Crossposted from Paradox Designs In the MP3/Music player market there are 2 distinct players. The iPod, which controls most of the market, and the Zune, which holds a measly portion. However, market share numbers do not match feature counts. Zune has many oft-demanded features, and on this front seems to be the better player. However, people seem to have a market bias towards the iPod, and it is what is purchased by default. This is likely due to the iPods nature of being the first major music player, and the best, a title it held for a remarkably long time. However, with recent updates, the trend seems to be shifting
New versions and Updates
Since its launch, the Zune has seen 3 versions of its software, and 3 versions of its hardware. The iPod has seen far more, between 7 and 10. Both line's updates roughly come out annually. However, the Zune's updates apply to their whole line, and are free, downloadable by anyone, whereas the iPod updates require you to purchase a whole new iPod, often for a higher price than the previous model. The iPod updates are mostly transient. They add one or two new cutesie features, change the interface a little bit, patch a few bugs and flaws, and change the shape/color of the player. Example additions of "features" have been things like an internal music reccomendation engine (genius), coverflow, and a number of other things.
The Zune software updates, do many of the same things the iPod updates do, add cutesie features, fix bugs, and tweak the interface a little bit. But they also add new features that are useful. Examples include wireless syncing, removal of some limits on song transferA feature which lets people share songs wirelessly to other zunes. In the version 1 of the software, songs could be played 3 times, or stored 3 days, and then they would delete themselves. Version 2 removed the 3 day limit, FM song tagging, and the whole new addition of a music store, accessible anywhere with WiFi.
Overall, the Zune's updates add far more useful features to the device. The wireless marketplace is a feature that can be used constantly, and never becomes useless. CoverFlow? Yea, its cute, but it doesn't really do much. One may argue, however, that the updates are required because the device was flawed in the first place. It doesn't matter if it was flawed then, if its fixed now. Why not use it.
The Zune's hardware has remained remarkably consistent across its line. The only changes that have been seen are the move from a dpad to a squircle trackpad, and the addition of a smaller unit, as well as several specialty units. The Zune hardware has always had WiFi and an FM radio, and this does not look like it is going to change at any time soon.
The iPod has had a hardware history as colorful as Apple's old logo. The shape of the various iPods has morphed around, their colors have flashed through the spectrum, and their input system, while always the clickwheel or a touchscreen, has seen many renovations. Other than these input/color/shape changes, the iPod hardware has stayed fairly consistent. No WiFi has been added, excepting the iPod Touch, and no FM has been added.
If all that mattered was appearance, the iPod would win hands down. But in my book, features beat appearance, and in that case the Zune wins. Yes, its less attractive, but remember this. The more attractive your device, the more likely it is to tempt a thief.
By user input, i am referring to the navigation/playback controls the devices use.
The iPod's input system is a marvel of simplicity. All it consists of is a large, touch sensitive wheel. The wheel can be pressed in one of 4 directions to trigger playback controls, and the center of it acts as a select button. However, the wheel can only be turned in 2 directions, and this limits it to one axis of interface motion. Slightly more complicated actions, such as seeking in a track or changing views from album to artist mode, take button presses and scrolls.
The Zune's new input system is a dramatic improvement over the old one. The first generation zune input system only allowed for presses or holds, a user could not scroll. It was a directional pad, confusingly shaped like a wheel. For users changing from the iPod, many people often thought it was a clickwheel, and attempted to use it as such, only to result in failure. The new system is similar to a laptop's trackpad. The user can sweep their fingers across it and preform scrolls and interface movements. Users can also press the 4 cardinal directions of the pad to trigger movements, similar to the way a d-pad would work, but this is done via sensors, not by physical switches. Sweeps and Presses can be treated the same by the interface, or differently; depending on settings, sweeping may seek while presses may skip. Like the trackwheel, the squricle, as microsoft calls it, is touch sensitive, and cannot be operated while wearing gloves. Both versions of the Zune's input, however, have 2-directional navigation, as opposed to the iPod's single direction. The input can go up or down or left or right, without having to press any buttons to switch between this. This functionality is used in a number of creative ways throughout the interface.
However, the zune has 3 buttons on its front, as opposed to the single wheel of the iPod. Other than the squrcle, the zune has a Back button and a Play/Pause button. The iPod has similar functions on the click wheel.
For simplicity, the iPods controls are unbeatible. For usage, the Zune's win. 2 directions are better than one, and the ability to detect the difference between sweeps and presses is very useful.
This is where the tables switch. The iPod interface typically requires many levels to achieve simple functions, and lists of items can be quite long, due to the mono-directional type of its input. The zune interface, however, is mostly straitforward.
When a user wants to pick out a song on the iPod, they have to go through several layers. Starting at the main menu item Music, they have to then move to Album, Artist, Genre, Track, or Search view The user then must navigate into the selection they chose. In the case of Album, Artist, and Genre views, the user has the option to play an album, or be presented with a list of tracks. To change views from one to the other, the user has to back out, select another view, and move into it.
On the Zune, however, this operation is much simpler. The user selects music, and is instantly presented with a list of choices. They switch views by pressing/scrolling in the X direction of their trackpads, and scroll through the list of items by using the Y direction. This is a much faster way of navigating through lists of music. Selecting anything other than a track gives people the option to preform a number of actions, such as add to playlist, play all, send to another user, etc.
During playback, both players let users preform a number of actions on the music they are listening to, such as seek through the track, rate the item, add it to a quick play list, toggle shuffle, and view its details.
On the iPod, these functions are accessed through repeated presses of the center select button. Each press switches to a different function. This is to compensate for the singular direction of entry. The default form of input is Volume control, but seek and the others are accessed through menu presses
The Zune presents many options, but they are much easier to access. Volume is assigned to the Y axis and seeking is done by the X axis. Pressing the squircle brings up a menu, with almost identical features to the iPod's, except in one easy to use menu, instead of through button presses. The only difference is the Zune's rating control, which, unlike the iPod's 5 star system, is a Love/Hate system, similar to that of Last.fm. The 2 directional control reverses when watching videos, but since that is done in a horizontal mode, it remains the same in functionality.
If you want to go with the crowd, get an iPod. If you want to get features, get a Zune.
This is a crossposting from Paradox Designs, Paradox460's personal website. It is © 2008 Paradox designs