Zune v2

Over a year has passed since Microsoft announced Zune to the world. According to reports published today, version 2 of the Zune brand of portable digital media devices will be unveiled tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct 1, in a joint PR event involving Bill Gates and J Allard.

I have been a Zune fan since the very first announcement despite the recent shellacking the Zune brand received following Apple’s introduction of its latest iPods—the iPod Touch, in particular. But it wasn’t what Apple did with their formidable iPod juggernaut that has me waiting on the sidelines ahead of the Zune announcements this time around. It’s really what Microsoft failed to do.

Microsoft failed to release any significant firmware, software or services updates for Zune v1 over the past year to narrow the sizeable innovation gap between its device and Apple’s family of devices. That is a very bitter pill to swallow considering Microsoft is a software + services company. That’s what we do. I don’t really care about the hardware that much as long as the device isn’t too clumsy and it has decent battery life and a killer display for watching movies. It is all about the services and the end-to-end experience (e.g., Xbox, Windows Vista Media Center, Windows Live, MSN Direct, etc.)

It’s embarrassing the original Zune has not been updated to natively support Audible files, podcasts or non-Windows Media video. It’s downright mortifying the device never received a firmware update to add a clock, alarm or casual games. The Zune desktop software is very buggy and not user friendly—I don’t use the Zune Marketplace. The one time I located a stranger in the vicinity via my Zune’s Wi-Fi connection, my attempt to share one of my favorite songs was unceremoniously rebuked…so much for getting into the social.

My Zune works and I have had no issues over the past year which is more than I can say for any of the iPods I have owned. It has traveled with me around the world and provided numerous hours of entertainment and ear candy on trains, planes and treadmills. Accordingly, I am willing to forgive all the Zune v1 transgressions above if the v2 firmware and hardware (finally) do something to significantly narrow the iPod innovation gap. If not, I will wait for Apple to fix the display issues and limited storage capacity of the iPod Touch—probably over the next 6 months—before rejoining the iPod ranks.

I am holding out hope Bill Gates’ involvement with the Zune v2 PR campaign bodes well for all the super-secret, highly-innovative user experiences the devices will offer. You see Microsoft’s beloved co-founder and chairman is on his victory lap and I doubt he wants to go out on a dud.