This week Amazon released the Echo Show and it is a fascinating product basically it builds on the Echo by adding video capability. This reminds me a bit of when Microsoft brought out the Zune and ran it against the Apple iPod a decade ago but with a very different dynamic. Back then Apple dominated the market and could argue compellingly that video was stupid largely because you couldn’t then get the rights to it so Zune’s video advantage was muted by the fact it was way too difficult to get video onto the device. Timing and content availability are the big differentiators.
Let’s revisit iPod vs. Zune
The Zune Failure vs. The iPod
One of the sad things about Microsoft Zune was that they tried to create another Xbox like success, they knew what they needed to do, but then Microsoft treated that list of must do things like it was multiple choice. For instance, because the iPod was dominant they knew they had to be able to move playlists seamlessly between the two platforms but didn’t execute and their big competitive advantage, the ability to share music, only worked if both parties had Zunes and that would have meant a more aggressive seeding program than Apple had and they didn’t execute that either. As noted above Microsoft’s Zune did play video but ripping DVDs was far more difficult than ripping CDs and the movie industry fought this practice far more aggressively than the record companies did so this “feature” was largely unused.
So, the problems were that Microsoft was the challenger not the leader, knew what they needed to do but didn’t do it, had a key advantage that needed a scale they couldn’t achieve out of the gate, and one of their biggest features, video, was nearly impossible to get to work.
Echo Show vs. HomePod
Unlike the Microsoft Zune facing a massively more successful iPod, the Echo Show faces a product, the HomePod, that doesn’t even exist in market yet. The Amazon Echo is by far the dominant product in the segment and Amazon actually has a line which includes both an entry level product (The Dot), and a portable product (The Tap) along with the original Echo. While iTunes remains very popular even Apple users often have multiple music services that Amazon’s offerings currently support making it hard to migrate in either direction between the two products which hurts Apple more because, in this instance, they are the challenging vendor.
Like the Zune the Echo Show does video while the Apple HomePod does not, however streaming and downloadable video content is far more accessible and the Echo Show even supports video conferencing and room to room intercom which the HomePod does not.
But, overall, rather than Apple’s market to lose, this is Amazon’s market to lose and they already have more line depth than Apple does, more content than Apple does, and a far more aggressive price than Apple does. What Apple may have a slightly better sound but at around twice the price of the comparable Echo product that doesn’t seem like much of advantage and the Echo Show has decent set of directional speakers which could sound better in places like kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, and offices (though given the Show has a built-in camera you’ll want to be a tad careful on bathroom and bedroom use as starting a video conference by voice accidentally could result in a far too memorable event.
Wrapping Up: Is The Apple HomePod The New Zune?
Certainly, on paper if you don’t take into account the incredibly loyal Apple customer base. Were Apple’s customers more like those from other vendors we’d likely be talking a failed product, but a critical mass of Apple customers buy pretty much anything Apple and that plus the power of iTunes could keep the HomePod from failing. But the HomePod is more at risk because the Echo Show has a far stronger foundation than the Zune did, video is far more available than it was, and the unique connection to shopping and communications which the Show has, but the HomePod lacks, should assure its performance. If there is a downside to the Show it is the always on camera which could become a problem for some of us.
So, I doubt either product will fail but the HomePod, on paper, is far weaker and, strangely enough, it isn’t even really as strong competitive against the Amazon Show as the Zune was against the iPod. This last makes me wonder whether, had Microsoft and Apple’s positions been reversed, whether Apple could have done with the Zune what Microsoft didn’t. If it came down to execution, Jobs clearly out executed Microsoft’s then CEO Balmer so maybe so. Anyway, something to think about as we go through the long weekend.