Tech roundup: Competition for iPad2; new CBC and Xfinity apps; and Amazon vs. Netflix

Apple strutted its iPad2 but there are potential competitors. Canada's CBC joins the apps game.

Apple strutted its iPad2 but there are potential competitors. Canada's CBC joins the apps game.

There are tablets other than the iPad 2? Really?

If you viewed the tablet market only from the outpouring of this week's news, you would think there was only one in existence: the iPad 2.  News about the updated Apple device all but swamped every other news story including the deficit crisis, Libya, and even Charlie Sheen.

Nevertheless, at least one other tablet has been making news recently.

Motorola’s Xoom tablet, which most observers see as the first credible competitor to the iPad, was released last week.  Featuring Google Android’s new Honeycomb 3.0 operating software, specifically developed for tablet use, the tablet is available only with a cell data plan via Verizon — there is no WiFi-only unit yet — and will cost $599 with a two-year plan and $799 with no contract. 

The tablet is similar in size to the iPad2, weighs about 4 ounces more, and like the iPad2 ,features a dual-core processor, full multitasking, front- and rear-facing cameras, and WiFi. One feature no iPad will ever have, however, is Flash animation; the Xoom will have it shortly.  The Xoom will go to market supporting the slower Verizon 3G data network, but will be upgradable (with a free hardware upgrade) to the swift Verizon 4G LTE network in the spring.  The iPad2 will be sold by both Verizon and AT&T but only with 3G networking.

More than a few observers think the Xoom's pricing is outrageously high compared to iPad pricing.

For those looking to see how well other leading tablets stack up against the iPad (and vice-versa), the Lifehacker website released a comparison chart comparing the iPad2 specifications with those of the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Xoom.

So, will you buy a new iPad2? Washington Post tech columnist Rob Pegoraro raised that question to his readers Thursday (March 3), offering choices that included no interest in a new gadget and waiting for the delivery of the Android Honeycomb OS. The results? Over 50 percent favored getting the new iPad.  And several observers are asking if the iPad spells doom for the Xoom.  Judging by the specifications of both systems, however, the rumors of Xoom's death may be greatly exaggerated.

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Comcast's Xfinity iPad/iPhone app, which enables users to control their TVs from their devices, now is available for Android smartphone users.  The free app released this week allows cable users to access and review their channel guide on their smartphones, set up recordings on their digital recorders, filter the results by high definition channels, movies, sports, and childrens' programming; and select on-demand movies and TV shows for viewing on their TV sets.  There is some speculation that these apps will eventually enable Comcast subscribers to view their programs on their smartphones, but that's not available on the current crop of Xfinity apps.

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O, CBC: The new Canadian news app debuts. Unlike many parts of our country, Seattleites do know and care that Canada exists.  And now, there’s an app for that. CBCNews has released a cross-platform news app — Apple iPad/iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices — to showcase the organization’s stellar newsgathering prowess. The CBC website has also been upgraded and will provide live streaming video when appropriate, including live pictures from global hotspots such as the current turmoil in the Middle East. 

People with access to the local Comcast cable service can watch the CBC’s news hour, “The National”  weeknights at 10:00p.m. PST in both high-definition (CBUT-Ch. 619) and standard definition (Ch. 99) TV. 

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Despite having a 5,000-film on-line video streaming library, its past efforts to compete with streaming leader Netflix has been at best half-hearted.  Amazon content was available on-line with a per-item rental; Netflix was always subscription-based. 

All that is changing.  Seattle-based Amazon announced that members of Amazon Prime, its $79 annual membership program, will have unlimited free access to streaming films in its collection.  Amazon’s current library is reportedly less than half the Netflix collection — Netflix is believed to have more than 11,000 titles — but Amazon is, well, Amazon with enormous name recognition, dependability, and the muscle to compete effectively in virtually any market it chooses.  The Amazon Prime program originally offered free two-day shipping, one-day shipping for $3.99 per item; now it offers free streaming videos. 

Dollar for dollar, the Amazon program is cheaper than Netflix, averaging $6.60 per month, but it's sold as an annual subscription.  Netflix’ streaming-only service costs consumers $96 a year but is paid monthly at $7.99.  Adding streaming films to Amazon Prime could be a market-changer for Amazon if people perceive their program as a bargain.

The free movie feature only applies to older films.  New films such as "The Social Network" and "Inception" or TV shows such as "Glee" are not part of the Amazon Prime offering.

Netflix continues to solidify its position as top dog in the streaming world.  Netflix recently announced that its subscribers will have access to the CBS video library, but mostly for viewing older shows.  The two-year nonexclusive pact will allow viewing of full seasons of “Cheers,” “The Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek,” among others.  A few recent shows such as “Medium” and “Flashpoint” will be available for viewing.


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