What the Droid and the Zune Have in Common

Remember back when the iPod was the coolest thing around? The phrase “iPod Killer” is something seemingly every personal media player (PMP) that came out, was at some point, deemed to be.

It turns out, the only thing that ever ended up killing the iPod was the iPhone. One cool, lustful Apple device over another.

But back in the glory days of the PMP, every competitor tried to out-feature and out-spec the iPod as the lack of features was the perceived weakness of the device.

“Hey! The iPod doesn’t have a removable battery or space for a SD card. There’s also no FM radio! Let’s get the boys in engineering on that–stat!”

When it was first released, people figured the Zune was probably over-billed as an iPod killer, but that it would be a successful product in its own right. However, the reason why the Zune turned out nowhere near anything that even resembled an iPod killer is because it’s not about a feature-war. Rather than trying to beat the iPhone by going after its perceived weaknesses–a lack of features, they should have taken the disgusting, slimey, but effective advice of Karl Rove–“Don’t attack your enemy’s weaknesses, attack their strengths.” If you best your competitor’s strengths, all they are left with are the weaknesses.

The reason people loved the iPod (and now the iPhone) was the user experience, not the feature set.

Which brings us to the Droid. Now that the PMP is irrelevant, the Droid is going the Zune route against a different Apple product.

Every review I’ve read says that the two biggest pain points in the Droid are the unusable camera and the dreadful physical keyboard.  I have not had any significant time with the Droid myself, but I ran my thoughts by mobile hardware genius Noah Kravitz of who had extended time to play with his Droid review unit, and he agreed in this respect.

In the “Droid Does” campaign it’s a classic case of going after your enemy’s weakness. It seems that they tacked on a horrid physical keyboard  just so they could say that they have one. And the camera?

“Who cares about the actual quality of the camera, let’s make it five megapixels–two better than the iPhone 3GS!! Then let’s make a commercial about it!”

Everyone says that the Droid is the thinnest slider ever, but imagine how much thinner, more lightweight and sleeker a phone it could have been if it didn’t have a keyboard-in-name-only.

The media player also has been receiving poor marks in every review. This is one of the iPhone’s strengths and should have been one the things they were trying to attack. But this brings up a good point: who is “They?” Motorola? Google? Verizon?

This is the fundamental difference between Apple and  Android (and if we’re assuming Windows Mobile is still relevant, then them too). Apple controls the hardware and the OS it uses, and can tweak the hardware/software mix to (near) perfection. This is why it’s not fair to compare any other phone makers, save for RIM and Palm, to Apple.

This is why we have yet to see a phone that will “kill” the iPhone and why trying to create a killer is futile (unless you are Palm with the Pre or RIM with the *snicker* Storm). This still doesn’t mean that there can’t be great phones that don’t kill the iPhone. From all accounts, the Droid is a great phone–but it could have avoided its two biggest drawbacks if it hadn’t gone down the Zune path and stayed out of the attempted murder business.

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