Off to Vegas

Once again, it’s the Spring CTIA show so i’ll be off to Vegas to cover everything live. Should be some rather interesting news this week and I’m already in love with at least one handset that’s going to be shown. Posting might be a little light depending on coverage. If you want to meet up, i’ll be at the Showstoppers and Mobile Foucs events on Tue and Wed evening as well as a few vendor parties as well. If you want to contact me live in Vegas, just give me a ring on my cell at 201-862-0443. See you later in the week.

Lauren vs. Oscar Wilde while shopping for a laptop

Yep, those cure ads with little kids worked well for Microsoft but now it’s time to take the gloves off with a new set of commercial called “laptop hunters”. You can see the first ad here, with presumably more to come in this series. I also found it on YouTube for the Siverlight challenged.

We meet Lauren, a consumer on a mission to find a computer with a 17″ screen for under $1,000. We’re told, if she can find it, she can keep it. Her first stop was an Apple store, where of course, Lauren can’t find a 17″ laptop at that price. She’s then off to Best Buy where she’s dazzled at the choices (Lauren has not been to a computer store in a while it seems) and she finds the PC she’s looking for, a 17″ model for well under $1,000. The money quote? Her comment when leaving the Apple store. “I guess I’m not cool enough to be a Mac person.” Some folks I spoke to thought this was a mistake, after all who identifies with someone who isn’t cool? Of course, we know that’s not true. Lauren looks plenty cool. In fact, she seemed to have no problem going to the Apple store in the first place. What she really said was “I’m not rich enough to be a Mac person”. These days, lots of folks can identify with folks that aren’t rich enough. It’s a good effective ad, especially for these times we live in. The ad is in fact a riff Microsoft is playing hard these days. Just recently Steve Ballmer said

“Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction,” Ballmer said, via webcast. “The economy is helpful. Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment — same piece of hardware — paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that’s a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be.”

In short Microsoft is racing for bottom, making the play for cheapest computers on the market, combined with greater selection and choice as we saw in the ad. Now purists might note that Microsoft isn’t being entirely fair or accurate in the ad. They’re not. (I suspect next we’ll see Bob who wants a laptop with a 10″ screen that weighs less than 4lbs and has only $400 to spend. He won’t find anything at the Apple store either). We don’t even quite know what Lauren bought, just that it’s a 17″ screen and was under $1k. Was there bloatware on it? What was the battery life? The processor? Where will Lauren go if there’s a problem with it later on? That’s not the point. Apple’s ads aren’t factually accurate either. (those people really aren’t PCs and Macs and they do tend to exaggerate somewhat). In tough economic times, Microsoft is betting price will be a driver. They are correct. It will. But it’s not just about price alone and this is where the ad falls down a bit for me. It assumes that winning a race to the bottom in terms of price is all that matters or even what matters most.

In tough economic times it’s not just about price but value. Where do I, the consumer, get the most value for each dollar I spend. Or as Oscar Wilde said, “The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Apple’s ads have never been about being the cheapest, they are about the value that comes with owning a Macintosh. The differentiation of the PC/Mac experience through hardware and software design that’s what’s been attracting consumers. Apple’s continued to do well even in these times precisely because consumers are extra careful about where they spend their money. They can’t afford buyer’s remorse. Microsoft can’t just make this about cost, it has to show value. It has to show a PC experience that can be equal or superior to a Macintosh experience. Only then does price matter in the long run. Sure, there are some folks for whom price is the only factor and no matter how hard they stretch, they simply can’t afford to spend more than X on any given item. But for many others, price alone isn’t the driver, it’s the total value of the experience and that’s something Microsoft will need to show in the weeks ahead.

Finally, when I first posted the link to the ad last night on Twitter, I got a lot of comments from folks who said they couldn’t see the ad because it required Silverlight to watch and they didn’t want to install Silverlight on their computers. It’s anecdotal, but I wonder if Microsoft has another issue to deal with regarding Silverlight. But that’s another post for another day.

A closer look at Google voice

I tried Grand Central awhile back and now that Google’s changed it over to Google Voice, it’s time for a closer look. I’m in the process of figuring out the best way to use Grand Central with my current phone number. If you have suggestions how to use Google Voice with an existing phone number please let me know.

There’s a lot to like about one number (although I already have workarounds so folks can just dial one number and reach me anywhere in the world) but I have a few hesitations.
1. I’m now giving Google the control to be the primary access point for communication. It just feels odd (and not something I’d hand over to any small company in this space.) Granted, I use Gmail, so I’ve given them control of the second most important access point, my email address but this is a little different. I’m not sure why but it just feels different
2. I don’t want a new phone number. Now, if Google could port over the number I have been using for more than a decade, that would be interesting. Right now, I can have that number forwarded to Grand Central but it’s not ideal and it doesn’t seem to work well.
If you’re calling me, let me know how you like the service and if you have any hassles in reaching me.

What my home network does

I’ve had a home network for a long time. In 1999 ago all it was used for was to connect to a shared net-modem to dial into the internet and then to share a broadband connection using WiFi. Today, my home has several networks (five at last count) that enable the following:

• delivering content to PCs from TiVo and to TiVo from PCs
• streaming TV, Music and Pictures from a media center PC to an Xbox 360
• making phone calls over the Internet
• connecting all the various DVRs and Media Center PCs to the internet for EPG downloads
• streams music, Live TV, pictures and other video to my laptop and smartphone anywhere those devices have a connection using Orb or Slngbox
• Videoconferencing (mostly with using iChat)
allows me to access my PCs at home while I’m on the road and keeps backups of all my content
• it still shares an internet connection among the many PCs and other connected gadgets here

Getting all that stuff to work? Well, it wasn’t simple or easy to get it running and keep it running. Many of these activities are more demanding in usage models than what’s in use in many business environments. As more and more stuff gets built on top of the home network, expect the situation to get worse not better.
Vendors take note – Consumers do not want a network operations center in their den, Dad doesn’t want to be the CIO and Mom really doesn’t want to run the help desk. This stuff has got to be made a lot more user friendly or most folks simply won’t bother.
What does your home network do for you?

Four aspects of mobility when carrying devices

Whenever the discussion comes up regarding how many devices consumers will carry, one thing that’s often forgotten is that there are different mobile spaces. Some years ago, I came up with the following categories. I’m taking another look at them now to see how well they hold up.

Stuff you can’t carry (ex: desktop computers, large screen TVs)
Stuff that needs its own bag (ex: business projectors) – This appears to be a rapidly dying category
Stuff that goes into your bag (ex: laptops. large media players,)
Stuff that fits into your pocket (ex: cell phones, cameras, MIDs)
Stuff that’s invisible (ex: watches, key chains, clothing)

The most interesting space for me remains the invisible, although it too seems to be dying as vendors look at add larger screens to most devices making them less ubiquitous. Invisible devices free up space for other gadgets users could carry and most people will carry more than one. That creates a wonderful gap that is not yet being exploited by vendors but could be. Wristwatches are in that category and up until now were single function devcies taking up prime real estate. Devices like the Fossil’s Palm watch and Microsoft’s SPOT initiative were not successful at all but I wonder if we’ll see further attempts here, especially in phone based watches. Cell phones were at one time entering the invisible zone but that has changed with a trend of larger smart and feature phones with more functionality.

Whither Zune?

It increasingly seems like Steve Ballmer’s view of Zune maps pretty well to what I’ve suggested might happen.

“We’re going to keep going with Zune”. It’s two things: Service and a device. The Zune service, that’s going to fan out its footprint. Hardware will continue to improve. “The question is whether even if we flog them heavily, is their profit upside”. We’re going to keep going “I won’t say full steam ahead, because that implies acceleration of investment, but we’re going to sustain our investment.” We like it and the future may be the software/ecosystem on other devices.