Jumped ship to Google Apps 3 mo. ago, haven’t looked back…

For the longest time (as in, since around 2001) I’ve been hosting my own mail server and web server. I tried to make it a number of things – blog host, email server, place to access documents, data, etc. The only thing it still does today is host this blog.

I’ve embraced the cloud.

Three months ago I switched off my mailserver and moved it to Google Apps hosted service. I only use 4-5 email accounts, and the service is free to those with less than 25 accounts (50 if you’re a non-profit agency). I also moved the email system for this blog, as well as the email system for a non-profit group I volunteer for over to Google Apps as well.

Things have been just about perfect.

Not only do I get all the email hosting services, I get the Gmail web interface, I get syncing to my phone via Microsoft Exchange protocol (better than IMAP or POP3), HTTPS and all the robustness of Google’s incredibly high uptime.

Beyond just email, I also get Calendaring (also through MS Exchange protocol), Google Docs, and soon I’ll be able to roll up all the other Google services I use (Google Reader, etc) into the same account so I don’t have to try and have 3-4 different Google accounts logged in at once – yes you can do it but its prone to errors.

The app with the biggest impact so far is Docs. From any computer anywhere in the world (almost) I can access my library of documents over HTTPS (so my IT department cant see what I write) and just create a word processing document and write down all my ideas, or create a spreadsheet to do some calculations for something for me to refer to later. All the functionality I need is there to write simple documents (nee screeds) and spreadsheets – page/cell formatting, printing to PDF, etc.

Looking back, I have a hard time thinking about how I did this before. If I had an idea while I was at work, I’d have to write it down on my iPhone’s notes app, and then hope I remembered later to open the notes app back and and look at it. Now I can just create a document, write it down, and then when I get home and open up my web browser, the document is there, staring me in the face.

And the best part is that its free. Thanks Google!

Will you ever want to buy an electric car?

Note this is not an attack on electric cars – I think cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are the future. We cant live on oil forever, especially not with China and India adding two billion people to the working class over the next 75 years.

But my question is more a question about innovation. If Li-Ion batteries improve 8-10% per year, do you want to invest anywhere between $8,000 and $15,000 for a battery in the first few years of this decade? Even after prices level out, will a 40% increase in range (or a similar decrease in cost) be enough to keep you from buying the battery outright? What about the residual value of the battery after 8-10 years of (ab)use in a vehicle.

The first premise is that batteries improve 8% per year. This appears to be close to constant (until major step-changes like changing chemistry from NiMH to Li-Ion), and has been noted by Elon Musk of Tesla Motors.

The next premise is that if batteries are constantly being improved, and will continue to improve until at least 2030 (around the time we hit the theoretical limits for Li-Ion), that constant innovation will push prices on older batteries down, in the same way when Intel produces their fastest chip and put it in the top of their price list, everything else gets knocked down a pricing level. Beyond that, as production ramps up, per unit costs will come down. This is a double whammy on battery prices – as such A123 representatives have speculated on end-of-2012 pricing of $400/kWh from about $750 in mid 2010 (a kWh will propel a Prius-like car approximately 4 miles, and a large Ford Explorer-like vehicle about 2.75 miles.

The argument to buy says its bad to lease anything because you don’t end up owning anything. At the end of the five year financing, you own the car and battery. But over time and with each recharge, batteries lose capacity, and that could be exacerbated depending on the climate you’re in, how you treated it (faster recharge = more degradation), if it is liquid or air cooled, etc. The return-on-investment calculations vary depending on your driving patterns, so you need to make sure that an electric car is right for you. If you lose your job or change jobs and your driving patterns change significantly, you might find yourself not having a positive return-on-investment compared to buying a traditional gasoline or regular hybrid car (you might end up not driving enough or driving too much per day).

The leasing argument is much more interesting (and complicated). The reason to lease is that the battery has a fairly fixed lifespan – 1,500 cycles or whatever the cell manufacturer promises. However, even after the batteries might no longer be suitable for driving (this would adversely affect the resale value of the car), they can still be used in applications like power grid storage and stabilization. This residual value of that battery could be 50-75% the price of a new battery. Returning the car after the lease and letting the dealer replace the battery, send it back to be remanufactured into something useful, and then installing a new (lighter, more powerful) battery and updating the car’s system for that battery is an easier course for the consumer instead of having to do that and pay for it before trying to sell it, or take a hit on trade-in value.

Leasing can also bring down the per-month costs – instead of paying for the entire car, and then getting a substantial bump in the trade-in value for the battery, the user (for the most part) only pays for the depreciation of the car during its use. As seen in both the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, the price for the lease (estimated $350/mo) is much less than what you would expect on cars costing between $27,000-33,000 after tax incentives.

Another non-conventional argument for leasing is the increasing rate of technology invading vehicles. From in-car entertainment, in-car communication (think: replying to text messages verbally), to safety features. While I don’t have a problem buying a new $300 iPhone every year, I certainly will not buy a new car with such frequency because its in-car entertainment is better than the car I currently have (software upgrades aren’t likely to help much in terms of adding new features – my 2009 Ford Escape hasn’t had any new features added to its in-car computer systems since I bought it). By 2015, most cars should have anti-collision systems to stop the car before it rear-ends the car in front of it (its already on some high-end cars today). By 2025 cars will be able to drive themselves down the highway and navigate to the exit, and even around some roads. It wont be fully autonomous but it will take care of 90% of your driving.

One of the ideas being tossed around is a hybrid – buying the car (shell, interior, electric motors, transmission, etc) and leasing the battery, often in conjunction with battery quick-swapping systems instead of dealing with lengthly recharge times – while battery technology might increase 8% a year, there is no way to increase recharging times for a given level of safety and source electrical systems: recharging a battery after 3-4 hours or 250 miles of all-electric highway driving will take 11 hours at 240V/30A (the most you’ll be able to get at home), and 5.5 hours at 240V/70A (the most you’ll be able to get in a commercial environment – e.g. an office building or parking lot). Even a 480V DC 50kW fast-charge circuit will still take 90 minutes. The only way to rapidly recharge the batteries is to have parallel 50kW fast charging systems hooked to one car, however fast-charging batteries can advance their degradation rate.

Its an interesting decision – there are clear pros to each choice, whether to buy, lease, or just buy the shell only and lease the battery. I would recommend that folks lease a first generation electric vehicle if they want to drive one, simply because of how much knowledge car companies and battery makers are going to learn the first few years about automotive batteries, and you don’t want to be stuck with an outmoded design or fatal flaw. By 2015 the prices of batteries will come down enough making the purchase of a second or third generation electric car reasonable if you carefully compare it to your driving habits compared to the vehicle’s EV characteristics.

Quick Thoughts on the new MacBook Air

Got the new 13″ MacBook Air today (which is impressive considering that I ordered it less than 24 hours ago and overnight shipping only cost $16). Loaded out with a 2.13GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM (not upgradable so I’m stuck with 4GB for the next 4-5 years of use), and a 256GB SSD.

Its an engineering marvel. The first MacBook Air was a revolution in that they finally had the idea to minimize the circuit board inside that houses the CPU, memory, etc. and then try and fit it in such a thin design. Though the UFO/Flying Saucer design was novel, it wasn’t until after Apple had more experience assembling things in tiny form factors (see iPad and iPhone 4circuit boards and how small they are compared to the rest of the interval volume being occupied by batteries).

Now that Apple had figured out how to cram everything you needed for a real laptop on a tiny circuit board, it was time to revise the housing and design of the MacBook Air. This was the result. And it was good.

The more (but not completely) square design allows for ports on both sides of the unit. Eliminating the door that was needed by the flying saucer bottom of the laptop. This adds a second USB port, display port out, and SD card reader on the 13″ version. I don’t have a need for the SD card slot, but I’m sure if I was more artsy or hip I’d have a 13MP DSLR and take moody photos and need to unload my SD card somewhat frequently into iPhoto.

When Apple says its the future of laptops they’re right. Intel’s next CPU has a graphics processor on the same piece of silicon. It wont be long before the large areas needed for two separate packages now can be combined into one package. With the advent of the Mac App Store, people will need less CDs and DVDs so optical drives start to disappear. Side note: I wouldn’t be surprised to find large vendors with lots of units (e.g. Microsoft, Adobe) looking to cut special deals with Apple ($99 copies of Microsoft Office Home Edition with Apple taking less than 30%, probably 20%), with the clear goal of going 100% digital, with the side effect of reducing piracy.

People don’t need anything much faster than a 2GHz Core 2 Duo for using the internet, especially if the video they are watching is decoded using the GPU (and less power than a CPU), which it is on the MacBook Air and other Mac laptops with the Nvidia 9400M and 320M chips. Sure if you’re running AutoCAD for the Mac, Photoshop, or Maya you’ll need more horsepower. But then I don’t think this is the laptop you want – you’ll fit better with the 15″ Macbook Pro.

Despite being a niche player in terms of market share, Apple never acts like a niche player. They target their hardware to the broadest possible audience in the segment they’re trying to address. Its why we don’t see Apple quad-core laptops, its why we don’t see more exotic high end video cards (I’m just glad we get decent video cards now – I still have my old Macbook with the GMA950 video, bleck!), its why there aren’t dual SSDs in RAID, etc.

The big push here seems to be the cloud. The problem is that Apple doesn’t have a lot of cloud services to offer – just MobileMe which isn’t that good – I feel like I get better service with my free Google Apps account – email, calendar, docs, etc, and I pay only $20/yr for my domain name for it.

There are only two downsides to this laptop.

First is an artifical restriction by Apple – to get the fastest CPU in the 11″ or 13″ class you have to pick the largest SSD. This isn’t much of a price increase on the 11″ model (64 to 128GB) but on the 13″ model, the jump to a 256GB SSD is a $300 price premium. My original desired model was the 13″ 2.13Ghz with a 128GB SSD. However Apple doesn’t make any in that configuration. So I had to fork over the $300 (ouch) to get that faster CPU. I’m tempted to find someone who has an 11″ model who wants to send me the $300 and their 128GB SSD and I’ll swap them the 256GB.

Higher resolution 13″ display. This might be a pro for most people (and I will list it below under the positive points), with my and my constantly deteriorating eye sight, I have to blow the font size on web pages up pretty high to read the screen on my old Macbook, and with the higher resolution screen I have to hit Command + one extra time.

While there were a number of upsides…

Stereo speakers. And I think Apple applied what they learned with the iPad to make the speakers on this sound decent. I think they’re doing a Bose-like setup (speaker -> small “acoustical chamber” -> output).

Higher resolution screen. As I mentioned above, its a negative for me but a positive for just about everyone else.

Solid state drive. During the keynote Steve said it was 2x as fast, but in reality its much faster than that for the types of disk operations your average application is going to be having compared to a 1.8″ or 2.5″ HDD.

Weight. The laptop is very light. You could carry one around in a backpack all day and not notice it.

Summary:

For the sufficiently techie looking for an ultraportable (11″) or small (13″) laptop, isn’t averse to paying for a Mac and going without an optical drive (or leeching from a Mac or Windows PC with one), and isn’t looking for a laptop to do heavy lifting, the MacBook Air is the new standard.

I can see the future in the MBA line – in two years when Intel is at 22nm and can put a much faster dual core CPU (in terms of performance, it wont be much faster in terms of GHz) and a built-in sufficiently fast GPU and SATA 6Gb/s with an even faster SSD, we’ll wonder why people hung on to those heavy, chunky laptops for so long. With another 15% of battery life (Li-Ion batteries improve about 8% per year) we’ll see another hour or so of battery life too.

Apple and the Verizon iPhone – 2011 Edition

So in the past week, the Apple rumorsphere has blown up again on more rumors about the CDMA iPhone. We’re all a bit tired of it and just want the phone to be out already.

The lead time on manufacturing chips is fairly large. It takes 12-16 weeks to fabricate a chip from silicon wafer to end product packaged and ready to be soldered onto a PCB. So 3-4 months. If you wanted them mid-December, you’d need to start production mid-September. If Apple wants a million chips, Qualcomm would need to get going now.

The biggest question now is not when is it released, but when is it announced. This is a calculated decision – more than even the decision to make a CDMA iPhone (which more or less falls into the DUH category given how Android is doing on Verizon and Apple doesn’t want to cede a perfectly viable piece of the market).

So how do they decide when to announce a Verizon iPhone?

1. Speculative Momentum. Every time a rumor comes out, it generates headlines. Announcing its going to be out for sure kills this cycle. You’ve only got so much to announce after you’ve made the initial announcement – things like the prices of data plans, any other terms and conditions, visual voicemail support, etc.

2. The Holiday Season. You probably want to announce it before December 1 for a corresponding January/February launch. People generally only get to update their phones every 2 years. If you announce 2-3 months prior to the release date, people will hold off long enough to get a suitable demand at launch. If you assume people get a new phone every 2 years, and Verizon has over 90M customers, that’s 3.75M customers every month that get a new phone. Let Christmas pass without an announcement, you’re likely to have some people frustrated that they just got a new phone and have to wait so long to get a Verizon iPhone. The counter-argument is that Apple is likely to be supply constrained for a while (first 3 months) and they’ll still sell every unit they make, so pumping up demand isn’t necessary.

3. FCC Certification. This used to be an issue, but isn’t as much anymore. Apple seems to have few problems these days with submitting devices to the FCC and requesting confidentiality. The only minor slip-up was the internals of the iPad ending up on a website the day before the launch in April, which isn’t that big of a deal since they would have been discovered the next day anyways. Assuming a device takes 2 months (maybe more around the holidays) then it would be submitted in late November for a late January launch.

4. An actual, factual deal – handshake and signatures. This is somewhat obvious, but they’ll need to actually come to terms and agree on things like phone price, feature set (from a phone/network perspective) and other things like what Verizon expects Apple to filter out of the App Store (network issues).

There is a lot of talk about unveiling it at CES since the CEO of Verizon has the keynote. I think that’s incredibly stupid speculation. It would be very un-Apple like for them to let a partner announce the phone. Even if Steve showed up, Apple would want to hold its own event. And January is probably too late – after the holidays and many purchasers are stuck for another year or two on other phones.

I’m inclined to pick a mid-November announcement. I think a September announcement with the refreshed iPods is possible, especially in light of Apple’s September 30th self-imposed deadline of figuring out what to do with the iPhone antenna issue. Apple could announce the iPhone 4-and-a-half in September for a January release with a physical fix, but who knows.

Bonus: If Verizon wanted to get a leg up on AT&T they’d do the WiFi hotspot thing.

iOS 4.0 Quick Review

Hey now, hey now, the bugs are back (#)

I’ve been using iOS 4,0 for two weeks now, and I realize I forgot how much I dislike iPhone OS iOS x.0 releases. I’m especially disappointed that a bug from the 2.0 version of the OS is back.

Issues with Mail Part I

First issue is that iOS (since 3.0) doesn’t play well with POP3 accounts. iOS does not close its POP3 connection to the server, leaving it open and letting the server timeout the connection after a minimum of 10 minutes (per the RFC that governs POP3 mail servers). How do I know this? I run my own mail server and look at the logs myself – iOS on the iPhone or iPad does not close its POP3 connection when you close the Mail app on the phone. It just leaves it open and lets it timeout. On the other device (or the desktop) the system will report an error about being unable to log into the POP3 account.

This is an issue when you have multiple devices checking a POP3 account every 15 minutes – an iPad, an iPhone, a desktop PC and a laptop – and half of them don’t play nice with each other. For the uninitiated, you can only have one client open a POP3 mailbox at once – so until that 10 minute timeout passes you cant log in with a different email client.

Issues with Mail Part II – Electric Boogaloo

The “I’m not checking mail automatically” bug from iOS 2.0 has returned with a vengeance. It only took about 12 hours after the initial install of iOS 4.0 before I noticed that my iPad was getting new emails but the iPhone wasn’t. I played around with the phone and realized, yup, the same problem that I had with iOS 2.0 has returned and there isn’t much I can do about it other that spend a weekend switching from POP3 to IMAP (not what I was looking forward to) and hope that it solves my issues (it should since IMAP allows multiple simultaneous connections).

For reference, if anyone at Apple ever reads this and cares enough to fix it – I have 4 POP3 accounts and an Exchange (Google) account on both an iPad an iPhone set to 15 minute intervals. Switching to IMAP fixed the POP3 issues.

Still no useful AVRCP support

AVRCP is a remote control protocol over Bluetooth. The iPhone supports a very limited set of commands – play/pause/stop. However other devices, specifically my Ford Sync system in my car, support more advanced AVRCP implementations that support next/previous, searching, etc.

Whats that noise in my pocket?

Twice in three days, when I’ve disconnected my iPhone from the USB port in my car (Ford Sync system), the iPhone continues to play music out of its speaker instead of stopping (which is what it used to do, and what it should do). If I don’t notice it immediately I’ll put the phone in my pocket and then hear this background noise…

Battery Life

When the iPhone was checking mail regularly, it ate through battery life quicker than with OS 3.0. Nothing streaming or going on in the background, just treating my phone like I did before. I turned on the battery percentage indicator to get a better feel for it, but around that same time the mail app stopped checking mail automatically.

Multitasking

Not much multitasking to speak of – the apps that support it haven’t been released to the App Store yet. There is a neat animation to illustrate when you’re switching between apps so you know the app is still running in the background.

Nissan announces $25,280 LEAF EV price after rebate. Wow…

Yeah, that “Wow!” probably isn’t very journalistic (but then again this is a blog). But the price is about $7,000 cheaper than the comparable price of the LEAF in Japan.

Nissan this week announced that their LEAF EV will be priced at $32,780 in the US before a $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles. The 220V charging dock (required if you’re traveling more than ~50 miles per day due to recharge times from 110V/8A circuits) is an additional $2,200 (also eligible for a 50% tax credit). The total price (vehicle + 220V charger) after all tax credits is $26,380, and possibly as low as $21,380 is California, Georgia and Oregon due to $5,000 state income tax credits.

Nissan Japan has set a retail price of approximately $40,700 including VAT. After government incentives cost around $33,000.

The most interesting prospect is a $349/mo lease, plus $2,000 down. Further terms and conditions of the lease haven’t been specified (mileage, etc), but considering that electricity is pennies compared to gasoline, even for a 30MPG vehicle, people could get used to paying $30/mo more on their electric bill every month in exchange for no more gas stations. Though it makes me wonder what Nissan would do with all those lease turn-ins in 2014 with a comparatively out-of-date battery and larger EVs.

Mitsubishi responded by cutting the price of their iMiEV electric car by $7,000 in Japan in response to the lower price of the LEAF.

The low price will put pressure on other auto makers to push the price of their electric car downwards. Suddenly, an all electric sedan doesn’t look too appetizing if it is priced over $30,000 (after credit). Specifically, the price that GM will set for the Chevy Volt will likely be pushed down slightly from what they might have been expecting to sell it at. Even though the Volt is essentially an unlimited range electric vehicle due to the gas take and electric generator, GM’s difficulty will be conveying how the Volt works and explaining its benefits over EVs to the general public. An old political axiom applies – if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

It does look like a world of hurt for niche EV makers, Tesla might survive due to its luxury status, but more… exotic cars like the Aptera are likely to see harder times ahead due to price ceilings. The real question is battery supplies. How do the cost of batteries change when mass-manufacturing hits, and the demand for automotive batteries starts to greatly outstrip supply. Do we see prices go up, or can sufficient quantities be made with the existing supply chain?

The Nissan LEAF EV is expected to start selling in limited markets at the end of 2010, and nationwide sometime in 2011.

Automotive battery prices falling faster than expected

New reports (PDF) indicate (via GM-Volt) that the cost of lithium-ion batteries for automotive applications (like the Tesla Roadster, Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf) are coming down faster than was previously expected. At a recent conference, A123 stated that they were negotiating contracts for automotive Li-Ion batteries for 2012 delivery at under $400/kWh, a reduction of almost 40% over 2009 prices ($650/kWh) in only 3 years. If the trend holds, a report published in-part by the National Academy of Sciences would be way off since it estimates the $400/kWh price point wont be hit until 2020, 8 years later.

Elon Musk (Tesla CEO) postulated a “weak Moore’s law” for Li-Ion batteries, that the price/performance ratio will increase by 8% per year, or 9 years to double. The price/performance ratio is the ratio between the price per kWh of the battery pack and the amount of energy the battery can store. If current batteries can store 140Wh/kg and cost $500/kWh, an 8% improvement means either the storage goes up to 150Wh/kg, the price goes down to $460/kWh, or somewhere in between (145Wh/kg and $480/kWh). A Tesla battery pack would go from $35,000 (53kWh at $650/kWh in 2009) to $24,000 ($400/kWh in 2014), a reduction of about 10% of the entire price of the car over approximately 5 years. Combined with other cost saving methods, the next stage of the Tesla evaluation – the Model S – starts to look feasible. Its still not going to be the most affordable car, however significant progress is being made.

The cost per battery pack can be broken into two parts – the batteries themselves and the pack. The pack costs can be trimmed considerably with mass-manufacturing. Instead of hand assembling each battery pack and set of battery modules (a series of cells), semi-automated assembly can increase the throughput of the teams assembling dramatically while keeping the same number of people around, reducing the amount of employee-hours spent per battery pack.

The cell costs don’t come down as easily. This is the decidedly slower part of the electrification of vehicles. Following the 8% rule, automotive battery packs due in 2009 cost approximately $650/kWh. In 2014 this cost is about $430, and by 2017, the cost is $330/kWh, and by 2020 $260/kWh. Following the more agressive price decreases noted above, prices in 2017 would be $235/kWh, and by 2020 $172/kWh.

So by 2020, a Volt-style battery would cost $4,200, or about the cost of a new engine (a rebuilt one can be had for less). This assumes that other battery performance parameters do not improve – rather the Volt still requires a 16kWh battery and only uses 8.8kWh of the battery pack. If the current estimates of what battery specifications will be by 2020 (2,500W/kg, 250Wh/kg, 2,000 cycles and 4,000 recharges at 70%DoD) the Volt would be able to have its pack size reduced to 12.5kWh (50kg, 110kW), thus reducing costs further to $3,250 for the battery pack, and the total price premium of the E-REV system would be approximately $5,500. Factoring that cost over 5 years is $1,100 per year in savings needed over gasoline, which is achievable when factoring in savings in electricity costs over gasoline (approximately 9c or 11c/mile savings depending on cost of electricity), reduced maintenance costs ($150/yr for oil changes, etc) and reduced variability of fuel costs – my electric company needs a regulatory body’s approval to change the price of energy, the local gas station chain can add 10 or 15c to the price of gas over a holiday weekend because they feel like sticking it to us.

By 2030, barring any new technology that would leapfrog Li-Ion on price and performance, battery prices would reach $110/kWh, and total costs would be equivalent to a Prius premium today.

Over the long term, E-REVs are workable from a consumer finance standpoint. Initially, subsidies, longer warranties and extended payback periods will be needed to entice the consumer to buy in to the electrification of vehicles. If we can manage to stick with it for the next 5-7 years, it will take off and the nation can start to wave good-bye to oil and petroleum for their in-city commutes, and we’ll all breathe easier with less smog.

TiVo Premiere (Series4) announced – good but not great

TiVo announced their new TiVo Premiere model today. The unit added a lot of what was needed to improve the TiVo experience and bring it into the 21st century, but not everything is in place. Is it enough to overcome being stymied by CableLabs and their slow progress?

The first thing to recognize is that TiVo fixed most of the major gripes with their existing units. Their biggest problem is the cable companies themselves vis-a-vis CableLabs, and while I’ll not address anything having to do with them for now (there is a long list of gripes), I had a long list of things TiVo needed to fix in a draft blog post ready to hit the “Publish” button had they messed up. Lucky for them I’m scrapping that post! (well, recycling it into this post, got to be green!)

Upgraded Hardware. While the device is still limited to two tuners (the Moxi supports three, new cable cards will support up to six), the upgraded Broadcom Chip on the inside is a dual core 400MHz MIPS processor and 512MB of RAM with clustered multi-threading (portions of the core like the execution unit are partitioned to support more than one thread per core). So once they manage to optimize their interface they should be able to take advantage of the hardware, even if the 400MHz speed look rather slow.

New HD Interface. The Series 3 TiVo uses the ancient SD interface, while the new Series 4 models use the new Adobe Flash-based UI. While the old interface is leaps and bounds above the standard cable set-top box (STB), other set top box makers (DirecTV, Dish, etc) are quickly catching up, and non-broadcast STBs like the Boxee Box already provide an experience that is better. TiVo should be the far and away leader given the head start they had, but they haven’t kept up. The new UI still needs some (a lot) of polish (“My Shows” should go back to “Now Playing” considering it can contain non-TV show content) but they seem to have got out of the rut they were in.

Better integration with internet content. Whether its the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory or a new Tekzilla I want them all in one list, organized by show name. I want one screen that shows me all the content I can watch now, whether its recorded TV shows, internet TV shows, plus TV shows, movies, pictures and music from my home network. Everything in one place. While I wont be able to get the stuff from my home network, I’m hoping the UI addresses the centralization issue.

Apps. The new TiVo is supposed to have an API available for developers. Combined with the Bluetooth Remote/Keyboard I can see cool Facebook or Twitter notifications. We’ll see if TiVo opens it up to all comers. If so, they are definitely going to need some sort of App Store. It would be really neat though, to replicate some of the iPhone App Store successes on the TiVo.

What did the get wrong?

No DLNA. I wont mince words, this is a huge mistake. TiVo’s proprietary protocols for sharing recorded content needed to be dropped a long time ago in place of the DLNA standard. Part of this might be restrictions imposed on them in terms of getting video out, but at the very least, I should be allowed to stream audio and video into the TiVo from my Windows Home Server easily, and it would be nice if they supported video formats like MKV (MP4+AC3 or DTS) since its really only a container around codecs supported by the Broadcom decoder chip.

No Built-in Bluetooth. While I can understand selling the awesome slider remote for $80, not including the $10 Bluetooth chip inside the unit seems incredibly weak. If I already have a BT keyboard I could do without one in my remote (especially for $80). Allowing BT keyboards in the first place was a great idea, but allow people who already have the hardware to use it! Also, BT would be useful for talking to a TiVo iPhone/Android application to use my phone as an advanced remote control, again, meaning that I don’t need the remote and BT dongle, rather just the BT capability.

While I still think TiVo needs to strengthen their engineering department to make their product better (DLNA, TTG Mac client, etc), the Series 4 is a step in the right direction. Hopefully they can manage to produce a new box more often than every 3 years to keep up with the rate of change in consumer electronics and can manage to squeeze more out of the Series 4 hardware they’re going to start shipping soon.

Finally, one parting thought on comparing a Tivo to an iPhone.

I think its odd that I have no problem dropping $300 every year on an new iPhone plus $30 a month for data and yet still complaining about AT&T’s poor service. But everyone is griping about the TiVo’s price ($300) and monthly costs ($13 or $400 lifetime) and yet they still love their TiVo. It is incredible to me actually. Why does everyone have such a hard time justifying to themselves a $300 TiVo once every three years and the $12.95/mo. I might get more out of an iPhone, but I would presume more people spend more time in front of the TV than a phone (except for teenagers perhaps). The only possible reason I can think of is because the only people I hate more than my cell phone provider is the cable company for its annual price increases. That and it would cost me an extra $10/mo just to them to add a Series 4 TiVo to my house – $2/mo cable card fee PLUS $8/mo for “additional digital service outlet” which is a, pardon my language, bullshit charge hoisted on us by the cable companies and the hardware vendors.

The 2010 Decade – Removing the PC from the Internet equation

By the end of the decade, connected devices will outnumber computers and smartphones on the internet. From monitoring devices like smart meters for the power grid, wireless picture frames, cars and their navigation systems, and even more things that haven’t been invented yet. We might laugh at the Tweeting Scale, but its these types of devices that will dominate our future.

Essentially, the internet goes from something you sit down at a computer to use to something that connects everything in our daily life together.

Brief Thoughts on Nissan Leaf EV

So Nissan announced their EV for commuters – the LEAF EV. 100 miles (spec.) on electricity. So what makes this stand out over all the other EVs being offered or promised?

First, the most interesting thing I saw was the 50kW DC charger. This is incredibly useful from a commuter standpoint – if you’re on your way home from work and need to run some errands, if you plug it in for 10 minutes you get an extra 30 miles, which will probably get you anywhere you need to go in your city.

Next is the that the electric motor is capable of 80kW (106hp). That is low compared to the Volt’s electric motor is 111kW/150HP, and the LEAF is estimated to weigh about the same (3,300-3,500lbs) as the Volt – as the extra 8kWh of batteries are about the same weight of the Volt generator. I’ll be interested to see acceleration and highway performance of the LEAF once they start to do road tests.

Overall, I don’t think they’ll hit their 100 mile range target, even the current Mini-E owners are saying that their real world mileage is about 70 miles per charge despite promises of 100 mile range. Not that 70 miles is bad, but there might be the occasional time where something happens and you end up exceeding 70 miles in a day. This is why its imperative that the same working group that did the SAE J1772 connector start work on a high capacity off-board DC charger. Up to 50kW is probably enough, assuming the 20-30 miles per 10 minutes figure holds up. Not all batteries will be able to handle that (E-REVs and plug-in hybrids wont be able to charge that quick) but if they could dial it down to what they could accept (15kW, 6kW, etc) it would allow more “charge point” and “service station” type places to recharge your electric car.