Microsoft's approach to launching the Zune feels a little bit like a politician managing expectations. First they try to build up as much hype as possible. Then when it looks like the poll numbers aren't coming in as high as they promised, they insist that they expected it would be a tough fight. But when all the pundits start writing off the politician as dead, they come back and say things are trending up, and that they're exceeding (internal) expectations. There's been a raft of stories about how poorly the Zune has fared this holiday season, but Microsoft insists that it's on track to sell 1 million Zunes by the middle of next year. That sounds like a big number, but it would still be a small sliver of the total market, and puts the company far behind the iPod. What's interesting about the sales figures, though, is that the Zune hasn't even emerged as the anti-iPod, the first choice among shoppers who don't want an iPod. It's actually fallen to fifth, after an initial boost. What's happening is that people who are going to shell out for a premium music player are buying iPods, while people looking for something cheaper and less stylish are buying commodity products, from the likes of Sandisk, whose product is basically a souped up flash drive. This doesn't leave much space for the Zune, which is seen as neither as nice as an iPod, or different enough. Of course, like a politician, there's no doubt that Microsoft will try to recast the Zune in a different light if things don't start to improve.
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