The promise of corporate conflict might make for good headlines, but more often than not the showdowns promised are about as dramatic as the 3rd grade spring pageant. That's the case with this week's latest Silicon Valley throwdown, the mobile phone and music news regarding Apple
The story is that Motorola
Is this really another Microsoft-Apple showdown on the digital music frontier? Please. It's more like a five-man cage match with all the handset makers brawling among themselves. The undisputed champ, Apple, stands nearby, able to lay down a first-class beating any time it wants, and Microsoft -- well it just collects ticket money on the sidelines.
Allow me to explain.
The new news here is that there will be an increasing number of phones and providers that will allow Windows-formatted music downloads over the wireless network, as well as from a linked home PC. Wireless providers hope that this will make music phones more attractive, but at double the price ($1.99 per tune, from what I've seen), I'll need to see it before I believe it.
But even this isn't much of a scoop. Nokia
As far as the Motorola-Microsoft relationship goes, keep in mind that Motorola has been making phones with Windows Mobile OS for a while, such as the i930, available from Sprint Nextel
In fact, phones capable of playing music files have been around for a while. These include past Palm OS offerings from Palm
This is part of Microsoft's strategy, which I liken to an oil blot that sort of oozes across the landscape until it's pretty much everywhere. By providing just the underlying OS for portables, and the file format, Microsoft hopes to spread into these markets, irrespective of the eventual winners on the provider and hardware level.
The wild card here is consumer preference. So far, these converged devices don't seem to be flying off the shelves -- at least not compared to the iPod. The fussier interface inherent in phone designs like the Motorola ROKR has already proven to be an also-ran, and I really doubt that the even funkier interfaces necessitated by the program-within-OS model can compete.
That will mean a tough road for handset makers and service providers. By situating their businesses outside this scrap, Apple and Microsoft are positioned to do just fine either way.
Seth Jayson is holding out for the next generation of converged devices. At the time of publication, he had shares of Microsoft, but no positions in any other company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.