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We’re All Made of Stars

Remember when movies and television shows used to show quotes from magazine and newspaper reviews? Those little tidbits were used to sell the products to people on the fence. Better movies and shows had more, better quotes. It was a simple system that allowed the viewers to make quick decisions on whether or not they wanted to pay attention, or even look into watching. That system is officially broken.

Today, we have those same commercials running, but they no longer provide snippets from reviews. Instead, they run quotes from twitter, made from anyone and everyone they could find. A flood of quotes can and will dominate the entire screen for anything that chooses to do it. Every product, show, movie, and what-have-you will be able to make itself look like the next grand slam since sliced bread. The truth is, no matter how bad something is, it can find enough good comments about it on twitter to make it shine like polished gold.

There is something to be said about user input. It allows us to connect and share our opinions on matters. This is something that is good. When that good is taken, and twisted in such a way to sell a product aggressively, it becomes something very bad.  Keep your guard up, because that devil on your shoulder has a new ally.

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Understanding CES and the Target Market: Not You

There is something to be said about CES. It is a place of wondrous advancements in consumer electronic technology, where masses can see the future. What the masses must understand, however, is that these advancements are not for everyone, and almost certainly are not for them, not yet. Those massive 80+ inch 4K TV sets everyone is showing off? Those are for the ultra rich. That’s right, ultra rich. The rich will still be hard pressed to buy these kinds of TVs.

Over the past few days, I’ve read hundreds of comments made about these TVs, and the technology, and how “Stupid” the companies are for developing them. They see things they cannot possibly afford, and immediately write them off as wastes of money and time by the companies. Well, here’s a dose of reality for everyone. If the companies don’t “waste” their time and money developing these technologies, there won’t be any advancements at all. These early, big screen launches are a means of recouping some of the R&D costs. Every single piece of recent technology had similar offerings. HDTVs launched in the mid 90s at prices well over $10,000. DVD players actually launched AFTER HDTVs (How’s that for a mind job?), and were over $1000, with $50 discs. How about MP3 players? That was something scoffed for the price and the limitations of internet speed, but who’s laughing now?

So, when you see these new pieces of cutting edge tech, and feel the need to remark on how out of range they are, or unnecessary they are, stop. Take a moment and think about the past two decades. You probably thought the same thing about HDTV, Blu-Ray, DVD, MP3 players, laptops, and smartphones. Do not be foolish with blanket statements, simply because the future is not the today of your price range. Like all things technological in your possession, there was a time when they too were not for you. Here’s to the future!

eBooks Lawsuit Reveals the Ugliness of Digital Pricing, and a Sour Apple

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A few months ago, a lawsuit surrounding the pricing model of ebooks was filed against Apple, and the five biggest publishers in America. Three of the five publishers quickly bowed out, agreeing to pay the damages demanded, $0.25 to $1.32 per ebook sale, depending on how old the book was. What makes the lawsuit interesting is that it isn’t the publishers that must pay, but the online vendors that made the actual sales. This is effectively passing the buck to Amazon, Google, Sony, B&N, and Apple, the only vendor named in the suit. To simply answer why Apple was named, it was because the timing of the publishers deciding on the ebook agency pricing model coincided with Apple’s deal with them to start selling ebooks on iTunes.

So what does this mean to consumers? Well, according to this article, all ebook buyers from the past three years will be getting a refund, at some unforeseen time in the future. This date could hinge on the remaining contenders agreeing to pay up, but they seem content in fighting for money they won’t be losing. The publishers, in fact, only stand to win, since the refunds will mostly be given as store credits that will most likely only be able to be spent on more ebooks. That leaves Apple, whom seemingly has gone sour over this whole thing.

Apple is claiming they did nothing wrong, and had no hand in the agreement to go to the agency pricing structure that ebooks are now sold under. What is vexing is that Apple is fighting over refunds that would directly go back into their pockets as iTunes credits, which the high probability that the items purchased will be more than these tiny amounts. It does nothing except show their refusal to admit they can do any wrong, even at an expense much greater than these refunds.

So it’s time for consumers to get angry. Not only should we be angry over the agency pricing that has set ebook prices, but we should be angry at Apple and the last two publishers, Macmillan and Penguin, for holding out. While the publishers may have something real to fight about, it is Apple that is doing this simply to save face. They would rather play the victim than give the millions of people that made them what they are today a quarter.

Apple starts another war with the iPad3

Yes, the day we saw coming months ago has finally arrived. Apple has thrown its hoopla event to announce the iPad3. With it comes the usual tech upgrades that were rumored long ago. This year brings the retina display, 4G LTE with hotspot hosting, and better processors and cameras.

That’s not what we’re here about, however. Let’s talk about the real issue Apple’s announcement events cause. The issue is this, we’re all stupid, judging, self important jackasses. Yes, I’ll call myself out on this one, because I’m always down for some XBox bashing, even though I’ve owned one.

So why do I say this? What’s the one thing you can count on whenever Apple announces a new product? Its not people upgrading after one year. That’s just assumed. The one thing you can count on is people taking sides, jacking their assumptions to the extreme, and calling each other. This one is a time honored classic between the Applefans and haters.

Just go to any site that has a report on the iPad3 announcement. I guarantee you that every article will have hundreds of comments all saying the same thing. “The iSheep will fall in line,” “I’m waiting for the iPad9,” “At least its not like an Android every month,” and other black and white comments that leave just about everyone ignorant. Are we really so bitter about these products or the alternatives that we have to spit out such inane banter? Everyone step back, and chill the hell out.

Seriously. The people that come out every time Apple announces a product preaching fire and brimstone about how Apple does this every year and blah blah blah need to wake the hell up. First off, they’re posting these comments on a computer, something that is updated EACH YEAR by the makers, or if its prebuilt, contains components that are updated EACH YEAR. Are people really so oblivious to the world around them that they think Apple is the only company that does annual updates? They probably didn’t even invent that business concept. Cars have been doing it for decades.

Sticking to tech, allow me to list the consumer electronics companies off the top of my head that do annual product line updates. Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, Dell, IBM/Lenovo, nVidia, ATI, Sharp, Pioneer, Acer, Asus, Nikon, Canon, Phillips, and HP. That’s just the tip of the iceberg too. Seriously, everyone does it with their products, because its smart business. Its the perfect time frame for these kinds of upgrades. It gives ample time for technology to advance, but isn’t so long as to fall behind the competition. There is no great evil over what Apple is doing here.

Granted, Applefans aren’t only victims. They can be as blind as the haters when they want to be, and days like today are ripe for that kind of behavior. Yes, its true, iSheep do exist, and any sensible Applefan will admit that. The iSheep are the ones that really white knight it up for Apple, and display blind faith. It’s okay to love a company and its products, but don’t be stupid about it. Apple isn’t flawless, nor is it uncanny genius. Apple utilizes intelligent design and brilliant marketing to create its success. Its crusade-like approach to marketing its brand image has really paid off.

I’ll give it to you straight. I don’t like Apple computers. If there was no marketing at all, I’d think iPods were stupid. A wheel control? WTF? I had no interest in anything Apple, but even I have to admit their marketing made everything look really sweet. So after years of experiencing their marketing, I bought my one and only Apple product, the iPhone 4. I also have an iPad, but that was a gift.

So, as an owner of Apple’s two most polarizing products, I can honestly say, both sides are being downright retarded with their war of words. Neither of them is doing anything to change minds or further their own front line. They’re just sitting at their computers spitting digital fire. So sit back and grab your popcorn. Let the war rage on!

Eyes on Sony: They Can Do It All

This past week, Sony released the Playstation Vita, the successor to its successful, but often gunned down handheld gaming device. Never heard of it? That’s not surprising, since Sony decided not to launch its marketing campaign until the day the system launched.

With the Vita, Sony is, for better or worse, continuing its video game legacy on the same path it has stormed for nearly two decades. Producing systems with cutting edge graphics at high cost; sacrificing sanity for quality. As a long time Sony customer, and gamer, I like this kind of strategy, but I am also realistic. Sony is in deep waters along the ocean it has chosen to set sail on, and its time for a course correction. Sony insists that the iPhone and Android phones are not the Vita’s competition, instead focusing on Nintendo and its 3DS, which is now the fastest selling system of all time (To 5 million units).

While Nintendo is the king of handheld gaming, and weathered the storm its stockbrokers rained, demanding they make iPhone games, Sony does not have three decades of loyal fans to fall back on. Nintendo survived on the selling power of its first party name brands. Brands like Mario and Zelda that people buy just because of what they are. Sony has no long lasting brand names in its title library. Its first party games have almost always been trilogies, with some getting 4th installments years later on newer consoles. Most of its Playstation One brands did not make it deep into the Playstation 2 era, let alone into the 3, or the Vita. So while the Vita may offer bleeding edge portable power for home console quality, it lacks a lot of the brand appeal Nintendo feasts on.

So, what can Sony do? With the PSP, they did something no one else had ever done before; stood up to Nintendo. While Nintendo purists will still insist that the PSP was a failure and ask “Where are the games?”, the PSP has sold 71 million units world wide to the DS’s 151 million. About half, yes, but no other hand held had ever come so close, or lasted so long. With that, Sony has kept the same focus with the Vita. Offer more power, and keep the guns aimed at Nintendo, but Nintendo is no longer its biggest threat.

Like Microsoft and Blackberry, Sony was late to the smartphone 2.0 party started by the iPhone. So late, I wonder why they even bothered. Not only did they not learn from this lesson by releasing their Tablets super late, but they didn’t seem to think it would have any effect on the Vita. The message should have come in loud and clear that consumers love their smart phones, and find it sufficient to not have the need for a dedicated portable gaming device like the Vita. Again, the 3DS can survive on the strength of its brand name titles. The children love them, and the 3DS is priced for that market. Speaking of price, I forgot to mention that the Vita is 250-300 dollars, and you can’t get a cellular contract discount.

So Sony has managed to plunge itself into a very grim battle with two powerful forces. On one side, there are the young gamers that sucker their parents into getting them a portable. Faced with that choice, most parents will opt for the 170 dollar 3DS, with its colorful box and friendly cartoon character art. A 250 dollar box with guns and explosions isn’t going to sell to a parent. On the other side, is the ever growing smart phone market, and its plague like app stores filled with dollar games. Nest to that, who wants to spend $40 on a single portable game, even if it is home console quality?

The Vita and smart phones are rarely being used to play the exact same games, and in the cases they are, the Vita is playing phone ports. Right now, the only existing example is Plants vs Zombies, which is a steep $15. If you were to make a game for both systems now, and best utilize their resources, the difference would truly be shocking, but I doubt we’ll ever see such a thing, which is why Sony can’t leverage on the Vita’s power.

I think for the Vita to remain relevant, it will have to sleep with the enemy, and build an app store within the Playstation Network (PSN). The second step would be to make that PSN app store usable on some phones, and Sony has its own phone making division for that. The reason being is the Vita is a toy that looks like a toy. Smart phones are widely called expensive toys, but they are at least incognito. They allow us to be kids without appearing truly kiddy. An adult playing Plants Vs Zombies on the Vita is going to look silly next to someone doing the same on an iPhone. For all we know, they could just be texting or browsing the net. Sony could even create that same disguise by making Sony Vita phones, like they did with the Playstation Phone. A full blown PSV phone is out of the question, but a line of phones named Vita running on the system’s OS could help expand the app store, and even play the PSP titles offered on the PSN. They may be late, but they can finish strong.

Sony has a very big opportunity to make the Vita something great. It can offer all of the cheap phone games that have become so popular with just a fraction of its power, and then its big gun library. I just hope Sony is smart enough to adopt a two prong strategy, because I want something like the Vita to be successful.

While I’m not into portable gaming anymore, a device like the Vita that allows me to take home console quality games anywhere I travel in my pocket is very attractive. The fact that the Vita has been so slow to start with what is arguably the strongest launch line-up ever raises concerns that Sony must adjust to. All told, I don’t view the Vita as a failure in technology or intent. It simply is not properly positioned in the market, and needs a new strategy. It can do it all, Sony. Don’t keep it on the one way street.

In the world of DRM, Microsoft is building a prison

Digital rights management (DRM). No consumer likes it, if they know what it is. It’s whatever security companies employ in order to try to protect their products from piracy. This can be requiring online registration, product key codes, requiring an online connection in order to use the product, or even something as covert as a line of code that is needed for the product to run, and it can’t be copied by normal means.

DRM is constantly evolving as the digital age advances. Companies are always pointing at piracy to explain why sales aren’t hitting expectations, although there’s no empirical proof. Truth be told, not every person that pirates a song, movie, or game over the internet was going to buy it otherwise.

In the midst of this on going struggle, Microsoft is rumored to be proposing a new approach with its upcoming video game console, the XBox 720. Speaking to Kotaku, sources said that the 720 would be using a new kind of security to prevent used games from being playable on the upcoming console. While it’s unknown how this could be done, its affects on the consumers are clear. You’re all going to the 720 prison.

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The X means “No used games”

While other companies have taken to requiring $10 online passes in order to access online mulitplayer content on used copies of games, Microsoft wants to ice the very concept all together. However they decide to do it, the system won’t allow a used game to be played on another system. This probably means there will be some kind of registration code that will bind to a console, or the XBox Live User account. Either way, there’s serious problems and restrictions to this kind of approach.

If this kind of system becomes a reality, Microsoft is going to do nothing but imprison its consumers, and do absolutely nothing to hinder piracy. Pirates are used to getting around these kinds of security measures. That is not the target here, however. The target is the lucrative used games market front-lined by Gamestop. This market generates billions a year, but sees not a single penny going to the game makers, except for the newly introduced online passes, provided the used game buyers purchase them.

So this new system will put a stop to that market, and maybe increase new game sales. Like piracy, however, not every used game buyer was going to buy the game new in the first place. Used prices are cheaper, and older games aren’t always carried on the shelves anymore, because they’re no longer printed.

The real victims here, however, are the millions of legitimate consumers that have always played it by the book. No longer will they be able to let their friends borrow games, or freely have a system in the man cave and the living room. Worse yet, if your console breaks and gets replaced, you’ve just been sent down the creek without a paddle. On the flip side, if the games are bound to accounts, what if you have siblings or roommates with their own accounts? Guess they’ll have to buy their own $60 copy to play the game that’s already in the room.

Why use a sniper when you can use a bomb? No, under the new 720 regime, there is no innocent.

Things I won’t be able to do with my kids.

Seeing how things have changed in the past ten years, I really had to wonder what things will be like when I have a family. Comparatively, my parents got to do with me a lot of what they did with their own parents. The advancement of the internet has really changed how we do a lot of things, and there are a few that could very well be changed forever.

Going to blockbuster could very well go the way of the dodo soon. My parents used to take me there when I was a kid to rent a movie or game, but I can already tell I won’t be doing that. With movie and game streaming services becoming more and more popular, the convenience of saving the time and doing it right in my living room will certainly make that the entertainment venue of choice.

Going to the bookstore. Here’s something I did a lot as a kid, but something I almost never do now. With my iPad, I can get almost any book, newspaper, or magazine in digital form through various online vendors, and these have only been a big player in the past five years. Before then, ebook readers were considered a very small niche. Ten years from now, will there even be any bookstores to go to? Borders has already gone down, and local book sellers are suffering greatly at the hands of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. B&N is focusing more and more on its digital front, trying to adapt to the changing market. We may soon see them downsize their megastores to smaller Apple Store like venues offering their various readers and a scaled back physical book selection.

The obvious trend is “going place”. The digital age is replacing those with the convenience of doing things from home. That is not to say that this is a bad thing. Saving time on errands can lead to more quality time with family doing things more enjoyable. Still, its hard to believe that a lot of the magical moments of my childhood could be forever lost to the coming generations.

I’m already saying “Back in my day.”