ASUS Eee PC expected to depress average selling prices for notebooks and UMPCs

For a system that hasn't even shipped yet, the ASUS Eee PC is certainly generating its share of hype. We've already covered the system specs and plans ASUS has for the device, including the company's stated goal of becoming one of the top five laptop manufacturers within the next three years. Now, it seems, market analysts are projecting the Eee PC will have a significant impact on the ASPs of other digital devices, all before the Eee has even launched. HangZhou Night Net

According to DigiTimes, the Eee should begin shipping later this month (as we've previously reported), and ship up to three million units in 2008. Intel has stated that the Eee PC could have a significant impact on the entire laptop industry, and could effectively decimate the UMPC market.

Personally, I think its a little early to be giving the Eee as much credit as some analysts seem willing to do. At $199, the Eee PC may reach a certain target market that the UMPC players would also like to engage, but the hardware limitations in the current Eee PC model (900MHz ULV Celeron, 512MB of RAM, and relatively limited storage) are going to keep the device confined to certain economic sectors. ASUS could certainly introduce larger Eee PCs (a 10"LCD version is also reportedly in the works), but again, these will come at higher price points. At launch, the newcomer certainly isn't going to present a total coup in the UMPC market.

I think the Eee PC may indeed find a strong market for itself and become a winning brand for ASUS, but such statements are a far cry from saying the device will be the beginnings of a sea change within the laptop industry. With all due respect to the industry analysts out there, I'm staying conservative on this one. Expect the Eee PC to make a splash—not to change the world.

Evidence for possible iTunes Store movie rentals found

Critics and would-be customers of the iTunes Store have been clamoring for new delivery models almost since the day the store opened in 2003. If a Flickr image posted by David Watanabe (yep, the developer of NewsFire and Xtorrent) is to believed, some of these wishful shoppers just might have a reason to finally whip out their credit cards soon. HangZhou Night Net

Watanabe snapped his shot (clipped below) while reporting a problem to the iTunes Store. As you can see, and as he notated at Flickr, one of the problem options is 'Did Not Receive Rental Movie.' Is this a slip-up from someone on the iTunes support team (in that case, our hearts go out to the intern who is undoubtedly getting fired right about… now), or Apple 's subtle way of firing up another hype machine?

Given John Gruber's musings yesterday on what Apple's CFO Peter Oppenheimer could have meant with his 'product transition' comment at the company's last earnings call, I wonder if, instead of (or in addition to) a new subscription-based accounting system for the new iPods like they debuted with the iPhone (so the company can provide new software and features without having to charge customers), Apple might finally be embracing rental and subscription-based content delivery models. If true, this could be the final move for Apple to reel in a good portion of customers sticking with subscription-based competitors.

Image source: Dave Watanabe

When rentals or subscriptions could debut (if ever) on the iTunes Store is anyone's guess. Apple has already unveiled a strong lineup for the '07 holiday season, and they could easily dominate holiday shopping without rentals or subscriptions in the store. After all, going by the numbers, we are talking about smaller—though still significant—demographic of customers. Still, Apple clearly wants to dominate the market, and unveiling these new shopping options for the iTunes Store could arguably be one of the final nails in the competition's coffin this holiday season.

Growl 1.1 released with better alert management, performance enhancements

For those who simply have too much happening on their Macs, the open source, system-wide notification utility Growl has been the favored way to stay on top of things. With its handy, customizable popup notifications that can alert you to finished downloads, new e-mail, the next iTunes song, or just about anything third-party developers want to plug in, Growl allows you to focus on the task at hand but still keep an eye on everything else. HangZhou Night Net

It's been quite a while since we've heard anything out of the Growl team, but today they released version 1.1, a fairly major update that brings some significant new alert management options. At the top of the list is a new global positioning system (apparently two years in the making) that allows you to specify any of your display's four corners to post alerts. Naturally, you can specify corners on a per-app basis, helping you to better organize your alerts and preventing apps from jumbling alerts in one corner.

Other new features to write home about include close buttons for alerts on mouse over, a completely redesigned System Preferences pane, a sound alert option, memory leak fixes, performance enhancements, a "whole slew" of new localizations, and more (on a side note: I prefer the old style of listing notification options for each app instead of in a drop down list; it's much harder to customize notifications this way now).

When we asked Chris Forsythe of the Growl team what he thinks of the app so far, he told us, "My favorite part is the fact that so many people use it in so many unexpected ways. If you want [my favorite new feature], I like the positioning most. It's massively cool in a geeky way."

While Chris might have a point with laying down the geek badge for Growl users, you can be proud of your nerdy tendencies because it just got a bit easier to get your multitask on. Growl 1.1 is a free download, and the previous 0.7.6 version is still available for those who need it.

Finding value in .Mac

.Mac when it was iTools, free, and a success, about seven years ago

No one has inadvertently described the failure of .Mac better than Steve Jobs himself. At the Apple Event in August, he said "we're pleased to announce we have over 1.7 million .Mac subscribers," which means the entire user base of .Mac now equals the number of computers Apple sold last quarter. Detractors of .Mac will nod heads and repeat the "I can get everything for free" mantra. Of course, this is exactly what Linux advocates say to anyone who will listen to them for five minutes without throwing a punch, so you had better be wearing a propeller hat with that argument. The reality is that people will pay for what they value, and searching for the value in .Mac begins with the features and not the price. HangZhou Night Net

Storage: Each .Mac user now gets 10GB of storage and 100GB of bandwidth each month (50GB bimonthly) to be used for file sharing, mail, website hosting, everything. While other services may offer more capacity and less lag, what is the value of extra storage that's not used? Sure, iDisk performance could be better—a lot better—but it is easily accessible from the Finder, whatever Windows is calling the file manager these days, and even a web browser.

Mail: You get one IMAP account and five "aliases" that are totally worthless to anyone who knows what an e-mail header is. However, what does have worth is ad-free mail, decent filtering for junk mail, and privacy. I personally prefer not to have a bunch of algorithms scanning my mail for advertising purposes and talking about me later around the water cooler.

Website Hosting: While iWeb is sold as a part of iLife, it really should be bundled with the .Mac service. Only with .Mac can iWeb publish just changes to a web site, and only with .Mac do you get password protection, comments, blog search, hit counter, and enhanced slideshows. However, one new .Mac feature, Personal Domain, does not actually require iWeb. Personal Domain allows you to use your own domain name for a site hosted on .Mac, rather than being forced to have something like ”web.mac.com/sitename” as part of the URL. To do so without using iWeb, all you do is follow the instructions here, then create a directory on your iDisk, ~WebSites. Whatever goes in that directory will appear in the address bar of a web browser as “www.yourdomain.com” or whatever. Finally, Web Gallery is the Flickr of .Mac, allowing for the easy creation of slick photo and movies pages from within iPhoto and iMovie. You can even add photos to Web Gallery from an iPhone.

Sync: If you have more than one Mac, this is one of those "it just works!" features that defines the Mac experience. Contacts, calendars, passwords, and bookmarks are all seamlessly updated between multiple computers. Contacts and bookmarks are also accessible via a web browser.

Backup: Some unkind things have been said about Backup, like it is maintained by the Punishment Development Group at Apple. While this may or may not be true, it has gotten better. I still wouldn't trust it to restore directly to my computer, but the "restore to an alternate location" feature has tested without fail in my recent experience. Admittedly, Backup does lack its own encryption, but I personally use encrypted disk images anyway. Still, the mirroring—not archiving—backup software is very user friendly, especially if one has friends or relatives that have ignored your repeated warnings about backing up their documents.

Assorted Crap: Besides every passive-aggressive well-wisher's favorite, iCards, there are some abandonware web page creation tools for those who refuse to use iWeb. There are also Groups, which allow family or club members to jointly create and access community calendars, storage, photo albums, and to send group e-mails.

Once you assess the features of .Mac, which you can do through a free 60-day trial, you need to buy it. If you or your technologically-declined friend or family member walks into an Apple Store and pulls a box of .Mac off the shelf, you've already been suckered—not as badly as an early adopter of the iPhone, but still. Instead of paying $99 a year for .Mac, the savvy buyer can routinely renew his or her subscription for $69, either with the purchase of a new Mac or during the Black Friday sale each year at any Apple Store.

At $69, valuing .Mac then comes down to counting the services you use. I use iDisk, Mail, Sync, website and media hosting, and Backup. Six distinct uses works out to about $6 a month for my .Mac experience, all tightly integrated into OS X and iLife—something no mismatched collection of services can match.

Finding the value in .Mac is in using it.

iTunes 7.4.1 released, breaks custom ringtones (but a workaround has been found)

Sure, iTunes 7.4 just landed with support for the new iPods and ringtones from the iTunes Store, but who wants days-old software? Apple has wasted no time in releasing iTunes 7.4.1, which apparently serves no other purpose than to one-up ringtone hackers by breaking the "just change the file extension to .m4r" trick (though it is widely reported that simply changing the extension back to .m4a works around Apple's new roadblock). Ambrosia Software's iToner ringtone app for the iPhone apparently still works, and a new 1.0.1 version that brings iTunes 7.4 compatibility now also supports drag-and-drop for files straight out of iTunes. iToner still suffers, however, from a lack of any sort of UI for actually trimming full songs down to ringtone-friendly snippets, but it still remains one of the easiest and cost-effective ways to get ringtones onto your iPhone without paying a per-tone charge. HangZhou Night Net

Back to iTunes 7.4.1, Apple is making it clear that ringtones are nothing to mess with. However, with 2006 ringtone revenues topping out at over $6 billion (often at $2.99 or more per 'tone vs. the iTunes Store's $0.99), it is more likely that the content companies are the ones mandating that iTunes crack down on users making their own ringtones (though Engadget has a nice post regarding your rights as a user to create your own 'tones). Either way, we're hoping this cat and mouse ringtone game doesn't go on for much longer; most users aren't going to go through all the trouble of creating their own ringtones (especially since the iTunes Store allows users to pick just the 30-second snippet they want), which means the content providers will rake in plenty of dough now that ringtones are an easy-breezy purchase, download, and sync via the iTunes Store.