Sunday, May 31, 2009

FireWire Inside, Part Three “Geeks to the rescue”

In the meantime, some creative and persistent geeks have been able to bully the cable companies into turning on the 1394 port on their cable boxes and have developed software to record High Def content off the 1394 port onto computers.  Their software adds digital PVR capabilities to their computers without additional hardware.  These geeks have had to make multiple phone calls to customer support, demand to talk to supervisors, and have read FCC documents such as FCC CS Docket 97-80 and made reference to specific sections such as 47 C.F.R. 76.640(b)(4).

Not exactly the user-friendly experience the FCC had in mind when they mandated 1394 on cable boxes.  In some cases, they have even gone to the FCC to file complains via :

In the end, it paid off.   Apple has support on their web site for anyone who wants to do this on a Mac.  Go to this web page for instructions on how to record HD programming on a Mac:

For Windows users, there are a number of resources, but the easiest to use is:

If you want to file a complaint with the FCC on a non-working 1394 port on your cable box, instructions can be found here:

Friday, May 29, 2009

FireWire Inside, Part Two

In reality, the main reason the cable companies complained about 1394 had little to do with fairness.  The bigger issue for them was the fact that 1394 was mandated by the FCC in an effort to remove control of content from the cable companies and give it to the consumers.  In the words of the FCC, “The consumer should be able to control the content they paid for.”  To be fair to the FCC, they were tasked with this objective by Congress as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as spelled out in the infamous Section 629.  Section 629 stipulates that consumers must be given the option of using retail products to receive cable content and to record cable content independent of devices controlled by the cable companies.  

The cable industry does not like to lose control of content and they do not like their customers to buy devices from retail; depriving the cable guys from the revenue stream of leased boxes.  In a display of classic passive-aggressive behavior, they added 1394 connectors to cable boxes with little or no supporting software.  This rendered the 1394 ports brain dead.  They were able to then report to the FCC that 1394 was a bad technology and did not work.  With some 1394 industry pushback, the FCC saw through this guise and left the 1394 mandate in tact.  However, the games played by the cable companies did succeed in poisoning the well for 1394 A/V products for a season.  1394 products such as the digital VHS VCR fizzled as well as AV HDDs.  HDTV sets with 1394 shrank from 180 models in 2005 to half that by 2007.  However, this trend is now turning around.  1394 is on the rebound.

FireWire YouTube Videos by Jeff Cat

Thursday, May 28, 2009

FireWire Inside, Part One

On December 19, 2002, twenty-two companies from the leaders in the cable TV and consumer A/V industry signed an agreement to include 1394 in High Def cable boxes.  This agreement was delivered to the FCC Chairman Michael Powell (Colin Powell’s son) and all seemed right with the world.  This was a rare case where the cable companies seemed to be working with the powerful Consumer Electronics Association.  This deal was brokered by Bob Perry who was VP of Marketing at Mitsubishi at the time and a powerful player inside CEA (the same trade group that sponsors the International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas each January). 

Unfortunately, the FCC turned the agreement into an FCC ruling, which forced the inclusion of 1394 in cable boxes.  The cable industry was furious claiming that this ruling unfairly saddled them with the cost and responsibility of including FireWire and did not require the A/V companies to do the same.

The real reason the cable companies were unhappy was something they could not complain about openly.  They wanted to stymie what the FCC was trying to accomplish.

FireWire YouTube Videos by Jeff Cat

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It Looked Right at the Time…

My first trade show was Comdex 1995.  Not the Fall Comdex in Las Vegas, the one everyone pictures, but the Spring Comdex in Atlanta.  My first and most enduring image of Atlanta is negative.  As it turned out, right before Comdex, Atlanta was inundated with 200,000+ college kids indulging in an annual weekend party called “Freaknik.” Everywhere college kids were acting badly as only college kids can.  Atlanta had decided (according to Wikipedia) to clamp down on the  revelers and clamp down they did.  I  was welcomed  to Atlanta  with police barricades  and images  of college kids, face down on the sidewalk being cuffed and loaded into waiting paddy wagons.  

After navigating the unsettling obstacle course, I arrived at a pesthole that marketed itself as a hotel but I won’t dwell on that.  We  were  there to show off at new and very exciting 1394 product.  A video conferencing camera.  In 1995 and 1996, video conferencing was hot and Sony had just released a video conferencing camera.  TI took a prototype of the camera to several tradeshows.  TI connected it to a 1394 port in a TI Travelmate Notebook.  This notebook had 1394 added to it in the TI factory in Temple, Texas and was only for demo purposes. 

We caught the eye of passers-by by pointing the camera on them as they walked by.  They would see an image of themselves on the computer screen and come over to see what we were doing.  This was a rare event at the time and worked like a charm.  Now it is so hackneyed that no one would embarrass themselves by making this the big demo at a tradeshow, but we were ahead of the curve at the time.

We thought this was going to be the killer application for 1394…video conferencing.  That was before sub-$100 desktop cameras hit the market in volume.  1394 then moved into high-end cameras for factory automation.  We where half right.  1394 is great for cameras.  We just had the wrong market segment in mind.

FireWire YouTube Videos by Jeff Cat

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Excellent Advice from the USB Evangelist

The best advice I ever got on how to make 1394 successful came from “Mr. USB” of Intel. We were speaking at a seminar in Taipei in 1999 when Jim pulled me aside and told me what we were doing wrong with 1394.

“With USB, we focused on finding a market segment we could win, then focusing entirely on winning that spot. For USB, it was mice and keyboards. If we could just win mice and keyboards, we would have been happy. Win that socket and then build on that win. Once we won that, then we could move on to printers then scanners and eventually, the market takes over with things like speakers and things you could never foresee.

The problem with 1394 is that you want to be all things to all people. You are spreading yourselves too thin. You don’t have those kinds of resources. You cannot gain that much mindshare from the market all at once. You are not building an image in people’s minds as to what you are. Right now, people are not sure what FireWire is. You need to focus on one thing you can win and that thing is video. Concentrate on being a video connection to camcorders then the video connection between the computer and other audio/video devices. Then grow your market from there.”

I didn’t trust Jim. I thought our survival was a thorn in his flesh. I thought USB could not be the video interface to the computer and this was an Intel way of pushing 1394 into a niche that was useful to Intel and prevented us from competing with USB. I ignored him and continued to move forward with 1394 going into everything.

Years later, I realized that, if I’d followed his advice, we would have been much more successful. This was not the first time, I’d heard this suggested. Adaptec had been pushing for this approach as far back as Comdex 1995. Sometimes the most brilliant marketing is simply recognizing a great idea when someone else presents it.

FireWire YouTube Videos by Jeff Cat

Saturday, May 23, 2009

How I Saved USB 2.0

I was speaking at WinHEC 1999 in front of a huge crowd; 2,000 people or more. By far the largest crowd I’d ever spoken in front of. Rather than frightening me, it invigorated me. I was giving the best presentation of my life and could feel the audience getting into it.

USB 2.0 been announced a short time before with a top speed of 240 Mbps. I was deriding USB 2.0 in my presentation, saying that FireWire was rapidly headed for 400 Mbps because no one was interested in 200 mbps. I told USB they could have 240 Mbps; no one needed it.

The next speaker was from the USB camp. He congratulated me on an excellent speech and told the crowd I’d given him food for thought. Two months later, Intel announced that USB 2.0 was headed to 480 Mbps.

FireWire YouTube Videos by Jeff Cat

Friday, May 22, 2009

Apple Marketing - Shock and Awe, Part Three

Apple shock and awe is totally different.  It is like waking up one morning and suddenly everything has changed.  It is like Marty McFly waking up back in the future to find his mother happy, his father a successful novelist, and Biff waxing the family car.   One day you turn around and Apple is everywhere doing things that amaze and delight you. 

The iMac appeared on the cover of the March 27, 2000 Time Magazine with Steven King peering out of the screen.  The story inside was on video editing using FireWire. It had also been a two-page story in Time on December 20, 1999.  An iMac connected to a camcorder was the climax of the Oprah Show on January 20, 2000.  FireWire was on the cover of MacWorld.  On the cover of the Dell Computer product guide.  In-flight magazines were talking about FireWire.  USA Today and every major daily were carrying stories on video editing using FireWire.  Suddenly, Apple was on the front page of everything and FireWire was on page two.  The Steve Jobs keynote speeches were lead stories around the world with CNN  doing live updates from the convention center on their blog.  Apple sales were growing 3X the rate of the PC market. Where could they go from there?

After Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power, Apple computers took a hard right turn.  Gone were the wild candy colors.  October 2001, the iPod was released with a new, classic, white look.  A look that would be replicated in the iMac G4, released in January 2002. The new look was classy but still cool.  Going forward, Apple computers took on a look of sophistication befitting a premium priced computer and more importantly, a look that would look right in a corporate environment.  Now, the multi-year plan had reached the intended goal.  

With the new Apple cool look, corporate sales started coming in.  Keep in mind; home computer sales are only 30% of total PC sales.  The big target, from the introduction of the Bondi iMac, was to get Apple out of the niche market and into the big pond.  The small fish in the small pond was now a big fish in a big pond. 

Well played, Mr. Jobs.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Apple Marketing - Shock and Awe, Part Two

This second generation iMac contained FireWire and iMovie for video editing. We were already familiar with Apple’s marketing prowess with the “1984” commercial still ranking as the best Super Bowl Ad of all time, but what Apple was about to do was well beyond anything we were expecting. Apple was about to reinvent marketing the way they reinvented the computer. This was “shock and awe.”

Before we cover the Apple version of shock and awe, let’s talk about the Intel version. Intel incorporates a more traditional “overwhelming force” version of marketing. This is more similar to the military version (Iraq War) than what Apple does. This is a huge company and enormously influential with their customers. No one wants to irritate Intel. They have a unique ability to get behind one thing with single-minded determination and no mixed loyalties. Every other company I know of in the industry has mixed loyalties. Sony uses both USB and FireWire in their computers, as does Apple. Texas Instruments sells USB, FireWire, DVI, and HDMI products, as does Molex. No one else can turn all their energy into making one technology dominate like Intel can. Intel put their considerable muscle behind USB and nothing else. I spoke to dozens of people all over the world who acknowledged that they did not believe what they were being told about USB 2.0 but in the end they said, “It is Intel. We can not afford to go against them.” It was like taking a stand against a hurricane.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Apple Marketing - Shock and Awe, Part One

“One step at a time and don’t over reach” was the game plan for Apple’s recovery.  This lesson was learned the hard way with products like the Apple III and the Lisa (and sometimes the lesson has to be repeated as evidenced by the Cube).  They’d hit the market with a shocking new device which dominated the electronics headlines…. but they had more.  They just needed to wait a little longer before they rolled out the next secret weapon.

The Bondi Blue iMac had more than enough market sizzle to generate attention for the remainder of the year.  New fruit colors came out in January 1999 which spawned a new look in everything from clock radios to electric grills.  Apple was still getting front-page coverage and changing the market.

Then, in late 1999 (October 2, 1999) it was time to hit the market again with a refreshed iMac.  This time, it needed more than new colors to regain press headlines.  This was a true second generation iMac and one designed to attract the traditional Apple user, not just the PC neophyte.

Apple’s mainstay had been the professional graphics artist, photographer, and videographer.  The new iMac followed step two in “The Apple Way” perfectly: “find that one thing you do better and make that one thing matter.”

Apple was going in for the kill and the weapon of choice was FireWire.



The Apple Way

I have heard the Apple formula for success reduced to 5 things:

1) Don’t sell a product….sell what the product does. I.E. Don’t sell an MP3 player by showing the menu and how easy it is to download songs from a computer, etc. Show cool people having a fantastic time using your product. This is Marketing 101 but no one does it. “No one goes to the hardware store because they want a quarter inch drill bit. They go to the hardware store because they want a quarter inch hole.” People don’t want an MP3 player. They don’t even want music. You have to get more visceral. People want fun. If the purpose of your product is to provide fun, then show people having fun with your product.

2) Never be first to market. Get into a good market with a better product. Don’t define a new category but try to “occupy self space that already exists in the prospect’s mind”. And, find that one thing you do better and make that one thing matter to people. That is stunning! You do not have to be a lot better, just better somewhere and make that important. The iMac was not a superior computer. It was easy to use: “Three steps to the Internet” plug it in (to power); Connect it (to the phone jack), oops! No third step…you are on the Internet.

3) Empower early adopters to help you get the word out then make easy-to-use products for the mass market. The early adopters want to promote you, so make your product stand out. Make your product look distinctive (like the white ear buds on the iPod) so people notice it just about every time they see it. Don’t sell a notebook in a black plastic case. Sell one in an aluminum case with a glowing Apple logo on the lid. Mixed into this concept is the “halo effect” where the huge success of the iPod is making Apple more successful in other endeavors. Now that the iPod is a household name, the iMac is picking up sales.

4) Make your message memorable. Think bite sized morsels, not entire meals. Make it easy to repeat. Make it interesting enough to be repeated. I already mentioned the iMac “Three steps to the internet”. For the iPod it was “1,000 songs in your pocket”.

5) Surprise and delight your customers. This concept deals with things like how “Apple stores feel more like a museum than a store.” Apple gives their web site the same “feel” as the Apple store. The boxes that Apple products come in are “super premium”. My iMac notebook came in a very nice box made of “gift box” cardboard, with artistic photography on it, and careful wrapping like I was unboxing something of great value. My Dell notebook came in brown corrugated cardboard box with “Dell blue” printing.

What does this have to do with FireWire History? Nothing. It’s just interesting.

See Apple iPod ad on YouTube

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


With the release of the Bondi Blue iMac (Aug 15, 1998), Apple was back on everyone’s radar. Jobs had done something no one else could do and that was to make Apple relevant again. With the iMac, Apple topped Sony in setting the standard for “cool” when it came to technology and Apple was only getting started.

In 1997, Apple was left for dead. A new rumor popped up every quarter about who was going to buy Apple. No one expected them to survive. Looking back on what they achieved in the next 10 years, you have to assume that Jobs had a big plan. Apple was a forgotten computer company. No one thought about Apple when buying a new computer. The business buyer certainly would not buy an Apple. They need to play it safe. They needed to buy from Dell or HP or someone who would be around for a long time. Apple was risky.

Apple had to overcome a huge barrier. They did this by going to someone who didn’t know any better. Apple had to go to the first time computer buyer; the home computer buyer. Why would someone finally breakdown to get a computer? To get on the Internet. What is the first time buyer worried about? Computers are hard to use. Apple ads stressed ease of use, “Three steps to the internet”. An average CEO would have developed another beige box but that does not match the Apple strategy. That was not going to generate any sizzle and Jobs is a marketing super star. He had to leap frog the competition. Small steps were not adequate to save Apple.

Apple launched a Jetson’s futuristic, fun computer that got the kids pulling mom and dad over to Apple display in the store. They put ads on TV with Rolling Stones music and computers tumbling and spinning. Computers do not tumble and spin. These are not computers. These are fun electronics. Apple was not selling computers. They were selling fun.

The commercials were so entertaining that people watched them over an over. When they went to the store, they did not see a strange looking computer that looked so different that they were afraid of it. They saw that cool computer they saw on TV. Apple overcame the commercial fatigue and got their message into the minds of the consumer. This was fun. Joe Average was buying an Apple and entering the Apple cult. For most companies, this would have been stellar success, far beyond expectations, but for Steve Jobs, this was just the beginning. The first step in a much larger plan.

Apple revolutionized the PC industry not only by bringing to market a very fun consumer computer but also by removing all peripheral ports except for USB. No other computer maker dared to be that bold. However, Apple was targeting the first time computer buyer who had no peripherals. USB was the easiest way to connect peripherals.

As it turned out, Apple loyalist were willing to accept a lot of inconvenience in order to move up to next cool thing coming out of One Infinite Loop.

The Bondi Blue iMac was only the first step in a series that would turn the world upside down. The next step would come in a matter of months and it involved FireWire.