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Three New Zunes to Debut Tuesday

Microsoft announced three new Zune models early last month, and the revamped devices are set to hit retailers tomorrow, November 13, along with revamped Zune software, a new social Web site for Zune owners, and the option to buy a "Zune Original" with laser-etched designs and custom text right on the case—and Zune Originals are free, at least for a limited time.

To recap the three new players, Microsoft will be offering a new 80 GB hard drive-based Zune player for $249.99, along with two flash-based models with 4 GB and 8 GB of capacity, respectively, for $149.99 and $199.99. The 80 GB model sports a 3.2-inch LCD display, while the flash-based player sport smaller screens. All three Zunes are wireless-enabled so users can share media with other Zune owners; however, those shared items still have Zune DRM applied to them and expires after three plays.

To enhance the Zune experience, Microsoft is also rolling out new Zune software, which will be available via Zune.net and can be used with the earlier 30 GB model, as well. A new Zune Social Web site designed to easily enable music fans to discover new music via sample tracks posted on "Zune Card" profiles posted by community members. Users can also recommend songs to friends, and get to know people with similar musical tastes. Not unlike the popular iLike music-sharing service, Zune Social is designed to help users discover music via word-of-mouth and social connections. Users’ Zune Cards automatically update to show the music a user has recently listened to on their Zune player or using their Zune software.

"We looked at today’s social networks; they don’t necessarily sell music. Then we looked at the digital download services; they don’t necessarily harness community," said Chris Stephenson, Microsoft’s general manager of global marketing for the company’s entertainment and business division, in a release. "There has been something missing for music fans who want to connect with other music fans—or simply find something new to listen to when they’re at the gym. Zune Social fills the gap between social and traditional transaction models."

Microsoft is also encouraging buyers to customize their new Zunes via Zune Originals—customers buy their Zune directly from Microsoft with the unit laser-engraved with one of 27 Zune-exclusive pieces of artwork from 18 internationally-recognized artists. Users can also add three lines of personal text—or, if they don’t like the designs, opt for five lines of text instead.

"We’re bringing the entire category to the next level by empowering consumers to play a role in redefining the digital music experience," said Microsoft’s corporate VP for Zune, J. Allard, in a statement. "Zune brings music discovery and acquisition into one simple, end-to-end solution, and the addition of unique customization options puts the originality back into portable entertainment."

In comparison to the iPod—which has sold more than 100 million units since its launch in 2001—the Zune has yet to make a dent in the digital music marketplace, with sales of the original 30 GB unit estimated to be near 1.2 milion units. But Microsoft has always said it’s in the portable media player business for the long haul, and the new Zune models and features may (incrementally) win it some fans.

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