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Analyzing the Zune

25 Sep


<More pics here>

*Firstly, thanks to “phoenix” for inviting me to post on this site. This article is a slightly modified version of the one I posted on the sparks team blog.*

Microsoft until now followed a model where they provided a DRM scheme to hardware manufacturers such as Creative, iRiver and Samsung and didn’t get involved in the hardware part. That model has obviously not worked in its favor, since Apple controls over 75% of the mp3 market in the US. Some time late last year, Microsoft decided enough was enough and asked J. Allard of the XBox team to start working on an mp3 player. Last week, Microsoft finally (officially) launched their own mp3 player. Newspapers and blog sites (the ones I read) have been abuzz with articles about it. So, why not add one more to the list? Here’s my take on the features, the UI, and the looks in general of Zune. I’ll list things I like and dislike about it and features that I’d like to see when it’s released. All this is based on what I’ve seen and read on the Internet and I’m liable to change my opinion in future. Let me start with the things I dislike about it.

  1. Firstly, it’s not as attractive as the iPod. It looks cool and everything, but I don’t like the middle wheel – it seems to be made of some cheap plastic.
  2. Also, why are there no markings on the wheel. That’s pretty weird.
  3. Is that an Ipod? Frankly, though, I’d rather that they copy the iPod than anything else. Also, MS holds the patent on iPod’s click wheel (although Zune doesn’t have one).
  4. Too little, too late: Microsoft is joining the party five years too late so you’d expect the device to offer something new or revolutionary, right? WiFi can hardly be considered that.
  5. It looks too big and unwieldy. Will it even fit into the pocket?

The things I like about it:

  1. Brown color: I love the brown Zune. I’m probably the only one in this country who does. Who cares. I like it nevertheless. It seems like a throwback to the 70s culture that Gap, American Eagle, Express, etc. are trying to bring back. Nice!
  2. WiFi: While WiFi will initially be limited to allowing people to share music, the possibilities, as MS has pointed out, are endless. I see a scenario where one can wirelessly transfer songs from the computer to the music player one day.
  3. Video quality/ Screen size: They rock. Not only does the device have a big screen, the video and image quality are also great (see the pic).
  4. FM radio: This seems to have been done well. You can see the name of the song that’s playing, which is pretty useful.
  5. The “click wheel” is not a click wheel: In an iPod, you have to move your finger over the click wheel to increase the volume. Now, although it may appear so to iPod users, it’s not the easiest thing to do. Thankfully, Zune has buttons instead of a click wheel.
  6. I’ve heard that the UI is more intuitive than the iPod’s.

Things that I’d like to see in the Zune:

  1. Developer support: I’d like to see people being able to develop applications and games for the Zune. I’m sure this is in the pipeline, since it’s already been done with the XBox.
  2. Games: Good ones, not the crappy $5 iPod ones. Free games created by Microsoft and third party developers (see point (1)). Frankly, this is where buttons are more useful than click wheels. I’ve played a couple of games on the iPod and the click wheel is a pain.
  3. Ability to stream videos from YouTube directly. I don’t even know if this is possible. If it is, I’d love to see it.

Overall, I think it’s a pretty decent offering from Microsoft, considering that this is their first time, for a product like tis. And, although journalists and pseudo-journalists have tried to label it as Microsoft’s “iPod killer”, Microsoft is definitely aware of the fact that it’s practically impossible to dethrone iPods with just a single product. This product is more of getting a foot in the door for Microsoft. I like their marketing approach too. Instead of trying to get big names like Bono to tout the product, Microsoft has instead chosen to go with smaller bands and viral videos. It’s a good approach and only time will tell if it’ll succeed. They’ve also come up with a couple of viral videos at comingzune.com. For more information and pics, go to zunethoughts.com or zuneluv.com or better yet, go to the source – Ceser Menendez runs a blog site, zuneinsider.com, where you can get the inside scoop on the product. It also features a list of sites related to Zune. So, check it out when you have the time. The product will be launched in the US some time in November and will apparently cost $229.

iPod and iTunes

The integration of iPod with iTunes and the songs on the iTunes music store may be of interest to techies and journalists, but frankly, do high schoolers and college going kids really care about all that? Do they really buy an iPod because of iTunes (it actually works the other way around)? Most youngsters buy iPods because of peer pressure. They don’t compare iPods’ features to those of other mp3 players. They just don’t care. They buy an iPod to fit in and for that reason, the initial release of Zune needn’t have any killer features. They just need to market it well so that these people will want it. And of course, they need all the luck they can get. It’s not easy. In fact, if you ask me now if this product stands a chance, my answer will be an unequivocal ”no!” Like all other iPod wannabes, this product will probably soon be forgotten. Of course, there’s one thing that sets this product apart from the rest – it’s been made by the world’s largest software company and for that reason alone it’s been generating a lot of buzz. It remains to be seen if this initial buzz will translate into sales, but based on the initial feature-set, I wouldn’t bet on that. In fact, I think it’ll probably eat into its partners’ marketshare first.

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5 Comments

Posted by on September 25, 2006 in Gadgets, Reviews

 

5 responses to “Analyzing the Zune

  1. philramble

    October 1, 2006 at 6:50 pm

    Very Interesting analysis. I tend to like the Brown Zune too. Nice name, pretty catchy. Unlike the iPod this one is not available in a smaller version. The starting price is $250, apparently, and that is for a 30 GB Zune. Here’s news on the Zune:

    http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/Story.aspx?guid=%7BA31F66F1-E9AE-44F1-B68E-FFDF3223FB2C%7D&siteid=

     
  2. philramble

    October 1, 2006 at 6:51 pm

    I wonder if there will be support for AAC from Zune. Also, I am hoping that the wireless connection built into the Zune will enable file transfer also, which is apart from song transfer.

     
  3. sk

    October 1, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    Thanks, philramble. Zune’s success now depends entirely on how well it’s marketed. Whether their strategy of promoting indie bands works remains to be seen. Zune will support AAC, but not protected AAC. So it won’t play songs from the iTunes store. Also, at launch time, you’ll be able to transfer pics and songs from one Zune to another. They’re talking about updating the firmware to add more functionality.

     
  4. philramble

    October 4, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    Yep, the marketing would be important. In fact, I remember one MSN TV which they launched which was a failure. X-BOX and X-BOX 360 were super hits. Matter of fact, I remember reading this article:

    http://wired.com/news/columns/0,71896-0.html?tw=wn_index_3

    http://wired.com/news/culture/0,71435-0.html

    I dont agree with that author’s analysis of WiFi songs transfer. I think its a great idea. Its just like the guy who patented Bluetooth and is now rolling in money. But I also think MS is not cut out to be a hardware company. Apple has that background of making hardware which works well, is classy in look and feel, but MS doesn’t.

    Too bad it doesnt play protected AAC. They could strike even and do business with the enemy! And force them release new products with Zune in mind (provided it worked well). Then again, let me not speak too soon.

     
  5. sk

    October 5, 2006 at 1:16 am

    I don’t think so either. I’m not sure Zune is going to do well. It looked good in the marketing pics, but recent pics released by individuals tell a different story. Let’s see… Only time will tell.

     

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