Since I'm so behind I decided to round up just the most important/interesting stories from the past 3 weeks that I wanted to talk to, so some of this news may be a bit old. Sorry about that - life has just been busy. Next week I'll probably do a PAX round-up, but the week after that I should be back to normal.
More Zune HD Details
The real news for the Zune HD is that it comes out on September 15 at competitive price points ($220 for 16 GB and $290 for 32 GB), and it's available for pre-order right now. What's more interesting is how much press the forthcoming mp3 player has generated. It has become, dare I say, sexy.
PC Mag, for one, had some glowing hands-on impressions. To re-cap some of the high points of the device: it has an OLED screen (if you've never seen OLED, you have to prepare yourself mentally for how gorgeous it is), it can output HD to an external screen (like a TV), it plays HD radio, it has a seemingly revamped Internet Explorer Mobile browser, and the user interface is a breath of fresh air from a company that is rarely known for good user interfaces. Aside from that, the videos I've seen all show it as being surprisingly snappy, and that could be due to the nVidia Tegra chip under the cover. Yeah, nVidia designed the processor for the Zune HD - weird, huh? This bad boy has 8 cores including dedicated cores for HD video processing, audio processing, and graphics processing. This means, for one thing, that loading a song won't slow down your experience with the UI, which is pretty awesome.
Aside from this being a Microsoft product, the reason the Zune HD is turning heads is because it's the first mp3 player since the iPod Touch to really try to innovate the user experience. Apple has been resting on its laurels and while the Zune HD obviously won't dethrone them it is likely to chip away at market share if Microsoft markets it right. The integration with the Internet looks a lot tighter than with the now defunct Zune in even something as simple as browsing other music by an artist. Of course, it's September now, which means that it's time for an Apple special event related to music so Microsoft could be undercut by an Apple announcement (probably still no tablet though, so don't hold your breath), but at least they have a compelling product this year to brave the media onslaught.
Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard
There have been a lot of articles reviewing Snow Leopard and Windows 7 over the past few weeks, including a cool head-to-head at Tech Radar. Interestingly enough, they were balanced enough to say that neither is better than the other but that you should definitely upgrade to one of them. Snow Leopard is much more of an incremental upgrade than Windows 7 with a lot of things most people won't notice since Apple puts out updates to OS X so regularly, but the reception so far seems mostly positive. As for Windows 7, Gizmodo sums up a lot of the pluses and minuses you'll see around. They really sing the praises of the performance and UI improvements. When the worst parts of upgrading are the multitude of versions and a lack of innovation in the Control Panel, you know you have a winner.
If you're still not convinced about upgrading to Windows 7, here are 18 reasons to upgrade. I'm plugging another one of these article because it actually points out some stuff I didn't know about. For example, there's finally an ISO burner out of the box, and it actually has calibration tools to help you hook up your PC to that shiny new HD TV in your living room.
The Wake of the Google Voice Rejection
At the end of July, Apple rejected Google Voice from its app store and from the media coverage it was getting you'd think the world ended. I'm sure Google was even surprised by the outpouring of support for them against big bad Apple. In reality, this is business as usual for the iPhone App Store (to be fair, Google was in talks with Apple before submitting Google Voice and were expected to glide through the approval process). An underground app store has actually grown for the iPhone called Cydia for jailbroken iPhones. I'm surprised that Apple hasn't already shut down Cydia, to be honest. It's funny how the Pre community is full of home brew applications and this is totally encouraged, whereas Apple has gone on record as saying that jailbreaking your iPhone is insidious and compared it to terrorism in one instance (I don't have the citation on this handy, but it definitely happened).
Meanwhile, Microsoft is encouraging developers to charge more than a buck for their applications if they believe it's worth more. So whereas iPhone developers have taken to relying on volume of downloads, Microsoft is pushing its community to the model of driving revenue by using the price as a measure of quality. In all these situations, what's clear to me is that no one has it figured out. Isn't that crazy? Obviously, the iPhone app store is very successful financially, but to some expense of Apple's brand. Everyone has been following different strategies with regards to mobile applications, and yet in the past 7+ years of smartphones, no one has it down just right.
YouTube Extends Revenue Sharing
YouTube has tried many things over the past few years to try and bring in some dough, and they've now decided to extend revenue sharing to viral videos. I guess it was only a matter of time that they figured this out, and I think it's a promising idea. So if your video is deemed as going viral, they'll offer you the chance to serve ads with your video and get a cut of the profits. So if you're not already a YouTube Partner but your video goes big, you still have a chance to make money until you get set up with the program. I'm really interested to see if this has any impact on their bottom line.
Google Maps Adds Traffic to Roads
This is a cool idea that a company called Dash has been working on for a while but Google has added to Google Maps for major roads: figuring out traffic on roads via peer-to-peer communication. So when you turn on My Location in Google Maps on your mobile device, it will send back anonymous information on your speed back to Google, which is used to build congestion ratings on roads. It's probably going to be a while before enough people make the effort to provide their location information to make this usable, but it's a great experiment, at the very least.
Target is Flying Solo
Target has been a partner of Amazon.com for about 8 years now and has finally cut the cord. They'll be running their own e-Commerce operation in 2011. Personally, I don't understand this decision. Running your own e-Commerce site is a huge undertaking, but we still don't know if they're going to to build their new platform on any Amazon services or not.
Microsoft Clings to IE6
Last, but not least, Microsoft has responded to the push from developers to kill IE6. They basically are following the philosophy that you can't force someone to upgrade old software and you have to instead accept it and support it. Microsoft plans to support IE6 for as long as they support XP, which I'm pretty sure will be for a very long time. The problem is that designing a site that works on IE6 as well as IE7 and IE8 and competitors (like Firefox and Safari) is often daunting. I follow the camp that we should get rid of IE6 and sites should explicitly have a message for IE6 users that they need to upgrade to view the site. I know that's not the best user experience, but that browser is also even less secure than IE8, so I don't believe in coddling users who are just afraid of change. Just because some kids don't like vegetables doesn't mean you give them chocolate for dinner.
I'll try to keep down my twittering this weekend at PAX since I got a little crazy with it last year, but I'll try to post a few pictures over the weekend on my Twitter feed, and of course I'll have round-up up by Tuesday. Have a great week, everyone!