The Bad Start Defined: Zune

by Chris Seibold Aug 02, 2006

Zune, as any reasonably net savvy individual should be aware, is Microsoft’s answer to the iPod. Predicted by Steve Jobs, the Zune promises to be the player of tomorrow thanks to the vertical integration model Microsoft formerly eschewed and now embraces. Of course, the fact that Steve Jobs predicted, accurately, Micorosft’s actions is humorous but funnier still is that it took Microsoft a full X years to get around to accepting the very public advice offered by Apple’s CEO.

At some point in the future the Zune might replace the iPod as the default player of choice, it might be better, cheaper and faster, a veritable six million dollar man of mp3 players but, for the time being, Microsoft is making every wrong move possible and making them with unenviable panache.

We begin with the name, surely a minor thing. Perhaps this error should be overlooked, Microsoft is obviously an international company and while naming something for the American market is relatively easy (Bitchin’ MP3er!) finding a name that is both inoffensive and memorable for the worldwide market can be quite a trick. Here one is reminded of the experience of the port Cockburn’s Dry Tang. When the makers of the tipple tried to market the stuff in Sweden they learned that Tang meant seaweed and changed the name to Dry Cock. That worked okay in Sweden but not so well in Denmark where cock means genitalia (no news for Americans except for the fact that cock refers to the female gentitalia). It could be “Zune” was the result of Microsoft trying to avoid such embarrassments or, just as likely, perhaps the company has hired the guy who came up with the Mac Book Pro moniker.

More damaging than the name, people willingly ingest a dish called spotted dick after all, is the buzz. Where the buzz should be all about the Zune right now it is just as much about the iPod, every single time the Zune is mentioned the iPod is mentioned right along with it. That is a huge mistake. By positioning the Zune as a direct iPod competitor Microsoft is unwittingly making the iPod the gold standard of .mp3 players and making the iPod the thing against which the Zune will be judged.

It could be argued that the iPod is the gold standard anyway so Microsoft is only embracing the unavoidable. The trouble with that notion is that it forces Microsoft to outspec a purposefully minimal product. Stated differently: to beat the iPod Microsoft has to add more functionality but the iPod’s simplicity is one of the biggest draws for the diminutive digital audio player. An instructive cinversation:

Guy 1: Man, I like hamburgers!
Guy 2: Hamburgers?
Guy 1: Oh yeah, nothing better than hamburgers!
Guy2: You like, uh, cheesecake?
Guy 1: Cheesecake you say? Why yes, I do enjoy the occasional slice.
Guy 2: What if I gave you a hamburger with a piece of Cheesecake.
Guy 1: That would be pretty good, I’d eat the hamburger and then enjoy the cheesecake.
Guy 2: You don’t get it, I’m going to put the cheesecake on the hamburger
Guy 1: On the hamburger?
Guy 2: Well you like Hamburgers and cheesecake, you’ll love it!
Guy 1: But hamburgers don’t come with cheese ca…
Guy 2:This one does, it will taste delicious. Think meaty and new yorky all at the same time.
Guy 1: I was happy with just a hamburger. What you’re describing is simply, um, gross.
Guy 2: Wait, wait. It gets better. You like fried eggs? Cause this burger has a fried egg on it.
Guy 1: Impossible as it may be, you sir, have made fast food appealing.
Guy 2: Only because I didn’t mention the entire thing is covered in chipotle blueberry salsa. Southwestern flavors!

Which is what Microsoft is doing now. Everyone knows, and thinks it will be a selling point, that the Zune will out spec the iPod. But there is a huge leap to made in thinking that better specs, more cumbersome functionality, will actually appeal to people who want something simple.

If Microsoft wants to beat the iPod it can’t make something more iPodish than the iPod. It isn’t going to happen. Just like you can’t be more hamburger than a hamburger. What Microsoft needs to do, and do very badly, is lie. They need to tell anyone who will listen that the Zune won’t compete with the iPod. Microsoft needs to cede the market to Apple, at least in public, while plotting otherwise.

The Zune is positioned to do just that, there is a rumored ability to share clips and such, an exciting capability for a new market but a boring add on for an iPod. Which sounds more appealing: Zune, the iPod who let’s you share music with strangers! Or Zune: Share your taste, make new friends. Where, naturally, the “make new friends part” is a not so subtle reference to meet members of the opposite sex.

Pitching the Zune as a social networking device is much more appealing, Microsoft won’t be telling users that their beloved iPod is lame, they’ll be telling them that there is a new device on the block, something that works completely different! That the device happens to obsolete the iPod is a minor point not worth mentioning. That is how Microsoft can get around the iPod dominance. Otherwise the company is trying to make a sweeter version of sugar.


  • naming something for the American market is relatively easy (Bitchin’ MP3er!)

    That sounds like the VP of marketing is a prime member of this board…heh…heh…

    If Microsoft wants to beat the iPod it can’t make something more iPodish than the iPod.

    No, M$ can try to out-simplify, out-functional, out-diminutive, and best of all, M$ can try to out-price the iPod. But since the iPod already IS the $6 dollar hamburger on the media block. How M$ can do all the above and sell us a $4 dollar hamburger is beyond me.

    Also, does M$ think Apple is just sitting around counting their profit margins in the labs? I doubt that is the case. Steve’s got to be grinning to his ears for his exacting predictions a year or two ago that MS will travel on the vertical path is coming true.

    Steve, as part of the same prediction, has some enticing to do once the Zune is released to the public. The left-for-dead guys like Samsung, Creative, Sony, Napster, and many others, will now have a clearer choice of which platform to cuddle up with. Now that you have two vertical models to choose from, how hard is that choice to make? Steve’s got this game and the Ace of Spades, my friends… wink

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 02, 2006 Posts: 846
  • I think Microsoft has to be one of the dumbest companies since ever. Look guys, when your arch-foe goads you, you don’t take his bait! Especially when it’s in a completely different market that you suck at and is far away from your core strengths! That kind of resource-draining, diversion is how smaller armies defeat larger ones and how two superheroes can defeat a larger, ponderous villian. It’s an obvious truth, which is why Microsoft is trying to disprove it. I’m looking for the day they decide to declare war on gravity.

    Aurora77 had this to say on Aug 02, 2006 Posts: 35
  • You’re right, more isn’t necessarily better - as your hamburger dialogue illustrates. Here’s another food-related example:

    JB had this to say on Aug 02, 2006 Posts: 1
  • I dread to think what a Microsoft iPod will be like to use…  I suppose it will have all those nifty XP features which try to predict what you want to do, and give you a little help along the way…  So that you spend most of your time trying to undo what Microsoft wrongly guessed you wanted to do…  Please - if I select four characters with my mouse I DO NOT WANT TO SELECT A WHOLE WORD.  If I type a row of four dashes, I DO NOT WANT A WHOLE LINE OF UNDERSCORES.  I have been in IT for 30 years, as a programmer, MCSE/ASE, marketing and salesperson.  And yet I cannot get WORD to format documents my way - I am ALWAYS defeated by Microsoft’s helpful automatic formatting choices and forced to use Adobe Indesign for anything which requires more than basic formatting.  I spent a whole HOUR yesterday trying to work out how to position a logo in a header.  I could not even SELECT the logo once I typed any text in the header as well - and the context-sensitive help was, well, entirely unhelpful…

    Oh, and those silly XP menus which hide the things you want to use because Microsoft guess that you dont want to use them - what clever person thought up that one?

    Apple know how to do the user interface thing better than anyone else.  I constantly compare my iPod with my HP/Windows PDA and my new Motorola Razr phone, both of which suck…

    I bought the HP PDA as a GPS navigation device for my car, thinking it would be useful as a phone as well, to replace my old Nokia which was stuck together with tape.  That idea lasted 2 weeks until I pulled the sim card out of the HP and went back to the Nokia. As a phone the HP is a complete dud.  Slow, cumbersome and counter-intuitive - and three times the size of the Nokia.  The ring tone was too quiet to hear, and I found the whole stylus dialling thing so clumsy as to be ridiculous.  And sometimes the software just wouldnt work fast enough to answer a call!

    It is worse, if anything, as a GPS Navigation tool.  I run CoPilot Live software, which is not bad in itself.  But it is a nightmare to install and IMPOSSIBLE to keep running.  It loses contact with its Bluetooth GPS device at the end of every trip and requires a soft reset.  And then sometimes it WON’T soft reset and then a hard reset is required.  At which point the software is automatically reinstalled and you have to re-enter a long Windows product key.  Just what you want when you are trying to find your way home in the dark and you realise you forgot to tattoo the code on your forearm.  And then, you only have 4 days to connect to your docking station or the software locks!  So, no extended trips in the countryside…  Not sure how I am going to get around this one next month when I am driving around rural France…

    Now the PDA sits in its desktop mount unless I need it to find my way somewhere.  Why?  Because if I leave it in the car, the battery goes flat and then you have to do the whole reinstall, product key and activation code thing all over again.  I could take the battery out to stop it going flat, but then i have to do the product key / activation code thing every time.

    This is the sort of crap you get when you have three vendors (HP, Microsoft, ALK/CoPilot) conspiring to drive consumers nuts.  Can anyone imagine Apple producing such a pile of rubbish?

    I kept using my old Nokia well past the day when it should have been retired - it really fell to bits in the end.  But it worked - the user interface was intuitive and it was tiny, with great battery life.  When it gave up I inherited another Nokia (a cheapie) but the backlight had failed and it was slow and cumbersome.  So I finally bought a Motorolla V3.

    And i absolutely HATE it too.

    Why?  Its too big - probably because it has all this stuff that I don’t want (like a camera that takes crap pictures, and a web browser that is ridiculously slow and a tiny screen (for a browser) which my 40+ year old eyes can’t read).  The user interface is counter-intuitive and I find myself constantly swearing at it because it keeps launching things I don’t want (I wish I could just delete that silly browser thing).  It is so cumbersome to add a new contact I only have bothered to put 3 in so far.  The battery life is terrible and the hands-free kit uses a connector which is ridiculously difficult to plug in - especially if you are fumbling around in the car.

    And yet, this is the phone that seems to be highly recommended.  I could not be more disappointed.  I suppose I will eventually figure out how to stop it doing all the things I don’t want it to do - but really, i just want a phone - and I don’t want to have to study a manual for a month to learn how to drive it…

    Oh, back to the PDA thing…  Every time the battery goes flat on the HP PDA (or you have to do a hard reset) you are prompted to realign the screen and then forced to run through a tutorial which requires you to cut and paste a silly appointment before you can start using the PDA.


    I used both examples to show that the HP/Windows/CoPilot solution is not necessarily a dud just because it is the result of the committee approach.  The Motorolla V3 is just as bad.  So a Microsoft-only Zune device may well be as clumsy and irritating to use as any other Microsoft product.

    If Apple can transfer the iPod’s ease of use to an elegant functional phone with good battery life…

    Meanwhile back at the Redmond Ranch, Microsoft may find themselves completely wrong-footed with their wireless Zune device if Apple builds a device which gives them a big slice of the cellphone market.

    Of course, I could be wrong - and the Zune could be gorgeous, intuitive and easier to use than the iPod…

    sydneystephen had this to say on Aug 02, 2006 Posts: 124
  • If Apple can transfer the iPod’s ease of use to an elegant functional phone with good battery life…

    With all the commotions going on a week before the big Apple event, watch the blogosphere and rumourland about this “iPhone” contraption. You just might get all your wishes and mine’s. wink

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 02, 2006 Posts: 846
  • Holding my breath…

    sydneystephen had this to say on Aug 02, 2006 Posts: 124
  • As much as I’d like to see that all happening I am still afraid of this Lemmings only looking for FULL compatibility with their beloved XP… and thus buying their Zune thingy… it just been there too often to be ignored, didn’t it?

    mat!-) had this to say on Aug 06, 2006 Posts: 13
  • “looking for FULL compatibility with their beloved XP”

    Beloved???  I have never heard anyone (nort even the most determined Windows afficionado) declare their LOVE for XP.

    And if you buy a Ford, Toyota or Mazda car in 2007, the best integration will be with iPod.

    sydneystephen had this to say on Aug 06, 2006 Posts: 124
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