Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Aluminum remote finally released

I'll have more to say on today's announcements soon, but for the time being, I'm pleased to see that MacPredictions' aluminum mouse prediction has finally come true (sort of).

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Is Microsoft playing possum?

This week’s critical drubbing of Windows Mobile 6.5 may give Redmond something to smile about.

Back in the day, Microsoft used to get it in the neck from the Feds, from the developer community and from the industry at large. It seemed that whatever they did provoked ire. From their heavy handed negotiations with PC manufacturers, to their wilful bundling of useful new features into their market dominating operating system.

How times have changed. These days, it just doesn't seem sporting to bait Microsoft. They appear to have lost the search engine wars (with Bing proving to be more of a Blip); they've lost the digital music wars (with Apple enjoying Windows-like market domination for their ubiquitous iPod & iTunes ecosystem); and then there's the sorry tale of Windows Mobile - a product that is hard even for Steve Ballmer to love.

So what's eating Microsoft? They have some of the best and brightest minds in the world cooped up in their Redmond campus, and yet, time after time, they appear to fail to deliver, ceding one sector after another to an arch rival… Or do they?

Superficially, Microsoft may not seem much like a possum. After all, possums are cuddly-looking and cute, whilst Microsoft is testosterone-charged and sweaty. But perhaps they have more in common than meets the eye. North American possums (or technically "opossums") have developed the remarkable ability of feigning sickness and injury to evade a predator: they "play possum", exhibiting the unsavoury behaviour of looking and even smelling like a sick or dead animal, thus repelling their enemies.

Could Microsoft be employing a similar strategy? Certainly, their predators’ attentions are elsewhere. President Obama's new antitrust czar at the Department of Justice, Christine Varney, is famously quoted as saying "For me, Microsoft is so last century. They are not the problem." Instead, the U.S. economy will see problems "potentially with Google."

The truth is that Microsoft's high profile failures mask their rude health and notable success. It's a significant but oft-overlooked fact that Microsoft earns money on the sale of every iPhone, through its Exchange ActiveSync Licensing Program. As Apple, Palm and Blackberry battle it out for domination of the emerging mainstream smartphone sector, you can rest assured that Microsoft will win regardless the outcome, since interoperability with Exchange is a prerequisite for the success of any handset. And that means a healthy Microsoft tax on every handset and server sold. That poor old possum, Microsoft, must be weeping all the way to the bank with Apple's recent success.

Far from losing sleep over the poor reviews garnered for Windows Mobile 6.5 this week, perhaps the folks at Redmond were uncorking the champagne, as another brilliant, yet dastardly strategy reaches fruition.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

iTunes Loaded and Genius Fill

Posted by Martin Algesten, 6th October 2009

Surely Apple is not going to sit and watch idly as a small European upstart with a bad logo eats its market share? Week by week, update by update Spotify adds literally thousands of new songs, which means Apple's current lead in content is gradually eroding and eventually may result in a significant amount of customers opting for the flat fee as-much-as-you-can-eat style service. With Spotify's recent iPhone killer app, (Apple approved) and sold off the iTunes store, which introduced elected playlists offline, a first step is taken to conquer the portable music market, which means one of the last arguments to buy your music is also going away. Incidentally, the iPod Touch and iPhone may be the reason Spotify has a chance to succeed where other similar services have failed - portable players are key.

Interestingly, shouting about DRM shackles is nowhere to be heard amongst the Spotify crowd - is it, perhaps, that Spotify is a black box - we never get to see the individual files, so there's no feeling of right to own them? Or are we mentally relating to the service as a rental, akin to Blockbusters, so we accept the non-ownership?

Seems to me Apple would be foolish to just sit back and watch as this little company grow stronger. Spotify may not be returning a big profit yet, but the mere resonance amongst the hip young crowd, may indicate a market space, and surely Apple would want this one too, and they are in a prime position to grab it: The iTunes store has already got the songs; people have accepted that you must use iTunes to access it; Apple has complete control over the iPods (Spotify will never run on a Shuffle); the payment systems are in place; the regional markets are there; they have the existing commercial relationships with the media owners. Enter: iTunes Loaded.

iTunes Loaded comes in two versions. One free version that is powered by iTunes Genius, and a paid for version where you are in control. In the free version, Genius Fill will help you load up your iTunes with fresh tracks you probably like based on your current library. The tracks are not burdened with ads, but you can't chose which tracks you want or when they expire.

The paid for service puts you in control. You can still let iTunes Genius find new tracks, but you are free to keep, reorganise or remove. You mix your favourite tracks into playlists, chose to access these playlists offline and synchronise them with all your iPods. You can also share your iTunes Loaded playlists over Bonjour or any way you want with your iTunes Loaded friends (Email, Facebook, etc). Your iTunes Loaded playlists will of course also sync with your Mobile Me account and be available on all your Macs.

One potential stumbling block is if the media companies don't want to license the music to Apple in this way. The owners are already concerned that Apple has become a too strong player, dictating the terms in the agreements, and they may see Spotify as a way to counter Apple's dominance. I wouldn't be surprised if Steve is battling this point in endless meetings already.