Why Microsoft Needs a Zune Tablet

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Spoonfed_09-17-09When you pick up the new Zune HD, you can't help but be impressed by its brilliant OLED display, multitouch-friendly Web browser, and slick user interface. Not only does its software rival the iPod touch without copying Apple, it makes portable media players from the likes of Samsung and SanDisk look amateurish by comparison. And there's a good reason for that. Microsoft is a software company, and hardware companies are still finding their way in the software-dominated era of computing. The user experience is so good, in fact, that many early reviewers and analysts are saying they wish that the Zune platform was the backbone for the next generation of Windows smart phones.  I think Microsoft should go further.

At a time when Apple is supposedly gearing up to launch its tablet, Microsoft's Windows 7 (and Windows Mobile) partners are all going their own way when it comes to touch computing interfaces. Some of these software overlays are ambitious and polished, such as HP's MediaSmart, while others are barebones, touch-friendly menus designed to tweak your notebook's settings, such as Lenovo's Simple Tap. A Zune Tablet—be it a standalone device, a platform for mobile Internet devices, or both—could be a unifying force, providing a touch-friendly gateway to your content, social networking, the Web, and more.

Consider the Quickplay menu feature available on the Zune HD, which is also featured on the accompanying PC software. It's designed to display shortcuts to your favorite content along with most recently played and added music, podcasts, and videos. That same paradigm could be broadened and applied to a larger touch tablet, giving Microsoft a fighting chance against not only Apple, but from what's expected to be a growing number of larger Android devices, such as the Archos 5. It's true, of course, that the Zune HD is way behind Android and iTunes when it comes to apps. But it's an encouraging sign that Microsoft just released an update for developers that will allow them to create applications that leverage the player's accelerometer and multitouch interface.

Some may consider it too big a risk for Microsoft to start competing head to head with its partners. However, the company won't get a third chance to make tablets relevant. It needs an answer to Apple's rumored iPad soon, and it can't afford to rely on a fragmented Windows ecosystem to win over consumers. The Zune was born because Microsoft recognized that, in order to be competitive in the portable media player arena, it needed to take matters into its own hands. And now the stakes are much higher, making the prospect of a larger Zune device not only likely but necessary.

Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark's SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on twitter.

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
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  • Eric Says:

    Yes - a Zune HD Tablet (10 inches) makes a lot of sense. Microsoft has 2 issues to overcome:

    1. Push its Zune Apps store
    2. Create a multitouch browser based on WebKit

    The Zune HD hardware is fantastic, but they need Apps and Web browsing for it to take off. But they won't do this... they don't know how.

  • Connor Says:

    "...That is basically unusable outdoors."

    ok yes this is an inherent problem with the oled's however microsoft expertly got around this by making the menues simple white text over black background. so this contrast is still visible outdoors. who watches videos- even on an ipod- outdoors anyways?

    I agree that the web browser is under par as far as features go, such as tabbed browsing and flash support. but other than that it does render quite flawlessly.

    as far as the app story goes, many can be easily ported to the zune so most companies im sure will be happy to spend 15 hours to make an additional 1000$ per app.

    Overall the zune HD is perfect except for three things. 1) storage size is pretty small, i really wish they had gone for 64 gb
    2) serious lack of apps (hopefully soon to change though)
    3) NO PHONE OPTION! im not sure why microsoft didnt just tack on a modem like apple did but they didnt which means we are still waiting and wishing for a true iPhone competitor

  • Janne Says:

    "When you pick up the new Zune HD, you can’t help but be impressed by its brilliant OLED display"

    ...that is basically unusable outdoors.

    "multitouch-friendly Web browser"

    which is still not as good as the browser Apple first demoed over 2.5 years ago and made available 6 months later.

    Still, Zune HD is a big step forward when compared to it's predecessors. But the fact that it has no apps puts it at a serious disadvantage.

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