What J. Allard reveals when he talks about Microsoft's (and his) plans for conquering all media isn't surprising—an integrated, single network for all of its entertainment products and services. NYT's Bits sums up his spiel in three sentences:
Even though the Zune and Xbox product brands are separate, they are ultimately meant to connect to the same central network. The online services for Xbox, Zune and future products will merge. Video will be a key part of this service.
Allard also shared his feelings about the first Zune—what he calls "failing fast"—and the potentially true rumors of a Zune phone.
"Fast forward a little bit," and there'll be an all-in-one setup stratified "like DirecTV," where there's a "basic, there is enhanced, there is movie pack and NFL Sunday ticket," so it's like Xbox Live Gold and Silver, but with more customization. Customization, in fact, appears to be a core selling point of the service.
Maybe the J in J. Allard stands for Jesus:
What I want to do at E&D [the entertainment and devices division] is build an entertainment service that can connect, that has a screen and buttons and a speaker, so you can watch what you want, where you want, how you want. Maybe you are a commuter, and what you are all about is ESPN. I'll give you ESPN your way.
In sum, it's all about convergence, connection and customization—one service that everything's connected to all the time, and you get to pick and choose exactly how, when and where you consume what media. It sounds almost exactly like a digital convergence advocate's dream, if only Microsoft could pull it off without turning it into a clusterfuck.
But as much forward looking as Allard did during the interview, he also took a look back, to the early days of Zune:
I'm a big believer in failing fast... If we skipped last year, we would have never come out with the product we did this year... We learned that because of the shortfalls in the PC client [software], the device was less useful... People hated that there was no podcasts, that they couldn't fill their cultural cache [the Zune] with the stuff that was meaningful to them.
Regarding the all-important phone question, Allard opened with a "we'll never say never" and then went on to say:
A cellphone operator is not best positioned to decide how to lay out a menu. I think the iPhone came out and showed people a great experience, and in some ways got everybody to check their ego at the door.
While the Zune hardware may not evolve specifically into a Zune phone, the software the team is building may trickle into phones that Microsoft helps design:
What you will see from us is more of these signature experiences. When you see the Zune, you'll say say, I want my music experience on the phone to be like that. Hey, I want my telecommunication experience on the phone to be more like that.