So, you’ve seen the Zune video. Here’s my thoughts about whether Microsoft is going to be successful.
I’ll come at it from a number of different angles:
Box design: good. As good as iPod.
Look and feel and overall hardware quality: good. As good as iPod. I actually even liked the brown one a lot.
Screen: better than iPod.
Hard drive size: worse than iPod.
Features: mixed bag, we’ll get into that below.
Price: in the right neighborhood.
Marketing: unknown, but Apple has set such a high bar that I doubt Microsoft can even get close.
Software experience: unknown.
Updateability: better than iPod (if I were Apple I’d worry about this).
Conversationality: (Does it cause a conversation). Here Apple wins with the white headphones hands down.
Integration: beats the iPod cause it works with Xbox.
As an edge case, IE, someone who tries all the latest stuff and gets excited about a lot of it, the Zune abjectly fails. It does not have a killer feature. Sorry, Microsoft, sharing songs is not it.
Instead, the bleeding edge of the market cares about sharing cool videos, some of which they might have shot themselves, sharing cool podcasts (my son listens to many podcasts in addition to the music), and using their device to record their own content.
Zune doesn’t have a podcast client.
Zune doesn’t have a microphone.
Zune doesn’t have a way to subscribe to Rocketboom or ZeFrank or any other videoblog.
Last weekend Dave Winer took my son and me to an Apple store. What was on the biggest sign in the store? Podcasting. Apple gets this trend, Microsoft doesn’t.
But let’s look deeper. The Zune has a wifi antenna. Can I use it to download music without hooking up to a computer? No.
Does it work with a Macintosh? No.
Does it free me from DRM? No.
Can I use my iPod music on it that I’ve purchased on iTunes? No.
Can I record off of the FM tuner? No.
The one thing that gets close to a killer feature is the subscription feature so that I can listen to unlimited music. If I buy a Zune this will probably be the reason.
THE KIDS’ VIEW
My son is a good gauge of whether Zune has a chance. Peer pressure is hyper strong to have an iPod. If you show up to school with something that isn’t an iPod you aren’t cool. Now, that’ll change if kids think there’s something cool or better. So far nothing I showed Patrick about Zune got him interested. Especially since he and his friends listen to lots of podcasts and because he’d rather have a huge amount of storage than be able to subscribe to a music service. Let’s be honest too, many of these kids have huge music collections: my son has hundreds of songs purchased off of iTunes and many many others. How do they trade songs? They trade iPods.
THE USER’S POINT OF VIEW
There’s not enough data here. The Zune team didn’t show us the OOBE (Out Of Box Experience). This is why the iPod got my attention years ago. Steve Jobs showed how much faster it was in transfering songs cause they used Firewire instead of a slower cable.
I remember being in a meeting at Microsoft where someone showed off how much better the iPod experience was than what other OEMs had produced. Little things like iTunes knows to put the matching icon up on the UI for the kind of iPod you use. Even the right color. It’s a little touch. But it’s the kind of thing that subliminally makes users feel good about the system.
Until Microsoft ships we won’t know how good these small details have been matched.
Also, several people have told me they didn’t like the round control surface on the Zune because they were used to the iPod wheel and the Zune didn’t work the same way. Once you get used to it, the Zune is just fine (and offers a couple of advantages, especially when watching movies or looking at photos, but that demonstrates just how deeply the iPod’s UI has been implanted into our brains).
iPod has hundreds of accessories and has car manufacturers who make their cars “iPod compatible.” Zune won’t be able to match that out of the gate. Zune, on the other hand, integrates into Xbox and Media Center better than iPod.
And, the Zune has a better software updater. I’m already hearing that within a few days of release in mid-November that there will already be some new features released.
That’s something Apple should worry about. If Microsoft can upgrade all of its Zune players easily with new features and games and such, then they can build experiences that the iPod can’t easily get (and if third-party developers can play there, watch out. Remember 1989? I thought the Macintosh was superior to Windows. Which one ended up with more market share? The ones that the developers could extend the easiest.
It’s that last point that could turn into a killer feature. If software developers are enabled to build new experiences for the Zune, then we could see something killer come along that’ll get more people interested in the Zune.
But, for now, I’d stick with an iPod. Microsoft hasn’t given us a killer feature yet that is easily demonstratable for why we should buy a Zune instead of an iPod.
Do you agree or disagree?