Microsoft has confirmed the existence of the Zune portable music player and says that it will be out by the end of the year. In an interview published in this week’s Billboard Magazine, Microsoft GM of Marketing for MSN Entertainment Business Chris Stephenson says that Zune is “a family of hardware and software products” targeting various digital entertainment services.
The Zune has been rumored to be capable of playing digital music, video, gaming, and downloading music over an 802.11b/g connection. Right now, however, Microsoft says the primary focus for the device will be on music. Zune will indeed have the rumored WiFi capability as well as an internal hard drive. Stephenson declined to divulge the full tech specs for the device, saying that those have yet to be decided.
Microsoft hopes to use the built-in WiFi to foster a community around the Zune, enabling users to see one another’s playlists, send track recommendations wirelessly, and even share music with one another. In addition, users will be able to send and receive content between the Zune and other Microsoft devices such as the Xbox 360 and mobile devices running the Windows Mobile OS. “The ability to connect the different devices is a key part of the strategy,” according to Stephenson. “Whether it’s a portable media device, or a phone, or the Xbox or Media Center PC, the idea is you can access your entertainment from anywhere.”
Microsoft has demoed the device to the record labels, some of whom are “incredibly excited” by it. One reason for the excitement could be the prospect of breaking Apple’s hegemony over the digital music market. Also, the Zune will allow for a limited P2P experienceâ€””controlled sharing” as one label VP describes itâ€”that can still be tightly controlled by the record labels via the hardware.
There is no launch date yet, nor are there any specifics on whether the device will be tied to the joint MTV-Microsoft venture URGE music store. What is certain is that by the time the holiday shopping frenzy rolls around, we’ll be seeing a massive marketing blitz introducing the Zune, which should be on store shelves by then. It’s not going to be easy to knock Apple of its perch, but with Microsoft putting all of its eggs in a single, oddly-named basket, the iPod is sure to face a challenge like it hasn’t seen before.
News source: ARSTECHNICA