Friday, June 29, 2007

iPhone’s on its Way

I thought I’d wake up this morning to reports flooding the Internet of smiling customers with their nifty new iPhone. I was sadly disappointed to discover that it isn’t going to hit U.S. stores until 6 p.m. tonight. Wow, does Apple ever know how to drag out suspense: better than any reality TV show ever made!

For those who have to work their regular 9-5 job today, it’s good news. Or not. ABC News reporter Gene Lewis says he’s been in line at a NYC Apple store since yesterday, and is still only 53rd on the list. His last report as I write this, written at about 6 a.m. this morning, estimates that there’s about 180 people in line. I don’t even want to think of what the line will look like come 5 p.m. tonight! Apple says the purchase limit is two devices per person (why not one?); and, for the lucky few who get their hands on one, the company will hold free workshops on how to get the most out of the device starting tomorrow morning.

All U.S. Apple stores will remain open until midnight tonight; but my guess is this will serve little purpose, as the iPhone will probably be sold out before the stores even reach the end of their lines. In other words: don’t think you’ll be able to strut into an Apple store around 11:30 p.m. and magically grab one off the shelf!

ABC’s Lewis humorously refers to the iPhone as the “Jesus phone” in his play-by-play coverage (which is worth a read just to hear the reactions the people in line are getting from passers-by). This reminds me of a hilarious skit I saw on MAD TV a few months ago where cast member Mike McDonald portrayed Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone to a highly reactive, cult-like, audience. The idea was to make it look like Jobs was being worshipped as some sort of evangelist. It’ll give you a good laugh as we gear up for the actual introduction of this highly-anticipated device.

The 4 GB model will be available for US$500; and the 8 GB for US$600.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Violent Video Game Stirs up Controversy

Video game Manhunt 2, which is supposed to be available for the Sony PSP, PS2, and Nintendo Wii gaming systems next month, has been given the dreaded “AO” rating (“Adults Only”), which neither Sony nor Nintendo approves. In the UK, the game was actually banned.

For years, parents and adults, alike have criticized certain video games for being too violent. Despite this, game after violent game has squeezed its way onto store shelves. So what is it about Manhunt 2 that’s so bad? Heck, I’ve seen games where characters are chopped to bits by their opponents with raging chainsaws! USA Today provides a quick glimpse into Manhunt 2 killings, and apparently they involve things like private parts of the human anatomy, and hand tools. 'Nuff said.

Where does one draw the line? Chainsaws? Check. Murder? Check. Blowing someone’s head off? Check. This gets a Mature, 17+ rating. So at what point do you decide to slap on that 18+ sticker? Is all of the above not disturbing enough?

Some say in the case of Manhunt 2, the controversy has more to do with how violence is portrayed in the game, and not so much the violence itself: a “you-have-to-see-it-to-really-understand-it” kind of situation. The game follows a character who has escaped from an insane asylum as he goes about a killing spree of his enemies. The original Manhunt, released in 2003, received a Mature rating. Wikipedia describes it as being centred around a character on death row, sentenced to death by legal injection, but given a sedative instead by the sadistic doctor, who then forces him to engage in brutal killings for snuff films. Er, that actually sounds worse to me!

What’s even more disturbing, in my eyes, is the fact that the game is intended for the Nintendo Wii gaming console, which has not only found its main appeal as a “family” gaming system, but also requires full-bodied simulation of actions using a remote control! Warning: couples in a heated argument should not play this game!

Will Manhunt 2's publisher Take-Two Interactive and developer Rockstar Games push for creative freedom? After all, if you don't like it, don't buy it, right? Or will the company decide to rework the game so that it qualifies for a Mature rather than Adult rating? According to USA Today, a rework would cost upwards of US$1 million. It will be interesting to see where this controversial situation goes.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Listening to Tunes on a PC is “Good Enough” for 86% of U.S. Consumers

The younger generation X and Y consumer has grown up in a world where the best audio sound emits from a tiny device called an iPod. Many are unaware of what most of my colleagues know to be true “high-fidelity” sound. Now, a study conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has discovered that more and more U.S. adults are looking to their home computers as a preferred source for music playback, rather than a dedicated CD or DVD player.

The study reports that an estimated 86 per cent of U.S. adults are content with using their computer as a source for listening to tunes. However, there is still hope for audiophiles: one-third said they would appreciate nicer sound; while 47 per cent said that they’d even choose a better audio experience over having more tunes at their fingertips. Yet only nine per cent of home audio PC users actually connect their PC to a home audio system.

So why is it that, even though U.S. adults admit to appreciating good sound, they still prefer to listen to tunes on the PC? It could be that much of the content originates from digital files downloaded from the 'net; or from Internet streaming music sites, like Yahoo!'s Launchcast, or satellite radio providers like XM. Maybe they just don't know how to get it off the PC, and have settled for the easiest solution.

What does this mean? There needs to be more consumer awareness and education around music streaming devices like Slim Devices' Squeezebox or Sonos' Digital Music System, which make the process of getting music from the PC to a home audio system fairly easy.

Back to the study, another interesting stat is that, when it comes to frequency, 77 per cent of respondents said they listen to tunes on their PC an average of nine hours per week.

I'm no math whiz, but I can see that there's a huge, untapped market out there for consumers who want to listen to their digital files throughout the home, but simply don't know how, or couldn't be bothered to find out. The PC might be good enough for many, but connecting it to an audio system will open up the younger (and older) generation to possibilities they may not have realized were there.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lines Form for iPhone?

You never know what to believe, but sources on the ‘net claim that line-ups are already forming outside of the gorgeous New York City Apple store, as anxious customers await the launch of the much-anticipated iPhone. The device won’t actually hit stores until June 29 – three days from now!

I’m getting a case of déjà vu, as we saw a similar situation mere months ago when the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii gaming consoles hit the market. Will the hysteria turn into disappointment once consumers shell out the $500 or $600 the unit will cost? Or will people by praising Mr. Jobs for providing them with the phone/music and video player/digital camera/Internet browser that they’ve been waiting for all their lives? One thing's for sure: Jobs certainly knows how to create hype around a product!

When it comes to pricing plans, sources say that they will cost anywhere from $60 to $100/mth (on top of the actual iPhone purchase price, of course); and, in an interesting twist, customers can sign up through iTunes rather than in-store. Mac fanatics everywhere are undoubtedly clasping their hands and gritting their teeth in delight right about now.

So far, the only negative comment I’ve heard about the iPhone relates to the difficulty one might have in locating one for purchase. I’m not convinced of its leader status just yet (after all, I don't even own an iPod!), but I’m willing to keep an open mind. As for us Canucks, hold tight, because there’s still no confirmation that the device will even see the light of day north of the border.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Is Video Game Addiction a Psychiatric Disorder?

It’s no big news that people can get addicted to alcohol. Drugs, cigarettes, food: all common addictions. But what about video games? Sure, there are kids (and even adults) who park themselves on the couch with the latest game, and play it for hours on end. But does this constitute an actual addiction? The American Medical Association (AMA) thinks so, and is pushing to classify video game addiction as a psychiatric disorder.

A report issued by the AMA claims that up to 15 per cent of kids who play video games could fall into the addicted classification: this translates to more than five million young ‘ens! Of course we’ve all heard of incidents where children have sat and played video games for hours, failing to eat and drink, some with fatal results. Is addictive video games in fact the cause, or is the reason for the obsessive game-playing much more complex?

Of course video game publishers argue the latter, and, to an extent, I agree with them. The underlying issue could be depression, lethargy, lack of self-worth, or even a pre-disposition for addiction. When you think about it, that addiction could be manifested through pretty much anything in life: Coffee. Shoe shopping. Tanning. Sex. The list goes on and on. Sure, the effects of being addicted to one thing might be more detrimental than to another: you could die from alcohol addiction, whereas the results of a shoe addiction might simply be a depleted bank account and no closet space! But where does one draw the line?

What’s more, if video game addiction is diagnosed as a psychiatric disorder, what will happen? Kids will be popping more pills, and the parent’s insurance will pay for them. This is not the answer.

I used to play games when I was a kid, and even the simplest one could become addictive. In fact, the "addictive" quality is exactly what gives a game its appeal, and thus contributes to its popularity. But on the flip side, until you’ve experienced someone with a serious “addiction” to playing video games, it’s tough to fully understand the situation. And being an ex-smoker myself, I understand the nature of addiction, and how powerful it can be.

Personally, I can’t see how placing the blame on a video game is the answer; in the same manner that I can’t place the blame for a smoking addiction on the variety store that sells cigarettes; or on a fast food restaurant for a food addiction.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Copyright in the Digital Age: Web Hoster Bolts on Popular Blog Site

The issue of copyright in the digital, online age is the subject of ongoing debate amongst the owners of content, and those who publish it. If I have a personal Website, can I simply take photos from other Websites and post them to it without permission? Can sites like YouTube be a vehicle for funny commercials, news segments, and music videos without dealing with repercussions from content owners?

Widely popular Hollywood celebrity blog site (it reportedly receives millions of visitors monthly) was recently shut down. The interesting part of this news is that this was not forced by owners of copyright photos for which the site’s owner has been accused of “stealing” (although several of them have pending lawsuits against him). The site was reportedly taken down by the company that actually hosts the Website! Apparently the web hosting firm was sick of all the copyright infringement suits, and must have figured it would bolt before things got really nasty.

Readers might remember not too long ago, when hilarious skits from music artist Justin Timberlake’s appearance on Saturday Night Live popped up on YouTube. Clicking on them shortly after they were posted would result in a disappointing message: “this video is no longer available.” It’s safe to assume that NBC wasn’t happy. But wait: wasn’t this good for the network, to have people flooding the 'net with proof that its late night show, which many have shrugged off as having lost its appeal, was still funny? (Sidenote: In March of this year, NBC announced that it would collaborate with News Corp. on their own Internet video distribution network, so at least the firm has recognized the value in content distribution on the Web).

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about scantily-clad paparazzi pix of Paris Hilton, clips from a night time comedy skit show, or digital photographs from a world-renowned photographer: there is arguably a glaring “grey” area when it comes to issues of copyright online, and several online content publishers are teetering on the line between what is right and wrong.

Sure, right now we’re talking about a cheesy, Hollywood gossip site. But I truly believe this could end up being a landmark case for issues of copyright infringement online, specifically in relation to the use of photos, but potentially leading to other areas.

Meanwhile, several reports on the Web indicate that another web hosting company has jumped at the opportunity to pick up, so stay tuned as the saga continues!

(*Sidenote: Literally as I write this, I checked and the site is up and running again!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

PlayStation Head Departs

The Associated Press reports that the head of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., Ken Kuturagi, has stepped down, or rather “retired”. This isn’t surprising, given the fierce competition that the firm has been facing since its latest incarnation, the PlayStation 3, hit the market.

The PS3 launched in Canada just in time for the 2006 Christmas season, and to say it was highly anticipated would be an understatement. Kids lined up in droves outside local retail outlets, in some cases a full 24 hours before the product was to go on sale. The lucky few who got their hands on one before the "suckers" who waited at home reveled in their 15-minutes of fame. Some made extra holiday spending cash by selling consoles on eBay for double, triple, and even four times the actual selling price of the unit. It was mass hysteria, to say the least.

A few days after the PS3 launch, a funny thing happened. A company called Nintendo (heard of ‘em?) launched its fun, family-oriented Wii gaming console: a far cry from the hard-core gaming, high-definition experience that the PS3 provided. The Wii brought together families and friends by encouraging full-body physical interaction. Want to play “virtual” bowling? Thrusting a joystick back and forth won’t cut it: you’ll need to grab the neat controller (which looks just like a TV remote) get on your feet, and simulate the action, as if you were actually bowling the ball. Same goes for other games: boxing, baseball, you name it. Some laughed at the juvenile nature of the Wii (let’s face it: it’s hard not to given the silly-sounding name!) But Nintendo had the last laugh. It unearthed an untapped and lucrative market that no one realized was there.

Fast forward about seven months, and Nintendo reports having shipped 5.84 million Wiis worldwide (through the fiscal year ended March 31), compared to 5.5 million PS3s. Meanwhile, the Xbox 360 continues to flourish, especially in terms of its seamless LIVE subscription, which allows users to play online with friends all around the world.

That said, although the PS3 certainly turned heads and sold a lot of units, it’s seeing a lot of stiff competition in an area that the company has historically dominated.

Kazuo Hirai, former president and COO of Sony Computer Entertainment, is now heading the unit. According to the Associated Press, although Kutaragi has retired from his post as chairman and goup chief executive, he will still serve in an advisory position with the firm.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

YouTube Gets Sicko, Personal

The widely popular video viewing and sharing Website YouTube is getting personal…in nine additional countries. The company plans to launch Websites in Brazil, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom, all of which will be translated to the country’s native tongue. Videos specific to each country will be highlighted on each respective site, adding even more of a personal touch.

This is a brave move for YouTube (which is now owned by online search behemoth Google), especially in the wake of ongoing, pesky copyright issues. Several allegation have come forward accusing YouTube of allowing users to post copyrighted material: everything from funny skits from Saturday Night Live (yep, those do exist from time to time), to sporting events.

YouTube’s most recent trouble came yesterday, after copies of the upcoming Michael Moore documentary Sicko was posted to the site, in the form of 14 clips that made up the entire 124-minute film. They were removed as soon as YouTube was made aware of them, but alas, a lucky 500-600 people got a taste of the sickness before it was taken down.

This brings us back to the whole content distribution argument, which is a hot topic in consumer electronics, computers, and Internet these days. Should YouTube be held responsible if its users post copyrighted material? Even if the firm has a strict policy against it, and promptly removes the video once its existence is known? Should the posting YouTube member be held responsible for infringing on copyrights? Should YouTube pay a sort of royalty fee to companies who’s copyright is infringed upon via posted videos?

In the end, it all boils down to one thing: compensation. People need to get paid. If we can find the proper balance between open content distribution and acceptable compensation, the online world would be a much better place.

[Note: The screen shot image that accompanies this entry is actually from the trailer for the movie Sicko, which is still available on YouTube.]

Monday, June 18, 2007

Blockbuster Backs Blu-ray - Update!

I last posted that Blockbuster in the U.S. decided to offer high-definition movies for rent in only the Blu-ray format, abandoning the competing HD DVD format. A representative from Blockbuster Canada has now informed me that, north of the border, the video/game rental chain will continue to rent out both formats to its customers.

"Blockbuster Canada currently supports both Blu-Ray and HD DVD formats in 75 of its stores across Canada," the firm told me. "Currently, there are no plans to alter the distribution of rentals in Canada."

So Canadians, feel free to visit your local Blockbuster to rent DVDs in both formats!

Blockbuster Backs Blu-ray

The high-definition DVD format war persists, with no clear winner in sight (of course, this is depending on who you ask!) But we’re finally seeing retailers put their foot down, and choose one format over the other. In the case of Blockbuster, it has decided to put all of its eggs in the Blu-ray basket.

Well, not entirely: the movie/video game rental chain says it will still carry HD DVD in its U.S. stores, but will only rent movies in the Blu-ray format. According to BBC News, Blockbuster observed that its customers chose Blu-ray over HD DVD in stores where both formats were available. No exact figures were cited, but it's obvious by Blockbuster's choice to go Blu-ray all the way that it was by a significant enough margin.

This could be attributed to many factors: more choice in Blu-ray movies is one. Blu-ray has the support of seven of the eight major studios; whereas HD DVD only has three. However, the HD DVD format has support from many in the PC arena, like Microsoft, HP, and Intel.

Blu-ray has also had better luck with recent releases: the two huge blockbuster titles (no pun intended) as of late, Spiderman (Sony Pictures) and Casino Royale (MGM), are only available in HD in the Blu-ray format.

PlayStation 3 might also play a significant role: I wonder how many of those rented Blockbuster movies are being played back on a family PS3, and not a dedicated Blu-ray player? (Then again, the competing Xbox 360 console also has an HD DVD add-on option, so this might be a moot point).

On the HD DVD side, retail giant Wal-Mart said back in April that it would introduce “low-cost” HD DVD players to its U.S. stores by the end of the year, which led many to assume that Wal-Mart had made its choice. (A representative from Wal-Mart Canada confirmed that the retailer woud continue to carry both formats in Canada).

What do I think? When it comes down to it, it’s the movie titles that matter. Who wants a fantastic, high-definition player if you can’t use it to watch the movies you want? However, on the flip side, another important factor is price, and Blu-ray players have been much more expensive than HD DVD players; in many cases, by a significant margin. With “low-cost” players being introduced in Wal-Mart, a whole new ballgame could begin.

Who will win the format war? Some say it’s too soon to make a choice between the two. After all, they haven’t been on store shelves for that long. But on the other hand, how long can they co-exist without frustrating customers to no end? Only time will tell.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Canadians Are Mediocre?

Imagine being calling mediocre...right to your face. Now imagine that accusatory word spewing from the mouth of your own country. The Conference Board of Canada has released a “report card” that measures our country’s performance on six levels: economy, innovation, environment, education, health, and society, then compares us to other developed countries.
The result? Apparently we fail to innovate, and are “complacent” and “unwilling” to take risks. Not only this, but we’re supposedly uncomfortable with success, excellence, and differentiation. The Conference Board is making us Canadians look like boring sloths who want nothing more than to ride the coat-tails of the rest of the developed world while we drink beer and relax in front of the TV.

At least we received high scores in one area: education. But apparently we don’t produce enough post-graduate degrees in areas that actually support innovation (what, then, do these degrees support?). Without innovation (which we in turn scored “stunningly poor” on), we fail to develop environmentally-friendly technologies, and thus fail in the environment category as well. In short: it appears that the Conference Board admits we’re smart, but says we don’t use our brains.

“This culture holds Canada back in entrepreneurial and technological innovation,” said the report card.

Here’s my evaluation of this so-called report card: A+ for effort. I wouldn’t take it so seriously. If you look at the results in a positive light, perhaps Canadians feel that, although we have the brain power to innovate, we’d rather let the others do all the work, while we sit back, manage and evaluate the process from afar. Interestingly, we scored 7.8 out of 10 when asked how satisfied we were with life. Maybe we’re smarter than you think…

As a side note, to all the parents out there, I’d cut your kids some slack the next time they bring home questionable grades. If this is how our country rates progress, we might be a bit too harsh on ourselves.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What Does RIM Think of the iPhone?

I attended the Canadian Telecom Summit yesterday, and, during the Q&A after his keynote address, Research in Motion (RIM) Co-CEO John Balsillie was asked the dreaded question: what do you think about the iPhone, and are you worried that its “revolutionary” new interface will resonate better with consumers than RIMs? Balsillie’s ballsy answer? “Apple is just one more entrant into this huge market.”

Balsillie feels pretty confident about the Blackberry's approx. 55-60% market share, and rightfully so. He even mused that the iconic device has not only made him look forward to red lights and longer bathroom breaks, but has also “liberated people from boring meetings”.

I have to agree with him: with respect to his confidence in RIMs grasp on the market, that is, not the red lights and bathroom breaks. The Blackberry has become such a universal term (just like the iPod!) that it would be tough to penetrate the kind of hold it has achieved on the market, whether you're Apple, Nokia, or any player in the arena, for that matter. In his introductory speech, KPMG’s Peter Doyle mused that running a “Google” search for the word “blackberry”, will generate 48,700,000 responses, none of which have to do with the fruit for which the word was previously known. He also informed the audience that, in 2006, the Webster’s dictionary named “crackberry” as the word of the year. How do you like them…blackberries? It’s a success story unlike any other, short of Apple’s own iPod. Ironically, Apple will now find itself on the other side of the coin, fighting for market share in an area for which it has never been associated.

It was refreshing to hear Balsillie’s response to the inevitable iPhone question. He was confident, but not cocky. In fact, he actually went on to praise Apple for recognizing a music player as a software application on a phone, and not just as a standalone device.

Balsillie did admit that wireless is a tough business to penetrate, and noted that, no matter how funky an interface, what really matters is what you can actually do with a device. He’s certainly got that right. As the old adage goes, it’s what’s inside that counts. Both the Blackberry and iPhone pack a lot of punch, so let’s see how this race develops.

Apple’s iPhone will hit the U.S. market on June 29.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Split Screen Web Searching

A company called has developed a Website that presents search word/term results in split screen format: one side showing Google results, and the other showing Yahoo!

The first thought when I read the announcement was: “Why the heck would anyone need to search both at the same time?" But the more I pondered the idea, the more I realized that the simplistic nature of this new Website is exactly what makes it so appealing.

Think about it: you’re essentially doubling search results in one click. Sure, there’s likely a lot of overlap. But it’s all about ranking: sometimes the result you’re looking for is higher ranked on Google than it is Yahoo!, and therefore shows up on the first page instead of the second, or third, or fourth, for example.

This site could also serve as a useful tool in helping users determine which search engine works best for their particular needs. You might realize over time that Google produces more relevant results; or that Yahoo! has a better handle on your specific topic interests.

I gave SearchBoth a quick test run, and it is exactly what it promises to be. Search results are presented instantaneously (I’m on a high-speed Rogers connection and using IE6). Place the cursor inside either the Google or Yahoo! results, and that selected side shifts to take up the majority of the screen. Move the cursor out of the window and it flips back to a 50/50 split. It can get annoying because, as you move the cursor (likely by force of habit), the screen toggles side to side in turn. But you’ll easily get used to it.

My quick searches didn’t determine a definite “winner” of the search engine race. The results were actually pretty evenly skewed, with everything I wanted either first on the list, or somewhere on the first page of results. As it stands, I only use Google for web searches. But I’m willing to give a try to see if it yields better, faster, or more relevant results over the long run.

SearchBoth has also launched similar sites in the U.S. (, UK (, and Australia (, each of which searches Google and Yahoo! in the respective countries.

You might be reading this and thinking “what a stupid idea”. But don’t forget that some of the greatest inventions probably sounded really stupid at first inception: especially when it comes to the ‘net. YouTube, anyone? I thought so. Who’s laughing now.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Social Networking Continues to Grow

I’m revisiting the social networking topic, since it has been the subject of a lot of media buzz these days (with what room remains after extensive coverage of Paris Hilton’s latest order-to-and-subsequent-release-from-jail debacle). Last month, you might recall that I was debating whether or not to join a social networking Website. Despite my reluctance to do so, I eventually surrendered to the power of the ‘net. I subsequently received a lot of flak from many who thought it juvenile, “stupid”, and unnecessarily time consuming. But I persevered, nonetheless.

A month has passed, and about 90 per cent of my critics have now joined, albeit not without a push. When confronted, each grudgingly admitted to having caved in for various reasons: some claimed friends/family members were on their cases to join; while others simply said that eventually, their curiosity got the best of them.

Interestingly enough, these “converts” have become the best spokespeople in favour of social networking. Many have admitted that, although they have no interest in communicating with 98% of the people who attempt to contact them, the 2% of people they are glad they found make it all worth it. Interesting…

Even more interesting is the results of a recent poll by TNS Canadian Facts. The survey found that, although teens and young adults dominate the social networking world, the doors are slowly opening up for the 30+ crowd: and even those 50 and above. Six in 10 of those in their 30s have visited a social networking site; 45 per cent of those in their 40s, and one-third 50 and older.

And why not? From a personal perspective, social networking sites have become the easiest way to locate a long-lost friend or colleague. These sites are also a great way to enjoy a relationship with business contacts that goes beyond the suit and tie. And relationships are always a good thing, no matter how you build them.

Click Here for more results from the TNS survey:

Friday, June 8, 2007

Shake-Up in the U.S. Cell Phone Industry

There’s the potential for some real drama in the U.S. cell phone industry if the U.S. International Trade Commission gets its way. The ITC has ordered a ban on the import of all mobile phones using Qualcomm’s 3G technology. Apparently, the technology infringes on a Broadcom patent.

3G technology is the latest advancement in the cell phone arena that basically allows for faster download speeds via wireless broadband, and thus the ability to do things like download music and videos from the phone's Internet browser, then experience them right on the handset’s screen. According to reports, Qualcomm’s chip infringes on a patent that Broadcom holds for a technology that helps to conserve power in cell phones, thus permitting longer battery life. What’s strange is that the ban would only apply to mobile phones that haven’t yet been introduced to the U.S. market; while already existing 3G phones will not be affected.

The cell phone is increasingly moving toward becoming more of a convergence device that offers everything from music playback functionality, to fancy integrated digital cameras and even GPS capabilities. Given this, technologies like 3G are essential to further development, and feature benefits.

I’d be surprised if a resolution wasn’t made prior to a ban actually coming into effect. But it could go either way. Apparently Qualcomm is seeking a stay from the Federal Court of Appeals, and President Bush has 60 days to make a final decision. Either way, if a ban appears imminent, it will be interesting to see if cell phone manufacturers scramble to release their latest Qualcomm-based 3G innovation ahead of schedule for fear of the ban actually taking effect!

CTIA-The Wireless Association said it best: “Consumers should not have to pay the price for a legal debate that could be settled by other means.” Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it is settled before things get ugly.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Buzz is Green

I’m sure you’ve heard the word “green” more times than usual over the past few months. No, I’m not referring a big, lovable animated creature called Shrek, but rather the continuing focus on environmentally-friendly products and initiatives. Although the “green” phenomenon is appearing everywhere, from car manufacturers, to celebrity rants, and even grocery stores (I saw “green” toilet paper last night!), it is also finding a huge presence in the consumer electronics industry.

Sharp Canada, for example, is running a contest that will afford one lucky entrant who does the most to reduce his environmental impact a 52-inch Sharp AQUOS LCD TV. The manufacturer even labels its new factory in Japan “Super Green”, because it employs practices to reduce such things as electrical power use and Co2 emissions.

Another company that’s big on “green” is HP: the firm has been actively running a recycling program for two decades, and as a result, has recycled more than 920 million pounds of hardware and print cartridges globally from more than 40 countries, regions, and territories around the world! HP’s goal is to reach one-billion cumulative pounds by the end of 2007.

Cell phone manufacturers are even joining the pack. In March, Telus Mobility promised to plant a tree for every customer who signed up for online billing and canceled his paper bill; or for anyone who came into a Telus store or authorized dealer before May 30 with the company’s weekend newspaper insert. Meanwhile, Bell Mobility recently announced a partnership with the WWF Canada to donate one dollar to the Fund for every mobile phone or PDA returned through its Mobile Take-Back Program. Collected phones are either refurbished for re-use, or dismantled and recycled.

Other organizations are also helping to make the world a greener place. Computation Ltd. (, which has locations in both Toronto, ON and Montreal, QC, runs drop-off locations for unwanted PC equipment, which is then recycled. The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation ( also works to promote the recycling of used portable rechargeable batteries and old cell phones. The RBRC’s even managed to snag a celebrity spokesperson: Tim “the Toolman” Taylor’s own sidekick Al from the old sitcom Home Improvement (Richard Karn)!

Energy Star and RoHS compliancy has also become a highly-touted selling feature of many CE products, from notebook PCs to washing machines.

This is a great sign that we’re on the right track to a more environmentally-friendly and conscious society. Kudos to so many CE manufacturers for putting “green” initiatives on the forefront of product development.

Photo: HP has redesigned the North American packaging for its print cartridges as part of its ongoing efforts to help the environment. The firm says that the smaller and lighter packaging will result is an estimated 37 million points of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to taking 3,6000 cars off the road for one year.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The NHL Gets It

Last week, I mentioned that the MLB was frowning upon the Slingbox place-shifting device, pulling the copyright card by saying that the device constitutes an unauthorized redistribution of content. (The Slingbox lets users access a connected video source remotely from their PC, anywhere in the world where there's a high-speed connection). This week, the NHL has announced a partnership with Sling Media, makers of the Slingbox, to offer “clips” from games on a dedicated section of Sling Media’s Website via a new Clip+Sling feature.

With Clip+Sling, Slingbox customers can essentially record a clip from a broadcast (say, the awesome play Mats Sundin just made), and e-mail it to a friend. The e-mail contains a link that directs to a dedicated Webpage, where the recipient can view the clip. Whoa, back up here. So the NHL is not only giving the Slingbox two thumbs up, but it’s also permitting hockey fans to actually record short clips from the game, then redistribute them online? Not only this: the NHL and its clubs will work to organize the content so it’s easily searchable by web surfers; and even add its own content to the site!

In MLB’s defense, the firm's argument isn’t focused on the redistribution of content, but rather the fact that it’s being done without the firm’s “express written consent”. That, I can understand. But in the same respect, shouldn’t I be fined if I invite three friends over to watch a movie that’s playing on cable? After all, they aren’t subscribed to the service, so why should they reap the benefits?

It’s important to note that video content from the Slingbox can only be accessed through the installed software application on one remote PC. This means that it’s likely one person watching his favourite show in a hotel room while traveling on business to Japan; or maybe even a few people gathered around a 17-inch notebook screen to watch the final game of the playoffs while vacationing in Europe. In essence, all the Slingbox is doing is letting someone who subscribes to the cable service already enjoy the content anywhere he wants. If you ask me, that’s more of an incentive to sign up to additional channels, especially for sports fan!

Companies like the CBC and NHL get it. The CBC has partnered with everyone from Amp’D Mobile, to DivX, and even Sling Media, to offer its content throughout various platforms. And they’re undoubtedly reaping the benefits, both by viewership and financially. MLB offers its content on a subscription basis through places like U.S. mobile phone providers Verizon Wireless and AT&T, which is great. But there are other methods of distributing content; and they are becoming more and more innovative by the minute. What all content providers need to understand is that in the end, the consumer needs to win. A business can’t exist without consumers. And happy ones, at that.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Does Subliminal Advertising Still Exist?

I’m going to break away a bit from tech today, because a topic arose out of the blue last night that I just couldn’t resist touching upon. I was watching the season premiere of Hell’s Kitchen, a really neat reality show where aspiring chefs basically get beaten down by world-class British chef Gordon Ramsey. Naturally, I’m PVR’ing it at the same time in order to skip through the commercial breaks. All of a sudden, my significant other starts rewinding. “What are you doing,” I ask him, having been deeply engrossed in the drama that was about to ensue. “I just want to check something I thought I saw,” he exclaims.

Sure enough, sitting on the table beside two girls as they gossip after a grueling day in the kitchen is a take-out bag from Mr. Sub. Yes, the Canadian franchise. The one that doesn’t exist in the States. The show is American, broadcast by Fox. Now, I’m pretty sure none of the contestants took a hop across the border to grab a cold cut trio on their break, so how did it get there? My guess? Strategic (and paid for) product placement.

Is this simply a clever form of advertising, or deceptive marketing? Had my partner not pointed out the bag donned with the clearly identifiable red “Mr. Sub” logo, I may have stepped out at noon today with a strange craving for a submarine, and no idea why. Frankly, what I find more disturbing is the implication that a group of people who are supposed to be great culinary artists are wolfing down subs in between making scallops and fois gras. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mr. Sub, but it is fast food, no matter how you slice it.

In a similar situation on The Food Network, a viewer noticed a McDonald’s logo had quickly flashed on the screen during an episode of Iron Chef America. When he played the segment back on his PVR, the logo was caught in freeze-frame. The video can be viewed on YouTube:

I am still trying to grasp my head around why fast food joints would want to advertise their goods while you're watching mouth-watering dishes being made by world-class chefs!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Best Buy Moves in on Mobile Phone Market

It's no surprise that Best Buy has a huge presence in the consumer electronics space. Now, the retailer is expanding its Mobile Store presence with plans to open 180 locations in 12 states. This, according to, includes both newly-developed in-store areas and standalone shops targeted specifically to the mobile phone market. No such plans have been announced for Canadian Best Buy locations, but is this just a matter of time? Something to think about…

How will the carrier storefronts, like Bell Mobility and Rogers Wireless, not to mention stores like The Telephone Booth, feel should these Best Buy Mobile stores start popping up in popular markets across Canada? It is one thing for cell phones and plans to be selling through Best Buy stores: but it’s a whole other story when the retailer is actively pushing them through a dedicated location.

I guess either way, the carrier wins. But you have to admit it would be amusing to drive down the street and see Best Buy labels on every store you pass: Best Buy CE shop, Best Buy Mobile, Best Buy Geek Squad. What’s next? Judging from the recent demise of Sam The Record Man’s iconic downtown Toronto store, I wouldn’t put my money on a CD shop!