Apple, Woosh, Net dog and bone

It's fascinating to watch the rebirth of Apple Computer and how its powerful marketing is creating a new army of zomb ... errm, loyal Mac customers. G5 dualies in aluminium cases, 30" LCDs, iPods, mini-Macs; people are stampeding to buy them all. Even I have an iMac in the office, and read mail via the iMap[*] protocol.

Top Stories

- When Apple was rotten to the core

- Woosh the voice then?

- Dig that ‘Net dog and bone

- When Apple was rotten to the core

It’s fascinating to watch the rebirth of Apple Computer and how its powerful marketing is creating a new army of zomb … errm, loyal Mac customers. G5 dualies in aluminium cases, 30” LCDs, iPods, mini-Macs; people are stampeding to buy them all. Even I have an iMac in the office, and read mail via the iMap[*] protocol.

Apple’s steady march towards the epitome of cool is all the more remarkable if you look back in the not-so-distant past where the ghosts of former executives Sculley, Spindler and Gassee lurk. Most IT companies stumble at times, but until recently Apple was going forward like a rugby fan after fourteen pints of lager.

Who can forget the weird and wonderful ideas like the Apple Puck Mouse that was nigh impossible to use or the psychedelic iMac Flower Power and Blue Dalmatian that nobody bought? And the Newton PDA that was too big to fit into pockets. Apple seriously called its failed games console “Pippin”? Wow. That’s as bad as Microsoft Bob.

- Top 10 Mac failures

- Wikipedia: Apple Newton

“In an episode of The Simpsons titled ‘Lisa on Ice’ which first aired November 13, 1994, school bully Nelson Muntz has one of his buddies take a memo on a Newton. When he writes ‘Beat up Martin’ on the screen, the handwriting recognition turns it into ‘Eat up Martha’. The bully throws his Newton at Martin instead.”

- Apple admits risks in music, in retail

More cash in the bank, more people laid off, but The iJobs’ private jet is flying high.

[*] Yes, that’s a very silly joke.

- Woosh the voice then?

This was the week when Woosh was meant to have found its long-awaited voice as promised, but instead of wireless telephony we got capped plans aimed at dialup customers.

The campaign slogan exhorts people to “escape dialup hell” into Woosh’s wondrous wirelessness. The cheapest plan offers 200MB a month for $29.95 including GST. On top of that, dialup migrants need to factor in the cost of the modem ($199, or $99 on 12-month contract with $99 cancellation fee or $99 plus $10 per month hire purchase) and maybe a $55 booster aerial. If you really want to go wild with the 250/120 kbit/s “design speed” that Woosh is capable of, there’s a 10GB plan for $69.95 which is the same as Xtra’s 2Mbit/192kbit/s DSL.

But no Woosh-phones, and no date for when they’ll come online. If you look at the website for IPwireless, the company that supplies the wireless technology for Woosh, there are frequent mentions of telephony. So what’s the hold up in New Zealand, Woosh?

- Woosh targets dialup customers with $30 plan

- IPwireless

“I have been in telecomms for 14 years, and this has been the best trial, the most successful project I have undertaken” – Quote on the IPwireless site attributed to Woosh CEO Bob Smith

- Dig that net dog and bone

Maybe Woosh is doing the right thing, though, by staying out of the voice market? For years now telco watchers have been saying that voice will just become another service delivered over the all-conquering Internet Protocol.

Telecom’s latest half-year figures certainly confirm that trend. While Telecom still makes about twice as much money selling voice calls as it does for dealing in data, the former revenue stream is declining rapidly whereas the latter is shooting up.

So, mobile phones, IP data and SMS text messages. There’s gold in them thar hills, says Telecom.

There are however ominous clouds on the horizon for Telecom and other telcos, such as peer-to-peer telephony company Skype which appears to be going strong. The estimated number of Skype customers talking to each other over the internet is now around 15 million, which if anything shows that cheap phone calls still attract the punters. In a few years time, market researchers reckon several hundred million people will be Skyping it.

Skype isn’t yet a fully-fledged phone system, ready to replace the PSTN, but the company is adding the missing features slowly but surely. For instance, Skype kicked off the voicemail beta this week. It works pretty well (thanks Nathan for leaving me an incoherent message at one in the morning) and Skype is also hacking on a solution to route calls from the PSTN to Skype customers. Currently, Skype customers can call PSTN customers but not vice versa. Unfortunately, it looks like NZ calls are bounced all the way to Europe and back, adding very noticeable delay. Then again, with Skype, you don’t need to access the PSTN very often. Just a quick call to ask the person at the other end to switch to Skype, or send an SMS instead, and you’ve got cheapo internet calling.

This leaves Telecom in a rather nasty quandary. Does it sit still and wait while the likes of Skype eat even further into its calling market, or does it launch a VoIP service that kills off its shrinking but still sizeable PSTN market? IP telephony systems like Skype could sink mobile operators as well, once handsets with wi-fi radios in them become more common. We’ll be watching this space keenly.

- Telecom says year of broadband well on track

- Skype starts voicemail beta testing

- The Problem with VoIP Phones

Don’t call computing curmudgeon John C Dvorak on your VoIP phone.

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