I went to Costco this past Wednesday to pick up some peanut oil to fry a turkey for Thanksgiving. As I wandered into the store, I was immediately greeted with a display showing off Zune players. I was interested, because I haven’t seen one up-close yet. The players weren’t on display, only some plastic packaging that you were intended to take to the front counter to exchange for the actual device.
I was on my way home from Microsoft’s Las Colinas office (I recently relocated from Atlanta to Dallas), so I still had my Microsoft shirt on. Word of warning to any other Microsoftees that decide to stop by a store on their way home from work: people will ask you questions about this device.
I picked up the faux package and was reading it, and a woman asked if I could help her. She wanted to know if this would work with her son’s iPod. I tried my best to explain that this was a player that was similar to the iPod but uses a different service. I don’t think she understood. Then I made the monumental mistake of looking back down to read again. This time, a guy was showing his girlfriend the cool new Zune. He tried to explain to her that this is what he wanted for Christmas… and she thought (using her “outside voice”) “but don’t you need an iPod to make that work?”
I’d like to say it stops there, but a couple of my friends have been asking me about Zunes and if the work with iTunes. One of my friends pointed out, “if they don’t work together, you shouldn’t have named it so closely to iTunes.” (If you don’t get it… just rhyme “iTune” with “Zune” and think convenience-consumer instead of techno-geek).
This isn’t the first time that I have seen similar confusion from my non-technical friends. When I decided to let all of my friends know that Live.com search beats the pants off of Google, I hit similar reactions. “Isn’t this just a different interface to Google?” “Why did you change the Google home page?” “Yeah, but my homepage is already Google and I don’t know how to change it to something else.” “Google just is easier to remember than Live.” “Isn’t Google a real dictionary verb now?”
While I have hit this in search and music, I have not hit this in gaming. Specifically, customers seem to know what XBox 360 is and completely differentiate it with PlayStation, GameCube, or Wii. However, the odd thing is that some of my friends didn’t know that XBox 360 is a Microsoft product! My boss pointed this out to me and I decided to test it out. “Who makes XBox?” was the question I posed to several friends. None of them said “Sony”, but none of them responded “Microsoft”, either. Admittedly, I did get one “Nintendo” response.
The problem with being late to the game is that the Target and Wal-Mart consumer base has already associated various products with markets that Microsoft is entering. These customers already associate “iPod” with “MP3 player”, “Google” is widely used in pop culture as a verb meaning “to search the web”, and most customers seem to isolate Microsoft as the evening news fodder for security vulnerabilities.
Every time that I hear the term “podcast”, I marvel that it is unlikely to change and will forever be associated with blogging enclosures. Apple would be idiots to change the product name anytime in the near future.
While I am at it… I took the kids to Chili’s today. The kid’s menu has a series of activities such as word search, crosswords, coloring, word scrambles, and tic-tac-toe to keep your kids entertained. The entire set of activities was centered around “technology”, including several references to MP3 players. Yep, you guessed it: nearly each time it was mentioned, there was a drawing of an iPod.
I showed my wife’s iRiver MP3 player to an interested party on an airplane, and they giggled… “what’s that? Is that supposed to be a cheap iPod?”