Friday, June 27, 2008

Canadian iPhone Plan Pricing Revealed

Rogers Wireless has just revealed data plan pricing for the iPhone once it arrives in Canada.

Is it disappointing? Not really, only because I wasn't expecting that we'd get an unlimited offering (which we didn't). The largest amount of monthly data usage is 2 GB, which comes partnered with a voice agreement for $115/mo. If you want to use the iPhone just for data, sorry, no cigar: you will have to pay for talk time minutes as well. As mentioned in a previous post, you also won't be able to buy the device on its own or sign up for less than a three year contract either.

A $15 add-on includes things like extra sent text messaging and caller ID, the latter of which I assumed would be standard on pretty much any phone these days. Does this mean that without such a plan, or an additional fee (no matter how nominal), you won't see who's calling? Odd.

What's more,where's the similar plans for owners of other devices? iPhone owners shouldn't be the only customers deemed deserving of "reasonable" data rates right now. Hopefully Rogers will launch similar rates for other smartphone owners at the same time the iPhone makes its way here. It only seems fair.

Visit our sister Website to find out all the details about the four plan options that will be offered for the phone, and leave your comments. Will you buy one of these plans and, if so, which one do you think is the "best deal"?

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gadgets for the Canada Day Long Weekend


As we all prepare for the upcoming Canada Day long weekend (why on earth can't we just move the holiday to the Monday rather than the Tuesday?) I'm sure many of you are planning to head up to the cottage, a camp site, or just enjoy some well-deserved R&R on the patio or in the backyard. But just because you're turning yourself off from cyberworld doesn't mean that gadgets can't play a useful role in your fun-filled summer activities. Let's take a look at some of the "coolest" gadgets for your long weekend celebrations.

Eureka Nergy 1210 tent: I took this high-tech tent camping last year, and really enjoyed the benefits it provided. There are several 12V ports and switches around the interior that, when used with the optional power pack, let you charge or power up your gadgets. You can plug in anything with a 12V adapter, from a mobile phone to an iPod, and even things like flashlights or portable fans. As a sleeping agent, this tent is really spacious as well, rated to sleep 8, but comfortably sleeping four with plenty of room to roam. Click Here for a video demo of the tent.

Patio Heater: I'm not sure what it's been like in other cities, but Toronto weather has been severely sporadic: 30+ degrees one day, followed by rain storms and clouds the next. A patio heater is a great idea for a surprise cold day, or even for the chilly nights. VisionQuest has some neat stainless steel and copper models that can heat at up to 11,000 BTUs. They can easily sit table-top, or travel by car to your campsite as a back-up if you can't seem to get that campfire going!

Portable DVD Player: If you have young kids and know that getting to your destination requires a long car ride, a portable DVD player can help to provide at least a few hours of quiet time. There are plenty on the market from well-known manufacturers like Toshiba, Panasonic, and Philips that can keep the kids entertained with movies, cartoons, or even a slideshow of still images and music.

iPod Speaker System: If you're out on the deck or at a campsite, I highly doubt you'll be bringing along a high-end, expensive speaker system. But there are some affordable options out there that will let you play your iPod tunes via battery operation while swimming at the cottage or even lounging on the beach. A really funky option is a neat line of fashion cooler bags from Lifepop. Speakers are integrated into the lining, and you can connect your iPod via a port inside. But they also come in handy for carrying your beach gear and refreshments. And you're sure to grab the attention of anyone around you with the super-retro designs of these bags.

Waterproof Camera: As I get ready to head out this weekend, one item I know I'll be packing is my waterproof digital camera. You don't need to be deep-sea diving to make use of one of these. I'll be using mine in a backyard pool where I can feel comfortable passing it around to friends and family without worrying about wet hands damaging the inner workings or the camera falling into the water. If you're on a beach, snap all the shots you want with your sandy hands, then rinse the camera off in the water. If you are an avid swimmer and not just a beach bum, the ability to take underwater photos is a definite plus. My model is from Olympus, but there are other waterproof options on the market right now from companies like Pentax, Sanyo, and Panasonic, the latter two of which even have waterproof handheld camcorders for taking video. (Check out the latest issue of here's how! magazine for a hands-on review of a few of these models).

Projector & Screen: While projectors might not be mainstream in the home, they are great options for watching films or home movies while away at the cottage. You can set up a portable screen and projector when you're there, then pack it back up and bring it home when you're done. This is especially useful for people who don't often visit their cottages and might be worried about potential theft. Epson has some great options in this category, including its MovieMate line-up that come with built-in DVD players.

Rock speakers: I'm sure you've seen them: they're nifty little speakers that come disguised as rocks. They're typically weather-proof so you can leave them outdoors all year long, even through harsh weather conditions. What makes them uber-cool, however, is the fact that your backyard BBQ guests will hear the music, but have no idea where it's coming from! Neat models are available from companies like Boston Acoustics, Rockustics, and Stereostone.

Portable GPS: If you're traveling by car, the price of gas these days will entice even the manliest of men to ask for directions when needed. No one wants to be roaming around the street at $1.30/litre! There are plenty of models on the market these days, from companies like Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom, as well as new players like Panasonic and LG (the latter of which just entered the category a year ago). Although it won't be ready in time for Canada Day, Mio's latest model provides turn-by-turn directions in the official KITT voice from Knight Rider, which is sure to provide some laughs.

There are plenty of other outdoor-friendly gadgets, but hopefully this short, snapshot will help enhance your long weekend experience. Happy Canada Day!

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why Can't We Just Buy Phones Direct?


The ongoing debate about how Canadians pay too much for mobile phone data services, how we lack competition, and how we always get locked into long-term contracts, has begun to heat up again with the upcoming launch of the iPhone next month. A CBC News report just pointed out that, while customers of the 3G iPhone in Australia will be able to buy the phone outright and carriers like AT&T in the U.S. ask customers to sign-up for a two-year agreement, Canada's Rogers Wireless is requiring that you purchase a lengthy three-year plan if you want the highly coveted device.

From a business perspective, the reasons for this decision are obvious. Why not? There is currently no competition in the GSM arena in Canada, and, with the wireless spectrum that's currently underway, there just might be in the near future. We recently employed number portability in Canada, which lets a wireless customer take his number and port it to a new carrier, should he so desire. Of course, if you're locked into a contract when a more desirable carrier pops up, you're out of luck. You have to either wait for that contract to finish, or pay through the nose to cancel it early. Naturally, anyone I know who wants an iPhone is gritting their teeth at this news, and actually considering foregoing the device based solely on principle. Why should they have to lock in for three years, the longest term reported anywhere in the world thus far, if they want it?

What would make things so much easier would be to simply start selling mobile phones directly to consumers. Sure, their sale prices would no longer be subsidized by the wireless carriers, but customers would be 100% untethered, able to purchase whatever data plan and options best suit their needs from their desired wireless carrier. Contracts are contracts, and if they are still to be offered, than so be it. But carriers should not be able to essentially hold a mobile device ransom in order to tie a customer to their services for a set period of time. I can't think of any other media and entertainment offering that works in such a manner.

I've long talked about a day when we'd actually buy the SIM card itself outright, load it up with desired options and features, and slap it into any mobile phone we like. We're a long way from that sort of open source landscape, but it really would be the most ideal option for the customer. Not only would it have the potential to improve customer service on the provider side, but it would also make it much easier (and likely!) for more people to get involved with the latest and greatest mobile phone options; and even to purchase that brand-spanking new phone as a gift for a loved one.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

GOOG-411 Provides Some Hearty Laughs for Canadians

Google is bringing its 411 service, which I didn't even know existed until now, to Canada. Call the number (1-800-GOOG-411), and you can find business listings anywhere, for free. As a "cute" add-on, Google claims to have engineered GOOG-411 for "Canadian English" with words like "eh", "Traw-na", and "aboot".

I gave the service a try and ended up laughing out loud at Google's interpretation (or rather misinterpretation) of some uniquely Canadian names. For example, I requested a search for a CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) bank in Toronto, Ontario. At first, I thought the lovely, male voice on the line heard me incorrectly, because all the results he was providing were in "Quebec". Then I realized he wasn't actually saying "Quebec", but rather "kibick", as if he was dictating CIBC as an actual , four-letter word. Too funny. When I realized he wasn't finding the CIBC I was looking for on the Queensway Rd., I went back and searched again under the more specific city name Etobicoke. His repetition? "Eda-by-coke" (for anyone not from Toronto, it's actually pronounced "ee-toe-bi-coke"). At this point, I was just looking for stuff he might not get correctly: sadly, he understands Vaughan to be "vawn" and not "vaw-gen" as I thought he might have. I would be interested, however, to find a business location on Strachan (pronounced "strawn") to see what he comes up with!

In the end, GOOG-411 just couldn't find the location I was looking for, despite a few tries. It only supplies the top eight results, and doesn't let you search by an actual street name. As you can imagine, there are plenty of CIBCs around the greater Toronto area! Can you imagine what it would be like looking for a specific Tim Horton's location? But consider that the service is free, and it's probably much better at finding specific spots, like a particular mall or restaurant. Even though my call wasn't a success, for a good, hearty laugh on a Monday morning, it was worth it.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Record Labels Struggle While Artists Thrive

A new report from IBISWorld paints an interesting picture about the future of the music industry. It points out that, while record labels are struggling in light of the increase in digital downloading and Internet consumption, artists are actually thriving. And why wouldn't they be? They now have a clear line of communication between them and essentially an entire world of music lovers.

"Having initially fought downloading, rather than looking at ways of legally exploiting and profiting from it, record labels are now finding themselves playing catch up," said George Van Horn, Senior Analyst at IBISWorld.

Indeed, what's happening is that new and emerging artists are harnessing the power of the Web to promote their music, and in turn, profiting directly from their own music distribution, since they own the rights to it.

"Digital technology makes it easier to artists to dispense with record labels and publishers," Van Horn frankly stated.

While this may be true, artists will still need someone with good business sense that can steer them toward the right avenues of distribution, whether it be via ad-supported Websites, pay download online stores, or yes, even the creation and distribution of physical CDs. Eventually, the mass craziness that is music all over the 'net will require some proper management. Whether it's a record company, an independent label, or just simply an agent, remains to be seen.

Related to this, IBIS has an interesting perspective on how digital downloading can actually help the music industry, rather than harm it. "Overall demand for music may actually increase as more fans access music by artists they were previously unaware of, creating opportunities and possibly increasing the value of assets held by the industry."

I never understood how record companies could frown upon mass exposure of an artist via the 'net. Isn't that what you're attempting to accomplish in the first place? To get this artist's name "out there"?

Another interesting tidbit of information: reportedly mobile phone ringtone licensing has the potential to become one of the biggest money-making ventures for the music industry. Who knew that the invention of the polyphonic ring tone could pay the rent on that mansion that the latest pop sensation just paid millions for?

The reality is that the entire music landscape is changing, and the sooner all involved realize this, the sooner everyone can profit from the changes instead of trying to prevent them.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Media Convergence is a Reality

The convergence of all sorts of media, from TV to print to online, and even radio, is an undeniable reality. But ever so often, I'll experience something that really opens my eyes to how much crossing over is actually taking place, in large part, due to emerging technologies. This time, my eye-opening experience came from two e-newsletters about a pair of my favourite TV programs, both of which appear on the pay-TV Showtime network.

The primary purchase of each e-newsletter was to advise me that the new season would begin in September. But this wasn't the only focus: I was also informed on the many ways I could catch up on or review older episodes. The first method was one I already know about: watching them on-demand through my cable TV provider. Of course, I can also purchase the first season on DVD at my local retailer; or pre-order the second season DVD. But other, not-so-typical options included downloading the first two seasons on iTunes (U.S. customers only, of course); and joining the official Facebook fan page. So while the e-mail clearly advises that Showtime is the only place I'll be able to access the new season once it starts in September, the network has found multiple ways to keep me engaged before then, as well as monetize its existing product.

In a separate newsletter for the second show, the options became even more tech-savvy. I was told about things like a behind-the-scenes blog; and a neat Wiki where fans can do things like write their own episode guides, add to character profiles, and add images or stats on the actors.

It's a far cry from the days when I would handwrite a fan letter and mail it to an actor I had a crush on, only to receive a photocopied letter and signed photo in the mail 6-8 weeks later. Now, avid TV watchers can actively interact with the shows, and have multiple ways to catch up on old episodes. This emphasizes not just the rapid convergence of media industries, but also the reason why: consumers want choice in the way they interact with and consume content. I won't be entering any Wiki information, nor downloading episodes via iTunes (even if I could). But knowing that the options are there, and that people who do prefer those methods can engage in them, is satisfying in itself.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Projector That Fits in the Palm of Your Hand

Who would have thought we'd be able to project a huge image using a device that fits into the palm of your hand? Optoma will be making its "Pico" projector, which is the size of a typical smartphone, commercially available worldwide in 2009. It will have limited distribution in Europe and Asia as early as late 2008. This model is the first to include the DLP Pico chipset from Texas Instruments.

How does it work? Connect the four-ounce device to another mobile device, like a smartphone, and you can project images, or even video, onto a surface at up to 100 times larger than the device's actual screen. With the growing list of mobile phones that capture fairly decent resolution shots, and even stream video, a mini projo like this could come in really handy.

Jon Grodem, Director of Product Management for Optoma describes the Pico projector as allowing one to "break free from the limitations of the two and three-inch displays found on today's mobile devices. This category defining projector creates a new benchmark for sharing content-on-the-go."

My first thought is while at a cottage or camping: imagine projecting a slideshow of photos or a series of fun video clips on a white sheet draped over your tent or a white wall? Sure, it isn't high-definition by any means, and I wouldn't watch a full-length feature film using one of these things. But the mere fact that you can accomplish such a task is incredible!

Speaking of resolution, Optoma's Pico projector uses LED technology, which leads me to believe that images will have the potential to look pretty darned impressive for a device that you can slot into your back pocket.

Will Pico projectors take off as viable mobile accessories; or will they simply be a "fad" of the 21st century?

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rogers Says it Will Lower Price Plans

Rogers Wireless COO Nadir Mohamed said yesterday at the Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto that the company would finally be lowering data rates to fit in line with today's cellular landscape.

Unlike the way things used to be in what seems like eons ago, mobile devices are now used for everything from surfing the 'net to sending and receiving e-mails, editing documents, streaming music and video, and even playing games. Naturally, the inflated data rate charges that are inflicted on Canadians are simply no longer relevant for the growing group of data-intensive users.

Many are reporting that this move from Rogers will be a huge leap for wireless services in Canada. But I'll wait and see the details and fine print of the actual data plans before making a judgement call. (Official announcements are scheduled to be revealed some time prior to the iPhone's arrival in Canada on July 11).

Despite what many reports are implying, Mohamed did not blatantly confirm (to be fair, nor did he deny) that the plans would actually apply to devices other than the iPhone. A representative from Rogers already confirmed to me last week that Rogers would indeed be developing a new plan for the iPhone, but made no mention about whether this plan would cross over to other devices. If anything, Mohamed seemed to focus predominantly on the iPhone and BlackBerry's upcoming Bold device (launch date TBA). Will more attractive data plans be available for owners/buyers of other smartphones as well? If I were to make an educated guess, I'd say that Rogers will offer a new plan for the iPhone and Bold, and eventually roll out new plans across the board upon monitoring customer response.

It's long been said that Canadians pay one of the highest rates for cellular services of all the developed countries. While U.S. carriers are launching unlimited data plans left, right, and centre, we have no such truly unlimited offering in Canada. I doubt we will see comparable plans to the U.S., any time soon, but hopefully we can take things one step at a time to create a more affordable wireless landscape that properly recognizes and tailors to the usage habits of mobile users today.

On that note, the Wireless Spectrum Auction, which is where telecom companies bid for the airwaves required for cellular services to operate, is still underway. Industry Canada has set aside a portion of Spectrum for a new entrant into the wireless space, which could potentially see another GSM/3G carrier enter the Canadian market. Mohamed reportedly refused to comment on the Auction.

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Blu-ray Set to Take Over in Europe


While sales of Blu-ray players remains relatively sluggish in North America, sales of the format are heating up in Western Europe. In fact, research company Futuresource Consulting reveals that sales of Blu-ray players are actually ahead of where sales were for the standard DVD format when it was at its same point of introduction into the market.

Futuresource anticipates that more than 10 million Blu-ray players will be in use by the end of 2008. By contrast, only 1.5 million DVD players were in homes by the end of the third year that this format hit the market. Going forward, the company sees Blu-ray performance out-doing DVD consistently, with almost double the growth in year 5; closing at just slightly higher in year 6 (45 million units shipping in 2011 vs. 37 million shipped for DVD in 2002).

Naturally, we have to take the Sony PlayStation 3 into consideration, which is purchased as a gaming system first and foremost, with the built-in Blu-ray player as merely a secondary feature (for the majority of consumers, at least).

"The timing of the PS3 launch has clearly provided a big boost to the initial uptake of BD," explains Jim Bottoms, MD Corporate Development at Futuresource. "With a number of hot titles now starting to emerge and console prices continuing to fall, we can expect to see continued strong uptake."

Bottoms also notes that the competitve nature of retailers trying to get as much market share in the category as they can is also helping sales. Not only are retailers exposing consumers more and more to the technology, but product pricing is also coming down, making Blu-ray a more affordable option to the every day customer.

This is impressive news for the Blu-ray camp. Hopefully, in time, we'll experience the same sort of growth in North America. Bottoms is confident that Blu-ray will eventually "mirror the trend we saw with DVD players replacing CD decks." We may be closer to that time than we think.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Underestimating the Power of Secondary Features

Have you ever spent tons of money on a birthday or Christmas present for a young child, only to find that he/she is more fascinated with the box it came in? I've noticed a similar situation when it comes to high-tech products and the "average" consumer. Sometimes the feature that you just gloss over during your presentation, or worse, don't even mention, is one that's likely to pique the customer's interest.

This Father's Day was a case in point for me. We arrived at my parent's house, where my dad was overly enthusiastic about showing us a new discovery he made about his flat-panel TV and DVD player. When he puts in a music CD, the track titles come up on-screen, along with a standard play/pause menu, controlled via the remote. He had no idea, but absolutely loved the ability to pop in a CD, sit on the couch, and scroll through some tunes! My mom is planning a party with the girls next weekend, and she plans to set up her background music using this newly discovered method of theirs. Of course they don't really have any speakers, but let's take things one step at a time...

We often overlook simple functionality like the ability to play back CDs and control them using your TV. The same goes for features like being able to play back photos on the big-screen, or even connecting the TV to a computer and surfing the 'net using the flat-panel as an oversized monitor.

These hidden gem features go way beyond just TVs and DVD players. Lots of consumers don't know that you can use the same flash memory card in a digital camera that you can in an MP3 player or a digital camcorder, for instance. I'll bet lots of dads that received iPods this Father's Day (or Father's Days past) don't realize they can also play back photos and video on the device. Or what about that portable iPod dock? I'll bet many owners don't even know that they can connect other things, like a different portable player, speakers, or even a CD player attachment, to that nifty device using an AUX input on the back.

It's amazing how much we take for granted that the consumer knows. If you're selling technology products, learn to read the customer and gauge what features he/she might like, and might not care about. It doesn't hurt to say "did you know that this product X and can also do Y?" You might just be surprised at the response.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Three Weeks With Wii Fit


I'm now on my third week with Wii Fit, and I have to admit: although I haven't actually lost any weight, I'm having loads of fun!

The lack of fitness-related achievement is mainly my fault: I have only been engaging with the game, on average, once every four days. Certainly that isn't fitting for any workout regime. Despite how fun the game is, you still need to motivate yourself to "play" it just as you would have to push yourself to go to the local gym, use that treadmill that's collecting dust in the basement, or go for a run or bike ride through the neighbourhood. Just because it's sitting in the middle of your living room doesn't make it any easier to find the time to use it!

What makes things even tougher is that it's much easier to gravitate toward the fun, game-like activities instead of the yoga and strength training moves that are the core of the fitness aspect of the game. I'll hula hoop until the cows come home, I've become an expert tightrope walker and ski jumper, and I can step-dance like nobody's business. But I still can't do a push-up to save my life. There are some yoga and strength training moves that I haven't so much as given a second glance to since the first time I played. Tsk, tsk. If you're playing, make sure not to get caught up in the neat stuff, and get down to business every once in a while if you want to reach set BMI goals.

In terms of the fun games, though, my 30-minute and one-hour sessions have unlocked some neat, new activities and moves. In one game, you're outfitted in a penguin suit and slide back and forth on an inceberg while trying to catch flying fish. In a new yoga pose, you squat like a chair and hold the post for 40 seconds, which is great for toning the legs and abs. The most fun, however, is snowboarding: take the Balance Board, and sit it sideways in front of your TV. Then, simulate snowboarding down a huge hill and through coloured posts by moving your body back and forth. I can't wait to see what remaining games and left to unlock, although I fear that, once I've opened up every available game, I'll miss not having anything new to look forward to.

My verdict so far? With some discipline and selection of the right activities, Wii Fit can help you get in shape. As with anything, there are other factors that come into play in order to achieve your goals: eating right and sleeping enough, for instance (my last Wii Fit tip told me I should always get at least 7.5 hours of sleep per night). If you do your workouts alone, don't worry: the virtual talking balance board that greets you upon start up sure does lay the guilt on thick: Too busy to work out yesterday Christine, eh? it asked me last night. Wait a second: did we get a special Canadian version of the game?

My immediate goals: 1) ramp up play time. 2) spend less time skiing and hula'ing and more time yoga posing and strength training. Hopefully I'll be able to report some favourable numbers next time. Stay tuned.

Wii Week One

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

What Will New Canadian Copyright Laws Mean for Tech Industry?


The Government of Canada has proposed amendments to the Copyright Act that could potentially wreak havoc in the consumer electronics industry, where sharing content among devices and via the 'net is part of the appeal of many of today's products.

For example, the revisions make it legal to "copy" a TV program to a device like a PVR for watching later on. The same goes for a legally-acquired piece of music being copied onto a portable device, like an iPod or music phone. But this activity becomes illegal if the consumer has to get around some sort of "digital lock". Great: I can already see how content creators will be conjuring up ways to get around this loophole! If a person is caught in such an activity, he could face a $500 fine (up to $20,000 when we get into commercial activities).

Another amendment gives the rights holders of content, like music, video, or images, the right to determine how their content is posted and shared online. Previously, this right was only given to authors of the content, but it has now been extended to performers and producers. Does that mean that a Web surfer could be fined if he posted a video he took on his camera phone from a music concert? And in a case like that, what happens if the artist, the producer, and the and the songwriter all disagree? Additional amendments in this area include a "moral right" that would prevent distortions of one's content: I guess this means no more karaoke videos on YouTube? Some exceptions are made for the research and education markets.

In the online arena, Internet Service Providers (ISP) are being cleared of any responsibility when it comes to illegal downloaders or copyright infringers that use their services. However, they will be required to passs on copyright infringement allegations to the particular subscriber, and keep a record of their personal information for at least six months. In effect, the ISP will act as the liaison between the legal entity and the subscriber.

In terms of photographers, they will now become the owner of the copyright associated with images they've taken rather than the person that has commissioned the material (although the latter can still use said image(s) for personal purposes).

"It's a win-win approach because we're ensuring that Canadians can use digital technologies at home with their families, at work, or for educational and research purposes," explained the Honourable Jim Prentice, Minister of Industry. "We are also providing new rights and protections for Canadians who create the content and who want to better secure their work online."

The entire idea of social networking on the Web will be hit pretty hard in wake of these new amendments. Personal blogs will likely no longer include photos acquired by a quick right-click, copy and paste action (luckily this blog doesn't engage in that activity!); while embedded videos might even be considered "illegal" if the content owner doesn't want the exposure (although I can't imagine why he wouldn't). Illegal music downloaders might also be a little less prone to engaging in their favourite past-time activity. In essence, all of these things are positive changes; but what's most worrisome is when it comes to some new products and technologies that facilitate the personal sharing of one's own content. If content creators start putting digital locks on everything they create, we'd run into some major issues. Hopefully these new amendments don't breathe new life into DRM-like restrictions that we've only just begun to show progress in eliminating.

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Digital Divide in Canadian Internet Usage


A recent StatsCan survey discovered a digital divide in the use of the Internet across Canada: people who are younger, live in urban areas, make more money, and have more education, tend to use the Internet more often than those who are older, live in rural areas, make less money, and have less education. This isn't surprising: would you really have thought any different? But let's examine some of the potentially less-obvious reasons.

When it comes to living situation, it's possible that many of the people in rural areas simply don't have the option to use high-speed. 65% said they used the Internet vs. 76% of urban residents. Naturally, it isn't as enticing to use the 'net if it takes two-minutes to load every page versus a fraction of a second. It might also be linked to lifestyle: people who choose to live in rural areas often do so because they want to get away from the fast-paced life of the city. Part of the Internet's appeal is being able to access information quickly and when you want it. People don't tend to pore over stories on the 'net like they would a good book! Also, I'd argue that a large percentage of rural residents are older folks who, according to this survey, are also less likely to use the 'net (96% of 16-24 year olds vs. just 29% of those 65 and older).

What about income levels? Of those who made $95,000 or more, 91 per cent used the Internet; versus just 47% of those who made less than $24,000. One connection there might not be so obvious: it's not just about education level or interest. If you don't make as much money, you're less likely to indulge in frivolous expenses at home, like Internet usage.

As for education, 84% of those who have some post-secondary schooling use the 'net compared to 58% of those with less education. It's important to consider that the older generation wasn't exposed to computers at all, or not until they reached a higher level of education. So if they didn't go to college or university, they wouldn't have been exposed to the Internet at all, and thus never really caught on to the technology. This is especially so if the person now works in an environment where he doesn't directly use the Internet. My parents didn't learn about computers through school; but both had office jobs, and they picked up on the technology there. My uncle, however, who works as a car mechanic, was only ever exposed to the 'net when his grandson taught him how to use it.

Overall, the Statistics Canada study, which was conducted in October and November 2007, found that Internet usage rose across the board when compared to 2005, with BC, Alberta, and Ontario actually surpassing the national average of 73%.

So how do we increase usage rates going forward? Make the Internet more affordable and more accessible will help. New services like WiMAX will also make it easier to connect online from some rural areas.

In looking at the older generation, it would be beneficial for younger folks, whether friends, family members, or even sales associates, to take the time and explain the 'net to those who aren't familiar with it. Show them how easy it is to use. I recall years ago when my father would simply open up Internet Explorer, type in a search word into the address bar and then wonder why he was getting an error message. With the family's help, he's now a whiz at surfing online, sending e-mails, and even downloading music! Keep in mind that there will always be nay-sayers that want nothing to do with that dreaded "box" of a computer. But for those who want to learn, it's amazing what a little patience can do.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How is the Price of Gas Affecting Your Business?


On our sister Website at http://www.marketnews.ca/, Lee Distad looked at the price of gas and how it's affecting the custom installation business; and gave some tips on how to help your business save money. Installation staff and salespersons are most certainly feeling the heat, since they're quite often on the road visiting clients. But there are other areas of the CE business that's feeling the gas gouge just as hard, if not harder.

Sales representatives are the first people that come to mind, many of whom work independently, and spend a huge chunk of their time driving from store to store. At my last fill-up in Toronto, gas was more than $1.30/litre! This has to put a dent in their wallets, not to mention cause their visits to become few and far between. Can this lead to strained relationships with dealers? After all, if Bob the Sales Rep used to visit every week, and now all of a sudden he's only in once a month, can this be wrongfully interpreted?

Then we get to delivery guys. Can retailers, especially small independents, continue to offer free delivery services to customers when the price of gas keeps inching higher and higher? Where will these extra costs be placed? On the price of the product itself? Or will retailers simply have to "eat" the extra few bucks per delivery? It might not sound like a lot, but it adds up.

That leads to the manufacturers/distributors who often ship products through third-party courier services. Are they charging additional transport fees to the retailers? Will couriers increase prices to offset the growing numbers at the pump?

As you can see, the rising price of gas affects more than just the consumer. So if you're buying a big ticket item and have to pay for delivery when you never had to before, don't blame the retailer, at least not during these trying times. And if you don't have to pay, appreciate that offering even more now. As for retailers, if your sales rep is skimping on visits as of late, it probably has nothing to do with your relationship, or your importance as a business partner.

Let's hope that pricing comes down to a reasonable level soon. Thankfully, it's summer in Canada, so we're bound to see more and more bicycles and roller blades on the streets anyway. And with the current price of gas, we might see more of these alternative means of transportation than ever these days!

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

MacBook Air Might Envy Voodoo PC


The MacBook Air’s claim-to-fame is its ultra-thin depth, that, like the commercials illustrate, allow it to easily fit into a standard-sized envelope. But Voodoo PC, which was acquired by HP in 2006, has just announced its own answer to thin computing: the Envy133, a notebook PC that measures just 0.7-inches and weighs just 3.4 lbs. The MacBook Air measures 0.76” in depth, but weighs slightly less at 3 lbs. even.

Is this all just splitting hairs? Really, it’s the overall performance that counts. A thin and lightweight notebook certainly provides an advantage while traveling, and for overall ease-of-use (not to mention aesthetics); but whether it’s the thinnest or lightest of them all is really just good for one thing: bragging rights. I could care less whether my notebook weighs 3 lbs. or 3.4 lbs...unless ironically my carry-on luggage for a flight were to be 0.4 lbs. over the weight limit, in which case, I'd be biting my tongue on this one.

Nevertheless, Voodoo's Envy is a neat contender for those who haven't moved over to the Mac side. Housed in a carbon-fibre chassis, it has an Ethernet port built into its power supply. Like the MacBook, it has an LED display (13.3" and WXGA resolution as well), and a backlit keyboard with ambient light sensor. It also has a touchpad with finger tracking and support for "pinching" when you want to zoom in or out of a page, for example. The similarities continue with hard drive options: an 80 GB hard disk drive option or 64 GB solid state; and identical processors, with both incorporating Intel Core 2 Duo technology.

Based on basic specs, it looks like you'll get an hour-and-fifteen-minutes more juice out of the MacBook Air, with a rated 5-hours battery life versus 3-hours and 45 minutes with the Voodoo Envy133. And, of course, Voodoo's model comes with Microsoft Windows pre-installed: Vista Home Premium or Vista Business.

As a Windows user, the Envy133 certainly catches my eye more so than the MacBook Air, which I'd argue is marketed more as an objet for the "Mac fanatics" than anything else (although I will admit, it is darned pretty). Would I get either of these notebooks as my primary workhorse PC? Absolutely not. But when traveling to trade shows, or anywhere that I'll be lugging the notebook around, either would come in handy as a secondary device. As for the Envy133, it's nice to see that the Windows world has an equally "hip and cool" (not to mention Canadian-born!) brand marketing to us!

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Monday, June 9, 2008

iPhone in Canada This Week - UPDATE!


Will the highly-anticipated iPhone be available in Canada this week? Many are confident that it will be. Although there hasn't been an official announcement from either side, Steve Jobs is gearing up for Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference today in California, and the rumour mill is buzzing that he'll be launching the next-generation iPhone there. So while consumers around the world are salivating over a new iPhone, us Canucks are tapping our fingers while we patiently wait for the new one, which will actually be our first (to be available legally, at least).

Last month, Rogers Wireless confirmed that it would be bringing the iPhone to Canada "later this year", but did not confirm an exact date. With the impending launch of the next-generation device, which will operate on the faster 3G network (the existing device operates on 2.5G), Canada might finally be ready for take-off.

But more important than the rumoured new features, which include things like tactile feedback and support for a variety of third-party applications, is price plans. Will a new, and more affordable, data plan be offered for iPhone customers? Or will we be plagued with the same hefty data fees that Canadians arguably endure now with other smartphones, like the BlackBerry or Windows Mobile devices? What's more, will there be an uproar from other smartphone makers if the iPhone is given more favourable pricing options?

Rogers was not available for comment, but stay tuned for more information on the iPhone in Canada as it becomes available.

Update: OK, So I was wrong: the iPhone is coming next month, not this week. But many of the anticipated new features have been confirmed, including 3G operation which will afford faster load times and surfing capability.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

What Will They Think of Next?: Facebook Photos go Straight to Digital Frame

eStarling's WiFi digital photo frame now works with the Facebook.com social networking Website: enter your Facebook log-in information into the eStarling frame management Website just once. Then any time thereafter, photos you post to your Facebook account will automatically appear on your photo frame, as long as it's connected to the 'net. Photos that you friends upload can also be set to appear on the frame.

While this is a great way to keep families and friends up-to-date on your going's on (especially if they aren't techie enough to take and display their own images), this is also a great way to play jokes on people. Imagine setting a frame back home to display embarassing photos of your spouse while you know he/she has friends over. The possibilities are endless!

In addition to Facebook, the eStarling photo frame is also compatible with Photobucket; RSS feeds from sites like Flickr, Picasa, and AOL; and text messages from compatible mobile phones. Another neat feature is that the frame has its own e-mail address, so images can be sent to it directly from PCs or mobile phones (a filter is said to "protect against unwanted photos").

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Tech Gift Ideas for Dad


Since I discussed tech ideas for mom last month for Mother's Day, it's only fair that I take a look at some gadget ideas for dads for this upcoming Father's Day. While moms might covet items that help organize her life and preserve memories (digital photo frames, universal remotes, and the like), dads are probably looking for high-ticket items that will make them the envy of the neighbourhood. Future Shop conducted a survey that found high-definition flat-panel TVs topped dads lists this year, along with portable GPS devices (who knew?), and Blu-ray players. Here are a few, expanded suggestions.

HDTV: Dads love TV, and many also love sports, so a big-screen, flat-panel display is likely on the gift-seeking list. Look for one with features like high-definition resolution, and 120 Hz refresh rate (for accurately capturing those fast-moving sports scenes). If your dad is a golfer, you might want to look into Sharp's Drivers for Dads promotion, which affords a customized golf driver with the purchase of any AQUOS TV at 46" or larger.

Camcorder: On family outings, dad is usually the guy with the camcorder in hand, filming mom and the kids. There are tons of neat, new models on the market today from companies like Canon, Panasonic, Sanyo, and JVC that record to hard drive, or even flash memory card. A current promotion from JVC provides up to $200 off the price of a Share Station DVD burner when purchased along with one of the company's latest camcorder models. Another neat DVD burning device is the DVDirect from Sony, ($229.99) which can connect to virtually any source via composite, component, S-video, USB, etc., and burn the content to a DVD R/RW disc.

Universal Remote Control:
Just as mom can appreciate a universal remote control at home, so can dad. One of my favourites is the Harmony One, which is easy to use and set-up. I suggested pre-programming this for mom, but dad might appreciate the chance to tinker around with one himself.

Bluetooth Headset: If dad is a businessman, or constantly on-the-go, he might appreciate a Bluetooth headset that makes it easy to make and receive calls without having to rifle around for his cell phone. Show him how to pair it with his phone once, and it'll automatically pair each time thereafter. Alternatively, you might want to look into a Bluetooth speakerphone device that can clip to a visor in the car for making and receiving calls conveniently while driving. This accessory is of even greater importance these days as many provinces are beginning to ban the use of handheld cell phones while driving.

iTunes Canada Gift Card: I'll bet at some point, you got your dad an iPod, didn't you? Now that movies are available through the iTunes Canada store, you might want to look into getting dad a gift card so that he can load up his iPod with tunes and the latest movies for watching on-the-go.

Subscription to High-Def Channels: A lot of people I know who have flat-panel TVs but don't subscribe to the channels do so because they feel it's a "rip-off" that you have to pay extra (they obviously don't quite understand all the differences just yet between standard-definition and high-definition content). With that said, how about forking over the extra monthly fees for a year so that dad can get all the high-def sports and programming he wants?

Mobile Phone: Chances are that the phone dad currently has is an old clunker that he's had for years. Sign him up for a brand spanking new phone (simple function model) that will help him better stay in touch.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Copyrights Might Kill Our Hockey Song

The CBC has decided not to renew its contract with the composer of the Hockey Night in Canada theme song. All across Canada, hockey fans are bowing their heads and pumping their fists in anger. To many, it's almost like saying that the country is going to replace its National Anthem. So why the reason behind the decision?

Many reports state that the network has simply decided to "move in a new direction". But others have dug up information about a lawsuit the composer filed against CBC based on the unauthorized use of the tune beyond the scope of the original license agreement. Reportedly, CBC has license to use the song, composed by Dolores Claman in 1968 and used in partnership with the sport since then, in all Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts in Canada. So when the network decided to use it in the UK, and in "various other productions", Claman cried violation.

In an age where music composers are trying desperately to get their creations heard and recognized, isn't this situation slightly insulting? What has music come to when an inspirational tune that has brought joy to millions of Canadian citizens for 40 years could be lost because the creator did not get every penny of her $500/air play agreement? We'd be naive to think that money isn't a motivator (and a necessity) in music: one needs to be compensated in order to have the means to keep the creative juices flowing. But after 40 years, one could argue that the copyright for that song belongs to Canada, not to Claman. You'd hope she'd be proud of this, but apparently not so, seeking $2.5 million in "damages".

But on the flip side, if CBC's decision to squash the tune is in direct response of her actions (the new license deal supposedly included the exact same terms as always, with no increase in price or difference in usage rights), then they aren't any better than Claman. Granted, $2.5 million is a large sum, not to mention legal fees if the network fights the suit. But is the money worth it to keep Canadian viewers happy?

It's clear that issues of copyright and DRM as a whole aren't helping foster creativity nor secure the rights of music owners. It's just, more and more, being used as a means to grab money from individuals and companies. Meanwhile, we have struggling artists giving their music away online who would kill for the kind of positive association that this theme song has (or perhaps had?) If only music were still about bringing joy to people and not cashing in every way one can...

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Does Recession Mean Increased Interest in Technology?

I have said many times that, in a recession, consumer electronics is likely the one category that won't suffer as much as the others. Today, a study commissioned by Blockbuster reports the same. Why? When people don't have as much disposable income, they stay home. What do they do at home? Watch TV or movies, play videos game, and surf around on the 'net.

So while the restaurant, vacation, and other like recreational industries are suffering, consumer electronics are becoming more central to people's daily lives. Granted, while people are watching more TV at home (87% of survey respondents said they would be using their home theatre more often in the coming months) they aren't exactly spending more money: your cable/satellite bill doesn't go up if you watch more TV, unless you opt for pay channels. But this means that consumers might become more aware of new technologies as they place more focus on digital entertainment. They might learn about channels they don't have and look into subscribing (I'm saving hundreds of dollars by not eating out every Friday anymore, so what's another $5/mo. tacked onto my cable bill?)

As lagging consumers stare at the old clunker of a TV in the middle of the living room that they didn't spend so much time with before, they might even start thinking of upgrading. If you're watching it more now, that justifies the purchase, right?

Of course Blockbuster hopes that this increased interest in "staying home" will also amount to lots and lots of movie rentals. It probably will. And hopefully once the recession has passed, consumers will look to invest in a fancy new home theatre so that they can enjoy these movies, as well as regular TV programming, and even video games, in all their glory.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Blu-ray Awareness Picking Up

As more and more consumers in the U.S. are jumping on the HDTV bandwagon (especially in wake of the country's transition to digital TV), the familiarity with Blu-ray is also increasing. The NPD Group reports that awareness in the technology has jumped 10% in the past year, from 35% to 45% of HDTV owners. Despite this, only 6% said they would buy a Blu-ray device in the next 6 months (9% for existing HDTV owners).

"With HDTVs now in approximately 40 million U.S. households, that percentage translates to a pool of almost 4 million potential BD player buyers," said Russ Crupnick, Entertainment Industry Analyst for NPD.

The study reiterates what many others have said over the past few months: that customers are still quite happy with their standard-definition DVD players. However, as the life-cycle of these devices come to an end, it's safe to assume that many of those looking for a replacement will invest in a Blu-ray player rather than another standard DVD product. This will rely, of course, on the hope that, by then, the pricing of both Blu-ray hardware and software comes down to a point that the average consumer deems the technology an "acceptable" alternative.

In the meantime, what can retailers and manufacturers do to help ramp up interest in the category? The first recommendation is obvious: demonstrate the benefits of Blu-ray over standard-def fare in your store via a side-by-side comparison. What would make most sense is to do so with an upconverting standard DVD player rather than an old, $50 model: using the latter will only convince the customer that you think he's an idiot. Any consumer that's really interested in getting the best picture quality will need to be convinced that Blu-ray is better than a higher-end upconverting player.

The second recommendation is to offer incentives. People love free stuff, so to include a Blu-ray movie or two with the purchase of a Blu-ray player, or, in the retailer's case, to offer in-store promotions, could help bring attention toward the product category.

Third, make the products easy to use, and tout those features. Consumers that are interested in high-quality video but aren't exactly technophiles, might worry that a Blu-ray player is too complex for them to understand how to use. Show them that this isn't the case.

Finally, carefully outline what is required to fully enjoy a Blu-ray player (i.e. an HDTV and Blu-ray discs; not to mention a favourable audio system) so that your customer doesn't go home disappointed. More important, explain what he can't use one for (e.g. to play old HD DVDs!)

Over time, Blu-ray can make it to become the Compact Disc (or should I say digital download?) of the video world.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What Happened to the "Good Ol' Days" of CE?

I have only worked in this industry for seven years, but any time I'm at an event with dealers, manufacturers, or distributors that have been in the industry since the '70s and '80s, I hear stories from that time. They're always happily referred to as the "good ol' days" of CE: when the moods were lighter, business contracts were written on napkins, and crazy antics went far beyond pulling several all-nighters during CES. Indeed, having heard some of things that went on (none of which will be written here!), I can confirm that the antics were indeed much crazier than they are today. So what happened to those times?

In some ways, our society as a whole has become more liberal. Yet in others, we've become more concerned, afraid, and paranoid about the repercussions of our actions. In other words, people take less risks. Then again, we might feel there's more to lose these days, with arguably more competition in the CE business today than their likely was 20 years ago.

So has the Canadian CE industry become too uptight? Judging from the people I've met and the events I've attended, that answer would be a big, fat "no". But then again, compared to what I've heard from the past, perhaps we've just become a bit more careful. Thoughts?

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Monday, June 2, 2008

What Sells a Flat-Panel?


The flat-panel TV market has been heating up over the past few years, due to the benefits this technology offers over traditional CRT (do we even remember what those are anymore?), as well as rapidly advancing technologies that make pictures brighter, sharper, and overall more engaging to the viewer. But what really sells a flat-panel TV these days?

A discussion with an industry member the other day posed this very question. It seems as though the focus has shifted from “speeds and feeds” to aesthetics – thin designs, incorporating colours in the bezels, and “neat” functions like Internet connectivity, compatibility with like-branded devices, and even things like built-in memory card readers or USB ports for instantly viewing digital images or video from a compatible camera/corder. Has this shift happened because the consumers focus more on these aspects of a display, or is it because we’ve reached a plateau in technological development…for now?

Some believe that the increased emphasis is just a strategy for brands to differentiate themselves from one another because we’ve reached a point where so many of them are just so fantastic. Hitachi’s new 1.5-inch thin LCDs certainly turn heads by their gorgeous designs, as do Samsung’s new “Touch of Colour” panels that add a hint of red to the ambience of one’s living room, and LG’s new Scarlet series that focus on style just as much as picture quality. Then we come to companies like Pioneer that, while focusing on classy and sexy designs, also touts the “deep blacks” that its KURO panels can achieve. Granted, every single one of these manufacturers place some focus on technical features: 1080p high-definition picture resolution, 120 Hz refresh rate, and various other developments are always listed in marketing or display literature in retail stores.

On the other side of the fence, it can be argued that the “average” consumer, many of whom are finally jumping on the high-def, flat-panel bandwagon, don’t understand, nor care, about specs. They want a TV that looks good, of course, but is that enough to sell them on one? No. They also want the design of the TV itself to fit into their d├ęcor, and if that means getting one with interchangeable bezels, or one where you can easily play back photos during family gatherings, so be it. And price will always come into play. But most consumers will be willing to fork over a few extra bucks if a salesperson can provide them with a convincing demo that shows the benefits of one model over another.

Many will admit that women are also playing a more important role in the buying decision of electronics. A recent survey conducted by Sharp Canada reiterated this point, discovering that upwards of 80% of the purchasing decisions are made by women! A Ladies Night in High-Def event I attended recently (organized by Sharp) shed some light on some of the features that women either knew nothing about, or that impressed them the most. You might be surprised by the results.

The truth is, there really is no clear cut answer. Every shopper is different, and one demo that will convince one customer might not convince the other. The important point is to give the customer what he wants, but also make him aware of the alternatives. If, in the end, he wants a flat-panel with top-of-the-line specs over one that simply looks “pretty”, or vice versa, that’s up to him.

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