Thursday, August 30, 2007

Persistence or Stubbornness? Keep the big picture in perspective.

Persistence is sometimes looked upon as a strength. Persistence in a vision and carrying out effectively is necessary. This is Apple’s model. They have proven it with both their iPod and iPhone. Nokia, on the other hand, is about to be persistent…yet again. The communications giant is planning to re-launch the Nokia N-Gage series after failing twice.

Back in 2005, N-Gage was one of the first to offer an integrated mobile phone and video game console device. The idea was interesting and a novelty. The younger generation opted for it as they could good quality games on their phones.

The concept of two in one devices is not new. History and statistics tend to indicate that single application devices are more successful than integrated ones. Integrated devices would be better off if they clearly defined its priorities.

We can already play games on our phones though there are limitations in terms of resolution, speed and genre. The same applies to snapping photographs on our phones. However, we accept these limitations because we understand the primary function of the device. If you try to promote a video game console on a mobile phone, you undoubtedly risk disappointing your core audience.

Nokia learnt this lesson the hard way and will now introduce new features in their product. For example, you do not have to remove the battery to play games. You can play online with your friends. You will be match to similar ranking players to avoid competing with advanced gamers. You will even be able to demo games before purchasing it.

Will these be enough to make the third series of N-Gage into a success? Somehow, I am skeptical because of the mere presence of PSP and Nintendo DS. If you are a hardcore gamer, chances are you will lean towards PSP, upcoming PSP2 or even Nintendo DS. Sony and Nintendo have produced consumer-appreciated devices in terms of size, portability, battery life and game quality.

N-Gage, on the other hand, has been unable to match it from either a size or game titles perspective. So if you are not a hardcore gamer or are someone who is satisfied with typical games on mobile phones, why would consider a bulkier device with limited game choices? It will be an unlikely option for teenagers even if Nokia dropped its price.

This is a good example of lost focus. Nokia is trying to find reasons to make N-Gage successful. Changing the design or incorporating new features is probably going to make consumers more confused. I hope for Nokia’s sake that I am wrong. The missing element here is consumer insight. Trying to hard to fulfill your desire, may only lead you to lose focus on the primary objective.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Music on line without DRM ?

Flashback : Remember the old Napster time where everyone could download illegal music without any protection. Some years after, iTunes Music Store signaled their intention to capture the online music market by selling DRM songs. And they did just that, having secured more than 70 per cent of the market share.

Let's remember that DRM did not originate from Apple but was a request by music record companies, who are reluctant to release their music catalogue for free distribution online.

Progressively, the Pandora's Box was opened.

EMI shot first and offered a 'more expensive’ free song with a better quality on iTMS. Now, Universal has joined the fray by allowing Walmart, the biggest retailer in US, to sell music without any protection, albeit at a lower quality of 256kbps.

From a consumer’s point of view, it means that music purchased online is no different from what they’ll get from a music compact disc. There is no restriction on copying, sharing or distributing the content.

The question is: what is the repercussion on businesses?

We can expect a major shift in the industry in the months ahead. There is no reason why other studios will not follow suit. This will probably impact the sales performance of the iTunes Music Store as well.

There are several options:

- All online retailer will drop their DRM
This will include Apple, which could translate into an increased in the potential sales for iPods capable of reading music without protection. It also points to a complete rethinking of the iTunes Music Store that is currently tied up exclusively with iPod. In such a case, all MP3 players will be able to download music from iTunes.

- Market will be segmented
Some stores and record companies will continue to sell DRM songs. Among these, some DRM songs will be released, while others will be marketed as part of dedicated packages. These packages could promise higher quality encoding for more value, or offer different price alternatives. I sincerely hope it will not happen. This will create confusion for the consumer and affect sales. The only winner will be the illegal music pirates who continue to peddle free downloads.

- DRM will be dropped, BUT
Under the pressure of music studios, some players like Apple might drop the DRM system. But it is likely to strength tie-ups between iPod and the iTunes Music Store. Microsoft is expected to do same with Zune and Sony with its own player. This is not the best of outcomes. Unfortunately, history speaks for itself and the consumer will find themselves back to square one.

So, what do we want?

We want to be able to download good quality songs to our music system or portable player. We agree to pay, much like the way we pay for a CD or a DVD, but YOU, the industry, have to ensure we can play it on all our devices.

Please, make it happen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Battle of the Day: Consumer 0 - Industry 1

Today is a sad day. Regardless how loud we shout, how we persevere, today is just one of those days where you are not heard.

Dreamworks and Paramount just announced their exclusive support to the HD-DVD. Their decision is based reduced manufacturing cost, simpler technology manufacturing processes that will ultimately result in lower prices for consumers. This would probably remind you the old Betamax-VHS case.

Do not get me wrong. I am not judging their allegiance to either the BRD or HD-DVD camp.

As a consumer and a marketer, I still believe BRD outperforms HD-DVD, at least in terms of quality and features. I am truly sad not to be able to watch Bumble Bee on my high-end BRD High Definition system. But that is besides the point.

What makes me sad is the use of a single word in their Press release - 'Exclusive'. Yet again the consumer held hostage…right in the middle of a crossfire. The CD format gained enormous success due to its universality. Many others such as DAT, MD, SACD, Dolby Digital Audio failed because it was tied to a proprietary format.

Now entire industry is looking at High Definition as the next cash cow. It is a battle to be won over the next few years. However, it may end up being a long drawn fight. Consumers are already finding it complex to grasps between 720, 1080i, 1080p, HDMI 3.0, DVI, True Dolby Digital. Introducing a Media selection is only going to make it more complex.

Mister Manufacturers, please do us a favor, to make both our lives easier. Find an agreement to ensure we can all enjoy High Definition. Consumers will be the winner and industry will grow and profit at the same time. This may be tedious but definitely a win - win situation.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Da Vinci Code for reel and real

(@) Property of Ben Rubin, San Jose Semaphore,

The Da Vinci Code might sound like pure fiction and some believe that such riddles only exist in Hollywood. Let’s not forget that codes and coded messages have been used have been used for more than a century. Even Julius Cesar used simple ‘key’ coded messages when he sent orders to his troops so that his enemies could decipher it. One of the most famous codes is the Enigma code, developed by the German Nazis in1920s and extensively used during the WWII. These codes were difficult if not impossible to crack.

Well, a new code has been cracked today. I am referring to the San Jose Semaphore from Ben Rubin. For those not familiar with it, you can read on at the earstudio website.

Imagine a tall building (Adobe Headquarter in San Jose) with 4 wheels. Each of it can assume four distinct positions: vertical, horizontal, and left and right-leaning diagonal; together, the four wheels have a vocabulary of 256 possible combinations. The San Jose Semaphore transmits its message at a steady rate; its four wheels turn to new positions every 7.2 seconds....

Over the past year, several people have tried to decrypt that message unsuccessfully. But now two analyst, Bob Mayo and Mark Snesrud, from Silicon Valley have succeeded. Their conquest which is revealed on their website was essentially a broadcast of the entire text of from Thomas Pynchon's “The Crying of Lot 49”.

I think this is awesome.! It is great to see how technologies can be used in Art. Ben Rubin was using digital components, XML code, to express his vision, his ‘Art’ sense. We are maybe entering a new era where artist will mix conventional art with 'new medias'. We can probably expect to see more of such messages coming up in the future. Previously, the only location where one could see a mix of Art and New Media was in the 'Modern Art Museum’. I guess we should now call them 'contemporary', but in that case, what will be the next phase of the modern art?

I am not only amazed but also admire the imagination and determination of the people who can crack such codes. Digital and technologies are new ways to express messages and can be great way to stimulate peoples’ skills / imagination.

Finally, I think this is nice to see that movies can be linked to reality. Whilst Da Vinci Code remains as just a great movie, the coding activities and riddles continue to be part of lives indefinitely.