Microsoft’s silly shot at the iPod: Desperate?

Opinion – I am all for exposing Apple and its expensive products and exaggerated marketing claims, some of which could be considered flat-out lies. There’s enough opportunity for rivals to effectively attack Apple, but would someone explain to me Microsoft’s thoughts and strategy. Someone must have a lot of fun sabotaging Microsoft’s anti-Apple ads. There is no other explanation for this latest ad, another Zune vs. iPod disaster.

Let’s be honest. There are cheaper MP3 players then an iPod. You are paying dearly for the privilege of owning such a fancy device and showing it off while running on the tread mill in your wellness center. I personally believe there are much better general purpose players out there than the iPod – I love my old Samsung K5 – but there are certain reasons why you would buy an iPod. For me, it was the fact that I needed a player for my workouts and there is no better combination than an iPod Nano and Nike shoes. I paid nearly $200 for the Nano, including a fancy “Action Jacket”.

But I admit that I dislike the increasingly complex iPod user interface, the complicated workflow to upload individual music files to the player through the iTunes interface – songs that have not been purchased on iTunes or ripped from a CD. And quite frankly, the battery performance is still terrible. If there was another option on the market that had similar features with a much easier to use interface, I would jump ship immediately. And I don’t think I am alone. And I am not even talking about the outrageous per-song-pricing, which I still believe should be much closer to $0.60 than to $1.00 or more.

We all know that Microsoft is selling Zunes not nearly as successfully as the company had hoped for and Zunes have some nice features few people know off. Advertising for the device has been, umm, not so great so far and now we have another commercial that tells us that the 120 GB iPod is much more expensive than the (120 GB) Zune. Why? Because at $1 per song, it would cost you $30,000 to fill up that iPod. And the Zune would not cost that much, since you pay only $14.99 per month for an unlimited Zune subscription. Really?

I doubt that all 120 GB iPod buyers buy that device with the intent to fill their device up with $30,000 worth of music. In fact, we and Apple know that most iPod buyers purchase less than 50 songs per iPod. The rest comes from somewhere else, like your CD collection, or from what has been stored on your hard drive: The remains from the Napster days and what you may have found on the Internet here and there without going to iTunes. That several-thousand-dollar argument has been around for years and it does not get more convincing if Microsoft has a financial consultant explain it during a recession. Sorry.

But what about those $14.99? It is an unlimited subscription that gives you access to the entire Zune music catalog via a Zune Pass as long as you pay your subscription fees. You can also keep 10 songs per month, or 120 per year in exchange for $179.88. It is really up to every consumer where they feel the value in such a plan is, but if I am as superficial as Microsoft in its $30,000 ad, then I find that the Zune is at least as expensive or much more expensive to fill up with music. At 120 songs per year, it would take 250 years to fill it up and it would cost you $44,970. I know, you can buy music as well, but you get the point.

The Zune Pass is not about money. It is about choice, a choice Apple currently does not offer. Here’s your opportunity, Microsoft. Maybe someone should talk to Microsoft and let them in on this secret?  

Wolfgang Gruener is the founder of TG Daily. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.