iPhone and convergence

January 12, 2007

I still stand by my earlier contention that consumers don’t want convergence, but would rather have one well-designed device that does everything well. Although the touch-screen with switchable UI may solve the problem of accidentally dialing my mom when I really want to listen to “Mother” by The Police, I tend to agree with this writer that the iPhone hype is far ahead of the reality. That’s not even getting into the many flaws that observers are already pointing out.

Is it really that much of a sacrifice to carry both a mobile phone and a portable music player? If not, is it worth switching to Cingular and paying $500 to combine the two? Not for me. Then again, MP3 players existed well before the iPod, but the combination of style, design, and ease of user have allowed Apple to capture more than 70% of the market.


CES vs Jobs

January 12, 2007

Attended CES this year for work, and was one of those who felt like they went to the wrong party. While Apple was busy introducing what will inevitably be the most-talked-about product of the year (albeit vaporware at this point–they never used to do that!), Microsoft was busy acknowledging that the copy-restriction capabilities in Vista will in fact mean that you’ll probably have to buy new hardware–including an HDCP-compliant monitor–to play most forms of high-def video on a Vista PC.

I’m not sure that Peter Gutmann is completely right about Vista’s anticopying provisions ruining the entire computer industry, but Microsoft’s assurances to me in 2005–“oh, many content owners won’t even use these copy-protection provisions” (so then why did you build them in?) — are appearing more and more like desperate spin (formerly known as “bullshit.”) So Vista as home entertainment hub could be dead on arrival. Why buy a new $3,000 system when you can add individual, locked-down components (DVD player, HD cable set top box) to your existing system? Are benefits like being able to track your fantasy football players in real time while you watch the games and highlights really worth swapping out your whole system? (Of course, it won’t make a bit of difference to sales–every new consumer PC will come with Vista Home Premium whether you choose to use all the features in it or not.)

That said, Microsoft’s Home Server announcement was actually pretty interesting–automatic nightly backup, storage of all your digital media files, capacity only limited by the size of drives you add (HP’s hardware features four swappable drives, plus 4 USB connectors for additional drives), remote access via a URL (albeit tied into Windows Live Domains, which lets you register your own domain name via a third-party in Melbourne Australia, and was kludgey as hell when I tested it for Office Live), health monitoring of PCs on your network. They purposely left out firewall software, reasoning that you wouldn’t want to reconfigure your network, but simply add a storage device to it. They also left out security and auto updating, reasoning that a lot of people have laptops and want to be secure even when they’re not connected to the home network. Reasonable. ALso, it’s not a domain controller, which means you’ll still be using local accounts on each PC…essentially, it’s just a shared folder on a new box.

But the thing they haven’t announced yet, which will make it really attractive, is the price. Let’s just say cheaper than the cheapest PC. Priced more like a consumer electronics add-on.

Now, sure, as a friend pointed out to me, you can do similar things online. But most of those services have pretty low storage limits–25GB for the free version of MediaMax seemed to be the limit–and rely on you having a fast Internet connection. Personally, I’d rather rely on my home network.


October 25, 2006

It’s the fifth anniversary of the iPod, giving the press plenty of excuse to write another “Franco’s still dead” story about the phenomenon of our time. Slate has two today, one about how the iPod isn’t revolutionary but merely an evolution of the Walkman, and another about how combination phone-musicplayers such as Nokia’s new N91 will knock the iPod off its perch.

Both miss a really important point: it’s the software, not the hardware! MP3 players predate the iPod by several years. There are literally dozens of Windows Media-based players that are cheaper and offer more features than the iPod. Why have they all failed against the iPod? Sure, the white shiny box looks cool, and the font in the UI reminds people of their first computer (which was a Mac…unless you were a programmer or a masochistic DOS devotee). But the real advantage comes from the iTunes software that iPodders use to collect songs from the hard drive, acquire them from Apple’s online store, arrange them into playlists, and transfer them to the device. It’s simple, attractive, intuitive, and works correctly. The Windows Media Player, as every 20-year-old knows, sucks in comparison.

This fact completely sinks Slate’s article about the N91. The author, a Mac user, probably hasn’t had much experience with the Windows Media Player, as he breezily states “PC users can get even smoother integration—the N91 connects directly to Windows Media Player without the need for an external application.”

But the other thing that this guy and all the other writers who’ve proposed that the musicphone will kill the iPod are missing: convergence never works. Over and over and over, consumers have shown that they would rather buy multiple devices, each of which does one thing well, than a single device that does nothing well. When I reach down to skip a song, I don’t want to accidentally dial my mom. When I want to call my friend Barry, I don’t want to start playing a Barry White song. No matter if the UI designers are geniuses, a combination device is by nature too confusing, and the “sacrifice” of carrying two devices isn’t really a sacrifice at all.

That’s not even getting into the business side of it. Carriers want you to buy their ridiculously overpriced songs directly over the air from their stores and charge you extra data fees for doing so, not buy them from an online store and transfer them to your PC. So they’ll be reluctant to stock these things. So they don’t want to stock any phone that actually duplicates the functionality of an iPod. Even if Apple comes out with the rumored iPhone, probably they won’t have agreements with all the carriers–will I really want to switch my coverage from Verizon to Cingular just so I can get a combo device? No. I want the best phone with the best coverage for making phone calls, and the best music player with the best features for playing music.

If Apple’s really expecting to sell 25 million iPhones next year, they’re smoking crack.