Microsoft goes it alone in latest battle with iTunes
Microsoft has been demonstrating a new digital music service to music industry executives, according to the New York Post. The service, which includes a digital player and online store, would be Microsoft's latest attempt to compete with Apple's iPod and iTunes - a course of action that the Seattle company abandoned last Autumn. Since then Microsoft has partnered with MTV to launch MTV's Urge service, but this latest move is a reversal of the policy of partnering with other technology companies rather than going it alone.
It seems that Microsoft has chosen to go head-to-head with Apple. That means songs available on an individual download basis rather than a monthly subscription (although both will probably be available). It doubtless means an integrated media player and store that sit on a PC as an application like iTunes, rather than a web service like MSN music.
As I've said before, to have any chance of competing with Apple, Microsoft as a minimum will have to offer four components: a great range of titles, attractive pricing, ease of purchase and ease of consumption. If the combined player, software and store don't do that from day one, the service has no chance of survival.
But even if it Microsoft does tick all of these boxes, the new service will need something else to chip away at Apple's brand strength. One area that Microsoft could look at is to add a few brilliant collaborative web 2.0 features to its offering - to make it easier for users to find and share music. It'll need a massive marketing budget and some inspired marketing, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a few dirty tricks either. There have been a lot of reports in the press recently about the unreliability of iPods and Apple's hard-nosed refusal to do anything for customers whose iPods have stopped working after the one year warranty has run out. I'd expect these reports to resurface when Microsoft is ready to launch.
The NYP quotes one source as saying "This is like Xbox versus PlayStation." Microsoft has shown with Xbox that it can give Sony a run for its money even if it isn't the market leader. I suspect that Microsoft executives would be delighted if they could achieve 2nd place in this venture.