Make no mistake. Microsoft can do hardware right, and its list of PC hardware innovations and successes is long if imperfect. (CNet has a surface-skimming retrospective that includes the fictional iLoo, a subject of some elaborate toilet humor. It should be noted, though, that MSN TV actually uses RCA-branded hardware.)
There’s also no disputing that there’s room for innovation in the portable media player market, but it sure doesn’t sound as if the company has anything up its sleeve dramatically more compelling than what its partners have developed, or the iPod for that matter. Count me among those who think this will do more to hurt Microsoft’s hardware partners than Apple. And Microsoft would have to cap the alleged reimbursement on songs purchased through iTunes. For heavy iTunes users, such compensation could certainly exceed the price of the player. My colleague is more sanguine.
The best thing Microsoft could do with its player would be to introduce a slew of accessories that no other Playsforsure device has been able to muster because none have reached critical mass — speaker docks, car chargers and integration kits and the like. Microsoft’s hardware partners have been talking about the need for a dock connector to compete with Apple’s for a long time and are apparently working with CEA to make it happen, but such a standard has still not surfaced. Microsoft could jump start that with its own player.
There’s anothing thing it could do that might make a difference — advertise it on television a lot.