Tag Archives | Zune

Zune Team Re-org Indicates Refocus

Zune LogoIna Fried over at CNet has the scoop on the reorganization of the Zune team, which would now be split into two groups. From her post, this is how it will go down:

The software and services portion of the Zune team–the bulk of its staff–will be added to the portfolio of Enrique Rodriguez, the vice president who currently runs Microsoft’s Mediaroom and Media Center TV businesses. The hardware team, meanwhile, will now report to Tom Gibbons, who also leads the hardware design efforts within Microsoft’s Windows Mobile unit.

Clearly, the positioning of the team provides a lot of clues as to the future of Zune. It’s not going to be in the player itself, and this is probably a smart move. Zune has not taken off, and is well behind even other Apple competitors in the space.

Microsoft is wise to leverage its strengths elsewhere — in this case the mobile and multimedia segments of the electronics industry — to generate some interest in Zune. Of course Rodriguez is not saying that the Zune player itself is no longer its focus, but lets not beat around the bush, the writing has been on the wall for some time.

Redmond needs Zune to be profitable, especially in economic conditions such as what we’re seeing these days. Investors have little tolerance for companies that aren’t making money, or wasting it on wild goose chases.

Whether the Microsofties like it or not, thats pretty much what the Zune effort has been up until now.


A Zune Phone? Yes, Apparently. But Not From Microsoft

Zune LogoZune phones are likely on their way, but don’t expect them to be produced by Microsoft, Mary-Jo Foley is reporting. Instead, Microsoft will be attempting reproduce the success of its PC business by providing devices makers with reference designs to use to build their own devices

In November, I wrote that rumors that Microsoft was planning to announce a Microsoft-branded, enterainment-centric phone at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona were plausible. My rationale was that its acquisition of Danger Inc. and positioning of executive talent into its Entertainment and Devices division was an indication that it had something up its sleeve. While I still refuse to rule out that Microsoft could release its own device, that “something” is probably far less ambitious than I originally conceived.

Foley wrote that Microsoft wants to create a ‘best of breed’ Zune device by pitting smartphone makers against one another. She also reports that Microsoft’s upcomoming Zune-branded services, code-named “Pink,” “Skybox,” and “SkyMart,” will be its contribution to the user experience.

That is a better fit with Microsoft’s existing business model. It acquired the underpinning for its Zune services from Danger, and needs to provide strong Zune-branded services to have any hopes of all at competing with Apple’s iPhone juggernaut. I expect to see the fittest of Microsoft partners showcasing their Zune offerings in the near future.


Please, World, Like Subscription Music, Won’t You?

Over at CNet, Greg Sandoval has a good story up on subscription music services such as the one that Microsoft offers for its Zune devices. They were supposed to be a big deal, but the idea never spawned any breakout hits. Yahoo and others exited the business, Rhapsody and Napster are niche successes at best, and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see Microsoft say bye-bye to it at some point as well. Meanwhile, Apple has sold billions of non-subscription, buy-it-and-own-it song downloads. Yet Greg’s story says that Microsoft and the music industry are still insisting that subscribing to music is a model that makes sense.

Rationally, subscription music seems like it makes sense: It lets you spend $15 to get access to unlimited music, versus spending the same amount or thereabouts to buy one album. But consumers are simply nowhere near as interested as the industry thinks they should be. Greg mentions one factor in his story: The fact that people appear to want to own their music rather than renting it. I think another big factor is copy protection. It’s neatly mandatory for subscription music (eMusic is the only subscription service that doesn’t lock up its tracks). And even if you can live with the notion of DRM, the technologies that have been used to shackle subscription music have proven to be particularly flaky. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Windows Media.)

Another factor: Subscription music is difficult to explain. Especially the part about it going away if you stop subscribing. Buying music is a notion that we all get.

I still know smart people–including some journalists–who think subscription music will catch on eventually. Maybe it will. Right now, though, I think that its ongoing failure is proof that it doesn’t matter how theoretically logical an idea is if it fails to capture the imagination of consumers.


Zune is Fine, Microsoft Insists

Microsoft was quick to tamp down any rumor-mongering in the blogosphere about its 54% drop in Zune revenues, cautioning that the industry as a whole was down, and that its sales were in line with its expectations. In comments to Seattle P-I’s Joseph Tartakoff, Entertainment and Devices chief Robbie Bach repeatedly assured that the sales of the device were “fine.” Zune marketing chief Adam Sohn furthered Bach’s comments by adding that Zune’s limited distribution (US and Canada only) gave it little room for error — iPod is sold worldwide, thus the weakness here at home was offset by some strength abroad, and a lineup change also cannabalized sales.

What we’re still missing here Microsoft is hard numbers, so we can see exactly what your definition of “fine” really is.


Zune’s Swoon–Doom Soon?

Microsoft ZunePodcasting News’s Elisabeth Lewin notes an interesting tidbit in Microsoft’s Form 10-Q SEC filing: Microsoft says that its Zune-related revenue “decreased by $100 or 54% reflecting a decrease in device sales.”

The 10-Q doesn’t seem to say how many Zunes Microsoft sold, and the company has slashed prices. So it’s a little tough to tell whether the plummeting revenue stems from consumers not buying Zunes or from them buying cheaper Zunes. As a frame of reference, Apple reported earlier this week that it sold three percent more iPods in the last quarter than it did a year ago, but made 16 percent less dough doing so.

No matter how you slice it, you can’t turn Microsoft’s Zune revenue number into evidence that the company is making any real inroads on the iPod hegemony. In an era of Microsoft layoffs, cutbacks, and other tough decisions, does that mean that Zune is toast? Tough to say. If you consider Zune to be an MP3 player, it appears to be a disappointing seller that’s in decline, and doing away with it might make sense. But I’m assuming that Microsoft sees Zune as a platform–involving devices, services, and software–and that there’s a good chance it sees it as being strategic enough that’ll continue to invest.

Even so, the Zune name feels permanently tarnished. Suggestion: Microsoft has another entertainment-related brand that’s thriving and which overlaps increasingly with the Zune’s domain. That would be Xbox. Might it be time to retire the Zune name and roll the platform into the Xbox universe?


Zunes of Death: The Resolution

Zune of DeathWell, that’s a relief: The beyond-weird worldwide outage of 30GB Microsoft Zune MP3 players has been diagnosed. Microsoft says it’s due to a faulty driver for an unspecified Zune component that doesn’t know how to deal properly with leap years…and that the glitch will resolve itself tomorrow as the new year rolls in. It’ll deploy a fix before the next leap year in 2012 (way, way before, I hope).

I’m not sure what the sentiment is among Zune owners at large, but before the reason for the failure became apparent, Technologizer community member Josh Rose told me “I was initially worried this morning when I saw my device until I noticed everyone else has been having the same problem.  As the day has progressed, my mood has been going towards amused as the full scale of the problem grows ever larger.  I should point out, I love my Zune.  I’m a huge Zune supporter.”

If I were a Zune owner I’d probably be most annoyed over any time I’d wasted trying to troubleshoot my player before learning of the vast number of Zune owners who were affected. Microsoft hasn’t said anything about giving affected customers anything other than thanks for their patience, but wouldn’t it be smart if it through them something–a few free songs or a complimentary month of the Zune Pass music service, maybe–by way of apology?


The T-Poll: Zunes of Death

T-PollWith the year ending with the bizarre drama of 30GB Microsoft Zunes everywhere croaking in sudden, synchronized self-destruction, it’s time for a T-Poll. Three of them, actually. (UPDATE: Microsoft has figured out what happened, so I’m closing the polls…)

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Zunes of Death: Microsoft’s Y2K9 Problem

Zune of DeathGood grief–vast numbers of folks with 30GB Microsoft MP3 players with the latest firmware are reporting that their players have reset and are stuck at a boot-up screen, and are therefore inoperable. It’s not clear what’s going on–the fact that Zune tech support has the day off probably doesn’t help–but Microsoft has posted a note stating that they’re aware of the glitches and are working on it.

For the sake of all those Zune owners, you gotta hope that there’s an easy fix–and that if it requires another firmware update, the fact that the Zunes can’t start up isn’t a roadblock.

Even if Microsoft manages to put things right swiftly, this is a huge embarrassment. I can’t think offhand of another major software company that’s had three recent instances of software accidentally crippling itself (the other two involved Windows Genuine Advantage screwing up the computers of paying Microsoft customers). And all the effort Microsoft has put into improving the Zune’s reputation through building better devices, software, and services may just have gone down the drain. If there’s a God of Technology-Product Reputations, he or she apparently has it in for the Zune platform.

More details when we get ’em. I’m glad we didn’t do a story on the stupidest moments of the year, since we’d have posted it by now, and this just might be the stupidest of them all…

(UPDATE: We’re doing a little poll on all this. Take it here. Thanks!)

(FURTHER UPDATE: The official Zune Twitter feed says they’re making progress and might have news soon.)


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

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.

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Microsoft Cutting Zune Prices, Attempting to Stay Relevant?

new-ms-zune-octCNET’s Ina Fried has the details on an announcement to come from Microsoft on Wednesday which would cut prices of its Zune players by as much as 25 percent. While Ms. Fried seems to infer that has to do with tougher economic conditions — that very well may be — lets face it: Microsoft is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the digital music space.

After much chest-thumping surrounding the release of its flash-based players (the sector of the market where an overwhelming majority of players are sold), there still is no evidence that Redmond is gaining any traction with consumers.

Apple still is king, and Microsoft is just an also ran. It’s even fallen behind other makers such as SanDisk, one of the partners it left out in the cold when it all but abandoned its PlaysForSure technology last year. Here’s the lowdown:

The price cuts only affect the flash line and are as follows:

  • 4GB drops from $129 to $99;
  • 8GB drops from $149 to $139 ($10 cheaper than the Nano);
  • and the 16GB from $199 to $179 ($20 cheaper than the Nano).

A few Microsoft produced accessories would also see some type of price reduction, although details were not released. The cuts would be accompanied by a new ad campaign which launched on Monday. I guess we’ll see if this change moves the needle any.

I’ll go out on a limb and say it won’t.

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