Why the Microsoft Zune is Set up to Fail

The Microsoft Zune and the web site that promotes it are an excellent example of not following The Del.icio.us Lesson as they put social value above personal value. We just don’t get an answer to the question “What’s in it for me?”, and as a result the Zune will most likely continue to fail.

Here is a snippet from the Zune site:

Mama always said to share. Now you have an opportunity to do it with music and photos. With wireless Zune to Zune sharing you can send your favorite tracks and photos to friends.

Picture this: You’re walking down the street. Or you’re in a room with a bunch of friends. Or at a concert. Or at the airport. Or on the bus (you get the picture) and then you whip out your Zune and see all these other Zune devices around that you can choose from. Zap! You’re connected to your best friend and send the new song your band recorded in the garage last weekend. Another friend gets the hilarious podcast your kid brother made at school, plus that song you just downloaded from the Zune Marketplace and can’t get out of your head. And hey, lookee here, your friend wants to send you something that you might like and buy, too.

Best of all, the song you sent isn’t just a 30-second preview­—it’s the whole song! Your friend can sample the song up to three times in three days, flag it on their device and then, if they like it, they can buy it later from Zune Marketplace. It’s all connected.

It’s all connected! Wahoo! Doesn’t it sound like my friends are having more fun than me? Their happiness sounds much more important than mine here.

The Microsoft Zune and the web site that promotes it are an excellent example of not following The Del.icio.us Lesson as they put social value above personal value. We just don’t get an answer to the question “What’s in it for me?”, and as a result the Zune will most likely continue to fail.

Here is a snippet from the Zune site:

Mama always said to share. Now you have an opportunity to do it with music and photos. With wireless Zune to Zune sharing you can send your favorite tracks and photos to friends.

Picture this: You’re walking down the street. Or you’re in a room with a bunch of friends. Or at a concert. Or at the airport. Or on the bus (you get the picture) and then you whip out your Zune and see all these other Zune devices around that you can choose from. Zap! You’re connected to your best friend and send the new song your band recorded in the garage last weekend. Another friend gets the hilarious podcast your kid brother made at school, plus that song you just downloaded from the Zune Marketplace and can’t get out of your head. And hey, lookee here, your friend wants to send you something that you might like and buy, too.

Best of all, the song you sent isn’t just a 30-second preview­—it’s the whole song! Your friend can sample the song up to three times in three days, flag it on their device and then, if they like it, they can buy it later from Zune Marketplace. It’s all connected.

It’s all connected! Wahoo! Doesn’t it sound like my friends are having more fun than me? Their happiness sounds much more important than mine here.

What the Zune folks could be talking about is how their device is personally valuable. In order for anybody to take the Zune seriously after the success of the iPod, the Zune has to be better than the iPod first. It has to be a better personal music player, period. It has to be better at storing and playing my songs for myself. And the online web pages that support the product (an interface mostly comprised of copy) has to reflect that.

Right now the iPod product page continues to do this well. The Zune product page, on the other hand, pales in comparison.

Welcome to the Social

This is a case of the strategy being wrong, and thus the interface communicates the wrong message. (and yes, using the phrase “Welcome to the Social” is how they introduced the Zune if you can believe that). There is no way to communicate the right message if the strategy is wrong! Therefore, everyone involved is set up to fail.

Now, ask any designer and they’ll tell you that design is about communication. But, how effective can designers be if they don’t have any seat the table where the communication is being decided? (see How does Strategy Affect Design?) In the case of the Zune, designers would be able to provide valuable feedback to the strategists about how people actually listen to music, what they value in a music player, and all the other things that design research can discover for you. A quick ethnographic study done by the designers would have shown that music is a very personal activity…we identify ourselves by the music we listen to…and that you must nail that to the ground before you move into the social realm.

Don’t get me wrong here…I love the fact that the Zune folks are interested in and really trying to figure out the social aspects of music. But you can’t jump to that place without figuring out the personal aspects first. As I mentioned the other day a good question to ask here is…”Is this thing useful to someone even if nobody else uses it?”.

Now, it could be that the Zune is a great personal music player (it may be…I don’t know…its entirely unclear). But that’s not being communicated right now. When the Zune is a better personal music player than the iPod then, and only then, can its social features be touted. Right now the designers (and marketers, strategists, etc) are focusing way too much on the social, and not enough on the personal.

Published: August 3rd, 2007

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