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November 14, 2006

Zune Goes on Sale Today

Well, Zune is finally here.  The commentary goes back and forth about whether Zune will be the iPod killer or whether Zune will become another also ran.  The likelihood is probably neither.  There's no point in speculating as we get to see it first hand during the coming Christmas shopping season.  Sales are likely to be good if for no other reason for the curiosity factor.  Word of mouth will be big in keeping consumers interested in the product.  Microsoft tends to design decent products even though they tend to lack imagination.  The music and movie playback market tends to require imagination, so they may not get it right the first time out.  Or the second, or....  Again, Zune success is up to the market.

One of the more curious aspects of the Zune system, that is the player and the Zune Marketplace, is that it takes only Microsoft money rather than cash.  One has to buy Microsoft points and use those for purchase.  100 points cost $1.25, and songs go for 79 points, which is about 99 cents.  Commentators question why this system is so complicated simply to purchase songs.  Apple sells tracks after all using the Yankee Dollar, which most people understand without having to use a conversion table.  The answer is probably to keep people tied to the store with an open balance, and probably to confuse people over the real cost of music.  Ooooh, 79 points a song, why that's less than Apple!  Using points also confuses people when the price per song rises to 99 points, which doesn't sound like $1.25 per song.  The music labels probably love that move.

The feature that intrigued me the most was the wireless sharing capability.  Microsoft pushes the social aspect of Zune through the wireless sharing of Zunes within range of each other.  Zunes can share music or pictures, even music without DRM.  The 3 play or 3 day limit still stands as otherwise these become instruments of piracy.  No one wants to see Microsoft prosecuted under the Grokster ruling, no matter how entertaining that prospect may be.  Shared pictures are not limited in view or time.

Here's the rah rah description of how the Zune-loving consumer would use sharing as described on the official Zune web site:

Picture this: You're walking down the street. Or you're in a room with a bunch of friends. Or at a concert. Or at the airport. Or on the bus (you get the picture) and then you whip out your Zune and see all these other Zune devices around that you can choose from. Zap! You’re connected to your best friend and send the new song your band recorded in the garage last weekend. Another friend gets the hilarious podcast your kid brother made at school, plus that song you just downloaded from the Zune Marketplace and can’t get out of your head. And hey, lookee here, your friend wants to send you something that you might like and buy, too.

I wondered how Zune wouldn't be the target of spam bombs or recipients of unwanted adult material in drive-by transfers.  My own personal scenario would be beaming Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music in a 320 bitrate mp3 to everyone in range.  Sorry Lou, but Microsoft thought ahead on this one.  The recipient has to approve the transfer, otherwise, no go.  The transfer will time out if ignored.  A recipient can also block individual Zunes, though Zune owners can change the name of their unit when synced up to the PC software.  I don't know if the block is based on the name or some unique identifier embedded in the player, such as a MAC address.

Again, from the Zune web site:

You can also fly under the radar when you want to as well. All you need to do is turn wireless on and off, or adjust the privacy settings to control whether people can see if you are online or to show your friends what you're listening to. And if you want to keep your Zune private while studying in the library or reading the newspaper at the coffee shop, you can also block Zune devices, in wireless range, from sending you a song. But don’t worry, you can always allow them back.

Still, I wonder if enough malicious behavior on the part of other Zune owners would cause most people to keep their wireless options off unless used deliberately.  I'm not encouraging this behavior, only noting it.  As much as I like Lou Reed, I would really resent someone sending me, say, Fleetwood Mac.

November 14, 2006 | Permalink

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Posted by: Rebekah | Nov 15, 2006 2:13:21 PM

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