Archive for 9th February 2007

The Secret to Failure: Rushing a Zune Phone and Killing the Zune

I consider this rumor bullshit, but I thought I’d cover it for the sake of painting a fuller picture.

According to CrunchGear, Microsoft is going to release a 4G enabled Zune Phone in the next few months. This would make it one of the fastest smart phones on the market and a music playing device.

I call bullshit. This is hype brought to the next level. A respectable site like CrunchGear shouldn’t be making these huge logic jumps to arrive at these conclusions. This is reporting gone awry where someone jumps to a conclusion first and then fills the gaps with whatever they can find.

Their only real evidence is an FCC filing for a “consumer broadband access and networking” device. Realistically, most people would conclude it means Microsoft wants to enter the smart phone market with its own branded device. You know, maybe a smaller Origami or something. Really now.

…pending FCC approval, the specter-like Zune Phone will hit the streets sometime in May, a full month before the iPhone.

They’re going to throw together a device in the next three months?

You have to be kidding me. Even Microsoft isn’t that stupid. They spent five years making Origami. Over a year making a simple music device. And you’re going to tell me they’re going to essentially toss these things together not even six months after they release Zune 1.0? You’re saying that they are ready to stab at all of their mobile handset partners in the back barely a year after they finally gained a significant foothold on the market? Even Microsoft isn’t that stupid.

And then there’s the Zune.

The Zune Phone would seriously undermine the regular Zune if it has the feature CrunchGear mentions:

The Zune Phone remedies this by allowing you to share music not via WiFi, but via WiMax, so that anyone on your friends list who is online can sample your music, and vice versa. By using the mobile WiMax network, you can be in New York and your friend can be in San Jose and you can send him that Shins song you like.

Cool. Okay, so who the fuck want to buy the shitty regular Zune that only works at voice range now when you have to compare its neutered sharing feature to that of its phone counterpart. Come on! It hasn’t even been six months since the Zune was released. Releasing a Zune Phone would bury Microsoft’s ambitions of gaining any significant lower tier market share.

Lastly, it took Apple three years to make the beautiful UI of the iPhone. It is the brain child of years of development on the phone plus the knowledge gleamed from the iPod. Now Microsoft is going to release a Zune-killing Zune Phone when the Zune 1.0 isn’t even polished? They’re going to add a significant amount of new features to the Zune, including dealing with the number-pad issue, and tossing in a browser, and still do it in only six months after the Zune’s initial release?

Apple didn’t rush its iPhone out because it wanted to enter the super-crowded cell phone market with machine guns blazing. If Microsoft enters it with a half-assed rushed phone, it will get slaughtered. Apple has an additional edge due to consumers practically begging for years for an iPhone to be released. That’s the only reason their phone is getting so much attention. Microsoft can’t fight toe-to-toe with Apple on this, especially not with a rushed product.

Besides, their real competitor in the cell phone market isn’t Apple; it’s that other 99% market share that is held tightly by wireless monopolies, proven smart phone manufacturers with an entrenched corporate customer base, and the very partners Microsoft would stab in the back by releasing this phone.

This would be an interesting development, but it’s pure speculative garbage at this point. If Microsoft really did this, it would be a huge, retarded move.

What Does It Take to Beat Google?

VentureBeat, a site that covers venture funding is covering a company called Powerset that is supposedly getting its hands on a new technology that will let it understand contextual meaning in search phrases, something Google has been trying to do for years. A crazy claim is being made that this technology will allow the company to surpass Google someday. Are they nuts? Have they actually sat down and done the numbers?

Even if the technology isn’t PR bullshit, it’s still 10 years too late. How can a yet un-invented technology be too late you ask?

Because searching has become standardized as a keyword game. When the web first started out, people typed in stuff like “where is the airport?” But nowadays, people will type in “airport location”, which works great. People no longer type full sentences into queries, and that’s a good thing. The web is going onto mobile devices at an increasing rate. This means people are even less likely than ever to want to type out an entire sentence or phrase. It’s all about keywords now.

This company and its venture capitalists misunderstands the race. To fight Google, you can’t just have the best results by a small margin; your results have to smash Google’s results into tiny little pieces. And to do that, you first need to index at least 10 billion websites just to catch up to Google, an effort that takes years. To catch Google, you have to also build a sustainable business around supporting the hundreds of thousands of servers required to crawl and store the entire web. You have to convince people that the extra effort of typing more words is worth it even if your index crawls less pages, which increases the likelihood they won’t find what they want.

Had this technology come out in the days of Altavista, this company might be rolling in the green. But to complicate things further, in the era of Google, the race is no longer just about search. Google provides email, chat, calendar, and word processor services. Google has groups, video, and most importantly the largest and best funded online ad and publisher network on the planet.

The biggest reason why this technology is late is because of the time it will take to overcome Google. Even if a company was truly better than Google, it would take it years just to catch up. Microsoft has thrown billions at the search problem and they are actually losing share to Google and Yahoo. Even though nearly every computer in the world have MSN as their default home page, people actually type in “Google.com” and search from there. Google is that entrenched. It’s even in the dictionary now!

And even with the vastly superior search, the new competitor would need to fight Microsoft and Yahoo, both which are companies that own the top two websites in the world. The fact that these two companies have immensely popular portals is one of the big reasons they can still compete with Google.

I’m not saying fighting Google is impossible. But it’s improbable, especially if you are a no-name company. Talking about a yet to be officially announced technology as if it is guaranteeing this unknown company a top spot is just a grab at publicity. Any realistic analysis would show that unseating Google would take billions of dollars in marketing, hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure, and a general assumption that Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft will stand still.

I’d love to see them try. But even if my friend told me, “Michi, I try this cool search engine that understands what you say,” I still wouldn’t switch. In a nut shell, I won’t switch search engines for that 0.1% time where I can’t find what I need. Neither would most people.