Comcast and Verizon Decide They Don’t Need to Compete With Apple, Google and Everyone Else, After All

never mind

Last year, when Verizon Wireless and Comcast were trying to get lawmakers to sign off on a giant wireless spectrum sale/noncompete pact, the two companies also said they were going to create a technology/R&D joint venture. It was supposed to come up with really cool tech products that consumers would love.

That JV is now dead. Verizon announced its demise today during the company’s earnings call, but said the partnership actually ended in late August.

The news here is that the most important part of the Comcast/Verizon deal hasn’t changed. Verizon still owns valuable spectrum it purchased from Comcast, and the two companies are still agreeing not to compete – or at least not to compete very vigorously.

It’s not surprising that Comcast and Verizon have concluded that their JV didn’t make sense. Most JVs don’t. And if there is an example of two companies at the scale of Comcast and Verizon successfully working together to create cool consumer tech, I’d love to hear about it.

For the record, though, the two companies didn’t seem to have those doubts back in March 2012. Back then, when the companies were still trying to get federal approval for the deal, they were pointing to the JV as a big win for consumers.

Here’s what Comcast executive vice president David Cohen told a Senate subcommittee back then:

“By enhancing the Cable Companies’ and Verizon Wireless’s own products and services, the Joint Venture will compete with similar solutions that AT&T, Dish Network, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others already have introduced into the marketplace. This, in turn, will spur other companies to respond, perpetuating a cycle of competitive investment and innovation.”

And here’s what Verizon is saying, via a spokesperson, today:

“The joint venture was formed to bring innovation to the marketplace and enhance the customer experience through technology that integrated wireline and wireless products and services. Evolving technology and market changes since the joint venture was formed have led all parties to conclude that a joint venture, per se, is no longer needed to deliver innovative services to customers. Verizon Wireless and the cable companies will continue to explore ways to collaborate on technology in the future. Each company remains committed to bringing innovation to its customers and will continue to find ways to optimize the user experience for each company’s products.”

If you’re a skeptical person, you might think that Comcast and Verizon were overselling the benefits of the JV from the start. You might think that they never really thought they could successfully compete with the likes of Apple and Google, but were holding out the idea because consumer groups were unhappy with the other parts of their pact, which seemed likely to reduce competition between the two companies.

On the other hand, both Comcast and Verizon did assign people to work on this stuff together, and they did do some work. Comcast, for instance, points to the Xfinity TV Player app, which lets you download movies and TV shows to your iPad and iPhone and take them with you, as an example of the joint venture’s output. [Update: Strike that. A Comcast rep tells us we had bad information: The app was made in-house, not via the JV.]

So, if you were a different kind of skeptical person, you might think that Comcast and Verizon really did think they could successfully compete with the likes of Apple and Google. And the fact that it only took them 17 months to realize they were wrong – and pull the plug – is a good thing.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Carlos Caetano)

Oculus Rift Will Be a “No-Motion-Sickness Experience,” and 4K Display in the Works, CEO Says

oculus-iribe

Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe pledged today that the company’s upcoming virtual-gaming headset, the Oculus Rift, will not cause people to get motion-sick when it launches.

And that still-unannounced consumer launch date definitely won’t be in 2013, Iribe noted.

Iribe, who appeared at D: Dive Into Media in February, discussed “The Future of the Rift” at the Gaming Insiders Summit today in San Francisco. He said the combination of improving screen quality and decreasing latency between motion in the game and virtual-reality vision will make the new class of games – or at least the ones not designed to cause motion sickness – nausea-free.

“It is going to work,” Iribe said. “It’s gonna work for everybody.”

The CEO used his own experience to back up the claim: His own company’s previous hardware made him sick within two minutes, every time he tried it in the past. But with the latest internal build of the Oculus Rift, Iribe said he played for 45 minutes straight with no issues.

Iribe also dropped two new notes about the Rift’s use cases: The headset will eventually have a 4K display, and it might work with big gaming consoles, as well as with PCs and mobile devices.

“You can’t imagine what it’s going to look like when it’s 4K,” he said. “It’s not now, but it’s coming.”

As for consoles, Iribe talked up the Rift’s ability to project 2-D content on an IMAX-like field of view. Curiously, the way he chose to describe that 2-D-within-3-D experience was, “You can play Playstation 4 or Xbox One on this IMAX screen at home.”

Now, that’s far off from an official announcement, but, as founder Palmer Luckey told me back in May:

There’s no technical reason that the Rift can’t work on consoles. It has standard input/outputs, it wouldn’t be a lot of work. It’s just a matter of console manufacturers deciding to license it as a peripheral. They’re the gatekeepers.

Apple’s New Math. Or: Why a $15 E-Book Equals a $75 Paper Book

McGraw-Hill normally sells high school textbooks for $75 a pop. Now it says it will sell electronic versions of the same books, via Apple, for $15 apiece. How can the publisher make that work?

“Volume,” says McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw, which is the usual answer for this kind of digital question. But there’s an important asterisk here, too. Normally, McGraw-Hill would sell its books directly to public schools, which would keep the texts for an average of five years.

Under Apple’s new textbooks plan, though, McGraw-Hill will try something different: It will sell its books directly to each student (the student could either pay out of pocket, or the school could fund the purchase via a voucher/code), who will use the book for a year, then move on. They’ll be able to keep the digital text, but won’t be able to resell it or pass it along to another student, and McGraw-Hill anticipates that another set of students will buy new books the following year.

So Terry McGraw figures that over five years he’ll generate the same total sales selling $15 e-books as he would selling $75 books. It’s not a total push, because in this model, Apple will take an undisclosed cut of sales – McGraw-Hill execs wouldn’t go into details, so let’s assume for now that it’s Apple’s standard 30 percent – but presumably McGraw-Hill can make some of that up by forgoing the costs of print and distribution.

(It’s important to note that all of this is about the high school textbook market, for now. While McGraw-Hill and other publishers sell college texts through other digital platforms, they still haven’t announced plans to do so with Apple.)

All of that assumes that the book pricing stays at $15. After Apple’s event, McGraw-Hill executives repeatedly used the phrase “pilot pricing” to describe their near-term plans. And they told me that they have the ability to change the price when and if they want.

But when I posed the same question to Apple media boss Eddy Cue just now, I got a much different response. “This isn’t pilot pricing,” he said. “All of our books will be $14.99.”

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Apple Unveils All-New iTunes U App for iPad, iPhone & iPod touch

NEW YORK-January 19, 2012-Apple today announced an all-new iTunes U app, giving educators and students everything they need on their iPad , iPhone and iPod touch to teach and take entire courses. The all-new iTunes U app lets teachers create and manage courses including essential components such as lectures, assignments, books, quizzes and syllabuses and offer them to millions of iOS users around the world. The iTunes U app gives iOS users access to the world’s largest catalog of free educational content from top universities including Cambridge, Duke, Harvard, Oxford and Stanford, and starting today any K-12 school district can offer full courses through the iTunes U app. iTunes U has already become an incredibly popular learning tool for students with over 700 million downloads.

“The all-new iTunes U app enables students anywhere to tap into entire courses from the world’s most prestigious universities,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “Never before have educators been able to offer their full courses in such an innovative way, allowing anyone who’s interested in a particular topic to learn from anywhere in the world, not just the classroom.”

Prior to iTunes U, only students in the classroom at that time had access to educational content from top universities. With the iTunes U app for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, those barriers no longer exist. Students anywhere can take an entire course with complete access to all course materials right at their fingertips. With the iTunes U app, students are able to access new books right from within the app, and any notes taken in iBooks are consolidated for easy reviewing. In addition to reading books, viewing presentations, lectures and assignment lists, students can receive push notifications so they always have the latest class information.* The iTunes U app is available today as a free download from the App Store .

Educators can quickly and easily create, manage and share their courses, quizzes and handouts through a web-based tool and utilize content and links from the iTunes U app, the Internet, iBookstore or the App Store as part of their curriculum. They can also upload and distribute their own documents such as Keynote , Pages , Numbers or books made with iBooks Author.

*Some content is available only for iPad.

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

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