The new Zune HD is out (still US only), and the reviews are out.
Zune are an interesting breed. The first one was just fugly (remember brown as *#&* and lime green?). The second one looked better, and I have to say I quite like the hardware design of the Zune HD. FINALLY some device with its own design personality, not another iPhone cheap look alike.
Reading the review, and watching the videos of the UI, it seems Microsoft’s team produced a beautiful UI, full of eye candy and animation. However, it presents a really glaring flaw.
the Zune HD new UI offers a nice way to quickly access favourites (or “picks”) or recently added media, straight from the start menu. iPod users traditionally need to have manually put their own smart playlists, and then dig down into music > playlist > to find them. This is definitely a good idea that Apple would be wise to take inspiration from.
Now let’s focus on the screen that will be displayed the most on a portable music player: the “now playing” screen. Here is photo, sorry I couldn’t find a better screenshot.
Take a good look at it. I’ll wait.
Image "courtesy" of PCmag
It doesn’t look bad at first glance. I won’t go into details and esthetics, probably largely a matter of personal taste, but there is a glaring omission on this screen.
Let’s see what the same screen looks like on an iPhone.
Oh, and BTW, Muse's new album rocks!
Do you see what the Zune UI is missing?
It does not have any controls! No way to directly play/pause, adjust volume or change track!
The one and only way to do that is to press a hardware button to open a new screen / menu with those features.
Such simple, obvious, and very frequent actions are hidden away!
When I read about this (on Ars), I just couldn’t believe it. I do not think it takes extensive user research to find out that controlling what’s playing it a frequent user need, yet Microsoft ‘s Zune UI team did not realize this.
Well, as far as I’m concerned, I would give up all the nice animations and background pictures for direct access to those elementary controls.
So the lesson of the day: all graphic work is pointless if you can’t figure out what the user needs to do, and prioritize access to those features accordingly.
By comparison, newer iPhone/iPod allow you to use all those control without even taking the device out of you pocket, thanks to their very handy and light remote built-in on their earphones.
On a side note, while Zune quality keeps improving, it still seems they are competing with last year’s iPods. An iPod touch is now much more than a portable media player, thanks to its App Store and the 60k + applications it offers. On the Zune, there are now plans for third party apps, and the few ones Microsoft themselves will offer will be ad-suported. Yes, first party apps with ads, this might be a first.
More than apps, devices keep pilling features, in a very tangible show of the much heralded “convergence”. Even the tiny iPod Nano record video now!
It seems clear to me than single purpose devices are a dead end. I can’t wait to see what the much rumored Apple tablet will look like, but you can be sure it will do more than just a web/eReader.