New Zune HD
Microsoft today announced its latest Zune portable media player designed to go head to head with Apple’s iPod touch. Dubbed the Zune HD, the device features a 3.3″ 16:9 widescreen capacitive OLED with multitouch, WiFi, and a built-in web browser, along with existing Zune media playback features. Talking of which, the “HD” moniker refers to both HD Radio (offering higher quality audio and additional track and station data), along with support for 720p HD video playback. Interestingly, the device itself only offers a screen resolution of 480 x 272, meaning that High Def videos played back on the device are downscaled, which shouldn’t matter all that much on such a small screen. To view content in its full HD glory, the Zune HD features a HDMI-compatible docking station for plugging into a high definition television.
Of course to really take on the iPod touch, not only will the Zune HD’s web browsing experience need to up its game compared to existing Windows Mobile devices, but it would need to foster its own third-party software eco-system. Something that Microsoft hasn’t yet announced and it’s unclear if the company plans to do so, although I’m not ruling it out. Remember Apple doesn’t call the iPod touch a media player, instead referring to the device as the “first mainstream Wi-Fi mobile platform, running all kinds of mobile applications.”
Last February when Microsoft announced it had purchased Danger, makers of T-Mobile’s consumer friendly smartphone the Sidekick, I suggested that rumors of a Zune-branded phone would quickly resurface. Today, CNBC’s Jim Goldman claims that a new device from Microsoft, codenamed ‘pink’, is indeed in the works and that it will combine the company’s Zune with technology from Danger, with an end goal to develop a viable competitor to Apple’s iPhone.
All of which seems perfectly plausible. Both the Zune and Danger teams fall under the company’s Entertainment and Devices Division, which also overseas the XBox 360 — Microsoft’s most successful foray into the consumer electronics space — and is all about what the company calls “connected experiences”. As I wrote at the time, it’s in this context where the Danger acquisition made most sense, with Microsoft citing Danger’s mobile Web browsing, instant messaging, games, multimedia, and social networking applications, which in combination with MSN, Xbox, Zune, Windows Live and Windows Mobile technologies, would help it deliver “industry-leading entertainment and communication experiences”.
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Do you like to rent your music collection or own it outright? With the updated Zune Pass, Microsoft’s subscription service for its Zune line of portable media players, you can now have the best of both worlds. Sort of.
For a monthly fee of $14.99, Zune Pass subscribers get access to millions of tracks on a rental basis — once the subscription ends, access is shuttered — but with today’s changes they can also keep ten DRM-free tracks on a to-own basis to add permanently to their music collections.
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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.
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This is a guest post by Michael Pinto who is the Creative Director of Very Memorable, Inc. a design firm that specializes in the youth market and interactive media.
With the iPhone taking away the mind space of the iPod, the Zune already seems to be in an orphan category with consumers. A sign of this is the recent high profile blowout when GameStop announced that they planned to stop selling the Zune. However, to me the surprise was that GameStop had been selling the Zune in the first place. I’ve been to several locations over the last year or so and I’ve never spotted one in a store. Perhaps the reason for this is that I was hunting to buy yet another Nintendo DS Lite and not looking for an MP3 player as a stocking stuffer.
In fact the only time that I’ve seen a Zune in the wild was while I was running through Kmart. Now think about that for a second: The biggest market for this device would be those hungry for music — tweens, teens and young adults. This market is very style conscience to say the least, and the one place they might encounter this device is in-between the linens and pantry items. Also the few times that I’ve seen representatives of the youth market at Kmart they were hunting for dorm room necessities rather than objects of entertainment.
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