So Where Are We with the Zune?

Microsoft Zune HD Promo Graphic

Now that the cats out of the bag with the Zune HD, one can’t help but wonder if this is still too little too late for the Zune. Does the addition of the Zune HD really change anything for the Zune and the related Zune Marketplace?

Zune HD:

There’s certainly a lot to like with the player but we won’t focus our attention on that (you can read the press release for that information). Let’s focus on the things that are still lacking:

  • Let’s face it. The Zune HD Is still playing catch-up with the iPod touch. The player adds multi-touch capabilities, has a built-in accelerometer, and has HD output. Joy.. but these are still features that the Apple iPod touch community have had for nearly two years now. Will an iPod user realistically switch to the Zune HD simply looking at this new feature set? Doubtful. Will this new feature set keep a current Zune user from switching to the iPod touch? Not clear.
  • HD Radio is a very cool feature.. as long as you’re in a location that has HD Radio channels broadcasting. Go to the middle of the country and forget it. A radio is just a radio at the end of the day. The whole point of the media player is to bring YOUR content with you wherever you go.
  • The player itself is sexier than the previous Zune iterations.. but it still looks a bit too industrial for our tastes – especially when compared against the iPod touch. iPod touch – smooth curves. Zune HD – some rounded corners but also some ugly screws in the back. Ugh..

Zune Marketplace:

If we’ve had one major complaint over the years, it’s the confusing mess that is known as the Microsoft Zune marketplace and the somewhat related Xbox LIVE Marketplace. Two marketplaces that share a common login and payment system.. but that’s really about it. For some stupid reason, they’ve been separate for all these years.

So now, Zune will feature prominently within the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.. great but um… does an Xbox 360 user care about the Zune brand? Probably not.. they simply care about purchasing and downloading videos and music. Without knowing the full details, what we need is a single unified store front for all of Microsoft multimedia content. We’ll find out more about this at E3 next year.. but to take a simple cue, just look at Apple and their iTunes store front. You can purchase a movie and have it synced to your iPod or to your Apple TV.. or have it playable on your PC. Can you do the same with content on Xbox LIVE Marketplace? Of course not. Of course this could all change next week as one media outlet announced that the video section of the Xbox LIVE Marketplace was being outright replaced with the Zune Video marketplace. If so – cool.. but what about the music? Why can’t I purchase and listen music on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace????

It’s all about simplicity for the user – Microsoft. Can you please do that much? Stop playing the “Let’s cooperate with the media conglomerate card” and start focusing in on the consumer at hand. Don’t make us wonder whether this movie will work on my Xbox 360 or on my Zune HD etc. Make it simple.. and make it work.

And while you’re at it – just remove that stupid Microsoft Point system will ya? It’s annoyed everyone for years now.. we accept it because we have no other choice to do so but it’s silly.

It’s all about the Apps..

The Zune HD doesn’t change one important thing about the Zune. It’s basically a portable media player and nothing else. Sure current iterations let you play some games and the new Zune HD will have a built-in web browser.. but that’s really about it.

Look at what Apple has successfully forged with the iPod touch/iPhone. It’s built an incredibly large developer community with some developers going from rags to riches over silly applications. It’s a shame that Microsoft with its rich developer history hasn’t yet fully realized this yet. Sure it’s starting to roll out a Mobile App marketplace for Windows Mobile… but that surely will not extend to the Zune anytime soon (if ever). Until we have a rich application community, the Zune will never be able to compete in this arena.

A user buys an iPod touch and the whole experience is only just beginning simply because they can now purchase thousands of app that extend and enrich their media player. What do we have on the Zune? Music.. videos.. photos.. a browser… oh yeah.. HD radio.


I’ve never really been critical of the Zune pricing.. but if the Zune is going to succeed in any way, it needs to be competitively priced against the iPod touch – aka it needs to be cheaper. Microsoft has the money, and they can certainly make people turn their heads simply by pricing the Zune HD cheaper than a comparable iPod touch. And let’s face it – it SHOULD be cheaper if only because the feature set is lower than the iPod touch. You want a game changing product Microsoft? Under-price the competition.

Paved with the best of intentions…

It’s been a brave road for the Zune team.. but I can’t help but feel that it’s road that will lead them to nowhere. Microsoft lacks the unifying vision in the digital marketplace that Apple has and it certainly doesn’t look like anything is going to change soon. The mere fact that there needs to be a Zune “brand” within the Xbox LIVE marketplace says it all. You’ve got brands and groups competing with each other within Microsoft. You have duplicate software applications on the same PC (Zune software vs. Windows Media Player) that practically do the same thing – except one talks to the Zune and one doesn’t… yet is better integrated with the rest of Microsoft’s digital home technologies (Windows Media Player/Center).

Take a step back and unify your vision Microsoft. It might take some time but it will be well worth it don’t you think? Our simple recommendations:

  • One marketplace for content
  • One software for managing content
  • Content that plays – at least on all Microsoft devices (and PCs)
  • One unifying application community – develop for Windows Mobile gets you on Zune etc
  • Unify the front end on mobile devices will ya? Make the Zune UI the single user interface for all Microsoft branded devices – from phones to players to whatever.
  • Look at Apple for guidance

Please rethink your Zune strategy Microsoft. We’ve stuck by you all these years.. and really.. nothing has changed. The Zune is still playing catch up.. and it’s still a confusing mess out there for the average consumer. It shouldn’t have to be.

— Originally posted at ZuneSphere

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Filed in: Featured, Op-Ed, Portable Media Players

3 Reactions to “So Where Are We with the Zune?”

  1. andy says:

    My only comment here is that people will pay premiums for premium products. Subsidize this with the fastest processor to give it snappy / instant response to inputs, and multi-tasking and it might be enough to convince some people. But, I wouldn’t follow iPods lead on pricing exactly.

    Also, for this to be successful, they need an incentive program to steal top developers from apple’s platform. The App Store / Marketplace is key.

    Stuff it with enough memory to hold a LOT of content, and jam it with the best battery you can get in there while they are at it.

    Bundle a free subscription to Rhapsody, or some other service. MS also needs to enable a better source for content. If I were them, I’d just buy Rhapsody.

    If I could change one thing about the go-forward Zune strategy, it would be the name. Zune leaves so much to be desired. THey should keep “Zune” for their basic music player, but come up with something more intriguing for their new lineup, maybe keep the “z” for the modifier. Even something as simple as zPad, zPlayer, zTouch, zDevice… Anything but Zune. Anyway, I think MS is on the right track.

  2. andy says:

    Also, nice first post. Welcome.

  3. Scott says:

    I’ll buy a Zune just because it supports the “Album Artist” tag. Why Apple doesn’t is beyond me. A fully support the one application concept touted in this post. There is no reason for MS to have Zune, WMP and Media Center software. Give me one ap, make it have advanced tagging capability like “Tag and Rename” for music and “Open Media Library” for movies.

    For more strategy tips go here Microsoft.