Off to Vegas

March 30, 2009

Once again, it’s the Spring CTIA show so i’ll be off to Vegas to cover everything live. Should be some rather interesting news this week and I’m already in love with at least one handset that’s going to be shown. Posting might be a little light depending on coverage. If you want to meet up, i’ll be at the Showstoppers and Mobile Foucs events on Tue and Wed evening as well as a few vendor parties as well. If you want to contact me live in Vegas, just give me a ring on my cell at 201-862-0443. See you later in the week.

Musings of a New Media CEO

March 27, 2009

Michael Dowling, our CEO at Interpret has started a blog. It’s called, DeMystifeye and you can find it here. Highly recommended

Lauren vs. Oscar Wilde while shopping for a laptop

March 27, 2009

Yep, those cure ads with little kids worked well for Microsoft but now it’s time to take the gloves off with a new set of commercial called “laptop hunters”. You can see the first ad here, with presumably more to come in this series. I also found it on YouTube for the Siverlight challenged.

We meet Lauren, a consumer on a mission to find a computer with a 17″ screen for under $1,000. We’re told, if she can find it, she can keep it. Her first stop was an Apple store, where of course, Lauren can’t find a 17″ laptop at that price. She’s then off to Best Buy where she’s dazzled at the choices (Lauren has not been to a computer store in a while it seems) and she finds the PC she’s looking for, a 17″ model for well under $1,000. The money quote? Her comment when leaving the Apple store. “I guess I’m not cool enough to be a Mac person.” Some folks I spoke to thought this was a mistake, after all who identifies with someone who isn’t cool? Of course, we know that’s not true. Lauren looks plenty cool. In fact, she seemed to have no problem going to the Apple store in the first place. What she really said was “I’m not rich enough to be a Mac person”. These days, lots of folks can identify with folks that aren’t rich enough. It’s a good effective ad, especially for these times we live in. The ad is in fact a riff Microsoft is playing hard these days. Just recently Steve Ballmer said

“Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction,” Ballmer said, via webcast. “The economy is helpful. Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment — same piece of hardware — paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that’s a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be.”

In short Microsoft is racing for bottom, making the play for cheapest computers on the market, combined with greater selection and choice as we saw in the ad. Now purists might note that Microsoft isn’t being entirely fair or accurate in the ad. They’re not. (I suspect next we’ll see Bob who wants a laptop with a 10″ screen that weighs less than 4lbs and has only $400 to spend. He won’t find anything at the Apple store either). We don’t even quite know what Lauren bought, just that it’s a 17″ screen and was under $1k. Was there bloatware on it? What was the battery life? The processor? Where will Lauren go if there’s a problem with it later on? That’s not the point. Apple’s ads aren’t factually accurate either. (those people really aren’t PCs and Macs and they do tend to exaggerate somewhat). In tough economic times, Microsoft is betting price will be a driver. They are correct. It will. But it’s not just about price alone and this is where the ad falls down a bit for me. It assumes that winning a race to the bottom in terms of price is all that matters or even what matters most.

In tough economic times it’s not just about price but value. Where do I, the consumer, get the most value for each dollar I spend. Or as Oscar Wilde said, “The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Apple’s ads have never been about being the cheapest, they are about the value that comes with owning a Macintosh. The differentiation of the PC/Mac experience through hardware and software design that’s what’s been attracting consumers. Apple’s continued to do well even in these times precisely because consumers are extra careful about where they spend their money. They can’t afford buyer’s remorse. Microsoft can’t just make this about cost, it has to show value. It has to show a PC experience that can be equal or superior to a Macintosh experience. Only then does price matter in the long run. Sure, there are some folks for whom price is the only factor and no matter how hard they stretch, they simply can’t afford to spend more than X on any given item. But for many others, price alone isn’t the driver, it’s the total value of the experience and that’s something Microsoft will need to show in the weeks ahead.

Finally, when I first posted the link to the ad last night on Twitter, I got a lot of comments from folks who said they couldn’t see the ad because it required Silverlight to watch and they didn’t want to install Silverlight on their computers. It’s anecdotal, but I wonder if Microsoft has another issue to deal with regarding Silverlight. But that’s another post for another day.

A closer look at Google voice

March 26, 2009

I tried Grand Central awhile back and now that Google’s changed it over to Google Voice, it’s time for a closer look. I’m in the process of figuring out the best way to use Grand Central with my current phone number. If you have suggestions how to use Google Voice with an existing phone number please let me know.

There’s a lot to like about one number (although I already have workarounds so folks can just dial one number and reach me anywhere in the world) but I have a few hesitations.
1. I’m now giving Google the control to be the primary access point for communication. It just feels odd (and not something I’d hand over to any small company in this space.) Granted, I use Gmail, so I’ve given them control of the second most important access point, my email address but this is a little different. I’m not sure why but it just feels different
2. I don’t want a new phone number. Now, if Google could port over the number I have been using for more than a decade, that would be interesting. Right now, I can have that number forwarded to Grand Central but it’s not ideal and it doesn’t seem to work well.
If you’re calling me, let me know how you like the service and if you have any hassles in reaching me.

What my home network does

March 26, 2009

I’ve had a home network for a long time. In 1999 ago all it was used for was to connect to a shared net-modem to dial into the internet and then to share a broadband connection using WiFi. Today, my home has several networks (five at last count) that enable the following:

• delivering content to PCs from TiVo and to TiVo from PCs
• streaming TV, Music and Pictures from a media center PC to an Xbox 360
• making phone calls over the Internet
• connecting all the various DVRs and Media Center PCs to the internet for EPG downloads
• streams music, Live TV, pictures and other video to my laptop and smartphone anywhere those devices have a connection using Orb or Slngbox
• Videoconferencing (mostly with using iChat)
allows me to access my PCs at home while I’m on the road and keeps backups of all my content
• it still shares an internet connection among the many PCs and other connected gadgets here

Getting all that stuff to work? Well, it wasn’t simple or easy to get it running and keep it running. Many of these activities are more demanding in usage models than what’s in use in many business environments. As more and more stuff gets built on top of the home network, expect the situation to get worse not better.
Vendors take note – Consumers do not want a network operations center in their den, Dad doesn’t want to be the CIO and Mom really doesn’t want to run the help desk. This stuff has got to be made a lot more user friendly or most folks simply won’t bother.
What does your home network do for you?

Four aspects of mobility when carrying devices

March 26, 2009

Whenever the discussion comes up regarding how many devices consumers will carry, one thing that’s often forgotten is that there are different mobile spaces. Some years ago, I came up with the following categories. I’m taking another look at them now to see how well they hold up.

Stuff you can’t carry (ex: desktop computers, large screen TVs)
Stuff that needs its own bag (ex: business projectors) – This appears to be a rapidly dying category
Stuff that goes into your bag (ex: laptops. large media players,)
Stuff that fits into your pocket (ex: cell phones, cameras, MIDs)
Stuff that’s invisible (ex: watches, key chains, clothing)

The most interesting space for me remains the invisible, although it too seems to be dying as vendors look at add larger screens to most devices making them less ubiquitous. Invisible devices free up space for other gadgets users could carry and most people will carry more than one. That creates a wonderful gap that is not yet being exploited by vendors but could be. Wristwatches are in that category and up until now were single function devcies taking up prime real estate. Devices like the Fossil’s Palm watch and Microsoft’s SPOT initiative were not successful at all but I wonder if we’ll see further attempts here, especially in phone based watches. Cell phones were at one time entering the invisible zone but that has changed with a trend of larger smart and feature phones with more functionality.

Whither Zune?

March 23, 2009

It increasingly seems like Steve Ballmer’s view of Zune maps pretty well to what I’ve suggested might happen.

“We’re going to keep going with Zune”. It’s two things: Service and a device. The Zune service, that’s going to fan out its footprint. Hardware will continue to improve. “The question is whether even if we flog them heavily, is their profit upside”. We’re going to keep going “I won’t say full steam ahead, because that implies acceleration of investment, but we’re going to sustain our investment.” We like it and the future may be the software/ecosystem on other devices.

Technology should be about exceeding our grasp

March 23, 2009

I had lunch yesterday with someone who was a recent transplant to NY from the valley. They commented on what a great thing it was to finally ditch their car for getting around as it’s a bit of a hindrance to own a car in Manhattan. I thought about this for a while afterward, mostly remembering the few years I lived in NY in the later 80′s when I owned a car and kept it in NY. I never drove it anywhere for fear of losing the most sacred of things in NY, my parking space. As a result, it mostly sat unused except to move it from one side of the street to the other, twice a week. (I initially had dreamed of just garaging it until I discovered that for the same money, I could have gotten it two bedrooms and a bath in a nice area in NJ). The key was, I had the *potential* of using it anytime I wanted, even though I rarely did.

Likewise, I live in the NJ suburbs, no more than 15 mins from Manhattan without traffic. Ask me why, and I’ll tell you it’s to have the advantages of the suburbs but still be close to the great museums, theater and culture of NY. Of course you might want to ask me when the last time I went to one of the great Museums or the theater was. There’s an aspirational theme associated with all this. Not what I do, but what I could do.
And that brings me to the point of this post. Technology should be aspirational as well, especially when sold to consumers. There’s a real lack of that today for the most part. Yes, Apple does this better than most but for the most part no one else even tries. The latest MSFT ads for Windows Photo Gallery are great but it’s hard to call stuff done by a four year old as aspirational.

In day’s gone by, PCs were sold with a programming language, the notion being you could use this tool to create great things. Later, it was HyperCard with Macintosh. Today, the most that folks aspire to is to create playlists of their favorite songs or lightly edit a photo. Even Apple, focuses mostly on media content creation with iLife with all of their PCs, (Hypercard itself is sadly more.) Surely there’s more we can do with technology and these tools?

I’ve often argued that consumers consume content and don’t create it, that’s why they’re called consumers. That’s true, but that doesn’t mean that the industry shouldn’t strive to create products that fire the imagination and spark creativity. Many may never care, others may aspire to the goal and in the end, never take advantage of the power to create and others may come up with the next big idea. Aspiration is good even if potential is never totally unleashed.
As the poet Robert Browning said, “A man’s reach should exeed his grasp, or else what’s a heaven for?”

On plagarism

March 23, 2009

It happens to me every so often. Once again, I was pointed to a piece that someone thought I would be interested in. I followed the link and found the piece to be extremely thoughtful, showed great insight and was extremely well written.

I should know, I was the author, at least originally. Someone had once again re-published old work of mine under their name and as always, it’s a little surprising when i see my words under someone else’s name. I won’t point to the site. I’m not here to embarrass someone in public but I did write them (as I do when this happens from time to time) and ask why they did it. What dives someone to plagiarize instead of offering up their own thoughts?
Someone once said that “the difference between plagiarism and originality was a bad memory”. I’d tell you who said that, but I seem to have forgotten.

Bias in tech reviews?

March 21, 2009

I had a meeting with a vendor a few weeks ago about a new product coming to market and one of the topics we talked about was how well it would be received by reviewers. It was an interesting chat and it led us talk about bias in technology reviews and how to work around them.

It’s always clear to me when a reviewer has a preference for Androis over Windows Mobile, Windows over Mac or iPods over everything else. You can spot the inconsistencies pretty easily. When product A is praised for a feature that’s ignored when product B is reviewed. Or when the opposite occurs and product B is dinged for a flaw that’s also an issue in product A, where the flaw is conveniently ignored. Sometimes product B just gets dinged, even if the apparent flaw or bug isn’t even there. It’s tough to review technology. Face it, if you bought yourself Widget X and learned to use it and adapt to it (and let’s be clear, most technologies force us to adapt to them and not the other way around) you’re going to have a hard time reviewing a Widget Y objectively and it shows in the review.

When Jeffrey Steingarten left his career as a lawyer to become to the food critic at Vogue, he “suffered from a set of strong and arbitrary likes and dislikes regarding food”. And further writes “I feared that I was no better than an art critic who becomes nauseated by the color yellow, or suffers from red-green color blindness.” Or perhaps a technology reviewer that dislikes Apple and is nauseated by Microsoft? How did he overcome his personal bias? He became and omnivore and learned to eat his way through his food phobias. It’s time for tech reviewers to do the same.

Oh and any vendors needing to work through these issues, give me a call, I’ll help you out too :)

Social networks are about quality and not quantity

March 21, 2009

There’s a great site gag in the movie Blazing Saddles where Sheriff Bart recounts how his African-American family came west as part of a wagon train when they were attacked by Indians. “The white wagon train groups together in a circle. Naturally, the white folks didn’t let us travel in their circle, so we made our own.(the site gag was the the sole black wagon riding around in circles). Using a social service by yourself isn’t much fun (and about as useful as driving your wagon in a circle by yourself) and in general, having friends is a good thing. But getting started is hard. It’s one of the questions I get most from new bloggers, twittereres or what ever.
First, get past the folks that are hyper competitive about numbers. For some folks, these services are a popularity contest or something they believe they can monetize. They’re concerned with being at the top of TechMeme, making the Technorati 100, having the largest LinkedIn network and often complain about Facebook’s cap of 5,000 “friends”. (and of course, one person attempting to sell his Twitter followers on eBay). If you really are into that stuff and just want to game the numbers, drop me a line and I’ll tell you how to do it. Gaming any system isn’t hard.
It’s not about the number of readers or followers you have, or the size of your networks or the even the number of people you read or follow. It’s the quality of the people in them and the quality of the conversations you’re having with them. I’ve been blogging for a while and use services such as Facebook, LinkedIn and more recently Twitter. Of course, it’s nice to be followed, read or part of a network. The way to do that is with interaction. One thing I always tell new bloggers is to send readers away to attract them to come back. Linking to other people as well as adding something new to the dialogue is important. Same with twitter. Most of the folks I follow, that i didn’t know before using the service are folks who sent me an interesting @message. (interestingly, folks seem to Twitter differently than they blog, to the point that I no longer follow them on Twitter and in a few cases, no longer read their blog).
Bear in mind, networks are a different animal. Anyone can follow me on Twitter and I’ll follow anyone with something interesting to say. My personal and professional networks are different. For most people, those are relationships that have come over time and are not something that most folks treat lightly. The way of becoming a part of someone’s virtual network are pretty much the same as becoming part of their offline one.
At the end of the day, it’s the quality relationships that matter over time, never the sheer numbers. I’ll take one real true friend over 5,000,000 Facebook friends any day.

Is there a future for subscription music services?

March 19, 2009

“once people realize that they can consume unlimited music for the same price, they begin exploring related songs and bands, checking out recommendations from friends that they never would have bothered with otherwise, and so on.”

Tim Quirk, VP of music programming for Rhapsody

It’s a nice thought but it hasn’t happened yet and it’s not likely to happen in the future unless there’s some real changes made in how subscription services are marketed to consumers. You’ve heard me on this before. Up until now there were only two models for music, the free and ad supported stuff on radio or music you bought or owned. Subscription services change all that in a new way. While consumers “rent” content all the time from theaters, cable companies, netflix etc, there’s also a lot of other stuff sold on dvd. This is not binary, rent or buy. It’s going to be both side by side but the first step to making this mainstream is to educate and evangelize the market. Rhapsody hasn’t done that yet and until they do few folks will ever discover the benefits of the service. Unless someone makes this happen sooner as opposed to later, it’s hard to see the long term future for these types of services ever capturing any real share of the mass market. Of course, there’s always the rumor that Apple might get into this game. One thing’s for sure, Apple entering the market would solve the consumer education issue. Of course, that might not be the result REAL is looking for here.

ISVs will help decide success for mobile platforms

March 19, 2009

Once upon a time there was a high tech product built by a really cool company. It came to market with great fanfare and consumers anxiously awaited the release. While it totally changed the accepted status quo in terms of elegance and the way things worked, it was higher priced than almost all of the competing products and more than one review emphasized the fact that competing products could do essentially what it could do with greater cost savings. While the device came with software that could perform some useful stuff, there were lots of things lacking in what they could do, although the things they did, they did with elegance and style that could not be matched. The hardware was unlike anything anyone had seen before but also had some curious choices in terms of keyboard, memory and expandable storage… The product was refined over time and it went on to become a pretty great success.

While that may sound like I’m referring to the iPhone, I’m actually referring to a product that went on sale 25 years ago, the first 128k Macintosh. There’s a lot of similarities but one of
the main differences was that Apple allowed third parties to build for Macintosh and that made all the difference. It’s what led to Excel (which was first developed for the Mac) and allowed MacWrite users to gain access to more sophisticated word processors. It created whole new products such as MORE! that could not be done at any cost on a DOS machine of that era and led to creation of entirely new cottage industries such as desktop publishing.

Each time I used the iPhone early on, I loved the experience and I praised the design but also ran into limitations. I wanted to play games and use RSS readers offline. I wanted a Slingbox client and the ability to view PowerPoint documents and in general, a better handling of Office files. I wanted my email and calendar to sync with Exchange wirelessly. All of these things were delivered by third parties over the last few months and have made the platform richer and more usable.

The first Macintosh ultimately succeeded because Apple overcame some of the biggest hardware issues quickly (remember the Mac Plus?) but more importantly, built an eco system, that never had the most applications, but always had the best of breed. If Apple customers would have gotten the Mac Plus but still had only MacWrite and MacPaint to fall back on, the story would have turned out in a very different way.

The next 18 months aren’t going to be defined by the core capabilities of mobile platforms alone. It’s going to be about how those platforms are extended through the use of software to create new experiences and offer new services to users and revenue streams to developers and carriers.

Computers in the kitchen

March 17, 2009

I love this old Apple ][ ad. Shows how far we’ve come in our thinking. If you asked folks back then, a lot would have predicted the kitchen as a natural place for the personal computer. Turns out computers and food don’t go too well together after all. Still love that ad though! Stock market is probably about where it was on that screen as well :)


Apple II 1977

iPhone 3.0 – First Take

March 17, 2009

When Apple took stage today, it was to start the momentum going for version 3.0 of the iPhone platform and that involved a combination of new features for end users along with a 1,000 new APIs for developers to take advantage of. In terms of new features, most of what was shown was table stakes, stuff that users have been asking for since day one. Yes, it’s nice to have cut, copy and paste and MMS support but that’s not what’s going to drive the next wave of user adoption for either the iPhone or the its cousin, the iPod Touch. Those features are more evolutionary and were required to keep Apple in the game.

The real important news was the new APIs and the time Apple spent during the presentation showing what was capable with them. I’ve argued in the past that operating systems as a core purchase driver don’t matter nearly as much as applications do. Especially now in the mobile space where everyone supports basic features such as push email, PIM sync and good web browsing experiences. At a time when all platform vendors are getting the message that it’s the extensibility of the platform that’s important, Apple showed off some revolutionary new capabilities that will help raise the bar. The breadth and depth of the apps that Apple demoed showed capabilities that would simply be impossible on other devices and platforms at the moment. In addition, by providing new revenue models for developers, Apple shored up support for new applications and ISVs entering the eco system. We know the mantra of developers, developers, developers well and Apple today set the stage for the next generation of app functionality.

The iPhone isn’t just about a platform or applications. It’s also about hardware as well. It will be interesting to see what else Apple has planned in the summer to take advantage of the platform and APIs.

iPhone v3.0 – what in and what’s not

March 17, 2009

In a crowded room on Apple campus (which reinforces why Apple doesn’t need to do product launches at venues like Macworld) Apple announced version 3.0 of the iPhone platform. Presented by Apple execs, Greg Joswiak and Scott Forstall.  Here’s the quick rundown.

First Apple noted some stats, there were 800 million app downloads and the apps that applied to be in the store had a 96% acceptance rate. 13.7 million sold in 2008. Overall pretty impressive specs.

First up was the SDK. Apple’s got a 1,000 new APIs for developers to build on, they showed a few today in demo applications. What’s interesting is that most of those applications shown would be virtually impossible for developers to create on other platforms.

Peer to peer connections over Bluetooth for games and other types of sharing, such as business cards

Support for subscription services, as well as in-app purchases (great for games for additional levels and content providers)

Support for embedded Google maps and turn by turn directions (bring your own maps for the latter)

Apps can now connect directly with hardware. Think of Docks with integrated controls right on the iPhone or iPod Touch

Push notification but no background processing apps

Built in support for streaming video and audio that can automatically be adjusted for bandwidth

Apple shifted from there to end user features. Most of these were features that users have been looking for since the iPhone was introduced and in that regard Apple met expectations

Cut, copy and Paste. Note, only Apple could get applause for cut, copy and paste as a feature


A2DP Bluetooth audio support

Spotlight integration, universal search across Calendars, Contacts, Mail and will even search your Exchange server if not local

Support for CALdav and .ICS calendars

Voice memo app

Updated stock app with more features and landscape mode

Landscape mode for all apps

Still missing?

Flash – We know it’s coming and the biggest reason for Flash, namely YouTube is already supported
Video recording – This one’s important
tethering – Apple says support is there on the client side and it’s about working with carriers to enable it

Adamo, right machine but wrong time?

March 17, 2009

I’m looking at the new Adamo released by Dell today after a long teaser campaign. Overall machine looks nice but I’m wondering how well the specs match up with the price and how much consumers are paying for design. Yes, Dell has done a good job of design but a 1.2 ghz core 2 duo and a four pound weight at $1,999 make this less desireable than some netbooks. Some of the features are downright amusing. While Apple has long refused to sticker or mar the underside of their PCs with the various markings found in their PC cousins, Dell had tried to emulate that aesthetic with the Adamo. How theuve fone it in this case is amusing. Microsoft for some arcane reason requires Windows licensees to incorporate a Windows sticker on each box. In this case, Dell complied and then created an odd magnetic cover that seems to serve no other purpose than to cover said sticker. Does it get sillier then this? Vendors spending time and money to build a hardware feature to cover up a Windows sticker. That exercise alone tells you why Dell doesn’t quite really understand why Apple has been successful marketing to consumers.

Don’t get me wrong, the Adamo looks very nice (although Dell’s going to be challenged getting consumers to see the Adamo up close and personal) but there’s more to a PC than looks. Take off that magnetic cover and you realize that underneath, you’ve got an expensive Windows PC with average specs. At a time when consumers are looking for value in every dollar spent, Adamp might be the right machine but at the wrong time.

Available for comment post Apple event tomorrow

March 16, 2009

I’ll be available for comment post Apple event tomorrow. Please fell free to call me directly at 201.862.0443 or email me if you want to lock down a specific time to speak during the day. Should be a most interesting set of announcements.

10” Apple tablet as soon as tomorrow

March 16, 2009

I think not. In fact, it’s a pretty safe bet this isn’t going to be announced tomorrow. Or perhaps ever.

Apple on the new iPod Shuffle headphones

March 16, 2009

Just spoke with Apple, and confirmed there’s no authentication or DRM in the iPod Shuffle’s headphones. There is a license fee, as part of the “made for iPod” accessory logo that applies to lots of devices and accessories for vendors who want to make headphones that work with the new Shuffle. That includes access to the necessary schematics, controls etc to make it all work. Same as if you were building a dock connector for an iPod or a car kit for the iPhone.

Nothing new here and nothing insidious IMHO.

When Reporters Have Agendas – Part XXVVI

March 16, 2009

Call from a segment producer for a TV show. "we’re doing a segment on the iPhone news from Apple later this week, we already have one analyst who says it will continue to be a success in 2009, we want you to be the other analyst who will talk about why it won’t".

I declined to do the show.

tiny chip creates big rumor

March 16, 2009

Twitter was abuzz last night with a discussion of Apple creating DRM into the new iPhone Shuffle headphones and requiring license fees for all third party headphones for all devices going forward. Whew.

It all started it seems with this from iLounge, said as part of their review.

Because of what Apple has done here—something sneaky and arguably terrible for consumers, especially if it continues with other iPod and iPhone products in 2009—if you plug your old third-party headphones of any sort into the new shuffle, you’ll find that you can’t do anything with the device other than have it continuously play music, without volume controls or interruption, unless of course of you turn it off. Surprise: the only third-party headphones that will work are ones that haven’t even entered manufacturing yet, because they’ll need to contain yet another new Apple authentication chip, which will add to their price.

This led to Joel Johnson doing his own tear down and noted

You’d never guess it was there—a tiny chip, barely a millimeter square, hidden inside the headphone module on the third-gen iPod shuffle. If you dismantle the module itself, you still won’t see it: it’s underneath a board containing a few simple copper traces, itself minuscule, and glued to the plastic.

Of course, it’s not clear what this chip does, why it’s there or if Apple is going to charge any license fees. Joel speculates

By adding such a chip to headphones, Apple could force third-party manufacturers to pay fees to make headphones for its iPod Shuffle—after all, the device has no controls, so normal headphones are useless.

At this point, it simply went from observation and speculation to fact and Engadget ran this headline.

Third-party iPod shuffle headphones will require Apple-licensed authentication chip

Sigh, it looks like Apple’s habit of squeezing iPod accessory manufacturers for license fees has now extended to freaking headphones — iLounge is reporting that the new iPod shuffle can only be controlled by headphones with a special hardware authentication chip. That means that third parties will have to pay Apple for the privilege of making shuffle-compatible accessories, and you can bet they’ll just pass that cost right on to consumers — we wouldn’t expect any cheap headphone adapters or inexpensive replacement headphones for the littlest iPod. iLounge calls this a "nightmare scenario" for iPod fans, and we’re inclined to agree — it’s one thing for Apple to require the Made For iPod certification for accessories that interface with the dock connector, but trying to lock down headphones is a sad new low, and it makes the lack of physical controls on the shuffle seem even more ridiculous. Anyone still planning on buying this thing?

I find this all interesting except for the fact that it seems that no one has confirmed any of this with Apple as accurate. All we know that there’s some sort of chip in the new Shuffle headphones, a device designed to work with headphones as the controller. Extrapolation beyond this may all be accurate but it might all be wrong. What’s troubling is the definitive and alarmist tone that folks have taken without verifying what’s what. Certainly no third parties have announced they’re paying an licensing fees, It’s one thing to observe, another to speculate and something else to offer information as fact.

for me? Once it’s clear what’s going on here, i’ll offer my perspective on what it means to the market.

UPDATE Dan Frakes notes that some vendors have anonymously confirmed…. something.

iPod-accessory vendors V-moda and Scosche, as well as other vendors speaking to Macworld anonymously, have confirmed these reports, though some are calling the circuitry a “control chip” rather than an authentication chip.

That actually makes sense as part of the iPod, namely the controller is now part of the headphone. Still no word on Apple confirmation or a source on record as to what’s really going on here. Let the rumors continue…

UPDATE – Apple confirms

An Apple spokesman confirmed the presence of the chip to Macworld. "As part of the Made for iPod program, we make sure that third party headphones work properly with the third generation iPod shuffle," the spokesman said.

My Bottom Line? It’s still not clear what, if anything Apple’s charging for. What is clear is that the headphones are no longer just headphones in the new world of the Shuffle, the headphones are an integral control aspect. As with the license fees for the dock connector, it’s not a surprise that Apple is exerting control over this part of the experience, I suspect for most users it won’t be an issue. As always, the market will decide if this is OK or not.

Operating systems don’t matter

March 13, 2009

Yep, it’s true. Despite all the calls I get about Windows Mobile, Android, S60, Vista, Leopard, Linux etc… , the truth is, operating systems don’t matter. Well, that’s not true. They matter to me, they matter a lot to the folks who sell them and they matter to developers but as far as consumers go, operating systems don’t matter to them at all (even though they think they do).

So what does matter? Applications, of course. (and that’s why developers care about the OS). I’ve bought a lot of PCs in my day. I didn’t buy a PC because of DOS, I bought it to play Starflight, SkyFox, Zork and run WordPerfect and DBase. I didn’t get Macintosh to use Mac OS, I cared about MacWrite and MacPaint. There’s a reason we call operating systems platforms, that’s because they allow developers to build cool stuff that we can all use. No cool stuff… no market share. Period.

The head of Black and Decker once said, folks don’t buy our products because they want one inch drills, they buy our stuff because they want one inch holes. It’s all about the apps and that’s why the mobile OS platform is shaping up to become a real battleground


UPDATE. I’m told the quote is actually from Theodore Levitt.
"People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole." — Dr. Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business School Professor emeritus

Can you help me define what a smartphone is?

March 13, 2009

Here’s a fun exercise. Do a search for analyst, smartphone, forecast. What you get back will likely be a wide mix of numbers with a huge variance. Now, analyst firms often will vary on numbers but usually not but such a wide margin. The reason I suspect is that not everyone seems to be counting the same things. Some firms insist current Palm OS devices are still really PDAs not smartphones. Others exclude RIM and Blackberry. In short, a term that used to be meaningful has really become useless as a measure. The reason is simple. Before you can count and forecast, you need to classify.

There’s simply no good definition of a Smartphone. Any definition is either going to exclude devices that clearly are part of the category or include devices that should be left off. In my last forecast at Jupiter Research I did not use the term at all and instead used a set of overlapping categories with hierarchal super-set of features. Smartphone, however is an industry term, so once again, I’m taking a crack at a definition. So dear reader, i’ll ask you, what’s your definition of a smartphone circa 2009-2010? Careful, it’s not a easy as you might think

(side note, as I’ve said before, the whole phone thing is a euphemism anyhow. let’s face it, an iPhone, G1 or Blackberry is really just a pocket sized computer that happens to have the ability to do telephony. hardly what I’d have called a phone in days gone by)

From lifestyle based technology to technology based lifestyles

March 13, 2009

Now that we’ve shifted our clocks for daylight savings time in the US, I’m once again amazed at our dependence on devices with integrated clocks  to manage our lives that all have software written to automate the change and the process that can’t be changed to reflect to the new rules we started with last year. Looking around my house, there are personal computers, handheld devices, DVRs and other gadgets that all needed to be told about the change many that still have not been updated. Here’s an exercise. Look around your home and office. See how many different things you own that have clocks in them, the number will surprise you.

It’s one of the pitfalls moving from lifestyle based technology to technology based lifestyles.


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