The impossibility of rational debate

I didn’t get a chance to write about this when it first hit my inbox, but I just can’t resist saying something about the ridiculous “study” that a consulting firm called Precursor did of the bandwidth that Google supposedly uses but doesn’t pay for. The headline on the email I got — which I assume was sent to tens of thousands of others as well — was sensational and gripping, in the same way that supermarket tabloid headlines are often sensational and gripping (“Elvis clone lands on the moon!”). The email trumpeted the fact that “Google uses 21 times the bandwidth that it pays for.” Bound to get a reaction, right? And it certainly did, with the scholarly-sounding Precursor study being cited holus-bolus by a number of websites.

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Apple: What happened to thinking different?

picture-134.jpg Hats off to Erick Schoenfeld — ex of Business 2.0, and now the Numero Duo over at TechCrunch — for his post about Apple and the iPhone. At the risk of getting flamed again (or having my server melt down from the Digg-storm), I have to say that I think he has put his finger on one of the main things that bothers me about the whole iPhone/iBrick episode: namely, that by locking down its device and crippling it when anyone messes with it, Apple is acting just like every other phone company and device company. That is likely to come as a disappointment for many Apple fans — or at least those who believed that the phrase “Think different” was more than just a marketing slogan. As Erick puts it:

Apple, of course, is free to try to lock in customers to its partner AT&T and to control what software will work on the phone. That’s just the way the cell phone business works. Right? It’s all about customer lock-in and reducing churn.

More than one commenter on my previous Apple post made the exact same point: Why should we criticize Apple for cutting off that guy’s Internet access because he was uploading code from his iTouch? Why should we give Steve-O a hard time just because Apple wants to control what people do with his phone? After all, that’s what companies do.

The only problem with all of that (as some other commenters on my earlier Apple post pointed out) is that I think people have grown used to the idea of Apple as a different kind of company — the company that makes things easier to use, not harder; the one that actually cares what people want and tries to give it to them. Was that idea just an illusion?

Nick Carr says it’s because Steve sees Apple products as works of art, and doesn’t want people to mess with them, which I think is probably pretty close to the mark. According to the accounts I’ve read of Apple’s birth, he didn’t want to let people fiddle with the first Apple PCs either.

Update:

Peter Ha has some videos that also make the point over at CrunchGear.

Warning: bitchy Canadian telecom post

It’s all well and good that our dollar officially hit parity with the U.S. greenback today, but it sure would be nice if we could get something approaching real competition in the mobile telecom market in Canada. Then maybe certain carriers who shall remain nameless — but whose names start with a B and rhyme with “hell” — wouldn’t be able to pull stuff like this.

As Tony notes, and Michael Geist also describes here, Bell is promoting a $75-a-month “unlimited” data plan that uses a wireless PC card — but it has some pretty ridiculous restrictions. Not only does it have an umbrella clause that says you can’t use your connection in a way that “consumes excessive network capacity in Bell’s reasonable opinion,” but it also tells you what you can’t do with your connection, and that includes:

“multi-media streaming, voice over Internet protocol or any other application which uses excessive network capacity that is not made available to you by Bell [or is used to] operate an email, web, news, chat or other service.”

So you can’t use it to stream video, do VOIP or even run a chat server. What the hell else are you supposed to do with it? I’m surprised they didn’t throw file-sharing in there too — but that’s probably included in the definition of a “web service.” Tony says that there are also reports that this so-called “unlimited” data plan is capped at 250 megabytes. Classic.

Alec Saunders has been down the limited/unlimited road before, and it isn’t something that is confined to Canadian carriers either, as Mike Masnick notes over at Techdirt. But still — come on.

Verizon: Stupid, stupid, stupid

I know that Forrest Gump said “Stupid is as stupid does,” but there’s really no other word for what Verizon is doing with its much-heralded launch of YouTube video on cellphones. I mean, really. How much stupider could this get? The answer, to paraphrase Nigel Tufnel in Spinal Tap, is none — none stupider. Fred Wilson sums it up in a single word: Lame. In fact, this deal is right off the lame-o-meter. How do I lame-ify thee? Let me count the ways.

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Watching video clips on your cellphone would be great, right? Except that Verizon will only let you watch them if you subscribe to a monthly service called VCast. And YouTube is great because of all the cool videos on there, right? Except that Verizon will select some for you to watch, rather than letting you do the selecting. As Rob Pegoraro notes in the Washington Post, this is just reproducing the broken cable model on a cellphone.

Howard Lindzon says that Verizon’s new slogan should be “We uncool your brand,” which is both hilarious and right on the money. If this is a sign of the kind of crap Google is going to do now that it owns YouTube, then that $1.6-billion in stock is going to get obliterated pretty quickly. Michael Parekh says that “incumbent businesses keep adopting the same myopic, warped business strategies that failed the last time around,” and my friend Mark Evans has some thoughts as well.

Update:

On a somewhat related note, I came across a post from David Cohen of Colorado Startups (hat tip to Leigh Himel of Oponia) about a failed startup he was involved in called iContact, which tried to create a social-networking platform for mobile phones. Here’s what he had to say in part:

The mobile industry is full of pitfalls. If you don’t have connections to cellular operators, you’ll literally need to buy them just to get a shot. It’s an old boys club and the whole industry is just trying to keep control of the closed system they’ve put together.

Open APIs are really only open to partners, revenue shares feel like hostage situations, and network aware or location based applications sit in queues waiting for “approval” which is a euphemism for “hell to freeze over.”

Yup. Sounds about right.

Iotum hooks up with AIM Phoneline

Ottawa-based Iotum, whose software allows phone networks to offer “presence”-based services, announced a partnership this morning with AOL’s voice-over-Internet service AIM Phoneline — details are here. Iotum CEO Alec Saunders, who blogs at saunderslog.com, says that being part of AIM Phoneline will give Iotum access to the more than 43 million U.S. AIM users through AOL’s developer program. The Ottawa company worked with AOL on an API that will allow software developers and device manufacturers to easily build support for Iotum’s software into their applications.

In a email, Alec told me AOL will promote its partners’ applications and devices at an on online store users can access by clicking the “Shop” link in the AIM Phoneline dashboard. And next week at Jeff Pulver’s VON conference, AOL will be showcasing their new platform with their first three development partners, of whom Iotum is one. Interestingly enough, Alec also told me that the AIM Phoneline development team is located in Halifax. As he put it, “telecom seems to be part of our DNA in this country.” I wrote a piece for the Globe and Mail about Iotum earlier this year.

Iotum’s software is designed to function like a personal assistant, learning which calls go to which device and when, and which calls should be re-routed to voicemail (or the waste bucket). Iotum won a coveted “DEMO God” award at the last DEMO conference organized by industry guru Chris Shipley, and has signed deals with PhoneGnome — the VOIP device company — and others in the telecom sector. I wrote about Iotum and Tello (another presence-related venture) here. Congrats to Alec and Howard and the rest of the Iotum team.