The first Microsoft Zune products will reach retailers this Christmas.
Microsoft took the wraps off its Zune media player last night. It turns out to be a 30GB device that has an accompanying Zune Marketplace service.
The details sound similar to what Apple already offers, with a couple of exceptions. In addition to allowing users to play music, videos and photos on a screen, the Zune player will include wireless technology and a built-in FM radio tuner. So far, iPods lack built-in wireless technology and while Apple does make a radio tuner that can be plugged into the iPod, the company decided against building such a tuner into the device itself.
Zune's wireless technology will allow users to share songs, playlists and photos between Zune devices, Microsoft said. A user can listen to any song they receive up to three times over three days, after which they must purchase it from the Zune Marketplace if they wish to continue listening.
The Zune Marketplace, like iTunes, allows users to purchase media and manage their own media libraries. Users can purchase music tracks individually or buy what is called a 'Zune Pass', a subscription service allowing users to download as many songs as they want for a monthly fee.
The Zune device will come in three colours: black, brown and white. In addition to viewing media on the 3in screen, users can customise the screen with personal photos or themes.
Just like Apple's iPods did in their first incarnation, Zune devices will come preloaded with content from record labels.
If other attempts to unseat the iPod are any indication, Microsoft will have a tough road ahead. Dell recently stopped selling its DJ Ditty music player and ended development of its own range of such devices.
Still, iPod market share has fallen slightly in the past year. At one point the music player had more than 80 per cent market share by analysts estimates, but the latest reports give the iPod a little over 70 per cent market share.
Microsoft also will offer three Zune accessory packs, including a car, home A/V, and travel pack.
Microsoft also is working with accessory manufacturers to provide more add-on products for Zune devices. Among the companies with whom Microsoft is teaming are the great an the good of the iPod accessory industry: Altec Lansing, Belkin, Digital Lifestyle Outfitters, Dual Electronics, Griffin Technology, Harman Kardon and JBL, Integrated Mobile Electronics, Jamo International, Klipsch Audio Technologies, Logitech, Monster Cable Products, Speck, Targus Group International and VAF Research.