UPDATED 00:16 EST / APRIL 03 2009


Could Microsoft Be the First to Conquer the Living Room?

Ars Technica has the eagle eye this evening. They noticed that “Microsoft recently published two job postings that hint at two separate and possible developments for the Zune platform,” including the notion that Zune will soon by released internationally and more interestingly, to me anyway, that Microsoft using using the portable media player as the vehicle to take over the living room.

A quote from the relevant job listing:

Help shape the future of entertainment in the living room. The Zune team is looking for a qualified software development engineer to help deliver great digital entertainment features into the living room, including on demand music and video.

Primary responsibilities include development of innovative user interfaces for delivering a rich, deep interactive media consumption experience in a living room environment. Experience with online services API development is a must, product will provide a rich online media experience delivering music and video from the cloud. A passion for UX and digital media is a must.

I’ve never been bullish on the Zune, though I’ve generally been more gracious towards it than some of my fellow podcast enthusiasts. I do believe, though, that it’s the height of irony that Microsoft seems to better understand the power behind the technology named for their rival in the space, Apple’s Zune.

If you’ll allow me to theorize what the move might be, I do think it is a pretty brilliant move to create a settop box out of an affordable and perfectly capable bit of portable hardware.

Zune is one of the few devices to combine the following essential bits of tech to make podcast listening seamless and a genuine pleasure: integrated podcast directory, and the ability to define a continuous playlist out of subscribed podcasts.

As applied to the living room, this means two things:

First, it means that the ability to browse and discover new programming is built into the device.  It doesn’t need to be re-engineered or added on via a secondary computing device (like Apple’s AppleTV).

image Secondly, and most importantly, it brings the ability to view TV the way it’s been ingrained with decades: with the ability to engage the Veg-Factor, as I call it:

To illustrate the veg-factor, think about the type of media consumption you do in the morning, while you’re getting the kids ready for school, or fixing breakfast in the morning while you’re getting ready for work. Morning show format news-ish programs are designed for this low-engagement, veg-factor consumption. They’re, in large part, designed to be background noise that delivers some entertainment and utility to your morning.

Likewise, in the evening, you come home from work, you switch on the TV and catch the local news or a Seinfeld re-run, and leave the TV on through Wheel of Fortune or whatever reality program du jour is on this season. Most people won’t even touch the remote until prime-time starts. That’s the veg-factor in action.

Set top boxes designed for long-form content, like the Netflix Roku, have been highly successful in the living room.  Boxes designed for viewing web video or podcasts, though, have been received to mixed results.  I maintain that these two points that Microsoft address are key issues in defeating the past.

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