Lead, Follow or Get Out of Microsoft’s Way

Discussion
Jul 07, 2006
Rick Moss

By Rick Moss


The New York Times, citing anonymous sources this week, has tried to confirm rumors about Microsoft developing a hand-held multimedia player to rival the iPod. Word has it that the device, which makes use of Microsoft’s own software platform, may be ready for this year’s holiday season.


As with Apple’s breakthrough product, Microsoft’s digital device will play music and video, and may have at least a temporary edge with advanced features such as wireless connectivity and a superior video screen. Hardware and software design are one side of it, but in its determination to grab a big chunk of their market share, the bigger challenge may be cutting Apple’s lead in content delivery via the iTunes digital download service. Microsoft already has its own music download service called Vista, which, according to Bloomberg, has chipped out about 3 percent of the music download business vs. Apple’s 72 percent. However, Microsoft has reportedly been negotiating with a host of media companies, including EMI, Universal Music Group, Fox, CBS and NBC, and may be introducing an entirely new content strategy.


Of course, while there’s no disguising this full frontal attack on Apple, it looks like more of a side-swipe at some other manufacturers that are supposed to be Microsoft’s customers. Microsoft had convinced the likes of Samsung, Sony and Creative Technology to use its software to power their own new digital devices. While many will doubt Microsoft’s wherewithal to threaten Apple’s dominance, it’s possible that these other industry players could be muscled aside.


Moderator’s Comment: Is Microsoft’s historically successful come-from-behind strategy going to work in the digital music and video download sector, or
are they too late on the scene?


Microsoft has been characterized as the company that gains the high ground by letting the innovators clear the path and then overcoming the smaller players
through strong arm tactics with critical industry partners. But lately, they’re not looking so scary. They’ve thrown down the gauntlet before Google in the search engine/contextual
ad business and are now apparently so intent on capturing Apple’s turf that they risk offending some of their own software clients.


An article on GamesIndustry.biz speculated on the possibility that the Microsoft digital hand-held might also offer video gaming capability, which could
be a big distinction relative to the iPod. However, while undoubtedly able to pull together all the components in one box, what Microsoft may never be able to appropriate is Apple’s
talent for elegant simplicity. Piling on features has been half of Microsoft’s problem (think Office). What would truly be revolutionary would be Microsoft’s designers stealing
the clarity of vision that has driven companies like Apple and Google.
– Rick
Moss – Moderator

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7 Comments on "Lead, Follow or Get Out of Microsoft’s Way"


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Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
14 years 7 months ago

If the iPod is already becoming obsolete, what sense does it make to pursue a similar product?

The future is not in knockoffs, it’s in innovation. iPod was an innovation–and a highly successful one. But I believe the future lies in developing one piece of hardware that will serve as a telephone, digital music player, PDA and for other functions. Kind of a one-stop electronic shop. People are already using the latest technology to download high quality digital music to telephones. Why do they need another “iPod”?

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Microsoft’s music player supposedly won’t require a connection to a person computer, which might be an advantage over the iPod. It depends on how easy and inexpensive the alternative connection is configured. Unless Microsoft’s technology is home-run knockout obviously quantum leap superior to Apple, its product and related services will just be an also-ran. Many Microsoft initiatives are weak copies of the original competitors, so Microsoft’s market share and profitability are modest.

Microsoft has more resources than any other business on earth. Why don’t they use those resources to create something truly unique and hard to do without, instead of spending billions on (1) incremental improvements that are unnecessarily complicated or (2) knocking off other, more focused competitors?

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Microsoft took a big chunk of the gaming market by selling the Xbox at a very low cost (they didn’t even make money on it originally and may not now). Offering a low price piece of music hardware may do the same; however, the iPod alone as a device did not create the success. The iPod in combination with iTunes created the demand. Microsoft’s program only has a small market share. This new device will not be an innovation; it will have to have a very low price to be successful with the rest of the “adopters” and “laggards.” In that process they will be competing against many of their partners which only fuels the fires of the disgruntled. However, if a new innovative device comes along they will be left in the dust with another “also ran.”

Judson Guest
Guest
Judson Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Microsoft does indeed have a pretty good track record of marketing imitations of other innovative companies’ products. They also have a track record of being late in delivering new products when promised. (When did they originally promise to deliver the next version of Windows?)

By the time their product with its innovative features hits the shelves, Apple, Samsung and others will have introduced their next two generations of competitive products. Microsoft may surprise everyone by introducing something truly innovative.

I would neither count them out nor have high expectations.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
14 years 7 months ago

Rumor has it the service will also let you download any song you purchased on iTunes from the MS service for free. Despite that, I’m not sure what percentage of the average iPod music collection came from the iTunes Music Store. Rick’s right that the success of such a service will depend on MS’s ability to create an elegant system, not something they have proven themselves adept at.

It will be interesting to watch how they pitch this “closed but open” ecosystem. If they use “Plays For Sure” technology, then you would expect them to tout the fact that songs purchased from their store play on many devices. But then they need to explain how to get those songs on all those other devices. Loss of elegance. Or they can ignore the other devices. Loss of pseudo-open advantage. Or they can create a truly proprietary system like iTunes/iPod, instantly turning all other players into orphans with second class technology.

Kai Clarke
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Microsoft doesn’t have a successful, come from behind hardware success story. In fact, MS has not been successful with the majority of the hardware they have introduced. Their success has been software. Now, they are trying to come late to a market where it is already becoming commoditized and even Apple is losing ground (despite their “cool” factor). This is too little, too late for MS. They are better-off spending their money on the next version of Vista or Office. MS needs to stay focused on their core competencies.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 7 months ago

I prefer to combine my phone with my PDA, so I use a SmartPhone. SmartPhones use Windows CE or Windows Mobile software platforms. (Another choice is Palm-based combo units, but I prefer the compatibility of Windows CE with my PC.) My Motorola SmartPhone is five years old, and so uses the very oldest Windows CE software. It’s a little clunky sometimes but I like it, and it’s a very small flip-phone unit (not a huge Treo or Blackberry). Microsoft has stuck with the program, improving the software three or four times from my old copy, and I look forward to upgrading.

So, Microsoft stuck its toe in the water with other systems such as game boxes, content downloads, and multimedia players, and I believe they can also be counted on to stay the course in these areas. Does any of us believe that serious competition for iPod is a bad thing for consumers?

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