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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 – Woot.com 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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What do you guys think?
By kristof007 on 10/3/2007 3:24:25 AM , Rating: 2
Could the wireless syncing be included as a firmware upgrade for the player and new update for WMP11? Or does it need something completely new. I mean if it has Wi-Fi abilities to connect to other players I am sure it could connect to a computer.

So why do you guys think Microsoft didn't include wireless syncing of libraries with this new Zune?




RE: What do you guys think?
By zombiexl on 10/3/2007 6:52:44 AM , Rating: 2
If its standard wifi i dont see why not. The hardware is there, its just a matter of tapping into it.


RE: What do you guys think?
By athlonotaku on 10/3/2007 9:25:26 AM , Rating: 2
If you made a lot of changes to your library --the sync process could take a while, probably draining a good portion of your battery.


RE: What do you guys think?
By tdawg on 10/3/2007 3:17:50 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
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.


Right there in Brandon's article.


"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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