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Darren Waters

PS3: Glass half full or empty?

  • Darren Waters
  • 31 Jan 08, 14:35 GMT

I've just been reading about Sony's financial results, in particular the PlayStation sales.

First, the good news: Sony's games division has made the first profit in two years.
Playstation 3

Here's the bad news: Sony is cutting its sales goal for PS3 to 9.5 million units for the year from 11 million.

So is PS3 succeeding or not?

It depends on how you measure it. In comparison to the Wii, the PlayStation is a failure for Sony. Wii sales are stronger, faster and despite predictions of being short-lived, show staying power.

But compared to 360 sales, it may be good news for Sony. Xbox 360 sales are slowing - and worryingly for Microsoft they are slowing during a period of arguably its greatest games line-up.

So what does 2008 hold?

I don't believe titles like Haze or Metal Gear Solid 4 will shift that many more PS3s. But I do think Blu-ray's impact will begin to bite Microsoft.

Few observers believe that HD-DVD will ever be anything more than the second placed finisher in a two horse race. And the growing library of Blu-ray titles, coupled with the PS3's capability to take on new features, makes the console an ever more practical choice as a next-gen disc player.

Throw in the console's ability to connect to a PSP remotely - and remember sales forecasts for PSPs are positive - plus the growing media hub functionality, and PS3 may not be the lame duck some thought it was 12 months ago.

Sony boss Howard Stringer believes PS3 is now "out of the woods".

But let's not forget the R&D costs associated with the PlayStation 3 - Sony are many, many years away from recouping the costs of that development effort into the Cell processor and Blu-ray technology.

Until that happens, the PS3 is still camping in the forest.

Darren Waters

Pirate Bay waters get choppy

  • Darren Waters
  • 31 Jan 08, 12:32 GMT

For years The Pirate Bay has been THE destination for people looking to download films, TV shows, albums and software without paying for the privilege.
41718476_piratebay203.jpg
And for years the multi-national companies behind many of the fims, music and TV programmes we enjoy have been looking for a way to shut down the website.

But it's been a game of cat and mouse, made more difficult because The Pirate Bay does not keep its servers in the same country its founders are based in, and because the website itself does not store any copyrighted files - it points in the direction of copied material that are "out there" on the internet.

In effect, The Pirate Bay is a global address book for copied and copyrighted material. It takes advantage of a program called BitTorrent, which makes it easy to share files among large groups of people. Each BitTorrent file comes with an addresss, a tracker, and it's the location of that address that The Pirate Bay publishes on its site.

If you're outside the US and want the latest episode of Heroes, but don't want to wait until your own country's network buys it and shows it? No problem - you'll be able to find a copy on the Pirate Bay.

Want a movie? Or an album? Or a copy of Photoshop? All are available just a few clicks away.

The founders have never denied that what they are doing is facilitating the copying of material.

Co-founder Peter Sunde, told Dan Simmons at the BBC's Click show last year: "If I want it, I take it, 'cause I can. It might be moral to some people but I think it's up to me to decide.

"Why should they [take action against me]? I still go to the movies, I still spend money on the movies. Everybody does it so everybody wants to download movies. The public opinion is it should be legal."

Even today, The Pirate Bay is poking fun at the legal action - with a graphic which says "The grave of MPAA" - the Motion Picture Association of America.

The Pirate Bay is being targeted because it so popular, so high-profile, and so flagrant in its actions.

So what will happen to The Pirate Bay? The reality is that even if the the site is shut down, it is not difficult at all for someone to create a new website which takes on the role. In fact, there are plenty of others out there already.

Darren Waters

BBC reporters mashed

  • Darren Waters
  • 31 Jan 08, 10:32 GMT

What do you do when you are on a quiet night shift at the BBC?
Locations of BBC Correspondents around the world

If you're Stuart Pinfold, you create a mash-up using Google maps, which plots BBC reporters and correspondent locations around the world and connects them to stories on the BBC News website.

Want to know who's covering stories in Sao Paolo, Brazil? The map shows you that it's Gary Duffy, and you can click to see stories he has done from his patch and stories about the location in general.

Stuart works in the Traffic department at the BBC - taking calls from reporters, correspondents and freelancers around the world and then routing them to studios for live broadcasts or to record their radio reports.

He told me he "knows HTML" and was "bored on night shift and thought I'd experiment with Google maps".

It's a great tool - perhaps more of us should have quiet night shifts...

He has sent the map to one of the big bosses at BBC News - so who knows, perhaps his map will become a tool on the BBC News website, just like the live stats page.

For more great news and maps mash-ups, take a look at this blog.

Rory Cellan-Jones

iPhone shake-up

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 30 Jan 08, 16:55 GMT

I'm up a mountain in Austria on holiday but even here - via my tiny hotel's very efficient wi-fi - news arrives of a big shake-up in the marketing of the iPhone.

And for all the protestations from O2 that this is the bestselling handset ever, one can't see the new tariff as anything more than confirmation that sales have really tailed off since that early rush last November.

Neither O2 nor Carphone Warehouse have released any sales figures but anecdotal evidence suggests that canny British customers - used to getting a free handset and oodles of calls and texts for an 18-month £35 a month contract - have baulked at the idea of paying £269 for an iPhone and then £35 a month for a rather meagre number of calls.

Apple's entry into the mobile phone market has been a spectacular success when it comes to devising a handset that suddenly makes the mobile internet a pleasure rather than a chore. But the firm is finding that in this global business there are plenty of local peculiarities - and in Britain at least you’ll struggle to persuade customers that a phone doesn't come free with a contract.

One thing that O2 hasn't changed is the £7 a megabyte tariff for data abroad - though the firm tells me there will be a 40% cut in the summer. And that is why I'm using wi-fi rather than Austria's mobile network to send this blog.

Darren Waters

The top tech influencers

  • Darren Waters
  • 29 Jan 08, 09:28 GMT

The results are in, the votes have been counted and I can now reveal the top 45 most influential figures in technology over the last 150 years.

But before I do, I should point out that I was part of the panel that helped compile the list. And when I say “panel”, I mean I was invited to cast my votes alongside other tech journalists, including hacks from IT Pro and The Inquirer, ZDNet, among others.

Tim Berners-LeeWe didn’t vote en masse, we all have individual votes from a long list of about 70 names, which contracted and swelled as we immediately struck out some names – eg Richard Branson – and added others, such as Don Estridge, who led the team behind the original IBM PC. We all gathered to discuss the names, but in truth there was minimal debate and I have no idea how the others voted.

Here’s the top 10:

Tim Berners-Lee – Founder of the modern-day World Wide Web
Sergey Brin – Co-founder of Google
Larry Page – Co-founder of Google
Guglielmo Marconi – Inventor of the Radiotelegraph system
Jack Kilby – Inventor of the Integrated Circuit and Calculator
Gordon Moore – Co-founder of Intel
Alan Turing – played a major role in deciphering German Code in WWII
Robert Noyce – Co-founder of Intel
William Shockley – Co-Inventor of the Transistor
Don Estridge – Led the development of the IBM computer

So who’s in and who’s out?

Microsoft’s Bill Gates is in. “Of course he is,” you say. But on the night there was a strong lobby from some journalists that his influence has not been that great on the technology industry. But he is not as high up in the list as Steve Jobs, for example. Right or wrong? And Mr Jobs is much higher in the list than his Apple partner Steve Wozniak, the engineering brains behind the first Apple computers.

Tim Berners-Lee is top of the pile – but was this more a reflection of a British voting panel? Certainly, he was the favoured candidate among dot.life readers when I first blogged about the poll.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is out. So what? Well, he made the long list.

There’s no Clive Sinclair, the British home computer pioneer.

George Boole, the father of modern computer arithmetic, is in. How many people would have thought of him immediately?

The inventor of the transistor, William Shockley, is at number 9 while Jack Kilby, the inventor of the integrated circuit is at number 5.

Interestingly, the inventor of Ethernet poll, Robert Mecalfe, polls higher than Vint Cerf, the co-creator of TCP/IP, the underlying architecture of the net.

Shawn Fanning, creator of Napster, makes the cut, and Philip Rosedale, creator of Second Life, doesn’t.

The whole exercise was organised by Intel. And two of the firm’s co-founders made the top 10 - Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce. And the whole list has been put in front of Sean Maloney, who passed comment.

"It’s fitting that the people who have influenced the internet turn up in the top three of the list,” said Sean Maloney, executive vice president of Intel. “This emphasises the way the world is heading and that the internet is our industry’s demand driver.”

Here’s the full list. Remember don’t blame me: I was just one of the judges!

The 45 most influential people in technology:

1. Tim Berners-Lee
2. Sergey Brin
3. Larry Page
4. Guglielmo Marconi
5. Jack Kilby
6. Gordon Moore
7. Alan Turing
8. Robert Noyce
9. William Shockley
10. Don Estridge
11. Doug Engelbert
12. Robert Metcalfe
13. Vint Cerf
14. Steve Jobs
15. Andrew Grove
16. Seymour Cray
17. Pierre Omidyar
18. Shawn Fanning
19. Dennis Ritchie
20. Ted Hoff
21. Linus Torvalds
22. Shuji Nakamura
23. Dave Packard
24. Jean Hoerni
25. William Hewlett
26. John Logie Baird
27. George Boole
28. Martin Cooper
29. John Pinkerton
30. Grace Hopper
31. Bill Gates
32. Herman Hollerith
33. Thomas Watson
34. Jeff Bezos
35. Meg Whitman
36. Ada Lovelace
37. Nolan Bushnell
38. Claude Shannon
39. Charles Babbage
40. John Chambers
41. Philo Farnsworth
42. Steve Wozniak
43. Larry Ellison
44. Michael Dell
45. Maurice Wilkes

Darren Waters

To the winner the spoils

  • Darren Waters
  • 28 Jan 08, 16:31 GMT

Is anyone surprised that Call of Duty 4 was 2007’s most successful video game?

Scene from Call of Duty 4Perhaps – because it wasn’t among the most talked about tent-pole titles at the start of the year.

Halo 3 got the buzz, and the press attention, while Bioshock and Super Mario Galaxy got the plaudits. But it was COD4 that got the cash tills ringing the loudest.

Of course, COD4 was a multi-platform title while the others were either platform exclusive or limited to a single console and PC but its success is reward for creating one of the most dynamic entertainment experiences of the year.

Halo 3 impressed people with its rich multiplayer offerings, but looking back on the core game, the single-player, I think it’s fair to say that the ambition in the story-telling was lacking.

One of the game’s developers said to me that going into the making of Halo 3 they were resolved to take the successful parts of Halo 1 and fix the problems obvious in Halo 2.

They certainly achieved that – but there was little original content in Halo 3. It was fun to play, polished and rewarding – but somehow I felt deflated by the experience.

Bioshock offered the most compelling story of 2007 – even though its morality play was overhyped. But the actual game mechanics of Bioshock were mundane.

Crysis had the looks, certainly, and Super Mario Galaxy was incredibly inventive - and many hardened gaming hacks admitted the title helped them “fall in love” with games all over again.

But Call of Duty 4’s commitment to excellence across almost every aspect of the game makes its success very much deserved.

It is a game that is unafraid to take chances - especially in its story-telling.

How many other titles feature a sequence as dramatic as the opening moments in Call of Duty 4? From the insertion onto a sinking tanker to the stunning journey through the streets of a Middle Eastern city as chaos and violence erupts all around - COD4 combined great story-telling with great action.

I thought 2007 was one of the strongest ever years for video games - and Call of Duty 4 has succeeded without the kind of marketing budget that certain other games enjoyed.

Can 2008 possibly be any better?

Darren Waters

Mobile video at Davos

  • Darren Waters
  • 28 Jan 08, 09:45 GMT

One of the talking points to emerge from Davos this year is the use of online video to report instantly on events, with little mediation through traditional channels.

Mobile camera phoneReuters have been trialling a mobile journalism unit, with reporters armed with adapted phones to attached microphones. Short, sharp interviews are posted quickly to a dedicated page on the Reuters website.

The news agency has also handed some of the phones to some blogging luminaries, including Jeff Jarvis, who has championed what is called "networked journalism". I'll be honest, I'm not entirely sure what networked journalism is - and I'm not sure anyone is - but part of it is the use of reporting tools which can make use of the connected nature of the web, to build an inclusive form of journalism.

But it's not Reuters making waves in online video that was the talking point of Davos. It's people like Robert Scoble and Loic LeMeur.

Scoble, who works for Fast Company and is a renowned blogger in his own right, has been trawling the corridors of power at Davos recording interviews on his Nokia N95 and sometimes going live, using a software tool called Qik. Our online business editor Tim Weber was also roped into one of Scoble's interviews while at Davos.

LeMeur has been using Qik also - as well as his own tool Seesmic, recording video conversations direct from Davos.

Online tools like Qik and connected devices like mobile phones are combining to give reporters and citizen journalists the ability to produce journalism without any of the usual filters or production layers.

Of course it's not quite as simple as it appears - both Scoble and LeMeur have a profile which transcends the tools they use. Scoble may "just be a blogger" but his status as an ex-Microsoft employee and LeMeur's connection to people like Sarkozy open doors.

But that's not the point I'm trying to make: These tools are tremendously exciting - whether you're a lone blogger, a mainstream news agency or even the world's largest news organisation like the BBC.

We too are planning to engage with mobile video. Next month we'll be using mobile phones to product video, photos and text journalism, alongside our more traditional reporting methods.

It's not just an experiment - we'll be using the tools to talk about the future of mobile phones - at the Mobile World Congress, Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, and engaging with people and companies who are helping transform the device across Silicon Valley.

We're planning to use tools like Qik, Kyte TV, Seesmic and Shozu to both reach new audiences and experiment with new tools.

But we're open to suggestions - are there other online tools that we should be using? Are you interested in the BBC trialling such things?

How are you using your mobile phone to "report" on your world?

Send me your recommendations and thoughts. I'd love to hear them.

Darren Waters

Beginning of end for DRM?

  • Darren Waters
  • 27 Jan 08, 21:11 GMT

What Steve Jobs and EMI started, will Amazon end?

Amazon's unsurprising announcement that its US online music store will roll out to the rest of the world is a tipping point for the future of DRM-free music.

By the end of 2008 millions of tracks will be available for purchase with no locks, restrictions, or rights management small print contained within them.

Digital rights activist Cory Doctorow describes this as "majorly good news".

But he does raise issue with some of the terms and conditions around purchases, which include agreeing not to loan tracks to people. I'm not quite sure how Amazon plan to police this....

The key point here is the size of the music library Amazon will be offering to consumers; with 3.3 million songs from "all four major music labels as well as over 33,000 independent labels" Amazon's service will instantly render DRM-locked offerings from other firms rather redundant.

No news on when the Amazon store will roll out to the UK but rival services will surely be tearing up their business plans.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Digital music - you can't give it away...

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 25 Jan 08, 16:01 GMT

SpiralFrog – just the kind of daft name you expect from a digital start-up – and eye-catching enough to be spread across the world’s media back in April 2006. It was a service offering free downloads supported by advertising. And it wasn’t just the name that caused all the excitement but the promise of a new business model for an industry desperate to find a way to make money in the digital age.

Then everything went quiet - but today SpiralFrog is making a noise again. It has unveiled the first figures for its service – launched to North American customers last September. There are no figures yet on advertising revenue or downloads – but they’re jumping up and down with excitement over their 400,000 registered users. To my untutored eye that seems pretty unimpressive for a service offering completely free, no strings (apart from the ads) all-you-can-eat music. Someone from a ratings firm confirmed that view: “They barely show up on the radar,” he told me.

But the founder of the firm Joe Mohen was in very confident mood when he came on the phone, forecasting that SpiralFrog will be second only to iTunes in the United States by the end of the year. The company says that it is visitor numbers that really matter (they are getting a million or so a month) because even if they don’t download a thing, they get to see the adverts and earn SpiralFrog some cash every time they click on them.

But that won’t cheer anyone up in the music business. The record labels and the artists get paid (and presumably it’s a tiny amount) when someone plays a track – SpiralFrog can detect how many times you’ve done that on your MP3 player (iPods not supported, by the way). I would be surprised if the money flowing back to the industry was even a fraction of that generated by iTunes – and the record labels aren’t that happy about Apple’s terms – so right now SpiralFrog doesn’t look like the answer to the industry’s prayers.

And new figures from the global music trade body, the IFPI, show just how much it needs a saviour. In its digital music report it trumpets a 40% growth in digital music sales to $2.8 billion in 2007 – but that’s a real slowdown after previous years saw sales double. What’s more, the IFPI reckons the overall music market fell another 10% last year. So the $800 million extra digital sales are on one side of the scale – with a $2.9 billion fall in shop sales on the other.

What the IFPI also ruefully points out is that there are twenty illegal downloads for every one that’s paid for. This is where SpiralFrog claims it can make a difference. Joe Mohen says he isn’t taking on Apple: “Our competition is piracy.” He describes the “can’t pay, won’t pay generation” of 15 to 25-year-olds. “For them, content has always been free.” He believes they will be willing to trade some of their time looking at adverts if they can get free music in return.

So now there are so many ways of getting hold of digital music. You can pay per track to download, you can pay a subscription, you can sign up to one of the mobile music services, you can stream it for free (Last.fm launched its free service this week) or you can download it for nothing. Or of course you can grab it for nothing using file-sharing sites. Right now, it’s only the last option which is capturing the imagination of music fans.

Darren Waters

Tech section highlights

  • Darren Waters
  • 25 Jan 08, 09:48 GMT

Here's a round-up of some of the pieces posted to the Technology section this week, just in case you missed them:

From our regular columnists:

Michael Geist took a look at the growing debate around copyright protection and privacy implications.

Bill Thompson celebrated wireless freedom thanks to his laptop and 3G card.

In the news:

UK online music service and social network Last FM launched a streaming service for users, with deals with most of the big labels. The downside? You can only ever listen to a track three times.

A British firm believes it has the solution to our next-generation broadband needs. H2O will be rolling out fibre optic cable connections to people's homes via the sewers, offering speeds of 100Mbps. But unless you live in Bournemouth, Northampton or Dundee, you might have to wait a while.

Social networking sites have gone from fad to mainstream in a short space of time. But what happens when you want to leave? One British student found leaving MySpace harder than he thought...

Features:

If you've just joined the HD revolution and spent thousands of a TV you might not want to hear about the post-HD age. This week Japanese broadcaster NHK visited the BBC to talk about Super Hi Vision. And no, your current TV is almost certainly not good enough for the new technology.

And in the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has unveiled unmanned planes which can be used to fly into disaster zones, such as hurricanes, to help gather data.

Blog:

Who are the most influential people in technology over the last 150 years? That question certainly provoked a debate.

Apple released its most recent financials and Rory ran over some of the detail.

And what were the forgotten concepts of technology. Many of you had some great suggestions.

Rory Cellan-Jones

MySpace and BBC - friend or foe?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 24 Jan 08, 07:04 GMT

Now here's an interesting thing. On the very day we - in BBC News - are running a rather negative story about MySpace and just how difficult it can be to delete your profile, our colleagues at BBC Worldwide have signed a major deal with the biggest social networking site. A good way of proving a) how impartial we are and b) how no two parts of the BBC know what each other is up to.

The deal with MySpace TV is not the first to see BBC content made available for free on outside websites - there are a number of BBC Youtube channels and there's a deal to show programmes on Bebo.

But as far as I can tell, this is the first time the Beeb has allowed users complete freedom to use its content and embed it in their own sites. For instance, I've just gone and copied the code of this Top Gear clip from the BBC worldwide site on MySpace and pasted it right here:
Top Gear: Killing a Toyota

Add to My Profile | More Videos

What this means is that for the first time BBC content will be able to spread virally (and legally) around the internet. Of course, plenty of people have been posting all sorts of clips without permission all over Youtube and other sites - but now this can happen with Auntie's blessing. The aim is obviously to reach young social networkers who spend very little time sitting in front of the television but countless hours online - and then get them to spread the word about our fabulous content. Let's see if it works.

Mind you, the deal with MySpace does not include any news content, which means I can't embed here my report on how difficult it can be to leave the site. But my bosses promise me that feature will be coming soon to our very own BBC news site.

Darren Waters

Who's in, out and on the list...

  • Darren Waters
  • 23 Jan 08, 13:44 GMT

Last night I participated in an Intel event to pick the 45 most influential people in technology over the last 150 years.

Gathered to draw up the names were journalists from the BBC, PC Pro, The Inquirer, and Zdnet among others.

I can't give you the final list yet - as the scores are still being collated - but I can tell you a little bit about the process.

We were given a shortlist of 69 people and we had to score each person from one to 10 across five categories - Innovation, Ground-breaking technology, Industry success, Impact on society and Influence.

The first thing we did was automatically dump a number of short-listed names that we felt had no right to be on the list to begin with - so I'm afraid Richard Branson and Charles Dunstone were quickly excised.

There were also a lot of obvious absentees on the short-list - in part because Intel decided that the list be confined to ICT figures. So there was no Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine, for example.

I lobbied for two people I wanted, at the very least, to be up for discussion - Don Estridge, who led development of the IBM PC and Gordon Gould, inventor of the laser.

I'm pleased to say I managed to get both on the list.

The voting was a bit raucous - and we all gave individual scores after much baiting, shouting, laughing and disagreement.

Bill Gates didn't seem to be too popular with a few in the room - one hack, who shall remain nameless, felt Bill Gates' impact on society was negligible. Really?

Hopefully, I'll have the final 45 tomorrow and will post it on the blog for discussion. The journalists' individual scores, I'm told, will not be published...

Rory Cellan-Jones

Apple - it's about iMacs not iPhones

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 23 Jan 08, 08:33 GMT

In London's Apple store on a damp January evening the tills were besieged by customers buying not just iPods but shiny new iMacs. It's what the economics world calls "anecdotal evidence" and should be taken with a pinch of salt - but Apple's latest financial results do show its renewed strength as a computer maker.

Apple logoWall Street marked the shares down sharply - more evidence of the way the mood around technology stocks has darkened - but that was because of Apple's typically cautious guidance on future earnings, not because of a performance in the last quarter which was difficult to fault.

Apple shipped 2.3 million Macs in the last quarter - up 44% on a year ago. This in the year that the company changed its name from Apple Computer to Apple Inc to reinforce the message about its new role as a music, video and telecoms giant. True, iPod sales were up (but only 5% on the year) and it is the aura that the device has created which has helped drive people back to the Mac. Now the trick is to keep them there.

I'm still not convinced that, in business terms, the iPhone is more than a brilliant way of promoting the Apple brand. Sales of 2.3 million in the quarter keep it on track for Steve Jobs' very modest target of 10 million (about 1% of world shipments) by the end of 2008. But sales in Europe (no breakdown last night) appear to be slowing, and the deal to bring the iPhone to China is on hold.

So Apple looks like a niche player in telecoms, is struggling to make a big impact in video and can't really expect to be bigger in music than it already is. So it's back to the Mac - but with millions now apparently ready to pay a premium price for an Apple computer in preference to a Windows machine, that is not a bad place to be.

Now how about a new name. Apple Computers, anyone?

Rory Cellan-Jones

Only connect....

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 22 Jan 08, 17:00 GMT

I’m writing this on a train between Nottingham and London – but getting it online from here is going to be too much of a struggle. I set off this morning on a quest to try and be connected wherever I went – and found it harder than you might imagine in 21st Century always - on Britain.

I left home – and my 2mb broadband connection – armed with a laptop, a Blackberry and an iPhone, confident that I had every base covered.

St Pancras station.jpgOn the tube, I was obviously offline – but surely at the sparkling new St Pancras International station, wi-fi would be everywhere? But the fact that the ticket office was closed because of a “software problem” didn’t bode well. My iPhone detected something called “Free Public wi-fi” but didn’t seem to like the look of it, so I hopped on the Nottingham train in search of something better.

A few train services now have on-board wi-fi – this wasn’t one of them – and the EDGE network which serves the iPhone seems to evaporate just north of Watford. No problem – I’ve got a USB modem giving my laptop a 3g mobile broadband connection. I plugged it in and got the rather discouraging message “the selected communications device does not exist.”

Error messageWhen, after a certain amount of cursing and fiddling, I eventually got the laptop online it was hardly worth the bother. It took about three minutes to load the BBC homepage, and then choked and gave up. Having enviously watched all those businessmen with similar devices furiously tapping away on trains, I’m now convinced they are just playing Tetris.

My iPhone was still refusing to go online and meet my desire to check what was happening on world stock markets, but my Blackberry, with its modest GPRS connection was at least delivering me emails about the dramas on the markets.

 Nottingham Trent UniversityMy destination was the Computing and Informatics Building at Nottingham Trent University – surely here of all places I would be able to get online at lightning speed? Not a chance. Once inside, neither my laptop nor my iPhone could spot a trace of wi-fi. Apparently there is a network right through the building and across the campus – but you cannot even detect it unless you are a bona fide student who has signed up to the university’s conditions of service.

Nottingham Trent University student bar Frustrated beyond measure, I headed for the student union bar – and suddenly found myself in wi-fi heaven. My phone locked on to a wi-fi hotspot operated by The Cloud, which provides free access for iPhone customers (once they’ve signed up to O2’s hefty monthly subscription). For a few brief minutes, I emailed, sent photos, and learned more than I needed to know about the nervous breakdown unfolding on the stock exchange.

Then it was back on the train and into the internet dead-zone again. All day, my most effective communication device had been the one which relies on the slowest network, my Blackberry. Which makes you wonder when the billions being invested in HSDPA, wi-fi, and eventually Wimax networks are finally going to make an impact on the way we connect.

Darren Waters

Forgotten concepts

  • Darren Waters
  • 22 Jan 08, 09:33 GMT

I was searching for a photograph in the BBC's online stills library yesterday when I accidentally stumbled across photographs of the Psion Ace.

Psion AceThis was a concept model from 2001, built to show the potential of 3G technology and future PDA designs. Sadly, the Ace never saw the light of day because in the same year Psion dropped out of the PDA business due to pressure from competitors.

But for a numbers of years this British company was the top dog in the emerging PDA market - creating the Psion Organiser, developing the basis of the Symbian operating system and helping pave the way for mobile markets such as GPS and portable media players.

There's a really interesting article in The Register's archives by Andrew Orlowski, which outlines the plans Psion had for its final machine, the Protea project.

But coming across the Psion Ace made me wonder about other concepts which never went from design to execution, and technologies which were built but never sold...

What about the original Sony/Nintendo console the companies made together before the PlayStation? Or the aptly-named Phantom console?

If you have information about such products, leave a comment and any links to photos and we'll do a round-up later in the week.

UPDATE:Ian Fogg at Jupiter Research (and formerly of Psion) has e-mailed me to point out that the Protea wasn't Psion's final consumer product. It was, in fact, the codename for the Psion Series 5.
He also throws light on the Ace. Apparently it was "the codename for a small, light, mass market handheld designed to compete with Palm".
He said it led to the Revo, and that the Ace drawings were never a serious project within Psion.
Thanks for the info Ian.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Tech heaven or hell?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 21 Jan 08, 14:18 GMT

In my very first post on this blog, way back on New Year’s Eve 2007, I wondered whether we were seeing another bubble in technology stocks and, if so, whether it might burst in 2008. Now I’m hearing two things at once – a lot of excited noise about a whole rash of start-ups, coupled with the sound of air escaping from that bubble.

So into my e-mail this morning drops a note about a company called Zlio, offering customers the chance to start their own online shops - “an interesting concept that's already taking off in France and the US, and is now coming to the UK".

It boasts backing from the venture capital firm that put money into Skype. So one reason to be cheerful - new web ventures are forming and finding VC backing.

Mark Zuckerberg with one of his Crunchies internet awardsAnother sign of the continuing buzz around web 2.0 businesses comes in the results of the Crunchies – the awards for start-ups sponsored by the leading technology blogs Techcrunch and Gigaom.

The predictable overall winner was Facebook - but the awards give a useful feel for what is exciting technology investors right now.

So Hulu - the latest in a whole raft of online video sharing sites, and another to promise “premium content” - is named best video start-up. Tesla Motors - whose environmentally friendly sports car is released later this year - is the best clean tech start-up.

Twitter - the mobile social network that many of us already find annoying rather than addictive - gets the best mobile start-up award. And the best international start-up is Netvibes - a personal web portal reinventing what so many of the big internet players tried and failed to achieve a decade ago and doing it much better.

But just as the blushing winners step forward and accept their Crunchies, the world’s stock markets are going into meltdown again.

The darker mood that infected many financial stocks in the second half of 2007 left technology shares virtually untouched - but in 2008 they have succumbed to the general gloom.

In late December, Google was somewhere around $700, and Apple was breaking through the $200 mark. Three weeks on, Google is back to $600, Apple to $160. And one of Britain’s top technology stocks ARM, maker of the chips that go into smart mobiles like the iPhone, has fallen more than 30% in two months, despite the absence of any bad news.

But why does this matter to the start-ups? Because the venture capitalists who back them have always got an eye on the exit, recouping their investment by selling up to stock market investors. Back in 1999, every bright young dot com was rushing to float, with the IPO exit door providing healthy piles of cash for them and their backers. But in 2000, that door closed, and very soon the supply of venture capital dried up.

Now the market has turned, it will get a lot harder to make that journey to IPO heaven. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook - and his backers at Microsoft - may never see that $15 billion valuation put on the infant business last autumn turned into hard cash. And the inventors of the next Hulu or Netvibes may find that 2008 is not the greatest year to do that elevator pitch for a venture capitalist.

Darren Waters

Who's who of technology

  • Darren Waters
  • 21 Jan 08, 10:52 GMT

Who are the 45 most important figures in technology over the last 100 years?

I ask because I'm going to be discussing that question tomorrow as part of an Intel event marking the roll-out of its 45-nanometre chips.

It's a big question and a lot of names spring to mind. Handily, Intel has sent participating journalists a suggested long-list, which is designed to help us choose our final 45. Bill Gates

The list has a lot of the usual suspects: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, William Hewlett and Dave Packard.

It also has some younger upstarts: Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder), Shawn Fanning (Napster creator), Philip Rosedale (Second Life) and Jonathan Ive (iPod, iMac designer).

But would you include Richard Branson, Charles Dunstone (Carphone Warehouse chief executive), Nolan Bushnell (founder of Atari) or Nikolas Zennstrom (founder of Skype)?

I'd love to hear your suggestions of who should or should not make the final list.

I'll come back with the list that was agreed on by Wednesday morning.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Tech Tools Aid Heathrow Hack

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 18 Jan 08, 21:52 GMT

I’ve been away from my normal beat for a couple of days, getting involved in coverage of the Heathrow crash landing. But reporting on this story has reminded me of how new technology has changed the lives of journalists. Ten years ago, we would not have had three tools that proved essential over recent days – Google, Youtube, and games software downloaded online.

Even just a decade ago, my first stop in examining the possible causes of this near disaster would have been the BBC library, home to volumes of Jane’s Aircraft and to dedicated researchers who would comb through countless dusty folders of little cuttings from newspapers in search of vital scraps of information. Next, I would have called our film library in search of archive pictures, then waited for a stack of tapes, sometimes in old formats which needed converting, to arrive on a van..

But nowadays I turn to Google. A quick look at my web history shows I made around 70 searches over the last two days. The first, an hour or so after the crash landing, was for “instrument landing system” (Wikipedia gave me a useful summary) but soon the theories moved on and I was typing “777 power incidents” into the search box.

My very first search, though, was on Youtube – and it quickly turned up something very useful. A passenger on a BA 777 flight to Heathrow last year had posted his footage filmed out of the window as it made a safe landing, passing over the exact spot where Thursday’s flight fell short. We used those pictures on the Six O Clock News – and other broadcasters had the same idea, finding Youtube footage of bird strikes to illustrate one possible cause of the crash landing.

Graphics artists are invaluable on these occasions and Google Earth provided them with useful images of the approach to Heathrow. But to get a real feel for the view from the cockpit, I despatched a producer to go and buy a Flight Simulator PC game. Then we realised that the small aircraft that comes with the game wouldn’t do the trick, so we went online to download a Boeing 777 add-on.

When we invited a retired pilot into our edit suite to describe what happens when you find yourself without power at 600 feet, we expected him to be scornful of our game footage. Quite the opposite – he said it was identical to the experience provided by the simulator where he learned to fly a 777 at Heathrow ten years ago. So a £25 piece of software is now performing the same task as a machine that cost a six-figure sum to build – another example of the advance of computing power.

Mind you, as the grateful passengers of the BA flight will attest, technology has its limitations. When something went terribly wrong with the systems on one of the world’s most advanced passenger aircraft, it was human qualities – the skill and nerve of the crew – which saw them safely onto the ground.

Darren Waters

Seesmic killed the YouTube star?

  • Darren Waters
  • 18 Jan 08, 11:01 GMT

It's not often you are presented with a vision of the future of online video in a pub in London.
Loic LeMeur

But that's exactly what I was shown last night by celebrated French blogger, well-connected entrepreneur and Seesmic founder Loic LeMeur.

He believes that the future of online video is not YouTube or even live video, he thinks it is video conversations among a community.

His Seesmic project is currently in Alpha - very early release - but already he has built up a strong, and loyal, community of so-called Seesmic-ers.

Here's an example of a video he made while we chatted.

Within minutes of posting the video to Seesmic, he had replies from the community all around the world, including from members sat around the corner in the same bar.

"YouTube is not a conversation," explained LeMeur. "As one Seesmic-er said to me, 'YouTube is about the videos, Seesmic is about the people in the videos'."

Users can record videos via webcams and upload directly to Seesmic, or record using YouTube and post from that site.

The company is also working on a mobile phone version of Seesmic.

He says Seesmic is more intimate because video allows users to see each other for who they are.

Users reply to each others' replies, creating an almost infinite threaded conversation around different topics.

Seesmic has an arrangement with micro-blogging site Twitter so that as soon as a new reply is posted, it is also posted on a user's Twitter page.

It's a great example of how two start-up companies are leveraging each others' success to strengthen their own platform's offering.

The death of Benazir Bhutto and the recent crash-landing of the British Airways plane at Heathrow had provoked much video chattering, says LeMeur.

"People are fed up of seeing the same footage on the mainstream networks. With Seesmic they can go in a different direction," he explains.

For LeMeur, Seesmic is not just a business and a social space, it's also where he has done business.

"Half of my development team I met on Seesmic," he explains.

He has $6m in funding and says he is in no hurry to start monetising the project. His backers include big names such as Skype founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and people like Ron Conway, one of the original investors in Google.

LeMeur hopes that Seesmic will become THE platform for video conversations. There is an API that people can use to build on top of, in much the way Facebook is positioning itself as the lingua franca of social networking.

He admits that the thought of YouTube wading into the video conversation space is a risk.

"That's the challenge. That's the excitement of being small," he says.

LeMeur is due to meet YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley soon after he requested one of the sought-after invites to take part in the Seesmic trial.

But he says if YouTube came knocking, Seesmic would not be for sale.

LeMeur will be in Davos at the World Economic Forum next week. He is working with CNN who will use Seesmic-ers replies to questions posed by LeMeur on the channel as an experiment.

It will be a very high-profile public showing of Seesmic.

And something that is bound to keep investors happy.

Darren Waters

Web 2.0 for all?

  • Darren Waters
  • 17 Jan 08, 16:43 GMT

Web 2.0 may have become old hat/ a cliche/ superseded depending on your point of view. But there is a lot of work still to be done in this area as we move from a rather static web experience to one that is richer and more interactive.

We may all think that that now sites such as Flickr and even the BBC homepage are part of our daily online lives that all the issues around Web 2.0 have been solved.

Far from it.

I've just been at a very interesting talk given by Rod Smith and David Boloker, from IBM's Emerging Tech labs, to BBC development staff and they made it very clear that a lot of work around standards for Web 2.0 work has yet to properly started, let alone finished.

Why does this matter?

Well, we live in a cut and paste digital world. For example - we all take it for granted that a piece of text that you copy in one web page, for example, can be pasted into a Word document, or a text-entry box on a website.

But in the Web 2.0 world it is not so simple. Standards are needed so that data from one website can be moved into another, added to a third site and then spat out the other end. It is what makes the Web 2.0 world so exciting.

Some of this work has happened. Things like RSS feeds, XML etc have made it simpler for computers to share complicated bits of data. But it hasn't gone far enough and it's not just data.

The Web 2.0 world needs to work across browsers, across mobile phones, across emerging connected devices like televisions, set-top boxes, gadgets like the Chumby (See picture)
Chumby

For example - widgets have been the poster-boy for the Web 2.0 world. These mini-programs delivering news or weather, traffic details or cinema times can be used on your Google homepage, or your Vista desktop, your Mac and your personalised Yahoo page.

But a widget for Dashboard on my Mac won't work on my Google homepage and vice versa. Why not? Because we haven't got standards in the Web 2.0 world for this sort of thing.

IBM, along with other companies, is working on solutions that make this a lot easier. The company is also working on standards to make the Web 2.0 accessible for all.

There are standards that websites should adhere to, for example, to ensure that someone who is visually impaired can use a site.

But these standards only apply to the Web 1.0 world. What happens if someone is visually impaired and is using a hip Web 2.0 site? Will they get text information about the pop-up boxes, or drag and drop features inside the page?

Possibly not. And it's hard to web developers to know what they should implement in terms of technologies to support people with disabilities.

That's where standards come in. And IBM is working with the gatekeepers of web standards, the W3C, to ensure that Web 2.0 is for all.

So when anyone starts throwing around the term Web 3.0, remember that Web 2.0 is a long way from being a fundamental part of our daily web experience.

Darren Waters

One day for One Laptop doc

  • Darren Waters
  • 17 Jan 08, 08:42 GMT

Just a note to say that Rory Cellan Jones' 30-minute documentary on the One Laptop Per Child project in Nigeria can be viewed for just one more day on the BBC iPlayer. 44256369_boy_203.jpg

You can watch it here.

It's a great watch - and also looks at Intel's Classmate project, being run in a near-by school. It wasn't intentional - but the disparity between the OLPC scheme and school and the Intel project looks very ironic in the light of the recent divorce between the charity and company.

Sadly, the iPlayer is only available to people in the UK at present.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Facebook, Scrabulous, and the End of Innocence

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 16 Jan 08, 13:35 GMT

Oh no. I’d finally managed to kick the Scrabulous habit – at one stage I had eight games going simultaneously – when news came through that the Facebook application was under threat from the makers of Scrabble. After a couple of months in rehab, I had to start another game – just so that we could get some television pictures, you understand.

But the bust-up over a game which is currently enjoyed daily by nearly 600,000 users is not just of interest to the addicts. It tells us something about what happens when bright young internet brands start to grow up.

Remember when Youtube was young, all those years ago? It started life by maintaining that it was merely a playground for the video activities of its users – so if a teenager posted a happy-slapping video from a mobile phone or grabbed the latest episode of Lost and puts it up for friends to enjoy, that was not their fault. Then Google bought Youtube for an outlandish sum, and both regulators and litigators realised that here was a business worthy of litigation and regulation.

So last May Facebook threw open its doors to outside developers. Immediately, it entered a new golden age where all the work of making the network more compelling would be done by keen young kids from Bangalore to Berkeley –without payment, and with no comeback if they made a mess on the carpet.

It hasn’t quite worked out like that. For one thing, a zillion messy and annoying applications have spread like bindweed across Facebook, making it a much less attractive place to hang out. For another, those who are unhappy about any aspect of those applications are more likely to target what is now a $15 billion company (on paper, at least) rather than the developers.

ScrabulousSo the letters from Mattel and Hasbro accusing Scrabulous of stealing their intellectual property have winged their way to Facebook HQ in Palo Alto, rather than to Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, the two brothers who designed it. Mind you, they are rumoured to be making $25,000 a month from selling advertising on Scrabulous, so they too will be in the sights of Scrabble’s two owners. But my point is that, as Google has already found, the early dreams of being a happy-clappy, open-source, “do no evil” kind of business soon fade when the realisation dawns that you are worth suing.

Incidentally, some friends have suggested that the demise of Scrabulous (if this is not just a clever tactic to buy up the application) is what will finally see them departing Facebook. “The end is nigh!” was a message from one. But writing this post has reminded me of its usefulness. I spoke to several Facebook friends who are developing applications, and got a message through to Rajat Agarwalla, receiving this speedy reply:

Hi Rory,
At the moment we would not be able to talk to you. However, we'll be in touch with you very soon! :)
Sorry!
Rajat

Oh well, in the meantime, back to more serious matters. Can anyone think of a seven letter word involving the letters N,O,Y C, E, I and W?

Darren Waters

One More Thing....

  • Darren Waters
  • 16 Jan 08, 08:40 GMT

Too much coverage of the Apple announcements on the BBC News website? Well, if you think so, you'll be glad to hear that this will be the last of it for a while....

Now that the Steve Jobs reality distortion field has melted away, what to make of Apple’s announcement? My colleague Rory has done a very good job of assessing the immediate impact of the speech, but what about the nitty gritty?

The headline grabber of the event was the world’s thinnest laptop, but the biggest announcement was almost certainly the online film rentals.

MacBook AirBut let’s start with the MacBook Air. Its looks will certainly win over many an admirer but ultra-thin laptop PC users will probably be shrugging their shoulders. Sony's TZ Series and the Asus Eee all offer similar features and increased mobility.

At $1,799 the machine is pitched firmly between Apple’s Macbook Pro and Macbook users.

The question is will Macbook customers pay the extra $300 to gain the increased mobility, and will MacBook Pro users sacrifice grunt for the convenience, all for a saving of only $200.

And what does the laptop actually offer in terms of ultra mobility? Yes it is incredibly thin and at three pounds is 40% lighter than the MacBook.

It’s also the most powerful machine in its class – but has Apple pushed any boundaries in terms of mobility?

It may come with 802.11n wi-fi on board but you are going to need to plug in a USB dongle if you want too go wireless via a cellular network. Wimax would have been a bold, if perhaps premature, step.

The best thing that can be said about it – and one that should not be underestimated – is that the Air is a powerful Mac in the most portable form factor ever.

One thing to add: How does Apple justify charging $999 for having the optional solid state drive instead of a hard disk?

So on to the online movie rentals announcement…

Apple has certainly shaken the tree with its line-up of movie studios and revamp of the Apple TV.

European iTunes users can certainly feel rightly aggrieved that once again they are something of an afterthought in Apple’s eyes.

US customers are right now enjoying high definition films while in the UK a dated episode of Lost or South Park is the best we can expect.

The sheer amount of content available in the US will certainly boost Apple’s credentials as a serious player in the content delivery business.

And the revamp to the Apple TV corrects many of the fundamental flaws in the device that were obvious from the outset.

At a stroke the box is a strong contender to take the central place in your digital living room. But it does not go far enough.

Apple has seen sense and recognised that the box needs to be cut free from the umbilical cord tethering it to the computer while at the same needing the flexibility to take advantage of the Mac or PCs ubiquity.

But the box remains a glorified jukebox. Adding the ability to stream photos from a service like Flickr hints that the boffins realise people want to connect their TV not just to download services approved by Apple, but to other high quality web services.

So why do they have to wait for Apple to drip feed functionality? Opening up the box to third party developers could have turned the Apple TV into a truly multimedia device?

And one point on DRM. Apple has always been criticised for making the iTunes/computer/iPod axis a closed shop but customers have always been free to rip CDs and to reap the benefits of a DRM-free world as well as enjoy the offerings from Apple.

But in the video space Apple’s TV is completely a closed shop – the box can only deal with file formats that Apple approves of.

Yes it can play your home movies, some sanctioned movie trailers and the bought/rented content – but that’s it.

If Apple’s dominance in the music market was translated to the video market, then consumers would be tied into a very narrow range of products.

So what else struck me from the keynote?

The announcements of updates for the iPhone and iPod touch will delight and dismay users depending on which device they have.

To offer the new applications to iPhone users for free, but to charge iPod touch owners is both baffling and a little insulting.

It smacks of Apple once again trying to make an unnecessary distinction between iPhone and iPod touch.

And finally, the Time Capsule announcement felt to me like a solution to a problem Apple themselves had created.

Before the most recent operating system update Leopard was released there was talk of users being able to back up their hard drives over a wireless network using the application Time Machine, Apple’s Airport Extreme router and a hard drive plugged into it.

But when Leopard was released, there was no mention of the feature.

Now we know why. Apple wants us to buy its Time Capsule device, which combines am Airport Extreme with an in-built hard drive.

Going back to the original plan would be far more beneficial to Apple users.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Did Steve Jobs deliver?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 15 Jan 08, 18:59 GMT

We had a big row - or rather a reasoned debate - in our morning editorial meeting about whether Apple deserves quite as much coverage as it gets. A leading economics journalist pointed out that the Ford Focus is a much bigger seller than the iPhone - but gets much less coverage. I felt the Focus was just a car – while the iPhone heralded major change in a whole industry

But we all agreed that Steve Jobs would have to come up with something pretty special to justify news of his keynote spreading from our web journalism to mainstream TV and radio bulletins.

So Darren and I trooped into the venue where journalists from across Europe were watching the relay from San Francisco and assessed each Jobs announcement for real news value as it happened.

First new product is Time Capsule – a wireless storage device – designed to be a companion to Time Machine, the Leopard feature which allows painless back-up of your data. Nice but not newsworthy.
So news value: 2/10

Then there is iPhone news - 4 million sold in 90 days. Pretty good, and makes the target of 10m sales by end of 2008 look very achievable. A few software updates for the phone, including the ability to locate yourself in Google maps and customise your home screen. And, at last, you’ll be able to send an SMS to more than one person at a time. Ipod Touch will also get new features, including Mail – but existing users will have to pay for upgrade. Again, cute stuff for existing users, but not a breakthrough for anyone else.
News value: 3/10


Now the first big one – an iTunes announcement. Jobs admits he’s disappointed with sales of movies, and announces a deal with all the major studios to rent movies online- to watch on your computer, your iPod or your TV. To make this easier, there’s a new version of the rather limited set-top box Apple TV, though it still lacks the browser which would make it a more complete IPTV device. This is important because it opens a new front in Apple’s battle to be as big in digital video as it is in music. The rentals start now in the US, later this year elsewhere.
News value: 7/10.

Now we finally get to hear what is behind the keynote slogan “there’s something in the air”. “Today we’re introducing a third kind of notebook – the MacBook Air.”
The slimmest portable computer you can imagine, produced out of an envelope by Steve Jobs to a chorus of oohs and aahs. He shows off the multi-touch. Well, yes, this is a beautiful piece of kit and a masterpiece of miniature engineering – and doubtless devoted Macheads will be storming the Apple stores. But is it hot news that a computer company has introduced a new and pretty expensive computer – even if it is thinner than any other? Not really.
News Value: 6/10

But is there going to be “just one more thing? No. And that leaves us just ever so slightly underwhelmed. A solid range of new products - but this was not an iPhone year.

Maybe it’s time to look at that Ford Focus…

Darren Waters

Awaiting Apple

  • Darren Waters
  • 15 Jan 08, 15:59 GMT

The BBC hasn't got the budget to send anyone to San Francisco - and we don't accept free flights - so we're covering the keynote from London.

Luckily, the entire event is being beamed to journalists at TV Centre, so I only have to walk a few yards to attend.

We'll be rounding-up the key news on the BBC News website.

But if you really have to know the very second Steve Jobs utters anything newsworthy, you can't go far wrong visiting The Unofficial Apple Weblog's live updates or Engadget's always entertaining live blogging.

See you on the other side.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Facebook - buy or sell?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 15 Jan 08, 12:42 GMT

Darren’s entry about those impressive social networking numbers got me thinking about my own relationship with Facebook – and what that said about its prospects. It’s been pretty intense, indeed obsessive according to some friends and relatives, but I have noticed in recent weeks that annoying applications (vampires, virtual fish, hugs – just leave me alone) and worries about privacy are dulling my enthusiasm and that of some friends. Perhaps it’s not for the more mature networker after all – but I’m reluctant to head for the SagaZone and leave Facebook to its core audience of twenty-somethings.

Mind you, its twenty-something founder Mark Zuckerberg is betting an awful lot on the growth continuing. This week he insisted there would be no IPO in 2008. Mark – take some advice from someone who watched the last dot com bubble inflate and then burst. Sell up now – you’re never going to beat that $15 billion valuation which Microsoft put on the business when it bought a small stake last autumn.

I explored some of these issues in a report for Radio 4’s Today programme. Unfortunately it was broadcast at 0623 on New Year’s Day, so you might just have missed Toby Young (author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) revealing just how superficial friendship can be on Facebook. Click here to listen again.

Darren Waters

The value of social networks

  • Darren Waters
  • 15 Jan 08, 11:02 GMT

Think social networks are a waste of time? Think again.

According to a report released today by market research firm Experian, social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace now account for one in every five net page impressions in the UK.

Facebook logoThat's a lot of activity. I had begun to find my enthusiasm for Facebook waning somewhat, but that might just be because I'm too old.

The report also says that younger users are starting to use social networks to communicate rather than using e-mail.

It states: The top 25 social networks accounted for 5.21% of all UK Internet visits in November 2007, compared to 4.92% for e-mail services, which include Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and Google Mail.

Experian is predicting the rise of the "super advocate", a person who has a huge online following and influences
others through their actions and opinions.

Does that sound like you? You may be interested to know that Experian believes companies will quickly need to identify these super advocates and "use everything at their disposal to keep these key influencers on side".

Hmmm. Does that sound like bribery to you?

You can read more here.


Rory Cellan-Jones

Bill v Brussels (Round Two)

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 14 Jan 08, 18:36 GMT

You thought Microsoft’s long war with competition regulators was over? Wrong! Brussels is marching into battle with Bill Gates’ business again, having won a stunning victory last September over two issues – the way it bundles software like Windows Media Player with the operating system, and interoperability with rival products.

The EU is taking those same two issues as the basis of a new investigation into Office, Outlook, and Internet Explorer, following complaints from Opera (the Norwegian web browser) and the European Committee for Interoperable Systems.

And Microsoft’s opponents aren’t underplaying what’s at stake. “It’s a case which might transform the whole software industry,” was how Thomas Vinje, a lawyer for ECIS , described it to me. ECIS is not just a bunch of bearded Scandinavian open-source dudes – its members include Nokia, Adobe, Sun and Real Networks, and they are confident that the EU can make the charges stick.

What’s the issue? The old one about Microsoft’s dominance crowding out rivals in both new and old areas of software. So you keep using Outlook because everyone else does – and if you try to use open-source software to schedule a meeting with a colleague whose calendar is on Outlook, it just won’t work.

This is also a battle over Microsoft’s desire to promote its Office Open XML file format for documents. Bill Gates and his colleagues see this as an open standard which will promote that very interoperability which the EU has been demanding – but ECIS describes it as “crafty game-playing”, designed to appear collaborative while shutting out rivals from the open-source movement.

Microsoft has released a bland statement promising to cooperate fully with the investigation. When I reached a senior executive who’s had a lengthy involvement with the regulatory battle he sounded weary.

“We’ve been in this for the past nine years,” he said. “We’d rather just focus on making good software.”

The trouble is, Microsoft’s rivals believe that this “good software" is designed to shore up its monopoly at a time when open-source operators are offering products that can be downloaded from the internet, often for nothing.

Time was when big corporations – especially American ones – laughed off the EU regulators as a minor irritant.

With Google, Apple and Microsoft all under the microscope in Brussels, they’re not laughing now.

Darren Waters

Is the future mobile?

  • Darren Waters
  • 14 Jan 08, 16:00 GMT

This may be a bit incestuous, but colleagues over at the BBC Internet blog are looking for some big new ideas about the future of mobiles.

Specifically, they want to know:

* Do we need to produce different content for mobile - or is it just the same stuff reformatted for your device? Do you want stories to be shorter on a mobile or the same as the web?
* Are you interested in different stories on the move - or would you want BBC News or Sport to be consistent across our different outlets?
* What about audio and video? More and more phones are capable of playing this. Is this important to you on a handheld or a distraction? Does your answer change if you don’t have to pay?
* Would you ever watch live TV on a mobile or handheld?

Here's your chance to shape how BBC News works.
Don't say we never ask.....!

Rory Cellan-Jones

The iPhone - Great at Home, Lousy Abroad

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 13 Jan 08, 16:18 GMT

‘”Do you know why this industry keeps failing to understand what consumers want?”, a mobile phone company executive asked me recently. ”Because none of us in the business pays our own phone bills.” The same could be said for many of the journalists who review the latest handsets – so I tried an experiment. I bought Apple’s iPhone, for a hefty £269, and spent the last four weeks playing with it – and paying for it – at home, and abroad.

Here are my thoughts:

Rory Cellan-Jones and iPhoneFirst, the upside. As a mobile internet device it is simply the best I’ve ever tried, especially when connected to a wi-fi network. This morning I googled chart hits from the 70s, watched a few on YouTube, then downloaded tracks from iTunes as I lay in bed compiling a CD for a forthcoming party. And it was all very fast.

Special sites designed for iPhone make it easy to use, such as Facebook, Twitter or – my personal favourite – access to BBC podcasts on the move.

Away from wi-fi, it can be a bit of a struggle – the EDGE network is rather patchy even in London – but checking news feeds is still a lot easier than on 3g phones I’ve used.

While my £35 per month tariff only offers 200 minutes of calls, it does allow me unlimited data, and I chewed my way through a hefty 72 MB in just three weeks. But then I headed to the United States – and my problems started.

I had already read horror stories about the price of using an iPhone abroad – the editor of Wired took his to China and got a bill for $2,100 for checking his email. So I turned off data roaming – and immediately found that what I was left with was a not very smart phone.

Without the internet, you can just call and text - and these are the phone’s weakest areas. Just answering calls – you have to slide a finger across the screen – is a challenge, and I’ve not yet mastered one-thumb texting on the touchscreen. The camera is okay – for 2 megapixels – but make sure your subject is well lit and not moving. And I'm beginning to find video capture essential on a phone.

Things might have been better if there had been more – and cheaper – wi-fi in Las Vegas. The only time I managed to get online was while listening to a speech in the Las Vegas Hilton theatre, and I was soon surfing and sending pictures home.

I did turn on data roaming once – to use Google Maps to find a shop in the search for a present for my wife. I then worked out that the 300k of data involved in one search had cost me £2. Still, when you’re spending £10 on a tee-shirt, what’s another £2?

Back home, I found that just six days of calls had cost me £80, on top of my £35 monthly payment. On a couple of occasions I had tried using a Voip service offering cheap calls – but of course that involves going online and racking up extra data charges.

So what do I want to hear about iPhone from Steve Jobs in his Macworld keynote on Tuesday? Yes, I’d like a better camera, video capture, 3g, and one button to press to answer calls. But most of all I’d like a cheaper way of using my iPhone abroad. Given the way this global industry works to punish consumers who stray outside their own borders, I’d imagine that’s highly unlikely/

UPDATE:
Clearly, my appetite for web browsing on the iPhone is shared by others. According to this New York Times story the iPhone is already one of the most popular devices on which to browse the web while mobile.

Rory Cellan-Jones

(Very) Amateur Video

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 13 Jan 08, 14:25 GMT

We're thinking of doing a bit of home-made video on this blog - and this is my first try. It's a look behind the scenes at the BBC operation at CES in Las Vegas last week, all shot on a mobile phone and edited using a free package on my laptop.

And I think the wobbly vision and dodgy sound edits provide incontrovertible evidence that a professional shoot/edit (like Steve Adrain, seen in the video) is still indispensable.

But it gives a bit of a flavour of what it's like to cover the world's biggest consumer electronics trade show.

Let me know what you think.

Darren Waters

Apple of all eyes?

  • Darren Waters
  • 13 Jan 08, 09:33 GMT

Another year, another Macworld, and all eyes will be on the Moscone Center, in San Francisco, for Steve Jobs' keynote speech on Tuesday.

And the question everyone is wondering is: what surprises does Jobs have in store?

As always the rumour mill is in overdrive, so let's look at some of the more potent:

A 3G iPhone

The iPhone's lack of 3G has been the most obvious problem in need of remedy. But I would be very surprised to see a hardware upgrade for the iPhone, especially as the software development kit for the phone has yet to be released officially.
A boost to the flash storage of the iPhone is not out of the question - but I'm guessing it will all be about the software and not the hardware of the phone. Expect demonstrations of some very cool new applications.


An ultra-lightweight Macbook Pro

There have been lots of reports of Apple releasing a high-end Macbook Pro with flash storage and no optical drive. If true, this could pitch Apple into the sub-notebook category, possibly a 12-inch machine with a solid state hard drive.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this. Apple's skill has always been in knowing when to enter a market and while other firms have been doing the real innovation in this area - see the Asus Eee PC at the cheap end or Sony's Vaio TZ series at the expensive end - this could be the moment for the firm to take the plunge.

There have also been reports of the Macbook Pro range getting Wimax on board. Intel is certainly pushing Wimax very hard so it would not be a huge surprise but my instincts tell me it's still a little premature.

New iPods

It's almost certainly too early for a new iPod but a boost to the flash storage in the iPod Touch would certainly be welcomed.

Apple TV movie rentals

There has been a lot of talk about iTunes getting movie rentals and with Apple's TV system languishing as a forgotten product this could be the boost it needs.

You only have to walk into an Apple store to see how the product has been relegated. Typically, there is a single Apple TV device tucked away in the corner, with nobody using it.

It would also make sense for the device to be opened up to third-party developers. The Apple TV is really a computer and if Apple themselves can't spare the time to develop new applications for it, then they should let the community do it.

There is a real movement towards uniting the TV with the web - see Dave Winer's Flickr Fan - and the Apple TV could be that device to bridge the gap.

With Microsoft and Sony constantly improving the Xbox 360 and PS3 through software updates, the Apple TV is becoming neither media centre device nor internet-enabled hub. It needs some attention - and quickly.

So these are my thoughts. I'd welcome yours.

Here too are the thoughts of Gizmodo, Read/Write web and the always readable John Siracusa of Ars Technica.


Darren Waters

In praise of...

  • Darren Waters
  • 10 Jan 08, 22:30 GMT

I'm inaugurating a new series on the blog praising aspects of technology that makes our lives much simpler.

And the first entry on the hall of fame is... free wireless hotspots.

I'm sat in McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and the wi-fi is free.
After spending a week at the world's largest technology show and barely finding one kilobit of free wi-fi, I am delighted indeed.

Thank you McCarran airport.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Las Vegas Highs and Lows

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 10 Jan 08, 15:41 GMT

A former boss used to send out an email at the end of each week to me and other members of his reporting team called “Highs and Lows”, painting a distinctly rosy picture of our operation. A “high “was that we had broken new stories on every possible BBC bulletin – a low was that some short-sighted editor had failed to recognise our genius. But let’s take a rather more objective view of the highs and lows that the Consumer Electronics show has given us this week.

HIGH

One high was finding products that actually made you stop and stare. Much has been written about OLED televisions, but you have to see how rich and deep the colours are and how thin the screen is before you get the appeal. Mind you, at $2500 for an 11-inch screen, this is just a toy for the rich right now. Other products that caught my eye were the Eye-Fi wireless card for sending photos directly from camera to computer, and a couple of very smart mini-laptops, or mobile internet devices, as they like to be called. Finally, the promise of life without wires seems to be coming true.

LOW

But 3-D TV anyone? I can’t believe many people will want to don those daft sunglasses to watch a dubious three-dimensional effect that certainly didn’t work for me. New 3-D televisions that don’t require glasses are here – but they apparently give you a headache. I’m also underwhelmed by home automation that still seems to be trying to solve problems that aren’t there. Do I really need my house to dim the lights when I get into bed?

HIGH

It was great to get extended interviews with Bill Gates – in more animated and relaxed mood than usual – and with Nicholas Negroponte, whose passion about the role that computers could play in ending poverty is inspiring.

LOW

But it’s depressing to read the comments of a few respondents to this blog who believe that any interview with Bill Gates is a crime against humanity. One man wrote:

“You were chosen for your job because you are the kind of chap the BBC can trust to choose the right questions for Mr Gates. If Mr Gates was unhappy, you would find your contract would not be renewed.”

I must whip that contract out of the dusty drawer and check for the clause forbidding tricky questions to Bill Gates but I certainly do not recall it.


HIGH

But let’s end on a high. For once, our own technology worked. I started my career in television working with film, which had to be processed before you could start editing. Then, for many years, we relied on satellite feeds to get our reports back to London. But this week, for the first time in my experience, we delivered all our video and audio reports from CES via the internet and they all arrived in time to hit their slot. (Actually, we did do a couple of radio lives via our M4 satphone – a rather crumbly piece of technology - and that did fail once, keeping us off the Today programme.)

It is those behind the camera, who make this work. Steve Adrain, shooting, editing, fiddling with the internet connection, - and taking on the responsibilities of what used to be the work of a whole team. Andrew Webb did a similar job for web video. And Catherine Wynne, producer extraordinaire, marshalled the whole operation with quiet, but forceful, efficiency. Thanks to all of them.

Darren Waters

What I've learned at CES...

  • Darren Waters
  • 9 Jan 08, 23:28 GMT

Here are my lessons from the show floor:

After wandering CES for a few hours you'll go home and think your TV is inadequate, no matter what the size

People will do anything for free stuff – even if it is just a t-shirt

The TV wall-mount business must be fiercely competitive - I counted at least 20 firms at CES

Innovation in consumer electronics is hard – the industry has mainly a “me too” mentality

Future archeologists will wonder why mankind produced so many USB memory sticks at the start of the 21st Century

Transformers and The Bourne Ultimatum were the films of choice to show off a HD TV

Consumer robots are still very disappointing – when will they progress from being mere toys?

CES is a very democratic show - where else could a small US firm selling walkie talkies and cordless phones have a trestle table booth next to the behemoth that is Microsoft?

Darren Waters

CES meets YouTube

  • Darren Waters
  • 9 Jan 08, 21:05 GMT

BBC journalists have done quite a bit of video from CES this year. You can see a round-up on the website here.

Some of our stuff is also appearing on YouTube. You can take a look at Click's Spencer Kelly rounding-up Intel's ultra mobile plans on BBC Worldwide's YouTube page.

And here's a video we made, whizzing around CES in a three-minute tour.

UPDATE:
Here's Rory's video on the public row between Intel and OLPC that I found on YouTube too.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Networking with Negroponte

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 9 Jan 08, 04:52 GMT

Just before we sat down for an interview in his suite on the 28th floor of the Las Vegas Hilton, Nicholas Negroponte got up and popped out into the corridor to have a word with someone. The founder of One Laptop Per Child wanted to catch Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, as he passed by with his entourage. The two men have met many times, and Negroponte describes the Rwandan president as one of the few world leaders who really understands IT.

In his mission to sell his vision of a little laptop which could transform education in the developing world, Nicholas Negroponte has been a tireless networker, charming and badgering politicians from Lagos to Lima. He had just flown in from Mexico, where he has been trying to seal a deal to sell more XO laptops. Yet in recent months he has been struggling against a tide of mounting criticism of his project, and you sense that the bust-up with Intel has been the most aggravating episode of all.

His PR minder had told us he would only answer one question about Intel, but he answered four before we moved on. And in that time there was some strong stuff. He accused Intel of behaving like a cheating spouse in repeatedly pushing its classmate laptop and badmouthing the XO. It is a charge which the chipmaker rejects with contempt.

Off camera, Mr Negroponte was also pretty cheesed off with some of those who built up the XO laptop and are now knocking it down. A couple of reviewers had been unkind about the XO laptop, complaining that it was slow, and touch-typing was a challenge. He grumbled that it was aimed at kids, not fat-fingered old journalists.

Then his mood brightened when I told him about one young fan of the laptop. When I filmed in Nigeria in November OLPC volunteers gave me an early prototype to bring home to my 9-year-old son. Rufus got the hang of it much more quickly than I had, and supplied an enthusiastic review for the BBC website.

The trouble is, it isn’t the likes of Rufus who’ll make Mr Negroponte’s laptop a success. He needs to convince a lot more African and Latin American governments that they can afford what is still a pretty hefty investment in computers in schools. And whatever you think of Intel’s motives, it is training teachers and supporting the spread of computing in the developing world. In the end, a mighty corporation with a professional marketing operation may have a better chance of achieving that mission than the world’s best digital networker.

Darren Waters

300 seconds and counting...

  • Darren Waters
  • 8 Jan 08, 22:56 GMT

What do you do when you only have 300 seconds in which to interview someone?

That was my dilemma when I was offered an interview with Paul Otellini, chief executive of Intel, the world's most powerful chip company.

What do I ask? Where do I start? How many questions can we fit it?

The interview followed immediately after his keynote speech at CES, in which he laid out his vision for a more personal internet. You can read my report of his speech here.

So a question about his speech was a given. In the week before the interview I considered many different questions but in the end my other questions were decided for me.

At the end of last week Intel announced they were quitting the One Laptop Per Child scheme.

This was followed by a strongly-worded statement from OLPC, accusing Intel of failing to deliver on promises.

Needless to say, it was obvious I would have to ask Otellini about this.

But where to place the question; that was my dilemma. If I opened the interview with a question about OLPC and the row, and the question irritated Otellini, the interview could be over in much less than 300 seconds.

So in the end I decided to ask about OLPC second. Otellini politely answered, saying the row had not overshadowed his keynote.

But when I asked him if OLPC's assertion that Intel had failed to deliver on promises his answer was brief - in the extreme.

"Hogwash."

The interview never recovered from that point, although Otellini answered all my remaining questions politely.

Rory Cellan-Jones has today interviewed Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the OLPC scheme, to get his side of the story.

We'll be writing up Negroponte's answers, together with Otellini's comments, very soon.


Darren Waters

Day one over

  • Darren Waters
  • 8 Jan 08, 06:31 GMT

The first day of CES has passed and we've seen the usual range of the inspiring and the insipid.

We've seen Blu-ray in celebratory mood as it edges to victory in the next-gen DVD format war. We've seen Intel's boss unveil his vision of the future internet.

Actually, that was one of the more impressive demos I've seen in a while.

To show off how mobile devices might evolve with a more mature internet Otellini showed a device that could read signs and words in foreign languages and translate them in real time, pulling contextual information from the internet where needed.

The device was able to translate a Chinese reataurant's menu in Mandarin, in real time, and then display video clips of reviews and information about the place from the internet.

It was also used to translate spoken English to spoken Chinese in real time.

Sadly, it was only a vision - and not a reality. While the software to perform the tasks exists, it requires a lot of processing power. Behind the scenes a desktop PC with Intel's Core 2 Duo processor was doing the hard work - and not the mobile device.

Still, it gave a sense of what the future holds when the net is everywhere, when devices are location-aware and the processors inside them have enough "grunt".

OLED TVs are the latest development in TVs to hit the market, offering incredible rich colours and contrast on screens that are only millimetres thick.
But the future holds even more tantalising promise - how about watching Star Wars at home in 3D?

Mitsubishi demonstrated its laser TV system this evening - including 3D functionality. My colleague Jonathan Fildes was at the demo and returned impressed. He'll be writing about the technology soon.

And so on to day two.....

Rory Cellan-Jones

Battles over Bill

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 8 Jan 08, 03:19 GMT

If you want to start a fight, interview Bill Gates. The founder of Microsoft divides opinion like no other figure in the technology world. And as soon as our interview appeared, the Bill-backers and Bill-baiters started slugging it out on this blog.

We got viewers, listeners and readers to suggest the questions but that did not prevent some of you from accusing us of giving Mr Gates an easy ride. Of course, we chose which questions made it into the final interview - someone had to -€“ but Microsoft imposed no conditions on what we could ask. Darren Waters and I spent many hours agonising over the choice. We tried to ensure it reflected the genuine interest expressed by many correspondents in Bill Gates' views on technology - while also covering their complaints about the quality of his software and Microsoft'€™s attitude to the Open Source movement.

Some felt we failed to give him a real beating, a few seemed to think the interview should never have taken place or asked why we had not interviewed other major figures from the technology world.

Believe me, we spend much of our time bombarding the likes of Apple and Google with interview requests. One reason that Bill Gates appears reasonably regularly on BBC output is that he quite often says yes.

I would love to repeat this experiment by taking your questions to Steve Jobs or Jonathan Ive at Apple -€“ or to Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google. And, believe it or not, I got an e-mail from a spin doctor at one of those companies this morning, musing on whether this might be a good idea. Perhaps we've started something.

Darren Waters

HD DVD camp implodes

  • Darren Waters
  • 7 Jan 08, 15:49 GMT

The emerging story of CES so far is the seeming implosion of HD DVD.

After the defection of Warners to rival Blu-ray camp, the format – backed by Microsoft and Toshiba – is left with just Universal and Paramount as the only major studios to support the hi def disc.

The HD DVD camp turned a crisis into a disaster when it cancelled its scheduled press conference at the show and then – perhaps unsurprisingly – cancelled all media interviews at the show.

It's left observers with the impression that the HD DVD group is in disarray and on the verge of collapse.

Blu-ray, on the other hand, is only to eager to parade spokespeople talking up its own format.

Whatever happens next its clear that consumers are the ones who are suffering. Have the hundreds of thousands of people who invested in HD DVD been left high and dry? Many independent film firms are also concerned because many supported HD DVD as it was cheaper than Blu ray to get licensing.

It's doubly embarrassing for Toshiba because they are one of the main CES sponsors - their banners hang rather forlornly around the show site.

I'm speaking to Blu-ray supporters shortly and am trying hard to get anyone from HD DVD to speak.

The fat lady isn't singing quite yet - but she's warming up in her dressing room.


Rory Cellan-Jones

Bill Gates - You Asked The Questions

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 6 Jan 08, 19:09 GMT

I've just emerged from the Microsoft machine, shaken but unscathed. I've interviewed Bill Gates three or four times over a 12 year period, and each time I come out impressed by the sheer professionalism of the Microsoft PR operation but wondering whether we've been successfully spun.

This time we tried a new tactic - getting BBC viewers, listeners and readers to ask the questions. We had thousands, covering every aspect of Bill Gates and Microsoft - past, present and future. Over two hundred were seeking jobs, one gentleman was proposing himself as the next CEO of Microsoft, and another wondered whether the secrets of Windows software had been recovered from a crashed UFO.

We did not ask that one, but managed to get through around fifteen questions during our allotted fifteen minutes. As ever, Mr Gates appeared very well briefed. Yes, Vista was a success, despite the frustrations expressed by Barry from London. Sure, he understood the anger felt by people like Daniel from Aberdeen about the reliability of the Xbox 360, but it was being sorted. Yes, Microsoft had missed some trends - the importance of search - and perhaps over-estimated others -the tablet computer, for instance. And no, Mr McInerney from Southampton, there isn't a single Mac to be found in the Gates household.

Throughout the interview the Microsoft chairman reached over to a handily placed table covered in mobile phones, all of them running Windows Mobile. Surely, I chipped in, this was one area where the likes of Google (with its new Android operating system) and Nokia, would prevent Microsoft from dominating? Windows is on 20 million phones, Google is on zero, though Nokia is pretty big, was the response. (I had arrived in the Microsoft tent bearing a blackberry, a Nokia phone and an iPhone, not quite realising how provocative that might be.)

The formal part of the interview over - and timed to the exact second by the Microsoft PR people - we went to have a look at Microsoft's surface computer. Bill Gates demonstrated it for me, afterwards admitting that this was just his second rehearsal of the demo he'll perform in his keynote tonight. And finally he stuck his neck out, predicting that this kind of computer will be in tens of millions of homes within a few years. Such predictions have sometimes gone awry - remember the wristwatch computer?

But Bill Gates, who is stepping aside from his day-to-day role at Microsoft to concentrate on his charity later this year, was in a relaxed mood. Whatever you think of the man or of Microsoft, he has undoubtedly been the leading figure in the world's most important industry over the last two decades.

Have a look at the interview, which will appear in various forms on this site and on television in the next 24 hours. And let us know what you think of the answers - and the questions.

Darren Waters

Facts and figures...

  • Darren Waters
  • 6 Jan 08, 15:02 GMT

At CES you can be blinded by facts and figures.
Here's a sample of material delivered on Saturday from the Consumer Electronics Association about the future of the industry in the US.
You might want to put your sunglasses on:

2007's fastest growing products based on sales estimates:
1)High Def DVD Players (Blu-Ray or HD-DVD) 521%
2)Head Units w/HD Radio Capability 421%
3)Full HD (1080P) TVs 264%
4)8+ megapixel Digital Cameras 190%
5)Portable Navigation 145%
6)MP3 Players Supporting Video Playback 83%
7)LCD TVs 72%
8)Total O/E Integration 58%
9)DVD Players (non-recording, non-portable) 52%
10)Gaming Hardware 50%


What do people currently do with their mobiles phones (left hand column) and what do they want to do? (right hand column)

1.Listen to Music 94% 75%
2.Listen to other audio content 21% 39%
3.Listen to Podcasts 20% 29%
4.View Digital Photos 20% 39%
5.Watch Movies 18% 40%
6.Play Games 12% 24%
7.Watch Music Videos 13% 31%
8.Watch TV Programming 8% 38%
9.Watch Home Movies 8% 26%

What will 2008'™s fastest growing products be in the US?

1)Head Units w/Bluetooth A2Dp 219%
2)LCD TVs (Greater than 50 inches) 122%
3)Full HD (1080P) TVs 115%
4)High Def DVD Players (Blu-Ray or HD-DVD) 112%
5)Head Units w/HD Radio Tuning 94%
6)Head Units that are Mechanism-less 85%
7)Camcorders Capable of Recording in HD 83%
8)Portable Navigation (Traffic Data Compatible) 74%
9)VOIP Phones, adapters, and kits 62%
10)Plasma TVs (Greater than 60inches) 43%

What will 2008's largest categories be doing in 2008, based on project sales - growing or declining?

1)Total Digital Displays + 13%
2)Wireless Phones 5%
3)Total PC (Desktop + Notebook) -2%
4)Gaming (Hardware + Software) 14%
5)Accessories 8%
6)Digital Imaging -1%
7)Total Audio Products 3%

My thanks to Shawn DuBravac of CEA for supplying the figures.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Wireless in Vegas

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 6 Jan 08, 04:06 GMT

Wireless in Vegas

Where and when do you want to have access to the internet? In my case it’s everywhere and all the time, and in Las Vegas this week there are plenty of devices aimed at giving you just that kind of access.

A couple of hours ago I was sitting in the back of a car driving down the Strip, updating my Facebook status and sending a photo home. Sad, I know. But the thrill was in the fact that I was using the car’s own self-generated wi-fi hot spot. A small company called US Telematics, started just a couple of years ago, has developed an in-car communications system, designed principally to keep American kids entertained during those endless journeys.

A unit installed in the roof uses a souped-up 3g phone network to access the internet and then creates a wi-fi hotspot in the car. The kids in the back can watch television streamed from their home via a Slingbox, while the parent up front uses a wireless device to check Google maps or book a hotel.

Now while I loved the experience of getting online from the back of the car, I can’t see myself shelling out between $500 and $1000 for the unit, then paying a monthly fee to the phone company. Howard Leventhal, the founder of US Telematics, says he gets a panic attack if he is away from the internet for too long and he is convinced there are enough people like him to provide a market for his idea.

There is a battle shaping up between the different wireless technologies , from wi-fi to wimax, to HSDPA. Just a couple of years back, the promise was that universally available wi-fi networks might make those phone companies that had spent a fortune building 3g look pretty daft.

Now the “wi-fi for all” movement is fading. Having struggled to get easy access to wireless hotspots as I trudge through the endless acres of Las Vegas hotels on the way to press events I can see the attraction of alternative technologies.

The big question is just what consumers will pay for connectivity. A taxi-driver overheard me marvelling at my experience of in-car wi-fi. “Forget it, “ he said. “Those phone companies just want to lock you in to a monthly fee. The working guy can’t afford it.” And having just found out that I will be charged £7 a megabyte to access the internet from my phone while in Las Vegas, I think he may be right.

Darren Waters

Looking into the crystal ball

  • Darren Waters
  • 6 Jan 08, 03:52 GMT


The story of CES 2008 - even two days before the doors open officially - is not about which technology will reign supreme, or how many pixels a display has, or whichever format will come to dominate. It is about the integration of technology with services and content.

It's called the 360 degree experience. And it's essentially the ability to get content - be it music or films, or pictures, or text - and to share it, enjoy it, wherever and whenever.

Shawn Dubravac, an analyst with the Consumer Electronics Association, explained to me that no longer were technologies being released in isolation.

"We’re seeing device manufacturers, services providers and content creators working together to form alliances and joint ventures to make sure they get it right from day one," he said.

Some people might say, "about time too", because often it has been technology acting as a barrier to us over when we want to move content between devices, like a PC and MP3 player.

Dubravac believes that technologies like the PC and TV, and the set-top box, and your mobile phone are going to be much cosier than they have been in recent years.

He told me: "Consumers are increasingly taking digital media – even if it was originally in physical form like a CD or DVD - and they want to rip it on to a hard drive, or computer, or set-top box, so they have that content wherever they want, whenever they want it.

"One of the things driving the 360 degree experience is that consumers are increasingly vocalising what they want – the services, devices and content they want."

So is this the end of walled gardens, and dreaded vertical integration?

Not quite - the lock in for consumer may not be technology in the future, but it will certainly be service-related.

We may well have more flexibility to move our content around - but only between devices that are part of whichever service plan we have signed up for.

It is progress - but we are still some way off the truly seamless digital world.

Darren Waters

Is HD-DVD in trouble?

  • Darren Waters
  • 5 Jan 08, 15:59 GMT

The unsurprising news that film studio Warner has ditched high definition format HD DVD to now sit exclusively with Blu-ray is already causing shockwaves.

The rumours had been circling for weeks and yesterday Warner confirmed it was changing its platform neutral stance to exclusive support for Blu-ray.

It's the latest blow for HD DVD in the battle for pre-eminence in the hi-def DVD war. With two incompatible formats, it was always going to be a bloody battle.

The North American HD DVD promotion group - effectively Toshiba and Microsoft - has now cancelled its scheduled press conference at CES.

In a statement it said: "We are currently discussing the potential impact of this announcement with the other HD DVD partner companies and evaluating next steps.

"We believe the consumer continues to benefit from HD DVD's commitment to quality and affordability – a bar that is critical for the mainstream success of any format."

Is this a critical blow for HD DVD? Not yet. But HD DVD is now looking more and more friendless.

Despite the format's cheaper cost and cheaper licensing terms, it has struggled against Blu-ray, which can boast most of the major film studios - and now, Warner - as well as the support of the PlayStation 3, something HD DVD has always downplayed.

Ultimately for customers, it could mean that hundreds of thousands of HD DVD owners could find themselves in possession of the Betamax player of the 21st century.

Darren Waters

Preparing for Gates

  • Darren Waters
  • 5 Jan 08, 15:13 GMT

First off, thanks for all the questions you sent in for our Bill Gates interview at CES in Las Vegas on Sunday.

We laid down the challenge - and you responded.

We had more than 3,000 questions and I had the task of picking out the best ones to put to the Microsoft boss in our interview.

We've made our choices - and it was difficult. With only 20 minutes in which to put these questions to Mr Gates, we had to make sure they were interesting, challenging, stimulating and accessible to a broad audience.

The planning of the interview has also been an intriguing eye-opener into the corporate world.

So how do we arrange a Bill Gates interview? Well, we put a proposal to Microsoft's UK PR team, explain our plans, and they, if happy, pass it on to the US team.

A drawn-out stage of negotiation then takes place over how much time we have, the format of the interview, and so on.

Microsoft never tell us what questions we can or can't ask - but they were keen to limit the amount of "personal questions", which is understandable.

The reality is that in a 20-minute interview using questions from BBC News readers/viewers, we were not going to have a glut of personal questions because we want a range of discussion points.

Once the interview has been granted - which takes a few weeks to firm up - we then move to the logistics stage.

How many cameras will be used? What tape format is the interview being shot in? Where are the cameras placed?

And today we come to the last part of the pre-interview planning. I'm meeting a senior Microsoft PR executive to finalise details and to get a clearer idea of what Bill Gates will speak about at his CES keynote, which takes place after our interview.

My colleague and blogging partner Rory Cellan-Jones will be putting your questions to Mr Gates tomorrow and the interview will be shown on BBC News 24, BBC World TV - and in full on the BBC News website - on Monday.

I look forward to the reaction.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Talking tech with tech

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 5 Jan 08, 14:43 GMT

Why am I here? It is the kind of existential question you will find many a jet-lagged Las Vegas visitor asking at 5 a.m. but my inquiry relates to the Consumer Electronics show, rather than the blackjack table at my hotel’s casino. What can you show me?€ - is the even trickier question being asked by my editors back in London.

Worryingly, some seem to think they’ll be seeing the latest personal jet-pack or a robot-enabled home of the future. Instead, what we will find at CES is important, but incremental, changes to the way we live our digital lives. Thinner, smarter, better-looking televisions (oh, that we could say the same about your reporter). New ways of managing the flood of digital content now arriving in homes - from home servers to media extenders. New wireless technologies making it ever easier to take that content with you wherever you are – I’m filming some of that in a car in the next couple of hours.

This is my fifth visit to Las Vegas for a major trade show. I used to visit COMDEX but the IT show faded as the consumer electronics version flourished and it doesn’t get any easier to turn it into compelling pictures or audio. Seething masses of visitors climbing over packed stands look more like a bad day at the Oxford Street sales than a vision of the future.

But we have brought our own collection of gadgetry to help us tell the story. On my first trip to Comdex in 1999 I came with one producer who had just learnt to wield a handycam. We shot everything that moved, got back on a plane, and put a few pieces out in London later in the week - including one report on the huge threat Psion posed to Microsoft. Oh dear.

This time I’m accompanied by a very experienced producer and what we call a shoot-edit. As well as a camera, Steve Adrian has got laptop editing gear and the nous and nerve needed to edit and feed stories via an internet connection which may or may not be rock-steady.

I too have brought with me a somewhat random collection of gadgetry aimed at getting me on air and online. So I have just unpacked my laptop, two mobile phones - one to make calls, the other to do a little filming with its rather good video camera- a blackberry, a digital audio recorder, a digital picture frame, a second ultra mobile laptop and a device for measuring the energy output of electrical products. The last three items may sound like coals to Newcastle - exporting the latest gadgets to CES - but we are filming them over the weekend before the show opens.

So now all we have to prove is that we can use the gadgetry to make gadgets look and sound interesting on TV, radio and the web. Then we can get round to answering a few more existential questions.


Continue reading "Talking tech with tech"

Rory Cellan-Jones

Intel says bye to One Laptop

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 4 Jan 08, 09:42 GMT

Sitting in Gatwick airport waiting for a flight to Las Vegas, news comes through that Intel has dropped out of the One Laptop Per Child Project.

To me and Jonathan Fildes, the BBC technology correspondent who has followed this more closely than just about any other reporter, this does not come as a great surprise.

We travelled to Nigeria in November to report on OLPC’s pilot project at a school there. We were impressed by the enthusiasm of the children using the laptops and the commitment of the teachers but were concerned that a lack of technical and financial support might stop the whole project from taking off. The children were showing remarkable ingenuity in mending broken laptops – but the bill for the internet connection was about to land on the head teacher’s desk and it wasn’t clear how it would be paid.

By contrast, across town, Intel was pouring large sums into a pilot of its rival Classmate project in a school which had been virtually rebuilt around the computers. The company insisted that it was collaborating with OLPC and had no desire to crowd it out of the new market for cheap computing in the developing world.

But Intel’s arrival as a participant in the charity project came very late, and after criticism that it was acting to frustrate the aims of OLPC. Now Intel has dropped out after OLPC reportedly demanded that it ended its involvement in the Classmate PC. Intel was never going to drop a project which had the personal backing of Craig Barret, Intel’s chairman, who’d visited the shiny new Nigerian school a few days before we filmed there.

OLPC was always going to face an uphill battle when confronted with a mighty corporation like Intel. Now it has suffered another crushing blow to its efforts to put what was supposed to be the $100 laptop in the hands of millions of children. Only last week chief designer Mary Lou Jepsen stepped down from the project.

We’ll be talking to the OLPC’s founder Nicholas Negroponte and to Intel’s Paul Otellini in Las Vegas.


Darren Waters

Xbox Live goes limp

  • Darren Waters
  • 4 Jan 08, 05:36 GMT

Don't disappoint your customers - it is a lesson that Microsoft is learning the hard way with Xbox.

Xbox Live, Microsoft's online gaming and community service, is often touted by the firm as the jewel in the Xbox crown and as the key distinguishing feature between its console and Sony's PlayStation 3.

It is - largely - a paid for service and is such an integral part of the Xbox experience that many users take it for granted.

But over the Christmas period the service partially collapsed for many users - with patchy performance and glitches.

Microsoft has held its hands up to a mea culpa and is offering every Xbox Live user a free download of a game.

This is becoming a pattern for Microsoft and the Xbox - first something goes wrong, and then the firm steps in to make amends on a grand scale.

I was struck by just how many people had commented on problems with Xbox Live when we invited readers of the BBC News website to send in questions to Bill Gates.

Many were furious with the problems they encountered during the Christmas period.

If Microsoft believe Xbox Live is a serious entertainment platform, perhaps one day to rival TV networks or cable services, it has to ensure it is robust and good value.

There are 17.7m Xbox 360 users around the world, with some paying £40 a year for Xbox Live.

Sony, on the other hand, does not charge for its PlayStation Network, although the service is much more limited than Xbox Live.

The offer of a free Xbox Live Arcade game is good customer service, but there will come a point when saying sorry just isn't enough for some subscribers.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Gadget gluttons or tech tired?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 3 Jan 08, 12:03 GMT

I was packing for my trip to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas - the annual celebration of gadget gluttony – when news came through of the disaster at DSG. Shares in Europe’s biggest electrical retailer - owner of Currys, PC World, and Dixons.co.uk - plunged this morning after it issued a profits warning.

The firm blames poor sales of laptops and heavy discounting of flat screen televisions for its problems. So does this mean that consumers are losing interest in the latest kit? Should I be cancelling my trip to Vegas? Well, what do you think I’m going to say?

Consumers are anything but bored with gadgets - from games consoles to flat screen TVs to laptops, sales are booming. But DSG’s woes are due to long-term changes in the way we shop. Remember the days when anyone wanting a new television or a computer would pop into a Dixons or a PC World, knowing little or nothing about the technology, seek advice from a spotty salesman, and walk out with both the product and a pretty pricey extended warranty and a few accessories? Well we have all moved on.

One veteran analyst put it like this to me: “PC World has always been predicated on the unintelligent consumer. As people get more knowledgeable, that approach becomes less relevant.”

To be fair, DSG has moved on, ditching the Dixons name on the high street in favour of Currys Digital, closing many of its stores and putting far more effort into its online operation. It’s also launched a technical support team called The Tech Guys, in an attempt to provide the kind of end-to-end service it thinks the modern electronics consumer is seeking. The trouble is, the margins online are slimmer than on the high street and shoppers are less likely to buy those extended warranties that used to be the bedrock of Dixons’ profits.

I have been looking back at the firm’s share price over the last eight years and remembering the heady days of March 2000 when, under its original Dixons brand, the business was firmly lodged in the FTSE 100 - the index of Britain’s most valuable companies. And even higher up that index was Freeserve, the free internet service, launched by Dixons’ boss Sir Stanley Kalms in 1998, then floated within months at the height of dotcom mania.

Back then, it looked as though the old dog had learned new tricks, transforming itself into a hot new digital property. But after the dotcom bubble burst, Dixons seemed to decide the online revolution had passed and it could go back to the real world of the high street.

Meanwhile, from Dell to Amazon to Tesco.com, the online retailers kept on growing – and offering keener prices to an increasingly knowledgeable public. The move to flat screen televisions has bolstered DSG’s profits in recent years but now prices are plunging, down by around 35% over the last year.

A new man has just taken over as CEO at Dixons Store Group, and as the man who got Tesco.com off the ground John Browett seems ideally suited to change the focus of the business. My friendly analyst isn’t so sure - “he must have been blinded by the size of the cheque to take on that job.”

Mr Browett has sent a team of top executives to Las Vegas to try to spot what will be the hottest gadgets to win customers back to his stores next Christmas. I am sure the appetite for the latest kit - from ultra mobile PCs to laser TVs - has not been sated. But DSG may find that canny consumers inspect the gadgets in its stores - then head online in search of a better price.

Darren Waters

How to survive CES

  • Darren Waters
  • 3 Jan 08, 11:29 GMT

The Consumer Electronics Show starts next week and BBC News will be bringing you the best of the show in video, audio and online journalism.

A week in Las Vegas may sound fun, but the reality of CES is somewhat different. With more than 2,000 exhibiting firms and 140,000 attendees it is more of a brawl than a leisurely trawl through technology.

I spoke to Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, for his tips on surviving CES:

For those of you newbies: Exercise, get a lot of sleep and don’t drink a lot of alcohol. When you get to Las Vegas, ask your hotel to have a humidifier in your room. It is dry in Vegas. You should wear comfortable shoes, not a new pair. Plan out your schedule and learn the layout. Leave yourself time to explore and find out new things

Here are a few tips also from blogger extraordinaire Robert Scoble,
and veteran analyst Michael Gartenberg.

I'll be publishing our plans for CES very soon - which includes some big name interviews. Perhaps the biggest is Bill Gates.

We're putting your questions to him. So if you have a burning desire to ask Mr Gates a question, then here's how to do it.

Rory Cellan-Jones

A 'review' of 2008

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 2 Jan 08, 08:06 GMT

Enough of the iPhone, away with Facebook – let’s forget about 2007 and look forward - not entirely seriously - to the technology year to come in 2008...

January

At CES in Las Vegas, Bill Gates makes his final keynote before stepping down at Microsoft. Guess what? The digital home of the future is here at last and it is powered by Windows Media Center.

One week later in San Francisco, Steve Jobs uses his Macworld keynote to show us round the iHome (“way cool”). It is run by a revamped Apple TV set-top box, and allows you to get all your stuff – movies, music, photos and groceries – piped to you through iTunes.

February

The mobile phone industry gathers in Barcelona for its annual jamboree in its usual state of paranoia. Last year, it was the imminent arrival of the iPhone which caused the jitters. This time it is the impact of Google’s Android. Relax, guys, customers have tolerated lousy user interfaces, bossy network operators and sky-high roaming charges for years – why should anything change?


March

Sony unveils the Play Station 3.5. It boasts simpler graphics than the PS3, a fun controller called the miiiiii2, and a range of new games from Cribbage to Tony Hawk’s Tiddlywinks. “We are reaching a whole new demographic, " says Sony’s Howard Stringer on a visit to an old people’s home in Merthyr Tydfil.

“Why has nobody tried this before?”


April

The UK government insists it is pressing ahead with the National ID card, despite another embarrassing breach in data security. A clerk at the Passport Office plugs his iPod into the computer at work to update, then goes on holiday to Albania. Finding it incapable of playing anything but a weird mix of what sounds like morse code and hiphop, he flogs it to a bloke he meets at a café in Tirana. A government spokesman insists there is no cause for concern, unless you have taken out a passport in the last decade and been foolish enough to pay for it with something other than cash.

May


Facebook denies that it is in crisis after a study shows that its name has failed to appear in a single newspaper column for three months. A spokeswoman denies that a status update reading “Mark is ……getting a little bored with all this poking, vampire-biting, fish-sending, nonsense” reflects the views of the company’s founder on the future of social networking.

June

The companies in the HD-DVD alliance announce you can now get their players for as little as £49.99. The Blu-Ray team respond by giving their product away with the Daily Telegraph. Consumers fail to notice because they are too busy downloading movies from Russia’s allofhddvd.com.

July

Security software firms unite with the government’s Getsafeonline campaign to send millions of computer users a simple message, “You Are All Doomed.” A spokesman explains: “It is a simple but effective way of getting people to understand that once they turn on their computers, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse will be riding through the door in a jiffy. Unless, of course, they invest in new security software every time they log on, and buy a shredder.”


August

Google continues the spending spree which has seen it buy Marks & Spencer, News Corp, and the Channel Islands since the beginning of the year. When EU regulators block its bid to take over the European Central Bank, a spokesman responds: “What these Brussels bureaucrats fail to understand is that we’re just trying to organise the world’s information….and money, and shopping. What’s the problem with that?”


September

Apple’s second generation 3g iPhone goes on sale. This time, as well as signing up to Apple’s network partner, customers have to bring a DNA sample to enter on the company database before the phone can be activated. “We’re just trying to make sure iPhone users all feel part of the Apple family, “ a spokesman explains.



October

Nokia brings out its latest smartphone, the N99. As well as featuring music, live television, a manicure set and a device for getting stones out of horse’s shoes, it offers an ice-cream cornet with a chocolate flake. “And, unlike, the new 3g iPhone,” a spokesman explains, “it is 4g, making the mobile internet work properly for the first time.”

November

A wave of panic spreads though parents in the UK and the USA as it becomes clear that stocks of the Nintendo Wii console are in short supply in run-up to Christmas. “Who could have predicted that people would want to buy it as a Christmas present?” asks a Nintendo spokesman. Sony points out that the PS3.5 is available in all good stores.

December

While high street stores complain that Christmas is later than ever this year, online retailers predict a 50% rise in sales compared to last year. “Whether you want an ipod, a wii or one of the new robotic teasmaids, we’ll get it you by Christmas,” a spokesman for the Online Retail Group promises.
As Boxing Day dawns, Ebay announces that record numbers of unwanted gifts are up for sale. The top sellers include 3g iPhones, complete with unlocked DNA samples.

Darren Waters

What future for OLPC?

  • Darren Waters
  • 1 Jan 08, 20:35 GMT

Mary Lou Jepsen, the chief technology officer of the One Laptop Per Child program has stepped down to pursue commercial interests.

_42363630_laptop203.jpg
Jepsen's key role was to develop the laptop's power-efficient display and to ensure the computer was able to withstand the rigours of being used in difficult environments.

Her departure, coming at the end of the Give One Get One (G1G1) scheme which sold the laptop commercially to users in the US, will be seen by many observers as another piece of bad news for a project which has proved difficult to get off the ground.

Few at OLPC would argue that the scheme has yet to turn the idea of one laptop per child into actual laptops in the hands of millions of children.

Thousands of children now have access to the laptops but the success has been modest when compared to the original vision.

OLPC says the Give One Get One scheme has been a success and has seeded the launch of programs in Haiti, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Mongolia, and Afghanistan.

I've not seen any actual hard data for G1G1 sales - but they would make for interesting reading.

So does Jepsen's departure signal another setback for OLPC?

Clearly the design work for the current revision of the laptop has finished - so perhaps Jepsen's role had become somewhat diminished. But it does raise question marks about the long-term design evolution of the laptop.

The next 12 months will be crucial for the long-term success of the project. Nicholas Negroponte needs to turn interest in the scheme into hard sales, if his grand vision is to be realised.

He is due to speak at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in the next week - and we'll be speaking with him and asking him about the future of the project, and the significance of Jepsen's departure.

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