Advice for Microsoft: Offer Mac support for the Zune

Well, Microsoft, you finally managed to pull off something that few
expected: you’ve built some legitimate buzz around the Zune. Interest
in the upcoming launch of the Zune HD hasn’t quite crossed over into
the mainstream yet, but it’s clear that you’ve gotten attention of the
gadget nerds, and that’s a pretty good start (we can also be a tough
crowd to win over). The Zune HD is already one of the most wanted
gadgets on gdgt — 2906 wants and counting — and was a huge hit at our
launch event in San Francisco last week. All the gadget blogs are
covering every bit of news and speculation related to its upcoming
release — you
know something is hot when people are salivating over spy videos.

And
here’s the kicker: plenty of Mac diehards are interested, too. That’s
great — and no small accomplishment — but you’re not doing anything
to capitalize on that interest. No matter how prepared a Mac user might
be to buy one, if it won’t sync with their computer, they won’t do it.
(Not many PC owners bought iPods when those were Mac-only, remember?)

You
can see where this is headed. I’m sure that you’ll put a ton of
marketing muscle behind next month’s launch and that you’ll have no
trouble selling a good number of players, but if you really want to
push the Zune HD you need to do something you’ve resisted doing to
date: you need to offer Mac support. It’s not like it’s not like you
couldn’t do it, Microsoft is already the biggest third-party software
maker for OS X.


Let’s set aside the issue of how the Zune fits
into your long-term mobile strategy, or even where a standalone media
player fits into a market that is trending toward all-in-one
smartphones. Those are macro issues that you can figure out later.
Right now you want to sell a lot of Zune HDs (and presumably a lot of
whatever other models you keep around).

First off, by not
offering Mac support you’re alienating consumers in your target market
– i.e. people who are comfortable paying a premium for a nice device
(according to NPD, Apple has 91% of marketshare for computers costing
more than $1,000). In fact it’s almost as if the Zune HD, with it’s
sleek industrial design, gorgeous OLED screen, and fluid UI, was
designed to appeal to Apple users. It’s one of the few devices that
people seem to think will be able to hold its own with the best of what
Apple has created, and to keep the Zune from even being an option for
Mac users (apart from those relative few running Windows in BootCamp or
in Parallels or VMWare) seems like bad business sense.

The
easiest way to do this would be to just offer a USB Mass Storage mode
for the Zune, that way anyone can easily get files on and off, and you
don’t have to create any new software. But I’m guessing you probably
don’t want to do that, since you’ve invested a lot in Zune as a
platform and want people to use the Zune in conjunction with your
software and store.

That means you’re going to have to get your
hands dirty and port the software and write all the drivers. It’ll be a
fair amount of work, but it’ll be worth it. I’m sure you have the
resources for it somewhere. You won’t be able to bring your Zune Pass
subscription service to Mac users (or possibly any DRM’d content at
all), but I think that’s ok. Just bring Zune to OS X without it.

I
mean, Zune Pass is nice and all — I understand why you think it’s such
a big part of the experience — but let’s be honest, consumers haven’t
shown any great interest in subscription music in general, and you’re
cutting yourselves off from a sizable and growing part of the market by
trying to drive adoption of a service that hasn’t had significant
uptake to date. You don’t need Zune Pass for the Zune HD to be a
success — people are geeking out on the hardware, the UI, the browser,
and maybe even the apps, not whether or not it’ll work with a
subscription service. Right now you should just be trying to get Zunes
in the hands of as many consumers as possible, and that means offering
the Zune as an option to an ever increasing base of Mac users.

Yes,
you might have to make it abundantly clear that Zune Pass wouldn’t work
on Macs for the time being, but I wouldn’t worry too much about whether
or not you are giving Mac users a truncated experience, especially
since you’ll still be able to sell DRM-free MP3s (which is what
consumers prefer anyway). It’s clear that overall very few people base
their media player buying decision on whether or not it supports a
subscription service (and it’s certainly not like Mac users are already
accustomed to the experience), so you won’t be alienating that many
people. Plus, gadget consumers aren’t dumb, as long as you’re upfront
about the situation –
and there’s no reason not to be — we’ll make the decision that’s best
for us. If we REALLY need to have Zune Pass we’ll figure it out. But
that’s the point — right now you aren’t giving Mac users much of a
choice at all. You’re simply not offering them the product.

Ok,
maybe Zune Pass isn’t the issue at all. Maybe you just don’t want to
spend the money and dedicate the resources it’d take to bring Zune to
OS X, thinking that you won’t sell enough to justify the investment. I
get that. It’s not unreasonable to think that anyone who owns a Mac is
only interested in using an iPod. But I think it’s a mistaken
assumption, there are a lot more people interested in a high-end
alternative to the iPod out there than you think — even Mac users.
Regardless, it’s a risk worth taking, especially given the massive
investment you’ve already made into the brand. At the very least it’s a
good look for Microsoft to be reaching out to Mac users and recognizing
that not everyone who wants a Zune uses Windows.

Right now you
have a chance to capitalize on all this buzz and get a lot of iPod
owners to give you a look, and the last thing you want to do is throw
up any roadblocks to them switching. Announcing Mac support for the
Zune would be a PR bonanza and only help drive awareness of your
biggest launch to date. Besides, you have a rare opportunity to put
Apple on the defensive and to hit
them on their home turf with a product that a lot of people are
genuinely
excited about. Don’t pass this one by.

P.S. – To all the
Linux users reading this who may ask, “Why doesn’t he ask for Linux
support?” Well — and I say this as an Ubuntu fanboy — no matter what anyone says it’s never
gonna happen, so it’s not worth making a case for it.