Apple Talk: Zune's doom hints at Microsoft gloom

Microsoft's Zune media player was late to market and so are the firm's iPad-bashing efforts...

Microsoft's Zune was expected to be the most serious challenger to the iPod-iTunes juggernaut

Microsoft's Zune was expected to be the most serious challenger to the iPod-iTunes juggernautPhoto: Microsoft

The recent demise of Microsoft's Zune iPod rival barely registered on the radar. Yet as an example of Microsoft's failure in the market, the Zune may have a more telling significance, says Seb Janacek.

Recent reports that Microsoft was calling a halt on production of its Zune media player came as a surprise. I thought it had pulled the product years ago.

Launched in 2006, the Zune was expected to be the most serious challenger to the iPod-iTunes juggernaut given Microsoft's vast R&D resources and marketing.

iPod imitator late to market

Yet, the Zune barely made a dent on the iPod's lead. It failed because it came so late to the market and looked too much like a simple me-too rip-off.

It had some interesting new features, such as sharing tracks over wi-fi, but it simply lacked the iPod's cool factor. It came in brown, for goodness sake. However, the key problem is that it arrived five years after the iPod.

As the iPod begins to diminish in importance for Apple and its features start to migrate and converge into other products, the iPad is the rising star.

Apple dominated the MP3 market. Its influence was vital to the company, generating massive revenues and revitalising it. The device also created the vertical iTunes model that endures today in support of its iOS devices.

Apple's iPad ignites tablet market

Now that the iPad has ignited the tablet computer market, a market that Microsoft tried but failed to spark almost a decade ago, Microsoft is in a similar position to where it was with the Zune - next to nowhere.

However, Apple will not dominate the tablet market in the way it dominated MP3 and media players for the better part of a decade. iPad competitors have been far quicker off the mark. Apple has always proved an agenda setter when it comes to inventing - or reinventing - technology.

Since the success of the iPod, competitors have paid closer attention to the trends it set and are now acting more decisively. With one exception. The prizes are far, far greater in the nascent tablet market, making Redmond's meaningful absence all the more curious.

It's interesting to look at the companies in this new market: Apple, RIM and HP for hardware and software, Google for the platform, and a plethora of hardware manufacturers utilising that platform, such as Motorola and Samsung.

Android is Apple's greatest competitor

Google's model differs from Apple's hardware-software model but the search giant's Android platform is Apple's greatest competitor. Google's lead was aided in no small matter by the presence of its CEO on the Apple board for years.

The big difference between the iPod and the iPad is that there is far more at stake with tablets.

Many, including myself, have touted the tablet as the next generation of computing devices both for consumers and for the enterprise.

Bill Gates famously tried, and in a rare occurrence failed, to get...