Microsoft Zune – Why I STILL Think It Can Be An IPod Killer

I got a Zune around Thanksgiving last year, shortly after its launch. I was very excited about it, about joining “the social” and honestly I’ve probably given it more than its share of my attention trying to make it my portable media player of choice. Outright, I am a disappointed Zune fan. Some might say this is because of the number of accessories I bought with the zune, including the FM Transmittor and TV adapter that I to this day fail to use. In reality though, it’s because I see so much potential for this device to be THE IPod killer, if only Microsoft would take some hard, corrective, action with its marketing and features. Read on to see what I think it’ll take to make Zune the serious challenger to IPod’s dominance.
So before I get into it, let’s list the things that I see are positives already for the Zune:

1. Integrated FM tuner – sometimes I want to hear my radio DJ mix for me. It made it an instant replacement for my Creative Zen Nano, my previous media player of choice.
2. Better than IPod display – it was wonderful watching my ripped Battlestar Galactica episodes on, and music videos were never as crisp on an IPod.
3. Album covers displayed when playing songs. Honestly, I never knew this eye candy would have been so appealing for me, but I like this feature.
4. All-you-can eat rent option for Zune Marketplace. Great for me, since some songs I’d listen to, like Sesame Street tunes, I’d never outright want to buy…ever. The subscription has also opened my listening tastes to other varieties of music, including classical music, which I have found is great for coding runs.
5. Comes with trial rent subscription to Zune Marketplace. This is one of the few “early-adopter” incentives I’ve seen with the Zune, although whether this was purposeful marketing or just following the trend of other media players is questionable.
6. 30GB of space…well actually 27.7GB. Still it is a good start for legal music collecting.

7. Wireless sharing of music (if I can find someone else who owns one)

8. Picture storage. My personal photo albums look so beautiful when rendered on that nice LCD. I now have all my photos with me, everywhere now. When I meet up old friends and long-seen family, I feel like the 21st century equivalent of the man who keeps his nearest and dearest photos in his wallet and can’t wait to share them with all he meets.

Sadly, there are some features that are either faulty or missing that are keeping Zune from reaching its full potential in the world of next generation media players. After all the hype of “Welcome to the Social” Microsoft has failed to make Zune a social device. But there is hope. Here’s my list of things I think can be done that can rejuvenate the Zune :

1. Video Playlists – my goodness, how could Microsoft miss having this one simple feature?? Well, honestly, I didn’t realise this feature was missing too, until I tried to find it since I had spent 3 hrs uploading my music videos so I could watch them in sequence while running the eliptical at the gym. Damn that was frustrating having to manually start and stop EVERY SINGLE ONE of my videos.

2. Podcast integration. ITunes has it, why can’t you? I really hate having to use 2 media players, but until this feature is there, ITunes has a purpose still.
3. All-you-can eat renting model that IS all-you-can-eat. Really, I mean, why have a rental subscription if you’re going to block some of the songs? I noticed this especially with artists like Nelly Furtado, Akon and Black-Eyed Peas. Who’s driving your business model for Zune really? The music executives or the paying subscribers/listeners?
4. Zune Marketplace Videos. There is no native Zune Marketplace source for video content, and their partners’ pages look like they’re doing them a favour with a placeholder page of about 10 videos in each one I checked. Frankly though, sites like MSN Soapbox didn’t have that many interesting things to download for my Zune anyway. I want to show off my Zune screen’s crispness and clarity, I don’t want some low quality video on it.

Where’s the music videos? Where’s my downloadable movies and tv-series? Ripping and converting my own videos takes forever! Do you hear that Microsoft guys? It’s the millions of ITunes on Windows people who say everyday “I want my video content now, pre-packaged, and I’m willing to pay for it too!!”
Zune has the better display, all you need is to at LEAST match the iTunes content available to market that advantage.
5. Stop the skipping on DRM-encrypted music. Just yesterday my Zune upgraded to firmware version 1.3 and yet STILL my DRM-protected content continues to skip while playing. It happens so often now I wonder, really, is this a bug or a feature??
6. A built into Zune player way to convert from XVid, DivX and other formats into WMV. Really, WMV isn’t the hottest format out there, but I can understand Microsoft still pushing it since it is THEIR format. But at least give me an easy way of getting my XVid and DivX encrypted content into your format.
I had to search Microsoft.com to find a program from like 3 years ago that does WMV encryption of some of my existing video content, and even that didn’t work with XVid and DivX. Don’t make me have to work so hard to get things working how I like!
7. Faster conversion of MOV and MPG into WMV to upload to Zune. Either that or make the Zune play them natively and not convert them into WMV before uploading. While you’re at it, why not make it play DivX and Xvid natively too?
8. EBook reader – I like to read, the screen is brightly lit, why can’t I be able to read my PDFs on any device without having to convert them to JPGs? Microsoft has an EReader software, why can’t this be integrated into Zune as well if they don’t want to be Adobe friendly? They also have OneNote, why shouldn’t I be able to take my class notes with me portably on my Zune to study while I wait for the dentist appointment?
9. Wireless syncing. I mean, you have wireless sharing, and a proprietary cable. Give me some assurance that if my cable breaks or gets damaged that I don’t have to trek to the store before being able to sync with my Zune player again.
10. Share EVERYTHING with other Zunes. Just like rental mode where some songs aren’t rentable, there are songs where even if you buy them, you can’t share them with your fellow Zune owners. I didn’t knock or praise MS on the limitations of the sharing feature, although I should have, but being able to at least share ALL the music that I have purchased is a necessary precursor to this.
11. Integrate with MSN Messenger “What I’m Listening To: ” feature. Again, how could you miss this feature? ITunes has it, and that’s your competitor’s product! Zune is obviously derived from Media Player code, are they saying they didn’t port that feature?
12. One Media Player, please? I have Windows Media Player, and I have the Zune Player. They both look the same, they both mostly act the same. Heck, other than the Marketplace, what is so unique about Zune player? I synced with WMP when I had a Samsung MP3 Player, would it have been so hard to offer the same feature with a Microsoft device?
13. Stop confusing me with multiple music stores. I install MSN Messenger, it wants me to install Rhapsody Music Service. I upgrade to Windows Media Player 11, and there’s this URGE thing in my menu that I’ll never use. Get rid of competiting products to Zune Marketplace, and focus on making Zune Marketplace the next generation media shop and showcase for ALL. Leverage your company’s already existing products and product market share to gain advantage like how you leveraged Windows to make IE the #1 browser (except try to avoid all the nastiness with DOJ)
14. Get rid of the Microsoft Points system. The conversion from real money to Microsoft Points still confuses me, so I can imagine a new user to the world of legally buying music online. If you’re trying to do what Linden dollars are doing for Second Life users across multiple countries by providing a common denominator, I say you failed in this aspect because Second Life users are a totally different breed of customer.

15. Make Zune Player the crown jewel of your media playing universe. This might be the most difficult, since there’s all this push with WMP. But the existence of TWO players is confusing, especially as Zune Player so closely mimics WMP. But similar to how iTunes is the jewel of Apple’s universe and a hook to potential iPod users everywhere, MS needs to come up with a hook to the Zune. The Zune player shouldn’t be a basic player either, it should offer hot features that would make users WANT to use it even if they didn’t have a Zune. Perhaps something like a sophisticated Auto-DJing system that you normally only find in higher end software. Whatever is chosen, this focus on making your media playing software the best will also bring focus on the media device that works most smoothly with it.
So that’s it. Sadly, Microsoft has fallen into the hole during its cross of the gap between innovator and early adopter for Zune, and thus has failed to capture the early adopter attention with Zune. Without this early adopter attention, there is no hope of making Zune a mainstream device.
Meanwhile, Apple has forged ahead and is now looking at IPhone and AppleTV to drive next generation IPod sales. Having already crossed the chasm for IPod and made it a mainstream item, it is doing the right thing and using IPod’s power to help newer devices make that leap as well since new features alone (like iTunes games) won’t sustain its sales level.
That fact alone might invalidate some of the points above, or cause more important points to be raised, if Zune is to be made ready to challenge on the new horizon for media devices that is coming. I guess it’s a wait and see game still.

1 comment

  1. Anthony Apr 3

    I had the iPod video 60GB until I gave it to a 10 year old kid…

    The iPod video has 30GB, 60GB and I think 80GB of memory depending on which one you buy.

    It also has the album covers AND it lets you store pictures.

    I support alternatives to Microsoft any day =) heehee

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