After five years of low sales, missteps, and humiliation, the Zune player is officially dead.
But Microsoft learns from its mistakes, and as the successful launch of Kinect shows, it’s already taken some of the Zune lessons to heart.
- Launch strong. With consumer hardware, you only get one chance to make an impression — it’s not like enterprise software where you can iterate and improve over time and hope to make the next sales cycle. When it launched in fall 2006, the Zune offered very little over the iPod — the only unique feature, the ability to share songs directly between Zunes — was crippled by crazy restrictions (you could only share 3 songs and they only lasted for 3 days) and the lack of other Zune users to share with. By the time Microsoft released the Zune HD three years later, everybody ignored it, even though it was better than the iPod in a lot of ways.
- Focus on the future, not the past. The Zune was Microsoft’s response to the runaway success of the iPod, but Apple had already moved on. A few months after the Zune, Apple unveiled the iPhone — and iPod Touch — with its responsive touch screen, and Microsoft looked hopelessly out of date.
- Pick your markets. Just because Apple had a runaway success with the iPod doesn’t mean that Microsoft should have tried to build an MP3 player. Apple already had 80% or more of the market, and coming from behind is expensive and difficult. MP3 players were no threat to Microsoft’s core businesses — in fact, the iPod probably spurred a lot of Windows upgrades as users suddenly realised that their 10GB hard drive was too small to hold all that music — and Microsoft has never been a great hardware company. While Microsoft dithered building the Zune, Apple was already looking ahead to revolutionise the smartphone market — despite Microsoft having a five-year head start.
- Don’t change for the worse. The Zune PC software was one of the product’s few bright spots when it launched — it made iTunes look like a spreadsheet. But for some reason, Microsoft redesigned it from scratch and relaunched it a year later. The redesign lacked so many basic features — like the ability to manually change song information like genres — that even its most loyal early fans got angry.
The Kinect looks great in comparison: it launched strong, is way ahead of its time, and bolsters Microsoft in a market where it’s already having some success, console gaming.
Also, the Kinect never came in brown.