The portable MP3 player competition is about to get interesting. While Apple worried about whether companies could use the word "pod" anywhere in its marketing materials, Microsoft geared itself to leap into the marketplace on November 14 with a potentially superior product.
The "Zune" is a 30 GB MP3 player that, for all intents and purposes, does everything the iPod does (including video), but it also has built-in wifi music sharing, an FM tuner, and a thankfully larger screen. Even the 640x480 video out will match Apple's. The size is comparable to the iPod, but slightly bigger, and for the time being, there is no 80 GB version like Apple will have once the 5th gen iPods are released, but maybe Apple should be a little worried.
The public's familiarity with iTunes remains a great advantage Apple has over any of its competitors, but this latest entry from Microsoft just might cause Apple to feel Microsoft's footsteps in the music download service business. As a spectator of Microsoft's bunglings with its operating systems over the years, I did not expect Microsoft's first entry to be this complete.
Microsoft's music service will allow users to either buy songs outright or rent the entire music collection for a monthly subscription fee. When a user shares a song with another Zune owner, that user is given the opportunity to listen to the song three times over three days before being prompted to purchase the music himself.
Microsoft will be using a new proprietary DRM system, which is sure to be a requirement of the record labels, but without a device onhand, I cannot predict what that will look like and what the restrictions will be. At any rate, it appears Microsoft is listening to consumers. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I'm in the market for a portable listening device, and since the price is reportedly going to be the same as Apple's 30GB iPod, I'm considering going for a Zune instead. - Cam Beck
Update: The Thisislondon.co.uk article I referenced earlier originally reported that the Zune would come with a built-in FM transmitter. However, this claim appears to be false. According to Microsoft, the Zune will come with a built-in FM tuner. FM transmitters will be available for about $70, and car chargers will be available for $25. However, you will be able to save a little money by purchasing them together in the "car pack," which will sell for $79.99.