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June 04, 2009

Gestural Natives

I've been thinking about the implications of the advances in gestural technology shown at E3 this week: Microsoft's Natal and Sony's 3D input technology. On reflection, I think the most profound implications for gestural technology are going to be in the longer term.

Just as we've been raising a generation of digital natives, the Wiimote and its more advanced successors could be the start of a generation of gestural natives. Remember that Marc Prensky's digital native thesis is that children raised in an environment of interactive technologies are wired differently than their digital immigrant predecessors. They perceive, process, and respond to information differently. (Not better or worse, just differently.)

It seems quite possible to me that children raised in an environment that includes the Wiimote, Natal, Sony's 3D input device, and even (to a lesser degree) multi-touch devices such as the iPhone could be wired differently from their D-pad-using older brothers and sisters. We've raised a generation of kids who are extremely proficient at making what is a fairly abstract connection between mashing buttons and seeing the corresponding results on the screen. (Yes, if you're in or past your early 40s, this is one of the reasons your kids thrash you at video games.) This next generation, the gestural natives, could be equally proficient at using gestural interfaces.

So what are the implications of this? I can think of two.

First, as the children and teenagers of today become the workforce of tomorrow, they're going to expect gestural interfaces and be frustrated and less productive when they don't have them -- just as the digital natives of today are frustrated by linear, non-interactive experiences. We have to be aware of this as we’re designing the information technology tools of tomorrow.

Second, we all know from experience that great artists generally have to grow up with the media in which they practice. Think about the earliest movies that you truly enjoy, not as historical artifacts, but as legitimately good cinema. My guess is that most people would point to Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, or Casablanca, all movies made in the late 1930s and early 1940s -- a good 25-30 years after The Birth of a Nation. I would argue that modern media and Moore's Law are shortening cycle times for familiarity with new technologies, but still, I don't think we're going to see the full potential of gestural input until we have designers who have been immersed in it for many years. So don’t look for the DW Griffith of gestural input -- much less the Victor Fleming, Orson Welles, or Michael Curtiz -- anytime in the immediate future.

March 01, 2009

Horses and Books

Via Andrew Sullivan, from a long article by John Siracusa on the history and future of digital books:

Take all of your arguments against the inevitability of e-books and substitute the word "horse" for "book" and the word "car" for "e-book." ...

"Books will never go away." True! Horses have not gone away either.

"Books have advantages over e-books that will never be overcome." True! Horses can travel over rough terrain that no car can navigate. Paved roads don't go everywhere, nor should they.

"Books provide sensory/sentimental/sensual experiences that e-books can't match." True! Cars just can't match the experience of caring for and riding a horse: the smells, the textures, the sensations, the companionship with another living being.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Did you ride a horse to work today? I didn't. I'm sure plenty of people swore they would never ride in or operate a "horseless carriage" -- and they never did! And then they died.

Is Amazon's Kindle 2 good enough for me? No. Will Apple release a device this year that would do it for me? Possibly. But do I believe that I'll be reading most of my books and magazines on a portable electronic device within five years? Absolutely.

September 15, 2006

Next-Gen Console Market Share Predictions

It seems like this is the week for predictions -- both making and reviewing them.

Over the past few weeks, I've been corresponding with a good friend in the game industry. He's more bullish than I am on the prospects for the PlayStation 3. We traded market share forecasts for next-generation consoles and ended up agreeing to disagree. I suggested posting our respective predictions on my blog. He demurred, saying he wasn't fond of publicizing such exercises. Having no sense of shame in plastering my predictions for the world to see, I suggested that I post our predictions here, his anonymously. He agreed, so here goes. These are predictions for unit market share rankings at the end of the calendar years.

My friend's predictions:

2007

  • Japan: #1 Wii, #2 PS3, #3 (distant) 360
  • Europe: #1 Wii, #2 PS3, #3 360
  • North America: #1 360, #2 Wii, #3 PS3
2008
  • Japan: #1 PS3, #2 Wii, #3 (distant) 360
  • Europe: #1 (tie) Wii / PS3, #3 360
  • North America: #1 (tie) PS3 / 360, #3 Wii
And my predictions:

2007

  • Japan: #1 Wii, #2 PS3, #3 (distant) 360
  • Europe: #1 (tie) Wii / 360, #3 PS3
  • North America: #1 360, #2 Wii, #3 PS3
2008
  • Japan: #1 Wii, #2 PS3, #3 (distant) 360
  • Europe: #1 Wii, #2 360, #3 PS3
  • North America: #1 (tie) 360 / Wii, #3 PS3

September 13, 2006

So How Did I Do?

Before the Apple announcements, I made the following predictions:

  • Movie viewing service: near-certainty
  • TV video viewing device: near-certainty
  • iPod nano capacity increase: highly probable
  • iPod shuffle replacement: probable
  • Widescreen iPod: possible
  • iPhone: unlikely
So how did I do?
  • Movie viewing service: yes, so correct
  • TV video viewing device: yes, so correct
  • iPod nano capacity increase: yes, so correct
  • iPod shuffle replacement: yes, so correct
  • Widescreen iPod: no, and though I only listed this as "possible", not "probable", I'm nonetheless going to count it as incorrect
  • iPhone: no, so correct
Five out of six? Not bad. That said, I was surprised by a number of aspects of the announcements. Launching with only one movie studio? Showing iTV as a preview instead of as a finished device? Not adding a display to the iPod shuffle? Increasing iPod storage by only 20GB? And though I listed a widescreen iPod as merely "possible", in my heart, I didn't think that Apple would launch a movie service without a good movie-capable iPod -- and the 5G iPod isn't it. Its screen makes it okay for short subjects, especially cartoons, but it's too small for a two-hour movie watching session. So no reason for me personally to upgrade.

One other surprise was the retro design of the new iPod nano. I know lots of people will like it, but it's essentially equivalent to Apple saying, "we got the first generation iPod nano wrong". Not very Apple-like.

September 11, 2006

Apple's Announcements Tomorrow

At the risk of becoming the very last resident of the blogosphere to speculate about Apple's announcements tomorrow, I thought I'd take a few moments to talk about what Apple might do. In rough order from more to less likely:

I suppose it's possible that Apple isn't going to announce some sort of movie viewing service, but if they're not, then they have done an unthinkably bad (for Apple) job of managing expectations. So I expect a movie viewing service.

A movie viewing service implies, to me, some sort of way of watching it on one's television. Steve Jobs is far too smart to believe that anything more than a fraction of consumers would care about watching movies on their computers. This implies some sort of living room device, either a wireless video streaming solution or some sort of computer-based solution. I'd bet on the former.

Many observers believe the iPod nano is due for a capacity increase. I agree. I think we'll see 6 or 8 gigabyte nanos tomorrow. No need to change the design itself -- it's still best-of-class.

I haven't heard much talk about the iPod shuffle, but I have a hunch that it's going away. Unlike the nano, the shuffle is no longer best-of-class. It needs to be updated to compete. Besides, simply adding more capacity would make the display-less shuffle even less usable than it is now. The question is, does Apple create something new to take its place, or simply lower prices on low-end nanos to take over its slot?

Will Apple finally announce a widescreen iPod tomorrow? I'm guessing they will. Their huge advantage in digital media is the iPod itself. If they announce a movie viewing service that isn't compatible with some version of the iPod, they'll be leaving their biggest asset to one side. Put another way, without iPod compatibility, what is Apple's strategic advantage in movie viewing vis-a-vis Amazon?

I'm guessing Apple won't announce the iPhone tomorrow. Every time I think about it, the only way the economics of an iPhone would work would be for Apple to become an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator, piggybacking on an existing carrier, like Virgin Mobile does). And it's hard to imagine Apple rolling out an MVNO tomorrow while keeping it a complete surprise. I suppose Apple could announce an iPhone for delivery three or four months from now, but I have trouble imagining Steve Jobs doing such a thing.

So, in summary:

  • Movie viewing service: near-certainty
  • TV video viewing device: near-certainty
  • iPod nano capacity increase: highly probable
  • iPod shuffle replacement: probable
  • Widescreen iPod: possible
  • iPhone: unlikely
Tune back in tomorrow afternoon to see how I did.

May 13, 2006

Back to the Future for E-Books?

Kevin Kelly has a long piece in The New York Times, "Scan This Book!", on the various efforts to digitize the world's book collection. He touches on the issue of how we'll read e-books, writing:

The least important, but most discussed, aspects of digital reading have been these contentious questions: Will we give up the highly evolved technology of ink on paper and instead read on cumbersome machines? Or will we keep reading our paperbacks on the beach? For now, the answer is yes to both. Yes, publishers have lost millions of dollars on the long-prophesied e-book revolution that never occurred, while the number of physical books sold in the world each year continues to grow. At the same time, there are already more than a half a billion PDF documents on the Web that people happily read on computers without printing them out, and still more people now spend hours watching movies on microscopic cellphone screens. The arsenal of our current display technology -- from handheld gizmos to large flat screens -- is already good enough to move books to their next stage of evolution: a full digital scan.
It's true that a variety of efforts to sell e-books (and, in some cases, devices to read them) have fallen flat. Why is this so? I think there have been at least two major contributing reasons:
  • Until the advent of the iTunes Music Store, most consumers didn't feel comfortable buying digital-only content.
  • Consumers have had two choices for reading e-books, both of which they rejected: PCs and dedicated e-book readers. PCs are ubiquitous, but who wants to be tied to a desktop computer to read, or to have to boot up a large, clunky, battery-hungry laptop? E-book readers were more convenient, but still too large and clunky, and consumers were expected to pay for a device to allow them to perform an activity (reading) they could do for free without it.
Will the time soon be right to relaunch the e-book experiment? I think it will be, for two reasons:
  • Having conditioned iPod owners to purchase music online, when Apple launched its video service last year, those same consumers picked it up immediately. Mainstream consumers are now comfortable with the idea of buying bits, as long as they feel they're buying from a vendor they can trust.
  • Consumers are now carrying around small, convenient, dedicated media playback devices by the millions. Sadly, the current iPod design is unsuitable for reading books, but a hypothetical widescreen iPod might be acceptable.
If Apple were to ship a widescreen iPod this year, and if its display size and quality made it suitable for comfortable e-book reading, could Apple successfully launch an e-book purchase service on the iTunes Music Store (which, by the way, I predict will soon be renamed the iTunes Media Store)? I think the answer is yes, Apple could. Would it be successful? My hunch is that it would, but in any case, I don't see any other company able to assemble the components of a successful e-book strategy as easily as Apple. If anyone can make e-books work in the short term, it's Apple. I'll be curious to see if they try.

March 27, 2006

Build It, Steve, and We Will Come

Via Mac Rumors, Smarthouse claims that Apple will launch a phone in the next few months:

Insiders at Taiwanese phone maker BenQ say that Apple procurement executives have been talking to various Taiwanese phone makers during the past few months in an effort to cut a manufacturing deal on an iPod Phone.

They say that Apple will launch an iPod with phone functions within the next few months. "An iPod phone is definitely coming. BenQ will not be making it as we are in competition with Apple however several of our suppliers have been approached to manufacture parts. Among manufacturers in Taiwan it is common knowledge. The issue for many is the availabilty of parts if the phone takes off" said the BenQ executive.

I pass this along because I heard the same rumor from a reliable source while I was in the Bay Area -- that Apple is working on a phone, that it will launch fairly soon, and most interestingly, that Apple will become its own MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), using Cingular's network.

This rumor makes sense to me. Apple wants -- no, needs, to stay competitive -- an iTunes-on-a-phone solution, and a real one, not the ROKR, crippled by an intersection of corporate concerns. (Cingular didn't want to undermine its $3-per-ringtone business; Apple didn't want to let users store unlimited songs on a device for which it received just a few dollars.) By becoming a manufacturer, Apple can build a phone with a hip design, just like an iPod, and sell it directly, keeping hundreds of dollars for itself, just like an iPod. By becoming an MVNO, Apple can allow users to download songs wirelessly -- unlike an iPod, which requires a Mac or PC to buy songs. As for using Cingular's network for its MVNO operations, this makes sense, too. Apple would want a global device, which would imply GSM. This rules out Verizon or Sprint.

The person from whom I heard this rumor and I talked about it, thought through the implications, and then both decided that yes, we could easily imagine ourselves switching to Apple for our cell phone service. I wouldn't care about the songs-on-the-phone bit; I already have multiple iPods. I'm assuming that Apple would create the hippest phone on the plane, the iPod nano of phones. Build it, Steve, and we will come.

March 10, 2006

Solving the Audio Re-Encoding Problem

John Ludwig has an entry on re-encoding his entire CD collection in lossless format. As I wrote in a comment:

I've put an immense amount of effort into my iTunes-based, AAC-encoded music collection. Part of this was reripping when I had gotten about halfway through my CDs and decided the evidence was good for switching from 160 kbit/s to 192 kbit/s. Another part of the effort has been in simply getting all the album and song titles right -- inconsistent capitalization and poor spelling on CDDB drive me crazy.

Given all that effort, I worry about the longevity of my library. Is 192 kbit/s AAC-encoded material going to seem reasonable to me in five years' time? Am I going to have to re-encode everything... and then re-reencode it?

After some thought, here's a specific feature request for Apple that I believe would solve this problem once and for all: provide the option for multiple representations of a given audio or video file. For example, I might like to store three different versions of a given song: one encoded using Apple Lossless for archiving purposes, one encoded as a 192 kbit/s AAC file for my iPod video, and one encoded as a 128 kbit/s (or even 96 kbit/s) AAC file for my iPod shuffle. Allow me to do this without having the song show up three times in my library. For +10 points extra credit, provide me with a simple method of specifying rules about what version to download to what device. For +25 points, enable me to rip CDs to Apple Lossless and then automatically generate alternate compressed versions. For +50 points, enable me to mass-delete and then re-generate alternate compressed versions from my entire library at once. For +100 points and a triple word score, hook this up to the iTunes Music Store so that I can optionally download lower- and/or higher-bitrate alternate compressed versions for purchased audio.

March 03, 2006

What's Wrong with Apple?

I'm not an Apple fanatic, but do qualify as a fan. My first Mac was the original 128K, bought in 1984. During Apple's long downward slide in the 1990s, I switched to Windows, both personally and professionally, but was never truly happy about it. I still have to use Windows at work, but I'm typing this entry on my iMac G5 at home. I have two iPods and are quite happy with them. I've admired how Steve Jobs and his team have turned around Apple since taking over, and I'm delighted that the industry once again has real competition, and that Microsoft doesn't rule every segment it enters.

All that said, I can't figure out what's going on with Apple the last couple of months. In January, they made their always-anticipated announcements at Macworld Expo. What did they show? A radio tuner for the iPod. Web-based photo publishing. iMacs with Intel processors. Renamed PowerBooks with Intel processors. Now, this month, they make another set of announcements, and what are they? A Mac mini with an Intel processor. An iPod speaker.

Moving the iMac and Mac mini over to Intel is all well and good, but in shipping them, Apple is simply doing what they said they would do when they announced their transition to Intel. The only "wow" factor is the schedule, but I think nearly everyone anticipated that Jobs was sandbagging when he first described the transition timeline. The radio tuner and speaker are simply Apple trying to grab more of the iPod accessories market, and while the tuner seems nice, the speaker is ugly enough that I never would have guessed it was from Apple. That leaves the MacBook Pro, which I blogged about earlier and found to be a disappointment: unknown Windows dual-boot capability, no two-button mouse for Windows, no breakthrough design feature, and an awful new name.

So what's wrong with Apple? After a series of hits, they're in some sort of product slump right now.

On the Mac side, it seems like the transition to Intel is sapping their ability to innovate -- as if moving to Intel is all they can manage, and so product innovation will have to wait until the transition is complete.

On the iPod side, it seems like they have hit the wall of what they can achieve without a dramatic shift in their model. Could Apple miniaturize beyond what they've done? No. The iPod nano is as small as it can be without becoming unusable. The iPod can't get any thinner without a battery breakthrough, and it can't get any shorter or narrower without making the screen too small. Could Apple offer a new model for paying for music? The only one that comes to mind is subscriptions, which they could offer, but it would be rightly perceived as a me-too move. No, where Apple has room to innovate with the iPod is in video. When they added video to the existing iPod, it was an evolutionary move -- same form factor, slightly larger screen, and adding music videos and television shows to the iTunes Music Store. The world is waiting for something dramatic and Apple has yet to deliver. Can they not make up their minds about a strategy? Can they not get the necessary partners to cooperate?

Whatever is happening, it needs to be fixed. Apple needs to resume innovating both the Mac and the iPod, and soon. Reading about their announcements earlier this week, some of the correspondents covering the event actually seemed disappointed to have made the trek to Cupertino for it. In the modern Steve Jobs era, until a couple of months ago, that would have been nearly unimaginable.

February 28, 2006

Lazy Me

In my previous entry, I wrote:

The next question is, will there be 50-500 million bloggers within another two years?
Of course, I could have taken 15 seconds to visit Technorati and see that it is currently tracking 29.1 million blogs. A year ago, the figure was 7.3 million blogs tracked, and a year before that, it was 2.0 million. A reasonable back-of-the-envelope estimate would be 250-500 million blogs within two years, unless the growth rate tapers off.

September 06, 2005

Apple's Announcements Tomorrow

The topic du jour seems to be speculation about what Apple will be announcing tomorrow. The pre-event frenzy has AAPL up nearly five percent today as I write this. Due to leaks from Motorola, it seems likely that an iTunes-compatible phone will be announced. So the question is, is that it?

Via Think Secret, The Wall Street Journal thinks it will be an iPod mini based on flash memory. Forbes says:

Jobs is famous for confounding and surprising folks, and could be debuting just about anything. The iTunes phone is virtually a lock, but also keep your eyes open for new flash-memory based iPod Minis, a phone-based version of the company's Web Safari browser, or even a video-capable iPod.
I've been to one of Steve Jobs' signature launch events, the public unveiling of NeXT at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco in 1988. As the "one last thing" at a Macworld keynote address, I can imagine an iTunes phone, or a flash-based iPod mini. But as the focus of an entire special-purpose event?

I don't know what Jobs has up his sleeve. But it's instructive to note just how often he zigs when everyone thinks he's going to zag. Back in the spring, pundits talked about music-by-subscription models, and video iPods, and instead he surprised everyone by building podcasting into iTunes, co-opting the entire podcasting phenomenon in one stroke. So the one thing I'm sure of is that he has some sort of surprise in store.

August 22, 2005

"Close to... Apple's iPod"

I've re-read a blog entry of mine from a few days ago and caught something interesting in a quote from it. It was on Microsoft's latest effort to convince the world they're going to gain share against Apple in digital music. Here's the relevant section:

"Come this fall there is going to be a number of devices that get close to competing with Apple's iPod," [Erik] Huggers [head of Microsoft's Digital Media Division] said yesterday in San Francisco. By the second quarter of next year, "There is going to be a whole lineup of products that can compete with Apple in industrial design, usability, functionality and features."
Let me see if I can't translate that:
"Windows Media-compatible digital audio players haven't been competitive with the iPod. We know that. And they won't be competitive with it this fall, though our partners will have closed some of the gap by then. But eight months from now? Then they'll be as good as the iPod."
This raises two obvious comments:
  1. Microsoft's partners have been at this for years and, by Microsoft's own admission, they still can't match the iPod?
  2. Microsoft itself is telling consumers that digital audio players compatible with its service won't be as good as the iPod for another eight months?
To paraphrase Zaphod Beeblebrox, ten out of ten for honesty, but minus several million for bad public relations strategy.

August 11, 2005

"One of the Business Deals of the Decade"

While I'm thinking of Robert Scoble, from an entry in his blog:

If I had my hands on Microsoft's cash, I'd be buying blog search, blogging and podcasting networks, a ping server or two, and Memeorandum. I would have bought Flickr too. I think that Yahoo's purchase of Flickr will turn out to be one of the business deals of the decade. I heard that was purchased for less than $20 million. Amazing since the market for digitial photography is much larger than the market for podcasting.
No comment on the purchase price, but I agree with Robert. When all is said and done, I believe that Yahoo is going to derive at least an order of magnitude in benefits from Flickr, and perhaps two orders.

I think I differ from Robert, though, in that he seems to imply that the benefit will be from giving Yahoo a digital photography play. I believe that the true benefit of the purchase will be in the Flickr people infecting Yahoo with their development philosophy memes. Imagine a company of the depth and breadth of Yahoo innovating company-wide like Flickr. It's staggering to consider.

Here We Go Again...

Is it me, or do we get this story every six months or so? From an article in the Seattle Times:

Microsoft said Apple Computer's best-selling iPod music player will face increased competition from new products in the end-of-year shopping season.

Microsoft is working with electronics makers including Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics and Creative Technology to design and test music players that rival iPod, said Erik Huggers, head of Microsoft's Digital Media Division.

"Come this fall there is going to be a number of devices that get close to competing with Apple's iPod," Huggers said yesterday in San Francisco. By the second quarter of next year, "There is going to be a whole lineup of products that can compete with Apple in industrial design, usability, functionality and features."

Right, we've heard this before, but here's the funny part (emphasis mine):

While Apple's iPod and iTunes music store work together easily, Microsoft has faced difficulty showing customers which of the many Windows-based players and music stores are compatible. A campaign called "PlaysForSure," to put a logo on devices that would show consumers what works together, hasn't helped because not all devices with the logo actually work with the promised services.

"We tend to call it 'PlaysForAlmostSure,'" [Jupiter analyst Michael] Gartenberg said. "Meanwhile, Apple's iPod and iTunes are dancing together like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers."

So let me get this right: "PlaysForSure" does not, in fact, mean that it plays for sure? If true, it's time for Robert Scoble to wander through Microsoft's digital media division with an iPod in one hand and a baseball bat in the other. Seriously.

I'm more than content with my iPod, and happy to see Apple getting the best of Microsoft for once, but as with operating systems, we need true, vigorous competition in digital media players to keep the pressure on Apple to continue innovating.

Oh, how the tables have turned.

April 24, 2005

Nikon on the NEF Controversy

So Nikon starts using a new image file format in which part of it is encrypted. Users notice and complain. Nikon responds, and as a marketing person, I don't know whether to be in awe or contempt of their attempt to clarify their position while saying absolutely nothing:

The Nikon D2X professional Digital Single Lens Reflex camera has received widely positive acclaim for its overall performance and image processing quality. Recently, speculative statements which appear to be based on misunderstandings and misinformation about the D2X camera's "encryption" of certain white balance data have propagated on the internet.

The purpose of this advisory is to clarify this matter with facts and explanations.

Excellent! We're all looking forward to it.

The Nikon D2X is capable of producing high quality images that can be saved in a variety of file formats, including the proprietary Nikon Electronic Format (NEF), standard TIFF and several levels of standard JPEG compressed files.
Okay, so NEF is proprietary. At least they've admitted to that.
The NEF, a Nikon proprietary raw file design, was introduced with the Nikon D1 Camera and Nikon's original Capture software. The combination of Nikon camera, in-camera image processing, NEF file format and in-computer image processing with original Nikon Capture software was developed as a system that faithfully saved image files that represent the camera settings made manually or automatically by the photographer at the time a picture was taken.
Isn't the point of any digital camera file format to faithfully save image files that represent the camera settings made by the photographer?
Nikon's preservation of its unique technology in the NEF file is employed as an action that protects the uniqueness of the file.
This sentence says nothing.
At the same time, Nikon makes available a software developer kit (SDK) that, when implemented appropriately, enables a wide range of NEF performance, including white balance, for Nikon photographers and their productive use of the NEF file.
Now we're getting to it. Nikon wants developers to license an SDK in order to be able to access certain information in the pictures that users create.
Since the inception of the system, Nikon has always provided photographers with choices about how they might use the system's performance and enjoy high quality images. Nikon’s choices for opening and processing NEF files have been and continue to include:

* Nikon Capture software
* Plug-in for Adobe’s Photoshop
* Nikon PictureProject software
* Nikon View software
* Availability of Nikon Software Developer Kit (SDK) and the software that has been developed using the SDK

Through use of the Nikon Software Developer Kit, authorized developers can produce software by applying creative concepts to their implementation and adding capabilities to open Nikon's NEF file and use NEF's embedded Instructions and Nikon's Libraries.

Was that last sentence actually written in Japan?

Nikon photographers reap benefits from independent developers' approaches, because it allows the photographer to open and process their NEF images.
As opposed to opening up the format, in which case independent developers couldn't open and process... uh, never mind.
After a developer's software is created using the Nikon SDK, a NEF file can be opened, edited in either TIFF or JPEG format, and then saved in formats available in the developers' software. This process has been available since the first Nikon SDK for NEF.
Wow! You mean if developers license your SDK, their software can open the photos I take? And then edit them? And then save them? Will the wonders never cease?
With each introduction of a new Nikon digital Single Lens Reflex model, Nikon updates the available SDK selection to provide new information; this is the situation with the D2X, D2Hs and D50 models. As stated above, application for the Nikon SDK is possible for bona fide software companies that send Nikon a written application for the SDK. Once approved, the SDK is provided to the developer at no charge and they are authorized to use it.
I love that term, "bona fide software companies". Open source developers and interested end-users need not apply.
Nikon has provided its confidential SDK software to many software developers. With the Nikon SDK, developers may design excellent and creative compatibility between the NEF and their software, all without compromising the integrity of the NEF's original concept, and ensuring that work done by the photographer during the picture taking process can be incorporated into the rendering of the image.
"...design excellent and creative compatibility"? I was joking above about this having been written in Japan. Now I'm not joking. I think it was, and I think that Nikon USA's PR people tried to edit it, but gave up when they couldn't understand what the hell headquarters was saying. "...without compromising the integrity of the NEF's original concept"? What exactly does that mean? How does it "compromise integrity" for software to directly read in a file?
The trilogy of performance, from Camera-to-NEF-to-Capture, has evolved though several generations of Nikon Digital SLR models, improving along the way. As a proprietary format, Nikon secures NEF's structure and processing through various technologies. Securing this structure is intended for the photographer's benefit, and dedicated to ensuring faithful reproduction of the photographer's creative intentions through consistent performance and rendition of the images. Discussions propagated on the internet suggesting otherwise are misinformed about the unique structure of NEF.
Oh, so it's for photographers' own good that Nikon won't let them read the data in their photographs? Good to know. Thanks, Nikon!
Nikon's Camera System, NEF and Capture software are a tightly knit system, and they are all developed through the cooperative efforts of Nikon's design teams, and this collaboration results in achieving the highest image quality.
Unlike those other digital camera vendors, who don't have proprietary formats, and so don't have "tightly knit" systems.
Nikon strives to provide photographers with excellent picture taking performance, compatible Nikon in-system image processing performance and by extension, compatibility with additional software developers' products, with the ultimate goal of delivering a high level of integrity for a photographer's creative vision.

Nikon continues to welcome dialogue with bona fide software developers.

Nikon to all non-developers: STFU.

The inimitable Jean-Louis Gassée used to call Microsoft's proprietary Office file formats (Word, Excel, etc.) "roach motels" -- "roaches go in," he'd say, "but they don't go out." In other words, once you start accumulating a library of data in one of these formats, it's very hard to walk away from Office. I don't know Nikon's true aims in creating a proprietary format. Perhaps they want to be able to revise it frequently without breaking compatibility. (Possible, but there have long existed methods of doing this with open formats.) Perhaps they have only the best intentions. But I think the Web community (if it's possible to say such a thing) now understands the roach motel concept, and though it's too late with regard to Office, we don't want to let it happen again.

I have (as I go to check) 5,960 digital photos that I've taken since 1998, and I'm now accumulating new images at the rate of 1,500-2,000 per year. I'll have these photos with me for the rest of my life, always in digital format. The thought that I might be dependent on a proprietary SDK to read some of the information in any of them is upsetting -- and in fact I do have a few photographs taken with the mechanically and optically excellent Nikon D70 camera we have at work. So the idea I had to buy my own digital SLR from Nikon is now out the window. I'll continue to live with my PowerShot SD300, perhaps upgrade to an SD500, and if I want a digital SLR, I'll take an extra-long look at Canon's models. Nikon will be off the list.

April 12, 2005

Multi-iPod Households

John Ludwig writes about the frustrations of a multi-iPod household:

And itunes really sucks at handling this. we like to keep all our music on one server and this just creates a legion of problems. Getting itunes on all machines to take notice of new music on the server. Sharing playlists across the network. Ratings collision -- we all have different ratings we want to maintain. And doing different loads of music onto each ipod.
I have some experience with this myself, though not with nearly as complex a setup as John has. I'd say that iTunes is actually reasonably good at allowing different loads of music on a per-iPod basis -- at least it seems that way to me. But after that, multi-user support degenerates quickly. Ratings collision is a big issue -- as noted, each user may have different ratings to maintain. And then there's the issue of playback frequency -- iTunes makes it easy to create Smart Playlists that key off frequency and last-played date, but with multiple users, this isn't really useful for any one person.

Apple, are you on top of this?

February 11, 2005

Music for France

I'm spending a week in France next month, and thought it might be a good idea to find some appropriate music to take along on my iPod -- something to listen to on the way over and while I'm there. As it happens, the Barnes and Noble I visited had an international music section, and within it, a small number of CDs devoted to France. Unfortunately, most of them were roughly of the "Maurice Chevalier sings about little girls" type, and though I don't have anything against Maurice Chevalier, that's not exactly what I had in mind. And that set me to wondering: are there French-language analogies to my favorite contemporary artists? Not the Barenaked Ladies -- foreign language humor would be lost on me. But who is the Sheryl Crow of France? The Dido? The Moby? Who is the Sting of France?

Okay, scratch that last one. The Sting of France is Sting. But the rest of the question still holds.

February 02, 2005

iPods at Microsoft

According to Wired, the dogs aren't eating the dog food at Microsoft:

To the growing frustration and annoyance of Microsoft's management, Apple Computer's iPod is wildly popular among Microsoft's workers.

"About 80 percent of Microsoft employees who have a portable music player have an iPod," said one source, a high-level manager who asked to remain anonymous. "It's pretty staggering."

The source estimated 80 percent of Microsoft employees have a music player -- that translates to 16,000 iPod users among the 25,000 who work at or near Microsoft's corporate campus. "This irks the management team no end," said the source.

So popular is the iPod, executives are increasingly sending out memos frowning on its use...

"These guys are really quite scared," said the source of Microsoft's management. "It shows how their backs are against the wall.... Even though it's Microsoft, no one is interested in what we have to offer, even our own employees."

I've had my two iPods -- a 60GB iPod photo that was my firm's holiday present to its employees and a 1GB iPod shuffle that I bought for myself -- for a week now, and I can understand why Microsoft employees would want iPods for themselves. More on my iPod experiences later...

January 23, 2005

The iPod as Fad

In a News.com story, Dell CEO Kevin Rollins tags the iPod as a fad:

"It's interesting the iPod has been out for three years and it's only this past year it's become a raging success," said Rollins, who is also Dell's president. "Well, those things that become fads rage, and then they drop off. When I was growing up there was a product made by Sony called the Sony Walkman -- a rage, everyone had to have one. Well, you don't hear about the Walkman anymore. I believe that one-product wonders come and go. You have to have sustainable business models, sustainable strategy."
Two obvious follow-up questions for Mr. Rollins:
  • You talk about the iPod as a "fad". If Dell's own portable digital digital audio players had the overwhelming market share of the iPod, would you be giving interviews to the press and talking about portable digital audio players as fads?
  • You imply strongly that the Sony Walkman was a "one-product wonder". Yet Sony sold, by one calculation, 340 million of them over the years, and the Walkman was so successful that the word itself was placed in the Oxford English Dictionary. Are you saying that Dell wouldn't like to have a Walkman-like business?

December 22, 2004

Jealousy Is So Unbecoming

From a New York Times story, "And Now for Something Slightly Different", on competitors to the iPod:

[Rio vice president for product marketing Dan] Torres said he was acutely aware of iPod's rounded rectangular styling and its display screen above a circular control dial, because that is how Rio's original player looked three years before the first iPod arrived.

"It's in Rio's genes to continue to push design," Mr. Torres said. "All of these things don't have to be boxes or look like bars of soap." Consumers will be drawn to designs and features that have their own appeal, he added, looks and functions that do not simply mimic the iPod's.

A hundred years from now, the iPod will be on display as an iconic example of early 21st century design, but to Rio, it's a bar of soap. And how is Rio's design strategy working for it?

It is hardly a secret that Apple's smart, sleek music players rule the market. Industry analysts estimate that more than 9 of every 10 high-capacity players sold in the United States are iPods.
Now, to be fair to Rio, if I were in Torres' shoes, I'd probably be saying something similar. But still... in press interviews, one wants to avoid appearing... how shall I say it? Ungracious?

May 20, 2004

iTMS MIAs

I've been taking note of artists whose works are mostly or completely missing on the iTunes Music Store, either because I've looked for them myself, or have seen references to their absence on the Web. This is what I've come up with so far:

  • The Beatles
  • Blondie
  • The Clash
  • Elvis Costello
  • Dave Matthews Band
  • Fine Young Cannibals
  • General Public
  • John Lennon
  • Paul McCartney
  • Metallica
  • Radiohead
  • Kid Rock
  • Steve Miller Band
  • Pete Townshend
  • XTC
Any additions to this? Any rumors as to when these artists will be added?

By the way, I'm relatively clueless when it comes to how music rights are licensed, and I've long since lost track of who owns what when it comes to the Beatles' music. Is its absence from iTMS related to the Apple Computer-Apple Corps dispute?

May 11, 2004

iTunes Criticisms

Alan Kay once famously called the Mac "the first PC good enough to criticiize." That's how I feel about iTunes and the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) -- the first music manager and service good enough to criticize. So, with a library of 1,590 songs, 105 of them purchased from iTMS, I have a few critcisms:

  • For music purchased via iTMS, a proprietary Apple database provides information such as album art, music style, issue dates, and the like. For music ripped from CDs, Apple uses IMDB CDDB. Apple's data is much better -- the typical IMDB CDDB entry has misspellings, incorrect dates, and always lacks album art. Why not use the iTMS database when it includes a ripped CD and use IMDB CDDB as a backup for CDs not available on iTMS? At a minimum, Apple could provide a "Lookup" button in the "Get Info" dialog that would attempt to look up information on iTMS for a song or a CD.
  • Apple divorces the concept of the currently selected song from the currently playing song. This is a good user interface decision, but it leads to one unfortunate problem: since the "Show Song Artwork" panel displays only the currently selected song, but the selection doesn't change when advancing between songs, there's no way to always see the album art for the currently playing song.
  • Apple doesn't offer the ability to re-download purchased music -- one download is all one gets. I'd guess their argument for this policy goes something like this:
    1. You don't get new CDs free if you lose them.
    2. This would be expensive to offer.
    3. If we enabled this, it would encourage piracy.
    In order:
    1. No, you don't, but digital objects are far more easily lost than their physical counterparts -- all it takes is a hard disk crash, or forgetting to copy them during a reformat, or the like. Most vendors of digital data recognize this by either a) offering purchasers the ability to re-download data or b) allowing the data to be downloaded freely and allowing users to unlock it (and resending them the unlock key upon request).
    2. How expensive could it be? The average size of songs I've purchased via iTMS is 4 MB each -- probably less than 1 cent of bandwidth.
    3. Re-downloads would be governed by Apple's FairPlay DRM system just like original downloads, and would be governed by the same rules (play on up to five computers, burn the same playlist up to seven times).
  • The Mini Player needs beefing up. First, a button to invoke should be available in the main window. Second, an option should be provided to enable it to stay on top of all other windows. Third, if the user wants to make it larger, why not provide more information? Mini-visualizations, song artwork, and other data could be displayed if the user wants to grow the window large enough to do so.
Incidentally, of the 105 songs I've purchased, I'd estimate that I paid for about 98 of them or so (afte subtracting songs offered at no charge and promotions like those from Pepsi and Ben & Jerry's). That's an average of 22 songs per month. I wonder how that statistic compares to the average iTMS user?

March 05, 2004

Capitalization for Song Titles

This will undoubtedly seem seriously geeky, but here goes: a page detailed capitalization rules for song titles:

  1. The first and last words are always capitalized, and all except the words listed below are capitalized.

  2. These are lower-case, unless they are the first word or last word.
    • articles: a, an, the
    • conjunctions: and, but, or, nor
    • prepositions that are less than five letters long: at, by for, from, in, into, of, off, on, onto, out, over, to, up, with
    • as (only if it is followed by a noun)

[...]

The lack of consistency in Gracenote's CDDB database (used by iTunes for CD information) can be frustrating at times -- it's as if most people have never heard of these guidelines. This makes for a good deal of work when ripping CDs.

Apple could help address this problem by first checking to see if they have a CD in the iTunes Music Store, and if so, using their titles and other extended information, which aren't always perfect, but which are nearly always in better shape than CDDB.

March 02, 2004

Napster v. Apple

Via Slashdot, a Business Week story on Napster's market position and strategy:

The cat in the Napster logo hasn't run out of lives just yet. It sells far fewer songs at its online store than Apple, which sells roughly 75% of the 3 million songs that are sold online each week. But [Roxio CEO Christopher] Gorog points out that based on the latest weekly data from Neilsen [sic] SoundScan, Napster's share equals all other rivals combined, including services from Wal-Mart, MusicMatch, and Best Buy. He says the data show that Napster 2.0 is holding its No. 2 position against Apple in this music-download business.
If the numbers quoted are correct, then Apple has a 75 percent market share, Napster 12.5 percent, and everyone else 12 percent. And Roxio is boasting about this?
Napster could start to increase market share in the more profitable business of selling monthly subscriptions, where customers can listen to -- but not own -- as many songs as they want each month for $9.95. While Napster is far behind RealNetworks' Rhapsody service, AOL's MusicNet, and others, it's taking the lead again in the old Napster's stomping ground: college campuses.
In the comments on the Slashdot story, there's a wonderful analysis of the subscription music model:
What does on-demand get you, really? It depends on your listening habits. Let's say you are starting from a blank slate, and have no music.

After three years of subscribing to Napster, you are still no better off than you were when you first started. You have paid out $360.

If you had spent this money with Apple, you'd have 360 songs on your hard drive, that would be in a lossy format, but otherwise yours to do with as you please.

If you had spent this money on CDs, you'd have around 25 albums, or approximately 300 songs. These songs would be completely unrestricted in what you could do with them, be in a non-lossy format, and able to be stored in a reasonably secure manner.

With the case of Napster, you end up with nothing, and they could go out of business at any time. However, you get to hear a wide variety of songs.

With the case of Apple, you end up with a lower-quality format than CDs, but you get the files to keep. You start out with a small selection of songs, but it widens each time you spend money. If your hard drive crashes, you've lost them all, unless you back up. If you back them up to CD, you should be aware that CDRs have a dramatically lower life than silver CDs.

With the case of CDs, you keep a high-quality copy of the songs that belong to you, they last much longer than CDRs, and are less susceptible to scratches/sulight/etc. However, you have to go outdoors to buy them, or wait for them to be delivered. There is the same problem as Apple, in that you start of with a limited selection of songs, but this constantly grows.

So basically, if you only listen to a few albums at a time, and you want to own your music collection, then Napster is right out. Apple is cheaper, but CDs have significant benefits. Apple is more suited to the impulse buy than CDs (when you are sitting in front of your computer, of course).

I think this analysis is very nearly spot-on, though it misses one advantage of Apple's approach: the fact that you pick each of the 360 songs you buy. That makes their entertainment value far higher than 300 songs taken from CDs, unless you buy only CDs for which you specifically want to listen to every single song (which seems unlikely).

I'm not a wild-eyed iTunes booster. I don't like the fact that they only allow one download of each purchased song -- it would be easy enough for them to give people two or three lifetime downloads (in case of data loss), or a recovery plan (say, $9.99 to re-download every song you've ever bought). I don't like the fact that they offer some albums for sale despite not having every track available for purchase -- this defeats the iTunes concept of only buying the songs you really want. I don't think Apple has done a good enough job of reaching out to the rest of the world to evangelize its hardware -- the HP deal is fine, but what I really want to see are auto and home stereo systems with iPod docking slots.

But I think that Apple has done a phenomenal job of creating the online music market, and I hope they're able to maintain their market-leading position -- it would be sad indeed if Microsoft were once again able to leverage its market share in operating systems to dominate another new arena.

February 16, 2004

Safire on Media Consolidation

In today's New York Times, William Safire makes a plaintive cry to stop the consolidation of mass media:

If one huge corporation controlled both the production and the dissemination of most of our news and entertainment, couldn't it rule the world?

Can't happen here, you say; America is the land of competition that generates new technology to ensure a diversity of voices. But consider how a supine Congress and a feckless majority of the Federal Communications Commission have been failing to protect our access to a variety of news, views and entertainment.

The media giant known as Viacom-CBS-MTV just showed us how it controls both content and communication of the sexiest Super Bowl. The five other big sisters that now bestride the world are (1) Murdoch-FoxTV-HarperCollins-WeeklyStandard-NewYorkPost-LondonTimes-DirecTV; (2) G.E.-NBC-Universal-Vivendi; (3) Time-Warner-CNN-AOL; (4) Disney-ABC-ESPN; and (5) the biggest cable company, Comcast...

Comcast has just bid to take over Disney... If the $50 billion deal is successful, the six giants would shrink to five, with Disney-Comcast becoming the biggest.

Would Rupert Murdoch stand for being merely No. 2? Not on your life. He would take over a competitor, perhaps the Time-Warner-CNN-AOL combine, making him biggest again. Meanwhile, cash-rich Microsoft -- which already owns 7 percent of Comcast and is a partner of G.E.'s MSNBC -- would swallow both Disney-ABC and G.E.-NBC. Then there would be three, on the way to one.

You say the U.S. government would never allow that? The Horatius lollygagging at the bridge is the F.C.C.'s Michael Powell, who never met a merger he didn't like. Cowering next to him is General Roundheels at the Bush Justice Department's Pro-Trust Division, which last year waved through Murdoch's takeover of DirecTV...

But what of the Senate, guardian of free speech? There was Powell last week before Chairman John McCain's Commerce Committee, currying favor with cultural conservatives by pretending to be outraged over Janet Jackson's "costume reveal." The F.C.C. chairman, looking stern, pledged "ruthless and rigorous scrutiny" of any Comcast bid to merge Disney-ABC-ESPN into a huge DisCast. Media giants -- always willing to agree to cosmetic "restrictions" on their way to amalgamation -- chuckled at the notion of a "ruthless Mike." ...

[T]he message in this latest potential merger is not about a clash of media megalomaniacs, nor about a conspiracy driven by "special interests." The issue is this: As technology changes, how do we better protect the competition that keeps us free and different?

You don't have to be a populist to want to stop this rush by ever-fewer entities to dominate both the content and the conduit of what we see and hear and write and say.

While politicians and pundits are falling over themselves to express outrage at Janet Jackson's brief nudity -- which occurred, by the way, during the midst of a halftime show that featured those paragons of virtue Nelly and P. Diddy, and which took place during a game in which we had commercials featuring horse flatulence, erectile dysfunction, and crotch-biting dogs -- this is the real story, the consolidation of American media.

I tend to disbelieve in conspiracies, but it's almost enough to make me wonder: could the Jackson-Timberlake scandal have been bread and circuses for the masses, distracting everyone from the monopolization of media?

January 29, 2004

A 3-D Imax Super Bowl

This is pretty cool. NFL Films and a production company called Cobalt Entertainment are going to be capturing Super Bowl XXXVIII in 3-D for viewing in Imax theaters next year:

NFL Films, a part of the National Football League, has been gathering awards for its cinematography since the 1960's. But in repeated discussions since the early 1990's about shooting in Imax format or with various 3-D systems, the company had always said no. Among other issues, the cameras were too bulky to get close to the field without possibly hurting a player, and without compromising the cinematic intimacy that has long been a hallmark of NFL Films.

"These sorts of projects have been pitched to us for 10 years, but the equipment was never there," Steve Sabol, the president of NFL Films, said in a telephone interview. "It was big and bulky and it was dangerous to put on the sidelines. It was cost-prohibitive, too."

"But the technology has gotten to the point now where we feel we can give this a shot, and it's exciting to do things that have never been done before," he added. " ...

The plan is to use the scenes shot [at the NFC Championship game in] Philadelphia and Houston to make a short trailer or preview...

NFL Films hopes that the league will use the trailer over the summer to interest corporate sponsors and mainstream film studios in the project, with an eye toward shooting a feature-length 3-D Imax film over the course of next season. Such a film could be released around the start of the 2005 season.

I'd like to be on the sidelines for an NFL game someday. Pending that, this sounds like the next best thing.

Also note that the Carolina Panthers will appear in all the shots in the trailer, since they played in the NFC Championship and moved on to the Super Bowl. That worked out nicely!

July 25, 2003

Cringely Goes Off the Deep End

Via Slashdot and boing boing, Robert X. Cringely's latest idea:

Without having been truly tested, so far I have yet to find a lawyer who sees a serious flaw in my logic...

I call my idea Son of Napster, or Snapster for short...

Snapster is all about ownership. Snapster will be a company that buys at retail one copy of every CD on the market... Snapster will also be a download service with central servers capable of millions of transactions per day...

Snapster has to be a public company. It would have its IPO as soon as possible after all those CDs have been delivered. It must be a public company right from the start of operations... What is critical here for the business success is not the price per share but the broadest possible ownership of shares...

Each Snapster share carries ownership rights to those 100,000 CDs. You see, Snapster is a kind of mutual fund, so every investor is a beneficial owner of all 100,000 CDs. Each share also carries the right to download backup or media-shifting copies for $0.05 per song or $0.50 per CD, that download coming from a separate company we'll call Snapster Download that is 100 percent owned by Snapster...

What I have described is legal, it just leverages technology in a way that has never been done before. There are precedents for group ownership of recordings and certainly the law of mutual funds is very clear. Of course, the RIAA will have a response. They will file suit, probably claiming restraint of trade, but this simply will not stand and it is impossible to believe they could get any form of retraining order. Still, Snapster must have funds to support a vigorous defense -- a defense that has been planned well in advance. The RIAA will also try to have laws passed making Snapster illegal, so an anti-RIAA lobbying effort would also be a good idea.

Either this is an April Fool's joke that's off by a season, or it's the dumbest idea I've ever heard from a high-profile technology columnist.

If Cringely's theory were correct, then corporations could buy one copy each of Microsoft Windows, Adobe Photoshop, or any other copyrighted software title, then load them on a server and allow all their employees to "download backup or media-shifting copies" at will. The answer is that they can't, because to do so wouldn't be fair use, it would be outright theft. No judge in this country would allow a service like this to go forward. Though he writes, "it is impossible to believe [the RIAA] could get any form of retraining [sic] order," a restraining order is exactly what any judge would be legally compelled to provide.

As a Slashdot commentator wrote:

"Would it replace a sale" is a shorthand way of saying, "would you normally need to buy it to do what you're doing?" The relevant law is 17 U.S.C. 107 [cornell.edu], "Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use":
In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include...

(4)

the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

I'd say his idea is a slam dunk not-fair-use under section four, as (he freely admits) it would "destroy the potential market for...the copyrighted work." Not fair use, not legal, not a good business idea.
The truly frightening thing to me is Cringely's statement, "I have yet to find a lawyer who sees a serious flaw in my logic." What? Is he serious? If so, I'd like a list of these lawyers published so that I can make sure to never, ever retain them.

June 08, 2003

iTunes Music Store Details Leaked

According to the BBC, details leaked from a private briefing give a better picture of Apple's iTunes Music Store strategy and performance to date:

According to notes published on the web, Apple has sold 3.5 million songs since it launched its iTunes music store at the end of April.

The computer manufacturer is selling about 500,000 songs a week and about half of those are sold as albums, allaying fears that people would choose individual tracks instead of a whole record...

The store offers an opportunity to sample 30 seconds of a track before you buy. The notes say that people tend to listen to 10 previews for every song they buy.

And most people seem happy to store their credit card details on the iTunes store. Some 90% of sales are one-click downloads, which means a credit card is automatically charged when a track is bought.

One has to like Apple's legal strategy:

The notes also provide an insight into how Apple deals with record industry.

It treats everyone the same way, rather than giving preferential treatment to the major labels with the big stars.

The independent music representatives were told they would be offered the same terms as bigger labels and have the same team looking after their tracks.

According to the notes, Mr Jobs said: "We have to be more efficient, though. We're not going to deal with 200 lawyers.

"Everyone is going to get the exact same deal. It's not negotiable. It's take it or leave it."

As I wrote before, consumer acceptance of the iTunes Music Store demonstrates that when you don't treat your customers as children or thieves, they respond accordingly. This latest news tells us that when presented with a simple business model that respects the rights of both customers and artists, the artists and their representatives also respond accordingly.

May 28, 2003

Red vs Blue

Via boing boing, Red vs Blue, a tremendously funny set of short videos made using Halo.

Someone in Hollywood needs to give these guys a deal. Their work is funnier than about 90 percent of what passes for humor on television these days.

In fact, I predict that by the time the creative team has finished the final episode of their planned 26, they'll have some sort of development deal with a television network or movie studio.

May 22, 2003

WSJ: iTunes Music Store = Crack

From an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal:

I had never downloaded music from Napster or other Internet services before, because it was against the law and seemed complicated. Apple has solved both those problems with iTunes. For now it's available only to Macintosh users, but it's invading a PC near you by year-end. Armed with nothing more than a high-speed modem and a hideously large credit limit, you can log on to the iTunes Music Store and enslave yourself to the 200,000 available songs, all there for the grabbing at 99 cents a pop (or pop hit). Plunk down a buck, download a song in 10 seconds flat, then sit back and enjoy.

It sounds so simple, doesn't it? So did crack cocaine. The analogies are eerie -- both involve a pipe (in Apple's case, a broadband pipe), both are cheap, and both offer instant gratification. And both, unfortunately, can cause seemingly normal people to become unhinged.

When I worked at QDesign, a digital audio technology company, we spent a lot of time talking with people in the recording industry. Surprisingly, many of them understood that the "music that goes away when you stop paying subscription fees" model was doomed to failure. It was, however, the best they thought they could do. Obviously Apple could do better.

In the QDesign days, I would talk to people who had large collections of MP3 tracks from Napster, asking them if they'd pay a dollar a track if they could buy them from a legitimate source. The answer was nearly always yes.

The iTunes Music Store demonstrates that when you don't treat your customers as children or thieves, they respond accordingly.

April 30, 2003

Oh, Those Tricky DMCA Advocates

Via boing boing, Larry Lessig reports on an attempt to make the DMCA effectively irrevocable:

The US Trade Representative is negotiating trade agreements with Chile and Singapore. The agreements essentially require these two countries to adopt the DMCA, and make it a violation of "our international obligations" if we were to change the DMCA. Representatives Lofgren and Boucher -- who both have bills introduced to amend the DMCA -- have written a strongly worded letter to the USTR asking for clarification. For consistent with this policy making process, just what is being promised is never made clear until it is too late.
Lessig's entry can be found here. The letter to the USTR can be found here.

April 25, 2003

WSJ on Jobs

The Wall Street Journal has an article today on Steve Jobs' efforts to transform Apple into a digital entertainment company:

About a month ago, Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple Computer Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios, made a plea to Irving Azoff, the manager of the rock group the Eagles.

According to Mr. Azoff, Mr. Jobs called to ask that music by the Eagles be included in a new online music service that Apple is launching on Monday. "Please, please, please clear this," Mr. Jobs said, knowing the Eagles in the past have blocked the use of their songs on digital-music services. Mr. Jobs even offered to personally demonstrate the service for Mr. Azoff and to make his case directly to Eagles singer Don Henley.

Scheduling conflicts prevented the personal visits, but the entreaty worked. Earlier this week, the Eagles and AOL Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Music struck a deal, allowing most of the band's music to be used by Apple's service. "I've said 'no' to all of them," Mr. Azoff says of other music services. "But I don't like their services, and I liked [Apple's] product." ...

Now, the latest piece of Mr. Jobs's digital entertainment efforts -- the online-music service it expects to announce Monday -- is reaching fruition. Mr. Jobs has long criticized other online-music services as difficult to use. Apple's approach, say people who have seen it and spoken to Mr. Jobs, is to make delivery of online music easy and intuitive.

Several months ago, Mr. Jobs began a campaign to persuade record labels to let him use their music...

He impressed music-industry executives with his intricate knowledge of the new service, say people who have met with him. In some meetings, he sat at the computer himself to demonstrate. With his trademark confidence, he has asserted Apple will transform the online-music business, claiming that consumers will pay to download millions of songs in just a few months. And he has promised Apple's marketing machine will swing into action behind the music initiative, with an ad blitz similar to Apple's "Think Different" and "Switch" campaigns.

Mr. Jobs hopes to create a new model for online music, a business that so far has only been able to draw large numbers of customers seeking free tunes on Napster and other renegade file-swapping services...

According to people who have met with Mr. Jobs, the new service is integrated with Apple's iTunes software. Only Apple customers can use it, but that may change. The service requires a mouse click to buy songs and additional simple steps to move them to a CD or an iPod. Apple will charge 99 cents per song and sell albums for around $10, they say. Users will get to keep the songs permanently.

Perhaps most important, Mr. Jobs has convinced record executives he's willing to end his provocative dance with digital piracy, symbolized by the slogan "Rip. Mix. Burn." That tag created a furor among entertainment executives, including Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who publicly complained that it amounted to an invitation to steal copyrighted material. While Mr. Jobs has told music officials that he believes any protection is ultimately vulnerable to hackers, he has promised the new service will put up barriers to "keep honest people honest."

For one, music bought through Apple's service will be protected so that it will be more difficult to use an iPod to transfer songs from one computer to another. Users also won't be able easily to e-mail copies of their purchases, or transfer them to the computers of friends. (However, a customer will be able to play the songs on up to three Macintosh computers that he or she designates, as well as an unlimited number of personal iPods registered to him or her.)

In addition to the Eagles, Mr. Jobs has signed up the hot band No Doubt, and other artists who haven't yet allowed their songs to be offered by legitimate online companies. The new service is expected to have an "exclusives" area for music not available elsewhere.

Apple may still be overshadowed by the competing services owned by the record labels and by Listen.com Inc.'s Rhapsody, which recently agreed to be acquired by the software company RealNetworks Inc. "Apple has their core market of 3% to 5%" of computer users, says Rob Glaser, chief executive of RealNetworks. "I guess we'll have to settle for the other 95%."

Though his sound bite is a good one, Glaser is being disingenuous.

First, Apple owners are typically digital media users who are far more likely to use an online music service than the general population of PC owners.

Second, there's nothing to prevent Jobs from moving his service to PCs. Goodness knows I'd rather use software from Apple than the spamware that RealNetworks makes.

Third, Apple's music service will undoubtedly push some fence-sitters over the edge and into the Macintosh camp. Every such convert represents not only a monthly revenue stream from music purchases, but margins of hundreds of dollars on the sale of a new computer.

I must admit that I was down on Jobs when he took over Apple. I was at Be at the time, and we used to joke about how he had engineered a deal in which Gil Amelio paid Jobs $430 million to fire him, and how he was innovating in new colors for computer cases. But he has performed brilliantly as Apple's CEO. It would be foolish to assume that his foray into online music would be anything other than a success.

April 21, 2003

The Psychology of TiVo

Via the New York Times, an article on rabid fans of TiVo:

Not since the PalmPilot debuted in 1996 has a new electronic contraption sparked a cultlike following and so many zealous proselytizers...

Press a button, and TiVo will record every episode of "Six Feet Under," or any other show, for a season. TiVo viewers can pause when the phone rings, or speed through the boring parts. By fast-forwarding through commercials and those dull conferences at the mound, a TiVo viewer can watch a baseball game in 40 minutes without missing a pitch. Sit-coms take about 22 minutes. "Saturday Night Live" and "60 Minutes" can be viewed back to back -- on Monday.

Like early adopters of cellphones and the Internet, the first wave of users of personal video recorders swear that the devices have fundamentally altered their lives -- changing domestic routines, making it possible to live a life free of commercial interruptions and even providing the satisfaction of a rebellion against network goliaths.

The devices also make it easier to watch a lot more TV. Studies by Next Research, a media consulting firm, show that TiVo users watch an average of five to six additional hours of television per week, the company said.

"You justify it because it's more efficient," said Elise Loehnen, 23, an editorial assistant at Lucky magazine. "It means you're late going to the gym and that when you're home, you're not reading."

As a TiVo owner, I can attest to the truth of this. I feel like I'm beating the system somehow -- that by skipping commercials and not being tied to a schedule, I'm getting by with something. I feel like I'm being more efficient. But I'm also watching things I wouldn't have otherwise. I'm spending more time in front of the television.

I suppose that while the good news is that with TiVo, there's always something on that you want to watch, the bad news is that with TiVo, there's always something on that you want to watch.

March 14, 2003

More Brain Rewiring

Replying to my blog entry on how TiVo has rewired my brain, Michael Morrissey wrote:

Ha! I had some very similar experiences a couple of years ago. I'd picked up a Tivo and subscribed to cable tv so I could watch the Tour de France, and suddenly I found myself a slave to Tivo. (That's another story.) But, I found, after a few months, that I started thinking -- just for a split-second each time -- that I could rewind *everything*. It first happened when I was watching a movie in a movie theater, it happened several times when I was listening to the radio, and it happened once when I was driving. It's interesting to note that both you and I thought "rewind," and not, "Wait, what just happened?".

I think that people are especially susceptible to this while driving, since driving in a modern car is increasingly like watching TV or playing a video game -- you're almost completely divorced from the physical act of driving, so it's easy to start thinking the windshield is just a big TV screen.

On the rewiring of our brains by electronics other than digital video recorders, joe holt wrote:

I had a phone conversation recently which I ended by pressing '3' to delete.
I'm interested in collecting more examples of this sort of thing. If you have any, feel free to e-mail me.

March 13, 2003

TiVo Rewires My Brain

This is going to sound drawn-out, but in real time the entire sequence lasted two or three seconds.

While driving down the freeway yesterday, a cigarette butt flew from the car in front of me to the road below. As I glanced at it, another cigarette butt hit the road ahead of it. I looked up at the car, wondering if there were two people both discarding their cigarettes at the same time, and I swear to God, I thought "rewind," in the TiVo sense of hitting the back button to rewind 10 seconds. I wasn't consciously thinking of TiVo in any way -- I just instinctively reacted by wanting to go back 10 seconds, because I'm so used to doing it with television now.

I find it fascinating and a little scary that a consumer electronics device has rewired my brain like this.