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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Things I Used to Want...

...that their makers caused me not to.

Ever since the controller announcement last year, I've been pretty excited about the Nintendo Revolution. I've kind of gotten tired of video games that require dozens (or even hundreds) of hours of play to really glean enjoyment from them, especially if they're just variations on the same stuff we've been playing for over a decade, and Nintendo was speaking my language with their talk of new experiences.

I don't know if I want a Wii less than a Revolution, but I know I'm less certain that I want one. Hmm...I guess that does sort of mean that I want one less, doesn't it?

Likewise the Origami. From all reports, that was sounding like a nice little piece of hardware. I'm a big fan of rethinking the ways we interact with computers, and I've always liked the Tablet PC concept, so this was looking pretty good. I wanted an Origami.

I don't so much want an Ultra Mobile PC. When you get right down to it, I don't really want anotherPC at all. I've got a nice laptop, I've got a serviceable desktop, and I spend at least 12 hours a day in front of some variation on a standard computer. Enough!!! I want something that isn't another freakin' PC, no matter how mobile it is!

That's what went through my mind when I read this article in the NY Times and Robert Scoble's related post.

To some extent, the Old Grey Lady is showing her age and revealing the extent to which she just doesn't get it :
Since it's so hard to enter text, few will try to do e-mail, programming, word processing or spreadsheet work on this computer.
Those things are hard with the UMPC interface, but just maybe, robbed of our comfortable straight-jackets, we can rediscover that computers have the potential to be more than glorified typewriters and calculators, and decide that maybe text entry isn't the best interface for this new, unknown kind of beast.

It's nice to dream, anyway.

Also, to some extent, the UMPC demonstrates how Microsoft doesn't get it. They had, in their grasp, a potential tool for redefining the human-computer relationship...and they outsourced it to OEMs. I'm sure on some business level that made sense, but in the real world, I find it baffling.

One problem with that approach is that the OEMs make PCs. If you give them the opportunity to make any kind of computer, it's going to trend toward what they know and are comfortable with, which means it will become Just Another PC, just like the Tablet PC.

Another problem is that MS has the vision and the means to really innovate and make good systems when they try. The Xbox 360 is a really nice system, in nearly every way. It looks good, it integrates well, and it provides a unique experience. By handing the UMPC off to its OEM partners, Microsoft punted on innovation. I'm sure Dell is a great company, but it's hardly a hotbed of innovation (not that they've announced a UMPC anyway).

The biggest problem I see with outsourcing the Origami -- sorry, UMPC -- design and production, though, is that most of the OEMs have little incentive to make the format succeed as a platform. For the most part, they're doing pretty well with desktops and laptops, and they can anticipate a nice windfall when Vista finally ships. In order for the UMPC to really succeed, the systems must be priced lower than average laptops, preferably a lot less, and that really doesn't leave much space for profit. The margins on laptops and desktops are reportedly pretty low, but they're almost certainly higher than UMPCs would be.

I think this is key. To put it another way: Nobody else is going to be nearly as enthusiastic and tireless in promoting your idea as you are.

Early on with the original Xbox production, rumor was that MS was planning to design the platform, then license production to other companies, the same way 3DO did in the mid-90s. Before the release, though, that plan was scrapped in favor of doing it themselves. That was obviously a good call, and that approach is paying off even better with the 360. MS has control over every aspect of the design and marketing that way.

Apple has done the same thing with the iPod (and all their computers, for that matter), and that's what Microsoft should've done with the Origami: build it themselves, style it along the lines of the 360, make it cool. Heck, even interface it with the 360 somehow. Move it out of the computing division and into the home, and between it and the 360, show us what else computers can be.

And then they could call it the Origami, and really fold and reshape our expectations. Because I really want an Origami, not another PC.


Anonymous Lance said...

Why would the name change for the Revolution make you not want a Wii? Granted, it's a silly name, but the system is the same (supposedly,) and that's what matters. If you wanted the system before, you should still want one. Once it's hooked up to your TV, the name shouldn't matter, just what it's doing. Plus, you can always turn the system on and then walk toward your couch making sure to miss the Wii start screen. Then again, if the starting screen has some kid saying "Weeee!" then maybe you can just turn the volume down first, too. :)

5/05/2006 8:01 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

Honestly, it won't keep me from getting it, so ultimately I don't guess it matters, but it sure doesn't sound as cool.

Plus, I'm no expert in Japanese or other languages, but their suggestion of equating Wii with "we" seems pretty silly, since it'll only work that way in English. Of course it's a homophone for "yes" in French, and possibly "incoming goods" in German (according to Babelfish), but it still seems silly.

If I get one, it's something I'll want to talk about a lot, and I'd prefer not to feel silly while doing so. "Yeah, I was playing with my Wii last night...." That just ain't right.

At least it's easy to type.

5/05/2006 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Lance said...

We can all still call it "Revolution." If enough people call it that, people will know what you're talking about. Kind of like how I still say "Memphis State," in reference to The University of Memphis. :)

5/05/2006 9:33 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

Yeah, and I still refer to Shakey's instead of Shake's. We didn't go on calling the N64 the Ultra64, though, nor the GameCube "Dolphin." It seems like console codenames die pretty quickly.

I saw a blog last week (probably on Scobleizer) about Microsoft's marketing department having fits over the internal codenames, since they often conflict with trademarks, but they start building mindshare in the real world before release anyway.

On the other hand, though, Apple kept Tiger as the name for OS X 10.4, so good for them.

5/05/2006 9:40 AM  

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