Zune

More of a list of links to other peoples articles with my own commentary rather than a proper article – here’s some thoughts and perspectives on the Microsoft Zune music player.

Why?

Firstly I don’t like the whole Zune raison d’etre as being an ‘iPod killer’ – this is so overly typical of the Microsoft mentality of rather than innovating in a marketplace they just decide they want a piece of that revenue pie. I have no problem with any company going into competition in an existing marketplace, but the ‘iPod killer’ phrase smacks of a boardroom tantrum. It reminds me of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s I’m going to fucking kill Google tirade. You can imagine him ranting about how Apple’s success with the iPod was really getting on his tits (funniest video ever of Steve Ballmer).

Many of the Zune’s lack of visionary short-fallings are briefly but very well addressed in Anil Dash’s The Problem Is, The Zune Is Brown.

The name

‘Zune’ was presumably chosen to be a slightly quirky, modern sounding and movement implying name with no connection or reference to ‘iPod’. And in this sense it works just fine.

But with the characteristic lack of attention to consumers with which MS has become associated it has other connotations or meanings depending on where in the world you are.

In French speaking Canada for example What’s in a name? ‘Zune’ a French-Canadian euphemism for penis or vagina:

The French word ‘zoune’ and the variant ‘bizoune’ typically serve as a less jolting way of referring to male or female genitalia when addressing children.

And when written in Hebrew the work [sic] ‘Zune’ it spells ‘fuck’.

On the same theme, the packaging and installer screens feature the slogan ‘Welcome to the social’. In Britain ‘social’ is a term for state benefits – so ‘welcome to the social’ is akin to ‘welcome to being on welfare’.

Originality

The brown colour scheme is a bold move (I quite like it to be fair) and it has been commented in several places that it looks much better in the flesh than in photographs. And really thats where the new ideas end (I’ll get to the wireless features in a bit).

The design echos the iPod’s scroll wheel – but it isn’t a scroll wheel, just a round seamless cover over a 4-way nav pad.

Lets not forget either that it isn’t an originally designed unit – it’s manufactured by Toshiba (in fact it’s an updated and updated Toshiba Gigabeat). Microsoft V.P. Bryan Lee is interviewed:

In a nutshell, Lee says although the Zune will be made by Toshiba, it will be significantly different from current generation Toshiba portable media players. Of course, the fact that tech bloggers were able to figure out the Zune was made by Toshiba just based on the form factor, before Microsoft made the announcement doesn’t bode well for that claim.

There’s also been some interest in the ‘Hello from Seattle’ line printed on the back of the Zune, with some commentary that is is rather similar to the ‘Designed By Apple in California’ found in a similar position on the back of iPods. I would go one stage further and say it is even more similar to the text on the franking mark which makes up the icon for the Apple email client ‘Mail’ – which says ‘Hello from Cupertino’

Money

One criticism (from MS among others) of the Apple iPod/iTunes business model has been the closed nature of the business – in terms of purchasing music specifically for an iPod, only songs purchased from the iTunes store can be played on an iPod and the ‘Fairplay’ DRM which Apple use on the iPod has not been licensed to anyone else. So Microsoft developed a DRM system called PlaysForSure which they sold to their partners to open up the field for Windows Media based online music sales.

But not on the Zune – to purchase music for the Zune you have to use the Zune Marketplace – David Pogue for The New York Times – Trying Out the Zune: IPod It’s Not:

So now Microsoft is starting over. Never mind all the poor slobs who bought big PlaysForSure music collections. Never mind the PlaysForSure companies who now find themselves competing with their former leader. Their reward for buying into Microsoft’s original vision? A great big “So long, suckas!”

Unlike the iTunes store where one song costs $0.99 (dollars only here – the Zune Marketplace is not available outside the US yet), at the Zune Marketplace each song costs 79 points – which costs $0.9875 – or the same as iTunes. But – you can’t just buy a song for 79 points, you have to buy the points up-front, in blocks. Zune Marketplace’s Absurd Pricing Scheme spells it all out, but basically if you want to buy songs for your Zune with no outstanding points in your account (i.e. not banking with Microsoft), you would have to spend $395.00.

Sticking with money, MS had to do a deal with Universal to sell their content (Apple already have Universal content, with no payment deal other than the royalties on sales:

Microsoft to pay Universal for every Zune sold & Microsoft tries to derail the iPod juggernaut with Universal deal

Wireless

The promise of WiFi on the Zune was a nice feature idea – visions of not having to plug it in to synchronise music with your PC, or even buying music in a wireless hotspot were attractive.

But it can’t – from Zune Doom:

The Wi-Fi cannot be used to synchronize music, nor can it be used to connect to the Internet to download music. It can be used only in peer-to-peer connections with other Zune owners with whom you choose to exchange music. USB is the only way to synchronize music.

In fact the Zune wraps it’s own DRM around any song (or audio file) you send to another Zune, which means it ‘expires’ (is no longer playable) after 3 days or 3 plays, whichever is first. Kind of understandable (but very limiting) for commercial music, but totally unacceptable for content which is meant to be shared – like a bands viral demo’s, podcasts or other non-commercial content.

Using it

Installing the Zune… sucked. How many screens do you need to ok?

So the installer failing seems to be somewhat common – it’s also flagged up in this article as is that classic screen – highlighted at Zune install screen raises eyebrows.

Engadget's Zune review is also less than glowing:

Never before have we done so much device plugging and unplugging. When you finish adding files to your Zune, you can’t go back and drop in more. You cannot interact with your player until you unplug it, and plug it back in. While it’s plugged in you can’t interact with it; with the Zune there’s no such thing as listening to music out of the player and charging via the sync cable at the same time. We couldn’t play music off the device through the application, either. When your Zune is plugged in, your Zune is absolutely nothing but plugged in.

Other random articles, opinions and associated stuff

Steve Ballmer ‘squirts’ content

Walt Mossberg – Microsoft’s Zune Challenges iPod

Andy Ihnatko – Avoid the loony Zune:

Yes, Microsoft’s new Zune digital music player is just plain dreadful. I’ve spent a week setting this thing up and using it, and the overall experience is about as pleasant as having an airbag deploy in your face.

Random pink Zunes – Zune oddnesses: Zune pretty in pink; Zune on a Mac

David Galbraith – I just saw a Zune, and guess what? Its a piece of shit.

roughlydrafted.com – 10 iPod vs. Zune Myths

update

A great parody of life Behind the Scenes at the Microsoft Zune Design Laboratory:

Right. Right. [Turns iPod around in his hands] VistaPod?

Craig Ferguson sticks his oar in Microsoft, Wake Up and Smell Defeat!

Written by , Monday 4th December 2006

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