The Digital Future Is Now
Murdoch Finally Launches The Daily, Priced at 99¢ a Week
The media world’s been waiting for Rupert Murdoch to finally announce The Daily, News Corp’s 99¢-a-week iPad-only (so far) newspaper. Apple is unveiling a new subscription model that allows content to be purchased on a recurring basis. There are a lot of really interesting things in The Daily to comment on, but I think the most interesting is that the model itself is very magazine or tabloid newspaper. It’s actually more magazine in some ways than The Economist application, which is actually a magazine! On the other hand, I wonder if short-form, highly opinionated, tabloid-style content really plays to the strengths of the tablet format. So far, the success of the Kindle, the iPad, Flipboard, Instapaper, inter alia, have seemed to demonstrate consumers’ willingness to read longer works of journalism in the right format. Murdoch may not then be the man who can save journalism in America, as many speculated. Look at his print successes, tabloids all.
A Contrary View on The Daily From BusinessInsider’s Evan Britton
After what I just said about The Daily, Evan Britton writes in BusinessInsider that the iPad experience makes people more likely to pay for news. He thinks that pay walls for Web sites won’t succeed, but that apps that are designed to change the delivery of news content would be worth paying for—and the first to try that is The Daily. Notably, he does not go so far as to suggest that The Daily itself will succeed; the headline is miscast. He’s arguing that the category of paid news apps will succeed where pay walls won’t.
Macworld’s Joel Mathis noticed the same thing about The Daily that I did: it’s not really very original. Mathis argues persuasively that in spite of all of the technical innovation behind The Daily, it’s just a souped-up New York Post or USA Today. He says, “In its overall mix… The Daily most reminds me of two other attempts to save daily newspapers from hemorrhaging young readers: Red Streak and RedEye, two free tabloids that appeared in Chicago a decade ago, aimed at twentysomething commuters.” Is that who the audience is? Why would I pay a buck for this instead of just pick up RedEye? It’s hard to tell who the audience is from using The Daily, Mathis says; this is a high-end, technically sophisticated platform whose unfocused news content and lack of editorial vision is holding it back.
Poynter Gets Eight Experts’ Reactions on The Daily
Thursday morning, the guys at Poynter’s Media Lab asked a panel of eight experts with a long history in the field (Roger Fidler, Ken Doctor) what they thought of The Daily. I think the reactions are fascinating. For instance, Fidler noted that the individual presentation and art direction of stories is much more labor-intensive than flowing content into identical templates, but that the results are much richer. And Doctor wonders if readers will pay for general, rather than specialized, news. Worth reading.
Sony: Apple Is Changing Policy, Won’t Allow Apps With Own Off-Device Stores Unless Content Can Also Be Purchased In-App
In a story in the New York Times, Sony is saying that Apple is changing their guidelines on applications in a specific way that would harm, in particular, e-book-reader vendors. Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, and the so-far-rejected Sony Reader all rely on users buying their books from their computers or branded devices, and synchronizing them to the iPad. There is no in-app store; all purchases go through Amazon or B&N. Sony says Apple told them that wouldn’t be allowed (or already had been disallowed, according to some accounts) even though Amazon and B&N both work that way. I’m of two minds here: the lack of integration of the Kindle Store is irritating, but there’s a strong antitrust argument to be made that Apple shouldn’t be able to take a 30% cut of Amazon’s sales, thereby inflating Amazon’s costs to publishers or cutting into its profits, when Apple has no such limits on its own contracts with ebook publishers.
More Detail on the Size of Apple’s Service Charges for In-App Book Purchases
Jim Dovey, the lead Apple developer at Kobo, another e-book-reader vendor, points out that because of the way book contracts are negotiated, Amazon, Kobo, B&N, et al, only get to keep 30% of the list price of books. So if Apple insists on 30% as a transaction fee, the e-book vendor makes no money on the sales of books on the iPad or iPhone at all. Sounds pretty self-evidently an antitrust violation to me: in order to be on Apple’s platform, competitors must agree to give up 100% of the profit of their sales through that platform. Amazon, B&N, Kobo, et al, will not be allowed to mark up their books 30% on their in-app stores vs. through the Web portals.
A Counterargument About (Some Parts of) the E-reader Controversy
Some part of the controversy over the Sony Reader-Apple brouhaha hinges on Apple leaving some parts of its Terms of Service and developer agreements deliberately vague, which led to the rejection of Sony’s Reader application on the grounds that it lacks functionality that Amazon’s and B&N’s (et al) all leave out. It’s an interesting argument, but CounterNotions takes an interesting position and one that makes sense: these documents are written in very dense legalese in order to avoid lawsuits accusing the company of violating specific promises, and to make sure competitors don’t know about future strategic moves before Apple is ready to make them. This argument, it’s worth note, does not indemnify Apple against charges of antitrust violations. He attempts to defend Apple’s move as well, but I don’t really agree with the premise of the argument: if that’s the case, Apple should just require that only apps paid at a certain price (say $20) can operate an out-of-app store.
Interesting Take: Sony’s App Uses Some Components of In-App Purchase Mechanisms
Something I hadn’t seen elsewhere, from Harry McCracken at Technologizer, on the subject of Sony’s Reader application rejection by Apple: he says that his sources suggest the Sony application had an in-app purchasing mechanism, unlike the Kindle and B&N apps, which take you to Safari to complete the purchase as a file download into the iOS filesystem. Now I’m a little less concerned: Sony, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you want a truly in-app store, you have to give Apple their cut; and if not, you have to play by the same rules as the other vendors.
How Enterprise Business Customers Are Using the iPad
Network World takes us on a series of case studies of big businesses using the iPad. I was really surprised how much big companies rely on Web applications, either in-house or hosted, and, frankly, how overpowered a typical laptop is to the tasks they describe. That’s one thing the tech pundits didn’t seem to get about the iPad or the tablet category in general: the absence of a hardware keyboard and mouse is actually a selling point, because most of the tasks the article describes either benefit from direct interaction with your hands or at minimum don’t suffer any detriment.
We’re Just Living in a Mobile World
Verizon sold out of iPhone 4 pre-orders. But, you know, this is just another cell phone being released on Verizon. Right?
No Line at Verizon for iPhone? Not Necessarily a Problem
Verizon may have sold out their pre-order inventory in a day, but there weren’t lines (in general) at Verizon and Apple stores for the CDMA iPhone 4. Is this a problem? Analysts and Joel Mathis from Macworld don’t think so; it’s not a new product, so only people who are current Verizon customers who’ve been jonesing for an iPhone or extremely fed up with AT&T service are likely to wait in line for it. Analysts still expect Verizon to sell more than 11 million iPhones this year. Quite a statistic.
Marco Arment: Verizon Mostly Selling iPhones to Existing Owners?
Instapaper developer Marco Arment takes a look at his sales statistics, and notices that even though Verizon is moving a lot of iPhone hardware, he’s not seeing the usual sales bump he gets around holidays and when new devices are released. His conclusion: a lot of those Verizon iPhones are being sold either to users who already have an iPod touch or were using AT&T. He theorizes that people who buy an iPhone 4 on Verizon, even though it’s been available on AT&T for eight months, are mostly the non-geek users who just happen to be buying one—that the slow and steady pace of sales will keep up, in short.
We’ve been hearing a lot lately about a phenomenon Horace Dediu described aptly in December: “The bottom of the phone market is very vulnerable to becoming smart.” Here’s a contrary prediction from Network World, which says that some 65 percent of users want an ordinary “dumb” phone. Their principal concern was the cost of data service. I suspect the issue here is that right now, unless you use your cell phone a lot, minutes seem really cheap. But to get a data plan you almost always need at least 450 minutes. That and a data plan makes the iPhone $70 or so a month, vs. say $35 after taxes for a basic voice plan. Carriers should really also stop double-charging data-plan users for SMS. There is one point where Horace Dediu and this survey agree: the single largest reason more smartphones aren’t already being sold is price.
Ouch: Windows Mobile 6 Beats Windows Phone 7 in Sales in 4Q2010
In a fun twist of fate, NPD Group analysts are saying that Windows Mobile 6 actually beat Windows Phone 7 in sales in the first quarter that WP7 was available. That’s generally bad news for a new platform, especially one with as much bombast as Windows Phone 7. To be fair, devices with the new OS are still only available on T-Mobile (increasingly a bit player) and AT&T (has iPhone), and being available on Verizon will probably make a difference. Still, not good news. Windows Phone 7 also underperformed WebOS and Android in their own first quarters.
Speculation on the Street: Nokia Will Announce a Move to Windows Phone 7
An open letter from an analyst at a German bank urging Nokia’s CEO to form an alliance with Microsoft is now raising eyebrows around the tech world, because Nokia also has announced a February 11 address by the company’s new CEO to investors. This executive, Stephen Elop, came to Nokia from Microsoft, so speculation was already high before this. If Nokia were to make this move, it would kill the company’s long-awaited MeeGo platform, but also probably make Nokia suddenly relevant again in the smartphone world. They haven’t had much to show over the years lately for Symbian, and have been overtaken by iOS and Android. In hitching their wagon to Microsoft, they could get a real marketing boost…they’d be far and away the biggest name selling Windows Phone 7 phones.
iPad, Still King of the Hill, and Other Tablet News
Wired: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 a Plastic Toy with a Gorgeous Screen
The guys at Wired got their hands on the 10.1-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, which is the theoretical Android-based iPad-killer (also: possibly, the Motorola Xoom). They were not impressed. I heard a lot of good things about the 7-inch Galaxy Tab, which at least differentiates itself from the iPad on size. Not so much about the 10-inch model: Charlie Sorrel says it felt plasticky, was an odd size, and all in all felt rough around the edges. He also points out that Android Honeycomb is no panacea: it “feels like Linux on the desktop before Ubuntu came along.” Oof.
Engadget: Motorola Xoom is Pricey, But Honeycomb Feels More Desktop, Less Tablet
The guys at Engadget seem to have liked the Motorola Xoom well enough, although they say the rear-facing camera feels a bit like holding up a picture frame with a camera on the back. They also complained about the niggling little details, polish or software or button issues, which cheapen the whole experience. It sounds like it’s pretty well-polished—better than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1—but very expensive. Without a contract, it’s $800, or, with a contract, $600 plus $20 a month for at least two years. There’s no pricing announced yet for the WiFi-only model.
Andy Ihnatko Did Not Pass the Motorola Xoom on the Why Would I Buy This Instead of an iPad Test
The Sun-Times’ columnist of great repute got a Xoom to review as well. One thing he observed that I thought was really interesting is that the form factor makes it almost impossible to use vertically; even when you can, you don’t really want to. Also, he thinks Honeycomb still lacks a lot of polish, and still needs a lot of work before it’s really ready. Lastly, Ihnatko applies what he calls the “Why Would I Buy This Instead of an iPad” test, and the answer is, well, the pricing isn’t better than Apple’s, the device isn’t obviously better, and you miss out on the iOS ecosystem. An interesting point.
RIM: Put up or Shut up, Ship the Playbook Already
Jim Dalrymple at Loop Insight noticed that RIM has now announced three PlayBook devices without actually shipping one yet. It looks a lot easier to build an iPad killer when you aren’t actually building and releasing the devices, doesn’t it?
Ben Kuchera of Ars Technica wants to see more companies enter the tablet marketplace, and to release devices that are worthy competitors to the iPad. He points out that the iPad’s versatility is remarkable, but that Apple’s publishing policies leave a lot of room for competition (who wants to pay 30 percent? See above.) and that so far, Apple is only selling one form factor. If someone can succeed with a 7-inch or even 9-inch tablet, while keeping resolution roughly the same or higher, that would open up a significant new realm for tablet innovation.
Coming right before what we think will be the iPad 2 on March 2, right after this issue is released, is Macworld’s list of the 11 things they’d like to see in the next iPad model. It’s a solid list, from more cameras and more RAM to a better display and a gyroscope. Good reading, especially as we anticipate the next device.
In a fun twist on the announcements of new mobile phones and tablets, HP is now announcing that they are going to make PCs that run the same WebOS that will run on their new phones and tablets, plus the existing Palm Pre devices. I think that’s the first time a major PC vendor not named “Apple” has stood up to Microsoft in a very, very long time. We don’t know if HP is dropping Microsoft entirely or if they’re going to continue to offer PCs with Windows. I’d bet on a BTO option on certain models, plus a surcharge. Remember OS/2? I think that was the last time a non-Apple PC vendor sold mainstream computers with an OS other than Windows.
Redmond, Windows Phone 7 Not Ready for Regular Updates Yet
Paul Thurrott: Microsoft’s Plan for Windows Phone 7 Updates Is Exactly How They Shouldn’t Be Doing It
Microsoft super-blogger Paul Thurrott—he of Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows—wrote a scathing review of Microsoft’s plans for updating Windows Phone 7. As he points out, during the initial three months after release, Apple released six major updates, including a major OS update (1.1), and in the six months after that, three additional point updates (1.1.2 and 1.1.3). Microsoft hadn’t yet, in January, released any updates; and their first is a rolling train wreck (see below).
Many Windows Phone 7 Phones Bricked by Software Update
The headline on this piece from Ars Technica’s Peter Bright really says it all: “Everything that can go wrong with Windows Phone 7 update does.” I mean, let’s get real, people. First off, Microsoft has been promising regular, universal Apple-style software updates, in part because the absence of that is one of the things people most intensely dislike about Android. But somehow, the update is failing on many devices, most notably Samsung phones; the lucky ones just hang midway through the process. The unlucky ones get bricked. He also notes that some carriers are blocking updates, something Microsoft promised they wouldn’t allow.
As Many As 10 Percent of Windows Phone 7 Phones May Fail on Updates
John C. Dvorak—how long has it been since you saw that name in this column?—points out that reports suggest as many as 10 percent of Windows Phone 7 phones are failing on software updates. That’s an astoundingly high rate of failure. If 10 percent of Windows updates failed, heads would be rolling in Redmond.
Mobile Video: the Next Battle
Microsoft Fires Next Salvo in H.264 Wars, Makes a Windows 7 Plug-in for Chrome
After Google announced they were killing support in their Chrome Web browser to decode H.264 video for “openness” reasons, there was much Sturm und Drang about the impending death or lack thereof of H.264 video. (Of particular interest to iOS users, the hardware-decoding support for H.264 built into the iPhone, iPad, and a lot of other mobile devices makes H.264 video pretty key.) Microsoft is firing back by making Chrome and Firefox extensions to decode H.264, which I think means they’re accepting the licensing cost. I wonder if Apple will do the same for Firefox and Chrome on Mac OS X, just to make sure that Web video isn’t delivered exclusively in WebM. It wouldn’t have any direct impact on either the Windows or Mac OS X experience, but Microsoft and Apple are probably both looking at the mobilesphere. I doubt if Windows Phone 7 has WebM support.