Every time I show people my Zune, they're intrigued. Perhaps they've never heard of it. Most don't even realize it's made by Microsoft. Few have ever seen one. So with the shopping holidays right around the corner, I wanted to make sure that everyone has the information they need to make the best decision. The Zune really is a better choice.
1) The Zune Pass
This is, by far, the single greatest reason to get in on the Zune Social. A song from the iTunes store costs 99 cents. Let's call it $1 for simplicity. Get 15 songs this month? That's gonna cost you $15. What if you could take that same $15, and instead have access to ALL the music? That's Zune Pass.
The Zune Pass is a subscription service that allows you to download all of the music you want for a $15 monthly fee. And here's the best part: each month, you get to pick 10 songs to keep FOREVER. In the iPod world, you can get 10 songs for $10, but you can't download thousands of other songs for $5 more.
In case that's not enough...you can use ONE Zune Pass to fill THREE Zunes. So you and your two children/siblings/parents/friends/roommates/strangers/colleagues can now get all the music you can listen to for $5 per person. You'll just have to fight over the 10 songs you're going to keep every month.
2) No Generational Gaps
Have an old iPod? I don't mean the oldest one, I mean anything but the newest one. Ever crave some of the new features? Wouldn't it be nice if Apple would update your iPod's firmware to do some of the neat things the new ones do? That's not going to happen. They're counting on you buying the next one too. That's how you sell millions of devices each year. Just get your customers to buy a new one. Again.
The first Zune to be released was the Zune 30. Today, there's also 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 80GB, and 120GB models. But the great part of each new release is that the firmware is updated on ALL of them. Including the Zune 30. It has all of the features of the newest Zunes, and will continue to be upgraded as new software features are added. There's no such thing as an "old" Zune.
For all of my comparisons here, I am using the prices at zune.net and ipod.com. Retailers will probably have sales, but the device's site will be official record. I am also only comparing similar models by size. There is an iPod Shuffle in 1GB ($49) and 2GB ($69) sizes, and a Zune 4GB ($99) and 80GB ($229) that do not have comparable models. In every case, the Zune is cheaper, with more features, and is forward-compatible with new versions. The iPod costs more, does less, and does not receive upgrades in the future.
4) Wireless Sharing
Some call it "squirting," because you can "squirt" a song over to someone else's Zune. This feature not only allows you to detect other Zunes in your vicinity, but also send songs from your device to the other one. The recipient can then listen to the song 3 times over 3 days before it goes away. This same technology also allows you to play games (like Texas Hold'em) with the other Zuneheads in the room.
This feature also allows you to see what other people are listening to, so you can find recommendations for yourself in the Zune Marketplace.
5) Wireless Sync
All of these devices are still dependent on using a computer as well. You've got to plug your device into the computer with all of your music in order to get new songs, podcasts, audiobooks, etc. With the Zune though, as long as it is charging, it can get your new stuff. Leave it plugged in your car's power outlet. Charge it in the kitchen. Set it in the dock near your stereo. It will use your wireless network to get everything you've added to your collection since the last time you synced up.
6) Wireless Shopping
Ever been sitting in a coffee shop with your device, and wish you could just get that song your friend told you about? Instead of writing it down, sending yourself an email, etc. and getting it later? The Zune Marketplace is completely available on your device when you've got access to a wireless network. And McDonald's has made their internet access free to Zune users. So just look up that song, and add it to your cart. It'll be on your device in a few seconds, ready to play.
In addition, you can go out and get the latest podcasts, audiobooks, etc. that you may not have had time to get and synchronize the last time you were home. This makes it even easier for you to get the content you want, when you want it.
Sure, engraving is all the rage. You've got this gorgeous, expensive device, surely you want to make sure everyone knows it's yours. But text just isn't enough. In addition to the cool face I put on mine, there's about 75 other designs to choose from. But if you just want text, you can do that too. One other thing (that might only be important to me), the iPod has a shorter character limit than the Zune. So those of us with long names (or URLs) might not get them to fit. The 'm' in my .com wasn't allowed.
Sometimes, we just want to listen to the radio. Or the TVs at the gym. Being able to tune in to the local radio stations is a big plus. Even with thousands of songs at our fingertips, sometimes they get mundane.
Now let's say you hear a song that you don't know. And it's good. Just click the "Add to Cart" button, and you can have it. (And if you have the Zune Pass, you don't even have to pay for it.) If you're in a wireless hotspot, you can even download it right away! It takes the RDS data from the radio station and finds that track in the Zune Marketplace. Easy.
9) Xbox 360 Compatibility
One of my favorite features of the Zune world is its compatibility with my Xbox 360. I can use the music on my Zune to replace the in-game music from a game. The game makers generally choose good music, but sometimes it just gets old to hear the same 5 or 6 tracks OVER and OVER. If I can use the thousands of songs on my Zune instead, why shouldn't I? I can even use my Xbox controller to change the songs once the Zune is plugged in.
In addition, the points that I use to buy games from Xbox Live Arcade, movies from the Xbox Marketplace, etc. are the same points I use to buy stuff from the Zune Marketplace. And my usernames, login information, profile info, etc. are all linked. Very cool.
10) You can create your own games for it.
This is a blog for software developers, and I need to make sure there's something in this post for you. Using XNA (the same .NET technologies for building games for the Xbox 360), you can create games for the Zune as well.
You just need XNA Game Studio 3.0 CTP and the Zune software. There's even a sample game for you to download and toy around with the code. Here's a link to the project files.
11) Free television and movies.
[UPDATED] I'm not sure how I missed this originally, but this is a major point that needs to be added. If you are running Windows Media Center (if you're running Vista Home Premium or higher, you are), you can record live television to your hard drive. Those files can be synced to your Zune as well, making your Zune a place to watch all of your favorite TV shows and movies, for free. I find that I record shows that I don't have time to watch during the week, but that provide plenty of entertainment on an airplane, or shows where the audio is plenty for while I am driving. Sometimes podcasts just aren't what I'm in the mood for. So there you go. A bonus eleventh point!
Overall, I see the Zune as the choice for more features for the same or less price. Add that to the Zune Pass, and you've got something amazing: a feature-rich device with all the music you can handle. And because of the forethought spent to decide on a hardware platform, there will be plenty of new surprises coming in the future, without the need for another purchase. I'm looking forward to it.
The iPod is a good device. I'm not saying it isn't. Clearly, as everyone seems to have had an iPod at one time, they are popular. But being popular just because you're popular isn't enough. Some of this innovation will certainly be copied, just as some of the things the Zune does were certainly inspired by Apple. But after reading this post, if you don't agree that today's Zune is the superior device, I'd love to hear your side. Please leave me your comments.