A Half Dozen Lessons that Apple should take from the Zune

by Erica Sadun

Yeah, yeah. The Zune may be a miserable failure according to some, but there are definitely some positive points about the Zune that Apple should take note of and consider emulating. Here is my list of six lessons Apple might consider learning from the Zune and implementing in their iPod line.


1. Be fingerprint resistant. The soft feel of the scratch-resistant Zune casing is far more comfortable to hold texture-wise than the iPod. Also, it doesn't make your hands sweat. It doesn't show fingerprints. It doesn't show scratches. It might not look as shiny, but it's really nice to use. A soft-textured iPod would totally rock.


TwistMenuFeaturescaled.jpg

2. Offer menus with video out. The iPod does not export its menus out when you set it for TV display. The Zune does. This actually makes it easier to Zunecast over iChat than to iPodcast (you lose the video connection with iChat AV whenever you switch out of a playing video), and provides a far better experience when selecting and displaying videos while connected to a TV, which is the more obvious and typical task for video output display.


3. Consider two-dimensional browsing a la Twist menus. The Zune's "twist menus" allow you to scroll up and down between individual items and scroll left-right to select categories. Sure, the Apple designers would make it look a lot better, but isn't it nice to be able to get to where you want to be quickly without having to go up and down and up and down through menu trees?


MusicOverlayMenuscaled.jpg

4. Add context menus. I don't know about you, but I kind of get annoyed with the whole "set the volume"/Click OK/"set the playhead"/Click OK/"set the song rating" sequence of mid-play interaction. I rather like the Zune's overlay menu that offers context-sensitive operations, depending on whether you're listening to music, watching video, playing the radio, and so forth. Apple should definitely take a navigation hint from this presentation.


5. Think about a built-in FM radio. The built-in FM radio is actually kind of cool, especially to a person who hasn't listened to much FM radio for years. The display of the station, song, and artist (for stations that broadcast that information) is particularly nice for a included/free feature. No, Apple shouldn't add a tuner if it would jack up the price, but for a low-cost no-brainer add-in? Very nice. (Update: Yes, I do use the FM tuner on the Zune a lot, and no, I never expected to!)


6. Give us a bigger screen. No, the Zune doesn't have more pixels. (It's still 320x240.) And yes, the overall form factor of the iPod is hand-friendlier. But the screen is big which is pleasant for watching, particularly on planes. Now, we just have to wait for Apple to introduce a pixelicious widescreen iPod without all that iPhone stuff cluttering up the device. A Superbowl or early-February special event announcement of this would be acceptable.