UMPC and Tablet PC mobile goodness at WinHEC

For some reason, whenever Microsoft launches a new wave of non-PC form factors, it’s websites do a terrible job of pointing to the available hardware and how to buy one.  The sites are seldom updated with the latest hardware as it’s released.

Take for example Pocket PC Phone devices.  Go to Microsoft browsing site.  If you live in the US, you are immediately limited, largely because you are presented with what the carriers carry.  I buy most of mine through Expansys which can get me pretty much any device from Europe (where there’s always more choice) and yet the Microsoft sites seem to dutifully segment customers in a way that effectively limits choice to the uninformed.  HTC isn’t listed as a brand, and yet not only are they the original manufacturer for a huge proportion of carrier-badged Windows Mobile device, but they do sell their own brand – browse for HTC at Expansys and pick the appropriate country.

Back to the UMPC.  Take a look at the Microsoft UMPC site – click on the Hardware link at the bottom of the left-hand list.  You get to see just two devices and they are from the earlier round!

So here are some of the new devices that Bill Gates showed during the WinHEC keynote – see around 11:40 (video) and 13:00 (on stage) into his keynote video)

  • Fujitsu FMV-U8240
  • HTC Shift
  • Samsung Q1 Ultra (which is a horrible name since the previous one was just the Samsung Q1 and Ultra is the first world of UMPC so you’ll likely see the old model mixed into the results if you search for the new model)

These devices have varying availability.  On the surface, I’m inclined to look at the Shift because of the keyboard versatility and I’ve had plenty of HTC devices.  I also have a Fujitsu Tablet PC however, and that’s lasted quite nicely.  The Samsung Q1 was not cheap and I’m not sure about the split thumbing keypad – althrough it may actually be the most practical.  Having HSPDA built in, may also be a great plus.

You’ll probably want to consider things like:

  • Does it run Vista Aero?
  • Does it have built in 3/3.5G?
  • What Wifi spec does it have?
  • How long does the battery last?
  • How big is the screen and what resolution is it?

Bear in mind that none of these devices is likely to be that much cheaper than a regular notebook.

A number of new Tablet PCs were also shown on stage and in video.  I recall seeing the Gateway E-155c and E-295c.  There was also an official-sounding video from Dell posted yesterday to confirm rumours that they will have a Tablet PC coming later this year (but no specs). 

In a new Tablet PC I’m looking for these things (in no particular order):

  • Windows Vista with Aero
  • Convertible
  • Windows SideShow (which may be difficult wiring-wise with the convertible hinge)Widescreen
  • LED-backlit
  • Windows ReadyDrive-capable HDD
  • 6+ hours of battery life with standby swap capability
  • Pen and touch interface

I’m beginning to wonder if a UMPC would do it for me at home, rather than a full-blown tablet.

Tablet PC needs to push into the mainstream such that all notebooks at least have the pen and touch digitizers (and the stylus) – this isn’t as easy as it sounds though.

UMPC seems to be stepping up with specs, but battery life and price is still not there on the 2nd generation.  I think they do make a great round-the-house ad-hoc computer with the full power of Windows.

WinHEC roundup

Over the weekend I’ll be talking about the news and gadgets that came out of Microsoft’s WinHEC conference this week including: UMPCs; Medical interfaces; Mobile-centric computing; 64-bit computing; Unified communications; the new Windows Server; and just how cool the kernel in Vista and Windows Server 2008 is.

Stay tuned…

What is Engadget?

Apparently, according to an Engadget post today, they got their Apple delay news wrong yesterday.

I think there are two things about Engadget that I’d like to comment on:

  • It’s acting like it is a reporter (which given today’s television news isn’t necessarily a claim I’d want to make), when I thnk it should go with an angle of being a group of geeky enthusiast bloggers.
  • It seems to have become increasingly verbose in each post – not many bullet point specs present – which makes it time consuming to read; more so than it should be.  I just want to see the facts (especially about product reveals and solid availability) rather than creative monologue/opinion.  I know this gives it style (and makes it ‘Engaging’), but it just feels like it’s getting in the way now.

What is Engadget – a review site, a rumour site, a technology commentary site, a gadget launch site?

The apparent statement that Engadget workers can’t have stocks in companies that are reported on is interesting. If Engadget has so much power (in a way that would seem to have precipitated this post today after their apparent mistake) that their commentary can affects markets (and potentially attract investigation), then perhaps it needs to be diluted or dis-integrated in some way.  Perhaps they should just go with the facts, and become more of a central gadget product/service release feed specifically sponsored by the manufacturers, perhaps with a (stock-clean) reviewing service as a separate entity. 

Except for the verbosity, I actually take Engadget as a decent news/rumour feeds for gadget enthusiasts.  I feel though that the line between news and rumour is somewhat for the reader to decide, rather than relying on potentially reported hearsay.  If I see something I like on there, I’m happy that they let me know, but I also go and look for the official product/service page, since without that, it’s not obvious how I can purchase something to add to my horde.

With power does come some responsibility, which one can choose either to deflect (perhaps with disclaimers, footnotes or just a clear standing) or absorb (possibly to build fame, credibility or loyalty) along with the consequences that comes with it.  What will Engadget become (if anything different) and how will it weigh the responsibilities?

Xbox 360 vs. Sony PS3 vs. Nintendo Wii

I’ve had the 360 and PS3 since their launches and the Wii for just over a month (though it seems longer after my Zelda binge, despite it being two weeks ago).

Overall, 360 is the winner and here’s why:

  • Xbox Live – it’s the 2nd version; Sony and Wii don’t have a story for multi-player games and have weak online marketplace experiences;  PS2 did have some online multi-player support but it was game publisher specific.  Once your firewall was set up for Xbox or Xbox 360, everything just seems to work and the game lobby experience is sufficient and consistent.  Microsoft is a software company and they have played that to their advantage.  Sony is touting an upcoming ‘Sims’ or ‘Second-life’ type experience but it’s too late
  • Price – the blu-ray disc in the PS3 is a compulsory purchase even on the lower model (that they have apparently discontinued) and it may have cost Sony the industry lead they had; having a PS2 compatibility board in there cost extra money, and while it beats Xbox 360 (with it’s slow-release compatibility list), anyone hard-core enough to buy a system at launch will probably keep their old systems hooked up anyway.
  • Interchangeable rechargeable controllers (with the right battery pack) –   the 360 controllers should have come with the rechargeable batteries from the start and I went for the standalone 2-battery charging station which prevents any battery issues; the PS3 batteries are not removeable, and the Wii only seems to have limited 3rd-party solutions available
  • Games – there has been very little PS3-only goodness here and even though Xbox 360 didn’t have a large number of launch titles, they have had a year to bring them on now, giving them the hard start; Wii will still attract people for cutesy games.
  • Dashboard and in-game interface – Nintendo and Sony have finally caught on to the idea Microsoft has with the original Xbox – having a consistent in-game interface to the dashboard is very compelling.
  • Media experiences – the 360 can be a media extender to Windows Vista Home Premium/Ultimate or XP Media Center Edition, but if you’re like me, you’d put the computer in the same room as the 360 where the big screen is, so this isn’t the big deal that Microsoft says, and if you want TV in other rooms then it’s something to consider but they you’re probably wondering why there’s no media center extender experience for the Windows desktop; if Microsoft plays it’s cards well in the IPTV industry then the next Xbox (once broadband is 10Mbps+) could be the set-top box of choice

For the truly serious technologist or addicted gamer, there are 3 consoles in play.  For the serious gamer, there are 2 (360 and PS3).

It’s really about the experience and the gameplay – Microsoft has it hands-down on experience, and is getting their on gameplay because it’s Microsoft with a huge developer following and they’ve had a year head-start.  A few more good titles and a killer Halo 3, and things could forever become Pepsi.

For the casual gamer with kids there’s the Wii – it only has 480i (in North America or 480p with component cables) and there’s no digital audio out – but the novelty is there and some games (like Zelda) have pleasant graphics once you get passed the very obvious resolution drop.  Wii sports is family fun but it didn’t take long for us to realise that you can sit on the couch and just flick your wrist with far more precision (so RSI is still on the cards for some).  Wii may have one of the strongest back-wards compatibility stories in terms of taking Game Cube games, controllers and memory cards.  The Mii characters you can build for yourself are limited (despite the many choices) but fun for a while.  The launch games are disappointing (esp Mario), however you can buy a fair amount lot of Wii equipment and games before you hit the price of a PS3 with no games.

If you are into gadgets and technology and you are choosing one then get a 360 and make sure you get the Elite (with HDMI output).  If you have $2000 to spare, get all 3, accessories and a switcher, then spend another $2000 on a 47″+ LCD/Plasma screen (making sure it’s native 1080p, not 720p with 1080i support) and of course another $1000 or so on digital sound receiver with 5.1/7.1 speakers.

To catch a Wii

I recently turned my attention to getting a Nintendo Wii. For anyone that knows me when it comes to gadgets, this means that I do not stop until I’ve managed to get what I’m looking for. It will not mean that I do nothing else but hunt them on the streets, but I will schedule things around critical ‘can you Wii me now?’ calls. I did see some fun geek pack mentality on PS3 and Wii launch days – let’s call it ‘drive-by geek pack networking’, along with ‘flocking behaviour’ and it goes like this:

Scenario 1:

  • Geeks are standing outside a store waiting for it to open
  • They will know the number of likely prey inside
  • Someone drives up and rolls down a window
  • The waiting geeks get mixed feelings when saying “there are only have x units here, but I believe they will have some at xyz store” because on one hand they are happy to help out a fellow geek but on the other they are proudly guarding their kill, while of course hoping this store does in fact have the advertised quantity and that they haven’t just sent somebody extra to potentially more fruitful hunting ground

Scenario 2:

  • Geeks have just got their prize (having slept outside all week, etc)
  • They are walking out of the store with their trophy
  • Someone drives up and rolls down a window
  • Similar conversation except geek with console is thinking “yes sucker I got mine” while being genuinely helpful, and the geek in the car says “thanks” in a quite sincere way while also thinking “those bastards got one”

When one outlet runs out, the unsuccessful hopefuls all flock to the next possible venue, like voters for American/Pop Idol flock to another finalist when their chosen hopeful gets voted off.

The animalistic instinctive part in all this is that the geeks know what the other geeks are hunting without explicitly asking…

Back to my hunt…

One of the first rules of hunting gadgets at retail outlets is don’t believe what the first store assistant tells you. Yesterday from Walmart I heard “it’s hard to say”, “we wont get any today”, “the truck could show at anytime” and “it was delayed and it’s best to call between 11am and 1pm”, and not in that order.

So I called at 11:55am this morning and was told that yes today could be the day but I should call back at 12:15pm or 12:20 when they’d know for sure.

I called back at 12:25 to be told they had sold out and that the merchandise had been received at 11:30 and was on the floor at 12:00… bugger – I broke my own rule and should have invested 20 minutes going over there.

Not to be deterred I remembered that there are 4 Walmarts within a 15 minute radius, and I concluded that they would deliver quantities to more than one location, and that the deliveries may well be on the same truck.

I’d been dealing with the South location, so I tried the West location – no go – and then the East location and got “yes we have 6 left, we’ve only sold 2 and there’s no-one here”. Could this be???!?!

I got straight into the car, drove 10 minutes and I was there. This location, to which I’ve never been, is away from down-town and is in an industrial park rather than a retail park. I almost thought I was in the wrong place until I rounded the last corner.

They still had 6 left and they had no nunchuck controllers. The assistance asked me how many I wanted. Um… err… um… I almost wish there had been a way to inform those people I saw on Monday morning that they could get their system afterall.

Wii scored… now to avoid breaking my 1080p screen with a controller…

https://colinizer.com/2007/04/06/my-kingdomps3-for-a-wii/

https://colinizer.com/2007/04/09/walmart-only-has-a-rfider-on-wii-availability/

Walmart only has a RFIDer on Wii availability

I had spoken to someone in the electronics department at Walmart last week. They said they were expecting Nintendo Wiis this morning.

I woke up early this morning knowing that Walmart would open at 7am. So…

I pulled up at 6:55 and the store was already open.

On the way in, I saw other people of the ‘appropriate type’ strolling in. I wondered if it would be a foot race to the check out, though given the fact that the store was already open, I was kind of expecting them to have sold out.

As it turns out, the department was desserted and I was the only one there, well at least for 2 minutes, at which point a young asian couple and a teenage boy both showed up just as a staff member appears at the counter.

Undeterred by the make-shift ‘There is a shortage of Wii and DS – please call Nintendo for details on ….’ sign on the display case we all asked the guy what the deal was.

He kept on repeating that it was “Hard to say”. I resisted the urge to be pedantic and go with “But still possible then?”.

So then it was time to leave the store empty handed with that… ‘perhaps I should not leave because I need to stalk the display case for any possible sign of Wiis surfacing and I can not have those other people getting one an not me’ mentality. OK, not really. In fact there’s actually a kind of instant fellowship between console hunters, though this can be quite interesting given that heavy duty gamer types can be awkward social geeks – this was evident at 7am on the PS3 launch day last year when we were all waiting outside EB Games in the cold engaging our social skills; probably to avoid de-evolving to cavemen and ripping each other’s head off for the primal prey kill.

On my way out I remembered that Walmart has begun mandating a large amount of RFID chipping on supplier palettes (not yet individual items). I don’t know how widespread the mandate is yet and I wondered if Nintendo was subject to this. With my IT head on I thought of all the smart but useless things I could have said like “This is the company that mandates RFID chips – surely you know exactly where the shipments are and when they sneeze”.

So really my point is that I am (of course…) somewhat appalled by the fact that ‘in this day and age’) Walmart did not know whether a shipment of Wiis was coming, and couldn’t show me GPS tracking of the truck in question (highway robbery anyone? OK that’s the PS3). Actually I was pretty sure that someone somewhere did now, but of course they wouldn’t dare tell the floor guy for fear that alien beings would extract his brain matter just for the chance to be able to play some human entertainment.

So Walmart may have RFID but they only still pass on a RFIDer to the customer. Yes, OK, it’s cheesy.

Xbox 360 Elitist Zebra

So it’s official – if you want the upcoming Xbox 360 Elite edition for its HDMI port and included 120GB drive, not only does it only come in black (along with the included wireless black controller, hard drive and headset) as I was saying before (forcing you to pick between having a black console with white everything else or buying new black stuff), but you can’t get a black version of the Quick Charge Kit twin battery charger (very useful), Wireless Network Adapter, Wireless Headset, Universal Media Remote or Live Vision camera, which means you can’t buy an all-black set of kit even if you wanted to.

Also, while you can buy a 120GB hard drive from your existing white Xbox 360 which includes a data transfer kit for sucking stuff from your current 20GB drive, the Elite doesn’t come with a transfer kit since there appears to be a DRM issue that can prevent files stored through one 360, but usable on other after copying.

So Elitism does come with a price – the potential for epileptic seizures when walking passed your zebra coloured xbox gear and having to redownload content again IF the DRM will let you (for now anyway).

All-in-one mobile phone & wireless headset

Someone finally getting close on this one. I’ve been saying for a while that it would be great if a bluetooth headset could clip in/out of a mobile phone to avoid worrying about where to keep it (other than hanging like a pendant or on an ear).

This is the closest I’ve seen, though it’s not clear which phones, if any, are ready to accept this headset. This device has a whole other angle: it can be charged in a notebook PCMCIA/ExpressCard slot – great for VOIP use and storage – though it’s not clear if it sticks out when inserted.

Xbox 360 coloured sheep

Today I feel like a marketing sheep but I will resist the urge.

Microsoft’s new Xbox 360 Elite apparently has HDMI and a 120GB hard drive…

… and comes in Black and Silver… cool… I’d like one just for the HDMI (there’s some ghosting on the component output with my 1080p display, compared to the lovely solid digital output from my PS3 on HDMI) and use the old one as a media center extender now that my HP extender doesn’t have an upgrade to work with Vista !#$#

… oh wait: my controllers, and battery charger and camera are all white.

Bugger.

I guess they aren’t trying to appeal to the colour-co-ordinated enthusiast – way to go J Allard!

So I either have to put up with white controllers with a black & silver unit or be a total sheep and buy new controllers to match, right after I sucker up and buy a Gillette Fusion Phantom (‘cos I haven’t collected that colour yet) – yeah right.

Check back to see what happens…

The last newspaper you’ll ever read…

…unless it needs to go in for repairs.

I’m going at this from a different angle than Robert Scoble.

As much as I’m a gadget and software nut, I recognise that there are still millions of people reading a news paper today, as even more tabloidish as they are on a Sunday.

My angle is about form-factor and consumer device adoption rather than recognising journalism through blogging, etc.

Electronic ink will come along and have a profound effect on the world. One day you (if you read newspapers in paper form today) will acquire a newspaper; it will feel like a newspaper (and you can have the sheet size you want) but it will be the last one you buy (more or less). Its contents will be replaced when the daily newspaper would normally be published. If you don’t have a computer, you’ll do this at the newsagent for a few pennies. It may need also have pages since one sheet or folder out may be enough if you can electronically flick through the pages.

When this happens, it will be adopted by the masses, because it will be an easy substitute and cost far less than a yearly paper subscription. Once the transition has occured then we’ll see the convergence of form-factor between newspaper and PDA like we have today between computer and phone.

I think this, more than the source of the news (which doesn’t necessarily concern the individual newspaper reader today), will affect journalism in a democratising way. This will largely be because the user will be in control of content but in a way that feels familiar.

Later models will animate (perhaps showing video and even maybe sound), have colour and possibly be interactive (at which point you can watch the text book go the same way).

Add wifi/wimax/’wifad’, along with wearable computing and you have a realistic view of the future on what you can expect to see people doing on the train/bus/car(!) within a decade.

So newspapers are not dead, but their form-factor and delivery will almost certainly change.