By Greg Mills
A non-announcement from Microsoft, sort of a "no comment confirmation" has the Zune going the way of the dodo bird. Ironically, many in the press blame Apple's iPod for killing the Zune. I submit that iPod was there first and that the ill conceived clone that was Zune was inferior and doomed to fail in the market place from day one.
The lesson Microsoft has yet to learn is that while you can copy revolutionary products, there is no guarantee such cloned products will succeed in the market place. It wasn't that Zune was so inferior in its hardware, it was the lack of the magic that Apple put into the entire iPod experience that doomed it. I asked my 11-year-old daughter if she preferred an iPod or a Zune and her answer was, "Daddy, what's a Zune?"
Having the cash flow to make massive mistakes in tactical direction, but being able to survive over 12 years of shiftless management due to the lucrative Windows OS franchise, Microsoft has repeatedly floundered badly. I think the "launched and quickly canceled" Kin phone is sort of the Zune principal in action.
As I have mused in past posts, it takes an entire infrastructure to make the Apple iOS device magic happen. Good hardware, good software and a well stocked digital store are all required. Fire requires heat, air and combustable material to ignite; the lack of any element prevents combustion. The iOS magic has great hardware, great software and a well stocked music and app store.
One could argue that Microsoft got one or two elements of Zune close to right, but struck out with the inconsistent store element of the platform infrastructure. The reality is that Microsoft never caught up with Apple in the digital download business and still hasn't gotten it right. The tiny app store for the Windows 7 phone platform is facing the same problem. Getting developers on board has been hard due to the competition that now goes beyond just Apple and includes Google's Android platform. Is there room for three major smartphone platforms? Nokia sure hopes so and has bet the farm on Windows 7, a wager a lot of Nokia stock holders won't join.
Should Apple find some satisfaction in its patent infringement suits against all the Android handset companies, Microsoft may find enough traction in the coming market void to repeat the coup that Windows OS for the PC enjoyed. Google's Android OS release followed Apple's iOS closely enough that the patents Apple had filed hadn't yet been made public. Basic patents for touch screen gestures and the logical OS features of the Apple iOS that have been granted may turn out to the be Waterloo for Android.
If there are basic elements of Android handsets that Apple can prove are infringements on its patents, Google may have suddenly have big problems in its smartphone business. Damages and injunctions from Federal Courts to stop selling Android handsets would cripple that platform quickly. It may turn out the copycats at Microsoft stuck their foot into the infringement trap as well.
Steve Jobs, on the day he launched the iPhone, stated that Apple had patented iPhone technology carefully and completely and that Apple would defend its technology vigorously in court. After the bad experience Apple had in court trying to stop Microsoft from stealing the Mac OS blind some years back, it is probably a good idea to think they are better prepared this time around.
Federal Courts are a lot like glaciers. They move very slowly, but they do move downhill and grind down obstacles very finely. Apple has a lot of technology claimed in its patent portfolio and backs it up with over 50 billion dollars in the bank. Plus, they have a lot of very skilled attorneys just chomping at the bit to attack infringers. The Federal lawsuits have already been filed and will hit the fan soon.
Then comes the iPad. I figure Apple now has an 18-month head start at this point and continues to innovate. Samsung may be planning to sell its Galaxy Tab at break-even or even a slight loss, just to stay in the game. The way I hear it the Android OS on a tablet is sort of like a Windows PC in that it crashes all the time.
I never will forget the disbelief a customer of mine showed when I told him I hadn't rebooted my MacBook Pro for six weeks. He had done everything right, and his PC crashed on him at least twice a day. I will have to admit that just about every time I have had a Mac crash, is was running a Microsoft program such as Word. I refer to that happening as a "Microsoft moment." I just scanned my dock and realized I am running nothing from Microsoft any more. My app file on my MacBook Pro only had the Silverlight video codec on it.
What we do know about the iPad competition is that all Apple's competitors have bought iPad 2s and are eagerly reverse engineering it. What Apple makes appear deceptively easy isn't easy at all. The elegance of the minimal design and slick, logical customer experience is hard to match and impossible to beat in any significant way. As Bill Gates once famously said, "Companies that fail to obsolete their own products are doomed to see the competition do it."
That's Greg's Bite for today.
(Greg Mills is currently a graphic and Faux Wall Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. Greg is an Extra Class Ham Radio Operator, AB6SF, iOS developer and web site designer. He's also working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process for turning waste dual pane glass window units into thermal solar panels used to heat water see: www.CottageIndustySolar.com Married, with one daughter, Greg writes for intellectual property web sites and on Mac/Tech related issues. See Greg's art web site at http://www.gregmills.info He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)