updated 03:55 pm EDT, Wed August 30, 2006
Zune is "underwhelming"
American Technology Research analyst Shawn Wu believes the upcoming Zune digital media player may be "more bark than bite." After recent leaks on both the look and specifications of the Zune player, Wu said the firm was "underwhelmed by the much-hyped Zune device." The new player will be developed by Toshiba, and, for the majority of the technology, is simply a repackaged Gigabeat player, according to Wu note's to clients: "At this point, we believe this could end up being another classic case of overpromising and underdelivering," Wu wrote. The player's focal point is the clickwheel-like apparatus for controlling the playe; however, further leaks on the player's controls system revealed that the click-wheel look-alike is nothing more than a four-way direction pad. "We find it interesting that [Microsoft] also opted to replicate an 'iPod'-look like most others, but failed in replicating one key piece of the unique iPod experience with its scrolling click-wheel and powerful database engine." The analyst goes on to say that the overall "bulky" appearance of Zune does not match the iPod's aesthetics.
"Replicating the ease-of-use and experience of iPod + iTunes is a difficult endeavor, not to mention likely to infringe on [Apple]'s patents," wrote Wu. The key feature which draws many users to iPod and turns them off of other players is, reportedly, its simplicity and easy of use -- some believe this may not be Microsoft's strong point.
Features may hinder function, misses "sweet spot"
Not only may Microsoft destroy simplicity in a quest to add more features, it may also sacrifice basic functionality. "While we find WiFi a nice feature, we believe that WiFi power requirements are still quite steep and so we are skeptical that battery life will be strong on Zune," explained Wu who went on to explain that reports indicated only 3-6 hours per charge on the Zune device is likely.
Microsoft's biggest mistake may not be in the Zune's faults, however, explains Wu: "While this makes sense to aim after [Apple]'s dominant vPod, we believe Microsoft is leaving out about 75-80 percent of the market opportunity in the midrange and low-end that is currently dominated by iPod nano, iPod shuffle[...]"
Wu likened the iPod to the Sony Walkman of decades past which survived despite many self-proclaimed Walkman-killers. "We believe iPod = Walkman for the 2000s," explained Wu, naming key three advantages Apple has; 1) a healthy ecosystem; 2) large installed base; and 3) over 1 billion songs and 30 million videos already sold through the iTunes Music Store.
Microsoft bites its own partners, will see losses
In addition to the 'underwhelming' specs, the firm does not foresee Microsoft's Zune media player having much success against Apple's iPod player. The player, Wu writes, is more likely to impact its previous allies under the PlayForSure DRM scheme. In the analyst note, Wu explained that its success will likely come at an expense and be limited by its lack of differentiation compared to other Windows players.
"[Microsoft] Competing with Its Partners Akin to a Civil War," explained Wu. Recent rumblings have indicated that not only may Microsoft offering free iTunes-to-Zune song "conversions" in an effort to sway buyers, it may also offer free PlayForSure (incompatible with Zune) "conversions" to customers. With moves like this in the midst, Wu believes that Microsoft's action could also make
partners think twice before deciding to work with the software-giant on future projects.
On a closing note, Wu likened the new Zune media player to Microsoft's Xbox gaming console. "While most view the Xbox-Xbox 360 effort as a success, we believe it has been a failure financially, costing [Microsoft] and shareholders billions in losses," explained Wu, "We believe [Microsoft]'s effort in portable media will likely result in similar economics."