Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Apple news and incrementalism

The thing I found most interesting in the Apple announcement yesterday is Apple's incremental approach--something more often associated with Microsoft.

The conventional wisdom on Microsoft is that 1.0 products are very rough, 2.0 starts to be usable, and 3.0 is great. Well, yesterday Apple effectively announced Front Row 2.0. Of course, it doesn't even try to do everything that Microsoft's Media Center Edition does. But that's a difference in tactics and strategy, not in the goal they are pursuing.

There are many problems to solve to make the HD home media vision a reality. We need wireless networks with usable bandwidths at least twice as high as the current 802.11g. We need CableCARD 2.0 (and it's equivalent for satellite TV) so consumers can plug a cable or satellite line directly in to a PC without having to go through a separate tuner box. We need the movie studios, cable operators, and networks to come to grips that some people are going to want to skip commercials and stop trying to hobble technologies to protect their current business models. And Apple seems content to let Microsoft slog through those issues with Windows Media Center Edition while it slowly adds capabilities to the Mac as the infrastructure falls in to place.

On the business side, there are glimmers of hope. I've been surprised with the degree of experimentation by TV networks on the iTunes store. What started out as one model--sell TV episodes the day after they air--has turned in to many. NBC, in particular, deserves credit for trying new things. The one that leaps out to me is NBC's putting the pilot episode of its new Law and Order spinoff on iTunes before it airs on TV. This is so much smarter than the music industry approach of trying to stop the technology.

What approach will the movie studios take? Will they side with the TV networks and begin to experiment or will they stick their collective heads in the sand and hope the whole thing goes away? As someone who loves movies, I hope they follow the TV networks' lead.


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