Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Was The Zune A Mistake?

According to Boy Genius Report, former Microsoft executive Robbie Bach has said that its Zune music players… were a mistake. Bach led the company’s entertainment division through the rise of the Xbox business as well as the launch of the Zune music player. Geek Wire, the source for the BGR article, breaks down Bach’s presentation to the Northwest Entrepreneur Network event in Seattle on Friday where he talked about what could be learned from the two experiences.

With the Xbox, they tried to be different. Bach said that if he could, “do Zune over again, we would skip portable media players completely. We would go to what, at the time, was the Windows Mobile team and say we’re going to produce the coolest music service for your phones ever. The portable music market is gone and it was already leaving when we started.”

I disagree. The portable music market is alive and well, it’s the portable music player that is seeing a decline because of merged devices like the iPhone and the iPod Touch, which is also a portable gaming platform.

He went on to say, “We just weren’t brave enough, honestly, and we ended up chasing Apple with a product that actually wasn’t a bad product, but it was still a chasing product, and there wasn’t a reason for somebody to say, oh, I have to go out and get that thing.”

I think the problem was that they didn’t chase hard enough. The Zune was a competent device and the only platform that, to me, had the potential to really compete with the iPod. Which brings us to the next point.

Bach noted that, “On the Zune side…I think our marketing message was very confused. I don’t think people walked away saying, this is what Zune is and this is why it’s different. … We did some really artsy ads that appealed to a very small segment of the music space, and we didn’t captivate the broad segment of music listeners.”

Direct hit! I saw two problems with the Zune when it first came out. The first, Bach hit upon. They had this whole music sharing thing with “the social,” that Apple didn’t pick up until only recently – and even then only partially, and they never really sold that aspect. Plus, they never, EVER made any sort of advertising or marketing push. It was, “Here’s the Zune. Take it or leave it.” The second problem was that the original player was BROWN! Brown is not a cool color for a fancy consumer gadget.

So, was the Zune a mistake? Having owned two, I don’t think so. The mistake was in how Microsoft handled, or failed to handle, the marketing and partnerships. Even when they had second chances with the Zune 2 and the Zune HD they still managed to fall flat.

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