You didn't walk past Uma Thurman to get to the fat chick. You're fat yourself, and that's about all you could pull at this party. But this is me parting the supermodels to get to you—the fat chick, the podcast listener."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Motorola Xoom: quick, in-store review:

I know this is basically old news now, but I've had this video stored in my phone for over a month, and it was time to finally do something with it.

Hanging out in one of my favorite electronics retail stores, I finally got to play with the introductory Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" tablet—the Motorola Xoom. After using it for a while, I can definitely understand the excitement surrounding the product, especially for people already using Android or who are just all-round, good ol' geeks. But it still has a lot of catching-up to do before it can truly be as mainstream and as competitive as the iPad 2. However, if you are intentionally looking up Xoom reviews, then you are most likely already a supergeek like me and will probably love it anyway.

Quite simply, the interface is really, really "geeky." It's kind of like a Star Trek fan's wet-dream, with all kinds of buttons, sliders and controls galore. Or, if you prefer, probably a better comparison would be to the holographic-looking controls of the computer systems in the Matrix trilogy (remember that crazy white control room in The Matrix: Revolutions?). Either way, it's not inherently bad, but considering that this is Google's answer to the iPad makes it a little silly. I say that, because I doubt the general public and target market, which includes kids and grandparents, will want much to do with this if they perceive it as too "techy." That is something that the iPad has going for it, and Apple knows it quite well. And my little sister knows it too. At 8 years old, she uses an iPad with ease, and only on a few occasions has she ever asked for my help to figure something out. Just being as honest as possible, the Xoom, though extremely powerful and harnessing limitless potential, can and will be hard to satisfy such a dynamic range of consumers in the market for which this is to compete.

The biggest complaint I had is the color scheming of the OS and most applications. As is common with Android, almost everything is white text on a black background. And if having a glossy screen wasn't already bad enough, now everything glares so horribly that you constantly have a mirror image of yourself as you use it. Let me just say, this is a real misstep that is easily rectified. I mean, one of the first things taught in design classes is to avoid white-on-black as much as possible. It looks bad. It's hard to read. And here it permeates throughout most of the OS.

Other considerations:
I love Android's multitasking and notifications system, although I thought all the system functions in the little tray menu on the bottom seemed a little confusing. The widgets I thought also may be too small on the home screen, and although the user can customize how it looks, too many widgets can easily make everything really cramped and nearly useless when too much information is laid out in view.

The app selection from the Android Marketplace is ever-increasing, and it includes apps for most of the functions you could want in a phone. Obviously, it will take a little more time to get the types of more immersive app experiences made possible by the higher-resolution screen. Some estimates peg the selection of tablet-specfic apps to around 100. But beyond just numbers, one should hope for and expect some developers to come around and develop something that can compete with Apple's new apps iMovie and GarageBand for iPad. Just as Apple has set to making its own highly developed app experiences, I wonder if Google has anything like that up its sleeve. But, when you think about it, Apple has a long history of music and media appliction development. Google just kinda does web stuff. Not bad—that awesome native Gmail client on the Xoom—but it may be a long while before GarageBand has any competition on the Android side of world.

There are some excellent design decisions in this form. It was made to directly compete with the original iPad, which it does quite well. On the spec sheet, the Xoom seems to win: front and back cameras, a dual core processor, larger screen resolution, and a competitive battery life and app selection. But then there is the iPad 2, which kind of sucks the air right out of that spec sheet and makes it a level playing field. The only thing left to really differentiate the Xoom depends on Google and its Android tablet operating system. Honeycomb, as it stands today, has been said to be in a public beta-like mode of development, as Google has even hesitated to release its source code, thought to be for reasons of untidiness underneath the hood. In a rush to get the product to market, Android 3.0 needs to be around 3.5 in terms of manufacturer expectations and feature set and use to really appeal to the widest audience possible.

All in all—it's good, it's powerful, but your grandmother will scoff at it.