Why have Microsoft’s Zune media players failed to make even the tiniest of dents in the iPod’s market dominance? There are multiple reasons, but one stands out: They’ve been stuck in a hopeless game of catch-up, and they’re always way, way behind.
The original Zune was a hard disk player that debuted in 2006–right when Apple’s flash-based iPod Nano was becoming the world’s best-selling MP3 player. In 2007, Microsoft announced Nano-like Zunes that used flash storage–a couple of months after Apple shipped the sexier touch-screen iPod Touch. And now Microsoft is releasing the Zune HD, a touch-screen model, but one without the awesome power of the iPhone/iPod Touch App Store. To riff on the famous Wayne Gretzky quote, Microsoft is like a hockey player who keeps skating to where the puck was…not to where it is right now, and certainly not to where it will be.
But wait. The Zune HD may be a mere media player, but it’s anything but a retread. It packs worthwhile technologies that no iPod does, such as an OLED screen and HD output. It’s very much its own device in terms of industrial design and user interface, both of which are nicely done. In short, the Zune HD is cool in ways that no previous Zune has been. And even though the HD has its share of imperfections and limitations, it’s easy to imagine some folks preferring it to any media player that hails from Cupertino.