Robbie Bach: Zune was a Mistake

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Former Microsoft executive Robbie Bach was involved in the company’s failed Zune portable media player, and he thinks the project was a mistake. Instead, he’d push for a music service if he could go back in time and try again.

Microsoft tried, and failed, to compete with the iPodMicrosoft tried, and failed, to compete with the iPod

Mr. Bach shared his thoughts on the Zune at the Northwest Entrepreneur Network, according to GeekWire. He told attendees,

If I had hindsight, 20-20, and could do Zune over again, we would skip portable media players completely. We would go to what, at the time, was the Windows Mobile team and say we’re going to produce the coolest music service for your phones ever. The portable music market is gone and it was already leaving when we started. We just weren’t brave enough, honestly, and we ended up chasing Apple with a product that actually wasn’t a bad product, but it was still a chasing product, and there wasn’t a reason for somebody to say, oh, I have to go out and get that thing.

Microsoft had hoped to dethrone Apple’s iPod with the Zune, although never succeeded in taking any marketshare from the Cupertino company. Instead, Zune chipped away at the other iPod competitors — companies that were relying on Microsoft as a partner in their fight to take on the iPod.

Apple is still the reigning king in the portable media player market with its iPod, iPhone and iPad product lines. Microsoft, however, is a top player in the game console market with its Xbox.

“On the Zune side, and this is as much my fault as anybody’s, I think our marketing message was very confused,” Mr. Bach said. “I don’t think people walked away saying, this is what Zune is and this is why it’s different. This is why I have to have it.”


Lee Dronick

I don’t think that the idea was a mistake, but the design, marketing, and retailing of it had plenty of mistakes.

Oh, I liked the brown one, but feel free to make your jokes about that model.


The Zune was a big mistake. I knew several people that had a Zune - most of them just didn’t want to own any Apple product or didn’t care for iTunes. (iTunes has been a mess for a while.) Of them, maybe two still own a Zune, again because they have a distaste for Apple or iTunes.

It seems that only ‘ex’ employees of Microsoft are allowed to admit any mistakes. (That sort of applies to other companies, to some extent, too.)

I wonder if Steve ‘Monkey-man’ Balmer will ever admit to MS being anything less than perfect, once he’s no longer an employee. Nah. It’ll never happen.


So Mr Bach is quoted saying:

“If I had hindsight…”

You mean he still doesn’t?! 

IMO what is more important for Mr Bach and Microsoft is to show some foresight. This seems to be their fundamental problem, though clearly a lack of hindsight could be compounding their difficulties.


@Lee - Just the idea of ‘squirting’ anything from a device, especially a brown device, was just too much. Whoever came up with the ‘squirting’ term should be regularly ridiculed for the rest of his/her professional life.

Lee Dronick

Squirting, as I said the way they did the the Zune was rife with mistakes.

I would have designed the brown one with an antique bronze, or even a black bezel, made it look classy. Something that would look nice with an executive desk set. Instead they had that tacky green bezel.

They had the market share of desktops that would have been the complete widget with the Zune and they blew it.


I saw a Zune in the wild once. Wasn’t scary at all. I believe what none of the iPod killers get is the device is just part of an integrated ecosystem that is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Lee Dronick

Spot on Fastflyer


Two problems with Robbie’s hindsight:

1. Microsoft did have multiple music services before and during the Zune project and failed to capitalize or follow through on any of them.

2. There was nothing wrong with the Zune device or service compared to the competition. It was actually pretty good.

The problems started with the fact that Zune was not marketed effectively against an incredibly strong incumbent competitor. In addition, the most compelling features (Zune Pass, curated discovery and Zune Social) were never evangelized, nurtured or developed further.

Robbie also conveniently forgets/ignores the fact that the mobile division back then was notorious for not playing along with anyone else. I suppose he could have fixed that. We’ll never know.

Sorry, not 20/20 hindsight. More like revisionist history. I liked my Zune experience and thought it had a lot of potential, but such is life.



@Lee - Just the idea of ?squirting? anything from a device, especially a brown device, was just too much. Whoever came up with the ?squirting? term should be regularly ridiculed for the rest of his/her professional life.

Spot on. This was ridiculed from the beginning, best said as follows:

Then there’s the wireless sharing. Steve Jobs dismissed this: “It takes forever ... You’re much better off to take one of your earbuds out and put it in [a would-be girlfriend’s] ear. Then you’re connected with about two feet of headphone cable.” Steve Ballmer defended it: “I want to squirt you a picture of my kids. You want to squirt me back a video of your vacation. That’s a software experience.” Which prompted the observation: “Steve Jobs can make sharing earwax sound sexy. Ballmer can make a digital file transfer sound like something you’d need to clean up after.”

UK Guardian, Nov 16, 2006

Lee Dronick

And now we can iMessage, text, or email photos and video. However, from what I understand squirting was done via a shortrange wireless system.

I heard that squirting may be renamed “beaming” in the Windows phone. See This story and video


I heard that squirting may be renamed ?beaming? in the Windows phone.

Ah, so they’ve caught up to the Newton MessagePad?

Rossa P.

I don’t think Zune was a mistake also, it just didn’t work nearly as well as iTunes.  The thing is a mess, it’s confusing, not easy to sync.  Again, no amount of marketing can fix a product that simply does not work.

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