4. Be Less Paranoid about Sharing
But for Wi-Fi sharing to work, Microsoft would need to work out compromises with content producers that lighten digital rights management (DRM) restrictions that it and other companies place today on most commercial digital content. Songs purchased at MSN Music, for example, can be transferred to CD or portable players and played on up to five “authorized” PCs owned by the customer, but won’t play on friends’ computers. Apple’s own FairPlay DRM system also places tight restrictions on sharing, but does allow songs from one customer’s iTunes library to be streamed to other computers on the same local-area network.
Microsoft has almost a decade of experience with DRM technologies, and longstanding relationships with music, TV, and movie industries. It should be able to convince content producers that sharing doesn’t always equal piracy, and negotiate rights that allow sharing but also make it easy for the recipients of shared files to buy their own copies, if they want to listen or watch again. According to the Times, the terms of the rights needed to enable the wireless streaming function “had yet to be worked out.”
5. Reach Out to Podcasters and Vodcasters
Right alongside the commercial songs and TV shows on many people’s iPods are gigabytes of free content, including podcasts and vodcasts (video-on-demand-casts). And making and listening to amateur podcasts isn’t the geek pastime it once was: already, the free-podcast section of iTunes has celebrated its first birthday. It would serve Microsoft well to engage the community of podcast producers and listeners from the beginning.
For example, the company could solicit podcasters’ suggestions about new features that might make the MiPod and the Microsoft music store more hospitable for user-contributed content. It could involve them in beta tests of the hardware and software. It could tailor DRM technology for producers who prefer using Creative Commons licenses and other forms of “copyleft” to the standard system of copyrights. Courting podcasters with real attention and real improvements on existing media player technology would virtually guarantee positive buzz when the MiPod hits the market.
6. Integrate Broadcast Radio and TV Programming
Time-shifting – consuming broadcast content at your own convenience, rather than the networks’ – is as old as the VCR. Devices like the TiVo digital video recorder have updated time-shifting for the digital age. But it’s still a forbidding, multi-step process to capture live radio or television for later consumption on a portable player.
iTunes includes a directory of hundreds of Internet sites that stream live radio – but no recording capability. For that, users must turn to software such as ReplayRadio or PC accessories such as Griffin Technologies’ Radio Shark, which turn Internet radio broadcasts into MP3 files that can then be transferred to a portable player. TiVo offers a system that transfers recorded shows from a TiVo DVR to a computer, where they can then be converted and compressed into a format that’s viewable on a video iPod. But while the system is dubbed “Tivo To Go,” it’s hardly as simple as getting take-away food.
Taking radio and TV with you on your portable player shouldn’t be for geeks only. Microsoft could get a leg up on Apple by making the MiPod into a true Tivo To Go. The Media Center version of Windows XP already includes a DVR capability for customers who install a TV-tuner card in their PCs. Why not build this capability into all versions of Windows Vista, and build in a compression utility that can automatically prepare the files for a MiPod?