Dear Computerworld's Mike Elgan…

The Macalope read your latest correspondence entitled “Why Microsoft’s Zune scares Apple to the core” and he believes you may have accidentally left out a critical fact. Nowhere in the piece did the Macalope find the names of the employees at Apple you spoke with to back up your claim. Surely this was simply an oversight in editing, so please advise at your earliest convenience who at Apple is so a-scared of the Zune.

The Macalope has some other comments that he will break down as responses to your six points.

1. Microsoft is hatching a consumer media ‘perfect storm’.

Apple fans are overconfident in the iPod because Apple once commanded 92 per cent of music player market share, a number that has since fallen to around 70 per cent. About 30 million people own iPods.

Please define “perfect” as used in this instance, as when Paul Thurrott is asking re the Zune “What the heck are these people thinking?”, the Macalope is concerned that you might have the boat/storm metaphor backwards.

As for the market share figures you quote, the Macalope believes you’re comparing apples (no pun intended) and oranges. The 92 percent market share number was the percentage of the U.S. market for digital music players that were hard-drive based. The 70 percent number is the percentage of the U.S. market for hard-drive and flash-based digital music players. Apple’s market share was recalculated with the introduction of the flash-based iPod shuffle.

The Macalope will leave it up to his readers to decide if that error was due to laziness or dishonesty.

Frankly, the Macalope thinks the 92 percent number is a little silly. While he wouldn’t go as far as John Gruber did here (certainly not with the benefit of hindsight), there is little differentiation from a consumer’s perspective between hard-drive and flash-based units.

Also, you may not be aware of it, but the iPod actually works on Windows. And while the Zune ties into the Xbox, Microsoft has sold probably a bit over 25 million of those and Apple has sold over 60 million iPods.

2. The Zune is social and viral

Like a disease!

Think of it as a portable, wireless, hardware version of MySpace.

Ah! Like a venereal disease! One that’s easy to catch that leaves ugly festering sores! Gotcha!

3. Zune may have more programming

While Apple launched its movie business with movies from Disney (where Apple CEO Steve Jobs sits on the board), Microsoft has already lined up Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictuers, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros, Lions Gate Entertainment and MGM.

Which will be available… some time next year. Apple, by your assumption, will only ever have Disney.

4. Zune’s screen is better for movies

True. It is larger, but it’s the same resolution.

5. Zune is actually pretty cool

The Zune is unlike any product Microsoft has ever shipped. It’s actually very nicely designed, surprisingly minimalist and (dare I say it?) ‘cool’. (Zune marketing looks cool, too. The user interface is fluid and appealing – and, again, like MySpace – customisable. Users will be able to personalise the Zune interface with photos, ‘themes’, ‘skins’ and custom colours.

Oh, so they can crap it up. Make it look like a five-dollar whore, just like MySpace. Excellent.

The Macalope should warn you, the minute a 40-year-old says something is “cool” to “tweens, teens and 20-somethings”, it instantly becomes uncool.

Way to go, Mike.

Even if Apple is able to retain its lead, it could still be hurt – badly – by the Zune, which will capture mind share, grab market share and squeeze Apple on pricing.

OK, now you’re just making things up. The cheapest Zune – which, remember, is not on sale yet – is priced 99 cents higher than the second most expensive iPod.

Apple is scared. And for good reason.

Again, who did you talk to at Apple who said they’re scared? Please advise as nowhere do you quote anyone even off the record saying this.

Apple has recently and preemptively lowered the price of iPods, announced an iTV set-top box – which will ship later than Vista – and is probably working feverishly on a bigger-screen, wirelessly enabled iPod.

“Which will ship later than Vista”?

This production of Non-Sequitur Theater will return after a commercial break.

Please, please, please, for the love of god, please tell the Macalope what could possibly be the relevance of juxtaposing the fact that Microsoft announced an operating system upgrade five years ago and – after gutting feature after feature – is finally shipping it in January (maybe!), and the fact that Apple announced a product in September that it’s shipping in the first quarter of 2007.

Because any possible explanation must – by the laws of logic that govern the universe in which we live – be simply hysterical.

Ultimately, your failure to treat any of the Zune’s numerous shortcomings as such and your failure to even mention others (doesn’t play any currently available DRM-protected songs or videos) at all tend to make the piece seem more like propaganda than analysis.

There seems to be this great determination on the part of a number of silly pundits to get ahead of some imagined curve and be the first to declare the iPod dead.

All analysis must be made on the basis of currently available information, so the Macalope is not saying the Zune will never overtake the iPod. But let’s just say he finds the reports of its death to be greatly exaggerated.

Sadly, being a technology pundit is truly never having to say you’re sorry. You can be wrong for years and never lose your job.

It must be good work if you can get it, so hang on to that gig, Mike.

The Macalope

Trackbacks Comments
  • I just can’t decide whether or not “oversite in editing” is tongue-in-cheek….

  • Kordan Harvey:

    Another thing that is completely overlooked is that from breakdowns in the materials used to make the iPod the projected profit margins are huge. Apple could easily drop the price of every iPod model fifty dollars (save the new shuffle) and still make money, where as Microsofts Zune is priced higher (albeit by only 99 cents) but is LOSING money on every sale. Imagine if Apple decided it wanted to sell a 30GB 5.5 Gen iPod for fifty dollars less than a 30GB Zune. A scenario Apple could decidedly live with because it would still make money. I think Microsoft is so scared they’re putting money in peoples pockets to talk up the Zune. I can tell you buzz is low, I’ve followed this since inception, and at the moment I do not personally know one person who is aware of this product let alone wants to buy one. Oh wait did I mention 80% of the people I know already own an iPod…

  • Robert:

    When someone declares something “viral,” it always reminds me of those web sites that huge companies set up: like the “control the guy in the chicken suit” site. Whilst clever for, oh, ten seconds or so, once they’re declared “viral” they instantly lose all appeal.

    When a market segment is told in advance they’re being played — in so many words — suddenly people don’t want to play anymore.

    Viral marketing campaigns that are declared to be viral from the start are doomed to failure. Could this product — declared “viral” by this well-informed shill, perhaps with talking points — be doomed to a same fate?

    Hell, a 40-year-old technology writer loses some credibility naturally over time. Pretty soon, it’s telling the kids to get off the damn lawn.

  • DB:

    There is no need to denigrate the idea of being viral by likening it to a venereal disease, because the Zune is in fact not viral at all. With the intentionally crippled shared tunes self-destructing after three days, and not communicable further to other users, Zune’s wi-fi is a lot more like a vaccine than an actual virus, and it’s a vaccine meant to innoculate users against the very idea of ‘viral audio’ which is a threat to all of the market interests Microsoft protects and represents.

    This ‘feature’ will backfire for them bigtime, and will create a lot more negative press than good. No one will use it and it will be declared a giant flop and this failure will overshadow any other advantage Zune supporters would care to name.

  • That’s an excellent point, DB, and one the Macalope had meant to make but forgot by the time he got the bizarre iTV/Vista conflation.

  • I’m curious where this Zune = MySpace thing started. Since the comparison makes no sense at all.

  • LCK:


    It’s “oversight”. “Hindsight”.

  • Unlike this site, the color brown for a music player seems kind of disgusting, but it does remind me of those brown calenders with the gold leaving they give to the corporate businessmen around Christmas.

    I guess Apple and the Mac community needs to appear sufficiently scared as a result of the projected success of the Zune, but I am glad to see MS creating a product and once again playing catch up and copycat to Apple. It’s about time. The only thing I see “losing” as a result of this is people are going to get more and more upset with DRM. That is the main problem with the Zune. What brain trust thought that they should completely get a new form of DRM for their new media player? If you want to kill Apple you have to make moving the music and other files around easier, not harder. And the whole silliness of getting to play something three times as considered a great sharing advantage is well, silly.

  • Thanks, LCK. Those typos were unsitely.

  • V M Respectable:

    I swear up and down that I am not, nor am I affiliated with, the man who sometimes goes by Daniel Eran, but this seems timely:

    I like the bit about video incapability. That kind of shocked me, and it seems kind of… germane, perhaps? How do they think this is a good idea?

  • steve:

    a rudimentary check on amazon’s top sellers has zune at #15.

    ipods fill 10 spaces before #15 and another 7 places after it.

    so basically for every zune that is being bought now on amazon apple is selling 10 iPods.

    lets not forget that for places 1, 2 and 3 on the top sellers list, apple is probably selling 2 of those ipods for every zune.

    apple also makes money on every iPod sold.

    this is called GOOD business.

  • Wireless hardware MySpace? Utter cobblers. As many have observed, MySpace is about getting attention. I don’t see how the Zune fulfils that need.

    “Social and viral” features only become useful when lots of other people have a Zune. Doesn’t MySpace have over 70 million users? Is the Zune going to sell that many any time soon?

    Bet iTV ships before Vista too.

  • PZ:

    Excellent analysis as always, Mac.

    I’m just waiting for Maynor and Ellch to demonstrate a vulnerability in the Zune’s wireless protocol. Now THAT would be a perfect storm.

  • Ken:

    What I liked about the article was when he said that the Zune could be turned sideways for that cool widescreen bit. Um… it’s 4:3. Just like the iPod. Which is prerotated for your convenience.

    Widescreen is a ratio wider than 4:3 (or 5:4), commonly these days in 16:10 or 16:9. (slightly less common is 2.35:1)

  • doug:

    I think the iTV/Vista thing might be referring to the fact that the whole Media Center thing willl be standard in Vista and tie in with xbox/zune as front row/iPod will with iTV on Macs. Still, he doesn’t really say…
    I love the talk about the social/viral bit as if p2p networks didn’t exist… I can’t wait to ‘feverishly share songs and videos’ that expire after 3 listens – or the battery runs out because I’ve used it up in an hour with the wi-fi on.

  • fudo:

    Hey Mac,

    I propose you start a new catagory for this, called Loonie Zunes.

    P.S. What’s with missing the opportunity to tweak George for his no-show at Toorcon?

  • Ben Remo:

    Well Mike Elgan has admitted in his latest piece to owning 12 iPods in his family.

    He never mentions how many zunes he has 😉

  • Chet Awesomelaser:

    In your second to last sentence “Sadly…”, it’s meant to be “you’re”, not “your”. Otherwise a great line 🙂

  • EricE:

    /nelson “Ha Ha!”

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