iFive: Facebook Phone-ys, Roku’s Revamp, Dell’s Tablet, Nature Goes Digital, YouTubeSocial (Bonus: Netflix Fakes It)

This must be Thursday–I never could get the hang of Thursdays. To compensate, here’s the early morning news, digested …

Dear Netflix: We’re huge fans of your service here at Fast Company. So the next time you decide to open a new store with lots of fanfare, don’t hire a bunch of actors to play “mothers, film buffs, tech geeks, couch potatoes” for the assembled press. Hire us instead. And try to time the fiasco to stay clear of the news that Blockbuster filed for Chapter 11.


1. So is Facebook making a phone or isn’t it? You may have heard some fuss about this over the past few days, and now Mark Zuckerberg himself has stepped in to clear up the matter. Or rather, in his usual style of not quite being socially savvy enough to play politics, he didn’t clear it up. In a phone call to TechCrunch, Zuck said Facebook’s not building a phone. But of course, as he noted, Apple doesn’t “build” the iPhone either. This is all about a platform, which is “lighter” than Apple’s hardware and Google’s software design, and some folks inside Facebook are even calling it “Facebook phone.” Clear as mud, eh? We’re left with the possibility that at some point Facebook will, with a manufacturing partner, make a Facebook-centric phone, perhaps as a custom layer on top of Android. Does that sound like something you’d buy?

2. Roku’s been one of the better-known set-top-box makers for a while, but it’s just revamped its hardware and dropped the prices. The D, XD and XDS units are now a little less bulky than the previous efforts, and the prices range from $60 to $100–with improving features, such as 1080p out, wireless N compatibility, optical audio out, and external drive support as you pay more. Why the move? It’s likely a number of things, but Apple’s fresh, smaller TV is certainly in the mix–which explains Roku’s pricing structure. The top-end XDS largely matches the Apple TV (but beats its video out), and Roku offers a slightly more flexible service plan, but lacks some of Apple’s gadget chic. Let the battle of the boxes commence!

3. Oh no he didn’t! Oh yes he did–Michael Dell, CEO of the eponymous computer maker, pulled a sneaky trick on stage and briefly flashed some seven-inch hardware. It’s an Android tablet, certainly a follow on to the successful five-inch Streak, and though we know zero about it, other than it’s on its way, the entry of giant Dell into the mid-size tablet market confirms this is going to be one huge sector of the computing game to keep your eye on for a year or so.

4. It’s the era of the big digital switch-over in publishing. Lest you doubt this for a second, there’s news that Nature is going all-out to embrace electronic reading. Yup–the venerable scientific body, which has been publishing since November 1869, is improving its website, its blogs, adding in user comment powers, and is launching a digital version of the Nature journal. It’s even building an iPad app, and the official announcement came via a Nature blog, of all things. Biological matters never seemed so shiny and digital.

5. Meanwhile, online media itself is undergoing a revolution–a social networking one. Now there’s a service called YouTubeSocial which lets you watch clips from the site simultaneously with a distantly located friend, and supplies an IM-like chat window so you can discuss the various merits of which cat-falling-off-a-sofa or man-falling-over-humorously-hard-at-a-wedding clip is funniest. Will this detract from the quality of the viewing experience? Probably not at YouTube, but heaven help us if this ever comes to the real TV. Um … oh dear.

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