Category Archives: All Things Apple

More on NBC/iTunes

Jeff Zucker, President and CEO of NBC Universal, recently gave a speech at a benefit for Syracuse University. During this speech he criticized Apple and the iTunes Store. (Earlier, NBC announced that they were pulling their content from the iTunes Store since Apple refused to give them “price flexibility” — in other words, Apple wouldn’t let them charge more than $1.99 per television episode — the same television episodes that are shown on television for free, and that NBC is now making available to view for free on their own web site. Huh.)

According to Variety magazine, Zucker complained that NBC was not getting a cut of Apple’s hardware sales. He said “Apple sold millions of dollars worth of hardware off the back of our content.” He then complained that NBC had netted “just” $15 million in revenue from the sale of its content on the Apple Store.

Interesting. Zucker is arrogantly suggesting that people are rushing out to buy iPod hardware so they have the opportunity to pay $1.99 to watch hit NBC shows such as My Name is Earl. Then he complains that NBC was only able to sell about 7.5 million episodes to video iPod owners. Uhh…. How can you have it both ways? If NBC’s content really was driving the sale of so many iPods, then wouldn’t those customers be, you know, buying lots of NBC content?

(And by the way… Why isn’t NBC Universal complaining that they don’t get a cut of every television sold? Seems to me the high-definition television manufacturers are selling “millions of dollars worth of hardware” off the back of NBC’s content. After all, a far greater number of people are watching NBC shows on their televisions than on iPods — by many orders of magnitude.)

The way I look at it, it’s amazing that NBC has sold $15 million worth of content in a market that is nascent and full of growth potential. During the period that they sold that content, there weren’t that many iPods capable of playing video. (Probably less than 15 million.) And the iPhone (and new iPod touch, with its wider screen) weren’t out yet. Of the over 100 million iPods that have been sold, only a small percent are capable of playing video. That will soon change; with the recent iPod updates, all are capable of playing video now except for the Shuffle. This could (eventually) be a big market, and the iTunes Store shows that people are willing to pay $1.99 for content that has traditionally been free, for the convenience of playing it on their iPod. (Here’s a question: how many more iPod owners would be willing to pay $0.99 for television episodes vs. $1.99? At least twice as many?) Frankly, $1.99 is way too expensive for an episode of television (low-definition, at that). It’s incredibly arrogant for NBC to think they can or should charge more.

NBC is either too shortsighted or greedy to see this. By ditching iTunes and instead making the content available free on their own web site, they are throwing away a new revenue stream and implicitly confirming that network shows should be “free,” which will only make it harder for them to monetize their content in the future as we move further to a digital world. By removing the ability for iPod owners to easily (and legally) view their content “on the go” by complaining that television episodes should be more than $1.99, they are alienating a customer base. There’s no shortage of quality video content from competitors.

It may be that NBC isn’t all that shortsighted. They may see the writing on the wall: in the long term, there isn’t much need for networks like NBC. Any content producer will be able to connect with viewers on a one-to-one basis. Every show will be “on demand,” with bits streaming directly to the viewer. In this model, content will fractionate and become much more diverse, because it will be economically viable to produce “niche” shows instead of “lowest common denominator” shows. Look at the incredible popularity of YouTube, and now imagine that in high-definition, with high-speed networking available in the majority of U.S. homes, and with the ability to stream in high-def to any television in the house. This technology is beginning to be available today, and will only spread. It will be much more lucrative for content producers to go direct to the consumer through services such as iTunes instead of through a “middle man” like NBC. Perhaps Zucker is starting to realize this.

Uh… Yeah, that will work.

I was a big fan of Sony’s Aibo robot and the talented engineers who made it (before they got axed by Sony’s management), but when Sony killed their robotics group, most of the engineers left for greener pastures (e.g., Toyota, Honda). It seems Sony found something to do with the few who stayed. Today, they finally unveiled their new Sony Rolly SEP-10BT “Sound Entertainment Player,” which, surprisingly, the media is not terming an “iPod Killer.” (Has the media lost their passion? I thought every new MP3 player was termed an “iPod Killer.” Remember the Zune, anyone?)

Check out the Rolly video at the end of this Engadget story. I don’t mean to be mean, but the actor family showcased in this video is — in a word — pathetically easily entertained (OK, that’s three words). The video is hilarious, although it isn’t meant to be.

I like to see companies being innovative, but I really don’t see a market for this. People don’t watch their music, they listen to it passively. Watching the Rolly move around to the music would be fun for a song or two but then quickly tire. It’s just like the visualizer in iTunes — when that first came out I had fun watching it for a few minutes, but I haven’t used it since.

Now, if Sony and Microsoft could get together — merging the Rolly and Zune into one complete product — then we’d really have an iPod killer on our hands. Imagine: the new Zollies would be able to roll to each other to squirt songs back and forth, which could then be played up to three times before the user would be prompted to purchase the song, using a powerful combination of Microsoft and Sony DRM technologies. As the brown Zollies roll around the ground, they would also be camouflaged, making it more difficult for humans to compassionately stomp them out of existence. I’m telling you, the Zolly — it could be big! Well, until the battery runs out. And — I really don’t want to plant ideas in Sony’s head or anything — but if the Zolly detected music that did not have extensive DRM, it could simply roll away from its owner, heading straight for a freeway or something. This would please NBC immensely.

Coding for the iPhone

I’ve had an iPhone for a week now, and I’m already deep into coding some web applications for it. This has been keeping me up late at night, but it’s fun. The iPhone is like a new frontier, ready and waiting to be populated by cool applications.

My first application is still in early beta (and not yet ready to be unleashed onto the world), but I provide a sneak peek here. It allows you to track exercises and health metrics such as weight and blood pressure. I had written a similar web application a couple years ago, which I run on my home network and use daily during workouts, but I never shared that application with the world. Although I am carrying forward many of the concepts into the iPhone version, it is requiring a complete rewrite to adapt to the iPhone’s touch-screen interface and unlimited number of potential users.

Here is the (current) main screen, shown once a user logs in. There are four main sections to the program: anaerobic (weightlifting) exercises, aerobic exercises, weight measurement, and blood pressure measurement.

Although the iPhone runs a full-blown version of the Safari web browser, users do not use a mouse to navigate: they use their finger. The finger is a much lower resolution pointing device than a mouse. The screen on the iPhone is also smaller, and network performance can be slow when users are surfing over Edge (vs. WiFi), so pages need to be optimized for file size and load quickly. These are all important considerations, and I am putting a lot of thought into each screen to figure out how to make it easy to navigate and understand.

Here is a screen that allows you to enter your current weight. The program will keep track of readings and show graphs of weight changes over time, etc. On a traditional desktop computer, I probably would have made the weight field an editable text field so the user could simply type in their weight. On the iPhone, I am using a popup menu; the iPhone allows a user to “flick” through the entries, so this is a much more natural input mechanism on the iPhone. My application remembers your last measurement and uses that as the default, so barring any extraordinary weight fluctuations, you should not need to flick far to set your weight (maybe only going up or down a couple entries).

Same logic applies to the blood pressure screen.

Several screens are shown below from the anaerobic/weightlifting portion of the program. I spent a bit of time trying to figure out the best way to organize and display the wide variety of exercises possible, while making it quick and easy for someone to use this application as they perform a workout. During most workouts, people focus on exercises that target specific body areas, so this seemed like a natural hierarchy to use. And what’s better than simply touching the body part you wish to exercise? (I recognize there is some opportunity for dirty jokes here, but please refrain.) So I created male and female models in Poser.

If you wish to perform arm exercises, simply tap the arm and you will be presented with a list of exercises that focus on the arm. Or shoulders, abs, legs, back, etc. You can flip the model around to show the front or back. I experimented with different poses, trying to create one that provides for the most error-free taps. For example, you don’t want to tap the back by accident when you really mean to tap the shoulder.

There are many parameters for exercises (for example, number of sets and reps and weight), and this application will keep track of the parameters you last used, making it easy to move from exercise to exercise and setting weights appropriately. I intend to make it very customizable, allowing you to limit what exercises are shown in the menus or to add additional exercises or activities. I am debating about whether to enable the customization through the iPhone screen or to require users to initially set up the customization on their desktop computer. Of course, the app will be able to present lots of useful statistics and graphs.

Anyway, that’s a sneak peek. I’m having a lot of fun playing with the iPhone and imagining development opportunities. Oh yeah, and my one sentence review of the iPhone? It’s like a gift sent from the future. So cool! (And gosh, it even makes phone calls!)

Preparing for the Keynote

Another interesting story from Mike Evangelist, a former product manager at Apple, but this time it’s in the Guardian Unlimited and not Mike’s blog. Mike provides a behind the scenes look at preparations for an Apple keynote. A timely story, as Steve Jobs will present a keynote next Tuesday (Jan. 10, 2006) at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco. It is apparent that a lot of effort goes into Apple’s keynotes, even though they appear smooth and effortless.