Zune Phone? A Blog Dialog with Frank McPherson

My old friend and author of How to Do Everything with Windows Mobile, Frank McPherson, has an interesting take on the much rumored Zune Phone on his blog: What’s With the Zune Phone? It is kind of amusing that Frank and I may have arrived at a similar conclusion but are taking different paths to get there. So, I’ll pick out what I see as his main points and discuss them one by one. BTW, I’m not saying I am right and Frank is wrong. It is just a different point of view. So, here we go. I’ll highlight Frank’s points in italics.

  • The Zune Phone is not a reaction to the iPhone. It is an internal competition with Windows Mobile devices. I think the Zune itself is a reaction to the iPod (and the failure of the various WMA/MP3 players to challenge the iPod). The Zune Phone (if it exists) is not so much a reaction to the iPhone as announced at MacWorld but the rumor of the iPhone before it was announced. It takes a long time to design a phone, get it through the FCC, and strike a deal with a carrier. If a Zune Phone is announced soon, it was in the works many months before the iPhone was announced. Quite honestly, I don’t think the Zune group cares about anything produced by other Microsoft groups. The Zune group looks a like a rogue group to we outsiders. They didn’t support Plays for Sure. They don’t appear to work with Vista’s Windows Mobile Device Center. They don’t appear to have anything to do with the very similar Portable Media Center devices.
  • The Windows Mobile secret weapon is Voice Command for the Pocket PC Phone Edition and Smartphone. Voice recognition (not full continuous speech recognition) is pretty cool indeed. And Microsoft Voice Command is also pretty cool. But, there is one problem… Even though voice command/voice dialing is available on many many phones, and has been for years, hardly anyone uses it. When was the last time you saw/heard any of the thousands of people you’ve seen using a phone use voice dialing? Generally speaking, most people don’t bother to check if their phone can do it. If it can, it is often a pain to set it up. And, if you set it up, it generally only works in a relatively quiet environment (even with a headset on). And, if you are running down a street, your voice sounds different enough to it that voice dialing usually doesn’t work. Even handwriting recognition has essentially lost the race. That is why most popular devices now have a thumb QWERTY keyboard. Voice and handwriting recognition is a lot harder than most of us think. And, neither one has reached the point where they are truly useful on small somewhat underpowered mobile device.
  • Microsoft doesn’t need to create a Zune Phone. It just needs to improve Windows Mobile. I agree with Frank completely. But, it not only won’t happen, it has actually lost functions with each new version. Check out my earlier blog item: Windows Mobile Loses Features With Each Upgrade??? Microsoft is only responding to carrier and enterprise customer feature requests. And, that is, in fact, why I think the Zune group will create a consumer focused Zune Phone that needs to answer to carrier needs but not enterprise needs. As an aside, try this experiment if you have both an iPod and some Windows Mobile Pocket PC or Smartphone: Close your eyes. Then, take the iPod and navigate through various features such as volume control or going through a playlist (forward, backwards, pause, restart). Now, try the same thing with whatever Windows Mobile device using only one hand and, again, not looking. Pretty difficult, if not impossible, right? BTW, try creating a playlist on the Windows Mobile device? If your device is within two generations old, it is impossible. This feature was removed a while back. Now, try creating a playlist on your desktop/notebook and get it to your WM device. Cough cough. Done yet? Try it on your iPod using iTunes. Windows Mobile lost the race as a media device long ago. And, removing features didn’t help it over the past couple of upgrades.

It should be interesting to see if the Zune Phone arrives. Here are a couple of predictions (and I’m pretty bad at predictions, so don’t put much weight on what I say. This is just for fun :-):

  1. It will be sold exclusively through Verizon Wireless. It wouldn’t make sense to give AT&T Wireless (Cingular) the exclusive and compete head-to-head with the iPhone in the same retail store. It may be available as a GSM phone outside of the US.
  2. Like the iPhone it will not allow 3rd party applications to be installed.
  3. It will have basic email, sms, and PIM functions (like most phones these days) but will not sync with Outlook. It may have its own little desktop PIM for Vista-only.
  4. It may have some VoIP features. Perhaps through a Live Messenger interface.
  5. There will be a horrid looking brown colored version :-)
  6. I will stick with Windows Mobile based devices and not buy a Zune Phone :-)