Zune is singing a new tune these days. A Microsoft executive has announced that over one million units of its music player have shipped. As the Zune has been out about nine months, that puts the Redmond, Washington-based company ahead of its previously announced plan to sell one million in a year.
Microsoft still has a ways to go to catch the best-selling music player, Apple's iPod, which has sold a reported 100 million units as of early April. Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the company was "very pleased" with the progress the music player has made, although he noted that the sales are not an "overwhelming start."
"I'm not going to pretend it's some gigantic move," he said in the interview.
The Social Zune
Bach added that he expected the Zune technology to develop more along the lines of the social aspects of people connecting together to share music. Noting that the original Zune has Wi-Fi built in, he pointed out that the "the idea of these devices being connected where you want them connected is very important."
In discussing Microsoft's plans for increasing the Zune's social profile, Bach cited one of the company's most popular social-networking endeavors: Xbox Live, Redmond's gaming network that boasts some six million members.
Michael McGuire, an analyst with industry research firm Gartner, said he was surprised that Microsoft announced a million sold at this point because the company was keeping everyone focused on the one-year mark.
The increased emphasis on sharing, McGuire said, will be necessary to provide "some kind of differentiation." He added that "consumer-to-consumer taste sharing" will increasingly become a key to product differentiation in this space, particularly in the "second tier" of players under the iPod.
SanDisk in particular is doing "some very interesting things" with sharing as part of its alliance with Yahoo, McGuire noted. In April, SanDisk announced that its new Sansa Connect Wi-Fi-enabled MP3 player would be compatible with the Yahoo Music service. Sansa Connect owners can use either the free Yahoo service or sign up for the subscription-based one -- in either case without having to use a PC to load music.
The iPod needed slightly over a year to reach about 600,000 units shipped, at a time when the market for music players was less mature than it is now. Over the same period that the Zune shipped one million units, Apple shipped 25 million iPods. In June, the cell phone and music player market might realign once again, when Apple ships its much-publicized iPhone.
In the interview with the Chronicle, Bach said that Microsoft was not planning to launch a direct iPhone competitor, but would continue with its strategy of providing software for several handset manufacturers.