Zune and Mac: not a great fit

Zune and Mac: not a great fit

Summary: From the very beginning I was optimistic about Microsoft's Zune media player. Not because I expected to replace my iPod with one, but for the same reasons that I liked it when cable companies release their own DVRs: because competition is good for marketplace and it forces all the players step up their game.

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TOPICS: Apple
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Zune black horizontalFrom the very beginning I was optimistic about Microsoft's Zune media player. Not because I expected to replace my iPod with one, but for the same reasons that I liked it when cable companies release their own DVRs: because competition is good for marketplace and it forces all the players step up their game. 

Just like I hoped that the Comcast HD-DVR would make TiVo sit up and take notice, I hoped that the Zune would light a fire under Apple to add features and improve the UI of the iPod. And both are started to happen, If you consider the Series III TiVo and the (prospect of a) 6G iPod "starting to happen."

The Zune itself is a decent-looking piece of hardware. I like the matte finish and the blue/black color of the "black" model. And while I'm all about brown, the brown Zune is atrocious and white makes it look like too much of an iPod wannabe. The Zune's display is larger than iPod's and it has a wireless sharing feature, but I couldn't find anyone else with a Zune to share with.

Another oddity is the Zune controller, anyone who has used an iPod before will immediately try to "scroll" around the wheel, like the iPod clickwheel does, but it doesn't work like that. Although it's round, the Zune controller is really just a directional pad that you click up, down, left and right. Scrolling down a playlist requires numerous down clicks, or holding and releasing the down button. This is really weird at first.

To its credit, the Zune UI is much prettier than the iPod's. Menus pulse, fade and glow whereas the iPod UI tends to just kind of stare back at you. Apple can clear regain the lead in this department if the 6G iPod is a phone-less iPhone, but that remains to be seen.

Luckily Zune comes pre-loaded with some content on it (Hint, hint Apple) because it's fully incompatible with the Macintosh platform. One potential future hack would be to use XNJB (that uses libnjb and libmtp) for low-level device communication between OS X and Zune, but as of now it doesn't allow file transfer making it useless.

That being said, if you want to use Zune with a Mac you'll need to do so by running Windows in either BootCamp or Parallels, which actually works just fine, if you're into such things.

The problem is that Microsoft has made no effort to make Zune work with the Mac, so they're essentially ceding the Mac media player market to Apple. But I wouldn't expect Microsoft to sit on the sidelines forever. Zune is only Redmond's first effort and Microsoft has deep enough pockets to compete in this market for the long haul. Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit (Mac BU) has to be thinking that adding Mac compatibility has to potential to chip away at Apple's golden goose. Or are they?

Pictured below is the Zune wrapped in the Executive leather case (US$45) from Speck Products who makes five cases for the Zune, including a rugged silicone skin and two armbands.

Speck Executive case for Zune

Topic: Apple

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8 comments
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  • Menus pulse, fade and glow

    Typical. Equating eye candy for effective UI. MS does it, the Gnome and KDE people
    do it, and the tech analysts like the author do it.

    The purpose of the "eye candy" in OS X is to enhance user feedback, not just to sit
    there and pulse, fade and glow. So, until you tell me how Zune's pulsing, fading and
    glowing, actually helps you navigate the device, quit calling it something Apple needs
    to catch up to.
    frgough
  • iPods pre-loaded with content

    So far Apple has been unable to do this due to their agreement with Apple Records. They were banned from selling physical copies of music. That's why when you buy a U2 iPod, you don't get the songs pre-loaded, you get a coupon to download them from the iTunes store.

    Now that there's a new agreement in place, I expect we'll be seeing a lot of pre-loaded iPods, starting with the rumored Beatles-based model.
    tic swayback
  • Boo Zune!

    I've only seen one Zune. The brown one. Brownish turd color. Like on the story, it
    was kind of weird using it if you are used to an iPod.

    I just hope that Apple does take some hints with their next iPod. Instead of
    preloading with content. It would be an awesome idea for it to come with an
    iTunes Gift card of say...25$ denomination. This would allow users to choose their
    "preloaded content".

    The menus are another thing Apple should work with. I'm not talking about the
    ease of use. Apple's patented click/scroll wheel is the best in the market and it's
    very easy to get used to and also very efficient. What I mean is visual menu. They
    should use a Mac OS X kinda feel to it. I don't know much about this, but it's much
    easier for them to make and much marketable.
    grlamberty
  • Zune - Capacity

    The Zune would probably have been a bigger hit if it came out in different capacity sizes (30G,60G,80G) and possibly had Windows CE(or whatever they call it now) functionality (Outlook contacts,calendar,task list). I have a 30GB Video IPOD that I would have liked to replace with a 60GB or 80GB Zune, but it doesn't look like that will happen.
    tjb2
  • Zune compatibilty

    Of course it's only compatible with windows, silly boy. This is another attempt to
    leverage one monopoly (OSes) into another monopoly (music players). The zune is
    over sized, ugly and the navigation is so 70's.
    Rick_K
    • Poor Mac zealot

      Logic not your strongest attribute?

      [i]This is another attempt to leverage one monopoly (OSes) into another monopoly (music players). [/i]

      For what you suggest to be true, MS would have to have a monopoly in music players and a weak position in OSs which would then force everyone who bought Zunes to also buy Windows. This would then leverage their music player monopoly to gain an OS monopoly. Since MS only has a small minority of the music player market, your argument makes no sense.

      You would also have a point if Zune was the only music player that worked with Windows. In that case, MS would be leveraging their Windows market strength to gain music player marketshare. However, since even Apple's iPod is compatible with Windows, this argument also fails.

      Poor Rick, your argument has now totally been destroyed. That's okay, I'm sure all the other Mac zealots on ZDNet think you are brilliant. They have very low standards though. :)
      NonZealot
    • Actually, It was a wise move for Microsoft...

      Yeah, I think that was probably a good move for MS. Their "Plays for Sure" strategy was a flop, now they are copying a very sucessfull closed business model in hopes of emulating Apple's Success. All they needed was a really well designed music player and media store.

      Unfortunately, they go and make their usual mistake of producing a "merely good enough" product and then expect to go toe-to-toe with superior competition.
      A decidedly non-sexy player with crippled features and a media store selling media that you can never own with only a fraction of the selection of iTunes is not the way to sway customers.
      That won't work in the consumer electronics market, and I don't think they have figured that out yet.
      Tigertank
  • Zune!

    I think that says it all!
    The brown color is quite appropriate!
    Reverend MacFellow