The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Sony recently took the wraps off a new iteration of their PlayStation console, the PSX, and Michael Malone at is pretty darned excited over the potential it has.

While Malone brings up a lot of interesting possibilities for the new DVD/PVR/gaming system, I really think he's way off on this. This device is not going to be the killer all-in-one home entertainment device he's envisioning, because I really doubt any such device is ever going to see the light of day.

First off: Who actually wants an all-in-one unit that consolidates all your home's entertainment options? I don't sense a demand for something like that. Most people don't want a box that plays DVDs, answers your phone, gives you Internet access, and 10 other things, because something like that is probably too complex to operate to it's full potential. People want something that does one major task, does it reliably and directly, and leaves it at that. That's not going to change.

For the last three years in this column I've been saying that the personal computer era is essentially over.

Really? You've been saying that this era has been over for three years now? For something that's been dead and buried, or at least on the way out, the PC sure is conspicuous in its presence, ubiquity even. Guess what: If you've been saying that for three years, and it hasn't happened yet, it means that you're off-base. Maybe you can keep saying this era is over for another three years, or six years. Keep the faith.

Now the shape of the new world of home information is at last becoming clear. It looks like this:

The personal computer, now commoditized, retreats to two forms: the laptop/tablet machine you carry around, and the home network server hidden in your attic or closet. The latter is supported by sizable quantities of memory storage.

Processor intelligence embedded throughout the house — in appliances, home controllers, etc. — some of it with displays for Web access, all of it linked to the server (via Wi-Fi or the home's existing electrical wiring)

I'm not sure where this guy is living. Who, outside of a tech-head geek, has a network server in their attic? Nobody. Even among those few who have this kind of setup in their homes, I'll bet anything that only one person uses it in that house: Not the wife, not the kids, but just Techno-Dad, because it's his hobby and nobody else is allowed to play with it. And believe or don't, not everyone has a tablet/notebook computer. Lots of people go for the most computing bang for their buck, and that means a desktop. They don't go for notebooks because they don't view the portability issue as anything they need: For them, a computer is a home appliance, for work and some play. Malone's worldview is classic techno-ivory tower thinking--completely divorced from reality.

Now, throw into this business equation the fact that there is a new generation of tens of millions of kids out in the United States, Japan and Europe, for whom the PS2, Xbox or Gamecube is even more a fixture of their daily lives than the personal computer, the legions of whom will instantly hector their parents to buy the next generation platform the instant it appears (the world's greatest sales force), and you have the ultimate electronic Trojan horse into the home market.

Interesting factor to hang a business model on. Thing is, as much as they may whine and throw tantrums, kids don't always get what they want.

"Gee, we bought the new Playstation for Billy, but then we discovered that we can surf the Web and download music and record TV shows and process family photos … and gosh, it's like we spent all of our time in the living room these days. I hardly ever get back to my desk in the den."

Here's where the whole thing really falls apart for me. So you can do photo slideshows, listen to music, watch TV, etc. all through one box. One box. Meaning, you can do only one thing at a time through that one box. Meaning Billy, mom, dad and sis are all going to be fighting non-stop over who gets to use the PSX at any given time. Who needs it? You can get a cheap DVD player, game unit, etc. separately and let everyone have their own fun on their own time, and not have to hassle with time allotments to a single device. This is why these all-in-one solutions are so much bunk.

So, in summation: PSX may be a harbinger of something coming, but it's not going to evolve into a magical central unit. It's actually an inconvenient solution to a problem that doesn't exist.