Monthly Archives: December 2007

Amazonmp3_3 It’s easy to be on the bleeding edge of the latest technology based in San Francisco, but I tend to be more of a follower in other areas, such as music.

I always seem to be one step behind a friend here, who recommends the latest hot bands and the best way of being educated on and acquiring music. Read more

… it would crash repeatedly for no obvious reason, refuse to restart until you rebooted the engine, then lock you out until you simultaneously pulled the handle, turned the key and yanked on the radio antenna.

OK, so this was originally a joke told at Microsoft’s expense, but it also points to a truism about a development process widely favoured in the Valley: ship products before they are ready, then rely on rapid improvements to bring them up to scratch. Now it seems that Silicon Valley upstart Tesla Motors is doing its level best to keep the old joke alive.Tesla_roadster  Read more

Walmart Wal-Mart has the shelfspace to make or break a new DVD release, but its attempt to take that power to the Web has just bombed. The mega-retailer quietly closed its video download store in the run-up to Christmas. So underwhelming was the service that its failure is only just getting noticed.

Leaving aside Wal-Mart’s own particular failings, this is another sign that the movie download business has been going nowhere fast. Earlier this week we reported that Apple’s iTunes store will soon be trying out a new approach, offering movies from News Corp’s 20th Century Fox studio for rental. Read more

Onyx_synaptics Touch-typing took on a new meaning for me this year as I struggled to hit the right letters with my fingers on the touch-sensitive iPhone.

What was more satisfying was the multi-touch capabilities the iPhone introduced – expanding the size of a photo by the spreading of fingers, stroking through a music collection in Cover Flow mode. Read more

Kitchenaid_stand_mixer_2  During their most important sales period of the year, ecommerce companies like Amazon and eBay rely disproportionately on the latest must-have gadget, movie or game.

As John Donahoe, head of eBay’s marketplace division, explained at the start of this holiday shopping season: "When they’re new, we sell a lot on eBay and the average selling prices are huge." Last year the Wii had that new-scarce-and-expensive mix, the year before it was the Xbox 360. Elmo has also leant a hand. Read more

KwariImagine playing Halo 3 with a lot more at stake than losing a virtual life. What if, every time you were injured by an opponent, your bank account took a hit as well?

That’s the idea behind Kwari, a "first-person shooter skill-based cash-for-kills" online game, set to debut in the New Year. Read more

Diner_dash_3 Chess and Scrabulous are perhaps the most popular games being fought through Facebook profiles, but more sophisticated contests and environments are now beginning to appear on social networking sites.

At Bebo’s launch of its Open Application Platform last week, an executive from Gaia Online showed how users could step with their avatars into its virtual world from within Bebo to dance in a night club or chat with friends in many other virtual urban environments. Read more


Full marks to Larry Ellison (not to mention Credit Suisse and WR Hambrecht) for their management of the Netsuite IPO, but it seems that sometimes you just can’t plan for Wall Street’s apparent irrationality. Read more

Moviebeam The lights have gone out for MovieBeam, a set-top box service that failed to grab a significant slice of the movies-on-demand market.

The service closed at the weekend after its parent company Movie Gallery went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October. Read more

Facebook appears to be readying the next phase of its application platform – a payments system that would allow application developers to conduct transactions through the Facebook site, according to a announcement unearthed on Tuesday by Valleywag.

When he launched the Facebook platform strategy in May, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, hinted that some kind of payment system could be in the works. Such a system would expand the revenue streams available to application writers by allowing them to charge users for premium services, or even sell items through Facebook outright, rather than relying on advertising to make money. Facebook could also benefit if it worked out a way to pocket a piece of each transaction run over its payments system. Read more

Holidaypleo Ugobe has finally hatched its baby dinosaur in time for this Christmas rather than last, but can Pleo fulfill its potential as the biggest robotic toy since its Furby forefather?

Ugobe sent me a review unit to play with for two weeks and, while I found it to be a marvel of engineering, I was not convinced the toy would have mass appeal. Read more

Mainframe_3 There’s a natural tendency in US business, when things go wrong, to reach for the lawyers. Now, the tech industry can also reach for the regulators.

Microsoft’s momentous loss before the European Court of First Instance in September always seemed likely to open the flood gates for other claims. As we wrote at the time, PSI, a mainframe computer maker that had already been battling Big Blue in the US courts, was an obvious candidate to turn to Brussels for redress. Read more

Ribbitphone_2 Ribbit’s claims to be Silicon Valley’s first phone company may be a bit of a stretch, but the start-up’s software could help a thousand internet phone companies bloom from virtual handset makers to vertical service providers.

Early examples include the chalkboard soft-phone, pictured left, developed by London design agency, Square Circle, and the Ribbit for Salesforce application that makes voice an object and provides speech-to-text transcriptions within a customer relationship management (CRM) system. Read more

Viiv Intel’s Viiv brand, which heralded its offensive into consumer electronics two years ago, seems to be heading for early retirement.

At a Friday preview of its announcements due at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Intel said the Viiv brand would be undergoing changes in the first quarter. Read more

The ‘"is" at the beginning of Facebook’s status updates (as in, "Joe Bloggs is at work") has long been the social network’s equivalent of Apple’s one-button mouse: A nagging design feature that makes sense to a small group of devotees but infuriates nearly everyone else.

Facebook originally conceived of the status update as a way for users to relay timely messages like "Sally is at the gym" or "Billy is heading to the concert," rather than more general statements like "Billy likes U2." Users never really saw it that way, though, and their efforts to circumvent the dreaded "is" resulted in a long list of grammatical and stylistic shenanigans. Read more

Bunchball Has Google’s OpenSocial arrived too late to stop social networking sites joining the stampede of developers to Facebook’s platform?

Bebo, number one in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand and the number three social networking site in the US, says its Open Application Platform is a straight use of Facebook’s application programming interfaces, the advantage being that, with the minimum of effort, developers of thousands of applications for Facebook could now make them available on Bebo as well. Read more

Classmates_logo All the discussion about whether or not internet financing is in the middle of another bubble period tends to miss one very important point. Wall Street has not shown much sign of internet excess yet – and with the stock market swinging wildly this week, public market investors are showing no inclination to jump in.

A case in point on Wednesday: the withdrawl of an IPO for social networking company Classmates Media. This is a company assembled through a series of acquisitions over the last three years by United Online. Having welded together social networking site Classmates, online loyalty marketing company MyPoints and a couple of other ventures for a total of $200m, UOL hoped to turn around and sell a small slice of the venture to the public, netting more than $100m in cash and putting a heady valuation on the unit of some $720m. Read more

Trainwreck It must have seemed a good idea at the time. Combine a company that produces an electronic programming guide with one that makes content protection technology, and you get an outfit that is perfectly positioned to help media companies navigate the challenging waters of internet-delivered TV. That is, if you don’t end up with a trainwreck first.

Macrovision’s proposed $2.8bn  purchase of Gemstar-TV Guide may survive the elevator pitch test, but it looks monumentally difficult to make work. For a start, Gemstar will be a very big and complicated dish to swallow. Some 55 per cent of its revenues don’t even come from electronic programming guides, but from the TV Guide magazine and cable channels. Unpicking the pieces, selling off unwanted assets and paying down debt may eventually leave the smaller Macrovision in a position to digest what’s left, but Gemstar has been a playground for intellectual property litigators for so long that it’s hard to imagine this turning out clean and simple. Read more

Speaking of 3D, three-dimensional holograms could soon take the place of two-dimensional images in teleconferencing, according to Cisco Systems. "We may be in a room where if I walk around behind you I can see the back of your head," said Marthin de Beer, head of Cisco’s emerging technologies group, at the networking company’s annual analyst meeting at the Fairmont hotel in San Jose on Tuesday. "I won’t be able to shake your hand but it will be a 3D rendering."

The new hologram technology is the result of a collaboration between Cisco and Musion, a UK-based company specialising in 3D projection. John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, and a holographic Mr de Beer demonstrated the technology before a rapt audience last month in Bangalore. You can see the YouTube video here:  Read more

3d_zcam While 3D is being adopted by the movie industry as the technology that will put more bums on cinema seats, a new 3D camera being unveiled this week is designed to get people out of their chairs.

The ZCam, developed by the Israeli company 3DV Systems, represents a big advance on the motion-sensing technology currently being used to play video games by gestures rather than punching a controller. Read more