18 Aug 2008
Dell is using former Apple executive Tim Bucher to lead a 120 strong crew that will try to form an alliance of Apple's enemies to usurp the king of digital music. This has no chance of succeeding.
What I think everyone, except possibly Amazon, doesn't get is that Apple is succeeding in iTunes/iPod because it makes using digital music easy, not because it is using DRM.
DRM? That is the music industry's decision in audio files. In video, I think Apple would like to keep DRM for rentals but don't think it needs to use it for video purchases. Apple has publicly denounced it and sells music free of DRM where it can. Other MP3 players can play DRM-free AAC music purchased at the iTunes Music Store. Apple's iPod can play DRM free MP3's from all of the major studios from Amazon.
So what is Dell trying to accomplish? According to Businessweek, Dell is using a technology it purchased recently called Zing which enables content that is purchased to be used along many different devices, without a computer. What seems to be the big differentiator is that this service will also allow streaming from a central service DB.
While that does seem like an interesting proposition, I can currently use iTunes wherever I go. It is very easy and very cheap. I don't buy DRM'd media so I don't have any trouble with portability. If music I want isn't available from iTunes or Amazon without DRM, I won't buy it. It is as simple as that. However, for those of us who purchase DRM'd music, you can still put it on your iPhone or iPod and take it with you wherever you go.
Apple is slowly making steps toward the streaming type of functionality as well. An app on the iPod Touch/iPhone was released recently that allows you to stream your music collection from your home computer to your iPod. Apple also recently patented this type of functionality for use in future versions of its devices. As this evolves into online streaming, this would seem to fit best within the MobileMe suite of services....Apple is moving into this area.
In a two horse race, would you pick Dell, with its extremely limited history of consumer software knowledge, former Dell DJ and DellTV flops, and cast away former Apple employee or the Apple iTunes/iPod juggernaut? Add that the 120 person team will be trying to manage input from many different hardware vendors and media companies and it doesn't seem like they have much of a chance at succeeding.
If anything can be learned from recent media plays, the industry should take a look at Amazon. They are moving up the ranks in digital distribution by providing a easy to use, very capable music and video service that works with many different devices, including Apple's. Simple, customer focused and in line with their core competency. The Dell Zing move? Not so much.
Dell and the media companies seem incapable of understanding what exactly customers want and how to deliver it. I can't possibly envisage a scenario where this succeeds.