Poor Zune. No matter what Microsoft does, its portable MP3 player is still treated like an ugly stepchild.
Rather than launching the third generation Zune to fanfare as planned on Sept. 16, Microsoft’s hand was forced when a partner — Ars Technica says it was the retailer Fry’s — “inadvertently posted a lion’s share of information” on the new devices, and Microsoft decided it might as well confirm the details.
All of this coming, of course, less than a day before Apple is expected to update its line of iPods with its usual special-event, hyped-to-the-max news conference.
The new Zunes include a handful of new features, none of which will erode Apple’s market dominance, but they are welcomed nonetheless. The first lets you buy songs over Wi-Fi, which you can already do on the iPod touch and iPhone through Apple’s iTunes Store.
Another feature allows you to buy songs you hear on the FM radio, something I would have liked 10 years ago, but now with the iPod (or Zune) who listens to FM radio all the time? The Zune also will be getting some music recommendation features, casual games, and a lower price for the Zune Pass subscription service.
Much of the third-gen Zune update deals with software and service enhancements, but there are a few hardware improvements as well. The top-of-the-line hard drive model now holds 120 GB and the flash model carries 16 GB. These remain $249 and $199, respectively.
Older Zunes, however, will see price drops: the 80 GB Zune will sell for $229, and the 8 GB and 4 GB models will sell for $150 and $130, respectively.
As far as the Zune’s “social” features go — the sharing of music between devices, for example — we see nothing new, which might have been enough to steal some attention tomorrow from Apple and its new iPods.
But, alas, no.