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netscape-navigator-icon-199x300Back in 1995, one of my wife’s sisters became one of the first executives at a hot new startup called Netscape. We wore Netscape t-shirts, used Netscape’s browser, and paid close attention to what was happening in Netscape’s space, which was the entire Web.

One of the first things to happen on that Web was e-commerce: Amazon, eBay, and the rest of them. All of them had their own shopping carts, and systems for managing sales and service. Which was fine, except for one dysfunctional pre-Web retail default assumption that my wife spotted one day. She wasn’t meaning to spot it, but rather exposed it with a naive but deeply profound question:

Why can’t I take my shopping cart from one site to another?

What she saw was that the shopping cart should be the customer’s, and not each retailer’s alone.

She wanted to drive, and not just be driven. That was what the first browsers were promised. That’s why the steering wheel was the emblem for Netscape’s browser.

Nineteen years later, that hasn’t happened. You no longer drive your browser. On the commercial side of the Web, you are driven as a passenger, with little control over what the driver does, even if the driver (actually a robotic process — an algorithm) wants to help.

Take, for example, the matter of location. The Internet has no location, and that’s one of its graces. But many sites and services go out of their way to notice what IP address you appear to be arriving from, and customize their pages for you, based on that location. While that might sound innocent enough, and well-intended, it also fails to know the driver’s true intentions — or even that they wish to drive.

Our intentions — our will to drive — matters far more to each of us than whatever a website guesses about us, especially if the guessing is wrong, which it is, a great deal of the time.

Last week I happened to be in New York when a friend in Toronto and I were both looking up the same thing on Google while we talked over Skype. We were unable to see the same thing, or anything close, on Google, because the engine insisted on giving us both localized results, which neither of us wanted. We could change our locations, but not to no location at all. In other words, it wouldn’t let us drive. We could only be driven.

Right now I’m in Paris, and cannot get Google to let me look at (presumably, or Google.anywhere other than France. At least not on its Web page. (If I use the location bar as a place to search, it gives me results, for some non-obvious reason.)

After reading Larry Magid’s latest in Huffpo, about the iPhone 5, which says this… is paying $240 for an iPhone 4s in good condition, which is $41 more than the cost of a subsidized iPhone 5. If you buy a new iPhone from Sprint they’ll buy back your iPhone 4s for $235. Trouble is, if you bought a 4s it’s probably still under contract. Sprint is paying $125 for an 8 GB iPhone 4 and Gazelle is paying $145 for a 16 GB iPhone 4 which means that it you can get the $199 upgrade price, your out of pocket could be as little as $54.

… I wondered what BestBuy might give me for my 16GB iPhone 4. But when I go to, the company gives me a page in French. I guess that’s okay, but it’s still annoying. (So is seeing that I can’t get a trade-in price without visiting a store.)

Back in the search world, I’ve been looking for a prepaid wireless internet access strategy to get data at sane prices in the next few countries I visit. A search for “prepaid wireless internet access” on gets me lots of ads in French, some of which might be more interesting if I knew French as well as I know English, but I doubt it. The “I’m feeling lucky” result is a faux-useful SEO-elevated page with the same title as the search query. The rest of the first page results are useless as well. (I did eventually find a useful site for my UK visit the week after next, but I’ll save that for another post.)

To describe what the Web has become, two metaphors come to mind.

The first is a train system that mostly runs between commercial destinations. In a surreal way, you are transported from one destination to another near-instantly (or at the speed of a page loading ads and cookies along with whatever it was you went there for), and are trapped at every destination in a cabin with a view only of what the destination wants you to see. The cabin is co-occupied by dozens or hundreds of conductors at any given time, all competing for your attention and telling you something they hope will make you buy something or visit other sites. In the parlance of professionals on the supply side of this system, what you get here is an “experience” that they “deliver.” To an increasing degree this experience is personalized, and for every person it’s different. If you looked at pants a few sites back, you might see ads for pants, or whatever it is that the system thinks you might want to buy, whether you’re in a buying mood or not at the time. (And most of the time you’re not, but they don’t care about that.)

Google once aspired to give us access to “all the world’s information”, which suggests a library. But the library-building job is now up to Instead, Google now personalizes the living shit out of its search results. One reason, of course, is to give us better search results. But the other is to maximize the likelihood that we’ll click on an ad. But neither is served well by whatever it is that Google thinks it knows about us. Nor will it ever be, so long as we are driven, rather than driving.

I think what’s happened in recent years is that users searching for stuff have been stampeded by sellers searching for users. I know Googlers will bristle at that characterization, but that’s what it appears to have become, way too much of the time.

But that’s not the main problem. The main problem is that browsers are antique vehicles.

See, we need to drive, and browsers aren’t cars. They’re shopping carts that shape-shift with every site we visit. They are optimized for being inside websites, not for driving outside them, or between them. In fact, we can hardly imagine the Net or the Web as a space that’s larger than the sites in it. But we need to do that if we’re going to start designing means of self-transport that transcend the limitations of browsing and browsers.

Think about what it means to drive.  The cabin, steering wheel, pedals, controls, engine, tires and chassis of a car are all controlled by you. The world through which you move is outside, not inside. Even in malls, you park outside the stores. The stores do not intrude inside your personal space. Driving is no less personal and no less masterfully yours when you ride a bike or a motorcycle, or pilot a plane. Those are all personal vehicles too. A browser should have been like one of those, and that was kind of the idea back in the early days when we talked about “surfing” and the “information highway.” But it didn’t turn out that way. Instead browsers became shopping carts that get fresh skins at every website.

We need a new vehicle. One that’s ours.

The smartphone would be ideal if it wasn’t also a phone. But that’s what it is. With few exceptions, we rent smartphones from phone companies and equipment makers, which collude to sentence us to “plans” that last for two years at a run.

I had some hope for Android., but that hope is fading now. Although supporting general purpose hardware and software was one of Google’s basic ideas behind Android, that’s not how it’s turning out. Android in most cases is an embedded operating system on a special purpose device. In the most familiar U.S. cases (AT&T’s, Sprint’s, T-Mobile’s and Verizon’s) the most special purpose of that device is locking you to a plan and soaking you for some quantity of minutes, texts and GB of data, whether you use the full amounts or not, and then punishing you for going over. They play an asymmetrical knowledge game with you, where they can monitor your every move, and all your usage, while you can barely do the same, if at all.

So we have a long way to go before mobile phones become the equivalent of a car, a bicycle, a motorcycle or a small plane. I don’t think there is an evolutionary path to the Net’s equivalent of a car that starts with a smartphone. Unless it’s not a phone first and a computing/communication device second.

The personal computing and communications revolution is thirty years old now, if we date it from the first IBM PC.  And right now we’re stuck, mostly because we think having the Web “personalized” is the same thing as having a personal vehicle. And because we think having a smartphone makes us independent. Neither is true. That’s why we won’t make progress past those problems until we start thinking and inventing outside their old boxes.

Apple TV (whatever it ends up being called) will kill cable. It will also give TV new life in a new form.

manhole coverIt won’t kill the cable companies, which will still carry data to your house, and which will still get a cut of the content action, somehow. But the division between cable content and other forms you pay for will be exposed for the arbitrary thing it is, in an interactive world defined by the protocols of the Internet, rather than by the protocols of television. It will also contain whatever deals Apple does for content distribution.

These deals will be motivated by a shared sense that Something Must Be Done, and by knowing that Apple will make TV look and work better than anybody else ever could. The carriers have seen this movie before, and they’d rather have a part in it than outside of it. For a view of the latter, witness the fallen giants called Sony and Nokia. (A friend who worked with the latter called them “a tree laying on the ground,” adding “They put out leaves every year. But that doesn’t mean they’re standing up.”)

I don’t know anything about Apple’s plans. But I know a lot about Apple, as do most of us. Here are the operative facts as they now stand (or at least as I see them):

  1. Apple likes to blow up categories that are stuck. They did it with PCs, laptops, printers, mp3 players, smartphones, music distribution and retailing. To name a few.
  2. TV display today is stuck in 1993. That’s when the ATSC (which defined HDTV standards) settled on the 16:9 format, with 1080 pixels (then called “lines”) of vertical resolution, and with picture clarity and sound quality contained within the data carrying capacity of a TV channel 6MHz wide. This is why all “Full HD” screens remain stuck at 1080 pixels high, no matter how physically large those screens might be. It’s also why more and more stand-alone computer screens are now 1920 x 1080. They’re made for TV. Would Steve Jobs settle for that? No way.
  3. Want a window into the future where Apple makes a TV screen that’s prettier than all others sold? Look no farther than what Apple says about the new iPad‘s resolution:
  4. Cable, satellite and over-the-air channels are still stuck at 6MHz of bandwidth (in the original spectrum-based meaning of that word). They’re also stuck with a need to maximize the number of channels within a finite overall bandwidth. This has resulted in lowered image quality on most channels, even though the images are still, technically, “HD”. That’s another limitation that surely vexed Steve.
  5. The TV set makers (Sony, Visio, Samsung, Panasonic, all of them) have made operating a simple thing woefully complicated, with controls (especially remotes) that defy comprehension. The set-top-box makers have all been nearly as bad for the duration. Same goes for the makers of VCR, DVD, PVR and other media players. Home audio-video system makers too. It’s a freaking mess, and has been since the ’80s.
  6. Steve at AllThingsD on 2 June 2010: “The only way that’s ever going to change is if you can really go back to square one and tear up the set-top-box and redesign it from scratch with a consistent UI, withall these different functions, and get it to the consumer in a way they are willing to pay for. We decided, what product do you want most? A better tv or a better phone? A better TV or a tablet? … The TV will lose until there is a viable go-to-market strategy. That’s the fundamental problem.” He also called Apple TV (as it then stood) a “hobby”, for that reason. But Apple is bigger now, and has far more market reach and clout. In some categories it’s nearly a monopoly already, with at least as much leverage as Microsoft ever had. And you know that Apple hasn’t been idle here.
  7. Steve Jobs was the largest stockholder in Disney. He’s gone, but the leverage isn’t. Disney owns ABC and ESPN.
  8. The main thing that keeps cable in charge of TV content is not the carriers, but ESPN, which represents up to 40% of your cable bill, whether you like sports or not. ESPN isn’t going to bypass cable — they’ve got that distribution system locked in, and vice versa. The whole pro sports system, right down to those overpaid athletes in baseball and the NBA, depend on TV revenues, which in turn rest on advertising to eyeballs over a system made to hold those eyeballs still in real time. “There are a lot of entrenched interests,” says Peter Kafka in this On the Media segment. The only thing that will de-entrench them is serious leverage from somebody who can make go-to-market, UI, quality, and money-flow work. Can Apple do that without Steve? Maybe not. But it’s still the way to bet.

Cable folks have a term for video distribution on the net Net. They call it “over the top“. Of them, that is, and their old piped content system.

That’s actually what many — perhaps most — viewers would prefer: an à la carte choice of “content” (as we have now all come to say). Clearly the end state is one in which you’ll pay for some stuff while other stuff is free. Some of it will be live, and some of it recorded. That much won’t be different. The cable companies will also still make money for keeping you plugged in. That is, you’ll pay for data in any case. You’ll just pay more for some content. Much of that content will be what we now pay for on cable: HBO, ESPN and the rest. We’ll just do away with the whole bottom/top thing because there will be no need for a bottom other than a pipe to carry the content. We might still call some  sources “channels”; and surfing through those might still have a TV-like UI. But only if Apple decides to stick with the convention. Which they won’t, if they come up with a better way to organize things, and make selections easy to make and pay for.

This is why the non-persuasiveness of Take My Money, HBO doesn’t matter. Not in the long run. The ghost of Steve is out there, waiting. You’ll be watching TV his way. Count on it.

We’ll still call it TV, because we’ll still have big screens by that name in our living rooms. But what we watch and listen to won’t be contained by standards set in 1993, or by carriers and other “stakeholders” who never could think outside the box.

Of course, I could be wrong. But no more wrong than the system we have now.

Bonus link.


The hard drive is crapping out on my main laptop. I’m backed up, so that much is cool. Installing a Seagate Momentus XT 750 GB drive later today. We’ll see how it goes.

[Later…] Lot of dependencies and such to clean up, but performance-wise, it’s like a new computer.

When Underwood typewriterour kid started using a computer in the seventh grade, I got him a copy of Mavis Beacon so he’d learn how to touch-type.

I didn’t see him using the program, but I did see him typing. So I asked him what was up with that. He said “I looked at it a couple of weeks ago. It was good.” I asked, “Did you learn to touch type from it?” “Sure,” he said. “It has tests. I used them. I did fine.”

So I asked him to show me. He did. First try: 30 words per minute. Second, 45 wpm.

I took typing in the seventh grade ,which ran from September 1959 to June 1960. work keyboardIt was a year-long class, one period per day. My typewriter at school was an early-Fifties Underwood Rhythm-Touch like the one on the left. For practice at home my parents got me a WWII-era Underwood that looked exactly like the code machine.

I got an F in my first semester of typing class, because I made a lot of mistakes. I got a D in my second semester, for the same reason. For what it’s worth, I doubt anybody in that class has done more typing since then than I have.  Or have worn out more keyboards. Such as the one on the right, which I’m using now.

My handwriting, long neglected, looks about as good.

Some old habits died hard. Here they are:

  • Returning the carriage after the bell five spaces before the end of a line.
  • Wanting to set tabs the old-fashioned way, feeling the physical insertion, literally, of a metal tab into the carriage path.
  • Double-spacing between sentences. Not doing this was my most common error, back in typing class.
  • Hyphenating long words at the ends of lines.
  • Indenting the first line of a paragraph, with a tab five spaces in.

For years I hated word processing without hyphens, and double-returns between paragraphs with no indents. But after awhile I became accustomed to that new norm, and came to appreciate its benefits as well. (For example, when copying and pasting a bunch of text and not having to take out the hyphens and indents that only made sense in the old layout.) I also taught myself to restore my original proclivity to single spaces between sentences.

As for typing speed, I have no idea how fast I am now. What I love about not knowing is that it truly doesn’t matter.

Check the Arbitron radio listening ratings for Washington DC. You have to go waaaay down the list before you find a single AM station that isn’t also simulcast on FM. But then, if you go to the bottom of the list, you’ll also find a clump of Internet streams of local radio stations.

You’ll see the same pattern at other cities on this list from FM on top, AM below, and streams at the bottom.

Together these paint an interesting picture. At the top, Innovators, at the bottom, Dilemma. (Some context, if the distinction isn’t obvious.)

Note that Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM and other radio-like streaming services are not listed. Nor are podcasts or anything else one might listen to, including stuff on one’s smartphone, ‘pod or ‘pad. If they were, they’d be way up that list. According to Pandora CEO Joseph Kennedy (in this Radio INK piece),

…we have transitioned from being a small to medium sized radio station in every market in the U.S. to one of the largest radio stations in every market in the country. Based on the growth we continue to see, we anticipate that by the end of this year, we will be larger than the largest FM or AM radio station in most markets in U.S. As a consequence, our relevance to buyers of traditional radio advertising in skyrocketing. We have already begun to see the early benefits of this dramatic change. Our audio advertising more than doubled to more than $100 million in fiscal 2012.

Back when I was in the biz, public radio was a similar form of dark matter in the ratings. If you added up all the stations’ shares, they came 10-13% short of 100%. If one went to Arbitron’s headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland (as many of us did) to look at the “diaries” of surveyed listeners, you’d find that most of the missing numbers were from noncommercial stations. Today those are listed, and the biggest are usually at or near the top of the ratings.

But today’s dark matter includes a variety of radio-like and non-radio listening choices, including podcasts, satellite radio, and what the industry calls “pure-play streamers” and “on-demand music services.” Together all of these are putting a huge squeeze on radio as we knew it. AM is still around, and will last longest in places where it’s still the best way to listen, especially in cars. In flat prairie states with high ground conductivity, an AM station’s signal can spread over enormous areas. For example, here is the daytime coverage map from for 5000-watt WNAX/570am in Yankton, South Dakota:

WNAX Daytime coverage

And here’s the one for 50000-watt WBAP/820 in Dallas-Fort Worth:

WBAP coverage

No FM station can achieve the same range, and much of that flat rural territory isn’t covered by cellular systems, a primary distribution system for the data streams that comprise Internet radio.

True, satellite radio covers the whole country, but there are no local or regional radio stations on SiriusXM, the only company in the satellite radio business. To some degree rural places are also served by AM radio at night, when signals bounce off the ionosphere, and a few big stations — especially those on “clear” channels — can be heard reliably up to several thousand miles away. (Listen to good car radio at night in Hawaii and you’ll still hear many AM stations from North America.) But, starting in 1980, “clears” were only protected to 750 miles from their transmitters, and many new stations came on the air to fill in “holes” that really weren’t. As a result AM listening at night is a noisy mess on nearly every channel, once you move outside any local station’s immediate coverage area on the ground.

Even in Dallas-Fort Worth, where WBAP is the biggest signal in town (reaching from Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico, as you see above), WBAP is pretty far down in the ratings. (Copyright restrictions prevent direct quoting of ratings numbers, but at least we can link to them.) Same for KLIF and KRLD, two other AM powerhouses with coverage comparable to WBAP’s. News and sports, the last two staple offerings on the AM band, have also been migrating to FM. Many large AM news and sports stations in major metro areas now simulcast on FM, and some sound like they’re about to abandon their AM facilities entirely.WEEI in Boston no longer even mentions the fact that they’re on 850 on the AM dial. Their biggest competitor, WBZ-FM (“The Sports Hub”) is FM-only.

But while FM is finally beating AM, its ratings today look like AM’s back in the 1950s. FM wasn’t taken seriously by the radio industry then, even though it sounded much better, and also came in stereo. Today the over-the-air radio industry knows it is mightily threatened (as well as augmented, in some cases) by streaming and other listening choices. It also knows it’s not going to go away as long as over-the-air radio can be received in large areas where data streams cannot. It’s an open question, however, whether broadcasters will want to continue spending many thousands of dollars every month on transmitters of signals that can no longer be justified financially.

One big question for radio is the same one that faces TV. That is, What will ESPN do?

ESPN is the Giant Kahuna that’s keeping millions of listeners on AM and FM radio, and viewers on cable and satellite. Many of those would leave if the same content were streamed directly over the Net. But for now ESPN appears to be fine with distributing its programming through cable and local radio. But at some point ESPN will go direct — over the Net —and avoid the old distribution methods — especially if listeners and viewers would rather have it that way.

To do that they’ll be distributing mostly through ISPs, which these days are mostly cable and phone companies. While those companies like to say they favor “neutrality” toward content, their business ideal is monopsony toward content suppliers and monopoly toward customers. So expect a lot of theater in the next couple of years.

Devoutly to be avoided is further movement toward the “fully licensed world” I warned about, two posts back. (Interesting that ESPN and others want Arbitron to do “cross-platform measurement”, even as it continues to help make the case for AM and FM radio.)

Regardless of how that goes, AM and FM are stuck in a tunnel, facing the headlights of a content distribution train that they need to embrace before it’s too late.

@ChunkaMui just put up a great post in Forbes: Motorola + Sprint = Google’s AT&T, Verizon and Comcast Killer.

Easy to imagine. Now that Google has “gone hardware” and “gone vertical” with the Motorola deal, why not do the same in the mobile operator space? It makes sense.

According to Chunka, this new deal, and the apps on it,

…would destroy the fiction that internet, cellular and cable TV are separate, overlapping industries. In reality, they are now all just applications riding on top of the same platform. It is just that innovation has been slowed because two slices of those applications, phone and TV, are controlled by aging oligopolies.

AT&T and Verizon survive on the fiction that mobile text and voice are not just another form of data, and customers are charged separately (and exorbitantly) for them. They are also constraining mobile data bandwidth and usage, both to charge more and to manage the demand that their aging networks cannot handle.

Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other cable operators still profit from the fact that consumers have to purchase an entire programming package in order to get a few particular slices of content. This stems from the time when cable companies had a distribution oligopoly, and used that advantageous position to require expensive programming bundles. Computers, phones and tablets, of course, are now just alternative TV screens, and the Internet is an alternative distribution mechanism. It is just a matter of time before competitors unbundle content, and offer movies, sports, news and other forms of video entertainment to consumers.

The limiting factor to change has not been the technology but obsolete business models and the lack of competition.

Before Apple and Google came in, the mobile phone business was evolving at a geological pace. I remember sitting in a room, many years back, with Nokia honchos and a bunch of Internet entrepreneurs who had just vetted a bunch of out-there ideas. One of the top Nokia guys threw a wet blanket over the whole meeting when he explained that he knew exactly what new features would be rolled out on new phones going forward two and three years out, and that these had been worked out carefully between Nokia and its “partners” in the mobile operator business. It was like getting briefed on agreements between the Medici Bank and the Vatican in 1450.

Apple blasted through that old market like a volcano, building a big, vertical, open (just enough to invite half a billion apps) market silo that (together with app developers) completely re-defined what a smartphone — and any other handheld device — can do.

But Apple’s space was still a silo, and that was a problem Google wanted to solve as well. So Google went horizontal with Android, making it possible for any hardware maker to build anything on a whole new (mostly) open mobile operating system. As Cory Doctorow put it in this Guardian piece, Android could fail better, and in more ways, than Apple’s iOS.

But the result for Google was the same problem that Linux had with mobile before Android came along: the market plethorized. There were too many different Android hardware targets. While Android still attracted many developers, it also made them address many differences between phones by Samsung, Motorola, HTC and so on. As Henry Blodget put it here,

Android’s biggest weakness thus far has been its fragmentation: The combination of many different versions, plus many different customizations by different hardware providers, has rendered it a common platform in name only. To gain the full power of “ubiquity”–the strategy that Microsoft used to clobber Apple and everyone else in the PC era–Google needs to unify Android. And perhaps owning a hardware company is the only way to do that.

That’s in response to the question, “Is this an acknowledgment that, in smartphones, Apple’s integrated hardware-software solution is superior to the PC model of a common software platform crossing all hardware providers?” Even if it’s not (and I don’t think it is), Google is now in the integrated hardware-software mobile device business. And we can be sure that de-plethorizing Android is what Larry Page’s means when he talks about “supercharging” the Android ecosystem.

So let’s say the scenario that Chunka describes actually plays out — and then some. For example, what if Google buys,  builds or rents fat pipes out to Sprint cell sites, and either buys or builds its way into the content delivery network (CDN) business, competing with while also supplying Akamai, Limelight and Level3? Suddenly what used to be TV finishes moving “over the top” of cable and onto the Net. And that’s just one of many other huge possible effects.

What room will be left for WISPs, which may be the last fully independent players out there?

I don’t know the answers. I do know that just the thought of Google buying Sprint will fire up the lawyers and lobbyists for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.


Last week I flew back and forth from Boston to Reno by way of Phoenix. Both PHX-RNO legs took me past parts of Nevada I hadn’t had a good look at before. One item stood out: a dry lake that looked, literally, like a town had been built on it and blown up. In fact, this was the case. The lake was Frenchman Lake, on Frechman Flat, a valley in a part of the desert known as the Nevada Test Site. The town was nicknamed “Doom Town,” and it was built to see what would happen to it in an atomic blast. Here’s a video that shows the results.

In fact more than a dozen blasts rocked the Doom Town area, starting with Able, in 1951 — the first at the Test Site.

This shot shows Yucca Lake and Yucca Flat, which has many dozens of subsidence craters where underground blasts have gone off. This Google Maps view shows the same from above. All the blasts look like rows of dimples in the desert. But some are hundreds of feet across. Before reading about underground nuclear testing, I had thought that all the tests were deep enough to avoid surface effects.

This shot looks across the Test Site to Area 51. Amazing place. Some of what they say about it may even be true. By the way, that shot was taken (I just checked) from almost 100 miles away. I used a Canon 5D and a zoom telephoto lens set to 200mm.

This graphicapple revenue progress, of Apple’s revenues per quarter, broken down by products, tells several stories at once. One is that the iPhone remains huge. (I was amazed by how many I saw in the UK and France.) Another is that the iPod may be getting a bit stale. But the big one is the sudden size of the iPad business.

We have one, a 3G model that arrived when we were in Paris in June. It was nice-to-have but something short of its full promise until a friend in Paris got us a 2Gb SIM so the unit became useful outside of our apartment’s wi-fi zone. (Orange, Apple’s carrier partner in France, requires of Americans a French bank account — just one of many vexing problems with 3G outside anybody’s home country. It’s a freaking mess.) With that SIM, the difference became absolute. Now we could look at maps, shop, and read about topics of immediate local interest, live and on the spot, anywhere. (Even in the subways.) The iPad is much faster than the iPhone and much more convenient than a laptop or a netbook. Form-factor wise, it’s a whole new category.

The question is, can anybody else top it, or even compete with it? Certainly somebody should. Here’s what I’d recommend.

First, a second unit with a smaller form-factor: about half or two thirds the size of the iPad. There’s a need for something that’s bigger than a phone but smaller than the current iPad, which is a bit too large for most purses.

Second, freedom from anybody’s silo. Apple has done it’s vertical thing here. Now it’s time for the horizontal one. In product categories, the horizons are always wider than the skies are high.

Third, featuring the 3G or 4G model, rather than regarding it as a premium exception. This also means working energetically to expose and break down the national boundaries to mobile carrier data plans. We desperately need the phone system to become a data system that also does telephony, rather than the reverse. (More about those in another post.)

Fourth, better speaker(s). The iPad actually sounds quite good, for a speaker that talks out of the same flat hole that’s plugged by the power connector (just like the iPhone).

Fifth, two microphones, for binaural recording. This is hugely under-rated as a feature, and generally ignored by portable gear makers. With binaural recording, you get a you-are-there sound field when listening to the recording with headphones. Related idea: two cameras, for shooting in 3D. The latter would also be a cool peripheral.

Sixth, make the ‘pad a production and not just a consumption device. Shooting and/or editing video, and uploading it to a server on the spot, would be a way cool use for the thing.

Of course, consumer electronics makers are notorious copy-cats. But what they need to do is zig here where Apple zags. There’s infinite room.

There’s only one way to justify Internet data speeds as lopsided as the one to the left.


It’s an easy conclusion to draw here at our borrowed Parisian apartment, where the Ethernet cable serving the laptop comes from a TV set top box. As you see, the supplier is FreeSAS, or just

I don’t know enough French to interpret that page, or the others in Free’s tree, but the pictures and pitches speak loudly enough. What Free cares about most is television. Same is true for its customers, no doubt.

Television is deeply embedded in pretty much all developed cultures by now. We — and I mean this in the worldwide sense — are not going to cease being couch potatoes. Nor will our suppliers cease couch potato farming, even as TV moves from airwaves to cable, satellite, and finally the Internet.

In the process we should expect the spirit (if not also the letter) of the Net’s protocols to be violated.

Follow the money. It’s not for nothing that Comcast wishes to be in the content business. In the old cable model there’s a cap on what Comcast can charge, and make, distributing content from others. That cap is its top cable subscription deals. Worse, they’re all delivered over old-fashioned set top boxes, all of which are — as Steve Jobs correctly puts it — lame. If you’re Comcast, here’s what ya do:

  1. Liberate the TV content distro system from the set top sphincter.
  2. Modify or re-build the plumbing to deliver content to Net-native (if not entirely -friendly) devices such as home flat screens, smartphones and iPads.
  3. Make it easy for users to pay for any or all of it on an à la carte (or at least an easy-to-pay) basis, and/or add a pile of new subscription deals.

Now you’ve got a much bigger marketplace, enlarged by many more devices and much less friction on the payment side. (Put all “content” and subscriptions on the shelves of “stores” like iTunes’ and there ya go.) Oh, and the Internet? … that World of Ends that techno-utopians (such as yours truly) liked to blab about? Oh, it’s there. You can download whatever you want on it, at higher speeds every day, overall. But it won’t be symmetrical. It will be biased for consumption. Our job as customers will be to consume — to persist, in the perfect words of Jerry Michalski, as “gullets with wallets and eyeballs.”

Future of the Internet

So, for current and future build-out, the Internet we techno-utopians know and love goes off the cliff while better rails get built for the next generations of TV — on the very same “system.” (For the bigger picture, Jonathan Zittrain’s latest is required reading.)

In other words, it will get worse before it gets better. A lot worse, in fact.

But it will get better, and I’m not saying that just because I’m still a utopian. I’m saying that because the new world really is the Net, and there’s a limit to how much of it you can pave with one-way streets. And how long the couch potato farming business will last.

More and more of us are bound to produce as well as consume, and we’ll need two things that a biased-for-TV Net can’t provide. One is speed in both directions: out as well as in. (“Upstream” calls Sisyphus to mind, so let’s drop that one.) The other is what Bob Frankston calls “ambient connectivity.” That is, connectivity we just assume.

When you go to a hotel, you don’t have to pay extra to get water from the “hydro service provider,” or electricity from the “power service provider.” It’s just there. It has a cost, but it’s just overhead.

That’s the end state. We’re still headed there. But in the meantime the Net’s going through a stage that will be The Last Days of TV. The optimistic view here is that they’ll also be the First Days of the Net.

Think of the original Net as the New World, circa 1491. Then think of TV as the Spanish invasion. Conquistators! Then read this essay by Richard Rodriguez. My point is similar. TV won’t eat the Net. It can’t. It’s not big enough. Instead, the Net will swallow TV. Ten iPad generations from now, TV as we know it will be diffused into countless genres and sub-genres, with millions of non-Hollywood production centers. And the Net will be bigger than ever.

In the meantime, however, don’t hold your breath.

Tomorrow we fly to Paris, where I’ll be based for the next five weeks. To help myself prep, here are a few of my notes from conversations with friends and my own inadequate research…

Mobile phone SIM recommendations are especially welcome. We plan to cripple our U.S. iPhones for the obvious reasons AT&T details here. Our other phones include…

  • Android Nexus One (right out of the box)
  • Nokia E72 (it’s a Symbian phone)
  • Nokia N900 (a computing device that does have a SIM slot and can be used as a phone)
  • Nokia 6820b (an old Nokia candybar-shaped GSM phone that hasn’t been used in years, but works)

Ideally we would like to go to a mobile phone store that can help us equip some combination of these things, for the time we’re there. The iPad too, once it arrives. It will be a 3G model.

Au revoir…

[Later…] We’re here, still jet-lagged and settling in. Here are some other items we could use some advice on:

  • “Free” wi-fi. This is confusing. There seem to be lots of open wi-fi access points in Paris, but all require logins and passwords. Our French is still weak at best, so that’s a bit of a problem too. One of the services is called Free, which also happens to be the company that provides TV/Internet/Phone service in the apartment. Should this also give us leverage with the Free wi-fi out there? Not sure. (Internet speed is 16.7Mbps down and .78Mbps up. It’s good enough, but not encouraging for posting photos. I’m also worried about data usage caps. Guidance on that is welcome too.)
  • Our 200-watt heavy-duty 220/110 step-down power transformer crapped out within two hours after being plugged in. We want to get a new one that won’t fail. The dead one is a Tacima.

Again, thanks for all your help.

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