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On Zunes And Squirting DRM

My understanding is that most of the restrictive Zune DRM has to do with the WiFi "squirt" feature. (Obviously this crippled what could have been the Zune's killer feature.) But iPods have no wifi at all; it seems silly to argue that iTunes DRM is less restrictive because it does not prevent you from doing things you couldn't do anyway.

Slashdot is linking another "Zune is dead story". The above is a comment on that thread.

Full disclosure: I've been primarily a user of Apple computers since the early 1990s, have owned several iPods, and currently own a MacBook and an iPhone. I do own an Xbox 360 but I've never owned a Zune.

The thrust behind the story is that, for whatever reason, the Zune has not made major inroads, and in these troubled times, MS might as well focus on what works reasonably well and what makes money, and that is Office, Windows, and the 360, and not the Zune.

Of course, why the Zune has not done particularly well is a favorite topic of conversation, as is the difference between the DRM schemes used by Zune and the Zune store compared to the iPod and the iTunes store.

The above comment is particularly enlightening because it points out a basic difference in Apple's design philosophy on all its devices. The reader alleges that the part of the Zune's DRM that is more restrictive than the iPod's refers specifically to the Zune's wifi features-- the ability to send a song from one Zune to another, as a way of virally promoting music. Of course, this is exactly the kind of think the labels are afraid of-- perfect digital copies spreading quickly without additional revenue. The idea of giving a purchased track some "pass on" as a way of promotion sounds great, but if it can't generate revenue it's useless. So they restricted it. The tracks can only be sent so many times, and eventually "expire" so they have to be licensed to play again.

The upshot of all this is that a feature that seems like it is a reasonable compromise between the user freedom and flexibility accorded by technology that makes quick and easy perfect digital copies that can go anywhere anytime, and the labels' interest in increasing sales, seems to users like a crass and unfair restriction.

The above commenter points out that it's not fair to penalize the Zune for the restrictions on this feature since the iPod doesn't have this feature at all.

And that's the point. The market hasn't punished the Zune for placing restrictions on a feature. It has awarded the iPod to restricting its feature set to the things it does well, so that the restrictions it does have are largely invisible. Sometimes less really is more. Sometimes less isn't even just more; sometimes it's better.

This same criticism can extend to other wireless features of the Zune. The Zune has wifi and can sync wirelessly. Except for the iPod Touch and the iPhone, the iPod doesn't have wifi, and the units that do have wifi don't sync wirelessly; they have to sync over USB.

Here's the rub: to sync the Zune wirelessly MS reccomends you first dock your Zune, to make sure that the batteries don't run out during sync, which might cause problems.

One can almost see the discussion inside Apple when the wifi feature came on the scene. One suggests wireless sync; another points out the need for constant power during a sync, and a third blows the whole thing off the table by saying it's daft to make people plug something in in order to sync it wirelessly.

Just to make sure you know the difference between them, MS implements wireless sync on the Zune so they can add a bullet point to the box, and then requires you to plug it in to sync it without a wire. The only situation this is actually useful for is for people who dock their players near the stereo, but far from the computer, and then can sync it wirelessly instead of bringing it to the computer.

Then again, it can't play music while it syncs, so again... what's the point?

Of course, when the Touch and the iPhone launched, all they could do with wifi was buy tracks from the store, web browse, and do email. Now they can also update podcasts directly to the device, and many other apps are in the app store for syncing other kinds of data-- ebooks, for instance.

Zune has a game store, but no app store. In a shorter period than the Zune has been out, the iPhone has muscled into the smartphone market and become a huge ecosystem of third party developers making useful and/or entertaining software. For the most part, there's no reason the Zune couldn't have done the same, and perhaps done just as well if not better-- after all, on features like wireless, they had a head start. If only MS wasn't also wedded to Windows Mobile and its handset partners. After all, having betrayed all the Plays for Sure licensees, certainly MS couldn't do the same to Windows Mobile licensees.

The one part of the entertainment division of MS that is doing reasonably well is the part that most closely resembles what Apple does with the Mac, Mac OS X, and the iPhone/iPod: the Xbox 360. MS makes the hardware, the platform, some of the peripherals and some of the software titles, and makes it relatively easy (compared to the competition) to author software for it. Where the Zune's ecosystem never really got going, the 360's is very respectable-- healthier, in many respects, than that of the market-leading Wii console from Nintendo, in terms of the opportunities offered to third parties.