Making a Virtue of Necessity
So let’s say that you’re Microsoft, and you’re sitting there watching the iPod become massively popular and strategic for Apple, and you’re thinking to yourself, “Say, maybe we should compete in that space — but how?”
The first thing that’s going to come to your mind is that you’ve already got a nice mobile OS with Windows Mobile, which is the basis of both the PocketPC and Smartphone platforms — and Windows Media Player already exists for Windows Mobile, so except for some front-end UI work, you’ve already got everything you need. But there’s a problem: Windows Mobile is a general-purpose operating system, not a special super-low-level device interface like the iPod’s got. A music player based on Windows Mobile is going to require more power (in every sense of the word) than an iPod, which means it’s going to be bigger, bulkier, and more expensive.
It’s pretty obvious that “like an iPod, only bigger and pricier” isn’t a winning marketing strategy, so what do you do? Well, you take advantage of the platform’s higher-end status and make it do more — it can view photos, it can play videos. Now you’ve got an alternative that, while not exactly compelling, at least serves a niche. It’s bulky, it’s expensive, but it can do more than the iPod. If you got to pick your niche from a blank slate, it’s maybe not the niche you’d have picked, but it’ll do in the circumstances.
This realization comes to me because I picked up a Creative Zen PMC earlier this evening. I have no intention of watching videos on it and don’t plan on storing photos on it, either; I just want a music player, and right now the PMC is the only one that can play WMA Lossless (in which I have all my music stored), and has besides a great interface (the large color screen comes in handy there). There are no other music players that quite do what I want, but it’s still difficult to justify the cost and bulk solely for the excellent music features. Like most of the reviews I’ve seen, I end up thinking that it’s surprisingly nice, works like a champ, but is perhaps just a bit too much unless you actually intend to watch video on it. I may end up returning it, but... well, it is nice, so we’ll see.
On the completely inexplicable front, though, how can you release a powerful portable device with a large color screen and a directional pad and buttons that naturally fall to the thumbs of both hands, and not put some games on it? I’ve never seen a device that looked so much like a Gameboy but couldn’t do an ounce of gaming. Not even solitaire! I can only imagine that they wanted to keep their marketing relentlessly media-focused, and didn’t want to encourage “Xbox Portable” speculations.