Zune, Disney and how Apple should make its own kid-oriented iPod (hint: Disney iPod anyone?)

As an electrical engineer, I am interested in technology. Ok,
I am obsessed with technology. Well ok, even ‘obsessed’ might not be stressing
its overall importance in my life. Let’s just say I like technology. This means
I keep track of certain news coming out of places like Redmond, WA or the Silicon Valley.

One of the more interesting tidbits revolves around
Microsoft’s newest attempt to redefine their status as the world’s largest
software company into the world’s largest technology company. This time around,
it’s the Zune media player – Microsoft’s so-called answer to Apple’s iPod. Essentially,
it is an attempt by Microsoft to capture the market that Apple dominates with
their iPod and its derivatives.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. The Zune isn’t that
great and its current market share shows it. In just its second week of release,
it is the fifth most popular digital media device in the US with a lousy
2.1% of the market (based on units sold). Apple’s iPod, not so surprisingly,
took the overall lead. What is interesting however, is just who Microsoft tied
for fifth with.

Would you guess it was the Walt Disney Co? Considering advertisement,
availability and sheer amount of money Microsoft spent on the Zune vs. Disney’s
offering, I certainly was. After all, what exactly is Disney’s offering?

Disney’s Mix Max Digital Media Player is a kid-oriented media
player with a 2.2 inch color screen and 512 MB of internal memory. It can
handle video, audio, and pictures. It can play Mix Max Clips (SD memory cards
with full-length video on them) or download movies from the internet. It is
aimed at entertaining children and tweens on the go.

To give Disney credit, the Mix Max Clips are a good idea for
two reasons. The first is that it allows for parents or others to purchase the
movies or CDs somewhere other than downloading them from the internet. Second,
it allows for people to share their purchased clips with other Mix Max players
(like their brother or sister). Of course, I still find downloading movies
directly onto the player to be the easiest method, but others might take
advantage of it.

For a price of around $99, the Mix Max player isn’t a bad
deal. For comparison, Apple’s 1GB iPod Shuffle is $79, but doesn’t have a
screen (so only music). Of course, the iPod Shuffle is tiny, so it has a
distinct advantage there.

Ok, so enough about what the product is, let’s look at what
it could be. Disney is definitely targeting the right group with this. Disney
(with its Disney Channel and its Disney Channel Original Movies) heavily
influences the tween market. Just look at how the Hannah Montana soundtrack
debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts, beating out My Chemical Romance. When
you look at the products on the market, Disney is really the only one targeting
this specific age group.

Here is where I could see things getting interesting. The
most successful digital media player is Apple’s iPod. Disney controls the tween
market. Disney also has a wide range of media content. Steve Jobs sits on the
board of Disney… Could a Disney iPod be unreasonable?

Hear me out. Apple has the technology know-how and
consumer-oriented industrial design that makes their iPod so great. Not to
mention iTunes. Disney has the access to the tween crowd and the content to
make it happen. So why not get together and release an iPod specifically aimed
at the tween market?

So what exactly would this Disney iPod be? I imagine it as a
smaller capacity, simplified (if the iPod can be), more child-oriented version
with very specific features aimed directly at children and tweens. Now, without
doing certain studies I don’t know what that features would be, but I know
there is room to improve the iPod for use by children. For instance, higher
durability would be a good place to start. Improved parental controls might be

I see benefits both to Disney (more digital content getting
to the target consumer) and for Apple (earlier exposure to its products).

Of course, this is all in the world of what-if, but its fun
to speculate isn’t it? So tell me, what do you think?