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.

Sony’s simplicity

Sony's entry into the table radio space — inspiringly dubbed "the radio" — seems like a throwback for a company looking to reclaim the high-end with ambitious proprietary technology such as the now-delayed PlayStation 3 and SXRD displays, but much of the critique of its minimalist design is unwarranted. The name itself spells out the product's design philosophy and the monaural sound isn't a huge disadvantage especially keeping in mind the amount of AM programming that may find its way to the device. Besides, isn't boxy design cool again?