When the record labels whine about declining CD sales over the years, they most often name illegal downloads as the culprit. But no one seems to bring up the growing threat of used CDs as cutting into new CD sales. Ten years ago, the used CD bin of the local record store was often a disappointing dump full of Big Audio Dynamite CDs and copies of REM's Monster. (My favorite music site, Pitchfork, has an entertaining and so-true list of the most common CDs found in used bins.) But CD trading has gained in popularity, and more and more digital-music devotees are ripping entire (quality) CD collections to hard drives and iPods then selling them on eBay or to record stores. So I can't help but think the used CD-selling trend has also fueled the decline in new CD sales.
If you've ever used Windows, you owe this man a drink. David Bradley, a 28 year IBM veteran that helped create the first personal computer, will always be remembered as the father of a far more useful construct: The CTRL-ALT-DELETE function. It took Bradley just five minutes to write the code that's helped generations of PC users reboot their stubborn machines. Now, Bradley's preparing to hit the reboot buttons one last time.
What in the flying blazes is this? Looks like some bizarre cross between Friendster and text messaging. In other words, an ultrastodgy wireless carrier is trying to play it cool. One small problem: When I tried the interactive demo, it came up in Portuguese. Now that's hip.
I cannot !@#&ing believe this: I just bought an Apple computer. A 15" PowerBook G4.
Steve Jobs is !@#&ing amazing.
Never in a million years did I think he could sell me another computer. I started out programming in Basic on my mom's Apple II Plus and saving the data on cassette tapes. In college I bought a Mac Plus, and during graduate school I worked in Apple Japan's consumer marketing group (I chose the software that shipped with Japan's first Performa line). But in 1997, when Web-surfing made my Mac Plus's 1MB RAM obsolete, I bought a Gateway with a 286-MHz Pentium II. It was half the price of similarly powered Macs, and granted access to the Windows software that so many dot-coms (who were too busy to write, test, and support Mac versions) were putting online.
My Gateway is now a Franken-PC, an amalgam of extra memory, hard drives, and new OS software that's worked for 7 years. But recently I began producing audio stories for National Public Radio. I do the whole thing -- recording my voice, editing, mixing -- on the PC, and the demands for moving bits of sound data on and off the hard drive bring the machine to its knees. It crashes 3-4 times per hour, and requires full Windows ME re-install every other week.
I figured I'd get a laptop since the PC worked fine for everything else. Windows XP handles audio editing programs like Pro Tools just as well as Mac OS X does (according to Alan at Robotspeak, a digital audio store in San Francisco), so at CompUSA, I did an experiment. First, I typed the lead sentence of my next Business 2.0 story in a Word document on a Vaio running XP. Then I typed the same sentence in a Word document on a PowerBook running OS X. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the genius of Steve Jobs: The sentence looked cooler, weightier, hipper, more worth paying attention to -- on the PowerBook. Writers and other creative artists know that this cannot be explained rationally. It just is, and it's worth money.
The PowerBook's processor speed isn't as good as the best Windows machines, and its CD-burner isn't superfast. But I'll get to transfer data through something called "FireWire" instead of "USB." I'll bask in the glow of my backlit keyboard. I will connect wirelessly through "Airport Extreme." As my colleague Om Malik says, "Now you are one of the elite, instead of one of the masses. You are special. You are in the club."
Martha Stewart finally unloaded her $7 million Manhattan condo, designed by celebrity architect Richard Meier, to none other than PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. Given her legal and financial woes, however, it is doubtful that Martha accepted payment in anything other than cash.
In his first Message column, John Battelle speculated that TiVo was ripe for a takeover. Now, he observes, TiVo's doing the acquiring. It bought a small startup called Strangeberry, founded by three former Marimba hands. Marimba now does some boring enterprise software no one cares about, but it was originally conceived as the plumbing for new online content-delivery systems. Whatever it is that Strangeberry's been up to, TiVo needs all the smarts it can get as it races to stay a step ahead of cable and satellite companies who'd rather copy its key features than license its video-recording software.
Two, count 'em, two rovers on the Red Planet doing their best to stay alive and send pictures home. NASA's Opportunity rover hit Mars on Sunday and is already sending back incredible photos. The plucky Spirit rover is in rehab mode (bad flash memory, they say) and with some long-distance wireless tech support is expected to recover to continue its mission. For drama and otherworldy glamour, I'll take the Red Planet over the Golden Globes any day.
Everybody wants to be a cell-phone company these days. Following closely on the heels of Virgin and Boost Mobile, it is clear that many companies with strong brands are considering selling cell-phone services that runs on other companies' networks. (Read "Hooking Up With Generation Y" for more.) Investor's Business Dailyreports that even Disney is considering the move. A Mickey Mouse mobile phone? Well, there's already a Mickey Mouse watch -- what's wrong with a Mouse that rings?
"Just because airtime is getting cheaper wouldn't make it a bad decision for Disney," said Yankee Group analyst Adam Guy to IBD. "Wireless can be a very personal channel for them to promote and distribute products. They wouldn't be looking at wireless as a huge profit center. For them to break even could be enough, if it solidified relationships with Disney fans." Getting special handsets made would not be much of a problem.
Here's a nice PowerPoint (download file) from VentureOne and Ernst & Young showing that the number of venture-backed deals bottomed out in the third quarter of 2003 at 444 deals (compared to 899 deals in the first quarter of 2001). The number of deals last quarter edged up to 496. Could this be the start of a new upward trend?
In light of the dismal quarters that both AT&T Wireless and Cingular reported yesterday, it's easy to see why the two are desperate for one another. AT&T can't seem to hold onto its customers, losing nearly 130,000 in the last ninety days, and Cingular's subscribers just aren't worth as much as they used to be. Buying AT&T would give Cingular more spectrum and better network coverage, especially in metropolitan areas like Denver where it currently rents capacity from other carriers.
While the AT&T-Cingular union does makes sense, keep an eye on Vodafone, the dark horse in this race. Already the world's largest carrier, Vodafone has made it clear that it would love to increase its brand awareness in the US. While it already owns a 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless, the British carrier has reportedly been unhappy with Verizon's reluctance to publicly promote the Vodafone brand. Vodafone would love to find a way to circumvent Verizon entirely, and with AT&T offically up for sale, now may be the perfect opportunity. In fact, Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin has already admitted that he's following the situation closely.