Monday, March 24, 2008

Zune gets ready to zap iPod

MS Zune pictureMicrosoft Zune could turn out to be the ultimate iPod killer that the portable music market has been waiting for. Microsoft last week released details of Microsoft Zune, the 30GB music media player which will be on sale in North America on November 14. Microsoft hopes the Zune will cash in on the festival gifting season which starts in November.

However, it will take some time for Zune to reach Indian shores. Europe and India are expected to see their first Zunes in early 2007, if all goes according to plan. The Microsoft Zune (see photos) is targeted straight at the heart of Apple's consumer gadgets business, dominated by the iPod line of portable players. Apple, which reinvented the portable entertainment market with the iPod, inspired a thousand imitators, all clamouring for a share of the portable music player market. Some like Creative and iRiver have been successful at slowly chipping away at the iPod market. In the years since the first iPod launch, iPod's marketshare has slowly dwindled from 92% to the current 70%. That's without a Zune for competition, mind you.

Surely, Apple has stuff to worry about. As an avid iPodder, I would like to believe that the music and video player market will continue to be led by Cupertino, but the wrinkles are already showing up on Appleskins. Why?

Microsoft Zune accessories

Zune Home A/V Pack
Zune Travel Pack
Zune Car Pack
Zune AV Output Cable
Zune AC Adapter
Zune Sync Cable
Zune Car Charger
Zune Dock
Zune Wireless Remote for Zune Dock
Zune Dual Connect Remote
Zune FM transmitter With AutoSeek
Zune Gear Bag
Zune Premium Earphones

The Microsoft Zune has design (see photos and pictures alongside) that comes closer to the Apple iPod than many other music player wannabes. Zune is admittedly thicker and bulkier than the iPod, but its extra size can be forgiven by the fact that the Zune sports a color screen of 3 inches, which is 44% bigger than the iPod screen. According to Microsoft, Zune will be able to detect whether the image on screen is portrait or landscape and adjust the view accordingly.

Importantly, Microsoft plans to do a one-up on Apple with Zune's wi-fi connectivity. One of the major drawbacks of iPod (Apple should have thought of it before Microsoft came up with Zune) is that the process of loading music on to iPod is still cumbersome. First, we in India cannot buy music from iTunes, Apple's online music store. Second, even if you have legitimately-bought music CDs, the process of music transfer to iPod is not user-friendly, requiring creation of playlists and such like. Zune hopes to do away with this using inbuilt wi-fi capability, so that your Zune can send and receive music files from other Zunes in the vicinity. Zune has in-built ZuneTags, which will be used like MSN profiles. The player will be able to "find" other Zunes within a certain range and quickly and easily transfer files back and forth.

This feature of Zune, more than anything else, is expected to endear it to the portable music lover. Apple has self-restricted the iPod from becoming an instrument of music piracy by barring Pod-to-iPod music transfer, but Zune breaks the ranks here.

Besides communication with other Zunes, the Microsoft media player will also be able to talk to the Microsoft Xbox 360, the new generation game machine from Microsoft. The company is also planning to roll out several 'packs' to connect to the Xbox, a car and for travel purposes. Microsoft will ensure that the synchronisation of music files will be easier with the Windows operating system. I would be surprised if Windows Vista does not have features which will recognise a Zune plugged in.

Just like the iPod, Microsoft will open an online music store for Zune, from where you can buy and download music. In its attempt to integrate the Zune with the Xbox, Microsoft will starting a Zune Marketplace on the lines of iTunes and the Xbox MarketPlace, where Microsoft Points can be used to trade in music. The fee per music piece is fixed at $.99 - same as what iTunes charges you. In fact, Zune's pricing means that it is targeted to take on the Apple iPod. Zune will come for $249.99, but with more features. Analysts tracking the Microsoft portable music player say that the company will lose approximately $50 per Zune it sells. However, Redmond is determined to take on iPod with a revenge, forget a few million dollars.

Microsoft Zune Tech specs

30GB digital media player

Wireless functionality

Bright, three-inch LCD video screen that works in portrait or landscape mode

Built-in FM tuner

Three colors: black, brown and white.

Preloaded content including songs, music videos and film shorts

Dynamic music service

Zune Marketplace to let users buy songs

Zune Pass subscription at $15 a month gives access to millions of songs

Microsoft Points for 79 points per track

Up to 7,500 songs, 25,000 pictures or 100 hours of video

Audio files: Unprotected WMA, MP3, AAC; Photos: JPEG; Videos: WMV, MPEG-4, H.264

Zune software can automatically import existing music, pictures and videos from iTunes

Zune will play all common music formats, including WMA and AAC. It will display pictures in JPG format and movies in WMV and MPEG formats. The bigger screen of Zune is also expected to make the iPod killer live up to its name.

Another interesting feature in Zune is an FM receiving facility (radio signals transmitted in RBDS format). Apple should have preempted this feature. Microsoft MarketPlace will also offer music which can be "rented" for a month for $15. This is not a popular concept now, but things may change.

Zune handy music player is also likely to have more programming than the iPod. Currently, Video iPods can be used to play Disney movies, due to an arrangement between Apple and Disney. To counter this, Microsoft has already lined up A&E, Animal Planet, the BBC, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, The Biography Channel, Cartoon Network, CBS, Discovery Health Channel, Discovery Kids, E Entertainment Television, Fuel TV, FX, HGTV, The History Channel, Fine Living TV Network, Fox, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, PBS, Speed, Spike, Travel Channel, TV Land, VH1 and others. iPod Video sure has some stiff competition ahead.

I wish iPod retained its market dominance for emotional reasons, but I fear the Zune is going to give my Nano a run for its money.


Visu said...

Zune is not good as iPod. Whatever Microsoft do, it wont hit the market with a great deal. Vethu scene thaan...

Anonymous said...

today i saw zune da.
puspit is having da
very large da
like geomentry box da
he got 30 gb da
very bad stlye da.
the name itself shows microsoft.

HaRi said...

I dono about zune but ipod is good.

Aravindhan said...

Zune would me my next target.But i already have a ipod wat to do with it!!!Anyway vethu scene podalam!!!!

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