Friday Grab Bag: March Madness Changes, NBCSN Push

The NFL’s Pro Bowl, seemingly the one property that it has never managed to get fans to watch, is undergoing a major change as the league tries to once again salvage the event, this time by eliminating the traditional AFC vs NFC format.

Instead the league will be take the top two vote getters and make them team captains and they will then select players for their respective teams from the pool of players elected by the fans in a fantasy draft style effort.

Goodbye NBC Sports Network, Hello NBCSN
Branding seems to be all important these days and with the sports network wars heating up prior to the latest entrant of Fox Sports as a national provider and NBC is taken steps to establish its brand, and it looks like the transition is scheduled to be completed by the upcoming Winter Olympics, according to Awful Announcing.

If you are familiar with the NBC Sports Network moniker, wave goodbye as the network has been slowly phasing it out and replacing it with its initials, NBCSN.

Dell is looking to computer on a stick to help reverse its fortunes
Dell has an internal development effort code-named “Project Ophelia” that according to reports is basically a computer that runs the Android operating system and all of it is in the form of a USB stick, according to a report in Quartz.

The basic premise came from a company called Wyse that Dell acquired a year ago. Ophelia is designed to run a large number of operating systems including Windows, Google’s Chrome, and the Mac operating system in a virtual mode running in the cloud. However the fact that this might kill off Dell’s existing PC business may be an issue.

Tablet shipments head to top of the pack
Maybe Dell is onto something about killing its PC business. NPD DisplaySearch is reporting that shipments of PC tablets are expected to reach 364 million next year, a number that more than doubles the estimated 177 million standard notebook and ultra slim PCs.

The company had previously predicted that tablet sales will overtake notebook sales this year and it now looks like that trend will continue going forward, driven by growth in all regions, particularly emerging markets.

Microsoft’s Surface Tablets have quite a price tag
When Microsoft entered the tablet market there is no doubt that the company had some expectations for the platform, however having it cost the company $900 million, which is the amount that it took in a charge in its latest earnings report for the write down on unsold Surface RT tablets.

The RT was the first model to hit the market and it started shipping them last October. In addition the tablet platform has raised $853 million in revenue, according to its annual report.

NCAA makes alterations to March Madness brackets
The NCAA is seeking o keep teams closer to their true seed level with a number of changes in bracketing rules that will take effect with next year’s tournament, primarily relaxing conference and regular season rematching restrictions, according to Sports Illustrated.

Among the moves will be one that could change how the top three seeds from a conference are bracketed and may now be in the same one, as well as changing how early conference rivals can play, now moving up to the round of 32.

Friday Grab Bag: ESPN’s Open Coverage, Dell Smartwatch?

The Guardian is reporting that Dell could be the latest to throw its hat into the ring with a smartwatch offering. Dell’s global vice president of personal computing told the paper that it was exploring ideas in the wearable computing space.

With Apple, Samsung, Google and just about every major player in consumer electronics and/or computing it is no surprise. The Kickstarter success story Pebble and its smartwatch has to be something that everybody is watching. The company was oversubscribed as it sought funding with $10 million pledged and an exclusive deal with Best Buy with a preorder of 85,000 watches.

ESPN to broadcast The Open Championship
If you are hoping to catch a few rounds of the 142nd Open Championship, golf’s oldest major, you are in luck as ESPN will be broadcasting all four days next week from July 18-21.

The network will be reaching out to fans not only via live television broadcasts and encore presentations but also live radio, and a range of digital offerings for computers, tablets and other mobile devices. It will also be using digital technology to enhance its broadcasts with technologies such as Flight Tracker.

[Editor’s note: You can also follow via The Open’s own app, online at The Open’s website and on social media like twitter. Go to The Open website for all info.]

Microsoft to slash Surface RT prices?
The Verge is reporting that Microsoft will be cutting the price of its entry level 32GB Surface RT tablet down to $350 with the version with the Touch Cover keyboard will be $450 as will the 64GB Surface RT without the cover and $550 with the cover.

The news comes as reports are also emerging that the company has an additional two more Surface tablets on the drawing board that it will release sometime in 2014. ZDNet reported that a recently seen Microsoft roadmap includes the tablets as well as a host of additional offerings from the company ranging from an Windows Office App Store to enhanced Skype support.

Apple Store hits 5th Anniversary
The Apple App Store, now no longer a pawn in a patent battle, also had other news this week as it celebrated its 5th year in business providing apps and tools, initially for the iPhone but now also includes apps for the iPad as well.

The success for the store can be seen in the fact that the number of apps it offers has grown from 500 at birth to approximately 900,000 now. There has been over 50 billion app downloads in the five years.

Google updates maps app
Most people I know use Google Maps on a regular basis and they will be happy to hear that not only has the company updated the program but made it faster as well, a common complaint. The company has made the Android updates available now with iPhone and iPad updates coming soon.

It has navigation features that include warnings for bad conditio0ns on a trip including accidents, offline map saving and better exploration features according to an early review in The New York Times.

Friday Grab Bag: FIFA World Cup Tiff and will Loon Fly?

Microsoft is looking at educational institutions in an effort to jump start sales, or at least adoption, of its Surface RT tablets. According to the company has started a policy of steep discounts to schools in an effort to push that platform’s acceptance.

How steep you ask? The tablet is available to schools and universities from now until August 31st starting at $199 for the 32GB model. Or you can go to the Microsoft store and buy the same model for $499. Such a deal.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 cheap in bundle deal
If you are in the market for both the LTE-capable version of the tablet and a smartphone then Samsung might have just what you need. It has teamed with AT&T to bundle its Galaxy Note 8 tablet for $199 when coupled with a new activation of select Samsung smartphones.

The tablet, normally $399, has Samsung technology designed to ensure its safe adoption in the business as well as the more traditional consumer friendly apps that are more commonly associated with tablets.

It is World Cup disqualifier time
At this time of year nations are putting their best foot forward in an attempt to qualify for next year’s World Cup, which will be held in Brazil. Along the qualifying route there are always a few feel good stories about nations that qualify — this is not one of them.

FIFA has just launched an investigation into player eligibility regarding athletes on both the Ethiopian and Tunisian teams, both of which had just advanced to the final round of the African World Cup according to the BBC. Sanctions will be forfeiting the match that the players participated in, if found guilty.

Google up in the air with Loon
Google is seeking to deliver Wi-Fi connectivity to the large portion of the world that is currently without by using a series of high altitude balloons that will have the ability to bounce Internet signals to each other and support users on the ground.

The company will be releasing 30 balloons in all, all over New Zealand’s South Island in an effort called Project Loon. Each balloon will rise to the stratosphere and be controlled to stay in the same spot. The initial effort will only provide Internet access with speeds that approximate 3G to roughly 60 people.

Sony Xperia Z finds a home
Sony released the Xperia Z a few months ago but if you rushed down to the local consumer electronics store to sign up for the smartphone and start enjoying all that it has to give you would have come home upset because it was not initially supported by any of the carriers. Well that has all changed.

According to Slashgear, you will now be able to get your hands on one courtesy of your friends at T-Mobile. However before you head on down, no delivery date has yet been announced.

FCC provides peek at next-gen Nexus 7
The FCC, via TechRadar, has published what looks like the features of the next generation Google Nexus 7 tablet, which appears to be manufactured by Asus, with a 1080p display.

Other features will include 2GB of memory, a switch from an Nvidia processor to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 Pro as well as a move to a 5 megapixel camera rather than the 1.5MP in the older edition. Also included will be NFC, LTE and wireless charging.

Analysts predict worse than Expected Windows Surface Sales

Microsoft’s Surface tablets are still trying to find its footing in the market months after a steady media buildup that ended with the huge rollout event held last October. The holiday season did not bring the joy that executives might have been hoping for in terms of volume sales, according to recent analyst reports.

According to a piece in Business Insider, Brent Thill the managing director and senior analyst at UBS’s Software Group has released his latest estimation on the Surface’s sales dueling the just completed holiday quarter and the news is not good. He estimates that Microsoft sold approximately 1 million of the Surface RT devices, and that is 1 million less than he had originally estimated. . According to the piece Thill also was critical of Microsoft’s distribution effort that initially had a limited national coverage and so made it more difficult to purchase the devices.

To add insult to injury is the estimation that Apple, the company with the falling stock due to poor perceived performance, is expected to have sold 20 million iPads during that same period. Of course Apple is an established player in this space and Microsoft is trying to carve a new space for itself but that is still a telling number.

There are some issues with the Surface, some of which will be taken care of in the future and some who knows. The new operating system, Windows 8, is a big leap from previous offerings with a wide array of differences that could cause people to have second thoughts on purchasing the device. Or they could simply be waiting for the version of the Surface tablet that runs on Intel rather that ARM processors Maybe they are waiting for a larger ecosystem of apps to be available. Then again maybe consumers simply do not like the platform.

However it is not all bad news from USB. Thill said that he expects the next version of the Surface, the Surface Pro, to have a good deal more success, particularly in the business world. This platform will run on Intel processors and be compatible with existing desktop and mobile apps for Windows.