Logitech Revue – at long last Google TV

Tech journalists were treated to their first glimpse of the first Google TV set top box in San Francisco and New York last night.

Google TV is designed to bring the web and television together, and this box – called the Logitech Revue – will simply be connected to your TV and your broadband connection to bring a new experience to the TV viewer. The Revue will be shipped with a wireless keyboard controller. American shoppers will be able to buy it – at a price of $299.99 – by the end of October.

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The Revue lets viewers organise, search and watch broadcast TV, along with content stored on other home devices and across the internet.

The Revue uses Logitech’s Harmony Link hardware to connect to the TV, PCs, smartphone and entertainment devices. It also features a Chrome browser with a built-in Adobe Flash 10.2 plug-in, and offers applications (including apps from Napster, Netflix and Amazon) that allow access to web content. The Revue will offer access to the Android Market next year.

Along with the included keyboard controller (which can be bought separately and used with a Google-enabled TV), another $129.99 will buy a handset-sized mini remote called the Logitech Mini Controller. There will also be remote control apps for iPhone, iPad and Android.

A video camera will sell for $149.99 and enable users to make video calls over the TV screen. It features a wide-angle lens, stereo microphones, a digital zoom, and lighting controls that will compensate for the low light conditions found in the average living room.

Logitech’s announcement beats Japanese giant Sony to the pass, which is still to officially announce its Internet TVs with built-in Google TV functionality.

In the UK, we’ll have to wait until next year before we get the chance to see the delights of internet-enabled TV for ourselves, but with Apple’s Apple TV service announced in the US last month, it looks like the contest to control the future of television has only just started…

Google set-top box: Rumour round-up

It’s been rumoured as far back as 2007 that web giant Google is looking to move into the digital TV market, but solid facts have been painfully slow to materialise.

The strongest indication yet that the company are developing a web-enabled set-top box, which could arrive in living rooms sooner than we think, was recently reported in the New York Times. It claims the company is planning to launch the product in a joint venture between themselves, Intel and Sony. The system is likely run on the same type of operating system Google uses for their phones, Android.

Google-Logo

Reporter Nick Bilton revealed last week the details he has managed to uncover about the highly-secretive project. He writes:

“The Google TV software will be open source at its core, meaning that device and TV makers should have broad access to it. Sony, however, hopes to gain an edge over competitors by bringing out the first appliances and possibly TVs running the software, perhaps under a new brand.
Google’s move would potentially set it not just against established set-top box makers like Scientific Atlanta and TiVo but also strictly Internet-oriented media hubs like the Apple TV and Roku Internet Player. With full app support, Google TV could not only access most web-based services but also get custom software tailored to particular experiences.”

The NY Times also claims that “a person with knowledge of the Google TV project said that the set-top box technology was advanced enough that Google had begun a limited test with Dish Network, but other commentators are unsure how advanced the product really is:

The Guardian’s Joseph Tartakoff wrote: “There are some big caveats and unknowns: It’s unlikely that the service will come to market soon, since the Wall Street Journal makes a point of emphasising that the tests are limited for now to a ‘very small number’ of Google employees.

Also, no set-top boxes that run on Android are currently on the market. But as far back as November 2007 there were rumours that Google was working to build an app platform for set-top boxes. Nothing has come of that, although that effort would presumably be related to this one in some way.”

Meanwhile, Claudine Beaumont, The Telegraph’s Technology Editor is doubtful of whether Google will be able to succeed in such an ultra-competitive market: “The web-enabled set-top box space is becoming increasingly crowded. Apple already sells Apple TV, which allows users to directly download movies and TV shows to their television, as well as access Flickr and YouTube, but it has been dismissed as a ‘hobby’ project by the company.

As for Google themselves, well, they’re not saying anything. A Google spokesman simply stated that the company does not comment on rumour or speculation.

So, while the general consensus is that the product will almost definitely see the light of day, there’s no news on precisely when this will happen, either in the US or elsewhere. The price tag is also open to speculation, although Gizmodo reports that Roku have indicated the box could retail for around $200 (£133).

Although Google are entering are taking a bold step into the unknown, their unrivalled global dominance of web-based products, holds them in excellent steed. But whether this sterling success will transfer smoothly to the silver screen, simply remains to be seen.

Hands on with Google’s Buzz (kill)

The idea sounds great: let people connect to those they’ve emailed using their Google account. Let them share Twitter updates, show pages they’ve visited, videos they’ve watched on YouTube and swap more online content than ever before.

Yes, it’s a lovely idea, but, in practise, it has proved to be a dramatic failure.

When Buzz was launched, a Google algorithm selected up to 50 contacts of each account holder to ‘follow’ users’ updates. This auto-follow system may have been easily customisable – if users had known that it was in place. However, many people suddenly found themselves revealing personal information to clients, ex-partners, parents and people they hadn’t even been in contact with for years. Less than ideal.

The security flaws didn’t stop there. Having connected account holders to other contacts without their permission, Google then published lists of users’ connections on the internet. Suddenly everyone knew that Joe Bloggs had been emailing the CEO of a rival company and Sally Smith had been in contact with a psychiatrist. Users who had deliberately kept their identities private when emailing suddenly found them revealed, complete with headshot.

With their lack of regard for users’ privacy, one has to question whether the Google team was living under a rock during the Facebook security debacle last year. Otherwise, they would have realised that users really object to their information being shared without their permission. Furthermore, the security violation is worse with email; email is password-protected for a reason: because it is personal and it is private.

Although the public reaction was far removed from Google’s hopes, bad publicity is better than no publicity. Without the furore surrounding the security risks, there wouldn’t actually be that much to say about the programme. It’s selling point is that it allows people to connect at a deeper level, combining Twitter-style updates with the chance for users to share content from other websites, such as Google Reader and YouTube.

Oh wait, you can already do that on Twitter. And Facebook.

Buzz makes these things nice and simple, presenting contacts’ status updates in an easy to read list, but at the moment it isn’t offering any serious competition to the social networking giants.

There’s no denying that Google Buzz could be potentially useful for businesses, enabling them to share data privately in a way they couldn’t on other social networking sites. However, it seems that the company tried to release something too big, too soon. After the public outcry surrounding Buzz (and a possible investigation by the Federal Trade Commission) future products are going to come under heavy scrutiny. While I’m not giving up my Gmail account just yet, the company are going to have to work hard to regain users’ trust in the long-term.

Gmail users crying out for a GBoard?

I didn’t realise that Gmail’s usability needed improving. But clearly it does because an American company has launched GBoard: an USB add-on keyboard providing shortcuts for the most used Gmail actions.

This  4.88″ x 3.5″ x 0.38″ keyboard offers 19 functions, plugs straight into a USB port, works with Windows and Apple Macs and doesn’t require a software download. Once you plug in, just make sure to turn on shortcuts in Gmail’s general settings.

I knew keyboard shortcuts could be created in Gmail settings. But to be honest, I was ignorant to the many Gmail shortcuts available, most likely because I’ve never felt I needed Gmail shortcuts in my life. I do, however, feel enlightened to the new possibilities for me and my humble Gmail email account.

Each key has a different function, for example, search, trash, reply, reply to all. By dividing the small keyboard into colour co-ordinated sections, it’s easy to navigate and you save time clicking on screen icons; heck, never again do you have to remember those keyboard shortcut combinations.

The layout of the key functions is quite logical. However, you can’t customise buttons to prioritise the functions you use most; if I press ‘Compose’ mail more than ‘Reply’ and decide I would like this shortcut moved to the mini keyboard’s biggest button, it’s tough luck, you can’t.

The short 26” cable also presents a potential problem. The mini-keyboard is fine to sit next to a laptop and be within reach but I’m sure it would be a nightmare for a desktop computer user with their tower unit – and USB ports – under a desk. This would definitely not provide any shortcuts to using Gmail.

Perhaps this gadget is like Phones 4U’s phones for popular people; if you have too many emails and too little time, then $19.99 (around £12)  will be well spent on this nifty USB plug-in, helping you to whizz through your emails at breakneck-speed. I’m not sure I receive the quantity of emails needed to make this gadget worthwhile. It does make a colourful desk accessory, though.

Google announces first phone: Nexus One

After a lot of behind-the-scenes work, including the development of a mobile operating system and pulling the strings behind the Motorola Droid, Google has finally come to market with a product that it spear-headed itself – the Nexus One. Despite being released for sale only a few hours ago it’s already on prime time news across the World.

However, promoting the phone would be easy for Google even without the media intervention – they already possess the world’s most visited website, and are not shy to advertise their products on the front page as they did with the Droid a few months back. Add in advertisements by T-Mobile, Google’s telecomm partner in the U.S., followed by Verizon in the spring, and you can already imagine the overexposure we shall soon feel. Did we mention that Google also own the largest advertising network on the internet? Oh, that too, then.

The phone itself is also actually quite good – boasting both excellent software and hardware advantages over its rivals.  To summarise an excellent review by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch.com, the Nexus benefits from being:

11.5 mm deep – thinner than the iPhone’s 12.3 mm.

130 grams in weight – lighter than the iPhone’s 135 grams.

Battery is removable – more removable than the iPhone’s non-removable battery.

Micro SD storage card expandable to 32 GB – more expandable than the iPhone’s non-expandable, non-existant SD storage card slot.

3.7 inch 480 x 800 OLED capacitive touchscreen display – more pixels than the iPhone’s 480 x 320.

Google Voice is deeply integrated – more deeply than it was  for the iPhone, as Apple rejected it from the App store.

Two microphones, one to reduce ambient noise – more microphones than the iPhone.

A five megapixel camera with a flash – more megapixels than the iPhone.

While some might argue that this is a personal attack on the iPhone rather than a review, Arrington does have a point – if the iPhone is the best device on the market, and the Nexus does things better, then we really do have something special.

Aside from creating a great phone, another benefit of Google’s entry to the market is in their openness.  Google allow anyone to see the programming source for their operating system, Android, and as such it has become the smartphone OS of choice for industry giants Samsung, HTC and Motorola. This allows people to get used to the Android system and carry that experience over to any new phone they may chose – meaning a greater array of handsets for developers to code applications for.

However, these companies haven’t made a big impact in the market, and have faired pretty poorly in comparison with Apple, RIM (the maker of Blackberry) or Nokia.  Smartphones running Android make up a paltry 3.5% of the market, a fifth of Apple’s share.

Google also allows the user to install any software they want onto the device, which is the opposite approach to Apple, who have a frequently criticised and stringent selection criteria. That said, Apple also has over five times the applications as Android.

Google is also selling the Nexus One as contracted or sim-free, with the later option massively increasing the potential number of consumers.

Other news from around the web is that the 24-month ownership cost of an iPhone is 50% higher than a Nexus One and Android devices can now store apps on their SD card, allowing more apps per-phone.  Finally, Google also appears to be partnering with popular existing web services, such as Cooliris, to bring their 3D Wall technology onto the device and to create a better user experience.

Mewbox: Android’s answer to iTunes

D’Angelo’s quote says “Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it.”. Mewbox have stuck to this principle with their foray into the digital music market, unleashing the first mp3 store for Google’s fledgling mobile platform, Android.

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As the first in its class, Mewbox has a lot to live up to. Fear not, however; with  DRM-free mp3s, an intuitive interface and a music blog on the sidelines, Mewbox delivers. The company tagline- “Music you can keep and share”- is infused into their ethos; to herald in the launch, the team have already offered up a free download pack of mp3s and a host of competitions.

The original application launched exclusively on Archos in mid September, whilst the Vanilla version arrived on December 3rd. I was on hand at the Vanilla launch party that night, held in the trendy Islington Metal Works; as well as organising a great line up of dance acts and DJ’s, Mewbox offered up Archos 5 Internet Tablets with which to test the application. Everything worked as expected, and the build offered some insight into the future of the application. Future releases should see Mewbox integrate some “Top 10” lists curated by tastemakers, as well as offering a host of podcasts from Mewbox live shows.

The application itself is a beautiful beast, with 7digital’s bespoke mp3 retail store disguised behind a flowery, efficient user interface. As we went to press, Mewbox offered 4 million mp3s from over 23000 labels, including the big four. Managing Director Neil McManus gave a statement at the launch:

“Mewbox aims to reconnect the experience value to digital music. The love that music fans feel towards vinyl, a CD or a live gig is missing in the digital space. By connecting with our users in the physical and digital worlds, offering free ticket to gigs and exclusive downloads via the app and our blog, and staging a series of top class live events, Mewbox will bridge the gap between listening to digital music and loving digital music.”

With Google’s official seal of approval, Mewbox looks set to take the Android market by storm. A wide variety of new Android phones arrive in the New Year, taking over from the disappointing G1 and essentially securing the future of this company. And who knows, maybe Mewbox will find its way forward as a desktop application in the near future? The same principle holds true: small company, big ambition. One to watch.