‘Zune’ Details Revealed – Microsoft Announces New IPod Competitor

Microsoft has a thorn in it’s side. Or perhaps we should say an Apple. The Cupertino based computer and consumer electronics firm holds a dominant lead in the digital music market, it’s market share estimated by some to be upwards of 70% for both song and album downloads and sales of digital audio players. Microsoft’s numbers are an extreme fraction of what Apple has.

Microsoft and Apple both have a common goal though: dominance of the digital living room. The war began (and continues) with the device you carry with you everyday, but the end goal is to have a device with their logo on it in your living room.

To this end, Microsoft this week released details of it’s upcoming “Zune” music player brand and ecosystem, its latest weapon in its digital music battle with Apple. Only a select few have had hands on time with the initial device, but combining that with the details that Microsoft released is enough to grant one a big picture view of what the device and what it will offer you. Later on, we’ll do a point by point analysis of the first device in the lineup versus the iPod, as Apple upgraded that lineup this week as well.

It’s about community

Wanting to differentiate its product from the iPod, Microsoft has built a Wi-Fi connection into its first digital audio player built under the Zune brand. Its not for browsing the web (the device will not have a web browser) but for cordlessly syncing your device with your PC to update the library and for wirelessly sharing music and photographs with other users who own a Zune device. There are drawbacks of course. One concern is that Wi-Fi is a notorious battery killer. Microsoft hasn’t released specs yet, but you can be sure that this will not be a feature that you will want to leave on all the time. The other drawback is that shared music files will have a 3 day or 3 play limitation. Thats right, they don’t become yours to keep, even if the giver has rights to distribute that music to you, the way a band member might want to.

Size does matter

The screen on the device announced this week is 3 inches diagonally, whereas the screen for the iPod is only 2.5 inches measured the same way. Screen resolution for both devices is the same though, the Zune player has another nifty trick up it’s sleeve here: Start a video, and the screen orientation changes from portrait (straight up and down) to landscape (sideways) for optimal viewing. The video real estate is put to good use in other ways as well. Album art will display full screen, and you can select your favorite photos to serve as wallpaper for the device. Of course, all of this means that device will end being just a bit bigger than the biggest iPod. One person described it as barely disappearing into the average pants pocket.

Any capacity you like, as long as it is 30GB

Microsoft is emphasizing that Zune encompasses an ecosystem, and is not just the standalone music player they announced on Thursday. In the future, the lineup should be as varied as the iPod lineup, which includes the worlds smallest music player in the form of the new iPod shuffle priced at $79 and goes all the way up to the 80GB monster that will set you back $349.

But for this fall season, the Zune lineup includes one player, in white, black or brown with a 30GB capacity. Rumors of a Zune phone are already being bandied about the various tech blogs, and theres little doubt that Microsoft intends to flesh out the rest of its lineup the way Apple has. At one time, Apple had only a 5GB player on the market as well.

This is by no means a thorough review of the announcement. We’ll cover more, and in more depth when we do a lineup comparison of the iPod vs the Zune for the upcoming fall shopping season.

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