The new Zunes go on sale Tuesday, and everybody with a 30GB version will be able to get the new software and firmware. Last week, Microsoft sent me a new 8GB olive-green Zune to try out, along with some prerelease software (version 2.1).
This isn't intended to be an exhaustive review--there are plenty of other resources for that. Rather, this is a set of first impressions from a year-long 30GB user who was somewhat disappointed by Microsoft's October announcement in the wake of the excitement generated by Apple's iPod announcement a month earlier.
What I like … Read more
Microsoft's mobile phone strategy and its digital media strategy often seem to be in different worlds. For mobile phones, the company has focused primarily on the Windows Mobile OS, a few mobile applications (Outlook being the most useful one), and--more recently--online services such as Live Search that can be used on many mobile platforms, including (gasp) the BlackBerry (the No. 1 competitor that Windows Mobile has in its sights).
For digital media, the company first pursued its partner-driven approach, promoting the Windows Media Platform for both online stores and devices, and then went with the end-to-end approach of Zune. … Read more
Earlier this week, Zune product manager Cesar Menendez confirmed on his Zune Insider blog that Microsoft will introduce a new rating system for songs. Instead of the five star system that's been in place on iTunes, Zune, the Windows Media Player, and just about every other music software from the beginning of time, Zune is moving to a simple binary system. If you like a song, it gets a heart. If you don't, it gets a broken heart.
I understand that the Zune team has done some market research that purports to show that some users don't … Read more
Some people commenting on my most recent post have accused me of being a Microsoft-hater. That's ironic, given my job. (See my bio below.)
To be perfectly clear, I use a 30GB original Zune as my primary music player, after my fourth-generation iPod died about a year and a month out of warranty.
I think my Zune's onscreen interface is great. I love the way I can create on-the-fly playlists and switch to random shuffle from within any song (not possible on the fourth-generation iPod, fixed in the fifth-generation). And I prefer the way it natively plays all the WMA files on my computer. (I have a big library of vinyl ripped using Microsoft's now-discontinued Digital Media Plus Pack for Windows XP.)
But...the Zune client software is poor compared with iTunes.… Read more
The technology and music pundits wrote off Microsoft's Zune player immediately after it launched, and one reviewer predicted that it would be such a failure that Microsoft would quietly forget about it by the middle of 2007. I was willing to give Microsoft a little more credit, only because I don't think that the iPod and iTunes are perfect, and because I've seen how Microsoft comes from behind: it refines, improves, outspends and waits until the competition stumbles.
This evening, Microsoft unveiled version 2.0 of its Zune family, and this time, it's got a credible music player--for 2006. Unfortunately for Microsoft, it's 2007.
Wednesday's Apple announcements included some significant market advances, particularly the iPod Touch and the iTunes Wi-Fi Store. The new lineup of devices should keep the company clearly in the digital-media drivers' seat through the end of 2007, at least, and the pricing strategy is rock-solid. (Microsoft tried to pre-empt Apple's announcement with a $50 price cut on the 30GB Zune to $199, but with an 80GB iPod available for only $249, Microsoft's going to have to cut the price further.)
Even so, a few things that Apple didn't announce might leave some room for other innovators. … Read more
Thursday, Gizmodo posted pictures that purportedly come from a retail glossy advertising Microsoft's next-generation Zune. The portrayed devices come in two sizes, a large 80GB model and a smaller model with either 4GB or 8GB capacity. All three models look quite different from the first-generation Zune--thinner, without the two-tone translucent rubberized finish, and what looks like a touch pad instead of the circular pseudo click-wheel used last time around.
Microsoft has told me that its goal in the next year is for the Zune to be considered the alternative to the iPod family--the only other device that gives users … Read more
(UPDATE: RealNetworks has filed an 8-K form with the SEC that contains some more details about Rhapsody America. Most notable: MTV is contributing a $230 million note to the deal, and RealNetworks will in exchange be required to spend that amount with MTV on advertising. The joint venture is between RealNetworks and MTV, with Verizon as a distribution partner.)
The 2007 Consumer Electronics Show must've held some awkward moments for Microsoft.
[This entry has been revised: I didn't read the MediaNet release carefully enough...they are offering DRM-less MP3s, not WMA files. Apologies to anybody whom I misled. My bad.]
Back in May, EMI--one of the big four record labels--agreed to sell its songs through Apple's iTunes without digital rights management (DRM) protection.
Before this move, iTunes and the iPod were technically linked: if you bought a song from iTunes, you could only play it on an iPod (unless you burned it to CD then re-ripped it into an unprotected format). Offering DRM-less downloads severed this link, allowing … Read more