iPod’s success

Some dude goes off about “Why Microsoft can’t compete with iTunes”:http://www.roughlydrafted.com/RD/Q4.06/F6DC3D84-5B4D-43D4-B9ED-1F2033A895DA.html. I think he’s taking something simple and trying to make it into some grandiose statement about Apple vs. MS.
The success of the iPod is actually not too difficult to understand. Apple simply had the best software + hardware combo, and the best marketing. And by “best,” I also mean that it worked. Their software was good enough, that people who didn’t even have an iPod use it. Their solution was good enough, that most people didn’t even mind the DRM. It’s clear that people value an easy to use system with good content way over the choice of DRM, otherwise should eMusic be dominating the market?
If someone had come along and actually offered a WMA based system that worked just as well (including integration with players), and had a snazzy looking player with marketing to match, they could have done just as well. I actually applaud MS for trying to make a DRM system that is more open than FairPlay. The problem seems to be that it’s just hard to get the hardware (as well as the software/hardware interface) right. And Windows Media Player sucked for a long time. But it’s a great myth to think that somehow Apple is less evil with their DRM than MS is. It seems like people like to associate WMA DRM’s evilness with MS’s general evilness, but I think that company is way to big to be able to maintain such a coherent evil attitude.
Besides, I don’t think DRM is the result of any tech company actively trying to be evil. It’s the result of the record companies wanting to protect their content. As you can see from the selection on eMusic, it’s hard to compete if you don’t offer DRM. But I’m willing to bet that if the media companies were OK selling un-DRM’ed music from the get go, then neither MS nor Apple would be spending precious engineering resources to build a DRM solution. (Though MS might still be working on a proprietary music format. But that’s different. I mean, MP3 is/was patent-burdened as well. It’s just that it was more open than WMA was (as in it was multi-platform, and a reference decoder implementation was available in source code form)). Actually, it’s conceivable that Apple would still enforce some kind of DRM system, one that limited iTunes purchased songs to be played only on iPods.
Someday portable media players will probably be well enough understood that they’ll get standardized, and we’ll realize some of the WMA world’s original vision. But clearly we’re not there yet, so MS, Apple, and Real are all taking the paired software/hardware approach. If it ends up with more working solutions to choose form then before, then it can’t be all bad right?

That sounds about right

A study says that most iPod users “don’t buy from the iTunes store”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/5350258.stm. Surprise surprise.
In the 1.5 years of owning an iPod, I’ve bought maybe 20 tracks. Anything I really care about, I buy the CD and rip it. This gives me higher quality rips, and the freedom from DRM, while only paying slightly more than the iTMS price.
But it’s all different with “subscription”:http://www.rhapsody.net “services”:http://www.napster.com or “lossless downloads”:http://www.musicgiants.com. Consumers won’t really switch until digital services are tangibly better. Apple better wake up.
Let’s hope it doesn’t take them as long to figure it out as they did to do the Intel switch.

Apple Announcements

As anyone who cares about Apple stuff probably already knows, Apple “announced some new stuff”:http://www.macworld.com/news/2006/09/12/showtime/index.php today. Lots of “meh” items, but a few noteworthy ones.
* iTunes videos are now 640×480. That’s pretty good, almost DVD. Makes the value proposition much better, and the quality will be very comparable with torrent-able HDTV recordings. Where is the better quality audio downloads though? I mean if you’re willing to stream multiple-hundred-of-megabytes movies, why can’t you offer lossless or at least 256kbps songs?
* You can finally suck stuff off your iPod without using “Senuti”:http://fadingred.org/senuti/. Not earth shattering, but convenient. I fear that synching two libraries on different machines will still be a tedious manual process, though.
* Multiple library support in iTunes. This might have been nice before I decided on buying a desktop.
* “iTV”, prototype wireless box that you’ll be able to stream movies to. Sounds good but also like even more lock in.
Apple, where is the subscription service? I’ve been trying out Rhapsody recently, and it totally kicks ass. Sure the players aren’t as nice, or software UI isn’t as nice either, but being able to access the entire catalog provides immense value that outweighs those negatives.
I don’t really understand the argument that you don’t ‘own’ the music. Maybe it’s just irrelevant to me. I tend to buy CD’s, listen to them a few times, and then never listen to them again except for a few tracks. I probably listen to a lot more radio than I do CD’s. It seems like if you’re willing to pay many 10’s of dollars for cable per month, paying 10 for music isn’t such a bad deal. I get way more value out of being able to listen as much as I want out of an entire catalog than from being able to buy a CD once a month. Who cares if I don’t _own_ the current hit CD a year from now. It’s very unlikely that I’ll listen to it, and with this service, I’ll have the option of both listening to the old one and next year’s hits altogether.
And also with Fairplay DRM, it’s not really like you _own_ the music anyways. The vast vast majority of my iTunes database is songs that I imported myself. And now that I think about it, I somewhat regret not importing them as MP3, because MP3 lets me use them in any player that I choose, instead of the very few ones that support AAC. With iTunes and Fairplay, you’re still stuck with 128kbps songs that you can’t play everywhere and that you can’t share. That’s probably why I’ve only bought like maybe 20 tracks.
I think today’s announcement really reinforced the idea that the software features a huge part of the value of the iTunes/iPod value proposition, rather than the service model or the content. Apple’s pretty good at making a good software experience, but it looks like most of the things they _improved_ this time are things that customers have been asking for for awhile, and the real important ones (to me at least) are the ones that improve the service. Apple still definitely leads the space in terms of the software, but do they lead it in terms of service? With Rhapsody having 2 million tracks, it’s hard to say anymore. All I can say is I hardly used iTunes at work, but I’ve been using Rhapsody every day.
Also, one really minor intersting marketing thing: Apple claims they have 88% of all the US legal downloads market. Does this conveniently not include subscription services? It’s obvious that if all you’re gonna do is download tracks for purchase, then you’d go with iTunes. None of the other services come close. But the interesting competition isn’t coming from other for-download stores, so that number is interestingly misleading, IMHO.

Myths

Sometimes people make really annoying posts “like this”:http://www.tuaw.com/2006/09/08/the-little-things-anti-aliased-fonts-help-mac-os-x-shine/.
As the author was clearly corrected, XP does support anti-aliased fonts. And even his screenshot is a poor example, because the title bar of the shown window has anti-aliased text.
Without ClearType turned on, XP doesn’t anti-alias your font until it hits a certain size. If he’d done a little more homework, he’d notice that OSX does this too. Just load up Terminal, and choose a small size of Monaco.
At what size the system switches AA on or off is a purely subjective design decision, as is most discussion about fonts.
I mean come on, even Linux distros have had anti-aliased fonts for at least a couple years. If Linux has it, then OS X or windows probably had it years ago.
This is just about as bad as “hey OSX is more secure because it was built on a UNIX foundation”, yea whatever that means. As if UNIX code isn’t immune to buffer overflows and other programming mistakes.
The only thing that this post has contributed is through one of it’s comments, which points to a ClearType tuning mechanism, even available “online”:http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ClearType/tuner/Step1.aspx. That’s pretty cool, though it could be improved slightly (please show us some italics text samples, because diagonal lines is where this stuff really seems to show differences between settings). But you can always download the PowerToy and experiment for yourself.

The real problem

Here’s the “real problem”:http://www.geekpatrol.ca/blog/138/. I probably would have been a lot happier if the G4 powerbook just had a real CPU.
As it is, the G4 is probably slower in some ways than my P4 1.8ghz (which has access to faster memory). I have this bad history of switching from desktops to notebooks of roughly equivalent peformance (i.e. old desktop, newer laptop). At first it was a 350 mhz Pentium II desktop to a 350 mhz Pentium II laptop. Then it was to a 667 mhz Crusoe Laptop. And now a P4 1.8Ghz desktop to a 1.67Ghz G4 laptop.
When will I learn? I suppose my dad will bust in at this point and point out that at least two out of those three experiences were when I tried non-Intel chips.
On the flip side, that new desktop is going to feel ridiculously fast.

Custom built desktops are for Ricers, and Apple doesn’t care about Ricers

As part of my purchasing process, I can’t happen but wonder if Apple is going to come out with the expandable desktop solution right after I finish building my own. If so, it’ll be in the $1000-$1500 range and have a good price/perf ratio, just to spite me. There’s a lot of speculation on the net as to whether Apple would do such a thing, with all kinds of arguments on either side (including pointing out that the G4 cube was targeted at the same segment, besides the price, and that was a failure).
I think there are a few arguments that ring true for me. I’ll write them down so that I can look back and either regard myself as a genius or a fool.
* The most obvious reason is that, there’s already a machine in that price range: the iMac. An iMac spec’ed with what I would want in it (2GB and 500G hard drive) is up at $2299, so they adequately fill the gap between Mac mini’s and Mac Pro’s
* Desktops are for ricers. I noticed this as I was spec’ing out the PC I’m gonna get. Gone are the good old days where putting together a PC was normal, and every mom-and-pop computer outfit sold their pre-configured models. All the parts advertised their basic features, reliability, etc. Nowadays, if you’re trying to put together your own machine, you’re most likely a gamer, an overclocker, or both. Which means you’ll pay for ridiculous over-voltaged memory, tacky case designs, and motherboards that let you adjust the voltage by 25 mV increments. Anyways, the point is, this is clearly not Apple’s market.
Apple’s stance always seems to have been, consumers care about integration, and Pro’s care about expandability/customizability. And the ‘prosumer’ market is just too small for them to care about. If they come out with a $1500, expandable desktop, they wont have any more excuse to sell an iMac at $1800, and a Mac Pro at $2500, because the middle model will be a better value and will be expandable enough to match the lower end of the high model.
But who knows, they might surprise us just yet. In either case, hopefully in a few years, the price premium of a Mac Pro won’t bother me as much, and I’ll have much more important things to over analyze.

Wireless Mighty Mouse Reviews

You know, I spend so much time googling for reviews of things, that I figure I might as well collect them so that I could save some people some time. Yes, I know you can just google for “Wireless Might Mouse Reviews” and get most of these links, but in time, the google results will degrade as they usually do, and this may be more useful.
* “Paul Stamatiou”:http://paulstamatiou.com/2006/07/30/review-apple-wireless-mighty-mouse/
* “tauw.com”:http://www.tuaw.com/2006/07/29/review-apples-wireless-mighty-mouse/
* “cnet”:http://reviews.cnet.com/Apple_Mighty_Mouse/4505-3148_7-31985391.html
* “Macworld”:http://www.macworld.com/2006/08/reviews/btmightymouse/index.php
* “Amazon listing”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000B6D39I/002-8087191-0130414?v=glance&n=172282
* “Pocket-lint”:http://www.pocket-lint.co.uk/review.php?reviewId=1687
* “Epic Empire”:http://www.epicempire.com/computers/apple-wireless-mighty-mouse-review.html

Cost and Worth

When I ask myself, “Is this item worth the price?” how am I supposed to answer that question? An even harder question: “Will this item be worth the price in the future?” or “How will I feel about this purchase after I’ve made it?”
I can’t decide on how to decide whether a MacPro is worth it for me. $2500 is an arbitary number. Should I think about what else I could do with $2500? but it’s not like $2500 is all I have to spend. It’s just $2500 out of a larger flexible pool of funds. I feel like trying to think of all the ways that it could or could not be worth it (in combination with all the other combinations of things I could buy) is akin to solving a (large) instance of the 2D Knapsack problem. And I surely don’t have the energy to go through all the possibilities.
A useful, and at least somewhat entertaining exercise is to elaborate the _grand vision_. That is, what would be the total cost of all the stuff I wanted to get, with the constraint that I only include things which I think I’m getting what I pay for (i.e. no, $10,000 grillz). Maybe that constraint is still inherently subjective, but here goes anyways:
* Mac Pro, $2500
* 30 inch Cinema Display $2000 (mmm, koolaid)
* Mac Mini as a media center $600 (can you smell the koolaid?)
* Eye-TV $300
* Smaller box to do routing $400
* MacBook for Qian $1300 (here Qian, have some koolaid)
So I guess that comes out to just over 7 grand. Now compared to that $2500 doesn’t seem so bad. Right?

Mac Pro, and other thoughts

Well, it’s over, and to be honest, it wasn’t very surprising.
I’m not sure what to make of the Mac Pro’s yet. On the one hand, they seem very well designed and more importantly, a product that I’d be happy with. On the flipside, the cheapest one is $2200 (dual dual 2.0ghz). It’s not a question of whether the base configuration is worth $2200 (I think it is, especially if you look at competitor’s similar products), rather, it’s whether I really need a quad core system, or whether all I really need is a dual core system. I priced a Dell Core 2 Duo system with similar specs otherwise, and it came out to about $1650, including a free monitor. That means I could take the difference and build another box, or get a mac mini, or a really nice monitor.
I also wonder about the upgradeability of the Mac Pro. The CPU’s can probably be swapped out, but the memory modules have those crazy heat sinks. Does that mean 3rd party memory modules will also come with heat sinks? or one be limited to buying only Apple memory?
Interestingly, I also tried maxing out a Mac Pro, and it came to a cool $17,000. Take that “VoodooPC”:http://voodoopc.com !
The keynote almost seemed like a competition between Jobs proteges. Apple has been very successful at generating enthusiasm for their products by having very good presentations, and most importantly, a charismatic presenter. The continued success of the company seems to almost hinge on the next leader’s reality distortion abilities, and the keynote seemed like a stage where potential candidates could show their skills. Out of the three, though, I felt the last guy (forget his name, the one that presented some of the Leopard features) had the best rythm and composure, though not quite matching the enthusiasm of Jobs. He also needed to stand up straighter and maybe where a turtleneck, but hey he’s young, so he’s got a little bit more time to learn I guess.
When I saw Jobs take off his glasses during one of his demos just so he could read the script, I could almost feel an era coming to an end. It’ll be interesting to see how much longer he can last. At some point, there’s gotta be more important things than getting a room full of nerds to be excited about new products.