Universal connectivity? Not so fast

Ever get the feeling that the Web moves two step forward and one step back? Blogs are the new personal home pages, RSS is the new push, and now Webaroo is the new Freeloader, one of the first "offline browsers" from the days before flat-rate Internet. Webaroo offers to suck down gigabytes of the Web for perusal offline. I could see some usefulness for this. It even works on PDAs via sideloading, although it seems less compelling than even Freeloader was back in the day. Still, it may be a decent way to spur hard disk upgrades.

CTIA wrap-up: the Internet to go

Apparently, there were two CTIAs that happened this week — the expo that I attended and the conferences that I did not. At the conferences, apparently, there was much discussion about content, but the discussions on the show floors focused more on continuing to roll out 3G networks, which is key to solving any content issues.

The wireless world doesn't need content or interactive services. There's more than anyone could ever consume on the Web and it's growing by the hour. If the carriers can figure out how to optimize delivery of it, they'll never hurt for demand. Related to this is a focus on personal content that companies are starting to tap into, with promising offerings from Motorola, Sling Media, Avvenu and others. Continue reading

Palmiscuity

Palm, Inc. logoAt CTIA, Palm was handing out T-shirts celebrating its tenth anniversary that read "Ten years. One vision." But an "anniversary" connotes too much monogamy for Palm, which has had more of a polyamorous past — independent startup, US Robotics ownership, 3Com ownership, independent company (again), PalmOne (after merging with Handsprng), and Palm, Inc. one more time.

Ten years. One vision. Six corporate identities.

Palm executives had their sense of humor intact about the company's storied past as well, noting that it has received presents from its printing company for all the changes to its letterhead over the years.

Boot Camp challenges Mac game developers

Yesterday, Apple announced and released the public beta of Boot Camp, a boot manager and set of drivers that enable Intel-based Macs to run Windows XP (Vista s not yet supported). I'll discuss the trade-off between dual-booting and virtualization another time, but one advantage of enabling XP to run natively on Apple hardware is that Windows games will be able to utilize accelerated graphics hardware. In other words, Mac owners will be able to play most PC games at native Windows speeds.

Apple's stance is that what is good for the Mac is good for Mac developers, and the company has an interesting theory that this capability will show game developers just how many Mac gamers are out there. But I still don't think that that will help the fundamental economics of the Mac game market. The translators and publishers of titles that appear first on Windows like Aspyr Media and MacPlay and are going to feel some at least some short-term pain, pain that could be prolonged if Microsoft continues stepping up efforts to evangelize Windows gaming.

Let it be

CNN.com has the latest ringside reports from Apple Corps vs. Apple Computer, wherein the Beatles’ music label wants the computer company to stop using the latter’s logo on iTunes. Apple Computer’s attorney notes that “even a moron in a hurry” could tell the difference between iTunes and a music label.

Frankly, I don’t see Apple Corps’ photographic logo as all that similar to the more abstract Apple Computer’s. How many ways can one depict the fabled fruit? Nevertheless, while contract law in the UK may differ from how it is here and I am certainly not a lawyer, I think this comes down to whether the agreement specified whether Apple cannot sell the specific physical media cited, e.g., CDs and cassettes, or more generalized terms of “songs” or “albums.” Arguing that digital downloads are “the new CDs” doesn’t cut it. 

At least now the world knows why Apple doesn’t offer physical CDs as an alternative on the iTunes Music Store — something that competitors offer.

DVR’s remote possiblities

If Cablevision's DVR in the cloud can withstand legal scrutiny and be at least as reliable as current video-on-demand services, it would not only mean increased pressure for TiVo and the other retail DVR also-rans, but a threat to Media Center, which has much of its value riding on digital video recording. Neither platform has introduced anything more compelling than its DVR capabilities and there are plenty of other solutions for getting media from Computer A to Television B.

By delivering video directly from its servers, Cablevision and its fellow oligopolists could cheaply provide the equivalent of that holy grail of multi-room DVR without having to deal with the thorny technology and expense of high-speed home networking. Most DVR users with flat screens would probably give their fast-forward buttons to lose the bulky boxes in their living rooms, although removing the hard drive would make it more difficult to enable portable device sideloading like DirecTV2Go.

Vista delay the HP way?

To hear Microsoft tell it, Windows Vista's much publicized delay is not really the company's fault. After all, the operating system will ship this year to business customers and Microsoft says that it could have supported some of their PC customers, but chose to delay shipment to enable all of their PC customers time to prepare for the hot December (read: consumer) selling season. As a CNet interview with Microsoft's Brad Goldberg, the Microsoft executive notes:

The feedback we got from OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners, retailers, channel partners and others was pretty consistent. They were asking us for visibility around our ability to deliver broadly for consumers at the holiday season. They said the thing that would have been hardest and most challenging would have been getting to a point close to the holiday and either scaling back availability to the point where people wouldn't have the supply to meet demand, or that we would have to alter some plans after they had made investments. So, this decision was really made based on very consistent feedback we got from the industry about how to think about our release timing.

However, the conference call where Jim Allchin announced Vista's delay did not paint a picture of such consistency. Allchin says that Microsoft could have shipped for some OEMs but did not in order to provide a more universal quality standard. So, it leads one to think that the largest consumer-focused OEMs could have put the kibosh on Vista getting out the door this holiday season, and the one with the largest, most globally complex business at this point is certainly HP.

Vive la difference

BBC News reports today on Apple's reaction to the French legislature's vote in favor of a law that would require online music sellers to allow interoperability with any music device and let consumers transcode purchased songs by circumventing any protections. What a contrast it is to see a government enact what is essentially an "anti-DMCA." According to the article:

The French government said the law was drawn up to ensure no single company dominated the fast growing music download market.

Apple's enigmatic response asserted that "legal music sales will plummet" but that "iPod sales will likely increase." I don't necessarily agree with the latter assessment and certainly disagree with the former. How would more freedom of choice in online music stores encourage more piracy than is already occurring? And it's common knowledge that most songs on iPods today are not purchased from any online music store. As I argued last April, consumers value choice in music, not music stores.

Napster and Rhapsody may posture that unlocking the iPod market would be key to their success, but most of the action surrounding Real Networks' Harmony technology took place in the courts and the press, not on consumers' iPods. Besides, the WMA crowd really wants to to pursue subscriptions and I don't think the law could force Apple to support such a business model as such music isn't "purchased."

UMPC: The other shoe drops

When Bill Gates introduced the ultramobile concept at WinHEC 2005, he described a device that would be a showcase platform for Windows Vista. In addition to the advantages that Vista offers for notebooks, such as better support for wireless WAN connections and improved tablet functionality, the stepped-up synchronization and screen-scaling capabilities would greatly aid the murky value proposition of the UMPC.

With today’s announcement that Vista won’t ship to consumers until 2007, it’s easier to understand why Microsoft launched UMPC before Vista. PC manufacturers would at least have a chance to generate some excitement for the holidays. This is not dissimilar to Apple’s original retail positioning of the iPod. Unfortunately for the likes of HP and Gateway, UMPC doesn’t yet have the right price-value balance for a secondary PC and — unfortunately for Microsoft — the big guys aren’t yet biting as a result.

At least Microsoft will be able to count on a larger next-generation game library than its competitors to lend some holiday cheer this year.

Full circles and turned corners

Had a great chat last week with the Xbox 360 team regarding Live, incluing all the thoughtful changes they've implemented this time around and the considerable investments they've made. Indeed, it looks like Microsoft has set the pace with Live although the industry metrics will continue to fiocus on traditional revenue metrics such as tie ratios for some time. While Microsoft is sure that the 360 has expanded its demographic base, they acknowledge what I suspected — that the 360 is still being purchased by the hardcore gamers and that initiatives like the retro Live Arcade are only helping to bring in gamers after the purchase.