Mac(mini) Daddy’s Zing Thing

Don’t get mad, just get even. That certainly holds true for Tim Bucher, the former senior vice president of engineering for Apple Computer, who claimed he was wrongfully dismissed by the iconic computer maker.

The man who had helped craft the Mac Mini and oversaw the iPod product divisions has resurfaced with his new company, Mountain View, Calif.-based Zing, that has developed a new reference platform for music devices. If successful, he would have developed a product that would put a serious dent into the iPod and iTunes ever growing domination of the digital music business.

Bucher had developed a new design for portable audio devices that has built in connectivity – wifi and Bluetooth – that would allow consumers to buy and/or subscriber to music services without being tethered to the personal computer. “Apple has created a great vertically integrated and easy to use model,” says Bucher, “But in the end it is a playback device.” Never mind the little fact that in the first quarter alone Apple sold 14 million of these shiny drives!

Bucher says he wanted to create a more compelling on the go-experience. The un-tethered music experience, where devices have connectivity will be the next evolution of the digital music business. He says the Zing solution has built in community features, and since there is built in connectivity, you can send song recommendations to friends and build special playlists.
Many of the features Zing seems to be offering have been sporadically spotted in other products. New York-based Music Gremlin is a start-up that has developed a connected MP3 player, albeit with limited success. What makes Zing different, Bucher claims is that it is not a company that is in the business of making hardware. It will work with partners who want to make hardware or offer services, through its ZING solution that offers

* core content management software and services
* ZAP— Zing’s extensible Application Platform
* ZING mobile service center
* a rich user interface design
* a hardware reference platform

“Our partners can use their own branded hardware and/or services to create unique end-to-end integrated mobile music and entertainment experiences,” said Bucher. When pressed for details on whether he is working with the likes of Napster, Rhapsody and Yahoo, Bucher said that folks at Yahoo were very supportive of his company’s efforts.

Just to spice up things (knowing the history between Bucher and Apple) I joshed with Bucher and asked him, if he would work with Apple? “If Apple wants to talk to us, sure,” he quipped. He was quick to point out that even Microsoft will never cut the cord from the PC. I have been on track of this company for nearly a year now, and had picked up bits-and-pieces of information. Bucher, as you might remember had also started Mirra Inc, a home back-up solution, which despite good technology never got mainstream traction, and was eventually sold to Seagate for an undisclosed amount of money.

Back to Zing – the company has also received an undisclosed amount of money from Redpoint Ventures and has signed up SIRIUS Satellite Radio as a customer. Bucher’s technology, however brilliant it might prove to be, will have to confront the same issues that have plagued rest of the industry. The vertical integration that most complain about, however is seen as ease of use by consumers. While we talk about new features, the less-is-more Apple philosophy resonates well with the mainstream America. But above all, Apple’s iPod has become a cultural phenomenon, and entered the mainstream consciousness.