New Zune players to compete with iPod

Microsoft Corp. unveiled three new models of its Zune player, including two versions with flash, which will ship November for the holiday season.

The company has also launched an online music community called Zune Social. Taking a leaf from Apple Inc.’s iTunes and Amazon.com’s new digital music store, it is also offering more than 1 million songs on its Zune Marketplace that are not protected by DRM (digital rights management).

Microsoft however has an uphill task battling against the iPod. The company has reported sales of 1.2 million Zune devices since November last year. That is a lot less than a total of 100 million iPods sold from 2001 to April this year.

The company announced three new models of the Zune portable digital media players: a black Zune 80GB hard-drive model with an estimated retail price of US$249.99; an ultraportable Zune 4GB which is expected to retail at $149.99; and a Zune 8GB, costing $199.99. The last two models are flash models.

The new Zune devices feature the Zune Pad navigation button, with its touch-sensitive surface, Microsoft said in a statement late Tuesday.

Consumers can flick their thumbs over the pad to fly through lists of songs or albums or to fast-forward through picture slide shows or videos, it said. For those who need to pause, advance or adjust the volume on the device without looking, they can also navigate the Zune Pad using physical cues by pressing on the four sides or the center of the button to adjust the volume or choose the next track, according to Microsoft.

The new devices also offer wireless synchronization over the home wireless network, and new software that automatically imports broadcast content recorded on Microsoft Windows Media Center for Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate, so consumers can sync them onto their Zune media player and watch them on the bus, in their car or wherever they want when they’re out and about, Microsoft said.

Existing Zune owners will automatically receive new software features, the redesigned PC and device software and access to the new Zune Marketplace when the products and software are released to the public in mid-November.

The new Zune players have some nice new additions, but is not a dramatic makeover from the earlier Zune devices, according to analysts. Zune also does not have as strong a brand as the iPod.

Related article:

iPod and the end of conversation

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