Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
In playing the three beats that define the waltz of Apple's digital music strategy, Microsoft has sought greater simplicity with the Zune. But that's not really what it's about per se. If you were to point a gun to my head and ask what is the one word I would use to characterize Apple's design goals since the first iPod, I'd say, "What are you, crazy!? Get that thing away from my head! You could hurt someone with that!" And then I'd scream as loud as I could. But if you were to simply ask without the firearms, I'd say, "elegance."
Elegance differs from simplicity and even minimalism; words included in its definition include "restraint." and "grace," but also "opulence." iTunes and the iPod's surface and click wheel embody these words; the iTunes Music Store does not at this time, but its model does.
Apple likely does not pursue minimalist designs for their own sake. Every time a company adds a feature to a product, it adds the opportunity to do it wrong. Zune was an opportunity for Microsoft to look at the subscription model that has bedeviled its PlaysForSure partners and exercise restraint. Instead, it must now deal with the complexity of accounts that it has further complicated with an abstract points system. It also forces consumers to choose between two music acquisition methods that compete with themselves on some level. Microsoft implemented RDS for the Zune's FM radio, but the information often comes in one-word chunks, or is contradictory.