Microsoft readies an all-out war on the iPod

If Microsoft cannot craft a clear, concise message as to why one should choose its products over Apple's, no one will do so

Microsoft appears to be setting the stage for an all-out war on Apple's iPod with two sly moves. Its tactics thus far are a new ad campaign targeting the high cost of filling an iPod as opposed to the $15 Zune Pass music rental program, and a flurry of Twitter buzz around a Zune-esque product launch in June.

The Zune Pass ad -- hosted by real-life certified financial planner Wes Moss -- claims that users can enjoy more music on the cheap by paying $15 a month to rent rather than purchasing songs via iTunes. It costs $30,000 to fill a 120GB iPod, the ad says, but you should fill 120GB of something (not an iPod) for $15 a month instead. In my opinion, these claims are misguided, and the ad is confused.

First of all, it's important to note that this advertisement never once mentions the Zune player, only Zune Pass. So if you're unfamiliar with the iPod's competition -- which, given the iPod market share, may be true -- Microsoft is essentially asking you not to go to iTunes ... but if you want to buy an iPod and use Zune Pass, go ahead. Problem is, Zune Pass does not work on an iPod, so that very same consumer will likely fume at Microsoft's deception (and marketing ignorance) and end up shopping via iTunes.

Second, using Zune Pass, you will only be renting music. So while it may cost $30,000 to stuff your iPod with your personal, purchased music, it actually costs an inhuman amount of time to fill 120GB of a competing player. Ars Technica did the math, and based on the Zune Pass's allowance of owning 10 songs per month, it would cost the consumer 250 years to fill 120GB of outright owned music.

On a related note, there has been some buzz about Microsoft's next move in terms of its Zune player. Late last month there were rumors that Microsoft had joined forces with Verizon to make an iPhone competitor nicknamed "Pink." Microsoft denied the rumors. However, a tweet on its Twitter page for the upcoming Microsoft Office 2010 tells a different story. The tweet says that June will bring a "new product launch" and that customers should "hold off from buying an iPhone/Pre."

The product launch could very well be the Zune HD, a product that has been bopping around the Internet for a couple of months. Or it could be "Pink." Or, due to Microsoft's faulty semantics, the company could simply be asking you not to buy an iPhone or Palm Pre because it, like, really doesn't want you to.

Either way, Microsoft needs to fire a chunk of its marketing staff and get on the ball. If Microsoft cannot craft a clear, concise message as to why one should choose its products over Apple's, no one will do so, and Microsoft is going to lose.

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Brennon Slattery

PC World (US online)
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