What’s a guy gotta do to get a little Scoblejuice around here?

Hey, I was quite offended by Steve Ballmer’s comments about iPods. Amazed and surprised too that he could say such doltish things (and could I point out that I included the context of his quotes, too?)

However it seems this is not enough to be listed in Robert Scoble’s Brief Hall of Fame of People Offended By Steve Ballmer’s Comments.

What’s a poor tech journalist on one of five quality national daily papers in a populous country to do? Sit in a corner and grumble, maybe. Ponder whether the distance between the top of Microsoft and the middle has become too great for anything effective to flow in either direction, perhaps.

Actually, I’m considering getting some Microsofties to talk to me about sales of Media Centre PCs, because I don’t get it. Who’s going to buy them?
University (tr for US readers: college) undergrads? Nope, they want a laptop. And TVs are cheap.
Family people? Nope, they don’t want to be fighting over whether they can do email while someone watches TV.
People with no family and lots of money? Perhaps, but won’t they already have a computer, in which case why not just get a really expensive TV, a nice cheap PVR, and have fun?

See, this is all pertinent to what Ballmer was saying. In trying to drive this market Microsoft will discover it’s taken on the proverbial task of herding cats. People don’t want the complexity of a PC for recording TV and looking at pictures. They want the simplicity of a PVR (generically like TiVo in the US, Sky+ in the UK) and a digital camera. Microsoft’s approach is all wrong: it’s starting from an operating system and trying to build out, whereas Apple didn’t try to strip down a Mac to make the iPod. It began from a consumer interface and built up. Microsoft is still too tied to Windows as its cash cow.

9 Comments

  1. Maybe they’ll realise this and just come up with a new flavour of Windows for PVRs – Windows TV!

  2. Hi Charles

    Points very well made. The idea that the family computer moves next to the TV/becomes the TV is obviously fundamentally flawed.
    I have to confess to being towards your final category – no family and higher disposable income. Now I personally have been asking for a headless mac for sometime. In my view it would do the following things:
    1. Act as a backup to mine and my partners laptop data with iDisk like functionality (ie synchronised, invisible almost). More dependable than relying on me doing backups!
    2. Act as an iTunes mega jukebox to one or more hifis with all my cd’s stored in lossless format (so a big disk please)
    3. Act as iPod server for all the iPod’s in the household (currently 1)!
    4. Act as phone answering machine for my 2 lines, with email forwarding of messages (Ovolab Phlink or Parliant PhoneValet is perfect for this)
    5. Act as a PVR (it would be more reliable than my Pace Twin Micro box!)
    6. Act as a Home Theatre PC – playing DVD’s at high quality (DVI connection of course) to that expensive TV you say I have (actually have 18 year old Sony Trinitron). Seriously, I would get a plasma display if I had this box!
    7. Act as photo repository rather than again relying on laptop.
    8. Be able to archive stuff (eg programmes) off to DVD like some of the DVD recorders.
    9. Be connected to the internet of course, both for downloading, but also to serve material back to me when I’m on the road (eg my photos and data)

    I honestly think a box costing about 600-900 (by the time some of the other stuff is included, or disk is increased) would represent very good value for me and is achievable by Apple, for instance by taking an iMac G5 without the screen (with memory and disk boost). I wouldn’t even mind if the PVR (or one or two other addons such as the DVB tuner) was separate but PROGRAMMABLE REMOTELY using the Mac so I can tell it from somewhere else to record something – so the Mac would have a secure web interface for control. With such a setup, I would already not need a DVD player, CD player, or PVR/VCR. Our laptops and bluetooth phones of course would be the windows into and controllers of this device. The box is stashed where the VCR goes today. This is only about the price of some early DVD Recorders which could do one thing only.

    I also believe that Apple could package this up very nicely indeed. So perhaps instead of us thinking of this as the main computer in the home, perhaps there IS an argument for it being a black box with a set of extendable features that just happens to run a computer OS (like all the other devices today – even my crashing Pace box). Would the iPod generation not find a box like this useful?

    Of course, I could be in the more money than sense category, and overly geeky, but then I’m quite happy with a 3 year old Powerbook as my laptop if it does the job (which it does). Such a box would give me much better data security, excellent media features and simple, consistent control from anywhere I happen to be, as well as the functional features I’ve described.

    Anyone for the HomePod?

    Ian

  3. I dunno about the headless Mac thing, Ian. Surely most of the market for such a device (if not yourself) would, being of a geek bent, simply build their own from PC components, stick it in a case of their own choice, and spend less than 600-900?

    I reckon a future iMac revision might include a massive, durable hard drive and a tv tuner. Simultaneously, Airport Express would get scart connectivity, and before you know it you’re downloading movies on demand, archiving all your favourite tv on your Mac, and streaming it wirelessly to televisions all over your house.

    But what would the software to manage all this be called? iTube?

  4. I’ve put some comments relating to Tim’s comments (see the Trackback above, and go see what he wrote) at the end of the post on that blog. See http://www.itwriting.com/blog/?postid=96#comment401.

    Basically saying that the idea of a “media server”, or even a server, is too much marketing space to cover. Simpler ideas like the PVR will win because the marketing message is easier.

  5. Small Paul

    >I reckon a future iMac revision might include a massive, durable hard drive and a tv tuner.

    Yes, but I can’t quite see why you want to spend half the cost of the equipment buying a beautiful screen which you don’t really want (at least not in that location)? I want to use whatever TV’s I have to watch stuff on (and I want to just be able to turn them on and start watching).

    Interestingly Sony introduced a 1TB system in Japan yesterday (according to CNet) which records a weeks worth of all 7 (!) Japanese TV stations, a snip at $5k! So, they think there’s a market at that price!

    >Airport Express would get scart connectivity
    I doubt we’ll ever have SCART in an apple product. It’s a very European thing. However, a DVI output, or optical video or something? Maybe. After all, Apple claimed the new H.264 codecs can give HDTV quality in a stream of 6Mbps – easily handled by even current “g” devices.

    >simply build their own from PC components
    Well, I think there’s a lot of us geeks that get excited about software etc, but don’t like to do anything more than change a hard disk in a laptop (and that took me some courage!). Given how easy Apple made music with iTunes to iPod and then Airport Express, I see them as THE company that can make doing what I originally posted as easy as setting up and connecting a PVR, DVD player, CD Player etc. But I don’t see this device as the family computer either – just an adjunct to it.

    Ian

  6. Good point about the iMac. And as time goes on, more of the population will become more geek-enabled: the iPod could well just be a gateway drug to a device like you describe. And you’re right, Apple would be the one to do this. Give it 15 years, I reckon.

  7. I agree and disagree:

    My vision of media PCs is that far from being the home PC it would be one of several all networked and able to perform similar functions.

    You have your media PC in the public living areas, these allow you to carry out all the normal TV functions, via the TV as well as general internet, e-mail, games and so on, on a large screen, in a public / social situation.

    Conversly you have your office pc, it has all the same functions, but operates on a higher res screen, smaller and noticably more private screen for work, personal viewing, e-mail etc in non-social, or non-public situations.

    There are great advantages to using a media pc instead of letting individual devices such as TV, Hi-Fi etc make their own decisions, but in the real world these things need to be far cheaper. I think we are at the stage with media computing that was shown in relation to TVs in the film Back to the future:

    “Do you have a TV?”,
    “Sure we have two”,
    “No one has Two TVs”

    until media PCs are say, half the price, they will not catch on, but just as music is beginning to move away from the concrete and into the digital I see no reason why many other things wont do also.

  8. I’ve actually just waved goodbye this morning (thank the lord) to a Media Center PC Microsoft pressed on me when I finally gave up saying no. It does, as the earlier reviews pointed out, a number of consumer type things rather badly at a considerably larger cost than that of the relevant consumer type thing out of Richer Sounds or similar. Like you I don’t get it, but I reckon part of the problem is – weirdly – that Microsoft’s control of the platform isn’t strong enough for it to guarantee a consistent and good quality consumer experience. As I said to the PR, you wouldn’t get this kind of crap cut-price DVD software shipping with an Apple. Not that I’d be happy with MS having that kind of control; Jobs being Duce is about OK so long as he doesn’t have too much of the world to strut across.

    For an alternative perspective on MPC, however, check Joe Wilcox’s blog here http://www.microsoftmonitor.com/archives/003856.html

    Joe struck me as being quite sensible when he was as CNET, and I’m baffled by his reaction to MPC being so wildly different from mine.

  9. Hi all,
    Nicely bringing together this thread, and Charles’ other thread on Steve Ballmer is the following article at the Register
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/10/07/ballmer_doesnt_get_it/

    Excellent reading as (almost) always.

    Ian

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