If the promotional images are any indication, there’s bound to be an awful lot of BlackBerry checking happening in Amazon’s new Alpha House series. And now you can finally see for yourself. The first three episodes of the Capitol Hill comedy (including April’s pilot) have just hit Amazon all at once. Not quite the binge watching we’ve become accustom to over on Netflix, but it should be enough to keep you at home on a Friday night. The first three are free. Additional episodes of the John Goodman vehicle will be free for Prime users, starting next week.
Kobo, the e-reader and tablet company owned by Rakuten (aka Japan’s answer to Amazon), is today taking the covers off four new devices — three new Android-based Arc tablets and a new Aura e-reader. And it is using the occasion to kick off a redoubled effort to focus on a specific segment in the market — die-hard bookworms — to help itself gain an edge over Amazon and differentiate itself better in the market. Now, in addition to its catalogue of 4 million books, Kobo has built in integrations with Pocket, new reading-focused storefronts (starting with a store for children’s books and one for magazines), and two new Android feautures, a launcher Kobo calls “Reading Life” and a new Reading Mode, both designed to put reading front and center on tablets more than it has ever been done on tablets before.
“As Netflix is to video and Starbucks is to coffee, we want Kobo to be the name people think of for reading,” CEO Michael Serbinis said in an interview.
Aura E-Reader. Despite analyst speculation that e-readers are dying, they continue to be an important route to tapping dedicated customers, Serbinis tells me. “In the U.S. specifically there has been a slowdown in e-reader sales but for those who buy them we see very high purchase intent.”
And Serbinis notes that even if it sounds limiting to focus only on a small and shrinking segment of the market that are avid readers, so far this has actually paid off well in its e-reader lineup. When the company launched its limited edition, power-reader-friendly Aura HD e-reader earlier this year, sales expectations were not very high. “We thought that they would be one to four percent of sales,” he said. “The quickly became a quarter.”
If the existing Aura HD was an attempt to recreate some of the aesthetics of a hardback book experience, the new 6″ Aura launching today, Serbinis says, takes its cues from the world of tablets, with an edge-to-edge display, and at a thickness of 8mm and weight of 174g, a thinner and lighter body. Like the HD it is front-lit but without as high-resolution a screen.
New Arc tablets. Sebinis says that the three new tablets — 7″, 7″HD and 10″HD models, going on sale in October — are all multipurpose Android devices, running Jelly Bean and full of all the specs you would expect in devices like this. But like the Aura e-readers, they are built with a very specific intention in mind: targeting those who buy these devices to consume books, magazines and other reading materials. “We think there is a space for us. No tablet has really been designed for readers,” he notes.
Kobo came to this conclusion, he says, by canvassing users. “We have a lot of data from users around the world and those who download apps on our tablets read for minutes, not hours. They read once a week versus daily.” So Kobo asked its top 10,000 customers, why don’t the read on tablets? The answer, he says, was that it was too distracting. Too many alerts and other things happening on the screen, and “also they are generally too hard on the eyes, and weight is a problem. Basically, it’s pretty obvious tablets up to now have been multipurpose first and reading second.”
So Kobo decided to concentrate on these points. The screens on the HD devices, he says, are “better than Apple’s Retina display,” at up to 2560×1600 on the 10HD model. And on top of this, Kobo has developed a launcher that it calls “Reading Life.” This is essentially a user interface that sits on top of Android, that tracks what you’ve been reading, and offers recommendations for new titles to read, presented in a “Pinterest-style” scroll, he says. (It’s not an integration with Pinterest, although he doesn’t rule that out for the future. More on that below.) It’s in Reading Life that Kobo is also integrating Pocket, the app that lets users tag something online and save it to a list to read later. Swiping to the right takes you back to a “standard Android experience.”
On top of Reading Life, there is another reader-friendly service that Kobo is incorporating, which it is calling Reading Mode — essentially this is like an automatic airplane mode that you can turn on to cut off alerts from other applications, and at the same time it uses sensors on the device to optimise lighting on the screen. The third thing it does is automatically turn off all other processing functions on the device that is not needed for reading mode, also to help extend battery life. Serbinis says that Kobo has patents filed for this, and “We will be building this out as a feature on our devices” in the future.
Content. In addition to the new devices and the new reading applications, Kobo is kicking off its new strategy to present storefronts for specific reading categories. The first two coming out are for children’s literature, with 100,000 titles at launch, and magazines.
The magazine storefront, starting with “hundreds” of magazines from Hearst, Conde Nast and other top publishers, signals some other interesting developments for Kobo. It has been developed with technology from Aquafadas, a French startup it acquired last year that offers a technology for “guided” reading on magazines — essentially more tablet friendly than straight PDF renders but at the same time preserving the layout of the original magazines and therefore less like apps, Serbinis says.
I also asked Serbinis about a number of other topics, which give a bit more insight into how Rakuten, and Kobo, see their business developing in the future:
On forking. Absolutely no plans to follow Amazon and Barnes & Noble down this road, he says. “What we’ve found is that the customers looking for a device and everything that it can do. They don’t want to be shorthanded on all the things that their $ 199 or $ 299 will buy them. Theyt want access to gmail, YouTube and importantly Google Play apps. With the very first Kobo Arc we were pretty set on offering that and have not deviated. We see ourselves as a Google partner. Yes, we’ve provided Reading Life to make it great for reading but it’s open Android and upgradeable. We never went down that road on purpose.”
On Pinterest and other Rakuten holdings. This, of course, is one of Rakuten’s key, strategic investments, and Serbinis says that there are discussions with Pinterest already, but nothing concrete yet. “What makes Rakuten successful is that they’ve built an amazing ecosystem in Japan and they’re building that around the world. It’s a direction that we will support as Rakuten continues to expand, including preloaded shopping apps. It’s part of our future. When we think of some of these experiences, I’ve always thought that reading is an entry point, it’s how someone tells us, I’m interested in something. You can see the bridge from from content to commerce in that. One place you may see it first is in magazines. When you see an ad for a tennis racket in a paper magazine, you are at a dead end, but now all these tools are tappable. It’s a tap through to make a purchase or set up a demo or whatever. That kind of deeper integration is definitely in our sights.”
He notes that there are a couple of reasons why this is not there yet. “Part of this is technology and part of this is the industry catching up with tech and retooling. I suspect it’s within the next six months because the tools are now available with this launch the initial hurdle of getting that content. Now we’re through that it’s time to educate and help publishers leverage these tools to do the more fun and imaginative things.”
Wifi versus cellular? These tablets and the new e-reader remain Wifi only, he says. “We’ve talked to carriers pretty extensively and the price points are important. Offering 3g devices take you well beyond that price point and adding extra cost is not something that makes sense for us. But it’s not out of the question.” He says cellular connectivity will be important to crack certain markets. “In India you just don’t see the same kind of Wifi penetration that you do in the UK, U.S., and other countries. So 3G becomes more of an important feature to support so it’s something that we’re strongly looking at.”
Distribution. How best to battle Amazon on the retail front? Serbinis describes this task as “David battling Goliath,” and he says that the solution is “you have to leverage a bunch of friends.”
“While we don’t have the massive direct channel, we have partners that have the best book-buying and book-loving customers. For our competitor they are running out of direct channels as they expand internationally that means it’s more expensive for them.”
All the same, Kobo will be going “beyond booksellers” in the future. “We are looking to different kinds of partners, educational institutions, government and telcos. There are ways we can partner with them and being a neutral content provider is a pretty attractive thing.”
In the UK, the Kobo Aura is selling for £119.99, the Kobo Arc 10HD for £299.99, the Kobo Arc 7HD £159.99 with 16GB and £189.99 with 32GB and the Kobo Arc 7 for£119.99. Prices in the U.S. start at $ 150 for the 7″, non-HD tablet.
Meet Google’s “talking shoe,” which aims to translate movement data in witty messages to users and their friends. The concept apparel, showcased at the search giant’s swanky SXSW Interactive headquarters, is part of a new arts project - ”Art, Copy, Code” – which aims to breathe a social, life-like experience into everyday objects. “If standing still was a sport, you’d be world champion,” the trash-talking shoe projects on a monitor hanging over a rainbow-colored obstacle course after it senses I’ve been standing still.
At a distance, users seem a tad pathetic trying to trigger positive feedback from the shoe. But when I strapped it on, I felt oddly compelled to impress my new automated coach. Combining coaching (even robotic coaching) made lifeless data unexpectedly motivational. Essentially, it’s Richards Simmons in a shoe.
In case critics think this is another one of Google’s flights of profitless creative fancy, Arts Copy Code is deliberately about improving advertising. “It’s explicitly aimed at how translating how Silicon Valley thinks about technology into how creative agencies think about advertising,” says project lead Aman Govil.
Brands such as Nike, who outfit professional athletes with health-tracking shoes and bracelets, could broadcast an athlete’s spring-training performance in realtime. Rival athletes’ apparel could trash talk one another automatically.
It’s still (very) early days for the arts project. The talking shoe (and shoe strap) concept was developed through a grant to electronics agency Yes Yes No. Google plans to open up the project to more everyday objects in the near future. One hypothetical use-case, imagines Govil, is an alarm block that sends snarky messages to co-workers if users have to hit the snooze on their alarm clock more than three times.
There’s been heightened attention to research that quantifies how much our friends affect our weight, success, and personal lives. University of San Diego political scientist and Connected author James Fowler found that having an obese friend can significantly increase people’s chances of also having their own set of marshmallowy love handles. And it’s no secret that a spirited friend can get us up at 5 a.m. for a morning run as much as they can tempt us into finishing their plate of fries.
Health startups have attempted to “gamify” good behavior by encouraging users to share personal goals with friends. Nike+ FuelBand, for instance, shares users’ exercise habits with their friends on the personal social network, Path.
This project attempts to remove the barrier presented by current products. The social aspect has always required one extra step of human effort. However fast a one-word message of encouragement could take to type about a friend’s morning run, the minor inconvenience is enough to seriously limit engagement. This new automated personality seems to have a place, especially when we’re all too busy to be personal.
Currently the project is just a concept. There’s no need to jump over to the Google Play store and find the buy link. But Google Glass was just a concept at one point, too.
Almost four months after Microsoft unveiled its first Surface TV ad, the software giant is back again with a second Surface Pro commercial. Airing during tonight’s Grammy awards, the ad features beatboxers, breakdancing, and a focus on the pen input for Microsoft’s latest tablet. At a special event in Las Vegas this weekend, Microsoft’s Panos Panay premiered the new Jon Chu ad alongside a host of breakdancers and some beatboxing.
In his trademark style of giving away the product to audience members, Panay produced two Surface Pro tablets for onlookers before unveiling the new TV ad. Initial reports have suggested that Microsoft has sold out of the 128GB Surface Pro model, but it’s unclear how many devices were available online or at…
The iPad mini officially went on sale today, and the response at physical retail stores has been mixed. Some areas are seeing decent-sized lines, according to Reuters this morning, including Tokyo and Seoul Apple Stores with crowds of 100 or more, but overall, the news organization notes that crowds are smaller than they have been in the past for other launches. The Apple Store in Sydney, for instance, had 50 people in line when it opened compared to a line covering several blocks for the iPhone 5.
Some locations had more sizeable lines than others, like the Amsterdam Apple Store, as well as Apple’s Munich location. And while lines in New York City lines seemed to be suffering as New Yorkers dealt with more important issues, as of this morning it looks like lines at some locations at least were building considerably. At a store in La Cañada, Spain, a decent-sized group of customers also queued.
The Covent Garden Apple Store in the U.K. saw maybe one of the smallest crowds according to reports on Twitter, and at the Regent Street location you can apparently walk in and buy an iPad mini right now. And reports from various U.S. locations including Maryland, Ohio, Florida and Buffalo show only small lines in those locations only an hour or so ahead of stores opening on the east coast. Regional locations always have smaller lines than the bigger flagship stores, but for the iPhone 5 launch lines were considerably larger in small town locations even at partner resellers like AT&T.
Compared to previous device launches this year, the crowds are fairly underwhelming. About 450 people lined up in Tokyo ahead of the iPad 3 going on sale, for instance, and lines stretched into the hundreds at locations around the world. The iPad mini is a new category of device for Apple, and users might not have had time to make up their minds about this novel product yet. Yet with other new device launches, like that of the original iPad, lines were huge in a variety of places.
The iPad mini goes on sale in 34 markets today, and was available for pre-orders beginning Friday, October 26. Pre-orders sold out over the course of the first weekend, but it remains unclear how many were available in that initial crop. Analyst estimates for initial iPad mini sales vary, but Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster says to expect around 1.5 million, compared to the iPad 3′s 3 million over the launch weekend. These lines suggest conservative estimates are likely on the right track, but it’s also worth noting that only the Wi-Fi version of the iPad mini goes on sale today, so customers could be waiting for its LTE-enabled sibling, which doesn’t ship until later in November.Related Posts:
As far as regional carriers go, C-Spire is a pretty big deal. Which makes it all the more surprising that the company hasn’t offered standalone pre-paid data plans until now. The southern cellphone network now has three tiers of pre-paid access for your tablet or Mi-Fi, beginning with a $ 15 100MB package that expires after a week. $ 30 nets you 300MB over two weeks, while the top tier grants you a whole month’s access and 1GB of data — but will set you back a rather steep $ 50. Of course, there’s always post-paid solutions for the more demanding, that start at $ 20 for 1GB per-month and go up to $ 50 for 5GB. For more, check out the PR after the break.
Despite the fact that Nintendo’s 3DS is an excellent hand-held console, 3DS sales haven’t been on par with what the company was expecting.
But perhaps Nintendo’s brand new Nintendo 3DS XL will turn the tides. It’s very similar to a regular 3DS, but with 90 percent larger screens. According to Nintendo’s official release, it comes with a 4GB SD card, better battery life, and both Blue and Red color flavors. Access to the Nintendo eShop is obviously available, but users will also be able to pick up Super Mario Bros. 2 on launch day, August 19.
We’ve seen a huge trend lately with OEMs increasing screen size on smartphones, where gaming has grown to be more and more prevalent, slowing chipping away at Nintendo sales. It only makes sense that Nintendo would take a hint and offer more screen real estate on their portable gaming devices.
The Nintendo 3DS XL will be available August 19 for an MSRP of $ 199.99.
[image via Reddit]Related Posts:
Drobo’s been delivering quality desktop storage for businesses and prosumers for awhile now, but previously, the company hadn’t dipped its toe into Thunderbolt waters. But that’s about to change with its two new units. The 5D is a BYOD desktop offering with two Thunderbolt ports and one USB 3.0 socket for connecting up to five hot-swappable, 3.5-inch drives to your Mac or PC. It also has an mSATA SSD for data-caching quickness and a variable-speed fan to keep things cool and quiet. We don’t know exactly when the 5D will go on sale — Drobo’s not telling until July — but it’ll cost under $ 850 when it does, and that price includes a Thunderbolt cable.
Gallery: Drobo Mini and 5D press shots
Meanwhile, the Mini is the first Drobo meant to be taken on the road. It packs up to four 2.5-inch drives in its front bays, plus, like the 5D, there’s an mSATA SSD nestled in its underside that serves as a caching tier to speed up your main storage — all in a 7.3 x 1.8 x 7.1-inch package weighing three pounds when fully loaded. All the drives are hot-swappable, a process made simple and easy with a trick, spring-loaded mechanism (patent pending) that lets users swap drives as they would SD cards. As for connecting the thing to your computer, dual Thunderbolt ports (for daisy chaining) and one USB 3.0 port reside round back along with the power plug and two vents for the Mini’s variable-speed fans. Ringing the front face of the Mini are five LED strips that serve as drive indicators and capacity meter to let you know when a drive has failed or you’re running out of space. Intrigued? Well, we got a sneak peek at the Mini and a little history lesson about its origins at Drobo HQ, so join us past the break for more.
Well, it looks like LG’s Retina-beating 5-inch display with a 1080p resolution isn’t the only screen setting some new pixel density records at the SID conference this week. Japan Display Inc. has now also announced a new 1,280 x 800 display with an amazing pixel density of 651ppi. If you’re able to do the math, though, you’ll realize that means the display itself measures just 2.3 inches. While it’s not clear exactly what sort of devices JDI has in mind for the screen, the company says it’s able to produce photographic-level images and text that is perceptibly sharper than even today’s highest-resolution displays — hopefully we’ll be able to judge that for ourselves sooner rather than later.
Continue reading JDI debuts 2.3-inch display with a 1,280 x 800 resolution, 651ppi
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Say goodbye to swapping out the litany of chargers at your desk or nightstand. It’s time to streamline, and the crew at Scosche have a rather nice solution. The company is taking the wraps off of its Revolt H4 USB charger, which offers four 10W (2.1A) USB ports that’ll properly (and quickly) reinvigorate up to four smartphones or tablets simultaneously. Sure, it’s nothing like the 16 port behemoth of the PowerPad, but this is for home use, and we can’t deny — it’s quite the temptress. Consumers may choose between the base model or the Revolt H4 Pro, which offers a micro-USB cable along with an adapter for Apple’s dock connector. As another product of interest, Scosche is similarly introducing its 2.1 amp Recoil II car charger, which allows users to cut down on the clutter with its retractable cable while also quickly juicing up a single iOS device — just hop the break for a peek. Pricing isn’t yet available for either, but keep your eye on Scosche’s website for the official word. For other charging solutions, you’ll find the full PR after the break.
Continue reading Scosche debuts Revolt H4, a four-port, 10W USB charger at CTIA Wireless
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