Zune and fashion fatigue

Zune and fashion fatigue

Summary: Zune has the features it needs to distinguish itself from the ubiquitous iPod. Features alone, however, aren't enough to displace what has become the first computing fashion accessory.

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TOPICS: Apple
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I'll probably buy a Zune when its released. I've been looking for a device onto which I could put most of my music collection (I have a rather large CD collection, which according to a bunch of market research polls, means I am old), and though the iPod is nice, I've always wanted something that understood Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, because that's the format that works best with Media Player. I've also never been all that thrilled about iTunes, so I waited, and waited, and waited...and Zune seems like the thing that will make me open my wallet.

Zune has some interesting features that set it apart from the iPod, such as intergrated WiFi support and the ability to share files with other Zune users. Features alone, however, aren't enough to beat the iPod. There are a lot of media players currently on the market that do far more than the dominant iPod device. Those devices, however, don't have the carefully-crafted "cachet" of an iPod.

The iPod is probably the first computing fashion accessory, and that's no mean feat. It takes strong design skills combined with a careful and persistent marketing campaign, the latter of which should be apparent to anyone who can't escape the ubiquitous iPod dancing silhouette. You certainly can't escape it in Los Angeles. Particularly notable is the large ad next to the Chateau Marmont on Sunset, or the giant spread on the side of a building on the corner of Santa Monica and Highland that can be easily seen by people standing next to the Hollywood sign (which is very far away).

Design and marketing have made iPod something that people choose because it's an iPod. That's a powerful position to be in, and something most would kill to replicate. The only problem with fashion accessory status, however, is something I'll call "fashion fatigue."

A product starts on the road to fashionability by convincing the trendsetters to favor it. Once that happens, more and more start to gravitate towards the fashionable product until a point is reached where large numbers have the product.

At that point, an individual no longer shows their trendsetting individuality by owning the now common product. Those looking to distinguish themselves may start to look for something different.

That's where Zune has an opportunity. iPod has been dominant for some time. From a feature standpoint, the Zune appears to distinguish itself with some interesting social networking features. If Zune can position itself as the fashionable alternative to iPod through proper marketing, they might have a chance to attract the trendsetters, and thus start to tip the playing field more in Zune's direction.

Of course, Zune can't be promoted like a typical business-oriented Microsoft product. It needs to be marketed more like the XBOX, which is probably why J. Allard, the father of the XBOX, was tapped to help create the Zune. Consumer hardware is a very different market from the one in which Microsoft typically operates in (even though Windows underlies most consumer PCs), and needs to be marketed not like a technology product so much as an accessory - like a TV set, but with a "cool" factor the likes of which Microsoft has managed to capture in their XBOX line.

iPod does have differences relative to typical fashion products. There isn't an ecosystem of compatible products oriented around Hugo Boss shirts, as an example. However, Microsoft certainly has the cash to single-handedly create a decent-sized accessory range from day one, so the ecosystem issue is less pronounced with Zune than it would be with another company.

Nothing, of course, is guaranteed, and Apple certainly won't stand still in response to the Zune onslaught. Irrespective of whether you like the Zune, however, it's good to finally see a player try to compete with the dominant iPod in a market where more electronics companies appear to be shrinking away from the fight.

Competition is good.

Topic: Apple

John Carroll

About John Carroll

John Carroll has delivered his opinion on ZDNet since the last millennium. Since May 2008, he is no longer a Microsoft employee. He is currently working at a unified messaging-related startup.

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44 comments
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  • Zune vs iPod

    A couple things come to mind based on your blog, first and foremost is built in WiFi.. How realistic is it to have, and how much battery power is it going to chew up?

    Kind of reminds me of PDA's and WiFi and how it just destroys the battery.

    All reasonable concerns I would think...

    I'm a recent iPod owner myself and I didn't buy it for iTunes although I am growing quite accustomed to it and prefer that over WMP (of which I have used for years). I even had my entire collection in WMA format because I didn't want the extra application to convert to MP3.

    So far I have been impressed by iTunes and my iPod. I have not a single complaint yet.

    Now to my second point, so Zune comes with these built in features? What about price?

    I definitely won't go to Zune when it comes out because not only does the iPod have hundreds if not thousands of accessories (some of which I'm looking to purchase), it's a great looking, and easy to use product.

    Zune has a lot to beat.
    ju1ce
  • Simplicity

    I have ben an iPod owner for many years now, and I love them. (I curently have a mini) One thing I love about it is its simplicity. Its a music player, nothing else. I could care less about wifi and the like. And most iPod owners are the same way, and thats one of the reasons for choosing an iPod. As there are a LOT of other players with more features. The iPod is also so easy to use. You can do everything just by holding it in your hand and using your thumb. You dont need two hands.

    The Zune will be competition, but I am not sure if it will succeed like M$ wants. Especially now that they have said that older songs with the older DRM wont play on them. And as I recall, the Zune cost more than an iPod as well, and there is only the one model (the video playing one). Although they may come out with a music only one some day. Especialy since the iPod Nano outsells the full blown iPod by a large margin.
    Stuka
  • Does all fashion fade? Some format advice too.

    Sometimes a really good idea or style endures. Think about blue jeans or t-shirts. How long have these been around and have they ever really faded from popularity?

    That said, my strongest advice to you would be to buy whatever player you want, but do not, under any circumstances, tie yourself to a file format that is not universal. If you spend months ripping your CDs to WMA, what happens if the Zune fails and MS lets it fall by the wayside, much like they're doing with Plays-For-Sure, or lots of other products that didn't catch on (MSN Auctions, as another example)? What if you buy a Zune and hate it and want a different device next time? You'll end up having to painfully re-rip your entire collection in another format for the next player you buy. Think instead about going with the universal MP3 or at the very least, AAC, which is supported both by the Zune and the iPod. That way, when your current player dies, you'll have choices about what to buy next.

    Also think about things like accessories and car integration (especially since you live in LA, which is the center of car culture). As I recall, you drive an Element, which is great because it has an auxilary jack built in already, so you can just run a line from any device's headphone jack. This isn't as convenient as some of the more elaborate setups that let you control the device through the car's stereo controls.
    tic swayback
    • Re: Fading fashion

      [i]Sometimes a really good idea or style endures. Think about blue jeans or t-shirts. How long have these been around and have they ever really faded from popularity?[/i]

      Granted, but I'm not talking about shifting from blue jeans, say, to 17th century tights and poofy wigs. Guess jeans were super popular, then diesel jeans, then Girbaud jeans (or whatever the order). The preferred vendor of a particular category changes, which is similar in style to the preferred vendor of a music player shifting to someone else.

      [i]If you spend months ripping your CDs to WMA, what happens if the Zune fails and MS lets it fall by the wayside[/i]

      WMA is fairly universal. What they are letting fall by the wayside (it would appear) is WMA-DRM, the foundation of PlaysForSure.

      Not sure if I like the idea of creating another closed DRM system to rival FairPlay, but I'm not the guy making the decision, and if history is any guide, I'm Cassandra.

      [i]What if you buy a Zune and hate it and want a different device next time?[/i]

      At least my WMA files will port. Granted, I could do it all in MP3, but WMA is smaller, and I think it works pretty well. I get better WMA encodes of my music than I have gotten of MP3 encodes, in my subjective and non-scientific opinion.

      You're right, though, my WMA files won't port to an iPod.

      [i]Also think about things like accessories and car integration (especially since you live in LA, which is the center of car culture).[/i]

      My Honda Element has a "line in" jack for the stereo, something I think EVERY car should have (and oddly enough, was a minor selling point in my purchasing choice.

      Granted, that won't help others who want to hear my Zune music...but I expect Microsoft to figure something out in that area.

      [i]As I recall, you drive an Element, which is great because it has an auxilary jack built in already, so you can just run a line from any device's headphone jack.[/i]

      Oops, hadn't read that far, and didn't realize you had remembered that.

      [i]This isn't as convenient as some of the more elaborate setups that let you control the device through the car's stereo controls.[/i]

      What would be REALLY interesting is if the stereo created its own limited-range WiFi network and streamed music off the Zune. That, however, isn't something it does now.

      My stereo does support WMA, though, another reason I'm less concerned about compatibility. Granted, it also supports MP3.
      John Carroll
      • Tell it to Levis

        ---The preferred vendor of a particular category changes, which is similar in style to the preferred vendor of a music player shifting to someone else.---

        Agreed, but there are still some companies like Levis who seem to be a mainstay for a very long time. Even the Sony Walkman was the market leader for what, at least 10 years?

        ---At least my WMA files will port. Granted, I could do it all in MP3, but WMA is smaller, and I think it works pretty well. I get better WMA encodes of my music than I have gotten of MP3 encodes, in my subjective and non-scientific opinion.---

        Ah, but here's the thing--what if iPod sales tail off, but iTunes sales continue to increase, and Apple decides to license FairPlay which works on top of AAC files? At that point, will any device manufacturer, other than MS, bother with WMA? At least with MP3 you're guaranteed future compatiblity. Less so with AAC, but with AAC, you get the smaller size files and better sound quality. I think the only reason WMA is available on so many devices now is the availablity of MS' DRM scheme. With that dying out, will it continue to be licensed and supported?

        ---My Honda Element has a "line in" jack for the stereo, something I think EVERY car should have (and oddly enough, was a minor selling point in my purchasing choice---

        Absolutely, and I remembered this as my wife drives one as well. Still, it's a lot more convenient to run everything through the stereo's controls, as I get nervous trying to work the iPod by hand while keeping an eye on the road. There are a lot of good devices that should work with your Element's stereo--if it's a model that came with satellite radio free for the first few months, all you have to do is unplug the satellite setup and use that input as an Aux input for a control device.

        ---What would be REALLY interesting is if the stereo created its own limited-range WiFi network and streamed music off the Zune. That, however, isn't something it does now.---

        Interesting idea--I use a network of Squeezeboxes at home for music, so perhaps this could translate into an auto version.
        tic swayback
  • Zune vs iPod

    Well it certainly seems apple will respond, but has something something that the Zune certainly lacks: First mover advantage. This advantage is primarily kept where people have bought there music via the iTunes store. The amount of effort to get your music in a format that is playable ont he Zune (or any other player) is just to much.

    Furthermore there's one threat that the Zune player has to overcome, that people will create something they also did for mobile phones with bluetooth capability. If one virus will hit it, press will be all over the Zune player.

    One positive for the Zune could be that someone cracks the DRM, publishes it and creates an enormous effictive platform for sharing music in public spaces which would certainly add to the buzz around Zune, but in the same time would lead to a mass abondenement of the Music Industry of the Zune shop.
    tombalablomba
    • Not so sure

      ---Well it certainly seems apple will respond---

      My bet is Apple announces the widescreen players that have been rumored the day after Zune is officially released.

      ---One positive for the Zune could be that someone cracks the DRM, publishes it and creates an enormous effictive platform for sharing music in public spaces which would certainly add to the buzz around Zune, but in the same time would lead to a mass abondenement of the Music Industry of the Zune shop.---

      Not sure I agree here--what would happen is people would sign up for the minimum subscription to the Zune shop, snag all the music they could, then drop the subscription. Then they'd be free to use that music on any player they chose, since they'd broken the DRM.
      tic swayback
      • Tic:

        --My bet is Apple announces the widescreen players that have been rumored the day after Zune is officially released.--

        I dunno. Apple's best bet would have been to bring them out either now or sometime before the Zune comes out, for a couple of reasons:

        1) It gives them a jump on the Zune by a month or two, and pre-empts potential zune sales.

        2) The Zune's general specs have been out for a couple of months now, and I find it hard to believe that they would announce a NEW iPod(s) right after bringing out new models a week or two ago . . .


        One thing I DO know. The market for protable media players is gonna get REEEAALL interesting (and fun) to watch for a while, and prices are gonna fall, letting a lot of people who couldn't afford one a chance to get one.


        Ain't competition a wonderful thing?
        jlhenry62
        • but there is nothing compelling...

          in the zune to make users switch... there is nothing in the zune that really rivals what is in iPod... consumer inertia will leave users where they are.. i think Apple made the right choice by just adding a few dodads and effectively dropping the price (by doubling capacity at price points)... they should let this play it self out for a while, see it zune gets any tracktion at all keeping the widescreen, bluetooth/WiFi, phone in their back pocket and whip these things out of their back pocket as necessary... why 'blow your load' all in one shot against a competitor that seems, to me anyway, poised to fall of it's own weight within a year or so..
          doctorSpoc
    • Granted

      [i]Well it certainly seems apple will respond, but has something something that the Zune certainly lacks: First mover advantage. This advantage is primarily kept where people have bought there music via the iTunes store. The amount of effort to get your music in a format that is playable ont he Zune (or any other player) is just to much.[/i]

      Yes, iPod has first mover advantage and customers who, if they bought from iTunes, are locked to an iPod. However, the digital music world is still in its early stages, with MOST music still sold as CDs. CDs can be put on a Zune or iPod with little difficulty.

      [i]Furthermore there's one threat that the Zune player has to overcome, that people will create something they also did for mobile phones with bluetooth capability. If one virus will hit it, press will be all over the Zune player.[/i]

      Any networked device carries risks. Even so, the benefit of hacking a Zune is of limited utility, though people may try it.
      John Carroll
      • Message has been deleted.

        tombalablomba
        • Deleted??

          So what was offence about the message?

          the reasons I gave why somebody would hack the Zune?

          If they didn't think about this at redmond, i guess they are definately living in an ivory tower.

          Zune's potential is indeed enourmous, maybe i will even get one to create myself a wireless webserver with low power requirements by installing Linux on it :)

          But if i buy one, it won't be for it's music capabilities, but for the wireless potential it indeed posts
          tombalablomba
  • Zune won't play MS DRM infected files

    Read this first......

    http://www.theinquirer.org/default.aspx?article=34478
    barsteward
    • Different spin...

      ...or, Microsoft's Zune isn't going to compete with PlaysForSure players, leaving that market to them to hash out.

      What Zune doesn't do is grow the market from WMA-DRM. Is that a good idea? I'd certainly prefer them to support Zune DRM and PlaysForSure DRM.

      What matters most to me is that it supports WMA, MP3, AAC, and for video, WMV, MPEG-4, H.264. Granted, not DRM protected, but DRM is in an incompatibility right now, and whether or not I will jump on any DRM gravy train remains to be seen.
      John Carroll
      • "Spin" means a lot of things

        Usually used by politians but in the Microsoft sense it means "spin on my middle finger" if you are a MS partner
        barsteward
  • Zune's Failings

    Fashion accessory? Do we really think that Microsoft has been
    eclipsed by a fashion accessory? Well that will make it easy then.
    One just has to roll out the new fashion.

    The stakes are high. It represents controlling interest in digital
    content distribution, yet all we have to do is be aware of the fall
    colours? Let's not give Apple technical credit for producing the
    highest functioning and best integrated system. Let's not give
    them business credit either, for pioneering the record company
    deals and creating tiny 1-click transactions. No, this has to be
    about marketing and the flighty whims of teenagers. Why?
    Because if it's not, it's looking dangerous.

    Zune's failings are clear from the moment you look at it. They
    are typical Microsoft mistakes. It's a focus on peripheral
    nonsense to the detriment of core function. The first glaring
    error is the screen. It's too big. This is not a video player. Video
    players of this size have failed. It compromises battery life,
    durability, and UI to 1-up Apple. It's a tragic this video and
    game playing wunderkind will be forced to play music at all. It
    will compete with everything and win at nothing.

    Second is it's clearly derivative industrial design. Vista will get
    away with being imitative of OSX because it's a steam roller.
    Zune is entering into this market with a design that acts as a
    visual recommendation to purchase iPod. If the iPod "fashion" is
    fading fast, perhaps the strategy of mimickery wasn't thought
    through. One can't have it both ways.

    While the Nano is the top seller, Microsoft has a limited rollout
    of a high end silver spoon with a price point above a comparable
    iPod. Great.

    Then there is the Jay Allard/XBox thing. Fan Boys will line up
    right? The ads will be righteous? It's a shame that those without
    a Y chromasome will be left out of the knarly Zune loop. Being
    half the population and all. The boys club will congratulate itself
    for it's total awesomeness regardless.

    The WiFi will be a non starter. Why? Because you'll have to find
    some one else with a Zune. Good luck. It will contribute, along
    with the awesome megascreen to torpedo battery life.

    Competition is indeed good. We're seeing it for the first time. As
    Zune dies on the vine and the price is slashed, we will be bribed
    to use Zune. We'll see how that fashion statement works.
    Harry Bardal
    • To be fair...

      ...John did give a lot of iPod credit to design, as well as the marketing.

      But you are 100% right with your points--if you're going to replace a fashion, you have to do something different and something attractive. As far as I can tell, Zune doesn't accomplish either. It looks like a weak iPod imitation, the design is a standard MS not quite as pretty or functional job (gotta love that brown color choice). Functionally, it doesn't offer much more, other than crippling all of your files with DRM and allowing you to spread them like a virus. Again, this is a function without a demand, something that usually fails in the tech market (creating a device to do something no one wants to do right now and hoping the device will cause a market for that function to be created).

      The Zune will not replace the iPod. The iPod will be replaced, but by something radically different.
      tic swayback
      • Quite Frankly . . .

        If either Apple OR MS wants my money, they're gonna have to come up with a device tat I can use without paying a lot of $$$ to make it usable in my car:

        Some way of securing the device in the car (an included piece of plastic that lets it sit up in a cupholder, for example), include the stinking DC charger cord (For heaven's sake, they don't cost THAT much to make), and maybe include a built-in FM transmitter, not receiver (although that's cool too, just not as usable as everyone thinks it is. After all, if I want to listen to radio, that's what the car stereo IS for, isn't it?).

        That's my wish list, anyway. And I agree with you about the brown. (BROWN? Just which marketing "genius" came up with THAT choice? ugh . . . )

        But let's face it. They ALL look like iPod imitations: There aren't that many ways to design a functional unit that looks any different from Apple's initial design. Although the Lifedrive looks interesting. And From what I've seen, the Zune's menu system doesn't work any different from the ipod's either (same with the Sansa players, too).


        From here on out, it's just a case of adding on the glitz (wallpapers, startup sounds -BTW, did you know that Apples had startup sounds LOOONG before Windows ever did. I had a Mac+ emulator on my Atari ST, and I had a BALL playing with them on it).
        jlhenry62
    • Re:

      [i]Do we really think that Microsoft has been
      eclipsed by a fashion accessory? [/i]

      Yes, because it certainly isn't features. Design had something to do with it (a lot, actually), but also creating a product that has created a new category of stylish product.

      [i]It represents controlling interest in digital
      content distribution, yet all we have to do is be aware of the fall colours?[/i]

      If that's what give you market share, yes.

      [i]Let's not give Apple technical credit for producing the highest functioning and best integrated system.[/i]

      Highest functioning, no (as noted, there are players with more features), best integrated, yes.

      [i]Let's not give them business credit either, for pioneering the record company deals and creating tiny 1-click transactions.[/i]

      Why do you insist I talk about the merits of the iPod while I'm talking about the Zune? Yes, iPod was category defining and created the market for such products. Doesn't affect what I was talking about in the least.

      [i]Zune's failings are clear from the moment you look at it. They are typical Microsoft mistakes. It's a focus on peripheral nonsense to the detriment of core function.[/i]

      So you say. Punditry and the blogosphere, however, have been overwhelmingly positive, admitting as they do, however, that they don't have the whole story...yet.

      [i]The first glaring error is the screen. It's too big. This is not a video player. [/i]

      Yes, a big screen is always something I hate when I'm trying to watch video on my player (and yes, it is a video player, look at the specs).

      Microsoft historically pushes the envelope in terms of system requirements...just look at Pocket PC and Windows Mobile. On that, the battery life for Zune is rumored to be pretty good. But, definitive word will be once these things get into more people's hands.

      [i]Zune is entering into this market with a design that acts as a visual recommendation to purchase iPod.[/i]

      If someone creates a good design for computing product interface, why is it a good idea to completely ignore those ideas? Products leapfrog each other all the time, building on the idea base set by the previous product and adding their own innovations.

      WiFi integration is a GOOD idea, IMO, particularly for a product that might act as a portable front-end to people's media lives. I have trouble figuring out why anybody would find that a "bad feature."

      [i]While the Nano is the top seller, Microsoft has a limited rollout of a high end silver spoon with a price point above a comparable iPod. Great.[/i]

      Microsoft historically aims for high feature. Therefore, it makes sense for the first avenue of attack to be the iPod, not the nano.

      [i]Then there is the Jay Allard/XBox thing. Fan Boys will line up right? The ads will be righteous? It's a shame that those without
      a Y chromasome will be left out of the knarly Zune loop. Being half the population and all. The boys club will congratulate itself for it's total awesomeness regardless.[/i]

      And how would you characterize Apple marketing? Marketing is marketing, and it's incredibly important component of building demand.

      [i]The WiFi will be a non starter. Why? Because you'll have to find some one else with a Zune. Good luck. It will contribute, along with the awesome megascreen to torpedo battery life.[/i]

      I have WiFi in my apartment, as I'm sure you do, too. Think of Zune as a media player with a much more effective way to access networked media. Yes, it can be used to trade media. It can also ride your home network...and that opens up a whole lot more uses. Russell Shaw talks about the VoIP possibilities of the Zune. I doubt they'll emphasize that out of the box, but it shows that there are a LOT of things that WiFi network connectivity can do.
      John Carroll
      • Design is not a dirty word

        ---Yes, because it certainly isn't features. Design had something to do with it (a lot, actually), but also creating a product that has created a new category of stylish product.---

        Just to be clear, "design" encompasses many things, including both the look and the packaging of the product, but also the interface, functionality and engineering. Apple has been mocked for decades now for caring about design. It's interesting to see other companies suddenly realizing how essential it is.

        ---So you say. Punditry and the blogosphere, however, have been overwhelmingly positive, admitting as they do, however, that they don't have the whole story...yet.---

        How many devices have we seen the pundits and the bloggers declare to be "iPod killers"? How many have succeeded?

        ---WiFi integration is a GOOD idea, IMO, particularly for a product that might act as a portable front-end to people's media lives. I have trouble figuring out why anybody would find that a "bad feature."---

        I think the problem is that (to quote Gertrude Stein), there's no there there. As you say below, "it opens up a whole lot more uses" but you don't mention any specifically. Again, I think this is a function in search of demand. And filling a demand is a much better business strategy than trying to create a demand.
        tic swayback