Microsoft’s Zune Gets Official Unveiling

In what it calls the next big milestone for its connected entertainment vision, Microsoft on Thursday took the wraps off its upcoming Zune music player and service.

Microsoft’s announcement comes a day after Apple revealed several new iPods and the availability of full-length feature films at its iTunes store. Microsoft does not appear to be intimidated by Apple’s multimedia plans.

“The digital music entertainment revolution is just beginning,” said J Allard, vice president, design and development, Microsoft, who is leading the charge for building the family of Zune products. “With Zune, we are not simply delivering a portable device, we are introducing a new platform that helps bring artists closer to their audiences, and helps people find new music and develop new social connections.”

The Device

Set to be released in time for the holiday shopping season in the United States, the Zune player includes a 30 GB digital media player, access to the Zune Marketplace music service and a foundation for participation in the online Zune community.

The Zune device features wireless technology, a built-in FM tuner and a bright, 3-inch screen that allows users to show off music, pictures and video, and customize the experience with personal pictures or themes. Zune comes in three colors: black, brown and white.

Some are skeptical as to whether Zune will be the iPod killer it has been billed to be, however.

“This is a market that buys small and sexy devices and the Zune is neither small nor sexy,” Enderle Group Principal Analyst Rob Enderle told TechNewsWorld. “We know that people get iTunes through the iPod. They don’t get the iPod because they love iTunes. While the Zune music service is arguably better than iTunes on a number of vectors, if folks buy [such services] because they like the player better, then the Zune player is not up to that standard.”

Connected Entertainment

What consumers might like, Enderle said, is Microsoft’s connected entertainment concept. Wireless Zune-to-Zune sharing lets consumers exchange full-length sample tracks of select songs, homemade recordings, playlists or pictures. Sharers can only listen to the full track of any song they receive via such an exchange, however, up to three times over three days.

“Zune is optimized for musicians, so it creates a closer relationship between a fan and the musician and a musician and their fans. That’s the back end service. Communicating that [to consumers] is going to be a problem because it’s a complex concept,” Enderle said. “What we do know is that kids love to share their music.”

The Zune Marketplace

Millions of songs will be available in the Zune Marketplace, according to Microsoft. Digital downloaders can choose to purchase tracks individually or buy a Zune Pass subscription to download as many songs as they want for a flat fee.

Every Zune device is preloaded with content from record labels such as DTS, EMI Music’s Astralwerks Records and Virgin Records, Ninja Tune, Playlouderecordings, Quango Music Group, Sub Pop Records and V2/Artemis Records.

There are also Zune accessories, including a car pack, a travel pack that includes premium earphones, and a home audio visual pack that integrates Zune with a TV and external speakers. The latter will compete with Apple’s soon-to-be-released iTV device.

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