Zune Set to Hit Store Shelves on Nov. 14

Microsoft has confirmed pricing and delivery details for its upcoming Zune MP3 music player. The software giant on Thursday revealed its 30 GB Zune digital media player will cost US$249.99. The so-called iPod killer will be available to U.S. customers on Nov. 14, just in time for the holidays.

Microsoft will launch the Zune Marketplace — which competes head to head with Apple’s iTunes — on the same day. Zuners can buy a monthly subscription for $14.99 that will give them access to millions of songs. Taking a page from the iTunes pricing model, individual tracks will sell for 99 cents each.

Different, but the Same

The Zune and the iPod share similarities but they differ in important ways. Both players offer a dedicated media hub. Both offer high-quality LCD video screens. Both offer 30 GB models for $250 (Zune offers the 30 GB model only). Both offer big brand names consumers can trust.

That’s about where the comparisons, end, though. Microsoft is offering value-added functions and features it hopes will sway users to invest in its player this holiday shopping season.

The Zune offers wireless functionality for Zune-to-Zune sharing of music, pictures and home recordings and a built-in FM transmitter. It will also come preloaded with content, including songs, music videos and film shorts.

Competing with Apple

Of all the MP3 players on the market, Microsoft may have the best chance at competing with the entrenched iPod, which has become a sort of generic name for digital music players that have overtaken the once popular Sony Walkman.

Flash memory maker SanDisk is attempting to compete on price and content. It recently struck a deal with RealNetworks to deliver the Rhapsody Sansa, a new player based on SanDisk’s e200 series of Sansa portable players. The duo is offering automatic music updates based on listener’s personal preferences and 32 hours of pre-loaded music from popular artists.

Zune, though, offers something no other player has yet tried: wireless media sharing. That capability could turn heads, according to Enderle Group Principal Analyst Rob Enderle. “Kids love to share music. They also love to discover new music. This does make the Zune platform unique,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Is Bigger Better?

Zune’s physical characteristics are also unique. It’s about the same size as the original iPod, but much larger than Apple’s most popular nano model. By comparison, the Zune is slightly larger than the Motorola Q phone.

The large size could be a blessing or a curse for Microsoft: a curse for adults who want a compact player to take to the gym; a blessing for parents who want something more durable than a shuffle for their pre-teen children.

“The Zune is robust. If you are a parent buying something for your kid and you are worried about it lasting longer than two weeks, then the Zune is good. The nanos have not held up well at all. They are very fragile,” Enderle noted. “The Zune appears hardened.”

However, the market doesn’t always choose durable over sleek. “The Zune is big in a market that’s buying small,” Enderle noted.

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