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Zune vs. iPod

December 13th, 2008

While the Mac vs. PC rivalry is well-known and widely waged, there is another Apple-Microsoft war which is far less know: Zune vs. iPod. Most people with iPods just ignore the Zune, but Zune owners tend to hate the iPod, Apple, and Apple enthusiasts with a passion. And there is the inevitable “which is better” debate, though again, it’s usually just the Zune fans talking amongst themselves.

One of the most common ways that Zune users claim superiority is to use selective comparisons. When comparing the products of the two companies, Zune users invariably compare the top Zune model with Apple’s bottom-of-the-line iPod Classic model, which, naturally, gives the greatest advantage to the Zune. The iPod Touch and iPhone are considered “different” enough that a comparison cannot even be attempted.

The justification is usually based upon an imagined alignment–that the Zune and the iPod Classic just naturally align with each other, and the iPod Touch and iPhone are completely different machines that can be discounted and ignored. The most common argument to support this is that the iPod Classic has hard disk storage like the Zune, so there.

The problem is, that doesn’t quite work, for at least a few different reasons. The first is the fact that all Zunes and iPods/iPhones compete directly with each other. Whatever features any of them have, almost nobody is going to buy more than one for personal use. That is, you’re not going to see someone buy a Zune and and an iPhone. In this sense, all of these players compete with each other, in that the purchase of one of the units generally precludes the purchase of another.

Another reason that argument doesn’t compute is that they’re all different. The Zune no more lines up with the iPod Classic than it does with the iPod Touch or the iPhone. Sure, the Zune and iPod classic both have hard disk storage and a 320 x 240 screen; however, the Zune and iPod Touch share roughly the same screen size and WiFi. There are features all share, and features unique to each player. Consider the chart below (click on it to see the full size), and you’ll see that the Zune doesn’t really line up with any Apple product. (Although the Flash Zune and iPod Nano line up pretty well.)


Then there’s the idea of alignment by media type, which falls flat when you realize that the Flash Zune then gets lumped together with the iPod Touch. Doesn’t work anymore, does it?

So comparisons between the Zune 120 and iPod Classic 120 are very comforting to the Zune crowd, but they really don’t constitute an equal match. Just as Microsoft decided on a certain feature set with both of their Zune player categories, so did Apple with their five categories–but because each company had different objectives and different ranges of models, none lined up perfectly. Everything is a matter of choice. You could just as easily have a Zune 80 and iPod Touch 8 shoot-out. The problem is, with the exception of storage capacity, the iPod Touch would completely blow the Zune 80 out of the water. But that’s a lot less comforting to Zune fans, so let’s not go there.

You could even compare the Zune with the iPhone. Zune fans would shoot that down instantly because of the iPhone’s added cost for a cell contract. However, there’s no reason to do so, as most people have cell phones and would pay for the contract anyway; in fact, the iPhone is a better savings in that respect as you don’t have to buy a separate cell phone, and is more convenient as you have only one device to carry around. Zune users might argue that the iPhone looks cheaper because of the cell carrier subsidizing the costs–except that PC users have no problem discounting such subsidies when they crow about $400 PCs which require a subscription to an Internet service.

The bottom line is, we’re comparing Apples and, well, Zunes. In order to make any comparison, you have to weigh each machine as a complete package. Is a touch screen a big deal? Would you prefer an FM radio or streaming Internet radio over WiFi and/or a 3G network? How do the interfaces work for you? How much memory do you really need? (Surprisingly, I find my iPhone’s 16GB perfectly satisfying; you may not.) Are a handful of games sufficient, or would you like a cornucopia of thousands of apps? Do GPS and an accelerometer sound good to you? Do you like to have access to email and the Internet wherever you are? How often do you actually use wireless syncing or social sharing? Does having a camera built in matter? How about avoiding carrying a two separate devices? How much do you like the styles of each?

Then work out how much each is worth to you, and look at the prices. Then buy. Just keep in mind that the whole Zune-iPod Classic paradigm is a crock. It’s pretty much a subjective comparison any way you look at it.

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  1. Paul
    December 14th, 2008 at 07:47 | #1

    I dunno… I have an iPhone (3G), an iPod classic, AND an iPod nano. I use all three of them on occasion; the iPhone goes everywhere and is used for music less (it is primarily a phone and quickie internet/email device); the Classic is usually in my car (Ford’s Sync system can access the iPods); and the nano is what I use when working out (which isn’t often enough) thanks to its light weight and also the Nike+ system.

    To be honest, if you buy music like me (from almost-certainly-illegal Russian mp3 providers) then you don’t need an iPod; any old mp3 player will do, and you can make your comparisons on that basis.

    If, though, you want to use the for-sure-legal online providers of music, then the Zune is a waste of time- iPods so completely dominate the market that I’m surprised Microsquish is even bothering to stick with the Zune. iTunes is pretty decent software (although the continual updates are pretty stinking annoying) and of course it’s very easy to find/buy music.

  2. December 14th, 2008 at 11:15 | #2

    For me, comparison between Micrsoft Zune and Apple iPod doesn’t have much meaning, but comparison between Zune Software and iTunes does. Also what kind of Music, Podcast, Game, Utility, and Video they have is very important to me.

    Anyway, Zune is still not available in Japan. I hope Microsoft takes another step to come here.

  3. stevetv
    December 14th, 2008 at 23:51 | #3

    Obama listens to a Zune.


    I guess the only proper response is, OMG OMG OMG!!

  4. Luis
    December 15th, 2008 at 09:17 | #4

    Steve: Well, yes and no. The Zune was apparently a freebie given out at the DNC, meaning that Obama didn’t buy the thing. It might not even have been his, as his computer won’t sync the music. It very well could have been loaned to him by one of his staff because he forgot his own player. What many are commenting on is not about how Obama may or may not prefer a Zune, but that someone was actually spotted in public using one!

    Rintaro: Like I said, for everyone it’s different. So how does the software match up? As for Japan, don’t get your hopes up–it took two years just for Microsoft to make the Zune available in Canada, for some weird reason. And that makes a grand total of two countries where the Zune is sold. Seems like MS isn’t too enthusiastic about actually selling Zunes. Nor are they very good with language localization, either.

    Paul: wow, thanks–you probably upped my Apple stock value single-handedly! BTW, how did you make that Russian MP3 thing work? I thought the credit card companies pretty much put the kibosh on that?

  5. January 29th, 2009 at 16:53 | #5

    Always a step behind. If the Zune went away, iPods would continue to innovate. If the iPod went away, you’d be sitting on the same Zune design for the better part of a decade. Like Amazon MP3, the new Zune marketplace will have some growth as long as Apple is contractually forced to have DRM. Once they’re able to drop it, that’ll be the end of that.

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