Discussion about
peter

July 30th 2012 1:33 pm

Call it the Surface Player: Why Microsoft needs an iPod touch competitor

Maybe I'm only saying this because the Zune HD never got the love it deserved, but Microsoft should come out with a Windows Phone-based competitor to the iPod touch (i.e. a smartphone without the phone part). Why? Because it would help establish Windows Phone as a viable platform. Challenging the iPod touch isn't going to tip the balance for Microsoft all on its own, but having one could make things a little easier (and it probably would not upset Microsoft's OEM partners as much as doing a tablet).

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.

sort by

34 replies
prompt

I like the name Surface but I think people would resonate more with a common, simple name like Metro. Metro Phone, Metro Player. Metro Apps sounds good to me
3 like dislike
peter

I think Metro could work as well, it's just since they're already doing a Surface-branded product it would make sense to extend that.
5 like dislike
prompt

Surface feels to me like it's a new awesome futuristic piece of technology while Metro sounds more pedestrian and everywhere. Going both ways would work well for Microsoft if they streamlined it. I never did like the name Windows Phones and the "Series 7" before it.
2 like dislike
xraydj

If their tablet is "Surface" then shouldn't Kinect be "Space"?
0 like dislike
prompt

www.theverge.com­/2012­/8­/2­/3215039­/microsoft­-metro­-...

Surface it is then! goodbye Metro =(
0 like dislike
Unicron109

I feel like Xbox Player makes more sense because its has strong brand recognition, Xbox Music Service, and a belief that if they do make this gaming should be a heavy priority.
0 like dislike
omgitzrick

MetrOS imo
1 like dislike
smoovebcoffee

I love my Zune HD, but this sounds bananas.

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.
0 like dislike
peter

There's no reason why Microsoft couldn't do both what I describe and what you're suggesting, these aren't mutually exclusive options. iPods continue to feed users into the iPhone and it's still a market that is growing, it's just not growing as quickly as it once did. You're also discounting Windows Phone as a gaming platform, which Microsoft can and should be doing more to promote, especially given the Xbox connection. I definitely agree that they need to have better app support, but unless they find creative ways to grow the userbase it's not going to get there. Getting cheaper devices out there is one piece of the puzzle (and only one piece, they need to do lots of other things, which is my whole point).

Also, I don't think Microsoft would look any dumber than when they introduced the Surface (which is not especially dumb, in my opinion).
0 like dislike
smoovebcoffee

Sure, MS could do anything, but entering a PMP market where the choices are ipod or... raft of commodity me-too players can not be exciting.

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.
0 like dislike
peter

I'd say the Xbox component was overhyped because Microsoft hasn't delivered on games for Windows Phone, and it's something they definitely need to address in Windows Phone 8.

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.
0 like dislike
smoovebcoffee

Agreed. Is there a MS table at GDGT Seattle here in a couple weeks? You give them the business and I'll stand behind you and punctuate with "YEAH! What HE said!"
0 like dislike
Avro

Peter, I have used an iPod Touch for years along with a Nokia Symbian Smartphone (E Series). The reason for this is that Free-Wifi is available pretty much everywhere here in Europe and parts of the Far East where I work. I also need several days battery life as opposed to several hours that an iPhone or Android phone would give.

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.
0 like dislike
tatsumaki

I would be all for this. I really enjoyed the Zune HD, but I have hung it up in favor for whatever phone I'm carrying at the time, mostly due to it just being old and tired. Having a more robust PMP option for my Zune (Xbox Music?) Pass content that didn't tether me to the Zune desktop software would be a dream come true. I enjoy having a dedicated PMP to conserve phone battery life.

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?
0 like dislike
rdavis32

Peter, I agree with the concept. I think many folks got used to the platform and end up making an investment in music / apps / movies that keeps them there. Additionally, you want to have multiple places to start. My first bit of Apple gear was an iPod. For my kids it's been an iTouch. However my kids don't yet have such an extensive library of stuff that they couldn't be switched to another platform. I know that there could be an iPad Mini OR Nexus 7 or ??? in the near future for them. Microsoft needs to be a player in the space to remain relevant in the consumer space.
0 like dislike
omgitzrick

I would definitely buy a Windows/Metro/Surface (I think MetrOS is a cool name, FYI) media player. Not because I need it, but because it would let me play with an alternative system for relatively little money. I think you're spot on.
0 like dislike
hunthenning

What about something with the Xbox brand? Market it as a PS Vita / iPod Touch competitor.
0 like dislike
omgitzrick

PS Vita and iPod Touch aren't even competing in the same race, but if you could kill both with one device that'd be pretty cool.
0 like dislike
hunthenning

Microsoft has already gone on record saying that Windows Phone is their mobile gaming strategy though.
1 like dislike
omgitzrick

Oh, weird, I hadn't heard that. Thanks :)
0 like dislike
kniedenker

Android never needed an ipod touch device - the galaxy player failed. Replicating what Apple did is not the only way of doing things. Bringing Window 8 and Windows phone 8 together to get more Apps seems to be a good way. I like Metro better than Surface as a naming for the OS
0 like dislike
Unicron109

I must say I have been saying this for the longest time. I also don’t understand how they cannot get back into the PMP game if they are serious about their re-launch/branding of Zune as Xbox Music. While they have proven that they have some serious design chops with their hardware division putting out such gems as the Zune HD, Xbox 360 (slim and over look the Red Ring problems), and most recently the Surface tablets, I feel they are biting off quite a bit right now. This is not to say that I wouldn’t love to see Microsoft Hardware make a new PMP, which I would say should go after the gaming market strong. Xbox Music Player, Xbox Player, or some variation of this because Xbox remains one of their strongest selling and recognized brands helping them get more easily recognized. They could focus heavily on gaming and like others have said leverage their strong XBLA catalog to beef up their already great Windows Phone lineup. I feel like Zune could have made a greater impact if it had come out competitively priced against the established iPod and as such any new PMP hardware should take a similar approach. When you look at the fact that the original Xbox was never profitable and how that turned out. Using the Xbox brand and pricing it accordingly Microsoft Hardware could put out a beautiful PMP that used the best of their services Xbox Music Pass, XBLA, and of course Windows Phone 8 OS. Looking at it from another side perhaps they could use their ace in the hole Nokia to design a Windows Phone 8 without the phone. Think of it the great design chops make and obvious beautiful device, plus you add in some Pure View technology, and Nokia Maps and suddenly you have a PMP that replaces your point and shoot camera, GPS, handheld gaming console, and MP3 player. Either way you look at it not having a PMP is hurting Microsoft in the long run because data plans are not cheap and teenagers want their apps, games, and music.
0 like dislike
uday1489

Peter that is very good point that you have brought up. Apple's iPod did appeal to people and the having the same iOS on the iPod did boost the Apps market. People even used it as mini gaming console or may be WiFi browsing. Apple's iPod took the market by breeze.

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.
0 like dislike
savedR

I don't know, I wouldn't, and I'll say why.

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.)
0 like dislike
rdavis32

There's a market for the non-celled stuff and it's kids (or their parents). It would be a great feature for one of the OS's to institute parental controls. The first one to do that will get a bunch of parents looking at it. There's convergence on price for the devices sold for big kids and little kids (look at the Leap Pad). I'd like to buy it once! Or have some future growth. The present iPad is great. I'm waiting to see how / if the iPad mini compares in the space. Competition is a good thing!
1 like dislike
Unicron109

Microsoft has a music service that they are re-launching as Xbox Music I do not see how this will be successful without a dedicated player because battery life and storage is not there yet for someone who is going to listen to music heavily. They also have a well established gaming platform and service with Xbox and Xbox Live that they could push on this device, because again battery life is not there if someone is going to game heavily on their phone. Add to this the possible photo capabilities and GPS with Nokia maps and you have a compelling product. Just look at the Xbox Live user base it is huge they would use this add Xbox smart glass to the mix and its more intriguing. I just can't see taking the time to re-launch Zune as Xbox Music and not have a dedicated PMP.
0 like dislike
Kanogul

I could definitely see getting a Windows media player. Well, to be honest, I've already got an 8GB Zune which I absolutely love. But, as a loyal Xbox user, any Xbox accessibility would be a huge selling point for me. I still have yet to buy a smart phone, so I'm exactly the kind of person Microsoft should be targeting. I agree with peter: give me some great app support and make the Xbox connectivity stand out, and I'm sold!
0 like dislike
ParasValecha

Great points. Windows Phone is a fantastic OS but many have preconcieved notions about it because of the term "Windows" in the name. The Surface/Metro brands would be a great, fresh start.
0 like dislike
xraydj

I love my Zune HD, but I think a iPod Touch-like Surface device would be a tough sell. Why not just pick up an unlocked first gen Windows Phone for <$200? Unless they can get the price down to ~$150, they won't likely be able to sell too many.
0 like dislike
1000sunny

Coming from an ipod touch user, I would love one. We might start to see the OS extended to other devices too (ex. dedicated cameras), like what we are seeing from android. A pmp with windows phone 8 would start to make wifi/voip phones even more common and I luvvvvvv that idea
0 like dislike
fourblades

I feel like if Microsoft kept Zune HD alive with update or revised hardware, it would be a good competitor to the new iPod Nano 7th gen.
0 like dislike
Spartan057

What about calling it the XMP (Xbox Media/Music Player). I feel like if they made a proper connection between XBLA and the Windows App Store on the it and renamed the operating system (e.g. Window Mobile 8) it could probably work. Add a stylish design like the Surface and a decent marketing campaign and it could start snapping at Apple's heels, while also increasing interest in Windows Phones. I don't think that Microsoft could go wrong with a decent PMP running on WP8
0 like dislike
DanNugent

It is hard to imagine Microsoft having the smarts to make another music player. The only thing they care about is selling Windows and office. They are going to limit them selves to surface and phones and they do not seem to understand music at all. Xbox music does not do anything that makes people want to sign up. I am a Zune pass subscriber and I am disappointed.
0 like dislike
callmemac

Surface OS (sOS)
-2 like dislike

This post has been removed.

This post has been removed.