On the Apple Event Today And The Microsoft (Zune) Content Released Over The Weekend

So, the masses will be commenting (and how could I not join them?) on the Apple event throughout the day. Some of your best reports of the pure data comes, as always, from Engadget and Crunchgear. I, sadly, missed the live commentary from Cali at Geekbrief this year. Long story.

And of course, you can track the full details at Techmeme.

The buzz will, of course, push any of the Zune announcements out of the ‘Meme and further down the feed readers of many. I want to suggest that Microsoft’s third round is at least as exciting, if not more so, than anything announced by his Steveness today.

Disclosure: I spent yesterday at Microsoft (on their dime) getting briefed by the Zune team on all of the features coming out with the new Zune 3.0 software. The scheduled release is next Tuesday – but you know how these things can go. While at the Redmond Campus I took notes on my MacBook Pro and did a lot of work on my iPhone (much to the ribbing of a few in the room) during downtime. I consider myself an Apple Fanboy but absolutely prefer the best technology for the job. FWIW.

In a fun bit of synergy, the announcements from Microsoft and Apple actually have a lot in common: A) they’ve both updated their software (desktop and device) with an obvious focus on music and music discovery B) they both have some new hardware and C) they both made no announcements about Podcasting and New Media (minus the HD television show option which I consider moot as Xbox has been doing it for over a year now).

For the first time in awhile, this similarity in announcements allows for a real clean comparison between the two companies.

Lets talk about all three of these issues:

Music discovery in the software: As I flew home from Seattle today, I listened to “That Lucky Old Sun” from Brian Wilson on a first generation 8 gig Zune. Turns out I really liked it. I wouldn’t have purchased the thing normally but the Zune Pass option offered (at $14.99 a month) to Zune members allowed me to check it out, rent it, whatever you want to call it.

This isn’t a examination of the music rental or subscription model, it’s an examination of music discovery models. Yes, the new Apple iTunes will tell me what songs in my collection might sound better together (and I think) offer me a chance to buy some songs that might work as well but … I know my music collection – telling me what works together (in my collection) doesn’t matter to me at all. And in terms of, sure I can buy new stuff, a one hour playlist could be $20 that I’m not willing to spend at this point.

I guess I’m just not excited by a “Genius” that tells me what’s in my collection (I already know) and the idea of trying anything out at .99 cents a pop doesn’t do it for me either. I’ve been a huge fan of music subscriptions (even back to times when Zune.com was a Spanish Website and Yahoo Music was yet considered a failure) because of this very issue. Of course, having to poke your way around Napster, Rhapsody, Zune or any of the other sites was never much fun (or that fruitful) – but the music discovery options on the Zune hardware and software make this very doable – and do I dare say exciting?

For pure music discovery or genius, I declare Zune the clear winner.

FWIW: My prediction is that you’ll be seeing a music subscription option from Apple very soon – the Genius option really doesn’t make much sense without it.

New hardware: Sorry, but the new Nanos look like someone in first year CAD class was assigned the task of “Appleing Up” the Zune 4 or 8 models. There’s really nothing exciting at all about the look – and let’s face it “Fatty Nano” was a bust. What about features?

The accelerometer in the Nano is very cool – but I don’t think the implementation is anything exciting at this point. One does have to wonder how the ‘shake to shuffle’ thing will affect joggers, but that is another story all together. That might excite me at some point – just not now.

In terms of Zune’s new hardware, there is nothing new at all (that I can tell) – just capacity upgrades. I do have a Black Zune 16 that I’ll do an unboxing of soon (we’ll put that up at ZuneLuv.com) but I don’t expect to see anything too exciting.

Is there a winner? I’ll give that one to Apple but only because I had to give it to someone.

New New Media / Podcasting announcements: This, obviously, is my passion, and this topic, obviously, was completely ignored by both parties. We can call it what we want and blame it on whatever we want but nobody said or did nothing.

For that category, I declare both companies losers in this one.

The world is changing. Even within the music space, the monoculture of “look, a new album by the Beach Boys guy” has it’s place but is quickly being replaced by the excitement that comes from getting a remix over the RSS feed from the latest Geoff Smith album. I understand the need to grab the low hanging fruit of Jack Johnson but the future of music and media (of which both companies are trying to dominate) is the non-traditional music and media.

And the one who dominates that …

Remember how Steve pointed out with a smirk that Zune is #4 in the player space and #2 is “other” … that other is a huge number and doesn’t just apply to device makers – it applies to content sources as well. The numbers are there and growing every day.

Apple has done a good job of corporate embracing and Microsoft’s support of the Podcast format (despite it’s sounding like an Apple trademark) is a great step in the right direction but both companies would do very well with a “one more thing” dedicated to their future.

And between now and then, make sure that the Zune Engine and Apple Genius Cloud recommend “That Lucky Old Sun” – it’s one of the better things “big music” has come out with in awhile.

Of course, that’s after they recommend Mr. Smith.

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