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Coming Zune: An iPod killer?

Mike Musgrove

Microsoft's entry into the digital music player space is just about here and the tech team at the Post got a peek today.

The Zune's selling point, as Microsoft pitches it, is that it lets users share their music with each other, by sending songs around wirelessly. If another Zune user sends you a song on their device, you get a temporary copy that you can listen to three times within a limit of three days. Microsoft is starting an online music store, sorta like Apple's iTunes, for buying music. Or you can rip your CDs into the device. And songs downloaded from iTunes won't work on the thing.

The Microsoft Zune music and video player. (By Elaine Thompson, AP)

The gut reaction from Rob Pegoraro, the Post's Tech columnist, is that the Zune is "relatively thick and heavy." I kinda agree -- the thing's edges and heft reminded me a little of the early iPods. But it's certainly not bad-looking.

My iPod died recently, and I've been looking to replace it. I've resisted getting a new one partly because I wanted to see if there was anything supercool about the Zune that immediately grabbed me. Funny thing is, the main thing I like about the Zune is that it has some pretty old-school tech in it: A radio receiver. This isn't the first digital music player to have a built-in radio, but it's the slickest I've seen.

By Mike Musgrove  |  November 2, 2006; 1:42 PM ET  | Category:  Mike Musgrove
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At this point, I'm pretty well settled into iTunes. If Microsoft ever wants to get me away from my iPod - which will never happen, but let's say they did - is there a way to get at my fifty bazillion songs from iTunes, or would I be stuck ripping all my CDs again?

Posted by: h3 | November 2, 2006 3:14 PM

What causes an iPod to die? That's a scary proposition.

Posted by: kramdenyards | November 2, 2006 3:27 PM

If you poke around on the Net, you can certainly find software -- illicit or not -- that will convert your AAC files into a format recognizable on the Zune.

What causes an iPod to die? It's got a HARD DRIVE, for God's sake. Any hard drive can go south, at any moment.

I love my iPod; it works. If the Zune is serious competition for the iPod, that will be a serious upset. Does anybody think that the Microsoft music purchase interface (whatever the heck it is) will be as easy to use as iTunes? For the record, I've got a Dell and an HP at home, so it's not like I'm a Mac fanboy. I just think that the burden of proof is HEAVILY on Microsoft to show us that the Zune will not suck.

Posted by: TMU | November 2, 2006 3:35 PM

Zune's power is the embedded Wifi it has. For now it only sends songs to another Zune with the 3 days or 3 plays (whichever comes first) restriction and pictures without any restrictions.

The Zune team and Microsoft seem to understand the posibilities of a more useful Wifi, such as wireless PC sync, podcasting (or ZuneCasting maybe ?), entering the Zune MarketPlace from hotspots, surfing the internet, etc.

Matt Jubelirer, Zune team leader, said firmware updates will be released for Zune to add new features, as users request them.

As they say, you don't buy the product but the potential!

-- Share your Zune experience!

Posted by: | November 2, 2006 4:03 PM

The wi-fi sharing is a big legal problem. The 3 plays-3 days Digital Restriction Management that it adds can violate licensing.

And why then is there a difference between music and pictures for the 3-3? If a picture is copyright you don't 'protect' it, but you protect all music, even if there is no copyright?

I'll stick with my I-pod, and only put on music that I rip onto it.

Posted by: lonebear | November 2, 2006 4:11 PM

Zune is a fake iPod, not iPod killer. The big round thing on the front? On an iPod, that's a scroll wheel, the best feature of the device. On the Zune? It doesn't turn!! It is round for the sake of looking like an iPod, but it doesn't scroll, it just covers pressable buttons (which the iPod also has). iPods sell because the interface is ELEGANT. People get the iPod at the base, tactile level. Just won't happen for the Zune. Nothing to fall in love with there.

Posted by: Larry | November 2, 2006 4:35 PM

"You don't buy the product, but the potential"?

Boy, there's a Microsoft thought if I ever read one. Getcher updates and patches here!

How about, "It sucks now, but it's got so much room for improvement!"

Posted by: TMU | November 2, 2006 4:36 PM

"iPods sell because the interface is ELEGANT. "

See, i really don't think so. maybe it's because "they got to me" or something, but I like dealing with my files. period. i rip MP3s and listen to them on any computer with a sound card. I copy them to my Creative Zen or off-brand MP3 player and it works. I can upgrade equipment. I can *gasp* replace batteries! All this and freedom from Bono too! I don't need to mess with any stinking "library" or iTunes or not having my music be portable. Howcome you guys are SO sure microsoft is evil, but you're delighted to have a device that for all you know tells apple what you listened to and when every time you plug it in to buy yet another coldplay song?

Posted by: not a mac guy | November 2, 2006 4:57 PM

Here are two big issues with the Zune: 1) Will people "squirt" songs and other media regularly, assuming they can find another Zune user?; and 2) The Zune is not compatible with PlaysForSure, so this is really a THIRD player-software-store combo (Apple's, Plays for Sure, and now Zune).

If people don't really care about Zune-to-Zune syncing, that will make the WiFi moot for most. I doubt there are many instances people would do this, given the restrictions. If the sharing was unlimited and without restriction, I could see kids really liking it...

And I can't wait to see the Best Buy/Circuit City folks explain to a customer the difference between Apple's, Plays for Sure, and Zune DRM... Christmas morning with a Zune could be like the infamous Lion King game install fiasco years ago...

Posted by: CroP | November 2, 2006 5:03 PM

"but I like dealing with my files. period. i rip MP3s and listen to them on any computer with a sound card. I copy them to my Creative Zen or off-brand MP3 player and it works. I can upgrade equipment. I can *gasp* replace batteries! All this and freedom from Bono too! I don't need to mess with any stinking "library" or iTunes or not having my music be portable."

Yeah, an ipod can do all of that.

Just sayin'.

Posted by: mean joe green | November 2, 2006 5:19 PM

The problem is the millions of people that have iPods and use the iTunes store cannot easily migrate to the Zune. They may pick up some new customers but they are not going to take any away from Apple. Besides, the Zune is the size of a full size iPod, they have nothing in the smaller form factor which is VERY popular.

If Microsoft would have let people buy music from the Zune I think the WiFi would have been a hit. Send a friend a song to try, they like it then buy right from the device with a couple of clicks. Alas, they cut corners to get it out by Christmas and the functionality isn't there.

Posted by: Troy | November 2, 2006 5:25 PM

I really don't think the Zune will be a big hit this holiday season, I mean come on, Apple is way ahead of Microsoft in terms of development. Apple just announced the development of a touch screen ipod. Also another key factor is that the Zune marketplace has no content avaliable now, no music, no movies, no shows, no nothing at this point. Do you think that will motivate holiday shoppers? I think not.

Posted by: Larry | November 2, 2006 6:09 PM

"is there a way to get at my fifty bazillion songs from iTunes, or would I be stuck ripping all my CDs again?"

The Zune plays unprotected AAC files, which would include all of your CDs ripped into iTunes.

Posted by: Mac | November 2, 2006 6:45 PM

Well, Bill Gates has a lot of money so let him lose a few billion or so on this thing. I think being able to listen to the tune 3 times is kind of a joke. From what I see also, Zune does not have nearly the aesthetic elegance of the I-Pod, which thus far has been unsurpassable. As for Wi-Fi, probably Apple will soon come out with its real 6th generation I-Pod (not the current 5.5 upgrade) which will have real Wi-Fi. That means uploads directly from your ITunes on your PC, probably via Bluetooth. Furthermore, Microsoft is a bit obsessed with this DRM thing, I mean why 3 times anyway? Why not make it five or something. As for not working with ITunes but some other (crappy) music services, forget it!

Posted by: Joseph | November 2, 2006 6:55 PM

Let's face it, the iPod is currently ubiquitous, passé, and generally uncool.

Zune plans on expanding their Wi-Fi features in the future. The sooner they do this, the better.

With iTunes, your only choice is to purchase individual songs. With Zune, you can either purchase individual songs, or listen to an unlimited number of different songs for a flat monthly fee. That sounds like a great (legal) way to discover new-to-the-listener music. (Yes, a subscription, like cable televison or satellite radio.)

In the coming years, iPod is going to face increasing competition from a variety of sources, and it's a safe bet that their market share will fall.

Posted by: JohnJ | November 2, 2006 11:05 PM

BTW, I just checked the web site, and they claim "And Zune software can automatically import your existing files, including your music and video from iTunes® and Windows Media® Player.[1]...[1] Zune software can import audio files in unprotected WMA, MP3, AAC; photos in JPEG; and videos in WMV, MPEG-4, H.264."

Posted by: JohnJ | November 2, 2006 11:16 PM

Actually, the Zune improves on iPod with its controls. The iPod scroll-wheel is huge, and robs the device of space that could otherwise be used for a larger screen.

I predict that the next iPod will have a much smaller scroll-wheel - - that is, if it doesn't go straight to a touchscreen control system.


Posted by: frabgod | November 3, 2006 1:43 AM

Zune reminds me of Origami, lot's of hype and no benefit. Zune costs the same is bigger and heavier and dosen't integrate with iTunes why would anybody even care about a modified and brown Toshiba gigabit opps sorry Zune.

Posted by: noZune | November 3, 2006 9:30 AM

I really don't see what is so great about iTunes anyway. For the price of just 5 songs per month on iTunes, I get unlimited, portable downloads on Yahoo Music Unlimited ToGo. I currently have around 8500 songs downloaded to my PC and my Creative Labs player can hold around 2500 of those at a time. The Creative Labs player also has better sound quality and was about $100 cheaper than the comparable iPod photo. I guess I just don't get it.

And BTW, I do like Apple in general, I have a Mac at home and at work (along with several PC's too).

Posted by: ChrisF | November 3, 2006 11:04 AM

I just hope the Zune has a longer life than the Ipod. I used my Ipods a LOT, usually all day at work - and on my commute - so more than 40 hours a week. I've been through 2 Ipods in 2 years - they flash a little folder at me and start making weird noises and that's the end. THATS why I won't buy another Ipod - they're basically disposable.

Posted by: jbw | November 3, 2006 11:32 AM

So far, i haven't seen any advantages advertised for the Zune over the iPod except wireless transfer, which is something that i won't be doing anyway. Every iPod owner has a complaint or two -- hard drive might die, battery life not as long as we'd like. News flash: Zune doesn't fix these problems.
Also, some folks seem to be obsessed with the online music stores, even though wise shoppers can buy used CD's and rip better quality music onto their players without the limitations that come with online music stores. And yes, subscription-based services are disgustingly expensive. The iPod is superior to every other music player on the market not because of the store, but because of the ease of file transfer and management -- excellent software and interface of both player AND iTunes. We all know that Microsoft's offering will be more clunky, trouble-prone, and restrictive. I'm just not interested in what they say - just watch what MS does.

Posted by: jsr | November 3, 2006 11:53 AM

Will you journalists please stop using the phrase "iPod killer"? You never use the phrase "Tivo killer" or "Windows killer" or "DVD killer", even though these products are constantly being targeted in the marketplace. What makes you think that the iPod is going to suddenly die with the appearance of yet another contender in the ring? Call it competition, which is what it is. Elevating ordinary free market competition to a "war" with deadly consequences sounds to me like cheap political hackery intended not to enlighten us but rather to grab media attention. Have you journalists completely lost perspective?

For the record: I would rather go back to my portable CD player than use a Zune. The wireless filesharing is a joke. And as 'jsr' said, subscriptions are a rip off.

Posted by: anon | November 3, 2006 12:17 PM

"For the price of just 5 songs per month on iTunes, I get unlimited, portable downloads on Yahoo Music Unlimited ToGo."

What happens when you tire of paying month after month after month after month after...? Where does that music go?

I prefer to OWN my music, not rent it. Unlike movies, I'll listen to an album for many years to come, I might watch a movie a second time.

Posted by: Rick | November 5, 2006 3:27 PM

"I prefer to OWN my music, not rent it."

iTunes doesn't allow you to own the music either. Their DRM solution is just different, well not really, it's just limited. Places like Yahoo, Urge, and others offer both styles of DRM. There is the subscription service, and the individual "purchase" method. It's important to note however that you do not own it like you own a tape or a record. You cannot convert it into different formats (legally) and play it on any type of device you want. You can only have 5 authorized devices (be that your computers and ipods). Sure you can burn it to a CD and rerip it, but that will lead to a loss in quality since the files aren't at CD quality to begin with. Is iTunes still only 128 kbps? Either way, it's important to note that the "purchasing" service offered by iTunes is offered at these other stores in addition to the ability to choose a subscription service (you can use both methods at the same time at these other stores). iTunes is just lacking a subscription service.

Posted by: dizzle | November 15, 2006 2:36 PM

Do you know? I see zune video converter software is released in

Posted by: dvdtozune | November 15, 2006 8:09 PM

If you know free zune software on ?

Posted by: free zunesoftware site | November 15, 2006 8:14 PM

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