When Scoble posted this open letter to Bill Gates I knew that were all about to wittness one almighty shit storm. I tuned into his link blog to watch the debate unfold. I think its really important here to seperate Windows Media Player, the desktop application from the various portable playback devices that may or may not have a cut down version of the Microsoft software installed.
I *think* Robert is talking about getting Microsoft into the player hardware creation business for the most part which is where they need to compete with Apple. You see, while iPod definately dominates in the hardware player market I would guess that they lag behind in the software player slice of the market where virtually every installed base of Windows out there happens to have Media Player installed (even if it isn’t the latest and greatest).
The Hardware Stakes
Microsoft coming out with their own line of player hardware devices would probably shit off vendors like Creative no end, especially since they invested heavily in co-branding some of their latest gizmo’s. So I don’t think going into competition with your partners is the answer, but the fact remains that on their own they really haven’t been able to tackle the dominance of the iPod.
Creative have devices that look very similar to the iPod and have hard drives – so I don’t think it is an issue of style (except for perhaps headphone colour, but that is easy to solve). No, it is just flat out a failure of marketing, Microsoft’s and the hardware vendors.
For the record, I don’t have an iPod, I’ve actually got a Creative MuVo TX (pictured below). I actually got it as a gift from Microsoft’s MVP program, before that I didn’t have a dedicated portable media player, instead I used my SmartPhone or iPAQ to do the job, but the audio quality and battery life on this little jobby is far better.
I actually use it quite a bit when I am on the road because I can comfortably fit it in the palm of my hand in my pocket and control which tracks I listen to without even having to see the LCD display. In fact this would be one distinct advantage of this device over an iPod, from what I am told. The 128MB storage capacity can be a bit limiting sometimes but in all honesty I am usually not away from my laptop long enough for it to be an issue.
The New Marketing Campaign
So what can Microsoft and the hardware player vendors do to take the huge gorilla that the iPod has become? Well, here is where I would start. Run a competition to write in about the scenarios where they use their non-iPod media player. For example, when I got mine I grabbed my remote control plane and went down to the park. It was surreal listening to some of my favorite tunes and watching my plane cut through the air. Now – these scenarios would be come the “up-lifting campaign”, kind of like those Microsoft Inspire ads, I love them.
To reward the submitters you would offer credit at the various stores in the form of gift certificates. Maybe some gift certificates would be enough to get some more storage for their player – for example a 512MB flash disk for my MuVo. You’d need to get vendor buy in for this.
Next, you need to add in a bit of humour, even gutter humour. So here are a couple of comedic scenarios:
- A politician is sitting in parliament during question time. He has his media player plugged in to his ears, but we hear the debate. Carl Franklin had a great slice of audio from the British parliament on his Monday’s podcast. Anyway, at the height of the debate you cut to this old geezer who is listening to this. I’m sure you can pick the best bits
- A guy walks into a rest room, and there is a row of cubicles most of which are populated (you can see the trousers down with shoes poking out underneath the stall wall. Anyway, as the guy sits down all these wonderful sounds can be heard. He puts on his headphones to escape and hears tweeting birds or some crap like that.
I’m sure you could come up with more.
What about the software?
Well, to tell you the truth I think the software is pretty good. Windows Media Player looks slicker and runs faster than it ever did before (for me anyway). You could probably open it up to developers a bit to build extension tabs across the top (the store extensions require central registrations), but what if I wanted a Podcasting tab which did everything that iPodder does now, except integrates seamlessly into the environment.
It would also be neat for tools like NewsGator to be able to use some kind of managed interface to queue downloads of podcasts with WMP so it can handle the downloads of audio and video inclosures. Then of-course, supporting other streaming formats like BitTorrent and Ogg would be a step forward. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like QuickTime or RealPlayer support would be feasible, but you can attack them on another front.
The Big Media Outlets
Why is it that every movie trailer that comes out is in QuickTime format – that needs to be changed. It drives me bananas. I want them in Media Player format – viewing those videos is so important to my wife that she downloaded and installed the latest version of QuickTime. That also meant she ended up with iTunes – thats a pretty big threat!