Archive for Alex Watson

Does Sony Still Matter?

Posted on 31st May 2009 at 12:33 by Alex Watson with 48 comments

Alex Watson
The first time I went to Japan, in Spring 2002, the Sony Building was high up on my list of places to visit. Six floors of space set in a classic 1960s skyscraper in Tokyo’s wealthy Ginza district, the Sony Centre is a showcase for the company’s brand, image and values, as well as its new technologies and products.

When I visited, dark, moodily lit corridors swept me to an audio playback lounge with towering speakers, rooms full of astoundingly slim laptops, and of course, saving the best till last, there was a pen full of yapping AIBOs to watch.

Despite the fact I’ve been back to Japan several times since then, I’ve never returned to the Sony Building. I enjoyed my visit a lot, but each time I’ve been in Tokyo, a visit there has seemed less relevant, less necessary, less worthwhile. It struck me that perhaps this says something about Sony itself, and makes me wonder whether it’s true to say that Sony doesn’t matter anymore.

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CPC Issue 70 Preview: Letting The Mac Out Of The Bag

Posted on 16th May 2009 at 13:01 by Alex Watson with 20 comments

Alex Watson
We’ve just got our copies of the next issue of CPC in the office, and it’s something of a milestone for us. As I (admittedly mischievously) hinted a few days ago in the forum, it’s got a Mac on the cover for the first time in the magazine’s history. Not only have we never had a Mac on the cover, we’ve actually only ever fully reviewed one Apple product, a monochrome screened iPod in a group test from 2004.

So what’s changed? Is CPC going all lifestyle? Did we get mixed up with Mac User this month?

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The Results: Which Tech CEO would you fire?

Posted on 14th May 2009 at 11:43 by Alex Watson with 10 comments

Alex Watson
Several strong candidates for being given the boot emerged from last week’s blog post, some of which I whole-heartedly agree with and others which I found quite wide of the mark.

Before we decide who really should get the chop, we should bear in mind the words of Surallan: the team that makes the most money will win, the team that doesn’t will lose and on that team, one of you is going to get fired (cue pointing).

In other words, a CEO’s responsibility isn’t solely or directly to serve customers, make great products, be a cool guy or give good quotes to the press – he or she needs to deliver profit and growth to the company he or she leads, and to its shareholders (indeed, in the US, it’s a legal requirement for shareholder owned companies to maximise the profit they return to the shareholders). So, let's see who was put up for firing...

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Full coverage: EU fines Intel £948 million

Posted on 13th May 2009 at 15:11 by Alex Watson with 107 comments

Alex Watson
The EU has fined Intel £948 million ($1.45 billion) for violating EC Treaty antitrust rules on the abuse of its dominant market position. Commissioners found Intel guilty of illegal business practices on two counts - Intel had given wholly or partially hidden rebates to computer manufacturers on condition that they bought all, or almost all, their x86 CPUs from Intel. Secondly, Intel was found guilty of making direct payments to computer manufacturers to halt or delay the launch of specific products containing AMD's CPUs.

We've rounded up the key quotes from all three major players in this case - the EU, AMD and Intel itself. Click the links to read the full stories.

"Intel has harmed millions of European consumers by deliberately acting to keep competitors out of the market for computer chips for many years. Such a serious and sustained violation of the EU's antitrust rules cannot be tolerated" – EC Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes didn't hold back when revealing the verdict.

"Our experience to date has been that when investigators look at the facts, Intel loses" – Nigel Dessau, AMD's Chief Marketing Officer weighs in on the ruling.

"We believe the decision is wrong and ignores the reality of a highly competitive microprocessor marketplace – characterised by constant innovation, improved product performance and lower prices, he continued. There has been absolutely zero harm to consumers. Intel will appeal." - Intel CEO and President Paul Otellini responds.

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Which Tech CEO would you fire?

Posted on 7th May 2009 at 11:36 by Alex Watson with 30 comments

Alex Watson
It’s time for a bit of debate here on the bit-tech blog, and I’d like your input. It’s a simple question that I am proposing: if you had the power, which CEO of a tech firm would you send packing?

In the course of reviewing the hundreds of components, peripherals, PCs and laptops that pass through our labs every year, there are always a few that are so staggeringly bad that they make you wonder quite what the company responsible is up to. Of course, in the big companies that dominate the tech world, the CEO is rarely directly involved in product design (unless we’re talking about Apple, where Steve Jobs is so involved he even gets his name on product design patents), but the CEO is, as the saying goes, the place where the buck stops.

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How to get BBC iPlayer in HD

Posted on 28th Apr 2009 at 09:58 by Alex Watson with 18 comments

Alex Watson
The BBC recently released a big update to iPlayer, replacing the original, Windows only Download Manager with iPlayer Desktop. As it’s built on Adobe Air, it’s now compatible with Linux and Mac OS X as well as XP and Vista.

This new update also coincides with the introduction of 720p HD content. The easiest way to find HD content on iPlayer at the moment is to browse by channel, and go to the BBC HD channel.

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Tags bbc, hd, iplayer

Killing is Fun

Posted on 21st Apr 2009 at 18:41 by Alex Watson with 12 comments

Konami’s recently announced Six Days in Fallujah rolls into town at the head of a of convoy of outrage over the fact it’s based on a very real and very contemporary battle of an ongoing war.

In a well-weighted editorial on Eurogamer, Rob Fahey nails why this outrage is nonsensical, and why it’s particularly unpalatable when it comes from the tabloid press:

“It's not just the fact that the [Daily] Mail and others are essentially calling for the worst form of censorship, the blocking off of an entire event and saying ‘this is off limits, and may not be portrayed’ - something which would stab to the very heart of the freedom of expression our media should be championing... the thing that rankles most about this situation is the fact that this is a tabloid newspaper telling another medium that the way in which it's handling current events is insensitive. I won't need to remind any reader who walks past a news stand on the way to work, or flicks on Sky News or CNN in the evening, just how ‘sensitive’ the news media is in its coverage of war.”

The whole piece is worth a read as it eloquently defends the right of games to portray reality. Fahey’s defence of games isn’t totally blind though – indeed, he challenges those making games such as Six Days in Fallujah to engage more fully with their subject material:

“If a game like Six Days in Fallujah is to have any value, it must come from adding something to that discussion [of the war]. This isn't about taking a pro-war or an anti-war stance - although both are valid starting points, there are countless others. It's about making people think, informing them through their entertainment experiences, and commenting, as creators, on the media we create and the events we portray.”

Killing is Fun

Games based on real combat aren’t uncommon – the Call of Duty series has been at it for longer than the duration of World War 2 – and Call of Duty 4 is the most notable depiction of combat in Iraq gaming has seen so far (although, bless its little corporate socks, Activision has decided to tell players it was actually set it in unnamed MiddleEastistan). What makes Six Days in Fallujah interesting is that unlike other ‘real war’ games, it’s not an FPS, or an RTS. Instead, it’s a third person ‘action’ game.

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FriendFeed 2.0 is coming and it's like if the Beatles made Twitter

Posted on 6th Apr 2009 at 17:55 by Alex Watson with 14 comments

Alex Watson
I'm a bit of a fan of Twitter, but while I like the fact it keeps me in contact with friends and contacts and throws up useful links, I'm conscious of the fact that a lot of people find it ridiculous, boring or pointless. Their reasons are often pretty sound, too, and discussions with these sceptics keeps me aware of the service's problems and drawbacks.

Overall, I'm not really an evangelist for Twitter, and use it mostly because I'm just curious, and this is true of my approach to technology in general. It's important to temper enthusiasm for what's new and shiny with a degree of cynicism.

For that reason, I found TechCrunch's post about a new version of FriendFeed - a competitor to Twitter - absolutely incredible. It's a shining example of someone falling for PR hype (both for the product and for the general area of technology it operates in), which is a real danger for any technology journalist. As such I felt it needed a little commentary, and it's reproduced below for your enjoyment:

“On Friday the FriendFeed founders Bret Taylor and Paul Buchheit debuted a radical redesign of the product for about 15 journalists, technologists, and Robert Scoble.”

There’s a new FriendFeed coming. Last Friday, a few tech journalists were invited to see it. I’m not sure how many people were there, as I can’t count accurately above 10. Also, I have no idea how to define what Scoble is.

“We were asked not to discuss the details until Monday morning at 9AM Pacific.”

People have heard of FriendFeed, and TechCrunch isn’t important enough to be able to just ignore them like all the other fledgling Web 3.0 companies we deal with. But usually, screw em.

“I’ve been playing with the beta for the last few hours and have already come to several conclusions about what this means for the social media community and by extension enterprise computing.”

This matters people. This isn’t about just another website with a name missing some vowels. What is about? Well you just wait. I’m going to tell you.

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Books You Should Own: Trigger Happy

Posted on 3rd Apr 2009 at 13:32 by Alex Watson with 16 comments

Alex Watson
Trigger Happy, by Steven Poole
Fourth Estate, 2000

The importance of criticism in relation to the actual art or products it discusses is matter of debate and criticism itself. Elvis Costello was neatly and completely dismissive of the very idea of music journalism, declaring that ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’

Still, it was, in part, the traditions of music writing – and Rolling Stone in the 60s and 70s – that video games writers turned to when they wanted to redefine the point and purpose of games criticism. New Games Journalism was a reasonably successful attempt to widen games writing’s remit and claim a role for it that was bigger than just slapping 9/10 scores on run-of-the-mill sequels and churning out breathlessly keen previews (and it’s also what we here at Bit-Tech practise, at least if you believe Wikipedia).

Before the debate over New Games Journalism, though, was another of my favourite books about computers: Steven Poole’s Trigger Happy. Originally published in 2000, Trigger Happy isn’t subtitled ‘The Inner Life of Videogames’ for nothing. It’s a conscious attempt to push writing about games beyond identikit phrases ‘good graphics’ and ‘great playability’ ‘interesting gameplay’ – and if anything, to think about what words like ‘gameplay’ really, actually refer to.

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Xbox 360 Demo round-up: Guitar Hero: Metallica and more

Posted on 24th Mar 2009 at 09:33 by Alex Watson with 2 comments

Alex Watson
As it's the middle of the month, and I only have cash for practical things, over the weekend I fired up the Xbox 360 to see what free demos were available. First up: Guitar Hero: Metallica. The last band-specific Guitar Hero focussed on Aerosmith, and was a mediocre mid-tempo effort. The graphics achieved the impressive feat of making Steven Tyler & co. look even more like zombies than they do in real life, and there was a distinct lack of soul and care to the whole enterprise.

Judging from the demo, GH: Metallica will be a much better product. For starters, it's based on the Guitar Hero World Tour engine so the graphics are much improved, both technically and in terms of art direction. Whereas GH: Aerosmith was cartoony, colourful and cluttered, GH: Metallica uses Left 4 Dead-style desaturated colours and film grain to give the visuals some bite. The character models of the band look far more realistic than before, and the developers have reduced a lot of the visual clutter - the note streak you're on is subtly illustrated with a skull-embossed plectrums to the right of the fretboard and the rock meter is less intrusive. The game also works in artwork from Metallica's albums - the fist from St Anger punches upwards when the song ends, for instance.

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