Sunday Sitdown: The Zune Software is ‘Hard’ To Use

Zune Sofware 2

The Zune Software is the stuff legend. In its first iteration it was an epic disaster, a horrible blend of most of Windows Media Player’s core functionality and absolutely none of the current software’s pizzazz. Starting in Zune 2 Microsoft did however bring the A-game and managed to create one of the best damn interfaces available on Windows to date. However in doing so I fear that may have created a problem none of us anticipated.

So you are reading this and thinking to yourself, “This guy is full of crap! The software is stupid easy to use!” You would be right. Well, sort of. During Microsoft’s MVP Summit early this year I was fortunate to share a hotel room with another MVP from Germany who specialized in Windows CE. He’d been around the block a few times as far as software goes, and upon receiving a Zune HD as a gift, couldn’t grasp the simple tasks in the software to save his life. It was as if a child was seeing building blocks for the first time. So I helped him a little and so far I haven’t heard any mention of him having further problems, but at the time I asked myself how normal people react to the Zune UI.

A few days ago I got my answer, and I wasn’t pleased at all. Most of my friends, colleagues, and family all use the Zune software, instead of iTunes or Windows Media Player, because I’ve recommended to them, and guide them through their adoption process. They come to me with their problems and I talk them down from the ledge. One problem that has come up with every one of them is burning CDs and making playlists, both of which require you to drag and drop items on to specific icons.

Now to me that isn’t a flaw but something to be applauded. The Zune Team has created an environment all its own. They’ve created a user interface that Windows Media Player nor iTunes couldn’t come close, and that is to be applauded. Keeping in mind that I have no qualifications to justify analysis of how intuitive user interfaces can get, it seems to me that in creating a stupid easy experience, someone at Microsoft forgot that most of the world has to be using either iTunes or Windows Media Player both have very linear/ spreadsheet like interfaces, and that music lovers have trained their minds to the way these products work. Is there modus operandi as easy as Zune’s? No way. But the audience their after doesn’t know that yet.

There needs to be some kind of short tutorial or demonstration for new users when the Zune software opens for the first time. I get that it’s easy to use, but I fear Microsoft has managed to duplicate a problem similar to what Staples does with its credit card machines. You would be surprised how many people will hit ‘cancel’ instead of the huge ‘credit’ button at the bottom of the screen. Just because you’ve made something easy, doesn’t mean it’s easy to use. Have you guys noticed these issues as well? What do you think can be done, to help new users grasp the simple nature of the PC client?

7 Comments on “Sunday Sitdown: The Zune Software is ‘Hard’ To Use”

  1. I think one solution could be to allow more customization options. If new users like the “spreadsheet” feel of iTunes and WMP put that view option in the settings tab. Conversely those who enjoy the current “drag and drop” functions have that view option as well. I guess being able to toggle between “spreadsheet” and “drag and drop” would make itunes users feel more comfortable in the Zune Ecosystem and not alienate those who like the Zune Software the way it is.

  2. Simple answer is MS should ban iTunes on WIndows because its Bonjour service screws with the network settings. Think Flash and iPhone. WIthin a year the apples will have rotted from their PC brains and they will be able to grasp things that are intuitive and flexible once again.

  3. It isn’t any harder, it is just different. Maybe in addition to the First Launch video, Microsoft should include a 2 minute video on how to create playlists, burn CDs, add your music, and download music from the Zune Marketplace.

  4. Personally, I don’t think people should have to sit through crap that they don’t want to watch when installing or after they’ve installed – a lot of users can do without that and will find their way around.

    However, I do agree that in some cases, the Zune Software isn’t the most easy to use for a new user but more importantly – lots of features that users should be utilizing aren’t even recognised as existing.

    Really the Zune Software needs to replace the ‘Help’ link in the top right corner (to the right of Settings) to a help dialogue which would include a short walkthrough for a chosen feature. This would help combat the issue of people not knowing how to use certain features, although, it wouldn’t help them find out about new features which existed.

    One way of doing that would be to have something built into the software which, after say 14days of having the software installed, if the user has not chosen to perform certain functions a small notification would appear asking them if they would like help using them, thus, informing users on features which they may not have known existed.

    There are many other ways Microsoft can improve the user experience in the software since it is a relatively powerful application and quite often people don’t give it credit for what it can do, though, I think the biggest problem will be once we start to see a merge between Xbox 360, Zune and WM7.

    At this point the Zune software could go two ways, either cluttered with too many features to document and confuse users, or alternatively, the software limits its compatibility with Xbox 360 and Windows Mobile devices to reduce the confusion and complexity.

    Another point which I havn’t accounted for is the fact that, right now, the majority of Zune Software users are in a home environment and only need to sync with their devices but if we see a merge between just Windows Mobile and Zune, business orientated users may start to struggle again with the software and how to do use certain features.

    For now I don’t expect the Zune Software to go anywhere and I don’t see anything wrong with it – it has a few documentation issues which could be addressed but overall its simplistic to use for the user base it is targeting but in the long haul I expect Microsoft to have to make a key decision on how and what they will merge, compatibility wise, between the previously devices alongside Zune.

  5. Personally I agree with your analysis of the software… It is easy to use, but I will say at least for me, it took me a few months to truly grasp every functionality of the Zune software. Once I discovered certain features I felt stupid because all the sudden it seemed obvious, but I just was not used to this style of interface and functionality. It’s too easy almost to the point of confusion. I don’t think a tutorial should automatically open, but have links clearly displayed in the first opening of the software for those who want a clear (perhaps video visual tutorial) concerning tips, guides, or just fun features…

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