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Microsoft Announces Zune HD: So What?

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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 (s msft) has confirmed its long-rumored plans to launch an HD version of its portable music player in the fall. (Paul Thurrott says September 5.)


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.

23 Responses to “Microsoft Announces Zune HD: So What?”

  1. Better as a media player than the ipod series if you ask me. Also it has a better video card and thus is capable of better game apps than the ipod touch (the app store Microsoft currently has is going to be expanded in the future just as apple’s app store in it’s early days). From what I’ve seen comments downplaying the zune hd are based on people with preferences for apple. Now don’t get me wrong I have an ipod touch 1g, but I’m upgrading to the zune hd asap.

  2. Lovely to see that you clearly made up your mind before you’d even seen it what you thought of it. If apple introduced radio, you wouldn’t have a sarcastic dig at it, you’d be going ‘thankyou [email protected]!’ This is a blog of somebody who should be professional but instead is letting his fanboy obsession get in the way of professional reporting. As a result, i’m afraid I’m going to stop reading this blog, as i fear many people are doing through quite a few hickups i’ve experienced here (a la bad and jealous attitude towards that kid winning the billionth app prize).

  3. Micah

    I think it’s important to remember that competition, no matter how insignificant, puts pressure on Apple to do better, and reduce the amount of features they “hold out on” (2.0 megapixel camera in the iphone anyone?).

    I can only view this as a good thing, and to be honest, I hope the Zune goes well for this reason.

  4. I’m no fan of Apple and neither a fan of MS or anything else, although i lean towards MS more.

    I own a Zune 80GB, Apple Ipod Nano, a Wii, Xbox, a couple Macs and a couple PC’s and…well im basically saying, i have experience with all the main brands.

    For me, Apple is a great product, very original but MS is a more user friendly product and just give an edge that is indescribable(well personally, at least).

    I think there really isn’t anything wrong with Apple or MS products, from Zunes to Ipod’s and from Mac to PC’s.

    Personal preference is what it is.

    I literally grew up around about 5 PC’s and im sure if you were born in the 90 or earlier you were to.

    So these arguments defending Ipod’s or Zune’s are just fan remarks whether you like it or not.

    If you have a product, you’ll most likely think it’s better and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    P.S:Liam Cassidy: Yes, you were bashing Microsoft(Zune), the title says it all.

    If you claim, Microsoft hasn’t released enough to know anything about the Zune HD, then why criticize something you know nothing about.

    And if you don’t think so, read your second paragraph again.

    P.S again:My Zune broke so i’m so getting this.

  5. Jorgebob28

    Patrick says,”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…”

    Nothing like opening your mouth to show your ignorance. One kind of file? I usually try to get to know my software before letting loose with my “wisdom”. Is there something wrong or difficult with using free, 3rd-party programs to move music from iPods to a computer?

    To be precise, “a few million people who don’t know anything about computers in the first place” covers most of the Mac and Windows user base. They just call tech support or a knowledgeable acquaintance after abusing their computers until they wig out so what’s your real point? To beat your chest and proclaim to the world that you’re a “real” computer user? Dude, use what you want, I read both pro and anti-mac blogs to be better informed, not to be a mindless fanboy. I work in prepress and am a 100% Mac user that used to be a 90% Windows/10% Mac (at work) user. I like using Mac better but only you know what works best for your workflow.

  6. 2Shae

    Looks pretty cool (admittedly :P)
    But this is just a render and Microsoft isn’t known for making cool products or being good at Marketing products, or even naming their products right (except for the Xbox 360).

    This will definitely sell better then the first 2 Zunes versions, but it won’t outsell the iPod…NEVER

  7. swhite237

    I’m a hard core ms fan boy, and a proud owner of a zune. It’s massive screen and gorgeous UI make it by far the best hard drive based player on the market, and the zune pass is one of the best deals out there for subscription music fans . That being said, the apple blog hit the nail on the hand with this post. I have been considering buying an ipod touch for the simple reason that the app store takes the device to a whole new level, turning the best touch screen media player on the market into an amazing PDA and mobile computer. I’m going to hold off buying my next gen handheld until the zune hd comes out, but if Microsoft doesn’t integrate great games or the Windows Mobile application store, I’m going to have to do something I said I would never do, swallow my pride and pick up an ipod.

  8. AlfieJr

    i’m happy to bash it. it’s not the Zune anymore, now it’s the Zilch. if you ain’t got apps to match the iPhone/touch 3.0 due next month, then you’re just not even in the major leagues today, let alone going for the pennant. and if the touch adds GPS/compass location services in the new 2009 models this fall, as is very very likely (and a camera?), that is the death blow to the Zilch.

    HD radio? get serious. local chain-owned playlist radio is crap everywhere nowadays. internet radio and podcasts are where you get global variety and quality music matched to your tastes. oh, and it’s HD quality sound too, if your earbuds can tell the difference anyway. of course, the touch you can plug into many dozens of boombox/desktop audio systems and hear the difference. the Zune, well there’s a few.

    meanwhile, i’m getting live CATV and recorded TiVo on my touch via SlingPlayer – today. which actually is really useful. the Zilch? maybe next year.

    one theory is the Zilch HD is a stopgap to keep a foot in the market until a true WinMobile 7 Zune device with apps is finally ready next year. so HD radio and the XBox tie-in is just making some lemonade with the existing Zune lemon in the meantime. but vocally taking on the touch explicitly – bring it on! – could well prove suicidal when what will likely be a sensational 2009 touch version is released at the same time as the Zilch this fall. the Zilch could get laughed out of the marketplace as utterly obsolete.

    except for the MS fanboys of course. they’ll buy and clutch it close to their heart no doubt.

  9. Morris

    I am old enough to remember the same thing about Netscape. Then it was PS3. Soon it will be Flash and yep IPhone/ITouch. Microsoft has 40 billion in cash and over a 200,000 vendors and software companies at its disposal. They create better platforms and what they are about to do is create a development platform for the Zune (like they did for the XBOX) that will allow the vendors to flood the market with software for this thing.

    I am not sure Google can withstand MS, they don’t have enough political clout in the market.

  10. Bryan

    I like most of Apple’s products, but I would really love to see someone give them a run for their money on portable music devices. The author of the article dismisses the radio tuner several times as not that great of feature. I disagree. There are many times I would love to listen to a ball game on the local radio station while I am work, in the yard, etc. The radio tuner at the very least makes me look at the new Zune.

    Also, iTunes is a horrible application in my opinion. It is slow, bloated by features I will never use, and is complete crap when trying to share the library among my several Apple computers. Maybe if MS gains some ground with the new Zune they would actually make Apple try to make their software as nice as their hardware.

    Also, possible integration with my Xbox is a huge selling point. If, and that is a big if, MS does this right it could take a nice chunk out of the Apple dominated market.

  11. First and foremost, I love all my apples. I’ve been the happy owner of various gens of iPods throughout their time and currently, I have an iMac, Macbook, iPhone and iTouch in my arsenal. I follow several Apple blogs very closely and am considered a total fanboy. That being said, I’m rather excited about the Zune HD. I’ll also agree with some of the posts, bashing this thing so early is wrong. I really felt the post was too “oh, it’s Microsoft, not Apple, so it sucks” without giving it a fair shot.

    First off, HD Radio is pretty sweet. One of my BIGGEST complaints w/ the iPhone/Touch line is it’s lack of even an FM receiver. Sometimes, I just want to listen to the mindless dribble on the road instead of something from my music collection. FM coverage is strong even when cell coverage is not (read: no Pandora).

    Next, OLED screen. SWEET. This is one of my biggest hopefuls for the new iPhone. They are simply beautiful and use less battery life. It’s cool that Microsoft is embracing this technology (although others, Sony, Samsung, etc. already have OLED media players).

    I think the design is beautiful too. the original UI for the Zune was great, I think this will be too. Physically, it’s beautiful too.

    As for custom apps, my guess is they’ll allow them. If they’re really pushing the Xbox relationship, you can bet on some multitouch handheld games. And, there are a lot more .NET programmers out there than Objective C.

    While you can knock the original Zune’s shortcomings, keep in mind how buggy the original iPhone software was. It was only after immense market pressure and demonstration of ability (Jailbreaking) that Apple allowed 3rd party apps.

    I know we can’t expect much in terms of praise for the competition, this is an Apple blog after all. However, let’s give praise where it’s due and take off the Apple blinders and really take a look at a potentially sweet product.

  12. Patrick who is your dealer because that sounds like good stuff you must be smoking. Microsoft have never made a superior product period. Why not go out and squirt some of your friends you favourite tracks….

  13. Patrick

    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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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 ;-)

  17. 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! ;)

  18. 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.

  19. “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?