The Curse of Zune: Is Microsoft too Focused on the US Market?

Rather than being the title of some exciting Steven Spielberg movie, The Curse of Zune is an affliction that Microsoft has voluntarily placed upon itself for many years, depriving customers of services and features, and crippling their profitability.

The History of Microsoft’s Relationship with Non-US Customers

Do you remember Zune? Yes, it was more than just a joke in an episode of Two And A Half Men. The iPod killer that few bought was an interesting gadget, not that I have ever actually seen one in person. Time after time at local events in Ireland, Microsoft reps would rave about this device and how amazing it was. The first time I heard about it I thought, “That sounds great!” And then I tried to browse the Microsoft Zune site and discovered that anyone who lives outside the US who tried to access the page was redirected and told that this page was only available to residents of the USA, a country which has only 4.45% of the world’s population.
Stupid things like this have continued over the years. Before Windows Phone 8.1, most Windows Phone features only worked in about seven countries. For example, I couldn’t browse podcasts in the store. The reason that Microsoft gave? Licensing. I found it strange that Apple and Google have no such issue providing links to RSS feeds. I also found it rather odd that a paid-for app in the store that allowed non-USA residents to browse and subscribe to podcast feeds was allegedly written by employees of the Windows Phone team.
Then there were the frequent releases of apps that for some strange reason (licensing?) would only be released in the USA. The most recent of these was the lock-screen app for Android — I haven’t looked to see if this changed recently.
Microsoft went to great lengths to talk up the voice control features of Xbox One using Kinect. I’d love to use those features, just like I can on Xbox 360. But for some reason, voice control is only available in a subset of countries — maybe some of the regional accents of Ireland are tough to understand!
Thanks to Microsoft’s MP3 players, I refer to this phenomenon as The Curse of Zune: something that Microsoft shouts from the mountain tops as being the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it is only available to a small percentage of the world’s population for some unknown arbitrary reason.

A Tale of Two Bings: US Bing versus Everyone Else Bing

There are two Bings. There is the Bing in the USA and a handful of other countries, and there is the other Bing. To illustrate this, I thought I’d share the search results that I get if I am planning on shopping while visiting Microsoft headquarters. This first screenshot shows what happens if I search for Bellevue Square using Bing in the USA (or the UK). I get lots of useful information, including reviews and maps. This is the sort of thing that draws me to using Bing when I am staying across the ocean.

Is Microsoft too focused on the US market?
Bing search results in the USA [Image Credit: Aidan Finn]
Now compare this with the Bing results that I get outside of one of these “enlightened” countries. I get some results, and a few adverts. Where are the photos, maps, and reviews? Why is it that I get such a poor result by using the same search engine from a different country? Licensing?
Bing results from a country that Microsoft deems less worthy (Image Credit: Aidan Finn)
Bing results from a country that Microsoft deems less worthy (Image Credit: Aidan Finn)

Maybe Google gives me the same rubbish results? Nope; Microsoft’s arch-nemesis gives me fantastic results for shopping in the backyard of Redmond.
Google’s results abroad match the best that Microsoft can offer at home (Image Credit: Aidan Finn)
Google’s results abroad match the best that Microsoft can offer at home (Image Credit: Aidan Finn)

With this sort of effort by Microsoft in my homeland, where their local Bing replica servers are probably located, why should I bother using Bing? This is why Google is set as my default page in Chrome and IE.

Cortana: No Love for Ireland

I am sick to death of Cortana. It’s not that I think Cortana is over exposed as a feature of Windows Phone or Windows 10. I think the personal assistant could be very useful… in the 10 countries that it works in. Despite this, half of any Windows Phone or Windows 10 presentation by Microsoft focuses on Cortana. I have even seen this locally, but I guess the local rep was lucky that their proxied Internet access is exposed in the USA and not in Ireland where Cortana does not work.

The Bottom Line

Microsoft has done some great engineering, but deliberately limiting the potential market by arbitrarily deciding that features shouldn’t be made available is a nonsense.