Like many Apple fans (and stockholders, modest as my shares may be), I’ve been watching the Zune launch with some interest. On one hand, I root for my favorite team, but then Microsoft is, for me, the home team. I have many friends who work “at a large company on the Eastside”, as the euphemism goes in Seattle, and without exception they are very smart, interesting people. I would like the Zune to really succeed just as I’d like Microsoft to continue to succeed. Just like I hope that Vista is really a contender. Heck, competition is good for Apple.
But the Zune is another piece of marketing and design fluff crammed into a shallow attempt to capture revenue from a pre-existing market. There are two things that really bother me about it.
The first is that the Zune counts a song as played when you begin to play it. On the iPod (and with iTunes) the count happens at the end of a song. I suppose this opens a philosophical debate on when in a song’s playing does the it turn into the past tense ‘played’? For iTunes the question was any easy one: it’s played when it’s done playing. But Microsoft had to put the playcount near the beginning of the song (David Pogue reports it at the 1-minute mark. What if you beam a song by the Minutemen?). Why? Because if it were at the end, then I could listen to a whole song nearly to the end, and then skip to the next song, thus finding an easy workaround to the “3 plays or 3 days” limitation. Never mind that the song will be erased in 3 days anyway, Microsoft is more interested in acting like a drug dealer and tempting me with a melody and withdrawing it than it is in giving me a function that might benefit me.
The second is the yet-unconfirmed but hinted at referral program. I have a huge problem with referral program’s in general, although I know this puts me in the minority. I am voracious music consumer. I have been since I stopped buying comics with my allowance and started buying used vinyl at age 13. Most of the bands I like exist on word of mouth, and I like to talk about them with friends. How can any friend of mine trust my recommendation for a song or album if they know I’m going to get a kickback? If I’m good at it and I start making a lot of money, won’t that make me a little more eager to recommend a song I know will sell well, over one I actually like?
It’s this commercialization of relationships that I find the most disturbing. It doesn’t bother very many people in the marketing profession who tend to view users as stats, but it’s a big problem for a cynical idealist like me who, while tempted by the idea of a little extra cash (I have some Amazon links on this site that are affiliated, but should, and will, be better identified in the future), is seriously concerned about the idea that every relationship will be about the money.
But to me it feels like the Zune is a no-go. From the interface, designed to look cool instead of solve a problem (if you’d ever like to kill a good design, start with that intention), to the wrapping non-encrypted MP3’s in a 3-or-3 DRM wrapper (what if I want to legally share the latest Escape Pod?), it’s another case of Microsoft focusing on marketing when they should instead put their prodigious talent and resources into solving new problems and creating markets that they can then dominate. They should take for their new slogan the line that Shawn Wolfe put on a poster for Remover-Installer “The general gloss of falsity is our only product.”
Posted by: Martin McClellan
On the date of: November 9, 2006 11:07 AM