Dear Microsoft: Manage your message or someone will do it for you. Case in point: the recent, none-too-surprising news that the lovely Zune HD will meet a timely death. Within minutes of the news breaking, stories and tweets flooded the Internet declaring, "The Zune is Dead." This was followed by people asking if everything "Zune" was gone or just the hardware. I assured people that the obvious answer was the hardware only, but is it that obvious? And why wasn't Microsoft out in front of this information?
Yes, the fact that Microsoft is giving up on music player hardware is bad news for Microsoft and good news for Apple, but it's up to Microsoft to stand up and explain its decision and strategy. In the absence of clear information from Microsoft, everyone else can and will shape the message. So now, even though most within the industry are quite sure that the Zune software and service, which lives on in phones and PCs, is in no danger, average consumers are no longer certain. They could at this very minute be making plans to switch to Apple, iPods and iTunes.
If I were Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, I would have stepped forward and explained the shift away from music-only hardware (leaving aside the fact that most music players do a whole lot more). Then, while wiping away one single tear, I would have quickly shifted gears to a clear strategy, which isn't even new: "For mobile devices, we're focusing our attention on Windows Phone, which already has Zune and Xbox Live functionality." Then I'd add, "This, friends, is not a loss. Lessons we learned from Zune hardware's five-year life have given us invaluable insight and made it possible for use to deliver the Windows Phone platform and some truly stellar partner-driven hardware to wrap around it."
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