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Cliczune Archives: February 2009

Multicultural Microsoft

Chevy On the first day of my Spanish class in middle school, we were taught about the importance of knowing a foreign language, and the perils of trying to compete in the international marketplace without knowing your customer- and their tongue.  The example given was when GM tried to sell the Chevy Nova in the Mexican market.  Whether it went down that way or not, one would think that an international corporation, with millions of dollars in play, would do a little multiligual homework, no?

It would appear that the Microsoft Zune team may have made a blunder that may eclipse the urban legend of the Nova.  I don't speak French-Canadian, but apparently there is an issue that has surfaced:

A Microsoft spokeswoman in Montreal told CanWest News Service that ``it was pointed out to us'' during focus groups in the province that the proposed brand name sounded much like a French-Canadian term used as a euphemism for penis or vagina.

The French word ``zoune'' and the variant ``bizoune'' typically serve as a less jolting way of referring to male or female genitalia when addressing children.

``It's very much slang,'' said Nathalie Bergeron, noting that the words are not common parts of French-Canadian vocabulary.

``Microsoft did do extensive customer research in Quebec,'' Bergeron added, and concluded that the name Zune was ``very effective'' and posed no risk of becoming known as an embarrassing double entendre.

Huh?  This doesn't sound so good, and this may be the sort of trouble that Microsoft's Zune team simply doesn't need at this point!  For our French-Canadian readers, is this even true, or is someone blowing this out of proportions?  For the record, I chose to go with the image of the Chevy Nova...

Moving From iPod To Zune

You know the phrase "Breaking up is hard to do?"  Well, it likely applies to migrating an iTunes collection to the Zune.  Recall that if you've been an iPod user, you likely purchased some tracks from the iTunes store.  While lately they can be had in the universal mp3 format, they probably were acquired in Apple's AAC format, which will come up with an ".mp4" extension.  Unfortunately, this prevents a seamless transfer as the Zune can't play these, and there are DRM issues as well to contend with.

One possible work around has been known for some time.  The iTunes software allows you to burn tracks in the library onto a CD.  Once that is done, then it can be reripped into a more Zune friendly format.  Personally, I often rip my tracks to 160 kbps, VBR which stands for variable bit recording.  I find that this provides the best combination between file size and audio quality. 

The downside of this is that while it is fine for a CD or two worth of tracks, with a larger collection, it becomes a multiyear project.  You know, the kind of thing that gets started but never finished, and goes on just about forever- not good.  Certainly there must be an easier way...

This article goes through this challenge, and makes a software recommendation.  However, their recommended program goes for $35, which is more than some users may want to go for who don't have large collections.  Thankfully there is a freeware program to the rescue.  I can recommend Free M4a to MP3 converter.  It is quite fast, and does the job quickly without lots of bells and whistles to get in the way of efficiency.

Armed with the above info, now Zune users can dump their iTunes tracks into their Zune software with minimal effort.

No Zune Phone For You!

Zphone The evidence is more than piled up that Microsoft is not doing a phone version of their Zune.  With the recent introduction of Windows Mobile 6.5, there is definite anticipation of Windows Mobile 7.  Is there a renewed hope for a Zune Phone?

Clearly, not so far.  Ballmer reemphasized that Microsoft is committed to the licensing model.  In other words, someone else makes the hardware, and Microsoft just does the software, which is what they do for desktops/notebooks, and what they want to do anyway.  Producing a Zune Phone, where they do both the hardware and the software just wouldn't fit into those plans.  At least for the rest of this month, I think the Zune Phone rumors have been kaboshed.

The real question is where does that leave the Zune?  In a market that is so overly smartphone centric, where sales of the iPod Classic are flat, can the Zune ever thrive and get beyond a niche product of folks that want a good music player and won't buy an Apple anything?  I'm not sure, but unless things change, and pronto, I don't see the Zune getting into double digits without "Thinking Different."

Zune TV?

Steve Microsoft, after the recent round of layoffs, is in the regrouping stage.  Recently Ballmer went through his roadmap of where the folks in Redmond are heading.  While much attention got devoted to where Windows 7 will take them, and to a much lesser extent, Windows Mobile 6.5, at least the Zune got a mention.  Here's what was discussed:

Of course, similar things were once said about portable music players, and yet we have the Zune. That's apparently different, because it's part of a tool for a larger entertainment strategy. Ballmer promised that the Zune entertainment services would be coming to all three screens: the PC, the TV, and portable devices. The Xbox is simply another cog in this strategy, as Microsoft is looking to develop a "dollars per TV" revenue strategy—"the real opportunity is a device that sits next to or in a TV set," said Ballmer. The precise device involved is apparently far less relevant than the fact that Microsoft is on the end of the revenue stream. It's an interesting take, and one that the company may now have the pieces in place to attempt, but, without some well-enunciated roadmap to get there from here, it has a bit of the feel of a post-hoc rationalization.

I thought that the Zune already had a dock to sit next to the TV?  Something tells me that is not what he is talking about.  It's not much of a leap to think that they want to have some product to compete with AppleTV, but I'm not sure if ZuneTV is coming soon or not.  Notably absent was discussion of a ZunePhone.  While I think they have the right idea in broad terms- to have seamless integration of their marketplace across PC, TV and portable screens, we'll have to wait and see how the implementation is done.  Will the WiFi built into the Zune ever get used to its potential?

Open Mic Night


Wanna be an internet sensation?  Didn't make it to the latest "American Idol" audition?  No worries as Microsoft is hosting a contest to bring out the songbird in all of us.

XBox 360, Zune and AT&T are looking for the next singing legend.  They are having a contest for users to upload themselves singing an original track.  The videos are uploaded to your Windows Live ID account, in the WMV format.  In other words, Quicktime users are sidelined.  The winning song will be available as a free download.  If you ever wanted to "Teach the world to sing," this is your big chance.

Zune 120 GB Review

Zune rev

Many months after the intro, it's nice to see that a new review of the Zune 120 GB.  Sometimes it is these later reviews, when all the initial enthusiasm has melted away, that can be the most objective of a product. 

Website I4U News takes on the challenge of the Zune 120 GB.  This is the only hard drive player that Microsoft is making these days, and matches the largest of the iPod hard drive line.  The review is a reasonable length, and hits all the high points of the player.  They also focus their attentions on the ecosystem, better known as the Zune Marketplace, that the Zunes fit into.  While they don't go into lesser used functions, such as picture viewing, or battery life while playing videos, they do talk about using the built in WiFi to access Marketplace tunes via the all-you-can-eat subscription.

While their review does a good job of highlighting the uses of the monthly subscription Zune pass, I hope that users with exisiting larger music collections don't feel that they are left out, or that the Zune is not a viable player for their collections.  Plenty of us have a Zune, and don't use the subscription aspect.  While it is a reasonable option for many users, it is not for everyone.  I think their overall score of 8 is pretty accurate however you look at it.

See, Zune Is Good Enough To Steal


Lately, Zune has been taking it on the chin, and it really hurts.  Recently, a viral video was making the rounds on the internet making the point that the Zune was not even good enough to steal.  At least some of us thought that this was simply total nonsense, and even doubted the authenticity of the video.

Well, now we have proof.  Apparently, the Zune is good enough to steal.  In fact, MSNBC is reporting that a Brooklyn prosecutor not only had his Zune stolen, but that he wants it back.  So much so, that he reported the theft to the police, but the Zune is apparently still at large.  If you see a brown Zune on the streets of NY, be sure to let New York City's finest, all right?  Too bad we don't have the viral video of this to circulate on the world wide web!

Living Things Chosen

Today, the group Living Things was chosen as the Zune's ignition artist of the month.  You may recall that this is an effort to highlight a particular musical talent.  There are some special tie ins with content for the Zune and Xbox that will tie into the group's album that was released this week, Habeas Corpus.

The Zune Social points out that this group was formed earlier this decades, and has a "punky songcraft with a fiercely political edge."  They came out of the suburbs of St. Louis and are brothers.

While they are new to me, they do have a good sound.  They have several tracks for you to listen to over here on YouTube.

Reality Check: Zune Sales Numbers

I know we've figured out that the Zune hasn't been selling too well.  After initial enthusiasm, the Zune has been dropping some notches in the sales figures.  Needless to say, Microsoft has done some reorganization, and will endeavor to patch things up.

In the meantime, I stumbled upon just how dismal things have gotten.  Apparently, the Zune only has a 4% market share.  Compare that to Apple's 71% share, and it looks even worse.  While they have sold 3.2 million Zunes overall, Apple has sold 170 million iPods, which continue to move at the brisk rate of 250,000 per day.

Assuming these numbers are accurate, it should be a mandate by Microsoft to get things moving in a different direction.  New hardware, and better advertising could reverse this, but it's gonna take some time, and a boatload of cash.  It's really a shame because I use my Zune daily, and it's really a great product, and I don't say that too often about anything I purchase.

Zune Phone Rumor- Not, Confirmed


There was plenty of anticipation for Microsoft to come up with something to revive themselves with.  Looking at the iPhone, clearly the answer was a direct competitor.  A Zune Phone, or even zPhone if you will.  This would have taken the Zune to the next level.

On the other hand, Microsoft is still a software company.  While they got their Xbox to fly like an eagle, the Zune is still taxiing on the runway.  While many of us use it and agree it is a fine product, the sales numbers just aren't there.  It would appear that Microsoft is focusing less on building their own dedicated hardware, and more on creating an excellent software experience.  Here's what they said at the Mobile World Congress about this the other day:

Microsoft stated emphatically Monday that it would not be building a phone; instead it would roll out services and rely on partners to supply the hardware.

"We are not going to make a phone; we believe in the richness of the ecosystem," Andy Lees, senior vice president of the mobile communications business at Microsoft, told a group of financial analysts at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  There had been rumors circulating for months of a forthcoming Zune phone phone and speculation on special projects as a result of Microsoft's Danger acquisition.

From where I am sitting, that seems pretty definitive.  They go on to take a sideswipe at the Palm Pre, but I don't think the Zune Phone is even on the drawing board at this point.  Let's hope that this Marketplace is everything they promise.  I'd also like to see the Zune tie into it as well to make a more cohesive family of products.