Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 3 April 2014

Posted: 02 Apr 2014 09:31 PM PDT

The headliner stories this morning include a look at publishers lack of support for startups (link), why you no longer have to settle for average content (link),  and more.

  • Adblock Plus Publishes Acceptable Ads Manifesto (TNW)
  • Book Creator: Create Ebooks From Your Android Tablet (TNW)
  • FiveThirtyEight and the End of Average (strat?chery)
  • How Many Of The Greatest Books By Women Have You Read (Buzzfeed)
  • NYT Now, out today, mixes lots of good mobile-centric ideas with moments of caution (Nieman Journalism Lab)
  • We need to talk about start-ups (FutureBook)

The post The Morning Coffee – 3 April 2014 appeared first on The Digital Reader.

This is Going to be the Next USB Cable You Will Misplace

Posted: 02 Apr 2014 03:53 PM PDT

It’s been usb-type-c-first-imagejust 2 weeks since the EU voted to adopt a single cable as a standard for mobile devices and that cable has already been made redundant.

Foxconn has just revealed the first artist renders for the USB type-C plug. This is a completely new addition to the USB standard, and it features a much smaller plug which is designed to work no matter which way it is inserted into the port.

If and when this becomes the standard, we’ll all have one more cable to dig for in the bottom of our bags. But once we find the cable, we’ll be saved the effort of trying several times to plug it in.


The design and the spec have not been finalized, but the USB Implementers Forum is confident that this is what it is going to look like. And that’s a shame, becasue I would much rather see the plug standard go in an entirely different direction.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhile a reversible plug like the type-C mentioned above is nice, I think the new design should also be less prone to damage. I would rather see a plug which more closely resembles a MagSafe connector. That is designed to snap into place and break away easily without harming the port it is plugged into.

I know that the odds of the new USB port breaking are low, but when multiplied times the millions of devices that use USB you end up with tens of thousands of mobile devices which cannot be charged anymore. I would say that’s a good argument in favor of a MagSafe-type of connector, wouldn’t you?

The Verge

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Google Newsstand Updated

Posted: 02 Apr 2014 03:24 PM PDT

Google google newsstandrolled out an update today for their 5 month old Flipboard competitor.

According to the changelog, the update includes a number of subtle improvements and bug fixes, including new support for rtl languages and a new home screen widget. But according to my source, the update adds a number of interface changes.

The my news and my magazines have been merged into a new MyLibrary section, and there is also a read now category bar at the top of the interface that auto-hides and allows you to easily swipe between categories.

And according to the changelog, there’s also a new translation option and a new chronological  sorting option for magazines.

it’s not clear to me whether the changelog or my source is correct; does anyone know?

You can find the app in Google Play.


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The Fire TV is a Weak Gaming Console, Marginal Streaming Media Box, but None of that Matters

Posted: 02 Apr 2014 01:50 PM PDT

Amazon AmazonFireTV-FireStandinglaunched their living room TV gadget today, and just like I predicted last Summer the Fire TV combines aspects of both a Roku-like streaming media box and a gaming console.

Unfortunately, the Fire TV doesn’t really do either task all that well.

As a $99 media streamer it falls short of the comparably priced Roku box with far fewer sources, fewer streaming options, and less support for useful technical standards like DNLA, which lets you stream media from your other devices to the Roku box.

True, the Fire TV does have a faster CPU, more RAM, a better remote, and more games (Roku offers 77 games), but it won’t look quite so impressive once the replacement for the year-old Roku 3 is released (donuts to dollars it is on the way).

And as a gaming console, once you add the $40 controller it doesn’t look like a very good value. You can get a Xbox 360 for only $180, and you can get a new PS3 for only $200. They may be a generation out of date but they still have large catalogs of games, including ones you can find used, and the consoles double as media streaming devices.

What’s more, as a reader just reminded me the PS3 and Xbox 360 have CPUs that are significantly more powerful than the year-old smartphone chip in the Fire TV. (Thanks, jjj!)

A1gOfv1VWpL[1]The Amazon Fire TV, on the other hand, is a rather weak console which is launching with only around 100 games.

Amazon’s flagship game comes free with the controller, and it is no Halo. Sev Zero looks to be a fun cross between tower defense and first person shooter, but at $6.99 it’s clearly not in the same league as the blockbuster titles found on the Xbox or PlayStation.

In short, Amazon has launched a device which is a jack of all trades but a master of none.

But none of that matters, because Amazon is still going to sell truckloads. Amazon might not always have the best gadgetry but one thing they know is marketing.

Amazon can slap the Fire TV on the homepage and they’ll have great sales; I would not be surprised to read an analyst report 6 months from now which claimed that Amazon was on its way to displacing Chromecast as the third best selling media streamer.

Why third?

At this point we know that Apple has sold more than 20 million Apple TVs, while Roku has sold 8 million units. But we don’t know how many Chromecast have been shipped by Google, and that leaves the question unanswered as to which is selling better.

And even though the Fire TV might not be the best, I would not make any guarantee that this won’t change in 6 months. Another thing Amazon knows is how to iterate and release updates that improve their products.  The current lack of games can be solved by getting more developers interested, and the current shortcomings in the streaming dept can be addressed in a software update.

Looking back at Amazon’s past product launches, it is safe to say that the Fire TV platform will be significantly more impressive a year down the road.

Will you be getting one?

The post The Fire TV is a Weak Gaming Console, Marginal Streaming Media Box, but None of that Matters appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Microsoft Zeros Out the Windows License Fee for Phones, Small Tablets

Posted: 02 Apr 2014 11:34 AM PDT

Microsoftmicrosoft-windows-8-logo[1] has long been an also-ran on mobile devices as first iOS and then Android passed MS by, and today Microsoft decided to do something about that.

At the tail end of their keynote today, long after they announced details about the Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft announced a new pricing policy for smartphones and tablets. Any mobile device with a screen that is smaller than 9″ will have its license fee waived.

It turns out the past rumors about discounted Windows licenses for cheap devices were only half true. Rather than the 85% discount mentioned in the rumors, Microsoft has decided to go for a 100% discount.


screen-shot-2014-04-02-at-10-47-01-am[1]While this won’t help Microsoft’s revenues much, it will do wonders for their market share. The latest data suggests that MS (or Windows, to be more exact) is a distant third in both the global tablet and smartphones markets. The license fee probably didn’t affect their position as much as the fact that Android and iOS each offer more apps and (in the case of Android) a broader selection of devices, but removing the license fee will probably attract more device makers.

Part of the Windows 8.1 Update announced today also included support for medium to low end devices with 1GB RAM and 16GB internal storage. That doesn’t quite reach the bottom of the barrel in terms of budget Android devices on the market, but it does get down as far as tablets with specs comparable to the $139 Kindle Fire HD.

If Windows really does run well on a tablet that cheap then it will be a seriously tempting alternative.


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New Windows 8.1 Update Arrives 8 April, Improves Mouse and Keyboard Support

Posted: 02 Apr 2014 10:46 AM PDT

Microsoft msftsurfacestandalone1[1]formally announced  the release date for the next update to Windows 8 today at the Build developer conference in San Francisco. Available for download next Tuesday, the update will make the OS more welcoming for those of us still using a mouse and keyboard.

Many of the details were revealed by MS in late February, and today Microsoft confirmed that the updated version of Windows has been tweaked to run better on 1GB RAM and use less storage. They’ve also said that, on systems without touchscreens, the new version of Windows 8.1 will now boot to the desktop by default instead of to the Start screen.

Microsoft has also updated the Start screen so the taskbar will appear if your mouse scrolls to the bottom of the screen, and the Hubs and Tiles in the Start screen will also respond to a right-click and let you resize them. The taskbar will also include a version of the old familiar Start menu which will have most of the features still available in the Windows 7 menu as well as a few new Windows 8 inspired features like live tiles.

The Windows Store is in the process of being updated to make it easier for mouse and keyboard users to navigate, search, and right-click for additional information. There is also an updated search function with automatic suggestions.

Microsoft revealed at MWC in late February that 60% of Windows 8 users didn’t have touchscreens. The company has been focused on pushing a touch interface ever since they first unveiled Windows 8 at CES 2011, but it’s clear that users do not agree.

Ars Technica

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Amazon Debuts their Response to Roku – the Fire TV

Posted: 02 Apr 2014 08:46 AM PDT

To the surprise fire tv amazon 1of practically no one, Amazon launched a streaming media device today.

Amazon will release the Fire TV for $99, starting today.

Dubbed the Fire TV, this box promises to be one of Amazon’s more powerful gadgets.  It’s going to be running Android on a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon CPU with 2GB RAM, Bluetooth, 8GB internal storage, and dual-antenna wifi. It’s going to support 1080p video and Dolby digital surround stereo.

And it is reportedly so thin that it could qualify as a set under box. “Fire TV has three times the power and performance of Apple TV, of Roku 3, and of Chromecast,” said Peter Larsen, VP at Amazon. “It is thinner than a dime. It fits underneath your TV, behind your TV. It fades seamlessly into the background.”

I’m still looking for exact dimensions, but from the images available (via Mashable) I think he is exaggerating a lot. It’s not thinner than a dime; but it is less tall than a dime’s diameter. Note the USB, ethernet, and HDMI ports:

fire tv amazon 1

I don’t have a list of all of the compatible apps, but the names being bandied about so far include Netflix, iheartradio, Showtime, Hulu, MLB, Crackle, NBA, YouTube, TED, Disney, ESPN, and more. There’s also a report that a Plex app leaked in advance of the launch.

If that’s the Fire Tv in his hand then I was right ti estimate the size at four inches square:

fire tv amazon 2

And here’s the best feature (from Read Write): “This isn’t a closed ecosystem,” Larsen said. “It has a ton of content. But how do you find this content? This is what you do on Fire TV: (speaks) ‘John Malkovich.’ You can now see all of the movies John Malkovich is in, and easily add any of them to my Watch List. There’s a microphone integrated into the remote control so I don’t need to yell across my living room.”

The Fire TV is going to ship with video, but starting next month it will also have support for music apps.  It will also ship with support for Kindle Freetime and X-Ray.

more details to come

Update: This is also going to be a gaming box, just like I expected on Friday. That controller which showed up at the FCC is going to be available as an optional accessory.  Amazon is now saying that by next month the Fire TV will have thousands of games for customers to play. They’ll be able to play with the gaming controller or with the Fire TV’s remote (it’s a Wiimote-like controller). There’s also a mention of installing an app on their smartphone or tablet so it can be used as a controller as well.

We wanted to build a streaming media device that allowed customers to play a variety of games at affordable prices," the head of Amazon Games Studios announced on Wednesday.

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You Can now Return an Amazon Purchase via Amazon Lockers

Posted: 02 Apr 2014 08:10 AM PDT

When Amazon_locker_logo[1]Amazon started installing the Amazon Lockers in various metro areas in the US in 2011, they made it a whole lot easier for their customers to receive shipments faster and with less hassle. And with the latest shipping option Amazon is going to make it easier for customers to make returns as well.

News is breaking today that Amazon is now enabling customers to drop off return shipments at Amazon Lockers. One report indicates that this shipping option has been in place since September 2013, though it appears that the option escaped press notice until this week.

Amazon has been installing the lockers in public locales in the US and UK over the past few years, thus solving one of the perennial problems that annoy both online retailers and their customers. Namely, UPS and most other delivery services make their rounds during the day, when most people are at work and cannot sign for a package. By setting up lockers and letting customers ship items there, Amazon makes it much more convenient for customers to buy more stuff.

amazon lockers

I haven’t had a chance to use or even see an Amazon Locker, but I have seen the USPS lockers at my local post office. Resembling the quarter-operated lockers at gyms, the USPS Parcel Lockers enable you to pick up a package at a more convenient time.  The USPS started deploying the lockers in April 2012, about a year after Amazon.


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Tolino Vision eBook Reader Ships This Week – Lighter, Thinner, & with a Carta E-ink Screen

Posted: 02 Apr 2014 07:39 AM PDT

The frequently leaked TolinoRTEmagicC_tolino_vision_06_Kopie.jpg[1] Vision ereader officially launched today in Germany.

At 178 grams and 8mm thick, this device is both lighter and thinner than its predecessor, the Tolino Shine, and it is going to be only the second ebook reader to feature E-ink’s newest Carta screen tech.

The Vision will be running a closed version of Android on a 1GHz Freescale i.MX6 CPU with 512MB RAM and 2GB of available storage. It also has a microSD card slot, Wifi, and access to 25GB of cloud storage.

The 6″ screen has a resolution of 1024 x 758, the same resolution as on the Kobo Aura, Tolino Shine, and other 6″ ebook readers. And like many other ereaders, the Vision has both a frontlight and a capacitive touchscreen.

But unlike most other ebook readers, the Vision has the latest in E-ink screen tech. The spec sheet specifically mentions that the Vision has the Carta E-ink screen, which  features both improved contrast, faster refreshes, and extra geek points. (This last is not a practical feature, but it can be useful when a Vision owner is playing a game of one-ups-manship against other ereader owners.) The Carta screen also has the Regal waveform refresh tech integrated. This tech also launched last Fall, and it reduces the need for a full page screen refresh.

There’s little English language coverage so far, but I did find this hands on video posted earlier today. The narration is in German, but at least the images will give you a good idea of what the Vision can do:

The Tolino Vision is going to be available at a number of German retailers on Saturday, 5 April. Retail will be 129 euros, or about 30 euros more than the Tolino Shine. That cheaper ereader is going to continue to be available as a more budget-priced compliment to the Vision.

This device will also have a number of accessories, including a screen protector as well as several cases.  The accessories leaked yesterday, revealing prices between 10 and 30 euros.

tolino vision shine

The Tolino Shine and Vision are supported by a consortium which included four media retailers and Deutsche Telekom which pooled their resourced in March of last year to launch the Tolino platform. Collectively the 5 companies accounted for 35% to 40% of the German ebook market.

After a year’s worth of marketing and development at a cost of millions of euros (and even the bankruptcy of Weltbild), the Tolino consortium believes they have 37% of the German ebook market.

The post Tolino Vision eBook Reader Ships This Week – Lighter, Thinner, & with a Carta E-ink Screen appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Scribd has a Youtube Problem

Posted: 02 Apr 2014 06:33 AM PDT

Scribd hasscribd-logo-blk_100x28 a bad reputation (from its early days as a document hosting site) for being a piracy haven, and to combat piracy Scribd has adopted an automated that checks user uploads for pirated content.

Unfortunately that system, like a similar system at Youtube, works a little too well. There are several reports over on the Smashwords blog from Scribd users whose documents were removed from the site by Scribd’s automated system.

When Smashwords signed up to distribute ebooks to Scribd’s ebook subscription service last Fall, one of the side effects of the deal was that ebooks from Smashwords were regarded by Scribd’s system as being an original source.

This has led to more than a few problems. Whenever an author quoted a court document, public domain work, or other legitimately copyright-free document in their book, Scribd logs the quoted text as belonging to the author and their automated system flags and removes any user-uploaded documents that contain the same text.

Several complaints have surfaced on the Smashwords blog over the past couple weeks. For example:

I have a slightly different purview on this whole subject. Many of my document posts on Scribd are 1)historical documents, long out of copyright protection, 2) government or legal documents, not protected by copyright laws, 3) public domain documents in which the author has granted free copy rights to all. I find many times these documents will get taken down by Scribd, and I suspect that is because some author has included quotes from the documents within their copyrighted books. So, even in the world of copyright protection, there are improvements that must be considered. Not everything is black and white.

This type of criticism should sound familiar to anyone who follows copyright news, an in particular Youtube, whose ContentID system is often the focal point of complaints from both media companies and uploaders.

ContentID has had its own share of mistakenly removed videos, and in fact this kind of error gets news coverage about once every other month. The most recent one to cross my news feeds was a report about a video of US Congressional committee hearings being removed as a result of copyright claims by Telemundo and Univision. And only a few months before that, Youtube started taking down user uploaded gameplay videos en masse, even though the videos were arguably fair use and were often encouraged by the game developers.

And those are just the most recent cases; I have been reading about similar issues for over 4 years.

Today’s news about Scribd has only reinforced this blogger’s negative opinion of automated systems like ContentID. They make it far too easy for legit content to be blithely removed without involving even a single person in the decision.

Thanks, Michael!

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