It wasn’t actual accessible to get my easily on a Zune. Afterwards Microsoft’s long-pitied music amateur won Slate’s Reader Takeover poll—in which I’d promised to amend an disregarded technology of yore—I had to clutter to get authority of a accessory I hadn’t acclimated aback at atomic 2008. My bounded Craigslist listings overflowed with iPods of every variety, but there were alone a brace Zunes for sale, and they were the earliest, least-memorable versions of the device. I was attractive for a later-model Zune—specifically, the 2009-era touch-screen Zune HD. This was the best Zune Microsoft anytime made, admitting you ability accede that anathema with aside praise.
And so my adventure continued. Back I asked my followers on Twitter if anyone could accommodation me a Zune HD, I was greeted with mockery. (“You can absolutely get Spin Doctors on iTunes now, you know,” Tyler Gray noted.) The one guy who accepted to owning a Zune afterwards emailed to say he was mistaken: “I aloof asked my wife and it turns out she got rid of it.”
That’s appealing abundant what happened to the Zune at Microsoft, too. The aggregation launched the accessory with abundant alarum in 2006. But the Zune never got accomplished the distinct digits in bazaar share. (The iPod, meanwhile, still accounts for three-quarters of music-player sales worldwide.) By the summer of 2009, aloof afore Microsoft put out the Zune HD, the accessory accounted for just 2 percent of the music-player market. The HD garnered acceptable reviews, but it was still a Zune, and it didn’t sell. Microsoft appear a hardly upgraded adaptation in 2010, and in 2011, the company announced that it would stop authoritative all Zunes. Zo long, baby friend—we hardly knew ze.
I assuredly tracked bottomward a acclimated Zune on Amazon, advantageous $145 for the 16GB Zune HD with one-day shipping—not a huge aggregate beneath than the $220 it awash for new. But it accustomed quickly, and I’ve had abundant time with the accessory to draw two abstracts about the Zune. First, it didn’t abort because it was a abhorrent product. The HD, at least, is a altogether accomplished device, in some means a abundant one. If you purchased one over the iPod Touch aback in 2009, you wouldn’t accept regretted it.
Second, the Zune wasn’t as complete a abortion as you may believe. The word Zune has become alike with accumulated humiliation, and accustomed how awfully it sold, that’s apparently justified. It’s the tech industry’s Edsel. But what abounding bodies don’t apperceive is that Zune sparked much-needed reforms at Microsoft. Along with the Xbox, the Zune activity apparent one of the company’s aboriginal attempts to actualize avant-garde accouterments and software, not aloof actuality that looked like it had been ripped off from Apple.
In that sense, the Zune’s spirit lives on. This week, Microsoft is absolution Windows 8 and the Surface tablet, two technologies that it hopes will accord it a ballast in the adaptable market. These are huge initiatives for the firm. Apple’s iPad is aggressive to concealment sales of Windows PCs, which annual for the aggregate of Microsoft’s revenue, and these accessories represent Microsoft’s best attempt at slowing Apple’s rise. It’s noteworthy, then, that some of Windows 8’s key innovations were aboriginal developed for the Zune. Indeed, to the scattering of bodies who acclimated the Zune HD, Windows 8 and the Surface won’t attending all that different. And if Microsoft’s Windows 8 action works, it will owe a debt to its maligned music player.
I knew that to be the case the moment I absurd accessible the box of my new (old) Zune: Like the Surface, the Zune HD is actual handsome. I use that adjective deliberately. Whereas Apple’s iPod Touch band has continued had a curvy, cutesy appeal, the Zune HD’s artful is added masculine, with bluff angles, beneath curves, and a flat, utilitarian, brushed-metal aback console that’s affianced on with four arresting screws. The architecture isn’t necessarily bigger than the iPod’s, but it isn’t agnate to the iPod’s either. The Zune HD (unlike the first-generation Zune) is Microsoft’s own booty on a music player, a architecture that’s both anxious and original.
The boldness extends above the Zune HD’s skin. Turn on the accessory and you’re presented with a bright, beautiful, text-only home screen. This is angrily original: Whereas the iPhone and iPod Touch’s capital interface appearance a accumulating of illustrated icons, Zune’s architecture guidelines approved to beginning typography. Microsoft accountant a brilliant, minimalist chantry alleged Segoe for the Zune, and the accessory renders its capital functions in large, lowercase type. Tap on anniversary card item—music, videos, etc.—and you dive into the action with a quick, activated zoom. A text-only card arrangement sounds like it ability be boring, but the typography is so pretty, and the software lets you cross so quickly, that I begin it every bit as anatomic as the iPod Touch’s interface.
Microsoft acutely admired it, too. Back the company’s designers began to assignment on Windows Phone, the adaptable operating arrangement that it appear in 2010, they fabricated the Zune HD’s argument aeronautics arrangement the centerpiece of the OS. (They additionally added large, bright “live tiles” to the phone’s home screen. They’re like the iPhone’s icons, but they can affectation a augment of consistently updated, advantageous advice in the capital menu.) Indeed, the Zune’s interface forms the courage of what’s now alleged the “Windows 8 user interface”—the architecture artful that Microsoft uses in Windows 8, Windows Phone, the Xbox, and all of its Web services. The aggregation uses the Segoe chantry in all these products, as able-bodied as in its new accumulated logo.
At this point you ability be analytic my advocate take. If the Zune HD was so good—if it looked and formed aloof as able-bodied as an iPod, and if Microsoft itself admired the accessory so abundant that it broiled its software into its best important products—why did it fail?
As I acclimated the Zune, the acknowledgment bound became obvious. Microsoft’s amateur is aloof as acceptable as an iPod—it performed all of that device’s capital functions appealing well. But there’s no way in which it’s bigger than an iPod. And that’s why it was doomed.
The aboriginal Zune was appear in 2006, bristles years afterwards the iPod’s release. The Zune HD came out in 2009, two years afterwards the iPod Touch went on sale. By that point, iPod had become the world’s de facto agenda ball device. To exhausted it, Microsoft bare to action article that would accomplish Apple’s accessory attending pitifully old-fashioned. The Zune HD didn’t do that. Its architecture apparent it as actuality altered from an iPod, but that was appealing abundant the alone difference. There was no acumen to buy the Zune unless you capital to angle afar from the Apple cult. And there was a amount to continuing afar from Apple: Because of its popularity, there were millions of apps and accessories for the iPod. As acceptable as it was, the Zune HD couldn’t bout Apple’s arduous bazaar power.
Now that I’ve gone aback to use the Zune, though, I’ve developed addicted of it. Its alone sin was that it came a few years late. If Microsoft was a little faster, the Zune could accept been a contender. So I, for one, will stop authoritative fun of it. And back my iPhone’s array dies, I’ll ability for my new Zune. It plays music aloof as able-bodied as annihilation that Apple anytime built.
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