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I'll name that Zune in one!

I'll name that Zune in one!

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Firstly, apologies for the incredibly weak link between a UK Quiz Show from the 1980's, and Microsoft's sparkly new music and entertainment project; Zune.  It's still early on a Friday morning - it will get better, I promise!

I posted a couple of weeks ago, about how Microsoft is going to challenge the iPod (Part I and Part II), but since then, a whole host of information has been released, so I thought I'd take the chance to summarise it all here in one convenient place.

So, what do we know so far?  Firstly, it's important to understand that Zune describes the brand, not the individual product, backed up by Chris Stephenson who, in this article on CNet News, stated "Under the Zune brand, we will deliver a family of hardware and software products, the first of which will be available this year".  The article goes on to discuss some of the features of the devices that will come under the Zune brand, including Wi-Fi connectivity, Hard-Disk storage and also Video capabilities.  With Zune, "we're looking to build a community for connecting with folks, all to discover new music and entertainment".

In this article, over at eWeek, analysts say that Microsoft's Zune "May not carry the day" yet they accept, that it is currently too early to tell for sure - only consumers will decide.  I, as a consumer, believe that if Microsoft can integrate all the parts together, such as the music service, the hardware and other hardware such as the Xbox, it could pose a serious challenge to the iPod, however, by releasing the device, we will in fact be competing with some of the partners we have worked with on music devices, such as Creative.  The article goes on to say that the first of the Zune devices should be available before Christmas this year.

As I mentioned, one of the features planned for the Zune devices, is Wi-Fi connectivity, and this article, over at CNet, goes some of the way to describe the importance of this feature.  In an interview with Billboard magazine, Microsoft General Manager Chris Stephenson said "the company is still considering seven or eight "scenarios," including using the Wi-Fi connection for direct music downloads and sampling music from other nearby listeners".  That would be an excellent feature - streaming other people's music to see if you like it, then logging onto the web, via Wi-Fi to purchase and download the music yourself!

Regardless of the Wi-Fi connection, Gartner analyst Michael McGuire believes "the key will be how easy or difficult the gadget is for consumers to use. For example, designing an interface that enables downloading music from a catalog without using a keyboard is tricky"  This is an excellent point, but if you look at the new interface in Windows Media Player 11, and how much of an improvement it was from Windows Media Player 10, you can begin to see how much Microsoft are putting into the user interface, and how intuitive it really is.

If Microsoft could squeeze a Media Center, or Media Player 11 style interface into the Zune products, perhaps with some kind of touch screen or hand writing functionality into the device, I believe that it would be the most intuitive portable entertainment device on the market.  Microsoft would not be the first company to produce a wireless music device; MusicGremlin recently hit the market with a player that can download subscription music content wirelessly.  But, as with all Microsoft products, there is always some scepticism; "It's very easy to create a wireless device," he said. "It's very difficult to make it work and connect in the way that a lot of people envision".

Speaking of how much Microsoft is putting into the project, this article over at CNet, details that Robbie Bach, President of the Entertainment and Devices Division, thinks "of this in the hundreds of millions of dollars of investment over several years.  It is something that is going to take time. This is not a six-month initiative".  Bach goes on to say "Microsoft is not abandoning its partner-oriented PlaysForSure program, even as it looks to build its rival Zune approach.  PlaysForSure continues as it is today.  We're going to continue to support that".

As time grows closer to the end of the calendar year, and the launch of the first Zune device, more concrete details have been released.  You can read about them in this Twice article.  The article states that the device will arrive in 3 colours, and will be priced at $299 (hopefully this price will be around £160 in the UK / 234 EURO).  "Retailers said the player would incorporate a 30GB hard drive. One said the unit’s display screen would be larger than Apple’s iPod models. The retailers were pleased with Microsoft’s feature-per-price package".  It is important to note that Microsoft had not yet responded to confirm these details.

The most recent news, and an excellent feather in the Zune cap, is the announcement that EMI Group, the world's third-largest music company, said it had signed a deal to provide preloaded music videos on Microsoft's soon-to-launch Zune digital media player.  The news dispels speculation in media reports this month that Microsoft would have to delay the introduction of Zune's video capability until after its launch, which is expected to be in time for Christmas.

So, to summarise:

  • Zune is a brand, not just the name of the device
  • It will have Wi-Fi, a hard-disk (30Gb) and video capabilities (not delayed)
  • PlaysForSure will still be supported
  • It will be priced around $299 and come in 3 colours
  • It will have a larger screen then the iPod (Size does matter ;) )
  • EMI will provide pre-loaded video content

What a long post!  Hope you get this far!

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  • Just hours after a posted a huge post summarising all things Zune, there has been a big announcement...

  • Just hours after a posted a huge post summarising all things Zune , there has been a big announcement

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