Call it the Surface Player: Why Microsoft needs an iPod touch competitor
When you think about it, the iPod touch is a big reason why Apple has had so much success with the iPhone. The iPod touch, which doesn't require a data plan, offers an affordable point of entry for iOS that expands the customer base for apps, and in the process makes it even more attractive to developers. Microsoft's biggest challenge is getting Windows Phone to the kind of critical mass where app makers can no longer ignore it; making it easier for people to get their hands on something that runs Windows Phone apps (yeah, they'll need to change the name) would help.
An iPod touch competitor would give consumers a low-risk opportunity to try out Windows Phone without being locked into a two-year service agreement or having to give up their current phone. Having a cheaper and lower risk way to expose people to Windows Phone would at least give them a chance, even if it's initially going to be a very a small one, to convert users from iOS and Android, both of which are now relatively entrenched with reinforcing network effects of users, apps, and devices.
Selling the iPod touch also hooks users into iOS, something which makes it easier to sell them an iPhone later on. Offering a Windows Phone-based iPod touch alternative would arguably give Microsoft a better shot at attracting people who haven't yet bought a smartphone to consider buying a Windows Phone. It's certainly not hard to imagine an aggressively-priced device, especially one properly marketed as being part of the same ecosystem as the Xbox, being an attractive option for young people who are buying iPods because they can't afford data plans, but still want access to apps, games, music, and video. Is it all surprising that kids and teenagers who are buying iPods now are going to be tough to sell Windows Phones to when they get older?
A final note about that name. Just like Apple eventually renamed "iPhone OS" as "iOS", if Microsoft were to do something like this they'd need to come up with a new that could encompass non-phone devices. Andrew Kim proposed using "Surface" as an anchor brand, renaming "Windows Phone as "Surface Phone" to go along with the new Surface tablet, and I could see a non-smartphone device being dubbed the "Surface Player". I know I'd buy one.
Surface it is then! goodbye Metro =(
I think MS used Zune to springboard themselves into a viable mobile OS- windowsphone, but I don't see how they can look back now. Apple was able to use ipods and ipod touches to get lock-in for ios (both users and developers) and later the iphone, but I think that time has passed. Reintroducing something like the Zune would look dumb and get MS mocked even more than when Zune was released, which as you say, was a lot. And to get people to switch, or even forego their first purchase of an ipod touch would take pricing that's not competitively low, but ridiculously low. I think a new Zune would have to be free. If you get a free xbox for buying a new windows laptop, a new Zune would have to come free with the purchase of a mouse or something. At least with a windows phone you can tell yourself "regardless of apps/how well it works, I can always make a call, text, and check the web". Without not good but GREAT app support, there's no compelling reason to buy a Zune 2.0.
With smartphone penetration increasing every day (just the simple numbers as well as folks who upgrade their iphone and then hand their old one down a generation to a current ipod touch son or daughter) , I think MS has to concentrate on getting good hardware with lots of available storage at a very low price. MS could make a much bigger dent in the iphone/ipod touch market by releasing a high capacity (32 or 64GB) windows phone with prepaid. I can't currently get my lady to trade her flip phone and Zune HD (with Zune pass subscription mind you) for a windows phone because the phones available have only 8 or 16GB available and she feels like she's barely scraping by with 32GB.
Instead of spending millions trying to get back into the dwindling portable media player market, MS should concentrate on delivering a quality, high-capacity prepaid phone which will springboard remaining flip-phoners into becoming MS smartphone/ Zune Pass subscribers and eventually into high-end phone and full data plan users.
Also, I don't think Microsoft would look any dumber than when they introduced the Surface (which is not especially dumb, in my opinion).
I'm sure windows phone is as capable of a gaming platform as ios and android, but being a (very happy mind you) windows phone user the last 6 months I think the xbox component has been over-hyped. I played a lot more games when I was on my G2 and had access to the amazon app store.
Don't get me wrong, I love the idea a bringing Zune back to life, I just can't see buying one- and I'm a win7, Zune, windows phone lover, not a person who's going to walk into Best Buy and say "Can I take a look at that Microsoft Ipod over there?"
It seems like a 7" tablet might be the sweet spot for a PMP if XBOX integration is important.
And I'd also add that the issues you raise with what I'm proposing are essentially the same issues that Windows Phone as a whole faces. They need to figure out how to break out the negative feedback loop they're currently in where lack of adoption is feeding into itself. I think figuring out a lower-cost, lower-risk way for people to use a Windows Phone device could be one part of that strategy.
I think the Microsoft device you mention is a non-starter. Not because of the concept, but let's face it Metro has been a big flop. Success is just not around the corner, nor is it on a slow burn. It's just something that hasn't caught on and will not catch on.
I think Microsoft was, at one point, not interested in the traditional mobile gaming market, mostly due to Nintendo's dominance. Hence, no Xbox Portable. Now, with phones/PMPs being as powerful as they are, I see no reason not to launch a Xbox PMP device using Windows Phone OS as its basis. And to that end, market it as a real tie in to Xbox, not the half assed tie in that currently exists in Windows Phone. Start leveraging Microsoft first party titles and exclusives and watch the gamers come. Even better, make it fully compatible with all XBLA titles. A long shot, for sure, but I guy can dream, can't he?
Will Microsoft be able to do the same thing just by introducing a Surface Player? I doubt that... Well because Microsoft does not have an iTunes Store. Apple revolutionised the music industry. Piracy was wiped out to certain extent, at least on the iTunes Store. Besides, I don't really know if people will buy another music player, when there is already one from Apple which has matured to a great extent.
I never could find a great reason for the iPod Touch to exist, outside of the set of people for whom iPhone was a possibility. Like, I always looked at iTouch as the iPhone for kids under 18 who couldn't get a contract, under their name or if their parents couldn't/wouldn't, people who wanted an iPhone but not one on contract or outright, etc. Because basically, an iPod Touch is an iOS PDA without a cell radio, so you have to look at the market for PDAs, which has always been pretty small I think (especially compared to the market for always-connected smartphones).
This has been tried in Android, too, with a couple of low-budget non-phone Android touchscreen devices, as well as the Samsung Galaxy Player. Same basic concept, it's an Android PDA without a cell radio, so it can't be always-connected.
I feel like the market trend for all these things is always going to be TOWARD constant connectivity, never away. I mean, think about the things you normally do with your normal laptop PC; I bet 90% of them require a network connection, be they web browsing, games, whatever. Applications that don't use Internet connectivity are common, perhaps much more common in the business sector, but they're not what MOST people spend MOST of their computer time doing, either.
And the same thing on your smartphone. Ninety percent of the time I'm doing something on my smartphone, that something is using an application that requires a direct connection to the Internet to be functional. I have applications that don't, and I do use them, but they represent only 10-15% of my usage pattern overall; I spend way more time in Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Evernote and the Browser than I do in QuickOffice or Calculator. And I think the everyday user is even worse; I think 99% of the time my wife uses her iPhone 4, she's either reading Facebook in the app or sending & receiving text messages. She has Calculator, Photos, Music, and Calendar, and they are useful and necessary when she needs them, but they represent maybe 10 minutes of her use out of every 8 hours.
If MS does put out some kind of Surface device with no cell radio, I'll personally view it like I have every other non-connected PDA that's come out: as a curiosity, maybe a decent fit for some user somewhere, but not me, and no one I know. So, I'm saying, that seems like a very small, specific market to try and target, and one where Apple is absolutely dominating (Android may beat them on smartphones, but you better believe more iTouches have been sold than Galaxy Players).
(Plus, even if this was a thing that served a huge section of the market, like the smartphone OS choice it would be dictated by number and quality of available apps. Just like you can ask, "What is a computer/smartphone without apps," you have to ask "what is a PDA without apps" (because it really is just a low-power superportable computer). Once you ask that question, you must ask: are there compelling apps available for Windows Phone that are not available for other platforms with this kind of device, which includes Android and iOS, and do those apps pose a sufficient argument for a user to choose Windows Phone over those other OS's when buying a PDA? Of course, I don't think so, but that's me.)
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