Microsoft has finally revealed the Zune player and its specifications.
There are no pricing details yet, but we do know what the device will feature. First up is a QVGA screen (320x240) which will play video - WMV, MPEG-4, the usual suspects. It's 3", which is a little bigger than the iPod video, which is 2.5". There is one model at present, a 30GB hard disk. An FM tuner allows you to listen to analogue airwaves, but it's the digital airwaves that get really interesting.
That's because the Zune sports 802.11 wireless connectivity to connect to the PC, wireless hotspots, and other Zune devices. It will feature the ability to share songs with other Zune players - if you have a tune on your Zune, you can send it to a mate with the same player who can play it back three times in three days to sample it, then flag it for purchase on the Zune Marketplace if they like it.
The Marketplace is integral to Microsoft's audio strategy - it is a Microsoft branded Windows music player, organiser and download purchase store akin to iTunes. Microsoft is building on the success of the Xbox Live Marketplace brand with the naming and there are clear indications that, going forward, it sees that games, music and media are converging.
Engadget has got
a fantastically interesting interview with J Allard, the chap in charge of the project (who has previously launched Xbox). J is clear that this is a long term strategy, and that the Zune is really just the beginning of Microsoft's media strategy:
"Xbox Live is a good example and I think it's appropriate: with Xbox Live we really took a very incremental approach. If you remember, we put an Ethernet adaptor in the console but it didn't ship with Xbox Live. Then we shipped Xbox Live, but we didn't have all the capabilities that you might think because what we really wanted to do was start a discussion with our customers, with the audience. So we shipped the Xbox with Halo and then we could start talking about what they wanted to see on Live.
We're sort of taking the same approach here: the whole idea -- both for the music industry and for the consumer -- of finding and sharing music through your social network is a pretty new idea. Specifically at the device level it's a super new idea. So we're gonna start there and we're saying it's really about proximity -- we're saying if you're sitting in the room with somebody and you're having a physical social engagement with them in person, that's when you can exchange music recommendations.
And then we'll get some customers who've had some experience with that and they'll say "where do you want to take it next year?"
Whilst it's clear that Zune isn't exactly an iPod-beater as it stands - after all, it basically does exactly the same thing but with some limited networking - Microsoft clearly has a long term strategy for added a 'connected' experience to music in the same way it's added that experience to Xbox gaming.
Of course, the Zune is only a competitor to the iPod video - currently, Microsoft doesn't have a Zune-branded player to take on the iPod nano, which is the most successful iPod Apple has sold.
So no prices on details, but we know the players will be out for Christmas, so stay tuned. Are you interested in checking out one of these devices? Let us know your thoughts over in the forums.