Microsoft has been waiting for this moment for quite some
time, and now the time has come. Apple had its day in
the spotlight on Tuesday when it announced its 5.5G iPod, 2G iPod Nano and
2G iPod Shuffle, but Microsoft today is touting its new Zune
Portable Media Player. What was once known as "Project Argo"
now has to start the long journey uphill to take on the dominant champ
Details about the player really started coming to light last
month when the Toshiba
1089 appeared on the FCC website (always a great source for upcoming
products). From the documents, we gathered that Zune will feature a 30GB HDD,
802.11b/g wireless connectivity, an FM tuner, USB 2.0 interface and a massive
3" LCD screen. Microsoft confirmed all of those specifications today and disclosed
a few more for good measure.
As previously discussed, the Zune will feature Zune-to-Zune
music sharing which allows users to share full-length sample tracks of select
songs, homemade recordings, playlists and pictures between devices. Shared
songs can be listened to up to three times over the course of three days. Songs
that you receive from other Zune users that you like can be flagged and later
purchased from the Zune Marketplace.
Zune Marketplace is Microsoft's alternative to iTunes and is
an all-in-one media player, store and album/video manager. Users can purchase
songs one at a time or purchase a Zune Pass subscription and download as many
songs as you choose for a flat fee.
Microsoft has also announced three new accessories that will
be initially available for the Zune. They include the Zune Car Pack (FM tuner
with car charger), Zune Home A/V Pack (AV output cable, dock, sync cable, AC adapter
and wireless remote) and the Zune Travel Pack (earphones, dual connect remote,
travel bag, sync cable and AC adapter).
Some fans of Apple’s iPod were a bit disappointed with the model
range revamp. While Apple performed the usual updates such as improved battery
life and brighter screens along with storage capacity bumps across the board,
there wasn’t anything really there to make consumers go “WOW” – gapless
playback doesn’t count.
However, Apple at least has two things going for it when
comparing the 5.5G iPod to the Zune. Firstly, the $349 model features Toshiba’s new 1.8”
80GB hard drive which easily trumps the Zune’s meager 30GB unit. Secondly,
Apple has popularity on its side. Even Microsoft’s J. Allard describes the iPod
as "the Pong of
digital music." The iPod faithful are a hard bunch to win over and
Microsoft will have its hands full despite such added perks like the 3” screen and WiFi.
Microsoft still hasn’t announced pricing or availability for
Zune, but we’ll keep you posted on the details.