The Xbox community is pretty rabid and many use the service for way more than just gaming. As such Microsoft just released an app for iOS devices to give access to your account from anywhere. Not only does it increase the value of having a XBox account they slyly put WindowsPhone 7 on your iPhone.
The app itself is build using the Metro framework but it also includes the default nav bar from their OS. So visually other than the status bar at the top of the screen you’re in WP7 land. What a way to introduce the masses to WP7 without them having to give up their iPhones in the process.
Outside the visuals, the app is pretty impressive. From the animated avatar that reacts to your actions (shake phone, poke, etc.), to full access to your account including messaging and setting of beacons. Beacons on their own are a brilliant move, but together Microsoft has a killer marketing tool disguised as an app that you’ll want to use.
Apple steals the headlines again. This time with their relaunch of the MacBook Air. Though the first MacBook Air wasn’t a big win in the sales department it did test the waters of the uni-body design that became part of the entire MacBook Family. This time around Apple is trying out a new idea, no internal drives. At 64GB of internal storage the low-end model (11″) is clearly targeting the netbook crowd. While the 13″ comes in 128GB & 256GB flavors, which are much more manageable in today’s world of digital everything. The flash only memory allows “instant on” and sleep/hibernate to be one and the same providing 30 days of stand-by life. The other upgrade was the resolution of the monitors, both models get Apple’s new higher density screens giving each one step up in the resolution game (1366×768, 1440×900 respectively).
– – – – –
After mailing over 2 billion disks Netflix announced they are now primarily a streaming media service. In simple terms this means they are now providing more content via streaming then they do via DVD/Blu-ray discs and will soon offer a streaming only plan to US customers. Their Canadian service is already streaming only and with the growth of Apple TV, Google TV and smart TVs the demand for streaming only will only get stronger. Keeping in step with improving their streaming service they’ve also gone disk free on the Wii & PS3 (Xbox to follow in Q1) a simple addition to an already great product. For the Wii there’s a bit of a UI upgrade offering search. I can’t say I noticed any difference but I may have had a newer version of the disk based version that had this already. For the PS3 you also get 1080p and 5.1 surround sound.
– – – – –
Windows Mobile 7 went live last week and picked up a number of good reviews in the process. Engadget goes pretty in depth with their review covering everything from the basic UI to the camera to the Zune/Xbox integration. I have to say it’s great to see Microsoft, or anyone for that matter, work on a unique solution rather then just playing the “me too” game. The core UI hasn’t changed much since they announced their Metro guidelines back in April. From everything I’ve seen WInMo7 is attempting to take mobile smart phones to the next level. The question is whether the masses will flock to WinMo or did that window already pass Microsoft by? If nothing else, I can see Android developers incorporating some of the new thinking that went into WinMo as the two battle Apple for the top.
– – – – –
There are some things that though we learn and it makes sense, people seem to need to be remind of them time and time again. Flowtown has a great infographic about the value of keeping an existing customer. And though some of the facts contained in their poster are well known it seems that big companies still reward the new customer over the old. Just about every cell phone service service, gym etc all give deep discounts to lure customers but do little to encourage the current customers from jumping for a competitor’s deal.
Another example of things we know but need to be reminded of is Jeremy Toeman’s editorial about the future of connected TV is not about the apps. It’s about the experience and apps are just a tool in providing those experiences. To sell those TVs you’ll need to entice and connect with the people through stories rather then just a list of apps.
– – – – –
Two weeks ago Google launches Google TV, this week ABC, CBS, Hulu and supposedly NBC have all decided to block their content. It’s not a technical limitation but a licensing one. Having worked at Comcast for the last few years I’ve seen licensing get in the way of progress more then once. In the case of Google TV the networks are suggesting that web content displayed on a TV is different then web content displayed on your monitor. I find this logic to be a bit of a stretch and stinks of desperation. Regardless of my opinion Google is in talks with all the networks in order to remedy things. Though I doubt Google will be able to make any headway with Hulu, besides being direct competitors, Hulu wants to push their Hulu Plus service (currently $9.99/month).
– – – – –
With all the talk about smart TV’s, Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee, Ruko, blah, blah blah. I’m pretty sure the average American glazes over when they start hearing about all the latest gadgets and the tech talk that surrounds them. While many Americans will buy one of these, as the real goal is to get their favorite TV shows and movies onto their TV’s in the simplest and cheapest way possible. Simply put, when it comes to vegging out we’re lazy. As it stands now Cable has the convenience thing down. While the internet has the best pricing plan (for most it’s free). So while each of the many connected devices and services battle it out the Internet already what the people are looking for. HTML, Flash, Silverlight and it’s accessible everywhere. Pretty sure this was part of Google’s thinking with their Google TV bringing the web to your TV. Well, Andrew Baron is suggesting The Future Of TV Is HTML and he makes a strong case for his logic.
– – – – –
The end of an era , as Sony announced that they will stop manufacturing their iconic Walkman. I can still remember my first Walkman and it coming everywhere with me. Then I upgraded to the Sports model. It was big, clunky and yellow with high-tech features like auto-reverse. Though that one didn’t last long as it’s bright yellow attracted a few school mates to free it from my locker while I was in class. It’s replacement took me through the dawning of the MP3 player. I even sold my Rio 64 because it couldn’t compete with the simple convenience of the portable cassette player. That was until the iPod came along. Last year there, for the Walkman’s 30th anniversary BBC magazine gave a 13yr old the original Walkman for a week. Not only was it entertaining, but some great insights into how much technology is integrated into our lives even while it’s so transient.
The Social Network still commands the box office but that’s not the only reason Facebook is toping the list this week. Earlier this week they announced they were adding Groups, a tool to download your data, and tighter privacy control over apps.
The idea of groups isn’t anything new but unlike Yahoo or Google’s offerings this one is connected through Facebook. And though this is an obvious fact, this little factor is a huge differentiating point between the services. With the other group services you would have to go out of your way in order to participate. It wasn’t part of most users daily routine and slowly but surely members would trickle away beginning the group’s downward spiral into obscurity. Facebook on the other hand is where the people already are. It’s simple, integrated and most importantly it’s where your friends are, so there is no searching for emails or additional sign-ups needed to get started. Additionally their new groups feature provides a way to control who sees what. This alone is a huge step forward for Facebook and for those that could really use some discretion. See the SNL skit above for an entertaining example of this problem.
The second new feature is less of a dramatic but another big step forward in Facebook privacy. Granted downloading all your activity, photos and posts doesn’t increase your privacy but it does provide a window into all the information Facebook does have on you and may change how much info you post in the future. I don’t see many people making use of this feature anytime soon, but should a new social service spring up the ability to import some of this data may give that service a pretty big jump start. Also related to privacy and controlling your data is Facebook’s new application dashboard. The new dashboard provides users the ability to see and limit what applications have access to and what they’ve accesses last. Now you can see if Farmville is going to market with your personal data.
In a related note, according to a recent study of 10 modern countries most children will have an online footprint by the age of 2, this includes baby photos. The study was conducted by AVG, a security firm that deals with identity theft. The firm suggest people be more cautious when posting information online and to make use of available privacy settings.
– – – – –
Also high on the pop culture meter is Gap’s crappy new logo (shown on left). It doesn’t take an art/design major to see how big of a step bag this is from their earlier logos. The only positive thing I can say about it is it’s generating a ton of promotion. My favorite quote regarding the new logo comes from Brand New, a design blog, “I’m not one to critique something by saying it looks as if it were done in Microsoft Word but this one is just too unsophisticated to warrant anything more than that.” Can’t get enough of the new logo, check out craplogo.me to make your own Gap inspired logo.
– – – – –
Even on the eve of Microsoft’s release of Windows Phone 7 the Android platform is dominating the mobile press. Even without the skyrocketing success of Android (top selling smartphone in the US – GigaOm), Microsoft has their work cut out for them if they want to be a player in the mobile market. Newsweek did an extended article on the Android and how it came to be. One interesting factoid in the article was how Google has made enough on mobile search to pay for the development of the Android OS. So sometimes giving something away is a great way to make money. Also, by Google making Android free, handset manufacturers are more apt to a device to support it as the reduced cost means more profit for them.
On Monday (10-11-2010), Microsoft unveiled 10 devices that support WP7 to the masses and from the early reviews they’re a competitive option. Wp7 is a complete overhaul of their mobile platform and is based on their Metro UI guidelines which influenced this year’s youth targeted Kin, which died a quick death. Hopefully WP7 won’t suffer the same fate. Though I haven’t gotten to play with a device personally, it offers a new paradigm for mobile UI’s that has me intrigued. The bright, flat colors aren’t my favorite, but the split structure of the main desktop, the transitions, the use of type in the design are all unique…but are they enough? Will they resonate with consumers? Working against them is the success of both iOS and Android, while the current lack of a Verizon or Sprint based phone means they’ll still be pushing Android as the ultimate mobile platform to their customers. Top that with confirmation that there will be a Verizon iPhone in early 2011. For more details on the WP7 launch check out Engadget’s WP7 launch guide.
– – – – –
Apple seems to be in everyone’s sights, with Android and WP7 going after the iPhone. Now the big wigs are Microsoft and Adobe are meeting though what’s to come of the talks is still unknown. And Google just launched the website for their Google TV, that competes with the AppleTV. Like many of the set-top boxes they support Netflix, Flickr, YouTube etc., but what new is that there’s a full featured web browser (including Flash 10.1 support), so theoretically it supports any online service. Though surfing the web on your TV has never been a hit, so Google is requesting sites to make a “lean back” version, which YouTube has had in Beta for some time. Some of Google TV’s big wins include: Android OS based, use of your phone as a remote control, surf-and-browse (a P-i-P of web and video), personalization, and a playlist feature that works across various video sites. Not sure what the price tag is looking like, but I assume it’ll land in the vicinity of the AppleTV, if not the war may already be lost. The potential $400 referenced in Engadget’s guide to Google TV seems excessive, especially with Xbox, Playstation and mini PC’s are all cheaper and do more.
With Surface, Zune HD, Bing…and now Windows 7 Mobile it seems that Microsoft has finally embraced the design/experience side of technology. While most people will never encounter a Surface device, at least not at it’s current state, this was a huge leap for Microsoft and human/computer interactions in general. For the most part it’s a living experiment of what the future may hold. The Zune HD and Windows 7 Mobile, on the other hand, are designed to be used by the masses, in the present and take their respective markets to a new level.
Inspired by the simplicity and universality of transportation graphics Microsoft calls there new design guidelines Metro. Beyond the name is the focus on creating a modern, stripped down, easy to navigate user interface based on common elements and typography. The use of typography as a key design element in the digital world is almost unheard of ; I would think design geeks should be overjoyed with this though I’ve barely seen any references to this from the general design world.
Along with typography here are a few of the highlights of Metro:
Based on transportation signage: simple, universal, easy to skim
General feel: Clean, light, open and fast
Experience: should lead the design
Consistent: common design treatments and transitions
Flexible: Inviting developers to personalize their use of the guidelines to allow them to make their apps unique yet consistent
User focused/Task focused: one primary action at a time
Panoramic: apps not locked to a single screen
Typography: as an element of beauty as well as to demonstrate hierarchy
Transitions: are as important as the static page. Guidlines request to keep them simple and related, noting “the more you use it (transitions) the less special it becomes”
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify: fierce reduction in unnecessary UI elements (chrome, non-related actions…)
Overall, I’m excited to see smart-phones continue their evolution and Metro looks to be a great step forward. It’s also nice to see Microsoft (or anyone) not play catch up by porting over the status quo, but rather innovating beyond it.