Timing is everything these days.
Just as Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) was laying out the details on its refreshed iPod lines, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was interviewing Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment & Devices Division.
Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) had announced new features a day earlier, so it was only natural to see how the Zune has been holding up in Apple's shadow.
"Customer satisfaction is very high," Bach explained. "It's over 90 percent."
The cynic in me would have loved to pop in and counter with something like, "so what did you do to tick off the tenth guy?" but there's no joy in knocking the Zune. The folks at Redmond are trying so hard to make it work.
However, Apple's media circus yesterday featured slashed prices. Based on storage capacity alone, the Zune is priced the same as the iPod nano right now. Why didn't Microsoft wait? Maybe it could have slashed its prices another $20 or $30 in retrospect. If Microsoft really wants to pad its anemic market share, it's going to have to win the war on price.
Zune buffs will counter that the Zune, especially with its Wi-Fi functionality, is a bargain relative to iPod touch devices with similar storage capacity. It's a fair point but the marketplace disagrees.
I suggested that Microsoft's Zune needs to evolve, and it's comforting to see that Bach sees it that way, too. He sees the Zune as an opportunity "across connected entertainment, because music is not something that's just isolated to portable devices," he said. "It's things people want to experience on Xbox and on the PC and mobile phones and other places. So we think of this, as I said from the very beginning, a long-term investment."
This is Microsoft's way of brushing off its market share, which clocked in at 4% earlier this year, well behind both Apple and distant silver medalist SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK ) .
However, Microsoft doesn't have as much time as it thinks. What if Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) jumps into the market, the way it did with electronic books? What if more smartphones get into the fun. Even the new Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) BlackBerrys are iTunes compatible.
Microsoft has the right approach but it needs to speed things up. Call it a long-term investment if you must, but the market won't put up with a gadget if it doesn't deliver near-term results.
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