Does the Zune HD Stand a Chance?

By  |  Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 10:01 am

Zune HDMicrosoft has announced that the Zune HD is hitting stores on September 15th at prices that significantly undercut Apple’s iPod Touch, Microsoft has begun showing off the media player to journalists (not me, alas, but those who have seen it are enthusiastic). As before, it’s impressive from a specs standpoint, with 720p video output, HD radio capability, an OLED screen, and potent Nvidia graphics. In short, it’s promising. Does it have a shot at being what no Zune has been before it: a product that sells well enough to provide meaningful competition to the iPod?

I can’t provide a fully-baked take on that question until I’ve tried the Zune HD, but the most obvious and daunting challenge it faces is the fact that the iPod Touch piggybacks on the iPhone platform and therefore unlocks access to an amazing array of tens of thousands of applications. The Zune HD, if it lives up to its potential, will be what the iPod Touch was before Apple released the iPhone OS 2.0 software and opened the App Store: a slick media handheld with access to the Web via its browser.

I’m guessing, then, that for many follks who are drawn to the Zune HD’s hardware virtues and aggressive price enough to consider buying it instead of a Touch, the decision will boil down to this: App Store, or no App Store? It’ll be fascinating to see whether enough people don’t care about third-party programs to give the HD critical mass.

Apple has already inoculated the iPod Touch against unfavorable comparisons to the Zune HD to some extent through advertising that’s almost exclusively about the diversity of third-party apps–especially games. And we still don’t really know what the Zune-vs.-Touch comparison will look like, since Apple will almost certainly announce a new iPod Touch in September. It could be a little different from the current model or a major advance. (Side note: I think it would be kinda cool if Apple took the Touch on its own design journey over time rather than keeping it as “an iPhone without the phone”).

Then there’s the question of the Zune name. I sort of admire Microsoft for sticking with it–if nothing else, it shows persistence. The current Zune is a respectable old-school media player itself, but the Zune name feels permanently tarnished. It not only never acquired a tenth of the iPod’s coolness, but came to be associated (at least in the echo chamber of tech pundits) with failure. I still think it would make sense for the company to broaden the not-at-all-tarnished Xbox brand to encompass entertainment on devices of all sorts. But if that’s going to happen, it’s not happening now (even though there is evidence that Microsoft does want to broaden Xbox).

Of course, the best way to make Zune cool would be to release a cool Zune. What’s your take on whether the HD is, indeed, that Zune?


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16 Comments For This Post

  1. John Says:

    I would think it’s a resounding yes.

    My sister has an Apple iPod (and iTouch), but I actually love my Zune and have had it for quite some time. Apple’s iPod is cool and all, but a lot of times people don’t give Zune a chance, which is an excellent MP3/multie-purpose player in its own right.

    Now, having said that, I don’t buy music that has built-in digital protection since I may want to play the music I purchase in a variety of devices (sure, both MS and Apple are beginning to remove the strict protection and limitation). As a result, I usually buy from Amazon’s MP3 store, which has a great selection and often at a great price.

    On the note about Amazon, a while ago (thanks to PC World), I came across an interesting table that details the discounts on Amazon. It is at

    Check out the “filler item” function too to get free shipping at Amazon. It’s kind of amusing.

    Anyway, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Zune HD.

  2. sfmitch Says:

    I don’t think the Zune HD will gain significant market share.

    Not only is the Zune HD missing native applications which is HUGE but it is also missing out on the entire ecosystem of iPod accessories: docks, Nike+, integration into Cars, alarm clocks, integration into home stereos & home automation, etc.

    The Zune HD will definitely appeal to the Apple haters of the world – ABAI (anything but Apple & iPod) and feature checklist junkies (“Zune is better because it has more features”).

    The price difference could definitely make the Zune HD more attractive IF the new iPod Touches are priced the same as today’s models. A Big IF.

    I really don’t see how anyone would choose to go the App-less platform. There are so many awesome Apps on the iPod Touch – it’s crazy to give all that up.

  3. Romey Says:

    MS missed an opportunity by only offering 16 & 32GB models, ignoring the larger device market. Apple is rumored to be discontinuing their iPod Classic. Even if they come out with a 64GB player, they’ve cut capacity in half – leaving people looking for a large capacity player with nothing.

    I find it funny that Microsoft creates a rich media player (designed for HD video), and yet hampers the storage. There are still those of us out there that want to have our media library of music, video and pictures on a device, yet everyone’s casting out that market. If Microsoft created a hard drive-based Zune HD version, I would be first in line for that device.

  4. Mike Torres Says:

    The key for me as a current Zune owner (and disclaimer: MS employee) is the promise of combining this amazing hardware with inexpensive subscription music, podcasts, channels, and HD radio.

    When it comes to pure music lovers, the Zune platform is a *lot* more cost-effective (and fun to use) than buying $1.29 songs on iTunes.

    Interested in sampling 30 different albums before you buy? It takes all of a minute with no additional cost on top of the $14.99/mo plan.

  5. Thomas Traub Says:

    I do not give it a more than niche chance without apps & games. For a music player it’s too big, for a decent video player it’s too small (beside occasional use).

  6. Bill McMinn Says:

    With a portable version of Internet Explorer the Zune HD will be popular with hackers who will take about twenty minutes to find the security holes.

  7. Mike Cerm Says:

    I think that in all the promotion of the App Store and iPhone, a lot of people miss the fact that the best-selling iPod is not the Touch, it’s still the Nano. What that tells me is that there’s still a market for a lower-cost, dedicated music/video device.

    As a music player, the Zune interface has been better than the classic iPod interface since the very beginning. The Zune desktop software is much better than iTunes as well. The Zune Pass subscription service is something that Apple can’t compete with. Zune really is a compelling platform, that few people have tried out yet. Now that Microsoft has finally got some sexy hardware to go along with the other strengths of the platform, I think people will start to take a look.

    For the people who want the best experience available with music, video, and like the added bonus of a pretty good web browser, the Zune HD looks like it will be the top choice. It won’t outsell the iPods, but it should pick up some iPod Classic and Nano users, and some Touch users as well. The Touch will continue to be the better device for gaming and general application use.

    For anyone without an iPhone, the Zune HD should be a pretty strong contender.

  8. Civisi Says:

    I think that the Zune is the basis for Windows Phone, and once Windows Phone (v7) comes out, we’ll see cross-integration like the iPod Touch and iPhone.

    No inside information here; just speculation. But don’t be surprised…

  9. Simon Says:

    I own a Zune and I love vit although its not as cool it gets the job done. Like you say, it comes dowj to apps. I know a lot ofpeople who care about appa butr I also know a lot of people who don’t…

    One thing I think that is worth mentioning is the rumoured camera on theipod touch. If that happens, it may be a bit of a hard sell for MS. Thr zune hd really has some compellinbg and unique features and I really hope it succeeds.

  10. David Worthington Says:

    This is a nice device, and I hope that it sells well. But it lacks the synchronization of iTunes, a third party ecosystem for applications and peripherals, and doesn’t have the ‘cool’ buzz. It could be a modest success, but it won’t be as successful as Apple.

  11. Daniel Says:

    Sorry but this Is too little to late for MS and the Zune. Just like Apple in the 90’s that it was not a good business machine due to the lack of good software, the perception of MS in the consumer market is that it can’t deliver a compelling device. For most people larger disk space is not a large issue, or renting music (that is all the subscription music is, and please don’t go over the cost, if do the math and you will see that it cost you more) does not make sense.

    Apple leaving the classic iPod with large HD market makes sense as the market is saturated leaving little to no space to grow for the Zune. If this Zune model had come out a year ago, then maybe there might have been a slim chance. So all that is left are the scraps that other vendors and MS fight for. This current Zune does not offer something ‘new’ and doesn’t even provide software to enhance as expansive as Apple. MS does not even have avenue to operate as it fights for developers to it’s platform, which it will have to fight those developing who are developing for Andriod or WebOS. It’s best and only hope is if some how it can intergrate and leverage it’s Xbox games on the Zune.

  12. pond Says:

    I give the Zune a good chance for claiming a minor share of the market. There is an increasing backlash against Apple for its whimsical/tyrannical handling of the App Store. MSFT is looking in this market like Apple 6 years ago, a scrappy competitive underdog going up against the big bad monopolist.

    iTunes store isn’t so important now that Amazon undercuts Apple’s DRM-free MP3 tracks and albums. Zune will be able to subscribe to podcasts, and there are people who prefer the subscription model to buying music, which Apple doesn’t support (yet?).

    The OLED screen will look different than the LCD the Touch uses, and those who have seen the screen say it looks great; this is the sort of geeky touch very appealing to early adopters.

    Apple has too much momentum, and the Apps are too significant, to give the Zune any chance, as yet, to top say 30%. I could see it getting to the high teens or 20% though.

    And (for a change) I wish MSFT well with it. Competition and choice are good.

  13. Adrian Says:

    No apps, no Zune for me. Even though I’m a Windows and PC person. I still have a working Dell DJ using a very old version of Musicmatch as well as an iTouch and iTunes. I wouldn’t want to give up the apps even with the HD’s browser. In fact I’m looking forward to Apple’s upcoming upgrade to the Touch, it may be time to trade up!

  14. Crossi Says:

    I think that OLED display at Zune is totally amazing.Very sharp and bright.
    I saw some more cool gadgets that have OLED display at

  15. Lendorien Says:

    Bottom line, if there is no ap store or easy way to make aps for this thing, the Zune HD will never be more than a blip. It’s cool and everything and HD radio and 720p output are a nice features, but will they really attract that many customers away from the ipod? It’s the Aps that’ll asttract people away from similair devices like the Touch.

    If MS doesn’t roll out an AP store with this device soon after release, it’ll be doomed to linger like every other zune has.

  16. mike Says:

    App store similar to ipod’s confirmed