Price-cutting and face-saving for the PS3

A little more than half a year after its launch, Sony has already cut a PS3 configuration, lowered the price of the former high-end, and introduced a new model with a larger hard drive and a free game. I’m sure the 60 GB PS3 will get a lift from dipping below the $500 mark. The 20 GB model didn’t fare well there, but that product missed key components such as the memory card reader, Wi-Fi and, perhaps most importantly, HDMI.

Now there is far less difference between the low-end and high-end configuration than there was last November. The incremental value of another 20 GB of disk space is more questionable so I expect that the new low-end will become the more popular model, signalling a reversal from the PS3’s launch. The real issue facing the PS3 is a dearth of compelling titles, so I don’t see the price cut so much as a strategic move per se but really more priming the pump for what Sony says should be a stronger holiday portfolio.

Let’s get ready to rumble.

Fake Steve on the labels’ real business

Catching up on the latest populist wisdom from Fake Steve Jobs in a post from last week, His Fauxness holds forth on the labels’ predicament:

[T]hese guys are actually operating two very low-tech businesses. One is a form of loan-sharking: they put up money to make records, then force recording artists to pay the money back with exorbitant interest. The other business is distribution. Their loan-sharking business is being eliminated by low-cost digital recording technology that lets people make an album for very little money.

FSJ ignores the missing bridge or real output of the labels, which is promotion. Sure, anyone can record digital songs with GarageBand or M-Audio’s Session, but who’s going to buy them if they’ve never heard of them? Indeed, FSJ came to terms with his own challenges of content monetization in a more recent pot celebrating breaking the million-pageview mark, but that post has disappeared from the site.

Apple’s screen and Microsoft’s vision

Engadget just posted the second part of my look at the iPhone’s keyboard from the angle of suitability to task. With all the attention around the iPhone and it’s well-received if sometimes inefficient user interface, I have to wonder how the folks at Microsoft feel. Few if any companies have championed so many pen computing initiatives (Pocket PC, Tablet PC, Windows Mobile, UMPC) through the years and yet Microsoft. But now the company has had its thunder stolen by Apple as it failed to capture literally what Bill Gates articulated as Microsoft’s guiding vision throughout the ’90s, the notion of information at your fingertips In retrospect, it looiks like touch was right. It was the pen that was wrong.

Universal at center of its own universe

Call it “big dog” syndrome. Engadget picks up on the NY Times report that Universal is playing hardball with Apple on its iTunes contact. This is simply the latest in a line of Vivendi’s maverick moves, such as insisting on revenue sharing with Microsoft for the Zune (perhaps what it is pushing for with Apple?) and being the only major studio to release movies exclusively in HD-DVD.

Where the iPhone turns a blind i

Now that the first reviews of the iPhone are hitting, we’re finding what Apple omitted from its first full foray into the cell phone business. 3G speeds are a no-brainer. We’ve known the iPhone would have only EDGE since January, but it’s unfortunate that Apple hasn’t been able to match the rich online functionality of Safari and its YouTube client with 3G although I’m sure that will come in time.

Other omissions may be more intentional– the snubbing of Flash, and Bluetooth’s A2DP or stereo profile. Again, the latter is an unfortunate hole for such a media-centric handset; one of the coolest tricks of other media phones is the ability to pause music to take a phone call. The iPhone supports this over its slick corded headphones, but not over stereo Bluetooth headphones. While I haven’t seen it confirmed yet, DUN probably isn’t supported, either.

Not supporting IM could be a snub against AOL or (less likely) an issue with AT&T, although you’d think Apple would want to support either Yahoo’s or Google’s IM networks. Apple could also be trying to protect AT&T’s SMS revenue, although there are ways to build hooks into cell phone IM clients these days to track individual IMs as “text messages.” This can actually serve as a powerful incentive to upgrade one’s text messaging package.

Big Business.com

Did you laugh when Sky Dayton and Jake Winebaum paid $7.5 million price paid for Business.com back in the boom under the vague pretense of turning it into some kind of B2B directory (remember net markets)? If so, the joke has turned out to be on you as the site, virtually devoid of content, is now raking in $15 million per year and is allegedly worth $300 million.

Think about how bad Internet businesses have to be to go bust when a parked domain name can become a business with respectable revenue and insane profit margins.

Leopard on the hunt

When Apple held back previewing a few features of Mac OS X at last year’s WWDC, I wondered whether those enhancements were being held back because of their magnitude or impact or because they were most visually compelling. Yesterday’s WWDC keynote leads me to believe they were more the latter. Outside of the glassy and reflective interface elements and Cover Flow, much of the theme of Leopard seems to be around easing access to content and information, just as Dashboard made it easier to get to applications (albeit often content-centric ones).

Stacks, the revamped Sidebar and Back to Mac join Spaces and, to some extent, Time Machine in assisting with this task. Unfortunately, Leopard does not at this time have a tagging mechanism comparable to Vista, nor does it have Visa’s presentation sharing although iChat Theater might be used in a similar way.

Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher was the announcement of Safari for Windows, which surely does not need another Web browser. In fact, Firefox is my preferred browser on the Mac. I’ll have more to say about that development and its relevance to the iPhone soon.

Ultralights: The real, the deal, and the appeal

Dismiss Foleo if you will, the Windows camp has been quick to respond to the need for ultralights. Today Engadget posted news of the 2.4 lb. 12.1″ Toshiba Portege R500 (with optical drive), the 1.9 lb. VIA NanoBook, and the 2 lb. Asus Eee (rhymes with “fee”).

Not surprisingly, the more impressive their departure in terms of today’s size/price ratios, the further away from reality they seem. The R500 is an evolution of today’s Windows laptops, and has the typical premium price tag that goes along with them of $2,000. While VIA has announced that Packard Bell will offer its version of the NanoBook in Europe, it has yet to name its U.S. vendor (but claims it has one), and the Eee is little more than a concept at this point, although one too good to be true starting at $200.

So, despite the NanoBook’s somewhat unorthodox design with its oddly placed USB module, it will definitely vie with the Foleo for my take-anywhere ultraportable. Palm has been very quiet about Foleo’s specs; I wonder how hackable it will be and whether Palm will turn a blind eye to that. With no service revenue to protect, it should. Documents-to-Go is a great way to view Office files, but it’s no OpenOffice, and I wonder whether the coming generation of “hybrid” Web sites that can also work offline will be compatible with Opera; Firefox will likely be supported first.

In Silicon Valley 6/18

Hey, stealth startups, I’ll be in the Valley on the afternoon of June 18th and may have time for a meeting or two. If you have a product that really has to be seen up close and personal under NDA to be appreciated and you’re not planning to visit New York any time soon, please feel free to drop me an e-mail (see the About page, I’ll check my spam filters) or submit a comment noting that it’s not for publication. Thanks.

Maybe Russ will sign up for your triple play

For years now, my Verizon bill has been coming to “Russ Rubin.” Being a sporting guy, I paid for his phone service; yeah, he doesn’t chip in on the electricity, but he mostly keeps to himself. I hardly ever see him, in fact. But, hey, enough is enough, and the last time I was on Verizon’s site, I took advantage of the handy e-mail form to request the long-overdue name change. The e-mailed reply:

I have placed an order to correct your first name to ROSS, confirmation number xxxxxxxx. It may take 1-2 billing cycles for you to see the correct spelling.

Only two months to change one letter, eh? Wow. Using FiOS to send that request? Good thing I wasn’t changing it to Roscommon.