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Microsoft readies slimmer HDD-based Zune and a new flash-based Zune

Microsoft's answer to Apple's popular iPod family of players was first launched in mid-November 2006. The $249 player promised to change the way we socialize with portable audio devices while at the same time offering the Zune Marketplace which is Microsoft's equivalent to iTunes.

The original Zune came in three colors (white, black and brown) and featured a 30GB HDD, 4" color screen, built-in FM tuner and WiFi connectivity for "3-day-or-3-play" wireless music sharing. At launch, Microsoft also made available 100 limited edition hot pink Zunes which quickly made the rounds on eBay for insane prices. Recently, Microsoft added a fourth official color to the Zune family: pink.

While Apple is already celebrating 100 million iPods sold nearly six years into its initial launch, Microsoft has more sedate figures for its Zune. Microsoft expects to top the one million mark by next month and is right now holding on to roughly 2.4% of the MP3 player market compared to 73.7%, 9% and 3.3% for Apple, SanDisk and Creative respectively -- all of which have flash-based players in their lineups.

Microsoft may be falling behind in the portable media player market, but that isn't stopping the company from building a new manufacturing plant in China to produce its Zune. The plant will produce a second generation HDD-based Zune and the long-rumored flash-based Zune.

The second generation HDD-based Zune will be both smaller and lighter than the Toshiba-sourced first generation model. The new Zune will be new-from-the-ground-up with Microsoft playing a major role in the design. "There are definitely some cost efficiencies, but the more important thing from our perspective is the flexibility and control we have in creating a device from scratch and making it down to the last component what we want it to be," said Jason Reindorp, marketing director for the Zune.

Microsoft is also hard at work on a flash-based Zune to take on the iPod Nano. Flash-based players make up an overwhelming majority of Apple iPod sales, so Microsoft would be remiss not to follow suit. Microsoft will likely target the Nano as far as size and weight is concerned. Also expect maximum storage capacities of at least 8GB (as seen with current iPod Nanos). A 16GB model shouldn’t be ruled out considering fast-dropping NAND flash prices.

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Maybe it's just me but..
By ahkey on 5/15/2007 10:35:28 AM , Rating: -1
I could never understand the aesthetic attraction of Zune. I mean, it's really clunky looking and sports a terrible range of colours: I mean, brown?! Hopefully the new version will be a tad more stylish, have improved sharing and some decent colours.

RE: Maybe it's just me but..
By noirsoft on 5/15/2007 10:54:25 AM , Rating: 3
It looks better than an iPod. The screen is much bigger, the wheel-as-4-way works much better than the dumb round touchpad of the iPod, the interface is better, and I could go on and on. There is not one thing that is better about the iPod hardware or software.

Of course, because, like the iPod, it is foolishly tied to one and only one online store, and does not integrate with WMP, I won't buy one and will stick with my Zen Vision-M.

RE: Maybe it's just me but..
By ahkey on 5/15/2007 11:00:14 AM , Rating: 4
I readily agree that the Zen is more attractive than both. I'm just questioning the real appeal of Zune; sales figures might support the conclusion that there *is* no particular appeal.

RE: Maybe it's just me but..
By mcturkey on 5/15/2007 8:09:04 PM , Rating: 2
The sales figures are definitely low, but we must remember that there is only one configuration of Zune available: 30GB HDD. There is no flash-based option, there is no larger or smaller HDD, there is no "mini/nano" or music-only version. The other vendors all have various sizes and configurations, so when you narrow it down to just 30GB players, I suspect the Zune is pretty competitive. Of course, it's Microsoft's fault for not offering more variety from the start.

RE: Maybe it's just me but..
By Samus on 5/15/2007 11:04:29 AM , Rating: 3
I agree. It is much more asthetically pleasing than any iPod product. The screen is simply better, PSP-class quality. It isn't clunky, and it doesn't weigh much. Also, brown is quite a stand-out color. Nobody else has it.

RE: Maybe it's just me but..
By Storkme on 5/15/2007 12:28:17 PM , Rating: 2
There's a reason for that.

RE: Maybe it's just me but..
By Oregonian2 on 5/15/2007 1:58:40 PM , Rating: 2

RE: Maybe it's just me but..
By AlexWade on 5/15/2007 10:59:02 AM , Rating: 1
And, to top it off, sharing songs was called squirting. Imagine squirting with a brown Zune? The whole thing had the look and feel of middle aged suits trying to decide what was "in".

RE: Maybe it's just me but..
By BillyBatson on 5/15/2007 11:32:48 AM , Rating: 2
as far as zune looks vs ipod looks it is a toss up, i do like the ipod better overall because of its size, weight, and matterials however i still thinkt he zune is attractive with the big screen and it sort of looks retro
also out of all the current colors my favorite is actually the brown/green combo!!! I almost bought one and if i still did i was insist on the brown. it just looks cool witht he weird brown and the green highlights, reminds me of that phase change paint everyone would paint their mustangs circa 1999 where the color would go from different shades of brown, green, and purple depending on the angle and light

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