Our contact at Microsoft was kind enough to forward us a link to this tidbit, which points out that Microsoft is officially confirming rumors that the company is set to release a portable music player along with an integrated music service. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't elaborate any further than previous rumors already have, so the only real news here is that the company is finally admitting that something is indeed in the works. Forgive me for being jaded, but could someone please wake me when they announce something exciting?
Update (1:50 p.m. PT):
The Billboard.biz article requires registration so here are some excerpts from Antony Bruno's article entitled "Zune Gets in the Ring," which features Chris Stephenson, Microsoft's new GM of marketing for MSN Entertainment Business. According to Stephenson, Zune represents "a family of hardware and software products" that will start appearing late this year. Highlights:
In general: The first implementation of this will be the portable music player and digital music service, in what is the company's strongest effort yet to rein in Apple Computer's iTunes/iPod juggernaut... Because the product lines have not yet been finalized, Microsoft would not discuss specifications. However, Stephenson did confirm that the initial music device will contain a hard drive and the much-discussed Wi-Fi connection for wireless Internet access.
Regarding wireless integration: Zune users will be able to view each other's playlists, recommend music, and sample tracks in what Stephenson describes as a multifaceted music discovery experience. This capability will extend to the Xbox 360 game console, PCs running Windows Media Center, and mobile phones using the Windows Mobile operating system.
Music biz is hopeful: "We're incredibly excited by it," Warner Music Group senior VP of strategy and product development George White says. "It's something that we hoped peer-to-peer services would bring to the digital retail space."
On advertising: Microsoft will support the Zune launch with a massive advertising and marketing campaign expected to be heavily artist-centric, including several live performances nationwide. Stephenson says the total effort will be on a par with that of the Xbox 360 launch, which cost a reported $500 million.
The article also suggests that the existing MSN Music service will not be part of the Zune ecosystem and that, while it will be supported by Microsoft, it will probably be "left to die on the vine." Much of this information has already been consumed, but now we know what's official and what's not.
More details at News.com.