This week Microsoft announced the Zune HD, a new sexy-looking Zune media player that will feature a touch interface, HD radio, and HD video (though not really). The features won’t make you forget about your iPod Touch, but a lot of people are excited about the refresh. Most probably thought Microsoft had given up on the whole Zune idea. Now that it looks like Microsoft has big plans for the Zune, why do people care?
The most obvious reason: because it’s not an iPod. It’s not that people don’t love their iPods, it’s just that we have an affinity for the underdog. It’s the same reason we love Macs and the New Orleans Saints. Some people just prefer things that aren’t mainstream, either because they like to be trend-setters, or simply because they hate the masses. The iPod has become the de facto standard.
Second, the Zune HD appeals to the Microsoft fanboys. Yes, such a sub-group exists. When Macs were getting their butts kicked, the Apple-lovers could unite in a single cause of increasing mac-awareness. In the last few years, it’s been Microsoft on the defensive with Vista, the Zune, Microsoft’s various failed web initiatives, and reaction to the “Get a Mac” campaign. This has given Microsoft supporters a reason to fight, and with PR nightmares like Vista, an inspiration to get the word out. The Zune HD is a good looking piece of hardware, and Microsoft doesn’t usually do “good-looking.” There’s reason to drool, at least until we get our hands on it.
Lastly, the Zune HD announcement offers the glimmer of a coherent device strategy from Microsoft, one that could bring some iTunes-simplicity to the Microsoft world. With a combined Zune/Xbox/Windows marketplace and media experience, Microsoft could make up a lot of ground fast. Throw in device syncing and things get interesting.
The Zune won’t catch the iPod/iPhone anytime soon, but a combined Microsoft ecosystem that builds on the successful Xbox platform and leverages a little bit of the natural reinvestment that will accompany Windows 7 could eventually give Apple some competition. That is a big “could.” The reality is that Microsoft “could” just as easily lose interest in the Zune again.