MonthSeptember 2005

Ah, my charming correspondents of the Apple variety

So you write a piece at The Register, and what do you know? You get people who don’t want just to shoot the messenger, but stamp on his hat afterwards too.

Here, plucked from my mailbag, is Very Angry Person email #1. (Note: all that follows is the same guy. I’d like to think there couldn’t be more than one who’s quite this bonkers. Or at least, who is allowed to use sharp things like keyboards.)

Dear Author or Arthur,
You pay $200 for a device most people treat it like gold and get a nice little case for it. For the ham-handed bungling crowd perhaps they should stick to the cassette player, or whistle. iPods are not for everyone obviously some have fallen into the hands of the wrong type of people.
If it is a defect then they just won the lottery. It’s value as a collectors item in 20 years will make it well worth the investment.
Even Apples garbage has great value :0-)
Interesting quote from Mr Rubenstien Where did you get that?
When the point was put to the head of Apple’s iPod division, Jon Rubenstein – who in the past oversaw the development of the Titanium PowerBook – the one that killed off Wi-Fi reception, because metal cages do that – he replied: “Nah, you don’t really think that? It’s made of the hardest polycarbonate… You keep it in a pocket with your keys?”
I would guess that Jon might need to get his resume in order; if he is as pathetic as this quote demonstrates.
You forget to ad in the positive ie %70 of the market, a brand name stronger and more profitable than NIKE, #1 consumer of flash memory. mastery of the digital music universe.
If I was a professional writer I would be careful what I write. Advertising pays your measly pay check and in the google age big brother can analyze whether they like you or not in less then a half a second. Oh and all those readers who love you…. the will forsake you in moment! Thats if they even remember your name.
Good Luck In The Future, AKA Charles Arthur your style is no mystery to the machine that can ID you in less time than it takes you to draw a breath.

I replied politely enough, pointing out that among other things he was wrong about Nike – its most recent quarterly profits were $423m (here) vs Apple’s most recently reported quarterly profits, best-ever quarter: $320m (here). Even Nike’s quarterly profits a year ago were better than Apple’s most recent ones. So not more profitable than Nike.

Of course, this was the wrong answer. Email #2 is mostly quotage of my reply, though it had these gems:

re Nike 1. Market % and profit are 2 different things.
2. Profitable is refering to the per unit profit margin on an iPod not the companies as a whole.

and

Google you! Ha thats a joke, what’s that link suppose to tell me?
that there are a bunch of no count schmucks with your name, or that you have a stellar resume neither of witch I care about.

and also

PS Go F$%K YOURSELF
And Why Would I ever want to read a Blog from a filter. Aren’t Blogs for amateurs who can’t get real jobs in journalism. Although the US Army Blogs are very good.
So when does the great novel or play your writing come out? I’ll tell you. Never you suck, go get a job sweeping chimneys. D*psh(t.

I was really starting to enjoy this now, but had other things to do – like write a third story on the iPod nano screen. Ooh, incoming email at The Register…

Oh will your horse shi^ ever end.
While Apple has moved much more quickly than usual to avert what could have
(and still might yet) become a PR disaster

Oh BS only if you friggen English clowns had an audience!
the problem does illustrate the danger of changing horses in midstream – in this case, dumping the iPod Mini, which was the world’s best-selling
digital music player, to replace it with something new. The Mini wasn’t
broke, but Steve Jobs was clearly worried that rivals could catch up, and
went for a coup by cornering the world’s Flash memory market and developing
the product at top speed.

It’s probably been sitting in the black building for nearly 6 years. “Top
Speed” watch kind of monkey term is that.
Expect him [Jobs] to receive a grilling, of sorts,
So your a regular at the shareholders meetings?
over the cost of this when Apple reports its Q4 results next month. The
current quarter ends in three days. The incident might become a business-school textbook case of how
manufacturing can mess you up.

Drugs can mess you up. Being an English peter puffer can mess you up.
The line “case of how manufacturing can mess you up.” WTF does that mean. To make it into a textbook which won’t happen except in your dim imagination, it would have to be something of consequence. This is no more than a tiny pimple on an elephants ass.
Where have you been for the last twenty years?
I can’t remember how many computer makers and OS makers are there in the UK?
The number 0 comes to mind. Actually what do you english produce except crappy music? Manufacturing, I thought you guys quit that business after your empire fell apart and they outlawed child labor?
What happened to the other Apple writer? He was a moron too but at least he
had an excuse.

Having restitched my sides, I sent him an email pointing out that those who think it’s big to insult people as being “gay” are often afraid of something within themselves, and this makes them angry and unhappy. (This guy – it’s obvious it’s a guy, yes? – isn’t a teenager; he’s actually in his late 30s or more, judging by the pictures in his online photo album. No, I’m not going to link there. It’d be cruel.)

Response:

In america 10 year olds use that concept for a number of concepts ie The fart concept. He who smelt it dealt it.
Thats week all that ripping and this is your only return line. Hell we used that one up back in grade school in the 1970’s.
You are a plug in the drain and as far as creativity your on par with the average American 10 year old.
You worthless maggot, you filthy pitiful peace of sh&t.
Your probably the type of man ….. ( you’ll have to rent the movie.)
PS: GFY peruvian snowcone loving drip of cr&p.
If your gonna send me a zinger at least make it worth the time.
This whole e-mail was about as week as the story you “BROKE.” Don’t ever use negative terms and Apple computer in the same
sentence. Or your computer will shock you in your mind like a lab monkey!
I still think you outta be sweeping chimney’s!
Fruitcake!

You get the pattern – he’s after attention, but I just wouldn’t insult him back, which just drove him into a frenzy. So, I asked, what was he so angry about? Final email (though I know it’s been fun..):

I’m angry at you for attacking the only light in the persona computer world.
Apple keeps the world of personal computing from falling into a dark, dark, abyss, of stagnate decay.
So it’s not nice to take unfair potshots at the people that make the world’s most advanced, most fun, most innovative personal computer.
If there was no Apple the world would turn into stagnate hole of mediocrity.
Kind of like you and your writing skills.
Total and complete grey crap!

Awww. Isn’t that nice? It’s so encouraging to have someone whose true mission in life is to spread the Apple gospel. And if we have to destroy the town to save it…

(Thinks. Hmm. The Triforce are gonna love this. A whole new excursion into vocabulary..)

Mobiles vs iPods: in time you will listen to your MP3s on one device…

And after some consideration, I think that the phones are going to have it. Not immediately, but in time.

More over at The Register. And did you know that on average people have just 375 digitised songs?

Plus Nokia is not only the biggest maker of mobile phones, and by proxy cameras – it’s also the biggest seller of MP3 players, something I was told this morning by an interesting person (on whom more anon) – who was also talking about MP3 players, but of the hi-fi kind.

Act three in the iPod nano screen drama

Ah, so Apple is now saying that some iPod nanos have problems with their screen – but this scratching thing, nahhh, there’s really nobody with that.

My take on this is at The Register – Apple coughs to iPod nano screen flaws.

Was it Plato or Socrates who said that dramatic structure followed three acts: (1) chase someone up a tree (2) throw sticks at him (3) get him down ?

Anyway, this seems to have moved pretty quickly to Act 3. Unless we somehow get Act 4 of the three-act play. After all, if Douglas Adams can write a four (or was it five?) part trilogy…

Interesting comment by Ian, who’s tried to put some numbers on it. But – a million in a month, sure, Ian, except the nano was announced on September 7 and only got into shops in any volume three days later. I make that not quite 18 days, which implies double the failure rate of 1 in 1,000.

Why I don’t see a future in videophones

In my weekly column at The Independent, I’ve written about Why I don’t see a future in videophones.

However it got cut substantially – something to do with this thing called “space”, which newspapers always have either too much or too little of.

So here’s what I wrote, in full…

Last week I got a webcam for my birthday. After the delight had worn off, there was just one problem: who do I know who’s also got a webcam so I can try it out? While that conundrum is of course just a technically advanced version of that which afflicts anyone on first getting connected to the Net (“But I don’t know anyone to send an email to!”), the fact that I had a webcam, not a videophone, even though both should in theory do the same job, tells us something interesting about how we use technology.
At about the same time I was pulling off the wrapping paper, Sir Alan “you’re fired!” Sugar was explaining that Amstrad had seen “disappointing” sales of its E3 videophone – launched a year ago – “in what is currently the worst high street retail market for many years.”
That’s a neat sleight of hand by Sir Alan, since I don’t think poor sales of the E3 have anything to do with the high street. Look around – you’ll still find some consumer electronics items selling well (clue: starts with “i”, ends with “pod”).
No, I think what hurt the E3 was the announcement that it is a videophone, even though it functions perfectly well as a phone or emailer (at least, as well as its non-video predecessor, the Em@iler, did).
The videophones is the zombie concept of technology. It just won’t die. Take British Telecom, which for about 20 years had tried and tried again to persuade people to buy a videophone. You can see the last effort at http://www.bt.com/videophone/index.jsp (or ask Google for “BT videophone”; it’s the top link).
“Video Talks!” the page begins chirpily. “Imagine being able to ring up and see your nearest and dearest face to face, even if they live hundreds of miles away! …All you (and the person you are speaking to) need is an ISDN or a Highway line to enjoy the high quality pictures and you can start to share smiles and laughter, photos and memories in a new way!”
Then the final paragraph adds briefly “The trial of the MM215 Videophone has now finished and it has been withdrawn from sale.” Oh well, tough on those far-away nearest and dearest, eh?
Or take another announcement from earlier this year, of Motorola’s videophone, the OJO. The review from the gadgets website Gizmodo will suffice: “Motorola has launched the Ojo Personal Video Phone. The Ojo is cool—it does 30 frame-per-second video while keeping the audio in sync. The Ojo is ugly—it looks like a duck’s foot. The Ojo is expensive—it’s going to be $800 for just a single unit.
“The Ojo is doomed.”
But now we should be at about the right intersection of computer processor speed and connectedness that we should all want to use video, right? That was the rationale behind the mobile operator 3’s offerings; except that its subscriber numbers only took off when it began offering cheap pay-as-you-go phones which don’t do video calling.
I think the continued failure of videophones is nothing to do with price, or processor power. We accept jerky video if we want to see something.
No, what happens is that people hear the word “videophone”, and instead of thinking “Marvellous! How soon will they have my flying car?” they think “People will see me when I’m on the phone? Argh!” Yes, they do (ask any woman). The fact that companies keep offering this service is the clearest indication, as if any more were needed, that technology tends to be designed by men, without any reference to women.
But wait: what about the enormous popularity of webcams, which can be linked up to instant messaging programs and used for face-to-face chats online? Why do people who will never countenance having a videophone in their living room use webcams?
That’s where you have to consider how we use those two technologies, the phone and the computer. Phone conversations can be impersonal or intimate, or anywhere in between; there’s no default.
But when instant messaging (IM’ing), you know who you’re talking to; you know who the invitation to a video chat is coming from; and you’re probably already talking less formally than the average phone call. (People still think of what fills the space in their screen as their own, which is why spam is so annoying.)
By contrast the telephone is in a sort of neutral ground, easily accessible to strangers. We don’t have the same control that we do when IM’ing, where video does become acceptable.
It’s a pity that Sir Alan should have to learn such a basic lesson the hard, financial way. But any time you introduce technology that works against human nature, you lose. Maybe he’ll have better luck with his next venture, which is something to do with ironing out wrinkles. Perhaps he should have released that first – and the videophone to follow, when all his customers were beautiful?

iPod nano scratch story deepens.. (sorry)

Since everyone in the world now (a) owns an iPod nano (b) is wailing about the scratches on its screen, here’s the followup at The Register on the iPod nano scratch story. (Oh, this is a story with legs like a spider’s, I tell you.)

Includes little interesting tidbits such as – Jim Allchin, all-seeing head of Windows, bought one on the first day.

And: the discussion on the Apple boards is past the 500-post mark.

It all fits rather neatly into the Apple product cycle, actually.

A future of knobs, and if you invite bloggers, give them a seat

Spam catcher updated, which I hope will solve problems with nice people being unable to pass comment

As various people have been having trouble passing comments here from time to time, I’ve ripped out the hacked-together version of Kitten’s Spaminator that was doing much of the spam-catching – and not-spam-catching too (hey, I couldn’t post a comment if I was logged in as the blog’s admin; how daft is that?).

Instead I’m now using Spam Karma 2. Be warned: it knows what you are thinking. It knows when you are bad. (Not bad, bad.) But it should iron out the hassles with posting comments. If not, well, um. Let me know through the usual channels, like email.

Osama has won (sorta), why the music biz secretly hates downloads, and how much should petrol cost?

  • How bin Laden has won, hands down
    Observations on the man who was arrested for carrying a rucksack and wearing a coat on the Tube. When you become the thing you fight, you have lost (Seen at Memex 1.1)
  • RED HERRING | Bronfman Fires Back at Apple
    “Instead of spending $15 for a CD, you buy two cuts for two bucks. That’s a lot of money left on the table,” said Joe Nordgaard, managing director of Spectral Advantage, a strategic consulting firm. “The traditional model with premium pricing has been so lucrative for the music industry. When they cut the deal with Apple, they did not realize what they had done. Now they want out.”

    The now-famous article where Bronfman bemoans not getting any of the iPod revenues. (Yeah, well, collect from the 8-track makers first, OK?) But this quote is more telling, and explains what’s wrong: the music biz is still making 10 tracks, but fears in future it will only sell two. And Apple’s upset that, um, applecart

  • James Suroweicki of the New Yorker on the US’s petrol prices
    The other, more fundamental virtue of the gas tax is that it brings the price of gasoline in line with its true cost. When all is said and done, cheap gas is an illusion, because our reliance on gas creates a whole series of costs that aren’t factored in to the pump price—among them congestion, pollution, and increased risk of accidents. The most rigorous study of these “externalities,” by the economists Ian Parry and Kenneth Small, suggests that a tax that took them into account would come to $1.01 for every gallon of gas.

    Suroweicki is terrific, consistently. A few years ago I gave a talk to a US engineering firm where I suggested that if there were a Superfund surcharge to remedy the damage that burning oil does to the environment, petrol would cost $40 per gallon. Looking at New Orleans and Iraq and Antarctica, that doesn’t seem too wrong.

Rubbish PR pitches, why papers’ reporting is going downhill, inside Apple, and a mobile phone map

  • Why Nobody Loves PR People. Sigh
    I’m in a good mood and this flack seems nice, so I won’t out his name. Here’s part of an email interchange that has been going on since yesterday, when he sent me a press release about optical something or anothers in an email attachment. I do not open unsolicited attachments, and neither does anyone else in their right mind. I politely asked him to put it in the body of an email. Listen up young flacks, old flacks and flacks in ships at sea: Don’t ever do what this publicist did.

    How weird – it’s like she’s channelling me… Unsolicited attachments (and emails called “PRESS RELEASE” with attachments called “PRESS RELEASE”) are the bane of my life. (Seen at B.L. Ochman’s weblog – Internet strategy, marketing, public relations, politics with news and commentary)

  • Margo Kingston’s Webdiary: The future of fair dinkum journalism
    ..Webdiary thus became Australia’s first mainstream media ‘blog ‘ – although I resisted this description for many years – and, perhaps, Australia’s first interactive blog.

    For me, it was liberation from the depressing state of mainstream newspaper journalism. In my years in the game, I’ve watched newspapers cease becoming papers of record. Where once we would follow an inquiry or a court case daily, now we jump in and out, or not even turn up at all until decision day. This occurred in 2003 when Fairfax failed to have a reporter at Hanson’s fraud trial, despite the fact that her rise had dominated the news for years. Partly it is because of a contraction in journalist numbers, partly it is a crunch in news space, and partly it is the chase for scoops that will be mentioned on radio and TV, ignoring the fact that only newspapers can give readers comprehensive, value-added coverage of such stories.

    Then there are the ever-earlier deadlines as papers focus on glossy supplements rather than news. This has seen the rise of ‘managed news’ where editors want to know what the news is at morning conference and are loathe to change their plans when news breaks later! Even worse, Fairfax editors started to talk of ‘managing’ reporters as well as news, and getting rid of reporters whose style was not amenable to ‘management’. As the layers of editorial management began to match or exceed that in public service bureaucracies, reporters became content providers, and news was seen as the space between the ads. Our audience became consumers, not citizen readers, and news judgement became a marketing game of creating the mix that pleased advertisers and accorded with consumer surveys.

    Quite scary-sounding, but right on the ball. All the things she describes – earlier deadlines, less ‘recording’ of stuff – is happening, in spades, in the UK. She’s someone who started a blog at the (Australian) paper – the Sydney Morning Herald – and found it did more to get into news than she expected.

  • What working for Apple is really like – from a former sales exec
    Were there any downsides to working for Apple? Of course. It’s an environment of extraordinarily bright and dedicated people, as I said before, and everyone was expected to be extraordinarily bright and, most of all, dedicated. The company asked a lot from all its employees. It ran them ragged. A coworker once commented that when he returned from one protracted series of business trips his child answered the door with, “Hey, Mom, there’s a guy with a mustache at the door.”

    Moreover Apple never made any effort to make it any easier. For instance it’s been a rule at Apple for years that on any business trip with more than 25 travelers, like a large conference or meeting, everyone has to share a room. And this rule is enforced. Senior managers must request VP approval for every trip to get their own rooms.

    Gee, you have to share rooms? And I thought it was just something they made the PR people do. Interesting blog from a guy who was a sales exec in New York, but involved nonetheless. His post about Tim Cook (who ran Apple when Jobs was ill) ring very true. Cook executes – in both senses of the word.

  • Cell phone map of Graz ….
    Impressive, and weird. Looks more like some sort of power surge: how to map a city by its inhabitants’ mobile phone use (Seen at Karlin Lillington)

Got an iPod nano? Got a scratch on the screen? Of course you have

Over at The Register, I’ve noted how the wails are growing loud – already! – from people who’ve bought an iPod nano and discovered that it seems to grow scratches from nowhere. That’s iPod nano owners in screen scratch trauma, to be precise.

I certainly noticed this – the one I’ve been trying is pretty much useless for viewing photos now, after a bit of pocketing. My advice: leave the bits of sticky plastic on over the screen.

Update Sun eve: see http://www.robservatory.com/archives/2005/09/25/protect-your-ipod-nanos-screen/ for simple protection – using a Treo screen protector. Possibly needs a Treo first, of course..

More: Good Morning Silicon Valley had the story too, but – by my counting – after mine at The Register. CNet has picked it up too. Hmm. I predict a riot..