Some Thoughts On The Zune 2 Preview.

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Paul Turrott has been laying low lately. He says it’s because he’s been working hard on his Microsoft Propaganda SuperSite blog, but I tend to think he was also ramping up for some serious Zune humping. He did not disappoint.

He posted a Zune 2 Preview on his SuperSite for Windows, or maybe it’s Windows IT Pro, or WinInfo Daily News, or one of his other clearly non-biased (ahem) Microsoft sites. Let’s take a look.

In referring to the first Zune, he says:

“As I noted in my Zune review, however, the device isn’t a total dud. It featured a bigger screen than the iPod of the day, had a more grippable and attractive exterior, complete with a cool “double shot” dual color effect.”

The Zune was butt-ugly and everyone knows it, especially in brown. It was huge and boxy, and no amount of “gripability” (hey, I like that word!) is going to fix that. Why try to suggest otherwise?

“Depending on how you look at it, the Zune’s first year was either an epic disaster or a decent first step into the market. “

No, depending on whether you’re a Microsoft zealot (or Apple-basher) it was either a first year disaster or a decent first step.

“Compared to the iPod, the Zune didn’t exactly fare very well; Microsoft sold about one million Zune devices in its first 8 months of availability.”

It’s 1.2 million in nearly a year, Paul. I’m still trying to understand why you can count Apple’s numbers to several decimal places but can’t seem to grasp Microsoft’s weak sales.

“Of course, Microsoft prefers to compare Zune sales to the single iPod model that it technically competes most closely with, which was a 30 GB iPod for much of that first year.”

I suppose Paul lets Microsoft make this comparison because they say they can. But don’t ask him to compare Apple’s Macintosh only to machines that it technically competes most closely with, I guess that wouldn’t be fair.

“And according to the marketing mavens at NPD, Zune was consistently the number two selling MP3 player in the market for hard drive-based devices that cost $250 and less.”

Microsoft is slipping; if they add the color brown as a requirement they were #1.

“Just by entering the market, Microsoft was able to jump ahead of products from Creative, Samsung, iRiver, and others, and do so with its very first device.”

Paul conveniently neglects to mention that those other players were using PlaysForSure, which Microsoft abandoned when the Zune was released. Gee, do you think having the technology abandoned by its maker had something to do with people maybe not being too sure about going that route? Even if Paul couldn’t figure it out, Microsoft certainly could. They crippled their so-called partners with one stroke.

“…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).”

Translation: Microsoft threw out the junk they slapped together for the Apple-bashers to buy, and are now going to offer something they hope looks like maybe a small amount of effort was involved.

“In what I consider to be a classy move, Microsoft is imbuing each Zune device with exactly the same features. (And yes, this includes the original Zune 30, which will require a software update.) Think about that for a second: When it comes to purchasing a Zune, you will only have to factor in size and pricing, unlike Apple’s complicated iPod line…”

You owe me a new keyboard Paul. I spewed coffee over it reading that paragraph. Wow. Microsoft took the cheap way out and wouldn’t even slap a 30 GB drive in the new 80 housing. That’s not a feature, that’s designing on a shoestring. Further, look at the picture at the top of this article and tell me which one is the 30GB. Yes, the small HDD model is actually the huge one in the back. How stupid is that? This has nothing to do with being “classy”, MS took this route no doubt because they have plenty of 30GB inventory left to sell.

If it makes you feel better, a fellow Microsoft fan, Mary Jo Foley, thinks that upgrading the old crappy model also shows just how swell Microsoft is compared to Apple. She goes so far as to state this could be all about Microsoft’s great customer service. Tell me, does Microsoft require their shills to proofread their own stuff? I’d get nausea if I had to see that kind of writing with my name on it.

As for the iPod line being complicated, how delusional do you have to be to say that Apple’s iPod line is somehow complex, but Zune’s is somehow simple and easy? If you really believe this way, why not give Apple’s Macs kudos for only having a few models over the hundreds of PC models available?

“Each device will include a brand new user interface that Reindorp says is “more 2D” than what’s out in the market at the moment.”

Translation: Much like the old hardware, the old software was junk so we trashed it.

“The two new device form factors (Zune 4/8 and 80) were designed from the ground up by the Zune team’s industrial design group.”

They spent a lot of time hunched over photos of the iPod nano. Too bad Apple’s already moved beyond that. Microsoft didn’t get it right anyway; started from the ground up and are still over 20% thicker than the nano. Worse battery life, too.

“All Zunes will now support wireless synchronization as well.”

All you have to do is plug it into something wired and it will synch wirelessly. No, no, no, don’t think about that, let’s move on quickly…

“The Zune software, which I believe is simply called Zune, has been completely rewritten from scratch,”

Did we mention that our 1G Zune was a piece of crap in every way, shape, or form? Just like the hardware and its software, we had to trash the PC client as well. Still, you gotta admit we managed to get over a million Microsoft zealots and anti-Apple zombies to foot the bill while we tried to design something that at least looks like it’s only bad instead of intolerable.

“If you have a red Zune 8, for example, the software will display an icon that is visually identifiable as that exact device.”

Just like an iPod in iTunes, but of course when Microsoft does it it’s innovation.

“As with the PC-based software, the Zune Marketplace–Microsoft’s online content service–has also been redesigned and is no longer using the awful URGE front end from the first time around.”

Sorry, 1G Zune users, everything you defended the last year was pure unadulterated crap. We knew it when we foisted it on you and are changing it all now. But don’t feel bad, you’ll get the new software and syncing for your Boat Anchor 30. Heck, until we clear out the inventory we’re even putting the BA 30 into a new Zune box at $199, so you’ll have some company soon.

“The company is going to launch with one million DRM-free MP3 tracks. But these aren’t just MP3 songs, they’re “pure MP3s,” devoid of any watermarking or tracking technology. Reindorp tells me that the company “absolutely refused” to go in that direction, or settle on non-standard audio technology. So the Zune’s DRM-free tracks will be pure MP3. Halleluiah.”

Microsoft has provided no details about these tracks. No watermarking means they won’t know where they were sold. The labels want to know this — Apple and Amazon both use this at the labels behest. Maybe Microsoft’s MP3s are indie tracks that may not care about market stats, or maybe Universal figures that since MS is bribing them with a buck a unit they won’t mess with a watermark.

In any case the watermark is harmless, and for MS to say they “absolutely refused” to go in that direction is utter bullshit! They paid Universal’s extortion fee, their DRM is the worst in the industry, Vista is clogged with DRM from front to back, and they still cling to a subscription model. They will go in whatever DRM direction the labels tell them, Paul, and you know it. Why don’t you ever call them on this stuff? Oh, that’s right, because you’re a shill.

And stop calling the AAC standard (which is MP4) a non-standard. I realize as a Microsoft fan you have little use for, or exposure to, standards, but your disingenuous BS about AAC is getting old. It’s every bit the standard MP3 is, and improves upon it. Maybe as a worshiper in the church of Redmond newfangled technologies scare you? Does it concern you how foolish you look doing a “Halleluiah” for DRM-free MP3s that most of us have been using since 1998? Microsoft, like Apple, should be bringing something better to market, but as usual they choose to hold technology back.

“In addition to the Zune software and Zune Marketplace, Microsoft is also launching a new community Web site called the Zune Social”

I puked when I read about this, so my readers will have to get details on it themselves.

“In another dig at Apple and its consumer-unfriendly policies, Microsoft is doing something a bit different with accessories. That is, it’s not automatically obsoleting old devices or accessories just because something new is out now.”

Another big fat lie. The iPod has used the same 30-pin dock connector since April, 2003. Some devices didn’t work initially with the iPhone but Apple fixed it in firmware. Further, the universal dock just needs an adaptor (included) with new models. Yes, the A/V cable has changed with this new release, but that’s primarily because the new iPods output both composite and component video. That’s an improvement. Do the Zunes output video at all?

“Microsoft plans to launch the new Zune devices, Zune software, Zune Social and Zune Cards, and the new Zune Marketplace in mid-November.”

As usual, no date is specified. Maybe they’ll be on time, maybe they won’t. This is, after all, Microsoft.

In sum, Paul is back in a big way. I knew it was too good to last. Meanwhile, I have a new slogan for the Zune team — Microsoft: Building yesterday’s iPod tomorrow. What do you think?

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