Normally, what Michael says most of the time is spot on -- I'm a big fan, and pay close attention to what he writes. I'll admit his coverage of MacWorld has me a little bit baffled, as he seems to be caught in the echo chamber that is created by Apple for the Jobs keynote -- something I don't usually find him doing. Some examples...

In Macworld - Apple Says It's Time to Phone Home Michael states "Both Apple TV and the iPhone are important devices as they cement Apple's role within different places of the digital home." Apple has not yet shipped either of these products yet, and they hold exactly 0% market share for their respective categories (digital media receivers and mobile phones). How can you cement a position you don't hold at all? I'll admit I'm interested to see how AppleTV does over the long haul, and whether or not it's couple-of-tricks-pony approach will resound with consumers on the scale iPods have to date. The iPhone has *much* stiffer competition than the iPod really ever did (to his credit, Michael does allude to this towards the end of this post -- kinda).

Michael has this to say in Is Apple Late to the Phone Game: "Yes, I know other devices can do a lot of what the iPhone can do but that's like saying there's a lot of other music players out there as well." Well, actually, no. There are many devices shipping today that can do everything the iPhone will be able to do when it ships (and more). And, based on prices given today, those devices do more things a whole heckuva lot cheaper now than iPhone will when it ships. The market conditions that existed when the iPod rose to its popularity aren't really in play today in the mobile phone market. Specifically: Sony resting on its Walkman, Discman and (most importantly) proprietary NetMD laurels, the rise of the MP3 as a universal standard, lack of understanding by the then current crop of MP3 players to realize it's all about the hardware form factor, lack of attention to marketing to get out a message. Apple showing up at the right time, with the right device and the right service coupled with the lack of a timely and competitive response from other established players in that market allowed the iPod to take its favorable market position. While Apple will probably be successful by its own definition ("1% market share in 2008" -- obviously and intentionally lowballed) it's doubtful the competition will take the same laissez faire attitude. While you compare the success of the iPhone to the iPod we could just as esily compare it to the Mac (as Jobs did during his keynote today). I think there are few people who doubt the historical and perhaps groundbreaking importance of the machine when it was introduced in 1984. The ancestors of the original Mac now account for 3-5% market share (depending on who you reference) for all personal computers worldwide. Which trajectory will the iPhone follow...?

What's Missing From the iPhone outlines 4 significant blockers to the iPhone success (go read 'em). Even so, Michael says "Even with these issues, I still believe Apple is going to be force to reckoned with in this space." Michael seems to ignore the fact cell phones (and in particular SmartPhones, which iPhones are suppose to squash) are much more enterpise oriented than consumer oriented, and the first three of the items he outlines represent some fundamental gaps in the story. Once iPhone reaches feature parity with current offering, then it becomes a market changer. Sound familiar? Yep. Zune.

"...the XBox is the challenger against Apple TV (and the Slingcatcher as well). There's a battle going on for your living room. There's still a lot of network issues that Microsoft needs to work out. Where's the support for N in Media Center?" is what we get in Will Apple TV have issues as it's 'only' 720p. Where to begin. First, the Xbox has shipped over 10 million units. Windows Media Center enabled SKUs of Windows has sold over 30 million units. Window XP (to which any XBox 360 can connect to and stream content from) has sold in the 100s of millions. How many AppleTVs have shipped. Zero to date. If anything, AppleTV is the challenger here. The network issues will also tend to be a problem for Apple if and when they ever implement true high definition TV (think about the live events scenarios here, like sports). As it is, they covered most of the hurdles with the addition of a 40GB hard drive in the AppleTV (kudos to them, but that has to bite into the profit margin due to the BOM) and limiting it largely to content available from iTunes. Speaking of the content available from iTunes -- most of that doesn't even need the bandwidth offered by 802.11n which Michael seemingly calls a gap for Microsoft (certainly not music which can bounce around on 802.11b just fine, and their standard definition videos which would be quite happy with 802.11g). An admirable first attempt by Apple to enter this market segment and it remains to be seen if they have all the wrinkles ironed out

I'll be interested in what Michael has to say over the next couple of days when he moves over to CES in Las Vegas, and notices Apple might not have a lock on everything they present in their keynotes.

Update: I thought Omar had some pretty good thoughts on this subject over at Thoughts on the macworld keynote.

Categories: Apple | AppleTV | iPhone | iPod | Comments [6] | # | Posted on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 5:51:30 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

Update: After some email exchanges between the two of us Seth slightly clarified his article by adding 'The video is' to the paragraph I excerpt below (change is shown in italics). He still does a fairly poor job of telling the overall story here -- but I'm still working on him. :-)

I'm a big fan of The Motley Fool, so it pains me to some extent to write this, but someone has to, so guess it will be me.

In Apple's Latest Victims, Seth writes the following, speaking of the media playback capabilities of the XBox 360...

"It's capable of streaming media directly from a PC, with one big hitch. The video is only supposed to work with the Media Center OS. This was a ridiculous mistake, in my opinion, because so few Media Center OSes exist out there. It not only should have supported streaming from plain vanilla Windows XP, it should have run more file types."

Wrong. In two places.

First, the XBox 360 works out of the box with any version of Windows XP to Play music and manage playlists and view pictures. In addition, it supports playback of content from portable media player devices (compatible device list here) *including* the Apple iPod (but not FairPlay tracks -- talk to Apple about that :-) ). Seth has a good point about compatibility with more file types, but support for [insert codec here] is largely a matter of return on investment. We also stream more media types with the Media Center Extender features of XBox 360 when you have a Windows Media Center enabled SKU of Windows. In addition to audio and pictures, we have video (WMV, MPEG1, MPEG2) and Recorded TV. Plus all of the media available from partners in Online Spotlight (MTV, NPR, Akimbo to name a few).

Second, there are more than a few Media Center PCs out there: 16 million according to the last group of public numbers. In addition, greater than 50% of the personal computers being sold today come with Windows Media Center. With Windows Vista, we expect the percentage to increase with Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate (the two SKUs with Windows Media Center included).

So, Seth, you could actually forego the iTV even before it ships with a trip to your local retailer. Tonight.

P.S. Isn't it odd Seth owns Microsoft stock and The Motley Fool has it listed as an Inside Value recommendation, but managed to publish this article without basic fact checking? See the links above to the public site above which clearly enumerate these features.

P.S. Even more interesting to me is they offer RSS feeds for stories, but no way for me to leave comments about them. That might be because they are offering financial advice, perhaps...?

Categories: Apple | iPod | Media Center | Media Center Extender | Comments [6] | # | Posted on Saturday, September 16, 2006 3:00:04 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I've had a 256 MB Creative Muvo TX FM for a while now, and really love the tiny size and features of the device. As my first portable music device since a Sony Discman, it rocked -- but it was time to graduate to something with a bit more storage space, especially given the six cross country flights I'm taking between now and the new year.

So, I went down to my local Best Buy to check out some portable devices with more storage space. After looking at all of the choices, I narrowed it down to the Creative Zen Micro and Apple iPod Nano. Seriously, I had been leaning towards an iPod after talking with Michael and Matt, two Microsoft Media Center employees who own iPods.

The Apple iPod Nano had a color screen and came in 2GB ($199) and 4GB ($249) versions based on flash memory technology. The Nano is super thin and light -- 1.5 ounces at 1.6 x 3.5 x 0.27 inches. I'm used to replacing the AAA batteries in the Muvo, so this feature is actually something to which I've grown accustomed. Based on everything I've read, the battery issues with iPods are a thing of the past, so I'm not concerned there. Anyway, the battery doesn't appear to be end user replaceable in the iPod Nano. The Apple website has gobs of information on how to care for and extend battery life, but apparently if you need to replace the battery you must send it in to be serviced. You can see album art with the Nano, but according to a conversation with my friend Michael I'll need third party tools to take my medium sized collection of already ripped WMA files and convert them to MP3, then get the album art. He tells me iTunes won't fetch album art for any music already in my collection, but does for tracks purchased through the iTunes Music Service. The Nano has lot's of wow factor, and would be an obvious draw for many people.

The Creative Zen Micro has a black and white screen and came in a 6GB ($199) version based on microdrive technology. It's quite small at 3.8 ounces and 2 x 3.3 x 0.7 inches. While that measures at over 3 times the size (by volume) of the iPod Nano, it's very close to the same ballpark (within 10%) when compared to the iPod itself, which is also based on microdrive technology. The battery is user replaceable, and you can purchase additional batteries for around $40. I occasionally fly to Asia from Seattle, so having multiple batteries for the >12 hour flight is a plus. No album art with the Zen, but all other metadata is roughly equivalent to the Nano. I can also transfer my existing WMA files as is with no conversion necessary. The Zen micro is nice looking, but doesn't have quite the 'ooooo ahhhhhh' factor of the Nano.

The user interfaces, nuances notwithstanding, seemed largely interchangeable between the two devices.  I'll give the Nano the edge here -- it's somewhat more usable when you first pick up the devices. The difference became negligible after using each for about 10 minutes each -- I could accomplish the same task on each device in about the same amount of time.

There are two features present on the Zen Micro which are important to me, but probably less so to others.  Like the Muvo, it can double as a removable storage device for data files. I've found this feature very convenient in the past on trade show floors or roadshows setting up demo machines. It also has the ability to tune FM radio stations which comes in handy if I want to watch TV at the Pro Club while exercising instead of listening to music.

I basically came to the conclusion I would be equally happy with either device.

I ran the numbers on storage - the Zen Micro came out clearly on top...

  • 2GB iPod Nano = $99.50 per GB
  • 4GB iPod Nano = $62.25 per GB
  • 6GB Creative Zen Micro = $33.17 per GB

Best Buy was also running a special where you got a $50 Best Buy gift card for free if you bought the Creative Zen Micro, dropping the price per GB to around $25 for that device. This coupled with the added features (removable disk feature and FM tuning) finally tipped the scales in favor of the Creative Zen Micro. It seemed to have the biggest bang for my buck.

Categories: iPod | WMA | Comments [8] | # | Posted on Thursday, November 10, 2005 7:56:46 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   
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