Notebook Pricing and Segmentation

<br/><a href="http://video.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=6c7197c6-e6ac-4070-8aa0-e76ec5634ebe" target="_new" title="Laptop Hunters $1700 - Lauren and Sue get a Dell XPS 13">Video: Laptop Hunters $1700 - Lauren and Sue get a Dell XPS 13</a>

According to a recent NPD study found that Macs accounted for over 90% of computers sold in retail channels for over $1000.  PC manufacturers really need to learn to segment the market better.  This research underscores that there are customers with high willingness-to-pay (WTP) looking for a premium product.  Even Microsoft's own "Laptop Hunters" ads make this point.  In the video above, "Lauren and Sue" are looking to buy a notebook for under $1700 and they find exactly what they want for under $1000.  Which is great for Lauren and Sue, but should also make PC manufacturers wonder if they couldn't have charged more for that same product

Giampaulo and the Perils of Shopping for a Notebook from a Big Box Store

The recent "Laptop Hunter" ad by Microsoft featuring "Giampaolo" inadvertently makes a great case for buying a notebook direct.  Giampaolo is looking for a notebook with (in the following order) "portability, battery life" and "power."  He chooses a HP HDX, which is a cool machine, but it just isn't a great fit given what he was looking for.  At 7.3lbs and 16" display, the HP HDX isn't that portable.  It does have ample power with a 2.4GHz processor, 4GB RAM, 512MB graphics card, and fast 500GB HD.  But given those specs the included 6-cell battery probably won't last that long on a charge.  In the end, he ended up with a notebook that really only met 1 out of his 3 criteria.

Assuming Giampaolo really wanted an HP, had he looked on HPdirect.com, he would have done much better.  For instance, the HP dv6t is about 1lbs lighter than the HDX and can be customized with a 12 cell battery and almost the same performance specs as the HDX (just a slightly different 512MB graphics card).  That configuration runs about $1,300, still way under his budget of $1500.  Also the EliteBook 6930p (KS085UT) for $1,429 might be the best fit of all.  The EliteBook is much more portable at only about 5 lbs and a 14" screen (with higher resolution than the 16" HDX).  It's also sports a 2.4GHz processor, 4GB RAM, a respectable 256MB graphics card, and 7200RPM 160GB HD.  Overall, it strikes an excellent balance between portability and performance.

Over the years I've helped a lot of people buy computers, and usually buying direct is the best way to go.  But golly, buying direct is not without it's own perils and frustrations.  And it's hard to resist the instant gratification of shopping at big box stores.

Netflix streaming to your TV

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Netflix and Roku recently announced a little $99 box that connect to your TV and enables Netflix subscriber to stream videos right to their TV.  Best of all, Netflix is offering unlimited streaming along with any subscription plan over $8.99 per month.  I have to say, I think Netflix and Roku really nailed this one.  The price-point is perfect, I think many Netflix subscribers won't think twice about buying one.  Also, even if Netflix's streaming inventory is a bit small right now, it's only going to get bigger, plus streaming is FREE.  The big surprise for me was that the Netflix Player doesn't offer the core feature that Roku pioneered: streaming your iTunes music to your stereo.  I won't be at all surprised if future versions of the Netflix player allow you to browse and play your iTunes library on your TV and audio setup.  Which will further pit the Netflix player against the Apple TV.  For more on this read on...

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Sprint loses 1M customers

Spint lost 1 million customers in the first quarter of 2008, while other major carriers grew.  I've been a Sprint customer over 10+ years and several of my friends also have Sprint, and I have to say this doesn't really surprise me.  For me the problem with Sprint comes down to one thing: lousy phones.  Sprint consistently has the lamest selection of handsets of any cell carrier out there, and I think it's finally catching up with them (thanks, in no small part, to the popularity of the iPhone). 

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Wacom should make regular Mice

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I'm on a perpetual quest for the perfect computer mouse.  I find something wrong with almost every mouse I use: wireless mice - too heavy, Microsoft mice - comfy but kinda plain looking, Logitech mice - the high pitched click sound grates on me (I WISH I were kidding), Apple mice - pretty, but not that comfy and hard to clean, gaming mice - expensive and ugly... I could go on.  The one brand of mice I always like are Wacom mice.  They look great, have all the right features, and they're super comfortable.  The problem is they only work on a Wacom drawing tablet.  Which is why Wacom should make regular USB (and Bluetooth) mice with high sensitivity tracking.  Wacom mice could be really popular with style conscious customers and anyone looking for something a little nice than the standard mouse.  In fact just writing this has me thinking if it would be possible to cobble one together with an existing Wacom mouse and a USB mouse.

DS Game Downloads

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For Christmas this year, my amazing girlfriend gave me a Nintendo DS Lite.  It's my first portable video game in ages and I (we both actually) love it.  But the one thing I'm not so wild about are game cartridges.  Initially the cartridges were quaint, but now they just seem inefficient and annoying.  Nintendo should really offer DS games downloads and a way to load a bunch of games on a single cartridge.  Actually something like that already exists, sort of...

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The word of the week is Gopher

Unless you were born in the late 90's don't waste your time with "My Word Coach" for the Nintendo DS.  I've been playing the game for about a month now and I keep getting the word "Gopher" over and over again.  But this was really the icing on the cake. 

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I don't know about you, but I don't have occasion to use the word "gopher" in a sentence that often.  (Except when I'm talking about how lousy "My Word Coach" is.)  And I'm pretty sure I've never struggled to verbally express myself and had the word "gopher" come to the rescue.  I also can't think of an instance when some people were talking about a gopher and felt embarrassed that I didn't know what they were talking about or nervous that someone might find out.

Kindle Magazine Strategy

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In my last entry about the Kindle I discussed how magazines could be the "killer-app" for Amazon's Kindle.  The Kindle holds amazing promise for reducing the carbon footprint of publishing, but to do that the Kindle first needs to get really popular.  Amazon still has some work ahead of them before the Kindle is a raging success.  Read on for some simple ideas for how Amazon can use magazine content to make the Kindle a hit.

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Amazon Kindle, Magazines Could be the Killer App

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Electronic readers hold incredible promise, particularly for the environment: replacing paper books with electronic downloads could reduce paper consumption and waste as well as energy used for manufacturing and transporting materials and finished products.  But in order for the promise of electronic readers to be realized, they first have to become hugely popular.  So far that hasn't happened yet.  But Amazon's Kindle might be able to succeed where others have failed.

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My Laptop is Now a Desktop

The display on my notebook, a 4+ year old Dell 600m, has crapped out.  I haven't totally given up on it, but more than likely, I'll end up buying a new computer in the next month or so.  But for now, I'm tethered to my desk and using a borrowed 17" CRT, which kinda sucks, because my desk was famous for looking cool.  But what sucks even more is finding a new laptop.  My little 600m is a surprisingly tough act to follow: it weighs 5.5 lbs, has a 14.1" SXGA+ (1400 x 1050) display and a video card with dedicated memory.  And it's FOUR YEARS OLD!  By comparison the 15.4" MacBook Pro has lower resolution despite the larger screen, and also weighs about 5.5 lbs.  After four years, I want a laptop that isn't just faster, but lighter too.  And so far I just can't find one...

Dell XT and the Rumored Apple Tablet

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Rumours are circulating that Apple will announce an ultra-portable notebook at January's MacWorld. There are also rumors that Apple is working on a (multi-touch) tablet computer.  I can't help but think the ultra-portable and the tablet are actually the same product, just like the "true video iPod" and the "Apple cell phone" turned out to be the iPhone.  Also, Dell will soon release the Latitude XT tablet with a multi-touch display.  I won't be at all surprised if the specs of the Apple's ultra-portable/tablet and the Dell XT are almost identical.

Amazon Kindle, an all-in-one wireless reader

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Amazon recently released the Kindle ($399), an electronic reader that can wirelessly download books without a computer.  Once you buy a Kindle there are no service contracts or recurring fees and you can shop Amazon's selection of books, magazines, newspapers and blogs right from the Kindle.  The Kindle has a 6" electronic ink display that sips power and offers a reading experience very similar to paper.  The Kindle is definitely a breakthrough device and it's already being compared to the iPod.  But if the Kindle is the iPod of reading, where's the iTunes of reading?

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The Palm Centro Should Include a Daily Alarm Clock

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My girlfriend's new Palm Centro smartphone doesn't include one of the basic features we've come to expect on a cell phone: a daily alarm clock.  I don't know how Palm missed this; by comparison the iPhone has a great alarm clock.  The Centro's "World Clock" application has an alarm, but it will only go off once; you have to manually turn it on before each time you want to use it.  To add insult to injury, Palm knew that this would cause confusion, so they included this handy tip:

Like a typical alarm clock, the World Clock application only allows you to set an alarm clock within the next twenty-four hours.

Ok, seriously, what "typical alarm clock" does that?  And why should that behavior be replicated in an alarm clock software application?  Instead of actually resolving this problem, they tried to just explain it away.  Sure you can create a daily recurring event on your calendar, but that can get pretty cumbersome.  And while there are alarm clock applications out there, having to use a third-party app for something as basic as an alarm clock almost discredits the product.  I thought technology companies had finally figured out that what makes a product great is how well basic features are executed, and how functional the device is right out of the box.

The Palm Centro Comes Home

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My girlfriend recently became the proud owner of an adorable red Palm Centro.  Needless to say, I'm pretty jealous.  The phone is super cute, amazingly responsive and user friendly.  I think it's the best consumer smart phone out there after the iPhone, and it's for Sprint!  Read on for a more observations and details...

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HP TouchSmart uses Cameras to detect touches

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When I first came across the HP TouchSmart, I thought it was just a cool all-in-one with a touchscreen display.  But what makes the TouchSmart really unique is that it uses cameras to detect finger touches, as described in this great NY Times article.  The only other touchscreens (I know of) that use cameras are big ticket multi-touch systems like Microsoft's Surface, and Perceptive Pixel's huge interactive wall, which use cameras mounted behind the screen to "see" touches.  The HP TouchSmart has two cameras on the outside of the screen in each of the upper corners.  This allows the TouchSmart to use a conventional LCD screen instead of rear projection and maintain its slim profile.  Since finding this out I've started to wonder if the HP TouchSmart may be able to detect multiple finger touches with some modification.

Design at HP gets an Upgrade

Great article in Fast Company about HP's first-ever VP of Design, Sam Lucente.  Lucente is consolidating and simplifying all of HPs design efforts around a consistent design "attitude."  He's also working to ensure HP no longer duplicates it's design (and production) efforts.  He's proposed a single logo that can be used on any product as well as a single navigation control to replace the dozens (or hundreds) currently in use.

Streamlining HP [Fastcompany]

Gateway One Innovates the Power Brick

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The Gateway One has a hot all-in-one design, but of all it's cool features, I'm most impressed with the power brick.  It includes 4 USB ports, an Ethernet port, and even audio out, so you don't have to plug all the peripherals you always use directly into the computer.  Somehow Gateway took a normally offensive hunk of hardware and actually made it useful.  Other cool features: a built-in TV-tuner on the top model, standard DVD burner, remote, wireless keyboard and mouse standard, and an easily accessible bay for a second hard drive.  Kind-of-lame features: the display is only 19", processor speeds top out at 2 GHz, the webcam isn't built-in.

Gateway One (via Gizmodo

A Cheaper Reader

Engadget recently posed the question "How would you change the Sony Reader?"  To me the answer is obvious: cut the price in half.  As I discovered with my Nokia N770, a low price tag can save a weak product.  Of course, price isn't the only problem with the Sony Reader...

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My Nokia N770

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A couple weeks ago I bought a Nokia N770 from Woot for about $130.  The N770 is a pocket size web browser that connects to the web via WIFI.  It has a 4.1" touchscreen that delivers as surprisingly good surfing experience that really rivals a full PC.  It handles lots of web browsing tasks just fine, including Gmail, Google Maps, Google Talk and so on.  But easily the two best things about the N770 are it's price and the size.  The N770 has plenty of shortcomings, it's Flash support is a few versions behind, so it can't play YouTube or Pandora.  Also, the processor is pretty underpowered, which can cause some performance hiccups, and the virtual keyboard and handwriting recognition are really lousy.  But for price and the convenience of a web browser I can stash in the glove compartment of my car and start up in less than a minute, it's problems become forgivable.   Still, for a little more money, I'd much rather have the ASUS EEE PC or, of course, an iPhone...

You can still pick up an N770 for about $145 from Buy.com

Open Letter to Palm from Engadget

Engadget has an open letter to Palm with a ton of great ideas for how to restore Palm as a leader.  Here are some of my favorite bits:

  • You guys got handhelds right when everyone else, including Apple, was struggling to figure it out.
  • Get thin - Three words: FIGURE IT OUT. If HTC, Apple, and Motorola can offer thin (and we mean friggin' thin) smartphones, you can too.
  • YOU NEED TO MAKE THE PHONE LOOK NICE....  How have you failed to see that innovative and engaging design is necessary to win (or even compete) in the mass-market consumer cellphone world?
  • we do, honestly, want you to make it through this thing. We want to love Palm like we loved it in the old days, and know somewhere, deep down, you've got some fight left in you.

The Other iPod Halo Effect

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Something often attributed to Apple's astonishing growth is the "iPod Halo Effect" which is the idea that lots of people who bought iPods will buy other Apple product because they like the iPod so much.  But there's another iPod Halo Effect at work that's reaching beyond Apple to the entire technology industry.  The other iPod Halo Effect is that technology companies are finally realizing that customers want attractive, easy to use products, that interface seamlessly with their computers and, furthermore, that all new products need to be expertly marketed.  The effects of this newfound interest in design can already be seen.  Belkin has released a steady stream of new computer accessories with compelling designs, like the laptop@home products designed by Mike and Maaike and their line of attractive surge protectors.  Also, Microsoft's Zune is another great example.  With the Zune Microsoft abandoned their normal strategy of making the software platform and letting other companies make the hardware.  Instead Microsoft created the Zune device as well as the Zune software and music store to deliver a much more cohesive user experience (at least in theory).  Dell and HP have even stepped up their advertising with some pretty sweet tv spots.  Dell also is ramping up their design capabilities, as evidenced with the new M1330.  In this interview with Vio Luminosu, one of Dell's lead industrial designers, he says:

we've built up our internal design department we have a stronger goal and a stronger focus on design within our group

Of course companies trying to match Apple's product design may still find it difficult without also making some serious changes to how they approach hardware.  One of the reasons Apple is able to execute such attractive and specific designs is that many of the components inside Apple's devices are custom manufactured just for Apple.  Companies like Dell and HP, for instance, typically just design their own enclosures for someone someone else's hardware, which is often the same hardware used by countless other companies.  That can make it difficult to achieve a unique appearance, feature set or sleek form factor.  Of course, the M1330 is good indication that we may see Dell begin to change all that, and hopefully the M1330 will work as good as it looks.  Also, while Microsoft's XBOX 360 looks great and is a leader in the current generation of game consoles, it's also suffering from terrible hardware failure rates.  Microsoft made a big splash with Surface, but it's bulky hardware is destined to be upstaged by something thinner and more advanced.  While hiring great industrial designers designers, user interface designers, experience designers, and marketing companies is a great first step, many tech companies will also need to increase their hardware capabilities so that the are able to support the vision of the designers and marketers they hire.

Asus EEE PC First Look

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Notebook Review recently got a little hands on with the ASUS EEE PC.  Much to my surprise, it will sport an impressive 900MHz Intel processor.  The demo unit was running Linux which started up in about 10 second and shutdown in about 5 thanks to the flash based memory.  It seems the price has crept up to about $250 for the 8GM model (which is still damn impressive), and it should still be available in late August.  The Linux operating system includes basic office applications for editing and creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, as well as Firefox and a PDF viewer.  Also, much to my delight, theres an icon for Google documents!  Wow, this is honestly the first gadget that's come out in a long time that I'm not only really excited about, but is actually in my price range.

Asus Eee PC First Thoughts [Notebookreview.com]

Zune for Windows Mobile

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The iPhone is set for release on June 29th, and it will probably enjoy a huge amount of press attention.  If Microsoft is working on a version of the Zune player software for Windows Mobile, they should try to release it on the same day or the day before.  If done well, Zune for Windows Mobile would give anyone with a Windows Mobile smart phone or PDA a great media player experience.  And if available as a free download, it would be a great way for Microsoft to ingratiate itself with Windows Mobile smart phone users, especially those who might consider buying a iPhone.  By releasing the download with the iPhone launch, Microsoft could potentially piggyback on the iPhone's press and enjoy a great deal of coverage.  Stories on the iPhone could easily mention: "Apple iPhone is on sale today for $499.  But if you already have a phone that runs Windows Mobile, Microsoft has a free download of its Zune music player for you."

Zune Finally Installed!

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Woohoo, I was finally able to install the Zune Software! I've played around with the app just a tad, and so far I like it a lot more than I thought I would. It's clean, snappy and attractive. Read for a short rundown of the installation problems, and some quick ideas of how the installer might be able to avoid this problem in the future.

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The $199 Laptop from Asus I want NOW

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The $199 Asus EEE 701 laptop may just give the OLPC's XO a run for it's money.  Set to be available in August, the EEE reportedly will run Windows XP or Linux and has handy features like Wi-Fi and a webcam right above the screen like a MacBook.  I also read that the EEE will have a built-in SD card reader, but I haven't been able to verify this.  Honestly, the EEE is pretty much the device I've been waiting for: an inexpensive laptop for web browsing and blogging.  Here's the spec list from Asus:

Display´╝Ü7"
CPU & Chipset: Intel mobile CPU & chipset
OS: Linux/ Microsoft Windows XP compatible
Communication: 10/100 Mbps Ethernet; 56K modem
WLAN: WiFi 802.11b/g
Graphic: Intel UMA
Memory: 512MB, DDR2-400
Storage: 4/ 8/ 16GB Flash
Webcam: 300K pixel video camera
Audio: Hi-Definition Audio CODEC; Built-in stereo speaker; Built-in microphone
Battery Life: 3hrs (4 cells: 5200mAh, 2S2P)
Dimension & Weight: 8.85 x 6.5 x .82~1.3 in, 2lbs

It's amazing how just by making a laptop lightweight and cheap adds to
usefulness and versatility of a laptop.  Read on to understand what I mean.

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Windows Home Servers

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Microsoft recently announced a new platform called Windows Home Server.  This will enable a new breed of NAS devices (home servers, you might call them) to collect and store music, movies, photos in one place from all the computers on the network.  That means families will have an easier time consolidating photos and music into one source.  Windows Home Server can even enable users to access their content securely over the web (wow, I didn't realize what a security nightmare this is going to be until I just wrote it).  The devices will also be able to preform automated backups, something most people should do, but don't.  Currently there are no devices available using Windows Home Server, the image above is a concept product by Carbon Design that will never be released (more pics here).  I'm personally really psyched about these devices, I use Microsoft's SyncToy to backup my PC and absolutely love it.  Also if these devices can consolidate my and my girlfriends music library into one source I'd be happy dude.  However, this is Microsoft we're talking about, so I'm just a tad skeptical...

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HP TouchSmart, the Touchscreen PC You Don't Have to Wait For

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In case you haven't figured it out I'm looking forward to all screens becoming touchscreens.  So I was totally shocked when the HP TouchSmart PC totally snuck under my radar.  The HP TouchSmart IQ770 is an all in one computer with a 19" touchscreen, built-in web cam, memory card reader, and wireless keyboard and mouse.  It even has a built-in TV tuner, DVR functionality and a remote control.  You can also you can dock an HP Photosmart printer on the TouchSmart for a real all-in-one experience.  The TouchSmart is being marketed as the perfect family computer for the kitchen or living room.  It has a cool customizable home screen that can deliver weather, traffic, notes, a family scheduler, and photo organizer, all of which can be driven with the touch of the finger or the included stylus.  The touchscreen interface is really perfect for a family computer to keep organizational drudgery easy and even fun.  Most people probably just accept using a mouse as part of the experience of using a computer, but it's easy to imagine how eliminating it could make using a computer more immediate and direct.  After all, with the the TouchSmart it would be much easier to use the computer while standing up or doing other things.  And the elimination of the mouse, reduces the amount of space needed for the device.  In fact, I'm a little surprised the keyboard doesn't also have built-in trackpad for the same reason.  I'm totally blown away by the TouchSmart, in many ways it's what the iMac should be by now, however I do wish it were a tad smaller and could be VESA mounted. Overall, Bravo HP!  You can be my PC anytime :)

HP TouchSmart IQ770 PC

Wall-Mountable Wireless Printer

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I just got back from ICFF, where I saw some amazing things.  But one of the products I found myself thinking the most about wasn't at ICFF, it was this wall mountable printer at the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial designed by Ransmeier & Floyd.  I have to admit, I've totally come to accept the predictable form and large footprint of most printers, but this concept design has totally changed how I think about printers.  In the days of flat screens, and wireless laptops, there's just no reason why printers shouldn't follow suit.  That said, one of the big printer manufactures should totally make this thing!  I'll buy two!  Also, the way it displays the printouts like a picture in a frame, it could be a great way to share photos with friends and family if you could remotely print directly to the printer.  My only minor critiques of the product are that it looks a little tricky to get your prints out of that little slot.  Seems like if the front were a door, or if it didn't have those side edges it would be much easier to extract the pages.  Also, while the concept for the product is that it prints wirelessly, they didn't really address how it's powered.  Personally, I don't really like the idea of a battery powered printer, but I'm not wild about having a power cord hanging off the printer when mounted to the wall either.  But if forced to choose I think I'd prefer the latter.

Ransmeier & Floyd at Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial
Ransmeier & Floyd

Automatic PC Self Diagnostics

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A few weeks ago my laptop started running extremely slowly, and I began bracing myself for the worst.  I ran a virus check, and made sure my affairs backups were in order.  I thought this was the end for my almost 4 year old laptop, until I noticed that my computer was unusually quiet.  I next noticed that my CPU was running really hot (I have this handy app that displays my CPU temperature in my system tray).  Sure enough the fan wasn't spinning.  A few minutes with a compressed air canister and I had successfully blown out the dust that was gumming it up.  Disaster averted.  And probably just in time too, had I continued to run my computer without the fan it could have been permanently damaged.  While I'm really relieved the problem was so minor, I'm also a little annoyed that my computer (or any computer that I know of) doesn't notify the user if things at the hardware level are running sub-optimally or not at all.  Most new computers provide ways to run tests on almost every part of the system (including the fan), yet to run them it often involves booting the computer into some archaic looking "diagnostic" mode.  But really the operating system should periodically run hardware level tests and notify the user if something fails or is preforming way worse than it should.  In fact it doesn't even have to notify the user, there just needs to be a quick way for the user to check the results of the test when something seems off.

Cable Labels

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I was going to write a clever little entry explaining this idea, but I think the image pretty much does a better job.  They should totally label the connector end of the cable so you A) don't unplug the wrong cable and B) know what that the cable is for, years after the gadget is long gone.  Also, for devices that use generic cables like AV equipment, or printers the manufacturer should include adhesive labels with the product name that the user can stick to cable.  Lastly, some one (or some company) could print up adhesive labels with the names of common devices (iPod, keyboard, mouse, TV, VCR, DVD) that the user can just stick on the cable or plug.  However, while most people would probably find it useful, they probably wouldn't be willing to pay for the labels.

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The Slow Death of Built-to-order PCs:
Part Two - No one wants to Configure

There's another huge cost to these highly configurable systems: customers have to actually configure them, and then wait for their computer to be built. Most people I know, don't understand the difference between hard drive capacity and memory capacity. And while people might enjoy selecting all the most expensive options to build that $9,000 system, when it comes to actually configuring a computer with the right balance of power and affordability, most people don't have a clue. To anyone smart enough to realize they don't know the first thing about computer components, a built-to-order PCs is hugely unattractive (which is why lots of people go to the nearest electronics big box store and buy whatever they're talked into). Instead most customers would rather just buy a computer with the specs they need and that day or the next. Before long most consumers will feel that configuring a new computer is something they just shouldn't have to do, and they're right.

EMI Goes DRM Free!

It's official!  EMI will make their entire catalog available on iTunes DRM-Free.  In press converence last night in London EMI's CEO Eric Nicoli and Apple's Steve Jobs made the announcement and took questions.  Here are the major details.

  1. The EMI Catalog will be available DRM-Free on iTunes in May
  2. The format is AAC 256kbps (twice the standard quality)
  3. These Premium Tracks will be available for $1.29
  4. Entire albums will be sold DRM-free and higher quality at no additional cost
  5. The Premium Tracks will be available alongside the standard versions that include DRM for $0.99
  6. For $0.30 customers will be able to upgrade any existing EMI music they bought to the higher quality, DRM-free version

There seems to be some ambiguity on #4, according to EMI's Press Release:

Complete albums from EMI Music artists purchased on the iTunes Store will automatically be sold at the higher sound quality and DRM-free, with no change in the price.

Source

That would indicate that there would not be two options when buying an entire EMI album, customers would always get the premium version when they buy the album.  However, Apple makes no reference to complete albums in their press release. Additionally, Steve Jobs said in the press conference:

We are going to address both these issues [DRM and sound quality] by introducing new version of our songs and albums that will be sold alongside our existing version.  The new versions will be DRM-Free so they are completely interoperable and they will be encoded in 256 AAC...

Source - at about time 23:32

So next month we'll see if EMI albums automatically come in Premium format or if there's an option.  Hopefully, the Premium album will be the same price as the standard album as was stated in the press release.  Additionally, Steve Jobs predicts that half the iTunes catalog will be available DRM-Free by the end of the year by having more record labels agree to sell music DRM-Free.  Also, EMI's CEO Eric Nicoli said that Premium Tracks would be available to other retailers including places like emusic.com.

The Slow Death of Built-to-order PCs: Part One - The High Cost of Customization

Dell's recent financial trouble may signal a shift in how consumers buy computers.  Dell pioneered the built-to-order PC, the idea being that customer ordered exactly what they wanted and Dell would never be sitting on unpopular systems.  They streamlined the process out the ying-yang and beat everyone's prices.  But now it's becoming harder and harder for Dell to turn a profit on the PCs they sell.  While I'm sure there are tons of theories as to why this is the case, I'm going to offer up my own: after a certain point offering too many options causes more harm than good, and Dell is well beyond that point...

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Dell IdeaStorm: Because People are Smart

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So Dell hasn't had the best year.  Yet they did something few companies in their situation would have the guts to do, create a website where users can submit ideas and then vote on their favorites.  The website, dubbed Dell Ideastorm, displays the ideas with the most votes on the homepage with other ideas on subsequent pages.   Dell then tries to address the top ideas with a written response and, hopefully, action.  The effect is something like a hybrid of Halfbakery and Digg.  However, unlike Digg, and much to Ideastorm's detriment, top ideas don't seem to refresh on a daily or any regular basis.  Consequently the top ideas on the homepage have pretty much been there since the site launched.  They really need to address this problem, because the site basically becomes self-defeating if the top ideas don't have the opportunity to cycle.  Nonetheless, this is still a great move for Dell, and I wish more companies would try things like this.

Ok, so aluminum is pretty tough

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These pictures of a MacBook Pro that took a bullet during a mugging in Brazil pretty much have me eating my words about the durability of aluminum versus polycarbonate.  The aluminum definitely seemed to protect the components of the computer.  I do wonder how a polycarbonate MacBook or iBook would have fared in the same situation, as polycarbonate is used to make bulletproof glass.

photograph by fidgetingwildly

Polycarbonate vs Aluminum for Laptops

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The MacBook shown at left has a polycarbonate plastic exterior, while the MacBook Pro (right) is aluminum. Both materials have their pros and cons, aluminum is stronger so it can be thinner than plastic yielding sleeker notebooks with that "I'm expensive" look. Also, aluminum may provide better cooling for the interior components of the computer than plastic. But when it comes to durability, my personal experience tells me there's no clear winner. Under impact or stress polycarbonate can dent, and aluminum can warp or dent. However, based on my observations, aluminum can be damaged more easily than plastic. Read on for why polycarbonate might just be a better material for laptops.

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Hybrid Inkjet-Laser Printer

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You'd think with hybrid cars and hybrid hard drives, some intrepid company would combine the two dominant printing technologies, laser and inkjet, to make a hybrid printer. The laser would print just black and the inkjet would print color, and the two could even be used on the same page. After all for printing text, the speed and sharpness of a laser printer is best; while for printing color, the price and size of inkjet printers can't be beat. Also, inkjet printers are extremely small and simple, so modifying an existing laser printer into a hybrid inkjet-laser printer shouldn't make it that much larger or more complex than one of those ubiquitous scanner, printer fax machine monsters.

External Hard Drive with built-in USB Hub

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Well it isn't exactly my proposed printer with a built-in USB hub but it's close. Western Digital has a line of external hard drives with a built-in 2 port USB hub, one port on the front and another on the back. The hard drives are available in capacities ranging from 120GB to 320GB, and can connect to Mac or PCs via FireWire or USB 2.0.

At last I can ditch my little USB hub, and free up an outlet on my power strip.

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Printers with built-in USB Hubs

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This one is pretty self explanatory, they should really make printers with USB hubs built-in. Computer users the world over would rejoice from the modest reduction of cables, the liberation of an outlet currently used by a powered USB hub, and the elimination of a trivial external computer accessory.

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