Ok, Microsoft begged for this cheesy title when they named their new mp3 device the Zune. Once again, Microsoft is late to the party. Everything about this device just screams that it was rushed to the market. If you haven't yet heard the Zune is Microsoft's new "iPod Killer" - or lack thereof. Before I join the bandwagon of Microsoft bashing, I must remind everyone that the Xbox was last to market as well and right now it is the leader. PS3 is going to rock the market, their only problem (and big problem) is lack of supply.
Ok now back to the Zune. To Microsoft's credit, it has the potential to become a major player, although "iPod Killer" is definitely an overstatement. We must accept and realize this is how Microsoft operates. They are not expecting to take a 30% initial market share on the Zune or huge demand. The only thing I can justify is they decided to launch this "version 1.0" and rush it to market because they had no choice. They realized that they could wait another 6-12 months and come to the market fully prepared but they felt they'd be even further behind and have less of a chance. This way, they will have some Microsoft fans (yes, they do exist) and they will have plenty of early adopters make the switch regardless of what the news articles tell us.
Microsoft's business model and massive reach (hello, they have a new operating system just months away) allows them to bring virtually anything to market - and to make virtually anything a success. Now, for my competitive comparison: I'm a loyal iPod user and also an early adopter. The new Zune is larger and bulkier than the most recent iPod release, their Zune Store doesn't sell movies or television shows, it's extremely difficult to migrate your purchased music from iTunes into their new store, and their wireless feature only lets you send/receive files with other Zunes and not even with your own computer's wireless connection. Ooops! Not so fast, we must accept Microsoft rushed this to market and even the name. They don't even own Zune.com - obviously that would be one of my first recommendations, in terms of branding.
With all its faults aside - it is perfectly on time with Microsoft's overall strategy. I predicted this years ago before even Microsoft acknowledged this (by creating Windows Media Center and other announcements) but here's Microsoft's long-term strategy: They want to be your entire house's platform. What do I mean? Your computer runs Windows, your DVD player is your Xbox, your personal music player is your Zune, your cell phone runs Windows Mobile, you get the idea. They're well on their way to accomplishing this. Microsoft's biggest problem however is making it all work. I love the idea of not owning a DVD player and an Xbox and my Xbox being able to wirelessly connect to my computer to play all of my computer's songs wirelessly through my television's surround sound system. The Zune is early, it was rushed. They had to do this; and nevertheless, they've still committed $100 million to spend advertising it. It has flaws - lots of them in my opinion - but it's at the right time and they're on the right track.
Many would say it's Microsoft that's behind however let's step back a moment and I'll challenge you that it's Apple that's behind. Maybe not in the personal media player business, but in every other business.
Disclaimer: I'm a Microsoft shareholder.