Ex-Microsoftie Robbie Bach: We should’ve skipped the Zune player; we ended up chasing Apple

“Former Microsoft executive Robbie Bach led the company’s entertainment division… through the launch of the Zune music player,” Todd Bishop reports for GeekWire. Bach “left Microsoft in 2010… He shared some inside stories during a Northwest Entrepreneur Network event.”

Some excerpts from Robbie Bach’s quotes regarding Zune:

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.

It’s not like we didn’t try but — I don’t know how to say this politely — the music industry just didn’t get it. They just didn’t figure out that being dependent on Apple was bad for them. And they were so hooked on the drug of what Apple was supplying them that they couldn’t see past that to realize that they needed something else to actually drive their business. The label business, the music industry, has never recovered from that. If you look at business value, Apple took whatever business value was in the label business and erased it. That’s not a complaint about Apple, good for them. But they erased that, and created some new value for themselves.

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple saved the music industry.

Apple didn’t “erase” value, they added value by making a product that anybody with half a brain can find for free into something that people will pay for anyway. Without Apple there would be no major music labels today. Apple did it by making music easier and more convenient to buy than to steal. Microsoft never could have achieved that feat. They don’t have the ability to make things simple and enjoyable. They never have; it’s not in their DNA. Everything they touch turns to pain in the end users’ hands.

Bach is wrong. If he knew what he was talking about he’d still have a job and Microsoft wouldn’t be floundering around like a fish on dry land today.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Sarah” and “GetMeOnTop ” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
Microsoft: ‘We will no longer be producing Zune players’ – October 4, 2011
More blood on Apple iPod’s Click Wheel: Zune hardware gone from Microsoft site – October 3, 2011
Opinion: More blood on Apple iPod’s Click Wheel: Microsoft pulls plug on Zune – July 25, 2006


  1. Excuse me Robbie, but chasing Apple is all microsoft has ever done. The one thing they ever managed to do was to get John Sculley to sign a massively idiotic tech-sharing agreement. Let’s be clear, microsoft is not a technology company. Their leaders have never known the first thing about technology. They are a predatory contract, predatory licensing, predatory partnering, and predatory monopoly company. They owe everything to what Bill Gate’s father taught him.

    1. But, to be completely truthful, Bill Gates was, by all accounts, a pretty good software engineer and actually wrote some of the code of the original (ie. pre-Winblows ’95) versions.

  2. MS really doesn’t get it. MDN is right, Apple did save the music business and the Internet helped too. Before iTunes and Internet radio I had maybe 40 CDs of music. Now I have orders of magnitude more music on my computer and iPhone. Plus, I can hear music on Intenet radio stationsand Pandora that I would never have a chance to hear 10 years ago when we were all restricted to local radio stations. And the music that I hear and I like, I pay for and download. Sometimes I like the music of a group enough that I actually download a album-equivalent or two or three.

    I was commenting to a friend the other day that we live in the best time for music and I think that is because such a diverse selection of music is available online. Plus it is so easy just to buy the songs you like.

    The bottom line is that Apple (and the Internet) did not destroy the music business, but they did destroy the old ways of doing things. Change is always such a bitch.

    1. “Before iTunes and Internet radio I had maybe 40 CDs of music. Now I have orders of magnitude more music on my computer and iPhone.”
      Jeez, you really weren’t trying very hard, were you! I bought my first cd in 1982, a year before I even owned a cd player, because ii could tape them on the demo machines in the hifi shop I part-timed in. I had probably thirty by the time I bought the player, and I now have hundreds. Along with what I’ve borrowed, and a few downloads, I’ve got nearly 13,000 tracks in iTunes and on my 160Gb iPod, and I’m still buying. I can’t be arsed with the likes of Spotify, I get new music through BBC 6Music, The Word magazine, and live gigs.

  3. MDN’s take is totally clueless.
    It’s so obvious the labels are in Apples’ hands now, it hurts.
    That softie finally got it right. Too late though.

    1. But where would they be without them? Piracy was absolutely rampant. The major labels would be DEAD by now if it weren’t for the iPod/iTunes.

      That may not have been a bad thing though, considering the absolute dreck they turn out.

    2. No, you’re utterly clueless, the labels were in the hands of venture capitalists and industrial groups with no musical knowledge or competence, I mean, what the fuck did Seagrams, a drinks conglomerate, know about owning record labels? Look at what happened to EMI when they got bought by a venture capitalist, they lost virtually every top act, like the Stones and Radiohead, who just walked away.
      Maybe if you had the slightest idea about the music business and the complete clusterfuck it became you wouldn’t write such drivel.
      Just look up Aimee Mann’s sorry history at the hands of know-nothing record companies, until she set up her own label and started to use the Internet. Marillion did the same, and flourished.

    3. I’m not sure whether I agree with the MDN take or not. What does this statement mean?:

      “Apple took whatever business value was in the label business and erased it.”

      Apple helped them; what value did it take from them? They still basically do the same job they did in 1999, find talent and promote it. Is that wrong? If anything, this is something that *will* come to pass if Apple starts accepting music directly from artists, becoming a label, themselves.

    4. Agreed. If it wasn’t for Apple, people would have stopped downloading everything for free and started buying CD’s again to hear their favorite songs (and lots of bonus filler). The music industries would have inevitably prospered, based on their solid forward thinking business strategy, effective marketing, and “don’t copy that floppy” style public service announcements. It’s a shame Apple came along with their predatory business strategy of actually selling music in a way that was more convenient than free downloading.

  4. Now, if that assfat slob will stop chasing Apple in tablet devices maybe they can go broke with less pain. The gas generated by Ballmer’s lard ass and chimp like belching has caused irreparable global warming.

  5. MDN’s take is spot on. Apples profit is the halo effect and iTunes is not where apple makes their billions. Just a knee jerk prejudice against apple coming from an obvious biased competitor who failed.

  6. I’m sure MS only had the music industry’s best interests at heart from day one. MS would have NEVER allowed the music industry to get “hooked on the drug of what MS was supplying them.”

  7. I’m confused as to why he’s blaming the labels. The labels gave as much rope to Microsoft as Microsoft asked for. It’s not their fault Microsoft used it to hang themselves again and again.

    What labels didn’t participate in Played-For-Sure? What labels didn’t participate before that with Janus? What labels didn’t participate with Zune?

    Is Robbie suggesting that the labels should’ve done *exclusive* deals with Microsoft? Ya, right.

    The labels didn’t lap up whatever Apple was serving them. The went dragging into online distribution, but once there, they opened up to Amazon, Rhapsody, Napster, Zune, and *many* others (Walmart, Virgin, Coke, Sony) in addition to Apple. One of these companies just happened to do *everything* right.

    Also, it’s a bit revisionist to say that Microsoft “followed” Apple. Microsoft was there first, and made a mess of it way earlier from Windows Media, to Janus, to Played-For-Sure, to Zune. Apple came in towards the end (before the Zune) and cleaned up. The Zune was Microsoft’s attempt to copy Apple, but only after failing so many times before.

    It’s like saying that Microsoft followed Apple’s iPhone into the marketplace. Microsoft was there years earlier and screwed it up over and over until they tried copying Apple by focusing the WP7 on Nokia.

    In their defense, their attempts to copy have gotten quicker with tablets.

    1. Agreed.

      Thankfully, too. Bach may see this as a “lose” for labels, but it was the only win that consumers were going to let them have. Apple understood that. Bach apparently still doesn’t.

    2. The concept of PAYING for music apposed to the grey areas where piracy extends or develop from the Microsoft model – is the point where Apple actual saves and addes value back to the Music industry.

      Generally when talking about Microsoft “following or copying” Apple it has regards to when the ZUNE appeared on the scene. A portable device to legally play your purchased songs.

      Your order of history, I am sure is correct; that Windows Media was there FIRST. But Microsoft was there to capitalize not add value. There business model and strategy also was a mess. perhaps you meant to say Apple cleaned Microsofts mess up, yet that would be wrong also. Apples’ strategy and device and online store was a complete renewed motion that also as MDN says – added back to the industry.

      You confuse me STATING Windows was there FIRST then saying Apple came in towards the end (before the Zune) to clean up. NO, Apples approach was totally different and focused on the Digital hub. Microsoft meanwhile was fixated on the desktop to do everything. Apple invented a strategy to Legalize the Music and was FIRST to successfully take the NAPSTER years and commercialize a online Store and sell Music for a device extending from the desktop – FREEING your digital music from the desktop and being portable – similar to Sony Walkman had – yet tied BEAUTIFULLY back to the idea of a digital hub and your desktop. Exactly what people really wanted to do. And once they realized the Apple strategy and how they really wished to play their music collections – Apple won the public over in a blink of the eye. Nothing to do with Cleaning up other then cleaning up in sales of devices and how music is sold.
      Strengthening the Music industry – embracing it and partnering with it.

      Perhaps one can say iPod touch was inspired by Microsoft’s Zune.
      Sept 5th, 2007 iPod touch. Nov 14th, 2006 Zune arrived.
      But the Zune came about… trying to fight the iPOD world deployed in 1979. Microsoft then tried with Zune to rip-off Apples concept of music device and sales. Nevertheless, Microsoft missed the boat and continued on its path of pain and crappy devices never gaining momentum. And since that day Microsoft dipped lower an lower in the publics eye. Only XBox and Kinetics has been something worth saying is inspiring from them.

      1. @The Spaceman Spits,

        Wow, that’s some serious hard work at trying to revise history.

        Some basic facts…

        The iPod wasn’t the first personal media player or MP3 player. Apple was actually very late to the party. By the time the iPod was released you had players from all kinds of companies that weren’t even involved in consumer electronics (Intel, Coke, Nike, Virgin, etc…).

        Apple wasn’t even the first with a hard drive or large capacity player. A year before the original iPod came out as a 5GB player, there were others with larger capacity ones. I had a 20GB player a year before the original iPod came out.

        “Apple invented a strategy to Legalize the Music and was FIRST to successfully take the NAPSTER years and commercialize a online Store and sell Music for a device extending from the desktop – FREEING your digital music from the desktop and being portable – similar to Sony Walkman had – yet tied BEAUTIFULLY back to the idea of a digital hub and your desktop.”

        Apple didn’t invent much. They licensed and then acquired FairPlay. They acquired SoundJam and turned it into iTunes. They weren’t the first with any of this.

        To be clear, years before the original iPod came out, it was possible to own a hard drive or flash based MP3 player, legally purchase music to be put on it, and manage the content library of the device with software running on the desktop.

        The only thing I can read between your forced caps that seems to be correct is that Apple was successful, and first to do the whole thing as one vendor, which I agree with an is why I said in my original comment that “Apple came in towards the end (before the Zune) and cleaned up”.

        There may be more truth to what you wrote, but your forced caps make it too hard to read.

        The bottom line though is that:
        1) The labels were perfectly willing to play all with Microsoft, and others, and have continued to do so today.
        2) Microsoft didn’t follow Apple into the personal music market, but rather the other way around.

        It’s worth noting that Apple didn’t launch the iPod as a new business opportunity that was thought to become what it ultimately did, but rather as one peripheral product area that was needed for the Mac to survive that nobody else was developing for. Apple achieved success in the other product areas by convincing existing vendors to develop for Mac and adopt standards like FireWire and USB. If the personal music market had been further developed and wasn’t something Apple could significantly improve upon, Apple would’ve tried (harder) to convince the established players (Sony, Panasonic, etc…) to develop personal media players and software for the Mac instead. It’s only that the market was such a mess at the time that Apple was not only successful, but even willing to enter it.

  8. Bach is as deluded at ever. Microsofts business model is the one he ascribes to Apple. Partner and destroy. What a joke. The reason they couldn’t skip the Zune is that they needed apple to introduce the iPhone to know what to copy, same with the iPad. Why do you think Apple has been bad mouthing the Apple TV as “a hobby.” it isn’t a hobby it is out in the public R&D that everyone is too dumb to know is the establishment of the software and ecosystem of the next thing they will all try to copy in pieces that are guaranteed to fail because they won’t work together. The future of TV, hidden in plain sight and the Bozos keep trying to make their fragmented versions. Clueless!

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