Editorial: Ex-Microsofties, Time to Join the Pod

If your company is currently selling iPod-competitive hardware, the editors of iLounge would like to say a few things to you. First, welcome, and please read on.

Nearly five years have passed since Apple introduced the first-generation iPod – the one from that crazy, 3% market share company everyone knew would never win over mainstream consumers. Since then, a few things have happened. The iPod became popular, and hundreds of competitors have been released, many by companies working with Microsoft under programs such as Windows Media and PlaysForSure. Today, over 120 devices are now PlaysForSure-certified, but none has made a dent in the iPod’s sales: even during a lull in its incredibly aggressive rollout of new iPod models, the company has sold more iPod units than all of its portable competitors put together. There are now between 60 or 70 million iPods out there, and by 2007, the number will be much higher.

So we’d like to make a friendly suggestion to Creative Labs, iRiver, and other iPod rivals, but it’s not the one they’re expecting: you don’t have to quit making portable media hardware. Just follow Philips’ lead and make a few products that are iPod-compatible.

Let’s be frank: the world knows that you guys are talented hardware developers, but most people just aren’t buying what you’re selling in this space, and it’s hurting you. In addition to the costs you’re incurring by developing, advertising, and manufacturing your players, you’re suffering in the public eye. Repeatedly telling the world that you’re ready to beat the iPod, then failing, has left people wondering how much money you’re going to burn before circling the drain. Fighting an uphill battle for this long hasn’t helped your customers, your stock, or your future.

Now one of your biggest partners, Microsoft, has decided to put its resources behind developing yet another iPod killer – sound familiar? – that will apparently pull the rug out from the standards you’ve been working to support for years. Within six months, Microsoft’s marketing dollars are going to stop focusing on PlaysForSure devices and start going towards its own competing Zune products. In the process, analysts believe that the company won’t hurt Apple, but it will hurt its bank account – sizable, but depleting by literally billions with every release from the Zune’s developer, the Xbox team – and you.

Philips saw the writing on the wall back in June. Even though it’s still developing its own music players – it has seven PlaysForSure devices that most people have never heard of – Philips unexpectedly announced that its new speaker system accessories would also be iPod-compatible. This is a win-win situation for Philips, which gets to continue creating and marketing novel products, but without tying them to unpopular devices or formats. It’s no surprise that other iPod hardware competitors, such as Samsung and Toshiba, have made hundreds of millions of dollars providing critical iPod hardware components directly to Apple – memory chips, hard disks, and more. Of course, some of these parts wind up in both iPods and their own devices; you can guess which ones sell better.

Despite all the apparent acrimony between Apple and its numerous rivals, iPod owners still know and respect your brands, and would love to see you competing with the “iPod economy’s” current players in all sorts of categories – iPod-targeted speakers, headphones, car accessories, wireless devices, sports gear, and more. Consider Bose. It opted to join the iPod bandwagon rather than compete with it, and single-handedly released the iPod’s top-selling speaker. We’re pretty sure that a Sony-branded iPod speaker dock would light the world on fire faster than a Sony-branded Walkman speaker dock, and the same goes for once-notable speaker and web camera maker Creative, which could be leveraging its technologies to tens of millions of iPod owners instead of the handfuls of Zen owners. And imagine an iRiver-developed line- and mic-audio recording accessory for 5G iPods. The possibilities are endless.

Readers, what do you think? Would you buy a Creative, iRiver, or Sony-branded accessory for the iPod? Or has the rhetoric and ill will of the last five years discouraged you from buying products from iPod competitors? We look forward to reading your opinions and comments below.

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