• Explore the magic and the mystery!
  • The Tech Night Owl's Home Page
  • Namecheap.com





  • Is Microsoft Dooming the Zune?

    October 3rd, 2007

    With extremely limited fanfare, Microsoft this week confirmed analyst predictions and introduced the second generation Zune players, which sport basic specs and pricing similar to the iPod.

    Now when Apple introduces a new product these days, except for minor revisions to existing models, such as Macs, there’s a huge amount of anticipation that may go on for weeks or months before the truth is actually revealed. Apple seldom does more than send the press an invitation about a week in advance about a special event, with broad hints as to what it’s about. That action turns growing anticipation into fevered demand.

    Sure, Microsoft certainly has enough cash in its bank account to fund any marketing campaign it wants, and to hire the best people on the planet to manage it. They can also bring the top ad agencies in the business into play to devise a properly enticing stream of broadcast, online and print ads to accompany the new product’s presence in the marketplace.

    Instead, we have Bill Gates delivering the lame excuse that the new Zune is the best they could come up with after six months of work, and that things will only get better next year. You’d think, after all these years on the front lines, he would have learned something.

    Now, even if you were tempted to buy a Zune this time instead of an iPod, how are you supposed to react to such an absurdly foolish statement? Would you buy one of those players anyway, knowing it’s really not all that great and that something much better is in the wings, or will you wait till next year?

    Or just go back to something that’s reliable, predictable, and usually just works, which means another iPod?

    True, the latest iPods may indeed be the best Apple could do to meet its development schedule, but Steve Jobs will nonetheless tout it as the greatest music player ever conceived by man. Could aliens from another star system do better? Sure, but Jobs will never admit that.

    You see, Jobs and crew understand what proper salesmanship really means, and that is to put your best foot forward. The product you’re selling is never a compromise dictated by the limitations of the technology and the time and funding you allocated to create it. No, it has to be the best of the breed. You have to feel excited about it, not bored to death.

    If a company’s leadership can’t at least act enthusiastic about their work, how do they expect customers to react? How come Microsoft hasn’t figured this out yet?

    I’m not saying that the Zune is a bad music player, or that it isn’t worth the purchase price. Indeed, based on the reviews of the original model and the promises made for the revision, it seems pretty decent in the scheme of things. One sensible improvement is removing the three-day time limit on media squirted to a Zune, so you can listen at a later time. Sure, there’s still that silly three-play limit, but at least the file won’t self-destruct prematurely. Being able to sync your Zune wirelessly is also a positive development.

    However, the upgraded Zune’s look and general feel, at least based on early descriptions and photos, smack too much of a blatant iPod imitation. During all those antitrust skirmishes in the U.S. and Europe, didn’t Microsoft loudly proclaim that it wanted to be left free to innovate?

    So, other than the expanded Wi-Fi capability, do you see any signs of innovation in the Zune, or is it just more imitation? Sure, Microsoft got away with that with Windows, delivering an operating system that is good enough, but not great, largely imitating what has gone before, mostly by a certain company headquartered in Cupertino, California. But the iPod has already run away with the market, which increases the pressure on Microsoft to excel, if it can.

    Once again, Microsoft’s key business plan with the Zune — as with the Xbox — is persistence. If they keep it going long enough, even if they have to suffer billions of dollars of losses along the way, they somehow believe that the public will come around and embrace second-rate rather than something that’s really innovative.

    Now it may well be that Microsoft can make the Zune into a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it will require clever marketing, and lots and lots of advertising to convince people that it’s really better than the iPod.

    That is something not so easily accomplished. If Microsoft had delivered the Zune six years ago, before the iPod became a cross-platform sensation, they might have had a chance to gain serious traction in this market segment. It still wouldn’t hurt to build a Mac-compatible music store, and invade Apple’s own turf. Perhaps they’d rather have us believe that the Mac platform isn’t large enough to garner serious attention, but with sales of new Macs increasing rapidly, that’s a foolish decision.

    While Microsoft has had no compunctions about using hard-edge and sometimes deceptive marketing tactics to expand its dominance in operating systems and office software suites, why do they seem so timid about the Zune? Do they fear more antitrust attention, or maybe the company’s executives no longer have that “fire in the belly” that spurs people on to do the impossible?



    Share
    | Print This Article Print This Article

    12 Responses to “Is Microsoft Dooming the Zune?”

    1. overlordspock says:

      Mac Business Unit aside, Microsoft doesn’t care about the Mac market. It may be a foolish to ignore it, but Microsoft is willing to do such things in what they perceive as a way to strengthen their own brand. To them, if it isn’t invented there, it doesn’t matter and therefore shouldn’t matter to consumers.

    2. William Timberman says:

      Mmm…. I’m tempted to beg you not to kick the sleeping dog, but then Microsoft isn’t really asleep, and you make your living writing provocative essays. Apple, as you say, has the edge at the moment, and being better organized, has so far been able to move faster. So far, so good, as they say.

      I’m actually more concerned about the struggle between Apple and the content providers. When Steve Jobs demonstrated to them — in kick-ass fashion, as it happened — that they were missing the boat in the digital market, I think it gave Apple significant leverage over them. Now, though — RIAA lawyers and studio executives being who they are and all — it seems that they might have actually convinced themselves that they can dump Jobs and do just as well on their own.

      I have no idea whether they’re right or wrong, but if they do decide to divorce Apple, Microsoft is still there, and Microsoft has never been too proud to be the suitor of last resort.

      It’s kind of a tortoise-and-hare thing, I think.

    3. Mmm…. I’m tempted to beg you not to kick the sleeping dog, but then Microsoft isn’t really asleep, and you make your living writing provocative essays. Apple, as you say, has the edge at the moment, and being better organized, has so far been able to move faster. So far, so good, as they say.

      I’m actually more concerned about the struggle between Apple and the content providers. When Steve Jobs demonstrated to them — in kick-ass fashion, as it happened — that they were missing the boat in the digital market, I think it gave Apple significant leverage over them. Now, though — RIAA lawyers and studio executives being who they are and all — it seems that they might have actually convinced themselves that they can dump Jobs and do just as well on their own.

      I have no idea whether they’re right or wrong, but if they do decide to divorce Apple, Microsoft is still there, and Microsoft has never been too proud to be the suitor of last resort.

      It’s kind of a tortoise-and-hare thing, I think.

      You make some great points. Microsoft is happy to spend billions keeping products alive and waiting for the opportunity to pounce. Of course, if I were a Microsoft stockholder, I might be concerned about “squandering” money in the hope that something would happen years from now to repay the investment.

      Peace,
      Gene

    4. Kaleberg says:

      Looking at the latest round of new iPods and the Amazon MP3 store, I’m getting the feeling that Apple has jumped the shark. The iPod Touch looks neat, but why doesn’t it synch with WiFi. Also, who wants DRM limiting which headphones and which docks I can use? Is the iPod Classic any better? I can run Linux on my 1G iPod, always supposing I wanted to. Will it run on a 6G?

      There are a lot of DRM rumors around. Is Apple trying to prevent me from using anything besides iTunes for putting music on my iPod. Wasn’t there some checksum file or another they’ve been using? Will this break Senuti? I’ll admit my ignorance, but something isn’t passing the smell test.

      Meanwhile, even as Apple is rolling in the DRM cesspit, the record companies are dropping DRM. I always had CDs, but now there is the Amazon music store. Steve Jobs seems to have peaked when he issued his noble DRM challenge. Then, he seems to have spent too much time with AT&T and everything since the heavily locked iPhone has been anti-consumer.

      I know it sounds weird, but I’m actually going to have to consider buying a Zune. If nothing else, Microsoft may give me a better deal than others because they are burning cash to try and squeeze into the market.

    5. MichaelT says:

      Gene,

      You’re so wrong! Microsoft is wildly enthusiastic about their Zune! 😉

      Check out J Allard in this photo:
      http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2007/oct07/10-02ZuneNextGenPR.mspx

      He looks like a 7th grader whose mom made him pose for the family picture. “Just hold it until we can take the shot, J. Can’t you even TRY to smile?”

      Then there’s Uncle Bill, who doesn’t look like he really knows what he’s got. “Yeah, Uncle Bill, this is what kids call ‘cool’ today. Trust me, it makes you look ‘hip’!”

      By the way, I just went back to that link and was reading their blurb about improvements. You can now wirelessly update your podcasts.

      When you can wirelessly update your zunecasts, maybe they’ll be more enthusiastic. 😉

    6. Alan Smith says:

      Hi Kaleberg,
      I say, go ahead and squander your money. All this talk about DRM and DRM free music is BS, what matters is audio quality. I use iTunes, because it is an easy place to shop for music. Okay, my downloads are in DRM, but then I just burm my purchase to a CD for archival purposes, and voila the DRM is gone. I can put any CD file into my iPod; I have put a lot of different file formats in to my iPod. From the Small Wave author,
      “Microsoft: Building yesterday’s iPod tomorrow. “

    7. addabox says:

      Looking at the latest round of new iPods and the Amazon MP3 store, I’m getting the feeling that Apple has jumped the shark. The iPod Touch looks neat, but why doesn’t it synch with WiFi. Also, who wants DRM limiting which headphones and which docks I can use? Is the iPod Classic any better? I can run Linux on my 1G iPod, always supposing I wanted to. Will it run on a 6G?

      There are a lot of DRM rumors around. Is Apple trying to prevent me from using anything besides iTunes for putting music on my iPod. Wasn’t there some checksum file or another they’ve been using? Will this break Senuti? I’ll admit my ignorance, but something isn’t passing the smell test.

      Meanwhile, even as Apple is rolling in the DRM cesspit, the record companies are dropping DRM. I always had CDs, but now there is the Amazon music store. Steve Jobs seems to have peaked when he issued his noble DRM challenge. Then, he seems to have spent too much time with AT&T and everything since the heavily locked iPhone has been anti-consumer.

      I know it sounds weird, but I’m actually going to have to consider buying a Zune. If nothing else, Microsoft may give me a better deal than others because they are burning cash to try and squeeze into the market.

      You’re right, something isn’t passing the smell test, and it’s pretty much your entire post.

      “DRM limiting what headphones and dock you can use”? Complete nonsense. Running Linux on the latest iPod as a test of whether or not Apple has “jumped the shark”? Bizarre.

      “There are a lot of DRM rumors around”? Huh? You mean the voices in your head?

      The DRM on tracks on stores other than iTunes has nothing to do with the nobility of those vendors or the lack thereof on Apple’s part, it’s entirely about the labels trying to break Apple’s hold on the online music market. If Universal would provide Apple with DRM free tracks Apple would sell them, as they do the DRM free tracks from EMI.

      By all means, get a Zune, the new models look to be pretty decent for what they are. But you’re dreaming if you think MS is looking out for your consumer interests by doing battle with the music labels, while Apple is sucking up to same. Dreaming and delusional.

    8. Tom B says:

      MSFT has never excelled at marketing; they exist because they have paid shills– a captive audience– in IT departments all up and down the Fortune 500. When these DOSosaurs retire…..

      “Once again, Microsoft’s key business plan with the Zune — as with the Xbox — is persistence. If they keep it going long enough, even if they have to suffer billions of dollars of losses along the way, they somehow believe that the public will come around”

      Don’t laugh. The strategy has worked for them many times. It often works in Chess. You wait for the other to make a mistake. Netscape made a few. Sculley’s Apple made several. Sun just made one. SGI tried NT for a while– with disastrous consequences. Most visibly, Sony made the mistake of bundling BluRay with PS3. Not a bad idea, in isolation. But it delayed the launch and increased the price (It remains to be seen whether game sales (e.g Halo) can ever compensate for the 21 B MSFT has pi$$ed away on game consoles, though.

      “Looking at the latest round of new iPods and the Amazon MP3 store, I’m getting the feeling that Apple has jumped the shark. The iPod Touch looks neat, but why doesn’t it synch with WiFi.”

      1) There may be a good reason 2) it may be security-related. 3) It’s not a big deal to ME. 4) I think Touch is WAY, WAY cool, and I’ll get one when my old Nano dies.

      “Meanwhile, even as Apple is rolling in the DRM cesspit, the record companies are dropping DRM.”
      Apple STARTED the attack against DRM, and offer DRM-free tracks, as well. AMZN is beating them on price now, but Apple could retaliate, if iTunes sales drop. It concerns me that content providers are trying (through utter stupidity) to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. But I an more interested in iTunes (which I use largely to follow podcasts) than I am in their content. I can rip my CD’s, if needed.

    9. Jeff says:

      “Looking at the latest round of new iPods and the Amazon MP3 store, I’m getting the feeling that Apple has jumped the shark. The iPod Touch looks neat, but why doesn’t it synch with WiFi.”

      Other than being ahead of the curve, I don’t know how useful this feature is at this point. The vast majority of wireless users are still on 802.11g or even 802.11b, and syncing even 1 GB of data would try anyone’s patience. It’ll be several years before 802.11n have a large enough user base to make this a useful feature for many people.

    10. “Looking at the latest round of new iPods and the Amazon MP3 store, I’m getting the feeling that Apple has jumped the shark. The iPod Touch looks neat, but why doesn’t it synch with WiFi.”

      Other than being ahead of the curve, I don’t know how useful this feature is at this point. The vast majority of wireless users are still on 802.11g or even 802.11b, and syncing even 1 GB of data would try anyone’s patience. It’ll be several years before 802.11n have a large enough user base to make this a useful feature for many people.

      Also, having used 802.11n, I can tell you that it’s overrated. If you get too far from the base station, speed slows down to little better than 802.11g.

      Peace,
      Gene

    11. Kontra says:

      I wrote about the difference between how Apple designed, packaged and introduced the iPhone and how Microsoft did the same for Zune 2 here:

      “Zune 2: Mediocrity grows on trees”
      http://counternotions.com/2007/10/03/zune-2-mediocrity-grows-on-trees/

    12. Mike Peter Reed says:

      Nothing lasts forever. However, Apple has an open “post PC device” stratgey which is broad and vague enough to see them through the next decade at least. Microsoft has Windows2008 for serving the PCs out there, and software for the PC, and gadgets for the PC (where PC = a PC running Windows). Apple is poised whereas MS is battling on many fronts to maintain the status quo (example – billions of dollars in R&D gives us Vista – another version of Windows which isn’t even a viable 64-bit platform AFAIK). If a computer platform was architecture then I know which building I’d rather be living in.

    Leave Your Comment