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Commentary: Boxee Box a Lesson in Killing Momentum

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Remember the excitement surrounding the Boxee Box at CES in January? The surprise set-top box was one of the highlights of the show. Boxee currently makes software that lets people stream the best online programming to their connected TV or computer, and with the Boxee Box they were offering a simple device that would allow non-technical consumers to do the same thing.

Here's the problem: the prototype that Boxee showed off in Las Vegas wasn't even a pre-production model. As I learned when I visited Boxee's New York office for a story in Streaming Media magazine, that early build had been hot-glued together in a Las Vegas hotel room the night before the show. Handle it carefully, I was warned.

The company insisted that the Boxee Box was set for a summer debut, but on Friday the truth came out. Boxee's CEO Avner Ronen blogged that the Boxee Box was actually coming out in November. Still no price given. The original time frame was "overly ambitious," Rosen wrote.

I don't mean to rub salt in any wounds here. I'm sure Ronen is keenly aware that sales are slipping through his fingers every day that the Boxee Box is delayed. But this is a classic example of the danger of announcing a product too early. The world that the Boxee Box finds in November (assuming it's actually released then) will be vastly different than the world in January. More people are buying internet-enabled TVs, game consoles, and Blu-Ray Disc players, which eats into the Boxee Box's potential market. Also, there's a good chance that a highly revised Apple TV will debut around or before then, and that it will cost around $99. Plus, we can't forget the upcoming Google TV device, which will grab a lot of headlines. Boxee Box will be hard-pressed to get any media attention at that time.

We see this happen all the time in the tech world. When the GPS-enabled Garmin Nuvifone was first announced, it was revolutionary. When it was finally released, after long delays, smartphone owners had access to cheap or free GPS navigation apps. The Nuvifone never had a chance.

The only way Boxee can pull a win out of this bad situation is to make the device so inexpensive or include such radically new features that press and buyers alike take notice. If, however, the company simply releases the feature set it showed at CES and charges much more than $100, the long-awaited Boxee Box will simply make a ripple before it disappears.

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