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In an article called ‘Zune: Falling Down On Cool’ BusinessWeek savages the forthcoming Microsoft device, predicting that “by this time next year, it will be considered a dismal failure”.

And the reason why it will fail? Because it isn’t cool, and neither is Microsoft, says BusinessWeek. It adds that attempting to become cool is the only reason that Microsoft is launching the Zune in the first place.

Authored by Arik Hesseldahl, the article states that “the Zune will be seen for what it is: a me-too product that is expressing Microsoft's envy at not being cool”.

Maybe so, but business isn’t really about ‘being cool’. 'Cool' helps with product marketing and customer aqcuisition, but product quality and lifespan are key to customer retention, recommendations, and repeat business.

Cool is good, cool helps sell products, but when cool breaks cool becomes highly uncool. Right? This makes my iPod highly uncool. And asking Bob Dylan to advertise anything is also massively uncool.

Arik cites the three rules of cool, as per Malcolm Gladwell’s decade-old article in the New Yorker, to big up Apple and tear Microsoft a new one...

Arik states: “The act of discovering cool causes cool to move on. If you accept that the iPod is still cool, as many still do, then the Zune can't help but seem an arriviste, an interloper, poseur product encroaching on well-defined "cool" territory. When the uncool discover a cool place, the cool take their business elsewhere."

My iPod is highly uncool, because after a year or so it stopped working properly. Initially I thought it was the coolest thing since Kim Deal, but perceptions of cool shift dramatically when cool breaks. So I don’t accept that the iPod is “still cool”. And cool or not, I may be taking my business elsewhere.

Arik: “The Zune will seem a not-pod, proving the second rule of cool: It cannot be manufactured, only observed, and then by those who are themselves cool. An iPod is a requisite accoutrement of cool.”

Sure, but my personal experience is that it is highly uncool. Style over substance, it seems. This must make me Mr Anti-Cool, which is in itself fairly cool, although frankly all this talk of cool is confusing.

Arik: “You have to be cool to know cool. And since when is Microsoft cool? The iPod was cool from birth.”

Yes, but as a toddler my iPod sucks. There are big questions being asked of the longevity of the iPod. Apple claimes a failure rate of 'less than 5%'. Arik also cites a survey from ABI Research, which found that 58% of iPod users would consider a switch to Zune in the next year.

I think third party definitions of cool count for much less your personal experience of a product or brand. My relationship with the iPod (and the walled garden that is iTunes) has soured this year, for any number of reasons. While I’m not an ‘iPod hater’, I personally believe that devices that fail are not cool.

This doesn’t mean the Zune will rock my world, or that I'll even buy one, but it does mean I am looking at media players other than the iPod. That adds up to opportunity for Apple’s competitors.

And if I’m one of the 58 out of 100 people considering a switch then we can assume that only four out of ten folks have seriously bought in to the iPod’s cool factor. Although that isn’t right either. They might still in the truly sweet honeymoon period. Or maybe they don’t anticipate buying any new digital music device within the next year.

Other publications are smiting the Zune’s chances despite Microsoft ‘doing an Apple’ with regards to its PR and marketing strategy. USA Today meanwhile comes to the conclusion that the Zune isn’t a patch on the iPod.

Although Steve Jobs has said he’s not worried about the Zune, I reckon he’ll be looking over his shoulder at yesterday’s Microsoft-Universal tie up, which guarantees Universal a cut of Zune hardware sales, something that Apple hasn’t yet granted to content owners.

You don’t need a crystal ball to see where digital media is heading, and Microsoft clearly wants a piece of this market, whether it has 'cool-envy' or not. Xbox proves that uncool Microsoft can claim market share on its own terms, from a standing start, in a (fast-growing) sector where it has no prior experience.

At any rate, it will be fun to watch how this plays out over the next few months...

Chris Lake

Published 10 November, 2006 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (1)

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coffee

tough break indeed.  first the X-box meltdown and now the this. at least the Zune seems to be more fixable...

almost 8 years ago

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