the iPhone is NOT a netbook, Mr. Jobs

Steve Jobs confirmed what I have long suspected: he has no clue at all what a typical consumer’s usage-model is for their personal computers:

A recurring question among Apple watchers for decades has been, “When is Apple going to introduce a low-cost computer?

Mr. Jobs answered that decades-old complaint by stating, “We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk.” He argued instead that the company’s mission was to add more value for customers at current price points.

However, he gave a more nuanced answer to the question of whether Apple plans to jump into the “nascent” market for netbooks, essentially restating his comments on the question from last week at the Macbook introduction in Cupertino by saying the company was taking a wait-and-see attitude.

At the same time, he noted that the company already had a powerful entry in the category: the iPhone. (By that standard, Apple is already the dominant netbook manufacturer by orders of magnitude.)

The idea that the iPhone – sexy and cool as it is – is equivalent to a netbook is laughable. But what’s the real implication of Job’s comment? Is the iPhone a computer? If it’s a netbook, then yes, but it’s also sub-$500 in cost and therefore by Jobs’ own standard, “a piece of junk”. If the iPhone is not a computer, but a phone, then how can it be a netbook?

What IS a netbook? In essence, a small but full-fledged computer, weighing 3lbs or less, with full wireless capabilities and a real, physical keyboard. The gold standard is the Asus EEE, which has the added feature of a solid-state drive, which in my opinion is the must-have feature that provides power economy for all-day computing as well as boosted performance. The key however is that the netbook must be fully-functional, ie it should be able to run any software that the user desires. This idea behind a netbook is to be able to connect and compute anywhere. Since the iPhone is a locked-down device which only runs permitted applications, it can not and never be a true computing replacement. On my EEE, I can run MATLAB for scientific calculations, write a paper in Microsoft Word, edit my website templates, pay my bills, and even do an impromptu podcast. On the iPhone, you can only do what the pre-approved apps in the Apple software store permit you to do.

Now, it must be noted that Google’s Android platform – which is now officially open-source – does provide full-functionality computing. The only difference between an Android phone and a netbook will be the keyboard, and it’s not hard to imagine a simple keyboard-cum-case being developed that slots the phone in if you really need traditional typing ergonomics. Apple makes a nice device but it’s way out of its league here in even comprehending why netbooks matter, let alone it’s absurd claim to already be making them. Nice phone, though.

Calvin and Jobs

Hobbes has been replaced by Steve Jobs:

Brilliant. I especially love how Jobbes turns into a stuffed toy when the parents or others are around. The artwork is perfect, but the comic has a sharp edge, too:

Calvin: Jeez! How come all your stuff so expensive, Jobs?
Jobs: Well, Calvin, it’s carefully put together by some of the world’s most ingenious craftsmen!
Calvin: Really? But isn’t it slapped together in China like just about everything else?
Jobs: I was talking about our ads.

Somehow I don’t think Bill Watterson is going to be as tolerant of this as Jim Davis was with Garfield Minus Garfield… speaking of the latter, travors just signed a book deal with Davis’ blessing.

two sticks and an apple

I’m Mac curious.

And while I’m not losing any sleep over how the hair on my head can be fuller with iTonic, which mammals will start flying first, or any other airy announcements likely to come tomorrow, I’m excited nonetheless. Not fan-blind giddy, but excited enough to add a couple extra feeds to my RSS reader.

You see, my first computer was an Apple //c, complete with green monitor, external hard disk drive, and mouse. That Apple was where I first started playing games like the Ultima series and to see it evolve from Ultima to Ultima V, all on the same hardware, was impressive indeed. A recent PC of mine which could play Baldur’s Gate was crippled in spades by it’s sequel. I couldn’t even cast magic missle without the game grinding to a halt. I couldn’t hope to cast something like Vas Flam. But I realise it’s unfair to compare the technological achievements within the Ultima series to the Baldur’s Gate series. Anyway, I digress.

Lately I’ve been hankering to give Macs a try. I’ll admit the main reason is because they look so nice but even the crappiest one is better than my current Vaio. I don’t have any illusion that a Mac will make me more creative, give me chunky framed glasses, or multiply the sweater vests in my wardrobe. In fact, if anything, I have no idea what would be gained by owning a Macbook other than receiving knowing looks in Starbucks.

But I still want one.

I give up

I tried to use the Netflix live-movie streaming service to watch Ghost in the Shell:Stand Alone Complex and was rewarded for it with this:

netflix denied

that was after I was told that Firefox was incompatible, then asked by Internet Explorer to download three things and install two others, and after jumpin through all those hoops, got various “you do not have permissions to access this content” dialog boxes. The coup de grace was the message aboveApple is headed down the same bogus road:

Sources say Apple plans to charge $3.99 a pop for 24-hour rentals. Since Apple may agree to pay closer to the $17 wholesale price paid by other retailers, it’s unclear whether iTunes might boost the price or take a small loss to help drive sales of Apple TV boxes and video iPod players.

Apple’s movie download service is going to crash and burn, and leave a bigger smoking crater than Circuit City’s ill-fated DivX did a few years back. Four bucks for 24 hour rentals?

The first company to let you click one button and download a movie – no frills, no subtitles, no disc extras, just the movie – directly to your DVD burner and stick that in your home theater DVD player is going to mint money, for themselves and for the movie studios. And yeah I’d pay five bucks a pop for that, and I’d ditch Netflix too.

Unfortunately it only took the music companies 20 years or so to figure out that DRM was Dumb Retail Marketing. Maybe we have to wait another 20 years for the movie studios to figure that out. By which time the whole concept of physical media will be obsolete anyway.

the DRM drama, act VII


In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

The industry’s lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are “unauthorized copies” of copyrighted recordings.


In 2007, 83.9 million albums were sold, down 21.4 million from last year. A 20 percent drop in sales is more than a blip; it’s serious trouble.

The industry has been under pressure for years, of course. Back in August, we took a detailed look at trends in the movie, music, and video game businesses and noted that RIAA companies have seen sales drop by 11.6 percent between 2002 and 2006, even as movies hold steady and games are showing sales increases.


the Warner Music Group said on Thursday that it would sell songs and albums without anticopying software through Amazon’s fledgling digital music service. […] Warner is the third of the four major music corporations to reconsider its use of so-called digital rights management software, known by its initials as D.R.M., and offer its catalog in the unrestricted MP3 format. […] EMI Group broke ranks with the other major labels and agreed to sell unprotected music through iTunes in April.

Now, some music executives are privately backing the idea of dropping the software from music sold through virtually every service except iTunes, in order to strengthen Apple’s rivals and potentially diminish Mr. Jobs’s advantage. The major labels have been upset with Apple’s inflexibility on music pricing, among other issues.

Warner’s move comes roughly four months after the industry’s biggest company, Universal Music Group, part of Vivendi, said it would sell music without restrictions through an array of services, including digital stores run by Wal-Mart, Real Networks and Amazon, but not iTunes.


Apple and Fox have indeed (finally) agreed on an iTunes movie deal, and while details are admittedly scant at the moment, chances are Stevie J. will get to the nitty gritty come Macworld. What we do know, however, is that the alleged partnership will enable iTunes users to rent new Fox DVD releases and keep them around “for a limited time,” though pricing figures weren’t speculated upon. Additionally, it sounds like Fox will be spreading its digital file inclusion from select titles to all flicks, giving DVD purchasers a FairPlay protected file that can easily be transferred (read: without third-party transcoding software) to a computer and / or iPod for later viewing.

Apple is betting on the wrong horse here. I’m coming around to the view that Steve Jobs’ famous anti-DRM letter was just a negotiating tactic and didn’t represent any genuine pro-fair-use sentiment.

the Redwood in their eyes

Brian approvingly quotes Evariste’s sneering disdain for Microsoft’s Zune campaign:

This is sooo pathetic. Can you bear it? It’s unbearable. The contempt oozing from every pore of Microsoft for their customers, that not only would the marketing team think of this, but that Gates would approve the idea. “Sure, go ahead and put a fake profile of me on Zune Social, and have me pretend I like whatever…horrible bands you think the kids are into these days.” Authenticity? Not in Microsoft’s DNA, I guess. How can anyone participate in such dishonest fakery and feel good about themselves? For crying out loud.

The supreme irony of Apple/Jobs diehards lambasting Microsoft/Gates for contempt of their userbase aside, what is the obsession with the Zune that I’m seeing here and elsewhere among the iPod faithful? The truth is, the first iteration of the Zune sucked, but the new ones don’t look all that bad. And the changes are driven by user feature requests. Let’s not weep for the early adopters; they are few and have willingly chosen their path, and the software upgrades aren’t bad either.

It’s not like the Zune is going to displace the iPod anytime soon. However, there does seem to be a sense of desperation in the air. With the opening of the DRM gates, especially Amazon’s new MP3 store and some of the big labels and networks openly renouncing iTunes (NBC, Universal), the ground game is shifting. This is a good thing; the shift is towards more user choice and less content restrictions, rather than the vertical silo of the iTunes-iPod ecosystem. And that’s probably what has Apple, and the more fervent devotees who have bought into the One True Path, so freaked out about.

No one is going to pry anyone’s iPod from anyone else’s fingers, ok? calm down about the Zune.

It’s worth mentioning that in the NYT article about Microsoft’s music ambitions, Gates again emphasizes the idea of music subscription rather than per-track pricing. The truth is that $15/month is a pretty good pricepoint, especially if that means unlimited DRM-free downloads. Such a scheme would indeed make it very affordable for someone to try out new music on whim rather than be locked into the labels’ preferred paradigm of songs as items you purchase. Given that Netflix costs about the same, and cable TV costs four times as much, $15/month is a bargain. Couple that with the emphasis on social sharing of favorites and there’s potential for true viral marketing of music. Think of the way Facebook applications spread; you are tapped into the sphere of what your friends like and want to share with you rather than what the executives on Madison Avenue want to foist upon you this month. I can see where the Zune is trying to go and there really is the potential for a “revolution” here.

The idea that users freely access and share music is of course anathema to the music industry. But Apple deserves credit for building a system that assuaged the industry’s concerns while simultaneously legitimizing the idea that digital music was a viable business. That was step one; now it’s time to break free. Pay attention to Zune. There’s something there worth looking at.


Ringo talks to The Steve about The Beatles on iTunes. True story, FSJ assures us:

He goes, “Oh there’s always something next, innit? We had the vinyl records, and then the cassettes and the eight tracks, and the CDs, and now there’s your iTunes, but really I think we’ve missed that one. We’ve just waited too long. So we might as well just try to jump forward and get on that other thing.” I’m like, What other thing? He goes, “Whatever it is that’s coming next. I don’t know. You should talk to Paul. I think he knows. By the way, I keep getting this error message on my computer. Do you know what that means? How do I fix that?”

This guy is a master. He’s right up there with Vader’s blog.

Big Brother Steve

too good to pass up.

1984 Apple ad

September 5 Apple ipod announcement

Fifty years from now people will look back and mark this date as the turning point when the shackles of 20th-century media and telephony and film and TV and print were thrown off, shrugged away like so much heavy useless armor. And you, Apple faithful, will tell your grandchildren that you were there to see it. You lined up at the Apple store on Day One, your hands trembling, and purchased this magnificent device and recognized, even then, that what you were touching was the future. You will tell how you were there on the day when freedom — yes! glorious freedom! — burst into the world like sunlight into a darkened cave. Freedom. Say it out loud. Freedom. What a word. What a concept. A new kind of freedom, the kind where you lock yourself into the world of an enlightened despot, the greatest figure of our age, the Walt Disney of the 21st century, and bask in the glory of what I give you. My freedom. My world. My greatness. Multitouch coupled to disk drive coupled to WiFi coupled to Safari coupled to OS X. Imagine it! Dream it! Then dare to do it!

Photos and text via Fake Steve, who just earned a slot in my RSS portfolio.

O Apple, why hast thou forsaken us?

I don’t think Apple is doooomed (h/t to Brian for the meme) but it’s clear that Apple is losing some of its focus on what its users want in its drive to become a media company rather than a computer company. There’s a lengthy article over at Tech Digest that looks at the current Mac lineup (Mini, iMac, and Pro) and comes away unhappy with the lack of a suitable midrange option. And even the top-end Pro has woefully underpowered graphics in comparison to the rest of the field.

Of course, on the media company front, things aren’t all that rosy from userland either. With the introduction of the anticipated touchscreen Video iPod, Apple has cut the price on the high-end iPhone by a third – $200 (!). Woe unto the early adopters who were tempted by the Apple and adopted early. This is the sort of arseholeish behavior by Apple that makes me, someone who was waiting for exactly the phone-less iPhone device that the touchscreen iPod represents, extremely unlikely to go out on a limb and invest in one.

More and more, it seems like Apple is crafting a “experience” for its users, informing them of what they need and substituting style for substance. And treating it’s users like chumps in the process, under the (probably accurate) assumption that they will come crawling back for more. It’s ironic that Apple’s slogan used to be, “Think Different”. More and more, making the sizable investment in Apple’s hardware means quite the opposite. It isn’t quite Camazotz yet, but then again, everyone on the street does seem to be wearing white earbuds nowadays…

UPDATE: Fake Steve Jobs weighs in. Also, he’s got an extra-special offer for the early adopters of yesteryear.

UPDATE 2: don’t miss this column by Cringely. Excerpt:

Steve does things like this because he can. It reaffirms his iron grip over both Apple and Apple’s customers. It’s a lot about ego and a little about business, though with Steve Jobs they are hard to differentiate.

Here is something very important to remember about Steve Jobs (and probably the only part of this column that will bother him in the least): most of his business moves are still in reaction to having been fired by Apple back in 1985.

It’s a fascinating deconstruction of the whole pricing fiasco and the consequences. Bottom line: Apple milks $75 million extra profit out of its hard-core fanbase. What else are they good for, after all? Read the whole thing.