Apple, Google, Microsoft, Roku and Boxee are just some of the companies working on ways to re-imagine the TV experience.
“But nobody seems to be able to answer the big question: what exactly is so broken about TV anyway?” writes Matt Rosoff in a commentary for CNN, part of a series designed to “debunk commonly held perceptions about technology.”
Rosoff acknowledges that channel guides are inefficient… “But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most TV viewers simply won’t care enough about any of this stuff to shell out $1,500 for a new Apple TV, or spend a few hundred bucks and countless hours fiddling around adding a new box to their TV set and figuring out how it works.”
He notes that while the tech industry wants to optimize the television experience, it is important to remember that TV is passive. We don’t want to work at it. It’s not too difficult to turn the set on, find your channel and you’re done. Even Steve Jobs sometimes just wanted to watch TV and vegetate.
“That’s why we love TV just the way it is,” writes Rosoff. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Verizon is planning to launch a standalone video streaming service for 2012 that would offer movies and TV shows via the Web, according to several people close to the plan.
“The phone company is talking with prospective programming partners about the service, which would be introduced outside of markets where it currently offers its broadband and TV package, known as FiOS, these people said,” reports Reuters. “That would make it available to some 85 million U.S. households.”
Verizon may be concerned about cord cutters and competition from Netflix, Amazon and Google.
“Verizon has been back and forth with programmers over the last two years exploring the possibility,” suggests the article. “While a lot of the discussion has been around fees, the programmers have also been concerned about the possibility of hurting their existing — and lucrative — relationships with the cable operators.”
Having its own streaming service would allow Verizon to grow its customer base and thereby lower its programming costs.
“News of the service will have added controversy in the wake of sister company Verizon Wireless’s plans to resell cable TV service for Comcast Corp, Time Warner Cable Inc and Bright House Networks,” points out Reuters. “Under that deal, announced last week, Verizon Wireless will pay $3.6 billion for valuable spectrum from the cable companies.”
Google is adding indoors maps for select malls, airports and transit stations with the release of Google Maps 6.0 for Android.
“Detailed floor plans automatically appear when you’re viewing the map and zoomed in on a building where indoor map data is available,” explains The Official Google Blog. “The familiar ‘blue dot’ icon indicates your location within several meters, and when you move up or down a level in a building with multiple floors, the interface will automatically update to display which floor you’re on.”
Initial partnerships include locations in the U.S. and Japan: Mall of America, IKEA, Home Depot, select Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco International Airport, and others.
“Apart from the obvious advantage to users who would now find it easy to navigate through buildings, we also expect the indoor map feature to provide a significant advertising opportunity,” reports Forbes. “Retailer locations in malls and airports would now show up on the map, and they should be interested in highlighting any new deals and promotions on the map users as soon as users enter the building.”
Last month, Google announced that more than 200 million Android devices have been activated worldwide, more than double what was reported by the company in May.
Google may directly challenge Skype with a new feature that enables free voice calls to the U.S. and Canada within Google+ Hangouts.
“To activate the feature, simply start a Hangout, click the Invite button at the top, select ‘Phone,’ and enter a phone number. If the recipient picks up, they’ll be instantly connected,” reports TechCrunch. “The free offer is supposed to last through 2012.”
This allows people who don’t have a Google account or even a computer to join a G+ video chat. It also enables free 1-on-1 calls, much like Skype.
The service has the potential to be used for conference calls, in making group decisions or serve as a a draw simply for casual use.
Google hopes the free calls will attract people to Hangouts, which has been “a bit sparse due to the social network’s low current user count.”
Apple, Google, LG, Nintendo, Nokia, Samsung and Facebook are among 28 tech and media companies that are joining forces to “deliver a better Internet for our children,” reports TheNextWeb.
“The group was put together by the European Commission (EC) and the priority actions set out include making it easier to report harmful content, ensuring privacy settings are age-appropriate, and offering wider options for parental control,” according to TNW.
“This new coalition should provide both children and parents with transparent and consistent protection tools to make the most of the online world”, says Neelie Kroes, vice president of the EC. “The founding coalition members are already leaders in children’s safety online. Working together we will be setting the pace for the whole industry and have a great basis for fully empowering children online.”
The coalition has created a statement of purpose covering five key areas: create effective reporting with simple, robust tools; enable age-appropriate privacy settings; develop age-rating through widespread content classification; extend parental control; and effectively remove child abuse material through improved cooperation with law enforcement.
YouTube is redesigning its homepage and channel pages to incorporate “better personalized video discovery and viewing, with a notable emphasis on social features,” reports TechCrunch.
A new default Subscriptions feed on the homepage offers users content based on what videos they watch and which channels they subscribe to (the feed can also be filtered). Users can share videos using Google+ or by opting-in on Facebook, both located on the navigation bar.
Channel pages have four new templates that come with a Feed tab showing the channel owner’s activity (highlighting features such as commenting on a video and subscribing to a channel).
“These additions, which are more analogous to template options in Tumblr or MySpace rather than Facebook’s one-size-fits-all style, let producers promote their works in the most natural style for what they offer,” suggests the post.
The homepage and channel changes are the first significant updates, but TechCrunch adds that YouTube is “also introducing a site-wide design upgrade to all the elements — typography, iconography, etc. It’s separately adding new versions of its Xbox and Google TV applications, that feature magazine-style tile interfaces showing various channels. Finally, the company is touting the success of its advertising platform, saying that it’s seeing strong demand for its new cost-per-click style of video ads.”
Walt Mossberg favorably reviews Apple’s iTunes Match service. For $25/year, you can create a music locker in the Cloud that allows you to play your music collection on up to 10 devices.
In contrast to similar locker services from Google and Amazon, you do not have to upload your entire collection — iTunes Match scans your iTunes library and matches it with its 20 million song library.
The service only works for digital music currently, and not for movies, TV shows or audiobooks.
Your locker can include up to 25,000 songs. It’s worth noting that, “Match is an optional addition to an existing free service called iTunes in the Cloud, which covers only songs you bought from Apple’s iTunes store.”
“In all, I like iTunes Match, and can recommend it to digital music lovers who want all their tunes on all their devices,” writes Mossberg. “It’s another nice feature of iCloud, priced reasonably.”
According to an editorial in The New York Times, the House’s proposed Stop Online Piracy Act is too broad as it has provisions to cut off payments from providers such as Visa and ad networks like Google simply by filing a notice of infringement.
While the legislation is aimed at foreign websites like Pirate Bay, it could also be used against domestic websites covered by the Digital Milennium Copyright Act that has safe harbor provisions.
The editorial asserts that safe harbor provisions should be made available to foreign websites that abide by the DMCA. And a court order should be required before action is taken.
A related Los Angeles Times editorial suggests that the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act both go to extremes in an effort to protect intellectual property.
The legislation could force companies to monitor their users’ behavior “turning them into a private security force for copyright and trademark owners.”
Infringement on popular sites like Facebook, Dropbox and YouTube are certainly opening them up to action in spite of safe harbor provisions now in force. The result would be less innovation to create the next YouTube and would have a potentially chilling effect on free speech.
Microsoft lost trust from its hardware partners with the Zune MP3 player which ultimately caused the product to fail. The new Facebook phone could be equally disastrous by pinning HTC against its current software partners.
HTC has strong relationships with Google for Android OS and Microsoft for Windows Phone 7, relationships that could be jeopardized in moving forward with a Facebook phone.
“One of the key standout features for Windows Phone 7 is social networking and in particular, Facebook integration (Facebook and Microsoft are partnered),” reports Digital Trends. “Google, on the other hand, is at war with Facebook with Google+, and monetizes Android after-the-fact with services like Google+.”
“Right now Apple, Microsoft and others spend lots of time on Facebook, but they aren’t likely to continue if they view Facebook as a potential competitor,” suggests the post. “Facebook should be focused on building the best Facebook app for every major platform.”
In a related survey conducted by AllThingsD, results suggest an overwhelming number of readers had little to no desire for a Facebook phone (81 percent indicated no interest and 12 percent said they would consider it).
Facebook has selected Taiwanese phone manufacturer HTC to build a smartphone code-named “Buffy,” after the television vampire slayer.
Ironically, the device will run a customized OS from its main competitor, Google’s Android, and integrate a number of Facebook’s services, many of which will run as HTML5 apps.
“Facebook only recently chose HTC, after also considering at least one other potential hardware partner — Korea’s Samsung,” reports AllThingsD. “That means the products themselves are still a ways from hitting the market, potentially as long as 12 to 18 months.”
According to a Facebook spokesperson: “Our mobile strategy is simple: We think every mobile device is better if it is deeply social. We’re working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers to bring powerful social experiences to more people around the world.”
Although other companies have released phones with dedicated Facebook buttons, Buffy is expected to provide deeper integration, “bringing friends and social activities deep into the mobile interface.”
Although only 13 percent of Internet users have chosen Google Chrome thus far, Digital Trends makes a compelling argument why the browser may be a step above competitors such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera.
“Chrome remains the unchallenged performance leader. Peacekeeper browser benchmark scores for Chrome are much higher than they are for other browsers — in fact, when compared to IE9, the latest version can almost double Internet Explorer’s score.”
The post includes tips for installing Chrome, understanding the interface, helpful shortcuts, bookmarking and downloads, security and privacy settings and more.
“It’s an impressive suite, and generally better than what other browsers offer by default,” suggests Digital Trends. “But some of its biggest advantages — such as its speed — are only apparent after using the browser for a few minutes.”
Nine Internet giants (Google, eBay, AOL, Facebook, Yahoo, Zynga, LinkedIn, Mozilla and Twitter) have joined forces to place full page ads in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and The Washington Times expressing their objection to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act.
The measures protect against copyright infringement by requiring “technology companies and Internet service providers to block access to any website that the entertainment industry believes ‘engages in, enables or facilitates’ copyright infringement,” reports Digital Trends.
The proposed pieces of legislation “have strong bipartisan support in Congress, as well as backing from the Motion Picture Association of America, a variety of Hollywood union organizations, and even Master Card and Pfizer.”
In a related post, The Next Web reports that the Business Software Alliance (BSA) supports SOPA and commends Congress for “curb[ing] the growing rash of software piracy and other forms of intellectual property theft that are being perpetrated by illicit websites.”
Member of BSA include Adobe, Apple, Dell, Intel, Microsoft and 24 other tech companies.
A top-secret lab called Google X is tackling a list of 100 “shoot-for-the-stars” ideas, including an elevator to outer space, a refrigerator connected to the Internet that orders groceries as they run out, and robots that serve a variety of tasks.
A Google worker familiar with the project likened it to how the CIA is mysteriously run. “In interviews, a dozen people discussed the list; some work at the lab or elsewhere at Google, and some have been briefed on the project,” reports The New York Times. “But none would speak for attribution because Google is so secretive about the effort that many employees do not even know the lab exists.”
Most of the ideas are only conceptual at this point, but others may eventually see the light of day. One idea that may reach the public involves driverless cars. It would not only provide a new business for Google, but promote the company’s navigation or information technology for cars as well as location-based ads.
Additional ideas in development include ways of connecting objects to the Internet, such as a garden planter that could be watered remotely, a coffee pot set to brew from another location, or a light bulb that could communicate wirelessly with Android devices.
LG may debut a television set with Google software at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, according to “two people with knowledge of the project.”
The move would be a boon for Google in the field against entrants such as Apple and Microsoft.
Google is working to build support for its Google TV software, despite disappointing sales from its Logitech partnership. The company introduced a redesigned version last month after the earlier release failed to meet expectations.
“The revamped version of Google TV service has a simpler interface,” reports Bloomberg. “The upgrade was designed to show the YouTube video- sharing service better and opens up the platform for Android developers to build applications for TV. Android is Google’s software platform for mobile devices.”
LG rival Samsung has also been in discussions to develop a Google TV product.