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On November 14th, Zune music player device will be launched in the US. I have read some online reviews and articles about it. Here are my first thoughts.

Microsoft has launched the Zune viral marketing site, ComingZune.com.

Regarding the viral marketing idea, Microsoft has bet on a video based content – like the MAC vs PC Ads from Apple. However, Zune viral message is more subtle than the one of its BIG brother, Apple. I should say iPod but I don’t make a difference btw iPod and Apple general Ads for this comparison (Apple Ads are more focused on the mac whole thing and spirit than just the iPod device itself). In the Zune videos (for instance, we have 2 different videos: video 01 – A big guy, a small guy and a rabbit ; video 02 – A big bird and a small bird), there is, obviously, a hidden message. While it is explicit in the Apple Ads, you have to dig a bit here. Before going further deeper into that idea, just have a look at the Zune device. It looks like an iPod.

Zune

The Packaging also looks like the iPod’s one.
Zune packaging

Microsoft is going to charge the exact same amount of money as Apple for Zune: $249,99.
It is not a big news that Microsoft is a lot inspired by Apple in so many ways. For those who say that copying isn’t fair, I disagree. This is only business/marketing. Thanks to that we, end users, have better and better stuff to deal with. That fosters innovation and fierce competition (it can also slow the innovation process because of the market and competition but I am not going to talk about marketing, big guys do it better than me). Nevertheless, my thoughts are that Apple is more innovative than Microsoft regarding Human User Interfaces – thinking about the ergonomics of OS X and the iPod series. Microsoft strategy for Zune (headlines) is quite simple. Take iPod success recipe and do the same. Same cost, same look, same usage. Even the music software that goes with it is largely inspired by Apple’s one: iTunes.

Zune Marketplace

Marketing differentiation comes when talking about the device functions/features. Among the “add value” functions we have FM tuner with Radio Data System, 3.0-inch screen, and 802.11 wireless networking.
Let’s get back to the video teasers now. In each video we have a big guy and a small one. Without racking your brain too much you can identify whether Microsoft or Apple is the big guy …. Right, so Microsoft is the small guy – everyone is aware that Microsoft isn’t a giant LOL – and Apple the big one. In the first video, the tiny guy loves more the rabbit which represents the music itself. In the second one, it is the same process. I am wondering why the big bird (ie Apple) burns – carbonized – and reveals a brand new skin just after. Maybe this refers to the different generations of iPod … I don’t know.

Anyway, this player looks good and I am sure it will slow and reverse iPod’s market share.

But while we are all focused on comparison sheets, we are loosing some “what do I need” reasoning. I mean, ok you want to buy a player. But what DO you need? Consumers are not educated to briefly write and analyze their own functional specifications.

If I had to build the perfect player I would say :

– I don’t want DRM in my music
– I want to share my music with others without restriction
– When I purchase some music, whether it is online or on hard support, it is MINE so I don’t have to be bothered by limitations, restrictions and so one.
– I want to be able to play the common and best audio formats


And neither iPod and Zune does that. For example, the WiFi function of the Zune player is just a joke. You share your files with others but they are allowed to listen to shared content only 3 times and for 3 days then they are asked to purchase the songs on the music store (Zune Marketplace).
If I add a WiFi capability to a device, I would like this one to be able to sync with WiFi, to play music with WiFi compatible devices (I am thinking about AirPort with AirTunes). It looks like we are teased on a WiFi feature which won’t add so much value to the device. In the other side, I can’t figure out why they have decided to put WiFi in a device without wondering themselves on the way the consumers would like to use this feature. Moreover, and that is the insane part of marketing, the sells of this product, thanks to the WiFi function teasing will be worth the engineering cost, even if people won’t use this function. It is the same that is going on with mobile phones… I have video editing software on my mobile phone! THAT IS NONSENSE !!!!

Well, that is not their fault and I have no doubt they are trying to gain more freedom on the user of copyrighted music. What to think ? To be cuffed to a brand because of the DRM and formats or to be cuffed to a brand because of the laws don’t allow the brand itself to sell more usability freedom …

There is no doubt that Zune will have better features than the iPod and that sounds exiting. I am looking forward to try it.