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Rocco Augusto 07-30-2008 10:22 PM

Do we Really Need a Zune Phone?
<div class='os_post_top_link'><a href='' target='_blank'></a><br /><br /></div><p><img src="" border="0" /><br /> <strong><span style="font-size: x-small;"><em>[What do you think? Is this what we really need? (Artist Concept)]</em></span></strong></p><p>There is a bit speculation going around the Interweb as of late that Microsoft is hard at work on a Zune based phone, or ZunePhone if you want to call it what all the cool kids are calling it. In a recent <a href="" target="_blank">memo</a> making the rounds at Microsoft, Steve Ballmer is quoted as saying the following:<br /><br /><em>"In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience. <strong>Today, we&rsquo;re changing the way we work with hardware vendors to ensure that we can provide complete experiences with absolutely no compromises. We&rsquo;ll do the same with phones&mdash;providing choice as we work to create great end-to-end experiences.</strong>"</em></p><p><em></em></p><p>After reading this memo I did what any fan of technology would do - I ran to my nearest window to get a glimpse of the pigs flying because Microsoft is finally starting to take an Apple-like approach to things by taking more control with hardware vendors to provide a "complete experiences with absolutely no compromises" for their end user. While I applaud Microsoft for taking that first step in hopefully stopping the hardware vendors from providing us with sub-par systems cluttered with excessive junk that we will never need or use on both the Desktop and mobile arena, you have to stop and ask yourself two questions:</p><ol><li>Why the heck has it taken so long for Microsoft to step in to ensure a better user experience?</li><li>How angry are all the hardware vendors going to be over this news?</li></ol><p><MORE /></p><p><em></em>To be honest, I'm not really even that concerned about how angry or upset Microsoft's partners would be about something like this. This is mostly because these vendors are a large part of the reason why things are not as great as they could be. With the exception of HTC my personal opinion is that the majority of Windows Mobile handset makers just 'don't get it'. Looking back over the last few years of handset releases no carrier has really gone out of their way like HTC has to bring us a truly great mobile experience. Sure Samsung dipped its toes in the water with their Samsung Blackjack variant with the pretty and WM 6.1ish nifty homescreen, but unless you wanted to install a cooked ROM onto your device there was no chance that we would see this hint of what Windows Mobile could be in any other Samsung Blackjack out there in the wild and with Samsung's recent releases of Windows Mobile handsets you probably could never tell that there was a creative bone in their bodies at all!<br /><br />This is incredibly annoying as some of my biggest complaints as an end user has always been the sheer lack of anything pretty to look at on our devices. Take for instance one of my biggest pet peeves with my Smartphone - super tiny contact images that would make Ray Palmer proud. According to Microsoft they left the ability for the handset makers to go in and tweak these to their liking as with almost everything else on the operating system but unfortunately no one ever took advantage of it. Instead what we received for years on end was the comforting knowledge in knowing that each company was just going to point the finger at the other and no one would take responsibility for leaving us with this horrible case of the uglies.<br /><br />This one reason alone is why I have stated many times that if Microsoft was truly serious about competing on this new mobile plane, one where in the past years consumers have shown us that they wanted smartphone like features in user friendly packages, Microsoft would have to take complete control of their mobile operating system. They would have to control every aspect from hardware design to software design. It is not like we're still living in the days of Windows 95. Microsoft has shown us in the past that when it comes to making things pleasant to look at they are not as inept as they once were. Take the Zune and Windows Media Center for instance. Both products are some of the most ascetically pleasing releases Microsoft has ever had. It is one of the benefits to having pockets as large as Microsoft. If you lack a skill such as design then go out and buy that skill!<br /><br />So that finally brings us to where we are now. Everyone seems to be convinced that Microsoft's recent memo about taking full control of the hardware and software will lead to the release of a Zune based handset and it probably could. My honest opinion is that as much as I would love to see Microsoft release a device such as this, it would just be way to confusing to the market place and would probably frustrate customers instead of making them happy be giving them what they want. I mean think about, do we really need a <em>fourth</em> Windows Mobile SKU?!<br /><br />I will be the first person to admit that when it comes to Windows Mobile we definitely need a change. However creating an offset version of it to address just a tiny fraction of what is wrong with the OS is not really the way to go. Let's face it, at the heart of the matter Windows Mobile is a broken experience. It is hands down my favorite mobile operating system out there, but it could be way better. Instead of just putting a band-aid on problem and hoping that everything will be okay, I would just love to see Microsoft tear the whole thing down and rebuild that bad boy up from scratch. Hopefully this is what we can expect Windows Mobile 7 will be, a complete redesign from the ground up, but Microsoft is so hush-hush on the subject that I am actually starting to worry that we will get just more of the same.<br /><br />There is a shred of hope however. As the memo states above Microsoft if finally starting to see the light when it comes to not allowing your their vendors to defecate on their products. Apple has finally started to force Microsoft into a different way of thinking and what comes out of these new thought processes I am confident will help shape all of our futures for years to come. What we need is something new and fresh and I finally feel that Microsoft is at the point in their game to give it to us. We as consumers need a new consumer friendly Windows Mobile operating system that allows us all to manage our media and information with ease. We do not however need the Zune software tacked onto current Windows Mobile devices, given a new name, and sent out there into the wild. At the rate we're going it feels like Windows Mobile is starting to turn into a game of Jenga and I'm afraid at any moment the whole thing is just going to fall down.</p><p><em>Rocco Augusto is the Managing Editor for <a href="">Smartphone Thoughts</a> and owns and operates <a href="">Skimbee Studios</a>, a small Web Development studio located in Portland, Oregon where he currently resides. When he isn't tweaking code or playing with his one of his many gadgets, you will most likely find him spending time playing with his beautiful daughter and chasing his two small kittens off of the kitchen counters.</em></p>

benjimen 07-30-2008 11:20 PM

You probably coulda got this down to a couple paragraphs...

raulr 07-30-2008 11:28 PM


I agree. They could just update their UI on Windows Mobile to be by default user friendly instead of expecting manufacturers to tweak it and make it usable. HTC is trying, but it would be so much better if MS just fixed the UI and made it the default. No need for a Zune phone just to have a nice UI.

A zunephone could have it's place if they just wanted to make it an extension of the Zune line though.

caywen 07-30-2008 11:31 PM

Wow, a lot to read!
I think WM7 will be a disappointment. Microsoft has never once made a subsequent OS work better with the given resources. Every new release with significant changes also require new hardware. WM7 will be no different. Given how slow and clunky WM6 and prior are, I have doubts about MS's ability to execute against iPhone.

MS needs to change the WM programming model *and* the UI model. The only pragmatic way, without asking for 1GB phones w/ desktop processors, is to throw out compatibility and *trust* developers to port their applications.

gmontem 07-31-2008 12:37 AM

I read somewhere that Apple wrote in their iPhone SDK -- "only one iPhone application can run at a time". I'm pretty sure WM7 can run as fast as the iPhone if Microsoft did something similar.

JonDeutsch 07-31-2008 03:09 AM

Microsoft will fail if they follow
Ballmer is unfortunately a man without a vision. Ever since becoming CEO, MSFT has been adrift, and it's pretty astonishing how little he has been in the spotlight as the problem at Microsoft.

Microsoft will utterly fail at following Apple's lead in approach to total software+hardware control to ensure a great end-to-end experience. Why? Because Microsoft was not designed to be that kind of company. There is just too much cultural DNA to fight. The culture is great at some things, and pathetic at others. Front-end development, generally, is not MSFT's strong suit. Their background is primarily in application development tools, operating systems, office tools, networking, and information-rich consumer software.

The only time they successfully copied Apple was with Windows 3.0-XP.

Microsoft needs a VISION of how they will uniquely contribute to technology in the 21st century. And I don't think copying Apple constitutes a viable vision. Sure, the user experience is becoming increasingly important for all technology. So, nobody is going to argue with them focusing on that.

But, how should MSFT faciliate this? MSFT has a great philosophy of enabling innovation by shipping out basic software and having ISVs and VARs optimize the baseline technology. Distributed innovation is still the best way to ensure the best innovation.

So, what MSFT needs to do is not to become Apple II (get it?), but, rather thread the needle and use their stong suit, but evolve it to ensure user experience excellence.


Set better and stronger standards and constraints on the baseline technology from which ISVs can innovate. Which also means build better templated tools within the baseline to make it easy to stay "inside the lines" and harder to go by the wayside in the experience.

It's templates, it's style guides, it's enforcement. When you give the development community better tools, they'll more readily stay within the standards.

Don't do a closed-room solve like the iPhone store. But give users the option to select "approved" applications. Just don't kill the open innovation culture that's out there today, which ensures your enthusiast audience stays interested.

People want choices. So, if MSFT is going to move toward the Apple model, they better keep some competitive advantages beyond the Microsoft "brand." That's not enough (see Zune v. iPod). The Zune is not successful because it tried too hard to be the iPod.

There needs to be some vision within Microsoft to not just be a bigger, badder Apple. Microsoft needs to have the vision to upgrade itself to be 21st-century compatible.


Underwater Mike 07-31-2008 04:26 AM

Goodbye, WM
After 8 years with WM, I bought an iPhone on MON. It's not perfect -- sealed battery, no card slot, incomplete BT profile -- and I miss some of the software on my HTC handset. But...

1) This thing is generally much faster and smoother-operating than any WM handset I've ever seen -- including viewing HTML email and Office attachments on email.

2) The graphics and UI touches are beautiful.

3) It's cheaper than any WM handset with comparable specs, at least on my contract.

If MSFT can come out with something that matches the iPhone's strengths while besting its weaknesses, I'd consider switching back. But, given the glacial pace of WM imrovements over the last few years, I'm not holding my breath.

Rocco Augusto 07-31-2008 05:47 AM

[quote=JonDeutsch;689284]There needs to be some vision within Microsoft to not just be a bigger, badder Apple. Microsoft needs to have the vision to upgrade itself to be 21st-century compatible.


I would say the opposite. I think Microsoft's problem is that they have too much vision and not enough attention span. There are a ton of really cool ideas floating around Microsoft and some of those ideas come out with a big bang (e.g. - Origami) but they quickly fizzle out as Microsoft jumps to the next 'big thing' project like a 10 year old with ADHD. It is probably one of the reasons I like Microsoft so much as I often do the same thing :D

Rocco Augusto 07-31-2008 05:54 AM

[quote=Underwater Mike;689287]3) It's cheaper than any WM handset with comparable specs, at least on my contract.[/quote]

It is also less expensive when purchased out-of-contract then Windows Mobile phones of the same specs. I have been dying to buy a Touch Diamond lately (first Pocket PC I desperately wanted) but I just cannot stomach the retail price of $700USD. That's ridiculous. Growing up my first car cost $700 and the thought of paying as much for a phone as I did for a car (even if it was a junker) is unbelievable.

virain 07-31-2008 08:16 AM

Ah, Excuse me, guys! But I don't think MS needs another Zune phone, or something like that at all... I mean Zune Phone would run Zune OS, wouldn't it? Not Windows Mobile? And why would MS bother with creating another phone? You said complete control over hardware, better user experience? Well believe it or not MS has it as of right now! it is called Sidekick! Yes! Good Old T-Mobile Sidekick, Paris Hilton's favorite! And it looks like MS just announced a new one. And it has everything you ask for, Better user experience, simple intuitive interface, you can download games and music directly from the web to the unit, Just like iPhone App. Store! But then again, if all you need from your device is just to listen to music watch a couple of flix, and play silly games (just like with iPhone ), but of course you probably despise that i-word thing. Then Sidekick maybe just what you are looking for. On the other hand if you need to be productive, complete some work, did some heavy emailings, and by the end of the day to relax to the sound of your favorite MP3, or any other standard, Tune, then WM, maybe clumsy, and not that easy to poke with your sausage like finger, but capable to accommodate you with all those tasks either separately, or at once, may be your best choice at this time. :)
[url=]T-Mobile Sidekick Review (Phone Arena)[/url]

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