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Microsoft's Get-iPod Angle


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July 07, 2006

Microsoft's Get-iPod Angle

Peter Burrows

After filing a story yesterday for BWOL on Microsoft's expected launch of its own portable music player and improved music service, I spoke with another source who is well-informed about Microsoft's plans. And what he told me was the first thing I've heard that suggested the software giant might in fact have a promising plan of attack.

In a nutshell, Microsoft will focus on one of Apple's clear vulnerabilities: the relative inability of iTunes and iPod users to discover new music. Sure, you can share iMixes, but most iTunes users for the most part log on to buy songs they already know they want to buy.

The new Microsoft service, and the marketing to back it up, will likely focus on community-oriented capabilities--specifically, the ability for users to wirelessly "see" each others playlists and get a certain number of "free" streams of songs they want to check out. In other words, the WiFi capabilities won't be focused only on letting people satisfy the immediate, urgent immediate need to log on to some wireless digital music service--something that hasn't taken off, despite efforts of carriers such as Verizon and Sprint. Rather, the wireless capability will seek to exploit the most powerful "recommendation engines" around: your friends.

The source says this is the main topic of conversation between Microsoft and the music labels: how many of these free listens should consumers be able to get before they have to fork up some dough. As of now, the labels are far far apart on the answer to this question--just as they were on the question of usage rules for a la carte downloads before Steve Jobs convinced them to agree on how many copies a consumer could make and how many machines they could play it on.

Microsoft is not the only one taking this approach. MusicGremlin just announced a new service that lets users download music wirelessly to compatible portable devices and share songs. Another start-up, ZING, founded by former Apple hardware engineering executive Tim Bucher, just released similar technology. It's hoping to get other music services, retailers or even device makers to license its technology and devices. One feature: This ability to "zing" a song you like to friends.

All told, I'm still dubious about Microsoft's ability to do much damage to Apple's music empire. But targetting this "discovery" angle seems like the right way to go. Indeed, the source says that people who have seen Microsoft's plans say that “You may not be knocked out by the first iteration, but you’ll be knocked out by where they’re going.” Consumers can only hope Apple will be forced to respond.

12:09 PM

Apple and Microsoft

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Monday Odds and Ends from Digital Audio Insider

Businessweek's Byte of the Apple blog has more on Microsoft's music player strategy [Read More]

Tracked on July 10, 2006 11:20 AM

"inability of iTunes and iPod users to discover new music." That statement is not true, or best partially true.

True iTunes only lets me purchase from the iTunes Music Store, but it doesn't stop me from using software to download MP3s, WAVs, or other sound files from other sources. I can then import the files into iTunes and then on to my iPod.

Competition is good and it would drive Apple to take the iTunes/iPod combination to places that would "knock you out" and. Do you think that Apple is just sitting on its dock? They are constantly developing, they play chess and you can bet their next move will probably check what ever move that MicroSoft makes.

Some Steve Jobs quotes are in order:

“You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new.”

“We do not say anything about future products. We work on them in secret, then we announce them.”

Posted by: Perry Clease at July 7, 2006 03:15 PM

MS quandry is that they want to knock it out of the ballpark and show how "brilliant" they can be - the problem is overkill in searching for this pie in the sky solution because they basically announce the intention and then ask the engineers to design to fulfill it - look at the MusicGremlin - yes, ask any consumer they want music on the fly but the reality is spotty wifi reception and with the music gremlin, you can only share songs that you subscribe to - not songs you already own (mp3's). It ALL ENDS UP being in-convenient. It's like HOV lanes - everyone is for it but will people drive around the neigborhood picking up people? No.

plus, you know with MS, the signup will be something idiotic like passport or that verification thing and from other descriptions - if you view ads, you earn points, yaddi, yaddi, yaddi ... MS cannot do anything straightforward. They keep wanting to sell you a monthly package of something.

It will work as well as the Xbox - they spend $400 to sell you a $200 item - BG might not know anything about consumers but he knows when to jump ship.

Posted by: jbelkin at July 7, 2006 08:47 PM

Perry Clease's comment - "True iTunes only lets me purchase from the iTunes Music Store, but it doesn't stop me from using software to download MP3s, WAVs, or other sound files from other sources. I can then import the files into iTunes and then on to my iPod."

That is 100% correct - the iTunes software only interfaces with the iTMS. However, digital music that is sold without DRM (from eMusic, Magnatune, and the like), can be imported into iTunes (just drag the files into the Library). The only digital format that is incompatible with iTunes is the proprietary WMA and Janus-encoded WMA. Un-DRMed WMA can be transcoded automatically in iTunes for Windows (but not iTunes for the Mac).

Posted by: Dreadnought at July 9, 2006 05:10 PM

The problem is AI is really quite stupid and MS AI is particulary stupid.

Have you done a search for an error code in MS's massive database only to get a response.

"IT IS AN ERROR CODE."

Er, thanks. They already offer that feature in in WMP 11 - test it out yourself - not only cannot WMP 11 not find 75% of CD artwork (Billy Joel unrecognized) - it's recommendations are inanane or pointless.

How many of us like one artist but not a si,iliar one? Or the recommendation is so obviously, it's pointless. If you listen to Christina Aguilara, I'll bet it recommends Britney Spears. So, it's a pointless combination of NOT WHAT WE WANT and NOT THAT SMART ... on the other hand, that does sum up Microsoft 2006.

Posted by: jbelkin at July 10, 2006 10:43 PM

What a wonderful way to silently spread worms and viruses.

Posted by: Uncle Rat at July 17, 2006 03:14 PM

What a wonderful way to silently spread worms and viruses.

Posted by: Uncle Rat at July 17, 2006 03:14 PM


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