Microsoft and MP3 Players

An article in the WSJ yesterday looked at Microsoft’s new focus on hardware with the introduction of the Xbox 360.  Some speculation of a Microsoft MP3 player (which I giuess would technically be a WMA player) was also mentioned, as the quest for an iPod killer continues.

I’m not sure MS should get into the iPod killing biz.  Let Rio, Dell, etc. duke that out, because I doubt a single device will do it.  Apple’s hit on something with its design, which appeals to a lot of people.  The other players are different in some areas by necessity–size, capacity, controls, and the appeal is to a smaller crowd not happy with the iPod features.  What Microsoft could/should do, is get all the different manufacturers together, and get everyone to standardize on a single connection.  That’s the true key to unseating the iPod.

For the past several generations of iPods, Apple has used the same “dock connector”.  Millions upon millions of iPods all connect to computers, car audio systems, FM transmitters, chargers, portable stereos, etc. using the same connection.  For the other players in the market, everyone has a different connector.  My car charger will work with my 15GB 3G iPod just the same as my wife’s Nano.  With iPods, reaching a small percentage of users means sales of several hundred thousand to a few million units; for everyone else, a few thousand tops.  If I’m Griffin or Pioneer, I’m pretty much going to ignore everyone but iPods, since that’s where the sales are.  But if Rio, Dell, etc. all had the same interface, accessory makers could market to all of them at once, and build the “not iPod” community as well.  BMW has an iPod connector, and Honda and others are working on them as well.  Imagine what that says to people looking at the devices–tremendous support across industries for the iPod, zilch for the others.  I spend a lot of time in my car, and my next one will have an iPod connector.  The others don’t stand a chance without standardization.

Microsoft did a great job with hardware standardization in the PC world.  How about the audio player world?  After that, get on the cell phone manufacturers.