Last year's MacWorld keynote introduced gave us the Mac Mini. Will this year's deliver the iBook Minus? An Intel-based iBook has been widely trailed to be unveiled next week. If you're anticipating speeds and feeds ahead of next week's keynote, we'll have to disappoint you. But sources close to Apple suggest that the many in the rumor mill - the redoubtable Think Secret excepted - have failed to illuminate the bigger picture - a strategy to makeover the iBook as a cut-price bait to lure switchers, with price points much lower than Apple has ever risked for a portable machine.
CESCES Forgive us if the FCC Chairman’s message today about maintaining a level of decency on the public airwaves didn't take. A pair of very large, very exposed breasts proved too distracting. Yes, these are the moments you pray for every year here at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The gadget fest, for those of you who haven't heard, takes place at the same time as the Adult Entertainment Expo. The two conferences, in fact, collide at the Sands Expo and Convention Center where a few CES sessions are held. Throughout the Sands' halls, you'll see the g-string set meet the Crackberry crew. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin today held a question and answer session at the Sands where he touched on a number of topics, including US broadband usage, VoIP and, of course, keeping TV and radio safe for public consumption. After the Chairman's speech ended, we walked about ten feet and ran into a woman exposing herself in the middle of the conference hall. Only Las Vegas could bring porn stars and Janet Jackson nipple-busters so close. (We're Martin's aides kept him away form the thigh-highs, frilly undies and leather boots.) The Chairman – a huge improvement over chief Janet Jackson nipple shielder Michael Powell – tossed out the party line on most subjects. He called for a speedier broadband rollout, vowed to make VoIP companies meet landline safety standards and urged consumers to embrace digital TV. You've heard all these messages in the past. What you may not be familiar with is the FCC's intense fear that media companies or the telephone companies will wall off content and internet services from certain classes of customers. While not perfectly clear about the issue at hand, Martin seems to think the internet will be divided up and with different classes of content walled off from consumers. "(I would) be concerned if you talked about network providers blocking access to content that consumers want," he said. Service providers should be free to charge different amounts for varying bandwidth, but they should not be allowed to cordon off content from consumers, Martin said. These comments appeared to be in response to issues raised in a Wall Street Journal story published this morning titled "Phone companies set off a battle over internet fees." The story reveals that large phone companies have been threatening to charge the likes of Google and Vonage for "high-quality delivery of music, movies and the like over their telecommunications networks." "The phone companies envision a system whereby internet companies would pay a fee for their content to receive priority treatment as it moves across increasingly crowded networks," the paper said. "Those that don't pay the fee would risk their transactions with internet users – for games, movies and software downloads, for example – moving across networks at a relatively slower pace. Consumers could benefit through faster access to content from companies that agree to pay the fees." Of course, consumers could also be screwed by having to pay more for broadband access if service providers decided to pass on these network tolls. The situation would be exacerbated for many consumers who already pay for premium bandwidth and would essentially be paying twice for improved internet speeds if service providers raised their rates as a result of the phone companies' charges. Needless to say, this idea hasn't gone over well with service providers. "I think it would really stifle innovation and be a horrible thing for the world," said Google co-founder Larry Page, during a keynote speech at CES. He added that a company like Google would probably not have come into existence if such "gatekeeper" polices were in place. Smaller companies can't be happy about the idea either. Larger service providers would be able to afford to send their content along at a quicker clip and presumably deliver better products. "We need a watchful eye to ensure that network providers do not become internet gatekeepers, with the ability to dictate who can use the internet and for what purposes," an FCC Commissioner Michael Copps told the WSJ. BellSouth is already negotiating with one movie download provider to take a cut of the $2 to $5 fee for each film delivered, according to the paper. By paying the fee, the unnamed movie delivery company would be able to guarantee the fastest possible downloads to consumers. It's not a pretty scenario. As the paper notes, the telecommunications companies have traditionally used a "best efforts" policy to move internet traffic as quickly as they can regardless of the type of data. Now, however, as increased broadband usage has made movie, music and other content services more feasible, the telcos want to cash in on the shift. Based on today's comments, the FCC looks ready to challenge the telcos on this front. It should be a great battle. ®
CESCES Pop quiz, hotshot! You're a billionaire who struggles with public speaking. What do you do? What do you do? Hire Robin Williams, of course. Google co-founder Larry Page proved just how smart he is during a keynote speech today here at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). He saved an otherwise tedious presentation by bringing out Williams and letting the comedian run wild. Williams started with a joke about the Adult Entertainment Expo taking place at the same time as CES. "There is more silicon in those tits than in all the hardware at this convention." And then moved to the CES booths with a jab at Asian accents and culture. "Is this your first time to come to the Asian booth? Please, sit on the laptop dancer." And then he imagined what it would be like if your TV and computer could really communicate. "Porn again," asks the TV. "I talked to your computer. I know what you like." Before Williams hit the stage, Page did manage to announce some new products. First off, Google revealed an addition to its video search – payments. Google secured nice wins by signing up CBS and the NBA to its service, along with a number of other content makers. Customers will be able to pay around $1.99 for CBS shows such as CSI and Survivor and download any NBA game 24-hours after it has been played. This set-up mimics what Apple has done with iTunes and ABC. Google, however, does have a unique twist on its video service. Any company can put their content up for sale at any price. (Five cents is the minimum charge for a download.) Google takes a few pennies from the sale, and the content makers take most of the cash. Google has created its own DRM (digital rights management) system for the service but will support rival systems as well, Page said. Not that the world needed another DRM mechanism. On the software front, Page unveiled Google Pack. This service combines the Google toolbar, desktop, and earth software with a special edition version of Norton anti-virus, the Acrobat reader, Firefox browser, a spyware blocker and the Picasa image management package. Google will deliver this entire package via an easy-to-use interface and do so for free. In addition, Google has made a deal with the software makers to ensure they don't flood your PC with advertisements or pop-ups. Google was inspired to deliver this package as a way of helping users keep their systems safe and up-to-date, according to Page. "Having the right software on your PC is as easy as going to the Google homepage," he said. (You can find more information at pack.google.com) Away from these products, Page made an impassioned – albeit bizarre – plea for the world to unite around a single standard for plugs. Not just power plugs but Ethernet cables, USB cables and stereo cables. If you don't quite get it, don't worry. We don't either. Page actually called for some type of single cable to be created that delivered power and connected devices and brewed coffee. "Why can't your Bluetooth cell phone start your car?" he asked. "Why can't you use it to unlock your door instead of carrying your keys? "I am amazed that we don't have devices like this. The reason we don't is that we lack standards to do it." Well, that and keys don't run out of batteries. Page admitted that cable standards "are a personal passion" and urged the CES audience and Google staffers to solve our cabling crisis. He envisions a day when consumers buy a single, high-end power supply that can connect to any device and have its voltage dialed up or down as needed. "And consumers can pay for it instead of the device makers, and (the device makers) will have higher margins." Sweet. To his credit, Page held a very long question and answer session with the CES audience and had Williams on stage for comic relief. Page was refreshingly straight forward with his answers – a rarity at these usually scripted events. Google will work to get more of its software ready for the Mac and other operating systems, he said. Then, he dodged questions about the Google PC rumors – somewhat weird given Google's strong denial of the idea – and avoided discussing other possible future products. And Williams? He dodged nothing, especially a poor Frenchman who got hammered by the comedian after asking when the Google Video purchase service would reach France. "We have the Maginot video which is crazy, and the Germans always go around it," Williams said. "(The French) have a Disneyland with a Minnie Mouse who has armpit hair." Don't get your croissants in a twist just yet. Williams took a shot at the US as well. "We have an English to English translation (service) for the President that is working very well." ®
CES LettersCES Letters Call it the battle of banality. Which staid IT giant do you like more – Microsoft or Dell? That's the debate that has emerged after Chairman Michael Dell attacked Microsoft's Xbox 360 console here at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Dell dismissed Microsoft as a "so called high-definition gaming" player, saying that gaming consoles will never keep up with the ever-improving performance of PCs. The consoles initially ship with state-of-the-art technology, but consumers cannot upgrade the systems easily and after a few months the consoles are showing their age. By contrast, PCs always ship with the latest and greatest parts, and customers can upgrade internal components, Dell argued. In particular, Dell pointed to the company's new limited edition gaming giant – the XPS 600 Renegade. This box boasts a whopping four Nvidia graphics processors and an over-clocked 4.26GHz dual-core Intel chip. The system also has a slick custom paint job done in a fire motif, which we believe is in homage to Intel's chips. We can't find a price for the Renegade, which ships in the Spring, just yet. The regular XPS 600 starts at close to $1,700, so you can figure that the special edition box will run well over $2,000. Our blessed readers picked up on this theme. Not that I'd wish to take a easyshot at Michael Dell and his new l33t g4m3rz hardware but whilst it might outperform an X-Box 360 I'd imagine it might actually cost just a little bit more too (although he can have £300 of my money if he'll price match). With insight like this perhaps he could speculate on the chosen religion of the pope and lavatorial habits of bears, etc. Andrew Richards So how much does the Dell super-duper gaming PC cost? (Guestimate around £2000?). And how much does an XBox 360 cost (around £200?). Well blow me - a product costing 10 times more beats off a rival one?! Whatever next. My car (a 12-year old Citroen diesel worth around £400) is whupped good-and-proper by a colleague's (3 year old Audi A4 Quattro worth around 12 grand!). I *am* surprised! David Cornes Bolton, UK. Regarding your article: Dell ridicules Microsoft as a 'so called' high-end gamer I was wondering if you could ask them what sort of a power gaming machine Dell could supply me with for £280 :) Mike Ohren Wonderful statement by Delly boy, considering his "gamer" system probably is a factor of 10+ more times expensive than the Xbox 360. Rich I was just thinking thats really funny that Mike Dell shows off a $3000-4000 overclocked computer system to bag on a $400 console. Not to mention PC gaming being somewhat in the toilet these days. I've got an uber GeForce 7800 GTX to play CivIV right now. haha, oh well. Bill Kroll I don't suppose Mr Dell's PR people would have been chuffed had he mentioned that his games PC will come with a price tag as hideous as its tacky looks (fire and skulls indeed). Ali So Mr Dell says that the new fixed-spec console, whilst impressive at release, will soon be leapfrogged in performance by future advances in computer technology. No, really? What a genius. Give the man a trophy. Mike Does Michael Dell know the R500 core is better than 7800 SLI, not to mention a dedicated processor would rape a Windows box? What is this guy, retarded? Eliot Wow, and I thought the wonderful Mr. Gates the Third won the Most Arrogant award. He might have to come second this year. ... Well, tied for first at the very least. Christopher Woods Great article and I love the fact that Dell feels they need to stick it to Bill's "We don't make hardware" company M$. One small thing though, IBM does not make PCs anymore. As I'm sure you are well aware they sold that division off and are now a "services" company for the most part. MarkL. RE: Dell vs. MS At least you don't have to uninstall half a dozen programs on a 360 to regain the 20% performance hit bloatware creates on their XPS "Experience". Chris Morley Dell would likely argue that true gamers will gladly pay more for the top performing systems, and it seems to have proven that thesis to some degree with the existing XPS 600. That said, we didn't receive a single letter from a gamer defending such a point. The Xbox 360 rules, man, and it has garnered Microsoft some much needed PR points.®