Saturday, December 15, 2007

Is iPhone Steve Job's Greates Truimph?

As Apple sets itself for another spectacular earninings announcement after the exuberance of Steve Jobs' Macworld keynote has died down, in some sections of the media nagging doubts are beginning to surface coupled with a dose of harsh reality.

Most of the doubts concern the market positioning of the iPhone, while the harsh reality is that Apple is now the subject of a criminal investigation by the US Attorney's Office.

Starting with the possibility of an options backdating scandal which threatens to reach to the very top of Apple, meaning Jobs himself, until now there has been widespread sentiment that Jobs and the Apple Board are beyond reproach. Not many want to believe that a company of the stature of Apple led by a computer industry pioneer like Jobs could be the subject of a criminal investigation over its corporate governance practices.

However, the US Attorney's Office is probably not interested in public sentiment. If it finds that corporate laws have been broken then it will do its job and make the collar. If such a collar gets made, even if Jobs is not directly involved, as a very hands-on CEO it would be hard for him not to share at least some of the responsibility.

With this in mind, some very bullish financial analysts are starting to shift a little uncomfortably in their seats. Without Jobs, Apple would not be the same company. With Apple stock at an all time high, no-one wants to think about such a scenario.

With regard to the iPhone, in the minds of many it is Apple's killer app. It is indeed a remarkable device. However, there is a measure of uncertainty about its target audience.

Apple has never been a big player in the corporate space and the iPhone, being very much a closed system, may not be able to change that. If like the rest of Apple's products, the iPhone will primarily be considered by consumers, then it's expensive. Many consumers in the wider market outside the Apple world may baulk at paying a base price of US$499 for a phone on a fixed two year plan with a carrier.

At Macworld, Jobs pushed the fact that at US$499, the 4GB iPhone is cheaper than the cost of a smart phone and an iPod combined. However, even the wildly euphoric pro Apple crowd at the keynote could not be coaxed into raising a deafening cheer when the price was announced.

Like all mobile phones sold on contracts, the iPhone is probably heavily subsidised by the carrier and therefore is actually a bargain at the announced price points. However, in many cases, particularly in places like Europe and Australia, consumers can pick up a top end mobile phone on a contract for zero up front cost.

Some observers believe that the iPhone, being an iPod (Jobs said the best ever iPod) will merely eat into existing iPod sales. However, this is unlikely. Despite its large 3.5 inch screen, the iPhone does not have enough storage to compete directly with the iPod Video. Likewise, the much cheaper iPod Nano just does not have the same feature set as the iPhone.

Regardless of the outcome for Apple and Jobs, 2007 is likely to one of the most significant in the history of the company. Apple and Jobs have engineered a scenario where the company has a shot at bridging the divide between IT and telecommunications. However, failure could signal that the company reached its zenith with the Intel Mac and the iPod and has only one way to go.


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Thursday, December 13, 2007

YouTube vs. MySpace?

Just a few months ago, News Corp landed a crucial deal with Internet leader Google. News Corp. designated Google as the search engine for MySpace, the social networking leader that News Corp. acquired last year for $580 million. The Google deal guaranteed $900 million in revenue for MySpace over a three-year period, more than enough to recoup News Corp.'s cost of acquiring MySpace, plus a tidy profit.

Now News Corp. is seeking reassurances in the wake of Google's $1.65 billion agreement to acquire Internet video leader YouTube. The YouTube deal poses several potential conflicts. Today, YouTube doesn't compete directly with MySpace, where members keep home pages loaded with photos, videos, music and messages. But YouTube has a social networking component, because its users can share playlists and other information. That could be the foundation for more YouTube social networking features that would put it into more direct competition with MySpace.

VIDEO IN PROFILES. The main point of potential conflict is the millions of YouTube videos that are embedded on the profiles of MySpace users. Google is expected to integrate advertising into YouTube videos produced by professionals and amateurs alike. As a result, Google could soon have the ability to stream ads to MySpace users who are viewing YouTube videos embedded onto their MySpace pages. The question is whether News Corp. will get a slice of that revenue, and if so, how much.

So far, little or no money has been on the line, but if revenues from online video advertising surge, as both companies predict, how that money is shared will become increasingly important. "The revenue-sharing question for MySpace and YouTube is really tough, but it has to be resolved," says Nick Holland, a senior analyst at Pyramid Research. News Corp. declined comment, and Google didn't respond to several requests for comment.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch have opened a series of meetings between the companies in an effort to clarify their relationship. By holding the meetings at News Corp., "Google has shown how seriously it takes News Corp. as a partner. Both companies want to work out something," said Rick Corteville, executive director of media at Organic, a digital communications agency.

AT THE TABLE. Both companies do want a deal, but they could play hardball if they don't get an agreement on terms they find acceptable. At one extreme, News Corp. could block YouTube videos from MySpace and put more resources into its own MySpace Video, which competes with YouTube. (Roughly one third of the traffic on YouTube comes from MySpace.) It's a threat with some credibility, since MySpace briefly blocked YouTube in the past. News Corp. could also yank Fox clips and other video off of YouTube and make them available exclusively on its own Net properties. Any drastic steps, however, risk alienating MySpace members, who are enthusiastic about YouTube as well.

For its part, Google could play hardball by declining to expand its current advertising agreement with News Corp. That, however, could harm the search giant's financial interests, since it wants to expand its advertising business and MySpace provides an audience of potentially great value.

There are few precedents to guide the way, because the medium is so new. "Maybe something new will emerge from this. They could possibly lease ad space from each other," Corteville said.

BEYOND REVENUE SHARING. The most valuable prize for News Corp. may be what it learns about using technology to target ads to consumers. News Corp. executives appreciate the fact that Google has unrivaled technological prowess in the field of advertising. YouTube is a leader, too. "Because of the tagging technology at work on YouTube, there is much more ability for organizing and clustering than what you have on MySpace," said Tom Chavez, CEO of Rapt, which provides pricing and monetization technology for media companies including Yahoo and MSN.

News Corp. would doubtless love access to the tagging technology that helps users organize and navigate sites with tags, which are like keywords. In the long run, that knowledge could be more valuable than the revenue-sharing deal that emerges from the current talks.

Rosenbush is a senior writer for in New York

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Australian Man Sells His Life on eBay

SYDNEY, Australia -- Get a life! And now you can, on eBay.Australian Nicael Holt offered his life for sale on the Internet auction site.

He received a bid of nearly $5,900 and said he'll go through with the deal if the buyer pays cash.

Holt is throwing in introductions to all his friends, his ex-girlfriend, the girls he's flirting with currently and a four-week course on becoming him.

The 24-year-old philosophy student said he'll make a documentary if the top bidders turn out to be the real deal.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sony Play Station 3 And Gray Market

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PlayStation 3 consoles advertised as used are appearing for sale in Japan shops as well as online auctions.

They are being sold for up to four times the retail price of the console, which went on sale in Japan last Saturday for about £270.

There are also reports that homeless people were paid to queue for the console on behalf of people now selling them on at a higher price.

The product launch is one of the most crucial in Sony's history.

Thousands of people queued for many hours in cities across Japan on Saturday and many people went home empty-handed.

Sony has had difficulties in mass producing the console due to problems with a specific part of the console's Blu-ray DVD player. The firm put the European launch of the console on hold until March next year due to the shortages.

One PS3 with a 60GB hard drive, which would have cost about $500 (£270) in Japanese stores, was on sale on Monday on the auction site eBay for an asking price of $2,300 (£1,200).

Other PS3s were attracting bids starting from $600 (£313) up to $1,475 (£771).

Brian Ashcroft, an editor for gaming website Kotaku in Japan, said: "I witnessed homeless people waiting in line as well as a high number of Chinese customers."

He said he had heard similar stories from other shops around Tokyo and in Osaka.

A Kotaku reader, Dirk Benedict, contacted the website about the launch day at flagship Tokyo store, Bic Camera.

"The first buyers of PS3 were largely elderly Chinese men and young Chinese women with shaky Japanese language skills," he wrote.

"Opportunistic Japanese businessmen have the largest presence, hiring poor Chinese men and women to wait in line for a PS3."

Mr Benedict said the Chinese men and women were then delivering the consoles to Japanese men, who were paying them up to £90 for queuing.

He wrote: "Sony should be scolded for staging a national launch event with 80,000 units.

"An extreme lack of supply ignited an extreme surge of demand - that of which poor Chinese and opportunistic Japanese took full advantage of."

Kotaku reports that PS3 consoles advertised as used are now being sold for 144,900 yen (£645) in some Japanese shops.

The PlayStation 3 (PS3) is being sold in two configurations.

The more expensive version has a 60GB hard drive and wi-fi on board and its official cost in Japan is 60,000 yen (£270).

The cheaper version has a 20GB hard drive, lacks the wi-fi and will cost 49,980 yen (£222).

European prices are expected to be higher than direct comparisons suggest.

Both versions include a wireless controller, a Blu-ray high-quality video player and a port so they can work with a high-definition display.

Buying a PS3 also gives owners free access to the online PlayStation Network where they can meet and take on other gamers.

Source - BBC