Tagged: ipod

Nook is to Kindle as Zune was to iPod?

I watched with interest as Barnes & Noble released the Nook, an electronic book reading thing that’s pretty similar to Amazon’s Kindle.  I immediately thought of Microsoft’s Zune music player, released well after Apple’s iPod had pretty much conquered the world.  There are some interesting similarities and also some differences.

Dominant Design

iPodsThere are several models of iPod, ranging from the no-screen Shuffle to the all-screen Touch.  As with mobile phones, each of these styles is pretty well-established and I think it’s safe to say that the last time either category got real innovation was when Apple delivered the iPhone and then the iPod Touch.

Sony ReaderThe dominant design of an ebook reader seems to have crystalized with the Kindle and to a lesser extent, Sony’s reader products.  Black and white e-ink screen, super-long battery life, small or absent keyboard, book-like leather covers optional, and so forth.  In this respect, the Nook, like the Zune, adds maybe some incremental improvement, but little of substance or lasting advantage.

Complementary Assets

KindleMost people agree that the first iPods were not that great as devices, but that it was the iTunes store and the integration of the two that won the day for Apple.  This comparison is more interesting for the book readers.  By the time Microsoft released the Zune, the iTunes store was huge and dominant, and Apple computers were gaining share against Windows boxes on the back of iPod and iPhone sales.

NookIn the book world, Amazon and Barnes and Noble have pretty much the same assets.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a new book exclusive to either store, at least not with paper books.  Ebooks might turn out different, but at least for starters, it seems the two companies have the opportunity to offer the same media selection to their ebook reader customers.  Amazon’s store carries far more than books and music, and that might turn out to be important as they put more Amazon-dedication shopping machines into consumers’ hands.

Network Effect

ZuneIf you can build a network effect into a product, you have a good chance at getting your users to do some serious marketing for you.  Social networks thrive on invitations, and they’re more useful as more of your friends join them.  Reading and listening to music are somewhat solitary pursuits (I would argue that the iPod and before that the walkman made music solitary when it had been quite social and that greedy music execs have prevented any device I know of having a second headphone jack) so it’s an interesting question how or if ebook readers can go viral.

Both Microsoft and Barnes and Noble tried making their challenger devices more social.  Microsoft’s “squirting” allowed you to send songs via wifi from your Zune to a friend’s Zune for three plays.  The songs you squirt are still available to you to listen to while they’re squirted and it seems you can squirt as many songs to as many friends as you like.  That seemed to have been too little too late.  Apple was allowing DRM-free downloads of some music, and three plays (with a three day time limit) seemed stingy.  Plus, with the wifi sending method (as cool as that might be) you have to be physically near your friend to squirt. And let’s not get into the wisdom of calling this “squirting.”

I speculate that Barnes and Noble did some focus research on heavy readers (like book clubbers, for example) and came up with a sharing feature that’s more like what we do with paper books.  As I’ve blogged before, I think lending and sharing paper books is a viral part of both reading and friendship.  With a Nook, you (the Nooker?) can loan an ebook to a fellow Nook owner (The Nookee?) for two weeks, during which time it is unavailable to you to read.  Seems pretty fair and similar to the reality of paper.  But then I read that Nook loans can be disabled on a book-by-book basis by the publisher, and even when enabled, allow only one loan of a given title – ever.  Not only does that fail to take full advantage of the capability of digital books, it adds a restriction that doesn’t even exist in the paper world.  Disappointing First Sale Doctrine Fail.

It seems unlikely that the Nook could win the day on the basis of the sharing feature, even if it did everything I want it to, but the hobbling of that feature looks like just another indicator that the Nook will go the way of the Zune – not gone, but forgotten.

Wood is the new White

In computers and related devices, for a long time, things were pretty much grey, black and silver in some kind of rotation until the ipod and imac made white the new black. Periodically, a hot cell phone or other device makes a signature color briefly hip.  Then Apple made a bunch of colors the new white, then it was silver and a bunch of more muted colors,  and black and white, and now they seem to be settling into an aluminum phase.  Interestingly, part of that story is that aluminum is a “greener” material than the plastic that was black or white.  Not really renewable, but recyclable and not as polluting to produce.

Although I’m not particularly hip to Microsoft’s anti-ipod, the Zune, I was pleased to see some interesting colors there.  Too bad they didn’t keep brown when they revised the device recently.   I gues UPS owns that patch.

I’m happy to see that a few electronic items are still or newly available in enclosures made of real wood – so far pretty much only speakers and radios – and I hope more are in the pipeline.  There’s nothing quite like the feel of wood, and I like the fact that each piece has a unique grain pattern.   Sure, some woods are endangered and some stains are terribly toxic, but some woods are sustainably harvested and are very renewable.

I’m not sure I’m ready for a wood ipod or pc, but I could see some limited use in mobile phones, maybe as an accent, like in some luxury cars, but less cheesy.  But wood has a real advantage in acoustics – wooden speakers sound great.

I couldn’t be happier with my Tivoli Model One radio.  In addition to the beautiful solid wood case and room-filling single speaker, the giant geared down tuning knob is a joy to turn.   If Tivoli had not so completely missed the mark with their Model Three clock radio (ridiculous price, terrible alarm clock) and iYiYi ipod thingy (overcomplicated controls, weird design, not wood. overpriced again), they would almost certainly have collected my money for a clock radio and ipod speaker system, too.  I like that they are adding more woods and finishes, but I don’t care for the direction the usability and technology are going.  I might have to buy another Model One to store away for when mine dies and Tivoli has totally jumped the shark.

As it is, I’m making do with a lousy alarm clock, and recently bought the Vers 2x ipod speaker.  The Vers is not as complete a design as the Tivoli, but that’s a high bar.  The wood is actually veneer, but it seems to be a high-quality one – I couldn’t tell until I read about it – and it sounds great has a good clean design.


Seemingly available only for Zune (not for ipod) is the iHome ZN14D, looking like a smaller Vers with plastic versions of the Model One’s controls grafted onto the front.  I’d have to have a closer look, but I’m guessing that it’s not at the quality level of either Vers or Tivoli.

But I’m glad it’s there, in its wooden case with retro rounded corners. I look forward to more ecological and aesthetic use of wood in electronics and elsewhere.