Five things Microsoft needs to do to fix the Zune

Last week marked the fourth month the Zune has been on the market, and its sixth month since being officially announced. We know the Zune was in development all the way back into 2005 -- so why the hell is Microsoft having such a hard time ironing out even the basic kinks, let alone adding features? Wasn't the whole reason Microsoft went into the portable media hardware business because only vertically integrated solutions seem to be able to guarantee a vaguely acceptable DRM user experience?

In month four it's not cool for the Zune to still have bugs causing skipping in (DRMed) content, nor any of the other severe issues, bugs, and limitations that keep the product from approaching likability by a larger audience than the handful of thousands of Zune users out there today. (Let's not kid ourselves here, Zunes haven't been selling, and most people don't take the Zune seriously at this point.) We're not trying to hate, but we think it's about time Microsoft acknowledged that the ball's been dropped -- and then pick it back up. Stop promising bug fixes and vaporous new features, and stop talking about future Zune products when the current product is ailing. Here are five simple things Microsoft should do to fix the Zune right now, and even make it into a somewhat aggressive contender in one of the most cutthroat gadget categories. In order:

  1. Fix the DRM, syncing, and system bugs, and get firmware v1.3 out the door!

  2. Add useful WiFi features: wireless streaming to friends, Zune Pass (subscription) song transfer to friends' Zunes (á la MusicGremlin), computer-free downloads content downloads.

  3. Add podcast and vidcast support. It doesn't even have to be as comprehensive as the iTMS, just a basic RSS reader / enclosure scraper or something.

  4. Increase codec support. Go out on a limb and add open (read: free) codecs like FLAC, APE, OGG, XviD; if you really want to make your customers happy, belly up to the bar and license DivX.

  5. Drop the price. For most consumers, there is still a huge mental barrier in paying $250 for a Zune when you can pay the same $250 for an iPod. One isn't necessarily better than the other, but people really love the iPod. Make it $230 MSRP, and let that sink down to like $210 for online retailers. People will freak out that this player, that does all these things it does, is barely more than two bills.

See, that wasn't so hard, was it? We didn't even ask them to do anything vaguely unreasonable, like open up the Zune Marketplace for other players, drop the 3x3 pseudo-DRM, drop the silly over-marketing, or add 3G and a QWERTY keyboard. We know these things won't happen tomorrow, but it would be nice to know Zune has some intentions of actually improving its product, as promised.