While everyone was obsessed with the iPod, I turned off the Zune
The iPod turns 20 this year. This device changed technology as we know it, kicking off Apple’s resurgence and eventual dominance of the tech industry. But as everyone remembers grinding their thumb joints into a powder swirling around the click wheel, I look fondly at Microsoft’s top competitor.
I am of course talking about the Zune.
Okay, maybe I couldn’t objectively say that the Zune was better than the iPod, but I to do think it holds up better in 2021. I might be in the minority here, but from where I stand, the Zune was just the best music player – one ahead of its time.
Its matte, soft-touch material was weird but unique
It’s not the color most people would find to launch a new device into the world, but it’s the color Microsoft chooses.
While I have a soft spot for the blue on black colourway, I ended up with the brown design. And somehow I’ve always dug it. It was so different from the litany of shiny magnetic fingerprint devices, including the iPod. The Zune had a soft touch finish that rejected fingerprints and was really comfortable to hold.
It also had one of my favorite little design choices to date, with a double layer of semi-translucent plastic that caught light and made the device shine from certain angles. In the case of my brown unit, this translucent plastic glowed green.
It’s hard to describe, but the effect is still one of the coolest design choices I’ve seen, and one that I’d like to see more often.
Mind you, I’m just talking about the original Zune. The latest metal and glass Zune HD is one of the prettiest gadgets ever, as far as I’m concerned.
This big screen
Having a 3.2-inch screen was a big deal for a pre-iPhone 2006 device. Although not a touchscreen, the screen took up the majority of the device’s face and it rotated horizontally so you can better see photos and videos.
It offered a much better experience than the small 2.5-inch screen on the 5th gen iPod, which really only worked in the vertical orientation. The Zune predicted the screen-centric orientation of our modern life.
Fun fact: When I got my college interview I brought my Zune and showed a video I made for history class that I was pretty proud of, in a way we now take it for granted with our mobile devices. I probably wouldn’t have entered if I had shown the video on an iPod, just saying.
The user interface was stunning – and presented the world in a flat design
I am always a little fascinated by people who fondly remember the iPod. While the Click Wheel was revolutionary at launch, the user interface itself basically consisted of scrolling and clicking through endless bland menus. I might have been too young, but I hadn’t lived long enough with bad MP3 players, but I never had the hubbub on the iPod interface.
Zune’s original user interface in 2006 was comparatively colorful, vibrant, and modern. He left you – gasp – set a wallpaper. By the time the Zune was released, the iPod’s interface looked outdated and Apple hadn’t done much to change it over several iterations other than adding a color display and graphics to it. higher resolution.
But it’s the V2 update introduced in 2007 (alongside the second-gen Zune and its nifty tactile “Zune Pad”) that really made it stronger.
It is also the first well-known device to launch the modern aesthetic of flat design that now permeates the tech industry. Microsoft’s “Metro” design language, which still influences Windows 11 and Xbox, debuted here.
Microsoft removed the glossy skeuomorphism from other devices for a dynamic user interface that emphasized text, readability, movement, and functionality over glossy graphics. Rather than a simple list of text, the Zune’s user interface used horizontal movement and depth in a way rarely seen before. I mean, tell me which of these two looks better to you.
ipods def had a better input method (click wheel is adjustable in scroll speed) but damn the zune def wins on user interface creativity and actual screen usage
idk if i were to define this as “zune did a good job” or “ipod user interface is very dull” pic.twitter.com/uYj3Tu1fgx
– I’m small online (@balkanfur) February 23, 2021
(If you say iPod, you’re lying.)
It wasn’t just pretty, either – the user interface was incredibly functional and easy to understand. It offered more control over playlists and made better use of display space.
Damn, I would go so far as to say Zune UI always looks as good or better than modern versions of Android and iOS. Even the animations were remarkably smooth for their time:
After I turned on the Zune HD, I decided to give the 10+ year old Zune a try and gosh! It has my old mp3s and the games still work! I feel like I can pass my legacy on to my children now pic.twitter.com/aoe44vJScK
– Olivier Bloch (@obloch) December 9, 2019
It was ahead of its time
Thinking back to Zune, I can’t help but think it was the right product at the wrong time. Launched many years after the iPod, it didn’t have a chance to penetrate the market as deeply as its competition, and a rushed release didn’t help. The syncing process was a mess compared to the iPod. And just a year later, the iPhone was released, starting the slow death of MP3 players.
Still, once the issues were resolved, the Zune and its trackers simply provided a more engaging experience than you might find on almost any MP3 player (and I’ve tried a bunch of them!), An experience that has still looks good today. While the iPod might have the perfect input method for its specific use case, it’s the Zune that stands up to modern scrutiny better.
The iPod might have been the cool kid in the neighborhood, but the Zune will always have a place in this nerd’s heart.
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