me & her

Jul 31

Chromecasting Doubts: Google’s Streaming Media Gambit

Late last week, Google unveiled Chromecast, attempt number three in their quest to conquer the living room after the wide-right foul ball that was GoogleTV and the wild swing-and-a-miss-and-thrown-bat that was the ill-fated Nexus Q. At just $35, Chromecast is certainly priced compellingly and it’s hard to find fault with its barely-there footprint. So, is this the winner that Google has been looking for?

I’m not so sure.

The Competitive Landscape

Realistically speaking, Chromecast is competing with Apple TV and Roku for space in your living room. Handily, Dan Rayburn of Frost and Sullivan recently published some statistics surrounding the streaming market, which provide a great metric for comparison:

Our report details sales numbers showing that Apple owned 56% of the streaming devices market in 2012, with Roku coming in second at 21% of the market.

Tivo is next with just 6.5% of the market and then “others” — comprised of a rag-tag assortment of several devices you’ve never heard of — split the remaining 15.9 percent.

Rayburn also fortuitously noted that “Google is conspicuous by its absence in this segment.”

That brings us to last week’s announcement.

Google needs to grab a sizable portion of the market in order to overtake either Apple or Roku in the streaming market and with Chromecast, it appears that they’re touting three key selling points in an effort to get there:

Cross-Platform Compatibility 

Anyone who has a laptop or a desktop (Mac, PC, or Chromebook) can Chromecast. Anyone with an Android device can Chromecast. Google promises that at some point in the near future, anyone with an iOS device will be able to Chromecast.

At first blush, this is indeed a compelling argument against an investment in Apple TV because Apple infamously curates a walled garden: If you want to stream from a smartphone, tablet, or computer to an Apple TV, you’re going to have to own a smartphone, tablet, or computer with an Apple logo on it.

Dig a little deeper, though, and the advantages aren’t quite so clear cut: Chromecast offers a wider swath of device compatibility, yes, but without one of those compatible devices, your $35 buys little more than a dust cover for a spare HDMI port. This means that Blackberry customers need not apply. Windows Phone? Nope. I’m not even sure if the Kindle Fire gets to play ball, given the forked-up state of Android on Amazon’s platform.

What about one-device households in which that one device isn’t always in the house?

An Apple TV works as a stand-alone device: Plug it in, run an HDMI cable to your TV, and everything you need to stream Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, HBO GO, amongst others — not to mention the ability to rent or buy TV shows and movies — is right there on the device. If you have a high-speed internet connection, you can use the hell out of an Apple TV right out of the box. As a bonus, if you happen to have an iPhone or an iPad, an Apple TV provides far more streaming utility than Chromecast, even from an Android device.

Price

There’s no two ways around it: $35 is an intriguing price for almost anything that requires a power plug, let alone a somewhat functional media streamer, and there’s no doubt that one “streaming device” at $99 is a tough sell against another “streaming device” at $35. 

All that is to say: The Chromecast is priced to sell if you’re a not particularly observant comparison shopper who thinks all “streaming devices” are alike. Having read some of the early reviews, though, it seems to me that Chromecast is $35 because it provides at least $64 less value than an Apple TV. 

It’s got Netflix, true, but what doesn’t these days? 

There are no less than four devices currently plugged into my TV that offer access to Netflix, and a couple of them also stream YouTube videos. Netflix-capable devices are the new paper clip: You’ve probably got a couple of them laying around. 

Ultimately, there’s little if anything a Chromecast can do that an Apple TV cannot do, and a lot of empty space and negotiating for content that Google still needs to do to in order to increase the value gap beyond a knee-jerk impulse buy for geeks.

Yes, $35 is a great price for a gadget if that gadget provides substantially more than $35 worth of value — but I’m not sure Chromecast gets there.

Ease of Use

Chromecast is quite a bit smaller than an already pretty small Apple TV, yes, but is it easier to use or set up? My post-announcement impression was that the Chromecast dongle was a self-powered device. This can be true, except when it’s not: Some newer televisions have HDMI ports that will provide power, but not all. (And not mine.) Some newer televisions have USB ports that will provide power via the included cable, but not all. (And not mine.) For everyone else, you’re left with pluggingin via a standard wall socket. Not a deal breaker, but not exactly the plug-and-play experience that Google touted, either.

The fact is, some of the neatest features of the $35 Chromecast call for the most current television models. For everyone else there’s the small print.

And, of course, after you’ve got the device plugged-in and powered-up, you’re directed to visit a website — necessitating the use of a companion device — just so that you can connect Chromecast to a WiFi network. Even if you assume that all of this is indeed super easy, there’s nothing about the process that is any easier than setting up an Apple TV which, again, is not a deal breaker but is contrary to Google’s hyperbole.

Perhaps Google will put out an infomercial-style pitch in which a clueless and unsuspecting Apple TV owner looks helplessly at an HDMI cable or struggles mightily with Apple’s remote while engaged in a constant struggle to reach the on-screen settings menu. But wait! Struggle no more as you effortlessly insert the pocket-sized Chromecast dongle and your TV auto-switches input and streams all your content like magic! Order in the next hour and you’ll get three months of Netflix — a $24 value — FREE! (PROBABLY!)

So, What Then?

Not long after it was announced, Gizmodo’s Brian Barrett announced that “you’d be crazy not to buy Google Chromecast.” Then, after the free-Netflix deal went extinct (which, let’s be honest, wasn’t all that long after Google announced Chromecast), Gizmodo updated that headline with the caveat of a “super sad update” and an excitement downgrade from “no-brainer” to “pretty good deal.”

So, who’s it for, then? If you own an iOS device, I’d say you’d be crazy to buy a $35 Chromecast instead of a $99 Apple TV. 

If you own an Android device I’d say you have a compelling reason to read the reviews and find out if the value is there for what you’d use it for. Given Google’s history with television and content deals, though, I’d strongly encourage a few months of patience.


Here are some choice cuts:

Even within the apps that have already been tweaked for Chromecast compatibility, there are some day one bugs. Sometimes videos don’t play the first time you ask them to, instead dropping you into a never-ending loading screen. Other times, the video’s audio will start playing on top of a black screen. These bugs aren’t painfully common, but they’re not rare, either. - TechCrunch 

There were some glitches with the other two apps as well. Google Play Movies froze while loading up one video, but we were able to remedy the issue by closing the app and trying again. The Netflix app also quit registering touch input during playback on several occasions when we allowed our device to enter standby mode. - Engadget

I tested free Hulu content, HBO Go, NBC, CBS, and Fox, all of which worked. The bad news is that limitations are obvious right away. Image quality ranges from mediocre to poor, mostly because Chrome is converting the video on the fly from your PC and sending it to the Chromecast. You’re also going to run into occasional (and sometimes frequent) dropouts — sometimes just audio, but sometimes the video pauses, too. And the feature itself isn’t entirely stable, so expect the extension to crash sometimes with Google throwing a quirky “brain freeze” message up on your TV. - CNET

Google gobbled-up a majority of the smartphone market because their partners — Samsung, primarily — blanketed the low-end with cheap, underpowered devices that millions of people use like feature phones. 

They seem to be making a similar, albeit in-house, grab for the streaming-media market with Chromecast, but questions remain: Is the low-end juggernaut of the sizeable Android market looking to buy a media-streaming device (at any price) and — if not — is the high-end of the Android market formidable enough to overtake Apple for that top spot, or even move past Roku to emerge as a strong number two?

Perhaps, but that won’t make this first generation Chromecast any better as an investment.

May 20

marissamayr:

I’m delighted to announce that we’ve reached an agreement to acquire Tumblr! 
We promise not to screw it up.  Tumblr is incredibly special and has a great thing going.  We will operate Tumblr independently.  David Karp will remain CEO.  The product roadmap, their team, their wit and irreverence will all remain the same as will their mission to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve.  Yahoo! will help Tumblr get even better, faster.
Tumblr has built an amazing place to follow the world’s creators. From art to architecture, fashion to food, Tumblr hosts 105 million different blogs.  With more than 300 million monthly unique visitors and 120,000 signups every day, Tumblr is one of thefastest-growing media networks in the world.  Tumblr sees 900 posts per second (!) and 24 billion minutes spent onsite each month.  On mobile, more than half of Tumblr’s users are using the mobile app, and those users do an average of 7 sessions per day.  Tumblr’s tremendous popularity and engagement among creators, curators and audiences of all ages brings a significant new community of users to the Yahoo! network.  The combination of Tumblr+Yahoo! could grow Yahoo!’s audience by 50% to more than a billion monthly visitors, and could grow traffic by approximately 20%.
In terms of working together, Tumblr can deploy Yahoo!’s personalization technology and search infrastructure to help its users discover creators, bloggers, and content they’ll love.  In turn, Tumblr brings 50 billion blog posts (and 75 million more arriving each day) to Yahoo!’s media network and search experiences.  The two companies will also work together to create advertising opportunities that are seamless and enhance user experience.
As I’ve said before, companies are all about people.  Getting to know the Tumblr team has been really amazing.  I’ve long held the view that in all things art and design, you can feel the spirit and demeanor of those who create them.  That’s why it was no surprise to me that David Karp is one of the nicest, most empathetic people I’ve ever met.  He’s also one of the most perceptive, capable entrepreneurs I’ve worked with.  His respect for Tumblr’s community of creators is awesome, and I’m absolutely delighted to have him and his entire team join Yahoo!.   
Both Tumblr and Yahoo! share a vision to make the Internet the ultimate creative canvas by focusing on users, design — and building experiences that delight and inspire the world every day.
http://yahoo.tumblr.com/

"We will operate Tumblr independently." Subtly different than "Tumblr will operate independently."

marissamayr:

I’m delighted to announce that we’ve reached an agreement to acquire Tumblr! 

We promise not to screw it up.  Tumblr is incredibly special and has a great thing going.  We will operate Tumblr independently.  David Karp will remain CEO.  The product roadmap, their team, their wit and irreverence will all remain the same as will their mission to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve.  Yahoo! will help Tumblr get even better, faster.

Tumblr has built an amazing place to follow the world’s creators. From art to architecture, fashion to food, Tumblr hosts 105 million different blogs.  With more than 300 million monthly unique visitors and 120,000 signups every day, Tumblr is one of thefastest-growing media networks in the world.  Tumblr sees 900 posts per second (!) and 24 billion minutes spent onsite each month.  On mobile, more than half of Tumblr’s users are using the mobile app, and those users do an average of 7 sessions per day.  Tumblr’s tremendous popularity and engagement among creators, curators and audiences of all ages brings a significant new community of users to the Yahoo! network.  The combination of Tumblr+Yahoo! could grow Yahoo!’s audience by 50% to more than a billion monthly visitors, and could grow traffic by approximately 20%.

In terms of working together, Tumblr can deploy Yahoo!’s personalization technology and search infrastructure to help its users discover creators, bloggers, and content they’ll love.  In turn, Tumblr brings 50 billion blog posts (and 75 million more arriving each day) to Yahoo!’s media network and search experiences.  The two companies will also work together to create advertising opportunities that are seamless and enhance user experience.

As I’ve said before, companies are all about people.  Getting to know the Tumblr team has been really amazing.  I’ve long held the view that in all things art and design, you can feel the spirit and demeanor of those who create them.  That’s why it was no surprise to me that David Karp is one of the nicest, most empathetic people I’ve ever met.  He’s also one of the most perceptive, capable entrepreneurs I’ve worked with.  His respect for Tumblr’s community of creators is awesome, and I’m absolutely delighted to have him and his entire team join Yahoo!.   

Both Tumblr and Yahoo! share a vision to make the Internet the ultimate creative canvas by focusing on users, design — and building experiences that delight and inspire the world every day.

http://yahoo.tumblr.com/

"We will operate Tumblr independently." Subtly different than "Tumblr will operate independently."

Mar 26

Pete Williams and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Crystal Ball

Here’s Pete Williams one year ago almost to the day, after the Supreme Court heard arguments on Obamacare:

“I think it’s very doubtful that court is going to find the health care law constitutional,” NBC’s Pete Williams reported after watching the two hours of oral argument before the high court. “I don’t see five votes to find the law constitutional.”

Source.

Here’s Pete Williams today, after the Supreme Court heard arguments on Proposition 8:

After the oral argument, Pete Williams of NBC News reported that it seemed “quite obvious” that the court is not prepared to issue a sweeping ruling declaring that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

Source.

Pete Williams, meet grain of salt.

Pete Williams on Twitter.

Jan 29

Get in and get the fuck out.

Netflix wants to challenge HBO. 

Here’s how to do it:

Get in and then get the fuck out.

Hire great writers and great show runners and give them two seasons. Or three. Tell them they’ve got exactly that amount of time to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

Here’s the important part:

Don’t be a dick and tell them they’re out of time at any point before the end and don’t be tempted to let popularity extend a show beyond the end.

Get in, get the fuck out.

Do this, and you’ll have two things:

  1. A constant supply of fresh content.
  2. Customer loyalty.

Number one is obvious. A clean exit strategy leads to more new content. Everything that inevitably goes bad about some of the best programming can be traced back to a lack of an exit strategy. Don’t fall into this trap.

It happened to Lost. It’s happened to virtually every sitcom that has ever aired on network television. Do not let it happen to your content.

Get in, get the fuck out.

Number two should be obvious but apparently isn’t. People aren’t giving new content a chance because at times it seems we’re more invested than the networks are. I’m tired of starting (and sometimes loving) content that won’t last beyond a few episodes, let alone an entire season. Don’t waste our time.

Commit and viewers will flock to your content.

Get in, get the fuck out.

This is your new mantra if you want to out-HBO HBO.

Easy.

Jan 17

"This is Mac vs Windows all over again and everyone knows how that scenario played out."

That’s the punchline of a comment appended to an excellent Elia Freedman article but it could be a thousand other punchlines posted to a thousand other articles.  

It’s a sentiment so lazy and so without thought (and so common) that it’s probably best ignored but, well, low hanging fruit and all that:

"Mac vs PC" as an argument against Apple in 2013 is intellectually lazy. To make it, you either have to be a troll, an idiot, or both. 

Jan 14

Tech Blogs Drop the Ball: Ignoring Aaron Swartz

A few days ago, information activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide.

If you follow tech, you probably read about this on sites like GizmodoThe Verge, or TechCruch.

Way back in 2011, Aaron Swartz was indicted on charges of data theft, and was facing up to 35 years in prison and one million dollars in fines.

You probably read about that on similar sites — way back in 2011. 

Now, Aaron Swartz is dead and tech blogs are eager to tie his suicide to an overzealous prosecution. That’s great, except…

…where were the investigations in August of that year? In September? In October? November? December? What about 2012?

That brings us to today.

Aaron Swartz’s case — assuming it was indeed shaping up to be a gross miscarriage (or misappropriation) of justice — was just as outrageous in each of those months. The story was just as compelling.

Except a story that isn’t ever written isn’t a story at all. 

Gizmodo in July of 2011:

Former Reddit Employee Charged with Data Theft

Gizmodo in August, September, October, November, and December of 2011 and all of 2012:

"…"

Gizmodo in January of 2013:

Former Reddit Co-Owner and Internet Activist Aaron Swartz Commits Suicide (Updated)

The Void of Losing Someone You Don’t Know—in Memory of Aaron Swartz

Academics Are Tweeting Out PDFs of Journal Articles in Memory of Aaron Swartz

MIT Is Launching an Internal Investigation To Determine Its Possible Role In Aaron Swartz’s Suicide

Anonymous Hacks MIT in Aaron Swartz’s Name

Read/Write in July of 2011:

Internet Activist Aaron Swartz Indicted for Data Theft: Downloading Millions of Academic Articles

Read/Write in August, September, October, November, and December of 2011 and all of 2012:

"…"

Read/Write in January of 2013:

MIT To Launch Internal Investigation Following Death Of Aaron Swartz

The Persecution Of Aaron Swartz

ArsTechnica in July of 2011:

Former Reddit co-owner arrested for excessive JSTOR downloads

ArsTechnica in August, September, October, November, and December of 2011 and all of 2012:

"…"

ArsTechnica in January of 2013:

Swartz supporter dumps 18,592 JSTOR docs on the Pirate Bay

MIT president calls for “thorough analysis” of school’s involvement with Swartz

Anonymous defaces MIT website with memorial for Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz and me, over a loosely intertwined decade

Family blames US attorneys for death of Aaron Swartz

Government formally drops charges against Aaron Swartz

TechCrunch doesn’t seem to have a useful search feature — I couldn’t find anything from 2011 relating to Aaron Swartz and sorting “by date” inexplicably turns up no results even though sorting “by relevance” turns up plenty — but the results I get do include this insightful article…

…written in January of 2013:

Aaron Swartz, Asking For Help, 119 Days Ago

What the fuck happened, here?

My main recollection of the earlier story (the way back in 2011 version) was boorish fact-checking about whether or not Swartz was “actually” a Reddit co-founder or just an early Reddit employee. Truly, hard hitting investigative journalism when you consider that over a year later, bloggers are coming out of the woodwork to describe his genius and the travesty of justice he had been facing (alone, apparently) ever since.

My takeaway is this:

The bread and butter of tech blogging (or just plain ol’ blogging blogging) is reactive journalism, and very rarely (too rarely) does anyone exhibit any form of proactive journalism. That’s hard work. It’s long nights and dead ends and patience and possible failure. It’s trust and reputation, which comes from sources first and follow from readers second.

As often as not, these are values that are seen as anathema to keeping it real as a tech blogger. Too traditional.

And, anyway, who wants to face dead ends when you can just wait for dead kids? 

That’s where the real page views are. 

Dec 12

Apple’s Maps Gambit Pays Off

Not long ago, Apple was paying Google a license fee to use Google’s mapping data for its iOS mapping solution, even as Google withheld turn-by-turn navigation as a competitive advantage for Android.

If rumors hold true (UPDATE: They’re true) Apple’s decision to cut Google off and release it’s own maps app (which isn’t really bad at all, in my experience) will result in Google releasing a native iOS version of Google Maps with turn-by-turn navigation — and Apple won’t have to pay a license fee for the data.

So, 1) those who usually can’t shut up about competition being great for consumers should stop bitching about Apple’s decision, as iOS users will soon have more choices than ever before and 2) in hindsight, at least, this seems to have been a pretty smart move by Apple.

Two months ago, Forbes declared Google the winner in the maps war and predicted Apple would crawl back to Google to re-license the mapping data. Instead, Google rushed to prep a native App (in fairness, they probably had to buy a lot of buckets for all the ad revenue they’re about to rake in) and Apple gets its own solution as well as a new-and-improved solution from Google — free of charge — and consumers get more choice.

Win, win, win.

Aug 02

A Good Day for Chick-Fil-A

Congratulations to all who turned out to support bigotry and discrimination on 08/01/12: You had your day and you’ll likely have many more.

The chicken sandwiches and waffle fries were delicious, I’m sure.

Your impassioned defense of free speech won the day but then, this was no Islamic mosque, and it wasn’t JC Penney celebrating a lifestyle that you do not agree with. It wasn’t Jeff Bezos pledging his support for same.

Free speech, but only for the right cause.

Keep in mind, though: Meaningful, inevitable change is nothing if not patient, and you’re going to have fewer and fewer victories as the months and years go by. Not much more than ten years ago Modern Family — a wildly popular TV show prominently featuring a proud, loving, adoptive gay family as part of the new normal — may not have been a multiple Emmy award-winning phenomenon. Five years ago the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell seemed unthinkable.

Yet here we are.

Eventually this hateful wave of institutional bigotry will pass us by. Anti-gay sentiment and discrimination will be to the next generation what passive racism is to this one: An embarrassment that is awkwardly laughed off as a generational failing.

A relic of the past.

The worst of you will die off sooner than the best of you, and I can only hope that the best of you live long enough to remember with shame a time when you weren’t as compassionate and understanding as you eventually grew to be. A time when faith in a supposedly loving God dictated the horrible, dismissive way in which you treated the happiness and dreams of your fellow citizens.

A day that you celebrated all that by eating chicken.

May 01

We’re looking to sell Lendle.

We launched Lendle just over a year ago. Amazon had just begun to embrace digital lending and we knew we could build a great social experience for millions of Kindle owners. 

We love being part of an industry on the move and taking on some of the tough issues surrounding ownership and digital content, but our primary goal has always been to create the best social-lending site we could build. 

That has always meant a site that focuses on lending above all other considerations.

LENDLE

At its core, we’re a matchmaking service for Kindle owners. Our Lendlers list the books they’ve purchased, which in turn provides the foundation for our library of lendable content. 

When someone requests a book, we make that request available to the Lendle community.

We’ve introduced several new features over the last year, but they’re all designed to drive and improve the core lending experience. 

To date:

We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve built, and we think Lendle has been an amazing success. 

With all that said, we started out as a team of three, and we remain a team of three: We’ve not outsourced the design, the troubleshooting, or the customer service, and we’ve accomplished all of this without accepting a single penny of outside funding.

Lendle has always been a huge undertaking, and as our community has grown, so too have our responsibilities. 

On top of all that, two of the three of us have full time jobs outside of running Lendle, and various other “living life” priorities that we would like to focus on.

We don’t want any of that to get in the way of the customer service we expect of ourselves, and we don’t want our additional workload to have an effect on potential new features or the overall Lendle experience, either.

With that in mind, we’re looking toward the idea of selling Lendle to someone (or a group of someones) who is interested in building upon our successes, and taking the community to the next level.

Such a sale would involve:

Lendle means a lot to us. We’ve put over a year of our lives into growing a great community and implementing new features and we’ve done our best to put a unique spin on social-lending to ensure that Lendle stands out amongst the competition.

Even so, there’s still a vast untapped market for social-lending that is millions of potential Lendlers strong, and we think a nimble and innovative home for Lendle can only lead to great things. 

As competition in the ebook space heats up, we expect to see more and more acceptance of digital lending amongst publishers, authors, and retailers. Already, TOR Books — an imprint of publishing powerhouse Macmillan and one of the largest publishers of Science Fiction and Fantasy novels — has announced that it will drop all DRM from its collection in early July 2012.

In addition, Amazon is moving into publishing more and more, and we expect this to increase the lendable content available to Lendlers. Most recently, Amazon Publishing bought the publishing rights to the entire James Bond backlist.

The best is yet to come.

If you’re interested, get in touch!

http://lendle.me/contact/

Site: Lendle

Apr 09

It was only a matter of time: Why Mac users tend to ignore the advice of PC Pundits.

It’s being reported that over 600,000 Macs are now infected by the Flashback trojan, a “drive by” piece of Malware that doesn’t need administrator privileges or even a password prompt to successfully latch on.

The PC pundits couldn’t be more excited. Finally, they say, the inevitable has happened and smug Mac users are finding out what it’s like to be a PC user.

"It was only a matter of time."

Read More