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Summary:

Your first question might be, “Isn’t Zune dead already?” Or you might be wondering, “Why does Microsoft bother?” You might even be asking why there’s a report about Zune on TheAppleBlog. Well, first the news. CNET’s Ina Fried reported yesterday that Microsoft has confirmed its long-rumored […]

Your first question might be, “Isn’t Zune dead already?” Or you might be wondering, “Why does Microsoft bother?” You might even be asking why there’s a report about Zune on TheAppleBlog.

Well, first the news. CNET’s Ina Fried reported yesterday that Microsoft has confirmed its long-rumored plans to launch an HD version of its portable music player in the fall. (Paul Thurrott says September 5.)

ZuneHD

Microsoft has left no room for doubt in our minds as to how it views Zune HD. Chris Stephenson, general manager of global marketing for Microsoft Zune, said, “This device is created to go head to head with the iPod Touch.” Head to head, huh? OK, then.

That must surely mean Zune HD supports a multi-touch UI, OTA content delivery, a rich catalog of apps including games, a killer web browser, native personal information management functionality, world-class media management/playback software, and a rock-solid software foundation on the desktop. Right?

Well, it’s not really clear. It has the (admittedly beautiful) Zune UI, plus the Zune software on the desktop (which is way better than Windows Media player). News of a new Zune-branded video service on the Xbox also sounds promising and suggests potential interop between the handheld device and Microsoft’s console-based video on demand service. But we will have to wait for next week’s E3 trade show to get more information on that.

It will indeed have a web browser — sadly, a touch-enabled version of Mobile Internet Explorer. (It doesn’t matter how they tweak the control paradigm, Pocket IE is still inexcusably bad. Ask anyone who has used a Windows Mobile device to tell you about Microsoft’s mobile browser. You will see the pain in their eyes.)

But no word on games. Or storage capacity. Or choice of models. We also don’t know yet how much it will cost. But we do know that it sports an OLED (480×272) 16:9 widescreen display, spits out 720p HD content (via a dock, not included) and comes with HD Radio. Yeah, oooh, exciting.

The truth is, we know barely anything at all about this thing. Perhaps Microsoft hopes the early announcement will generate some useful speculation and buzz on the intertoobs before next month’s WWDC (and news of a new iPhone) steals headlines and column inches everywhere — some observers have suggested this was Palm’s strategy in announcing the upcoming Pre when it did.

Either way, what is there to say about the Zune HD that makes it stand out from an iPod-saturated market? HD video output? HD Radio? Err… retro ’90s design?

I’m pleased someone is trying to win a share of what has, clearly, become Apple’s market. But when the de-facto standard for portable digital media devices is the iPod Touch/iPhone, any serious competitor has to make its products at least as good as them. Right now, I don’t see anything particularly compelling about Zune HD. But that doesn’t mean the compelling features aren’t there — just that Microsoft is doing its usual unfocused marketing.

When most other companies would have counted their losses and scrapped it years ago, Microsoft has demonstrated a stubborn dedication to this product, so it’s probably worth keeping an eye on where the company takes it next. You never know, Redmond might just surprise us.

  1. One question….will it blend?

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  2. 2nd question…. will it sell?

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  3. this is rediculous! :D the BIGGGG iPod killer. yeah, microsoft, you made my day.

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  4. “You might even be asking why there’s a report about Zune on TheAppleBlog”

    I’ve read the report and I’m still wondering. They’ve announced the product and we don’t know the specs yet. And?

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  5. Hard to say how good this will be. HD output isn’t a bad idea but if you need a dock will it be any more useful to people than just playing the movie from your computer or xbox? Unless you carry the dock with you so there are some cases where it could be helpful. Maybe some people will like the HD Radio. I don’t know any of them but they could exist. Other than that it’s kind of like a last gen ipod touch without the applications. Hopefully there are some other major things that they haven’t announced yet. If not this could actually do worse than the first version. It looks nicer, but it’s against much tougher competition.

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  6. Haha… The Apple Blog is awesome.

    You can count on typical Apple fanboy insecurity that is always entertainingly put on display. :)

    “The truth is, we know barely anything at all about this thing.”

    Which is why we ABSOLUTELY need to write a short piece NOW bashing something we don’t even know anything about yet.

    We must get the negative message out there first. Because just maybe – gasp – people actually like the new Zune HD and want to buy it! No, that can’t be. This is an exclusive Apple market dammit! ;)

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  7. Hi Jonathan, thanks for reading and your comment. I didn’t think I was bashing the Zune HD – rather, I was sharing how difficult it is to be excited about a product Microsoft has announced yet told us so little about. That’s not insecurity – it’s a legitimate criticism of a typically-crummy approach to marketing from Microsoft.

    If you look at the last paragraphs – I even applaud Microsoft’s efforts in this market. Hardly fanboy insecurity. Methinks you were a bit too eager to criticize ;-)

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  8. Actually I agree with Jonathan (although perhaps with less sarcasm) – especially in light of the Pre article which comes next. This isn’t high school, we don’t have to bitch about everything non-Apple. These two articles are exactly the kind of thing which gets us labelled as mindless fanboys.

    Sure, there’s no point reading something on “Theappleblog” and expecting it to be anything other than pro-Apple, but a slightly less catty and dismissive attitude towards other products would make the pieces come across as more balanced and carefully thought-out.

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  9. You’ve got to feel for Microsoft. In essence they killed all competition in the OS market, they then did exactly the same thing in the browser wars and then they found themselves in a curious position a complete monopoly. When Microsoft ships a turd, they can still push it to enough people that they generate significant enough revenue to keep the big wheel turning.But of late there seems to be alot of green eyed envy taking place.

    Zune to all intense purposes has for me always be an odd play by the boys in Redmond. It bastardised in a heartbeat it’s long established Play4sure format, isolated all of it’s partners building compatible devices bar Toshiba who manufactured the worlds original brown media player and finally carbon copied so much of Apple’s ipod player that it offered no real differentiation- please no one say ‘squirt’.

    I guess the issue here is why? The xbox 360 yes i can see the synergy and I think the 360 is a great console and fills a longer term objective for networked play but what can the Zune ever offer that the ipod can’t. Personally i think Microsoft need to stop dicking around and deliver a solid Winmo device which happens to incorporate the Zune branding and functionality. What can Microsoft hope to achieve? If anyone can explain this to me I’d really appreciate it.

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  10. I would just like to start out by saying that I own and use a Macbook, a PC, and an original release Zune. I also have a video ipod sitting around somewhere collecting dust because it is a giant piece of cow crap, along with itunes. Personally, I like organization in my music collection, and I would really prefer to not have to navigate itunes to get to files I already know the location of, nor do I appreciate the added files it creates for me. Apple is basically a bunch of proprietary a-holes being followed by a few million people who don’t know anything about computers in the first place. Until apple fixes itunes to work with more than one kind of file, or possibly even enable transferring of music from an ipod to a computer (without 3rd party programs), the Zune software will be considered superior in my mind, and I will continue supporting Microsoft in making superior products to Apple.

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