|Conceptual XPHONE 3G Design by Brandon Perlow|
Personally, I have nothing against the Zune device, but not having owned one, I have to go with the comments of many of its detractors that the lackluster implementation of Zune Marketplace and the “Social” aspect of the device that limited its capabilities due to its DRM implementation likely hampered its adoption in the marketplace. Zune, it seems, is destined to be relegated to the Microsoft consumer electronics dumpster of history, shared with WebTV and UltimateTV. By the way, I really liked UltimateTV – it was a product before its time, and I vastly preferred it's interface and usability to the current generation of Tivo's and DirecTV's HDTV DVR service that I use now. But I digress.
I have to admit, slapping Zune, Windows Mobile 6 and Yahoo! together on a device wouldn't take an awful lot of work on Microsoft's part. But I have to think that the first generation of such a product would never be as well integrated or as slick a product as the iPhone. And Zune, for all its technical merits, now that I have given it some thought, is probably a stigma more than a value-add. And as I said in the previous piece, the Windows Mobile interface just seems clunky and badly adapted to digital convergence devices, and most Windows Mobile devices don't have the sexy industrial design or marketing Je ne sais quoi of iPhone. What is Microsoft to do?
Well, for those critics who believe that Microsoft is incapable of doing anything right with consumer UIs, I point them at Microsoft's biggest success in this department to date – the XBOX 360.
Also see: Zune VideoX: Microsoft’s iTunes killer?
Surely, the XBOX brand is equally as valuable – or even exceeds in value -- the iPod and iPhone brand, and nobody can say that the XBOX 360 Dashboard isn't, well, cool. What if Microsoft were to port the XBOX 360 UI, and a subset of its programming APIs to a mobile device, while using Windows CE as the OS and driver layer? An “XPHONE 3G” would be the natural arch-enemy and a worthy opponent to the iPhone and the iPod, particularly if it were combined with Zune VideoX, the service that Microsoft is rumored to be developing to compete with iTunes, which is based on the proven XBOX Live Marketplace. Perhaps it's arrogant of me to think so, but an XPHONE, tied into the XBOX 360's online infrastructure and fed with Yahoo! Content and services would probably make Steve Jobs and his army of Different Thinkers as well as the Googlers in the Infinite Loop working on Android stain their collective Silicon Valley underpants.
There are a number of things I can think of that the XPHONE could do to differentiate with iPhone, other than just being a “Me too”. For starters, it would have the unique market position of being able to integrate with both enterprise technology and consumer technology, right from the get go. With built in Windows Mobile Device communication protocols and Wi-Fi, in addition to HSDPA 3G data connectivity, the XPHONE would be able to communicate and share data with XBOX 360s in addition to home PC networks, corporate back-end Exchange servers and .NET applications thru a secure subscriber network of redundant NOCs as well as hosted applications.
If Microsoft played its cards right, it would open the ActiveSync/WMD protocols a la SAMBA so that Linux, Mac and other consumer devices (such as your DirecTV DVR or Tivo) could swap data with it. Imagine an XBOX 360 acting as a DVR or digital media repository “mothership” for movies and on-demand audio and video content (a la Apple TV) pulled in via VideoX or XBOX marketplace, and being able to dynamically manage what gets offloaded and uploaded to the XPHONE (and the XBOX sitting at home) via a remote protocol, using a familiar XBOX UI. XBOX games could have “mini me” versions and content (ringtones, songs, mobile games, Silverlight apps, etc) that could be uploaded to the XPHONE and shared with friends, as a viral marketing mechanism for Microsoft and 3rd-party developers.
I also wouldn't write off Zune's social mesh networking capabilities either – bringing the XPHONE into a community of XBOX 360 fans and Facebook addicts (and tight integration with the service is inevitable, considering Microsoft's recent investment in the social networking company) is likely to make the size of that “Social” vastly larger and the content-sharing features, even with DRM restrictions imposed on them, will be much more desirable. And while the Dashboard would be the preferred interface, I would also enable a “classic” mode so that current Windows Mobile applications would not be orphaned on the device and would give developers time to transition to the new UI.So does the XPHONE 3G sound better than the Y!Phone? Talk back and let me know.