Former Microsoft exec: We should not have launched the Zune hardware

Microsoft tried to launch the Zune media player as a way to compete with the popular iPod family. Despite Microsoft spending a ton of money on the products, the Zune never caught on and the final hardware version, the Zune HD, was retired in October 2011.

Robbie Bach was the man in charge of the Entertainment and Devices division at Microsoft when both the Zune and the Xbox business were started. Geekwire.com reports that during an address at the Northwest Entrepreneur Network event in Seattle today, Bach admitted that the Zune, which launched its first hardware product in 2006, should not have been made in the first place.

Bach is quoted as saying:

If I had hindsight, 20-20, and could do Zune over again, we would skip portable media players completely. We would go to what, at the time, was the Windows Mobile team and say we’re going to produce the coolest music service for your phones ever. The portable music market is gone and it was already leaving when we started. We just weren’t brave enough, honestly, and we ended up chasing Apple with a product that actually wasn’t a bad product, but it was still a chasing product, and there wasn’t a reason for somebody to say, oh, I have to go out and get that thing.

Bach also admitted that the marketing for the Zune was "very confused". Another problem with the Zune was that the music publishers wanted to work with Apple, not Microsoft. Bach said, "They just didn’t figure out that being dependent on Apple was bad for them."

Bach also talked about the biggest success while at Microsoft; the launch of the Xbox game console business. Bach said that Microsoft was able to make the original Xbox stand out from its competitors due to its more powerful hardware along with its Internet gaming features.

He also talked about the Xbox business' biggest failure, when Microsoft took a $1 billion write off due to the mass hardware failures of the first Xbox 360 units. Bach called that problem "the most painful thing in my life"

Bach left Microsoft in 2010 and has since joined the board of directors of the Boys & Girls Club of America and the U.S. Olympic Committee, along with the audio company Sonos.

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I still have and use my Zune Touch and love it. Its was a lot cheaper then Ipod touch was at the time, and still plays good mp3 and video. My only complaint is they never realy had mnay apps for it. but thats about it

Microsoft is only a software company. If they copied Apple by creating hardware and runs on only their software they will fail. That's why Apple is the only company on earth that creates both the hardware and software. Nothing comes close.

FalseAgent said,
Incorrect: they should have launched the Zune....AND UPDATED IT. SERIOUSLY! IT WAS THE ONLY DECENT COMPETITOR THE IPOD HAD

Agreed. The Zune's niche is the Anything But Apple(tm) crowd.

I've been burned enough times by the $20 MP3 players, the Zune's about the only viable alternative I can see to the iPod. I don't listen to music and don't care for anything iTunes has to offer. I only use an MP3 player to listen to podcasts on the go.

To that end, the Zune software is working out great for me. Type in a URL, podcasts get downloaded automatically, transfer automatically to the player, and then gets marked as played and deleted automatically. That's all I need, and the Zune fits the bill perfectly.

I got mine for $100, and got a free car adapter thrown in, back when Future Shop here in Canada was getting rid of them. Should've bought two. I'm not sure what I'll do when mine dies. Probably eBay. I won't give in to the Fruity Empire.

Most of you are missing his point. He's not saying that the Zune was a bad product/platform (it's fantastic), but his point is that by the time they launched the product it was just too late no matter how good the Zune was. The PMP war was over and Apple had won.

IMO, the biggest mistake that MS made was sticking with 'Plays for Sure' for as long as they did.

The product itself was 100% dead on. I love my ZuneHD and loved the previous Zune devices I owned. They were well made and the music service was (and still is) amazing.

They failed at marketing it. They released it and more or less put it out there to die. That's really sad in that the device just never had a chance.

I hope the rebranding of the music service ushers in a new generation of powerful PMPs. Ones than can play music, run all the Win8/WP8 apps and that come in multiple form factors. There's at least some potential there if you ask me. If I could just walk into a store and buy a PMP made by Nokia for $50-$100 then I'd finally have a successor to my ZuneHD. I like having a dedicated music device but maybe that's just me.

Lack of a small player that joggers can use, and totally incompetent marketing matched with a brand name that is married to "viruses, crashing and problems". They have learned a lot of lessons, but marketing is in the rear, and the brand name has a lot of recovery to do. The products are solid, but the Xbox interface needs a lot of work. I should be able to tell Kinect "smart dj led zeppelin" or similar commands. And that xbox interface needs to be FASTER from screen to screen. That phone is a freaking grandslam though.

I disagree. I thought the Zune was wonderful. I had the original 30GB, and a 120GB of the last model. I liked how Microsoft came out with new features for the Zune hardware, and all Zune models received said features.

Microsoft did market it at all it seems.

Hogwash. The Zune line of portable music players was awesome. I loved my Zune 80! They should have focused on BOTH the pmp market and the smartphone market. This is MS, can they not focus on 2 things at once?

The Zune HD was awesome, but I wanted a phone with that kind of interface. By the time I was in the market for one, the only thing out there that I wanted was the iPhone 3GS.

The php market isn't dead though. My step-daughter and all her friends have iPod Touches. They are too young for smartphones. I also know a few guys at work that have iPod Touches.

Shadrack said,
Hogwash. The Zune line of portable music players was awesome. I loved my Zune 80! They should have focused on BOTH the pmp market and the smartphone market. This is MS, can they not focus on 2 things at once?

The Zune HD was awesome, but I wanted a phone with that kind of interface. By the time I was in the market for one, the only thing out there that I wanted was the iPhone 3GS.

The php market isn't dead though. My step-daughter and all her friends have iPod Touches. They are too young for smartphones. I also know a few guys at work that have iPod Touches.

On that note it isn't entirely out of the question that MS wouldn't get back into the PMP market with a rebranded device. One that has the capabilities of a WP device minus making calls and so forth. After seeing those Nokia form factors it does look slightly plausible.

Owned a White 30Gb , now own black 8Gb and a 120Gb, still get used daily.

Great devices, love them. Simple devices that are great at what they do, but don't try to do too much.

But Microsoft seemed very hesitant with them, I never understood why- its a great product, much better than the iPod, but if you want your product to sell, get it to market, and get it advertised.

US only and the software put me off. The HD totally passed me by, maybe it didn't have enough space? None of them do really. 64GB is laughable when you're spending that much money on a device.

My mp3 player is my phone (not smart) with 2GB micro SD.

I personally had the zune hd ever since it came out. love the interface, especially the inclusion of swiping gestures; ios felt very limiting in that regard. The price point was also better since it was 200 bucks (when it came out) for a 16 gb whereas the itouch 3 was 8 gb for the same price. The screen was also fantastic, very vivid, albeit was a bit low in terms of res. The design on the other hand is relatively timeproof unlike the itouch/iphone - light, thin but substantial, and gives off "sleek but professional" vibes. Not only that, friend and strangers were very surprised when I tell them that my zune hd is almost 3 years old since the design is so nice. xD However, my only gripe with the zune hd is the "social". should have included facebook/twitter/windows live functionality networking + native multiple inbox support, instead of the apps and only integrated zune inbox, in a firmware update. Long shot (next to never happening), but still hope that somebody at MS would port over some of the people hub functionality to the social hub on zune hd...

I am in the UK, I brought a Zune HD while in New York, and sold my iPod nano and have never looked back at apple.

It was the interface that got me, and the PC Software.

My brother borrowed it and lost it

But I got another one!!!

This, and I am a Windows Phone user.

And Apple is chasing Android.. yada yada yada.. who cares..

Apple is nothing more that clever at selling average tech at seriously OTT prices and lucky enough to have their iSheep still buying the BS. There is _nothing_ about either Mac or iPhone that is groundbreaking or front runner tech.

Hell even their own software thinks the competition is better..

eh, looking at Apple's past few quarters, and going out into the real world to see who are using their stuff, I would argue that Apple has grown past the cleverly titled, "iSheep," and are selling their stuff to normal people who don't have blind brand loyalty.

Article said
...Microsoft spending a ton of money on the products, the Zune never caught on...
This is just B.S.

C'mon, when the iPod was released, it did not have the App Store, so it was just a touch-based music listening device able to watch YouTube and browse the web.

Where Microsoft failed:
1. Never marketed correctly the device. For Christ sake! Of course it was a failure. ASK ANYBODY about what the f was the Zune Media Player device, and I'll bet you 100 bucks that they will be like my grandmother with Alzheimer, because they never got to know the product!

2. MS didn't do any software injections or innovations to it. A Marketplace would have been nice, and WP7 would have gotten a better public reception due to it. Hell, the real and beautiful metro was embedded on that device! I would chose that thing over my iPod 100 times to listen to music (only for music), because the Zune player is just awesome and beautiful.

3. They didn't make it Worldwide available. Let's take for example the Samsung Galaxy S I/II series, which have been a success. Who in the mother of the earth would have thought that I would like to have a Samsung phone?! By making it non-US exclusive the phone and taking into serious note the epigraph #1, they've been best sellers!

Another example is Windows 7. How do you think Microsoft did tackled Windows Vista failure? By magic? No. Promotion, promotion, promotion, general availability, kaboom! Everybody went to Windows 7, and forgot about Vista.

Why can't MS do something similar with Zune? It even has a cool name.

All I needed to see was "ex-Microsoft exec" and knew right away his opinion wouldn't hold much water. I've owned a Zune HD and loved it, felt it was a fantastic device and still do but a) forcing users into the Zune software was a bad idea and b) not making it work like removable storage for proper drag and drop ability killed it more so than Apple and their iPod line did.

If I find one cheap in price sometime I'll still buy it because it's an awesome PMP - as long as you get one knowing this and don't try to make it into an iPod touch with apps, etc, it's pretty much one of the very best PMPs ever made. That OLED screen is damned gorgeous (no match for my Samsung Galaxy S Super AMOLED display, however).

If I had hindsight 20/20, I would have bought gobs of Apple stock after the dot.com bubble burst around 2000 or so.

I have a zune 120 that sits on a shelf next to the 2005 ipod 80 GB collecting dust. 25000 plays into my zune HD and I love it. Still kicking myself for not getting in earlier when they still offered the 10 tracks per month deal... zune HD, pry it from my cold dead hands etc.

yes i'm here said,
I have a zune 120 that sits on a shelf next to the 2005 ipod 80 GB collecting dust. 25000 plays into my zune HD and I love it. Still kicking myself for not getting in earlier when they still offered the 10 tracks per month deal... zune HD, pry it from my cold dead hands etc.

Thats the thing I never understood. People flat-out denied that getting 10 free tracks at the end of each month as a part of a subscription on which you could download as much music as you wanted; was not better than individual track purchases e.g. the iTunes model! I'm glad I got in when I did and sure do hope it remains after Microsoft finally kills the Zune brand in favor of Music + Video or whatever the hell they're gonna call it.

If you ask me, the Zune subscription modle is the one to beat!

Both 2nd gen Zune's and the Zune HD were great devices. I never liked iPod's and felt their controls were counter-intuitive. iPod Touch was when Apple finally got it right.

I'm surprised no one who was or is at MS still hasn't seen the error of their ways. The severe lack of marketing, the many lil mistakes they made (releasing a brown colored device first, not releasing in other countries, etc) all amounted to one huge failure of one of the greatest devices I've ever had the priviledge of owning. Even people that have used my Zune's have loved it.

How come everyone else can see this but not MS? Zune as an ecosystem would have failed even harder if they only focused on mobile phones.

In the end, MS always seems to fail to realize they have a great thing going on and then wonder why it fails to make a profit or even a substantial one.

Figure 8 Dash said,
Without Zune we wouldn't have the metro UI.

Metro was in Windows Media Center before Zune I believe, but yes, Zune was a great influence to the future of Metro on mobile devices.

How about the fact that Microsoft failed to sell it globally and decided to only sell it in a few countries - that hardly is going to get sales numbers surpassing Apple either. Microsoft need to stop this US centric approach and realise that the market is global and needs to be treated as such - this stupid idea of only launching products in the US and maybe 2-3 other countries is a recipe that dooms their products, no matter how good they are, to the dust bin of irrelevancy.

The problem is that the first 2 gen of the Zune would not compare with the iPod and iTunes. When the Zune HD came out, it was already too late and people wanted an iPhone.

s3n4te said,
I loved my Zune HD so much that I bought a WP7 device instead of an iPhone.

I loved my Zune HD, too. Best music player I've ever owned.

As soon as VZW gets a decent WP device, the Android phone is in the bin. (There are some service area issues forcing me on VZW)

MioTheGreat said,

I loved my Zune HD, too. Best music player I've ever owned.

As soon as VZW gets a decent WP device, the Android phone is in the bin. (There are some service area issues forcing me on VZW)

I never (and I mean *never*) buy a phone for the PHONE - a great phone on a subpar carrier makes for a subpar phone. (How much bad press did the iPhone get while it was exclusive to AT&T Immobility?) I've had three SAMSUNG cellphones (none were smartphones) - two on VZW, and the third (my current one) on TRACFONE's GSM network (via Safelink Wireless). My experience with Safelink/TRACFONE makes me long for when I will hopefully be able to go back to VZW (for reasons of coverage and call-quality).

The problems I see:
1) They took the usual partner approach that wasted precious time and failed them horribly.
2) They took 5 years to respond directly to the iPod once it was already a clearly established product.
3) They made a "me too" device in the Zune hardware.
4) They never made a Zune app for iOS long before Spotify or Rdio were in the US which would have been insanely successful.

What doomed them was not taking a bold stance towards doing what was right and hoping partners were going to do it for them.

I think Alan Key said it best: "People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware."

dagamer34 said,
The problems I see:
1) They took the usual partner approach that wasted precious time and failed them horribly.
2) They took 5 years to respond directly to the iPod once it was already a clearly established product.
3) They made a "me too" device in the Zune hardware.
4) They never made a Zune app for iOS long before Spotify or Rdio were in the US which would have been insanely successful.

What doomed them was not taking a bold stance towards doing what was right and hoping partners were going to do it for them.

I think Alan Key said it best: "People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware."

Making a Mac client would have been useless, first because, as much as Apple people like to believe otherwise, the number of Macs sold compared to Windows is a rounding error. Second, a large number of Mac users would not touch anything with a Microsoft label on it, except if they have to for work. Apple people buy Apple, and would not buy a Zune.

Microsoft had a hand-held device before Apple introduced the iPod. Microsoft released Windows Media Player for Pocket PC in April 2000. Apple didn't announce iPod until October 2001. I had a HP Pocket PC, with a 2GB (a lot back then) CF card with music on it.

The original Zune was similar to iPod, but the Zune HD was nothing like any iPod released - with the Zune HD much better.

Actually, they did take a bold stance, and were criticized for it (criticized if you do, criticized if you don't). They had another music service, which they shut down in favor of Zune. People complained because they were using it to get music for non-Zune devices, and there were the usual cries of monopoly, that they were trying to ruin other devices that depended on that music service - ignoring that iTunes holds a vast majority of the market.

I have had Nomads (old Creative MP3 player), iPods, iTouches, but none of them were used other than on plane rides. And to a certain extent, my Zune 30/120 was not used much either. But when I got my Zune HD, it was such a joy it has been used extensively, and still does to this day - it says that I have listened to over 80,000 songs.

It's a problem of this constant US-centric approach and not releasing anything, and I mean ANYTHING to the rest of the world until years later. e.g. Bing features.

cleverclogs said,
It's a problem of this constant US-centric approach and not releasing anything, and I mean ANYTHING to the rest of the world until years later. e.g. Bing features.

these comments always make me laugh. Lousy marketing and playing catchup to iPods is what did the Zune in. Once the iphone was released, forget about it. Euros buying them wouldnt have made a difference. besides there's always ways to get things over there. did you buy any? probably not.

btw my 3 zunes og brown, blue mini and hd all still work.

downhillrider said,

Euros buying them wouldnt have made a difference. besides there's always ways to get things over there. did you buy any? probably not.

It's not that straight-forward. Those that did buy them (on release) soon found that MS had put security in-place to block those trying to access the service from outside the US. Hardly a friendly approach to non-US customers desperate to buy your product.

love the ipods, hate itunes. love my zune, tolerate the software. my phone won't hold even a quarter of my music collection so i'll keep my zune until it dies. i thank ms for releasing the zune hardware.

lothodon said,
love the ipods, hate itunes. love my zune, tolerate the software. my phone won't hold even a quarter of my music collection so i'll keep my zune until it dies. i thank ms for releasing the zune hardware.

The Zune HD was the best piece of hardware I've ever owned.

I thought this article was going to say, "We should have never released the Zune HD hardware, because no phone can ever compare to it, and now all phones look bad"

andrewbares said,
The Zune HD was the best piece of hardware I've ever owned.

Ditto. Was and still *IS* one of the best things I have ever owned.

lothodon said,
love the ipods, hate itunes. love my zune, tolerate the software. my phone won't hold even a quarter of my music collection so i'll keep my zune until it dies. i thank ms for releasing the zune hardware.

I have the same problem with the exception that I LOVE the Zune desktop software. Our shared problem is that my phone (a 32g Dell Venue Pro); just can't hold all my music. A lot of people I talk to about the problem wonder why its a problem and I have to explain that im not a fairweather music listener. I listen to my music in schuffle mode all the time, even when listening to specific playlists because I never get tired if hearing music I love. For me, my phone just can't hold a candle to what my Zune80 can do interms of music playback so Im keeping it. My phone is relegated to only having new albums I download with my Zune Pass.

Yeah, the writing was on the wall for PMPs when Zune came out. But it was a necessary and positive investment. It restored confidence that MS could produce a cool consumer device as nice as anything Apple could. Given Windows Mobile at the time, this was needed.

As was the RRoD fiasco with Xbox. It resulted in Microsofts biggest customer service coup ever and restored confidence that they were not a disconnected 800lb gorilla and could still deliver great customer service.

Many divisions in the behemoth known as Microsoft could still use work in both these areas.

I disagree, there's still plenty of people who just want a basic media player without the phone component, and unfortunately, that usually means an ipod.

Microsoft's biggest mistake was their standard US centric approach. They shot themselves in the foot with that nonsense. The hoops those of us outside the US had to go through to get it was sad, and hard for anyone outside the US to recommend it.

I'm glad I got one though, because it's still a fantastic device, just let down by Microsoft's inability or unwillingness to help it succeed.

I'm sure one of the many arguments to the BS excuses why it was never released outside the US was music licensing, but I wouldn't consider that valid. The original ipods were released worldwide without music catalogues in many countries, those came later.

Well what do they expect. They start off releasing a BROWN device, and marketing "the social" rubbish, restricted it to the USA etc.

Does the thing even support MP3's??

Ideas Man said,

Microsoft's biggest mistake was their standard US centric approach. They shot themselves in the foot with that nonsense. The hoops those of us outside the US had to go through to get it was sad, and hard for anyone outside the US to recommend it.

I'm glad I got one though, because it's still a fantastic device, just let down by Microsoft's inability or unwillingness to help it succeed.

I'm sure one of the many arguments to the BS excuses why it was never released outside the US was music licensing, but I wouldn't consider that valid. The original ipods were released worldwide without music catalogues in many countries, those came later.


This. i remember wanting a zune when first released but struggled to attain one as a result of living in the UK. I never understood this approach Microsoft took.

dvb2000 said,
Well what do they expect. They start off releasing a BROWN device, and marketing "the social" rubbish, restricted it to the USA etc.

Does the thing even support MP3's??


You forgot squirting.

nohone said,

And that line shows that you are just trolling

Nope, legitimate question - they were never available here so I wouldn't know. I thought I recalled a lot of comments about them only supporting DRM (WMA?) protected music, and that they somehow restricted how long you could play music you shared with someone else, or bought from their zune store. Obviously this would not apply to MP3's

Another question in a similar vein - weren't they restricted to some "plays for sure" music, or some other rubbish that Microsoft inflicted on it?

Its going to be very interesting to see what happens to all this DRM protected music that people have bought, when the devices fail, or the servers are taken off-line. No doubt the music industry will want you to pay again for another copy!

Not a problem with MP3's though

dvb2000 said,
...

Zune always supported MP3. They also supported WMA, protected and unprotected. If you subscribe to a Zune Pass, then the subscription music you buy is DRM protected, but that is only a rental. When you use your 10 monthly credits, then you download the music in unprotected MP3. When you buy music, you buy in unprotected MP3. There was a time when you downloaded music that was DRM encrypted from the Zune marketplace, just like you used to buy music from iTunes that was DRM encrypted. And just as iTunes now sells DRM-free music, so does Zune (except for subscription music, which is understandable). Contrary to what many will say, Zune (the software) is not dead, it is actually alive and well in Win8, although with a different name. If you were to search a HDD in a default install of Win8, you will find many files with the Zune name, which are there for the music store app. So shutting down the servers is unlikely as it is going forward under a different name displayed to the user.

And the reason I said you were trolling, is because a simple Wikipedia search would have answered your question (so the excuse of it not being sold in your country is not an excuse), which lists these formats as supported:
JPEG for images;
WMV (Used by Zune Marketplace)
MPEG-4 - supported on all models except the Zune 30 device
H.264 - supported on all models except the Zune 30 device
Avi video (Xvid) support is included on the Zune HD (firmware versions 4.5 and later).
MP3 (used by Zune Marketplace)
AAC (unprotected) not AAC (.m4a)
WMA Pro (2-channel)
WMA Standard (used by Zune Marketplace)
WMA lossless
Any formats not compatible with an individual device are automatically transcoded into a compatible format.

dvb2000 said,
Well what do they expect. They start off releasing a BROWN device, and marketing "the social" rubbish, restricted it to the USA etc.

Does the thing even support MP3's??

Not only supports MP3, but that's EXACTLY why Zune players were/are the best mobile device there is, for this type device.

Wish I would've bought 4 or 5 of these instead of just 2!!

I agree with your US centric comment. Some Microsoft divisions, at the time (it is somewhat better now), had this incredible inability to deliver internationally.

Meanwhile, the original Zune device was not attractive and technologically late. The Zune HD should have been designed and pushed to the market earlier.

Also, and probably the biggest issue, the lack of continuous investment (time and money) into the platform just added to the brand misery. The software kept losing features with almost every release while Apple was continuously investing.

In the end, we're all stuck with one gigantic music ecosystem (guess which one) and several smaller ones trying to survive in this zoo. And if Windows 8 Consumer Preview is any indication of Microsoft music offering, things are not looking better. The Music tools is not even on par with what Zune was offering. It lack everything to help people consume music (discovery tools, Mixview equivalent, wish lists and so on). It just looks Microsoft still hasn't understood.