Robert’s Ramblings

Robert Alonso’s Thoughts on Technology and More…

Archive for November, 2008


Sony – What Happened To You?

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Opinions

It is amazing to me how far Sony has fallen from the dominance that it once had in consumer electronics. In the 1980s and 90s, Sony’s Walkman and Discman were must-have toys. Everyone that I knew, either had one or wanted one. If instead, you preferred large "boom boxes" that could drown out all other sounds within half a city block, Sony made those too.

Apple is the new Sony when it comes to portable music devices. Sony lost its dominance by allowing Apple to be hipper and to deliver a better music experience. It is doubtful that Sony can dethrone Apple any time soon. Apple appears to have learned from Sony’s folly and competes with itself by introducing new more exciting products each year–something that Sony did not do.

When Sony achieved some attention in the computer business, it sold expensive desktops and notebooks called VAIOs. This acronym stood for Video Audio Integrated Operation. I thought it was an excellent idea. Sony was going to make the PC an exciting platform for audio and video. This acronym was introduced in 1998, years ahead of the PC becoming a multimedia platform. Here, Sony would have had the lead and perhaps dominance if it were not for the fact that the machines were and continue to be prohibitively expensive. You can get a PC or notebook with equivalent specifications for a third to a half what Sony charges.

It seems that Sony is abandoning the original meaning of VAIO. They are now saying that it means, Visual Audio Intelligent Organizer. This new meaning will be applied to a new level of software and product integration. Who knows, maybe there is hope for Sony still? It will undoubtedly be difficult for them to catch up to Dell, HP, Lenovo and Acer in terms of products and market penetration. They have also expressed their unwillingness to compete in the netbook area where Asus and Acer are now dominating.

The Sony record on video is also haphazard. It lost the Betamax vs VHS format war in the mid 80s. This in spite of the fact that Betamax was introduced one year before VHS and was a superior format. The HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray format war has been won by Sony, but the format has not caught on. The high price and market dominance of DVDs have stalled Sony’s efforts in this market. The fact that you can purchase a DVD player with technology that scales the video to high definition levels for under $50 has certainly had an impact on Blu-Ray sales.

Likewise, Sony failed to anticipate the popularity of flat-screen televisions. It was so dominant with the Sony Trinitron TVs, that it ignored the demand for the newer technologies. It entered the market late and was forced to repackage Samsung LCDs with the Sony logo on it. When they did this, the market was dominated by Sharp–a company that was always known in the past as a tiny, low-quality competitor. Now, Sony is faced with many competitors that have better or equal products for half the cost of an equivalent Sony product.

The last consumer oriented segment that Sony is losing is the game machine market. Sony got into this market late, but managed to beat out many very successful competitors with its PlayStation (1994) and PlayStation 2 product lines. These game machines were the first to exceed sales of 100 million units. Unfortunately for Sony, it now has two very significant competitors in this market. Microsoft has entered the market with its Xbox and Xbox 360 product and Nintendo has entered the market with a low cost game machine called the Wii. Sony is getting squeezed from the bottom by the Wii and is getting pressured by Microsoft to lower the price of the PlayStation 3. Sony is in a very difficult position. The inclusion of Blu-Ray in the PlayStation 3 helped it win the format war with HD-DVD, but makes it difficult for the game machine to be competitive with Microsoft and Nintendo. We will see how this works itself out in the next year.

So I go back to the title of this post, Sony, what happened to you? How could you be dominant in so many consumer electronics product categories and lose on almost all counts? What will you do to regain your greatness? Maybe you should merge with Apple and have Steve Jobs direct your efforts.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting, Inc.

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Acer Aspire One

Posted by Robert Alonso under Opinions

Most computers and notebooks on the market are so similar and uninteresting that they are not worth writing about. When was the last time someone got excited over a notebook from Dell or HP? Exactly. You can’t remember.

Acer was, until recently, barely known in the United States. Those that knew of the company thought of its products as second rate and cheap. It appears that Acer is about to change that perception. The introduction of the Acer Aspire One has made me excited about notebooks for the first time in years. This tiny ultra-portable machine has all the power you need and weighs only 2.19 pounds.

You can get the Acer Aspire One in several configurations and colors. A few of the configurations come with Linux and a flash memory drive. The one that I purchased came with Windows XP Home and a 120 GB hard disk drive. It also included an Intel Atom microprocessor running at 1.6 GHz and 1GB of memory. This seemingly low end configuration is unbelievably fast. I find the responsiveness of the system exceeds my desktop computer, which is equipped with a Intel Core 2 Quad processor running at 2.4 GHz with 3GB of memory and Microsoft Vista Ultimate. I know that it’s difficult to believe, but it’s true. The smaller notebook, with the 8.9 inch screen, feels faster and more responsive in every way.

The Acer Aspire One comes with Wi-Fi built in (both b and g) and also includes a screen that has a resolution of 1024 by 600 pixels with an LED backlight. It is easy to read on this system and easy to write as well. My biggest apprehension about the smaller notebooks (also called netbooks) is that the keyboard might be too small for my rather large fingers. I tested a few of the small form factor notebooks on the market , including the Asus Eee PC and the HP 213e. The Acer keyboard has better spacing and is easier to touch type on. There is no comparison.

I recommend this notebook to anyone who travels frequently. It is small, light and fully functional. What more can you ask for?

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting, Inc.

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Why Libraries Need Excellent Web Sites

Posted by Robert Alonso under Opinions

When I was growing up, the Internet was not available to the public so going to the local library and understanding the Dewey Decimal System were required for any type of serious school work. The advantage of having to go to the library was that you would learn facts by accident, since you would always find something that was interesting that was not directly relevant for the schoolwork that you were researching. I must admit that I was an avid bookworm who loved picking up huge books full of information and reading them for no reason other than curiosity. Visiting the library was an exciting pastime that enlarged my understanding of the world.

The Internet has changed that. Children today want information instantly. They do not use card catalogs, but instead they "Google." Because of this reality, it is increasingly difficult to get children to walk in through the door of a library. Being a father of five, I know that today’s younger generation relies heavily on the Internet for its research and information. They do not even use encyclopedias like the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Instead, they look things up in the free and user generated Wikipedia.

How can libraries thrive in such an environment? They must be seen by children as exciting destinations that are linked to the Internet and that can provide a rich multimedia experience including books, DVDs, magazines and Internet access. Many libraries have already transformed themselves into rich information centers. This is a winning strategy that must be coupled with a strong marketing message. Children and other visitors must know what they will be getting if they visit the library. That is where an excellent web site makes the difference; it is the ultimate public relations tool.

My firm, Alonso Consulting, has been designing web sites for libraries for over two years. We designed a site for the West Milford Public Library that won the New Jersey Library Association’s Public Relations award for 2007. We have also designed web sites for Palisades Park and Butler Library in New Jersey. The Palisades Park site not only showcases the library as an exciting community resource, but also presents some information in Spanish and Korean–two significant audiences in the area. Our involvement in the project included visiting the library several times to plan the site, taking photographs, creating multiple designs and developing the selected design complete with pictures, text and bright colors that would attract people. The goals of the library director, Susan Kumar, were met with the design. She wanted a site that was colorful, informative and modern in every way.

Libraries with an unattractive web site, or that look outdated, will not get the same attention as a bright, friendly site. When I search the Internet for libraries,I frequently find sites that are created by volunteers that have minimal experience with designing usable web sites, or with picking colors and pictures that work on the web. In fact, many library sites were created with a Microsoft Office FrontPage page generator several years ago. Although libraries are fortunate to have volunteers willing to help them with their efforts, they are better served by a professional effort. A web site designed by professional services firm can expand the reach of the site through the use of design principles and expertise that will draw in more viewers. A professional effort can also help the site get a higher rank in search engines like Google which will also draw in some of the younger audiences that the libraries need.

Libraries of all sizes need to present what they offer in a way that makes local "customers" want to come in and browse. If this is done, libraries will continue to be important disseminators of information and knowledge. I’m rooting for their success. I really want my children to experience the joys of reading and learning that are uniquely available in a library.

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