IN THIS ISSUE:
iTOON on Darth Invader
iTOON on Double Down
iTOON on Apple Insides
NIELSON FAMILY TIES
EXAMINE THE NET WAY OF LIFE
In a world dominated by the Evil Empire, of Microserf stormtroopers crashing and clanking code shells over ancient compilers, in a monopolistic warlord culture called the PC industry, one bastion of rebellion continues to kick stones at the heathen conquerors. The center of the computer revolution, reinvention and innovation is at One Infinity Loop. Where else can history be traced to the hobby circuit board transformation into a personal computer economy, which lead to advances in text processing, graphics, printing, and communication methods? The growth has lead to the supercomputer on the desktop in less than a generation. Apple Computer is a hardware company first, a software company second, and a conformist, last.
The recent news that Apple will be using Intel chips in its products pierced the Mac cult community like a samurai suicide knife just below the naval. Operating system source code, bus architecture, ROM chips are all closely guarded tech secrets because they form the proprietary base that makes Apple different from the Window gray box clones. The contest is been like Friday night drag racers: speed is everything; in the marketing of machines, processor speed has been the benchmark. Intel got to 3 Ghz first. Apple still showed up at the track, like Granite turbine Indy engine; it looked cool, it was different, but would it win the race? But the bored Detroit block engines became the standard Indy race car powerplant during its golden era of modern races. If the bus architecture is the pistons, the ROM chips the throttle, then the processor chips are the gear ratio transaxle: how fast can the machine really go?
The Microsoft-Intel platform is so linked together that die-hard Mac owners cringe at the possibility that the Macintosh will morph into another Dell plain vanilla Windoze clone or a translucent shell X-Box or a very expensive corporate doorstop.
It is not just Apple, but the industry, is at the crossroads. Stock analysts have always downplayed Apple as just a niche player with limited growth potential. But Microsoft's stock price has been flatlined in a narrow trading range for years. Microsoft has hit the wall on growth. Its operating system is in the majority of computers, but it is now not the system of necessity. Linux appears to be the favorite open source system of the future for tech department network geeks. That is why Microsoft has been throwing millions of dollars in other business ventures to pump up its place in the business world. It tried to become a game company like Sony. It tried to become a cable box player. It tried to become an entertainment device hub player like Panasonic. It tried to become the interactive cell phone standard. But mostly it has been a thinly veiled attempt to port the Windows operating system to new hardware platforms to keep the stranglehold of software supremacy within the Redmond campus walls. The only consistent revenue stream is the balance sheet interest which Wall Street discounts below cash value.
If Microsoft is a giant dinosaur, then Apple is the jungle little mammal who might survive the systemic, nuclear winter, climate change of the industry.
What are Apple's flagship products? It will tell us where the industry is heading.
G5 computers with OS X. More work and marketing has been placed on the operating system and its canine name sequence then on hardware advances in recent product releases.
iPods. Apple has increased its share to 82 percent of the personal digital music player market. Its integration with its successful iTunes music store still confounds the pundits and the music industry. This was Apple's first true cross-platform winning hardware device.
Quicktime. This has been the company's leading software technology protocol. For the company to be cutting edge in arts, advertising, photography, film, video --- the foundation is the Quicktime program. It will also be a major part in the evolution of the computer entertainment hub where streaming video/movies will become mainstream as iTunes is to music. This program is also cross-platform.
iLife. It is a suite of self-produced entertainment/work applications for the home/student/small business community. It has been the fuel for the growing segment of the consumer time model which is "self created expression," whether it is creating their own home movies, animation or music for their own entertainment, for family, or for friends.
Xserver. This is Apple's network serving enterprise system which puts supercomputing power and RAID storage at a fraction of the cost of the traditional mainframe suppliers. It has been used as a means of trying to solidify the education market, to boost sales of Powerbooks and iBooks.
Apple used to be both a hardware and software company. It has given its original printer, display, graphic cards, input devices, mass storage hard drives, and power programs (Photoshop, web development) to third party developers. The product lines have narrowed and cross-platform capability has creeped into the Apple rebel culture.
The last burning bridge that Apple die-hards had to cross was the transition from OS 9 to OS X. But even then, Apple had a classic environment mode to run older OS 9 programs. There are a tremendous amount of legacy programs, information data bases, and account files that a Macintosh user cannot lose. Many Mac business program developers have discontinued support of their software when the move to OS X was announced. But their clients continued to use the OS 9 programs because in certain situations, there is no new Apple alternative. Their data is trapped in the past program. So they nurse along their OS 9 machines because they need to in order for their business to survive. If there was a cost-effective way to port their data, business and accounts this would not be an issue. But even in the Windows world, legacy programs and files make business owners decisions about upgrading hardware easier: if the machines are not broken, do not replace them. Why upgrade from Windows 97? Our word processors still work on the old printers, right?
The Mac gaming companies have been the most edgy. Those companies have been caught in the transition squeeze before when Apple changed to OS X. Now with new chips to process code, most believe that it is not a two-hour recompile as Steve Jobs inferred at his keynote address. The head scratch is that the bridge emulator, Rosetta, is being produced by a third party program company. Does that raise red flags? Why did not Apple itself develop the developer tools to make the transfer easier or seamless? With the prospect of Windows applications running on Mac-Intel machines, game companies believe that their Mac marketshare (and native applications) will lose out to persons who will by the Windows version instead. It is like when IBM OS/2 was compatible with the MS machines; people did not change operating system and continued to run Windows because that's the programs/environment that they were coming from. Apple has been trying to convert Windows users to switch to Mac machines (through the iPods to the Mini). Now, an about-face. The next generation Macs will be capable of running Windows software. Why switch then?
The biggest issue for Apple will be that the Intel chips will not function with OS 9. Business Week Online's instant poll the day after the announcement had a simple question: will you buy a Mac with Intel chips? 63.1 percent said yes; 25.5 percent said no; and 11.4 percent were unsure. If one-quarter of your business customer base will not follow the chosen upgrade path, there has to be a real reason for not changing because Apple customer's loyalty is second to none. It is the legacy software necessity. And it would appear that Apple is underestimating this concern.
Apple's short term concern was that the Motorola-IBM PowerPC technology was not keeping pace with the Intel R&D engineers. Motorola and IBM are not purely semiconductor companies; they have a wide range of product lines and service components to their business models. Intel is devoted to chip technology development. Intel is also big enough to supply great quantities of chips at discount prices. This is the carrot for Apple's computer cart; price point recognition. Many school districts and corporations will not pay Apple its old premium price even though they like the Apple product better than the cheaper Windows clone.
The reputation change to Apple could be great. Instead of being different (remember the Think Different ad campaign?) it may turn into this decade's Tandy PC, an off-the-radar clone. Devoted Mac users will have the prospect of going cold turkey into the new Apple Intel frontier. Will there be a fear of data loss? Will there be a fear of virus compromise? Will there be a fear of identity loss? Will there be a fear of being assimilated into the borg collective from Redmond?
Back to Top
Technology is supposed to make one's life easier, more pleasant, more useful, and hassle free.
But there is an annoying use for any new technology. The most typical abusers have been the telemarketers, who have gathered information, computerized sales lead lists, and dial five numbers at a time hoping that one person will pick up. If you are the second caller, you can hear the boiler room in the background. Since people do not react well to these live telemarketers, the system was refined to the voice caller, an auto-dialer which attempts to connect to your home answering machine to leave the entire sales pitch on your tape recorder. Politicians were first to adopt this stealth campaign technique. Instead of getting up in the morning to shake limp hands at the train station, their PR firms would call district homes when people are at work to have the voter solicitation ready when people arrived home. A commercial landmine. The junk bulk mailers have found a way around the bulk postal rates: bulk spam emails. Another commercial landmine; you don't have to be on-line to be solicited; the spam is in the mailbox when you log on. And just as you have to toss the mailbox litter, you have to delete the junk daily. Then there were the web ads --- the pop-up ads, which annoyed people to no end, which lead to the less annoying pop-under ads (which became visible when you closed your main window), but those were not as in-you-face as advertisers wanted, so the latest thing is the fake-out ad which is a pop-up which is visible for a few seconds, suspended in screen space, then pops under before you can close its window.
Here have a cookie. Spyware is the bane of the privacy rights groups. It is subversive data mining your web mouse clicks. That data is packaged and sold to the telemarketers who in turn turn it into sales lead lists, and spam. The circle of garbage is complete.
But there are other more teeth grinding annoyances. Smellcheckers. The word processing dictionaries-spellcheckers that really don't know how to spell or give correct answers. Conflict software. The software that is supposed to rid your operating system of conflicting programs, bugs and crashes, but will always bog down your machine in mindless freezes because the program itself is flawed. Backed up pipe software. Back-up software automation that either (a) does not find the hard drive to back up; or (b) crashes the network any time it initiates the back-up procedure. New and improved versions. Software updates that add a hundred features and allegedly correct all those past version bugs. In reality, the update creates a hundred new problems. Beta plus releases. In order to meet some artificial deadline or avoid the label of being vaporware, developers release beta-plus programs before the marketplace is really ready. The releases are so buggy you think you are an insect buffet at the Amazon River gateway.
We run across these annoyances on a daily basis. We bitch, moan, complain, curse, then re-boot and move on to the task at hand. We have been conditioned to accept a certain level of annoyance which gives developers, telemarketers and data miners the small opening to annoy us some more.
Back to Top
Back to Top
A ringtone hit Number One in the UK music charts in June.
A ringtone hit Number One in the UK music charts?
Denying Coldplay's latest single from the top spot in its release week?
(a) how bad is the Euro music scene that a ringtone is the most played riff in an entire country?
(b) how lame is the British cellphone patrons when said a hot ringtone is an old Beverly Hills Cop movie bumper?
(c) how bizarre is it that the annoying ringtone that sounds like a bullfrog on helium, Radio Frog, is cool?
(d) if it is not cool in the minds of the cellphone mavens, then is this whole thing just upping the annoyance level to bystanders to Code Red?
The European music scene must be in the dull numbness of a river of blood pudding. Maybe this ringtone was the only one licensed to the Brit telecos. Maybe it was the only ringtone that was free. (In the US, telecos are signing up people to have ringtones, but for $5/month service charge. WHICH LEADS ME TO A TANGENT: How much is an off-hour, weekend, long distance telephone call which is charged at $8.90 really cost?) There has to be the attention getting LOOK AT ME!! attitude when those ringtoners answer my $250 cellphone with a wacky, different, or loud ringtone!!! The annoyance factor has been equated in the teen mind as being quasi-celebrity status (even in their clique circles). Who has not thought a hand grenade had gone off when one of those supercharged cells goes off?
ANSWER TO TANGENT QUESTION: $21.50. How? Add in service fees, junk fees, federal-state-and local taxes a single $8.90 non-peak long distance phone call costs $21.50.
Back to Top
Back to Top
NIELSEN FAMILY TIES
A woman came to my mother's house. She said she was from the Nielsen Company, the national ratings service. She asked my mother if Nielsen could install a viewer box in her home to gather information. She said NO. The woman said it was a small and simple box. She said NO. The woman said you did not have to worry about privacy, that the information would remain private. My mother repeated, NO. The woman continued to state that Nielsen were looking for households such as hers to put in these ratings boxes (people meters). She said NO. (Insert door slam here).
People who have ratings boxes, television or radio diaries, control the conglomerated media industry, from entertainment program choices to advertising rates. Only a handful of people control hundreds of thousands of proxy viewers. Twenty years ago, most households would have thought it would be an honor to serve Television as being ratings scribes. But today, with everyone gathering everything about you and reselling the information to the mosquito swarm of telemarketing, cross-selling and bulk mailing counterparts, who wants to be involved in this cycle of doom?
Things must have gotten tough for the ratings masters. Going door to door to sign up households with the latest technology? The new boxes are computerized monitors which track the channels, minutes, seconds, and viewing habits; overlap with cable program guides; and with input features such as viewer ID information; Nielsen or any other agency can almost recreate one's exact viewing pattern. There is enough information databases to line up with the exact commercial times and the boxes matching the television set being on at that time to send a message to the mail server to send Ma some written literature on the commercial just played in the house.
So what was the saleslady actually selling? We want to gather all sorts of private information, the shows you like to watch, when, so we can determine ratings, trends, market research - - - you know, make money off of crunching numbers. Is Nielsen going to pay for this information? Heavens, no. This is a public service (though a for-profit service). The ratings box is not intrusive. But it is by its very function intrusive --- it is coded to a specific household, and gathering data on that household.
When I was told of this episode I immediately thought I would have had the same reaction. There is nothing good in it for me. I don't even like the grocery store's preferred customer accounts, the keychain barcode that allegedly gets you a few dollars off a cart of foodstuffs (in exchange for the grocer gathering personalized, digitized shopping list of every item, brand, quantity and price point to be reported to the marketing companies for resale to anyone.) But the grocer never explains that it is gathering every morsel of information on your purchases. The naive think they are getting a good customer discount.
We are getting probed everyday. Why add to the probage? People do not realize that the magnetic strip on the back of your credit card holds more than your credit card number; but most of your personal, banking and purchasing history. A swipe of the card leaves a personal shopping x-ray in someone's data base. That's why a credit card company will call you if there has been unusual activity on your card. It is under the means of stopping credit card fraud losses. But credit card companies are in the business for profit, too. Any revenue stream is never to small to cross. Even when its there own customers they are mining for gold.
George Orwell's 1984 Big Brother looking over the shoulder of everything you see, say and do is becoming acceptable in a service (paper shuffling) economy. Once privacy is lost, it is very difficult to get back. Especially if you volunteer to lose it in the first place.
COMING NEXT MONTH: