New Microsoft Portable Media Center, Why Not Just Use a Laptop?

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Microsoft last week announced that its new consumer targeted device, the Windows CE OS based Portable Media Center (PMC), will become available in August and can be preordered exclusively through Amazon.com.  The question I have, who s going buy these things?  If you have a Pocket PC or an ultra portable notebook you can already accomplish a lot of the things this device offers, plus a whole lot more with a device of similar size.  So why would you ever bother buying something for $500 that has less functionality and can t record TV or download content as a standalone device?

Portable Media Center Overview

First of all, for those of you not familiar with the Windows Portable Media Center OS and family of devices that will hit the stores this August, here s a quick rundown of what a Portable Media Center device does:

Portable Media Centers put all of your favorite video, music, and pictures at your fingertips wherever you are. Take digital entertainment from your PC with you on the go, including recorded TV shows, downloaded videos, home movies, music, and photos. With Windows Mobile software featuring an easy-to-use, familiar Windows Media Center Edition interface, Portable Media Centers let you enjoy immediate access to all of your favorite entertainment anytime, anywhere.

For more info view the Microsoft website: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/devices/portablemediacenter/overview.mspx

And here are the two devices we ll see in August and September:

 

Creative Labs 20 GB Zen Portable Media Center $499.99

 

 

Samsung Yepp YH-999 20 GB Portable Media Center $499.99

 

 

I don t want to start off with a totally negative tone, so just to set things straight, I like innovation and I think it s very interesting what Microsoft is doing here in trying to become the major player in the quest for capturing the media hub market in our homes and providing us with ways to take entertainment on the road.  But I don t think this device will succeed as a standalone product.  As we see things such as phones and PDAs converging, such as with the PalmOne Treo 600 (), I think the lesson we see is that people want device convergence and not divergence.  Converged technology saves money and the toting around of umpteen million devices which might all do what they re designed to do really well of course, but become just too much of a hassle to take everywhere along with everything else.

Reasons why the Portable Media Center will Fail

It s not an iPod killer, or even a replacement

Microsoft is toting the fact that the PMC devices can do everything the extremely successful iPod can do plus a whole lot more.  This is of course true, you cannot watch movies on an iPod and nor can you view images.  With the PMC you can watch movies, listen to music and view images.  But the PMC weighs almost 1lb whereas the iPod mini is 3.6 ounces.  That s almost 3 times the weight.  Why would I want to walk down the street listening to music with a huge bulge in my pocket?  And if I already have a Pocket PC or a SmartPhone device such as the Motorola MPx200 ()or HP iPaq 1940 Pocket PC () which are both much smaller than the PMC, then I can use windows media player on those devices to play music.  Plus the usability and style of an Apple iPod () is much better with its jog-dial and clean-stylish looks.  I think the iPod is as much a marketing success as it is technology success, and I m not a huge Apple fan, but I think Steve Jobs has a very good point when he says the PMC is of no concern to Apple because he doesn t think people want to watch movies on small screens, and PMC is not focused on a passive form of entertainment you can engage in while walking or running, and therefore Apple will not even pursue releasing an iPod that plays video.

Pocket PC Devices can already play movies and more, plus they re smaller and cheaper

Granted we can t fit 20GB of storage onto a Pocket PC device, not even close, in fact the most you can really get is 4GB of storage when using a Pocket PC device that has a CompactFlash (CF) slot as CF storage now supports this 4GB capacity (but it ll cost you $900 or so!).  And yes it is true that the Windows CE based PMC will be very plug and play in that you can just connect it via USB 2.0 to your Windows XP computer and transfer movie files easily.  But notice that the OS for the PMC is Windows CE based, it is part of the Windows Mobile family.  Just look at the PMC homepage url to see this: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/portablemediacenter/default.mspx .  Realize that all those movies or tv shows you might record on your PC could just as easily be played on a Pocket PC device that costs $200 in conjunction with say an SD or CF card with 1 2 GB of storage (  ) that would cost around $200 – $300.  And here s the kicker, a Pocket PC device is more useful because you can use it to, gasp, do work!  It can be used for email, task tracking, scheduling, as a database, taking notes, playing games and all those other things we buy a PDA for.

Laptop Computers can already record TV and play it just fine, and they re portable!

If you have an ultra portable computer such as an IBM X40 then you have a 2.7lb laptop that s got a larger screen and a whole heck of a lot more functionality than a PMC.  You could get a $73 USB 2.0 TV Recorder ( ) for your Windows XP based IBM X40, record your favorite Simpsons episode (such as The Complete Fourth Season !), and then instead of hassling with a USB 2.0 cable and synching it to your $500 PMC player, you could just kind of watch it on the IBM X40.   Not only will the screen be larger, but you can also use your X40 to do work at the same time (the horror).

Too expensive

I don t know about you, but $500 for a device that is without a doubt a luxury and certainly not necessary in life is pricey.  Granted this is an early adopter type of product and we expect to pay more for such a thing due to limited production and distribution, but at the end of the day there isn t any groundbreaking technology incorporated into the PMC that s cost the R&D department sleepless hours staying up and brainstorming.  It s an ARM based processor with an LCD screen and large storage capacity hard drive all slapped together.  Oh, and the OS wasn t written from scratch either, it s Windows CE based and I don t think Microsoft has spent too many man power years rewriting or extending code for this OS.  I d say $350 would be more reasonable and a better price point for such a device.

The PMC has a small screen, but at least it s hi-res .or not!

When I first heard about this device I figured that given the fact the screen would be of similar size to a PDA, the typical PDA screen is about 3.5 diagonal and the PMC is 3.8 diagonal, that the PMC screen would be hi-res to outdo what a Pocket PC device could do.  After all, for such a small screen the hi-res would be needed to fit more on it, who wants to watch the Simpsons and not see what Bart is writing on the chalkboard?  However, to my surprise the resolution on the first generation devices is 320 x 240.  What a joke, the Toshiba e800 has a VGA resolution and 4.0 display and more PDAs are on the way that match this screen resolution and size.  The day I consider a 320 x 240 resolution as hi-res as Microsoft is calling it is the day that already passed 10 years ago.

Who needs and who even has the time to watch movies all the time, everywhere?

So I m confused, Microsoft made this big ad campaign for Pocket PCs a year or two ago in which they promoted the fact if you had a Pocket PC and 12 minutes to spare while standing in line you could blow your time, or you could have downloaded your email and latest stock prices and be reviewing them while in line by using your Pocket PC.  But now they want us to sit on public transit and watch movies, or do they want us to do work?  Well, I ll assume that they re not going to target business users with the PMC so let s let them off the hook here.  But seriously, do any of us really need to be watching TV and movies everywhere?  Who even cares or wants to?  If I m at home and just want to relax or have background noise, then sure I ll turn on the TV or watch a movie.  If I m out or traveling I like to read, do work, or maybe even be engaged with other people and looking at the world around me.  I don t care to do more work and carry more devices so I can fit more TV into my life.  In fact, people work more and more busy now than ever due to higher worker hours and what not, so I really hope that the good people of the world spend more quality time being engaged with family and friends and not an 80GB handheld TV player that gives not opportunity of interacting with others or doing productive work.

But if offers premium content from Major League Baseball!

Microsoft announced that MLB Advanced Media (MLB.com) will make Major League Baseball content, including daily condensed and full games, extended baseball highlights, weekly bloopers and homerun reels, archival footage, and classic moments available as a subscription package or on a pay-per-view basis for download and playback on the PMC.  I visit ESPN.com or watch ESPN Sport Center every other day or so to catch up on my sports, I already pay for cable, I m not interested in paying more for premium content in a small form factor that probably doesn t offer funny commentary like the guys on ESPN do.  And if you drive to work as most people do, when the heck will you watch this, isn t it better to just watch Sport Center in the background while you re getting ready for work, or maybe listen to the radio or read the daily newspaper for daily sports digest and easy to access stats?

Conclusion

So maybe I m just a kill joy and am viewing the new Microsoft PMC device in the wrong way, but at the end of the day my question regarding the release of such a very specific and overpriced device is, why now or why ever would we need this when we have devices such as laptops, PDAs, and Tablet PCs that can do the same things and more in just a slightly different form factor?

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