Battle of the Vaporware Tablets

Do you know what tablet computers and jetpacks have in common? It’s not a kerosene-burning jet engine strapped to your back, though Adobe Flash on a MacBook can feel like your pants are on fire. The shared problem is that the present reality of future technologies always seems to disappoint, often resulting in products never coming to market.

It’s called vaporware, and that would include the long-rumored Apple tablet. That tablet, like other Apple products that actually exist, has been getting all the attention as of late, and that’s a shame. There are a number of other existentially-challenged tablets not out there right now. Here are my top five, ranked by the likelihood they will remain in the ether for all time.

#5 CrunchPad/JooJoo

Michael Arrington’s CrunchPad was supposed to be “a dead simple tablet for $200,” but has ended up as a combo $500 webpad and Silicon Valley legal drama. Arrington’s partners, FusionGarage, dumped him and claimed ownership of the renamed JooJoo, which means “magical device” in “African.” Note to FusionGarage: “African” is not a language.

Overhyped by Popular Mechanics as one of the “most brilliant” products of 2009, there’s really nothing magical about JooJoo’s specs: 2.4 pounds, 12” display, 4GB SSD, Wi-Fi, camera, up to five hours of battery life. The OS runs a customized Ubuntu and WebKit browser. It’s the ‘browser as the OS’ concept, similar to what Google’s doing with Chromium/Chrome, but without the backing of a company worth $200 billion.

Despite perpetually shipping in “8 to 10 weeks” since early December, and the uncertainty of litigation, JooJoo probably will ship in early 2010. That earns it fifth place among vaporware tablets today.

#4 Freescale Smartbook

Nothing says vaporware like “reference design,” and that’s the Freescale Smartbook. The former Mac PowerPC fabricator showed off a tablet prototype—another vaporware synonym—at CES. Freescale claimed the tablet could be made for $200 and reach market by summer, easy to say when you’re not doing the making.

The Smartbook is built around a 7” display and weighs less than a pound. Internal specifications include a 1 GHz ARM CPU, 512MB RAM, 4 to 64GB storage, microSD slot, Wi-Fi, 3G modem option, and camera. All-day battery life is promised. There’s also an optional keyboard and docking station that when combined with the giant bezel makes the screen look minuscule. The operating system demonstrated at CES is custom Linux, but doesn’t appear much customized for touch.

Unlike the CrunchPad, the Smartbook probably won’t even make it to the perpetually shipping phase of the vaporware life cycle, but at least one has been built.

#3 OLPC XO-3

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization has provided the world’s poorest children more than a million computers and counting, and the XO-3 will never be one of them, but then it doesn’t have to. “We don’t necessarily need to build it,” OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte told Forbes. “We just need to threaten to build it.” With a design goal like that, how can you fail?

Hypothetically available in 2012 for $75, the XO-3 “will feature a new design using a single sheet of flexible plastic and will be unbreakable and without holes in it.” The page-sized display, 8.5 by 11 inches, will have “both reflective and LCD capabilities,” making it viewable in the sun and as an e-reader. Internally, the XO-3 supposedly will have an ARM CPU running at 8 GHz, though Negroponte admits that’s a “provocative” target. You think? People in the Star Trek reboot don’t have kit like this, so yeah, provocative works as well as vaporware.

#2 Microsoft Courier

In 2001, Bill Gates introduced the Tablet PC to the world, and nearly a decade later Steve Ballmer did it again, but not with this device. Instead, a wildly gesticulating Ballmer claimed the “Slate PC” moniker at CES, showing off a nameless, nothing-new tablet from HP that will be available sometime this year, not that anyone cared. People wanted Courier.

That’s the name of this device, as first reported by Gizmodo in September. The booklet—so much for Slate PC—has two 7” displays connected by a hinge, multi-touch and stylus input, camera on back, maybe inductive charging for power. The OS appears to be designed for the device, so it’s not a Windows 7 tablet, and there are plenty of applications designed for it, so it’s not Windows 7 tablet. No word on battery life, price, or availability, except that it’s supposed to be in the “late prototype” stage of development, which makes one wonder why Courier wasn’t at CES.

Just watching the concept video for Courier, how could one not declare Microsoft the winner in the Battle of the Vaporware Tablets? Because once again Apple has been there and done that.

#1 Apple Knowledge Navigator

Even twenty years later, the Apple Knowledge Navigator concept reigns supreme among vaporware tablets. Opening the booklet reveals a pair of magical panels that appear to merge into a single display, that display having speakers on the sides, web camera and data card slot on the top. Nice touch how it tilts upward for typing, but touch is almost an afterthought.

Most of the machine-human interaction is done via a bow-tie wearing “agent,” or AI, through voice. This is vaporware at its finest, not just a demo, but like living in alternate reality, just like Apple in the late ‘80s under John Sculley. We will see whether Apple under Steve Jobs, who killed Apple’s first tablet, the Newton, can do better. Don’t expect talking heads in mock-turtlenecks, but it would be unwise to bet against the real Apple tablet in 2010.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Is The Age of the Web Tablet Finally Upon Us?

How-To: Create Your Own iTunes LP

iTunes LP Logo

The iTunes LP is the new format Apple has been pushing in iTunes. It’s more like a DVD than anything else. You have menus, music, photos, liner notes and videos. Since this is such a fresh format, not many albums are available in it yet. The good news is, you can make your own.

I’ll take you through the process of creating your own iTunes LP that you can distribute yourself. Read More about How-To: Create Your Own iTunes LP

By the Numbers: Running Windows-Based MMOs On the Mac

For 90 percent of my daily toil, OS X is the best platform for me. I use it during my day job, freelance writing, school, graphic design, and the usual goofing off everyone does. However, there is one glaring desire missing: I play Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs), and the Mac-native offerings are slim. I’ve had to result to running games in emulators, virtual disks, and Boot Camp partitions, and after running some numbers I thought I’d share my findings with you.

The Games

I play the following MMOs: World of Warcraft, EverQuest 1 and 2, Warhammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and Dungeons and Dragons Online. Of these, only WoW and Warhammer have native clients. Which means I’m forced to use some sort of emulation to play them. A commenter  on Liam’s Windows 7 piece said, “You bought an Apple computer so use the Apple software. If you want it so bad go buy a PC.” For me, Apple and OS X are fantastic for my productivity needs, but when it comes to gaming, sadly, it’s still a Windows world. Read More about By the Numbers: Running Windows-Based MMOs On the Mac

Retail Rumors: Apple to Build New Prototype Store

Dream bigger,” Steve Jobs told a Disney executive as they discussed plans to reinvent the media company’s retail outlets. He insisted Disney develop a prototype store, much as Apple did before it launched its first brick-and-mortar outlet at Tysons Corner, Virgina, in May 2001. As the majority shareholder it’s in his best interest, of course, for Disney to be successful, but you have to imagine he’d offer the same advice to anyone.

Well, it has been almost nine years since Apple got into the retail store game and with Microsoft (s msft) blatantly copying Apple with their recent move into retail, it’s time for a change. As last week drew to a close, clues emerged suggesting Apple is looking to reinvent its retail store design, and once again it’s developing a prototype. This time, however, it’s not tucked away in an aircraft hangar at Area 51, but can be found at 340 University Ave, Palo Alto.

On Friday SiliconValley.com reported:

[Apple] will build an Apple Store that project developers referred to in planning documents as “a new prototype for the company.” The facade will be entirely transparent at ground level, vast skylights will flood the store with natural light, and trees will grow inside, fed by the sunlight from above.

It sounds so beautiful. Quite unlike the building that currently stands at 340 University Avenue;

Not much to look at now, but, give it time... Image from Google Maps

According to the report the architectural review board voted unanimously to approve the plans which, although referred to as a “renovation,” include completely demolishing the facade and roof of the building. It seems the structure has been altered so many times in recent years it doesn’t qualify for historic protection.

The plans credit architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson — the same firm behind Apple’s iconic Fifth Avenue store in New York, whose entrance resembles a giant transparent-cube. SiliconValley.com’s Will Oremus says several sources have told him Apple is behind the project, while Alexander Lew, chair of the arhitectural review board, said:

Apple is pretty secretive… But at the same time, when you look at it, the design is pretty unique. …I think a lot of people have kind of guessed.

The whole design is inside-outside, with everything completely exposed. With the huge skylight, there’s going to be lots of daylight and it will feel more like an atrium inside. … We’re excited about the project.

Naturally, Apple declined to comment on the plans. Shocker, eh? Thankfully, the proposal includes some tantalising descriptive prose detailing the vision for the new store, the beginning of which should sound familiar to anyone who has ever visited an Apple store.

The proposed store is a new prototype for the applicant. Fully half the function of the store serves to provide education and service to business as well as customer patrons in addition to product sales. The store is a commons for the applicant’s community to gather.

[The all-glass store front] dissolves the boundary that traditional store facades create. By not breaking the horizontal ground plane of the sidewalk with opaque wall or landscape element, for example, the street is made part of the store’s interior; the pedestrian is in the store before entering it.

Of course, we don’t know absolutely for sure if Apple is responsible; I suppose this could be Microsoft’s doing. And while we’re at it, Apple’s much-rumoured-tablet might run Windows 7 and feature a hardware keyboard and built-in fax machine.

I’m trying to imagine what makes this “prototype” so special and new. Aside from the interesting aesthetics (Apple does like its glass-walled cathedrals) what will make this store different?

The NYC Upper West Side store has been likened to a Cathedral. Image by Apple, Inc

Are we talking the tried-and-trusted Scandinavian furniture we see today in all other Apple stores, or will we be treated to a complete overhaul? Touch-enabled surfaces everywhere? More room dedicated to iPods and iPhones? A new Tablet Bar?

I’m holding out for a luxurious coffee bar in every Apple Store 2.0. If it did that, I could practically live in my local Apple Store. What would you change in yours? Share your ideas, and coffee-cravings, in the comments below.

Rumor Has It: Multi-touch in the iWorks for Apple Tablet

The New York Times reporting on tablets at CES offers up a tantalizing rumor concerning Apple’s (s aapl) imminent device, that the company has been developing a multi-touch version of iWork.

According to the New York Times, conversations with former engineers at Apple indicate pervasive use of multi-touch technology for the tablet that will require a “complex new vocabulary of finger gestures.” For example, opening an application might mean swiping downward and rotating multiple fingers—ouch. Considering the number of functions one performs with a mouse or trackpad and Mac, the potential for confusion—not to mention a new class of ergonomic injuries—makes you have to wonder how this will work. Read More about Rumor Has It: Multi-touch in the iWorks for Apple Tablet

Microsoft to Reveal Tablet; Apple Speculation Now Shapes the Industry

According to the New York Times (s nyt), tonight at Microsoft (s msft) CEO Steve Ballmer’s CES keynote address, he will unveil an ambitious new tablet device that’s the result of a partnership between Microsoft and HP (s hp). Citing people familiar with Redmond’s plans, the NYT describes the tablet as a “novel take” on the format and says it will possibly be available mid-year. Right around when Apple’s (s aapl) iSlate is rumored to also be available.

It’s just the latest in a recent crop of PC tablet announcements, all seemingly stemming from the desire to beat Apple at a game no one is actually sure they’re even going to be playing yet. Apple’s influence and consumer cache is now so powerful that the competition doesn’t want to be stuck endlessly going after an iDevice-killer, and are instead trying to beat Cupertino out the gate. Read More about Microsoft to Reveal Tablet; Apple Speculation Now Shapes the Industry

HD Nine Inch Nails Concert Video Now on BitTorrent

?Nine Inch Nails (NIN) fans have released a free download of a concert video titled The Gift that is based on three shows of one of the band’s last and possibly final tours. The video can be downloaded via BitTorrent in various formats including 1080p HD from a web site called ThisOneIsOnUs.org. A Blu-ray version is expected to follow soon.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtIhedSMQXA]

The Gift
is the result of an unusual collaboration that began when 405GB of HD concert footage found its way onto various torrent trackers about a year ago. The video was shot by professional videographers under contract with the band to produce a DVD. However, NIN was unable to release the disc due to licensing conflicts with its former major label. That didn’t stop fans from producing the movie on their own.

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California Court Sides with Hollywood Studios in isoHunt Case

A group of Hollywood studios, including Disney (s DIS), Twentieth Century Fox (s NWS), Universal (s GE), Warner Bros (s TWX) and others in September 2006 brought a case against Canada-based torrent search site isoHunt and its owner, Gary Fung, alleging that they enabled and encouraged wide-scale copyright infringement. Well, earlier this week, a federal judge in California sided with the studios, issuing a summary judgment against Fung and his web sites.

It’s unclear whether isoHunt will appeal the decision, but for now the site is still up and running. In the meantime, though, the judgment is bad news for other torrent tracking and indexing sites. That’s because even though they might not host files themselves, by linking to Hollywood movies and TV shows, they — like isoHunt — could be found guilty of inducing users to infringe on copyrighted material.

And infringe isoHunt’s users did: according to one expert called, approximately 90 percent of all files linked to on the site, and 94 percent of all files downloaded, were found to be “copyrighted or highly likely copyrighted.” While the defendants attempted to dismiss the statistical sampling used, the court pointed to similar sampling used in other cases, including MGM Studios v. Grokster and A & M Records v. Napster. Furthermore, Judge Stephen Wilson wrote, “for the purposes of this case, the precise percentage of infringement is irrelevant: the evidence clearly shows that Defendants’ users infringed on a significant scale.”

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Web Series Branding Opps to Be Auctioned Off, Starting at $50,000

Product placement has been key to the production of many web series recently, but it’s about to hit a new level. Brand In Entertainment, a Los Angeles firm specializing in partnering brands with content, will be holding its first-ever auction Jan. 20 at Christie’s in New York for companies interested in inserting their brands into a number of major media properties, including the upcoming Keanu Reeves movie Henry’s Crime and the Showtime series Weeds.

And included in the stable of content being offered are new seasons of five web series: Streamy-nominated post-apocalyptic drama After Judgment, Beverly Hills 90210 producer Charles Rosin’s Showbizzle, “broadband motion picture” Who Shot Mamba, Wall Street comedy series Hedge Fund, and The Fine Brothers’ My Profile Story (only the pilot of which was produced by Atom.com). (Blake Calhoun’s Pink was originally one of the web series to be included, but its deal with production company Generate prevents it from seeking third-party sponsorship deals. According to a Generate rep, Pink and Blake Calhoun
are not contractually prohibited from seeking third-party deals, but
the show was prematurely submitted for the auction and withdrawn per
Generate’s request)

My Profile Story

The minimum bid at the auction will be $50,000, to be advanced in $20,000 increments, which may seem trivial to a brand getting a shot at Keanu drinking its beer or wearing its apparel, but is a significant amount of money in the web series world, where complete series are often produced on a professional level with much less of a budget. Read More about Web Series Branding Opps to Be Auctioned Off, Starting at $50,000

Warner Music Videos Land at Hulu, Not Vevo

Muse on Hulu

Not too long ago, Hulu dipped its toes into the music video biz with a limited deal to bring EMI’s Norah Jones on board to promote her new album. Well, now it seems the company will be pushing further into those murky waters by striking a new relationship with Warner Music Group to bring a whole bunch of videos to the premium video site.

For an unconnected old fogie like me, the list of Warner Music artists that will appear on Hulu is a bit of a mixed bag. The first to appear on the video site is British alt-rock group Muse (whose vast success I’ve somehow managed to ignore); Warner will soon follow that up with a page for Jason Mraz (who I think is only slightly more talented than this kid) and one for Paramore (who I actually kind of enjoy). Artist sites on Hulu will reportedly have a mix of music video and live content, including exclusive concert footage, interviews and the like to appease the hoarding masses that watch that sort of thing.

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