On Zune: satisfying experiences should start with opening the box

First off, let me say that I remember when unpacking a Mac was an experience like opening any other consumer electronic (c. 1985). Except that it was a computer… you know, the things that at the time arrived in shipping crates on pallets. Opening up a Macintosh 128K computer was like nothing I’d ever experienced before (yes, I owned one), from the outer box to the manuals and system disks. Same went for the 20th anniversary Mac.

Over the last few years, a number of vocal people in the Mac community have relished the experience of opening a new Mac, such as this fellow:

“Unpacking an Apple product is an experience unto itself. Everything is so perfectly arranged to maximize the impact of your new PowerBook not as a piece of equipment, but a piece of your life. Just taking it out of the box makes you feel special (which, of course, you are… you’re a Mac user now!).”

As Wired reported last fall, there is an art to documenting the arrival home of the most recent Macs, from unpacking a Macmini to towers. It has developed quite a community of people capturing the entire unpacking process from start to finish…

“One such gallery still popular — and receiving regular hits two years after it was posted — is the Genie Apple G5 Setup Gallery, which stars songwriter Genie Nilsson as a Power Mac G5’s lovely and talented assistant. Nilsson’s husband, Troy, said the gallery was an instant hit.”

Although the new LifeCam VX-3000 package design gives a nod to the now legendary i-pod PRO 2005 XP package video, I found the package to be informative if just to provide me with simultaneous translations of marketing and product specs.


But far from one I would save (the box is already in the recycling bin). I did appreciate that the wizards on the packaging design team were able to find a vendor that made it so easy to recycle the three major parts: outer paper package, single fold over plastic bubble pak and inside folded cardboard support. The purpose of the package is clear: provide shelf space, show the product and attract attention from all the other cameras competing for your attention.

In retail, this approach is common and I’ll argue helpful: it was great to see all of the major benefits and specs right there on the package. I’m one of those people who will ask staff in retail to open a box if I can’t find the answer I’m looking for on the outside of the package; more often than not they oblige and are eager to learn right along side me. People in the Entertainment & Devices division who make the hardware — mice, keyboards and now cameras — are aware of the impact great aesthetics play in buying decisions: I bought the new VX-3000 based on the sleek design and comparable specs, in that order.

Back to the Mac. In my home-before-Redmond, Mark Morford wrote in the SF Gate this about a new Apple PowerBook…

“And yet. You can’t help but notice. Apple seemed to really put some serious work into this, into the details, the packaging, the shape and texture. The rich black box, the clean unobtrusive font, the silver sliver inch-wide side-shot photograph of the PowerBook itself on the box lid.

“No screaming colors and no garish cartoon graphics and no massive corporate logo and no bullet-point exclamation points listing the outrageous features you’ll never use and you’re like, wait a minute, what they hell does Apple think they’re hawking here, art?

“You can’t help but handle the package with something approaching astonishment and even a trace of reverence. Could this actually be something interesting and reasonably cool? Could this be something tactile and lovely and graceful that flies in the face of normal mediocre dumbed-down consumer design and tepid IKEA kit furniture and bland Windows chyme?”

I think that we will see a different story when Zune hit stores, judging from the sneak peak of the package.

People on the Zune design team are conscious of the market impact that a great package design has on the overall consumer experience: the box the item comes in, the Zune hardware, the Zune’s UI and the online service. As we know, the product is more than the package, it’s the whole experience. Perhaps our customers will find a smart, well-designed and satisfying retail box experience (aka OOBE), one worthy of a Flickr photo stream, along with a simple and clear initial start up and configuration experience, and ultimately a great day-to-day user experience.

But for the box, I bet that it will be one of those packages that you keep on a shelf and in plain view, rather than stuck away in a closet waiting for the day you decide to upgrade your gear and auction the item off on eBay. And an experience worthy of a few press articles, Flickr streams, web sites and blog entries. 

Come Zune launch date, I may break trend and once again join the early adopter camp: we waited several months before buying our Xbox 360, as our boys continued to enjoy their tried-and-true Xbox. And maybe I’ll post my own stream of pictures on the “Opening of The Box.”

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