Thursday, January 29, 2009

Don't forget the point of all this

What is lost and drowned out by the daily thrashing, over technology in finance, ranging wide and shallow on energy, pumping fears of you-name-it imminent, say, Apple-ocalypse, to rumorology about the latest incoming, storm-churning gadgets, but everything?

Entertainment is video and audio on a screen. It has been since the dawn of radio, television, cable, and computers, and people still want more choice in more ways.

The desire for interpersonal communication, from telegraph to twitter, for business, pleasure, or custom, is accepted and exploited any way it can be.

In both cases, mass acceptance of a methodology dictates methodological victory. Near-consensus by the consumer generates dominant uptake rates, and forges standards from the trial balloons of all associated companies. The cognoscenti are all too quick to forget the buzzing confusion of competing techniques once a pick is made.

Let us never lose sight of the point. Epic clashes over cloud apps, home disc standards, web browser markets share, operating system uptake, and more are simple news. The point is to deliver that which people have been proven to crave for a century, more options for entertainment and the least resistant method available to access them, and a similar formulation for interpersonal communication.

(As an aside, communication technologies are preserved past their point of optimal uptake and market leadership as custom accumulates around them. Note the thank you card, or even home phone. The VHS tape was defeated by DVD, the iPod did the same to the Discman. We shall never be rid of voicemail. )

Recession or controversy or market shift or not, it is those companies which satisfy communicative, entertainment/information consumption needs that will prosper. Few companies can do this today. No one buyer cares about the technology, they want more of the same as before, better and easier.

Apple, Microsoft, and Sony are the only communication/home media platform providers. Microsoft stretches higher into corporate and HPC realms, but on the consumer side all three provide personal computers, broad and muscular vectors for entertainment, and portability.

Sony had a chance to own the space, but its PS3 is not providing the uptake necessary to begin setting standards. BluRay is evolutionary and consumers are phasing in acceptance, not hammering on doors. Sony PS3 Online, in Home and Store iterations, does nothing for integration of media and communication between console, computer, and mobile product. Indeed, neither are preferable methods for delivery of communication or media, and will be adopted by fiat in isolated cases. Sony's cloud holds only the little data its users wish to awkwardly thumb into their PS3 via controller. Conversation is virtually impossible.

Microsoft too has an axis, one that covers communication and information/entertainment from the network news desk to the palm of one's hand. Indeed, the company has too many axes. Windows Mobiles are not Zunes, and they don't talk to each other, but both extend Windows into the subway. The WinMo phones allow for communication, and talk with adequate personal business computers, while XBoxes and media centers speak other tongues. The cloud Sony can't begin to conjure offers an opportunity for an Esperanto-alike synthesis of disparate languages. Proper integration would mean Surface touch tables collaborating with a user's Outlook data because of the HTC they carry.

Microsoft will someday shoehorn a .PSD onto a Zune that can also talk to Dell Inspiron Mini 10s in the necessary language, that of human names, faces, and conduits for communication. The point is not to make Windows Mobile read Zune album art. No, it is to provide the user with their desired media, and the very best interoperation triggers come hell or high water, rather than relying on dozens of fragile Rube Goldberg interactions as it does today.

HP, Dell, et. al. are working to sculpt these discombobulated jousts as best they can, but their lack of core competencies binds them to Microsoft's best effort. Cisco, Sun, and others face a similar dilemma, even if their hardware and virtual metal is top notch. In the end, the point is never met esoterica like Thumper, Niagara, Solaris, and IOS. These are ocean fiber cables, not what hits the street in the "last mile."

The scenario that facilitates communication and media consumption most effectively, where the iPod, iMac, MacBook, and attendant cloud cohere to most closely meet our aged desires, is found with Apple. The desire to relate, view, play, and consume, the point, is met by the iPhone, Mac, iPod, and associated software. What Apple lacks is credibility in the minds of its consumers. Original or early Mac users had the future of capitalist interaction in their homes, desktop publishing, HTML authoring, the GUI itself!, almost a decade before Windows made the benefits of computing spread among "the rest of us" stick. Apple is an untrustworthy owner of the zeitgeist, for its past mismanagement, and its current uncertain leadership.

Google lacks a platform despite its best work to use web services and lightweight software to seep into the transit network. The Search Appliance was not a lark, it should have been seen as the point. I wonder if ad and media companies, even ones as super-cool-yeah! as Google, can play in the platform game. The game to own the devices and services that people touch, use, and want is more Sony's, by dint of the PSP, than Google's via the G1. Sony beating Google in a race to own a tiny niche...not a positive sign.

Who has the strength to weather the recession? Who delivers on the promises of the mythical digital hub (really, the dream of Leave it to Beaver in the family station wagon reincarnated) most aptly? Apple by leagues, now.

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