Tag Archives: media players

Sleazy Practices Cont.

Fired up by Google’s move into the crapware domain by foisting an “updater” on customers who want to install (otherwise great) programs like Google Earth, I took another look at what was happening in the updater sphere.

Apple drew some heat for its own bit of underhandedness recently, when its own Apple Software Updater automatically included downloading the company’s Safari browser. After a backlash, it dropped the Safari from the “Updates” section to a “New Software” section, but still prechecked it:

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In other words, run the updater and not concentrate, and you’ll find yourself downloading 22 MB of browser you didn’t ask for, and didn’t have before.

So no, I don’t think Apple did the right thing here. Apple fans can protest as much as they like, but there’s a clear move here to get new software to users to install software they didn’t ask for and, if they don’t actively intervene, will have it installed by default. Browsers, like media players, are particularly significant because they will try to make themselves the default browser, and users once again need to act against the default process to avoid this.

Needless to say, Apple’s bid has been modestly successful, apparently at least doubling its modest market share for Safari. Still miniscule, but a start.

Of course, software is one thing, but it has to be used. For that it has to be visible to the user. No point in hiding the program launch icons somewhere they can’t be found. On Windows, there are three places you want to be: the desktop, the system tray, or the start menu. Apple is particularly smart about this, ensuring that all its products sit, not in some side-alley subfolder, but in the ‘root’ menu:

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and

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as well as on the desktop:

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(though not, interestingly, the Updater.)

Of course, Apple isn’t alone. Microsoft has long been doing this, as has Adobe.

Folk argue this is all besides the point, that users retain control over their computer and can remove all this stuff if they want. But to me it’s worrying that Apple, Microsoft, Google, Sun, Adobe et al think that this is OK, and, like their defenders, fail to understand that for the vast majority of users, installing software is not an everyday experience, and that these sleights of hand merely cause extra stress, confusion and uncertainty. That can’t be good.

Portable Media Centers: Damp Squibs?

How big are Portable Media Centers going to be?

Not very, says The Diffusion Group, a Dallas-based research consultancy. In a report it says both Microsoft-based and non-MS-based media players with video, audio and photo capabilities will “face stiff competition from less-expensive application-specific alternatives such as MP3 players, portable DVD players, and new portable photo storage technologies”.

Partly it’s price: “while PMCs offer consumers an ‘all-in-one’ package, its $500 price tag will make single application devices much more attractive to consumers,” Diffusion says. The other limitation is: Do people really want all this stuff? Given the main attraction of a PMC is storing and playing back video, and given that most folk still don’t use handheld video recorders (I’m guessing PVR here means portable or personal video recorders) as much as expected, “demand for a portable PVR is likely to remain very low for the next several years.” Then, says Diffusion, there are alternatives: Portable TVs are cheap, and the more fancy high end stuff, like Sony’s new LF-X5 with its live digital TV viewing with integrated Wi-Fi connectivity and a 7-inch viewing screen, are going to get cheaper.

I respectfully disagree. I don’t think everyone who has an iPod is going to get a PMC. But you only need to sit on a Virgin Atlantic flight and watch people tap into their fully independent video-on-demand (select programs, stop and start, fast forward and rewind) screens to see the power of portable video. Just because people aren’t using their PVRs as much as we expected, doesn’t mean they don’t want to watch video everywhere they go. And while personal TVs may satisfy some of this market, what is that compared to being able to store a few episodes of Seinfeld to watch on the train to work? If we’ve learned nothing else from MP3 players, we’ve realised that people want to design and personalise their portable entertainment. If not, everyone would still be carrying around portable radios. As prices drop — even Diffusion anticipates that the price of portable media centers will decline by more than 50% to below $250 in a couple of years — I think there’ll be more and more people packing these things.

Goodbye To The Browser?

Here’s some more interesting end-of-year stuff from Nielsen//NetRatings: a report issued today (PDF file) says that three out of every four home and work Internet users access the Internet using a non-browser based Internet application, particularly media players, instant messengers and file sharing applications. “With 76 percent of Web surfers using Internet applications, functionality has grown beyond the browser to become a fundamental piece of the overall desktop,” said Abha Bhagat, senior analyst Nielsen//NetRatings. “It’s become harder to distinguish when you’re on the Internet, blurring the lines between what’s sitting on the desktop and what’s coming from the World Wide Web.”

According to the report, the top five applications are Windows Media Player, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger Service and Real Player. Of these top five applications, Windows Media has the largest active user reach at 34 percent. AOL Instant Messenger was next at 20 percent, followed by Real Player also at 20 percent, MSN Messenger Service at 19 percent and Yahoo! Messenger Service, which reaches 12 percent of the active user base.

Interesting. But what does it actually tell us? First off, we shouldn’t get confused by the data. This doesn’t mean that folks are eschewing the browser, just that a lot of other programs are also connecting to the Internet (where is e-mail in all this?). Second, if Real Networks and MSN Messenger are anything to go by, a lot of these programs access the Internet without the user doing anything (or even knowing about it) so does this actually count? Lastly, there’s been plenty written already about how Microsoft is moving past the browser to incorporate similar functionality into its Office and other products — say Microsoft Word 2003’s Research Pane, for example — so it’s clear the big boys would have us move to more proprietary, locked-in environments, which all of the top five applications have in common. We’re not so much witnessing a demographic change as a deliberate shove by the main players.

My wish list? I’d like to see all of these players stop hoodwinking the end-user by loading their programs into the start-up queue automatically (you know who you are). It’s deliberately misleading (read: sleazy), it hogs resources and it skews data like Nielsen’s. I’d also like to see AOL, MSN and Yahoo all agree to share their instant messaging lists so folk like me don’t have to use great alternatives like Trillian to pull together our disparate buddy networks (Trillian will lump all your different Instant Messaging accounts into one easy to view window, minus all the ads and annoying pop-ups).

I see no danger in the browser gradually being phased out for plenty of web-related tasks. But, if the Internet has really become ‘part of the desktop’ let’s try to make it a place where ordinary folk can hang out without too much hassle.

News: The Future Of Inflight Entertainment, From A Baggage Handler

 Nice, interesting story about an Alaska Airlines baggage handler who has come up with the digEplayer, a 2.4-pound, battery-powered unit can hold up to 30 full-length movies, hours of digital music, maps, cartoons, sitcoms, language courses and travel promotions. It’s an inflight entertainment system that will start appearing on Alaska Airlines next month: The units, which cost a little more than $1,000, will be provided free to first-class passengers. Passengers in the main cabin will be able to rent the media players for $10 or reserve them before boarding for $8.