Microsoft has launched the second version of its Zune music player, and the hardware is pretty much what was expected. The new main Zune runs $250 for an 80 gigabyte hard drive, same as a comparable iPod, and is thinner than the old version with a 3.2 inch screen (resolution 320×240). Two new flash memory Zunes will also be offered, with $150 getting you 4 gigabytes and $200 getting 8 gigs in a smaller form factor and a 1.8 inch screen (same resolution as the larger device).
All the new devices feature the “squircle” control pad (half circle, half square), officially called a Zune Pad. The pad is a completely unique button, that you can press like a standard four-way controller, or you can slide your finger along to scroll, much like flicking on the iPhone’s touch screen. At least you don’t have to make your finger do circles.
The real highlight is the new software. Updated Zune software will allow syncing of the device over wifi, which means you can set up your playlists, songs, podcasts, movies and whatever on your computer and anytime you are home, the device will sync your media through the air, without you ever needing to bring the Zune over to the computer (you can even leave the Zune in your car, and trust it’ll grab the songs while you’re parked at home). Wireless song purchases are not offered yet.
Here’s some video of the new interface:
Wireless song sharing has been made easier. Before, songs that you got from a friend would only play three times over three days, then dissapear. Now, the three time limit is still there, but the songs don’t expire over time, meaning you can just keep holding onto them until you want to listen to them.
Microsoft is also adding 1 million songs to the Zune Marketplace that feature no DRM, no copy protection at all. The device also supports new codecs, like h.264 and MPEG-4
The Zune software has also been updated, and now allows you to subscribe to music and video podcasts. It also features a social music community with “Zune Cards” that reflect users’ musical interests and recent songs. You will also be able to sync recorded TV shows from Windows Media Center to the device.
The original Zune will be updated with the new software and continue to be sold for $200 as long as supplies last. As of June, Microsoft had sold 1.2 million of them, one Zune for every 25 similar iPods sold, so while it has a solid market position, there’s a lot of work to be done in catching Apple.
As far as the old Zune getting the new Zune features, Gizmodo says “This is how you treat your customers”, reflecting growing animosity against Apple. Over the last month, Apple’s users have been turning against it, angry at the company for shipping buggy updates that broke their phones, fighting against unlocked iPhones and third party software, and releasing an iPod Touch that was missing features for no other reason than that so Apple could sell those features on the more expensive iPhone.
Funny, a year ago, you wouldn’t imagine people trumpeting Microsoft as the company that cares more, but Apple’s done a fine job of revealing that, at its core, its a company that overcharges, operates on image, not quality, locks down its software and hardware and just plain doesn’t give a crap about what anyone thinks.
And I’ve got news for you: In many ways, this new Zune is superior to the current iPod. The 80-gig iPod, which sells for the same price, looks like a can of shit (aluminum MP3 players is just a stupid idea), while the Zune looks more like an updated iPod, and don’t get me started on how much better the small Zune looks than the new Nanos. Plus, given that all the Zunes have wifi, which no comparable iPod does, and you’ve got a pretty good deal.
With Apple trying to lock you into everything and determined to not update the software in any significant way in order to sell more iPhones, why wouldn’t you buy a Zune now? Microsoft finally has a compelling case, and good for them.
Expect to see these devices in stores the middle of November.