Most of the comments from our readers on compelling broadband applications have related to music and games. There was more news on those fronts this month: the official launch of Xbox Live, Charter's launch of the FullAudio Digital Music Service, and Gateway announcing that all consumer desktop PCs will ship with Gateway Rhapsody installed.
Sport is another area many consumers find compelling. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has introduced NBA Inside Ticket (IT) for $9.95/month or NBA IT Plus RealOne™ SuperPass for $14.95/month. Inside Ticket provides live audio of games, exclusive video, specialized stats and analysis. SuperPass, which already has over 850,000 paid subscribers, adds exclusive sports content from FoxSports, CNN/SI, MLB.com and NASCAR.com plus news and entertainment from CNN, ABCNEWS, E!Online and iFilm. We're not ardent sports fans, so if any of you have subscribed, please let us know what you think. Sports seems to be just the type of application that Microsoft and H-P had in mind for the Media Center PC -- viewed from the sofa, not just the desk.
"Digital magazines" may be next; until the recent launch of Tablet PCs and Smart Displays, we hadn't paid much attention to them. They provide exact digital replicas of their paper versions -- not the Web-based and very different-appearing content one finds at sites like nytimes.com or fortune.com. Part of the reason that the Web versions have become widespread is that they were designed to work over dial-up connections and thus don't deliver lots of formatting and images and ads or all the articles at once.
But once you have broadband, downloading lots more information is no longer slow and burdensome. Add a convenient portable form factor that you can take to the bathroom or read on your train commute and suddenly digital magazines start making more sense. They give you the great look that has been designed for the reader plus features you never got from your magazine or newspaper. For example, if I know there is an article someplace in the issue on Africa (or white-collar crime or whatever) I can do a search for that word or phrase and have each instance of it highlighted.
Two of the best known sources for digital publications are Zinio and NewsStand. Zinio allows you to subscribe to digital versions of periodicals like Business Week and PC Magazine, using their downloaded reader. It lets you zoom in, search and jot down notes. NewsStand has the same likeness to paper, and features like search and mark-up that are better than paper. It includes an impressive list of newspapers and magazines, including The Australian, The Manila Times, The Boston Globe, The Scotsman, The New Zealand Press, China Daily, the International Herald Tribune, The Harvard Business Review and Consumer Reports (and lots more). Once you subscribe to the service, content can be "pushed" to you when a new issue becomes available from the publisher. We expect that -- as with many "chicken-and-egg" phenomena -- the proliferation of new electronic devices like Smart Displays and Tablet PCs will encourage many more titles to become available.
In the past week, we've used two other applications that, while not impossible to use on dial-up, really come into their own when using broadband. One of these is Shutterfly and especially projects like making gift calendars. For those not familiar with it, Shutterfly is a Web-based service that lets you transfer your digital pictures to their site and turn them into prints, greeting cards or (as we recently did) gift calendars with your own pictures chosen for each month. While an eighteen-month calendar could certainly be done with dial-up, uploading and manipulating all those high-quality images over broadband is certainly far less frustrating.
The second application was reviewing Vanguard's quarterly report on financial status. We received an email from Vanguard on recent market activity and the performance of several Vanguard funds. Normally we might have simply deleted the message as being too time-consuming (and frankly dull) to go through. However, Vanguard is now using Placeware with streaming audio and annotated slides, and gives users a choice of recording formats. Those with broadband can choose a version with Windows Media™-formatted streamed audio & video, including slide annotation and the ability to skip around in the presentation to hear and see those parts that are of particular interest. It made all the difference in whether we tossed the message or viewed it as a valuable service - which we did.
We still haven't seen broadband's "killer app", and we suspect we never will. But we think that, by accretion, applications are adding up to "enough to matter".
( www.xbox.com ) ( www.charter.com ) ( www.fullaudio.com ) ( www.gateway.com ) ( www.listen.com ) ( www.nba.com ) ( www.real.com ) ( www.zinio.com ) ( www.newsstand.com ) ( www.shutterfly.com ) ( www.vanguard.com ) ( www.placeware.com )