Some Thoughts on Zune

By Richard Menta 9/15/06

It's interesting how the best portable media player on the market today is never mentioned as an iPod Killer. That honor goes to the Sony PSP, which offers a good MP3 player and a superior video/movie player that trumps the iPod in picture quality. The unit also plays games that are two decades ahead of the Pac Man/Tetris games that Apple will be hawking on iTunes for the new version of the iPod.

The reason that the PSP is not called an iPod Killer - despite selling well over 18 million PSPs and being the number two media player on the market - is because Apple still sold more iPods than ever before. The Sony PSP didn't cost Apple sales, it helped sales grow by expanding the market. Yes, I know, everyone counts the PSP as a game player and therefore don't include it in their MP3/PMP figures. They should. The iPod has sold 42 million players since the end of March 2005 when the PSP was released. That means Sony sold one PSP for every 2.3 iPods sold.

Microsoft Zune

I mention the Sony PSP, because if the Microsoft Zune player is as good as its specs it probably wont be an iPod Killer either. Instead it will expand the market further, selling many units, but also helping Apple set new iPod sales records. Zune will achieve this the same way that the PSP did. By stimulating purchases through marketing from the remaining 90% of American housholds that have yet to take the portable player plunge.

Microsoft is going to spend tens-of-millions of marketing dollars to promote Zune in a campaign that can do for Zune what heavy marketing did for the XBox when it first entered the gaming arena. To be honest, as long as Zune does not turn out to be a lousy player it will probably succeed. Of course, success is subjective. For example, if Zune takes 15% of the market that will instantly make it the number two player in the market, and set up further gains for Microsoft over the next few years. But with so much money invested some pundits may find 15% unimpressive. Arbitrary percentages aside, some analysts want to see huge sales numbers before they call Zune a success. Frankly, with MP3 player sales expected to increase ten-fold over the next four years, just hitting a low double digit percentage of the market should set Zune up for a long profitable run. I say that because this player definitely goes where the iPod hasn't yet.

On the mundane side Zune comes in three colors and possesses a 3" display and a 30GB hard drive. The unit offers some common features like an FM tuner, but it also has WiFi capability with a unique sharing feature that justs seems perfect for the socially obsessive high school student. It is this wireless Zune-to-Zune sharing that will stimulate the greatest interest, particularly since it counters the iPod's inate ability to isolate its users from the world around them. Zune supports h.264 video and the MP3, AAC and WMA audio codecs. The player taps into a new Zune media shop that hopes to challenge Apple's iTunes store with new propritary standards and a seemless interface.

How well the company has assembled this all waits to be seen, though Microsoft has already flown in some bloggers for a sneak preview (I have a day job and a family, meaning I have to miss out on these paid-for press junkets). No ship date or price points have been announced yet, either, so final evaluation will have to wait. MP3 Newswire will do a complete review of the unit when it is released.

Other MP3 stories:
iPod: Handicapping the 6th Generation
iPod Has Only 8% of Market in Taiwan

The 8GB Sansa e280 is available on Amazon

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