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HTC Google Tablet: Dead

Remember that rumoured tablet PC that HTC was developing for Google, running Chrome OS? According to an HTC executive, it’s dead.

Channelnews Australia quotes Anthony Petts, ANZ Sales and Marketing Director for  HTC as saying that all development on the unnamed tablet has ceased, and that the company will be concentrating on mobile phones for the foreseeable future.

Who’d have predicted that, eh?

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The future of journalism? It’s astronomy

There’s nothing more that journalists like than the opportunity to talk about themselves, thinly disguised as a treatise on the future of journalism This is probably why the “debate” (which it isn’t – not enough listening) on “citizen journalism” (which it isn’t) keeps rumbling on and on.

Martin Belam sums up the latest in the discussion, which was apparently all the rage at journalism.co.uk’s news:rewired event too. Like Martin, I wasn’t there, but I can imagine the scene all too well having seen it play out often.

I think the biggest problem starts with the phraseology. The phrase “citizen journalist” is a loaded one, and VERY US-centric. It’s loaded with all that “citizen militia, defending your rights blah blah blah” stuff, and that helps prevent a meaningful debate actually happening. Manning the pitchforks, burning the barricades, beheading the king. All that goes over very well with a certain kind of techno-geek, but it’s really just a provocative mischaracterisation of what’s actually happening.

I’ve long argued that we should look at “journalism” as what it actually is: a craft. As a craft, it’s something everyone can learn – and you learn best by doing. And like every craft, some people will be professionals and do it all the time for money, while some will be amateurs and do it for other reasons – love, fun, or because they feel like they should.

Once you phrase it like this – with “amateur journalists” and “professional journalists” – a lot of the conflict that the “citizen journalism” debate engenders just goes away. You don’t get debates about whether the existence of amateur astronomers endangers the livelihoods of professional ones.

And in the future, the same pattern will emerge with journalism. Some people will make a living at it; some people will do it because they enjoy it.

My gut feeling is that the model of journalism as a craft will end up more like astronomy, where amateur astronomers are a vital part of the progress of the subject as a whole. Amateur astronomers produce vital data that the professionals use and build upon, as well as creating the odd “exclusive” themselves.

Of course, this idea – professional and amateur journalists working together to improve the quality of news and reporting – doesn’t make quite such a good headline. So I expect this tedious and counterproductive debate to continue for a while.

After all, what journalist – pro or amateur – can resist a good, conflict-based headline?

(Image used under Creative Commons license from Zen)

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Google finds out retailing is harder than it looks

It looks like Google is finding out that being a retailer selling hardware is a bit harder than it looks:

“Google is being inundated with complaints about its Nexus One phone. The touchscreen smartphone was launched on 5 January and can be bought direct from Google and used on almost any phone network. But confusion over who should answer customer queries has led many to file complaints on support forums. Many people are unhappy with Google only responding to questions by e-mail and are calling for it to set up phone-based support.”

Of course, that’s even if customers are sure who they’re supposed to be calling:

“If you buy a Nexus One manufactured by HTC, directly from Google’s Web site, and use it with T-Mobile’s wireless network–who do you call when you have a problem? Google is only accepting support requests via e-mail, and users are getting bounced between T-Mobile and HTC as neither seems equipped to answer complaints, or willing to accept responsibility for supporting the Nexus One.”

One of the reasons that I was convinced that Google wouldn’t be stupid enough to try going into the business of selling its own-branded phone was exactly this: it has no support infrastructure, and no real experience of customer service:

“Google doesn’t have the infrastructure or experience to support a sizeable consumer hardware project. It has no support system, no outlets, no distribution – in short, none of the things that what would be a major hardware launch actually requires. Neither does it have any experience in consumer hardware products.”

The bit that I got wrong was underestimating Google’s hubris – it was, in fact, stupid enough to try selling its own-branded phone via its own website, supported by itself.

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Fred Wilson’s brave mobile experiment

Fred Wilson did something brave: he dictated a blog post using the voice recognition system on his Nexus One, and posted the unedited results. It was, to say the least, less than stellar:

“I am dictating this blog post via my google phone. I’m doing its name is a test to see how easy it is to do something like this. I don’t plan on taking my blog posts in the future very often what is pretty neat that you can do this”

Remember how lampooned the Newton’s pen input initially was? This is worse than Newton v1.0 quality. It’s also about three generations behind the current starte of the art in voice recognition (Dragon Dictate is really good these days).

But more importantly, those who are placing a lot of emphasis on the Nexus’ voice recognition ignore a lot of the culture of mobile phones, and how it is different around the world. In Japan, for example, talking on the phone in public transport is not just frowned upon – it will get your told off (politely!). Talking to your phone to dictate something is going to be similarly frowned upon.

Even in Western countries, talking to your phone in a public place is starting to be unusual. How many people text or email on their phones, rather than call? Do you think you could speak a blog post in Starbucks? And what would a coffee shop sound like if all those people working on their laptops were dictating to their phones instead?

(Image via Daylife)

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Proof that thinking about the Apple tablet makes you stupid

Gregg Keizer draws the short straw with this story:

‘”The tablet will be supported by multiple [mobile] carriers,” said Brian Marshall of Broadpoint AmTech, citing unnamed sources he said were close to the situation. “Verizon and others,” he continued. “Definitely Verizon. I’ve been told that’s a certainty.”‘

Yes. Because the one thing that Apple will do with a product which it wants to sell globally is tie it to a CDMA network, rather than the global standard of GSM. Because Apple is renowned for not giving a damn about economies of manufacture, and so will build two versions of a product for different markets, or sabotage its ability to build to a lower cost (or increase its margin) by equipping it with dual CDMA/GSM radio capabilities.

There is more chance of an Apple tablet being available only on T-Mobile than Verizon. Seriously.

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Idiot post of the day – The Roundup

I’ll keep updating this one as and when they come in. And boy, are they coming in. With the honourable exception of David Pogue, everyone seems to have lost all their critical faculties, journalistic skills, and in some cases basic ability to write English sentences which parse.

First up, Max Tatton-Brown, in his post entitled “Why the Nexus One is not ‘just another Android phone’“, which he begins with:

“Okay, let’s make this clear: The Nexus is just another Android phone.”

It isn’t just another Android phone. But then it is! OK. But it’s from Google, and they play a canny, long-term game which leads to success:

“Furthermore, Google are notorious long-game thinkers. They gradually manoeuvre their way around the industry, insidiously implanting the importance of their products into your everyday lifestyle. It’s viral. For example, Wave. I’m not writing this on Wave, therefore many will be eyeing it up as a bit of a flop. Nonsense, look at the next few years and then we’ll talk.”

Yeah, they’re great at the longterm. I mean look at the success of Lively. Or how they’ve defeated Twitter with Jaiku. And how Orkut has beaten off on the threat of Facebook. Google Video was so successful that who remembers YouTube? Google Notebook is now where everyone stores their notes.

And I’m still playing Dodgeball.

Meanwhile, even the BBC is getting caught up. Maggie Shiels begins her post with:

“Google has said it is defending its online advertising empire with the launch of its own brand mobile phone.”

She then goes on to quote not one but SIX people to confirm this.

Only one problem: None of them work for Google. I haven’t read a single quote from anyone at Google saying it is selling the Nexus One to defend its ad empire. Certainly, there is no such quote on this story.

When I was writing news, my editor would have knocked seven shades of shit out of me for saying that someone said X without a direct quote which said X, preferably in the next paragraph.

More idiocy, no doubt, to follow. I’ll just update this post shall I?

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Idiot post of the day (The Return of TechCrunch edition)

OK, I wasn’t going to do this. Even I had got bored. But MG Siegler’s post on how “Apple and Google just tag teamed the US Carriers” is just breathtakingly stupid.

MG, I know that you’re desperate to justify your earlier breathless hyping of the Nexus One, but seriously – contradicting yourself in the same sentence is pretty good going. To wit:

“But Google goes farther, because they already have multiple carriers (in this case, T-Mobile and Verizon, coming this Spring).”

If it’s “coming this spring”, they don’t ALREADY have multiple carriers. They “will have” or “plan to have” or “will be launching on”. They may even have “already signed up”. But they don’t “already have”.

Seriously, this is basic English we’re talking about here.

Then there’s this:

“Google has these guys in their pockets because it’s not like they’re going to team up with Apple to make a device (Motorola tried, and failed).”

Yeah, because Google can STOP HTC and Motorola building Android phones. They really really need Google! Oh no wait, they can’t! It’s free! It’s open source!

Of course Motorola and HTC are going to appear on stage with Google. They are a major, important partner. But claiming this means that Google has them in its pockets is just bullshit.

And finally…

“They’re taking the traditional mobile model in this country, where you first choose your carrier, and then choose your phone, and turning it upside down.”

Yes, because people are so dumb that they can’t chose things this way round for themselves. No one ever thought of, say, going to AT&T because they wanted an iPhone. Or Verizon because they wanted a Droid.

Or an N97. Actually, scrap that, no one wanted an N97, on any network.

(Image from Laughing Squid)

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Idiot post of the day

Sadly, because I generally enjoy his writing, it’s from Robert Cringely:

“iPhone and Android will be here for the long haul with the question being which of Symbian, Palm, Windows Mobile, or Blackberry will die?”

Answer: None of them. There are more than 1.25 billion phones sold every year. Even a 1% market share would mean selling more phones than Apple did in 2008. Did Apple die in 2008, thanks to the lack of success of the iPhone? No.

People like Cringely simply do not understand the scale of the phone market worldwide. In 2008, more new phones were sold than the entire number of computers, old and new, that were in use.

Think about that for a second, Bob. Actually, think about it all day. Because then, you might understand that the phone market is not the same as the computer market.

(Image from Sylvar)

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Google’s “business strategy” versus Apple’s actual, real business

If you ever wanted to read something which almost perfectly encapsulates the utter lack of business reality endemic in new media, Kim-Mai Cutler’s post on the Nexus One is it. In particular, this sentence:

“Overall, incrementalism seems to be working for Google. A couple stats released today bear out evidence of that success.”

Success? What success? How much money has Google made from Android? Nothing – it’s spent millions. How much has Apple made from iPhone? Billions.

Game over.

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Tech rumours and wish fulfilment: The Google Phone and the Apple Tablet

There’s always been a hype-cycle, particularly with products from Apple, but something I’ve noticed recently is how the hype-cycle has changed into a world of fantasy.

The two best examples of this lately are the Google Nexus One and (apparently forthcoming) Apple Tablet. You see a simple pattern: In blog posts and forums the hype gets whipped up… and up… and up. More than hype, though, the rumoured product becomes a method of wish-fulfilment for writers and commentors, to the point where – upon real announcement – there is a massive sense of disappointment.

Take the Nexus One. First came the rumours of the hardware, which were at least based in the fact that Google had given some employees some advanced phones. The hardware was hyped up – it was going to be the fastest, greatest Android hardware ever seen. Next the software was hyped up: it would be released with the most advanced, most amazing version of Android.

Then more and more wishes got attached to the product, as if they were really part of the plan. The phone would be as low as $100, subsidised by Google because it could then sell more ads. And that would be without a carrier – Google would introduce unlimited data, no-voice plans for $20 per month. It would use Google Voice for communications, and you could use it on any network, anywhere.

The rumours piled on thick and fast. Someone on a forum would say “wouldn’t it be cool if…” and within a day or two you’d see this repeated as an “I heard a rumour that…” type of post.

Of course, it was all too good to be true. And while my post was wrong on the core point that Google would release an “own brand” phone, all the arguments I made were correct. There was no special plan, no subsidised price, no carrier-less phone, no souped-up version of Android. The Nexus One is just another Android phone. Not a bad one, to be sure: but just another phone, with just another plan.

Surprise, surprise: the reaction was massive disappointment. A lot of “GOOGLE YOU SUCK!” Even some comments that Google had conducted some kind of “bait and switch“. And, of course, the usual hypesters trying desperately to justify their earlier breathless claims that the Nexus One would change everything.

The same thing has been happening with the purported Apple Tablet, only there’s been a lot longer for people to attach wishes to the machine. Publishers, for example, at looking to this mythical beast to save them from the free publishing model of the web. It’s going to run OS X apps. Or maybe be a bigger iPhone. It’s unicorns and fairies and the tricorder – all in one. It will change computing, change your life, amaze you… and be the biggest thing since Jesus.

You can see how much wish fulfilment there is attached to the Tablet when someone dares to suggest that maybe (just maybe) it might not be all things to all men – that it might, in fact, be a niche product that really only a few people need. My friend Joe Wilcox, for example, had the temerity to claim that tablets as a whole are niche products, and that there was little that Apple could realistically create that would change this.

Cue hysteria from TechCrunch, which has invested almost as much time and energy whipping up fantasies about the Apple Tablet as they did about the Nexus One. Cue general tutting from publishers (who really, really want a tablet). Cue lots and lots of True Believers – who all want a world-changer from Apple, but who rarely all want the same thing – piling on and claiming that Joe just doesn’t get it.

All Joe has done, really, is point out that the tablet form itself faces some serious technological and ergonomic challenges if it is to ever break out of a niche. Can Apple meet and beat those challenges? I hope they do. But Tablets are not an established product area in the same way that phones or MP3 players are, so they’ll need to break a lot of ground to make it work.

But that doesn’t matter when a product rumour gets to the point of the Tablet, a point where it has had attached to it so many wishes and dreams that it’s impossible to meet all those dreams.

Of course, like everyone else, I have an idea of the Tablet that I’d like Apple to produce. Slim, light, capable of touch and also pen input (got to be able to draw and write notes on it). But like everyone else, I’m just indulging in wish-fulfilment. The problem with tech writing these days is that all too often, those writing write from a perspective of wish fulfilment rather than hard information. And that’s sad.

(UPDATE: As if to make one of my points, Joe has published a post listing some responses to his request for comments on what people want from an Apple Tablet. The answer is “pretty much everything”. And, with the exceptions of browsing and e-book reading, pretty much no one wants the same thing)

(Image by Photo Giddy)

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