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So, This Just Happened:

Cheap-ass Windows tablet

Yes, that’s a Windows tablet. Yes, mine. Yes, I still don’t like Windows. But I now own a Windows tablet. For personal use, not work even. Explanation and excuses after the jump.

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26 Reasons An Apple TV Game Console Is Unlikely

Of all the new products Apple could release this fall, a revamped Apple TV/game console would be the easiest to make…and could deliver a huge unexpected disruption to the upcoming next-gen game consoles from Sony and Microsoft. […] All we need now is for Apple to announce a new Apple TV this fall. And, I don’t think that’s so far-fetched at all.

That’s not the worst of it. What’s worse is that this is from an article on CNET (ahem) called “Why an Apple TV game console is a no-brainer”.

OK, take a minute to work through the guffaws. Hey, I get it, what are you gonna do… we were starved for any kind of Apple news after Apple spent the first half of the year in silent running. Pundits had to pull something out of their butts! And some took the addition of an iOS game controller API as a natural compliment to an Apple TV gaming box.

But Apple game console… umm, yeah. Aside from my already-established skepticism on the idea of an Apple TV SDK, let me share with you a post I saw on App.Net that utterly killed for me the prospect of an Apple TV game console:

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Gaming, January 2013

Just a quick couple of notes about the gaming I’ve been doing on the iPad for the last couple months, given that it’s become my main game console.

Pinball Arcade

First, there’s Pinball Arcade, which some of you might remember I spent three hours live-streaming back in August. They’ve kept up with the new tables, most notably launching two tables based on expensive licenses, Twilight Zone and Star Trek: The Next Generation

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Three Audio Game Proposals

So, I was reading Scott Steinberg’s Music Games Rock (free PDF and $3 for Kindle or iBooks… how can you not), and it rekindled a bunch of memories not only of great games of my youth and adulthood, but it also kicked loose a few ideas from the dusty cobwebs of memory that had been set aside to think about.

Some of these might be viable, some not, but I’m never going to get around to doing them myself, so why not let them out. Ideas are cheap, execution is everything. Besides, there are one or two novelties in here that I would be pissed to see someone patent — the premise of patenting loose ideas being sickening enough already — so I seldom pass up the opportunity to post some “prior art” when I can.

The common thread here: using the microphone for new gaming experiences. The mic is criminally underutilized, and can do more than just convey insults and slander to fellow gamers across the ether. So here goes…


Jeopardy!

No, not my idea obviously. The game show dates back to the 60’s, and to the early 80’s in the Alex Trebek incarnation. And since the late 80’s, there have been electronic game versions for computers and game systems. And in all that time, none of them have gotten the one defining trait of the game right: they don’t allow for free spoken-word response.

I get that this hasn’t been practical before, and so the UI had to cope. The first Jeopardy! I played was on the Sega Genesis, where you had to punitively spell out your response one letter at a time with the D-pad and action buttons, trying to remember which button accepted a letter and which entered the whole response. In the early 90’s, the CD-i (of all things!) developed a superior UI where you’d begin to compose a response from a grid of letters on the left side of the screen, and get a list of completions (some irrelevant, and some clearly meant as red herrings) on the right. It’s a good UI scheme: the search function on my DirecTV DVR and Apple TV works exactly this way. And so it’s strange that some subsequent versions of Jeopardy! have back-slid from this sensible approach.

But that was 1995. The CD-i was a 16 MHz machine with 1 MB of RAM. Our phones and consoles are hundreds of times more powerful today. So why in the name of Moore’s Law can nobody release this game in a format that allows the player who rings in to simply speak their answer into a microphone? If the current versions can match partial D-pad answers to plausible completions, and if dictation products can transcribe speech with a high level of accuracy, why can’t these things be combined to take the transcribed speech and match it against the answer set? Sure, it’s harder than that, but we have lots of smart people and lots of CPU cycles.

The Wii version of Jeopardy apparently does use the optional Wii microphone, but reviews point out that in this mode, the answers are multiple choice, which completely changes the nature of the game by taking away the risk and wonder of free response, which is the whole point of the game.

Maybe the smart people who write Kinect games will figure this out, since they seem to be among the most able and willing to advance gaming right now. If they do, I hope they learn one other lesson from the CD-i version: write out the used questions to permanent storage and don’t use those questions again. A single game of Jeopardy uses up 60 questions, so if you start with a database of 2,000 questions, getting repeats after a few games is highly likely unless you’re smart enough to code defensively.

Anyways, getting back to audio…


Code Geass

Lelouch, a young outcast prince of Brittania, possesses two great powers. One of them is “geass”, the absolute ability to compel any person to do whatever he commands…

So begins the prologue to episode 9 of Code Geass, an entirely over-the-top action anime show whose best and worst moments are often one and the same.

The anti-hero is given this ability, “geass”, by which he’s able to use a sort of magical instant hypnosis to force anyone to do his bidding. For example, when he’s running around his school carrying the mask of his alter ego, Zero, and is encountered by students who recognize what they’ve seen, he can say “forget what you’ve just seen” and they do. The limit on this ability is that it can only ever be used once on a given individual.

Now imagine you had an RPG or sneak-em-up action style video game that gave you this ability, via your microphone, to give orders. Cornered by a guard, you could hit the “geass” button and say aloud “return to your post” or even “kill yourself” and have the NPC do exactly that. Now imagine designers getting clever with this ability: you solve a puzzle by telling an enemy who has a key you need “give me the key”. But maybe that leaves you on the wrong side of the level, or sets off an alarm, so instead you need to tell him “unlock this door from the other side”. But maybe you need to have him do two things for you, and you can only use the ability once on him, so, hmmm…

Again, surely a big technical challenge, and not unlike the old Infocom games in needing to parse natural language in a way that won’t seem utterly dense, but now with the added challenge of needing to pick the command out of an audio stream. But big challenges are what make this industry interesting.


Interactive Musicals

True story, and a long one. Back in college, my friend Mike Stemmle wrote his own adventure games, rich in comic book references and Stanford Band in-jokes, using a Mac and an application called World Builder. This ended up leading to him getting a job at LucasArts, back when they were cool and didn’t just whore out Star Wars all day. As part of that process, they called me for a reference on him, and that led to my interviewing there too. I obviously didn’t end up working there, but in interviewing there on two occasions, I distinctly remember two interesting conversations.

The first is when I was talking with Kelly Flock, who headed up the group then (and later got prominent enough at Sony to merit thrashing from Penny Arcade, so that’s saying something…), and he had an interview question about plans they had at that point for doing an Indiana Jones adventure that involved a quest for the philosopher’s stone. My response was that I thought quest stories were usually boring as hell because the object of the quest was usually abstract, unsatisfying, and sometimes an utter macguffin anyways, which meant that the success or failure of the story depended on what happened along the way, what happened in spite of the putative purpose of the quest. Given the premise of getting the philosopher’s stone, I said that the player should actually be able to get it halfway through the game, literally adding it to their inventory, and to use it to solve some puzzle (e.g., to use its power of transmutation to create an item needed to get out of a locked room or something), and perhaps then to lose it again. Not that this was particularly creative of me: using the quest object directly is exactly what happens in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indy uses the grail to cure his father’s gunshot wounds. But hell, if there was ever a time to steal-don’t-borrow from the greats, this was it.

The other thing that came up in this interview was a concept I had for something called an “interactive musical”. Mike and I had both been writers for Stanford’s Big Game Gaieties student musical, and we always had theatre on the brain. Somehow, it seemed like there was a way to capture the opportunities and the importance of the theatre, and make a player directly experience that. But we didn’t know how to do it then, and over the years we’d occasionally come back to it and say “was this ever something that could work?”

And then today, reading that book on music games, I think I finally figured it out. It’s a simple equation:

Visual Novel + Karaoke Revolution = Interactive Musical

In other words, an interactive musical is a VN where you sing the branch points.

Visualize Karaoke Revolution, or SingStar, or Rock Band for a moment. The pitch and words you’re supposed to sing are on the screen. Well, what if sometimes there was more than one set of words on the screen that fit the music? And you could pick whichever one suited the way you wanted to play the character, just the way you can pick the key lines of dialogue in a VN? And whatever you picked changed the direction of the story? You could woo the girl or tell her off. Your “I Want” song could be heartfelt yearning or bitter disillusionment. You couldn’t have infinitely many options, just enough to make for some different paths through the story, as in VNs.

There are details to work out, like how you know the tune in advance without spoiling the novelty of picking your branch in the moment (I have some ideas about this). And obviously the whole story needs to be something interesting enough to want to play into, since singing demands a real mental and emotional commitment from the player. High school drama nerds notwithstanding, it’s tough to get people to let loose and break into song. This is why karaoke bars sell beer, after all.

This wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea… the rest of you are welcome to keep playing Call Of Duty MCMXVII. But if you’re like us theatre geeks, the idea of becoming your character is ever so irresistible. It’s peculiar, but I think in the right hands, the experience could be extraordinary.



So there you have it, three new uses for the microphone: game show free-responses, magical hypnosis of NPCs, and singing for your story. Even if these never pan out, let’s hope more game makers start doing creative things with audio capture. It’s not just there for in-game chat.

What If iOS Gaming Is A Fad?

In a much-quoted article last week, EA CEO John Riccitiello said consoles are now only 40% of the games industry, and that the company’s fastest-growing platform is the iPad, which didn’t even exist 18 months ago.

Taken together with the presence of Angry Birds plushies at every mall in the U.S., is this a sign of the ascendance of an iOS era in gaming? Maybe, but we’ve played this game before, and it doesn’t end well.

Only five years ago, it was a resurgent Nintendo that turned the gaming industry upside down with the Wii, a massive success and the first time since the NES that Nintendo had the top box for a console generation. Fortune praised Nintendo for rolling Sony and Microsoft, Roughly Drafted’s Daniel Eran Dilger was ready to bury the Xbox 360 in early 2008, and Penny Arcade taunted Sony for saying the overpriced PS3 was as hard to find in early 2007 as the then-rare Wii.

Yet today, Wii sales are collapsing, the company has chosen (or been forced?) to announce its next generation console while Xbox 360 and PS3 soldier on, and Kotaku is making fun of EA for actually putting significant effort into Madden NFL 12 for Wii, writing “it seems these days that most companies making games just don’t care about making Wii games anymore.”

It’s a fickle industry, but this is still a fast and hard fall for what, as of December, was still the top non-portable gaming console. How can the most popular console not have an economically and artistically strong ecosystem of game development built up around it?

Well, who are the Wii gamers? As conventional wisdom reminds us, the win of the Wii was to recruit non-traditional gamers: not just the usual shooter and sports fans, but casual gamers, young kids, the elderly, and many others. The Fortune article above has great praise for this as a business strategy:

Talk about lost in translation. Turns out there’s a name for the line of attack Iwata has been taking: the blue-ocean strategy. Two years ago business professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne published a book by that title. It theorizes that the most innovative companies have one thing in common – they separate themselves from a throng of bloody competition (in the red ocean) and set out to create new markets (in the blue ocean).

This should sound familiar to a lot of us… because doesn’t it describe Apple to a T? Isn’t the smartphone, and even moreso the tablet, a blue ocean that allowed Apple to escape the carnage of the PC wars?

And when we think of iOS gaming, haven’t we seen a profound shift to new audiences and new games? The big iOS games aren’t old franchise warhorses; the ones that everyone can think of are small novelties, often from hitherto unknown developers.

So here’s the thing… what if the crowd that was playing Wii Sports in 2008 are the ones who are playing Cut The Rope today? Well, doesn’t that make it more likely they’re not going to linger long in iOS gaming? It’s great in the here and now, but a fickle fan base may grow bored of fruit-slicing and zombie-deterring and move on to the next shiny thing. It happened to the Wii, so why couldn’t it happen to iOS?

Speaking subjectively, what dulled my interest in Wii was the avalanche of mini-game shovelware, which drowned out the few valiant attempts to use the console’s unique features in interesting ways. Granted, that didn’t pan out as well as expected anyways: the sword-swinging of Soul Calibur Legends was a letdown for me, and maybe that’s why I didn’t seek out many of the games that actually tried, like Zack and Wiki and No More Heroes.

My own hope is that the larger and more diverse ecosystem of iOS game developers will keep things more interesting, and ensure there’s always something new for everyone. The market is so much more competitive than the retail-constrained Wii, that a play-it-safe me-too strategy (like trying to make the next Carnival Games for Wii) is unlikely to succeed for long: there’s not much point copying Angry Birds when Rovio is perfectly happy to keep updating their app with more levels than we can keep up with. Better to innovate with good gameplay, appropriate social features, and polish: Casey’s Contraptions is a great example of all three.

Final Fantasy Tactics soundtrack atop my iPad 2At some point, the iPad became my console of choice. Oh, someday I’ll go back and finish Steambot Chronicles on the PS2. But right now, I’m anxiously anticipating the iPad version of Final Fantasy Tactics, the iPhone/iPod version of which was submitted to Apple this week. I played it on the PS1 back in the 90’s, and am more than ready to sink 70 hours into another run through The War of the Lions, even knowing full well how it ends (sniff). See that picture? That’s the 2-CD original soundtrack of FFT, which I bought back at Anime Weekend Atlanta back when paying $50 for imported CDs from Japan was freaking awesome.

It’s a hopeful sign that Square Enix is betting on the iOS platform to support deeper and more intricate games, and price points higher than $1.99. Maybe that’s Square Enix’s “blue ocean” to escape the carnage of 99c novelties on the one hand, and multi-million dollar development disasters in the living room console war. If it works, it might be just what the platform needs to avoid a Wii-like implosion down the road.

Wii are selective in our outrage

Disclaimer: there are aspects of the App Store approval process I find utterly appalling, particularly the stealth “no competing with Apple” unwritten rule.

Nevertheless, here’s a mental exercise for you. Consider the user-facing download-to-own software stores offered by the game consoles: Wii Ware, XBox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network.

In what way is any Apple App Store policy more onerous than these stores’ developer policies?

Here are some links to help you research:

Once we get past the much more expensive licensing, the pre-vetting of both product ideas (Microsoft: “Email mcg@microsoft.com with a description of your game and your contact information. We’ll send you a content submission form.”) and developers (Nintendo: “the authorization for Wii/WiiWare or Nintendo DS will be based upon your relevant game industry experience.”), and the fact that these platforms generally reject entire classes of applications (anything that isn’t a game)… I think it’s interesting to compare the anger and fury vented over the App Store, and consider that almost nobody is railing against these stores, even though they’re much more closed than Apple’s platform, and may collectively reach more users.

We might also do well to note how closed mobile development was before the iPhone. I know I’ve told this story before, but in a JavaOne conversation with O’Reilly people about how to get Java ME books moving, I said that everyone with an interest in ME (myself included) had figured out that getting your apps to end users was effectively impossible, and that with the network API often disabled for third-party apps, there wasn’t much point in writing ME apps anyways. My suggestion for an ME book that would move copies would be one which provided “the names, e-mails, and phone numbers of all the carrier and handset executives you’d have to go down on in order to get your apps on their phones.”

Flo Shrugged

This story starts, for me anyways, at WWDC. The theming for Moscone West was bursting, flying app store icons. Up on the second floor, the windows showed icons captioned with the name of an app, where it was created, and some fanciful stats (“Marriages saved: 700”, “Bullets fired: 2,000,000”, that kind of thing). One that caught my eye was this somewhat “Western manga-style” icon:

That’s Flo, the lead character of Diner Dash, the first and most popular of PlayFirst’s casual games (more on the series from Wikipedia). The game is based in time-management: you get more points by chaining your actions (seating customers, taking orders, delivering meals) in groups, so you try to juggle impatient customers, buffering them up for a few seconds so you can get them all in the same mode (ordering, eating, paying), and thereby build up a combo.

Since the original dates back to 2004, I ended up buying one of its more modern sequels, Wedding Dash, and have been playing the heck out of it. Between self-employment and high-maintenance kids, I don’t have time for long PS2 sessions (Final Fantasy got me in the mindset of setting aside at least an hour whenever I turn on the PS2, something I can never do), but knocking off a Dash level in five minutes is a nice break.

One thing that struck me about the game is the simple story that unfolds between levels, as lead character Quinn starts planning weddings for friends and slowly turns it into a career, and a business that Quinn builds as you progress through the game. Flo cameos frequently to keep Quinn’s head in her business:

wedding-dash-dialogue-1

About the third time that Quinn described the work of the game as her “business”, it hit me that there is a none-too-subtle message to this game, about building a business as a virtuous pursuit. With rare exceptions (like Miyazaki’s least typical film, Kiki’s Delivery Service), you really don’t see that often in pop culture; companies are much more typically portrayed as insufferable sweatshops, or rapacious empires. And given the times, Flo and Quinn’s DIY messages really stand out as a breath of fresh air: here in handout-happy Michigan, it seems like a lot of people are sitting around waiting for their share of stimulus money (i.e., their grandkids’ future taxes), and as video games go, it’s a sharp contrast with the “build a criminal empire” ethos of the Grand Theft Auto series and its many, many knock offs.

Continuing that message, PlayFirst just announced a collection of women’s apparel that builds on the idea of Flo as a 512-pixel Dagny Taggart. The t-shirts offer slogans like:

  • Roll up your sleeves. Dreams take work.
  • Not another princess. I’m my own Fairy Godmother.
  • Elbow grease is the new black.

From the PR:

The launch of Flo’s Closet is deliberate in its timing as it aims to inspire and encourage women to strive towards success in challenging times. A recent study* reiterates this potential showing that female business owners are surviving the downward trend better than other businesses and Flo’s in-game character notoriously rejected the corporate life and aggressively pursued a more meaningful venture as a successful restaurateur.

So, yay PlayFirst. The games are fun, and the message is something that all of us, women and men, need to hear more of. I’m now following PF on Twitter, and the PF jobs Twitter is a nice feature with a shockingly low number of followers (13?!)

On the other side of the crunch

The WWDC keynote announcement that iPhone OS 3.0 would be released in a little over a week caught us a bit by surprise: the next edition of our iPhone SDK Programming book was nearly ready to go, but we’d waited until WWDC to resolve some blockers. Now we had a week to get the new version ready for the public release of 3.0 and the end of the NDA for that version.

The biggest blocker for me had to do with the Bluetooth peer-to-peer features in the new Game Kit framework. The problem is with device support: first-gen iPod touches don’t have Bluetooth, and the first-gen iPhone (which I have) has an older Bluetooth chipset that Game Kit doesn’t support. So back in April, I bought a second-gen iPod touch, largely for writing this chapter.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the iPhone Simulator doesn’t support Game Kit’s Bluetooth networking, even on Macs with Bluetooth. So, to develop and test a P2P game, you need two recent iPhone OS devices.

I could have waited until Friday, when I’ll be buying an iPhone 3GS (which surely will have Game Kit-capable Bluetooth), but to get the chapter out for the new version of the book, I wrote blind code on Tuesday and Wednesday, and spent Thursday morning in the iPhone Lab with Apple’s test devices, and the Game Kit engineers handy to answer my questions.

After a couple hours, I had P2PTapWar running on the two devices. This is an asinine little game that lets two players find out who can tap their screen the fastest.

p2ptapwar-end-alerts

I’m glad we got this chapter into the book, the latest beta of which is available today. It went well enough, in fact, that a section of the Game Kit chapter is one of the new free excerpts available on the book’s page.

Now to finish up our remaining issues with this book and get it to the printer.

Dance Dance Fail

So, to explain this morning’s angry tweet.

My ASD 6-year-old son has a few obsessions, one of which is the Dance Dance Revolution series of video games. In the car, the DDR soundtracks are pretty much the only thing he wants to listen to, and he’s reasonably competent at the Beginner and even Basic skill levels when he wants to clear them (he’ll sometimes fail songs on purpose too, which is really not a lot of fun for me when he’s at the arcade and spending real money).

Last month, he was trying to play Dance Dance Revolution Extreme and I could hear him screaming. I went to the PS2 and saw he was getting the message “System Data is corrupt”. In other words, the settings and progress on the memory card couldn’t be read, and all our unlocks had been lost. It took a long time to talk him off the ledge and get him to switch to another game. Over the course of the next two weeks, I played Extreme every morning and many nights to earn back all the unlocks… all the more annoying because the US version of Extreme is easily the worst of the series: terrible UI, terrible music, and a useless workout mode (strangely, the Japanese version, which we have and could play on our old “fat” PS2, was one of the best, meant as a possible “last hurrah” for the series).

I bought a second memory card and copied over the data from all our essential games to it, including all the other DDRs we own, which is every DDR released for PS2.

So wouldn’t you know it, this morning he goes to play Dance Dance Revolution Supernova and gets the “System data corrupted” message again. OK, calm down, I say… I’ll just copy over the data from the backup card. Except that doesn’t work. So I move the backup card over to slot 1… and that doesn’t work.

OK, WTF? Since the timestamp on the file is from three weeks ago, I’m looking at two unlikely scenarios: either I managed to back up the file right after it became corrupted (not knowing it was corrupted, since we would have found out before then) and he hasn’t played it since then, or the hardware is failing to read from and/or write to the memory cards consistently.

What can I do? I pick option #2 and buy a new PS2 this morning. Thank goodness they’ve dropped to $100.

Except this doesn’t work either, so I’ve bought a PS2 I don’t need. Guess the old one goes up to my parents’ place at Torch Lake.

The lucky thing is that by digging through memory cards, I found a DDR Supernova save from two years ago that seems to have most of our unlocks, so I copied that over to our main memory card and it works. So at least I’ve defused Keagan for now.

But seriously, what the hell? Two file corruptions in a month? From the same series of games?

So here’s something to chew on. I searched ddrfreak.com for “corruption” and found lots of threads with other users complaining about data corruption. Many of the others on the boards lectured the posters about the usual thing: don’t turn off your power or remove a card when saving… the kind of patronizing BS you’d expect from tech support.

But it doesn’t wash for me. I’ve owned PlayStations since 1997 and I’ve never had data loss except for these two games. And here’s something else. I searched the forums of two Final Fantasy sites (Eyes on FF and Final Fantasy Forums), to look for threads about data corruption. After all, if the rates of hardware failure or user incompetence is consistent, then we should see many more complaints on the FF boards, as that series is far more popular than DDR. And yet, there seem to be no complaints of lost memory card data on those boards.

So maybe it’s time to stop assuming that the corruption in this case is media failure. What if the problem is that DDR gets into a state in which it writes data that it can’t read? What if it corrupts its own data? As far as I can tell, this hypothesis is most consistent with the evidence.

And, as you might expect, it pisses me off. It might sound like a reckless boast for a developer to make, but I think that software should never lose user data. In 2009, with automated backups, redundancy, and simple common sense, there’s just no damn excuse for it. Software that’s known to inadvertently destroy user data should be pulled from the market, rated F by reviewers, and deleted en masse from hard drives and download servers until such a time as the people behind it can get their act together.

It’s quietly acknowledged among developers that software engineering does not aspire to the level of dependability and quality of other engineering disciplines. We think it’s too hard. This despite the fact that we galavant in a fantasy world of total unreality, while other engineers have to deal with real physics, real chemistry, real biology. Our standards, practiced in other fields, would be unconscionably negligent, if not criminal.

And yet, somehow we get a pass.

I don’t get it. And yet, I’ll probably buy the next DDR for Keagan when it comes out. Even though the series, and seemingly only this series, has proven its inability to take care of my data. And even though the manufacturer, Konami, can’t even get physical media together — a chunk broke off our Supernova 2 disc while putting it back in the case (center ring near ESRB rating logo):

broken-supernova-2-dvd

…and even though we were in the 90-day warranty period, Konami refused to replace it. It’s pretty amazing to see a company with such contempt for customers (well, outside of the US airline industry, anyways) but there you have it.

Still pissed, but I think I’ve said enough about this.

She’s Got Issues

I saw one of these Microsoft “PCs are cheaper” ads during the basketball game last night. It’s probably best of me to leave the advocacy to those who are good at it (e.g., Daring Fireball), but even setting aside tiresome evangelism, this campaign still seems like an odd duck:

  • One of the classic rules of advertising is that #2 trashes #1, but never vice versa. Avis says “we try harder” to catch Hertz, but Hertz never even acknowledges Avis. As the market leader for decades, it doesn’t have to. So why does Microsoft, still enjoying at least a 10-to-1 advantage over Mac in market share, feel the need to take potshots?
  • And did you notice the fallacy with that point? It’s that Microsoft isn’t even advertising its own product, which is the operating system. They’re forced into telling you how great PC hardware in general is, not why Windows is great. I suppose the Linux community could expect a free ride off this campaign, if it works, because it too benefits from a “buy a cheap PC” message.
  • The big question is, how much does price and feature set matter? If it’s the only thing that matters, then the iPod never had a chance against the Zen Nomad.
  • That said, there is a perception that Macs are more expensive, largely driven by the fact that Apple doesn’t even bother making zero-margin el cheapo computers. Saying that you’re “paying $500 for a logo” is rubbish, but I think some people will buy it.
  • But is it really just about styling? The ads seem to make the point that Macs are “sexy” – are they admitting that most PCs are ugly? – but I don’t know how many Mac users really pay that much heed to appearance. If it’s just about the sexy, then why would people try so hard to get OS X running on admittedly ugly-ass PCs?

Finally, couldn’t Microsoft use this exact same line of reasoning in selling the XBox 360 against the PlayStation 3? The cheapest PS3 is double the price of the cheapest 360, yet Microsoft hesitates to do so, even though the 360 is something they actually make and sell (as opposed to PCs, which they do not).

Maybe the difference is that – for this console generation and in North America at least – they know they have Sony beat. But can’t we say the same for desktop operating systems? I mean come on, it’s still 10-to-1 right? Maybe, but there’s a sense that a lot of innovators have switched to Mac, as Fortune noted in a recent article about Boxee. If cool new stuff is all on the web, is multi-platform, or (heaven forbid) is Mac first, then Microsoft’s classic advantages are lost.

But if that’s the case, then unless “Lauren” from the ads is a developer – oops, wait, she’s an actress – then it’s hard to see how selling her a cheap-ass laptop does much for Microsoft.