The End of the Zune… RIP

Looks like Microsoft is ending the life of the Zune HD, and will no longer be developing any future Zune media players. Personally, I switched from an Zune to an Apple iPod Touch last year, primarily because the Zune HD wasn’t compatible with my new Apple iMac desktop system. I really liked the small, compact Zune HD for videos and music, but it seems that it never really caught on due to a lot of factors.

First, people love apps and that was one thing the Apple iPod Touch had over the Zune HD big time. Second, the iPod Touch had a bigger screen than the Zune and the battery life was phenomenal. And third, Apple and their distributors really marketed the heck out of the iPod Touch while Microsoft and company did squat for advertising. The result– the Zune didn’t really make a dent in Apple’s dominance in the media player marketplace.

Microsoft stated that they will continue to keep the Zune Marketplace alive for use with the Windows Phone 7 devices, which will now take over for the defunct Zune HD. In fact, I predict that if the WP7 devices catch on, Microsoft will release a WP7 device without the phone component (ala, iPod Touch).

So for you Zune lovers out their, it seems your beloved Zune HD may have its days numbered. Once your built-in battery stops holding a charge, you’ll probably have to jump ship to the dark side or wait for Microsoft to release some sort of replacement!

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Life with an iPod Touch

Last Friday my wife gave me an Apple iPod Touch as a birthday gift to replace my Zune HD. Since I recently switched to an Apple iMac system, it made sense that I also switch to an Apple-based media device since my Zune won’t sync natively with my Mac. I’ve never used an iPod before, so this was a new experience for me. If you’re into “apps”, then the iPod Touch beats the Zune hands down. There’s lots and lots of apps available and they load and run fast. The iPod has other features that seem better that what is currently available for the Zune HD (e.g., assisted GPS for use with Google Maps, better web browser and email app, etc). However, I do favor the Zune HD for use as a media player.

For example, with the Zune HD you can see much more metadata for TV shows than what you see on an iPod Touch. The Zune HD will show the show’s title, description, date aired, etc. while the iPod will only show the show’s title and a small part of the description. Also, the iPod Touch doesn’t have fast-foward/back buttons to allow skipping ahead in a show. All you have is a slider bar control that is really sensitive and difficult to use at times. In addition, when playing music all you see is a static album art image with the iPod while for the Zune you see a very nice animated graphic with moving text. Although most people don’t stare at these graphics while listening to music, it does show that someone at Microsoft had put in a lot of thought to make the Zune more polished.

Another disappointing thing is that the 4-generation iPod Touch does not have an FM radio while the Zune HD does have an HD radio built-in. So it seems to me that an iPod Touch is a a good device if you want to do more things than just play media, but a Zune HD is a far superior media player device.

Finally, I find using the iTunes software somewhat unintuitive, where I don’t understand how to control what is synced to my iPod Touch. I do see small symbols and checkboxes next to my media files, but I don’t know what that they do or mean. So, I’m having to watch some recorded training material to understand how to use iTunes more effectively. So I give the Zune Software an edge over iTunes.

What would be really great, is if the new Windows Phone 7 device could serve as a smartphone and as a Zune HD replacement. If the 7 phone had 32 or 64 GB of storage, then it would for all intensive purposes be a Zune HD that could sync with my iMac system. And to top it off, if the 7 phone had the high-resolution “retina” display that would be the icing on the cake!

Migrating to the Apple iMac

Earlier this summer I decided to switch from a Quad Core Windows 7 machine to an Apple iMac desktop. If you want more details to why I made the switch, you can read my blog postings on the Coho Site. Since making the switch, I’m still using my Windows 7 desktop machine for recording TV shows using a TV Tuner card and Cable set top box, and the converting the videos to WMV format for my Zune HD. So the only reason my Windows 7 desktop is still alive is for recording TV shows and syncing with my Zune HD.

My desire is to shutdown my Windows 7 desktop at some point, so I needed to find a way to record TV shows on my Apple iMac. Now, my new iMac desktop is a fully integrated system, with a 27″ LCD screen that houses the main motherboard, hard drive, and DVD drive. So I needed to find a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) device that uses a USB connection to the computer. The best device for the job is the Elgato EyeTV HD, specially designed for the Apple Mac systems. I’ll talk more about the EyeTV HD device and software on my Coho Site, but basically I’m able to do the same thing as with my Windows 7 machine so far as scheduling TV shows for recording and automatically convert the recordings to iPhone/iPod/iPad format (m4v).

As I’ve mentioned in a previous posting, I’ve decided to switch from a Zune HD to an Apple iPod Touch for easier compatibility. This was before Microsoft’s announcement about the native Zune software for the Mac OS X, and it’s a bit too late as my wife has already purchased an Apple iPod Touch as a birthday gift for my birthday next week. In any case, I’d rather have a simpler, fully integrated system and than try to hack a system together that ties a Microsoft Zune to an Apple iMac system. I’ll certainly try out the Mac Zune Software, but in the end I’ll probably stick with an all-Apple solution.

One thing to note, is that the EyeTV’s software is very similar to Window 7’s Media Center software. You can download TV schedules from TV Guide (free for the first year) and search for specific shows to schedule recordings. You can also specify which shows you would like the software to automatically convert to iPhone format and have it dump the video file into the iTunes folder for syncing with your iPod Touch. So I basically have the same functionality as with my Windows 7 system setup. Once I officially get my iPod Touch I’ll report back on the differences I see between my old method and the new Mac method for recording and syncing TV shows to a multimedia device.

Zune Software for the Mac OS X

Looks like Microsoft will be releasing  a beta version of the Zune Software for the Mac OS X on October 24th, 2010. Microsoft’s plan is for new Windows Phone 7 users to use this software for syncing music, videos and apps to the phone device, so no one is entirely sure that it will work with the Zune devices.

Once the beta is available, I will certainly give it a spin and see if I can sync my videos, podcasts, and music to my Zune HD.

Windows 7 Pre-Sale Pricing… False Advertising?

I noticed in the newspaper this morning that Fry’s Electronics is having a 1-day sale of Windows 7 Professional full version (pre-order) for $129.99 US. Since the full version retails for $299.99 US, this seems like a great deal. However, upon close inspection of the ad I noticed that this version is being called “OEM for System Builders” which made me a bit suspicious.  Since I normally build my own systems for my own personal use, you would think that this “system builders” label would apply… and it does, in a way.

After googling “OEM System Builders”, I learned that this particular version of the OS has a limitation where you can only install it on one computer. It is also tied to the motherboard of the computer so you can’t replace the motherboard at a future date and reinstall Windows 7. So you basically can only install it one specific computer and that’s it.  Since I often upgrade the motherboard on my main desktop system on a regular basis (for speed-up reasons or to replace a defective board), the OEM System’s Builder version wouldn’t work for me.

So just a friendly warning if you run across an ad like this in the newspaper or on http://www.newegg.com, etc.  I’m planning to wait until after Oct 22nd (official release date) and head down to my local Costco store to pick one up.

Zune Accessories 50% Off

zune_sale

With the recent retirement announcement for the current Zune models, it doesn’t surprise me that Microsoft is selling Zune accessories at 50% off. So if you’re looking at getting some accessories for your Zune, here are some items for sale:

  • Zune Premium Headphones $19.99 ($39.99)
  • Zune Home AV Pack $29.99 ($59.99)
  • Zune Leather Case 4/8 GB $14.99 ($29.99)
  • Zune Car Pack $34.99 ($69.99)
  • Zune Dock Pack $19.99 ($39.99)
  • Zune AC Adapter $14.99 ($29.99)
  • Zune Cable Pack $14.99 ($29.99)

Although these accessories are for the current, recently discontinued Zunes, items such as the Premium headphones and AC Adapter should also work for the new Zune HD devices. I really like the Premium headphones, so I might order another set at this reduced price.

Apps on the Zune HD?

appsA blogger for the Seattle Times wrote a brief comment on what he saw at at Zune HD demo recently, and the most interesting part of his comment is his reference to Apps on the new device. Apparently, he saw “Apps” on the main menu screen of the demo unit, and the Zune demonstrator mentioned that Microsoft wasn’t ready to discuss the possibility of Zune applications or app developers.

This is extremely intriguing, since most people want games and cool apps for their mobile devices. Since the iPod Touch has such apps and games, it only makes sense for Microsoft to follow suit. From what I’ve read, you can create apps for the existing Zune models now, however, these apps are made via a gaming programming language and are not the easiest to create. In fact, it’s down right hard to create a Zune app now since you have to jump through a lot of hoops and hacks to do so.

Hopefully, Microsoft will have a easier way of creating Zune apps and will provide good documentation to potential developers.  I’m not entirely sure what the Zune OS is based on (i.e., is it a derivative 0f WinCE, Linux, etc?) but I hope app development is easier than for the Windows Mobile OS devices (Pocket PC and Smartphones). I’m currently working on writing an app for the Palm Pre WebOS device (Linux OS) and it is surprising easy to create apps (I plan to discuss more about this on my tech blog), however, the WebOS programming tools aren’t very mature and there’s lots of holes and lack of capability currently. Hopefully, Microsoft will make programming for the Zune HD much easier.