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Zune vs iPod: what next for the iPod, and what the hell can Microsoft’s Zune do about it? Part 3

an image of the Microsoft Zune and Apple iPod portable music playersWith the recent generation of the iPod, Apple began offering games. What?! So didn’t Apple learn anything from the Pippin fiasco? Well, maybe they did learn something, and they’re puttin’ that learnin’ to use right now with the iPod.

In the first installment, I looked at how the Microsoft Zune has had a bit of a stumble coming out of the starting gate, while the Apple iPod portable music player is onto a flyer.

In the second installment, I looked at how the Zune will need to be on its toes if it doesn’t want to be caught out by the rumoured full-screen iPod, and to avoid competing with also rumoured XBox portable.

What with movies and pictures as well as music, Apple now focus their attention on games:

“A recent recruitment ad on Gamasutra, a site devoted to the games industry, indicates that the company is ready to add more and better games to the player.”

Is Apple looking to compete with a possible XBox portable? Hard to say, but I’d say not completely. A games console is big thing to put together. Apple tried this once and failed.

But maybe Apple is coming at this from a different angle? Maybe a nod towards nostalgia gaming is enough to begin with, certainly enough to build interest and then move forward to bigger and better things more organically over time.

But this is pure speculation on my part, and nothing else. But wouldn’t that be nice?

As for Microsoft and their XBox portable, they have a device that’s going to create somewhat of a double-headed problem; on the one hand, it is quite clearly going to be snatching some of the people who might otherwise buy a Zune or those that might consider buying an XBox 360.

But surely that’s a win-win for Microsoft? Not exactly. If you had everyone buying just one device, the parts cost would come down as the sales volume go up. But if there’s a 3-way split, then the parts costs for each device won’t shift enough to drive the cost of each device down.

Dilemma!

Bumma!

Meanwhile, Apple roll along quite nicely with their newfangled full-screen iPod, knowing that neither their iPods nor their business interests are quite as sprawling as Microsoft’s.

So even though Microsoft has these three products all selling, their per-unit cost aren’t doing them any favours. In fact, quite the opposite.

As of now, sales of the Zune have been variously described as being not brisk. There’s a word for this: flaccid. There are others, but they’re not repeatable in mixed company:

“Initial shopper interest suggested the Zune media player—heavily promoted in gadget reviews and television talk shows—was in for a slow building process.”

On top of which Microsoft are having divvy up to Universal Music for the pleasure of selling the Zune, “Universal Music, a unit of Vivendi, will receive a royalty on the Zune player in exchange for licensing its recordings for Microsoft’s new digital music service, the companies said.”

How come Apple didn’t get stung the same way? Hmmm. And as for the guy holding the fort at Universal Music, well, he has his own opinion of people who own portable 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.’”

Of which Andy Ihnatko has his own opinion, too:

“Well, Morris is just a big, clueless idiot, of course. Do you honestly want morons like him to have power over your music player?”

Obviously not.

Short of some sudden meteoric rise to the sales stratosphere, Microsoft can only hope the Zune is just a slow burner, like running cold molasses up hill in winter time, yeah.

However, if recent reviews are an indication of what Microsoft has to look forward to, they may be as well just taking their bat & ball home right now:

“The setup process stands among the very worst experiences I’ve ever had with digital music players. The installer app failed, and an hour into the ordeal, I found myself asking my office goldfish, “Has it really come to this? Am I really about to manually create and install a .dll file?”

But there it was, right on the Zune’s tech support page. Is this really what parents want to be doing at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning?”

Wait! There’s more:

“Only the Zune software can sync music, video and pictures onto the device; Zune is incompatible with Windows Media Player, the familiar hub of the Windows desktop media experience.

The Zune app doesn’t even have as many features as WMP. And why (for the love of God) doesn’t it support podcasts? That’s pure insanity.

It’s incompatible with Microsoft’s own PlaysForSure standard, too.”

Sigh.

The old me of a couple of years ago would have laughed his socks off, but looking at this whole sorry saga holistically, there’s going to be some really fed-up mums & dads and some really, really crushed kids this holiday season…

this is an artists impression of a full-screen iPod

Part 1, 2, 3

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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