Robbie Bach, the former leader of Microsoft’s home entertainment and mobile business, gave an interesting post-mortem on the Zune, Microsoft’s failed attempt to take on the iPod.
Bach hasn’t spoken much since leaving Microsoft two years ago, but he talked at an entrepreneur even in Seattle this morning, and Geekwire’s Todd Bishop was on hand.
Bach admitted that the Zune was too little, too late, and that Microsoft never gave consumers a real clear reason to buy one instead of the market leading iPod:
The portable music market is gone and it was already leaving when we started. 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.”
Bach also said the initial marketing for the Zune was too narrow:
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.
He also blames the record industry for not realising they needed an alternative to Apple:
[The music industry] just didn’t figure out that being dependent on Apple was bad for them. And they were so hooked on the drug of what Apple was supplying them that they couldn’t see past that to realise that they needed something else to actually drive their business …. If you look at business value, Apple took whatever business value was in the label business and erased it. That’s not a complaint about Apple, good for them.
With this crack, he was probably referring to the Zune-to-Zune “squirting” feature, which let you send a song wirelessly from one Zune to the next. That feature was way ahead of its time in 2006, but was ruined by record company restrictions that let users listen to shared songs only three times within three days before erasing them.
If Bach had to do it again, he says he would have just made a really great music service for mobile phones.
The Zune was never a core business for Microsoft, but the company is coming from a similar position with Windows Phone today, so hopefully they’ve learned their lessons.