Searching for Apps on the Marketplace SUX

So last Monday, I replaced my Motorola Q9h with a very sexy replacement – the Samsung Focus.  I had been reading about it online and drooling over it for awhile, so to get the last one at one of our local stores that morning… so very happy!

As expected, playing with my Windows Phone is leading to at least one SUX post.  Let me start by saying the Samsung Focus, even a week later, has not lost its sexiness.  It’s still an amazing piece of hardware.  However, even the sexiest things have their quirks.

For me, the only unhappy experience I’ve had so far is in searching for apps.  I have friends who’ve written apps, and I have other apps that I know are there but haven’t been easy to find.  The problem I have is that the Search button doesn’t seem to offer any context-specific searching from within the marketplace – so I get albums, songs, and artists in my results when I’m only concerned about apps.

For example, let’s say I’m wondering if there was a Cachemate app for Windows Phone.  When I go into the Marketplace and go into apps, I would hope that the Search button would search just the apps.  Widening my search, if I do a search for “cache”, I see artists and albums in my results, and not just apps as I had hoped.  And the Zune software – which seems to have series star status here in the SUX column – doesn’t offer me any hope either.

So Marketplace team – whoever you may actually be – could you guys please add a feature so that we can narrow our searches down to just what we want (apps or albums or artists or … you get it…)?  It would add a pleasant user experience and could get a “does not SUX” post in the future.

But for now, searching for apps in the Marketplace is clunky at best and truly SUX.

Zune Software + Zune HD Repeat = SUX

Why is it that I when I type “Zune Software” in my Title (as I write this post) I see a lot of SUX posts?  Really… this column wasn’t created with the Zune software in mind, but its inconsistencies and lacking features really keep bringing it into the SUX spotlight.

When I listen to my Zune HD at work, I find that I enjoy using its repeat features.  I like that I can replay the current playlist or even the current song.  Some days, I find myself in a mood for a certain track and want to loop it over and over and over again.  So repeating the current track makes sense to me.

I could also see this feature being used for example at a wedding.  One of my friends recently got married, and while waiting for the bridal party to come in, we had to loop on of those classical pieces.  We used our friend’s iPod to play the song (as he’s an Apple fanboy), but a Zune HD could’ve easily been in its place.

Now here’s where the Zune software and its inconsistencies come into play.  Today happened to be one of those days where I wanted to loop a song, and unfortunately, I found out that the Zune software doesn’t have this “loop current track” feature.  Now I know it’s a minor feature, but at the same time, I’m half-surprised not to see it there.  It would be nice if maybe the Zune HD peeps who work on the software on the device talked to the people who work on the software on the desktop – it would be great if they could put all of the features that are on the device also in the software on the desktop.  I’m just saying… from an end user point of view, consistency can be a great thing! 

Zune Support Does Not SUX

As a followup to my last entry, I finally found a few minutes peace and a steady phone signal to call Zune Support about my little Zune Pass DRM hell situation.  After getting through the voice prompts and getting to an agent, it was a quick call.  The agent took my name, heard my problem, and was able to get me out of Zune Pass DRM hell within a short period.

Now my husband and I can listen to the Zune Pass content on our laptops again.

Thanks, Zune Support, for being able to resolve my problem and so quickly to boot!

The Zune.Net Popout Player Does Not SUX Much

Oh no… it’s a “Does Not SUX Much” edition of the Sarah on User eXperience (SUX) series.  What could this mean?

As many of you may have seen on Twitter, I’ve had a miserable month within these past 30 days, having to replace 2 dead laptops in a span of a week and dealing with one that just couldn’t stay stable.  While dealing with this, I apparently ended up in Zune Pass DRM hell – both laptops were part of my Zune Pass authorized computers list, and I was still cleaning up that list from formatting my laptop awhile back.  I’ll get to de-auth a machine later this week, but that still leaves one laptop dead to the Zune Pass in Zune software for at least another 30 days.  Not fun.  (Edited note: This was based on initial calculations, before looking into my support options.)

While looking at my options on taking advantage of my Zune Pass while the laptop itself can’t play Zune Pass content, I found the streaming capabilities of the Zune.net website.  Now I like the ability of streaming music, but I don’t want to be stuck on the current page while looking for more music to listen to.  But hey, there’s an app at the bottom that has this popout player to listen to music while navigating to other pages.  Let’s put it to the test.

The Zune.NET Popout Player 

First thing I noticed was that it’s a Silverlight app!  The Zune Pass content has its own DRM stuff going on behind the scenes, and apparently Silverlight can talk with it.  It’s impressive to see a Microsoft site using a Microsoft technology at this level.

I got a little too excited though – using Google Chrome, I got the notification that the popout player was active and could hear the music, but no idea where it was actually displaying.  When I navigated to another page, the player in Google Chrome stopped playing.  This is why there’s the “Does Not SUX Much” designation.  If I had this figured out and working in my browser of choice, I’d have stopped at “Does Not SUX”.

So I switched to Internet Explorer 8 to put it to the test.  Check this out:

I figured I’d queue up some songs that keep me in a fairly good mood – a little Owl City and some Glee Cast

 

So while streaming from Zune.net, you only have access to one playlist – Now Playing.  It would be great to have access to all of my playlists that contain Zune Pass content, but I’m happy to see that I have a playlist available.

Thankfully it’s fairly easy to add music to the playlist – simply click the + next to the song to add it to the Now Playing list.  Be it on the album listing, the artist’s page, from a friend’s list over in the social area… anywhere on the Zune.net site that has a + next to the song allows you to add this song to your Now Playing list. 

Yes, you can even go to your Zune profile and click on the + on a song in the most recently played list that appears as part of your badge and have it appear in the Now Playing list. That’s a great example of 2 Silverlight apps that can talk to each other!

Conclusion

While I’ll be only in Zune Pass DRM hell for a little more than a month, I have a feeling that this player will get used quite a bit.  Yes, I can use Pandora or some other streaming site, but I don’t have as much control over the songs I want to listen to as I do with this.  I look forward to returning to the Zune software and its playlists (which have a lot of Zune Pass content).  For now, the Zune.net popout player will work as my source of controlled streaming music.

Zune HD + Audiobooks = Improved!

Disclaimer: Although I work for a company that deals with audiobooks, these thoughts, comments, complaints, and affirmations are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer.

While I was listening to some of my audiobooks on my Zune HD at work today, I noticed that something changed (or that for as much complaining as I do about this, no one ever pointed it out to me).

So let’s say you have some audiobooks on your Zune HD.

1. Turn on your Zune HD.
2. Touch “audiobooks”.
3. Press one of the titles to bring up the “Pin to Quickplay” menu.

Do you see it? What’s that option underneath it? Is it really… a Delete option?

I couldn’t believe that I was seeing it. But I upgraded my Zune HD’s firmware over the weekend, so maybe it’s one of the cool new features in the new firmware.

Thankfully, I had an audiobook that I needed to delete. So here’s what I did…

1. Start up OverDrive Media Console.
2. Start the transfer wizard to get into the Advanced Options and Browse the files.
3. Verify that there are files for that audiobook on the Zune HD.
4. On the device, get to the “audiobooks” list.
5. Bring up the menu I mentioned above and press Delete.
6. Confirm the delete.
7. Repeat steps 1 and 2.
8. Verify that those files are no longer there.

Finally… an easy way to delete audiobooks from the Zune HD!

There’s still no option in the software to manage audiobooks, but now we can simply delete them from the device.

Way to go, Zune HD team!

Appending to the Zune + Audiobooks = SUX series

Note: This is just a complaint on an incomplete feature that happens to apply also to the Zune HD. I will blog separately on the Zune HD experience as a whole after spending a week or so with it. Here’s hoping the overall experience is as awesome as the video clarity!

So I’ve recently gotten a Zune HD (as in the UPS guy dropped it off today). One of the first things I had to check was the Zune HD interface to see if it was any better for audiobooks.

Obviously, they don’t design Zunes with audiobooks in mind. Or if they do, the testers have been sleeping on that feature since the Zune 3.0 release.

Honestly, it kills me to see that they took the time to add the feature in the Zune 3.0 software but they didn’t put in a fully-managed audiobook system. You can easily transfer audiobooks through a 3rd party step-by-step wizard to the device, and they appear in an “audiobooks” list on the device. But there’s no simple way to delete the files. It’s nice to listen to audiobooks on a Zune device, but it’s a lot of work to clear off audiobooks from the device. (Yes, the Zune HD needs to go through the same non-intuitive process that I’ve linked to in the past Zune + Audiobooks = SUX posts.)

Maybe the Zune will come around with a fully-managed audiobook system in Zune 5.0? I won’t hold my breath. But as a friend once said, audiobooks are the Achilles heel of the Zunes – and it still holds true, even with the Zune HD.

Zune 4.0 + Audiobooks = SUX

Disclaimer: Disclaimer: I hate writing disclaimers, but I need to make sure that you understand that these are my personal experiences and my personal thoughts. My employer is not responsible for my posts. Also for the record, I am active in the Microsoft community, and this isn’t meant to be an anti-Microsoft post. This is a renewal of my previous call to action for them.

Back in February, I had mentioned that there was this horrible user experience when it came to using audiobooks with the Zune. Today, Zune 4.0 came out, and we still have 0 support within the Zune desktop client for audiobooks.

As an ordinary user, I cringe at the current user experience. If I want to stay honest and delete expired audiobooks from my Zune, I need to follow the non-intuitive process that’s outlined in this post. Of course, there’s also Zune Explorer Enabler, that makes the Zune visible like a hard drive in Windows Explorer. That would be 100x simpler and easier to describe to a non-technical user, like my mom.

In the Zune 3.0 release, the device was able to support OverDrive audiobooks. My local libraries have digital collections, and thanks to my library card, it doesn’t cost me anything (other than time and bandwidth) to download audiobooks. I love that I can go to their sites, check out books, transfer them to my Zune, and go. But I don’t like that the Zune lets you transfer audiobooks to it, even has its own section for audiobooks on the device menu, but doesn’t have a way to manage that section from the desktop client. Even if you could delete the audiobook parts from the device itself, it’d pretty much be guaranteed to be better than the current process. If you can see videos, pictures, and songs in the Zune desktop software, I would think that you could see the audiobooks just as easily. But there I go thinking logically… it’s the developer in me.

Add to it that I’m a big fan of docking windows in Windows 7, and the Zune software still does not dock. That makes me pretty cranky.

Now there are some things that I do like. For example, now I can see how many credits I have left of my 10 credits from my Zune pass. When I hover over the credits, I see when they expire. That’s nice.

I can “pin” music to make it easier to find them. But for those of you who know me, “pinning” things can get chaotic and disastrous. It reminds me of pinning applications to the taskbar in Windows.

Now there’s this feature called “Smart DJ”. I’m not too sure what it does – other than analyzing your song collection and possibly playing songs I might like based on the 5 artists that I selected. I really can’t talk about this feature for a few days. Apparently it’s going to take 80.5 hours to install. Please tell me this is another Windows estimation “feature” and isn’t for real.

Oh wait… in the process of writing this post, the time went up to 152 hours and down as low as 61 hours. I’m thinking it might be more like this.

At least the Zune software is still operational while Smart DJ is installing.

And this mini player is cute, but it isn’t the same as what I want to do when I want to dock the window in Windows 7.

Overall, I see a lot of “shiny” features, a lot of “fun”, and some “cute”. But what I’m not seeing is practical functional improvements. The desktop software can somewhat manage the device, but it’s sad that it doesn’t have full capabilities to manage the device. Overall, I’m unimpressed by today’s update. Now maybe the functionality is there for the Zune HD – I wouldn’t know as I’m waiting to see reviews and handle one physically before purchasing one. But for us regular Zune users, I’m not seeing anything in this patch that makes it worthwhile (unless you like “shiny” and “pretty” effects, in which case check it out).

So once again, the Zune software is the star of my Sarah on User eXperience (SUX) series. Here’s hoping that one day it may be able to fully manage the device. And when the day comes where it supports audiobooks, I’ll hopefully be able to sing its praises. For now, I’ll continue to use the convoluted process of deleting parts through OverDrive Media Console and stay honest with my audiobooks on the Zune. But all that work just to stay honest… yeesh!

(And as I post this, I’m down to 36 hours on my SmartDJ install. Mind you, I wrote this post over an hour or so.)

Zune Software + Audiobooks = SUX

It isn’t a good sign when I revive the Sarah on User eXperience acronym – but sometimes there are bad user experiences that really deserve the SUX label.

Disclaimer: I hate writing disclaimers, but I need to make sure that you understand that these are my personal experiences and my personal thoughts. My employer is not responsible for my posts. Also for the record, I am active in the Microsoft community, and this isn’t meant to be an anti-Microsoft post. This is a call to action for them.

I love listening to audiobooks on my Zune. My recent experience though has me a bit dismayed about the whole process, and I hope Microsoft can get this straightened out.

When I download audiobooks from my local library, I can transfer the audiobooks to my Zune thanks to Zune firmware 3.0, which supports OverDrive audiobooks. But what the firmware seems to support is the transfer to the Zune. Deleting expired audiobooks from the Zune is a different story, and hence the reason for my dismay.

With my Zune, there seems to be a step missing. I use the OverDrive software to transfer to my Zune, but the delete process isn’t obvious. The audiobook experience with the Zune is like Hotel California – you can check out but you can never leave. You can expire, but you can never delete – at least at a first glance.

After a long time poking around on Live Search, I came across this process on how to delete the expired audiobooks. I apparently must get the OverDrive transfer wizard to a point where I can Browse the device and then delete each file individually. So I need to initiate a transfer in order to delete something – this alone is counterintuitive. But at the same time, the OverDrive software is just to transfer to the device – why doesn’t the Zune software have the ability to remove the audiobooks from the audiobooks section of the device?

When you have a lot of audiobook files – like the numerous files behind Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, in addition to some L.A. Theatre Works productions – this process is tedious and drawn out. If I have gripes about this user experience, I can only imagine the headaches of the non-technical user.

Microsoft dropped the ball in this case. The other devices out there provide ways for deleting audiobooks – be it through their own software or through Windows Explorer. With the Zune, neither path is available.

So Zune software devs, I have a suggestion for you. You know that section of the Zune software where you can see music, videos, pictures, podcasts, friends, and channels – how about adding a section there called “audiobooks” with the delete functionality so that Zune users can easily delete expired audiobooks from their Zunes?

Until this counterintuitive and frustrating process is addressed, I will stick to audiobooks on my non-Zune devices (laptops, desktops, netbooks, and other media players). I look forward to Microsoft adding the functionality to their Zune software to delete audiobooks so that I can eventually go back to listening to audiobooks on my Zune.