Zune - "iPod killer" or "killed by iPod"

Zune - "iPod killer" or "killed by iPod"

Summary: Yesterday Microsoft released more details on their upcoming Zune player, the mobile device that it hopes will compete head to head again Apple's iPod. Does it have what it takes to be an iPod killer or will it get slaughtered like all the other contenders?

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TOPICS: Apple
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ZuneYesterday Microsoft released more details on their upcoming Zune player, the mobile device that it hopes will compete head to head against (and beat) Apple's iPod.  But does the Zune have what it takes to be an iPod killer or will it get slaughtered like all the previous contenders?

There's little doubt in my mind that Microsoft's decision to release details about the Zune were partly as a result of Apple's unveiling of the new and updated iPod line.  Microsoft is in direct competition with Apple and this is the first in what will probably be a long line of PR broadsides between the two companies.

ZuneBut does the Zune have what it takes to be an iPod killer?  Before I give you my opinion, let's take a look at the specification of the Zune:

  • 30GB capacity
  • 3 inch color screen (works portrait and landscape)
  • Wireless capability
  • Built-in FM tuner
  • Compatible with unprotected WMA, MP3, AAC; photos in JPEG; and videos in WMV, MPEG-4, H.264
  • Three colors: black, while and brown
  • Zune accessories

There are a few highlights there, but not many.  Support for AAC and MPEG-4 is good and the wireless capability is certainly a novelty, but in all other respects the Zune is inferior to the latest iPods to come out from Apple.  This means that price is going to be an issue.

While on the subject of price, it's interesting that Microsoft didn't release any pricing information yesterday.  That was a bad move.  If the price was right, Microsoft could have taken the wind out of Apple's sails, but as things stand the media is now left with only one question to ask: "how much will this inferior gadget cost?"

There are plenty of other strikes against the Zune.  Here are just a few:

  • No price!
  • The Zune is not cross-platform, so it won’t connect to a Mac
  • Yet another closed system
  • More software to install on the PC
  • No podcast management system
  • Dubious battery life
  • Not many accessories

I could go on.  The point I'm making is that the advantages seem to have evaporated and there's nothing about the Zune that makes me go "cool" any more.  The whole wireless Zune-to-Zune content sharing system is interesting from a technical standpoint but it's not something that I'd see myself using.  Now if Microsoft had come out with a player that had 100GB capacity and a built-in phone, things would be different.  But rather than be innovative, the Zune is just a slightly modified and re-badged Toshiba Gigabeat.

Even the box is lackluster and boring compared to the iPod. 

Zune packaging

 

iPod  packaging

See what I mean?  Unless you happen to know what a Zune is, there's no clue for you on the box.  That might work if the Zune had a strong brand, but right now it doesn't mean much at all.  I'm assuming that Microsoft’s  plan is to spend a lot of dollars on advertising.

I'm not doing to rule out the Zune as a future iPod killer (the iPod's market share has declined as of late, from over 80% to just over 70%, so that might be an indication that the tide is turning), but in the first-generation incarnation I don't see it making much of a dent because there's not enough about it that elevates it above the iPod.  So, no, the Zune we’ll be seeing over the Holidays this year is no iPod killer.

Now, add a phone, and Microsoft might be onto something ...

[Updated: September 15, 2006 @ 2:29 pm]

There's a story on Slashdot about the Zune and how Zune's "viral DRM" violates Creative Commons licenses.  My understanding from all the press releases and info on the Zune is that (and I'm checking this with Microsoft) Creative Commons music cannot be shared using the Zune, only music downloaded from the Microsoft store and marked as being sharable.  Ripped music or music downloaded from other sources cannot be shared.

Topic: Apple

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81 comments
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  • AAC is definitely a good move

    I'm really surprised that most music players don't include AAC compatibility in their players. Given that it's the default file format for iTunes, I'm willing to be that a lot of iTunes/iPod users out there have their music collections ripped as AAC files. If you expect people to switch to your product, letting them use their already ripped files is a lot smarter than making them re-rip.

    Good analysis in general though. I just don't see this as being different enough to upset the iPod monopoly. And the small storage space is a major problem.
    tic swayback
  • It will be neither

    Much like game consoles, Microsoft's first entry will simply get them in the game.
    2 years from now we'll see if Apple is still standing. That is the real question.
    mdemuth
  • Give me screen size or give me death!

    The first one to offer a 3.5" screen is the one I'll pay attention to. Oh, wait, I've had a portable AV player with a 3.5" screen for 3 years now with my iPaq. All this fuss about 30, 40, 60, or 80GB is extremely funny to me considering we all have computers with far more hard drive space to store our music on. What our computers can't help us with is screen size though so that is why this is more important to me. The screen on the iPod is a showstopper whether or not you care about video. If you care about video, it is too small and the Zune is better. If you don't care about video, then why pay for a "brighter" (ooo!!!) 2" colour screen at all? You are better off buying something cheaper so again, the iPod is out. No, iPod wins for one reason and one reason only: brilliant marketing made it "cool". The Zune will fail not because it has a smaller HD, it will fail if MS can't convince people that it is cool. The whole DJ and sharing aspect of it is a step in the right direction considering how many times I see 2 kids sharing their ear buds so they can listen to the same music. That is the thing the Zune offers that no one else has. Will it be enough? Who knows, but it is certainly what differentiates the Zune from all the other MP3 players out there. All the Apple fanatics are saying "yeah, well, I'm sure Apple has something up their sleeves!!" They'd better because after 5 years and absolutely no innovation, the iPod is looking mighty stale.

    [i]the iPod's market share has declined as of late, from over 80% to just over 70%[/i]

    Like I said, the iPod is looking mighty stale.
    NonZealot
    • iPod's share has declined as of late, from over 80% to just over 70%

      That's a bit like a fart in outer space. No one will notice.
      BitTwiddler
      • 10% is a fart in outer space?

        I'll keep that in mind the next time the Linux and Mac fanboys are rejoicing over a 0.5% rise in their marketshare and a 1% fall in MS's!! For a product to go from 0% to 80% in a couple years and then to falling a couple years later is the sign of a bubble about to burst.
        NonZealot
        • That's what they usually get told

          I'd think they'd be used it by now. Even the FireFox fans get told that now. I don't think you'll see a problem till the IPOD drops below 40%, that's trouble. There's tons of sompetition in the portable music market. No one company monopolizes a thing.
          voska
        • Microsoft is a fart in outer space . <NT>

          <NT>
          Intellihence
    • You are clueless

      [i]The screen on the iPod is a showstopper whether or not you care about video.[/i]

      If you think that millions of consumers will suddenly dump the ipod for this M$ contraption because of a screen 1.5 inches bigger, then you are really delusional. Or you might just be another M$ shill, which is more likely based on your past posts.

      The ipod has name recognition, accessories galore and is a good product that is well in trenched. Good luck microsuck.
      DarthRidiculous
      • 1 inche doesn't sound like a lot

        but when you go from 2" to 3" (the Zune's screen size), you are talking about a 50% increase in size. You won't notice the difference between a 40" and 41" TV but you most certainly will notice that difference between the iPod and the Zune. I've watched video on an iPod. Made me very glad to have an iPaq!

        [i]Or you might just be another M$ shill, which is more likely based on your past posts.[/i]

        Uh huh, an MS shill who uses Linux as his media PC? Just like all your past posts, this one has absolutely no basis in fact. Try again though, I love to watch you flounder!

        Hehe, I love watching the Apple faitful squirm. Quite frankly, I don't care how well Zune does, I have no vested interest in Zune, iPod, Zen, or anything else. I just find it hilarious how the Apple cultists react to every single little piece of bait that ZDNet dangles in front of their face!! How does that hook feel in your mouth Gerald? ;)
        NonZealot
        • A very telling statement

          Let's play Dr. Freud here for a minute:

          "Hehe, I love watching the Apple faitful squirm... I just find it hilarious how the Apple cultists react ..."

          Why do you think this is the case? Why have you singled out Apple "cultists"? Don't you find that there are mindless Linux and Windows zealots littering the talkbacks at ZDNet as well? Why do you never attack them, never find any pleasure in skewering their mindset? Why just Apple?

          Did Steve Jobs do something bad to you when you were a little boy? Did he touch you in your bathing suit areas?
          tic swayback
          • Linux zealots?

            I most certainly do attack them when they spout mistruths about XP. I've often written, and I quote: [i]I am a user of Linux, not a Linux user.[/i] Linux zealots are just as annoying as Mac zealots and both are just as annoying as Windows zealots although there are almost no Windows zealots on ZDNet and you guys are more than capable of handling the few that pop up. On the rare occassions when you guys have failed to call a Windows zealot to task, I have done it. Doesn't happen often though.

            [i]Did Steve Jobs do something bad to you when you were a little boy? Did he touch you in your bathing suit areas?[/i]

            No. Why do you ask? Does your hatred of MS come from something Bill Gates did to [b]you[/b] as a child so you immediately assumed that my dislike of Apple came from some molestation by Apple's leadership? There couldn't possibly be any other reason in your mind? Interesting. Very telling too!
            NonZealot
          • Defensive much?

            Funny, I've on occasion seen you go after a Linux nutjob, but I don't think I've ever seen you chastise someone overly praising Windows. You seem to have a special virulence saved up just for Mac users, whether they are exhibiting zealotry or not, and the vast majority of your posts are along these lines (at least the ones I've seen). As your psychiatrist (court-appointed), I'm interested in getting to the root of this deep-seated agitation. Why are you so driven to "correct" Mac users so much more than any other group?

            ---Does your hatred of MS come from something Bill Gates did to you as a child so you immediately assumed that my dislike of Apple came from some molestation by Apple's leadership? ---

            But I don't hate MS. I use Office many times every day and find it to be a superb program. I have a very close friend from my youth who is one of the higher ups at MS. I do some work on a Gates Foundation funded charity project. I do enjoy tweaking MS zealots, of course, I mean, who doesn't? It's like shooting fish in a barrel. Then again, I regularly go after Apple fanboys touting the joys of FairPlay. So any molestation that happened to me as a child was out of the realm of the computer science world.
            tic swayback
          • Not defensive: you asked, I answered

            [i]I don't think I've ever seen you chastise someone overly praising Windows[/i]

            Like I said, it doesn't happen much because there simply aren't many instances where people overpraise Windows and in the rare cases that someone does, it almost never goes unanswered by at least 100 people. I have no interest in being the 101st.

            [i]You seem to have a special virulence saved up just for Mac users[/i]

            Awww, I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings more than I hurt the feelings of Linux zealots. Have you ever considered the possibility that you see more of my "truth-bringing" aimed at Mac zealots because you read more Mac related stories on ZDNet and ignore the Linux related ones? I assure you (not that it really matters and I find it amusing that you even care about who I may or may not hate more), I draw no distinction between zealots of any brand.

            [i]But I don't hate MS. I use Office many times every day and find it to be a superb program. I have a very close friend from my youth who is one of the higher ups at MS.[/i]

            Good. Then you will also understand it when I say that I don't hate Mac users because my Dad is a Mac user.

            Now that we have that settled, can we go back to discussing why Zune automatically sucks because it is a Microsoft product or because it doesn't happen to fit your personal requirements and therefore no one else should buy it?
            NonZealot
          • Not so much automatic sucking

            ---Like I said, it doesn't happen much because there simply aren't many instances where people overpraise Windows and in the rare cases that someone does,---

            Wow, you don't read a lot of the talkbacks here, nor a lot of the blogs, do you? Let me introduce you to my friends No Ax and Loverock some time.

            ---Awww, I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings more than I hurt the feelings of Linux zealots. ---

            You have never hurt my feelings. I'm a healer. I see someone in obvious internal pain, and I just want to help. Do you need a hug?

            ---Now that we have that settled, can we go back to discussing why Zune automatically sucks because it is a Microsoft product---

            It doesn't suck because it comes from MS. It sucks because it sucks. Perhaps I'm a little disappointed with MS, being a market leader with a huge amount of money to spend on R&D, and this is the best they could come up with. I'd love to see more competition in this market, but creating another wannabe (and an inferior one) is not going to lead to competition. Do something different, shake things up. Don't just make another iPod, throw some extra features in and hope there's consumer desire for those features. Having extra features doesn't seem to do the trick here, as there are many other players with more features that have failed against the iPod.

            ---or because it doesn't happen to fit your personal requirements and therefore no one else should buy it?---

            But whose requirements does it fit? As you've pointed out elsewhere, there are already much better devices for playing video. As I've pointed out, it's behind the iPod in terms of storage space, UI and accessories for playing music. Who is the customer for this, whose needs does it fit? Are teenagers really clamoring for the ability to share crippled files? Is that a large enough market to actually surpass the iPod (which I see in use in everyone from children to senior citizens).
            tic swayback
          • Zune 'automatically' sucks

            because it is yet another 'me-too' product from Microsoft with no originality. Microsoft trys way to hard to always make an extra buck instead of refining what they have and create new, original works.
            nomorems
          • Really?

            "although there are almost no Windows zealots on ZDNet"

            I'd beg to differ, NO_AXE rings a bell, loverock, southerpride, and a whole host of others who post every now then but not quite as regularly as the others.

            I do have to admit there are more regulars postings as Linux_Zealots and they do post more over the top crazy posts. Sometimes I wonder if they are zealots or if they just like trying to stir up all the other zealots and think of it as a game.
            voska
          • At least one mistake

            [i]I'd beg to differ, NO_AXE rings a bell[/i]

            No_Axe goes on record over and over again saying that people should use whatever they want. This is totally unlike the reams and reams of Linux/Mac zealots who say that anyone who uses anything related to Microsoft is a dumb masochist. If No_Axe has ever said that Linux/OSX users are stupid because they chose their OS based on their needs then I've never seen it.

            [i]loverock[/i]

            I'm shocked that anyone can possibly mistake Loverock for anything other than a brilliantly successful Mike Cox. He suckers 100X more people than Mike could ever hope to on a good day! Loverock is on record as being a BSD fan who hates Linux. He most certainly is not a Windows fan unless it pisses off the Linux fans.

            [i]southerpride[/i]

            Ugh, I wouldn't ever waste my time with him.

            [i]a whole host of others who post every now then but not quite as regularly as the others[/i]

            Yup but like I said, they get taken care of pretty quickly and these are why I said "almost no Windows zealots" instead of "there are no Windows zealots".
            NonZealot
          • I agree on Loverock to a point

            Still Loverock and Mikecox might not be zealots, I have no idea what thier motive is. I do find them funny but thier motive could be entirely serious for all I know, still I'll laugh when I read thier post.

            No_Axe is a zealot. He many go on the record for choice in one post but as long as that choice is what he feels it should be. His choice to use what he wants is good. If I say Linux is good I then No_axe those a tantrum and starts throwing insults. To me that a zealot.

            Still are we all zealots when it comes to our passions? Take you for example, take zeal in tearing into those you think are zealots(which you nail 99% of the time correctly). Me I'm more an anti DRM zealot, big time!
            voska
          • re: "although there are almost no Windows zealots on ZDNet"

            And almost every single time one of those 'Gentlemen' (or whatever they are) posts something, there are more than a few people who jump dopwn their throats for merely breathing and taking up space on the planet (although I do admit 'southernpride' seems to be mainly an insulter, rether than a 'true' zealot).

            Like NonZealot said, why be "MS Zealot Basher #101"?

            Waste of time and effort. I see no reason to jump on top of the dogpile with the other dogs.

            Oh, and Nonzealot and Tic? Could you two please lay off the Child abuse slams. Some of us find that rather offensive and it seems like you are intentionally belittling what is a Major crime. I know you aren't and you don't mean it, but could you please think about what you want to use as a slam before you actually use it? Thanks.
            jlhenry62
          • Mac basher #17,112

            Seems to me there are as many Mac bashers as there are Windows Zealots on these boards. Why be Mac basher #17,112, there are plenty out there to call us Mac users "arrogant" and "cultists". Why pile on?

            As for the child abuse comments, believe me, they were only meant to belittle NonZealot, not the crime itself.
            tic swayback