RoughlyDrafted Archives: December 2006
December 1st, 2006
Daniel Eran Dilger
Index page for articles from December 2006.
December 2006 (newer articles on top):
Here are two iPhone myths rolled together. The first stated that the iPod no longer matter because mobile phones now have the capacity to play MP3s; the second is that Apple would either not be able to make its own phone, or would be stymied by the problem of not being able to call it the “iPhone.”
Rumors of Apple adding the native ability to run Windows applications in Mac OS X have repeatedly bobbed to the surface of rumor sites over the last decade, but in 2006, the Red Box fantasy belonged to Mark Stephens, writing under the alias Robert X Cringely. Stephens confused Apple’s simple BootCamp tool with a comprehensive new Windows strategy by Apple to add Windows compatibility and then eventually replace Mac OS X with Windows Vista.
How could the iPod Killer have failed so miserably when everything else Microsoft has touched has turned to gold? The answer, of course, is the Xbox Success Myth. Microsoft’s game console has long been held up as example of the company’s steamroller success, but it simply isn’t. By presenting the Xbox as a raging success, Microsoft appears to have more clout than it actually does. It also serves to overshadow its more obvious and embarrassing failures, including WinCE, smartphones, PDAs, tablets, and Origami handheld devices.
What could overshadow the interplay between two myths simultaneously arguing that iTunes was both a power mad monopolistic monster and a whimpering failure? The Microsoft iPod-Killer Myth of course! In 2006, Microsoft realized that the real problem with its PlaysForSure had nothing to do with its abusive DRM and a business model reliant on subscription music sales. Instead, its failure was determined to all be the fault of incompetent partners like Napster and Yahoo! The solution: abandon all of its store and device partners to introduce a single new product that would be sold and supported exactly like Apple’s iPod.
Earlier this month, Andrew Orlowski of the Register, already credited with myth number one, launched a new attack on Apple’s music sales through iTunes. He announced that the service had “experienced a collapse in sales revenues this year,” basing the statement on numbers pulled from a Forrester Research study.
This myth is of the self-canceling type. From one side of their mouth, analysts of all stripes bemoan Apple’s supposed monopoly hold on digital downloads. The same analysts also pretend to believe that iTunes doesn’t matter because only a minority of people are even buying online music, particularly in comparison to the established market for CDs. So which is it?
This myth was based on reports Apple itself issued in this summer, stating that irregularities were found in stock options granted to certain Apple employees between 1997 and 2001. The internal audit presented the problem as an issue Apple was investigating.
Greenpeace began a new fundraising campaign for 2006, specifically targeting Mac users. Why Macs? Because Mac users are typically more affluent and more likely to be interested in environmental issues. The campaign was the brainchild of Iza Kruszewska, a consultant associated with the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. The SVTC had earlier determined Mac users to be a good target for donation campaigning, and drew up a custom Apple logo with a worm on handouts that called the iPod “toxic trash.”
The Register’s Osborne Effect Panic. This myth got started six months early. In June 2005, after Apple announced plans to move the Mac to Intel processors, Andrew Orlowski of the Register reported that Apple would face a “painful migration,” and asked, “who in their right minds would buy a Power-based Mac now, or in the next eighteen months?”
New hardware isn’t the only way Apple can shake things up in the mobile industry. The company has the ability to disrupt the entire distribution channel, which is currently controlled by cellular service providers. The control maintained by service providers has slowed the advance of hardware features and the emergence of new competition for service. Here’s how Apple is poised to disrupt that status quo.
No official details of Apple’s iPhone have yet been released, not even its actual name. However, Apple’s mobile phone efforts are not just based on the speculative Mac rumor sites known for inventing a large portion of their own content and publishing it as “exclusive information from reliable sources.” Rachel Rosmarin, a technology reporter for Forbes, has written about Apple’s mobile efforts, citing both credible sources and noise from such vacuous blurb experts as Rob Enderle. There isn’t a lot of known facts yet, but that doesn’t mean there are no clues to examine.
Apple’s iPod is a runaway hit, but will any of that success translate into different product categories? Some analysts seem to think it won’t, but there are significant reasons why Apple is poised to repeat the same iPod success in new arenas. It has little to do with music playback, and instead relates to the integrated network of services Apple has built to support the iPod.
Apple’s strategy for a new set of consumer electronics devices seems to be beyond the grasp of most industry analysts. That should really come as no surprise, because they don’t seem to understand what made the iPod a success over the last five years either. Since its release, analysts have been falling all over themselves to identify the next “iPod killer.” They still throw out the phrase every time Sony releases a new version of a Walkman branded phone or Microsoft renames its latest version of Janus DRM, to suggest that the iPod is on the verge of being eclipsed.
According to proponents of this myth, Apple’s iTunes is unfairly locking Microsoft, Real, and Sony out of the market for digital music by blocking rivals’ efforts to put their own DRM systems on iPods, and is using vendor lock in to distort the market for online music and players. They’re wrong, here’s why.
Andrew Orlowski of the Register recently launched an opinion piece that cast fear, uncertainty, and doubt upon music sales through iTunes, announcing that the service has “experienced a collapse in sales revenues this year.” Orlowski based his ideas on numbers pulled from a Forrester research study, but interestingly, did not seek comment from Apple. While Forrester’s research was based on a limited number of customer’s credit card records, Apple has a bit tighter grasp on how much it actually sells through iTunes. Why didn’t Orlowski ask Apple for comment on the data? Because he knew the numbers he extracted to create this new myth didn’t really paint the picture he implied they did; in fact, his article even pointed out that Forrester’s Josh Bernoff “warned against extrapolating too much from the figures.”
Automatic PC sales of DOS rapidly made Microsoft one of the largest software companies of the 80s. As its market power increased, it gained a reputation as a vendor with staying power. Nobody wanted to invest in the software of a company that might go out of business. Microsoft used its new clout to introduce a product vision called Cairo in 1991; it disrupted development and marginalized competition throughout the next decade. The tactic worked so well that Microsoft repeated it in the following decade as Longhorn. Here’s how it happened, and why Microsoft won’t be able to repeat the same fraud again.
A variety of consumer electronics devices present problems in search of a solution. Inconsistent user interfaces are key problem, but so is overall stability and the ability to painlessly sync with computers and networks. Increasingly, devices store information that needs to be kept in sync, including calendar, contacts, and notes. Others access networks for content, including media downloads and software using web browsers and specialized web services. Nearly all of them need updates of some sort. Other device issues deal with digital media, including cameras and music and movie playback devices. With the DRM protecting DVDs, how do users get their movies to work on a portable player? How does music get from a computer to a car stereo system to a mobile device?
Apple’s press releases all end with the phrase “Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh.” Today, Apple is building a new platform, and applying lessons it learned from the 90s. During that nearly forgotten epoch of upheaval and crisis, Apple tried to launch the Newton as a new platform, although its subsequent failure in the marketplace didn’t earn it a mention in Apple’s press release blurb. The Newton wasn’t just a new gadget, it was intended to be a diverse platform. Like the Macintosh from the prior decade, the Newton started as one product, and intended to branch out into a range of systems.
Apple’s unfolding iPod strategy is so clear and obvious that it’s hard to understand why the pundits are so confused. They seem to think that Apple has no plan, and is simply poking in random directions. However, Apple quite pointedly does have a clear direction for all the products it has shipped, and that plan figures into what Apple will be releasing next year. That plan bears some resemblance to the introduction of the original Macintosh, and what that machine did to improve computing back in the 80’s. Here’s a look at why.
In an interesting turn of events, a product that Apple hasn’t even announced is currently earning more attention in the press than Microsoft’s ultra-hyped, astroturfed, press-blitzed iPod Killer. In fact, Apple’s still unannounced iPhone has rocketed the company’s market valuation to an all time high, meaning that Apple has made more from silence than Microsoft has earned in actual sales of its new player.
As customers, we all want to know what’s going to happen in the future, but we will also turn around and beat developers with the very information they share with us. One of the terms we hit them with is, of course, vaporware.
Looking for good news online? A new website promises to offer “news you can trust.”
It has been widely reported that Apple secured a patent worth a “billion dollars.” According to a patent attorney involved in the issue, Apple will be “after every phone company, film maker, computer maker and video producer to pay royalties on every download of not just music but also movies and videos.” The good news is that all the news reports were based on misleading hyperbole; the sole source of the flurry of articles about the billion dollar patent was a press release issued by the same patent attorney who represented the patent, and stood to gain the most from a wild spin on its actual valuation.
Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams recently blogged that America needs an atheist and rational thinker for president, and he’s picked Bill Gates. The idea has become a popular subject in technical circles, which are commonly irreligious and tend to be more socially liberal. But as they say: be careful what you wish for, you might get it.
iPod vs Zune: A Buyer’s Guide focused on the usability and features offered by the iPod and Zune. Finding reliable information tends to be difficult because facts are often overshadowed by marketing fluff and spin. Apple’s iPod has been so heavily marketed that it has become one of the best known brands, usurping the position of Sony’s Walkman. Microsoft is working hard to get attention for the Zune in a crowded market. When push comes to shove, Microsoft has no problem fighting dirty. Here’s a look at its tricks.