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All posts tagged "microsoft"


Friday, September 15, 2006

Integration of Services: Marketplace and Points

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 06:06 AM

Earlier in the year, back when Zune was hardly a blip on the radar, I wrote an article that discussed the potential of Zune. It consisted of facts and rumours, but also some burning thoughts on my mind that I just had to get out in the open. With the Xbox 360 riding high, there were many things Microsoft could do with the Zune to make it a truly integrated experience. And based on all that was revealed yesterday, Microsoft is heading in the right direction.

Let's take a look at the Xbox 360. With internet connectivity, it connects directly to Xbox Live and the accompanying Xbox Live Marketplace, which is home to a plethora of free and paid content. Purchasing content is simple. You always have the option of using a credit card, or Microsoft's online currency system known as Microsoft Points, which can be acquired online or over the counter. But hang on, why a second option? Why complicate matters? Credit cards work remarkably well, don't they? Well, sure, but what if you don't have a credit card? Of course, if you're in that boat, you're stuck. Whatever the reason - age, employment status, bad credit rating, or even plain old fear of using credit cards online - Microsoft Points offers an alternative method of payment. In addition, they can be used for micro-transactions, effectively bypassing the minimum transaction amounts that some banks impose on their customers. They can also reduce the number of credit transactions, and thus, the number of credit transaction fees. Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, Points cards make great gifts too.



Now, when I wrote that article back in July, I hinted that Microsoft Points would work great in the Zune's online store, which of course, we now know as the Zune Marketplace. And guess what? It's going to happen. If you have an Xbox Live membership, you can transfer Points from the Xbox Live Marketplace to the Zune Marketplace, and vice versa (using the same Windows Live ID). If you're buying Points fresh off the shelf, you can use it in both Marketplaces. Whether it's the Halo 3 picture pack or the award-winning album from John Legend, Microsoft Points serves as a single currency system allowing people from all walks of life to sample some Marketplace action. In the future, we may see a rewards-based system centred on Points, and even access to hardware purchases. It's all part of Microsoft's vision to centralising and integrating their digital entertainment products and services.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Accessorizing the Zune

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Accessories" @ 10:51 AM

So, a fresh new player means no accessories, right? Wrong. Microsoft cracked the whip and burned the midnight oil to give us three accessory packs to enhance our Zune experience.




Zune Car Pack
"Designed exclusively for use with Zune, the Car Pack includes everything you need to hit the road with your Zune device. With AutoSeek, setup is easy, and you can enjoy your music on the go and charge your device at the same time. When you buy the Zune Car Pack, you’ll get the FM tuner with Autoseek and the Car Charger. All items in the full line of Zune accessories are also available individually."

• Zune FM tuner with AutoSeek
• Zune Car Charger

Zune Home A/V Pack
"Designed exclusively for use with Zune, the Home A/V Pack includes everything you need to amplify your Zune experience. This set of five products integrates Zune with your big-screen TV and the best speakers in your house. And the wireless remote puts you in control from virtually anywhere in the room. When you buy the Zune Home AV Pack, you’ll get the AC Adapter, AV Output Cable, Dock, Sync Cable and Wireless Remote. All items in the full line of Zune accessories are also available individually."

• Zune AC Adapter
• Zune A/V Output Cable
• Zune Dock
• Zune Sync Cable
• Zune Wireless Remote with Lithium Battery (CR2032)

Zune Travel Pack
"Designed exclusively for use with Zune, the Travel Pack includes everything you need to travel with your Zune device in style. This set of five products is designed to keep you and your friends and family entertained while you travel. When you buy the Zune Travel Pack, you’ll get the Dual Connect Remote, Premium Earphones, Gear Bag, Sync Cable and AC Adapter. All items in the full line of Zune accessories are also available individually."

• Zune Gear Bag
• Zune Premium Earphones with storage case
• Zune Dual Connect Remote
• Zune Sync Cable
• Zune AC Adapter

But Wait, There's More!
Yes, Microsoft is playing this one smart. They've signed deals with many leading accessory manufacturers, so there will be plenty of third-party options for the budget-conscious to the geeks wanting more. On the list, Altec Lansing, Belkin Corp., Digital Lifestyle Outfitters (DLO), Dual Electronics, Griffin Technology, Harman Kardon and JBL, Integrated Mobile Electronics, Jamo International, Klipsch Audio Technologies, Logitech, Monster Cable Products Inc., Speck, Targus Group International Inc. and VAF Research.


Folks, It's Z Day!

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 09:42 AM

That's right. Today's Z Day - when all things Zune come out of the Microsoft offices and into the hands of the public. We've got official press information, pictures of the device (none of that blurry FCC stuff), and words straight from the mouths of folks on the Zune team.

First, what is the Zune project all about? Today, we start to realise that Microsoft's vision of "community" could not be any clearer. It struck gold with Xbox Live by connecting gamers worldwide. It plans to do the same with the Zune by connecting music fans worldwide, from the average music lover to the audiophile. All in all, these visions form this global picture of "connected entertainment". Quoting the words of Cesar over at the Zune Insider blog, "Take MySpace, YouTube, Xbox Live, and every cool record store on the planet. Then add 1000 of your closest friends, and make it all accessible though a little device in your pocket. That’s what we’re doing with Zune."



Moving on, what's in the Zune? Yes, it's confirmed. The Zune, available in three colours (white, black, and brown), is a 30GB media player with a bright 3" LCD - that's enough storage for up to 7,500 songs, 25,000 pictures, or 100 hours of video. You can create playlists and you can create slideshows, but more importantly, package all of your different media into different recommendations and experiences that you can share with your friends. Directly related, the Zune features wireless connectivity, so you can share your media (yes, for the doubters among us - that's media in its entirety from start to finish) and play it back with limitations (up to three times in three days). Like what you see/hear? Flag it. Find it later. Buy it later. Sounds simple! And keeping with tradition, we all know of Xbox Live's download central as the Xbox Live Marketplace. The Zune's service will be called the Zune Marketplace, and it supports individual track or album downloads, and all-you-can-eat Zune Pass subscriptions (take that, Apple). The fun doesn't stop there. An integrated FM tuner is included, and it supports RDS, so not only can you pull audio from stations, you can view track information too.



Enough rambling, though. Jason has posted the press information in the previous post. There's oodles at Zune Insider to absorb. Head over to Coming Zune and check out the updated clip (be prepared for a raging bird). And of course, we'll be keeping you updated throughout the day, so keep your eyes and ears (it's all about the audio, right?) locked on Zune Thoughts.


Microsoft and Their History of Hardware Design

Posted by Jason Dunn in "Zune Talk" @ 06:22 AM

In the lead up to the official Zune launch, there's been much discussion around Microsoft's history of hardware design, and how some feel they don't have any experience designing hardware. I disagree with that, and here's why: compared to their ventures in the world of software, Microsoft has had relatively few hardware products, but for the most part they've all been quite impressively designed. A quick breakdown off the top of my head:

  • Microsoft Keyboard and Mice: I don't know the market share numbers, but the market is essentially ruled by Microsoft and Logitech. I'd say that Microsoft's designs are strong, and I've been pleased with many Microsoft keyboards over the years. Lately I've switched to Logitech because they seem to have more robust wireless connections, but I still recommend Microsoft wireless products to those with a single PC and single mouse/keyboard. Microsoft keyboards and mice are quick and easy to set up - great out of box consumer experience.

  • Microsoft Networking Products: After using D-Link, Linksys, and other mainstream networking vendors products for years, my first Microsoft networking product was a breath of fresh air. I've owned an MN-500 (802.11b wireless router), an MN-700 (802.11g), and several of their Ethernet hubs. All were superbly designed from a hardware point of view: they looked great, had excellent functionality, and the out of box setup experience was light years beyond what any other vendor was offering. Netgear is the only other networking vendor that comes close in out of box experience. Microsoft is no longer making their networking products, but that doesn't diminish the quality one bit.
  • Webcams: This is a brand-new hardware realm for Microsoft, and not having used one of their products yet, I don't have much to say. The reviews I've read say that their Webcams are functional enough, though apparently they don't reach the same overall quality levels as Logitech. First gen product blues? Perhaps. I'd say too early to call them a failure though. The design of the cameras themselves look strong, and I'm sure the out of box experience is solid.

  • Xbox and Xbox 360: Although the Japanese market may not have dug it, everyone I knew liked the way the original Xbox looked - like a muscle car. More than the hardware design itself though, the overall Xbox experience was one of quality. The controllers felt good, the software dashboard was well-designed. and the original Xbox was a solid product that made decent inroads against much more established competition. The Xbox 360 was a huge leap ahead in the design department, both from a hardware and software point of view. The dashboard user interface is fantastic, the functionality of the hardware is excellent, and the out of box end user experience was very high-quality: everything from the packaging to the instructions were top-tier.
  • Cordless Phones: Does anyone else remember the MP-900, Microsoft's entry into the cordless phone market in 1999? I bought one, and believe it or not, it was damn impressive! The hardware itself was fantastic; much higher quality overall than similar cordless phones at the time, and no product on the market could match the functionality. After installing the software on your PC, and connecting the phone to your computer (via a serial port I believe), you could use voice activation on the phone to cay "Call John" and the PC would initiate a call from your address book and hand it off to the phone. The product mustn't have sold very well though, because Microsoft never released a newer version, of even any drivers for Windows 98.
  • Gaming Products: Microsoft has released a variety of joysticks, game pads, and other gaming products over the years. I owned several iterations of the Sidewinder joystick back in the day, and all were excellently designed and executed upon - I had zero complaints about the hardware design or functionality.
  • Other Products: Looking through the Microsoft Hardware Site, there are a smattering of other products, including a wireless "clicker" for presentations, but I haven't used their other products. I can't recall having read a negative review about any of the remaining products though.
  • Concept Designs: I've seen PDA and phone concept designs, from in-house Microsoft design teams, that would make your jaw drop. I can't say much do to NDAs, but it's very clear to me that Microsoft employs people that really care about hardware design. For the launch of Windows Vista, Microsoft has created a hardware design guide for OEMs to use if they wish. Microsoft knows that hardware design matters just as much as software design. We no longer live in the era of the bland beige box - design matters.
So what's my point here? I believe that Microsoft has a better track record with their in-house hardware designs than most people would care to admit. This gives me hope that the Zune effort as a whole will be guided by some of these same principles that previous hardware designs have tapped into. That hope is bolstered by the fact that the Zune team is made up of some ex-Xbox 360 team members; one would hope they'd bring much of the same design ethos that guided the Xbox 360 into the Zune project.

My enthusiasm was tempered somewhat when I read that Toshiba was manufacturing the Zune for Microsoft - I wouldn't say that Toshiba has the most impressive hardware designs I've ever seen, though their laptops have certainly improved in the past couple of years. I don't know how much input the Zune team had over the design, but we can hope they did. The FCC pictures we've seen of the first Zune haven't been very impressive - I'm concerned about the thickness of the unit - but I've yet to see any product look impressive in FCC pictures. Later today there should be some significant Zune news, so the shroud of mystery will be lifted - at least a little.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Zune Eye-Candy

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Hardware" @ 09:37 PM

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well, we have 28,000 of them for you, courtesy of the FCC.





The FCC report is legitimate, so there are no question marks here. On the front, you can see a circular control pad, flanked by a "Back" button and a "Play/Pause" button.





The bottom of the Zune features a sync-and-charge connector. The top houses a headphone jack. The rear has an all-too-familiar Zune logo printed on it.









Above, you'll find a series of shots of the Zune's system board from all angles.



Attached to it is Toshiba's 30GB 1.8" HDD.









Yeah, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, baby!





The Zune includes a reasonably-sized 3.0" low-temperature TFT-LCD, great for viewing album art, browsing your media library, and watching videos (for those who doubted it, an FCC document indicates that the latter is supported).





Proof, once again, that the Zune contains a spinning platter.





Housed within the Zune is a 3.7V Li-Ion battery. It looks to be non-user-replaceable, but we'll learn more about this in the coming weeks.







The FCC's product testing environments are never visually appealing, but thanks to their provision of Zune-related images, we forgive 'em.





Black is back.



And apparently, so is chocolate brown.







Seeing images like this prompts an important question. Will the Zune only connect and talk to Windows-based PCs, or will it befriend Macs as well? iTunes' compatibility with both Windows and Mac OS has helped the iPod transform into a raging success worldwide. Microsoft owes it to itself to follow suit.


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