Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Do we Really Need a Zune Phone?
Posted by Rocco Augusto in "Smartphone Talk" @ 02:22 PM
[What do you think? Is this what we really need? (Artist Concept)]
There is a bit speculation going around the Interweb as of late that Microsoft is hard at work on a Zune based phone, or ZunePhone if you want to call it what all the cool kids are calling it. In a recent memo making the rounds at Microsoft, Steve Ballmer is quoted as saying the following:
"In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience. Today, we’re changing the way we work with hardware vendors to ensure that we can provide complete experiences with absolutely no compromises. We’ll do the same with phones—providing choice as we work to create great end-to-end experiences."
After reading this memo I did what any fan of technology would do - I ran to my nearest window to get a glimpse of the pigs flying because Microsoft is finally starting to take an Apple-like approach to things by taking more control with hardware vendors to provide a "complete experiences with absolutely no compromises" for their end user. While I applaud Microsoft for taking that first step in hopefully stopping the hardware vendors from providing us with sub-par systems cluttered with excessive junk that we will never need or use on both the Desktop and mobile arena, you have to stop and ask yourself two questions:
- Why the heck has it taken so long for Microsoft to step in to ensure a better user experience?
- How angry are all the hardware vendors going to be over this news?
To be honest, I'm not really even that concerned about how angry or upset Microsoft's partners would be about something like this. This is mostly because these vendors are a large part of the reason why things are not as great as they could be. With the exception of HTC my personal opinion is that the majority of Windows Mobile handset makers just 'don't get it'. Looking back over the last few years of handset releases no carrier has really gone out of their way like HTC has to bring us a truly great mobile experience. Sure Samsung dipped its toes in the water with their Samsung Blackjack variant with the pretty and WM 6.1ish nifty homescreen, but unless you wanted to install a cooked ROM onto your device there was no chance that we would see this hint of what Windows Mobile could be in any other Samsung Blackjack out there in the wild and with Samsung's recent releases of Windows Mobile handsets you probably could never tell that there was a creative bone in their bodies at all!
This is incredibly annoying as some of my biggest complaints as an end user has always been the sheer lack of anything pretty to look at on our devices. Take for instance one of my biggest pet peeves with my Smartphone - super tiny contact images that would make Ray Palmer proud. According to Microsoft they left the ability for the handset makers to go in and tweak these to their liking as with almost everything else on the operating system but unfortunately no one ever took advantage of it. Instead what we received for years on end was the comforting knowledge in knowing that each company was just going to point the finger at the other and no one would take responsibility for leaving us with this horrible case of the uglies.
This one reason alone is why I have stated many times that if Microsoft was truly serious about competing on this new mobile plane, one where in the past years consumers have shown us that they wanted smartphone like features in user friendly packages, Microsoft would have to take complete control of their mobile operating system. They would have to control every aspect from hardware design to software design. It is not like we're still living in the days of Windows 95. Microsoft has shown us in the past that when it comes to making things pleasant to look at they are not as inept as they once were. Take the Zune and Windows Media Center for instance. Both products are some of the most ascetically pleasing releases Microsoft has ever had. It is one of the benefits to having pockets as large as Microsoft. If you lack a skill such as design then go out and buy that skill!
So that finally brings us to where we are now. Everyone seems to be convinced that Microsoft's recent memo about taking full control of the hardware and software will lead to the release of a Zune based handset and it probably could. My honest opinion is that as much as I would love to see Microsoft release a device such as this, it would just be way to confusing to the market place and would probably frustrate customers instead of making them happy be giving them what they want. I mean think about, do we really need a fourth Windows Mobile SKU?!
I will be the first person to admit that when it comes to Windows Mobile we definitely need a change. However creating an offset version of it to address just a tiny fraction of what is wrong with the OS is not really the way to go. Let's face it, at the heart of the matter Windows Mobile is a broken experience. It is hands down my favorite mobile operating system out there, but it could be way better. Instead of just putting a band-aid on problem and hoping that everything will be okay, I would just love to see Microsoft tear the whole thing down and rebuild that bad boy up from scratch. Hopefully this is what we can expect Windows Mobile 7 will be, a complete redesign from the ground up, but Microsoft is so hush-hush on the subject that I am actually starting to worry that we will get just more of the same.
There is a shred of hope however. As the memo states above Microsoft if finally starting to see the light when it comes to not allowing your their vendors to defecate on their products. Apple has finally started to force Microsoft into a different way of thinking and what comes out of these new thought processes I am confident will help shape all of our futures for years to come. What we need is something new and fresh and I finally feel that Microsoft is at the point in their game to give it to us. We as consumers need a new consumer friendly Windows Mobile operating system that allows us all to manage our media and information with ease. We do not however need the Zune software tacked onto current Windows Mobile devices, given a new name, and sent out there into the wild. At the rate we're going it feels like Windows Mobile is starting to turn into a game of Jenga and I'm afraid at any moment the whole thing is just going to fall down.
Rocco Augusto is the Managing Editor for Smartphone Thoughts and owns and operates Skimbee Studios, a small Web Development studio located in Portland, Oregon where he currently resides. When he isn't tweaking code or playing with his one of his many gadgets, you will most likely find him spending time playing with his beautiful daughter and chasing his two small kittens off of the kitchen counters.