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
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
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
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.