Editorial: Out of the comfort zone

Editorial: Out of the comfort zone

January is always one of the slower months in this industry as people gradually file back into the office from Christmas holidays. But despite spending almost a month away from the place it never ceases to amaze me how quickly it feels like we have never been away. Sound familiar?

Perhaps you only had three days away from the desk (holding the fort while others enjoyed themselves) or are still topping up the tan on a beach somewhere as I write this. Either way, I hope you are feeling rested and ready for the year ahead.

There were no earth shattering events in the industry during the past month but Apple's long-awaited iPhone announcement made the biggest splash. This was especially true over at Cisco, where copyright infringement filings were being compiled quicker than Australian runs in the cricket this summer.

The (Apple) iPhone promises to be 2007's hottest gadget when it is released in the US later in the year but we won't see it over here until 2008. Call me a cynic but I think there is a good chance we will be writing supply shortage stories when that day arrives.

Although Steve Jobs has predictably touted its arrival as 'revolutionary' on three fronts - widescreen music player, phone and Internet communications device - the jury is out on whether it can achieve mass appeal with an entry-level price tag of $US499. Analysts have noted the premium mobile phone market is a niche space. An InStat survey of 1800 consumers in the US six months ago found only 21 per cent had spent more than $US400 on a mobile phone.

Others believe huge take up is not the benchmark. They argue iPhone is setting standards similar consumer electronics products will be judged on and further entrenches the Apple brand as leading this field. Some experts are even asking if it will finally help Apple break into enterprise (see page 12) as an alternative to handheld communication devices like Palm's Treo or RIM's Blackberry.

Apple becoming established in the corporate world still looks like a long shot to me but, having said that, I was equally surprised to see Cisco CEO, John Chambers, giving a keynote at this month's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Not that long ago, this would have seemed about as likely as Darrel Hair being appointed UN ambassador for Pakistan. But Cisco's purchase of set-top box developer, Scientific Atlanta, almost a year ago was an indication of its designs on the consumer market.

That picture is now a lot clearer following the networking giant's CES demonstration. There are no prizes for guessing that it sees its role as providing seamless integration between the devices of other vendors on an intelligent network. Chambers predicted this vision could be reality in just three years. With Microsoft also using the CES show to announce its imminent plans for a home server that will allow multiple devices to access and share content, and Apple looking to extend its stranglehold, another major battle for the hearts and minds of consumers is taking shape.

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