$100 PC Touted by Negroponte for Developing World

$100 PC Touted by Negroponte for Developing WorldA $100 (€76, £53) laptop computer for the developing world has been touted at the World Economic Forum in Davos by Nicholas Negroponte, founding chairman of MIT’s Media Lab.

The computer will have a 14-inch color screen and will run the Linux operating system. According to Red Herring magazine, Negroponte is looking for support from companies such as chip giant AMD, Google, Motorola, Samsung, and News Corporation.

The first units could be ready in about 18 months, Red Herring said.
The developing world is increasingly a target of technology companies – Microsoft has built a slimmed-down version of Windows XP for the Indian, Malaysian, Indonesian and Russian markets, as part of its Windows XP Starter Edition pilot programme. In part this reflects its desire to fight off Linux, which is becoming increasingly popular in these new markets.

Another source of PCs for the developing world is recycling. Every year in the UK 3 million PCs taken out of service, but many are still in good working order. In contrast most schoolchildren in the developing world graduate from high school not having seen a computer in the classroom, and there are a number of charities which take these PCs and reuse them in the developing world.

In related news, MIT has announced that Media Lab Europe, launched in 2000 by the Irish government and MIT will close on February 1 due to a shortfall in financing.

Red Herring

Easymusic.com Aims to Shakeup Music Downloads

EasyMusicCheaper legal download sites will shake up the online music industry, according to Easyjet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

Last month Haji-Ioannou launched his easyMusic.com download site, in collaboration with online music service Wippit, and predicts that cost-efficient digital downloads will take over from CDs.

He told the BBC World Service’s The Music Biz programme: “There were people who said when I started Easyjet that £29 ($54, €42) would ruin the airline industry. Far from it – it has made some companies less profitable, but it has forced them to compete, and therefore become leaner and more competitive.”

The easyMusic.com site includes tracks from more than 200 labels, including Universal, Warner, BMG, Sony and EMI, with single downloads starting at 25p, ($0.47, €0.36) and UK users can also pay by SMS.

It also plans to includes downloads on a ‘copyleft’ – the opposite of copyright – basis, giving downloaders access to new music for free.

But easyMusic.com is just one of number of new legal download sites launched in the last 12 months to take on market leaders such as iTunes.com.

According to figures from recording industry association IFPI, legal music sites quadrupled to over 230 in 2004, and the available music catalogue has doubled in 12 months to 1 million songs.
And while IFPI chairman and chief executive John Kennedy may say it is now the “priority” of the record industry to licence music “to as many services, for as many consumers, on as many formats and devices for use in as many places and countries as it can”, music sites may struggle to cut the cost of downloads unless they can persuade the record companies to cut back on their margins.

And of course many consumers still prefer to get their music for free – IFPI calculates there are 870 million pirate tracks on the Internet.

HP Blur Photos with Camera Privacy Patent

HP Digital CameraHP is making an interesting move in the digital camera market. The company’s latest technical wizardry is a system in which digital cameras could be equipped with circuits that could be remotely triggered to blur the face of those who don’t want to have their photo taken.

This story originally came around in November last year after HP had been granted the patent. We didn’t cover it then, so are pleased that our friends at News.com have brought it up again.

The design for paparazzi-proof cameras is covered under US patent application 20040202382, which was filed in April 2003 and published in October 2004, and describes a system in which an image captured by a camera could be automatically modified based on commands sent by a remote device.

It covers technology that would have to be incorporated both into digital cameras and the ‘image inhibitor modules’. Cameras would be equipped with facial recognition software sophisticated enough to single out faces for the blur treatment. The repercussions for this technology are outstanding, allowing anyone who doesn’t want their photo taken at a particular time to trigger a ‘clicker’ (image inhibitor module) to ensure that any cameras or camera-equipped gadgets in range produced only a fuzzy outline of their face. This story takes us back to the classic science fiction TV show, Thunderbirds, when Thunderbird 1 was fitted with a camera detector to stop their advanced technology being copied. At the time such an idea seemed impossible, strange how science fiction becomes science fact.

With the prevalence of digital recording devices, one of which is cameras, people will either have to become used to having their actions and utterances captured, employ impractical draconian measures such as banning them, or throw technology at it.

At Digital Lifestyles we’re keen on audio recordings and have been wondering for some time if, by identifying vocal patterns, people could opt out of being recorded.

The move comes following the proliferation of digital imaging capabilities with growing concerns about privacy, especially as the number of subjects who would prefer not to be photographed has increased thanks to mobile phones with built-in digital cameras and video functionality. However, when we spoke to HP they told us they had no current plans to commercialise the technology, which would require widespread adoption by camera makers and possibly government mandates to be practical. For now, the company is keeping the patent as part of its IP portfolio.

HP focuses on paparazzi-proof cameras – News.com
Badge keeps paparazzi out of the picture – The Times, November 2005

eContentplus €149m Digital Content Fund Get EU OK

EU IST eContentplusThe European Parliament has voted in favour of a new programme to promote the European digital content market, setting it a budget of €149m (~$194m, ~£103m) for the next three years.

The eContentplus programme aims to tackle the fragmentation of the European digital content market by supporting the development of multi-lingual content for innovative, online services.

“The internet offers a unique opportunity for content companies to outgrow their so far mostly national markets”, said Viviane Reding, the Commissioner responsible for Information Society and Media.
“The eContentplus programme will facilitate the production and distribution of online European content, thus stimulating innovation and creativity. At the same time it will help to preserve and share Europe’s cultural and linguistic identities and give them a more prominent place on the Internet,” Reding added.

The European Parliament voted in favour of the programme with only one amendment, which sets the budget of the programme at €149m for the period 2005-2008. Reding said the new budget was a substantial increase in comparison to the previous programme.

The eContentplus programme will concentrate on the parts of the digital content market where there is clear fragmentation in Europe, and where market forces have not been enough to drive growth.

It targets three areas – spatial or geographical data, educational material and cultural content.

In the case of geographical data such as post codes, planning and land registration details, fragmentation occurs because different member states collect and store data in different ways.

If the programme can reduce this fragmentation, it can open the way for new EU-wide information services using this data in areas such as transportation, navigation, emergency response and environmental management.

The eContentplus programme is part of a set of measures to boost innovation and creativity in the converging content market, including the MEDIAplus programme, and the modernisation of the Television Without Frontiers Directive, due later this year.

Tim Berners-Lee Wins Greatest Briton Award

Tim Berners LeeIt’s gradually becoming more common knowledge that the inventor of the Web, and what many people think of as The Internet, is an Englishman.

Tim Berners-Lee worked up the idea when working at CERN in 1989 and has now received another award, the first Greatest Briton awards.

Following the world changing invention, Berners-Lee consciously took the decision to give the idea away and not patent it, sharing it for the good of society.

To many this highlights the difference between the US and the UK, and possibility the US and the rest of the world. The idea of inventing, then freely sharing the idea, rather to only release the idea when they have figured out how to commercially exploit it. They view Berners-Lee generosity in stark contrast to events since the Web’s invention, with the rise of software patents. The opposing view is that those in the UK really don’t have the first idea about how to make a business from a good idea.

As one of the awards panelist, David Starkey said, “He chose not to commercially exploit his invention. He gave it away almost wilfully. If he had fully exploited it, he would make Bill Gates look like a pauper today.”

Tim now holds the 3Com Founders chair at the Laboratory for Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL)at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is the overall Director of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), an open forum of companies and organizations with the mission to lead the Web to its full potential.

Tim Berners Lee

HomeChoice VoD Hits 15,000 Subs, Reach Doubles to 2.4m

HomeChoice STBVideo Networks Ltd (VNL) has announced that it’s broadband and Video on Demand (VoD) service, HomeChoice, now has 15,000 subscribers, since its relaunch in last September.

Eight in ten of their customers have also signed up to the company’s ‘triple play’ package that consists of broadband-delivered TV, broadband and voice calls.

It’s also taking this opportunity to announce that it’s going to be doubling the number of homes it can reach to 2.4 million in London and the Stevenage area, up from 1.2 million.

The VoD component of HomeChoice lets subscribers choose from over 1,000 movies, over 3000 music videos and hundreds of hit TV series, all available to watch exactly when you want.

“The concept of broadband delivered TV and VoD is very new to the entertainment-buying public and to already have 20 per cent market share of new DSL subscribers in our coverage area so soon after our launch is a great achievement. This gives us the confidence to significantly expand our network”, said Roger Lynch, Chairman and CEO VNL Ltd.

VNL initially made inroads into launching its phase 2 footprint in December 2004 when it enabled five new exchanges, including Stevenage – its first exchange outside of the M25. By ‘unbundling’ the exchange, called LLU (Local Loop Unbundling) in the trade, Homechoice is able to provide customers with a 6.5Mbit connection. 2.5Mb are used for TV and VoD delivery, and up to 4Mbit for Internet connection.

The company’s major marketing push for the re-launched HomeChoice service began in September 2004. During Q4 of 2004, VNL was responsible for one in five new DSL net additions in its initial launch footprint of 1.2 million homes.

The company has continued to build on what it offer its subscribers. In August last year, HomeChoice signed a retail deal with BSkyB enabling its subscribers to watch Sky Sports and selected Sky Movies channels on the service. It has also added telephony to its offering, and is about to launch a music download service that will allow HomeChoice customers to buy downloadable music tracks as they appear on screen. It also plans to double the speed of its broadband service from February, at no extra cost: 512Kbps will raise to 1Mb, 1Mbps to 2Mbps, and 2Mbps to 4Mbps.


RAJAR: UK Internet Radio Listening Increases, Again

This morning RAJAR released their Q4 UK Radio listener figures, over radio, via the Internet and on TV.

For those who don’t follow this kind of thing, RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research) is the organisation that monitors and reports the radio listening habits of the UK population, by taking a listening diary of 32,000 people from a pool of 130,000 people around the UK. The figures sound large, and they are. It’s the largest media survey outside the US.

While the details of who is listening to which UK radio station is of great interest to those in that business, the part that caught our attention was the ‘new’ ways of listening to radio, currently via TV-delivery and over the Internet.

RAJAR-Dec-2004-Radio-via-InternetIt’s worth clarifying that the Internet figures include any listening of the radio on a computer, whether live streaming, using services like the BBC’s RadioPlayer/Listen Again, or Podcasting (download and play).

RAJAR are reporting 16.3% of the UK population, approximately 7.8m people, have used the Internet to listen to radio stations.

RAJAR-Dec-2004-Radio-via-Internet-UK-GrowthThe largest area of growth has been in people listening to UK National radio stations over the Internet. This has increased from 8.3% a year ago to 10.8% of the UK population, equating to just short of 4.8m people. It is thought that this is probably due to an raised awareness that the Internet can be used to listen to the radio, helped in no small part by the BBC pushing the service.

Due to synchronicity or just good planning, it’s of note that a new version of BBC RadioPlayer is released today. Providing very fast access to previously transmitted radio content, it comes with a feature that suggests additional programming that may of interest to the listener, based on the program they have selected to listen to. Once Internet listeners become comfortable with features like this, the number of hours listened to online will be significantly boosted.

Strangely the number of people listening to non-UK stations via the Internet has dropped 1.1% from 4.1% to 3.0%. Quite why this would be the case is a slight mystery.

While listening to the radio through a TV might sound like a very strange idea, it’s becoming increasingly popular and includes delivery over Freeview, Sky and Cable TV. Those with a DVR connected to their Freeview box are also benefiting from being able to record radio programmes and play them back when it suits them.

29.7% of the sample (equating to around 14.25m people) reported that they had, at one time or another listened to the radio through their TV. This is up 8.4% from the same month last year.

RAJAR told us that the people listening via non-traditional means appears to be in addition to their normal radio listening.

As these ‘new’ forms of radio listening are clearly gaining favour with the UK public, we feel there would be significant benefit in gaining a more detailed breakdown in how people are using the Internet to access radio. It would be of benefit to all those involved.

RAJAR are in the process of evaluating new ways to monitor radio usage. They are carrying out trials of electronic ‘listening’ devices that are carried or worn by the user. These would replace the manually completed diary version that’s currently used.

National stations – summary
London stations – summary
Detailed figures
New version of the BBC RadioPlayer

Real Networks Results, Sales Up but No Profit

RealNetworksRealNetworks is enjoying record sales that have helped the Seattle-based Internet company to trim its fourth-quarter loss. The announcement comes amidst its ongoing cost of litigation against rival Microsoft, with whom it’s suing in a billion-dollar case for unfairly promoting its own media software.

The company reported a net loss of $1.0 million, or 1 cent per share, for the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of $5.3 million, or 3 cents per share, a year earlier. According to RealNetworks’ CEO Rob Glaser, the company’s improved sales have resulted in an increase in ad-supported revenues ($19.1 million of revenue in 2004, up from $8.2 million in 2003), mainly due to a better Google relationship. Its Comcast relationship (on the music side) is going very well, and Video/SuperPass now has lower content acquisition costs.

The company has also discontinued CNN and Nascar video offerings to focus on more profitable products, and noticed a secular trend going on – the move to digital music – in which it will participate in the overall category growth, along with Apple. RealNetworks is also no longer counting on university subscribers.

RealNetworks has been aiming to reach profitability, excluding litigation costs, by the end of 2004, and said it expects to be profitable on the same basis throughout 2005. For 2005, RealNetworks expects revenue to grow 16 to 20 per cent over 2004 with revenue of $266.7 million. Other Q4 highlights include music revenue grew 172 per cent to $21.6 million from $7.9 million in the year-ago quarter, revenues from games sales and subscriptions grew 156 percent to $10.1 million from $3.9 million in the year-ago quarter, although video and consumer software and other revenue was down slightly to $29.1 million compared to $29.3 million in the year-ago quarter.

Paying subscribers to Rhapsody music and premium radio services increased to over 700,000 from over 625,000 at the end of Q3 of 2004, and ad-supported Web services garnered $19.1 million of revenue in 2004, up from $8.2 million in 2003. What’s also helped the company is that Internet video streaming was up 80 per cent in 2004, with 14.2 billion video streams being counted worldwide over the year, according to a new report by AccuStream iMedia Research. The number of video streams last year was up by 80 per cent compared to 2003.

Real Networks

Wireless Headphones Possible with Aura’s NFC LibertyLink LL888

Aura Libery Link LL888Aura Communications has announced the first samples of its LibertyLink LL888 system-on-chip, for enabling high-quality wireless voice and stereo audio. The chip provides wireless stereo headphone capability for MP3 players, portable DVD players and audio-capable mobile phones – or indeed virtually any portable product where digital audio performance must be coupled with long battery life and low cost. The technology was previewed in ‘real life’ earlier his year by Creative Technology, whose wireless-enabled Zen Micro MP3 player is based on the LibertyLink LL888 chip.

The most interesting feature of the LibertyLink LL888 is that it uses a patented form of Near Field Communication (NFC) rather than conventional radio frequency technology (such as Bluetooth) to enable digital audio wireless performance. NFC is a short-range wireless connectivity standard that uses magnetic field induction to enable communication between devices when they’re touched together, or brought within a few centimetres of each other.

Jointly developed by Philips and Sony, the standard specifies a way for the devices to establish a peer-to-peer (P2P) network to exchange data. After the P2P network has been configured, another wireless communication technology, such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, can be used for longer range communication or for transferring larger amounts of data.

Unlike Bluetooth, which radiates in the crowded frequency band at 2.4GHz, Aura’s technology is more private and secure as it operates at 13.5MHz – it completely avoids the interference of the 2.4GHz band. Aura Communications claims that the chip’s magnetic signals creates a ‘secure communication bubble that surrounds the user and is uniquely owned by each user for reliable and private communications.

The chip is currently scheduled for production quantity availability by the second quarter of 2005, with pricing set on an individual customer basis, but expected to be under $5 (US) in OEM quantities.

Aura Communications

Video/TV Search Beta Launched By Google And Yahoo!

Google VideoGoogle has added another product to its long list of extended beta services. Google Video is a TV video-search service that searches the closed captioning content of television programs – from major American TV content providers including PBS, the NBA, Fox News, and C-SPAN, among others – to return still photos and a text excerpt at the point where the search phrase was spoken.

Google Video also; displays a preview page of up to five still video images and five short text segments from the closed captioning of each programme; lists when a particular programme will next be aired in a given area (US only); and allows for searches within a particular show.

Transcripts are available, but not video clips. This service is another milestone as it broadens the company’s strategy of expanding search to information on and off the Web, and it takes it into a market where more advanced services have been available for years.

“What Google did for the Web, Google Video aims to do for television,” said Larry Page, Google co-founder. “This preview release demonstrates how searching television can work today. Users can search the content of TV programmes for anything, see relevant thumbnails, and discover where and when to watch matching television programmes. We are working with content owners to improve this service by providing additional enhancements such as playback.”

Not to be outdone, US-based rival Yahoo! has also launched a video search link on its home page. The Yahoo! service searches and returns actual video clips for playback, but does not offer transcripts. Google and Yahoo!’s video searches are interesting launches, but they do not match those of video search services currently available on the Web. Examples include Blinkx.tv and SpeechBot from Hewlett-Packard, which uses speech-recognition in its search, and ShadowTV, which offers a paid business service. Nevertheless, when a leading search engine company enters a new market, we all know something big is going to happen.

Google Video