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Missed Beats: Exploring the Belated and Flawed iPod Competitor

Meet the iPod rival that came late and wrong.

Missed Beats: Exploring the Belated and Flawed iPod Competitor
María López

María López

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That Star Lord is a lover of good music is well known. The Marvel hero has made sure to display his MP3 player on screen whenever he could, and not in a subtle way. However, not many know that that device actually existed and that it was one of Microsoft’s big failures. Do you know the story of the Zune?

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In Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, we saw how Kraglin gave Peter Quill a Zune, the music player created by Microsoft. During that moment, Kraglin explains to Quill that “it’s what everyone listens to on Earth nowadays.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The music battle that Apple won

Microsoft is a company that has been characterized by achieving great accomplishments throughout its history. However, that hasn’t spared it from experiencing significant failures. One of these setbacks indirectly involved Apple, as Microsoft attempted to compete with Apple in the realm of music and ended up getting burned the most.

During the 2000s, the iPod dominated the market and became the world’s most popular MP3 player. Alongside its iTunes store, Apple managed to revolutionize how the world consumed music. Microsoft didn’t want to fall behind, so it decided to go all-in on a device that would “take on the iPod” – the Zune. Or at least, that was the intention. Developed by the Redmond company, the Zune finally saw the light on November 14, 2006.

But before we delve further, it’s important to set the context. We were coming from the cumbersome discman era, and the popularity of portable devices was on the rise. MP3 players had gained significant importance, and the use of mobile phones for listening to music was becoming more popular.

However, these devices were not up to the task. The concept of a smartphone didn’t yet exist, and the iPhone hadn’t been launched yet (we had to wait until 2007). Despite the rise of phones with integrated music players, having a dedicated MP3 player was more convenient, and within that realm, the iPod was the top choice.

For five years, Microsoft made every effort to boost its Zune player, but the public was not on board. Its final model, the Zune HD, ditched the control pad in favor of a touchscreen in hopes of going head-to-head with the iPod Touch. But even so, it couldn’t succeed. In October 2011, Microsoft bid a definitive farewell to the Zune.

The truth is that the iPod and the Zune weren’t all that different. However, Microsoft’s device made the mistake of arriving quite late to the party. The iPod’s audience was very loyal, and the launch of the iPhone was just around the corner, which would change everything in the years to come.

A fitting tribute to the Zune

Regarding Guardians of the Galaxy, many people are unaware that Microsoft nearly prohibited the inclusion of the Zune in the movie. The Redmond-based company had grown a bit weary of the continuous mockery directed at the Zune, but they eventually reached an agreement. In this case, the Zune had to appear in a scene of significant importance, and indeed it did. During Yondu’s death scene, the ill-fated music player makes its stellar appearance.

Volume 3 has once again brought back the Zune, and Microsoft has seized the opportunity to briefly revive the player. As part of the movie’s promotion, Microsoft activated the website zune.net and even raffled off a sealed device. Undoubtedly, a fitting tribute for a player that was unjustly treated in its time.

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María López

María López

Artist by vocation and technology lover. I have liked to tinker with all kinds of gadgets for as long as I can remember.

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