Monday, May 18, 2009

After the camcorder…then what?

Once camcorders started entering the market with FireWire, the industry joke was “You have 1394 on the camcorder, what can you do with it?” The peer-to-peer capabilities were useful in sharing video between two camcorders or doing rough video editing using two camcorders. I did hear a story of a sky diving club that used FireWire camcorders on each jump. At the end of the jump, everyone would download their videos on everyone else’s camcorder via FireWire and they all left with a complete set of the day’s videos. So much better than wondering if you are ever going to get a copy of video. Still, this was not a market maker. We needed something to do with FireWire.

Bryan Bell had negotiated the deal between TI Semiconductor and Sony Japan for the 1394 camcorder then took a position with the TI Notebook Computer group. As a result, the first computer with FireWire was a TI Extensa Notebook in 1997. 1394 was an add-in option using a slot similar to a CardBus slot. However, with no support from Microsoft and no third party drivers, it was a dead port.

Many meetings were held to determine what the ”Killer Application” was to get FireWire adoption to increase but in the end, we came up with nothing. It was suggested a number of times that loading video off a camcorder onto a computer to do video editing was a good idea. I weighed in with all the hubris so common to the inexperienced person who is in over his head with a lot of other inexperienced people. I stated flatly that, “video editing was a stupid idea…a niche market at best.”

I guess Sony was not listening to me. In 1998, they released the coolest notebook computer anyone had ever seen; the Vaio 505GX. It was tiny…ridiculously tiny. It was a feminine color…a lavender shade of gray. It looked like the color you would get if you mixed the grays and lavenders of the seats in Narita Airport waiting lounges. It was an over night sensation and it included i.LINK (which is Japanese for “FireWire”). It also included software for video editing. I was relieved that no one remembered my comments about video editing. Everyone was too busy grinning from ear to ear.

Sony was taking the notebook market by storm and carrying 1394/FireWire (i.LINK) with them. Notebook makers were adding FireWire to their notebooks before they’d settled licensing for the software to power the port, just to get a product in the market to compete with Sony. Notebooks got smaller. Notebooks got cooler. FireWire was on the rise.

We thought things were going great, but as it turns out, what we saw was only the shadow of great. Steven Paul Jobs was back in power and we were about to see insanely great marketing. What would happen over the next few months was beyond anything I’d ever seen, heard about, or read in books. I was going to see what makes Steve Jobs a cult icon and witness it from a front row seat.

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