Saturday, December 02, 2006

How to screw up a perfectly good product: Just ask Microsoft

Microsoft has a real dud on their hands. The ill-conceived Zune is not performing in the market as Microsoft has hoped. While it may certainly be listed in Amazon's bestseller list for electronics (though not as high on the list as a position that would indicate categorical success), the media's attention to the Zune has been passing. It appeared on the Today show, only to be compared to the iPod; the iPod continues to dominate the market.

In the months before the Zune was to be released, the reports about it that I read made the Zune look like a great product. Of course, only Microsoft could screw up a product like this:

  • 30 GB hard drive

  • Customizable background

  • Smart playlisting

  • Song and photo sharing

  • Spontaneous video encoding for viewing video in any popular format

  • Slick interface

  • Based off a previously successful MP3 player (Toshiba Gigabeat)

  • A big screen

Of course, Microsoft proceeded to do stuff wrong:

  • Limiting song sharing to 3 plays/days

  • Not integrating the Zune marketplace with Windows Media Player

  • Disallowing the use of the Zune as portable storage

  • Strange, limited marketing (I never saw a single advertisement for a Zune)

  • Forcing consumers to buy points before they could buy Zune songs: 1 point is not equal to a penny

  • Paying money to Universal for every Zune sold

  • Abandoning PlaysForSure DRM and not allowing songs bought from MSN Music to be downloaded for free from the Zune Marketplace

Microsoft got the technical specs right, but the execs proved that they do not know anything about consumers or actually selling products. Making services hard to use and arbitrarily destroying possible community interaction in favor of business is no way to sell a gadget. Microsoft needs to get rid of any old thinking (read: moronic executives) and embrace the new marketplace, or else the Xbox brand may very well by Microsoft's only successful consumer product. Lesson to learn: When creating consumer products, think about satisfying your users, not your partners.

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