What's Really Happening with the Zune

I bought a zune because I saw the vision Microsoft had for the XBox 360, and I fully understood the direction they were going to take the zune.  and now, with the software version 2.5, they are oh so close to being there.

Zune, when it first launched, used the tagline of "Join the Social."  The product was pretty much made fun of for using that tagline out of the gate; the Zune wasn't quite a full fledge social device right away.  The only real social aspects was the ability to share songs from one device to another, but even that had (and has) very limited restrictions.

2.5 has introduced a slew of new features that bring the Zune into the real social arena.

First off is a  much better implementation of the Zune Card (the equivalent of an XBox 360 GamerTag).  You can view my actual profile page here (it's flash, and WordPress doesn't like flash objects.  Shame on you, WordPress!).  There's also a Facebook App that plugs the Zune Card into your profile there.

But, none of that is the innovative stuff.  Anyone can have a webpage and put content on it and that are third-party iTunes plug-ins that do the same stuff.

Send me music

About two weeks ago, however, I go a message from one of my Zune friends, Ceaserisok.  Ceaser is a big fan of Tokyo Police Club, as you should be too because they're awesome (my fav song being "Nature of the Experiment"), and when they're new album came out he sent a message to everyone on his friends list that included the album.

Since I have a Zune pass, from the message I just clicked a button and *POOF* my computer downloaded the new album and I started listening to it right away.  Music just got a touch more social... I don't have to just tell you how good something is, I can message you the album.

Show me music

As life, work, our social lives and our dreams all continue to collide and entertwine, Microsoft did something else very smart: they hired people who love music.  Select members of the Zune team are now considered Zune DJs; when you create a Zune profile these special six are automatically your friends.  What does that matter?

Just like the 360 GamerTags, when you're using the Zune you get to see what your friends are doing.  In the case of Zune, you get to see exactly what your friends are listening to, in real time.  If you see something you've never heard before you might get to discover things.

I know, you can do similar things with Last.FM (which I'm also a big fan of).  But this is integrated, out of the box.  And, it's tied to your 360 account... suddenly your GamerTag has a dual nature to it... and I'm all for aggregating my information.

 With Zune there are just so many ways to discover music.  I still play with iTunes because I upload media to idea at work, and I get so confused with the limitations on their software.  I feel like I'm just looking at a datbase.  I'm not sure how to place my finger on it... but the Zune software makes me feel like I'm in a record store.  I don't know if they planned that or not, but it's what happens.  Invariably if I sit down to download a new album, I discover 4 or 5 more to grab along with it.

Sync me music

Now we're getting to the really cool stuff.

Once I friend you, if I have a Zune pass, I can sync your music to my system.  I can sync another Zune Card with my Zune device and, as such, Zune will automatically pull in any playlists associated with that Zune Card.  Can I repeat how cool that is?  It's a social experiment in sharing music.

No, this isn't an ad for the Zune

Enough about what I think about the Zune itself.  What this post is really about what is happening with the Zune.  The software/device is allowing just one more thing become social and intertwined.  Where the Zune is innovating is that they have figured out a way to connect something as varied and complex as the music we like and listen to into the cloud of the internet, to be able to be pulled back down wherever.

iTunes is for people who like certain musicians.  Zune is for people like music.

WIth iTunes you go in, you look for the band you like, you part with your money, and you talk about how cool band so-and-so is.  WIth the Zune (if you have a Zune pass), you go in, look for the band you like, and find bands you've never heard of or forgotten long ago and download 5 albums.  And you don't have to tell people how cool a band is because they can SEE how much you like them.  Better yet, if they have a Zune as well... they can HEAR how much you like them.

Zune is going to let the small bands win.  Being the underdog has allowed Microsoft to innovate, and with the Zune they have.  The only question is how long it will take people to realize that being an Apple fanboy isn't the best choice for people who truly want to hear new and good music.