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.



The major reason I use an iPod instead of a competing device is support for the .m4a/AAC format. I used to create MP3s at 160 kbps to get the audio quality I wanted. .m4a gives that to me at a 20% space savings. That means more music on the go.

So far, my concern seems to be in the minority, but I won’t switch devices until I see other mfrs. support the .m4a format.


Unless there is something that Zing did that is patentable and patented by them, I don’t see widespread success because the iPod is heading toward wireless connectivity, and the best of these types of features will show up on a wireless iPod, but with tight integration into the iTunes Music Store, and maybe the rumored Mobile Me (whatever it is).

Technically, Zing needs to integrate as well or better with many other people’s hardware and many other people’s stores. Definitely not an easy or low-cost task.

Ralf Haller

It seems to me a sport these days to challenge Apple’s iPod. Examples of the things that surfaced just recently are Microsoft and its partners who are working with DoCoMo e.g. to build a player on cellphones in Japan. The other one was Creative who seemed to have suit Apple for IP violation? And now this one.
As I posted on our blog site (, I think the party that Apple opened seems pretty much closed for the rest now. Heroic trials are of course nice to watch but probably only Microsoft will have the deep pockets to go after it for years before maybe successful…

Jeremy Pepper

This will be the third dotcom with the Zing name. Not sure what that says about the viability, maybe third time’s a charm?

Om Malik

PanMan, while I agree that in the current world we are not connected, that doesn’t mean it will always be like that. i think over next five to ten years we will see that transition to always on connectivity. I think more so, this is a platform that could really end up getting traction overseas, and not in the US. iPod – will go wireless as well, at some point.


PanMan, I believe the zing platform allows for streaming AND storage of music. So you could store all your mp3s before you go boarding – just like you would with an ipod – but you could also download or stream new music once you get back into the chalet with wifi. The value in this platform is that you are decoupled from the proprietary transfer format of the ipod.


This sounds great, but in the current world, you just aren’t always connected. Maybe at work, and at home, but for example, not in between, and certainly not with high enough speeds to keep the music streaming. And certainly not when I’m snowboarding, in the alps. My iPod works wherever I take it, and this device will need some network coverage. The iPod works from the alps to the subway, and anywhere in between.
Where I the benifit, the world isn’t as connected yet as such a device would need.

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