Yes, the worst kept secret in the industry has now gone public. Microsoft has finally launched their “iPod killer” device known as the Zune. So, how does Microsoft’s entry into the market compete with the iPod? (More after the jump.)
Let’s start out with what we don’t know, because Microsoft’s initial press release and related literature is missing some rather important tidbits of information. The size and weight of the device, for example (described as “clunky” by people who have held it). Or battery life. Or price.
We do know that there will be just one model (30GB) that comes in three colors (white, black and, interestingly enough, brown). It will play music, video, and photos. At first glance, it’s very similar to the iPod, and even more similar to the Toshiba Gigabeat, since they both have the same horizontally oriented QVGA screen. But don’t mistake the Zune’s screen for a widescreen display. It’s the same resolution and aspect ratio as the iPod’s, but it’s horizontally oriented. This allows the screen to be a bit bigger (a 3″ screen in a device roughly the size of the iPod, which only has a 2.5″ screen) but it leaves a lot less room for the controls beneath the screen. Also that round thing beneath the screen isn’t actually an iPod-like scroll wheel. It’s actually just a set of normal buttons. Kind of like the iPod’s clickwheel without the scrolling function.
It will come with a companion piece of software, apparently also called Zune, which will act in the same way that iTunes does for the iPod. It will act as an interface for Microsoft’s online store, the Zune Marketplace. But let’s be frank — there’s really nothing in the details I’ve listed so far that we haven’t seen from a dozen other vendors. The way Microsoft is trying to differentiate itself is through the “social” aspects of the device, and in that vein they have included wireless networking. This (and the built-in FM tuner) seem to be the only features that the Zune has that the iPod lacks. The only example given so far of how the wireless networking feature will be used is music sharing. People can send a song to someone else with a Zune and they can try it out by listening to it up to 3 times. They would then have the option to buy it from Zune Marketplace. Hmm. Not exactly thrilling stuff. But I do think that the addition of wi-fi could have some definite potential. I wouldn’t be surprised if they allowed you to buy music from Zune Marketplace directly on your device, and wireless syncing is probably also a possibility. There have also been hints that it will be used to hook into Xbox live somehow, although the details of how that might work are still unknown.
At the moment, the only people who might really be interested in the Zune are the early adopters and the iPod-haters. I honestly can’t see any reason for other people to prefer this device over an iPod, at least not until Microsoft irons out what this whole “social” MP3 player idea really means. If they can come up with some really compelling uses for the built-in wireless, then they might have something. If they follow their track record, they’ll get something worth using around version 2 or 3.