When I started reading all of those ads and reviews regarding the new Microsoft Zune, I couldn't help but think that the company was going against one of it's primary strengths, knowing its market. After working with the advertising world a few years ago, I realized that just because Apple seemed "cool" and Microsoft came off as "nerdy", these assumptions were really part of the marketing strategy and had little with the potential of any company on either side of the hipster divide. Both do essentially the same thing, play music and movies, and while I'm not sure that the Zune can function as a portable hard drive (a feature I've used with my iPods for years), Apple doesn't include wi-fi file transfer, which Microsoft has been referring to as "squirting" in their promo material.
Here's where things fall apart for me. The problem of sharing music has been a tricky one for all industries to figure out, but squirting some tunes at my friends doesn't seem like something anyone I know will be taking part in anytime soon. Here's why: it neither improves the listening or social aspect of sharing music. If I want to swap some tracks with my friends, I can do it in a number of ways, but it's always on our own time. A friend can upload tracks to an FTP type site or simply email me the tracks, and I can download them when I have time. When we get together, the last thing I can imagine doing with my friends is standing around waiting for files to jump through the air while we stave off the pressures of work and family (relationships) for a few hours to catch up. "How's work? How's the wife/life partner?" Even if it's for an instant, the thought of squirting reminds me of that scene in Seinfeld when George and Jerry are waiting for a tape recorder to rewind. It's only a few seconds, but it's a few that we abhor spending.
If I had Microsoft's ear, I'd suggest something that would improve both the social and listening aspects of their product: personal wi-fi broadcasts. Imagine this: you're taking a walk along Mercer Street here in Manhattan with your Zune, and as you pass someone, you hear a song from your past. A very obscure song, but one that has a very special and personal meaning to you. Now imagine that the music you heard came from the person who you just passed on the street. In a city of 8 million, you just walked by someone who shares something very close to your heart. Now if you could only find a way to reach out to that person and let them know you appreciate that song, too.
I think all of this can be done by harnessing the Zune's wi-fi capabilities, with the devices operating in two modes, Eavesdrop and Broadcast. Eavesdrop would allow you to hear what others are listening to, while broadcast would let others hear your superior taste in music. Add a Contact button, to beam to Broadcasters that someone in the area likes their tunes, and a Location button to prompt Eavesdroppers to reveal themselves in a crowd. And there you have it: improved listening and social experiences. Let's see if anyone at Microsoft (or Apple) is listening.