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A single Zune 80 on the left with four flash Zunes on the right  (Source: Microsoft)

Zune 80  (Source: Microsoft)

Zune 4/8  (Source: Microsoft)

Zune 4/8 (Pink) with Zune Dock  (Source: Microsoft)

Zune Marketplace  (Source: Microsoft)
Welcome to the Social: Part Deux

It's been nearly a year since Microsoft launched its Zune portable media player (PMP). Microsoft and consumers had high hopes for the player as details began to slowly leak out concerning the player.

The specs for the player were nothing groundbreaking: 3" QVGA color screen, 30GB HDD, FM tuner and the ability to playback video. The one feature that did pique the interest of consumers, however, was the inclusion of WiFi.

Ideas quickly formulated about what WiFi could possibly be used for on the Zune. There were possibilities of wireless music sharing with family and friends, wireless album syncing with a host computer and perhaps the ability to download music and videos direct from Microsoft via the Internet.

Microsoft fulfilled the music sharing wishes of consumers by giving them the ability to share full-length songs on a "3-day-or-3-play" DRM scheme. The ability to wirelessly sync media with a host computer and wirelessly purchase music tracks, sadly, was nowhere to be found.

Microsoft's first entry into the PMP market had some trouble gaining traction in the market. In March, the player was holding on to roughly 2.4 percent of the PMP market. Apple, SanDisk and Creative held steady at 73.7 percent, 9 percent and 3.3 percent respectively.

Microsoft made moves to push its Zune players on the public with special edition Halo 3 models and a more recent price drop from $249 to $199 – has even featured the slow-selling White Zune for a low $129.99 on its often irreverent site.

Today, the Zune has still barely improved on March's 2.4 percent tally with a total market share of 3 percent according to BetaNews.

Microsoft is looking to change all of this with its new generation of Zune players. The new flash Zunes, as reported on yesterday by DailyTech, will be available in 4GB (Zune 4) and 8GB (Zune 8) varieties. The former will be priced at $149, while the latter will feature a $199 price tag. Both will feature WiFi and the ability to play videos. The Zune 4 and Zune 8 measure 1.6” x 3.6” x 0.33” and will be available in black, green, pink and red.

In addition, Microsoft revealed a new second generation HDD-based Zune. The new $249 Zune 80 features an 80GB HDD (in place of the previous 30GB unit) and a larger 3.2" glass display screen (up from 3"). The new Zune 80 is also noticeably thinner than the first generation model. The Zune 80 measures 2.4” x 4.25” x 0.5” and will initially only be available in black.

All new Zunes features a new touch-sensitive "squircle" controller which Microsoft dubs the "Zune Pad." The Zune Pad is used to navigate through the Zune's menu system. Microsoft has added the ability to playback h.264 and MPEG-4 video on all new Zunes.

Microsoft is also righting at least one of its wrongs with the original Zune regarding WiFi -- all of the new Zunes will be able to wirelessly sync audio, video and photos with a host computer. Syncing occurs automatically when a Zune is within WiFi range of a host computer. This capability (along with the additional video code support) will be added to first generation Zunes with a firmware update (there is no word yet on the availability of said firmware update).

Microsoft revealed that the first generation Zune will now be known as the Zune 30 and will be sold alongside the Zune 80. The Zune 30 will retain the physical attributes of the first generation, but will come standard with the new Zune 80 user interface/firmware and product packaging.

Microsoft is also debuting new Zune Marketplace software to sync with the Zune. The Zune Marketplace will be home to DRM-free music tracks -- over one million of which will be available when the new Zunes launch.

Other loose ends include the news that part of the "3-day-or-3-play" sharing scheme has been dropped – Zune users will no longer have a 3-day restriction placed on shared music files, but the 3-play limit is still in effect. All Zunes will have the ability to import recorded content and media from Windows Media Center-enabled PCs (Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate). The Zune will still not have access to a wireless music store a la the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, but there will be support for podcasts (which can be shared between Zunes).

Microsoft isn’t taking the portable media player market lightly this time and it is going full bore against Apple. Microsoft still needs to work on getting a wireless music store in place to fully tackle the Apple juggernaut, but there’s always room for an update in the future.

As it stands now, Microsoft new generation of Zunes – especially the flash-based Zune 4 and Zune 8 -- are a welcome refresh and should help the Redmond software giant gain more market share in an iPod-dominated sector.

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Beautiful Lineup
By kibets on 10/3/2007 12:06:38 AM , Rating: 5
Microsoft Zune: Very nice complimentary colors and design.

Apple: shoddy incoherent looking product mix

Microsoft +1 IMO... now market the hell out of it... seriously I'd like one of each.

RE: Beautiful Lineup
By GoodBytes on 10/3/2007 1:19:54 AM , Rating: 3
If reviews are good, it means that Microsoft actually got it, and might be severe competition with Apple.

RE: Beautiful Lineup
By soydios on 10/3/2007 1:56:39 AM , Rating: 2
it looks good (not great, just a little bit better than iPod Touch & Classic, hence good) on paper, but we'll have to see how well and how soon the software implementation comes about.

RE: Beautiful Lineup
By JoshuaBuss on 10/3/2007 1:26:20 AM , Rating: 1
I agree about the nice-looking lineup.. those colors are all trendy and attractive. I especially like the green..

small sizes don't interest me at all though, so I hope to see a 160gb green variant for ~$299 soon :)

RE: Beautiful Lineup
By colonelclaw on 10/3/2007 9:35:26 AM , Rating: 4
heh, i was just thinking the green was the worst colour - far too close to snot for my liking. why couldn't they have made it a deep metallic racing green (a la Aston Martin)?

RE: Beautiful Lineup
By Oregonian2 on 10/3/2007 6:29:48 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with you. Green looks too 60/70's avocado colored. Rest looks pretty good colorwise. Makes me actually think seriously about the 80 (seeing as how I find the iPod touch that I had been waiting for (about a year) somewhat disappointing).

RE: Beautiful Lineup
By encryptkeeper on 10/3/2007 9:03:04 AM , Rating: 2
The problem is Microsoft's marketing is horrible. Or at least, it's horrible for the average consumer segment. Just about all Microsoft ads are geared towards businesses and business productivity. They're all something like this: "Do more with Windows Vista". Microsoft has always been excellent at leaving businesses with no choice but to buy from them, so they really don't know how to market to average users.

RE: Beautiful Lineup
By athlonotaku on 10/3/2007 9:22:56 AM , Rating: 2
M$ has plenty of cash.

Hiring a third party marketing/advertising company shouldn't be all that big of an expense for them.

RE: Beautiful Lineup
By themadmilkman on 10/3/2007 11:40:13 AM , Rating: 3
MS does. And they spend huge amounts of money paying an advertising agency to create their ads. But there's one problem, and is common among a large number of companies. The company paying the money gets the final say on what is advertised, how it is advertised, etc. There are literally thousands of examples of ad agencies creating excellent, creative ads that would likely help increase sales, only to have it shot down by some suit who doesn't "get it."

RE: Beautiful Lineup
By PrezWeezy on 10/3/2007 6:09:59 PM , Rating: 3
It is not MS that is giving business no choice. There are lots of choices. Any company that wants can use Mac, or Linux, or Sun. It's the fact that there are no real competitors to MS. And in my opinion, MS does a damn good job of their products. Sure they don't get them 100% every time, but after talking to them and having been an MCP for a while, I can tell you that they take consumer response very seriously. They at least try and give us what we want.

RE: Beautiful Lineup
By Mach Omega on 10/3/07, Rating: 0
RE: Beautiful Lineup
By Phynaz on 10/3/07, Rating: -1
RE: Beautiful Lineup
By TomCorelis on 10/3/2007 6:38:25 PM , Rating: 3
After reading about the extremely disappointing 160gb iPod classic, I'd seriously consider a Zune if it had the 160gb HD. The reason I own an iPod, after trying an Archos, and before that, Creative Nomad Jukebox 3, was because of the click wheel, and ONLY because of the click wheel. If the new Zune has that touch-sensitive things, and I can freely scroll up and down in my playlists without having to click or hold buttons, then I would snap one up in a heartbeat.

My only other concern is whether they can sync with Winamp like the ml_ipod plugin can sync with my iPod.

"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller
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