Thursday, October 4, 2007
Microsoft has revamped its slow-selling Zune digital player
Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, is joined by J Allard, the company's corporate vice president for design and development.
How many development?? for customer satisfaction or business ...or both.
Microsoft has revamped its slow-selling Zune digital music player and created a MySpace-style social-networking site in its drive to compete with Apple's market-leading iPod player.
In large part, the Microsoft moves announced Tuesday - the introduction of a smaller, sleeker version of the Zune player and the planned Zune social Web site - reflect an attempt to build scale for a brand that so far has achieved only niche status.
Microsoft said it had sold about 1.2 million units of the original device in the last year.
"For something we pulled together in six months, we are very pleased with the satisfaction we got," Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman, said in an interview Tuesday. "The satisfaction for the device was superhigh. The satisfaction on the software actually is where we'd expect to see a huge uptick this year. It was just so-so on the software side."
Microsoft said it had re-engineered the Zune hardware and software and the associated digital music store to make them all easier to use."I'm sure a year from now we'll do even better," Gates said. "But I'm blown away by what they've been able to do in a year."
Many of the changes are stylistic. The company reworked the device's navigation button and dropped one of its signature colors, brown, from the list of options. The Zune will be available in black, pink, green and red.
But one of the most striking changes had to do with Microsoft's effort to enhance what had been perhaps the most talked-about feature on the original device: the ability to share music files and other media wirelessly with other Zune owners.
Far too few people, however, purchased the player for such sharing to become commonplace, and the function held little appeal because it was crippled by usage rules negotiated with the music industry. Shared songs expired within a few days, even if the recipient did not play them. And a file acquired from one Zune user could not be shared with a third user.
Under the new rules, Microsoft said, shared songs would have no expiration date, and it would be repeatedly possible to pass along songs sent from one device to another. But a shared file can be played only three times on each Zune.
Partly to warm up the initially tepid response, the company is creating a social-networking site, Zune Social, to encourage the sharing of samples of songs online, even for fans who do not own a Zune player. Members of the network will also be able to use a small application on their computers to display which songs they have been listening to, and that information can be posted on certain Web sites outside the network or sent by e-mail to friends.
Various social networking sites, like Facebook, already offer sharing of samples of songs.
"The whole idea behind Zune is much broader than the devices themselves," said J Allard, the Microsoft vice president who oversees design and development for consumer products like the Zune and the Xbox 360 game consoles.
"The conditioned thought is around a portable device being the center point of the experience, when in fact it's not. It really is about how do we start taking Zune beyond that device."
He said the social networking would appeal to Zune owners and people who had not bought the device.
Van Baker, an analyst at the research firm Gartner, said the Zune revisions amounted to "a much-needed line extension" for the brand.
"Is it enough to get somebody to move away from Apple to Microsoft? I don't think so," he said, "but it should help Microsoft against some of the other alternatives."