Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Advertising Battle Begins

Kill Bill on Blu-ray

Before I jump into the news today, I got Kill Bill on Blu-ray last week, after waiting like 4 years for The Whole Bloody Affair release, and it's really incredible. It was my first Blu-ray purchase (which is funny because the first DVD I bought was my favorite movie at the time, The Matrix, and Kill Bill is my new favorite), and I am really impressed with it. Aside from the lack of special features, it's just incredible. The video transfer is a lot better than what the DVDs were at an output of 1080p and the audio is crystal clear at uncompressed, lossless PCM 5.1. I doubled over with shock when I saw the opening scene of the Vernita Green chapter because of how wonderfully vibrant the colors are. It really made me feel like I was back in the theater again, even though my TV is only 40". If you love Kill Bill, then this is pretty much a must-own. While I don't think you should dump your DVDs for Blu-ray discs, you should know that there's an appreciable difference in quality if you have the TV for it. I know that not many people do, but you'd be amazed how quickly you turn into a videophile when you see a movie like this in Blu-ray.

Misleading Apple Ads vs. I'm a PC

Apple's switch ads and Mac vs. PC were initially rather successfully campaigns. It's no secret that the key to their success has always been their fantastic marketing and that these ads helped the Mac gain market share inch-by-inch amidst the negative press garnered by Vista. Somewhere down the line though the Mac vs. PC ads degraded into attack ads that only fueled Mac enthusiasts' zeal to argue with Windows fanboys. Where's the innovation there?

Of course, there's also their product ads, which aim to be creative along the lines of the image that they want to send with that product, so the size of the Shuffle, or the colors of the Nano, or the intuitive touch interface of the iPod Touch. With the more recent iPhone ads for the iPhone 3G though, they've strayed into shady territory much like with their Mac vs. PC ads. The speed with which they show things happening in these ads is near impossible. Silicon Alley Insider replicated what was done in the ad in the most generous way possible and took over 3 times as long to do the same things with a real iPhone. Even if you had really good 3G coverage, it's really unlikely for you to be as fast as the ad. Hell, my computer on cable Internet can't load up the New York Times or navigate Google Maps that fast, but the people that these ads are targeted ad don't know these things. So is Apple being disingenuous?

I know what most people are going to want to say: you have to take all ads with a grain of salt. That's true, but there are laws established against false advertising, and how can you claim that this isn't false advertising with such an extreme disparity from reality without any disclaimer that they had a modified iPhone for the sake of the time constraints of the commercial, or something of that sort? I just feel like they're totally cheating. The entire point of the commercial isn't to sell the iPhone 3G, though that is the desired end result. The entire point of the ad is showing how much faster this iPhone is, which is what makes this so egregious. I'm sure the mainstream won't notice this because an iPhone is just such an exciting product regardless, but I just really don't like it.

What I like a lot better, surprisingly enough, is the new Microsoft "I'm a PC" ads. When I first heard that they were going to do these (early last week), I cringed at the thought. It gives an acknowledgement of the Mac vs. PC ads and I didn't have any faith that Microsoft would understand how to reverse the negative label that Apple has created for the PC. I actually think that they're off to a really good start with these though. It reminds me of when I was entering high school and I was trying to hide what a huge nerd I was to try to look slightly cooler and make more friends, and then by the time I was in college being a nerd was somewhat cool and I didn't have to worry about it anymore. This is kind of an interesting way to get people to see that owning a PC does not make you a businessman or a wuss, it actually makes you quite normal but still quite special. Maybe Microsoft stands a chance in this advertising standoff with Apple, after all. Maybe (hopefully) I underestimated them.

Apple App Store Upsets Continue

Sorry to harp on Apple here, but this warrants further discussion. Someone created an iPhone application to download and manage podcasts directly on the phone, but Apple rejected the app because it competed with iTunes. Yeah, that's pretty lame. Creating software like that takes a lot of time, so to invest all that time into it only to get rejected because it creates competition, what I consider one of the basic tenets of capitalism, is completely absurd to me.

There's a couple of issues to consider here. The iPhone has gotten so big that it's almost stupid for mobile developers to not create apps for it. I know, it doesn't carry a majority share in smartphones or cell phones in general, but it's still a sizeable chunk with an avid fanbase. They can't really be ignored. So Apple can technically do whatever it wants with this app store, as long as it doesn't go out and start disabling people's applications for no legitimate reason, and its customers will be happy because there will still be a selection of great apps available. The other issue is how many developers this kind of moderation will deter. Will it be enough for Apple to change its policies? My guess is going to be no, but it will mean that the iPhone will never live up to its full potential until Apple gets more lenient and much more transparent with how it runs its app store. Until then, you're going to lose developers who could, theoretically, write some of the iPhone's best applications. Apple also loses all the money they could've gained, which stands to be a lot if enough developers rebel. More importantly though, does this create an opportunity for the Android platform to woe these lost sheep and gain a decent number of existing iPhone developers? I'm really curious to see how this all plays out, but I really hope that Apple makes the smart play and loosens up (though given their history of keeping their hardware closed up and being stubborn, it's not likely to happen).

Best Buy Buys Napster

Best Buy's decision to acquire Napster is definitely an interesting one. Why would a well-established brick-and-mortar retail chain buy a failing mp3 download service? I think it has everyone scratching their heads. One likely possibility is package deals with their products, so buy an Insignia mp3 player and get a free month of Napster, or maybe buy the new Muse album and get a free download of a live Muse track. Maybe they're trying to boost their CD sales with deals like this? Or maybe they want to leverage their connections to expand Napster to be bigger and even serve video content? Or maybe they want to diversify because they recognize that digital content is the future? A part of me hopes it's all of the above, because I feel sympathetic for poor Napster and would like to see it go somewhere (though of course, not do as well as Amazon MP3 ;), and I think losing Best Buy would reduce the retail competition that benefits consumers so anything they can do to stay alive sounds like a good move to me. I guess we'll see what happens!

DRM Sucks

I have to always advocate an end to Digital Rights Management (DRM), because it only serves to make life harder for those who buy music, movies, and games legally and makes it harder to do things legally. Mashable waxed on the inevitable failure of DRM in light of the "Buy Once, Play Anywhere" initiative that reminds me of the PlayForSure DRM that didn't really play "for sure". Apple, TiVo, and Amazon are not part of the initiative, but Sony is leading up the effort with the smaller guys and it juts doesn't really make sense to me. If the biggest players aren't at the table then what's the point of talking? It's not clear if the three companies weren't invited or simply didn't want to join, but the real solution for creating media that definitely plays anywhere is to not strap DRM to it! It's just that simple. If people can already easily pirate the content, is selling it to people that actually want to buy it really going to make it harder on them?

Closing Notes

Alright, it's past my bedtime so I'm going to wrap up these last items real quick.

The Techcrunch 50, which lets a bunch of startups strut their stuff for publicity and cash prizes, featured a product that I really want called FitBit. It's basically a fancy pedometer that tracks your activity while you're awake and asleep to generate cool charts and graphs and allow you to share it with your friends. What a useful gadget! (EDIT: See a video of it here)

The game that I've been lusting after since PAX, LittleBigPlanet, has gone gold and so it's definitely going to be out on October 21! I'm so stoked that I even created an ad for one of the LittleBigChallenges (fortunately I got good feedback on it, I just did it for fun):

Amazon has launched a new site (into beta) called WindowShop that allows you to visually browse what's on the site. It gives you quick, very visual, access to the latest music, movies, and books with a fancy Flash application. It needs some more evolving, but I think it's off to a great start.

IMDb has launched full-length movies, TV shows, and movie trailers onto the site, largely supported by Hulu. It makes using the site more immersive than just for quick lookups, and my guess is that they want to keep people on the site longer to help sell more advertising and just improve the overall user experience. I personally like it.

Have a great week, everyone!

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