Zune Pass Update is Just A Band-Aid, Nothing More

By  |  Monday, November 24, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Ed Bott’s take on Microsoft’s new Zune Pass update over at ZDNet is glowing. But there’s no part of it that I agree with. Where do we start?

Essentially, the price of the subscription service stays the same at $15, but now you are given 10 free “credits” to keep some of the tracks you have downloaded.

This means the subscription portion of the service costs an extra $5 per month. Nothing really new here: Yahoo was offering a $5 a month subscription service years ago, so its not like this price is some novel idea. Zune was overpriced to begin with.

Ed says that the end-to-end experience of a Zune is superior to Apple’s iTunes-iPod combination, and that he’s never had any kind of problem with the Zune Pass/Marketplace. But the end-to-end experience of an iPod and iTunes paved the way for the Zune, and Microsoft has only now been able to replicate anything close to what Apple has had for almost five years now.

Add to the fact you now have features like Genius, which further builds on the experience, and Apple is certainly ahead here by a longshot. Simply putting Wi-Fi on your device is not going to cut it, especially if there are so few Zunes out there that it’s nothing more than a gimmick anyway.

And Zune Marketplace and Zune Pass are not without issues that have been pointed out in the community, as well as when the entire service went down for 48 hours for “maintenance.” I can’t remember any time where iTunes was down for more than several minutes to an hour or so, ever.

Let’s put it this way: Apple won’t add a subscription service or any feature just because Microsoft’s doing it. To suggest that the new Zune Pass would be a success if iTunes finally adds subscription support is silly. Steve Jobs will add subscription support when the public demands it, not because Microsoft’s doing it with a player that Apple outsells a dozen times over. And so far, consumers seem to be happy to just own each and every track they own.

Plus, if they don’t want to own those tracks, they’re still going to P2P anyway. Let’s be honest here. It’s just an attempt to stay relevant with yet another gimmick. At this point though, what else can Microsoft do?

Update: Let me take a moment here to “revise and extend” my remarks, as they say. I don’t think it’s laughable that anyone could argue that the Zune is superior. However using subscription music to make that contention is.

There is no evidence at all that subscription music sells players. It’s been tried numerous times already, and not a single provider has done it successfully.

There are some good points to Zune, such as its far better DRM-free offerings compared to iTunes. But none of this so far has managed to dent Apple’s dominance, and that is pretty much a fact.

Update 2: I’ve gotten feedback that the original version of this post made it sound as if I was accusing Ed Bott of impropriety. My apologies to Ed–that wasn’t my intention, and I’ve edited the post to reflect that.


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19 Comments For This Post

  1. zoonsky Says:

    LOL.. talk about those that live in glass houses!

    The ZDnet blog article does sound a little like a fan talking up his favorite product, but at least he gave his reasons for it.

    To me, you sound a lot more like a person pushing a one-eyed opinion than him.

    Plenty of people think the Zune is better than iPod (and vice versa).. you don’t Really think their opinion is laughable do you!?

    The Zune Pass deal kicks the iTunes offering easily.. and I doubt you will even find many IPod fans to disagree there. (apart from an understandable dislike of drm)

    The iPod has plenty of areas it beats the Zune in. So it’s very hard to see you as anything close to unbiased when you choose to pick the Zune features that actually are better than the iPod and try and tear them down with arguments like “thinking that is laughable” :p

  2. Ed Oswald Says:

    I think you selectively read the post. My reasons for why he is wrong were laid out in the post. As for anyone who believes it is superior to the iPod, I’d like to see why. Just cause it has Wi-Fi? Let’s be realistic here. The Zune’s signature feature DOESN’T WORK unless there are Zunes around it. I’d like to know how without that, it is any better. You can’t argue that fact in an unbalanced manner.

  3. suzette Says:

    The main reason I have a Zune is for the subscription. I can’t be bothered with buying individual tracks. I don’t like Apple much myself.

  4. joeby Says:

    Well, actully, the Wifi can be used with a subscription to download songs heard over the radio. I think that’s a pretty nifty feature that the iPod doesn’t have. And I like how Microsoft offers free updates to ALL Zune owners, it’s nice that the updates are backward-compatible, because I have a 1st-gen Zune, and have the 3.1 update, which is nice. I like some iPod features too, they’re two different devices, but each has its’ strengths and weaknesses. I know a lot of people who like the subscription idea, but they have iPods and can’t subscribe, so yes, people are asking for it, but Jobs doesn’t want to do that, at least not yet.

  5. Jared Says:

    I see you list Genius being better than the Zune offering, now that is laughable. Genius is a real piece of unreliable junk compared to mix view as far as music discovery goes.

    I have owned an iPod and now own a Zune 2.0. The software on the Zune is far superior to the iPod classic. Drilling in and out of menus on the iPod is insane. The Zune desktop software needs work still but it works as well as iTune and Mixview, Channels and picks are a great way to discover new music and with the subscription you can listen to whatever you want. iTunes does not do that. I waste far more than 15 bucks a month on coffee and I am a huge music fan and having the subscription is great.

    iPods and iTunes is over rated. iTunes is bulky and unreliable on windows. iPods are jewelry and its cool to hate on Microsoft even when they have the superior product. Its the same as the Vista hate. Its from people who have not even used the product.

  6. Jared Says:

    In response to Ed Oswald you can sync the Zune through wifi and explore the Zune marketplace through wifi on the device. The device itself is rated higher for clarity of the audio and the menu is much easier to deal with than the classic.

  7. Chip Says:

    Jared, while you may be right that “iTunes is bulky and unreliable on windows,” I can assure you that the Zune is completely unusable on the Mac.

  8. Rob Says:

    Sounds like you’ve never even used a Zune. It’s your article that laughable.

    How about using your wifi and subscription service to stream millions of songs directly to your Zune? How about purchasing songs over wifi directly from the Zune marketplace? No, those features are laughable, who would want that?

    How about being able to purchase DRM free mp3s from the Zune marketplace? No, nobody would want that, would they?

    How about a navigation pad that is far superior to that silly scroll wheel that Apple insists on using?

    Yeah the Zune is just a sucky gimmick.

    Keep your head firmly stuck in the sand fanboy!


    Former iPod user.

  9. Ed Oswald Says:

    Wow, very intelligent. I had the zune at launch. Want to revise those comments?

  10. Rob Says:

    No, because your comments sound like you are talking about the Zune at launch; “Add to the fact you now have features like Genius, which further builds on the experience, and Apple is certainly ahead here by a longshot. Simply putting Wi-Fi on your device is not going to cut it, especially if there are so few Zunes out there that it’s nothing more than a gimmick anyway.”

    Zune’s Mixview is far superior to Apples Genius, and your reference to using wifi to share media between Zunes shows that you have not used a Zune since launch.

  11. hrm Says:

    1. The WiFi does work without another Zune nearby. I can access the store from work, McDonald’s, home and any other place there’s an open WiFi access port. Sure the iTouch and iPhone can do that, but the 50,000,000+ other iPods can’t. I can also sync to my PC with the WiFi.

    2. FM Radio, with song tagging. Sure I don’t use it much – but my 4 kids each use it all the time. Hear a song on the radio, tag it – and it automatically downloads (using the WiFi) from the store.

    3. Mixview… Not exactly Pandora… but the next closest thing. I suspect in the next software update, it will be a lot closer to Pandora – especially considering that like-song technology MS is working on.

    The reality is that it’s MOST important that you own your music. That does not require any specific brand device. The 2nd thing is finding new music… That might be Pandora, Mixview, or watching MTV. Zune has made HUGE strides in that area – and I think in the the next year you’ll see the leap…

    … and thankfully, my Zunes (all 6) have been able to firmware update for the last 3 years – so we’re not left out. Try that with a 3 year old shuffle or mini.

  12. hrm Says:

    … or even an iPhoto.. I was miffed.. I dropped $599 for the iPhoto.. a year later the new iPods came out, that offered video & games..

    Technically there was no reason my iPhoto couldn’t play games or videos… but no update for me… If i wanted games or videos, I had to give Apple another $400 for a new device.

    The Zune has leaped ahead with changes, some that the iPod already had – and some not… but I didn’t have to buy ANYTHING new.

  13. Jukebox Johnny Says:

    Okay I’m not going to get into the flame wars here because frankly I’m not qualified to do so as i have never owned a zune.

    I will say that I was pretty shocked by the overall tone of this article and immediately checked who the author was after reading it. I haven’t had to do that on this site and it’s definitely not the tone that I like to read. It came across as spiteful, not to mention the fact that even though I don’t own a Zune I knew some of the things Ed said in the article were just plain incorrect.

    In Ed’s defense I have found it quite appalling myself how many “tech experts” have been slobbering all over the new zune pass. I just got done listening to the Engadget Podcast and a good 20 minutes of the podcast was pretty much a commercial for just how awesome the Zune was and how everyone is stupid for not owning one.

    I just have one question, that maybe someone can help me out with. Is the new Zune pass 10 tracks OR 1 album? I may be in the minority here but I buy ALBUMS not tracks, and I don’t see the benefit of being able to KEEP 10 tracks if that means I only get 10 songs out of an album that has 13. Most albums, no matter how many tracks they have, are sold for 9.99 on itunes is this not the same way through the Zune marketplace? I haven’t read the official announcement so if I’m wrong that you can’t get a whole album at the end of the month please let me know.

  14. Ed Oswald Says:

    It’s 10 tracks. As for being spiteful, I’ve reread this article again, and I don’t get where you see that. It’s a complete disagreement with Ed Bott. It is supported with additional information. As for being incorrect, I’m not sure about that one either. I own a Zune (don’t use it), and have tried to find where I may have been wrong. I am confused by that statement.

  15. Lex Lucid Says:

    I just sold my 60GB iPod and bought a 120GB Zune. The sound quality is definitely better on the Zune (I use Etymotic ER-6i and Sennheiser HD-580 headphones) and the subscription service is fabulous. The old $5 Yahoo service was totally crap, it had less than 1/4 the music and the support for portables was laughable.

    MS will probably continue to get their asses kicked but only a fool would buy the new 120GB Classic over the Zune 120, or a Nano over the Zune 16. The products aren’t even in the same league, Apple is relying on sheep that will buy anything with their logo.

  16. Jukebox Johnny Says:

    Ed, I’m not exactly sure what edits you made to the post but I was referring to when I first read this article yesterday when it was first posted. I read every post on technologizer, and have come to expect a certain type of tone and analysis. Your point about the wi-fi isn’t clear. Do you think the ability to download music you hear over fm is gimmicky or the ability to share songs? Also to claim that genius is a huge step forward without acknowledging the music finder available in Zune 3.0 seems like an easy stab. As a genius user i think it’s okay, but at the same time I have a touch so I get more functionality out of the feature then people with old gen ipods or the classic.

    Thank you for clarifying the 10 track thing. If anything is gimmicky I would say offering 10 tracks is without offering 1 album as well. Just further decline of the necessity of albums I guess. At this point I don’t even understand why musicians still release their music in the album format.

  17. Lauren Says:

    I bought a Zune over an iPod because I’ve had about 3 iPods over the years. Each one breaks for different reasons, either it’s the dock connector or the headphone jack. If you’ve ever taken one apart when it’s broken, you’ll see that it’s made well but it’s not really made durable enough to not withstand some kind of repair.

    The Zune subscription is better than the iTunes equivalent for one main reason: 192kbps audio.

    iTunes had 128kbps for most songs when I owned my iPod. The Zune subscription gives me access to almost all music there, plus the fact that I can keep 10 of them is a very nice plus. The “friends” feature lets you link others recently played songs and their favorites so that you can possibly add their songs to your library.

    Sound quality is soooo much better than the Classics. With the Zune, I can use WMA Pro 10 24-bit 48kbps 2-channel audio. iPod is basically limited to 16-bit audio. Zune outputs the menus on your TV screen so if you have an A/V dock and a remote, you can control playback from across the room if you play music or videos. Try doing that on any iPod.

    Like others have said, iTunes has the Genius feature but you can’t use that on the 5G. If Zune added such a feature, the first generation Zunes would still have that capability. If the feature being added were hardware related like a touch sensitive pad or MP4 hardware playback that can’t be done on the 1st gen, that would be the only feature that didn’t work. They can buy from the FM radio or buy from a wifi hotspot. They don’t even have to buy the song if you have Zune Pass.

  18. N Jackson Says:

    Here’s what I don’t understand, if you are comparing Zune Pass to Itunes. How can you rip on the subscription piece of Zune when that isn’t even available on Itunes? Even if Zune charged $25 a month for unlimited music that would beat not having the option, would it not? Now they are offering 10 included drm free downloads a month. Would that not cost $9.90 on Itunes? So there’s a problem with that too? You have got to be kidding me. If this is objective journalism I am missing something. If Zune offered free kittens with every paid month I may think it’s stupid, I may think it’s irrelevant, I may think only an idiot would take one, but then again, no one is forcing me to take the kittens or the 10 downloads.

  19. Nathen Says:

    I can’t help myself but to comment on this. He thinks iTunes is better because you own every song you download? Ok well how about when your computer crashes and all of a sudden all your precious ‘owned’ mp3s are no longer there….. Have fun buying them all again. I myself will just continue to pay my subscription fee to Zune Pass and just download my entire library again. 10,000 songs at .99ea or 10,000 songs at $15 you pick.