Department of, Who thought this was a good idea?

I don’t know how I missed this but, I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time. A really long time. Tears rolling down the cheeks funny. In between, Oh My God, Oh My God… and when they got to “I showed my guests two of the Windows 7 orientation videos” OH MY GOD.

First thought? No one is going to back to these people’s homes for a party. EVER. (Seriously, these are the best actors in the world. They managed to get through that drivel without cracking up.)

Second thought? OK. Perhaps it’s all a mistake. Perhaps these things were supposed to be self deprecating, in which case they’re funny. But somehow, I don’t think that’s what they were meant to be. (if so, the joke’s on me).

Third thought? Someone needs to work with MSFT and how to really capitalize on social media. There are opportunities being wasted. Sure. you could argue that they’ve gotten people talking about the videos and by consequence, talking about Windows 7. Problem is, folks aren’t laughing with them, they’re laughing at them, it’s a big difference.

If the Atom processor met the VW Beetle…

One bit of news that came out of today’s Paul Otellini keynote at the Intel Developer Forum was the news that Intel was working with licensees BMW and Mercedes to put Atom processors in their vehicles. Which of course led me to Twitter that if they could VW to put and Atom in the Beetle it would be an industry first.

Yes, there would now be a PC inside a bug instead of the other way around. (cue rimshot)

Off for the High Holidays

I”ll be totally unplugged for the next few days in observance of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah (which marks the beginning of the year 5770 on the Jewish calendar). The Jewish New Year is a time focused on introspection, looking back at the good and the bad of the past year and planning the positive changes to make in year ahead.

Whether or not you share the same calendar as I do, please accept my wishes for health, happiness, life and peace in the year ahead.

Zune HD – Hands On and First Thoughts

106375_matterIt was speculated, leaked and confirmed and now it’s here, the Zune HD arrived to market yesterday. I’ve spent the last day working with one from end to and end and here’s what I think. Oddly, Microsoft sent out the devices to most reviewers last week but would not enable their use until the software went live on Tuesday. That’s why you’re seeing such a lag in reviews.

The specs are impressive with a 3.3-inch, 480 x 272 OLED capacitive touchscreen display powered by and Nvidia Tegra, built-in HD Radio receiver and HD output (which requires an HD dock for $90 extra). There are 16gb and 32gb versions, I’ve been working with a 32gb, platinum model. The device is small and light and very comfortable to hold. The capacitive display works smoothly and effortlessly. If you’re coming from a Portable Media Center or prior version of Zune, you’ll have no problems navigating. If you’re used to another device, you’ll have a few minutes of learning to get oriented. The screen itself is gorgeous. There’s nothing else on the market like OLED technology at the moment. Colors are vibrant and literally pop off the screen. It’s not that big a deal for music but for viewing pictures and video, it makes quite an impression. All controls are handles on screen and there’s a central home button that always takes you back to the main menu. In a view, it’s possible to pivot, from that point to other views, so going from artists, to songs, to genres is simple and smooth. Oddly, there’s no speaker on the device. While it’s not the ideal way to listen to music, sometimes it’s just nice to have. Microsoft claims 8.5 hours of battery life for video and 33 hours of audio, I haven’t had the device long enough to test those claims, so we’ll see. It also doesn’t note the screen brightness for those claims.

In addition to music, videos, and photos, the Zune HD offers a few new goodies. First is a Web browser. It’s IE based and the best I can say for it is that it works for casual browsing on mobile optimized sites. If you’re looking for an Internet tablet, look elsewhere, this is a media player with a basic browser built in. There’s a new apps section (odd that MSFT went with the term apps) with some varied content. There’s a calculator, MSN Weather programs, and a few games, notably Hexic. Microsoft says there’s more content coming including Facebook and Twitter apps and more casual games. The good news is that titles are all free. The bad news is that there’s not much of a developer eco-system at the moment. If you’re looking for a more robust application marketplace and platform, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Microsoft’s focus with Zune has been on media, no one will mistake the Zune as a netbook or gameboy ds replacement.
The Zune desktop software works well. It’s still a mystery to me why and how Microsoft needs to separate desktop tuners for media integration. Between Windows Media Player and Zune desktop it can get confusing. I had no problems with the Zune software seeing my audio, video and photo collections. As iTunes tags content differently, not all my tags for genre, album art etc came over. It’s not an issue for most folks but made configuration a little harder than it needed to be. There’s also no way I’ve discovered to bring my playlists from the Mac version of iTunes over to the Zune. Again, not a problem for most users but annoying for me. Setting up and syncing was simple and easy. I had not problems sending over a few seasons of TV shows, some movies, a few thousand songs and a few thousand pictures. Syn times were relatively speedy given I was moving 30gb of content.

One of the key differences of Zune to other devices is the Zune marketplace. Microsoft has finally added movie rentals as well as TV show purchases to the Zune store. In addition, Zune marketplace lets you subscribe to the service and have access to the entire Zune Marketplace library. In addition, you can keep 10 tracks each month in MP3 format. That brings the costs of subscription down to essentially $4.99 a month. You can add channels, download and get content directly on the Zune. You don’t need a Zune pass to enjoy Zune HD but it’s the experience of the marketplace, the software discovery and the device that really make the experience different.
Sadly, the ability to share files between devices is no longer part of Zune. Given the crippled nature of the feature, it’s not something most users will miss.

Bottom line? The Zune team delivered. Zune HD is an excellent music player that handles pictures and video content well (the smoothness of viewing pictures is wonderful, something we haven’t seen on non-Apple devices before).

What’s missing? In terms of accessories, while there isn’t the legion of stuff available for iPod, but the usual assortment of cases, car kits and the like are around. For HD playback, you’ll need that dock I mentioned before that costs $90, which seems a little steep for me. There’s really not an app story here and the fact that folks are making this an issue underscores how good a job Apple has done in moving the needle on that conversation forward. The reality is that many users are just looking for good media player with support for music, photos and videos and want a device with a large screen and capacity. I don’t think Zune HD is going to head to head directly with iPod Nano or iPod Touch buyers but is looking at a different segment of an overlapping audience. The challenge that Microsoft will have is telling their story with only one device and getting users to actually take a look at the Zune HD experience.

Should you buy? That’s a tougher question. If you’re a Mac user, it’s easy. There’s no Mac support for Zune so unless you’re prepared to run Windows on your Mac to get Zune HD support this isn’t the device for you. Folks who are tied closely to Apple’s eco system will also have a tough time making the Zune leap. If you’re invested in car kits, speaker docks, cases, Apple TV and iPhone, Zune isn’t going to fit into that eco system well at all. This is in fact where Microsoft is going to face some challenge. It’s not the lack of apps but eco system and connection of content to other screens that’s the biggest challenge to Zune. The iPod/iPod Touch platform isn’t the issue, it’s the iTunes ability to manage content and serve it to phones, media players, PCs and TVs that’s the issue. That said, if you’re looking for something more akin to a pocket computer than a media player, Zune HD isn’t for you.

Folks who are on Windows who are looking for top notch media player that’s highly optimized for content consumption should seriously consider Zune HD. As a one to one product, it’s the first device I’ve seen in a long time that’s a credible offering against an iPod. The performance of playback, the gorgeous OLED display, combined with a robust set of content and service offerings help make the Zune HD stand out and offer a differentiated experience. If Microsoft is able to effectively market this differentiation to the consumer and tell their own story of eco system and integration, I suspect Zune HD will do better than some folks are predicting.

I’ll have some more thoughts once I’ve take in on the road and out and about for a few days. So what do you think? Did Microsoft get it right this time? Or is it, too little/too late?

Can iTunes LP Drive Album Sales?

Our music analyst, Josh Bell takes a look at iTunes LP as a purchase driver for music, in this guest post.

A number of announcements were made on Wednesday by Apple – cheaper and new iPods, a Genius feature for apps, etc. The lack of an announcement about the Beatles catalog being available on iTunes was somewhat of a downer, but I found the “iTunes LP” to be the most intriguing.

In short, iTunes LP is an attempt to convert digital singles buyers into digital albums buyers by offering extra content only available by downloading the album. The content might include lyrics, photos, videos and other goodies. However, there are a few potential issues that I see:

iTunes LP is designed for the hardcore fan who wants all of the info about the artist they can get their hands on. The problem here is that these people are buying the album anyway, regardless of whether it includes the bonus material. The casual fan – the one who hears the new Black-Eyed Peas on the radio and goes to iTunes to buy it – doesn’t care about the photos and the lyrics – they just want the song.
Most of this information is already available – free and legal – on the Internet. There are a number of sites that are lyric databases, and artist photos appear everywhere from magazine sites to an individual fan’s page. In fact, many artists have all of these extras on their own website or MySpace page.

Even more of this info is available illegally as well. Many of the more “trusted” BitTorrent users will compile photos, lyrics, set lists and other goodies with downloads that will likely rival the bonus content that iTunes is offering.

Most importantly, people only buy 1-2 songs off an album because usually only 1-2 songs off an album are any good. Consumers recognize this, which is why singles have dominated the downloading landscape. Even if an album has 5-6 good songs, a consumer still may not see the value in the bonus material for an extra $4-5.
Even worse, some of the iTunes LP albums currently available are more expensive than the regular edition, despite containing the same songs. Thus, they’re asking consumers not only to upgrade to an album, but to shell out an extra $1-$3 for content that does not include additional music.
The biggest issue of all, however, may be that in order to enjoy all the visual bonus content, you need to be sitting at your computer. This is somewhat anathema to the beauty of iTunes and mp3s – you can take them with you.

The curiosity factor may convince people to try an iTunes LP, but compelling content is the only way to keep them coming back.

MG. I totally agree (although I didn’t miss the Beatles that much, they alread live on my iPod.) While I love what Apple has done here with legal content, re-created and expanded the richness and the depth that used to come with buying a record album, at the end of the day, it is still and will always be about the music and making the music good enough to attract buyers.

Rhapsody Rocks the iPhone… HANDS ON at last!

I’ts been a while coming but as of this morning, The good folks at Rhapsody have announced the release of the long awaited iPhone/iPod Touch app. I’ve been using it for the last few days and I’m pleased to say it works really, really well. Just enter your credentials and you’re good to go. I had no problems streaming over the air (but of course, there’s no background streaming on the iPhone). I had no problems accessing my playlists, albums and artists. Along with the Sonos, this is the best integration of Rhapsody that I’ve seen . As i‘ve talked about before. Connected devices and streaming services are just made to go together. I’m still in shock that Nokia’s music efforts are still mostly tied to the desktop and not the phones they offer.

Now that Rhapsody i finally on a tier one connected phone, the iPhone, no less we’ll have a chance to see whether this model can finally resonate with consumers The iPhone is particularly important — as according to Interpret’s data, it’s the one phone users are purchasing for its media capabilities. Rhapsody will enable consumers for the first time have the chance to create powerful individualized services, optimized for the their listening tastes. If Rhapsody will take the time to explain just how the subscription model can co-exist with the music already owned by the consumers, we just might see theses services go from niche, music aficionado-oriented brands to mainstream success. I

Connected phones and subscription services together can help generate the next big inflection point in the music industry. Now, just imagine what happens when that’s connected to social media.

Apple updates iPod Line – First Take

In addition to the software updates, Apple also did a nice refresh of the iPod line. Of course the obligatory stats. First, 50% customers are new to iPod. That’s pretty important as it shows that the market is still expanding and there are new customers to be engaged with. In terms of market share, Apple has a staggering 73.8% share. That’s something that just doesn’t happen in consumer electronics. Or in most markets for that matter.

The core strategy play is still the iPod Touch. As Apple discussed, it’s the hottest iPod on the market, with 20 million sold, over 30 million phones, that’s a 50 million device strong eco system. That’s not a number that’s going to go unnoticed by app developers.

Apple’s now added Genius Mixes directly to the device and of course, the iPod Touch has evolved to much more than a media player. With Wifi, Browser, Email, Contacts, Facebook, Twitter, etc, the iPod Touch is looking a lot at what the PDA market might have evolved into. Of course, Apple is wise to never to refer to the iPod as a PDA. Even more interesting is Apple’s onslaught into the handheld gaming market. We just finished a report on this topic so I’ll have more to share shortly but bottom line, Apple claims 21,178 games vs. 3,608 for Nintendo and 607 for Sony on the PSP. Apple is clearly going after the portable game market in a big way. Apple’s also revved the pricing for the line.
8 gb – $199
32 gb – $299
64 gb – $399

Of course, these are without contract and getting to the $199 price point was super important. I expect that to have a big impact come holiday.

While some speculated that the iPod Classic would be retired, I’ve been skeptical. There’s simply too many use cases for the largest devices. Apple revved the capacity to 160gb, while keeping last years form factor and price. 160gb goes for $249 (and hold 40,000 songs)
Even though it was introduced recently, the iPod Shuffle got an update. First, it’s now in colors with Pink, Green and Blue along with Silver and Black. Capacity is $59 2gb $79 for 4gb. And there’s a uber-cool Special edition iPod Shuffle. It’s done in stainless steel and has 4gb $for 99. No new features but it’s super cool and caressable. VERY caressable.

Finally, the Nano gets an update. It’s been a super popular device for them with more than 100 million sold and now it does video. Video is now integrated into the new iPod Nano. Camera, Microphone and Speaker. Capture with sound. Same size as last years but with a larger display of 2.2″. Camera resolution is VGA camera. Connect to Mac and PC. No still only video for now. Very cool. This is likely to put some real pressure on the flip folks for taking short, ubiquitous video clips. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see where Apple’s going with this.
In addition, there’s Genius mixes. And an FM Radio. Radio has a cool feature where it can pause for up to 15 minutes. In addition it can also do iTunes tagging. Finally, there’s Voice Recording software and an integrated pedometer.

The new units are polished anodized aluminum. These are colors that really pop and they really do have to be seen to believed. There’s nine colors to choose. Capacity is 8gb $149, 16gb for 179. Like everything else, it’s all available today.

Once again, Apple has taken a set of evolutionary steps with their device but built in some revolutionary features. At an economic time when consumers are looking for choice and different purchase drives, Apple has an excellent catalog of devices that should serve them well in Q4. Next week, we’ll see Microsoft unveil Zune HD an I’ll take a closer look at both device platforms stack up against each other. Some device or software questions? Ask away…