Microsoft Taking Steady Steps with Zune

Dennis Faas's picture

In the world of hardware, Microsoft is -- gasp! -- an underdog. It took a full generation for the company's Xbox project to sweep up a respectable segment of the video gaming population, a goal it has now achieved with its successor, the Xbox 360. In the world of digital music, the Redmond-based company still has a ways to go, but a major facelift is starting to turn heads.

When it first launched over a year ago, many techies were underwhelmed by Microsoft's Zune music player. A drab rendition of Apple's iPod, its brown, black, and white visage paled in comparison to the much sleeker and more vibrant offerings from Microsoft's Cupertino competitor. Aside from WiFi support -- which Apple has since integrated -- there really wasn't much to catch the attention of a country, heck a planet, obsessed with the iPod.

It's been a few months now since the second generation Zune first appeared on retailer shelves. The device is also finally available north of the border, giving those crazy Canucks a chance to blare their Rush, Our Lady Peace, and Anne Murray.

However, the most marked improvements have been to the device itself. Microsoft has concentrated its attention on winning a 13 to 24-year-old crowd that might just be tiring of the ubiquitous iPod, and in doing so has again tried new things not found on the iPod.

The best of the new Zune features include the following:

  • Built-in FM tuner
  • Wireless synchronization
  • Improved touchpad (that some critics believe is better than the iPod's famous touchwheel)
  • Subscription service ($15/month for access to any song desired on Zune Marketplace)
  • Zune Social (a Facebook-like social network based on, you guessed it, music)


Unfortunately for Microsoft, changing allegiances will take time. Until the company can release a drastically improved alternative to the iPod well ahead of Apple (like it did with the Xbox 360 in its war against Sony), marginal improvements will in turn lead to only marginal consumer interest.

On a side note, the Zune 80 is set to arrive in red just in time for Valentine's Day, with 20 unique engravings offered for a semi-semi-personal touch. (Source:

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