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.

Sincerely,
The Macalope