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Microsoft Plays a New Zune

Almost a year after introducing its Zune music player--then seeing it land in the marketplace with a resounding thud--Microsoft is taking another whack at the concept, as Mike Musgrove reports today.

The software giant just unveiled two new Zunes. One's a $250 souped-up version of the old model, now with an 80-gigabyte hard drive. The other is a smaller, lighter flash memory-based model: $150 for a 4-GB version, $200 for an 8-GB unit. Both include a redesigned, squarish "Zune Pad" controller that, unlike the old model's circular control, doesn't invite new users to assume (incorrectly) that it functions like an iPod click-wheel dial.

Microsoft's press release touts upgrades to the Zune's wireless networking. You can now sync a Zune wirelessly to a PC, and if you send a song to another Zune owner, the song won't automatically vanish from the other Zune after three days. The recipient can also send this song on to still other Zune owners--but can still only play it three times.

The Zune Marketplace, the Zune-only online store, will follow the lead of Apple and Amazon by adding DRM-free MP3s to its music inventory. It will also stock music videos, but apparently not TV shows or movies. And Zune users will also be able to share their favorite songs and playlists on a new online-community site called Zune Social... assuming they have time for yet another social-networking site.

That press release, however, makes no mention of any changes to my two least favorite Zune features: Its incompatibility with Microsoft's own PlaysForSure format for purchased audio and video downloads, and the Zune Marketplace's dopey "Microsoft Points" payment system.

I can't tell if the new models will fare better than earlier ones. They won't ship until later in the fall; Microsoft's own Zune site hasn't even been updated to list their specifications.

But I have to wonder if it's wise for Microsoft to keep emphasizing music-sharing features that only work if you can find another Zune user within sight. So far, I have seen Zunes in the wild exactly twice--once on the Green Line of the Metro headed across town, a second time on a flight from Cleveland back to D.C. Excluding Microsoft product demos, I've never spotted two Zunes in the same place at the same time.

I'd like to hear from any Zune owners out there. How often do you share music with fellow Zunesters?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 3, 2007; 1:07 PM ET
Categories:  Music  
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Comments

Posted by: looking for zunes | October 3, 2007 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Once they open up the Wifi so that a PC can talk to the Zune, they can move forward to REALLY open up the Wifi.

I'll wait a little bit longer and see what happens.

Posted by: Shawn | October 3, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I have 2 close friends that have Zunes and we use wi-fi all the time. I think is better than taking off your earphones, giving them to your friend, etc. I also have used wi-fi at my college a few times.

The transfer of a song via wi-fi is really fast and if I like what I hear, I flag it and download it on the Zune Marketplace with the All You Can Eat pass when I get home.

Posted by: William | October 3, 2007 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I am a Zune user surrounded by Ipods, so I never use the sharing funtion. According to the preorder site on Amazon, the new Zune's will enable the WiFi to synch content from your PC on your home wireless network. That's a step in the right direction, but the killer app would be the ability to access the Zune marketplace in any hotspot.

Personally, I love the Zune Pass. $15/mo and all the music I want saves me a lot of money.

Posted by: John | October 3, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of assumptions:

"a squarish 'Zune Pad' controller that, unlike the old model's circular control, doesn't invite new users to assume (incorrectly) that it functions like an iPod click-wheel dial."

You seem to be assuming that everybody in the world knows how a click-wheel functions, or at least that somebody who would consider purchasing a Zune knows.

You are often accused of wearing Apple-shaped glasses, and this time I'd have to agree.

Posted by: Larry | October 3, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I own neither the iPod nor the Zune, but am researching them for holiday gifts this year. For our intended use, I have determined that there is NOTHING the Zune can offer the user that the iPod doesn't do as well or better. The clunky Zune remains a pale imitation of the real thing - sorry, some of us like to listen to music where wifi simply doesn't exist.

Reuters reported that during the new zune release event, "Gates said ceding an early lead to rivals and closing the gap over time was a recurring theme in his company's history, whether it was productivity software or PC operating systems."

That's clear admission that copying -- not innovating -- is what Redmond does best.

Posted by: zuneless | October 3, 2007 3:11 PM | Report abuse

LOL Ive shared music exactly once! When I see someone with a Zune its like meeting a long lost relative which is sad because it is a very good device. Ive ran through about for MP3 players in my lifetime and the Zune is by far my favorite.

Posted by: Jonathan | October 3, 2007 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Zune is more fun to say. Admit it. Zoooooooooooooooone!

Posted by: Zippy | October 3, 2007 4:24 PM | Report abuse

In response to Larry, above:

I've never owned an iPod or any Apple product, but like many people, I have handled a few iPods belonging to friends. Therefore I assumed that the old Zune's circular control pad was also a click-wheel, and I was disappointed when I found out it didn't rotate. It made the Zune seem like a cheap knock-off (which, arguably, it is).

Posted by: William B | October 3, 2007 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Squircle, this should give an indication of the stringent engineering and design that was devoted to this device. The main difference between a brown zune and manure, which it closely resembles, is that manure is actually quite functional and does well at what it was designed for. If any other company in the world had brought this travesty to the table, they'd be ignored or laughed at, only Microsoft's money keeps this topic alive. Zune2 is a good indicator of the amount of intellectual ability left in Redmond, which appparently is not much.

Posted by: R.U Sirius | October 3, 2007 7:35 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Larry. You hit the nail right on the head.

I think we need a new book series for the majority of the above posters titled "Chicken Soup for the Mac Fan Boy". It could teach them how to address competition issues and teach them to portray themselves, and therefore their genre, in a light that may, at some point, make them seem at least somewhat intelligent.

For the same price as the iPod nano, a Zune 2 gives you FM radio and wireless capabilities. The iPod nano's do NOT include wireless capabilities - The iPod touch does, but starts at $299 for the 8Gb model: Compare yourselves on the Apple Store:
http://store.apple.com/1-800-MY-APPLE/WebObjects/AppleStore.woa/wa/RSLID?nnmm=browse&mco=65FDC9AD&node=home/shop_ipod/family/ipod_nano

The Zune also offers full WMA support.

I think Rolling Stone got it right when they said "Still, Zune offers all-you-can eat music subscription services for $14.99 a month, an excellent and handy service that Apple doesn't offer. And the ability to transfer TV shows you may have recorded on your Windows Vista Ulimate or Premium laptop or desktop to your Zune is a huge plus." and "the new Zune won't overtake the iPod just yet. But Apple should hurry: The Zune offering the ability to watch shows you recorded for free is a serious app that should not be taken likely...."

link = http://www.rollingstone.com/rockdaily/index.php/2007/10/03/at-a-glance-microsofts-new-zune-players/

I think that the new Zunes combined with serious competition from Verizon and Research In Motion will make a serious dent in the mp3 market this holiday season and start pulling market share away from Apple. Additionally, the fact that ad based music and TV download web sites are popping up almost daily points to a new trend that will greatly impact iTunes. Why pay for music or videos or TV when you can download it for free and sync it wirelessly to your 4Gb Zune 2, which can be pre-ordered at Circuit City now for $149? Just as importantly, why pay Apple's inflated prices?

Circuit City Link = http://www.circuitcity.com/ccd/genericContent.do?oid=194398&c=1&cm_re=main%20marquee-_-Zune:%20slick%20new%20look,%20cool%20new%20features-_-Learn%20more%20&%20preorder%20%yours%20today

Now someone please write that book and I do hope the target audience does read it! Thanks.

Posted by: Master Guru | October 4, 2007 7:44 AM | Report abuse

i couldn't rationalize having an iPod or any MP3 player, so i didn't buy one for a long time, but my good bud got me a Shuffle for Christmas last year & i fell in love. i fill it w/ my own creations & from my CD library. i don't give a rat's patoot about local radio, they play the same 150-200 songs in a very tight rotation no matter if they're "Hank" or "Jack" or oldies, etc... the fragmentation sucks & being a Jazz-Reggae-RnB lover i'm left out of the radio playlists in my area, so FM radio on my MP3 player would be a wasted feature. i buy Apple because it works for me. myself & 96-98% of other creative types use Apple products-Final Cut, Logic, Shake, along w/ Mac versions of 3rd party software & hardware to create the content that fills Zune & Creative MP3 players, plays on TVs & is projected @ the movies. so be happy w/ whatever you have if it works for you. as for me, i'm happy & i'm sticking w/ my Macs, iPod & Apple 'cause it's easy to create the stuff everybody seems to want to watch & hear.

Posted by: dk jones | October 4, 2007 10:45 AM | Report abuse

@dk jones: "myself & 96-98% of other creative types use Apple products" because you're sheep?

"it's easy to create the stuff everybody seems to want to watch & hear." ... creating product for other sheep. I guess you make the stuff that local radio plays on tight rotation???

This is so hilarious.

Posted by: Jim | October 5, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I have the 5Gen iPod video. I use it everywhere, in the car, jogging, on the train, even in the office. The simplicity and gorgeous looks are still in their own league. I don't care too much to try anything else.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 5, 2007 5:14 PM | Report abuse

creative types use Apple products??????

I have been in Engineering, both Mechanical and Electrical for over 25 years. I have contracted for many large projects. I have never seen one MAC on any of these projects.

Please read through the FUD here and remember that in the USA businesses run on Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office.

If you fall into the MAC FAB BOY grip and think you will be productive on a MAC OS, you are wrong.

Your clients will scream and your banks will be bothered.

Research the facts here:

"Statistics are important information. From the statistics below, collected from W3Schools' log-files over a period of five years, you can extract the long and medium-term trends of operating system usage"

http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_os.asp

And this is from an entity that is far from a MS supporter!

Why do 90+% of peple use MS products? Because they work!

Posted by: Master Guru | October 5, 2007 7:00 PM | Report abuse

It is really funny to read the people go back and forth about which company has more sheep. I mean really people, one company dominates the portable music player market, and the other dominates the OS landscape. Each with major herds of sheep. Both are trying to move onto the other's turf.

Admittedly, I haven't had a chance to use a Zune 2, but the first one didn't "do it" for me. On paper, these definitely look better, but until the whole experience is on par with Apple's offering, keep going back to the drawing board. This is why people pay the "inflated" prices.

It is childish to accuse someone of being a sheep simply because they prefer another company's product over your choice. Some of you should think about the last time you were in the market for a new computer. Did you give a thought to anything other than a PC w/Windows based OS? If not, are you a "sheep"?

By the way, I am myself an Electrical Engineer, and I long to get home to work/play on my Mac because my rig at work with Windows is a piece. Just because I'm forced to use it there doesn't mean that it is simply because it "works". Everyone needs to open their minds, on both sides of this silly argument...

Posted by: Big Sid | October 5, 2007 11:04 PM | Report abuse

I would like to correct a little tidbit here.

Microsoft officially calls the color of the brown zune, "Soviet Brown". It's a nice little homage to how the soviet union used to create consumer electronics.

There was actually an argument within Microsoft that they would put a red star on the front or back of the Zune, but there was a fear that it might affect sales in the midwest.

Internally, the brown is called simply "Soviet" at Microsoft.

Posted by: Bunkley | October 6, 2007 10:10 AM | Report abuse

WMA support as a feature? WMA is a completely closed proprietary format. And before you claim apple does as well, consider that AAC is a completely open format and is also supported on the PC. By contrast, WMA is only supported on Windows platforms.

It is also laughable to list FM as a desirable feature. With the exception of public radio, there is nothing on FM worth listening to anymore. Clearchannel killed FM... what we're seeing (or hearing, rather) now is the dead body.

Posted by: Truth | October 6, 2007 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Entirely agree with Truth -- the people who listen to FM radio these days, those are the real sheep.

Classical radio is not much better. How many times in a month can you listen to the Mendelssohn violin concerto? If I were driving to work and I heard a medieval conductus, Josquin mass, Bartók quartet, Louis Andriessen, or electroacoustic work by someone like Paul Lansky, I think I would crap in my pants and probably wreck my car with excitement. I'm confident this will never happen, though.

Mac vs PC debates are usually hilarious because people usually ignore the underlying system technologies. Architecturally, Windows is a ghastly mess -- it "works," more or less, but DLL hell, system vulnerabilities due to integrating components of user software into the operating system and the like are indications of poor design and lead me to the conclusion that one of the miracles of the modern world is that you can actually do anything productive in Windows at all. Mac underlying technology is better (BSD) but I understand from some software developer friends that the proprietary APIs make it harder for Unix developers to approach the Mac.

This, incidentally, is part of the secret of Windows dominance -- since everything is proprietary, it's much harder to write cross platform software. Cross platform software is better for the industry -- more choice, more flexibility -- but M$ would gladly see the industry collapse if it meant no more competition from anybody. So I have to conclude that M$ is not the best for people, but it's very very good for itself.

Posted by: James | October 6, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

WRT creative people...

I'm a musician -- composer of live computer music -- and OSX's CoreAudio helps me every day by being rock solid stable. Device driver installation is a snap -- no DLL hell. Plus, the software I use for composition works best on the Mac (the author actually joined Apple's CoreAudio development team after releasing the software as an open source project).

If choosing tools that work for me makes me a Mac fan boy, so be it. I call it a rational decision, and if someone gets as hot and bothered about said decision as Master Guru, that's their own business. In the meantime, I'm happily getting work done on my Mac.

It isn't any of my business whether anybody else chooses one system over another... whereas Mr. Guru seems to have some sort of bizarre ax to grind about this. Whatever.

Posted by: James | October 6, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

To the unbelievers:

What I have written can be proven. What you have, cannot.

Simple.

Posted by: Master Guru | October 7, 2007 2:51 AM | Report abuse

Hey "guru"... do you know why 90% of people use MS? Because it was preinstalled.

If you somehow could magically get Mac OSX or Linux installed on their PC, they would magically use that operating system.

Incidentally, I dare you to use Vista. It will make you regret using it every day you're forced to. Every time you open the Control Panel and Vista says "Vista has detected the Control panel has started. Do you want to allow?" you'll feel stupid that you paid money to abused by an operating system.

Microsoft's stuff keeps gettin worse and worse. They are in 2007 what IBM was in 1987: a giant on the verge of collapse due to incompetence.

Posted by: Oh Henry | October 7, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm proud of Apple here, finally acting like a grown-up company!

http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com

Posted by: Steve Ballmer | October 8, 2007 2:35 AM | Report abuse

All of the Zune's critics are silent in the face of our new software and models!
Nobody has anything that comes even remotely close to the "Squircle". If Apple tries to copy this we will sue the living daylights out of them and cancel Office '08 completely!
See all of the details at ZuneScene!
Tell 'em Steve sent 'cha!

http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com

Posted by: Steve Ballmer | October 8, 2007 2:36 AM | Report abuse

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