Jason Ball's TechBytes

Technology & Venture Capital. Early stage venture capital news mixed with personal views and comments

Lock-in and Licensing

This is an excerpt from a Microsoft employee’s blog extolling the virtues of Windows Media over Apple’s media format (AAC):

“Let’s say it’s 2006. You have 500 songs you’ve bought on iTunes for your iPod. But, you are about to buy a car with a digital music player built into it. Oh, but wait, Apple doesn’t make a system that plays its AAC format in a car stereo. So, now you can’t buy a real digital music player in your car. Why’s that? Because if you buy songs off of Apple’s iTunes system, they are protected by the AAC/Fairtunes DRM system, and can’t be moved to other devices that don’t recognize AAC/Fairtunes. Apple has you locked into their system and their devices. (And, vice versa is true, as any Apple fan will gladly point out to you). What does that mean if you buy into Apple’s system? You’ve gotta buy an FM transmitter that transmits songs from your iPod to your car stereo. What does that do? Greatly reduces the quality. How do I know that? Cause the Microsoft side of the fence has FM transmitters too. I saw a few on Friday. But, what we have on our side is a format (WMA) that’s already being adopted by car stereo manufacturers. So, now when you buy a new song on Napster, it can play on your car stereo, or on your portable music player. Is the choice to do that important to you? If not, then you can buy an iPod and music off of iTunes.”

Wow. This guy is actually scared. He sees a future where Micro$oft is not on every device you own- and where there’s no lock-in to the Windows operating system.

After the HP deal, I could easily see Apple signing agreements with companies like Pioneer or Harmon Kardon to make AAC perfectly compatible with music purchased through the iTunes store. (Licensing is the key word to remember.)

Also, there’s a nice article on Steve Jobs, Apple and Pixar in this week’s Business Week that’s worth your time.

Filed under: Apple Computer

Broken iPod [UPDATED]

[Note: If you are looking for help fixing your iPod, you might want to look at my other post here.]

Apparently Apple did a poor job designing the original iPods. The Firewire port cannot handle the stress from day-to-day use of plugging and unplugging an iPod, which, over time, breaks the port. An analogy would be that the door to your car- over time- would fall off because you open and close it every day. Which is absurd.

Well, apparently this is what has happened to my iPod. It still works fine as an iPod- it just won’t connect to my computer- which means I have a permanent music collection on my Pod. I’ve been troubleshooting this for two days and it appears that I, like many, many others, have a Firewire port that has gone bad. (I would be willing to bet that this is the main reason Apple changed the port on the iPod in the 3rd generation iPods.)

If you’re looking for a replacement part iPod, email me through the "About" page- or keep your eyes on ebay. I’ll be selling this iPod shortly…

I have tried unsuccessfully to fix my iPod. We tried to re-solder the broken firewire connections last week- with no luck. Now I have to wait for A) Apple to release the mini here in the UK or B) get one in the US or have a friend bring one over. Grrrrrr…

Filed under: Apple Computer, iPod

White Sony Fontopia MDR-EX71 Earphones Review [Updated]

Fontopia Everyone knows Apple’s earphones aren’t very good. I looked around and decided the Sony MDR-EX71 would be the best option. They come in white, to match my iPod, and they are in-ear, effectively blocking out surrounding noise.

I ordered my Sony earphones from a Hong Kong site, iShopping4u for $50, with free shipping included. They arrived in a little over a week (it was still Christmas holidays in Spain).

The Good

The earphones come with multiple sizes of the grey tips that go in your ears- allowing for a sung and comfortable fit. The sound is really good in my opinion. Many people say there is too much bass, but it sounds great to me- not muddy bass, but punchy clear bass- much like my Mission speakers on my home stereo.

The phones are made with an unusual rubbery, flexible material- very different from the hard plastic iPod earphones.

The Bad

The cord on the headphones is quite short. This is great if you always wear a jacket and can keep your iPod in your inner chest pocket. Otherwise, the cord is too short to keep the iPod in a lower jacket pocket or pants pocket. There is an extension included, but after adding that, the cord is way too long for daily use.

Each earbud’s cord length is different. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. By making the right cord longer, it’s easy to pass the right earbud behind your head, with the shorter left cord being just above the inner chest pocket of your jacket. However, when you take the earphones off, they do not wrap very well around your iPod for storage. This creates a tangled mess of earphones.

A case is provided to store the headphones, but it is completely worthless. It’s an unusual tube shape and you have to wrap the cord around the outside, but just like on an iPod, the different cord lengths keep it from wrapping symmetrically and storing neatly.

The Summary

$50 for these earphones is not a good deal. Sure they sound great, but they are a real hassle to use everyday. If you’re in the market for new earphones, $39 for Apple’s new in-ear buds may be the best option. (I’m still disappointed that Apple is providing such awful earphones with the iPod . I mean, iPods *do* cost $300+). There is a comparison of Sony’s and Apple’s earphones available here.

[Updated December 11, 2004]

I have been using these headphones now for almost 1 year. I think they *are* a good buy for $50. They effectively block outside noises, which means I can actually hear music while riding on the Tube in the morning. With Apple’s headphones, you have to crank up the music and you still can’t really hear anything. Also, the shorter cord is fine for me. I keep my headphones in my pocket when not in use. Because the cord is short, they very rarely get tangled up. Also, the sound is good. Listening to something like The Killers is great on these headphones. The White version is probably overkill though. If you can find the black version locally- get them.

[Updated January 8, 2005]

If you’re thinking about getting these Sony earphones, you might want to read my Shure E2c review. They are worth the extra cash.

Filed under: iPod

Exit stage left

The exit window in the UK appears to be opening- and I’ve even seen comments that so many firms are lined up to IPO in the first part of the years that it could cause a glut- and actually dampen investor interest.

“Apax and Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst Inc. have sold an additional 34% of their stake in Yell.

Apax and Hicks Muse directly invested about £600 million in the original purchase and funded the rest through debt, according to analysts. With this week’s placement — following last summer’s successful IPO — the private-equity firms saw an aggregate net return of about £1.4 billion, or more than double the initial investment.” WSJ.com

And in the US, Google has shortlisted the underwriters for its $4bn IPO.

Filed under: Venture Capital

The iPod mini

Ipod_mini Well, I think Apple blew the price point on this one…$249 is simply too much for this iPod. As CK said you can get a 15GB for $299…

However, I think this little guy is a good indication of where the iPod is going over the next few generations- particularly size-wise. I’m glad they got rid of those awful buttons at the top of the iPod. One of my main reasons for getting the “old school” iPod from CK was the form factor. The new miniPod has improved on the original- instead of taking a step backwards like the current 3G iPods.

I’ll have to see the aluminum finish in person to judge that, but I can imagine it will be beautiful. And the fact there there is no white miniPod could mean no more white Apple products…I can’t wait for the second generation of this little guy….

Filed under: iPod

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