Microsoft entered the nascent MP3 player market Friday morning by announcing the Zune, a portable media player designed to compete with longtime industry titan Apple. The device was unveiled at the end of a news conference at Microsoft headquarters.
The Zune will have many of the features now standard in the MP3 player market, such as a click wheel (touch-screen models are hinted as the goal for a potential second generation release later next year) and both music and video playback capabilities. The Zune will also have customizable themes and desktop backgrounds that Microsoft Chief Marketing Executive Humbert Slothrop said customers would be “really excited about.”
Also announced were plans for sharing content between Microsoft devices, such as the Xbox 360. For instance, users will be able to play shared songs up to three times per day, before being redirected to the Zune Marketplace, Microsoft’s official online music and video store. There are no current plans for the Zune to be compatible with Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, or any other music streaming service. The Zune will also not have internet or cellular access.
Larger than an iPod and colored an earthy light brown, the Zune drew both subdued cheers and stifled jeers upon its unveiling. Billy Palmer, a tech journalist for Extreme Microsoft Hacks Magazine, called the design “inspired, a perfect blend of earthy tones and New Age electronic wizardry.” In contrast, another tech journalist, speaking anonymously, claimed the Zune most resembled “a robot s—.”
The Zune’s considerable size and heft was another issue brought up during the unveiling. Master of Ceremonies Jorge Bolaño seemed to have some difficulty fitting the entire device in his pocket while touting the Zune’s portability, at one point joking that it “seemed [his] pants [had] shrunk a bit in the wash.”
The Zune is marketed as having a 30 GB hard drive, with additional flash drive storage models having up to 4 GB of storage. An 8 GB storage model is in the works for what Microsoft is calling “dedicated users.” Current Apple products that the Zune will be competing with, such as the iPhone X or iPod Touch, range in storage from 32 to 256 GB.
UR students will be able to get in on the Zune’s rollout by registering with Microsoft to become “Zune Masters,” ambassadors for the Zune who will be charged with marketing it to their fellow students, as well as organizing Zune-centric on-campus events. Free Zunes have been promised as payment, along with additional Microsoft merchandise.
When asked why now was the time for Microsoft to step forward into uncharted territory, Slothrop was quoted as saying, “What we’ve been hearing from our customers is, ‘We love how interconnected all Apple devices are. The sharing features, the compatible hardware, even the consistent aesthetic choices. We can’t really ever conceive switching to an entirely different service for our media consumption needs.’ That’s all well and good, a singular and unified solution, but what’s a market without a little competition?”
Microsoft Design Executive Don Incandenza was more to the point: “we’re going to add a little spice to our customers’ lives,” he said, “and hopefully our shareholders’ as well.”
Apple declined comment on all aspects of the Zune’s release and announcement.