This week, Chevrolet announced that their new electric car, the Volt, will initially be sold for $41,000.  The car represents a different direction for GM and incorporates a brand new electric powertrain.  This is the car that has been highlighted as the future of GM and in some cases even positioned as the savior.  However, judging by the initial pricing, I wonder whether GM will miss the mark and the US tax payers will be left holding the bag.

Background

The Volt is different from today’s hybrid electric vehicles like Toyota’s Prius, Honda’s Insight or Ford’s Fusion.  These cars use a drivetrain that relieas on batteries and a traditional combustion engine.  At low speeds, they run on batteries and the combustion engine kicks in at higher speeds or when the battery gets low.  In contrast, the Volt is fully electric and relies exclusively on batteries and electric motors for propulsion.  The batteries offer a limited range of about 60 miles and need be charged nightly.  The car also incorporates a traditional combustion engine which is used to charge the battery and will never drive the wheels directly.  The new design raises significant questions about car performance when the battery is depleted and battery life.  Since this is brand new technology for GM and they are the first car manufacturer shipping in volume, the answers to these questions are not clear.  As with all new technology, there is a substantial risk in purchasing V1.0 of anything and the Volt is clearly meets this criteria.

The current situation

Chevy will begin shipping these cars late this year, but the price is not competitive.  $41,000 is a substantial premium to the competition which better the Volt in all categories except mileage.  The following table illustrates some alternative car options and their prices. (Read More »)

There have been numerous leaked videos of the upcoming Blackberry 9800 slider.  The device brings a new form factor to the Blackberry, but most importantly incorporates a brand new OS, 6.0.  The combination of 6.0 and the 9800’s touch screen mimics the experience found in competing phones running Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, but is it enough?

I have blogged before about how I believe that RIM has to re-write their OS to become competitive in the rapidly changing and multimedia-centric smartphone market.  OS 6.0 represents RIM’s strongest move yet in this direction, but is still based on their traditional Java OS.  Crackberry.com has links to sample videos of the new phone/OS combination in the links below.  (Note: that some of these videos have been removed, and most can be found here.)

These videos show an impressive improvement in Blackberry functionality and features, but I am not convinced it is enough.  If you look at the market, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android battle on hardware and software features.  They are constantly trying one-up each other with enhancements like video-conferencing (iPhone) or wireless hotspot (Android).  RIM is behind on touchscreen functionality and 6.0 is a catch up release for them.  It breaks no new ground but rather brings RIM a touch interface that is similar to what Android and iOS have been offering since inception.  Where is the innovation in the platform? (Read More »)

This week Microsoft announced that they were discontinuing their Kin product line.  The Kin phones are their new social-oriented devices that were developed by their Danger subsidiary who also designed the Sidekick family for T-Mobile.  (On a side note, the Sidekick was discontinued this week too.  Coincidence?)  The Kin was the first all new phone design out of Microsoft in recent years, and they are currently working on another new platform, Windows Mobile Phone 7 (WMP7).

The Kin makes an interesting case study; it was developed by a team with a proven track record of releasing successful Sidekick phones.  One would have expected the successes to translate to the Kin, but unfortunately that is not the case.  The phones suffered from an overly expensive pricing model and a number of questionable design decisions.  You would think that Danger’s experienced phone designers would know better, and I worry that the same myopia could lead to a WMP7 failure. (Read More »)

I am an avid Twitter user and enjoy the interactions the service creates.  It is amazing how you can build relationships through 140 character discussions.  In many respects, Twitter has become an integral part of my daily schedule, and I view Twitter as another medium for communication like phones, email or texting.  However, the recent outages experienced remind me of the immaturity of the service and how it cannot be consistently relied upon.

The excitement of the World Cup has had a negative impact on Twitter.  For the last week or so, Twitter has experienced frequent outages which result in an inability to send or receive messages.  Unfortunately, Twitter’s response has been to report on the issues, and they appear to be powerless to resolve them.  More recently, they created a new strategy to limit access and disabled features during times of heavy usage; however, this is a stopgap measure and a long-term solution is needed immediately.

Twitter is currently the standard in micro-blogging, but faces a a major challenge.  It lives and dies by the quality of its service and these periodic outages alienate users.  Every fail whale is a reminder of Twitter’s inconsistency, and drives users to consider alternative platforms.  I have considered migrating to Google Buzz and continue to look for other options.  At the very least, the outages are a reminder that Twitter is not a highly reliable medium like the traditional telephony-based solutions; Twitter is a toy in comparison.  I frequently throw out broken toys and am considering doing the same with Twitter.

Amazon recently reduced the price of the its Kindle eBook reader to $189 from $259.  This is a substantial discount, but does it matter?  Personally, I am not convinced about the benefits of the Kindle or equivalent eBook readers.  Here is why:

DRM

I am frustrated with the strict Digital Rights Management (DRM) inherent in the Kindle and other similar platforms.  I believe that protecting intellectual property is critical, but today’s DRM solutions are very limiting and are designed around the needs of the publisher not the consumer.  The problem is that there is no universally adopted DRM standard.  The Kindle’s DRM is different from Barnes and Nobles’ Nook which is different from Apple’s iBookstore.  The result is a confusing range of formats and options with limited or no interoperability.  Books purchased from Amazon will not run natively on Barnes and Nobles’ Nook or Apple’s iPad.  Amazon has tried to address this by making Kindle applications available for a number of platforms, but it still can be a challenge if you prefer an alternative platform.  As we all know, technology changes rapidly and as eReaders proliferate, there is no guarantee that your Amazon (or Barnes and Noble or iBookstore) content will work on future platforms.  This is very different from the traditional book model where you get perpetual license to a physical book and are guaranteed access to the content. (Read More »)