While the rest of geekdom was focused on Star Wars and E3 this past week, the pundits of the MSM managed to find some other issues to address: In Forbes, Arik Hesseldahl gives us an update on product placement in games, The New York Times provides a useful primer on e-mail surveillance, courtesy of Enron, and the rest of the world takes a look at one of our more recent fetishes: the PalmOne LifeDrive.
It shouldn't be a surprise that many of the major media players used their LifeDrive reviews to, at least in part, comment on the precarious state of PalmOne and the fact that the new hard-drive PDA may be a lifeline for the company. Says David Pogue of The New York Times: "For several years, technology pundits have predicted the death of the palmtop computer. 'This is the cellphone age,' they say. 'Who's going to carry around a separate gadget just to look up names and numbers?' But for the same several years, PalmOne (formerly Palm Computing) has had the same answer: 'We're not dead yet!'" Pogue then gives a fairly comprehensive review of the LD, concluding that, while it's got a lot of great features, it has some serious drawbacks as well, including battery-saving routines that result in frustrating lags when accessing data, as a spun-down hard-drive comes back to life.
Stephen Wildstrom of BusinessWeek takes a similar approach in his review, commenting that "sales of Palms and other personal digital assistants that do not double as phones have been on the decline for several years amid stiffening competition from versatile cell phones, BlackBerrys, and palmOne's own Treo. Now, palmOne is taking advantage of new storage technologies and software in an effort to breathe fresh life into the stagnant category." Wildstrom concludes that as microdrives find their way into phones, and portable media players become more commonplace, the LifeDrive might find itself sidelined.
Finally, in USA Today, Edward Baig also cites PalmOne's competition from cellphones, and then gives the LD three stars, saying there's "much to admire," including its integrated Bluetooth and WiFi, as well as its ability to handle Office documents as well as audio and video. However, he sums up with the thought that's on just about everyone's mind: "PalmOne says LifeDrive's battery life will go up to about 21/2 days with regular Wi-Fi and MP3 use. That seems about right, based on my usage. We'll have to see if there's enough juice left to lift Palm out of its recent market doldrums."
While product placement in videogames has been around for almost as long as there have been games (OK, we don't recall any ads in Pong, but brand names have shown up in games since at least the 80s), Forbes' Arik Hesseldahl takes a good look at recent trends that have given advertisers renewed interest in gamers. These include the fact that many gamers fall into the coveted demographic of 18-34 year-old males, and that top games are getting more and more expensive to produce, leading game-makers scrambling for new revenue streams. Hesseldahl also sees more attempts at that much-buzzed-about-but-rarely-achieved synergy by corporate giants like Sony, which can promote multiple product lines from within games: "Why not advertise Sony's Connect.com as the exclusive venue from which to download a custom playlist of songs to listen to while you race a fast car or battle with some mystical monster?" Hesseldahl asks rhetorically. He's answered by Sony's Kaz Hirai, who boasts that "as more of the media gets integrated, you can expect to see more interdivisional cooperation. We'll be working together even more than we are now." Guess that means you shouldn't be surprised to hear tunes from Sony artists like System of a Down or Bruce Springsteen on the soundtracks of your PSP games.
We don't usually turn to the back pages of The New York Times' Week in Review section for tech tips. With its extended op-ed section and attempts at dry wit, the Sunday stalwart is more an Economist wannabe than a weekend Circuits stand-in. Nevertheless, this week's paper had an intriguing item about how computer scientists have been analyzing a massive database of Enron's mail to find trends in the company's communiques that could yield clues about who knew what when at the company, and also lead to more effective ways for companies and governments to play Big Brother in the future. According to Michael Berry, a computer scientist at the University of Tennessee, companies will be able to "monitor discussions without actually isolating individuals. They can assess morale. If they make a cut in salaries, how long does the unhappiness go on? You could track topics and get a sense of how people are responding to policies and flag potential hot spots." In something of an understatement, he adds, "It's clearly Orwellian. And I know that freaks people out."
Also in Week in Review: George Johnson ponders the merging of 19th and 21st Century technologies that is VoIP: "Why am I using a computer to simulate a telephone when I could just pick up the handset and talk through the same wires directly, as Alexander Graham Bell intended? Well, that would cost 10 cents a minute while the virtual telephone calls, with all their technological overhead, cost just one-fifth as much. This feels a little like perpetual motion until I remember that I need to factor in the cost of the computer and the high-speed line. After making a few of these calls I get a brainstorm. Using my newly telephonic computer, I call the number still maintained by my Internet service provider for low-speed dial-up connections. As the squealing modem tones - so very 90's - emanate from the computer speakers, I contemplate how, with some effort, I could pipe them into my laptop, linking it by this convoluted route to the outside world. The exercise would be as pointless as it was cool. Three levels removed from reality, I'd have a laptop computer running through a virtual telephone simulated by a desktop computer running on a real telephone line. In theory, I could pop up yet another level, launching the telephony program on my laptop and making a simulation of a simulation of a telephone call."