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3/21/2006
03:19 PM
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Microsoft's Going Broader, Google's Going Deeper--And Some Mobile Services May Not Go At All

The possibilities are endless, and I think Google's really onto something here. It's their core business proposition--search--but with a twist. We'll see what the rest of this year brings along these lines; I've got to believe other themed sites aren't long behind.

In my opinion, Google has tipped its hand big-time as to where its next major growth spurt will come from: going deeper into specific market segments. The company has announced an invitation-only soccer site in partnership with Nike, as well as a financial news site with other content providers.

As for Microsoft, it's going full-bore after the consumer space via its deals with telecom providers and its version of IP TV.

On the other side of the spectrum, perhaps, are mobile content providers--meaning anyone who sells tunes and video for cell phones--which may be in for a rude awakening, if recent surveys are correct.More about that later. Back to Google, which is providing soccer-related content, games, and other information with an assist from Nike. Most importantly, the site will serve as a social network for soccer fans to upload their own stories, photos, and really make it into a kind of MySoccerSpace. For its part, Nike will let football (as soccer is known outside the U.S.) fans access its sponsored athletes. The site's name literally speaks to one of its key target audiences; it's from the Portuguese phrase "joga bonito," a Brazilian term meaning "play beautifully."

As interesting and cool as this site seems--and the possibilities of other themed social-networking sites are racing through my mind--perhaps the one with the deeper pockets is the financial information site that Google also recently announced. Unlike Joga.com, it's open to all comers and doesn't require an invitation. It also taps into the powerful baby-boom market for financial services and advice--and who wouldn't want a piece of that pie?

So what's next for Google? I'm thinking perhaps a health-related site, maybe one that caters to eldercare, retirement communities, leisure pastimes for the newly or about-to-be retired set, and so on. And then of course there's the other end of the spectrum--the young adult crowd like my teenage kids who grew up with social networking in their blood and will be entering the workforce at some point (please oh please) and will need all the help they can get.

The possibilities are endless, and I think Google's really onto something here. It's their core business proposition--search--but with a twist. We'll see what the rest of this year brings along these lines; I've got to believe other themed sites aren't long behind.

As for Microsoft, the company has long been a player in the consumer software market. But that's just the tip of the proverbial TV tube compared to what the firm has been up to lately. Deutsche Telekom will use Microsoft's software to deliver television and video on demand over its upgraded Internet Protocol network starting this summer. Significantly, this is Microsoft's 13th such contract, along with AT&T here in the U.S. and Alcatel in France. The company expects that many trial projects will be going into full production mode in the second half of this year.

If this succeeds, Microsoft will be "inside" our television sets. Talk about broadening your base. Because once people get to see Microsoft in that venue, perhaps the company's Origami and other consumer-oriented hardware stands more of a chance than it currently does. (Remember that Microsoft tried to sell its TV set-top boxes for several years, to no real success, before it started landing its contracts with the telecom providers.)

In a world where TV and computer may finally be melded, even 20 years hence, Microsoft is as much a contender as anyone else.

Not in my house, of course. I've already gone on record as saying I would as soon play board games as spend an absolutely asinine $1,000 or more for HDTV. If my old clunker TV can't get there, I don't want to go. To tell the truth, though, the rest of my family feels a bit differently about this issue. My strategy is to stall for a few years and hope the prices fall--or else I might have to teach the dog how to play Scrabble.

Given recent surveys, though, I don't think I'm the only stick-in-the-mud when it comes to high-tech toys. In one, more than a third of North American consumers said they wouldn't pay a premium for extras--including music and video downloads--on their cell phones. Note to global telecom execs who have been banking on this as a way of making money: You might want to figure something else out.

This is on top of another recent survey that found three-fourths of Americans said they weren't interested in watching TV programs or movies on their cell phones, and 69% said they didn't care to listen to music using their cell phones.

To be fair, other reports forecast a huge market for mobile music and other services. One researcher says mobile music, gaming, and video will reach $43 billion worldwide by 2010, up from $5.2 billion in 2004. Perhaps the message here is that the biggest markets will be outside of the U.S. in countries like China, where people spend big bucks on their cell phones and update them often, but haven't yet bought into portable music players to the extent we have here.

Whatever happens, it's going to be fun to watch.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.The possibilities are endless, and I think Google's really onto something here. It's their core business proposition--search--but with a twist. We'll see what the rest of this year brings along these lines; I've got to believe other themed sites aren't long behind.

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