Are you sure you want that new Zune HD?

A former Sling Media colleague and current blogging ally picked up the Zune HD at launch, as that’s how us gadget fiends roll.

I’ve been tracking Microsoft’s hardware refresh as well, but given the capabilities of current flagship smartphones, I just don’t have a place (or pocket) in my life for a portable media player (PMP), web tablet, or gaming device that doesn’t integrate ‘cellular’ connectivity. I also find fault with Microsoft’s ability to more tightly integrate the Zune experience throughout their product lineup – Windows Media Center, Xbox 360, and Windows Mobile. A missed opportunity for sure.

“Right now our product roadmaps didn’t line up perfectly” is how MS describes the current state of affairs. Contrast that with Apple’s more harmonious ecosystem. However, whether or not Zunes are sold out, post-launch improvements are coming. And Microsoft’s new hardware platform is beautiful – both the OLED screen and physical design. In fact, I prefer its looks over the iPod Touch and iPhone (although I’d appreciate physical volume controls). But, according to my pal,

Regrettably, this thing isn’t as user friendly as any iPod I’ve ever used. On an iPod, I was adding movies immediately but with the Zune HD they need to sync up. All of my content was available by default in iTunes where I wanted it, but here it’s where Microsoft thinks you store things (My Documents/My Movies) rather than where I store things. So I have to go through the settings and add locations.

Then there’s the ads… Initially, he had a difficult time getting apps loaded onto the Zune HD when I inquired about the ad chatter:

If I can get this thing to sync up any games I’ll get right on that. When I download it goes to 100% and then tosses up an error that says the location has changed, been deleted, been moved, been ostracized, been excommunicated or is, otherwise, simply unavailable. Oh, it’s available.

Eventually he succeeded and I cringed at the pre-app advertising. In the video above, you can see both a static Zune Pass banner ad or a Kia Soul video commercial pop up prior to gameplay.

Un-flippin’-believable. I can see this as being annoying. But if the revenue from those ads goes to the developer and not Microsoft, I’m perfectly okay with this. It would encourage a developer to make a game free at the get-go and to make a game that encourages people to come back.

Therein lies the problem. These are not third party or independently developed games, offsetting company-incurred dev costs via a legitimate monetization route. These are Microsoft-produced (or contracted) apps. It’s sorta like a commercial coming up each time one launches the freebie Apple Remote on an iPod Touch. That wouldn’t fly. Ad-supported entertainment is an American tradition, starting way back in the Golden Age of Radio and currently funding nearly every informational web site. But it’s just chintzy for a behemoth like Microsoft to take this approach, especially as the underdog in this space. My suggestion: Provide the ad-serving platform, but leave the commercial interruption to the third party developers. And, for heaven’s sake, give your customers an option to purchase an ad-free edition. It seems to be working out OK on Apple’s competing platform.

But it not all bad news. Despite these annoyances, he seems pleased with the Zune HD and sees it replacing the functionality of multiple devices he previously (?) traveled with. And providing new features, like HD Radio. So we’ll give him some time to live with it a bit longer before rendering a final verdict.


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