Looking forward to… the Zune Fall ’08 update!

This coming Tuesday, September 16th, is notable for a couple of reasons: First of all, it’s my birthday (wha?  24-years-old again??), and secondly, it is the launch date for the Zune 3.0 “Fall Refresh”.  Rather than re-invent the wheel, here’s a link to a good write-up from the Zune Insider site.

It’s interesting because the upcoming Zune hardware is more-or-less indistinguishable from the previous generation.  One of the flash-based Zunes is releasing in blue, and the 80gig Zune is being followed up with a 120gig model.  Microsoft is really a “software” company, though, and that’s where the changes are really being made here.

WHAT I LIKE

For starters, the upcoming firmware “refresh” is available to all previous Zunes — even the original launch 30gig Zunes!  Let me tell you how awesome that is.  Most “previous gen” media devices are left in the dust when the next version comes out, but the Zune team has done a remarkable job of keeping everyone on the same page.  It’s really pretty cool, and a model that others should follow, in my opinion.

Secondly, the 3.0 firmware brings a strong focus on “community” — both on the devices themselves, and in the desktop software.  The initial Zune mantra was ‘Welcome to the Social’, and that appears to really be happening, though a bit later than intended.  Although Microsoft was clearly aiming at the share-your-songs-over-wireless angle from the get go, that has had a lot of water doused upon it as the Zunes aren’t nearly as prevalent as some other players out there.  It’s really a chicken-and-the-egg conundrum.  That said, the wireless song sharing is really great, and I enjoy using that with other Zune owners that I know.  In fact, I’ve been frustrated at times when a friend of mine will have a song I like on their iPod, but I can’t get it from them in any way.  Not the end of the world, of course, but I like having the ability to swap songs with fellow Zune-ers…. and I *actually* do know quite a few of them, believe it or not!

The new refresh allows for subscribing to “Channels”, which is pretty cool.  Think of them as dynamic, third party playlists that you subscribe to.  You can also “tag” songs for download while listening to the FM radio on your Zune.  I listen to the radio more these days than I used to, so that might come in pretty handy from time to time!

Thirdly, the Zune is set to finally feature some games.  At launch time, the Zune Marketplace will have ‘Hexic’ and ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ for free, with more to follow, I’m sure.  Not enough to turn the tide, I’m sure, but nice nonetheless.

Check out these great videos from the Zune team!

WHAT I’M NOT SURE ABOUT

A bit of the new Zune functionality relies upon wi-fi connections, which are nice and fast, of course, but somewhat less handy than a 3G or GPRS network.  I typically don’t have wi-fi in my car, for instance, or out at the park, and thus I cannot access some of the “community” features that I might like to have.

Although the fact that the newest Zune firmware will function on all previous models, it would’ve been nice to see some additional hardware updates: touchscreen, improved battery life, etc..  Perhaps next time?

MOVING ALONG

The Zune “Fall Refresh” is a nice, evolutionary step forward for this platform.  Clearly the Zune team has some vision here, and it very much revolves around “music enthusiasts” and a that community.  It’s a different approach, to be perfectly honest, and is somewhat of a gamble, as so much focus has been placed upon discovering new music, sharing your preferences, and actually having an audience that cares.

All of these features are playing to a particular Zune strength, however, and that is the Zune Pass.  Sharing music, tagging songs from FM, and so forth all work just fine with the pay-as-you-go method, but they are really inviting when you subscribe to the Zune Marketplace via the Zune Pass.  For $14.99/month, you have access to all of the music that Zune has to offer, and there is a lot to be had.

This is a first for me, but I believe that I will be moving that direction.  In our home, we are already big proponents of the “streamable movie”, with very little care that we don’t ‘own’ them like the days of yor.  You can thank Netflix for that transition.  It’s really only natural that I would consider going the same route with my music.  Why?  Because there is a LOT of great music out there, and I’d love to have access to it.  I don’t ‘own’ the music, of course — I’m really just ‘leasing’ it, but I’m not sure that it’s that big of a deal for me any longer.  I am buying musically digitally more and more, and the physical CDs that I purchase get ripped to my collection, and then put away — sometimes for good.  For the cost of about 1 CD/month, I can download 20 albums/day, if I want to.  That’s pretty awesome.  If I stop paying for my Zune Pass, of course, then that music is “locked” and I can’t play it any longer.  That said, I can always use another service *or* purchase those albums that I just have to have.  I’m thinking that “renting” your music is the way things are going, though.

Lastly, the Zune Pass is a trick that Apple doesn’t have yet.  I want to support it if only to stick-it-to-Steve-Jobs.

</bitterness>

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3 Responses to “Looking forward to… the Zune Fall ’08 update!”


  1. 1 Marcus Taylor September 10, 2008 at 7:39 am

    I’d probably have a Zune if not for a few reasons:

    #1. I’m a Mac user, and therefore, I’d probably have to jump through a fair amount of hoops in order to get everything in order so that I can actually use my Zune.

    #2. My sister has a friend whose husband works for a tech company who gives out bonuses in the form of iTunes money. As you might imagine, this friend of my sister’s already has thousands of dollars worth of iTunes money in her possession, so she passes the codes along to my sister. My sister, as you might imagine, is pretty full up on iTunes money as well by now. Therefore, it gets funneled down to me. I usually take a little for myself and then pass the rest along to fellow iTunes user friends of mine.

    Hence, Zune Pass is rendered down to “meh” status for me, especially since at no time will my songs get locked. Sure, if I share any purchased music that I got from the iTunes store with more than 5 computers (which I’ve had no reason to), then that’s it, but that hasn’t been a problem for me personally.

    #3. I already bought a classic 80 GB iPod, and it’d be more trouble than it is worth to get my money back on that one. I’m happy with my iPod anyway, it does exactly as I want it to.

    #4. I only have one friend with a Zune, and I don’t see her often, so the music sharing thing would not be a reason I’d buy it. Even then, we really don’t have much of the same taste in music. She likes J-pop, I like good music, so yeah… it wouldn’t work.

    Speaking of radio, have you ever been to Pandora.com?

  2. 2 yipcanjo September 10, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Geez, man…. if I had a new(ish) iPod and essentially free iTunes dollars, I’d probably use one too! Clearly, no one can compete with that. 🙂

    Strangely enough, though, there is a small fan-base of Mac-users-with-Zunes, and they typically just boot into Windows via BootCamp, or use their work PCs, if applicable. Not sure if Microsoft will release a Mac compatible version of the Zune software. Seems unlikely, but you never know. Why these Mac users prefer the Zune, I don’t know. Comparing the Zune to iPod classics, though, appears to be firmly in the favor of Zune. Bigger screen, FM radio, sharing, and a nice UI — which is something that many competitors to the iPod can’t seem to get right. The iPod touch is a different beast, of course, and is hard (for me) to stomach at the price its offered at.

    The Zune Pass conversation is a tricky one. I’ve been a long-time “have to own my music” kinda guy, but I’m wavering on that. Not so much because Zune offers a subscription-based service, but rather because it is a very inexpensive way to amass a huge collection of music, discover new bands, and even re-collect past albums that (perhaps) you have on cassette or LP. Without a doubt, I mull over the possibility of failing to renew my subscription, and thus losing access to those tunes. At $14.99/month, though, it’s a reasonable amount to pay for so much music. Yahoo and Rhapsody have offered similar subscription services.

    On the “locked” music comment, well… I don’t know if you can entirely argue that your iTunes music is your own. What if you *did* buy a Zune (or any other player) and desire to bring that music over? Guess what, you can’t unless you go through the hoops of burning those albums to CD and re-ripping them. A turn off to many folks. “Locking” users into their DRM-enabled iTunes songs was probably a genius move on the part of Apple — if just for that reason alone — but it’s unfortunate to have music locked to a particular service or provider. In the case of the Zune Pass (or similar services) you are clearly “renting” the music, so thoughts that you ‘own it’ are right out the window. In my case, however, I have NEVER, EVER purchased DRM-enabled music. I’ve purchased DRM-free albums from Zune, Amazon and Rhapdsody MP3, and all of those are mine to move about as I please. No locking whatsoever.

    I have checked out Pandora. Pretty cool, and I like this direction that many companies are taking to bring “community” to the music scene. I hope it continues.

  3. 3 Marcus Taylor September 11, 2008 at 6:22 am

    It is true that it’s a pain about the DRM-enabled music, but despite that, my iPod works for me personally. I mean, when you buy something like this, you have to think about your own circumstances and weigh the features/price/whathaveyou against that.

    For example, the reason why I go with iPod is….

    I’m a Mac user, I use iTunes, I get free iTunes cash from my sister occasionally.

    I really don’t feel like having to download this or that program in order for my MP3 player to work on my computer.

    I know there are some MP3 players that can work with iTunes, but nothing I’m terribly interested in.

    I’m not interested in radio.

    I only know one person with a Zune and our tastes in music aren’t quite the same.

    A bigger screen would be nice but considering that I don’t watch video much even on what I’ve got now, a bigger screen wouldn’t make much difference to me.

    Wifi’s nice, and that’s one thing I wish the iPod had, but I’m in no position to where having access to the internet at all times (or at least when I’m actually near a Wi-Fi hotspot) is terribly important, so I can do without.

    Finally, I’m sure the UI isn’t the best ever on the iPod classic, but I’m having no problems with it at all since I’m so used to it (having owned a rinky-dink 2GB 1st Gen Nano for 3 years).

    The Zune is awesome, I’ll be clear on that, but it wouldn’t work for me as well as what I’ve got.


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