Midweek Tech Blog: Amazon's sci-fi future, Microsoft's smartphone present

A round-up of Northwest companies making news -- and money.

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The Kindle family.

A round-up of Northwest companies making news -- and money.

Amazon continues its march into the direct publishing business, this time with the launch this week of 47North, a line of books focusing on science fiction, fantasy, and horror. To be made available in English as Kindle digital books, as well as print and audio versions, the books will include original, previously published, and out of print books. The new venture will released 15 books, including "The Mongoliad: Book One," the first in the ambitious, five-book, collaborative Foreworld series led by famed Puget Sound authors Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear.  

The imprint’s name, 47North, is based on the latitude coordinates of Seattle. Amazon now has a sizeable stable of book imprints including AmazonEncore, AmazonCrossing, Powered by Amazon, Montlake Romance, Thomas & Mercer, and New York.  For a closer look at the venture, here’s a link to the new 47North site.

(Speaking as a voracious reader, I must admit the AmazonCrossing line of offshore books translated into English seems to be an intriguing notion. I hadn’t heard of it before, but a quick Google search shows that it was launched better than a year ago. I’m constantly reading about authors whose works are popular in their own country, but they’re not translated into English. Of course there’s the probability that the collection has as many junk titles as any other collection, but I’m wondering if anyone out there has downloaded some of those titles and has any recommendations.)

In other Amazon news, the company introduced a service this week to help you manage all your magazine subscriptions in one place whether your subscription originated with Amazon or not.  There’s little doubt that Amazon is proceeding along its path to total magazine market domination as well: a feature it is sure to offer to the owners of the new Amazon Kindle Fire tablet when it comes out next month.  Amazon is redefining the meaning of the tablet, and that includes making the Fire your center of all media.  This magazine service certainly fits into that game plan.

While reports continue to point to Microsoft’s shrinking share of the mobile phone market, down by 5.8 percent of the market in at least one report (behind, Android, Apple and Blackberry), Microsoft continues to announce upgrades to its line of Windows Mobile phones. The latest version — 7.5 or Mango — is in the process of being downloaded to Windows mobile phone over a multi-week schedule. While the growth of Windows phones hasn’t exactly taken off, respected analyst firm IDC predicts that Windows Mobile will be the number two mobile platform by 2015.

What brought this all to mind was an announcement this week by AppStore HQ, a Seattle-based website offering reviews of apps for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets. AppStore has now added Windows Mobile apps to its roster. A quick Google check shows a scarcity of websites carrying Windows Mobile reviews, so here’s one site to help you figure out what’s new and available. GeekWire notes that Microsoft's mobile phone has 27,000 apps available.

If you’re an iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch user, today is the day that iOS — the newest operating system upgrade — is available for download and installation. Here’s a more complete list of features, so you’ll know what to expect what you’re getting in the newest update. For the record, I’m downloading and upgrading my original iPad as I’m writing this. According to the onscreen menu on my computer, downloading the software will take over 5 hours. That’s not a typo. How long it will take to actually upgrade my iPad is anyone’s guess.

If you’re one of those people who simply aren't in love with Skype or are curious about what other computer-based phone services are out there, you may be interested to hear that T-Mobile is launching its own service. Curiously, you don’t actually need to have T-Mobile service to use it. It's called Bobsled, and it’s available for downloading on Android smartphones, iPhones, and directly to virtually every web browser. The service promises free calls to any landline or mobile phone in the U.S., Canada, or Puerto Rico — a feature you pay for with your Skype service and several other computer-based services. It also offers free calls to any Facebook friend.

You want a really powerful computer? How about a machine that runs at 10 to 20 petaflops? That's a quadrillion mathematical calculations per second. You’re not going to get that from your laptop. But you can get it if you purchase a Jaguar computer system from Cray Computer, Seattle’s supercomputer maker, who this week announced a $97 million order to upgrade its supercomputer installation at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The company will convert its Jaguar XT5 system to a newer Titan XK6 model. According to a Seattle Times report, the upgraded computer will be used for energy and environmental research.

I wonder if they have a Geek Squad maintenance contract. Probably not.

And finally, Contour, Seattle’s hottest sports video camera company, (profiled in these pages last July) has been named the 7th fastest growing U.S. company on Inc. Magazine’s annual list of the 500 fastest growing private companies. According to the list in Inc.'s September issue, the company racked up an outstanding 11,663 percent in growth over the last three years, including a breathtaking $15.1 million in revenue in 2010. The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that Washington state is home to 16 of the top 500.


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