Thursday, October 4, 2007

Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows: Zune 2 Preview

There's an excellent preview on the new Zune releases at Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows :

Looking back over the past year, I fault Microsoft for two things. First, the company completely blew its chance for a big entry into the market, and there's no way to undo that now. Second, after promising to move quickly on new features (podcasting support anyone?), Microsoft instead let the Zune sit and simmer all year. Sure, we got new colors over time, augmenting the white, black, and weird brown Zune 30s that debuted back in November 2006. But the software never really improved, and thus the Zune owner's experience never really improved either. Now, a year later, I can tell you that this happened so Microsoft could focus on the announcements discussed here. But it was a tough time to be a Zune owner. Hopefully, news of what's coming this year will perk things up a bit.

That's because Microsoft is getting ready to launch its second generation Zunes. There are new devices, new capabilities (all of which, yes, will be ported back to the original device), new PC software, a completely redesigned Zune Marketplace, a completely new Zune community service, and even new accessories (that, yes, will also work with older Zunes). The one promise that Microsoft made early on, and appears to be making good on now, is that they are not abandoning this market. They are in it for the long haul. And while Zune 2.0, as I think of it, is obviously not good enough to suddenly push Microsoft's device beyond the iPod, it may just be good enough to help it snag some market share and move things forward. You never know.

This new device actually looks really interesting to me - it'll still take a long time to catch up to the iPod (or realistically, it probably never will), but what this device may do best is force Apple to continue to innovate. The iPhone and iPod Touch devices are along the right ideas, but they're both a bit half-baked (forgive me, I know they're a first-gen product, but usually Apple does better, even with first-gen devices. Microsoft, on the other hand, historically does a terrible job on first-gen devices [read: the first generation of Zune]). This new Zune seems to have worked out a lot of the kinks from the first generation however (if it performs as well as the early reviewers say), so hopefully Apple will just start to feel a nagging alligator behind them, pushing them on.

It's not dissimilar to what Apple does to Microsoft in the OS area - Microsoft has a HUGE lead on market share compared to Apple, but Apple does a lot of things very well, forcing Microsoft to keep up and keep innovating. What happens when there's a lack of this motivation from another company? Products stagnate. For proof, look no further than Internet Explorer 6 post-Netscape (for what, 6 years?)

But back to the Zune, I've got to say...pushing the new features to the old generation? Genius. That's the right way to do it. I'll be interested to see how these new devices fare, and hoping that Apple will take a cue from some of the new Zune's features. (And maybe match offering 'pure MP3's? Well, we can dream).