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Exit ArchiveArchive for November 14th, 2006

The Zune. In Brown.

If you so desired, you could go buy a Zune today. Why? Well, if you’re an anti-iPod person, for one, or if you think Microsoft is da bomb, for another. Maybe if you’re a glutton for punishment. But if you think Microsoft is da bomb, you are, then, by definition, a glutton for punishment. Or maybe you had a bad experience with service at an Apple Store and somehow think Microsoft would provide better service for their more-likely-to-fail product.

So far, it seems the Zune is mostly not such a great device. Well, I take that back: the device is okay, but the software is not. How unlike Microsoft! Engadget, which is a pretty impartial site, says installing the Zune sucked. They weren’t the only ones.

In watching the videos and looking at all the still shots of the Zune in action, I have come to the conclusion that Microsoft has, once again, overdone things. Walt Mossberg liked the interface and said that there are a few cases where the Zune was easier to use than an iPod. But when you actually listen to how many menus and clicks it takes to get to some of the features on the Zune, it’s a tangled mess. The Zune is another product designed for people who get and enjoy using technology instead of for just people.

The more aggravating thing might be the over-use of transparency in the UI. On the iPod, nothing gets in the way of the information on the screen. But on a Zune, the text is displayed over wallpaper. The wallpaper can be the current album art, or your own pictures… but the text, regardless, is not exactly going to be easy to read in some of those situations. If you’re trying to navigate the Zune while you’re driving, say—yes, a very bad idea, but there you go—it’s going to be impossible over some wallpapers to quickly and efficiently see the text. I do not know if there is an easy way to tell the Zune to just print text over a solid background, but no one’s going to bother doing that.

The Zune software UI on Windows suffers from the same problem. It sure looks very sleek and stylish to have all that text and all those dialogue boxes over professionally-captured images of professional models having professional fake fun, but for an actual UI, where you need to interact with the computer, it’s not such a great idea. For a print ad or television commercial or something, sure, do anything you want. But for a UI, it’s simply poor design. Windows Vista, which starts shipping in January, is filled with hard-to-see interface elements, thanks to the overuse of transparency.

The Zune, of course, has an uphill battle, but we’ll see what happens. I won’t mention that the “click wheel” on the front is not a wheel at all, just a round navigational-type button ring. I also won’t mention that though the Zune has a bigger screen, it’s the same resolution as the 5th gen iPod. Nor will I mention the Zune store uses points, not dollars, so though songs seem to be 79¢, they are really 79 points, which comes out to about 99¢. And you have to buy the points in blocks. You can’t just buy one song.

There are a lot of other things I won’t mention.

Well, good luck to the Zune. May its presence in the market spur Apple to even greater heights with the iPod.

UPDATE: Here’s a funny vid from CNN where two co-anchors keep ruining the Zune’s moment in the spotlight. Andrew Ross Sorkin from The New York Times is presenting the Zune and all the CNN peeps can do is make disparaging comments. The one lady even pulls out her new iPod Shuffle, and a few moments are spend gawking at the gorgeous gee-gaw. Says the other anchor about the Zune: “Why don’t they get some decent design people to make things look better? You know, I mean… It’s clunky. It’s clunky stuff.” “No comment,” says Andrew.

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