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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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RE: You must be kidding
By Mach Omega on 10/3/2007 3:52:09 PM , Rating: -1
If you haven't learned by now, DailyTech is nothing but a Microsoft shill site. Jackasses jump on here to knock any product that isn't from MS and will rate down anyone that says anything positive about the competition. Don't bother writing anything positive about Sony, Apple, Nintendo, et al.

C'mon, who in their right F!@#$ mind is going to claim that MS products are easier to use than Apple's? What kind of FUD bull!@#$ is that? I supported MS products for over a decade in many networked environments and the simple fact is that they all pretty much sucked. I switched to Apple and I never looked back. Hell even MARK CUBAN owns a Mac now and that jackass has been pro-PC forever. I have three Macs, a Wii, a PS3 and a PSP on my home network and I can't remember the last time I had a mysterious crap out that took me forever to fix. I used to build some of the world's fastest PCs so I know them inside and out and I will swear on a stack of any "holy" book you can find that supporting Macs is 1000 times easier.

As for the Zune, I've played with them and I don't find them superior to the iPods by a long shot. Anyone who disses the iPod, especially the nano or the Touch, just has an axe to grind. The nano is SICK, TV doesn't do the thing justice... I thought it was hideous until I actually saw one in person. The screen is crystal clear and it's about as well designed as you can make a product. Don't even get me started on the Touch or iPhone... Microsoft couldn't make a product superior to either if it had a million techs and a million lifetimes. I've used damn near every version of Windows Mobile and, compared to the mobile version of Mac OS X, it stinks, plain and simple.

Man, let's not even pretend that this site is anything other than for MS FUD. Half of these jackasses probably are in Redmond writing this crap while the other half are nimrods trying to turn the world's most powerful software company into the world's worst underdog. Apple's not a perfect company and neither is Sony but to act like MS is better is the pinnacle of hypocrisy. The human engineering on Apple products is WAY superior than most MS products, plain and simple. The first Zune failed because it was a hideous POS that was not significantly superior to the iPod. The new Zunes are better looking but still not significantly superior to the IPods, if you can claim superiority at all. If you prefer MS crap, that's fine but to claim that iPods are "inferior" based on a few pixels or bitrates is the type of geek !@#$ that people hate. People want products that are well-designed, simple to use, and provide an "experience." Microsoft products all scream "I am a corporate tool." THAT'S why people don't buy them unless they have to.

RE: You must be kidding
By aebiv on 10/3/2007 4:56:14 PM , Rating: 2
Somebody didn't get hugged enough as a child...

RE: You must be kidding
By Mach Omega on 10/3/07, Rating: -1
RE: You must be kidding
By aebiv on 10/3/2007 5:33:37 PM , Rating: 3
That's what happens when you post that Troll-like comment on a site where a lot of people have open minds and eyes.

RE: You must be kidding
By Mach Omega on 10/3/2007 6:31:27 PM , Rating: 1
Hmmm, you're a troll if you criticize MS.... I guess that makes you a shill. Funny how "open minded" only includes when you say something positive about Microsoft. You're a punk-ass shill... stop hiding behind your keyboard and just admit it. This site is anything but "open minded." If that was the case, then people could admit that companies other than MS make great products.

RE: You must be kidding
By aebiv on 10/3/2007 6:50:39 PM , Rating: 2
Amazing how you go right into name calling and labels...

Maybe I am an MS "shill"... Wait, that would mean I'd need to not be typing this on a Mac, or running through my Suse gateway on my network.

Probably would have to throw away my Sharp Zaurus too...

I dunno, the price of becoming a "punk-ass shill" seems to high for me accept!!!!

I'll just stay open minded instead. ;)

RE: You must be kidding
By Mach Omega on 10/3/2007 7:01:52 PM , Rating: 2
I go "right into name calling and labels" when someone accuses me of not being "open minded" when I'm accused of "troll-like" behavior when you only have to look at these threads to see that I'm telling the truth. Any post on here that is critical of the Zune, regardless of how objective, has been rated down to -1.

I don't know how you can be so "open-minded" with your head up your ass.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home
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