Post image for The invaders are at the gates of mobile

The invaders are at the gates of mobile

by alec on May 18, 2011

Kevin Fox muses that Microsoft, Apple and Google may be “quietly preparing for war with mobile carriers”. He cites the ten-year innovation desert in voice, coupled with the explosion of data on the handset, weaves in Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype, and spins a tale of how the data companies take over the telecom industry.

Implausible? No.  In fact, the innovation piece of the story has been being told for years now.  A band of rebels in the communications industry, myself included, have been speaking at industry events like eComm, authoring documents like the Voice 2.0 Manifesto, and building business plans to pitch to investors for a very long time. Nobody in mobile, however, has been that interested in listening.

Today’s mobile industry is a bit like the music industry. Just as the music industry has been built around physical distribution of goods, and was slow to react to the digitization of music, the mobile industry has been built around a steady predictable minutes model, with share driven by the carrier with the current handset-de-jour. It has made them complacent, and ripe for disruption.

The App Store model was the first real disruption, as it capped new margin growth from software.  Will Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype – the world’s largest carrier of international long distance minutes – be the next disruption?  It’s hard to know, but one thing is certain – the invaders are at the gates and change is coming.

Change is coming.


Post image for Bill C-32 enshrines planned obsolescence

Bill C-32 enshrines planned obsolescence

by alec on December 6, 2010

In my basement, there are three milk crates of vinyl records – the music I collected in my teens.  Those records haven’t been played in a very long time.  They became obsolete in October 1982 with the introduction of the audio CD.  CD’s were convenient, easy, and mostly scratch proof.  We all loved them, and vinyl went the way of the dodo.

Upstairs in my living room, there are two 300 disc Pioneer carousel’s fitted to our home stereo. These became obsolete in April 2003, with the introduction of Apple’s now ubiquitous iTunes store.   Digital media meant that we could take our music anywhere.  Even more convenient than CD, it once again changed the way that we listened to music.

In 2003, I unloaded the carousels, digitized every CD, and moved the music collection to an Audio Request ARQ-1 music server where it could be played by the family at will from anywhere in the house and loaded onto an iPod for personal listening.

Last night I bought Messiaen’s La nativité du seigneur from the iTunes store. I had a hankering to hear Dieu Parmi Nous after going out to a Christmas service yesterday afternoon. Like much of the music I buy today, La nativité will never see physical media.  It exists as a stream of bits stored on my iPhone, my PC, and my backup server.

Media format shifts in the music industry have happened twice in my lifetime.  Each shift has generated a boost in revenues for the entertainment industry, as consumers have re-bought media they previously owned, but in the new format.

  1. Many of my old vinyl records I bought again on CD.
  2. With the advent of iTunes, many tracks on vinyl that didn’t make the transition to CD I later rediscovered in the iTunes store.

The music industry has made good money from me selling me my old favorites again and again.

Today that same transition is happening with video.  A few weeks ago I bought a BoxeeBox which allows me to stream video from the Internet to my TV, or from a local store in my house.  For the last couple of weeks I’ve been digitizing our collection of DVD’s in order to allow them to be watched anywhere in the house, or on my iPhone or iPad device.  At the same time I signed up for a NetFlix subscription, and for $8/mo we can watch movies to our hearts content on any PC, the television, or iPod or iPhone that we own.

And that brings me to my point.

Media formats have changed over time, and will continue to change.  The same is true of the devices that we use to to consume that media.  That’s the technology business.

Consumer advocates believe that consumers should have the right to purchase a license for media content, and consume it in whatever fashion they choose.  The distribution media – whether it be bits, vinyl, or plastic discs, shouldn’t have any bearing.   Morever, the entertainment industry has discovered, much to its chagrin, that encouraging format shifting is better for business as well.  How many blu-ray discs also come with a digital media file now, so that you can watch the movie you’ve purchased on another device?  Plenty!

Bill C-32, the Canadian copyright bill currently before Parliament, is a fairly balanced piece of legislation.  It gives we consumers the right to format shift media for our own consumption, instead of re-buying that media. And it gives the entertainment industry broad rights to prosecute content thieves — those who never bought the content in the first place.

The big flaw in Bill C-32 is in the section on digital locks.  A content owner can lock a piece of digital media, and this bill would make it illegal to unlock it, even to make a backup copy.  With a simply digital lock, the content owner can take away all the rights that a consumer has under the law.  It’s a return to the early days of the United States Digital Millenium Copyright Act just as the US is relaxing key provisions of that legislation as they relate to locks. It’s a step in the wrong direction, and out of step with evolving industry practice today.

A lot of folks are urging the government to pass C-32. The argument is that we, as a nation, can’t afford to wait any longer for copyright reform.  Apparently we’re becoming digital pariah’s because folks like Hulu won’t provide their service in Canada.


We’ve survived until now with our existing copyright regime. We should wait, and get this right, rather than pass a flawed bill — a bill that permits content owners to negate hard-won consumer rights through digital locks.


Of course Canada is a digital ghetto!

November 28, 2008

When CBC’s Jesse Brown asked Is Canada becoming a digital ghetto, my answer was an immediate “Of course”.  Canadians who don’t travel or do business outside of the country would never know this, but the wars being fought and won over consumer digital rights in other parts of the world are simply not news here. […]

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The death of satellite radio?

October 27, 2008

The last few days I’ve been cruising around in my car listening to a selection of music on my iPhone that I haven’t paid for.  No, it’s not via some illicit P2P network.  Rather, I’ve been using two streaming services — and Flycast — to deliver high quality music over the 3G network to […]

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Squawk Box October 20: Virtual Worlds, Entertainment Industry Stupidity, and more!

October 20, 2008

On this morning’s conference call, we discuss a wide range of topics from virtual worlds to the latest entertainment industry craziness.

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Squawk Box Sept 22 – Slot Music and Social Network Marketing

September 22, 2008

Sandisk has announced a new initiative called Slot Music. It’s music purchased on an SD card. It’s going to be available in Walmart and Bestbuy; you buy a 1G MicroSD card, and simply plug it into your phone or PC, and play the music.

We also discuss a new study by Universal McCann which says that consumers now trust social networks and strangers more than brands. The survey covered 17,000 internet users from 29 countries.

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Squawk Box June 19 with Michael Geist

June 19, 2008

Image by yulbuzz via Flickr The last few weeks have been terrible set backs for personal privacy, and the privileges ordinary people enjoy when they buy and use music, video and other forms of media. Today’s guest was Dr. Michael Geist, an internationally recognized expert in these areas. We discussed Bill C-61 the Canadian copyright […]

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Canadian Copyright Reform would make me and my family into criminals.

June 16, 2008

Image via Wikipedia Friday, a day after the government tabled its bill on copyright reform, I got a call back from my MP, Pierre Poilievre. I had telephoned him earlier in the week to talk about the rumours I had heard about copyright. Pierre hadn’t read the bill, but asked what my concerns were anyway. […]

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Squawk Box June 6

June 6, 2008

* AT&T’s release yesterday of their NetReach bundle. Starting at $79.95 per month it gives you residential DSL, WiFi access at 17,000 US hotspots, and 3G data access. Competitively priced, apparently, but a game changer? Maybe not.
* Paul McGuiness, manager of U2, blames ISPs, handset manufacturers, and pretty much the whole world for the destruction of the music industry… this in a year when U2 made $355 million touring. We agree that he lives in an irony free zone.
* Verizons acquisition of Alltel for $27 billion!
* Jerry Yang and Carl ICahn? ICahn has been railing against Yahoo’s board, and publicly said that Yang is done if ICahn gets his way. We’re not very sympathetic to Yang’s plight.
* Windows XP gets rescued again… for some classes of device. Is the mantle of “cockroach OS” passing from DOS finally? Most on the call are still running XP, and many see themselves switching to a Mac when it comes time to upgrade. Ouch!
* Time Warner’s metered internet use trial. Om Malik says it’s the thin edge of the wedge. Calculations showed that the metered bandwidth was just enough to provide a non-compelling video experience. The call was full of Canadians who observed that we already have metered bandwidth usage in this country.
* And for grins, we did a roundup of the latest iPhone rumours including the infamous box shot from Australia…

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#Mesh08: Ethan Kaplan and Mathew Ingram

May 22, 2008

One of the best sessions at Mesh ’08, Mathew Ingram sat down and interviewed Ethan Kaplan, Time Warner’s VP of Technology. Ingram began with a softball question on whether it was a good time to be an artist, which Kaplan answered with assertion that there wasn’t a better time to be an artist — that artists were no longer defined by their medium, but rather were practictioners in many media.

I jumped up with Nokia N95, and captured 25 minutes or so of the talk. Enjoy!

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