Microsoft Tries To Upstage Apple….With The Help Of Clear Channel

Sep 8th, 2008 | By | Category: Commentary, iPods & Portable Media Players

Microsoft today announced Zune updates, timed to upstage iPod/iTunes announcements anticipated from Apple on Tuesday. 

Unfortunately for everybody who owns a portable media player, Microsoft’s announcements are woefully misguided and mistimed. 

You have to give Microsoft credit for releasing another Zune update that brings new features to their existing players. Apple typically saves significant new features for the current line of iPods to give people incentive to upgrade. 

However, Microsoft’s previous Zune’s updates have not offered enough value to attract many buyers away from the iPod/iTunes ecosystem, and this update doesn’t look like it will either. Microsoft continues to focus on features, like FM tuning, that haven’t proven to be big with buyers.

Microsoft Zune: Now WIth More Clear Channel Than Ever!

Even more bizarre, Microsoft cites Clear Channel’s CEO in their announcement for the Zune update: 

“Microsoft’s decision to integrate an FM tuner into the Zune was revolutionary and they continue their extraordinary leadership with Buy from FM,” said John Hogan, president and CEO of Clear Channel Radio. “We’ve always known that radio is the primary source for discovering new music, and Microsoft’s decision to marry music discovery and delivery does two things: enables consumers to instantly satisfy their passion and enables FM song tagging to be enjoyed by all radio listeners, everywhere.”

What is Microsoft thinking?

The biggest value of a portable media portable media player is the fact that it frees you from being chained to Clear Channel and mainstream radio!

Seeing Clear Channel featured in Microsoft’s Zune press release suggests that there may be a fundamental gap in Microsoft’s understanding of what motivates people to get and use a portable media player.

If people want to listen to radio, people have them at home, in their car and at work. Putting a radio tuner into a portable media player is a feature that, to most users, is little more than a complication. 

This sort of thing is a disappointment; there are a ton of talented people working on the Zune, and having the device marketed as a sort of Clear Channel radio accessory is a real mistake. 

Microsoft has demonstrated that it has the might to compete with Apple in the world of portable media players, but not the vision. This is a loss for Zune owners, iPod owners and the entire portable media player market.

Zune Updates

Here’s a quick rundown of the Zune changes:

  • Users can now access the Zune Marketplace music store directly from their device when they are in a recognized Wi-Fi hot spot, or through a home wireless network. 
  • Zune customers now have a choice in how they acquire music: They can pay per track or choose a Zune Pass subscription. Zune Pass subscribers can download or stream music to the device or their computer interchangeably, all for a flat rate of $14.99 per month. 
  • The new Zune software update introduces “expert sources”, recommendations from the Zune service and online music community, and the user’s own play data to create a dynamic, digital music experience where discovering music is easy and seamless.
  • Zune pass subscribers can get channels of music preprogrammed or create their own custom channels. 
  • Now the Zune software learns what kind of music users like and makes personal recommendations. 
  • The improved Now Playing view is more interactive and cinematic. Users can sit back and enjoy the combination of artist imagery, colorful effects, bio information and data from the Zune online music community, all combined in a full-screen view. 
  • A new firmware update will bring new features customers have been asking for:
  • Games on the go. 
  • Audiobooks. All Zune devices will feature support for audiobooks this fall from industry leaders in the digital distribution of audiobook content.
  • Audible. Customers can visit to download and sync favorite books from the 50,000 titles available from over 600 publishers and content providers.
  • OverDrive. They can download content from sites powered by, including 7,500 libraries’ Web sites worldwide. (

Microsoft also announced new pricing, effective Sept. 16

  • 120 GB: $249.99
  • 80 GB: $229.99 
  • 16 GB: $199.00
  • 8 GB: $149.99
  • 4 GB: $129.99 
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4 Responses to “Microsoft Tries To Upstage Apple….With The Help Of Clear Channel”

  1. Rob Greenlee says:

    I believe that your comments are a continuation of your bias towards the Apple view of the portable media player market. These new features in the Zune are adding to the users options to discover music in new ways. Our research has shown us that radio is still being used by the majority of potential users to discover new music and new users also like to have help in discovering new music. The buy via FM rated very high in features that would drive device and service adoption. The perception that radio is dead is misguided and has been for years now. Many in the blogs and media, said, that radio was dead with the invention of Podcasts and that has NOT at all happened. Broadcast radio is still very important (huge audience) and will continue to be so for a very long-time. These new options don’t stop users from using the Zune players as just a digital music player like an iPod, Zune just takes it to an new level. If the portable media player market is going to grow then there needs to be more ways new potential users can get into the digital music game. You may not realize it, but still as of today the majority of people in the USA do not currently own a digital portable media player and these new Zune features are ways of pulling this huge existing radio listening market into the digital music/portable media player market. The other reason to be positive is that it is always good to have competition in this kind of market. I just don’t see why you have to keep slamming Zune for innovating in this evolving space. Zune does not have to follow Apple to succeed, as I believe that Zune is quickly moving into the leadership position around innovation in social networking digital media discovery, wireless sharing, sync and radio to digital e-commerce.

    Rob Greenlee

  2. James Lewin says:

    Rob –

    Sorry that you see a consistent bias in our coverage of the Zune – but we try to call it like we see it. You’ll note that we also disappointed by Apple’s announcements today.

    Maybe we’re too critical – but there’s already plenty fanboy coverage of both Apple and Microsoft.

    I agree with you 100% about there being a need for more competition in the portable media player market. Unfortunately, though, the Zune hasn’t provided a compelling alternative to the iPod yet, and it may be discouraging competition in the portable media player market.

    We’ve been consistently impressed by the people we’ve met on the Zune team. If you’re going to try and upstage Apple, though, you’d better deliver some “wow”. Deals with Clear Channel aren’t going to do it!

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