Danny Kaey takes a look at Microsoft's $249 iPod competitor, the Zune. Is the Zune ready for the big time and what does this mean for hi-fi? Keep reading to find out...
Is Zune DOA?
by Danny Kaey on October 02 '06
Microsoft is at it again! (and again, and again, again, again, again, again, a----------)
So the smart folks at Microsoft just announced November 14th as their equivalent of “D-Day” or in other words, the day iTunes “finally” (no really, we mean it this time for sure!) meets its match. No sooner was the herculean effort announced, did I catch my keyboard (another Microsoft product), opened up my MS Word 2007 (Beta, and of course, another Microsoft product) running of course on Vista (post RC1 build, yet another Microsoft product) and began typing these words. What’s the hoopla all about? Well of course, Zune! (heh, yep, you guessed it, another Microsoft product) In case you missed it, well, this being Microsoft I guess you actually could have (after all marketing brilliance (or paralysis with Microsoft) have always been the classic galactic smarts of Apple, or one Steve Jobs of San Jose, CA).
Reality has a troubling way of kicking in every now and then; clearly, as is the case with Apple’s truly phenomenal success of iPod and its entire ecosystem, reality has reared its ugly head one too many times with the powers that be at Microsoft. For years, denial in the form of “Play’s For Sure” has taken its final toll (we are really, really, really, serious about this now!) – whereas Apple of course has a simple yet effective culture for their iPod, a gazillion manufacturers thought they would easily outclass, outgun and outsmart Apple by offering more features, more bang for your buck, more everything, with a myriad of players and software, all engulfed by Microsoft’s “Play’s For Sure” campaign.
So PFS in short was supposed to guarantee full compatibility between Microsoft’s Windows Media Player and all these lovely music players from Toshiba, Samsung, etc. Adding to the complexity is the fact that unlike iTunes (which is the only DRM protected store format that Apple allows it’s iPod to interface with), there are a good half dozen or so online stores that are supposed to be compatible with all these players and of course Microsoft’s own WMP.
The sad truth however, is that much the same problems that affect the Windows ecosystem (ie. a million cooks cooking up different meals) have similar issues on “Play’s For Sure”. Different rights models plague the different stores; Napster allows you to copy track X, Y times; other stores allow track X to be copied Z times, so on and so forth. Most importantly, the ‘net is filled with forums where angry customers are voicing their dilemmas of not being able to upload music files on their newly purchased (iPod)-killer player ZXY, etc.
About a year ago, Microsoft, in yet another frugal attempt to put a shoe in front of Apple, teamed up with MTV to create “URGE” as in I have the URGE to go to the bathroom, ‘cause all of this smells too much like shyte. URGE was touted as THE defining moment in the history of attempting to dethrone Apple from its Numero Uno spot. If Microsoft would only have asked me for my opinion, no doubt many millions of $ could have been saved, most importantly, I would have been several millions $ wealthier. At any event, URGE went really fast really nowhere, and while iTunes commands a whopping 75% market share, all other competitors amount to little of the multibillion dollar music download pie. That would be what, 40-Love Apple, or Point, Set & Match.
Figuring that reportedly hundreds of millions of dollars where spent advertising, promoting and spreading the word on URGE, this amounts to about the 5th Enron style scandal Microsoft has been left unaccounted for. Around the same time that URGE was shaping up, my super secret sources at Microsoft where telling me of yet another “Grand” and coy plan to finally, once and for all, Mordor go to hell, Peace on Earth, put a sock on Apple. No matter how hard I tried, my sources remained silent about this super secret project, rumored to cost more than 3 trips to the Moon and back, yet assured me that this was so special that just the thought of it all URGE’d all of them to go to the bathroom more than once on the hour, every hour.
Finally, as time drew closer to end, ZUNE was announced. Say what? ZUNE? Ummm… Sir, excuse me please, what is Zune? Well, Zune is Microsoft’s final (well, nothing is final, but hey, I stopped counting after 10) answer to Apple’s iPod dominance. Featuring a retail price of $249, a 3 inch screen (vertical or horizontal layout), a 30gb hard disk, a built in FM tuner and Wi-Fi capabilities (though no doubt judicious use of Wi-Fi will be encouraged otherwise look for around 3 minutes of battery life), the system specs and pricing sound pretty decent.
Decent, that is, until you discover Microsoft typical inconsistencies, blunders and what will surely amount to being the 6th Enron style fiasco. Let’s forget about the most obvious of shortfalls, color options: they would be white, brown and black – brown in particular would have worked so well with the whole URGE campaign, as in at least you know what to look forward to next time you get the URGE, if it weren’t for the dumb fact that (guess what?!) Zune is actually NOT compatible with URGE! Care for more brown URGE?
That’s right folks, not only will Zune not work with the last great Microsoft/MTV project, it also isn’t even compatible to Microsoft’s own Windows Media Player, which, oh by the way, Microsoft is touting as the end-all be-all music management software you need. If this isn’t gross malice and homicidal negligence, I don’t know what would be. Clearly the people in charge of project Fiasco errr… Zune have no clue what they are up to, least of which they apparently overlooked or bothered to check with the other Microsoft folks who run “Play’s For Sure”. I mean I can see how they will sell exactly all of 4 Zune players by year’s end.
I have to admit, watching Microsoft stumble all over with their 5th Enron style disaster that his Windows Vista over the last 4 years, I didn’t think they could actually muck things up worse – it’s Zune to the rescue, what were you thinking Danny? Let’s review some further downfalls of Zune, shall we? So there’s this ingenious idea of having Wi-Fi capabilities to “share” your music with anyone (of course only “anyone” who also happens to have a Zune player, otherwise you are out of luck) – but wait, we are talking about a Microsoft product, so there must be some crap somewhere: and so the truth is that while yes, you’ll be able to share tracks with other Zune friends, it of course depends on the track you plan to share, moreover, your Zune pal can only play that shared track 3 times for a total of up to 3 days! My that’s just brilliant!
Then of course there’s the dreaded battery life – you see, people have been haunting and bullying Apple for years as to why there aren’t any Wi-Fi capabilities in the iPod, the answer of course is that typically Apple only releases products that actually make sense and are usable by the masses. My guess is that the minute you flip on the network switch on Zune, your batter meter will drain with about the same force as Arnold’s gas gauge on his Hummer. Throw in video playback (another notorious battery sucker) and pretty soon you have to answer to massive consumer rage of why battery life in their shiny new (and brown) Zune player amounts to nothing more than 20 minutes of fun in the sun.
Lastly, there’s the software interface issue: for years MS has been tooting the horn of their Windows Media Player (now up to 11); next it was all supposedly fully compatible with “Play’s For Sure”; then of course came URGE; finally, the coup de jour is Zune and its very own “Zune Marketplace” software, yet another piece of bloat-ware that Microsoft wants me to install on my PeeCee, which (lets just remind ourselves once again) perfectly replicates what MS already had invested in its previous infrastructure that is WMP/URGE/Play’s For Sure. I suspect that these guys are smoking something highly toxic in Redmond, perhaps to drown out the sorrows of losing out to OSX, iPod and iTunes year after year after year.
At any event, my predication is that (what? You haven’t guessed it?) Zune will hit rock bottom pretty much Nov. 14th at around 5:43 pm the day of the launch. With Apple’s latest salvo’s just launched a few weeks back, the rumored true Video iPod in the works for a Q1 launch of 2007, yet another rumored iPod mobile phone in the works for Q1 of 2007, I honestly don’t see much hope for Zune going anywhere but south.