Former Microsoft Exec: Zune Failed Because The Music Industry Was “Hooked” On Apple

Former Microsoft Exec: Zune Failed Because The Music Industry Was “Hooked” On Apple

Microsoft killed the Zune once and for all in October of 2011.

We all remember the Zune. Microsoft’s failed attempt at an iPod competitor gained about as much traction as Windows Phone 7 has during the last two years. Apple already had its hands around the music industry’s neck with the iPod and iTunes — there was no room for something like the Zune. It wasn’t that the Zune was a bad product, it was just too late to the game.

Former Microsoft executive Robbie Bach was in charge of the Zune division, and in a recent interview he acknowledges that Microsoft made a mistake releasing the Zune in the first place.

In an interview with Wired’s GeekWire:

“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.”

Microsoft made Zune owners download and use the Zune software to sync music on a computer. If you bought into the Zune, you totally removed yourself from the iTunes ecosystem. That turned out to be a bad move on Microsoft’s part, you know, since iTunes is the largest music retailer in the world.

“It’s not like we didn’t try but — I don’t know how to say this politely — the music industry just didn’t get it. They just didn’t figure out that being dependent on Apple was bad for them. And they were so hooked on the drug of what Apple was supplying them that they couldn’t see past that to realize that they needed something else to actually drive their business. The label business, the music industry, has never recovered from that.

“If you look at business value, Apple took whatever business value was in the label business and erased it. That’s not a complaint about Apple, good for them. But they erased that, and created some new value for themselves.”

Read the full interview with Back for more on what he learned working on the Xbox and Zune.

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  • Tallest_Skil

    It couldn’t be because WMA is a pathetic filetype and the Zune was a bad piece of hardware. Naw, it was something else entirely.

  • Steffen Jobbs

    We all remember the Zune?  What’s a Zune?  Just another iPod copycat that only the diehard Wintards and Microsoft wanted.  Wasn’t the Zune labeled as an iPod killer?  Looking back in the far future, one might see that the Zune may well have been the start of the whole Microsoft empire collapse.  It would be nice if Microsoft just stayed out of the hardware business and stick to endlessly recycling the Windows OS since that’s where the profits are to be made.

  • TylerHoj

    No, the Zune failed because it was a cheap rip off on the iPod made with lower quality materials. 

  • Fuzzy1

    Microsoft – Blaming Apple for its failures since 1987!

  • dscar

    I bought one because it cost less. I reason it failed was itunes not the hardware even though it was ugly. Itunes was so much easier to sync and navagate.

  • Andrew John

    It failed because it was a piece of shit. Microsoft coming in after the market has moved, again. Apple worked out the best system from the software to the hardware and a simplistic way to use, purchase and manage music. Even if iTunes or the iPod didn’t exist, Zune would still have crashed and burned.

  • Brandon Dillon

    To the people that are saying the Zune is an iPod rip-off, you are fools. I’m the biggest Apple fanboy around, but I liked the Zune. It didn’t copy the iPod in any way. They approached the physical aspect of it in a unique way, large non-flash memory HDDs and a pretty great GUI. The last generation will always be my favorite MP3 player, period. They lost, because the iPod had the App Store and iTunes Store built in. The Zune had better sound quality also, it felt great in your hand, it had a strong body (aluminum maybe?), and it had an awesome display on it (last model of it).

    Give credit where credit is due. There is no reason to be bitter.
  • Mikhial Gurarie

    It sounds like he was in favour of the labels returning to their own monopolistic practices!

  • yoxyvo

    I liked the Zune when I got my hands on one. The GUI was easy to navigate, snappy, slick. But it didn’t work with iTunes and their ”Windows only” store/sync application royally sucked. The reason it failed was because everyone was already on the iPod/iTunes platform. Despite its slick interface, there was no compelling reason for anyone to abandon the iPod and iTunes music collection and start over with a Zune. As the article points out, Microsoft was late to the game. They’ve done the same for the mobile phone and repeating the same mistake with tablets. Apple wasn’t the first to produce a mobile music player, that award goes to Rio mp3 player but Apple did create a market that was exciting and fun with cool must have devices. Not only was it hip to have one, it was stylish and showed status. That is their trademark.

  • Aseem Gaurav Sharma

    Yes it is indeed true!!! Nothing can beat Apple! It is the leader that we all love (
    http://blog.kiwitech.com/)

  • Jabjabs Lefonte

    Personally it felt like the reason why it failed was that they where always a year or two behind where the iPod was. By the time they had made a really awesome music device with the Zune HD, Apple had moved onto the iPod touch and it was simply way beyond what MS had due to all the advantages that iOS gave.

  • ApplePr0n

    Or it was because the Zune had a horrible UI and made the media player unnecessarily annoying to use.

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath has been a staff writer at Cult of Mac for over two years. He is also a co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by places like the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too.

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