Less than three years after Microsoft launched the first Zune players amongst a blizzard of PR confetti and smack talk about trouncing Apple’s vaunted iPod, the Zune name has turned into its own punch line. The marketing explosion fizzled, the bad reviews flooded in, and the only mention “Zune” gets nowadays is usually in reference to imaginary future products. Which is why we’re ready to put a cap on this money pit: It’s done. Here’s why we think Microsoft will drag Zune behind the shed, put it out of its misery, and bury it alongside the Office paperclip.
5. A credit system for music sucks.
Buying Microsoft’s artificial “Zune Points” currency to in turn buy music from the Zune Store can’t help but remind us of forking over cold cash for tokens at Chuck E. Cheese. It’s a thinly veiled sham designed to get you to spend more than your really want to. And when you have to buy points in chunks, as Microsoft forces you to, it works. Aside from the utter frustration of not knowing how much you’re spending for any given song or album, you’ll never be able to spend the last few points in your account, keeping you from ever truly getting your money’s worth.
4. Nobody builds Zune accessories.
The aftermarket for iPod accessories has become so amazing so lush with diverse products at this point that it’s practically threatening to implode on itself. You can buy everything from speaker docks to FM transmitters, purses, belt buckles and toilet paper holders to dock with an iPod. Heck, many new cars will even support the devices natively. With the Zune, you can get… a handful of pretty tame stuff, most of which is made by Microsoft itself. And until Zune gets more than the 2.1 percent market share it currently holds (compared to Apple’s 71 percent and even SanDisk’s 10.5 percent), you won’t see companies rushing to pump out anything for it.
3. There’s no price break.
When you’re running up against a product as popular and solidly entrenched as the iPod, you need to undercut it significantly on price if you expect anyone to even look at your version. Microsoft hasn’t figured this out. The 8GB Zune only costs $10 less than its much sexier Apple equivalent, and if you step up to a 120GB Zune, that gap not only diminishes, it reverses. The Zune 120 actually costs a dollar more than the Apple iPod Classic 120GB. What incentive is there for a buyer to even consider deviating from the safe status quo when there’s little or no discount for it?
2. Microsoft is the anti-hip.
Music players are as much about fashion as they are about silicon and circuits. And in that arena, Microsoft’s name holds about as much cool factor as off-brand clothes from Wal-Mart – a reputation it probably won’t be able to shake. Chief dork Bill Gates remains the face of the corporation even though he’s no longer CEO, and Apple has done a good job nailing that geeky impression down even further with its Mac vs. PC ad campaign. No matter how many chic-looking urbanites Microsoft slaps all over its colorful ads, the brand is perpetually stuck in a cubicle cage.
PC vs. Mac
1. Apple is miles ahead of the game on the tech front.
Apple redefined what a portable music player was capable of in September 2007 with the release of the first-generation iPod Touch, which was as much a platform for apps, games and Internet browsing as it was for music. But in the year and a half since, Microsoft hasn’t rolled out a Zune even remotely competitive with it. Even if it does in the near future (which recent details from ZDNet suggest), it remains in the position of chasing Apple. Microsoft needs to innovate on its own, anticipating what features consumers want and delivering them before anybody else, rather than just emulating Apple’s success. (Sorry, Zune-to-Zune syncing doesn’t count. We said, “features consumers want.”)