So I must say, there's a lot of hype in some small circles around Microsoft's forthcoming Zune initiative. I would love for Microsoft to do something truly innovative, compelling, and different. Unfortunately, I don't think that's going to be the case.
Don't get me wrong, I know they're going to give it a legitimate try. Their hanging their hat on what they deem as killer differentiators such as "Community, Discovery, and Home Integration." However, for those to even matter, you and all your friends need to own a Zune player and be avid users of their music service.
Unfortunately, before any of that happens Microsoft has to overcome two big obstacles. First, they must overcome the perception that they can't make a simple and elegant product that people can honestly love to save their lives. The second, that their product is offering something truly better than Apple's alternative, so much so that it would warrant someone laying down the cash to switch..
Many very able companies have been trying to compete in this space and have been failing miserably. The way I see it, for a few simple reasons. First, the devices themselves are uglier and generally more difficult to use than an iPod. Second, because the software you used to manage it, frequently Windows Media Player, is a joke.
So what's different about Microsoft's approach? Well, we've only seen pictures of their player, but they don't look any better than other WM-enabled players. As for the software, well, that's not out yet but judging by the fact that it took Microsoft years to get Windows Media Player usable leads me to believe that their "new" software+store is years away from being really compelling.
It's sad, all this money and time they're spending to mimic something that consumers are already perfectly happy with. Instead of taking those resources and applying it against making the two products people actually use and care about better, namely Windows and Office, they're distracting themselves with things that don't matter to their core business.
But, that's the Microsoft way. Microsoft has a major inferiority complex that results in them routinely spending MILLIONS of dollars to compete in spaces, while alienating their partners, all so they can be "number one."
It's sad, Microsoft is one of the most recognizable brands in technology, but it's probably also one of the most despised; right up there with the likes of AOL. Everyone uses Windows but only because they don't have a "choice." I don't hear anyone complaining about how iPod or iTunes just doesn't do it for them. I do, however, routinely here people cursing Windows, Internet Explorer, Word, Excel and other Microsoft products that most of the world uses every day.
According to Forrester Research's 2005 Technology Brand Scorecard, Microsoft had one of the highest brand adoption scores, but conversely ranked 20th out of 22 companies in terms of brand trust.
According to this same report, Microsoft also was the only company that had a negative brand potential. What does that mean? Basically that consumer's distrust Microsoft so much that they are at-risk of losing customers to alternatives. The people you trust for your purchase making decisions are telling you to avoid Microsoft products if you can. That's a very very bad place to be. If your own customers, the people who are the most familiar with what you have to offer, distrust you to the point that they're telling everyone they know to avoid you like the plague, then you've got way bigger problems.
I'm confident the folks at Microsoft are going to dig deep and try to out-feature or out-spend iPod+iTunes. At the end of the day, I don't think it's going to change anything because consumers are smart enough to tell the difference between a bad photocopy and the real thing.
If I was Steve Balmer, I'd just cut their loses and focus all their time and energy on the two products that we're all forced to use but publicly loathe. They need to spend those millions on trying to figure out how to get people to truly LOVE Windows or Office the way consumers love iPod, iTunes, or the Mac.
That's just my 2¢.