Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Disappointing Christmas

Howard and the press have been talking about the news that Sirius is warning that retails sales (while still growing) are growing slower than expected. Of course this gives Howard bashers some fresh meat to attack him and gives Howard fresh meat to bash the Howard bashers.

But this one has nothing to do with Howard. Howard has done his job and continues to do his job in bringing his old fans and new fans to Sirius. Five million have followed in less than a year from his switch and Sirius's continuing retail sales now top XM month by month. This is a complete reversal from before Howard moved to satellite.

But Howard can only do so much. Satellite radio is still a very new technology. And there a still bugs to be worked out before it can really take off. Which leads us to the real reason Sirius had to revise it's sales numbers:

The Stiletto.

This device was suppose to be the holy grail for Howard and Sirius fans and drive a ton of sales. Pre-orders were in orbit. But once the product actually came out, things went back to Earth. The reviews have almost all been extremely negative. What should have been the best Christmas gift this season, is dying from bad word of mouth. Sirius really blew a huge chance with some very foolish mistakes.

Now, let me start by saying I bought one, and I use it every day and love it. But there are some serious problems with it that could have easily been avoided or at least should have been mentioned before the buzz turned from positive to negative.

The biggest is the headset. It's just terrible. You simply can't use it. The earphones, as have widely been reviewed, simply hurt your ears just minutes after trying them out. It's a very weird design and I can't understand how it ever got put into production. Even if you are willing to endure the pain in order to get your outdoor fix of Howard, the reception, as widely reported, is terrible too. I live in the heart of Hollywood and the reception goes in an out every fifteen seconds. (Sirius doesn't have a repeater in Los Angeles?)

Also, like all Sirius hardware, the design isn't the best and it feels very chunky in comparison to an iPod. The battery life isn't great. For walking, I've gone back to my pre-recording on my S50 through my home dock and just time shifting. It's a real shame I can't listen live outside. I would not have hurt to dampen expectations on this front until the bugs were worked out.

But one thing that Sirius did do right is the internet connection. It's seamless and I can listen to Howard now inside my home off the internet. (Using my own headphones, which thankfully work.) I've heard complaints about the sound quality, perhaps that's true for music, but for Howard's show it's perfectly fine. Only downside of this, and I assume it for some stupid legal reason, you can't record off the internet. But at least I can now listen live anywhere inside my home or office. Once I get a car connection I think it will be worth the price. Anyhow, I'm not disappointed I bought a Stiletto, but I am disappointed from what I hoped it would be.

Which gets us back to lowering sales expectations. If the Stiletto had been what I hoped for, I would have bought several to give as gifts. But that's not going to happen now. The Stiletto improved in some ways on the S50 but in other ways it didn't. Sirius just simply doesn't have it's hardware up to speed, and it's beta testing products on Howard's devoted fans. There is no doubt in my mind that Sirius will finally make some better products. (And get enough repeaters in Los Angeles!) They'll have to fix the bugs in the stiletto (especially the head phones) but mean while they encouraging Howard fans to wait for them to get their act together.

If they could come up with one really slick new radio, most of Howard's fans would all upgrade immediately and give them as gifts and spread the good word. So don't blame this short glitch in the rise of satellite on Howard. Howard's the greatest salesman in the world. But even he can only do so much with a mediocre product.

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