Zune – Maybe it PlaysForSure

kinnon —  November 9, 2006 — Leave a comment

Am I losing my mind (this is a rhetorical question, no responses required), or wasn’t PlaysForSure all over this past January’s CES show. Microsoft and partners were going to take a chunk of Apple’s iPod business and share it amongst themselves. Well, that’s what they hoped. Vain hope as it turns out. So now, not a moment too Zune, (I dearly love absolutely horrible puns), Microsoft is about to unleash their latest iPod killer, a musicphone the Zune. And the NYTimes resident Apple fan, David Pogue, takes their strategy apart.

So now Microsoft is starting over. Never mind all the poor slobs who bought big PlaysForSure music collections. Never mind the PlaysForSure companies who now find themselves competing with their former leader. Their reward for buying into Microsoft’s original vision? A great big “So long, suckas!”

It was bad enough when there were two incompatible copy-protection standards: iTunes and PlaysForSure. Now there will be three.

(Although Microsoft is shutting its own PlaysForSure music store next week, it insists that the PlaysForSure program itself will live on.)

Microsoft’s proprietary closed system abandons one potential audience: those who would have chosen an iPod competitor just to show their resentment for Apple’s proprietary closed system.

To make matters worse, you can’t use Windows Media Player to load the Zune with music; you have to install a similar but less powerful Windows program just for the Zune. It’s a ridiculous duplication of effort by Microsoft, and a double learning curve for you.

Pogue goes on to say some nice things about the Zune – it’s finish, the display, how it handles menus – but questions why the WiFi option only works with other Zunes.

Who’d build a Wi-Fi device that can’t connect to a wireless network — to sync with your PC, for example? Nor to an Internet hot spot, to download music directly?

Pogue mentions the features that Zune has that the iPod(s) don’t – radio, Xbox 360 integration, menu backgrounds – but then adds,

But the opposite list — features the iPod has that the Zune doesn’t — could stretch to Steve Ballmer’s house and back 10 times.

And then Pogue articulates the thoughts of many iPod users (and the larger musicphone audience).

Competition is good and all. But what, exactly, is the point of the Zune? It seems like an awful lot of duplication — in a bigger, heavier form with fewer features — just to indulge Microsoft’s “we want some o’ that” envy. Wireless sharing is the one big new idea — and if the public seems to respond, Apple could always add that to the iPod.

Then again, this is all standard Microsoft procedure. Version 1.0 of Microsoft Anything is stripped-down and derivative, but it’s followed by several years of slow but relentless refinement and marketing. Already, Microsoft says that new Zune features, models and accessories are in the pipeline.

Musicphonemarketshare-2As I’ve stated ad nauseum, Zune is a poor answer to the wrong question in the portable MP3 player market. A market that is shrinking in comparison to the musicphone market. Zune (microsoftian for “late to the party”) should have been a killer musicphone rather than a slightly above average media player from the industry’s punch drunk former heavy weight champion.

The New Customer
Imbi made this abundantly clear to me last night. She was a very late adopter of the iPod. We bought one for the two of us almost two years ago – a 4G 20Gb – and she has only gotten into it in the last couple of months. It now accompanies here almost everywhere. She carries it along with her Treo and her Lumix FX7 5 megapixel camera.

What she really wants is a killer musicphone with at least a 5MP camera with a decent lens, a big enough screen that her reading glassed eyes can use it for email and pictures – and a keypad that lets her type basic messages. She’d also like the ability to use an external keyboard, as she does with her Treo. (She takes notes in her Master’s classes on the Treo with a Think Outside Keyboard.) Nokia’s N93 is almost there. (3.2MP camera, 3X optical, 2GB SD card, VGA video recording, etc.) The LG KG920 has a 5MP camera and a reasonable music player – not as intuitive as an iPod, or even as good as my Sony Ericcson W810i – but adequate. And then there’s the Samsung B600, the world’s first 10MP cameraphone. We live in interesting times – a lot more interesting than Zune would indicate.

The point is that Zune could have entered The Musicphone Market as a killer product. It didn’t. And it isn’t. A killer product, that is.

HT: Rob Hyndman

AND: Stay tuned for achievable media, coming in December – where Bill’s focus on media & technology will find it’s new home.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

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