Will Zune Stumble and Fall Like Origami?

zuneWord about Microsoft’s upcoming media player continues to crawl around the blogosphere, with Engadget reporting today that the device, currently dubbed Zune, will support wireless song transfers. I’m sure that will either require a potload of DRM or invoke the wrath of the priority-challenged RIAA.

Anyway, Gizmodo reports that the Zune device is the flagship product of a new line of portable devices. Everybody seems to have a plan to dethrone the iPod. Here is Microsoft’s:

“Microsoft’s concentrating on features the iPod doesn’t have, instead of trying to beat Apple at their own game. The tipmeister reiterates that ad-hoc networking feature will be there, as well as a possible buffered internet radio streaming feature. If you’re within range of a WiFi signal and you’re listening to a station, the device will snatch as much of the feed as it can so when you wander out of WiFi signal, it’ll keep playing the stream as if you were in range. This might not make its way into the final product, so don’t get your hopes up too high.”

I’m guessing once the RIAA gets wind of this most excellent and logical feature, it will let slip the lawyers of war and yet another great idea will be canned in the name of preserving a dying business model.

What I am more interested in, however, is Microsoft’s marketing, or lack thereof, with respect to new products. Microsoft doesn’t seem to know how to manage a proper build up to release- particularly with hardware.

Recall the great buzz that was generated prior to the release of Origami, now renamed a buzz-killing UMPC. I wondered at the time whether Microsoft would walk the walk or toss the product out there and let it twist in the wind.

Well, I have read many reviews of UMPCs, and most of them have been negative. My blogging pal James Kendrick believes the bad reviews are a result of a misunderstanding of the UMPC’s purpose and features. While I have never held a UMPC, I tend to agree with James (I would love to have a UMPC to read news, etc. around the house and on trips). But in the face of a lot of negative press, Microsoft seems to have moved on to phones and iPod killers, etc.

Robert Scoble used to try as hard as he could to manage the build-up to release of new products. But Robert has left Microsoft and there’s no one left with the mindshare to try to point bloggers, and the three non-bloggers who read blogs, in the right direction. Sometimes, how people feel about something depends more on their expectations than the actual thing itself. Einstein, relativity and all that.

Get enough press, real and citizen, to understand a product and write about it from a place of understanding and you’ll go a long way towards ensuring a successful release. Let people speculate wildly, toss something out and forget about it and you’ve ensured the opposite.

Someone needs to step up for Microsoft and help inform, direct and manage expectations.

Otherwise, I predict another stumble out of the gate for Zune.