Tuesday, July 18, 2006


So I’ve spent some of my morning reading up on the Zune. That’s the name (at least for now) for Microsoft’s new handheld media device, that has the “potential” or so people claim to crush the iPod. I have my doubts as to whether that’s true, or really even possible at the moment, but it’s definitely an interesting device. You might know the device under its original code name the Argo. Here’s a pic of it:

I got a lot of my info on this from Engadget which is a pretty fantastic website. Check out this story from Engadget for their run down on the rumored details. That’s right; nothing is official yet… HERE is the original article that turned me onto the player. And then HERE is the news from yesterday that provided a bunch more info. Check them out they are short articles. I’ll wait. Or even better, if you want the full run down go listen to the latest installment of the Engadget Podcast (#82 - yes they’re finally back!). These guys KNOW what they’re talking about, so listen up.

Based on the rumored specs and what I’ve gleaned from Internet The Zune will be pretty cool, but maybe not as cool as the perhaps-a-little-too-much-in-fantasyland new “true” iPod video (READ) Truth is, non of these details are Official yet. The big features of the Zune, wireless download, which includes a social LAN potential, meaning I can trade songs with my buddy on the fly (who theoretically might need another Zune but hopefully can have any networked device). A song will be available for trade 10 times. The Engadget guys likened this to the functionality of the MusicGremlin which is currently just a first generation device but has some potential, read a good review of it over at MP3.com right HERE. On the negative side for the Zune though, rumor has it that every song will have to have the PlaySafe (I think it’s called) DRM tag. EVERY song. That’s right, no support for unencoded MP3?! Is that for real? My friend Devon and I were speculating that maybe they just need to do this as some kind of token gesture for their partners. Obviously URGE or Vongo don’t want their potentially semi-exclusive (at the moment) material supplanted by people illegally file sharing. But MS is definitely not going to win the market share if they don’t and ultimately I think that if they say for example were to release the Zune with this DRM law easily circumvented, hackable as it were, then it would be fine. Power-users will hack their Zune, and keep using bit-torrents for file sharing, and everyone else won’t care and will suck it up and use the URGE music store. It works for Apple and iTunes, so why not MS?

The really big thing about Microsoft releasing a device like this though, and this is something that really only MS could do, is that they can integrate it with their other products. In fact, if the rumors are true, then this could essentially be the centerpiece (or at least the portable piece) of you new and fully integrated line of MS hard and software. It will be running a (most likely modified) version of Pocket Media Center, so it will work with your PC, as long as your running XP. It will definitely incorporate their new Live Anywhere Platform (READ) which MS has said will be incorporated into next-gen smart phones, and is already tied into the XBOX Live service. So what their building isn’t just a single device, but a link in a chain; a family of devices, some new, some old. The Engadget guys compared this functionality somewhat to the new Gigabeat S and it’s style (it also runs on the portable media center OS). Check out this interesting video product review over at CNET HERE.

The Zune will, of course, has to work well with its other friends. If you’ve seen the Beta for the new Windows Media Player 11, then you’ll know exactly what direction MS is thinking their going. Check it HERE. Looking at WMP11 is of course, like exploring a prelude to the style we can expect to see from MS Vista. So you can expect more integration there. What about URGEVongo? Apple is rumored to be announcing a film distribution/rental agreement through the iTunes music store, at their upcoming press conference on Aug 8th. I think that’s the Worldwide Developers Conference. Word is that the Zune will support Sirius, and incorporate a local FM tuner. What terrestrial, and satellite radio together?! As a podcaster that makes me nervous… haha. Anyhow, There are a lot of ‘other’ partners in the mix here. This confluence of media is exciting yes, but its also really tricky and hard to keep track of. I’ve been waiting my entire life for a single ultimate device that will actually do everything I want (which is quite a lot). Does it look like the Zune is going there? No not really. But it sure is interesting, and MS can definitely give Apple a run for their money. Considering how they’ve reportedly subsidized the XBOX over the years I wouldn’t be surprised to see MS make a ‘long term’ serious play for this ever growing media market. The least we can hope is that it will at encourage Everyone to step up their game a bit, and move me one step closer to my universal media device.

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