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Old 01-04-2008, 01:00 PM
Jason Dunn
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A few weeks back, Grahm Skee from Anythingbudipod.com wrote an article that I can only describe with one word: flamebait. Adam Krebs has already post about this, but I had some, ahem, different thoughts and I thought there was value in sharing them with the Zune community.

I have great respect for Grahm, having linked to Anythingbutipod.com's reviews many times over the years form Digital Media Thoughts (now Digital Home Thoughts), but I disagree with many of his points and thought it would be worthwhile explaining why. It's a common, but completely inaccurate perception that simplicity in function always means simplicity in design, and conversely, that rich functionality always means complexity in design. We have an expensive cork screw that only does one thing - takes corks out of bottles - but the first time I used it I was completely baffled because it was so complex to operate, even though I knew exactly what it was supposed to do. On the other hand, the first time I picked up an iPhone I was able to navigate from function to function with ease - it was quite intuitive, despite having many functions. And that's saying a lot coming from me for anyone that knows how I feel about most Apple products.

I can understand Grahm's basic point that the Zune should be razor-focused on delivering a great media experience, but that doesn't mean it should come at the expense of other features that users want. The Zune team's excuse last year for not offering Media Center TV show sync was that they were focusing on music first and foremost. If that were the case, then why did they ship a heavy, thick device with a big screen that clearly screams out for video? Their hardware design wasn't in line with their marketing talking points - if music was the #1 goal, then a small, flash-based Zune should have been shipped first.

But I digress...let me tackle each of Grahm's points one by one. Here are all of the feature he doesn't want to see, and my thoughts on each point. You should go check out his article first before reading my rebuttal points. This are my own opinions of course, so I welcome your feedback on this list.

  • Clock/Alarm: A clock is definitely something I definitely want to see added, because quite often if I have my Zune out on a table listening to music while I'm writing, I want to be able to pick it up and see what time it is. My mobile phone is away in a pocket or my bag. I want the digital device I'm holding in my hand to provide the ultra-basic function of telling me the time. It's simply idiotic that the Zune doesn't have a clock display on it. It could be an option that's turned off by default, and only users that want it would turn it on. I personally don't care about an alarm clock, but there are people who fall asleep with their headphones in, listening to music, and want to wake up to music. That seems kind of bizarre to me, but to each his own: adding a feature like that doesn't seem complex, and wouldn't add to the overall complexity of the device if it was implemented properly.
  • Games: Grahm's objection here is that games are self-indulgent, and only for "bored" people. Uh, isn't that exactly what a digital media device is for? To pass the time, to entertain? Games aren't very high on my list of things that I want the Zune to do, but there's such a great natural synergy between Xbox Live Arcade games and the Zune it's hard to ignore. Would I like to play Catan while listening to some John Mayer on my Zune? Sure! The new Zunepad control allows for all sorts of great gameplay options. I don't own any sort of a portable gaming device, largely because having a device that's all on it's own, needing special games that only it can use, isn't very appealing. The Zune is a device I already own, and if I could play the games I've purchased via Xbox Live Marketplace on my Zune for free, or for a very small fee, I'd love that.
  • Web Browser: The current Zune devices should not have a Web browser; Grahm and I agree on that much. Without a keyboard, or a rich touch interface, it would be an exercise in frustration. But I feel Microsoft absolutely has to deliver a device to challenge the iPod Touch at some point: a Zune that has a wide-screen aspect ratio with a four inch, high-resolution screen, great battery life, and is aimed squarely at the movie-watching crowd. On a device like that, with a touch interface, browsing becomes a wonderful thing. The iPhone and iPod Touch deliver a better browsing experience than any Windows Mobile device, and Microsoft has been working on their mobile Web browser for at least ten years now. That's just sad.
  • Voice Recording: I had voice recording on my Zen Vision:M, and while I admit to not using it very often, the times when I did need it, it was invaluable. Grahm again insults users who'd want this feature, declaring that they must be the only ones who'd listen to their own voice notes. That might be, but if someone uses voice notes regularly, for whatever reason, having to carry a dedicated device for that purpose seems ridiculous. Why can't the Zune do it? The level of complexity here wouldn't be high (just a menu item), and considering even some of the smallest devices do voice recording, the hardware requirements don't seem to be burdensome.
  • FM Recording: I agree with Grahm here (surprise!). I can't really think of any scenarios where I've ever wanted to record FM radio.
  • Memory Expansion Slot: The fact that you can expand a SanDisk player via memory cards is just killer. By giving users the option to expand the memory on their device, the device maker is putting power in the user's hands. I'm always for that. I was very disappointed there was no 16 GB Zune (other than the Zune staff-only Citron), but if I could put my 8 GB microSD card in my Zune 8 and have a 16 GB Zune, that would be great! There's no complexity here, no software needed: just a slot. Microsoft should not be like Apple here: they should put some power in the purchaser's hands to expand their device if they want to, and not pull an Apple where they decide how much memory you should have on your device. Microsoft can, and should, do better than Apple in this area.
  • Bluetooth: I like the idea of Bluetooth on a player, and Bluetooth headphones, but I've yet to see/heard any Bluetooth headphones that are anywhere close enough to replace my Ultimate Ears headphones. Unfortunately I don't think we're going to see much development in Bluetooth headphones until more MP3 players support Bluetooth. So for now, I agree with Grahm on this point.
  • Touch Screen: Similar to the browser comment above, I don't want to see touch interface on a Zune until they release a device to compete with the iPod Touch. Touch on the current Zunes would be useless. But anyone that denies the joy of using touch to flip through photos or coverflow is someone who's far outside of the realm of a regular user. Every single person I've seen pick up the iPhone or iPod Touch and user their fingers to navigate through it has been delighted. Touch, done right, can be fantastic.
So those are my thoughts - what do you think about Grahm's list and my rebuttal points?
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Old 01-04-2008, 03:47 PM
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On the other hand, the first time I picked up an iPhone I was able to navigate from function to function with ease - it was quite intuitive, despite having many functions. And that's saying a lot coming from me for anyone that knows how I feel about most Apple products.
Actually, I'd argue that the iPhone is easy to use because it doesn't do much.

The first impression is certainly "wow, this is easy to use" but as you start digging deeper you can see why. Apple has concentrated its efforts on a small number of use cases and made sure that they're easy to jump to and easy to use.

Compared to an average European mid-range cell phone, the iPhone's functionality is very limited. There's only support for one Bluetooth profile, there's no MMS, SMS support is crippled, there's no video recording support, there's no 3G, there's no user accessible file structure... But what it does, it does very, very well.

I agree with the (flamebait) article - Microsoft should concentrate on making the Zune the best music/video player on the market. Everything else is just unnecessary fluff.
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Old 01-04-2008, 06:37 PM
David Tucker
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Hey Graham yo! Don't worry, I got your back. I totally agree with you on most of your points. The only one I really disagree on is BT. RIght now its not worth it but it will be one day and its worth having as an option like the WiFi.

Other than that, totally agree. I have T-Mo Wing for all those other things. I got into MP3 players specifically to de-integrate music & video into its own device.
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