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Friday, January 9, 2009

More "2-Cent Suggestions"

Posted by Adam Krebs in "Zune Software" @ 10:30 PM

So I sort of got on a roll with yesterday's device suggestions, and I thought I'd try my hand at picking out some of the small things that bug me in the Zune Software. These should be mostly small fixes, but ones I think would greatly increase my enjoyment with the software.

Sync screen:

  • Separate out things I've chosen to sync with things synced automatically through friends' ZCards, Picks, and Channels.
  • Progress bars. I like progress bars, and I miss them from Windows Media Player 11/Zune v1. They provide a granular view of everything syncing, with options for each track. The Zune 2.0 and 3.0 software feels very spartan in this regard.

Find Album Info and Album Art

  • Simply put, the code for "Find Album Info" should be re-written. It hangs on me 90% of the time, and has only worked a couple times. Even then, it typically doesn't work work on more than one album without restarting the software.
  • The browse for album art dialog always opens in My Pictures (or in Vista, Pictures). Most times when I'm downloading album art from the web, I save it to my desktop. The software should remember my last-used location.
  • Lastly, I wish there was an option to resize the album art. The new "Albums" view of the music field is cool, but really doesn't address the core issue of either hard to see thumbnails or oversized album art. Give us a slider control like in Windows and Windows Media Player.

Now Playing screen:

  • There needs to be an option (a la Windows Media Player and practically any other jukebox software) to interrupt the screen saver when playing a video.
  • Similarly, in most programs, hitting the space bar will pause the currently playing item. In Zune, it repeats the last action performed (e.g. advancing a track, turning on and off shuffle, etc.). This is especially a pain while watching a video, since you have to press the space bar once to bring up the controls, then again to pause it. Make space bar = pause on a high level.
  • I love the album art tiles screen, and so I wish there were more settings. If I could control the idle timeout before going to the tile screen, or disable a mouse interrupt (e.g. have to click the button to leave Now Playing), that would be awesome.

Did I miss anything? Anything you'd like to see changed? Sound off in the comments!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Steve Smith's Zune Wishlist (And Some of Mine)

Posted by Adam Krebs in "Zune Hardware" @ 10:30 PM


The Holiday Season may have passed, but Steve Smith still has a few requests for the Zune Team. Two of his three requests have to do with wirelessly syncing while on a dock, and the other is a request for deeper car integration. I'm with him on these, and the two wireless sync requests could (and should) be included in the next update.

On that note, here are a couple things I've been wishing for in the Zune for a while, most of which could be easily implemented:


  • The number-one feature request I get from iPod-owning friends when they use my Zune is for a "view all tracks by artist" feature. It's annoying to have to look through every album by a particular artist just to see what I've got in my collection.
  • Bring back the Quick List. Playing another song, album, or artist will erase any playlist you've been working on, which is quite annoying.
  • A "remove from now playing" feature would be awesome to have, as would a "remove from list after the song has played" feature.


  • Don't force a restart after quitting out of a personal or community-built game. XNA superhero Michael Klucher has a write-up about why they did it, which basically boils down to securing the code and DRM'd files, but I just don't see why they can't reset the flags without completely rebooting the device. This should definitely be a priority for the XNA team.
  • Not really a game, but a simple RSS reader, synced on-the-go or at sync time would be awesome.


  • Allow videos below a certain size to be shared via wifi. I'd love to be able to beam short YouTube videos or music videos to friends.


  • Add an alarm feature so I can wake to music without having to use a third-party XNA app.

That's what I can think of for now. Do you have any suggestions for the device? Sound off in the comments!

Monday, June 2, 2008

How to "Save" the Zune or: Why Marketers are Idiots

Posted by Adam Krebs in "Zune Talk" @ 08:00 PM


Last100.com recently featured an article on "how to save the Zune" written by the Creative Director of a design firm "that specializes in youth market and interactive media." At first glance, it would appear that the author, Michael Pinto, would have the requisite experience and ideas needed to boost Zune sales, or at least create an interesting read. But as the article progressed, it was clear that Pinto has no concept of the Zune (he's never owned one) or what its marketing team has tried to accomplish (most of his ideas about "the youth" and MP3 players come from an anecdotal trip to K-Mart.)

I don't think it's worth the effort to rebut each of his half-baked ideas (though some of them aren't bad) since anyone with half an brain and a cursory knowledge of the Zune will know this guy is full of it. Instead, I'd like to focus more on the big picture, though I may slip up and name-call a little bit. ;)

Pinto suggests Microsoft become the Pepsi to Apple's Coke, and I think the comparison is reasonable. Much in the same way Pepsi targeted a "niche" audience and expanded their demographic by ostensibly targeting the cool people ("the choice of a new generation!"), Microsoft is aiming for a hipper, younger audience that most people aspire to to become part of. By promoting artists (both musical and visual) that may be lesser-known but popular in their respective areas the consumer will latch on, because after all, no one wants to look dumb. Read more...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

2-Cent Suggestions

Posted by Adam Krebs in "Zune Talk" @ 07:30 PM


While the 2.5 update fixed a number of missing features and introduced several new ones, the Zune team still has a long way to go to make everybody happy (don't they always?). GotZune's Jason Rasmussen posts a nice article highlighting the important features that he'd like to see in upcoming releases. Several of these are no-brainers that the Zune team can and should implement in the next release. Some, like DivX/XviD support would be killer, but I don't see anything happening on this front until Zune Gen3 at the earliest.

Jason talks about the need to further integrate Zune into Windows Media Center and Xbox. At this stage in the game Microsoft has so many services that are not only incompatible, they compete with each other. It's time to bring the Entertainment & Devices division on the same page and build a fully compatible ecosystem. I shouldn't have to deal with several different stores just to get the content I want on the devices I already own. The whole point of inconveniencing Zune owners with the Microsoft Points system was to allow greater interoperability between the systems.

Jason also mentions the need to bring back flagging and a five-star rating system. I don't know about other people, but my main use of the flagging/rating system is to remind me to do certain things. Delete a song, for example was a single star (or now a broken heart); remember to add a certain song to a list, or fix metadata was a flag. The problem with this system arises when I can't distinguish which flags or star/heart ratings mean what. If I can't tell if I don't like a song, just don't want it on my Zune, or want to delete it completely, then the rating system is useless. I hope the Zune team can create an elegant way to flag songs for later use. What I'd like to see is the ability to add songs on-the-fly to playlists or sync groups. For example, I could create a playlist called "songs to delete" or "fix metadata" or "for Julie's wedding", and when I'm listening to my Zune and encounter a song that fits this criteria, I could add it to the playlist. When I sync it back to my computer, my lists are all there, and I can do with them what I want.

This would of course go hand-in-hand with playlist arrangement enhancements such as track re-ordering and a more functional now playing system. Hopefully it won't be November before we see a few of these basic changes.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Zune at the Museum

Posted by Adam Krebs in "Zune Talk" @ 09:30 PM

This past weekend on a visit to a friend in New York, we happened to go to the New Museum, a contemporary art museum on the outskirts of the East Village. One thing I noticed as we walked around looking at art I didn't understand was the number of people with iPod Nanos hanging on lanyards around their necks. Apparently the museum was using the Nanos to distribute their guided audio tours, a practice done at many other museums throughout the world.

This scenario got me thinking: why not put Zune's wireless sharing to good use? Sure sending songs and podcasts are fun amongst friends, but I would've loved to have someone beam me a recording of some deep-voiced academic telling me exactly what the artist was going for when she splattered paint across a canvas or he Googled and collaged hundreds of people sleeping*. Why can't the front desk send me an audio file to let me listen to the tour on a device I already own? Plus, if it's tagged as a podcast, I can send it on to a friend who is either with me or is planning on going to the museum—viral marketing, people!

There are tons of scenarios the wireless sharing enables that fall outside of the typical "hey, listen to this song. You might like it." There's not much technically that needs to be done to really open this up. Much of it comes from just general market adoption.

*Oh, I wish I was joking. The several-feet-by-several-feet piece consisted of assorted photographs the artist found on the internet. The common theme was that each of the subjects were in some state of sleep. You might call it art; I call it Flickr.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

With Great Reviews Come Great Responsibility

Posted by Adam Krebs in "Zune Talk" @ 11:00 AM

There's been a lot going on in Zune-land over the past few days. We've had everything from the launch of the new devices, firmware, software, and accessories, to their respective unboxing, first-looks, and reviews. Sounds pretty much like last year, right? The difference is that this year, the reviews are generally positive, with few gripes that didn't exist a year ago. Maybe it has something to do with the Zune fans.

When Engadget's Ryan Block wrote a somewhat negative "review" of the new Zunes, Zune defenders came out in droves to pen over 120 comments criticizing Ryan's conclusions, website, and even his mother (okay, that last comment was written in jest—mostly.) The biggest reason for complaint, though, and why I placed "review" in quotes just a sentence ago is that he didn't so much detail his experience with the device or software as make a laundry list of reasons why Zune won't beat the iPod. In such reviews comparison to the competition is inevitable, but not at the level that Mr. Block chose.

He quickly wrote a follow-up defending his Zune club-member status, and claiming he'd been a supporter of the Zune initiative since day one (he also pointed to Engadget's iPhone and iPod reviews as evidence that they aren't Mac fanbois, but it was no use). Block's Engadget colleague, Thomas Ricker, tried to validate the arguments vetted in the infamous review by claiming gadget king Walt Mossberg made the same argument—again, no dice. Mocking the Zune's brown color and people like Steven "Microsoft Zune" Smith, Engadget consistently decried the Zune's inferiority and how it would never surpass the iPod. Granted, it wasn't as bad as Gizmodo or ZD-Net's coverage, but they both have since published positive reviews of the Gen2 device. My how times change.

I believe one of the biggest reasons for the shift, besides the actual merit the Zune team itself earned, was due to the Zune's increasing fan base. Tech blogs aren't typically known as bastions of journalistic integrity, and will publish the news its readers want to read more than actually worthy stories. More fans of a brand or device tends to equal more coverage, or at least more favorable coverage. This means that Apple glitz gets pushed to the top while worthy yet less appealing devices and technology are mentioned only in passing. The Zune seems to be heading more towards the Apple direction, with a flashy interface for the device and the software. While certain features are genuinely useful or fun, I question the long-term utility of Cover Flow, for example. The Zune's touchpad, while nice, gets easily confused between a vertical and horizontal swipe, and will often put me on a different twist menu than the one I wanted, with no easily way to get back. And overall, the firmware just feels less optimized (not less polished) than last year's first offering. This is nothing an update can't fix (as we've seen), but it sets a dangerous precedent about whether version 3 of the firmware will be backwards compatible with v2 and v1 hardware. We'll see.

Hopefully Microsoft will see it can't just rest on its laurels and expect people to follow. Apple has been receiving a backlash only recently because they failed to keep up the illusion of perfection. Can Microsoft do better?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Zune Pass: A Sheep In Wolves' Clothing

Posted by Adam Krebs in "Zune Media" @ 01:30 PM


"Here's the hypothesis: once a household has a single Zune with a Zune Pass... it becomes a great motivator for other household members to choose Zune players over any other player. The reasoning, of course, is that by "going Zune", those follow-on household members not only get a great little media player, they get unlimited music to load on that player."

Zune Journey's opening screen (captured by Harvey from Zunerama)

Harvey from Zunerama raises an interesting point. Families that purchase a Zune and a Zune Pass are more likely to be repeat/multiple buyers, simply because of the convenience, the familiar experience, and, oh, the vendor lock-in. Now where have we heard that argument before?

It's really a shame to have to think of it that way, but it's true. Microsoft's announcement that the new Marketplace will up the number of authorized Zunes per Pass from 2 to 3 is undoubtedly a good thing. Families can save money by a) using the subscription and avoiding a la carte services and b) reducing the number of subscription-enabled accounts, but do you really want your dad's bluegrass collection (or your son's latest "Soulja Boy" track) to show up on your perfectly primmed Social page? This'll be especially true when Microsoft follows Napster/Rhapsody in allowing you to access your library from anywhere via the web.

Even when sharing an account, converting your family and friends to the Social is completely in Microsoft's interest. The money they lose through familial account sharing is more than made up through extra device sales and repeat business. One of the key draws of Zune is of course its wireless sharing ability. This feature is completely useless without another Zune owner with whom I can share*, and thus it's in my interest to get my friends to buy Zunes so I can swap songs with them. Also, I'm all but guaranteed to make my next purchase a Zune if the aforesaid conditions are met and I have a significant stake in my Marketplace-acquired content. Sure, tracks downloaded from the Marketplace will work on PlaysForSure devices (at least for now...who knows what DRM the new ecosystem will use), but P4S is a dying breed, and I highly doubt we'll be seeing a surge of new P4S players anytime soon.


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