17.9.09

The Zune HD Interface

I have a blog. Yeah, that's right. You (one of my two readers) probably forgot that because I haven't written in forever. I blame Twitter.

Anyhow, I was watching this video about the Zune HD: http://ignco.de/176

I'm going to ignore the hardware and just look at the UI. I'm a sucker for a well-designed, beautiful, and functional UI. This is why I have a Mac and why I would buy a Pre if I had the money. Now, at this point, most of you who haven't watched the video are looking at me (so to speak) incredulously. Me, a guy who has a Mac and likes Palm actually wants a Microsoft product? Yeah. I do. Here's why.

The UI is excellent for what it is doing--playing music. It's not designed as an iPod Touch; it's more like a music player with web browsing thrown in. I don't think it will extend well to apps, but we'll see what happens when Microsoft gets there. In the meantime, let's look at the UI, not the featureset.

The design is very minimal, but functional. It's menu driven and all text based, which could be problematic; it would be nice to have some icons next to each item. That said, the UI does have a 'light' feeling to it. There are very few widgets and screen dividers, unlike--dare I say it--the iPhone interface. This lack of widgets makes the UI look a lot simpler; there's a lot less going on on the screen.

The dual-home-screen setup might be confusing to some people, but the key here is that it's optional. You can get to everything you need from the main menu; the second screen just gives you access to your recent and new items. However, that's a very nice feature; if you're browsing the web, you don't have to jump out of the web browser, jump through the Music UI, and pick out that album you just heard yesterday. You just click the home button twice and click on the album. Much faster and probably very handy; I'd definitely pin a few favorite albums that I listen to all the time and just use the Music menu option when I need something different.

Another interesting aspect of the UI is their use of cut-off icons and text. Notice the arrow in the top left corner of the Now Playing screen. It is too big to fit in the corner, so the edges of the circle are cut off. This happens in a few other places in the UI. This uses your imagination to draw in the part of the circle that's not there because you know it is a circle. By making you imagine things that are actually partly off-screen, it makes the screen seem bigger than it actually is.

The music UI is also worth noticing. Instead of being a--gasp--drab menu-based UI like the iPhone, it emphasizes album artwork and albums. This is almost a throwback to the days of LPs where artwork was actually important. I could easily see myself hooking this up to a TV and watching the art while I listened to an album. Also, playing a whole album is an option, encouraging people (or at least making it easier than the iPhone) to play a whole album.

So, shoot me, but if I could afford a new mp3 player, the Zune HD would be a consideration, especially considering that Apple botched the iPod Touch update (c'mon, no 16 gig Touch? Seriously?). The one big problem? No Mac software, so I'd have to use an XP virtual machine, which is ugly.