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!

Syncing your Zune HD with an Apple Mac

This is a really cool find for those with Zune HD devices and an Apple Mac computer. A person at Zuneboards discovered how to apply a simple settings change to allow syncing of your Zune HD with a Mac via the Windows Phone 7 Connector software. This link contains the details, which is basically a simple three-step process.

I just confirmed that this does indeed work for my Zune HD device connected to my Apple iMac desktop computer. I now have the option to sync photos from my iPhoto library, as well as videos from my iTunes library. Pretty cool!

Windows Phone 7 as a Zune replacement?

I mentioned in my previous posting that an option for when your Zune stops working is to get a Windows Phone 7 smartphone and use it as your phone AND Zune device. From what I can tell, the WP7 has excellent integration with the Zune Software and you can easily sync music, podcasts, and videos to the phone. Since these new phones have large hi-res screens, it would be very similar to using a Zune HD device. From what I can tell battery life for a WP7 is about the same as for a Zune HD.

Now, the WP7 smartphones were just recently released so there’s only a few models available on the AT&T and T-Mobile networks. Also, they only come with 8GB of storage space (normally) so that isn’t much space for storing your music and videos on your phone. The Samsung Focus WP7 device does have a micro SD card slot where you can increase the storage from 8GB to 32GB, so that would be acceptable in my opinion.

Personally, I would strongly investigate switching to a WP7 device and use it as a replacement for my cell phone and Zune device. So long as I had sufficient storage space and Zune syncing capability, it would be nice to carry around just one single device.

The only bad thing, is that the WP7 devices are only available in the US on the AT&T and T-Mobile networks. So if you’re using Sprint, Verizon, or one of the other major cellular carriers you’re out of luck for now. However, Microsoft did say that the WP7 devices will be coming to Sprint and Verizon in early 2011 so it may not be too much longer before that option is available to more people.

Once Sprint releases some WP7 phones, I’ll definitely check them out and see how well they work as a phone and media player. And the good thing, is that Microsoft released an application that allows Apple Macs to sync music and videos with a WP7 device, so that won’t be a problem for me! 🙂

What to do if your Zune stops working?

Every once in a while I get a posting response from someone asking what they should do if their Zune device stops working (especially if they are out of warranty). First, I would try a hard-reset and maybe wipe out the current firmware (as explained on one the blog pages here) to rule out any software/OS issue. Next, I would make sure the Zune device is charged sufficiently by charging it with one or more sync cables (to rule out having a bad cable) and also charging with an AC Wall adapter. Once you’re certain your Zune is charged sufficiently and that isn’t the problem, then it just may be that you have a true hardware failure.

So if the screen doesn’t light up or one of the buttons just doesn’t work, I think you’re stuck with a broken Zune. I’m not aware of any Microsoft-certified place where you can send the Zune in for repair. So what are your options?

First, I know that lots of people who have Zunes have invested heavily in building up a Zune music library that they might not want to give up if switching to an Apple iPod. I’m not a big music buff so I don’t know the specifics to what you can transfer over and not to a different device like the iPod. So here are some possible options:

  1. Send your Zune into a repair shop like http://www.rapidrepair.com. I don’t recommend going this route (especially with one of the cheaper Zune devices) because the repair cost may be close to the price of a new device.
  2. Buy a used Zune device off eBay. I did a quick search and found several different models going for around $50 to $100 US. If you’re looking for the cheapest route and don’t mind getting a used device, this may be the way to go.
  3. Buy a new Zune HD device. I checked http://www.newegg.com and they have a Zune HD 16GB for $180 US, a 32GB for $250 US and a 64GB for $340 US. So if you want to stick with a Zune device then this might be a good way to go if you are willing to pay for a new one. The only issue I see, is that we don’t know how much longer Microsoft will be selling the Zune HD. I haven’t heard of any new Zune models coming out, but I suspect Microsoft may have something similar to the Apple iPod Touch which would be a Windows Phone 7 device without the phone component.
  4. Switch to a Windows Phone 7 device and use it for both your phone and as a Zune media player. From what I understand, the WP7 devices have excellent integration with the Zune Software so you can use it as your Zune for listening to music and watching videos. I haven’t personally handled a WP7, but from what I’ve read it works well as a Zune-replacement. So if you’re on the AT&T or T-Mobile cellular network and want to switch phones this might be a good option.
  5. Jump ship and go with an Apple iPod. There’s lots of models available, ranging from a small iPod Nano up to the iPod Touch. Personally, I recently upgraded to an Apple iPod Touch 64GB (with the high-res retina display) and I love it. The screen is absolutely beautiful. I made the switch because I now use an Apple iMac desktop computer and it was easier to sync with an iPod than my Zune HD.

Now, if you’re into apps I highly recommend switching to an Apple iPod Touch. If you’re not and just listen to music and watch videos/podcasts, then you might go with a smaller and cheaper iPod Nano device. Again, I’m not sure how easily it will be to transfer your music and video collections from the Zune to the iPod, but that is still an option.

Personally, I would go the cheaper route and get a used Zune off eBay. That way, I can wait to see what new products Microsoft might release on the Zune line. And later if I decide to get a new Zune device or switch to an Apple product, I could always sell the used Zune on eBay and recoup some of my cost.

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!

Zune software NOT coming to the Mac

It turns out that the report of the Zune Software coming to the Mac is not true according to this blog posting. There will be an Apple Mac application that will sync media from the Mac iTunes Library to the Windows Phone 7 device, but not to a standard Zune Media device.

So, it seems that Microsoft is still keeping their Zune devices segregated to the Microsoft PC world, but opening up their Phone 7 devices to the Mac platform.

UPDATE: I just downloaded and tested the Windows Phone 7 Connector app for the Mac, and it does indeed NOT work with a standard Zune HD device. It will only work with a true Windows Phone 7 unit.

What is the fate of the Zune?

All eyes are now focused on the release of the Microsoft Phone 7 devices, which has already been released in Europe and will be available in the US early next month. There’s obvious comparisons between the Zune HD and Phone 7, as their operating systems seem to have the same origins. In fact, the Zune Software is going to be used as the main conduit for syncing, purchasing, and loading material onto the Phone 7 devices (much like how Apple uses iTunes for similar functionality with their iPod/iPhone/iPad devices). So what’s up with the Zune media devices?

That’s a really good question, as there has been very little talk of new Zunes appearing for the holiday season. Currently, the only offering is the Zune HD and I’ve seen very little of those devices at my local stores. I so see lots and lots of iPods and iPads at stores like Best Buy and Target lately.

Will the Zune HD fade into extinction? Or will Microsoft take a wait-and-see approach to how well Phone 7 works out, and then build upon that technology and platform for a next-generation Zune? Similar to what Apple has with their iPhone and iPod Touch?