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Zune’s Success and the MP3 Player Future, Blu-ray Is Sony’s Iraq, Product of the Week

I’ve been looking at the early numbers from the Black Friday sales and — as expected — flat screen TVs are flying off the shelves and you can’t find a Wii at anywhere close to retail price if you can find it at all.

Products that sold through were the Amazon Kindle, the low-end Toshiba HD-DVD player and the 80 GB Zune. I kind of expected the Toshibas would sell well, but was surprised how well the Kindle and Zune did, which had me considering what all of this meant.

We’ve been looking for what will come after the iPod, and the Kindle may in fact be the next big thing (well, the Wii kind of is, but I mean in the personal portable technology space). We’ll talk about that more after I’ve traveled with it — I’m actually becoming rather attached. This week, I’d like to chat about the Zune’s surprising success and speculate a bit on what the perfect next-generation MP3 player may be.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole Blu-ray vs. HD DVD thing, and it occurred to me — primarily because Iraq remains on the news — that Blu-ray is to Sony what Iraq is to the U.S.

Finally, we’ll close with my product of the week, which is a book you can’t actually get on the Kindle yet: Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs, a Parody — a scarily close parody of Steve Jobs, Silicon Valley and CEOs in general.

Zune’s Surprising Success: Looking to the Future

Last year, Zune was my leading example of absolutely clueless Microsoft executives. When they first showed me the hardware and told me of the big push on a wireless implementation (Zune to Zune) that was so stunningly stupid I was almost speechless — if that is possible.

Interestingly enough, a year later, my Zune — which I’ve actually used a lot — still looks brand new while my wife’s Video iPod looks like it has fought three wars and lost all of them. The Zune was actually built like a tank; unfortunately, few of us wanted a tank for an MP3 player.

As I mentioned before Black Friday, Apple had created line conflict between its iPod Touch and iPod Classic. Folks were buying capacity and wanted the new interface, but couldn’t get both in the same product. It looks like the 80 GB Zune II was the big beneficiary.

Were I Bill Gates and still running Microsoft, I’d be tempted to do a reversal of the PC vs. Mac ads, but focused on the Zune if only to make my employees, friends and family happy. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t do that.

In looking at the Kindle and its 3G wireless capability, then looping in the Zune and its wireless sync and Microsoft’s new and wonderful Sync product (Ford only right now, but you have to try it out with an iPod or Zune), the SanDisk Sansa Connect, the Sonos system, and the iPhone, I think you can get an idea of what the future hot product could be.

It should have a pervasive wireless connection used for a combination of music refresh and to get some real-time stuff (how about being able to listen to an event like a Jobs keynote, safety alert, or concert in real time), rich integration with your car (the current iPod stuff generally sucks), rich integration with your in-home music systems (if you haven’t tried a Sonos system, you should) and a level of personalization. If we were to look at what Google and Amazon are doing, you’d add the ability to present offers and get advertising based subsidies to this mix along with some confidential customer profiling to ensure a match between the media and the customer.

It will probably take a couple of years for this to build out, but watch companies like HP and Dell closely. HP is still pissed that Apple tricked it out of this market; and Dell bought Zing for a reason.

Blu-ray Is Sony’s Iraq

As expected, HD DVD sold very well and continues to show very good numbers during the holiday buying season. In looking back at the amount of pain this thing has caused Sony, I couldn’t help but compare it to the U.S. and Iraq.

Think about it — if Donald Rumsfeld, then the Secretary of Defense, had gone to George Bush and said, “Hey, we need to invade Iraq and the result will be I’ll lose my job, most of the generals and advisers you currently have will resign or lose their jobs, you’ll kill more U.S. soldiers than any president in near-term U.S. history, you’ll lose Congress to the Democrats, you’ll almost assure Hillary Clinton will be your successor, you’ll restart the Cold War, you’ll devalue the U.S. dollar to the lowest level in recent history, you’ll go down in history as probably the dumbest U.S. president ever, and you’ll be locked into an incredibly expensive battle you won’t either be able to leave or win,” you’d have to believe that George would have said, “No.”

And not just “no,” but “hell no, no way, nopers, negatory, not doing it, get the hell out of my office and don’t come back.”

Now look at Blu-ray. Since bringing it out, Sony has trashed its PlayStation division, had to downsize a number of top executives including the guy that was credited with creating the PlayStation’s success in the first place. The company’s financial performance has largely dropped into the toilet and it has had to sell off parts of the company to Toshiba, the company behind the other format. Key studios have abandoned it, some of which have gaming properties that probably now won’t go to PlayStation. Sony has nearly assured that whatever country gets the next media format, it won’t be Japan and probably will be China, it will be constantly reminded of the Betamax mistake, Nintendo is No. 1 in the gaming segment, and it’ll be locked into a battle it can neither win nor exit from. You’d have to believe that the guy making the proposal would be chased by ninjas out of the office and his ending wouldn’t have been a good one.

Oh, and one other similarity: If you point out that the Iraq war was brain-dead stupid, you are seen as a terrorist sympathizer; if you point out that Blu-ray was brain-dead stupid, you are portrayed as being on Toshiba or Microsoft’s payroll. I still don’t get the Microsoft thing, since neither it nor Intel seems to care that much one way or the other now, and both are focused more on downloads. It gives me a lot of empathy for the kid in the “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”[Editor’s Note: Read someLetters to the Editor in response to Enderle’s viewpoint.]

Product of the Week: Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs, a Parody

A lot of us travel this time of year to visit family. This means we are likely spending lots of time in and around airports, bored to tears and looking for something fun and easy to read. One of the most fascinating books I’ve had the opportunity to read is this Options book by Dan Lyons, the guy who wrote the “Secret Diary of Steve Jobs”blog that became aguilty pleasure in and of itself for so many of us.

He takes a series of events that happened, are rumored to have happened and that he made up, and weaves them into a book that probably says more about some of the wealthiest people you’ll never meet than any authorized or unauthorized biography. He captures a surprising amount of the personalities of these folks and lets you see them as others who are close to them probably see them, and when he is done you can’t help but be glad you aren’t either them or close to them.

I remember years ago shaking my head at the very real antics of folks who have lots of money but remain human and aren’t that concerned about the repercussions of what they do (one CEO used to chase pizza delivery boys in a restored Sherman Tank). In the end you’ll look at these folks less as demigods and more as folks who put on their shoes one at a time and occasionally get them on the wrong feet and then use their authority to fire anyone who points this out.

If you like Dilbert, you’ll love this book. In the end it is mostly a fun romp though some of the stuff we in technology chuckle about quietly on a regular basis, but it can also make you think about what is important and it isn’t money and power. Great book, even though I couldn’t get it on the Kindle, and it’s my product of the week for the first week in December.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


  • I can’t help but say this guy is looking at one or two of the facts, and fails to see the rest of them. The number of players Toshiba announced did not jump as high as they want people to beleive, because they themselves admit that number NOW includes the XBOX 360 HD DVD add-on when the previous numbers did not. On the other hand, Blu-ray has sold 72.6% of the HD movies last week, and has yet to loose a week to HD DVD in sales this year. More titles for BD, more studios for BD, more manufacturers for BD, and more titles coming out soon on BD.
    I know little to nothing about the Zune, since I just avoid it. But I know a lot about the HD format war. Your "summary" of the recent events is completely one-sided and does not present the facts as they should be. You are clearly biased toward HD DVD since you have not even been giving BD a chance. I must also say that although Toshiba is the ONLY major manufacturer of HD DVD players, Sony is NOT the only major manufacturer of BD players.

    • This isn’t about the format war, this is about making bad decisions. The cost of this war to Sony is excessive and they can’t exit even if they wanted to. It may yet cost the CEO his job, that’s the speculation in my circles anyway.

      Chances are both formats will lose since neither can gain a large enough lead and since Blu-Ray can’t hit the magic $200 price point it is only a spoiler keeping folks from buying more of the other format.

      As I point out, if the Sony folks had known the cost in jobs and cash of this war they would have avoided it (certainly the ones fired would have avoided it).

      The point here is not who wins, odds still are both lose, the point here is avoiding losing decisions in the first place and doing your homework before decisions are made.

      I don’t know about you, but this year in particular, I’m kind of tired of pointless wars you can’t get out of and could very happy never seeing another one.

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