iPod shuffle. Apple’s Flash Music Player

apple iPod shuffleThe success of Apple’s iPod range is well known. They have to date sold over 10 million units and have total domination of the hard disk-based portable music players. The only market they weren’t in was the solid state memory, or Flash memory players. To address with the hope of being the winner there too, Jobs announced the Apple iPod shuffle.

Shown in iPod white it’s 3.3 inches x 0.98 x 0.33 (8.4 cm x 2.5 x 0.84) and weighs only 0.78 ounces (22.11g). In summary it’s very small, about the size of a pack of chewing gum.

The controls are very simple, numbering just five – play/pause; volume up and down; next and previous track. Unexpectedly it has no display, so there is no visual way to know which track is playing. Apple being Apple, worked this idea to their advantage, suggesting that receiving your music in a random, unexpected order was fun. We’ll see if the market agrees.

Connecting to either a Mac or PC via its USB 2.0 port, it also takes its charge onto its 12 hours battery this way. This is a great feature that players like the Jens MP-130 had used, which we found a real boon.

While we’re on the Jens MP-130, it had a really excellent microphone build into it which enabled quality recording of interviews and the like. It’s noticeable that the iPod shuffle doesn’t have a mic onboard or even a jack for an input. This is for playback only.

It comes in two models; 0.5 GB and 1GB – pretty beefy for a Flash player. Prices are $99 (~€75, ~£53) and $149 (~€113, ~£79) in the US, £69 (~€98, ~$130) and £99 (~€141, ~$187) in the UK and is “shipping from the factory” yesterday.

The integration with iTunes is strong and features AutoFill. This gives various methods of selecting music tracks to go onto the iPod shuffle, filling it to capacity.

The experience that we’ve had in the Digital Lifestyles office with USB music players is that the ones that have a clip-on lid end up having problems with the lid dropping off. The iPod Shuffle is using a removable lid as the attachment to the lanyard which then hangs around the neck.

The reaction throughout most of Jobs’s presentation was pretty ecstatic as is the norm, with them cheering and whooping on cue. Strangely during the presentation of the iPod shuffle, it was pretty restrained, even quiet. The only audible excitement was during the announcement of the price of the base model.

We’re sure Apple will be hoping the public has a more enthusiastic reaction to it. We’ll be getting our hands on it this Friday, so we will update you after that.

Apple iPod shuffle

Netflix Subscription Slowdown Projected: SG Cowen

Yesterday SG Cowen & Co released a Morning Call that cast a shadow over Netflix.

They expect Netflix to report solid Q4 results in 2004, but believe it’s unlikely to achieve its goal of 4m subscriptions in 2005, for two reasons.

Blockbuster has lowered the price of their online postal 3-DVD service in the US from $17.49/month to $14.99/month. Netflix have stated that they will maintain their pricing at $17.99.

SG Cowen has been carrying out a survey of DVD postal rental services in four US markets. Their results indicate that Blockbuster service has improved, while heavy users of the Netflix service are getting a reduced service.

SG Cowen actually tied some numbers to Blockbuster’s improvement. The levels of movie availability were at 20-25% in October 2004, improving to 62-84% in November and reaching 84-94% in December.

Over this time they found that Netflix is cutting back.

Their belief is that Netflix is reducing the number of new releases that they are purchasing, which is impacting the availability of the titles to their customers. This in turn brings further cost savings for Netflix as they are sending out less DVD’s, thus reducing their shipping costs for heavy users of the service.

If SG Cowen are correct, it looks like the road ahead for Netflix and its high usage subscribers could be bumpy.

SG Cowen

UPDATED – Mac Mini Announced by Jobs – $499/£339

apple mini mac box In what isn’t a surprise move Steve Jobs has announced the Apple “Mac Mini”, a low cost addition to the Macintosh computer range. Priced at $499 (~€380, ~£265) and $599 (~€457, ~£319), it can sit in the palm on your hand (measuring 6.5 inches (16.51 cm) square and just 2 inches (5.08 cm) tall and weights just 2.9 pounds (1.32 kg). True to form for Apple, it looks great.

Disappointingly Apple plan to sell the Mac Mini for £339 (~$634) and £399 (~$746) in the UK. Which, when converted back in to dollars at current exchange rates, don’t sound quite so sweet. Quite why UK uses will have the privilege of paying more is currently unclear.

The bargain-basement prices are because it comes with quite a few things not included – like keyboard, mouse, screen – or “BYODKM, bring your own display, keyboard, and mouse” as Jobs put it.

What do you get for your money? The different prices give you either a 1.25GHz PowerPC G4 or a 1.42GHz (you know when they’re talking about 0.02 of a GHz they’re talking about a budget machine) processor and a 40GB or 80GB hard drive. Two included optical drives are available; a combo, that reads CD & DVD and writes CDs; or a SuperDrive, that reads and writes CDs & DVDs.

Interestingly, the video output is via DVI (Digital Video Interface) and support up to a 1920 x 1200 resolution. DVI is used on many Plasma TV and large LCD screens as the standard interface. Additional adaptors will enable the DVI to be connected to a VGA, S-video and composite video output.

Cleverly they are including lots of software – iLife 05 ( iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD and GarageBand); Quicken 2005 and AppleWorks 6, providing word processing and spreadsheets.

It’s connectors to the outside world are – One FireWire 400 port and two USB 2.0 ports. The keyboard and mouse (extra cost) can be connected using these. An optional internal Bluetooth module enabled the connection of a wireless keyboard and mouse. 10/100Mb Ethernet and a 56K modem.

Wireless networking is possible using the internally fitted AirPort Extreme Card – which comes at extra cost.

We see this as Apple’s chance to cash in on all of the non-Macintosh owning iPod users, whether they be computer-virgins or current PC owners who are looking to upgrade.

We were wondering what the final cost of the machines would be when spec’d up with wireless networking, etc. It appears that many other people around the planet were thinking the same thing, as the ordering section of the online Apple Store has fallen over from the demand.

This baby is going to sell – by the truck load. First truck load arriving 22 January 2005.

Apple Mac Mini
Watch Jobs keynote

SmartDeck from Griffin gives iPod control

Griffin SmartDeck iPodGriffin Technology has announced what they call SmartDeck Intelligent Cassette Technology.

At first glance it appears to be a “seen it” product, a bit of audio cassette-shaped plastic that you pop into your cassette player to let you play the music you’ve got on your digital music player.

Take another look beacuse this device is smarter than that. Rather than having to fumble for the control on your iPod while you should be concentrating on things like … driving. This little beauty lets you use the buttons on your cassette deck to control your iPod. The fast forward and rewind buttons take you to the next or previous playlist track; the Stop and pause buttons do as would be expected; and hitting Eject or selecting car stereo’s radio also put the iPod on pause.

How does it do it? The cassette adaptor has sensors on it (note the teeth inside the holes in the middle of it) and passes this information down a single white cable to the four-pin top accessory port on the top of the iPod. Clever isn’t it?

Griffin are also claiming it automatically sets optimal volume on the iPod for best audio quality and the devices innards are the highest-quality to give crystal clear quality sound.

It should be available in the second quarter of 2005, priced at $24.99 (~€19, ~£13.50). If you can’t wait until then to see it, it’s going to be on show on Booth #1917 at current MacWorld show.

Griffin SmartDeck

Philips WACS700 Wireless Music Center – Interesting

Philips WACS700 Wireless Music CenterPhilips used to strike us as a funny old company. They’ve been tremendously innovative. They had, after all, been a key players in the creation of many pieces of consumer technology; compact cassette; CD; DVD, but their products often looked like a dog’s breakfast.

About 18 months ago we noticed a change, as their design started becoming more “with it” (as I believe they used to call it in the ’60’s).

At CES last week they showed their Wireless Music Centre, WACS700 to the crowds. It doesn’t look too shabby, reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may sound confusing that a film released in 1968, set in 2001 should look modern in 2005, but the films styling is near-timeless).

Equipped with a 40GB hard drive and its own 802.11g (54 Mbps) networking, it’s able to wirelessly stream music around your house to up to five satellite units. 750 CDs of music can be loaded on to it using the built in CD player or via the Ethernet port, which is also used to pull down information on the ripped CDs from the Gracenote CDDB database.

There are a couple of features that make it of particular interest.

It comes complete with a two-way remote control, which cunningly displays the currently playing track, as well as allowing the navigation your music.

The master unit has slim, built-in speakers using Philips Super Sound Panel Speaker technology, a nifty space saving trick to uniting tweeter and woofer into a single unit.

Satellite units can be configured for playback in a number of ways. Separate music can be played on each on; the same music on each (this is harder than it sounds due to fractional speed difference in wireless packet delivery) or a follow me feature that lets you take your music from one room to the next as you walk between rooms.

Available in the US from April 2005, the WACS700 will have a suggested retail price of US$999 including one satellite unit. Additional satellites will cost between US$200 and US$250. We’re waiting on Philips to find out European availability and pricing.


Gizmondo beef up with Disney and Sega

Since we first brought news of the Gizmondo gaming console to you in June 2004 it has been coming on leaps and bounds.

Not only is the Gizmondo a handheld games platform, but it’s also able to play music and video; has GPRS, Bluetooth and GPS built-in to it; works as a wireless email and SMS client; and has a digital camera built in. All for an expected $399 in the US or £229 in the UK.

While this is all very lovely, it’s common knowledge that what keeps a gaming machine alive beyond the spec sheet is the games it runs. Tiger Telematics, who have developed and sell the Gizmondo, are developing their own original software, having bought two software developers Indie Studios and latterly Warthog Games in October 2004, but they are also wisely doing deals with other companies.

The fruit of these now-combined studios, renamed Gizmondo Studios, will be nine titles; City; Colors; Johnny Whatever; Sticky Balls; Fallen Kingdoms; Momma, can I mow the lawn?; Milo and the Rainbow Nasties; Furious Phil; and Future Tactics.

A three year deal with Disney should bring their games to the Gizmondo platform. The initial fruits of the deal will be Tron 2.0. Developed in-house by Gizmondo, the contract also “envisions for four additional titles to be determined by mutual agreement”. The agreement has the Gizmondo paying a minimum guarantee totalling $100,000 for the Tron 2.0 property over three years. Four other titles could also be developed under the deal.

Tiger Telematics have also signed a letter of intent with Taiwan-base Digital Media Cartridge Ltd, hoping to bring many of the classic Sega video games to the platform. Currently this deal looks a little less certain that the Disney deal, but the games being discussed include Sonic the Hedgehog, Outrun, Golden Axe, Altered Beast and Shinobi.

As an icing on the cake, our friends at CNET declared the Gizmondo a finalist in the Next Big Thing awards.

The Gizmondo soft launched by taking pre-orders in the UK in October 2004, and should be in UK shops in February 2005 priced at £229. The online capabilities will be provided using a Gizmondo-branded Pay As You Go (PAYG) service.


Sims 2 Get Hacked Off

Sims 2 Telescope alien AbductionWe’re constantly amazed by the world of online gaming. It’s a fascinating, deep and engrossing world. Some at the Digital Lifestyles offices are big fans, others are scared of it. The latter worry that if they start to get involved, they will be sucked in to the games vortex, never to reappear.

SlashDot pointed us to an interesting story that SecurityFocus ran about the alterations to items in the Sims 2 that are spreading around the game with unexpected results. If this world is new to you, it’s well worth a read.

There are many site, like mod the sims 2 that contain hacks such as Expensive Telescope Abduction Hack v1.0, mentioned in the article, that guarantees that your Sim will be abducted by aliens if you look through the telescope between the hours of 7pm and 2am.

Hacking online PC games isn’t new. Ever since the days of Doom, hackers have been making modifications to give themselves the advantage of seeing through walls, or infinite ammunition – anything to give themselves an advantage. Indeed one of the advantages that Microsoft listed at the launch of the Xbox was that “unauthorised” code couldn’t be run on it (others saw it as restricting the platform), so games wouldn’t be ruined.

We attended the Edinburgh International Games Festival last year and sat in on a debate about the virtual currency within games be sold in the real world for real money. The Electronic Arts representative (EA sell the Sims 2) attitude to it was very relaxed to it, claiming that it wasn’t something that bothered them.

It looks like pressure from Sims 2 players has moved EA into action in this case, they’ve written software that acts in the same way as anti-virus software, scanning for alter objects and removing them.

8GB USB Drive Shown at CES

i-Disk_II-8GB-USB-DrivePretec Electronics have announced an 8GB USB drive, that they’re calling the i-Disk II, at CES today. Currently it’s the highest capacity key chain drive and the second to market.

Along with the 4GB that they’re simultaneously releasing, it provides high speed access by using what they call “dual channel technology” providing read / write speeds of 16MB / 12MB per second.

Both USB drives come bundled with the FlashMail, MobileLock, and SecretZip software. Flashmail provides email access from any machine simply by inserting the USB drive into a Windows machine.

The 4GB is now available and Pretec say the i-Disk II 8GB USB flash drive will be delivered by Q1 2005. It’s not cheap, being priced at $999 (~€755, ~£531), but it’s a huge amount of solid state storage.

BUSlink released the first 8GB drive, which is physically slightly bulkier, but has a slower read/write rate, 10MB/9.2MB. The bigger downside is it costs, $1,799.99 (~€1,360, ~£956).

Pretec’s other claim to fame, is as the company that brought iDisk Tiny, the smallest USB flash drive, to the world in 2003. They have now updated this with an even smaller version called the CU-Flash.

We’re big fans of USB flash drives and see them extending beyond the current “Here’s my power point presentation” corporate usage to becoming totally mass market as the public come to realise that they can be used to hold their identity data and provide access to their personal information and email. At these capacities they also become practical for holding private collections of audio and video media.


6 PSP Games Due from EA

SIRIUS SportsterToday Electronic Arts (EA) used CES to announce its line-up for the US launch of Sony’s handheld entertainment system, the PSP due in March.

The six games are FIFA Football and MVP Baseball, (only available in the US and not in the UK) along with four previously announced franchise greats; Need for Speed Underground Rivals, Tiger Woods PGA TOUR, NBA STREET: Showdown (working title) and NFL STREET 2: Unleashed.

EA say each game has been specifically designed for the PSP, as they found that trying to port the games didn’t work visually and they wanted the handheld titles to take advantage of the unique PSP functions such as WiFi head-to-head game play. To create the games, EA created the very dramatic sounding Team Fusion.

More details of the games are on their dedicated PSP site. It has some screen shots of the games which looks most impressive.

EA’s dedicated PSP site

UK Ofcom starts to take shape

This autumn (fall) Ofcom, the UK media and telecoms super-regulator, will replaces the five existing media and telecoms regulators. It recently announced that Stephen Carter will be its Chief Executive. In his previous professional life he has been the UK chief executive of ad agency J Walter Thompson, and most recently, managing director for UK cable company NTL.

His initial comments on the current state of the UK market are mostly pretty refreshing, and it will be interesting to see how they start to implement them. He argues that Ofcom must “embrace converged thinking and converged decision making”.

It’s also interesting to see that there is talk from Ofcom’s Chair about “co-regulating” TV advertising, following sustained lobbying from the industry. This will be seen as controversial by viewer groups, as they will fear that TV advertising will run amuck. The regulation of UK TV is currently handled by the Independent Television Commission, ITC.

Media Guardian supply a gallery of current Ofcom execs.