Consumer Electronics Break

November 26, 2006

Failure as profound as that of the Microsoft Zune deserves recognition. Via BoingBoing, Andy Ihnatko in the Chicago Sun-Times savages Microsoft’s awful new media device:

Yes, Microsoft’s new Zune digital music player is just plain dreadful. I’ve spent a week setting this thing up and using it, and the overall experience is about as pleasant as having an airbag deploy in your face.

“Avoid,” is my general message. The Zune is a square wheel, a product that’s so absurd and so obviously immune to success that it evokes something akin to a sense of pity.

The setup process stands among the very worst experiences I’ve ever had with digital music players.

“These devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it,” said Doug Morris, CEO of Universal Music Group. “So it’s time to get paid for it.”

Well, Morris is just a big, clueless idiot, of course. Do you honestly want morons like him to have power over your music player?Then go ahead and buy a Zune. You’ll find that the Zune Planet orbits the music industry’s Bizarro World, where users aren’t allowed to do anything that isn’t in the industry’s direct interests.

Take the Zune’s one unique and potentially ginchy feature: Wi-Fi. You see this printed on the box and you immediately think “Cool. So I can sync files from my desktop library without having to plug in a USB cable, right? Maybe even download new content directly to the device from the Internet?”

Typical, selfish user: How does your convenience help make money for Universal? No wonder Doug despises you.

…The Zune is a complete, humiliating failure. Toshiba’s Gigabeat player, for example, is far more versatile, it has none of the Zune’s limitations, and Amazon sells the 30-gig model for 40 bucks less.

Throw in the Zune’s tail-wagging relationship with music publishers, and it almost becomes important that you encourage people not to buy one.

The iPod owns 85 percent of the market because it deserves to. Apple consistently makes decisions that benefit the company, the users and the media publishers — and they continue to innovatively expand the device’s capabilities without sacrificing its simplicity.

Companies such as Toshiba and Sandisk (with its wonderful Nano-like Sansa e200 series) compete effectively with the iPod by asking themselves, “What are the things that users want and Apple refuses to provide?”

Microsoft’s colossal blunder was to knock the user out of that question and put the music industry in its place.

Before returning to the important issues Ihnatko raises there, let’s rub salt in the wound and see just how big and how humiliating the failure is. Currently on, the black Zune is #78 in electronics; the white Zune is #344; the brown (seriously? brown?) Zune is #503.

For purposes of comparison, before the top-selling Zune there are

  • 12 iPods
  • six iPod accessories
  • four other MP3 players

Because I have better things to do (hitting refresh at counts in this instance), I won’t even bother checking how many keychain MP3 players beat out the white Zune, but ya get the idea.

All gloating aside, however, what Ihnatko is talking about is actually pretty much the same thing that Bill Simmons was talking about. Consumers now have a wide range of choice in their media-consumables, and so when existing players like NBC and Microsoft roll out new products designed not around consumers’ needs or desires but primarily to appease their corporate partners/masters, consumers quite un-shockingly say, “No thanks.”

Politicians might want to take a few notes on this count, too.

UPDATE: I’ll note that I was way ahead of Marketwatch on this particular diss.