The iPod changed the way we deal with audio and video, much like the Mac two decades earlier changed the way we deal with text and graphics. Eventually the PC caught up with the Mac in many ways (though not in all ways). Will the same happen to the iPod?
The answer is eventually, yes. Will the platform that surpasses it be the new Zune player from Toshiba built with Microsoft technology? Not likely. The platform that will surpass the iPod has to not only beat the iPod in features, and not only beat the iPod+iTunes combination in music selections, but also offer something truly useful — such as an open system.
We already have a closed system for playing music — the iPod. Why would we want another one? Zune is not exactly open with its proprietary connection to Zune Marketplace, though it does offer support for AAC and MPEG-4. It won’t sport many accessories at first, doesn’t offer a way to manage podcasts, and requires more software to be installed on PCs (it won’t connect to Macs). The WiFi capability is “cool” but not all that useful — it doesn’t offer complete Internet access yet. I agree with Adrian Kingsley-Hughes in Hardware 2.0 that “The whole wireless Zune-to-Zune content sharing system is interesting from a technical standpoint but it’s not something that I’d see myself using. Now if Microsoft had come out with a player that had 100GB capacity and a built-in phone, things would be different.”
What might make Zune different is its price — as yet unannounced. How low must Toshiba go before anyone will pay attention?