The year was 2007 – a time when Apple’s iPod was at its peak, and Microsoft was planning to launch its own music player, the Zune. However, things were not looking very promising for the Zune, as Apple had just sold a record-breaking 21.1 million units during the holiday quarter. This raised the question of whether Microsoft could compete with the increasingly powerful iPod and gain a significant market share.
One of the challenges Microsoft faced was the criticism it received for steering away from PlaysForSure, a decision that infuriated many software and device partners. The Zune marketing chief, Chris Stephenson, defended the move during a discussion at MidemNet, saying that “PlaysForSure is not dead, PlaysForSure is being supported.” However, he did acknowledge that the system had a history of not being “100% quality controlled.”
Despite the criticism, Microsoft sold one million units of the Zune by July of that year. Stephenson pointed to this as evidence of the device’s sales performance, but it was still early days, and the picture remained unclear.
At the event, many Europeans were present, leading to questions about when the Zune would cross the Atlantic. Stephenson noted that a launch was scheduled for the fourth quarter, but specific territories were not discussed. He also mentioned that other Zune players were on the way, including a flash-based player, which was also pegged for the fourth quarter.
However, the question of whether future devices would include a per-unit royalty to content holders like Universal Music Group remained unanswered. Stephenson was cool on the prospect, noting that it was “not the right question” and not necessarily the best way for partners to grow the market. He also said that the UMG arrangement was “not a long-term deal,” although he did admit that discussions were happening with “other content owners.”
One of the most exciting announcements at the event was the release of a truly WiFi-enabled device, which would follow the recently-launched Sansa Connect from SanDisk at CES. This was a significant development, as it allowed users to access the internet and download music from a wireless connection. This was a game-changer for music players at the time, as it allowed users to bypass the need for a computer to download and sync their music.
Looking back, it’s clear that the Zune struggled to compete with the iPod, with Apple eventually dominating the market. However, Microsoft’s foray into the music player market paved the way for future devices that incorporated WiFi and other advanced features. The Zune also had a loyal fan base that appreciated its unique features, such as the ability to share music wirelessly with other Zune users.
In conclusion, the Zune’s soft start and the challenges it faced in competing with the iPod highlight the difficulties of entering a market that is already dominated by a strong player. However, Microsoft’s willingness to innovate and incorporate new features into its devices paved the way for future advancements in music player technology. The Zune may not have been the success that Microsoft hoped for, but it certainly left its mark on the industry.