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June 1, 2006

Microsoft joins Japanese iPod-killer alliance

Posted by David Hunter at 7:12 PM ET.

Tony Smith at The Register:

It’s almost like MSX all over again. Microsoft, Toshiba, JVC, NTT DoCoMo, Creative, iRiver and three other firms have banded together in a bid to prevent Apple’s iPod from completely dominating the Japanese portable music player market.

The nine companies yesterday said they would co-operate to promote Windows Media-based music and video services in a programme not unlike the Plays For Sure scheme Microsoft launched in 2004. The firms will all stress how compatible their respective software, devices and services are and how well they all work with Windows PCs.

(MSX reference explained here.)

It’s yet another group of hardware vendors using Microsoft’s Windows Media in an attempt to crash Apple’s party. There may be a better chance of success here due to the unique Japanese target market. Stan Beer at ITWire:

It is believed that Japan is the perfect market to launch the MP3 player which, given the inclusion of NTT DoCoMo will probably come in the form of a mobile phone. Japanese are avid mobile web surfers.

Anyone developing an MP3 at present would be foolish not to develop it as part of an integrated mobile phone device as mobile downloads are becoming more commonplace. Apple is known to be working on its own version of an iPod phone.

The move by Microsoft appears to be a smart one. With so many Japanese companies involved in the consortium, take up of the new player in the consumer technology hungry Japanese market stands a good chance of success.

The mobile phone form factor isn’t a given (or perhaps not the only one), but Steve Ballmer was touting just that back in March.

I’d be more excited if we hadn’t seen the same scenario before: Microsoft teams up with a variety of hardware vendors and the goods gather dust on the shelf, while Apple goes to the bank. There are still some punters who think that Microsoft’s Xbox crew are secretly working on an all-Microsoft handheld device, but I’m not holding my breath at this stage.

Update 6/3: Bary Alyssa Johnson reports at PC Magazine that this is less than it appears:

Microsoft reps have denied recent rumors alleging that it has partnered with a number of Japanese consumer electronics companies to develop a device to compete in Japan with Apple’s iPod.

“The announcement that came out of Japan this week was simply about the Japanese launch of Windows Media Player 11,” said a Microsoft representative who asked not to be named. “Due to translation issues the announcement was misconstrued to sound like Microsoft was developing a rival to the iPod; that’s just not the case.”

According to Microsoft, the press release (which is in Japanese) actually states that Microsoft announced availability for its new WMP 11 in the Japanese market. The companies listed in the release are companies that Microsoft has partnered with in Japan to ensure a good user experience. These companies have all agreed to support Windows Digital Rights Management 10 for portable devices.

“The companies listed in the Japanese release are device partners,” the representative said. “For example, in the U.S. one of our device partners is iRiver. We’ve partnered closely with them to ensure that their Clix [media player] device runs WMP 11 technology.”

So while there is no formal alliance, it is business as usual with Microsoft providing Media Player to hardware vendors trying to dent Apple’s share.

Filed under Apple, Coopetition, Creative, Hardware, Media Player, Microsoft, New Form Factors, Technologies, Toshiba, iriver

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