So this is one part thought experiment and one part show and tell.
I was on Behance.net, a digital portfolio site similar to DeviantArt or Coroflot. I was just doing what many people do, looking at the work of a lot of talented people (really if you want to see just nicely design ideas for software check it out). Anyway, I was there looking for images when I ran across a set of images for the Zune music player.
Ah the Zune, the butt of jokes from the Family Guy to Chuck, but outside of the iPod and iTunes one of the best MP3 players and music ecosystems. I’m sorry but the Zune was and is a good player, but it was late to market and slower to respond. Before Microsoft ended the Zune hardware line and morphed the service into Xbox Music and Video, it made one last device the Zune HD.
The Zune HD was a 3.8 inch touch device and honestly the sleekest thing in your hand that wasn’t a phone. The device and the interface it ran influenced the design of Windows Phone. Now at the time there was talk about an HD2 but nothing came of it.
But now we know that was was in the works.
The following images are by Greg McNamara and were done for Astro studios. Astro was the design firm who first helped design the Zune HD. The images, titled Zune Remastered, show early sketches and an apparently finished model of the next Zune device. A third image on McNamara’s page shows a case study (or concepts on the type of buyer for the device). Now the third image is interesting because it makes this Zune sound like it was meant to be a phone; and if that is the case, is this the first Windows Phone?
I don’t know but it appears that between 2007 to 2009 when he posted, Microsoft had a team thinking of making a Zune phone. In thinking about a possible Microsoft Windows Phone device its interesting to look at these images and divine what Microsoft might do. Without further ado the pics.
The first image shows that the device builds on the design of the Zune HD; it has the same wedge like shape except a little wider and smoother. The back looks aluminum and has strip of glass containing a camera. The front is mostly glass, not filling the whole side though, and has a large band area. According to the next image this is a capacitive touch pad; from the above image it appears to show time, a home button, and message notification. None of the images go into what size the screen is. There is also a volume (assume) button on the side and headphone jack on the bottom.
Image two shows early concepts. Amongst the ideas was a keypad, a dock, and camera placement. In this image they also talk about materials like ceramics being used. One thing I forgot to mention is the Zune had a capacitive touch pad in its second gen devices, but hear the design is adding both viewable information and contextual buttons. This last part may just have been the work of the designer. I’ll also not how in these early designs, the camera is placed in the middle similar to Nokia’s Lumia series (I’m new to this so forgive my tendencies for unnecessary detail). I’ll also add its interesting how the Zune hardware developed a sort of urban industrial look that was the opposite of the iPhone’s Sixties unibody.
Now the third image is one of those used in the design process to help designers understand who they are designing for. Its not indicative of everyone who may or may not buy the product, but it provides a starting place. I’m not going to dwell on Troy and Luke, but I do want to focus on what the two men’s needs say about the Zune device. Amongst the “implied functionality” are electronic pass/electronic wallet capability, mobile business applications, note taking abilities, excellent audio quality, gaming, multimedia, and camera. From the way this is done the audience must have been Microsoft’s Pioneer Studio, a incubation group run by J Allard. From this image its clear that the plan was to produce a Zune phone; now I wonder if this lead to this being scrapped and Windows Phone being born. I also wonder if aspects of this project are a part of any Microsoft branded phone.
So what can this, if at all, tell us about a possible Microsoft device? Well for one thing it will be like the Surface and focus on balancing play with work. It will have an excellent camera and speaker system for conferencing. They would do something with the capacitive buttons beyond what we have today (wish). And it would be made of high quality materials. Essentially what they did on the Surface, Redmond would repeat it on the phone (more or less).
And that’s it. Have a great day.
Links Formant Studios (Behance)