John Gruber has penned an interesting observation of how Microsoft might very well have missed the mark from the get-go when they made the strange decision to take on the iPod and iTunes. Since the player's initial wiz-bang sales period is essentially over (as in: it more or less set a decent sales barometer, at least for now), John wrangles some interesting statistics from Amazon's charts on exactly where the Zune stands in comparison to Apple's players (including year-old models), as well as its ranking in the overall electronics category. To spoil the surprise: the Zune isn't doing so well. We've looked at Amazon's charts before, but as of this writing, a record player is beating out the best selling Zune on the electronics list, while iPods - specifically the small, flash-based nano and shuffle - dominate most of the top 10 spots.
John then uses this data and good ol' fashioned people watching to conclude that Microsoft shouldn't have taken what could be their only swing at the plate in producing a hard drive-based iPod; they should have cranked out a flash memory model to go head-on with the nano - inarguably the home run slugger in Apple's lineup. While I tend to agree with John, I also see a problem with going down this road: Microsoft would likely have had even less room to maneuver, and even fewer things to market ('Beam your tunes') and invent lame, dead-end lingo for - they actually refer to sharing your music wirelessly as 'squirting'. Who wants to bet how excited Steve Ballmer's kids are to 'squirt' at school?
Sure, when you look at what you're up against in the DAP market, Apple's iPod nano and SanDisk's respectable 2GB Sansa player (expandable via an SD slot, and at #11 on Amazon as of this writing) are the top dogs to beat - but what could they have offered? I highly doubt they could have fit their DRM-crippled and arguably worthless (though admittedly buzz-worthy) Wi-Fi sharing feature into a nano-sized player, even if they made it slightly larger and uglier like the Zune is to its 30GB iPod rival. A 'Zune nano' with nothing unique to offer would dry up on its own in a market already dominated by Apple, SanDisk and Creative, and Microsoft's exclusive, 3rd party bitch-slap of a music store would have even less of a leg to stand on.
In summary: I think John's right - Microsoft made a bad move in copying the 30GB hard drive-based iPod, but it was the only move they had. In this light, it kinda makes you wonder why they bothered in the first place.