Tired of playing second fiddle to Apple's dominant iPod, Microsoft this week can exult in the fact that the hard drive-based version of its new Zune portable media players, the Zune 80, is sold out online and in retail stores around the country. But this apparent success is muted by a simple fact: The Zune 80 was never manufactured in volume, and many retailers never got a single unit to begin with.
Microsoft says it is thrilled with the positive reaction that the devices have gotten with reviewers, though one might wonder if this selection crowd constitutes the majority of Zune 80 owners at this point in time. And while there are rumors of manufacturing delays, the truth is quite a bit more pragmatic: Looking at the market, Microsoft decided to prioritize the manufacturing of the flash RAM-based Zune 4 and Zune 8. These devices, which offer 4 GB and 8 GB of RAM, respectively, compete in the most lucrative part of the MP3 player market.
That market, incidentally, is currently dominated by the Apple iPod nano, which also comes in 4 GB and 8 GB variants and costs the same as the respective Zune models. These new Zunes are readily available in a variety of colors both online and in brick and mortar retail stores in the US.
Not so with the Zune 80. According to major electronics retailers in the suburban Boston area, no Zune 80s were shipped to stores at all, and online retailing giant Amazon says that most Zune 80 preorders won't even ship to customers until late-November at the earliest and mid-December for many. Microsoft claims that a small number of Zune 80 devices have in fact shipped to paying customers. If the six of you could drop me an email, I'd love to hear about it.
Meanwhile, Zune fans can smile at another bizarre turn of events: The lackluster original brown Zune, now dubbed the Zune 30, is currently the best selling MP3 player on Amazon.com. Why has last year's most amusing joke turned into a best seller, you wonder? The price has dropped to less than $90, meaning you can get the device for less than half the price of a Zune 8 or comparable iPod nano. I guess consumers know a bargain when they see one.