Apple launches all new iPods. Reduces iPhone rates!

9 09 2007

My feature predictions came true! The new iPod Touch from Apple now features the revolutionary touch interface of the iPhone and it also features wifi. The iTunes music store is now wifi enabled so users can purchase music directly on their iPods… thus bypassing the computer. Sweeeeet 🙂 The iPod touch is even slimmer than the iPhone and includes Safari for full web browsing. Prices are $299 for the 8GB model and $399 for the 16GB one.

ipod family
The iPod Nano and an iPod classic were also launched but not much to report there besides upgraded specs, sizes and prices. Who would want to go click-wheel when the Touch option is there. 🙂

The biggest surprise of the Apple event was Steve reducing the rates of the 8GB iPhone by $200! It now retails for $399.. right in time for the holidays. This price cut could well make the iPhone the holiday best seller this year. Although current iPhone users were irked with the massive price cut just weeks after they stood in line and splurged on the handset. Poor things.

Good Ol’ Stevo came to the rescue of his faithful customers and handed out $100 rebate coupons. How nice. I don’t see the real need for Apple giving in to price cuts so soon. The whole point of technology is that gadgets get cheaper and have double the features in less than a year. Some analysts are guessing that Apple did this to make sure they’re on track for the target sales figures. With a major price cut, volumes should make up for it long term. By the way, the iPhone is on track to ship the millionth unit by this month.

All in all, I’m dying for the iPod touch to come to India reaaaaal soon. I want one now! Greater chances of that coming here before the iPhone does.

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Apple all set to launch new iPods today! So will you buy the new iPod or go for the iPhone?

5 09 2007

ipod family

Apple is all set to launch new iPods today. You might think that after the runaway success of the iPhone, why would Apple be interested in the iPod platform anyway? After all, wasn’t the iPhone touted as the best iPod yet? The UI was way slicker than a hardware click wheel AND it’s a phone too.

My view is that this is a very smart move. What would make the new iPods worthwhile of a launch? For one, there are still millions of users who would prefer to stick with their current phone and network and yet be able to have the new UI experience on their iPods. The unique UI and navigation style of the iPhone is a sales magnet. Combine that with the cult status of the iPod and you’re golden.

Most users are still content with carrying two devices – a phone and an iPod. Simply because battery life issues wont haunt them. If I listen to hundreds of songs and watch video on the iPhone daily, how much juice is left for 3 hours of talk time on a daily basis? Keeping the multimedia companion separate as an Ipod solves this vital problem.

Another feature that might be a reality today is Wi-Fi iPods. Allowing users to download content from the iTunes store directly would be an excellent step forward. Since the Microsoft Zune already has wireless digital music capabilities, this seems like a feature Apple wouldn’t want to ignore anymore.

Low pricing for an all new UI experience seems possible going by Apple’s history. They typically launch updated and fresh products at the same rates or even lower ones. So we might see a sub $200 iPod featuring the radical iPhone UI and bumped up hardware specs.

Frankly, the ultimate thing would be if Apple launches an iPod with ALL the features and usability of an iPhone with just the phone module missing. So with wifi, we could see youtube, google maps, browse the web, download and purchase digital music and video, store hours of content and still have a very small form factor besides having great battery life. Phew!

All in all, I do see a lot of possibility in keeping the iPod platform alive and fresh with new announcements despite having the iPhone in the same stable. Let’s wait and watch!





The Gphone – What’s the killer feature??

4 09 2007

Google LogoThe Gphone rumours are going on overdrive. However, there seems to be a high degree of skepticism from the mobile user community on whether this phone will deliver something special. That’s understandable considering that we still have no idea of what that one KILLER feature will be.

Why would I want a Gphone (assuming that’s the final product name)? Rumours suggest it’s Java or Linux based, has the standard productivity apps, mail and browser. Not sure about the multimedia capabilities. Judging by these specs, there’s no REAL reason for anyone to drool or wait in line for a Gphone. With these suggested specs, Google can only hope for the cult status the iPhone achieved within hours of announcing it earlier this year 🙂

The key question is…. what’s that one KILLER feature? Killer features in rival phones in the past have been UIs (iPhone), Push Email (Blackberry), web browsers delivering a near-desktop experience (Symbian Nokia E series), High-resolution digital imaging amongst others. Here’s my point – Even if Gphone packs all these specs, it’s STILL not revolutionary by today’s standards. So what’s their game… pricing? An ultra low cost handset (I smell cheap plastic)? Free talk time and messaging for life?

– Logic says that search could be a powerful feature across all elements of the phone’s UI. After all, search is Google’s forte. But how much search functionality is needed on a phone? How much data does the average mobile user store anyway on a phone or SD card which warrants super fast search and indexing? Most phones help you to quickly locate a contact in the address book by typing a few letters anyway. Same goes for quick dial, calendar entries etc.

– Tight integration with all Google online properties seems to be the next logical killer feature. Out of the box support for Gmail, Gtalk, iGoogle mobile start page, notebook, Google maps/earth, web/local data search, mobile optimised Orkut and Youtube…. you get the picture. The entire Google ecosystem on the phone. That would definitely be worthwhile for a hardcore Google user to migrate to.

– Another possible killer feature could be unlimited free calls and text messages for life! In exchange, Google ads would run on the UI header or would pop up while a call is connecting. Each text message would also have a text link ad at the footer. After all, advertising is what made Google rich. They know how to milk advertising in support for free services. This brings me to another point – privacy. If you are going to have ads on the phone, they need to be targeted. And for that, you need to have all the info on each user, his location, sex, age group and interests. Don’t know how many users would be comfortable with getting profiled for ads.

– The killer feature could even be a hardware one like a wafer thin form factor. A phone so thin, it looks anorexic compared to Motorola’s Razr 2. But the credit for that would go to the phone manufacturing partner which finally works on the project…. not Google. Rumours have suggested this company could be HTC and Samsung.

– If there’s one killer feature I really want from Gphone or any phone right now, it’s SUPER battery life. I’m talking at least 48-72 hours of heavy duty usage including wifi, phone apps, multimedia and voice calls. Now THAT.. i will gladly pay for.

Till then, let’s just enjoy the rumour mongering and await the official Google press releases!





Amazon to sell DRM-free MP3s. Will it make a dent in iTunes sales??

4 09 2007

Amazon LogoYou read that right. Amazon.com – the giant (we’re not just books anymore) web store announced earlier this year that it’s going sell DRM-free MP3s. What that essentially means is that you can I can ‘legally’ burn CDs with the purchased music. We can copy and listen to the music across multiple computers/devices be it Desktops, laptops, iPods etc (provided the devices all belong the same user). Amazon’s music catalog will include music from EMI as well as from 12,000 independent music companies.

What’s not clear is the pricing model as yet. Some industry insiders are speculating that they might have a variable price-point model. Users can vote for the price on a song and then settle on a bid. I’m not sure whether this is the best idea to start with since people have different views on creative content like songs. You and I will have different opinions on whether a particular song is worth a dollar or more or less.

What will work is a flat fee system like iTunes. Maybe even go the Apple route and charge a flat 99c per song. Apple currently charges a flat 99c for all songs in the iTunes store but they’re all DRM bound. Currently, if you want to purchase DRM free music from Apple iTunes, you have to pay a premium of $1.29 per song. Read the official press release. *

If amazon can set a very aggressive pricing system of 99c (or less) across the board for all DRM free music, they might be able to make a dent in iTunes sales within a year. Apple does have the head start however. It recently announced the crossing of the 3 billion song mark on iTunes! Plus, Apple is a brand which is intrinsically connected with digital music thanks to iMacs, iTunes and of course iPods. Make no mistake…. it was digital music which resurrected the mac in the late 90s. The iPod saved the entire computer company as a whole.

And for my money, I feel iTunes certainly offers the slickest way to buy and enjoy digital music today. It’s integrated iTunes software (browsing, shopping, jukebox) keeps getting better and more solid with every version.

Amazon needs to create a cracker of a shopping experience and set “easy on the pocket” prices for it’s DRM-free music. THEN, the battle will truly begin. Whatever happens, we consumers will anyway have more choice so that’s always a good thing!





Reliance Entertainment launches BIGFLICKS.COM

4 09 2007

Reliance launches BIGFLICKS.COM

Big Flicks Logo
Reliance Entertainment (in India) just launched bigflicks.com last week. It’s great to see big corporate groups investing in new media and internet platforms. However, considering that they have far more financial resources at their disposal, they should hopefully focus on creating great delivery platforms. Right now my initial impressions are that bigflicks.com is a half baked product. It’s still work in progress and will need a lot of features to really make it interactive.

As a long term strategy, Reliance retailing video content is a very smart move. They already own the broabdband pipes which can power the people with bandwidth. Once more home users in India have 1MBPS or more, they will eventually seek streaming video content, pre-recorded shows and of course mainstream films. Currently, the bigflicks site is catering more to Indians settled abroad.

Movies can only be bought as of now but in the near future renting will also be an option. In this regard, Reliance will be setting up DVD rental outlets which will be launched soon. Some of my observations……

– Current catalog includes some of the latest bollywood releases which is great for folks who missed it on the big screen. Great value for millions of Indians worldwide.

– The interface looks so 1997. I want some of the cool web 2.0 GUI here. The top side is that the site loads fast even on a normal cable net connection.

– No flash video??? The online trailers and previews are all in the windows media (.wmv) format. That seems a bit narrow. Ideally in today’s market, any online video should be published in the flash FLV format (a la youtube). It’s a far more democratic approach allowing more people to view the clips directly in their browsers. Plus, if you must launch a movie site which is to take advantage of broadband, why not throw in some hi-res trailers while you’re at it? Give everyone a low-res and a high-res viewing option. Plugging in mobile friendly videos in .3gp format wouldn’t hurth either. I would love to have an hour’s worth of movie trailers on my phone 😉

– The download manager is windows only. As a mac user, I can only wait and hope for apple compatibility.

– All titles retail for flat fees of either $14.99 or $4.49. I’m not sure what decides the pricing for a title.

– It’s clear the website structure and feature set has been designed in a rush. There are some critical navigational and search options which are sorely missing. Eg. if I’m seeing the detailed movie page , I only get the cast, director, producer details below. Ideally the director name should be a link which takes the user to a page listing other movies directed by the same director. The actor name should also be a link taking me to a page with a list of other films in which the actor is present. These are features which are very basic and quite easy to implement. Bigflicks could learn a lot by checking out the navigational structure of imdb.com

– No value addition. The biggest advantage of online platforms is the immense potential in value adds. Eg. on the cast listing for a movie, I should be able to click an actor’s name to get a detailed bio, check out trivia, see some misc. pics of the star and also leave messages in a fans section. Give people a reason to visit the site for movie information and details besides being just a plain vanilla retail channel.

– No inter-site functionality. Considering that the guys behind bigflicks.com also created bigadda.com (an Indian social networking site), it beats me why there’s no cross linking betwen the two. Eg. if I liked a movie I bought on bigflicks, there should be a button there called “Liked it? Discuss it with your friends on Bigadda!”. This allows both the properties to benefit from incoming traffic. If the same company is going to invest in multiple properties like social networking, movie retailing, broadband infrastructure, it makes sense to bind them all together so users have no reason to go elsewhere.

– As the online catalog grows, it would be nice to have a listing of movie titles by Date of release. This allows a user to quickly check for all the titles released in 2005 or whatever.

There are lots of other points which I’m sure can be added to make this site a richer, more interactive experience. Anyway, it’s a start and hopefully they will implement these points along the way.

P.S. I’m always open to consulting them long term 😉

– Amit Bhowmik





The first post….

30 08 2007

Hi Everyone! This is the debut post of techtrod. Over the next few weeks and months I hope to review the latest in Indian tech startups, WEB 2.0 companies, gadgets and also global products and services.

I will also be interviewing the teams behind these companies to get better insights into their long term vision and product features. So wish me luck and let’s start this thing…

Cheers,
Amit