By Richard Menta 3/15/11
Zune died because, as a device, Microsoft designed the unit to please record industry execs over the consumer. It is as simple as that. With Zune and it's mated music store we watched a lost opportunity by Microsoft descend into a lost cause.
I say a lost opportunity for two reasons. First, because Microsoft had the full resources to build a competitive portable unit as well as plenty of marketing dollars and brand power to bring it success. Second, because another manufacturer already proved successful at giving the iPod a run for it's money. Back in 2006 when Zune was announced it was Sony who made the best media portable at the time, not Apple. It sold very well too as Sony moved one unit for every 2.3 iPods. The name of that media player was the Sony PSP, a game platform with media ability that pre-saged the iPod touch media player's (and iPhone's) eventual evolution into a game platform.
Early on Microsoft made critical mistakes. First it abandoned the WMA codec to foist yet another new codec on a market already overly saturated with proprietary product. Second, Microsoft focused on courting the record labels with a new digital rights scheme, while Apple focused on the consumer who, for the most part, wanted nothing to do with DRM.
This strategic miscue manifested itself all too clearly in what should have been the unit's groundbreaking feature, Zune-to-Zune wireless. Zune-to-Zune wireless allowed Zune users to share tracks player-to-player via Wi-Fi, a compelling consumer feature with the added tint of social media just as social media was taking off. An even more compelling aspect was the idea that artists could beam free tracks to their audiences while they watched them perform live, a Zune-only practice until other makers copied it. That could have made the Zune platform an indispensible tool for SWSX and Coachella.
Unfortunately, free player-to-player sharing played like a nightmare scenario to the record labels who viewed it as a building block to the construction of an open-air bazaar of piracy. Catering to those fears Microsoft crippled Zune-to-Zune by limiting files shared in this manner to only three plays before the unit disabled them permanently.
Potential Zune customers bought iPods instead. Four years later the Microsoft Zune is left with the epitaph "could have been a contender".