It's not easy to stand out in the crowded consumer-electronics space these days. What with the Microsoft
What's next? Making its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show this week is the Bushnell Onix 400. The portable system streams XM radio, but also offers GPS functionality as well as localized weather updates.
A bird in hand is worth two in a Bushnell
The Bushnell brand is a household name with outdoor enthusiasts (oxymoronic pairing intended). On the surface, the Onix 400's appeal would seem to be limited to hardcore hikers, geocachers, campers, hunters, and aspiring fly-fishers. Will this really turn XM's fortunes around, especially at the retail level where sales have been off since this summer?
The short answer? Probably not. Portable satellite radio is an urban cowboy. The Onix 400 sure looks sweet, but we're looking at a limited market of consumers willing to pay $499 for its diverse features (before tacking on the monthly subscription charges). Yes, the ability to receive real-time weather information relevant to your actual location instead of by metropolitan city is cool, but you will need hundreds of thousands of adopters -- if not millions -- to move the needle here.
But this isn't really about the Bushnell system. The real takeaway here is the spirit that made it possible. If slapping on an XM or Sirius satellite receiver is cost-effective, what's to stop Apple from making XM iPods or Palm
The art of convergence
Can too much of a good thing be a bad thing? The iPod cell phone was the loudest unrequited rumor of 2006 because it made perfect sense for portable music fans to combine their digital media players and wireless handsets into one single appliance. In reality, it hasn't been a slam dunk.
We already have cell phone makers providing satellite-radio programming, but it's not an easy sell. For instance, XM's deal with Alltel
Here is where it's important to be careful. Orbitcast is calling the Onix 400 "a veritable Swiss army knife of satellite devices," and it won't be long before we are surrounded by these jacks-of-all-trades. However, just as there are gadgets in your trusted Swiss army knife that you have never bothered to use, you don't want XM or Sirius accessibility to go to waste in a larger catch-all contraption.
Yet it will have to come to that for XM and Sirius to stand out in the future. Items like input jacks and Microsoft's new Sync are already fighting for in-dash entertainment respect. This was the space that XM and Sirius figured they had locked up with their exclusive OEM automaker deals. As it turns out, they'll have to play hard as the home team to win over the fans.
So let's hope that XM and Sirius keep thinking creatively in finding ways to score as the away team, too. The Onix 400? It may help you find your way or figure out how cool it's going to get, but let's hope XM uses it as a way to find out where it's going and stay hot on the way there.
Rick recommended XM to Rule Breakers subscribers last year, but the position has since been liquidated. If you want to know why, dive into a 30-day free trial to read all about the decision-making process. Palm and Garmin are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Microsoft is an Inside Value selection. Alltel is a former Income Investor pick.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a Sirius and XM subscriber, but he does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.