A psuedo overview of the first Zune device’s new interface has been posted on iLounge. In general, the authors have gotten some of it right and some of it wrong.
User Interface: They’re right that the screen is white on black, making the interface easy to read and not-so-blinding in the dark. And they’re right that the UI is similar to that of iPod’s… after all, we actually have a patent on the iPod UI. And when you are scrolling through many songs, just like the Windows Mobile "contacts" interface, you start to see the first letter of the songs superimposed on the screen going from A…. down to Z, allow you to jump from the B’s to the T’s relatively quickly. There’s more to this than they’ve mentioned but I’ll leave that for the launch. The mockup to the right is a pretty good representation of what the device’s beta UI looks like from what I’ve seen.
Screen: The display is much larger than the iPod’s making videos viewable in landscape with a much higher resolution and a much clearer, more relevant view of photos and images like the covers of the album of a given song. This may not seem like a big deal to you unless you’ve actually tried to watch a movie on an iPod or you get to see what photos & album covers look like on the screen of the Zune player making the difference evident. When it comes to screen size on these devices, it’s become apparent that size matters.
Weight & FM Radio: This is REALLY important and really downplayed by iLounge which to me shows how out of touch they are with the average consumer. Seriously. iLounge dings the player for being made out of "plastic", which is ludicrous. Most of the iPod casing is plastic. Every cell phone casing is plastic. The Compaq iPaq, the Palm Treo, and the case of every PDAPhone or Smartphone on the market is made entirely of plastic – even though the outside is a faux metal and most people don’t know it. Yet somehow having a lighter weight device that still feels well-constructed out of solid material and a quality frame is a "bad thing". No – these folks completely missed the boat on this point.
For a large segment of media player owners, having an FM Radio is ridiculously important. Why? Anyone that works out at a gym regularly knows why: It’s because when you’re working out, nothing beats an FM tuner for music when you’re bored of your own blather. It’s just something about having new, live, random media that’s important. And remember that most gyms have privately broadcasted TV audio operating over FM frequencies. I belong to two gyms and each broadcasts over 88.1FM, 89.3FM, and 91.1FM to allow you to listen to 3 different TV stations being shown on the overhead monitors while you’re busting your butt on the elliptical machines or stairmasters.
(NOTE: If they’d install racing games into the exercise machines linked to said monitors based on how hard I worked out, allowing me to compete with others in the room, I swear I’d be back to my old college physique when I has 8% body fat and could benchpress twice my body weight. Hell – if they made it possible to SHOOT other folks working out "virtually" in some sort of video game linked to the stairmaster, I swear I’d never leave the gym. I can’t understand why someone hasn’t done this yet. But I digress.)
Wi-Fi: This is the one feature that they really "didn’t get" and the fact that they used the term "apparently" meant to me that they didn’t really know anything about the feature or even try it out. Zune player allows up to 4 people with players to all listen to music that you’re broadcasting over a very battery efficient 802.11b transceiver, effectively making one person a "DJ" of the group.
This is really big folks. Ask yourself how tightly knit networks learn about what’s hot and what’s trendy in the music world. It’s through personal communities & friends. By sharing. The iPod isn’t just an ‘island’ when it comes to sharing… people with iPod’s NEVER share their content between devices, nor is there any easy way to communicate what you’ve got between devices outside of "telling people what’s in your playlist".
Not on the Zune player.
- Wanna share music just by being in broadcast range with whomever? Zune can make your broadcast public.
- Wanna have a private session between just friends? Zune can do that and make your playlist the center of attention.
- Wanna NOT share anything but rather just "listen" for other people’s broadcasts? Zune can do that too.
The great part about all of this is that it’s FUN. Sharing content and being the DJ of your own playlist for people is really really cool. It puts the focus on you and challenges you to get the best music… to showcase your insider knowledge of a music genera.
And it encourages legal music sales as well. When you hear a tune, you get a link that allows you buy the song using the Zune Music Store – kind of a like a "history of songs heard". No more guessing or having to remember "what was the name of that song that that friend played for you.
PRICE & MARKETSHARE: But this is only cool if MANY people have Zune Media players. Damn right. And I don’t believe that marketshare is going to be a problem. Remember that WiFi connectivity is a theme amongst Zune devices (Zune is just one of at least 3 different devices to be released) and people will finally have a consistently themed, consistent UI, and a consistent series of devices that will be released for the Media Player market. People will be able to depend on Zune to be revised and around for the long haul. People will know that a v2.0 version of their device will be released and that their music libraries won’t need to be completely retrofitted, nor will they need to learn yet another UI on either their device or their desktop.
Here’s a list of communities that I believe will immediately flock to the Zune:
- Enter every XBox360 owner on the market. I can assure you that those folks with XBox360’s are going to go out and get one. Why? Besides just having the thrill of an affordable media player practically designed for their entertainment console, more than 60% of the 7M XBox360 owners in the world have them wirelessly connected making them immediately ready for Zune – you can turn on both Zune & the Xbox360 and without plugging anything in, have your XBox360 sound system play your Zune’s music. No USB, not connector, no nothing. More importantly, the demographic of a Xbox360 owner is one in which the purchase price of Zune isn’t going to be a problem come this Christmas.
- Enter kids. This is a network effect device designed for completely invisible, wireless peer-to-peer sharing in school, at home, at work: If I get a Zune, unlike the iPod, I as an owner have a direct incentive to get others to buy one because the more people that own one, the cooler my experience is. If I get bored, why not listen to someone else’s playlist? iPod owners really could give a damn whether or not anyone else owns either an iPod or a Creative Labs player. It’s not like you share accessories or media files and in fact, Apple’s iTMS and the iTunes interface pretty much makes sharing an impossibility. But not with Zune. Sharing is an integrated and crucial part of the experience.
- Enter every Windows operating system owner on the market. At least those that have used iTunes on Windows and felt jilted. Apple’s going to finally get their come-uppance for providing a crummy experience for iPod owners on Windows. iTunes for Windows is metallic grey and in no way conforms with the current theme of your Windows desktop. You could have the coolest theme on your machine and iTunes grey interface, like Quicktime, sticks out like a sore thumb. It doesn’t do CDDB album information lookups over port 80 making usage behind firewalls impossible. It doesn’t seemlessly plug-and-play and show up as a hard drive – even though, like every other media player on the market, it could. It doesn’t allow you to minimize the application to the System Tray like most other media players. There’s no dynamic tagging, allowing me to select any music file I’ve got and have iTunes immediately do a CDDB search on it to pull album information, author names, etc. and associate it with the file in the iTunes metabase… every other tool on the market does this including Windows Media Player & WinAMP.
- Enter every IT Professional. Very few IT administrators & help desk engineers that I know of like Apple for one reason. Macintoshes are always the thorn in the IT administrator’s side – it requires different lockdown policies, different patching & management technologies, different applications & core tools like anti-virus & backup… it’s just generally a lot of work for only a smaller percentage of the actual systems in a company – usually 1 or 2%. Imagine the number of end users whining to help desk about wanting to load iTunes for Windows on their PC’s. The last thing IT pros ever really want is to support the company that’s creating more complexity for them by deviating from their clean, managable, standardized environment. And anything that works well with Windows Media Player, the standard player for Windows, is a great thing.
- Enter every jilted Windows Media user on the Internet. Windows Media is the single heaviest-used managed format/codec in the world beating Apple’s AAC & Real Networks RealAudio. It provides playback in a format that is half the size of MP3 with the same fidelity, or twice the fidelity at the same file size. Apple’s lack of incorporation of .WMA playability is going to come back to haunt them from the sheer resentment of individuals that do use Windows Media.
MARKETING: The final frontier
Last but not least, one of the big reasons Zune will take off is marketing.
That’s right – marketing. Ever notice how Microsoft as a company, unless the product is something like Windows Vista or Office 2007, it does a cheap-o, lame-assed job of marketing it? The ghetto-budget, lackluster marketing of Windows Mobile for example almost doomed it and had it not been for the fact that the technology and underlying foundation was so good, the product would have died from lousy marketing.
No sir – the Zune family will be marketed like the XBox: Creatively, uniquely, autonomously, and without interference from the corporate mothership. It has a massive budget to connect with specific demographics and seed devices to specific individuals in the limelight. It will sponsor key events, key TV programs, key movies, and be in the public eye – much in the same way you have the ubiquity of iPod’s advertisements and product placement. And it will get a lot of airplay from music companies and media outlets because the technology will be virulent AND these folks will want the opportunity to tap that massive promotional advertising budget that we have.
SAY HELLO… TO OUR LITTLE FRIENDS
But unlike Apple, you will have the innovation of the Zune networked community, the focus of a Microsoft organization with a budget analogous to Apple’s, and the integration with the Windows experience. And that’s going to be big because while Apple’s always been a hype engine, bashing Microsoft and Windows, they’ve been historically treated like an annoyance. Apple’s never gone head to head with Microsoft’s real guns:
- Focused & unfettered creative talent on par with Apple’s in house folks. Without naming names, we hired folks like the original creative hardware designers of the Macintosh, just as an example.
- Seamless integration with Microsoft’s Windows operating system which has 89% marketshare. Apple could have produced a better integrated software product for Windows but they chose to ignore our UI Guidelines for Windows and go with a Mac look-and-feel for iTunes.
- A $50 Billion warchest unmatched in the industry. That’s $50B in liquid capital to be used in whatever way Microsoft sees fit. To put this into perspective, Apple as a company has a market cap of $57 billion. To put this another way, in order to beat Sony in the game console market, less that $6 billion was earmarked over 7 years for the effort …much less appears necessary to compete with Apple’s iPod because of the existence of Microsoft’s backend "Live" datacenters which can of course be leveraged for music sales.
Have doubts? Take a look at Xbox. It went from having no marketshare to owning mindshare as the next-gen console of choice today beating out Sony Playstation. While Sony hasn’t shipped a single next-gen console, Microsoft is already up to 7 million units. Sony might gather steam this Christmas, but so will XBox360… and it’ll have more games, more accessories, and more users for a larger online community.
The sleeping giant has awoken, and its weapon of choice this holiday season is Zune.
Are Apple’s Steve Jobs & Sun’s Scott McNealy separated at Birth?August 15, 2006
I don’t often refer to other blog entries. Part of the reason for that is that I don’t want people thinking I approve or disapprove of an author’s line of thinking. More often than not, I’ll read one entry that I think is spot on, the 24 hours later, I’ll read something else that’s just plain asinine.
But this one caught my eye and considering my background, I feel compelled to publish something about it: It’s Paul Thurott’s article on Apple Macintosh’s Mac OS X Leopard entitled "Who’s the Copycat Now?"
THE CULT OF THE MAC USER
I stopped being surprised a long time ago at how bizarrely the average Macintosh user acts around me once they discover I work for Microsoft – never mind that I’ve been the Mac software champion locally within Microsoft for several years – none of that seems to matter. The most professional individual in the world seems to regress into a primordial Mr. Hyde at the mere mention of the word "Windows" as if it were the name of the person that beat up their grandmother. If it’s not some attack about, "Why don’t you release MacOffice at the same time as Windows Office?", it’s some tired dig about, "Microsoft doesn’t know how to innovate… they copied the Mac’s <insert feature here>."
(By the way, just as a total non-sequitur, have you ever noticed that Mac users are always the ones randomly "hanging out" in coffee bars, tooling around with their Palm Treo(p) devices, driving around in VW Beetles – usually those lima bean green-colored ones, wearing bohemian clothing made of hemp fibers, and walking around with either fanny packs or tattered backpacks with writing on them made with a blue Sharpie?)
STEVE JOBS HAS GONE NUTS
Recently however the Cult of the Mac’s fanatic behavior has taken on a completely new level. Apparently, cult leader & Apple CEO Steve Jobs has started publicly laying in on Microsoft & Windows Vista at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference – a move that Apple has until recently held back from acting out.
Not unlike the former CEO of Sun Microsystems Scott McNealy, Steve Jobs has apparently resorted to sustaining a constant barrage of insults and sneers as his main weapon of choice in his personal war against Microsoft and anything that doesn’t lie within his domain. It should be noted that just like Apple, Sun’s primary source of revenue was its extravagant hardware margins… effectively killing it in the early 2000’s when it was discovered by the computer market that hardware "wasn’t where it was at".
APPLE: < 2% OF THE PC MARKET
Even with all the shouting from Cupertino, for the most part, no one in the real world seems to really give a rat’s ass. I mean, for those of you who weren’t aware, Apple’s marketshare has slid steadily downward over the past 5 years. That’s right: Downward. Macintoshes now occupy around ~2% of the computing market whereas they used to be ~6% just 5 years ago. All those switcher commericials… all those revisions of Mac OS X… all those iPods sold hoping to hook people into buying Macs… all the hype about moving to Intel…
None of that made a bit of difference. The world is still moving along to it’s own beat and it’s not using an Apple branded drum. There’s been no halo effect from iPod sales, meaning there’s no correlation between Mac sales & iPod sales. There’s been virtually no "switchers" and the move to Intel might make Macs more affordable but they haven’t changed anything in the way of software availability, programmer friendliness, or partner integration. In fact, the day that Apple has to start dealing with System Builders pirating their OS and putting it on cheaper "clone Mac" hardware, is the day Apple starts to see what a mistake it was to move to Intel. At least they had a chance while they were on a proprietary non-commoditized platform.
STILL MAKING HARDWARE MARGINS
Apple makes it’s money off of the high margins it gets from it’s hardware, not from it’s OS or services. If other manufacturers start producing hardware that MacOS X runs fine on and looks like Macs (which we’ve seen many clones of), why would anyone want to pay Apple’s margins in a commodity Intel hardware market?
And that last one is the killer: Apple’s own agenda is to own everything – the Apple Hardware you buy, the Apple OS you buy, even the Apple applications you buy like Final Cut Pro, Keynote, & Safari… leaving very little of the pie for anyone else. Ironically, this is the attack most often used against Microsoft by Apple fanatics: "Microsoft wants to own everything!" Sure the iPod has succeeded in this model, but the iPod succeeded primarily because as every think tank out there will tell you, everyone else was just so bad at marketing and coordination in this space – Microsoft & its partners included. From advertising to device-design to end-to-end experience… it’s all been just plain BAD, next to Apple’s moderately good campaign.
THE IPOD: UNBREAKABLE?
So that’s been their success: The iPod. Their second revenue stream. Mac was somewhat sustainable but while the XServe, Quicktime, and their other investments have virtually tanked (FinalCut Pro, while successful is too small in revenue to really be considered a factor), iPod has essentially become the other breadwinner in the family. What’s weird though is that for all the talk about what a success the iPod’s been, what people haven’t mentioned is what happened with iTunes Music Store? It turns out that iTMS is a complete wash for Apple. They neither lose, nor make money on their investment in iTMS. They’ve commoditized the cost of selling music down to a level so low that no one can effectively compete with them and turn a profit.
Why would they do that? Because Apple makes money on the iPod. That’s right. Apple makes money on the extravagant prices that people are willing to pay for a high margin item that is technically inferior to most other devices on the market. In fact, that’s the ONLY time in the iPod lifecycle that Apple makes money. As soon as the device is sold, that’s the end of Apple’s revenue stream. The iPod accessories ecosystem brings in virtually nothing in Apple’s 10K financial report. Meanwhile, iTMS exists simply to provide services to iPod users, and since it’s a breakeven venture, it’s no skin off of Apple’s back as long as iPod device sales continues to make money for them.
Enter Microsoft & Zune. If Zune can become even modestly successful and begin to take away iPod marketshare with a lower margin, well-integrated, more capable offering, Apple iPod projections could quickly take a turn for the worst. And even if Microsoft doesn’t do it, how long before someone does?
LINUX – THE DARK HORSE OF MACINTOSH
The irony is that Linux was the worst thing that could have happened to Apple: Apple’s no longer the only other viable game in town. With Ubuntu Linux and that bazillion and one distros that are out there, Apple is just another OS vendor, making Apple very vulnerable to the whims of the market. Microsoft no longer has to continue to support them.
So let’s say that Windows Vista is found to be much more secure than Windows XP, effectively ending the onslaught of security vulnerabilities typically associated with Windows. Let’s also say that the bar set by Windows Vista in terms of hardware makes it as attractive as Apple visually. And let’s say Microsoft works with OEM vendors to start manufacturing cool, elegantly designed hardware. Now imagine a full subscription move for corporate customers to Windows Vista.
What do you think that would do to the Macintosh? Add to that the threat on the iPod and I’d say you’ve got yourself a head-to-head challenge.
Oops. Silly me. All of this has already happened.
Leave a Comment » | Commentary | Permalink
Posted by kurtsh