Apr 052012

When the Android Open Accessory Development Kit and Arduino chipset were announced at Google I/O last year, I remarked on Google’s continuing invasion of user privacy that was pioneered by their search engine. The trend is obvious: Google wants to extract your personal information at a cellular level in order to best serve the people who pay them.

The latest syringe to come out of Mountain View comes in the form of a Microsoftian concept video for Project Glass.

I’d call it vaporware, but that would imply that Google is attempting to stifle future innovation in the same space, but Google’s product exists in a space that no company that isn’t funded by billions in play money would attempt to enter.

In addition to the contents of your email, your contacts, your calendar, your chat logs, your social network and your internet searches, Google is making a play to monetize every waking moment of your life. It’ll be just like giving Eric Schmidt an all-day piggyback ride. Let me try to temper my enthusiasm.
Feb 082012

I’ve gone on record about how much sense it makes for Apple to graduate from making a set-top Apple TV to Apple making an actual TV. Several times. But the evidence keeps piling up – if by “evidence” you mean “totally unsubstantiated rumors and bullshit ‘supply chain checks'”. But after much digging, I’ve finally uncovered some data that makes a strong case for Apple to make a television.


This is for all of you who haven’t been tracking the recent financial performance of TV manufacturers, a group that apparently includes Gene Munster. Every one of the top five have experienced a drop in sales in their most currently reported quarter compared to the previous year. Seems like a business you’d want to get into.

Some people contend that this is only evidence of a market ripe for the kind of breathtaking innovation that Apple brought to mobile phones. I contend that these people will never be involved in the decision-making at Apple, Inc.

Jul 252011

Handicapping Apple products is now considered to be a national past time. Unfortunately for the overwhelming percentage of prognosticators, they don’t know how badly they suck at it. Because a new wave of asinine Apple product rumors roll in every new moon, it’s tough to dissipate the stink from the last one before the next is upon us. As much as I’d like to think tech bloggers and analysts are that stupid, it’s far more likely that the culprits are playing loyal enthusiasts (and the freetards who hate them) as part of the quest for the almighty pageview.

As someone utterly immune to and sometimes inspired to respond to such ridiculousness, I’ve decided to call out some of the latest rumors casting stinklines across the interwebs and drag them into the light of logic – well, my logic anyway – in the hopes that you, dear reader, will find the moronitude of said rumors to be self-evident.

A New iPhone to Address the Pre-Paid Market

Because I’m a U.S. consumer and purchase my phones with a fat brick of a contract that brings the up-front cost down, I’m not sensitive to the fact that most other countries don’t operate that way. The truth is that the pre-paid smartphone market is both growing – because more mobile phone purchases are smartphone purchases – and largely unexploited. This would appear to be an opportunity for someone like Apple to significantly grow their global market share – you know, that number that means a lot to Android users – by producing a lower-cost version of the iPhone.

The thing is: Apple already makes a lower-cost version of its current smartphone. Every generation of iPhone provides a buying opportunity for prior generation hardware. As of now, you can get an iPhone 3GS for around $450. That price will likely go down when the iPhone 5 is announced. So it’s entirely possible that Apple will make the 3GS more widely available as a cheaper alternative for the pre-paid phone crowd. But there are also some problems with thinking the 3GS is going to be Apple’s global pre-paid phone. First, it assumes that Apple will continue to produce them in mass quantities. It also assumes they’d be willing to drop the price of the phones below $300 or so. Both of those strike me as cutting into the possibility of it happening significantly, but I think the most biggest detriment to the argument is that the 3GS will be 2 generations removed from currency, which I don’t think would reflect well on the Apple brand. So why not the possibility of Apple releasing a “stripped down” version of the iPhone with – or about the same time as – the iPhone 5? No friggin’ way.

For this to be the case, there has to be failure on one of two axes that make successful Apple products: price and features. A”stripped down” version of the iPhone 5 is what? The iPhone 4? If that’s the case, there’s no way Apple offers it for below $300. Does it share the form factor of the iPhone 5 without some killer feature? It’d have to do without a shitload of killer features to bring the cost below $300, at which point it’d again reflect poorly on the brand.

Earth to pundits: Apple makes healthy margins on excellent hardware vertically integrated with a superior platform. While I’m sure the pre-paid market is a goldmine for some companies who can subsist on razor-thin margins, Apple is not – nor do they want to be – that company.  And speaking of non-margins…

The Apple-branded television

I honestly can’t understand the resilience of this one, but it’s an absolute zombie (a plodding Romero zombie, not the wicked-fast Return of the Living Dead kind). I tried taking apart an enthusiastic analyst; I even tried smug allegory. Apparently there are those who still believe in it, so I’m going to boil my objection down simply: what advantage does Apple gain by having a TV with an apple on it versus any TV hooked up to an AppleTV? Margin? If Apple releases a 42″ TV at an Apple margin, the cost of a Vizio + an AppleTV is guaranteed to be hundreds less. So what does Apple do then? Discontinue the set-top box? Not likely. For pundits who don’t “get it”, Apple’s success in studio and broadcast media is and will continue to consist of 9 parts media, 1 part hardware. The value of the hardware has already been captured in a set-top box; further integration would only add a cost barrier while decreasing consumer choice. The only way to add value to the proposition is to add content, which is where Apple will focus, but not by…

Purchasing Hulu

I’m inclined to think this one sprang from a collision of the “Google is rumored to be talking to someone, so Apple must be talking to them too” and the evergreen “Apple has so much cash; they have to spend it on something” streams. Aside from Apple already hosting a bunch of Hulu’s content, Apple already has a model for a streaming media relationships. Look at what Apple did to Netflix on the AppleTV. They managed to keep all of their content, but Netflix didn’t even get their splash screen on the AppleTV interface. That’s the kind of relationship Apple will have with Hulu, if it even has one. Personally, I don’t think Apple’s interest in a catalogue consisting of 90% decades-old TV shows and movies I’ve never heard of is that high.

Update: Macworld’s Dan Moren wrote an article on why Hulu would be an attractive partner for Apple. Even though I agree with very little of it, it does present the most compelling argument I’ve seen on the issue. The best part: Macworlder Chris Breen takes his coworker’s argument apart in the comments section.

So there’s the view from my comfortable naysayer’s perch about things I feel have little to no chance of happening despite the increasing number of articles appearing to the contrary. Comment are open to those who think I’ve grown too pessimistic about Apple’s ambitions (as well as to those pointing out my poor spelling and/or diction).

Nov 162010

Despite not being able to cogitate anything but disingenuous corporate doublespeak, Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen continues to fill the air with Flash rhetoric that’s becoming increasingly embarrassing to behold. His latest trip off the reservation was today at the Web 2.0 Summit, where he declared that the reason Flash runs so miserably on the new MacBook Air is because Adobe didn’t get an advance copy of the machine so they could optimize it for the hardware. With that hilarious statement, one has to wonder what he was thinking.

When Steve Jobs said that he didn’t want to have Apple and its customers held hostage to the release schedules of third party development platforms, statements like “we didn’t have an advance copy of your hardware so we could optimize our technology for it” was more or less exactly what he was talking about. And since when has Adobe optimized Flash for versions of Apple hardware anyway?

Despite any precedent, Narayen claims that Adobe has the new Air in their labs and is currently beta testing an optimized version of Flash for it. So I guess we can look forward to Adobe-optimized versions of Flash for all Apple hardware running different GPUs? In perpetuity? I’m sure that’ll be announced with the version of Flash that can run on a modern mobile processor without grinding it to a halt. You know: the one that he’s been flapping his gums about for the last 2 years.

This guy is so full of shit it makes my eyes bleed. Adobe is so clearly trying to defend the technology  they overpaid Macromedia to get, they will say anything to extend the duration of its overdrawn tenure. Apple released a hugely hyped and critically acclaimed piece of hardware, someone quantified Flash’s dismal effect on the device’s performance, and the the anti-Flash kiln flared to several thousand degrees. Narayen’s lip service response is nothing more than piss-poor damage control; it will not produce “Adobe Flash for Macbook Air” any more than his words have ever delivered on any promise the company has made regarding Flash and mobile devices.

May 262010

M$ doesn’t have much of a presence in markets that aren’t inherited. As opposed to the Windows, Office and Server dinosaurs, Microsoft’s attempts at making things people actually want to use have been somewhat less successful. The entity known as the “Entertainment and Devices” division of Microsoft has been a balance sheet singularity responsible for, among other things, the RROD and the Zune each contributing to the copious effluence of red ink gushing from the division since it first appearance in the books. A series of mostly underwhelming and universally capital-hemorrhaging products and vapor paved the way for the latest slap against Ballmer’s flabby jowls. When SB appeared onstage at CES, he was groping an HP tablet called the Slate, a device meant to compete with the soon-to-be-shipped iPad. When HP bought Palm, they pulled the plug on the device a mere 5 months after SB fondled a demo in front of hundreds of frothing keynoters. The term I’m looking for here is “suck it”.

Making shitastic products is one thing; losing a major hardware host partner is quite another. Ballmer has put his foot down. After 22 years, Robbie Bach is hitting the bricks.

I want to spend a second on the HP-Palm thing. In the salad years, when Microsoft said “jump”, its hardware partners grabbed their ankles. Without question. Back then, pulling off an acquisition that could be perceived as competing with a M$ offering would have gotten you kicked off the Windows tit in a heartbeat. Now, in 2010, one of the largest PC builders thinks nothing of acquiring a company that competes directly with Redmond in the mobile space, potentially risking their status as a Windows OEM to do it. They pulled a product made for their Masters out of the pipeline – practically out of Ballmer’s hands – in the process. No wonder you can still see the skidmarks in Redmond where Robbie’s ass bounded to the curb.

A week prior, M$’s Chief Experience Officer and CTO for E&D J Allard decided not to return from a sabbatical, possibly due to the dirt nap taken by the Courier project, something J (just J, got it?) was personally championing. Apparently Allard was disappointed that the Courier never graduated from “design student animation thesis” to, you know, something with specs and stuff that could actually be built. Maybe he missed the Microsoft orientation video on vaporware.

Looks like some senior vermin are taking the plunge from the SS Borg. Maybe they see the future for Microsoft that everyone else in tech sees.

So who will take on responsibility for the latest sucking void within the sucking void that is E&D?

Effective July 1, Don Mattrick, who leads our interactive entertainment business, and Andy Lees, who leads our mobile communications business, will report directly to me.

The “me”? Steve Ballmer. If you’re a Microsoft competitor, this is liquid awesome.

Apr 292010

When I started Vaporwatch, I half-believed that Microsoft would actually release one of the breakthrough products it was “developing”. After all, the trick of announcing a product whose sole purpose was to deflate enthusiasm for competitors’ real products was just becoming too obvious and well-worn – even for Microsoft.

Well, now that Apple’s iPad has sold more than a million units in less than a month in only one country, M$ has decided to make me look like a genius by “leaking” to Gizmodo that it was time for Courier to give up the ghost.

I have to give them credit: Classic Redmond would have dragged the charade on for another year before burying it. Guess they figured spending another half a million on a “concept video” that had zero impact on Apple’s real product in the same space was wasteful. It’s not like Microsoft is any stranger to setting money on fire.  Aside from losing billions every quarter trying to push consumer electronics that no one wants, they periodically burn haybales of capital on some of the worst advertising in the business. Using that criteria, axing Courier qualifies as one of the most sensible marketing decisions Microsoft has made in the last decade.

So while the comment sections of Gizmodo are aghast with shock and mourn the premature death of a device that no doubt would have changed the face of mobile computing – even though it never had a corresponding presence in the physical universe – the sane among us knew there was a better chance of being mauled by a polar bear and a regular bear in the same day than of the Courier seeing the light of day.

Apr 132010

The Courier

As buzz was building to a crescendo about the Apple tablet that will eventually become the iPad, other me-too tablet announcements begin to trickle in. Not willing to let a superior product out of the gates before performing the trick they made famous, Microsoft begins “leaking” concept videos of a stylus-driven, dual-screen touchscreen tablet. You see, M$ has more than one vaporware tactic. Sometimes they’ll make a big announcement at a consumer electronics show a year and a half before their real product is slated to ship. Sometimes their corporate security periodically disintegrates, “revealing” products to eager tech sites like Engadget and Gizmodo, who unwittingly post their “scoops” while Microsoft laughs at the continued gullibility of tech media.

At companies that make real products, a leak like Courier would set off a nuclear device in the boardroom. Letting competition know the form factor, features or technology present in your forthcoming devices is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately for Microsoft, when these “leaks” hit the tech landscape, they usually don’t represent a design worth copying, don’t reveal any technical details about the product, and are immediately recognized by potential competitors for what they are. Much like the Wizard of Oz, the awesomeness of the apparition belies the nothingness of the reality.  So here’s what we “know” about the Courier:

September, 2009: Microsoft “leaks” an animated concept video of a tablet device known as Courier to Engadget. Despite the “concept” not having specs, price, OS, or release date (wouldn’t want to kill the enthusiasm with all that), the incredibly detailed animation, spanning 1:55, inspires commenter cries of “Microsoft is back!”, which I took as an incomplete blurt that ends something like “…to creating representations for which no actual product is intended”, since that is clearly their strength.

November 2009: A video detailing the Courier’s user interface is “leaked” to Gizmodo (hey, the wealth must be shared), because the more detailed the non-product, the more effective the “stopping power”. Engadget uses the curious term “advanced proof of concept”, which is usually reserved for products that “can be built” as opposed to those that “can be drawn”. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t seem to realize that no one buys their particular shovelful of bullshit anymore – except commenters on tech websites. A “Highest Ranked” comment on Engadget reads: “This isn’t a laptop without a keyboard, it’s a new device designed from the ground up to be controlled with a pen and multitouch gestures.” That one cost TMA a mouthful of coffee and almost a wireless keyboard. Engadget follows up with Steve Ballmer and pointedly asks about the device. His response, according to Engadget, is that “he swears he hasn’t actually seen it, but that it sounds like it’s something someone should make”.  Readers are left to decide for themselves whether the CEO of the company can really be so out of touch with its groundbreaking products or if the comment was just a really retarded attempt at coyness.

March 2010: Another Courier video is “leaked” to Engadget, showing how the device’s…animation…has evolved. Amazingly, even though 6 months have passed since the previous animation (which one might assume would go into the development of an actual product), the same absolute lack of details remain.

April 2010: Apple releases the iPad to extremely positive reviews. Despite being released on a Saturday, sales figures for the weekend top those of the original iPhone, indicating once again that in a market where people exchange money for actual products, Apple reigns supreme.

Apr 082010

Like a bloated lion, Microsoft waits for other, more innovative companies to launch products before waddling to market, bellowing the entire saunter from their shaded tree about how awesome their product is going to be. The idea being that competition would be discouraged from mobilizing and people who still hadn’t made a purchase decision would be frozen, waiting for M$’s entry. Sometimes they’d make it to market; most of the time they didn’t. Back in the days of Longhorn, an OS that was slated to succeed XP and was heavily promoted with fanciful technologies yet somehow never made it to market, this trick worked pretty well. It essentially killed innovation in the computer and consumer electronics spaces, but what the fuck, it made Microsoft money – or it least prevented it from flowing to its competition.

Nowadays, everyone in tech is wise to Microsoft’s vaporware bait-and-ditch tactics. Yet incredibly, the company continues to juice markets with nothing backing up their claims to enter them besides a “concept animation”. If there’s anything in the market that smells a little like innovation, you can bet Redmond will announce their better, more powerful version coming soon, soon, soon! Commenters in Gizmodo and Engadget spring their collective wood, actually expecting a product to be released in their lifetime. Think Charlie Brown, Lucy and a football.

As a public service to the community, TMA has decided to keep track of some of Microsoft’s “coming soon” technologies that, although are still very early in development, hasn’t stopped the company from showing off celebrity demos and producing very detailed animations of how their “products” will work. I call this service “Operation Vaporwatch”. Let’s start with Microsoft’s latest gaming vapor…

Project Natal

Jun 1, 2009: In a move no doubt intended to staunch the arterial bleeding inflicted by Nintendo’s Wii on the XBox 360, Microsoft unveils a super-advanced motion-sensing set top device with the code name Project Natal (as in Nepal, not dreidel). The device is announced with no ship date and no price, but plenty of fanfare. Its demo videos and celebrity endorsements are the talk of the 2009 E3. In a follow-up confirmation from Ballmer himself, Natal is to be released before the end of 2010. You read that right: 18 months from the product’s announcement. Try to think of a product in the tech space – any tech product – that gets announced a year and a half before its scheduled release. TMA immediately calls horse

Jun 3, 2009: In what TMA will later refer to as part of “the Wonka Factory Tour”, during which Gizmodo editors are walked through Microsoft’s product development centers in exchange for fair and balanced reporting, Mark Wilson and Matt Buchanan are treated to exclusive access to Natal’s 3D Breakout and Burnout Revenge demos. A “small PC and camera that simulates the final Natal rig” are used. One would assume the PC will not come with Natal when it does ship. No specs of said PC are divulged. Also missing is any photo or video of the actual gameplay experience – something that might actually mark the performance of the PC-enhanced units or – you know – build an actual buzz. Regardless, both editors rave about “immersiveness”. The resulting unbiased review is titled “Testing Project Natal: We Touched the Intangible”.

June 2009 – Jan 2010: Redmond is overrun by crickets. Payload delivered.

Jan 7, 2010: According to a statement from Alex Kipman, Natal’s chief developer, Natal still exists and the add-on will consume a meager 15% of the XBox 360’s processing power, or in laymen’s terms 40 dB.

Feb 23, 2010: MTV clocks the lag between body movements and the corresponding on-screen output at 1/10 second. FPS games from 1995 point and laugh.

Jul 012009

Everyone’s favorite Microshill Mary-Jo Foley continues to build her case for a Microsoft entry into the mobile phone hardware business: Project Pink.

Not to be confused with a fundraiser for breast cancer‚ the interface for the Project Pink phone is supposedly being designed by the Danger‚ Inc. folks that M$ picked up via acquisition last year.  Who are they?  Aside from being creators of how-to videos that make you want puncture your eardrums with something sharp‚ they were the masterminds behind the Sidekick phone software.

Ed: Danger pulled said eardrum-splitting video.

So it’ll be based on WinMo‚ but with a whimsical Danger overlay?  Maybe smartphone hardware with hip software?  Sounds about as well thought-out as any piece of consumer electronics M$ has put out to me.  Microsoft may also slap their name on the hardware.  Sweet Christ let that please be true.

Even though Microsoft is capable of announcing products that look finished – complete with appearances on late-night TV and star athlete endorsements – 18 months prior to their promised ship dates‚ Mary Jo is having a hard time pinning Redmond down on details.  One thing that is known:  McCann Erickson has been hired to manage the ad campaign for the PinkyPhone.  You may remember them as the firm who directed the Halo 3 campaign for the 360.  In that campaign‚ according to the firm‚ the challenge was changing the question from “how do you pull $40 million of milk from a dried-up titty how do you market a video game?” to “how do you honor a hero?”.  In Pink’s case‚ the challenge will be changing the question from “what the fuck is Microsoft thinking?” to “you guys made the Sidekick?”.

When it comes to shitty follow-ups to competitors’ successful products‚ no one walks into a punch quite like M$.  Here’s to another billion-dollar capital spigot!  Cheers!

Jun 152009

First off‚ in the interest of full disclosure‚ I own an XBox 360.  Despite Microsoft’s involvement‚ developers have managed to take a hilariously deficient piece of hardware (my personal RROD hit about 8 months after purchase) and build a gaming library that allows me to swear at 10 year-olds a couple of nights a week.

Now at E3‚ Microsoft pulled one of its game-changing-breakthroughs-for-which-we-have-no-release-date announcements.  Haven’t I seen this kind of thing before?  Tell me if this doesn’t look familiar:

-Is the product being pounded into the dirt by competition that is either better-in-class (PS3) or through the use of innovative technology (Wii)?  Check and check.

-Does the announcement have a delivery date?  Not really.

-Is the speculated release date for the product make it look less like vaporware?  Ummm…late 2010?  18 fucking months? Jesus Christ: that’s the tech equivalent of 10 years!

-Despite not having any official release date for a real-world product‚ has that prevented from demoing the non-product as something that looks pretty goddamned finished?  Or having it announced by an academy-award winning director (by the way Spielberg‚ after what you did to the Indiana Jones franchise‚ shilling M$ vaporware was a natural next step for you)‚ pimped by celebrities and hyped on late-night talk shows?   Nah.

-Are said demos staged‚ if not downright choreographed?  You tell me.  (Please make a note of the camera time depicting actual gameplay vs. the time spent on everything else.  I get 4 seconds.)

This is a classic M$ vaporware setup.

1. Announce something that looks like you have a shread of creativity.

2. Do not give a release date or imply a date so far out in the future that hybrid hovercars stand as good a shot of coming to market.  That way the product might be out in 18 months‚ but it could be 6!  OMG – which one is it?!?!

3. Enjoy the benefit of having frozen purchases of your competitor’s superior products indefinitely.

4a. Turn 18 months into 3 years‚ then shrug your shoulders and claim the product was “a concept”.

4b. Release something that has 10% of the utility (or as they like to say in Redmond “Teh Wow”) intimated by your breathless initial demos/celebrity knob-gobbling.

I have to give the company credit: they work this bit more effectively than anyone out there.

Update: Gizmodo reports that Ballmer has confirmed 2010 as the availability…year.  And we know that Steve the Less never misses a projection, right?

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