Weekend Update 12.13.09–A New Hope


Just like other parts of the world, Silicon Valley has its own special magic during the holidays. We gather together around the old-timey glow of a CRT monitor and drag out our old CDs–especially the ones that say things like “Sign up for AOL now and receive 500 hours free.” With the familiar tone of a dial-up modem log-in on the stereo, we can almost smell the sweet aroma of irrational exuberance of holidays past. It’s this seasonal magic of limitless possibility that captured the tech word this week, featuring the miracle of rebirth, new jobs, and the greatest miracle of all, a possible Verizon (VZ) iPhone.

Kara soothed some furrowed brows with her NPR voice early in the week, before heading out to New York to attend the Diddy-studded relaunch party of Aol (AOL). She said that the real miracle of Aol seems to be its incredible resilience. Weekend Update thinks the 25-year-old online player was bitten by a radioactive roach sometime in the late 80s—it’s the only explanation. In any case, at the event, Kara caught former CBS (CBS) interactive head Quincy Smith on camera briefly and followed with a post about his part in a new niche banking venture. She rounded out BoomTown this week with a wrap-up of the party, featuring a little video chat with good ol’ Woz. Apple (APPL) co-founder Steve Wozniak was his usual jolly self, which got Weekend Update to thinking: He’s friendly, loves gadgets more than any human should and always seems to be sequestered in some workshop, toiling away before emerging for special occasions. We might be getting a little “Glenn Beck” paranoid here, but Woz and Claus do rhyme.

Digital Daily was in the holiday spirit too and brought us some prognostications a la the ghost of Christmas future. AT&T (T) is foretelling a grave future if it can’t get its coverage in order. No “incentive” programs are in place yet, but the company did release an app that allows users to geo-tag locations where service is bad, though we’re not sure yet what they’ll do with the data. More iPhones on the network plus lack of action may slow down connection speeds so much that even Jacob Marley could beat AT&T in a bandwidth race, and we’re pretty sure he’s wrapped in chains. While AT&T grapples with correcting its own network transgressions, John posted about a prognostication from an industry analyst who says that as time progresses we’re increasingly likely to see a Verizon iPhone. While the analysis is complex, the math is simple. Over time, Apple will see fewer and fewer iPhone converts at AT&T as the carrier slowly slurps up those remaining in the bottom of the cup. Moral of the story: We may start hearing that sucking sound between 2010 and 2012. John finished out the week with a snapshot of Aol. There were fewer sugarplums and candy canes and more about the long, wintery walk ahead of the oddly new Internet player. The reality is that shares in the post-spinoff Aol were down a few points, even as management was doing its best to put on a brave face. Sometimes a fruitcake is still a fruitcake, even if you gift-wrap it.

MediaMemo was in the holiday spirit too, even if the world of media is a little more somber this holiday season. Peter started things off with coverage of a new Nielsen report that puts TV viewing down somewhat, even as Internet video viewership rises. While one explanation might be that the screentime balance is finally beginning to shift, Weekend Update has another hypothesis: There are not nearly so many hilarious cat-dressed-as-Santa videos on TV as on the Internet, and that’s just want the holiday viewers want. Arguably, the biggest shakeup this week was over at Facebook, where the elves have been working feverishly on yet another privacy agreement. Peter reported that king elf Zuckerberg thinks sharing is the best default and sort of puts his profile where his mouth is (even if he keeps certain data, like his cellphone number, just for his friends). Finally, not to be left out of the Aol party, Peter also delivered some insight about the shape of things to come with a post about New York Times veteran Saul Hansell heading over to do some kind of work in Aol’s new content factory. No word yet on what sort of gift this particular wise man will be delivering.

Walt and Katie were in full swing this week, working hard to make sense of some of those last-minute gift items. Personal Technology was devoted to the Nook, a much anticipated e-reader from Barnes and Noble (BKS). Similar to the Amazon (AMZN) Kindle in its display capabilities, the Nook sets itself apart, in theory, by augmenting its text display with a small color screen to aid navigation. Walt said this one needed a little more time in the workshop and that future iterations may take better advantage of the interesting dual-screen idea. Mossberg’s Mailbox wasn’t full of tins of cookies yet, but Walt did answer some mail about the end of Microsoft (MSFT) Money for the Mac and recording all your favorite shows onto a computer. He also helped one wayward would-be smartphone owner examine options less costly than the Motorola (MOT) Droid. Katie came to every mom’s rescue with a great post breaking down the Wii, Xbox and Playstation 3 field. If that weren’t enough, she includes a cheat sheet of features and options that will take the confusion out of the impending trip through your favorite electronics superstore gauntlet.

While we’re not yet roasting chestnuts (Kara hates it when we start fires in the office), AllThingsD most certainly is getting its stockings hung with care. Is it weird that we are noshing on a potato latke while we do that? Either way, stay tuned to the AllThingsD crew, and please feel free to leave comments–no one likes an empty mailbox during the holidays. Weekend Update will catch you again next week.

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google