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I just got flamed by Walt Mossberg

by Brandon on March 21st, 2007

This afternoon I was reading an article about the new Apple TV device written by Walt Mossberg and Katherine Boehret of the Wall Street Journal.

As I was reading it, this line jumped out at me:

But the comparable Xbox costs 50% more than Apple TV, is much larger and stores only half as much material.

50% more? Where did they get 50%? The Apple TV is $299, and the most expensive Xbox 360 is $399. By my admittedly hasty calculation, that appears to be about 30% more, not 50. Curious about the origin of this figure, I clicked the “Email” link at the bottom of the page and politely inquired about it. I concluded my message, “Thus I have to believe the 50% number to be in error. If not, I’d be interested in a clarification of where it came from.”

I also suggested that a comparison between the Apple TV and the equally priced Xbox 360 model might be more appropriate than they had suggested – as the main functionality of the Apple TV doesn’t make use of its 40GB hard drive, making it of questionable advantage with the current software. Surely the Xbox’s ability to play games and DVDs (plus support any resolution including old TVs and the top-end 1080p) could help balance out that largely ethereal advantage.

I received a response within 10 minutes from Mossberg himself, which normally I’d find to be quite impressive. Unfortunately, what I got was an unprofessional flame mail that didn’t address my concern. Instead, it very rudely suggested that I was too uninformed to comment on the Apple TV. He said that if I thought there was an error, it was because I didn’t read the article “carefully” enough. He concluded his message saying, “Next time, READ the article before emailing.”

Perhaps Walt should take his own advice and READ his e-mail before flaming a concerned reader. Even if the error wasn’t in plain sight, his response was uncalled for. Who knows, maybe he’s just having a bad day. That still doesn’t excuse such an unprofessional response from someone of his supposed journalistic integrity. Walt, you need to chill out. Maybe someone needs a vacation?

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26 Comments
  1. lisa permalink

    hilarious. who on earth reads an balding old guy to stay up on technology though?

  2. That will learn you to be polite and email the guy. Did he tell you it came from his Notepad and paper where he did the new math? Us older types still use No. 2 pencils and cyphering paper.

  3. I agree that Apple TV and Xbox aren’t comparable for many of the reasons you cite. They have different design centers and different standard features. But as for pricing, wouldn’t you have to add a remote and wireless networking accessories to the XBox to make it comparable to Apple TV? That puts the pricing into the range that Walt quoted.

    As for the HDD. Dunno why you say Apple TV doesn’t make use of it for its main feature. For folks looking to conserve energy, syncing a computer to Apple TV means that you don’t have to leave your computer on while you use Apple TV featues.

    Sorry you got flamed. Walt was bad today.

  4. “who on earth reads an balding old guy to stay up on technology though?”

    I could think of several examples. Some of those bald guys are pretty smart as well. Although many have the same lame attitude as the one mentioned above most days.

  5. Agreed, someone really needs a holiday. I’m disappointed in Walt over his response, in this ever-changing technology world where what was true 6 months ago may be totally different now, where there are so many channels of information it’s easy to become overloaded – if someone (nicely) points out a possible mistake, you should be thankful.

  6. Larry Sanders permalink

    It’s not news that Walt Mossberg is the highest paid employee in the entire Wall Street Journal, top to bottom. Even more than the editor-in-chief and publisher. And he has incredible power as we all know. Although less so since bloggers have become mainstream.

    It is also not news that he has a galactically, pathologically large ego and can be an insufferably unpleasant, rude person.

  7. Matt (Xbox MVP) permalink

    Michael,

    Yes, you would need to buy an adaptor to make it wireless, but you can hook it up via ethernet, which can be very easy (was for me) to hook everything up. Also, you do not need a remote, but any controller for the 360. Launch consoles came with a small media remote. You can also use any 360 controller, like the wired controller that comes with the 360 Core SKU. So, in reality, outside of running 1 wire for ethernet, you can run media center, or WMP11 media streaming out of the box.

  8. I had a similar run in with Walt when he reviewed the Xbox 360. He made two factual errors and I politely pointed out his mistakes. The first had to deal with the core unable to play games from the old xbox. This is technically not true because you could purchase the HDD for $100 and get this capability. He failed to mention this in the article. The second error dealt with his assertion that you needed windows media center to stream files from your PC. Again, untrue because (at the time) windows media connect allowed the streaming of pictures and music and required only Windows XP. If you wanted video streaming, you needed Windows Media Center. Too bad Walt failed to read the manual as it explicitly states this fact on page 19. His reply:

    1. You cannot run media center extender on a plain XP machine, only on a PC
    with the Media Center edition of XP.

    2. The core system, out of the box, can’t run legacy games, period, just as
    we wrote. The fact that you can add a $100 hard disk doesn’t change that
    fact.

    http://surlyduff.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!3BC45D51EAC8BD2E!511.entry

  9. thx1139 permalink

    Most of his stuff has errors. He seems less a technical guru than a gadget freak. That’s why he’s just not the relevant to me anymore. There are much better sources for unbiased views on technical products.

  10. Amazing. I hope Walt offres a prompt apology. He’s not a bad guy at all.

  11. Brandon,

    You’re not telling the full story. Your email said the Apple TV should be compared to the Core Xbox (which lacks a hard disk) because the Apple TV also merely did streaming and didn’t store media on the hard disk. And then, based on that, you accused me of an error. You wrote the following, which you conveniently left out of your blog post:

    “I would think the Xbox 360 with equivalent functionality would be the Core System, which is priced identically to the Apple TV box ($299). I say equivalent functionality because as far as I’m aware, the Apple TV doesn’t yet store anything on its hard drive, and its primary purpose is to stream data from an iTunes-equipped PC.”

    However, the column made it abundantly clear that the ATV does have a hard disk and does sync material into it, which is why I sent you a snippy email suggesting you read columns first before accusing their authors of error. To repeat: the column made clear that the ATV does indeed store material on its hard disk. It said:

    “You can select one computer to automatically synchronize with the Apple TV. Any song, TV episode, movie or photo you download or otherwise add to that one computer is automatically replicated on the Apple TV’s internal hard disk for playback on your TV. We tested this synchronization function with both a Mac laptop and a Windows Vista desktop, and it worked perfectly on both.”

    As for the price, I said a “comparable” Xbox was 50% more. By “comparable,” I meant an Xbox with a hard disk and Wi-Fi, like ATV has. The model with a hard disk is $399, and the wi-fi requires an added adapter which lists for $100 but which I was assuming could be found if you shopped around for $50. That would bring the price to $449, or 50% more. And I am being kind to the Xbox, since if you paid $100 for the adapter , the price increase would be more than 50%. And the hard disk at that price is half the capacity.

    I am happy to answer questions or defend my positions, but only from people who actually read the whole article first.

  12. Walt,

    I admit that I didn’t consider the fact that the Apple TV can sync media from one local computer to its hard disk when I suggested a comparison to the Xbox 360 Core System. Technically, that does mean the hard drive is used – but I question to what effect. I suppose for a user whose primary machine is a laptop that would be a significant advantage. However, for a user with a desktop PC that’s always on (which I feel is going to be pretty common in their target market), I don’t believe it really matters. If the behavior is the same (I can download media on my PC and play it on my TV), why does the user care whether it’s being stored on a hard drive or simply cached in memory? At the very least, a significant portion of the potential Apple TV customer base isn’t going to care that it has a hard drive… not until Apple starts doing something more with it.

    Just now you only quoted a small section of the e-mail I sent (not even the entire paragraph). However, the point of the e-mail (both the beginning and the end of it) referred to the 50% number. I said quite plainly that I believed this to be in error (as in my mind it misrepresented the cost of the Xbox console), and was interested in how that figure was calculated.

    Your suggestion that it refers to the Xbox 360 premium model plus the cost of a WiFi adapter is perfectly reasonable, and had you politely said so in your e-mail I would have been quite satisfied with that response. Instead you responded rudely, defensively, and didn’t address the question. Furthermore, if you had explained the figure as you just did, I would have suggested that you should include that detail in the article to prevent confusion about the pricing of the products in question.

  13. Brandon,

    We should all be open to questions about our articles, and criticisms, too. But “missing” a key fact like that in an article and then accusing its author of an error because you missed that fact (which affected the pricing calculation hugely) is just plain irresponsible. And irresponsible emails get a different response than responsible ones, especially when I was trying to read the hundreds of them that poured in today on this heavily read column.

    Here’s another sentence you left out of this post: “Thus I have to believe the 50% number to be in error.” You accused me of an error — a very serious charge — because you “missed” a key fact in the column.

    I could even contend that your posts on this are as rude or ruder than my email to you because you still haven’t apologized for accusing me of an error when the only error was your own. I did in fact read your email word for word, though you apparently didn’t accord the same courtesy to my column.

    Nobody has to read my columns, or certainly every word of them — unless those people want to ask a question or accuse me of an error. Those people should read every word carefully, and when it’s obvious that they didn’t, I will continue to react accordingly.

  14. Again, the full paragrah was:

    “However, more concerning is that the 50% number doesn’t even make sense for the most expensive Xbox 360 system, which is priced at $399 (thus a 30% number would make more sense, or you could just be clear and say $399). Thus I have to believe the 50% number to be in error. If not, I’d be interested in a clarification of where it came from.”

    I don’t think that’s an unreasonable inquiry, given the text of your article and the factual pricing data. I still believe the article to be in error, or at best significantly lacking in supporting data for a claim with a non-obvious basis.

  15. Howard The Duck permalink

    Oh Lordy, God forbid someone actually accuse Mr. Mossberg of {gasp} making an error! Horrors!

    He acts like you accused him of kicking the pope in the doodads.

    Hey Mossberg – yeah, the guy made a factual error. Big hairy deal. Your justification for flaming him is just lame. Perhaps (God forbid) an email reply that simply explained why you were correct and he was in error would have been more appropriate. But then again, Mossberg’s an icon, why should he worry about being courteous, or civil.

  16. Walt needs to relax a little.

  17. tim permalink

    Brandon needs to relax.

    He disagrees with what is comparable. It’s pretty obvious from Mossberg’s math that he is specifiying the $399 unit with hard drive. (So anyone can deduce that Mossberg thinks the HD is significant and necessary for comparison.) Where does the other $50 come from? Well, for months the most significant and heralded feature of the AppleTV was the inclusion of 802.11n wireless in the first significant, mainstream consumer device; wireless can be added to the XBox for $50-100 (not 802.11n). So there’s the math. It’s not hard to devolve the pricing of a product with only a handful of configurations.

    Now whether or not you want to claim that wireless and HD are contigent on a comparison is a debatable and personal matter. (Although I agree with Mossberg and find Brandon’s attempts to rationalize them away extremely week.)

    The fact that Brandon, even after understanding this issue, still complains and sees error makes it clear that he wouldn’t have been satisfied with any response from Mossberg. Or rather, and more importantly, the only point he has to hold onto is complaining that Mossberg didn’t treat him nice. Boo hoo. On a day where he is receiving hundreds of emails and questions, he told you to read the story more closely and took the time to respond later on your blog several times. Boo hoo.

  18. There are indeed two sides to this story.
    Both Walt and Brandon display a snippy attitude.

    let’s close the book on this boring discussion.

    I will say however, that Walt was prompt in responding to my email. I mentioned this excahnge to a geek friend, and he said he also had gotten a repsone from Mr Mossberg on an unrealted topic a while back.

    My guess is that quick email response (if any at all) is rare in the so-called MSM.

    Evidently Walt also never sleeps.

    You go, walt.
    And you too Brandon.

  19. tyrax permalink

    Story on digg: http://digg.com/tech_news/I_just_got_flamed_by_Walt_Mossberg
    Mossberg you sir are hilarious.

  20. Steve permalink

    Personally, I think its awful nitpicky of Walt to bash on you for not including the wireless adapter in your “comparable hardware” analysis while simultaneously ignoring the free DVD capabilities, optional HD-DVD support, and, of course, the gaming features of the 360. The 360 also has full media center support, including streaming of Live HD feeds from a Media Center DVR if you have one, something the Apple TV doesn’t have. This doesn’t even include the VoIP chat and messaging system and other social features freely available with Live, and completely ignores that on top of all of that, the Xbox 360 also happens to be the premier gaming console.

    Is the harddrive smaller? Yes. Does iTunes allow you to rent or redownload movies and TV shows you’ve purchased in the past? No. With the Apple TV, you’re stuck at that 40 gig limit – with the 360, I can easily purchase hundreds of gigs of content and redownload it as I see fit instead of needing to worry about keeping storage for my HD purchases – also, less of a worry for the Apple TV since they don’t offer HD purchases.

    The fact of the matter is that the Xbox 360 delivers everything that Apple TV does for a comparable price just looking at its peripheral features.

    That said, Brandon, you were awfully snippy at him, and there’s a good chance he won’t come back after that, which is a shame, because I think in a couple of months, Start++ is something Walt Mossberg would have really liked.

  21. Justin-math pedant permalink

    Brandon, your math and English don’t compute well. Neither does Walt’s, though. These formulas come from my 6th grader’s math book. That’s about the age that I learned to identify the “basis” in a proportions word problem.

    Given:
    costQ= cost of Q, $399+100(wifi adapter)=$499
    costK= cost of K, $299

    Find x:
    Q costs x% more than K: x= (costK-costQ)/costK
    K costs x% less than Q: x= (costK-costQ)/costQ

    XBox360 is x% more than AppleTV: 66%= (499-299)/299
    AppleTV is x% less than XBox360: 40%= (499-299)/499

    You forgot to correctly identify the basis (the denominator) since it seems that you got ~30% via this: (399-299)/399. This is incorrect.

  22. JESSEDZIEDZIC permalink

    That was a frankly fun writing!!

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