Blog Post

Shh! Microsoft makes the Zune? Really?

Walt Mossberg posted some interesting observations on the design of the Zune compared next to the iPod 30GB. It seems Microsoft is ashamed to admit they are behind the product. Nowhere in the Zune ecosystem is a mention of the company. The back of the unit vaguely refers to Redmond, with the text “Hello from Seattle”.

As a Machead, I have to laugh at this sad attempt from them. They know the Microsoft brand is so tarnished that they have to hide that fact in this product just to even come close to competing with Apple. Frankly, Microsoft has no business doing this entire line anyway. It’s not what their core business is, which is making software.

Sure, the argument can be made that hardware and software are nothing without each other. The industry is more mature than that, the lines in these two sectors are much leaner than they were in the eighties and early nineties. Apple somehow manages to stick to the middle, making great software that runs on great hardware. Apple also has twenty five years experience doing this very thing, where Microsoft does not.

As Mr. Mossberg points out, the Zune feels like a prototype. It isn’t sleek like the iPod (for peet’s sake, brown?), has a shorter battery life, and is a chore to carry in comparison. It, in many ways, seems like the first iPod in it’s size. Apple has proven that they can refine the iPod to make it a comfortable pocket addition, and it is ironic to me the Microsoft wouldn’t take this lesson to the design table.

The Zune can play video, but the online store doesn’t sell them. The only way to get video into the unit is through the Zune Player. Microsoft is trying to create it’s own currency with the Zune Marketplace, and users have to spend $5 a time versus $1 with Apple.

*Sigh*. I love competition; I think it’s great to see an effort being made to challenge Apple’s iTunes/iPod combo. Yet I read this piece and think to myself there is no compelling reason to switch. Keep trying Microsoft, I’m sure you’ll figure something out ten years after Apple has beat you to it again. Maybe someday Microsoft will be proud to put their name on that product, but for now it’s best they keep it a secret so consumers who don’t know can be duped into buying it under the assumption Zune is its own company.

18 Responses to “Shh! Microsoft makes the Zune? Really?”

  1. Jimmy Hill

    “Frankly, Microsoft has no business doing this entire line anyway. It’s not what their core business is, which is making software.”

    Last time I looked, it wasn’t mandatory (or even common sense) to define your core business at the start of your company’s creation, and then refuse to deviate from it in the light of other developments. Being in business is all about constantly evaluating what your core business actually is. Who are you to say what their core business is?

    I dislike MS as much as the next guy, but come on, if Gates wakes up in the morning and says “our core business will from now on be providing a low-end window cleaning services” then that’s up to them. EVERY company has EVERY business doing ANY business. If they’re good at it, they may succeed, if they’re bad at it (and market it well) they may STILL succeed.

    That’s capitalism. You may have heard of it.

  2. I have 2 Macs and a 5G 30GB iPod, but that doesnt matter. I use my Mac because its the best and most intuative operating system out there, i use my iPod because there is no better navigation system that lets me sort through 6000 songs in a couple seconds. My point is that the reason i use them isn’t because I’m an apple loyalist, its because they are the best. If the Zune manages to do a better job for a lower price than the iPod then i’ll buy it. Simple as that. But for now all I see is a clunky player with heavy DRM, and no Mac software.

  3. “Without Apple and the iPod, you wouldn’t have the Zune, guys, and you know it.”
    And without the MPMan F10 you wouldn’t have the ipod.
    I don’t see why if someone made it first it automatically makes it better, even if it’s true in this case.
    The first ipod was also a bit behind the competition when it first came out, give it some time and a redesign or two.

  4. Joe Cabrera

    >> It’s not what their core business is, which is making software.

    I don’t like MS, but let’s be fair here. You could say the same about Apple and the music biz before the iPod came out. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore new areas.

    But I do agree that their copying of Apple is pretty blatant this time. How you can do that on one hand, and put them down with the other, is beyond me. Without Apple and the iPod, you wouldn’t have the Zune, guys, and you know it.

  5. I do think the problem is the 1st generation Zune, people would not buy a first generation product so maybe in one year they can buy a better one, and if the Zune or anything wants to be as cool as the iPod, it has to be at least as good looking as the actual iPod.

  6. Now you have me curious. What does the Zune box look like?
    judging from the branding so far i’m going to guess one 3rd will be stock photo people dancing in a green field and the top bit will be a bar in the colour of the zune inside (black/white/brown), zune logo top left.
    I think it will be cube shaped like the original iPod packaging

  7. The problem with Microsoft is they always do the same with marketing, all hype and then dissapoint. But it doesn’t matter, even bad publicity is better than none and Microsoft is well aware of this as they busy themselves out of being irrelant.

    The problem is not the first generation Zune but the third and fourth. The problem are journalists who still pick up on MS parketing time after time when its proven to be no more than bla bla bla…

  8. >Apple has had 6 years to recover costs from research and in that time has refined the iPod >into the sleek device that it is today

    Generally, I think that’s the common understanding about the Zune’s disadvantage. According to the critics and paid bloggers, Microsoft still doesn’t “get” what makes the iPod so desirable nearly six years after the iPod was introduced.

    If you read the comments from the executives behind the Zune, it becomes clear that either they were misquoted or they are clearly off track.

  9. Reading comments about Zune around the web actually surprises me. It seems to me that although it looks like a vastly inferior product to me (MS + DRM = evil incarnate) there seems to be a lot of anticipation for it. It should be noted that Mossberg actually likes the interface saying in some cases it’s easier. Also, Apple has had 6 years to recover costs from research and in that time has refined the iPod into the sleek device that it is today – who knows what the Zune will be like in it’s next generation.

    PS. IMHO, MS actually does make good hardware. It’s just that they aren’t known for it. The original Sidewinder gamepad was vastly superiour over other gamepads at the time. My modded Xbox w/ XBMC is also a great media centre.

    …I still can’t get over the brown version of the Zune. Wow. They should make one with wood paneling.

  10. I’m not sure I understand your point. Could you elaborate?

    I have started up XBox games including Halo. Are you saying that because MS forces you to stare at their logo in an XBox game that they will be successful at selling the Zune? Or is it that you think we can expect the same forced logos on the Zune’s software and that their tactics won’t change much at all?

    The success of the Zune is and will likely continue to be debatable, so far it doesn’t look promising. But the parody of how Microsoft handles marketing for its products certainly has some truth to it. In the case of the Zune I think maybe MS has figured out that the Zune needs to speak for itself. I think they want the Zune to have its own identity and not be a product that is merely sold on the Microsoft name. It might be that they fear their own name actually works against them in marketing this particular product.

  11. Dave you are wrong wrong wrong

    Dave, ever started up any xbox game? Such as halo? You can click through the Bungie logo, but not the giant microsoft game studio!
    The Zune success has nothing to do with your assumed marketing campaign of a inferior product.

  12. My Xbox 360 doesn’t make much of a deal of it being made by Microsoft, and instead is creating a new brand image – Xbox. It’s understandable that they don’t want these two products, Microsoft’s two ventures into hardware, to be too closely linked to their main money business, which to be frank is a bit dull. Fair enough.

  13. In token defense of Microsoft, I don’t think they were too ashamed to put their own name on the Zune. My guess is that they were sitting around a conference room table trying to figure out what makes the iPod so cool. Someone said, “Hey, notice how, unlike every other consumer product in the world, this one doesn’t have the maker’s name, or even the model name on the front. See here: there’s just something on the back in fine print.”

    Then someone else suggested that they go one better and hint at who they are.

    Who was it who said, “The definition of ‘Cool’ is, not having to explain yourself?”