John C. Abell

A cloudy forecast for digital music

May 25, 2011 20:15 UTC

Just in time for data caps, your music is going into the cloud.

It’s been a long, strange trip for the mp3 player. Born into relative obscurity, it only became a first class digital citizen when Apple got into the game with the iPod — the first portable music player with an unforgettable name.

From the introduction of this breakthrough device in 1998 as a clunky handheld hard disk, to its reinvention as a sleek, video-enabled flash-drive to its elegant evolution as an app, the ability to carry around your music has been a major driving force in the design and adoption of mobile devices.

The habit of never leaving home without music made it possible to imagine toting around TV shows, movies, books, magazines and newspapers on the pocket computer that also makes phone calls. It provided a major reason for increasingly capacious — and pricey — smartphones and tablets.

Now, in what seems like the blink of an eye, there is a paradigmatic shift afoot to move music out of your hip pocket and into the cloud. The advantages are many: no longer will your collection be tied to a single computer and a single portable. You’ll have a built-in backup — when your computer inevitably fries you won’t (pardon the expression) miss a beat.

The downsides include a huge one: you won’t be able to access your collection unless you have an Internet connection. Fortunately, all smartphones and many tablets have connectivity built in — and those devices which don’t bring their own Internet can usually be tethered to something which does.


May 17, 2011 15:32 UTC

Google, in a new bid to diversify its way out of an overwhelming dependence on search ad revenue, has once again taken aim at a giant in another industry. Having disrupted the disruptor that is Apple in the smartphone arena, Google is now challenging Microsoft’s 800-pound-gorilla status in the enterprise market.

Chromebooks for Business, unveiled at the Google I/O developer’s conference in San Francisco, ties together a number of threads the company has been dangling — not the least of which its seemingly Quixotic venture into the computer hardware game. But with hardware partners Samsung and Acer, Google is doing what Google does best: create a mechanism (inexpensive netbooks) that increases dependency on its cloud ecosystem — just like its advocacy of high-speed Internet connections that support its core business.

But this time there is potential revenue attached to that other agenda, and a genuinely viable business model. For $28 a month (less for schools) you get everything you need in hardware, software and service — including machine upgrades. Those machines boot up in seconds, connect to WiFi hotspots effortlessly, can tap into Verizon’s 3G data network if necessary (at an extra cost) and are elegantly tied in with (what else?) Gmail, Google Voice, Google Docs.

RenRen and the new tech IPO mania

May 9, 2011 17:06 UTC

Last week another social network went looking to raise money. These days, that’s barely news. But the company in question was Renren, China’s “answer” to Facebook, and the investors who threw money at the company weren’t raw-meat-eating venture capitalists; they were your neighbors.

Renren’s Wall Street debut got a lot of attention: A Chinese company doesn’t IPO on the New York Stock Exchange every day, and the social network space is red hot — just today, LinkedIn,  a professional social newtork, set its IPO striking price range to value the company at $3 billion.

Renren means “everyone” and with serious competition sidelined in the world’s most populous country this social network might just live up to its name. Most favored network treatment may in turn deliver profitability, a little metric which eludes Renren, but which didn’t deter the Street’s fascination with the company: It raised $740 million in its first-day.

In the Playstation debacle, Sony plays a serious game

May 2, 2011 18:57 UTC

There is a truism in business, and politics: it’s never the offense that gets you into trouble, it’s how you handle the aftermath. “Watergate” would not have become shorthand for corruption if the massive criminal cover up of political dirty tricks hadn’t unraveled. “Tylenol” might just have been a trivia answer had Johnson & Johnson not rebounded from the seven tragic deaths of people who took their tainted pain killers into a case study of pitch-perfect crisis management.

Apple and Google both had some explaining to do in recent days about how they collect, store and use tracking information on the smartphones which, combined, account for nearly two thirds of the market. But Sony might have an even bigger challenge on its hands.

Sometime between April 16 and 19 hackers gained access to private information about some 77 million Playstation customers, including logins, passwords, e-mail addresses, home addresses, and possibly account history and credit card information. It took Sony nearly a week to disclose this, even though it shaped up to be one of the biggest data breaches in history.