Okay, the pun was unnecessary (and I’m sure it’s been used elsewhere… although I haven’t seen it yet, I’m *sure* such an obvious pun was already considered.)
So Microsoft finally got on the MP3 bandwagon and threw something at the market. It sure took them long enough – long enough, I think, that Apple’s hold on the market is too strong for them to break. Much as I dislike the practices of Microsoft in general, there’s probably at least a few people on the Redmond campus that are fairly intelligent, and I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t have taken all this into consideration. There must be more to it, then.
Is it up to par? Can it compete (because we know it won’t dominate)? Does it do snazzy things? The answer to most of these is, according to pretty much everyone, “no.” The whole ‘squirting’ thing it supposedly does, the pseudo WiFi functionality, is the only real gimmick it has and that is the sneakiest, smarmiest feature of all. It is the primary reason, I believe, that Microsoft has taken this step into the portable player market, even this late in the game.
Some might argue that it’s not too late in the game (so to speak) for MS to successfully engage itself and scoop up some share of the market. There’s an awful lot of players out there, though, and most of them have *generations* of technical and market research behind them. Even Dell pushed one out, and frankly I don’t believe that there’s a more recognized computer hardware distributor (with the exception of, perhaps, Apple) out there. So Microsoft must have some insidious ulterior motive, right? Of course they do. They *always* do. These are the guys that invented the whole “It’s not a bug, it’s a *feature*” axiom.
The Zune doesn’t do much other players don’t already do, the most significant difference being the limited WiFi functionality (on an aside, I’m really sick of this whole ‘limited-functionality’ business. Bring back fully-functional Bluetooth!). Apparently, it’ll let you ‘squirt’ at other people (what an odd choice of terms), and share data temporarily. For 3 days (or in the case of music, 3 uses), data from a Zune can be stored on a nearby Zune. Pretty cool, huh? Sure. But like TNT, when it’s in the right (or wrong, depending on your standpoint) hands, it can be a tool for pure evil.
What if this is Microsoft maneuvering itself to have a hardware-based advertising delivery vehicle? What’s to prevent kiosks being installed in malls or in front of stores that offer ‘free’ squirts of coupons, literature, or even music, with advertisements piggybacked on them? For the time being, you have to ‘accept’ an incoming connection, but I’m sure that will be circumvented in the future, maybe by ‘authorized’ Zunecasters that don’t require that approval. Maybe information about the Zune user will even be transmitted back. It’s a marketer’s dream – targeted advertising and demographic information to and from people in their very marketplace.
It reminds me of some conversations I’ve had in the past, and bluejacking, which is basically using Bluetooth technology (now ubiquitous in high-end cell phones) to do the same thing. So it’s not so far-fetched an idea. In fact, there’s a whole company dedicated to doing exactly this. The concept doesn’t quite fly in the US due to some FCC regulation (not exactly sure which one it is, but I remember there being some limitation to it being done in the US via Bluetooth)… but that was specifically geared towards ad-delivery. What if that ad is piggybacked on something else, like music? Laws change, though – and they do so often enough that I’m not sure any current regulation would make a difference, at least not in the long term. Microsoft’s lawyers are probably already in the bullpen, warming up those arms, looking for the loophole (if they haven’t already found it.)
Next time you go to Abercrombie, that great music you hear in the background (relatively speaking of course) might be downloadable to your Zune… along with about a million advertisements. How sweet is that? I can already hear the marketing execs sharpening their claws. The rest of us who don’t feel a need to bring Minority Report into reality should probably consider a less invasive alternative. Then again, the pundits are probably right – wireless connectivity such as this will probably become so popular that the next-gen iPod will integrate it, and then it’ll become commonplace in MP3 players… and then… Microsoft will have its endgame.