I’m thinking about buying an Apple iPod and was actually contemplating the Dell DJ until I read that Dell’s discontinued their own brand of MP3 player. Now there’s another device on the horizon, the Microsoft Zune. Darn. What can you tell me about the Zune, Dave? I mean, should I wait until Christmas and buy one, or just stick with a tried-and-true iPod?
Well, at this point it’s a bit tricky to get hard facts about the Microsoft Zune since it’s not yet released, but as it turns out, Microsoft’s manufacturing partner Toshiba recently had to file a detailed product specification with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) so it could gain permission to access the wireless 802.11b airwaves. So, good luck, we can dig into that and try to identify specific capabilities.
Of course, this is all guesswork. I’ll write an updated entry when the Zune is formally released in the November timeframe!
Anyway, according to the FCC filing, the Zune will support both the 802.11b and 802.11g wireless standards, will include a 30GB hard disk (shades of the iPod), a 3-inch screen and FM tuner. It seems quite likely that it’ll work with music, photographs and video content too, which means that you’ll likely be stuck using Windows Media Player and that Microsoft will be partnering with some Web site that will offer commercial video downloads too.
My projection: the Zune won’t work on the Mac out of the box because I’m sure that it’ll be built around the PlaysForSure digital rights management system, which, as far as I know, isn’t available through any Mac software today. If you’re on a PC, that won’t be an issue, of course.
Rumor has it that the Zune will come preloaded with music videos, probably from Microsoft record label partner EMI, but no specific details of that will be available until the product is unveiled. EMI, by the way, has some pretty popular bands and artists, including Grammy winner Kelly Clarkson, The Pussycat Dolls, the Arctic Monkeys, Christina Aguilera, Riahanna and Kanye West. A selection of their music videos would be one heck of a nice starting point for a handheld, wouldn’t it?
Let’s go back to the Wi-Fi capabilities for a minute, though, as I think that’s the most interesting feature: Through a service that looks like it’ll be called “DJ” (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it has a different name given that Dell probably trademarked the name for its now defunct Mp3 player), you’ll be able to let people near you tune in to your Zune and listen to your music and mix. Sounds darn cool to me and a slick way to share music with your friends and acquaintances too. You’ll also be able to send and receive photos and, presumably, DRM-free audio content via wifi too so the Zune could definitely be a nice file sharing system. (though this DJ feature won’t be interesting if there aren’t enough Microsoft Zune in the field to make it easy to find someone else with one!)
Certainly there are questions about the price and true capabilities of this unit, not to mention the simplicity – an area that’s darn hard to beat the iPod on, in my experience (for example, the RCA Lyra has a terrible interface when compared to the iPod) – and the potential risks associated with a device that will doubtless run Windows for Handhelds or some other variation of Windows XP. Can you say “blue Zune of death”?
The consumer electronics publication TWICE is reporting that the 30GB Zune will launch with a $299 pricetag, I know that they’re not functionally identical devices, but it’s worth noting that you can buy a 30GB Apple iPod right now at Amazon for only $274.99. Wait and hope, or just take the plunge?
There are also questions about battery life with the device too, what with the big screen and always-on wifi connection. That could easily consume far more battery than you might prefer, and a device that you must remember to charge each night before using the next day is going to run out of glamor pretty darn fast.
Anyway, in the final reckoning, it’s really hard to say whether the Zune is worth waiting for, or whether it makes more sense just to buy an iPod, know that there are a zillion accessories and devices to make it fun and have it fit your lifestyle. I’d say “stay tuned” and at least wait a few more weeks to see what other information about the device – especially including battery life and final pricing – appears on the wire.
Indeed, here are two links worth bookmarking:
- Google’s Gnews newswire search for “Microsoft Zune”
- Technorati blogosphere search for “Microsoft Zune”
Oh, and Microsoft: why not send a pre-release Zune to our offices so we can start writing up some how-to articles? You know you’ll need ’em.