Saturday, June 21, 2008

Apple iTunes store has sold 5 billion songs

This is a landmark for the music industry. For many years, the traditional music industry (with their physical media) has bemoaned the presence of digital music downloads. Initially, the presence of ripped off MP's (illegal MP3's) were blamed for the decline in sales of the traditional music media. The industry fought these networks with full fury, and managed to kill most of the organized rippers (although they are facing more challenges fighting the more dispersed Bittorrent networks). In the midst of this fight, Apple initiated the combination of the Ipod and iTunes (store combination) in 2003 and managed to slowly increase its market share. The traditional delivery industry slowly accepted digital availability of songs due to the legal restrictions and use of technology to prevent copying that were bundled along with these songs; and the combination of iTunes and iPod became such a huge success that it has beaten all the other retailers (even a behemoth such as Walmart):

Apple Inc. has surpassed Wal-Mart to become America’s No. 1 music store, the first time that a seller of digital downloads has ever beaten the big CD retailers. Apple sold more albums in January and February than any other U.S. retailer, market research firm NPD Group said Thursday, underscoring how the music industry is on the front edge of a digital media shift that is upending businesses as diverse as bookstores and video game makers.
U.S. consumers still buy more CDs than digital downloads, but the gulf is narrowing rapidly. Only five years after launching its iTunes digital store, Apple has dominated the fast-growing download market so completely that it jumped ahead of individual CD sellers such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target. “It’s a major milestone,” said Tom Adams, president of consulting firm Adams Media Research. “It is the first instance of an electronic venue surpassing a [bricks-and-mortar] retail venue for any kind of media delivery.”

And this is not the only field; traditional newspapers are feeling the heat from online versions; even iTunes itself is slowly making its name for itself in the field of movie downloads.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Browser wars - a new version

Just a couple of years ago, it seemed that the browser wars were from a different era. After the initial clashes between Microsoft and Netscape and the victory by Microsoft in these wars (ignoring any possible challenge by the nascent Opera at that time), the era of the Browser soon stagnated. Microsoft puts development work on a new version of Internet Explorer seemingly in cold storage.
And then came in the 2 aspects that changed the game: The emergence of Firefox as a strong contender for the title of the most popular browser (it helped that it was seen as a better and more standards compliant browser + a number of add-ons started getting developed for the browser); the other major game that has changed the rules was the emergence of Google as a company that makes most of its money from ads (with most of these ads coming in from the ads that appear when a user makes a search). Now it seems that the competition is hotting up, with Opera and Firefox releasing new versions, and Microsoft currently working through the public beta. Already, the release of Opera and Firefox has lead to an evaluation of which is better, and the answer depends on which way you look at things of Internet Explorer 8:

Firefox 3 is, of course, the big news of the week, pulling down eight million or so downloads in its first 24 hours in the wild. However, the Opera browser updated to its much-awaited version 9.5 last week. Empirically, the two most-cited complaints about browsers are speed and memory.
Using the SunSpider JavaScript test, Firefox 3 scored around 5500 microseconds to process the tested scripts, with a margin of error at around three percent. Opera 9.5 scored about 7280 microseconds on the same test, with a margin of error around 1.5 percent, making it nearly one and a third times as slow as Firefox 3.

And we have not even included the effort by Apple to make the Safari browser more mainstream, depending on the iPhone bundling Safari to really give it a push. The winner may not be the best (and anyhow, it depends on which test you use).

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Eye-Fi Card card helps catch thief

This is a story seemingly out of science fiction, but in reality happened. People unfortunately have a recurring tendency to forget their belongings; remember the times when somebody claimed that they lost their laptop or phone in the cab or train, or left the purse or wallet in the restaurant / hotel. By the time you remember, it is too late, it is only rarely that you get your belonging back. And of course, if it has been stolen, then the chances of getting it back is almost nil.
Well, here is a case where the camera that was stolen (and from which previous personal photos had not yet been retrieved) phoned back through the medium of the Eye-Fi card and even sent back photos of the thieves (the precious personal photos were also sent back). This happened through some coincidences, but is still remarkable:

Here's a new use for the Eye-Fi wireless SD card that we hadn't considered: A virtual private eye. Eye-Fi user Alison DeLauzon lost $1,000 worth of photo gear while on holiday in Florida. The Eye-Fi SD card, once plugged into your camera, hooks up to the internet and sends your photos to either an online sharing site or directly back to your home machine. In this case it was the latter, and the hapless thief not only sent the precious vacation shots back to Alison's computer, but -- according to the email we received from Gadget Lab reader Joe Volat -- "pictures [of] the thieves proudly displaying Alison's lifted camera equipment."

Japan's phones - the wonders of the world ?

Anytime when one looks at advanced phones, the market that most comes into mind. Top non-Japanese phones such as the iPhone, and Nokia's N series don't even come close to the advancement of the phones sold in Japan. It was many years ago that the NTT DoCoMo network had reached 3G capabilities and sold phones that amazed the rest of the world. However, such advancement comes with own problems; trying to pack in so many features and yet meeting goals of being able to make the phone very usable makes the task of designers very difficult. In the end, there is only so much that one can do with the limited number of keys and overall phone size, and the various combinations that Japanese phone makers have come up with to provide the range of applications available can confuse the most advanced of users. If you remember the old joke about not being able to set the time on the VCR, this is way beyond that. Get a glimpse of how things actually are:

Indeed, Japanese handsets have become prime examples of feature creep gone mad. In many cases, phones in Japan are far too complex for users to master. "There are tons of buttons, and different combinations or lengths of time yield different results,'" says Koh Aoki, an engineer who lives in Tokyo. Experimenting with different key combinations in search of new features is "good for killing time during a long commute," Aoki says, "but it's definitely not elegant."
Japan has long been famous for its advanced cellphones with sci-fi features like location tracking, mobile credit card payment and live TV. These handsets have been the envy of consumers in the United States, where cell technology has trailed an estimated five years or more. But while many phones would do Captain Kirk proud, most of the features are hard to use or not used at all. Japan is a culture of spec sheets. When consumers go to electronics stores to buy a cellphone, they frequently line up the specifications side by side to compare them before deciding which one to buy.

In contrast, phone makers such as Apple and Nokia have been behind on the feature list, but are seemingly way ahead on making phones look good and be very usable.