Zune Q&A with Microsoft’s J Allard
J Allard, Microsoft’s Xbox wunderkind now in charge of the Zune digital media player business, sat down with Reuters to discuss the next generation of Zunes . Sitting in an all-pink room in the Zune “Inner Sanctum,” J touched on everything from how it plans to catch Apple’s iPod to the Zune phone to games. Sneaker fans, he was also rocking these rare kicks.
Q: You’ve been doing this for a year. What’s your assessment of how Microsoft has done so far?
A: My job is all about patient passion and being able to take the dream that is five years out, 10 years out, and stepping through it year to year. I think my biggest dissatisfaction is with the lack of innovation in the music space just in general. Have we really advanced far beyond the Walkman and a collection of tapes? Not really. Last year, the fact that we had anything on store shelves in six months was quite an effort by a number of people and some great partners. Last year, we created a product that people liked, but this year we are creating products that people love. Unlike Xbox, you aren’t on a five-year cycle, you get to be on an annual cycle. So that’s part of the fun in all of this.
Q: What lessons have you learned from your experience with Xbox in terms of gaining market share on a dominant rival?
A: I remember in 2000 when I had conversations or read the press, people thought we were crazy not to have a modem and bet on broadband. They thought we were crazy to bet on Bungie and first-person shooters. They dismissed the online game thing and said ‘it’s free on the Web and no one will connect to a console in the living room.’ If you told them six years ago that we would have the biggest entertainment retail day in history and we were going to have 7 million people online in this high-definition experience, they would have said you were crazy. The market share thing is the easy thing to discuss and write about, but it’s such a bad measure. Talk to me in six or seven years about market share. Talk to me this year about the experience we are creating.
Q: Why no wireless song buying?
A: I buy new music from Amazon, at the store, at Zune Marketplace. I want to do all that from my PC and I want to sync it as frequently as possible. Sync is so much more interesting than buy for the average consumer. I don’t want to have to plug the device into my PC, hit the sync button and wait 15 minutes. Synchronization is actually a much harder problem than going directly to the store, but it’s a more valuable one. There are some practical problems. How do you surf a store on a device this size? And how do you connect the free-form discovery of music from this type of device. And the most important problem is how often are you on one of these devices with a great Wi-Fi connection? On a commuter train? Not so good. Walking through downtown Manhattan? Not so good. You will have your Wi-Fi connection at work and you will have your Wi-Fi connection at home and it will be seamless. That said, we’ll get it though. It’s just a matter of when.
Q: What’s your view on Apple’s iPhone?
A: Coolest browser ever. The industrial design is great. If I were to try to stereotype it, I would say it’s a really really great beta of an urban companion. The $580 phone bill that came in a box did not dissuade me, but I can really see how a bigger screen, a browser and how a cross application intergration could be handy on a phone. It’s like a little micro-PC thing. Best iPod ever? Not if I can’t skip without taking it out of my pocket. Not if I can’t mute it without taking it out of my pocket. I am not so hot on that and some of the phone and keyboard stuff. Touch is tough.
Q: So are there any thoughts about a Zune phone?
A: (Points to head) Yes. (Points to mouth) No. (Laughs) The thing we are focusing on is that Zune is music first. We think there is a lot of runway first in redefining the music experience with partners. That said, we built it on the same operating system as that phone right there. (Points to Motorola Q running Windows Mobile) So we have the flexibility to take these in a different direction where our customers, our partners and we are ready.
Q: iPod has games on it, what is the outlook for Zune and games?
A: I love games and maybe for someone with a 40-minute commute, it might be an interesting scenario. Thus far, the market really hasn’t proven out that it is a great scenario. Customer satisfaction with what has been done isn’t that high. The other challenge is with the platform. The games that you bought in your fifth generation don’t run with your sixth generation. … The rate of innovation, turnover, and variety of form factors makes it a tricky proposition. That said, we have a lot of flexibility and a lot of magical software. What we’ve done with XNA is an incredibly portable environment designed to abstract some of the hardware differences. We’ll see where that takes us. We’re always thinking, but the Zune isn’t playing Halo 3 anytime soon.