Fixing the Zune in Five Steps?


As you probably know if you follow this blog regularly, I’m a big digital music fan that’s been trying to move from iTunes to a Microsoft-based platform for over a year.  I bought a Zune right after the Zune’s release in November, and I’ve generally been happy with it.

Today Engadget posted a short piece on five things that would improve the Zune against the iPod.  I agree with some of the points in the article, like releasing firmware that fixes the DRM-skipping problem and adding podcasting support, but don’t think that the list really does much to help differentiate the Zune from its competitor(s).  Here’s five things I’d love to see with the Zune (or future Zunes) that would help me recommend it over an iPod to a friend:

  1. Make My Zune Flash-Based and Nano-Sized – Let’s face it, very few people really listen to all 30 gigs of music they have.  In fact, it’s impossible to listen to all of the songs in one day.  I remember reading somewhere that the average music collection on an iPod is around 1,000 songs–or about 4 gigs.  Apple realized it with the Mini and the Nano–smaller is better.  And videos?  Really?  Do most people really care?
  2. Dump the WiFi…give me Bluetooth – WiFi is a PIA on mobile devices.  The only mobile device I’ve used with great WiFi support is the Nintendo DS, and that’s because they have a great input device.  Why do I really want to share music with other people on the bus?  I really don’t want to listen to what the creepy guy that’s muttering to himself is listening to.  What I would like is wireless headphones and wireless syncing to my computer.  Bluetooth 2.0 can give me this.  And…wait…you could use Bluetooth to send songs to each other as well.
  3. Push the Subscription Music! – I love subscription music.  For $14.99/month, I can listen to over a million songs.  I can listen to the new Shins album without buying it or waiting for a radio DJ to select tracks off of it to force feed me.  I can listen to that old Steve Winwood song “Valerie” without having to actually spend $0.99 to own it.  I can listen to playlists of stuff that I might not like to see if I do.  We recently used the Zune client at a birthday party.  It was amazing–you could literally cue up everyone’s favorite songs.  Why we are marketing people squirting songs to each other while they are snowboarding instead of showing them how the Zune offers a seamless subscription experience is beyond me.
  4. Let’s Define “Social” Before We Join It – The WiFi sharing is social.  Even here in Redmond though, there just aren’t enough people to squirt music to.  What’s truly social though is the Internet.  Why not allow people to upload their playlists and ratings to a central “ZuneCenter”?  A new, smarter Zune client software could compare your playlists and ratings against thousands of other people, and recommend a playlist.  If you have a Zune Pass, this playlist can contain songs you’ve never even thought about downloading.  Every day, a new music experience is synced to your Zune, waiting for you to try music that people like you have implicitly recommended.  Now that’s social.  Maybe you start flagging songs in this playlist.  The software might recognize that the songs you are flagging are all from a few discrete people.  You can use the Zune software to browse their collections…wow there’s a lot of potential here…
  5. SDK – Yes, yes, I know.  Microsoft wants to keep the Zune ecosystem “pure”.  Let’s face it though…the Zune software is missing some major pieces that I should be able to download plugins for.  Providing an SDK for people to programmatically manipulate the library, create playlists, download songs from the Zune Marketplace, and generally extend the software would enhance the Zune experience much more than it would detract from it.  You can’t use the iTunes/iPod closed-system example here–iTunes has had an SDK for a long time that have enabled very cool plugins.

What feature do you think the Zune should add to become more competitive, or is Engadget right on?

Comments (7)

  1. Jeff Julian says:

    Rip a few of your DVDs and take the Zune on your next flight.  You will definitely revisit #1.  The rest of your comments I am totally in agreement with.  

  2. Snorrk says:

    Hear hear!

    1) Although I dislike having my music in two places – loosing all my music when I loose my mp3 player isn’t very nice. Either give me space for *all* the music I ever want to listen to (100 GB+) or make the player smaller and cheaper.

    2) Bluetooth syncing and headsets – yes please. The WiFi isn’t very useful at the moment and drains the battery quickly (for other devices too in general I hear).

    5) SDK would be nice. A lot of people like hacking their gadgets and with a central repository for Zune add-ins there is a chance to pick up some fresh ideas for the Zune v.Next.

  3. theCoach says:

    an FM transmitter powerful enough to send a signal to the car that contains it.

  4. MSDNArchive says:

    Jeff:  I’ve actually done that before.  There’s a couple of issues I see.

    1.)  It’s of dubious legality to rip a DVD onto the Zune if it’s a commercial DVD.

    2.)  The screen is tiny, and it gives me motion sickness to look at a screen that small for that long.

    3.)  You have to hold the Zune the entire time to "prop" it up to watch the video.

    My conclusion is that most people would like to watch YouTube-style viral vids that are <5 min long on a portable device, but it’s a very small minority that want to watch feature length films.

    That being said, I used to sync "The Daily Show" from my Media Center PC to my Gigabeat for bus rides in the morning… 🙂

  5. BillG says:

    I’m starting to think we should dump the zune and try to create ( Innovate) something new for one.  hhahahahahahha, just kidding!

  6. MSDNArchive says:

    *groan*

  7. Audio says:

    As you probably know if you follow this blog regularly, I’m a big digital music fan that’s been trying to move from iTunes to a Microsoft-based platform for over a year. I bought a Zune right after the Zune’s release in November, and I’ve generally bee