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November 21, 2008

Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine -- the shortsightedness of letting an incredible resource die

With Microsoft sitting on billions of dollars in cash and spending many millions on comedian Jerry Seinfeld and a silly Vista campaign, the one magazine that has covered Pocket PCs and Windows Mobile for many years has just died due to lack of support. I am talking about Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine, published by Thaddeus Computing Inc. Those guys were publishing magazines on small Microsoft-powered computers for almost a quarter of a century, yet neither Microsoft nor Hewlett Packard apparently cares enough about real, quality coverage of their products to at least use this incredible magazine as a venue for advertising, let alone as the important, invaluable partner in spreading the word about handheld computers that they are (and now were).

Having founded and run several print magazines myself, I know all about the work and hardship that goes into creating a quality magazine, and how things are all different in this age and day of the Internet and web. Advertising dollars are increasingly going away from print, and people no longer want to wait for information to appear in print. Everything is available instantly. Yet, the information on the web is .... different. In a way it almost does not compete with print. How else would one explain the fact that there appear to be more magazines on newsstands than ever? I myself absolutely cannot imagine life without computers and the web, yet I have a good dozen print magazine subscriptions that I never intend to give up. Magazines and the web are as different as radio and TV -- both convey information and entertain, but in different ways. Unfortunately, tech companies like Microsoft do not seem to understand that, and the phone companies who have taken over the smartphone business are clueless about the market that has fallen into their laps.

Fact is, online is becoming much like TV -- far too many channels and nothing to watch. It's all commercials and infomercials. You have to channel-flip not because you can, but because you're constantly avoiding commercials and seeking something, anything, meaningful to watch. And quality is getting lost in a vast sea of drivel. You can google a particular product and instantly get 10,000 references to it, mostly junk. By now the web is jam-packed with virtually content-free sites that are just landing pages for ads and more ads. Even reputable sites are doing it: two paragraphs of content and then commercial bombardment. The ever more popular "customer reviews" are often little more than "this product sucks!", "no, this product is the best ever" slugfests, and the same goes for bulletin boards where there is endless posting and almost no factual information. With the exception of the by now almost suffocating commercialization it's all worth it, of course. But it is NOT a replacement for a good print magazine.

When I look at the final copy of Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine (the Smartphone & Pocket PC Super Resource Guide Dec/Jan 2009) I see a hundred pages of superb, comprehensive information, a reference guide I am certain to keep around for years. You'd have to visit literally thousands of websites to get that amount of good information, and even then you would not get the quality. A complete and total spec list of ALL smartphones with touch screens? Check. A complete and total spec list of ALL PDAs? Check. Reviews and ratings of hundreds of the best software apps? Check. A complete analysis of GPS on Windows Mobile, including product reviews and comprehensive comparison charts? Check. Detailed reviews of the leading and upcoming smartphone platforms? Check. And that is just a small part of it. If a consultant were given the task of compiling the huge wealth of information contained in just one issue of Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine, it'd cost many tens of thousands of dollars, and probably hundreds of thousands. For a company like Microsoft to let such an incredible resource die -- a resource that does nothing but promote Microsoft's mobile embedded platform -- is simply unimaginable. Spending millions on nonsensical commercials and sitting on billions, yet not support real, quality, serious information, it just does not compute. The cost of supporting a resource like Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine that provides real information is absolutely minuscule compared to the billion here, billion there mentality of big business.

Lacking any meaningful support from the Windows Mobile side of things, Thaddeus Computing is now going on to cover the iPhone platform with their new iPhone Life magazine. It'll be an uphill battle as now they'll be dealing with one single hardware and software vendor (Apple), one single service provider (AT&T), and application software vendors who do all of their selling through Apple's App Store, so the impact of print advertising will be less traceable than ever. The iPhone is hugely popular, of course, but neither will people buy another iPhone (they're locked into a 2-year contract) nor can they buy another model (there's only one). The phone companies have historically not supported enthusiast magazines and there is no indication they ever will. They also don't "get it," something at least the Microsoft field people certainly did.

But won't Apple be thrilled to see one of the most respected niche and enthusiast publishers switch allegiance? Likely not, if they even notice. Apple is sitting on its own billions of cash, but I am fairly certain none of it will go to supporting a small magazine that could spread high quality news and real information at an annual cost that's a tiny fraction of the interest on Apple's cash reserves alone. And AT&T, which in the U.S. has a service monopoly on the iPhone? Hah.

So best of luck to the folks at Thaddeus Computing. It's an absolute crying shame to see Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine die, and those in the Windows Mobile industry who let that happen deserve to be accused of colossal, inexcusable shortsightedness. Maybe someone will come to their senses and buy Thaddeus. 25 years of experience and commanding knowledge of the major serious mobile platform in the world AND they know how to compile and present information AND they have all the magazine distribution channels in place AND running them for a year probably costs peanuts? No brainer if you ask me.

Posted by conradb212 at November 21, 2008 03:27 PM