I don't own a Zune, but I've walked by one a few times in Target and Best Buy and tried it out. It's always sitting there in a sad little end-cap display, usually completely ignored or worse, actively vandalized and the store's management never seem to care. But if you try the gadget, it's actually not bad. From a technical standpoint and usability, it's actually almost kind of nice. I have no idea how well it syncs, how much the songs cost, or how long the battery life is, but just trying it out in the store would almost make me want one. I know from using Windows Media 11 (a long time ago, before I moved to Ubuntu) that it wasn't a bad music manager either. I like it better than iTunes, actually. Honestly, the Zune seems to have a lot of technical things going for it... It's just too bad it was designed and marketed by a bunch of complete monkeys.
I was reminded of this today seeing something about a blue Zune being launched at Target sometime soon. Are they serious? Apple just refreshed their entire line of products, and yet the Zune looks exactly the same as it did on day one. This would be pretty bad in general (not keeping up with competitor changes), but for the Zune in particular, it's unforgivable.
If you've ever tried a Zune, what's the the first thing you noticed (beyond the default baby-puke color scheme)? I bet it was how bad the round control-pad on the front is to touch. It's not a nice touch pad like on an iPod, it's not even a spinnable wheel - it's just a cheezy, cheap plastic click button cover. Whoever made the final decision on that design should really be fired, driven from their homes, all their gadgets smashed in front of them and banned from ever working in the consumer electronics industry ever again. Why in the world would you want the first thing that potential iPod converts to notice is that you're using a piece of cheapo plastic in place of their beloved click wheel? Do the people at Microsoft live in such a vacuum that they don't have any iPods to compare it to? Did they do *any* market testing? Not only did I notice this right off the bat, I've watched others have the exact same sensation: "Oh, wow. This thing sucks! Look it's just plastic!"
But yet instead of fixing this basic flaw, which has to be the first thing anyone notices about the thing, Microsoft is adding colors and creating special edition Halo Zunes. Wow. No bigger drives, no thinning, no better controls, just some new colors. Do these people have *any* idea who their market is? Or maybe I don't, and the teenage gamer geek is a hot music market? No idea. Have they given up all together? How can they have gone this long and not fixed such a basic flaw in the device? It's maddening to witness... like watching someone pulling on a push door. You want to go over and slap them across the skull and show them how stupid they're being.
I bet that the Zune wouldn't be nearly as much of a joke if MS had simply added even the slightest bit of industrial design to the controls, or gone the other way and simply put a jog wheel on the side or just used a joypad like everyone else. A nice elegant black or silver Zune, with simple controls that don't give a user the feeling they're using something cheap as hell might have actually been something worth buying and giving Apple some much-needed competition in this area. But nope - they continue to churn out bad versions of an already bad product, with no change in sight. Insane.
Microsoft shouldn't feel too badly, though, Sony created the original Walkman and owns their own damn music publisher and they still can't compete with Apple in this market. But the Zune is sort of a high water mark of moronic corporate drones trying to design by committee to compete with innovation - it just doesn't work.