Microsoft has confirmed that the company plans to launch portable music and media devices under the brand name Zune. Although details of any specific products are very sketchy, the announcement is being viewed by the industry as Microsoft finally stepping up to the plate to challenge the market dominance of Apple’s iPod portable music and video players. The move is a long time coming: Apple introduced the iPod in late 2001.
According to Microsoft, the first Zune device will be a music player sporting hard drive-based storage and, like the MusicGremlin’s Gremlin MG-1000, will offering Wi-Fi based connectivity and song purchasing. Microsoft plans to leverage the Zune’s wireless capabilities to communicate with other Zune users, share playlists, recommend tracks, and potentially share music with one another. Zune users will be able to exchange data with other Microsoft platforms such as the Xbox 360 and devices powered by Windows Mobile, although no specifics have been revealed.
Microsoft has not set a launch date for the Zune player, and has not revealed pricing information or how Zune and its related download service will interact with the company’s existing music offerings, including MSN Music and the new Urge partnership with MTV. Also unclear: Zune’s relationship to Microsoft’s PlaysForSure initiative, how the Zune will interact with non-Microsoft music services like Napster and Rhapsody, or whether songs purchased for the Zune will be transferrable to other devices. One thing is reasonable certain: the Zune will not be compatible with tunes purchased from Apple’s iTunes Music Store, nor will protected tracks purchased for the Zune work with Apple’s iPod/iTunes platform.
Industry talk os positioning the Zune as Microsoft’s attempt to create an “iPod killer,” but some see the company’s Zune initiative as less of a threat to Apple as it is to companies making portable music players already trying to compete with the iPod. Those companies