Microsoft today announced details about the much ballyhooed Zune brand of portable media devices (updated info here). "Designed under the principles of sharing, discovery, and community," the Zune's underlying philosophy, according to the press release, is connection: "...connection to your library, connection to friends, connection to community, and connection to other devices." OK, we pretty much got that part a whle ago, here's the rest...
The first Zune device will be a 30GB portable media player with a 3-inch screen, FM radio, and integrated wireless technology. It will play music, photos, and video and will come in three colors: black, brown, and white. Along with the device will come the Zune Marketplace music service, which will serve as the foundation for the Zune community. The Marketplace will be an à la carte pay-per-download store as well as an all-you-can-eat subscription service (Zune Pass) like Napster and URGE.
In addition, and as expected, Zune-to-Zune communication will allow users to "share full-length sample tracks of select songs, homemade recordings, playlists, or pictures with friends between Zune devices." You'll even get the right to listen to a shared track up to three times for free over a three-day period. If you decide to buy, you can flag the song for purchase the next time you connect to the Marketplace. We're not entirely sure at this moment if you can connect to the Marketplace wirelessly, or if wireless (which we presume is 802.11b/g) is limited to Zune-to-Zune sharing. It is indeed cool that you can share photos as well as music files. We're not sure if "homemade recordings" includes MP3s-- that would be very cool--and we haven't the details yet to confirm that you can share songs only if you are a subscriber or simply a Zune owner.
The Zune will also launch with some accessories, including the Zune Car Pack (Zune charger and FM tuner/transmitter), Zune Home A/V Pack (Zune Dock, cables, and remote control), and the Zune Travel Pack (AC adapter, remote, cables and bags). Obviously, the Zune itself will not ship with many accessories, including an AC adapter. Also, we're not sure if the Car Pack includes an FM transmitter.
On paper, the ad-hoc wireless communication and sharing aspect sounds great, and though we've seen the established MusicGremlin do the same thing, this type of community requires a critical mass of players, something that Microsoft and its marketing dollars and brand presence can potentially push into mainstream psyche. The hardware is still a question mark--a 3-inch screen (just a little bigger than the current iPod's) is obviously geared towards music and not video; and will there be a 60GB or higher version?
Check out the Zune photo slideshow!
We'll fill in the gaps about the Zune ("available this holiday season") as they become available. Check back for the latest updates.