Tons of Interest in Zune 2.0

Some deadly school projects have prevented me from dedicating as much time as I would have liked to writing a review of the Zune 8GB; however, I have been using the device a lot and showing it to people. It really hasn’t been hard to find people curious about the player. It’s a bit of a paradox; the reason it seems to be such a point of interest is because it’s not popular in Canada.

But perhaps most surprising is that the majority of people I’ve shown it to have come away genuinely impressed. Furthermore, one friend remarked in particular that he was astonished how much better it was than he’d expected. Based on his experience, he couldn’t believe how much negative press the Zune had gotten. Granted, he attributed most of that negative sentiment to the somewhat dismal first generation Zune.

The overall response to the 8GB Zune has been extremely positive. Traditionally Apple’s area of expertise, the gorgeous user interface has been one of the most remarked features of the Zune. One iPhone user wished Microsoft would design a Windows Mobile OS based on the Zune interface. The positive comparisons to the ubiquitous iPod UI were common. Some simple features like being able to access other works of the currently playing artist was lauded – something not easily accessible with the iPod’s interface. Additionally being able to scroll left and right through artists or albums when within that hierarchy was also something that caught many peoples’ attention.

Also important was that the use of the physical controls was extremely easy to grasp. Some had already read about the ‘Squircle’, and navigated the menu system without missing a beat. A few others tried circular scrolling without much luck. However a simple tip got them on the right track and within seconds, the controls were mastered. For only a second generation player, the controls are surprisingly intuitive and easily rival the iPod’s click wheel. Now all we need is a touchscreen Zune. 🙂

Some of the other features also struck home, especially wireless syncing (I’ll certainly have to investigate that functionality a bit more) and the radio. A bit surprising to me was that the ‘social’ aspect of the device, namely integration with the Zune online social community and wireless sharing of songs also impressed some. I guess I’m still stuck on the chicken or egg question – without users, ‘The Social’ isn’t much.

But perhaps that social is about to grow a lot larger. Over the week or so I’ve been showing it off, I’ve already planted the Zune atop a few peoples’ MP3 player list. With the positive responses I’ve received, I feel as though Microsoft’s missing out on a lot of sales simply because there isn’t much mass marketing for the device. I’m certainly impressed with the Zune, albeit I’m not without some reservations, but you’ll have to wait for the full review for those details.

iPhone and iPod Touch Pricing

There’s been plenty of talk around the web and in financial circles about Apple’s announcements yesterday, but it seems like no one topic got more attention than the $200 price cut on the iPhone. While great news for most consumers (aside from the ones who purchased the 8GB for $599…), the financial community really took it to the Apple stock and brought shares down by over 5%. The overwhelming fear is that the iPhone, while receiving a ton of media coverage, isn’t selling as well as was expected. The thought is that the $200 savings will help spur sales.

While this is a plausible take (after all, when’s the last time Apple cut prices by 33% on a product only 2 months old?) I’d like to present another side of the story.

The iPod Touch, launched yesterday, is very much an iPhone minus the phone feature. There was two ways Apple could have gone about pricing the iPod Touch/iPhone combination.

  1. Keep the iPhone at the introductory prices, 4GB – $499, 8GB – $599. Then in order not to cannibalize sales of the iPhone, price the iPod Touch around those numbers, 8GB – $399-499, 16GB – $499-599.
  2. Price the iPod Touch at 8GB – $299, 16GB – $399, and drop the price of the iPhone as not to cannibalize iPhone sales.

Let’s analyze the first option. The iPhone was unique in its user interface and slick combination of phone, media player, and internet capabilities. At the time, there was no equal. For that reason, it commanded a premium, and being an Apple product, plenty of people were willing to shell out to buy it. However, strip out the phone features, and all you get is a fancy touchscreen iPod, limited by the capacities of NAND flash. Pricing the iPod Touch around iPhone levels was not viable for sales. Most people considering something in that price range would probably strong consider ponying up a bit extra for the iPhone. The iPod Touch would be DOA. The iPhone was already relatively expensive; an iPod at those prices would not sell.

Second option. The pricing for the iPod Touch becomes much more reasonable. Not only is it much more capable than the Nano, it also builds in web capability. For the 8GB version, going from $199 of the Nano to the $299 of the Touch is a significant feature upgrade, not to mention the ‘cool-factor’ upgrade. Now that the customer’s been upsold to the 8GB Touch, it becomes significantly easier to further upsell them to the 8GB iPhone. Apple is a master at reselling and part of that success stems from the fact that their low-end models are not separated from the higher end models by that much, financially. For a person looking at a $299 8GB iPod Touch, it is quite easy for them to look across and see an 8GB iPhone for only $100 more (well, there’s the issue of the AT&T contract, but that doesn’t add much to sticker shock). After all, another $100 gets you phone integration as well. $100 would only get you a half decent phone with most carriers anyways. In this manner, the people who want an iPod (at traditional iPod prices) can be pushed towards higher end products. At the same time, the potential iPhone buyer market balloons due to both upselling from iPods as well as increased interest from elsewhere due to lower prices.

Sure, part of the reason may be relatively lackluster sales of the iPhone, but it is relatively smart on Apple’s part to recognize that this can kill two birds with one stone. It becomes significantly easier to sell the high end Touch (compared to if they priced them inline with the old iPhone pricing) and the number of buyers of the iPhone will also increase. Perhaps we’ll see in a few months whether my theory is correct.

iPod Touch?

I can’t help but be excited about Apple’s event to be held later today. I’m really hoping for an iPod Touch device, that would essentially be the iPhone minus the, well, phone. My 5G iPod’s getting a little long in the tooth.

Missed Days and Speaker Raves

For the first time in a horrendously long time I’ve missed school/work due to illness. I just wasn’t well enough to go back to work today. In fact, I’m not even going tomorrow. My throat is now raw from coughing and my nose is running like some Olympic sprinter. Needless to say, I would not be halfway to presentable in my current form. Add on top of that the fact I’d hardly be productive at anything other than infecting people, I think it’s a good idea for me to stay at home and rest.

But the fact that I haven’t taken time off due to illness in the past couple years has had an effect on me. I sounded strangely apologetic to my boss for missing work. Yeah, it’s weird but there was a bit of guilt for not being able to show up to work. Being sick is hardly my fault (well, that depends on how you think about it) so I should have nothing to be ashamed of. Nonetheless, I am.

Enough about illness and personal issues, let’s talk about audio. Being the musician (used in that word’s most flexible form) I was for 8 or so years, I obviously developed a thing for listening to the stuff. Aside from the numerous MP3 players I’ve collected, something has to be said for the things that output the sound: speakers and headphones. Now I’m not going to pretend like I’m some sort of audiophile that can hear the difference between a 256kbps and 320kbps MP3, I do have certain standards. However there are time when those standards are merely there because of ignorance.

Let’s take the first example: the iPod. The iconic and most popular MP3 player in the world is actually bundled with the most pitiful excuse for earbuds I’ve ever heard. Even compared to the low-end EP-480s that came with the Creative Zen Micro, the iPod earbuds are completely lacking in bass response and overall sound fullness. In a song like Radiohead’s ‘Packt like sardines in a crushd tin box‘ the bass attacks are actually felt in the EP-480s while the same passage is rather dull and bland sounding with the iPod earbuds. I’ll be honest though; before using the Creative earbuds, I never really realized just how poorly the iPod earbuds sound. But now that I have, I can’t go back to those iPod earbuds. So really, save yourself the possibility of being robbed because you’re wearing the iconic earbuds and get a better set. I’m currently looking to kill two birds with one stone. I’m going to get a pair of Sony Ericsson HPM-70s that’ll give me the in-ear earbuds I’ve been wanting and an upgrade over the HPM-60s that come with K790a.

Next up is speakers. I’ve generally been content with a decent set of 2.1 speakers for my computers. I don’t do a whole lot of movie watching on them so I never believed in buying a $400 5.1 speaker set to hear the Windows startup and shutdown sounds in higher fidelity. However, I’ll point you back to this post, when I picked up a set of Creative T20s for a nice price. I’d read about the clarity and performance of the set and I thought I’d give it a try. Of course there was the whole ‘oh, but it doesn’t have a subwoofer so it sucks’ from the Futureshop guy but I bought it regardless. Boy am I happy that I did. True, you don’t get that thumping that you can get with a decent subwoofer, but you also don’t get the muddy sound from most of those systems either. Mid-ranges are actually present instead of just being somewhere in there between the satellite’s tweeters and the sub’s rattle. As well, bass response isn’t as low, but you can actually distinguish the bass notes instead of them being a random rumble. My Harman Kardon 2.1 and Altec Lansing 5.1s both sound like they have their drivers stuffed with some cotton or something.

Alright that’s all. I’m going to go rest, right after I read some of this crap they call a course (PDEng). I just did a quick check of our final assignment and it’s looking like a 5 pager. YAY. I’m so excited I could gag. 😐

Tuesdays and Thursdays

I’m not exactly sure what it is about these two days in particular, but it seems everything is launched/released on these two days. Let’s take a look at a few examples over this past week:

  1. Apple held the “It’s Showtime” event this past Tuesday, rehashing the entire iPod line and shows off an iTV device to be launched early next year. I take this ‘pre-launch’ of the iTV as a sign that even Steve Jobs knew that this past week’s launch was terrible. I mean I got most of the 5.1G iPod’s enhancements through the version 1.2 firmware update. What am I missing out on? A 40% brighter screen, whoopdeedoo. Oh and I don’t get this clunky search function for my iPod. The nano got ‘updated’ with an aluminum casing a la iPod Mini. I’d imagine part of that had to do with the ‘lawsuits’ against the scratch-ability of the previous nano incarnation. And well the shuffle got smaller. But it still sucks. Although for all you people who would rather be ‘surprised’ by what music you hear, by all means buy a shuffle and slip it onto your shirt so everyone can know you have an iPod…
  2. Nvidia launched the GeForce 7950GT video card Thursday as the second part of its fall product refresh, part one being the 7900GS. One of the main improvements over the 7900GT is the addition of 256MB VRAM, bringing the total to 512MB. However, it seems like the 79xx series doesn’t benefit as much from extra RAM as the ATI X19xx series does. So most of the performance improvement comes from the faster core clock. HDCP is also standard now, which is useful if you want to splurge $1K for a HD/BluRay DVD and use Windows Vista. Not a terribly good card considering the X1900XT 256MB is cheaper and is faster.
  3. Company of Heroes also launched this past Thursday. Now of all the events this past week, I’d say that was the most exciting. I picked up a copy yesterday. Company of Heroes is a real time strategy (RTS) game made by Relic. It’s based on the ‘adventures’ of Able Company from the D-Day invasion onwards. As I’ve written previously, the game isn’t about building a mass of units and rushing. It’s very strategy-oriented. It’s unlike many other RTS games where the infantry units are pretty much useless against tanks and so on. Instead, the infantry can be outfitted with a plethora of upgrades that allow them to take on heavy vehicles. The AI is the best I’ve seen in just about any game. It’s like the computer actually thinks about what it’s doing. The entire environment is destroyable and units can hide behind a variety of types of cover, increasing their resistance to weapons fire. In addition, it doesn’t hurt that the graphics are extremely good for a RTS and I’m not even running a top end machine. I can only imagine what it’s like with a better video card than what I currently have. The cut-scenes work very well for furthering the plot and really draws you into the story. I can’t say enough good things about the game and it seems like review sites feel the same way. Read some of the reviews here if you’re interested.

Yeah, everything happens Tuesdays and Thursdays. I don’t really know why, although I guess Monday and Friday are never good days to do any sort of launch, since they’re too close to the weekend. And Wednesday… I don’t know why that day is so neglected…