Memo to Microsoft, Apple, Real, and Sony:
If any of your music download services are the answer, we're asking the wrong question.
You've probably heard that Real is now offering music for sale that will play on the iPod. Apple has predictably gone ape
over this, but let them wrestle in court and on the pages of News.com.
The real outrage should be from you
, over the fact that the legal music stores are still a balkanized mess of odd marriages between certain services, their file formats, and the players that recognize those formats. Do you think the legal music library you buy online today will be usable in any form 20 years from now?
Even the most ubiquitous of these platforms--iTunes and the iPod--has generated 100 million downloaded tracks all married to a single device. That's a $100 million gamble by consumers that a smallish company in Cupertino will not do anything goofy in the next 20 or 30 years and render all those downloads obsolete.
Have you met Apple?
And the same applies to other platforms. Microsoft hasn't established dominance in this market and maybe never will. This is music, not productivity, and Microsoft has always been a big dork when it comes to style issues. Sony is the crazy old uncle in this mess, bent on so many proprietary standards and formats that it's laughable. And poor old Real just keeps trying to find some kind of niche in the online digital audio market it should
already own but that completely got away from it.
Bottom line: Don't fall for any of these systems until they look and feel like CDs. Buy once, play anywhere, forever. How do they accomplish that and reduce piracy? Not your problem.
Kill the cantaloupe
The new iMac is coming in September, and while the Mac cognoscenti are trying to predict
exactly what processor, display, and connectivity it will have, I'm just hoping it doesn't look like fresh fruit.
The current iMac has always reminded me of half a cantaloupe, stored cut-side down. The worst part is, that qualifies it as one of the best-looking computers in the world.
Most other computer makers haven't done a thing for desktop style other than to change the color of their cases from boring putty to ominous charcoal. Yet they want us to think of the PC as a device that is part of our lifestyles and living rooms. Sure, maybe if you're a coal miner.
So I'll toss the computer makers a freebie: here are three great design motifs that PC makers could rip off to start winning design awards, as well as excited shoppers:
- Look through the West Elm catalog. There's ample proof that low-cost merchandise can have a cool, clean look. Make a PC that fits in those pages, and you are onto something, especially with the female buyers you have to win over to conquer the living room.
- Hello, remember the 35mm SLR camera? Some of the greatest industrial design since WWII has been done by the likes of Nikon, Canon, and Olympus. Brushed-aluminum trim with pebble-grain black leather is a technical yet rich look, with strong male appeal.
- Revisit the heyday of stereo receivers. In the early and mid-1970s, Yamaha, Kenwood, and Technics were among the companies that really got the integration of technology with the living room. Their combination of nicely machined aluminum knobs, walnut veneer, and gently lit displays still look hot today.
This may sound like a fatuous issue, but believe me, people buy consumer electronics every day based as much on their form as on their function.
What do you think a PC should look like?
Flat panels are leaving me flat
I'm in L.A. this week, shooting a show for the Fine Living Network
, where I make over the home entertainment systems of two couples. I just spent one entire day shooting in a home-theater store, and I have to tell you that after looking at every kind of TV for nine hours, I'm over the plasmas and LCD sets. The smart money is gonna buy a CRT glass tube or a projection TV.
The flat panels rely too much on the cool factor, which I'm all for, but they have too much other baggage. In the case of plasma, the cost is still heinous, and they have burn-in and durability issues. And most LCD televisions don't come in truly large sizes--plus the picture quality is crap.
Until the flat panels rectify those penalties, I suspect I'll continue to notice this interesting little phenomenon: when I drop in on the homes of any of the TV reviewers I know in this business, they don't own a flat-panel TV.
Just a hint.