Looking back at last week, I had a lot to choose from, but the two things that I thought were the most interesting were Sony’s dropping the PSP (PlayStation Portable) price to a very attractive US$169, and the resignation ofPC World’s editor in chief over a throwaway Apple piece, which got me thinking about ethics in technology journalism.
The first item got me thinking about why the PSP hasn’t been a bigger hit, and the second really got me thinking about what is happening with technology coverage, particularly with the large publications, and how they have been contributing to their own demise.
I’ll close with three tech gift suggestions for mom, given that Mother’s Day is fast approaching — it’s this coming Sunday.
Why Can’t the PSP Win?
The PSP is expected to rack up30 million worldwide sales by the end of this year, which hardly makes it a loser. Yet theNintendo DS is often perceived as better, even thoughsome argue that both systems are in different markets.
With the recent price cut down below $170 and clearly a better value than the iPod (the iPod is very profitable while the PSP is subsidized by Sony), you would think the PSP would start to gain momentum and take a significant amount of the money otherwise slated for iPod and Nintendo DS purchases.
The PSP should have been world beater — I mean, just look at what you get: It will play music, videos and games; it has wireless so you can get on the Web, and you can actually have content streamed to it. On a feature list, the iPod video is so outmatched, particularly when you take into account the price, that there should have been no competition. However, I doubt if Apple even worries much about the PSP. So what happened?
What happened is what always seems to happen with Sony: The company so desperately wants to control everything, it ends up not controlling anything — and losing the market to less capable products. This may have terminally hurt the PlayStation 3, which is selling incredibly poorly right now and has kept the PSP from getting anywhere near reaching its true potential.
This goes to how hard it is to get your movies and music on the device, and to the fact that it uses two proprietary storage formats: Memory Stick and UMD (universal media disc). I think we could live with Memory Stick, but UMD is so different — and so poorly supported by third parties — that content providers have stepped back from it.
In addition, Sony’s media service — largely because of a very powerful DRM (digital rights management) — is comparatively difficult to use and certainly no iTunes. Rather than building a device around its proprietary offerings, Sony should have worked to make the device function with multiple SD (secure digital) slots and support generic Microsoft media files along with games — many of which are actually rather good. The result would have likely been a much more successful offering.
In a few months, the portable Xbox is expected to hit the market. If the rumors are correct, it will be very similar to the PSP, play many of the original Xbox games, and handle music, video and photos much better — and much more easily — than the PSP. It will probably also be a bit more expensive.
If that weren’t enough, we have word that Apple is working on its own version of the Intel UMPC (ultra mobile personal computer), which is also targeted at this segment. Early word is that it is stunning and tied to iTunes. The big question is, where will it get the expected games?
By this time next year, the window may have closed on both the PSP and the PS3, making for a really sad ending to what could have been and should have been world-beating products. Still, until then, the PSP is one heck of a buy at $170, and I’d still put it on the list of things I’d like to have.
Apple, Power and Ethics
BothWired andCnet have covered this story in depth. In brief, Colin Crawford recently took over PC World — he had run Macworld very successfully — and killed a negative story on Apple, leading Editor in Chief Harry McCracken, who is known for both his integrity and high journalistic standards, to resign.
McCracken’s reasoning, apparently, went beyond what was a throwaway piece on the 10 things folks hated about Apple (making it very tempting to write something similar) and to a new company policy that gave favorable treatment to advertisers. This last brought into real question Crawford’s connections to Apple, which appear to go incredibly deep given his role at IDG.
Apple clearly is a very big advertiser, and the impression being created is that PC World and Macworld are somehow becoming marketing fronts for it and other large advertisers. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the implication could do ugly things to the publications’ subscriber bases, as readers probably don’t want to pay for marketing fluff pieces positioned like news or opinion.
However, the “10 things” piece that triggered all of this was hardly hard news. While I like to take shots at Apple as much as the next guy — OK, maybe much more than the next guy — there is something to be said about not going out of the way to bite the hand that feeds you.
It does, unfortunately, often seem to me that technology journalists, perhaps to showcase our independence, are actually harder on big advertisers than firms that don’t support our salaries. Right now, the tech market is in trouble, and it seems really foolish to me that a lot of us, me included, seem to spend a huge amount of our time being critical and very little being supportive.
If we have a negative impact on sales as a result — and I imagine we do — that means there are fewer advertising dollars, and it is those dollars, not the subscriptions to the publication, that keep it afloat.
This doesn’t mean I think McCracken was wrong. Editors are expected to hold to higher standards, and I made a similar decision a few years back as Senior Research Fellow –a few of my friends actually connected the events — so I would be incredibly hypocritical not to support McCracken.
Still, I think this is a reminder to all writers to ensure that we are balanced and spend at least as much time pointing out the good a company does as the bad — and to avoid all bias as much as we possibly can, both negative and positive.
It is also a reminder: Someday you may have to stand up for your beliefs, so think about the implications of living with yourself if you make the wrong choice. McCracken won’t have problems sleeping at night, and that is something that is worth pondering.
Gifts for Mom
Largely because I’m a guy and think I’m much more capable of picking things I think guys would like, I’ve been focusing on dads and male grads. I also know that guys like to put things off until the last minute, and for Mother’s day, that time is now. So here are three gifts for Mom.
iPod shuffle: My wife has every type of iPod there is, and she loves her shuffle the most. It comes in colors, it can be clipped to your jacket like jewelry, and it isn’t very expensive. If you order it right now from Apple direct, you can even have it engraved — for free — in time. Personally, I think the engraving is what will make it special. Make sure your Mom is at least a little PC-savvy, or preload it with some of her favorite songs.
Picture Memory Book:Snapfish and others offer these. You can take a series of digital pictures, upload them, and create a hard cover book — they start at $20 so aren’t that expensive — of shots of you and Mom as you were growing up. They could also be shots of your kids, or of events when her help created a special memory for both of you. I would go the extra yard and include text under the pictures that speak to the common memory to make it special. Not that expensive in terms of money, but invaluable to your mom, and a way to share your common bond.
Financial Security: I was recently reminded that 47 percent of women over 50 are single, and of the older women living in poverty, three out of four were well off when their husbands were living. Two books my wife has been giving to all of her friends areRich Woman by Kim Kiyosaki, andWomen & Money by Suze Orman. They could help ensure your mom’s financial future and, from your wife’s (or future wife’s) perspective, help keep her mother-in-law from moving in at some future date. Could be good for both your mom and your marriage. (Not to mention, if you mom is rich, your own birthday and holiday gifts are likely to be much better!) The high-tech part is that both are available online at Amazon.com. How’s that for a stretch?Archos 604. It plays DVD quality, has a nice big screen, and you can find it for under $300 online now.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.