John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Microsoft: We Have a New MP3 Player Also

Zune’s focus is liveliness and youth. The buzz of the sound “Z” makes it one of the most energetic in the language. Lexicon’s studies of sound symbolism, conducted with hundreds of people in a variety of languages, have shown that word-initial “Z” scores very high for communicating attributes like “lively,” “daring,” and “fast.” The letter Z’s current popularity in respellings like “boyz” and “antz” lends a youthful irreverence. Even though it isn’t obviously derived from any real word, Zune could pass for a casual abbreviation, in the same way that ‘zza stood in for pizza with some people 10 years or so ago. Zune is clearly a fun kind of name.

That’s how David Placek, founder and CEO of Lexicon Branding, explained the etymology of Zune when Microsoft (MSFT) debuted the device in 2006. Ironically, he neglected to mention that “Z” also denotes the sound of sleeping or snoring and was often used as an insult in Shakespearean English, which would, perhaps, have been more appropriate given the market’s reaction to the device and the size of its share of the market with respect to Apple’s (APPL) iPod.

And sadly that’s still true today, though Microsoft continues to work doggedly to imbue Zune with the “youthful irreverence” to which Placek referred (although “irrelevance” is perhaps a better word here). Consider the third-generation Zune feature set Microsoft confirmed Monday evening: storage capacity of up to 120 gigabytes, wireless connectivity to the Zune Marketplace from any public Wi-Fi hotspot, and “Buy from FM,” a feature that allows Zune owners to identify and purchase songs they hear on the device’s FM radio. Those are nice enhancements. And while they’re sure to make Zune 3.0 more successful than its predecessors, it’s hard to see them helping Zune steal mindshare from the iPod, which controls about 71 percent of the digital media player market to Zune’s 4 percent, according to NPD Group.

The new blue-on-silver color scheme is a nice improvement over the UPS-brown/guano-green color palette to which we’ve become accustomed.