Monday, July 27, 2009

Microsoft Store Details Leaked

The Microsoft Store

You know it's a slow news week when the top story is a leak about the Microsoft store that's been announced but no one cares about. Still, the leak was interesting enough that I thought it was worth talking about.

When most people hear about the Microsoft store, they probably wonder why Microsoft needs their own store. Isn't every electronics store a Microsoft store, after all? Well, the concept is to take the best elements from what you see at the Apple stores and the Sony Style stores. There are, obviously, other brand-oriented electronics stores (like Nokia, for example) that they claim to take ideas from, but I see the most elements from those two. The real goal here is to re-brand Microsoft. In a weird way, it makes a lot of sense. Vista has given Microsoft a huge black eye. I don't think Vista is the worst thing Microsoft has put out (I don't think it's half bad, to be honest), but it's still done a lot of damage to their name. An ad campaign and Windows 7 goes a long way towards fixing that, but a store would help even more. The Apple stores have drummed up a lot of excitement for the iPod and iPhone releases as they provide a more personal link to Apple and its products. With Microsoft, you just have the knowledge of whoever happens to be working in Best Buy the day you walk in. Imagine walking into a Microsoft store and seeing a wall that's really a screen that helps inspire your own decal for your PC, which you can then customize using a Microsoft Surface table computer:

Other big ideas include an Answers Bar (think Apple Genius Bar), in-store demos of products you'd ordinarily only read about (can you imagine testing out Project Natal for yourself?), and inviting product layouts on the tables. In general, they really want a store that's going to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling and give you a direct channel with Microsoft rather than relying on third parties to help you buy or solve problems. The idea is starting to grow on me the more I read about it, but I don't know if they're really going to be able to pull it off. It's definitely going to be hit or miss though. Either they're going to nail it or they're going to crash and burn.

I have much less faith in the Alienware kiosk idea. Why would you want to buy over-priced gaming rigs at a kiosk in Micro Center? I think the Alienware brand is starting to get dated. I feel like the PC gamers have become more sophisticated than the guys at Alienware.

Amazon Buys Zappos

It's official: has acquired Zappos for around $880 million in stock! Given that they were probably the biggest player in online apparel out there, I think it's awesome that they're now part of the Amazon family. They honestly have a lot of ideals that fall in line with Amazon's core values, and so I almost feel silly that I didn't figure out in advance that this was going to happen. It will continue to operate independently under the wing of Amazon and maintain the culture they've cultivated there. Obviously, there will be a lot of sharing of ideas and I'm sure that it will only improve Zappos and

One thing about this that I thought was really awesome is that Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) prepared a video for the Zappos employees that I totally flipped my lid for. I shared it with as many people as I could because this is the kind of stuff I go to work every day for. These are the values that my manager goes to bat for, and I feel like it's very honest. It's not lip service, it really is reflective of the kinds of things he communicates to us directly and the stuff that propagates down the food chain through our managers. I feel like he's a really down-to-earth kind of guy when he speaks and I enjoy that style.

Oh, and Amazon posted Q2 results. Year-over-year growth was still solid considering the economic situation, but profits were down from last quarter. I don't think that's a big shock though given our normal Q2 results.

HTC Hero

Engadget reviewed the HTC Hero, and they didn't sound too impressed with it. Unless I'm terribly mistaken, this is the first touchscreen Android phone without a keyboard to be sold in America. It has been available under different names around the world, and it doesn't look like they did much to improve it for its stateside release in terms of hardware. It sounds to be, once again, a case of good software ideas put to shame with underpowered hardware. This is become a sad tale for Android. I really am rooting for Android. I'm rooting more for webOS, of course, because I have a Pre, but I think Android has great potential. Looking at the layout of HTC's modifications on the platform to help make it easily personalizable on the Hero via widgets is actually pretty neat, but if the phone runs like a hog then it's all for naught.

iPhone 3GS Encryption Sucks

I was disappointed with how Apple billed the iPhone 3GS to the public. I feel that they were talking about things without the fine print. The feature to locate your phone if lost is cool, but they don't mention that you need a stupid MobileMe account to take advantage of this or that a thief could easily turn this off if your phone isn't password protected. Then there's the encryption targeted at enterprise users, but this is irresponsible. Jailbreaking the phone and getting the raw disk image isn't hard, as videos posted online corroborate. No encryption is perfect, but the encryption in this case is useless (much like in some of the earlier Diebold voting machines). To market your device around a feature that's inherent broken is crazy. Even the remote wipe feature that MobileMe touts can be easily disabled by removing the SIM card. You don't have to implement features like this, but if you do then you should do them properly.

While I'm on security, I really enjoyed this article about research to create self-destructing text. It's basically specially encrypted text that can be easily decrypted via a Firefox plug-in if opened within a certain time frame. I don't know how bullet proof it is right now, but it's a good idea, at the least.

The B&N eBook Store

Here's something you may not think you'd hear this decade: the market for books is really heating up. Barnes and Noble has recognized the threat coming from Sony's eReader and Amazon's Kindle and have decided to team up with Plastic Logic (who have been trying to sell their hardware to suppliers for a while now, but I haven't talked about it because I never found these stories very interesting) to sell eBooks. They're not going to sell exclusively with the Plastic Logic reader, and it's not even clear if they'll sell the readers (though they probably will), but the point is that they're jumping into the market on the bandwagon of a nascent competitor. From what I've read about the reader though, I'm not impressed. It's cool that it'll support a wide range of formats, but you won't be able to buy on the reader itself, and the pricing isn't clear yet.

webOS 1.1 is Out

The long awaited 1.1 update of webOS for the Palm Pre was released last week, and it came with a wide variety of fixes and upgrades. It didn't hit everyone's wish lists, but it covered important points like full implementation of the Exchange Active Sync protocols, an improved Javascript engine for the browser, performance improvements throughout the OS, fixing the broken sync with iTunes, and the beautiful font seen elsewhere in the OS is now baked right into web pages as they're rendered.

Quick Notes

As always: it's past my bed time so here are some one-liners.

Cisco demoed their vision for the future of virtual meetings with holographic-like displays, and it looks awesome.

You can now search for stuff in Google Maps while keeping the route you requested directions for.

Star Trek is finally available for pre-order at Amazon on Blu-ray and DVD. Despite all Blu-ray bashing in the past couple of months in mass media, the top selling movie on Amazon is Watchmen on Blu-ray and even Star Trek is at #6 on Blu-ray while at #7 on DVD. Anyway, the official site has an extended trailer for the DVD and Blu-ray editions, though it looks like the Blu-ray actually has more extras include a 360 interactive view of the starship. I pre-ordered my copy and am really stoked for November 17!

Yahoo is preparing to release a re-vamp of their UI soon, and you can check it out straight from the home page.

This is a great round-up of alternative mp3 players to the iPod that are actually pretty solid. The Archos is definitely a highly respected line, and the Zune has been gaining credibility over the years, as well.

Lastly, I was on ESPN! Check me out around 0:20 in this clip in the upper right corner.

I haven't decided if I'll put up an essay next week or a normal post, but I'll figure something out. Have a great week, everyone!

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khonmanrak said...
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