Friday, November 26, 2010

iPad, where the smart money is?

In his bid to try and overcome the public's perception that internet=free, Rupert Murdoch has begun erecting paywalls around his various online publications with, according to reports, only mediocre success.

The reality is that I suspect even Murdoch himself doesn't honestly believe that trying to charge people for content they've been getting for free for so long will succeed.

That's why he's pouring $30m into creating content for the nascent iPad publishing market where he hopes that a change of medium will also mean a change of heart from penny-pinching readers.

This time he's probably a lot closer to the money, since I'd wager that those who invest in an iPad probably have a higher level of disposable income as a group, than do the great unwashed masses who simply browse the web for their entertainment and information.

Adding further weight to the belief that Murdoch has finally spotted a solution to leveraging content for cash, uber-successful entrepreneur Richard Branson has also announced that he'll be launching an iPad-based publication, although it's not clear whether this will be solely ad-funded or if it will involve a subscription.

Branson's focus on the iPad platform ads a significant endorsement to the future of the device as an alternative to paper for "glossy format" magazine-type publications -- although somewhat different to Murdoch's tabloid pulp offerings.

Both men now face the task of finding innovative, skilled developers and content creators who can best leverage the extra interactivity and power that this new platform provides. The worst thing they could do is simply repurpose existing content from print or the web to the iPad. Fortunately, it would appear that neither intends to adopt such a crude approach.

I suspect that these two giants will be the first of many who embrace the iPad as the ideal transition platform and a great way to prepare for the inevitable arrival of low-priced full-color, full motion e-readers based on flexible display technology. The lessons learned through the developing of content and strategies for presenting content on the iPad will place such publishers in good stead to take the next step, once the technology is ready.

What does this mean for web-users who currently expect to find all the content they want on webpages?

Well I suspect that publishers like Murdoch will reserve their most valuable content for their iPad publications, where it can be leveraged to extract the maximum revenues by way of subscription.

Will that mean a decline in the quantity and quality of web-based content?

I doubt it. In fact we may see quite the opposite.

As the Murdochs and Bransons of the world shift to iPad, that will leave a void that there will be no shortage of other publishers willing to fill. In fact, the change may be quite refreshing.

Free lunches are still on the menu for internet users.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is a download worth more than a disk?

This is the second column I've written this week about the fact that the Beatles catalog of music is now available on iTunes but this time I want to talk about the issue of value.

EMI, the company who has the rights to the Beatles music, has been a long-time hold-out on releasing this stuff to be sold on iTunes and I think I know why...

In fact, if you look at something as simple as the price, the reason for EMI's reluctance becomes clear.

To buy the Beatles music as a download from iTunes will (believe it or not) cost more than the price of buying the same tracks on a good old CD.

It would appear that EMI has demanded a very high price for each and every track and album that's sold on iTunes. Perhaps this has been the sticking point that has kept this music off the official iTunes download list.

So what do you get for your money that makes a downloaded version worth more?

Well nothing actually.

Buy the CD and you get something physical that you can hold up to the light and see pretty rainbow hues. Buy the digital download and all you get are some of the bits and bytes on your hard drive or a memory card re-arranged according to some magic that allows music to be extracted from them.

If that hard drive or memory stick suffers a catastrophic failure -- you've got to download it all again and possibly even pay again. You have "virtual" music.

However, if you feel inclined, you can copy your Beatles CDs and even rip them into the very same digital magic that allows the music to be stored on a hard drive or memory card.

So why on earth would anyone want to spend more on a download than a disk?

Perhaps it's because the downloads will become "collectible" -- seeing as how they're so new and mark the dawn of a new era in the distribution of this prestigious collection?

Ah... no.

You see, unlike your old Vinyl albums or even your store-bought CDs, a download doesn't come with anything that effectively identifies it as a "limited edition" and, even less fortunately, in most cases you can't resell them to another person. You're only buying a license for your own use. Sure, as an "album download" the iTunes version comes with files you can print to produce facsimiles of the album covers and notes -- but because you *can* print them they're hardly collectible are they?

So, whereas some of us, when we were poor students needing a few extra dollars to make ends meet, would rush down to the second-hand music store with our old albums and flog them for a few quick dollars -- those who buy their music from iTunes and other download services have no such option.

Now, can someone tell me again why, at least in the case of The Beatles, we're actually paying more for less with digital downloads?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Why you should bequeath your grandkids an iPhone

When the word antique is used, most of us will think: furniture, paintings, crockery and other products of centuries-past that now fetch considerably more than their original value.

For those like myself who were born into a world where computers were once only to be found in a few lucky universities, government establishments and large corporations - the concept of an antique computer seems somewhat incongruous.

However, anyone who was smart enough to hang on to one of those early microcomputers from the 1970s, especially any of the particularly iconic units, is now the proud owner of a rapidly appreciating asset that almost qualifies as an antique.

A great example of this is the rare Apple 1 computer which goes up for auction this month in London.

The bare-bones system is little more than a circuit board, cassette tape with some basic firmware and a handful of printed manuals, including a letter from Steve Jobs, along with an invoice for the princely sum of $666.

So just what is such an "old" microcomputer worth these days?

Well, despite the depressed economy, the auctioneers are expecting this piece of computer history to sell for between NZ$200,000 and NZ$300,000.

That's a rather stunning return on the original investment, don't you think?

Of course it helps immensely that there were only 200 of these systems ever made and the vast majority have long-since been consigned to the scrapheap by owners unaware of exactly what they were throwing away.

So what about those other antique computers that were so common over 30 years ago?

How much for a Commodore Pet? A TRS80 Model 1? Or perhaps a humble Sinclair ZX80?

Well chances are that if you have one of these, or similar machines carefully packed away, complete with manuals, disks and other assorted paraphernalia -- and if it's in pristine condition, you may also be sitting on a little goldmine of antiquity.

These days, even a "new in box" sample of the very first IBM PC would likely be worth a pretty penny to a collector of such things.

So, if you've just bought yourself a brand new Apple iPad, or have an original Apple iPhone in near-new condition -- don't ever throw it away when it comes time to upgrade. Box it up carefully and leave it to your grandkids. It may appreciate in value far more rapidly than cash in the bank and thus make a fine inheritance.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Can TV improve our internet service?

Across the ditch in Australia, the battle between television and the internet may be about to take an interesting turn.

Studies have shown that for quite some time now, people have been turning off their TV sets in favour of spending time online, either engaged in social networking, watching YouTube videos or soaking up other content.

Many broadcasters have attempted to keep their grip on a rapidly defecting audience by serving up a growing range of previously broadcast material via the web. Here in NZ we've seen the same thing, with both TVNZ and TV3 delivering "on demand" TV programmes from their broadcast catalog.

However, in Australia, television may be coming to the rescue of those websurfers who are finding it difficult to get a high-speed broadband connection.

One prospect currently being considered is to use the huge number of TV antennas that will be come redundant with the switch to fully-digital broadcasting, as a method of providing wireless internet services.

While most densely populated areas will be better-served by existing DSL and fibre technologies, there are a good number of smaller centers with just a few hundred to a few thousand residents for who, the laying of new high-speed cables may well be uneconomic.

The CSIRO in Australia has already been trialing advanced wireless technology that promises speeds up to four times faster than conventional WiFi systems and which would turn those old TV antennas into a powerful link to the cyberworld.

The only catch is that the technology is, according to those developing it, still a couple of years away from commercial production -- by which time those antennas may have already been pulled down or more expensive fibre may have been laid.

The Australian NBN company has said it was examining the option but considered that for the time being, existing wireless technologies may be the only alternative for smaller, more remote provincial towns.

If eventually implemented, the CSIRO's system has the potential to be faster and cheaper than those interim options.

I wonder if, with the switch to digital TV only a few short years away here in NZ, if we might be able to use the Aussies technology -- which should be commercialised at just the right time.

There are plenty of small rural settlements around NZ which are capable of receiving a terrestrial TV signal whose TV antennas and TV repeater systems could be repurposed to the task of delivering high-speed *affordable* broadband.

It's either that or sell the frequencies relinquished by the TV broadcasters to the mobile phone companies.

Which option would you consider the best one?