Top ten Zune features I want

So I was one of the lucky dozen or so who got a preview of Microsoft’s forthcoming Zune portable media player and store last week. (Through my job, not as a blogger, although I met a few cool ones at the event.)

Quick takeaways:

  • The design was cool, very approachable and fun but not cheap feeling or plastic like some players. I liked it much better than the Xbox 360, which I got a similar preview of way ahead of time. My first thought with Zune was “oh, I’d be happy to be seen with one of those.” My first thought with the 360 was “it looks like a small desktop PC.”
  • The UI takes some getting used to if you haven’t used a Portable Media Center or the Media Center UI in Vista. It’s got double menus–the veritcal menu we all know and love from the iPod (like a list of songs in a playlist, or albums by a particlar artist), as well as a horizontal one across the top that changes contextually (so if you’re looking within one playlist, the top menu lets you quickly get to other playlists). Very cool because it lets you get to stuff more quickly.
  • The Zune-to-Zune wireless sharing capability is great. The 3 days, 3 plays restriction imposed by the record companies is lame. And from what I understand about Windows Media DRM, Microsoft could have discerned downloaded from ripped content….that’s not the issue. The issue is the record companies don’t want me flashing you my entire ripped library, even if some of those songs are partly my own creations.
  • I didn’t get to test the software, which is make or break. If it doesn’t find files on my hard drive adequately, doesn’t sync with the device perfectly every time, puts lame restrictions on my downloads from the store, or is otherwise broken or buggy, then Microsoft has no chance with this thing.

So what’s missing? A few things. Part of this is purposeful–Microsoft wanted to start by making a great music player, just like they launched the first Xbox as a great game machine. And just like you saw that Ethernet connector on the Xbox and knew they had some big stuff in store for online connectivity, so you see the Wi-Fi transceiver in Zune and can imagine big things here.

Anyway, here’s the 10 things I hope they add.

1. The “DJ” mode that was reported in Toshiba’s filing with the FCC. (Toshiba’s the first manufacturing partner, but there’ll be others.) This will allow you to stream your music to four other Zunes within range, live.

2. Buddylist capabilities in the Zune software, so I can recommend songs to my Windows Live Messenger friends and stream full songs to them. The record companies would have to like this–what a great way to publicize their wares.

3. Download simple games from Xbox Live Marketplace to my Xbox 360, then transfer them to my Zune.

4. Wireless sync. When I walk into the room with my PC on it, I want Zune to find the PC, connect to it, and upload any changes from the Zune software (which would have to be left running in the background all the time; iTunes does something like this.)

5. Sync with my Xbox 360. I’ve got a video trailer on my 360, I want to put it on my Zune.

6. A camera attachment. Nothing special, just like what cellphones come with today.

7. The entire Beatles catalog in the Zune Marketplace. Come on, I know their terms are ridiculous, but if Microsoft can’t afford it…and what better way to differentiate yourself immediately from every other player on the market? Add Radiohead while you’re at it.

8. A Zune client for my phone, so I can sync my library between PC and phone as easily as I do between PC and Zune. Apple lets you sync to multiple devices, so Zune should as well.

9. A recording attachment so I can make decent digital recordings of the world around me. Band rehearsals. Club shows. Snippets of conversation for later use as samples. I know the record industry might freak at this one–people will record and trade bootlegs!–but it’s just as easy to sneak a handheld digital recorder into a show as it would be to sneak in a Zune. I’m not talking super-high-quality recordings anyway, just decent enough to let you hear what was happening. Then upload them to the PC, send to your friends, whatever. Plus, look what bootlegging did for the Grateful Dead.

10. The big one: the celestial jukebox in the sky. Pay a monthly subscription. Connect to any Wi-Fi hotspot. Download or stream any music in the Zune catalog, any time. People have been clamoring for this for some time now. Music fanatics would pay big bucks for it. Sure, Microsoft would have to address user experience issues like finding a Wi Fi hotspot, but somebody, someday is going to do this and Microsoft’s first to market with a Wi-Fi-enabled device, so why let anybody else get there first? It’s all up to the content owners–pick a price, start testing the market!

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