November 15, 2006

How to turn a digital music player into a mobile phone

This week Microsoft launched the much anticipated Zune and the world trembled to see if finally a new device could take on the Apple iPod.  While there are plenty of other digital music players out there, none have been able to reach the popularity of the iPod.  Microsoft has thrown the gauntlet down and they think they can succeed on a couple of fronts.

First, the Zune is fairly similar to the iPod so it’s not as though new ground has been broken on the design front.  There are those who like its larger screen and the fact that it’s a little longer than an iPod, and there are those who don’t.  There are those who like the fact that you can watch the video in either portrait or landscape mode.  But the real excitement according to the buzz is that Microsoft has built in wireless capabilities so that two Zunes can communicate with each other and music can be passed between devices.

This of course has led to lots and lots and lots of speculation over feature wars – something that technology vendors specialize in.

At this point I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they are missing the point.  I have a mobile phone (a really awful Panasonic that I dream of getting rid of but that’s another story) and all I want it to do is make and receive phone calls that last until I want them to end and not for arbitrary other reasons.  Yes I like features like a directory and ringtones.  However, I do not want to watch tv on my phone.  I don’t want to surf the web on my phone, and I do not want to listen to music on my phone.  I want to call or text people.  Period.  And the really annoying thing about mobile phones is that instead of coming out with more rational user-friendly software or superior sound quality or comfort they come out with more useless, overpriced, ridiculously unnecessary features.  Go ask 3 of your friends right now how many features they use on their mobile phones.  If you’re in America they probably don’t use any of them.  European football fans probably use a few more.

So the intuitive leap is this – I want my digital music player to play music with really good quality.  Then there are some other features – but I’m not going to get into that here either – but I assure you that they do not include watching films, watching videos, scrolling through photos or communicating wirelessly with other people.  

However, if you ARE going to enable wireless communication, make it interesting. (For the ironically impaired – the following is sarcastic) how about making them capable of sensing music that is on other people’s systems and if you find out that you have certain music in common they turn a nice sunny yellow?  Or if they are full of really annoying music you hate, a red flashing light appears to warn you to avoid that person as their taste in music is abhorrent (user-defined parameters naturally.) We could then create viruses that download say – the entire Mariah Carey catalog on to some unsuspecting listener’s device and then it dials up the RIAA and gives them your home address and a detailed listing of what’s on your device and how you got it.  Now those are features.

I’m not holding my breath on the Zune.  But I am looking forward to outrageous marketing wars from Microsoft and Apple.

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