Sunday, September 14, 2008

Apple Event Overload


I have to start out by sending my best to everyone back home dealing with the aftermath of Ike, including my brother and sister-in-law and other family members and Ronak. I hope live returns to normal sooner rather than later and that power is restored to everyone in Houston soon. I may hate the city of Houston itself, but not the people in it. No one deserves to go through a natural disaster like this and I felt really guilty enjoying the beautiful weather in Seattle on Friday. Still, Houston's weather will be much better than ours in a couple of months.

Apple's Special Event

Over half of the articles I tagged for today's post were regarding the press event that Apple had last Tuesday morning! Suffice to say, not a whole lot happened the rest of the week that topped the buzz surrounding this event. What's amusing is that there were no surprises! Kevin Rose, co-founder of Digg and host of Diggnation, actually gets e-mails from insiders and people called B.S. on his predictions (which I didn't post here because I'm tired of posting Apple speculation), which were accurate. I figured they were accurate because he's not one to drag his name in the dirt.

Anyway, you can watch the whole event here, which I ended up not watching because I didn't care about it as much as past events. You can also read all the gritty details here. The above image depicts the biggest thing to come out of the event: the new iPod Nano. It has an oval shape, an accelerometer (so you can turn it sideways and the device is aware of it), and better battery life before. It's also cheaper: $150 for 8GB and just $50 more for double the capacity. I was actually pretty impressed with what you get for this price because even though it still can't play the radio or games at least it has a screen size that makes more sense and that genius playlist feature. Speaking of which: this is similar to what users may already be familiar with as a plug-in for their favorite music program. You pick a song and it will automatically generate a playlist for you with similar songs. It's part of the new iTunes 8, which also brings back NBC in standard definition and HD. Another announcement is that the 160 GB iPod classic is out in favor of a thinner 120 GB model for $250. I don't know why they don't keep both out there, maybe they feel like demand for it has peaked already?

The iPod Touch also got a new generation with a better speaker built-in, a better wi-fi antenna, a more tapered design, and integration with the Nike+iPod technology (so all you need is the transmitter in your shoe now). Oh, and they come at three price points: 8GB for $230, 16GB for $300, and 32GB for $400. By the way, these price points are all pretty brilliant. They're going to sell a lot of Nanos and 2G iPod Touches at these prices and they actually make sense (unlike the old iPod Touch's ridiculous price tag). They demoed some games for it and I'm not actually sure whether or not they mean to compete with the DS and PSP. It looks like they are when they're putting out great quality mobile versions of Need for Speed and Spore, but I won't believe it until I see an ad campaign. Also, if they were aiming for this then why not go all out and encourage more development of games for Macs? Still, I think this is a smart move. Games like Rock Band and Wii Sports are creating more casual gamers every day who would probably love to play games when they're bored away from home but don't want to carry around a DS. They could be minting money if they play their cards right (not that they're doing bad right now).

The least exciting announcement was some new in-ear headphones with a remote on the cord. Maybe audiophiles will be excited about it, but I don't know if Apple is such a reliable brand for headphones as opposed to Shure or Bang & Olufsen. They do sound like premium headphones though from the specs so I'm not at all discrediting their quality, just questioning their success. Then again, Apple could sell crap in a white box and fans would buy it because it's from Apple. Sorry to be harsh, but you know it's true. I don't hate Apple, just the cult.

Overall, I think it was strategically a great event for Apple. They put out some products sure to be a hit for the holiday season and the games honestly do look pretty cool. I think if mobile gaming has a future in it's the kind of stuff that they were demoing on Tuesday.

The Zune Matures

So I think up until this announcement, the Zune has kind of been a waste. The announcement, which feels more like an approved leak than an announcement, is regarding the updates to the Zune line. Apparently, there will be bigger capacities (120 GB and 16 GB for the hard drive line and the flash memory line, respectively) at price points identical to their iPod competitors and you'll be able to download music using WiFi directly from Zune Marketplace. The really cool part is the ability to tag songs that you like from the radio to download directly to your Zune! Sure, there are devices where you can record directly from the radio, but the quality isn't going to be that great because it's radio so this is actually cool. Also, their answer to the genius playlist thing is MixView (reminiscent of MusicPlasma, from days of yore) where you can also discover new artists based on a better smattering of the albums, artists, and songs involved. If you have Zune Pass, then it's basically like Pandora except that you can keep the songs you listen to and you can seek through them. Oh, you'll also see support for Audible books and a couple of games built in (Texas Hold Em and Hexic). I'm glad that the Zune is finally trying to be a worthwhile product, it's definitely a welcome change from its previous lackluster iterations that don't bring anything new to that table. I think that unlike the iPod line where the inspiration is always extreme simplicity and a limited number of honed features the mantra for the Zune seems to be a more artistic UI and as many interesting features as they can pack in there. Not to say that it's all of a sudden an iPod killer or anything, just that it looks like it will be a more formidable opponent now.

The New Gates-Seinfeld Ad

I'm sure you've seen the Shoe Circus ad that was a fiasco, but have you seen the new ad featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld?

Video: New Family

First of all, the latest TWiT actually did an interesting analysis of hypothetical meanings of things for the first ad where the Shoe Circus store represents PCs where it's a good value and reliable even though it's not as flashy or expensive as Macs. Still, the ad wasn't funny and didn't make sense. This new one makes perfect sense to me and makes sense of what this campaign is about: the Windows brand image. It's about getting people to talk about Windows more positively now instead of repeating rants they heard about Vista from early reports. It's about putting a friendly face on the brand instead of the stodgy, business-like one forced on it by the Mac vs. PC ads. It's about promoting PCs without jumping in your face (like so many ridiculous Mac vs. PC ads) and evangelizing boring features or why its better than the competition. The ad ends with a message that Gates (through Windows) has already connected so many people and how they're going to go out and connect more people. It's really about focusing on real people rather than the stereotypes that the Apple campaign focuses on.

I think it's rather brilliant. I actually laughed out loud during this ad, which I rarely do. I loved the combination of geek humor with Seinfeld humor. They couldn't possibly come out and counter the Apple ads or else they'd be acknowledging them and they'd look like a pissy giant trying to squash poor old little Apple (which is neither poor nor little anymore, but has a fanatical fanbase that could wreak havoc on Microsoft as a result of a move like that). The ads don't have to directly explain why Vista is so great, it just has to get into people's minds enough so that they stop focusing on the bad things they heard about Vista and will be less apprehensive about trying it out. Ultimately, it's about clearing the way for the next version of Windows, which cannot successfully be released until the brand is pulled out of the mud. I actually can't wait to see what the next ad will be and if it will really be in a pink house.

AT&T Starts to Throttle

AT&T has decided that rather than improve their infrastructure that if the network in your area is congested then you will see slowdowns. I guess this isn't a new concept, but it's specifically for higher tier users, so you're already paying a premium for your Internet and it's not even going to be all that reliable. Isn't that just peachy? I don't understand these people and how they're so terrible at managing their network that their best solution to the growth of the Internet is to screw their customers. Bandwidth usage is only going to go up with each passing month, so why not try coming up with a plan to upgrade your network with your ridiculously deep pockets?

Creating a Facebook Botnet

I've explained this before, but I don't expect most people to remember: a botnet is basically a network of computers that have been infected with malware that makes them zombies awaiting commands from a master. They're often unaware of the infection and can be used for sending spam or denial of service attacks (hitting a site hard enough to bring it down), among other things. Some Greek researchers have developed a Facebook application that could be used to launch a denial of service attack under the hood. It seemingly would just show you a National Geographic photo each day but really hit their site each time it was loaded for 3 other images, and at 1,000 users led to 300 requests per hour at its peak. What if it had a million users? It's a really interesting new form of social engineering, but you have to question how far it will get before it's discovered. After all, once someone discovers it Facebook can remove it and the zombies are no longer infected since no malware is installed directly to users' computer. If you put out enough of these though, it would devolve into a race to find them all before they inflict real damage. If you use it for spam then it wouldn't need to be out there for long to be profitable.

Closing Tidbits

I wanted to end with a few quick items.

If you've seen The Dark Knight and want to know if one particular character will be back in the next movie, then click here. I don't want to reveal anything for those of you who haven't seen it, though there may be something wrong with you if you seriously never saw this movie despite the amazing press and my delirious ravings.

Next year, Panasonic will put into production a 150" LCD television! Not only that, but it can recognize your face to have the picture follow you or customize itself to your individual preferences. It's called the Life Wall TV and you can see it in action here.

Lastly, HP claims that its EliteBook laptop has a battery life of 24 hours. This obviously surpasses that of any notebook on the market and would make it of extremely high value to business customers (and software developers who are on call). It has a solid state drive and a mercury-free LCD panel to help with keeping the power consumption low. Starting at $1200, it makes me want one so I can have a computer to play Starcraft 2 for hours on end (not sure if my current laptop, though I love it, can handle the graphics).

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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