Spotify Sees Early Success with 70,000 Paid U.S. Users

  • Billboard reports that Spotify has already reached 70,000 paid U.S. subscribers, one week after the streaming music service’s invite-only launch.
  • It’s too early to tell what the initial success will mean in the long term since the service’s closest competitors have been on the market for years (Rhapsody and Napster, for example, have more than 10 times Spotify’s number of paid subscribers but took years to get there).
  • Spotify currently has an ad-supported free option, but also offers two paid tiers that start at $4.99.
  • Paid subscriptions provide ad-free service, unlimited play time, and mobile device access.
  • In a recent review, Digital Trends found the service “to be the most well-rounded service out of Pandora, Spotify, and Grooveshark.”
  • In related news, licensing firm BMI announced it has completed deals with Spotify and to provide some 6.5 million songs to the online music services.

Netflix Pursues DreamWorks Animation, No Facebook Integration

  • Netflix is reportedly negotiating for exclusive streaming rights to DreamWorks Animation films.
  • The deal would replace DreamWorks’ contract with HBO (which runs through 2014).
  • DreamWorks reportedly has permission to end its HBO contract early. If it does, it could provide content to Netflix by early 2013.
  • If the deal goes through, it would mark the first time a major studio has licensed content to subscription VOD at the same time (as opposed to after) its pay TV window.
  • In related news (see LA Times link), Netflix will not be including Facebook integration anytime soon in the U.S. (although it will be integrated in Canada and Latin America). This is based on the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act that requires peoples’ video rental information be kept private. Netflix feels that the law is ambiguous as it relates to Netflix/Facebook, but they’re not taking any chances.

Unreleased Facebook iPad App Discovered Inside iPhone App

  • Facebook’s iPad app may be closer to launch than earlier reported, since a fully operational version was recently discovered “hidden” inside the current iPhone app.
  • The iPad app reportedly has a more modern look than the “tired old” iPhone version, resembling Twitter’s iPad app. The navigational features are said to be intuitively positioned whether the device is held vertically or horizontally.
  • According to Wired writer Charlie Sorrel: “Facebook has managed to fully port the signature confusion of its website to a tablet app, a not insignificant achievement.”
  • The iPad app has also been described as “spectacular.” For those who can’t wait for the official release, the CNN post includes a link for instructions to get it running from inside the iPhone app.

Study Analyzes Potential Effects of Viewing Stereo Displays

  • We’ve seen another wave of press reports the last few days suggesting 3D viewing causes discomfort and fatigue.
  • For those interested in a detailed study regarding the prolonged viewing of stereo imagery, ETCentric staffer David Wertheimer forwarded this fascinating report published in the Journal of Vision (“The zone of comfort: Predicting visual discomfort with stereo displays”).
  • The study offers findings on three recent experiments and the relevance of these findings for the viewing of mobile devices, desktop displays, television, and cinema.
  • David’s comments: “A link to Marty Banks’ story on 3D and vergence-accomodation conflict, which has people buzzing (with the wrong conclusions) on the Web. I wish more people read the studies through before causing hysteria!”

Global VOD: Web-Based TV Revenue to Overtake Terrestrial by 2012

  • According to a new report from London-based Direct TV Research Ltd., worldwide revenues from video-on-demand movies and TV shows will top $5.7 billion in 2016.
  • These 2016 projections represent a 58 percent increase from 2010 global revenues of $3.6 billion.
  • Internet-based television revenue is expected to overtake that of digital terrestrial TV by 2012.
  • The U.S., Italy and China are projected to be the top three VOD markets.
  • Simon Murray, author of the report, points out there is minimal evidence free VOD offerings will drive transactions. “There is little evidence to suggest that these free services actually encourage subscribers to pay for on-demand titles,” Murray wrote. “In fact, it may be harder to convince households to pay for on-demand services if they have become accustomed to receiving free on-demand titles.”

E-Commerce: Purchasing via Tablets on the Rise

  • Consumers are increasingly using iPads and other tablet devices for mobile purchases, according to a new report by Forrester Research released this week.
  • Tablets might even one day outpace smartphones and PCs in terms of e-commerce volume.
  • The devices already account for 20 percent of mobile sales, even though just 9 percent of online shoppers have tablets. Additionally, 60 percent of tablet owners say they have used the devices to shop.
  • Tablets typically offer richer catalog presentations than those available via smartphones, and applications often produce faster loading times than retailers’ websites.
  • “Everyone thinks that mobile phones and mobile commerce are the next big things, and I think what this data shows is it’s probably actually tablets,” explains Sucharita Mulpuru, a Forrester analyst. “We have always capped e-commerce at 10 to 15 percent of total retail sales, but this potentially has the capability of really expanding e-commerce much beyond that.”

Review: Critics Chime In on New MacBook Air

  • Apple introduced its new MacBook Air last week (in 11.6 and 13.3-inch versions, starting at $999) and announced it would discontinue the iconic white MacBook. Gizmodo reports that critics across the board are enamored with the new ultra-thin device. This meta-review provides clips from six notable sources.
  • Laptop Mag (11-inch): “As an ultraportable, the Air is superior in almost every way.”
  • CNET (11-inch): “…if you’re looking for a small, fast MacBook and don’t mind paying a higher price for superior design and performance, the 2011 11-inch MacBook Air is flat-out the fastest ultraportable we’ve ever used.”
  • TIME (13-inch): “I keep trying to stumble across a task or two that will prove that an Air is just too wimpy for some folks, but I’ve failed so far.”
  • PC Mag (13-inch): “The Air 13-inch (Thunderbolt) is perfectly adept at running any video and photo editing software package, compiling a huge database, or watching a 1080p video clip.”
  • Engadget (13-inch): “Keys are more springy than before, more solid and responsive than the somewhat loose, flappy ones on the last generation… It continues to impress when it comes to contrast, brightness, and viewing angles… The 2011 MacBook Air addresses nearly every concern anyone could lob at its predecessor.”
  • TechCrunch (13-inch): “With just the right combination of portability and power, it is hands-down the best computer I’ve ever owned.”

20th Century Fox will Offer Movie Downloads for Android

  • Twentieth Century Fox has announced a new service that will offer Fox movie downloads on Android devices as early as October. This is a first for the Google Android OS.
  • Due largely to the lack of playback and copy-protection technologies, Android has so far taken a backseat to Apple’s iPhone and the convenience of the iTunes store.
  • These issues should be addressed now that Google has acquired rights-management company Widevine.
  • Digital Trends points out that the service won’t enable downloading directly to phones: “Customers will need to initially buy a physical Blu-ray disc of a Fox movie. Afterward, they will be allowed to download a digital Android-friendly copy of the movie from Fox’s website to a computer, which can then be side loaded onto the Android device.”

Hitachi Announces LCD Screen: 720p and Glasses-Free 3D

  • Smartphone screens may continue to get larger. Hitachi announced it has developed a high resolution 4.5-inch, 720p display that the company hopes will be used for portable TVs, phones or handheld game devices.
  • The 1280×710 resolution may enable 720p HD movies to be viewed in native resolution on phones — and the backlit LCD would be an IPS-based display, allowing for a wide viewing angle like that on the iPhone.
  • Additionally, this new 3D-capable display uses a lenticular lens (rather than a barrier approach) that would enable glasses-free 3D.
  • ETCentric contributor Phil Lelyveld points out: “3D is driving the display industry towards higher and higher resolution phone screens, since 3D effectively halves the resolution. Resolution has become a marketing point in this highly competitive market.”

Update: Google+ Reaches 20 Million Users in First Three Weeks

  • ETCentric recently reported that Google+ may be one of the fastest growing networks ever, when it hit the 10 million mark two weeks from its launch.
  • Web analytics firm comScore reports that the new social network has already doubled that amount. Google+ has had 20 million unique visitors since its release late last month, including five million from the U.S.
  • Additionally, the Google+ iPhone app released earlier this week is expected to boost these totals.
  • “I’ve never seen anything grow this quickly,” commented VP of industry analysis at comScore, Andrew Lipsman. “The only other site that has accumulated as many new visitors in a short period of time is Twitter in 2009, but that happened over several months.”
  • According to Digital Trends: “The long-term plan for Google+ is to integrate it with other Google services such as YouTube and Gmail. When that happens, it’ll become a service to be reckoned with and will likely begin to make big gains on competitors such as Facebook and Twitter.”

Review: Apple Lion Operating System by Walt Mossberg

  • Walt Mossberg offers his take on the new Lion OS, what he coins as Apple’s “most radical new Macintosh operating system version in years.”
  • The $30 operating system, released this week, allows installation on as many Macs as an individual owns.
  • Mossberg describes the OS as “a giant step in the merger of the personal computer and post-PC devices like tablets and smartphones,” while retaining traditional computer features.
  • The thorough review provides details related to upgrading, migrating, new features and more.
  • Although he questions the changes made to scrolling (which work the opposite of previous versions by pushing the page up), Mossberg provides a positive bottom line: “The past two major computer operating system releases, Windows 7 and Snow Leopard, were incremental. Lion is very different. It’s a big leap, and gives the Mac a much more modern look and feel for a world of tablets and smartphones. If you are willing to adjust, it’s the best computer operating system out there.”

Review: Apple Final Cut Pro X by Oliver Peters

  • Oliver Peters, writing for digital filmmaker resource site, provides a detailed analysis of Apple’s recently released Final Cut Pro X editing platform. He describes the new version as “a tool intended to be easier to use by people who aren’t necessarily full-time editors — meaning event videographers, video journalists, producer/directors who occasionally edit and corporate presentation professionals.”
  • Peters adds, “The sweet spot today for Final Cut Pro X is a production that is file-based and can be started and finished entirely within FCP X without the need for interchange with other applications.”
  • The review is divided into the following areas: Speed, User Interface, Events Database, Projects and Storylines, Effects and Color, and How To Get In and Out of FCP X.
  • For those interested in a thorough evaluation with helpful suggestions for utilities and workarounds, Peters’ review is ideal.
  • The bottom line: “If you can deal with the current ‘version 1.0’ limitations and are dying to see whether Apple’s re-imagining of nonlinear editing is a better way for you to tell the story, then Final Cut Pro X might be right for you. But if you are a professional user with established, advanced workflows, it will likely be a frustrating experience in that scenario. FCP X is ready for prime time now, although Prime Time might not be ready for it!”

Three Americans Earn Top Honors at First Google Science Fair

  • Three female American students swept top honors at the first Google Science Fair, “bucking the perception of a male-dominated science world.”
  • The three girls were selected from more than 10,000 students representing 91 countries in the international competition.
  • The grand prize was awarded to 17-year-old Shree Bose for her work with cisplatin, a chemotherapy treatment drug for ovarian cancer.
  • Bose was awarded a $50,000 scholarship, a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands with a National Geographic researcher, and an internship at the CERN particle physics laboratory.
  • In total, the three Americans earned more than $100,000 in scholarships and prizes.
  • Video of the awards presentation and guidelines for next year’s competition are available at the Google Science Fair website.

Lenovo to Launch Three New Tablet Devices

  • Chinese manufacturer Lenovo is entering the tablet fray with three new devices set for release in the coming months.
  • The 10.1-inch devices will be priced comparably to the popular iPad and will target specific users (the IdeaPad Tablet K1 for general consumers, ThinkPad Tablet for business users, and IdeaPad Tablet P1 for home and office use).
  • The IdeaPad K1 and ThinkPad (available in August) will run Android 3.1, while the IdeaPad P1 will run Windows 7.
  • All three devices will initially be Wi-Fi only, with 3G versions expected at a later date.
  • The Digital Trends post includes images and technical specs on all three models.

Update: Apple Considering a Bid for Hulu Video Service

  • In the latest installment of the ongoing Hulu saga, Bloomberg reports Apple is “considering making a bid” for the online video service.
  • Apple would join Google, Yahoo, AT&T and others who have expressed interest (Microsoft has reportedly dropped out of the bidding).
  • With $76 billion in cash and securities, an expected $2 billion bid would not be too difficult for Apple. If so, analysts suggest this would give Apple a leading subscription service that would rival, if not surpass, the Netflix service.
  • “Part of the ecosystem of Apple’s future is to include more video,” said Scott Sutherland, Wedbush Securities analyst (who recommends buying the stock). “It’s something they are focused on.”

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