The Microsoft Zune was so 2008 and we were all two thousand and late.
If you’re as old as I am, you remember the great Apple-Microsoft war that ran from the 1980s to the mid-aughts. The war raged on until Microsoft could no longer keep up–and like that, the former giant was slain. Now, Apple rules land and sea, with all who deny them being ridiculed as “broke boys.” Families are torn asunder for not blindly pledging allegiance. Apple has always been thought of as futuristic for their sleek, colorful designs but one of their biggest current avenues was paved by the giant they felled.
Before we had computers in our pockets that could make calls and play our favorite songs, we had to have separate devices for both. The most popular was the iPod. One of the pieces of technology that helped seal Apple’s dominance on the market. Another was the Microsoft Zune, which fought valiantly but ultimately could not overcome the ubiquity of the iPod. The iPod had the upper hand with 5 extra years to perforate the collective conscious and dominate the world. Yet, as I talk about our phones as being the ultimate form of media player, the Zune was full of capabilities that our current devices have.
The Microsoft Zune was the perfect media player. There was even a 120 GB version, one of the largest sizes ever offered for an MP3 player. It played multiple forms of video and audio files trampling the iPod by comparison. From the beginning, the Zune focused on the social aspect of music and how we share our favorite tracks. Initially, it allowed users to wirelessly share music with other Zune users and keep that music for 3 days. That evolved, allowing users to access the Zune Marketplace directly from the device and download songs straight to your player.
The Zune was truly better than the iPod in every shape down to the pocket-friendly pricing and user interface. However, it wasn’t these things that truly forged the Zune’s lasting impact. The Zune Pass was the most forward-thinking implementation in music. Every other platform was selling singles and looking for legitimacy in the piracy-fueled 2000s. Microsoft deployed the Zune Pass, a subscription service that offered unlimited music for the low price of $15. They even let you keep ten of those songs that you downloaded. In today’s world with the shortening of albums for replayability and stream counts that would be an entire album! Zune also had a pointed focus on discovery, offering up playlists based on your listening habits and favorite music. Sound familiar?
This model set the tone for what we have today and it has remained the same for the past decade. They even had exclusive premieres like our streaming services do now. N.E.R.D’s Seeing Sounds and Common’s Universal Mind Control released through Zune Marketplace were available for the price of a single. Microsoft and the Zune were in the future back in 2008 and we’re still reaping the benefits. So while the Zune may not have won the battle of the giants, it did win the war of lasting cultural impact.