Is the Samsung Galaxy S4 the world's most annoying phone?
By Adam TURNER
Does Samsung have a special research team developing the world's most annoying sounds?
The Galaxy S4 is a rather sexy piece of hardware, but the spell is broken as soon as you fire up the phone and touch the screen. You though the cutesy lock screen with the kid holding balloons was bad, but wait until you hear the noises the phone makes.
Drip. Drip. Drip. Every single time you touch the screen you hear a loud and annoying water droplet, like your own personal water torture assistant. When a call comes in, the default "Over the horizon" ringtone makes you feel like you're trapped in a late night informercial for incontinence pads. Meanwhile the loud "Whistle" when you receive a text message is so chipper and pretentious that you want to answer the phone with a brick. Sure you can change the defaults, but Samsung's alternatives aren't much better.
The Galaxy range has always been plagued by annoying sounds, but it's still hard to believe that someone at Samsung actually signs off on them before each new handset ships. The S4 comes with more than 30 dreadful ringtones, sporting uber-trendy names such as "Cloud at sunsets", "Spring of hope" and "Drifting downstream". Even elevator muzak sounds good in comparison -- it's enough to make your pine for "Nokia Tune" on your old Nokia 3210.
Perhaps Samsung's entire product development team is tone deaf, or perhaps no-one can hear them complain over the din of cute bells and whistles. The Galaxy S4 is certainly an impressive slice of hardware, but something needs to be done about the god-awful sounds it makes.
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Seven's Hybrid TV plans - the worst of both worlds?
By Adam TURNER
With TiVo dead in the water, can the Seven Network's latest interactive TV plans stop viewers switching off free-to-air?
Australia's free-to-air networks have been kicking around hybrid TV ideas for more than a decade -- basically combining television and broadband to offer extra programming, interactive content and new ways for advertisers to target viewers. Seven is keen to have another stab at cross-breeding terrestrial broadcasting and the internet, although these are the same people who brought you Celebrity Splash so you can't exactly say they've got a spotless track record when it comes to backing winners.
Details of Seven's latest plans are sketchy but they're supposedly based on the HbbTV (hybrid broadcast-broadband TV) model used in Europe. Access to the service presumably requires installing a internet-enabled set-top box in your lounge room. The fact that Seven thinks it can go it alone here, rather than work on Freeview-branded cross-network platform, immediately rings alarm bells. Not that I have any confidence in Freeview to deliver anything useful, but at least it offers safety in numbers. Talk of subscription content models would seem hypocritical after they've spend the last few years battling Foxtel and crowing about the "free" in Freeview.
Viewers are already suffering from set-top box fatigue yet Seven expects us to buy another box to access its own service. It would need to be an all-singing, all-dancing box to win people over, rather than a one-trick pony. Perhaps Seven might throw in Personal Video Recorder and movie rental features. I guess it's lucky that Seven hasn't already invested millions of dollars in such a device and then let it wither and die. Such a disaster would make anyone question whether Seven can pull off this latest pipe dream.
Seven's TiVo venture was a debacle, but they wont' even admit that it's dead. The EPG still works for existing customers, but there are no TiVos on the shelves and the head office isn't answering the phone. As for this latest idea, it seriously sounds like someone in the new media department has dipped into the archive and dug up a marketing spiel from the 1990s dot-com boom. I remember talking about services like this with Seven's new media managers more than a decade ago. Times have changed -- today there's simply no need for such internet-based services to piggy back on free-to-air broadcasts. Seven has missed the boat, but it's still preparing to throw good money after bad.
Free-to-air broadcasters are losing their grip on their role of gateway to our lounge rooms. IPTV lets you cut out the middleman completely and old-world broadcasters like Seven are seen by some as simply dead weight. When we look back at 2013, Celebrity Splash won't be remembered as the industry's only belly flop.
What do you think Seven can do to stay relevant in the new world?
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Why are eBooks overlooked in the piracy debate?
By Adam TURNER
It's just as easy to steal digital books as movies and music, yet eBooks are rarely mentioned in the piracy debate.
As broadband speeds grew faster over the last decade, and download limits grew more generous, the piracy debate shifted its focus from music to video. But at the same time entire eBook libraries started popping up on BitTorrent which could be downloaded in minutes and read on a myriad of cheap eBook readers. So why don't eBooks come up often in piracy debates? Is it because few people bother to steal books, or is it simply because the rhetoric from the TV/movie industry drowns out everyone else?
Source: Wikimedia commons
I'd like to think that readers of quality literature have more respect for its creators than movie lovers, and are prepared to pay for quality, although that might just be wishful thinking on my part. There are figures to suggest that one-third of eBook reader and tablet owners have downloaded pirate copies of eBooks. The same figures suggest that book sales are still holding up despite eBook piracy.
Few people treat digital piracy as a black and white issue and I expect most people draw their own moral line in the sand when it comes to eBooks. In my experience people are more likely to download TV shows which run on free-to-air television, than they are to download new-release movies to avoid playing at the cinema or DVD store. I guess downloading TV shows is more about convenience and feels less like "stealing" when you weren't going to hand over cash to watch it anyway.
Perhaps people draw similar distinctions between books -- paying for new blockbuster novels which are on the shelves yet illegally downloading back catalogues of older books which are out of print and not even in the local library any more. Or maybe it's the other way around and people steal the expensive new books while happily scouring second-hand bookstores for out-of-print gems.
It's obviously happening, so why don't we hear more about eBook piracy? Does no-one care, or are book publishers more pragmatic about the issue than the often vocal movie industry?
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Samsung gets into bed with Seven's Plus7, the rest of us get screwed?
By Adam TURNER
Will Australia's Galaxy S4 exclusive content deals lose more viewers than they gain?
Catch Up TV options now come built into a wide range of Australian home entertainment gear, although you shouldn't get your hopes up until you read the fine print. You'll find a wealth of content on the Seven Network's Plus7 website, but switch from your computer to a TV, Blu-ray player or PS3 and suddenly there's very little worth watching unless you're a fan of World's Funniest Police Chases or whatever reality TV crap is popular this week.
The networks like to blame broadcasts rights for such limitations, but Samsung's new content deal with Plus7 proves that where there's a will (and a big cheque book) there's a way. Samsung is going toe-to-toe with Apple in the content wars, stockpiling a wealth of content for its new AV range as well as the flagship Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 8. The Plus7 app on Samsung home entertainment gear and Android gadgets will offer 85% of the content currently available via the Plus7 website, with only a few US shows missing. That's obviously great news for Catch Up TV fans, until you realise that it's a Samsung exclusive so the rest of us miss out.
It's frustrating enough that the Foxtel Go and Quickflix Android apps are Samsung exclusives, but to withhold content from other devices which actually support Plus7 is an even bigger slap in the face to Australian viewers who are already feeling unloved by the free-to-air broadcasters. It's tempting to paint Samsung as the bad guy but, as with the Foxtel/HBO Game of Thrones deal, it's actually the content provider which is to blame here. The Seven Network agreed to the deal, rather than offering the same content to Plus7 on all devices.
Samsung's exclusive content deals might win it extra customers in the short-term, but it's also likely to drive more Australians to source their content via less legit methods. Once viewers have had a taste of BitTorrent it's hard to win them back. A smarter strategy might be for Seven to treat viewers with a little more respect and help everyone make a smooth transition to internet video, but that's just not their style.
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Foxtel Game of Thrones deal blocks iTunes/Quickflix fast-tracking
By Adam TURNER
After this season, Foxtel's HBO deal will put iTunes/Quickflix fast-tracking to the sword -- but will this deal backfire?
The announcement that Quickflix will join iTunes in fast-tracking season three of Game of Thrones this year is great news for those of us who can't afford Foxtel but don't want to resort to the BitTorrent channel. Unfortunately it's a short-lived victory, as Foxtel insists that next season's deal will stop iTunes and Quickflix offering new episodes in Australia until Foxtel has finished screening the entire series.
Pay TV is still considered an expensive luxury in Australia rather than essential viewing, largely because the government's anti-siphoning laws have ensured popular sport isn't completely locked away behind the Foxtel paywall. Unfortunately popular dramas such as Game of Thrones aren't offered the same protection. Foxtel is also out to nab new UK dramas for its upcoming premium BBC channel, which will see even more content disappear from Australian free-to-air channels and presumably iTunes and Quickflix.
Foxtel is certainly entitled to throw around its cash, but for every new subscriber these HBO and BBC deals win I suspect that several other viewers will finally turn to the BitTorrent channel to source their favourite shows. The fact Foxtel and HBO are blocking alternative fast-tracking efforts is likely to feed the resentment which helps many people justify downloading stuff without paying for it. One of my SMH readers recently compared illegally downloading TV shows to "reading the paper over someone's shoulder" -- no harm is done because they weren't going to buy it anyway. It's much easier to not see it as "stealing" when you feel you've been robbed of legitimate alternatives from the likes of iTunes and Quickflix.
Game of Thrones' season three premiere broke BitTorrent records this month, with Australians leading the charge on a per capita basis. Locking season four away on Foxtel isn't going to help in the war on piracy. Until content providers find new ways to strike a fair deal with viewers, Game of Thrones is always going to be a BitTorrent blockbuster.
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