A couple of days ago Microsoft officially entered the portable media player marketplace. I’m surprised and impressed with their entry. Microsoft has launched the Zune, an iPod-like device with an innovation that marketing technology professionals should watch closely.
The feature that I find so exciting is its ability to do something that Palm users would refer to as “beaming.” What’s that? Here’s a scenario, overheard from the floor of some idealized trade show, where beaming could occur, maybe:
“Good to meet you, Mr. Jones. Say! I see you have a Palm organizer as well. Why don’t we point them at each other and beam each other our business cards?”
This was always far better in theory than in practice. It required these two people to both possess all of these things:
- A Palm-based device
- A properly configured “business card” entry in their Contacts list
- An infrared or Bluetooth port that’s switched on
- The habit of exchanging electronic cards in this manner
- And let’s not forget a thick skin for public ridicule, since you’ve now told the world that you’re a geek
As for the all-important #4, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say no one has ever developed such a habit anywhere outside of the fevered dreams Palm executives.
And it’s not technology holding us back. It’s a shift in paradigm and a habit that is best fostered when you’re far away from business associates.
So beaming is mostly dead. But Microsoft, of all companies, may help it become downright hip. They may be on the verge of training us to use a new marketing medium by making exchanging songs a social experience.
Bear with me a moment: What if your organizer was also your phone, and it also played music files, and instead of capturing a salesperson’s contact information on a tradeshow floor, you were getting far more valuable information. The information would include this person’s name and other facts, but it would also contain, say, a brief audio narrative about the product you’re viewing on the tradeshow floor, or some lavishly produced piece of audio branding. Perhaps it would even give you an offer that would drive you back to a web site when you return to the office.
If the place you’re in is an art gallery or pre-auction exhibit, this locally-shared podcast would describe the items up for sale or bid. It could even provide narratives on the people across the table from you, who you’re about to meet at a singles “speed-dating” event. The applications for “local-casts” are many and promising. And because we’ll already be listening to our portable device for our musical entertainment during our commute or workout at the gym, there will be no stigma associated with this new type of Bluetooth beaming.
This would require a paradigm shift. But it’s not as big or remote as you might think. And for those who say this won’t work because the Zune is not a cell phone, I only need to remind you that Bill Gates and others in Microsoft are themselves predicting that we will someday be listening to our downloaded music on our phones. At the product launch, Microsoft executives were telling reporters that a Zune phone is already part of the company’s plans for the product line.
As James L. McQuivey, a Boston University technology expert put it, “The fun has just begun.” So have the business possibilities.