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Small steps towards an imaginary Zune 2.0

Here’s a question: is ‘zune’ – as in the Microsoft Zune – pronounced, in the UK, zoon (as in the US ‘tune’) or zyoon (as in the UK ‘tune’)?

I was thinking today that the ideas behind Web 2.0 are equally applicable to consumer electronics, and it got me wondering: by taking the ideas of Generation C and products, what simple changes would I make to the Zune portable mp3 player?

I’d break it down into the basic Gen C expectations of community, connected devices, and co-creation.

Community. What if the Zune synchronised with a desktop application like iTunes crossed with Flickr crossed with mix tapes? It’d take the best of the Web’s curatorial culture and let people create, share and gift playlists, with facilities for illustration and story-telling (actually, Amazon Listmania goes some way in this direction for books). This would be an application focused on the social cradle-to-grave experience hooks of music, rather than just the momentary commercial transaction like the iTunes Music Store.

Connected. The Zune should include an open, documented hardware API–a couple of copper contacts that act as the transmit/receive of a serial connection, sending out events and exposing a control interface to the player. What would it be used for? Who knows… but personally I’d spend a weekend building a cradle that, whenever the Zune was dropped into it, would immediately begin playing shuffled music and projecting the title on the ceiling. Simple and the kind of thing I’d use daily, but not the kind of thing anyone would bother mass producing. The secondary market around the iPod dock connector is a big part of its popularity, and this is a way Microsoft could challenge that with a much larger, grass roots amateur developer community.

Co-creative. Owners should be involved in the form design of their Zune. While Apple keep development around the dock connector closed, they’re open with the precise proportions of each iPod. This is incredibly useful. In the development of our Metal Phone project, we had to build a 3d model of the internals of the Nokia 5140i (requiring digital callipers and much time) in order to create the casting mold for it. A provided 3d file would have been much appreciated. With the Zune, Microsoft should go one step further: the plastic shells should be interchangeable, with press studs underneath so as to accept covers made from materials like Tyvek and fabric too.

These are first steps–minimal interventions in the functionality, ports and industrial design to make a Generation C product. I just wanted to see what I could come up with, if I was challenged to think of limited changes using this particular approach.

The reason I was thinking about this was because I went to an event this morning at the Microsoft London offices (titled The Online Opportunity – What Makes a Successful Web 2.0 Start-Up?) and it didn’t feel appropriate to ask the question I’d been planning to, about whether Microsoft saw consumer electronics evolving in a similar way as the Web, and what they’d be doing to support it.

As it turned out, the event was aimed at start-ups much larger and more developed than what I regularly consider to be start-ups, and I didn’t find it addressed the ideas of Web 2.0 at all. But Steve Ballmer – their CEO – spoke, and it was a privilege to see him in action– he’s a smart, highly informed and witty speaker. I have no great love or dislike for Microsoft, but much respect for Ballmer based on today. He handled an open Q&A with grace and aplomb, and made impeccable use of framing in language (he repeatedly used words like ‘instance’ and ‘inherit’ that come from an object oriented programming world, making business strategy easily understandable by developers). It was great to listen and learn.

Jeremy Keith has a comprehensive write-up (including my idea for umbrellas with tanning lamps in them). And thank you Ryan Carson for the kind invitation to attend.

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2 Comments and Trackbacks

  • 1. Michal Migurski said on 1 October 2007...

    Isn’t this exactly what they tried, though? Squirting songs, wi-fi, “welcome to the social”. I don’t think it’s the case that they didn’t have these ideas, but that they lack political will, moral and organizational authority to ram concepts through without dilution in DRM and content cartel appeasement. A lot of Apple’s success from the iPod seems to originate in a sense that they don’t have much to lose, and a world to gain, so … fuckit. =)

  • 2. Matt said on 2 October 2007...

    Weirdly, it feels to me that the difference with the iPod and the Zune is that the iPod has always been relatively unambitious. Features depend on one technological change at a time, and so are lower risk and opportunistic. And by ‘low risk’ I mean in the interface sense: the qualities of technology leak through into the user experience, and unless you’ve tested those technologies, it’s hard to predict how the qualities will manifest. Case in point: song squirting. Great idea, but the qualities of DRM and local wifi (it should have been non-geographic given the low Zune population density, and the battery cost of continually scanning for another Zune) leak through. And given DRM and the way wifi works is fixed, squirting is no longer a great idea.

    The constraint I like to play with is this: what are the smallest, most opportunistic changes that have the biggest ROI? By opportunistic, I mean they make use of existing technology, or new, well-understood technology, and that the organisational complexity required is low because the changes can be implemented by single teams.

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