Today the Zune player from Windows will explode from the shelves of 30,000 stores around the country, to what I anticipate will be the collective yawn of a “me-to” device weary public.
Will Microsoft spend billions pushing the Zune player on the market? Yes.
Will they make a huge splash in the press? Yes.
Will they put out a press release within a week and tout how many Zune’s they’ve foisted off on unsuspecting luddites sold? Yes.
Will it fail get any real traction and have a minimal impact on the market for digital players? Yes!
Now some might say I’m simply playa hatin’ (excuse the pun and the misappropriated vernacular) the on the Zune, so I’ve put together this list of the top 10 reasons the Zune will fail in the market.
1) Who you Gonna Zune with the Chicken or the Egg?
The main feature of the Zune, it’s supposed iPod killing feature, is its ability to share music between devices. At today’s press conference and launch event in Seattle, Bill Gates demonstrated this feature by sharing music with John Richards, a morning show host at a community radio station in Seattle (selected for his apparent street creed). Ignoring the DRM for a second, this sounds like a great feature if you imagine all your friend walking around with Zune’s and you can pass music back and forth. Now ask yourself how many of your friends have a Zune? How many are likely to buy a Zune? How many strangers you pass on the street have a Zune? Exactly, in order for the sharing feature to be worth anything lots of people need to have a Zune and in order for lots of people to have a Zune its main feature would have to be worth something. Chicken or egg, you choose.
2) Its still way to expensive!
The original price of the Zune was $284, then Apple announced that its newest 30GB iPod model would retail for $249 and MS was thrown into a flutter trying to recalculate just how big of a loss they were willing to take. Apparently the answer had lots of zeros because they came right back with a price that, unfortunately just matched Apple’s. lets say your in the store comparing two products with the same sticker price; on one hand you have a 5th generation Apple product that is a pop culture icon and on the other you have a first generation Microsoft product thats heavier, with a shorter battery life, a weird name and draconian DRM limitations. Which would you buy? Me to. Microsoft made the rookie mistake of thinking price was the same as cost and they didnt give me a reason to choose the Zune over the iPod.
3) Music store pricing is to complex
The Zune Marketplace is where you go to trade in your hard earned cash for Microsoft’s version of Linden dollars, called Zune Points. James Stoup over at Apple Matters has a great dissection of the Zune Marketplace and the hair brained scheme to make the Zune music purchases seems less expensive then iTunes purchases. Pricing shenanigans aside, the additional steps of having to buy “points”, in $5 dollar increments, in order to then go ahead and buy music is likely to be a deal killer for many. Zune marketplace tunes are inexplicably priced at 79 points. So how many songs does that get me? Lets see $5 gets me 400 points, which if I divide by 79 I get… a headache and join the hundreds of other frustrated Zune users and toss the thing out a window.
4) It shares music! Thats bad right?
The music industry has spent the last 5 years “educating” people about the evils of file sharing. Lesson 1: sue the technology companies enabling sharing. Lesson 2: sue anyone, from computer-less grandmothers to 12 year old girls, who didnt get the message that if you share music we’ll find you, sue you and shake you down for $50k. Now enter Microsoft with a product whoes main selling feature is the ability to share your music… If I’m grandma and I’ve listened to all the scary stories on CNN of people getting sued by the evil record companies, I would think twice about buying something for little Johnny that shares music and is likely to land him in court. My guess is Grandma wont be buying any Zune’s to put in the stocking under the Menorah this Kwanzaa.
5) Damned Rental Media, Doesnt Really Move, Destroying Real Money
When was the last time you heard anyone clamoring for more DRM on their digital devices? There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that users will put up with DRM if its transparent and contained. There is also lots of evidence to suggest that they will revolt if its intrusive and expansive. From draining batteries to limiting choice, DRM is a bad thing for most users. Given Microsoft’s heavy handed history with copy control, its buckling to label pressure and its almost pathological focus on ruining Apple’s iParty, its easy to envision them missing the mark on the DRM implementation and providing another good reason not to buy the Zune.
6) Negative Buzz
Now I dont know if its just me but every article I read is handicapping the Zune in a big way. Scobel, Mossberg, Om Malik, Cnet, NY Times, and a bunch of bloggers all kinda pan the Zune or are a bit snarky on its prospects. Microsoft can out last and out spend detractors in the software market, and thereby survive the negative buzz it invariably generates for its first generation products but CE devices are a bit different. Microsoft cant force users to adopt its players or make it a standard in the way it can with its software.
7) No, it doesnt work with Windows Media or Mac’s
When Microsoft says the Zune was designed with simplicity in mind what they meant was it simply wont work with anything else. Yes, its a Windows product and no it doesnt work with all the other windows crap that has been announced and launched in the last six months. Did you buy stuff from Urge? Were you suckered into upgrading to Windows Media Player 35? Buy anything from MSN Music? So sorry, none of that is supported by the Zune and anything you purchased there is not gonna work. Yes, you’ll need yet another Windows application to run this Windows product. Not only wont the Zune work with WMP it wont work on Mac or Linux either… Hows that for simple?
8) Hobbled features
I hear of a digital music player with Wi-fi and I imagine driving along Peachtree Street, connecting to my MP3tunes locker via a wireless connection and downloading tunes to my player. Ahh the wonders of the imagination. Of course this isnt at all what Microsoft’s Zune will provide for me. When Microsoft imagines Wi-fi digital music player they imagine the ability to beam music between two devices with no ability to connect to the Internet or any Internet connected devices like the Sling or Replay boxes. Its not just the Wi-fi thats hobbled, even the sharing feature is crippled such that it can only be passed along once, effectively ruining any chance at super distribution or true viral marketing of music via the Zune. When there is a disconnect between what is possible, what you envisioned and what you purchased frustration ensues. Welcome to the Zune experience.
9) They went high when they should have went low…
From its inception the iPod was a status symbol. With its highly visible white earbupds and oh-so-cooler-then-you mystique. You buy an iPod for the image you want to convey and the associations you want people to make about you. Hip, cool, trendy, savvy… The Zune has none of this, it has no status to convey, it has no brand, it has no cache and the limited value it provides might appeal to the geeks but not the trendsetters/early adopters. Microsoft should have taken a lesson from Stephon Marbury and went at Apple at the very low end of the market which is ripe for a change. Instead they are trying to convert folks who want status by promising them a better product.
10) Its Brown!
Now, dont get me wrong. I think brown is a wonderful color on skin (both for Tree’s and Human’s), shoes, chocolate, leather jackets and old furniture but on a sleek new consumer device it’s… well… CRAPPY! Who at Microsoft thought that brown was a good idea? This is one of those thing’s that come out of a focus group scoring really high and sounding different enough that someone latched on to it and didnt let go until they had sold it internally as “innovative” and “disruptive”. Unfortuanetly, given the Zunes shape and size, in brown it just ends looking more like a brick.