Microsoft Shows Off New Zune Players

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By JESSICA MINTZ
The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 3, 2007; 7:47 PM

REDMOND, Wash. -- Microsoft Corp. took the wraps off its second-generation Zune digital media players late Tuesday, showing three models that bring the software maker's offerings more in line with Apple's market-leading iPod.

One model _ available in black _ has an 80-gigabyte hard drive and a 3.2-inch screen. It's slimmer than last year's Zune, which had a 30 GB hard drive and a smaller screen. Microsoft also will sell a smaller, flash memory-based Zune, similar in shape and size to the original iPod Nano, in pink, green, black and red with either 4 GB or 8 GB of storage.

Like the original Zune, the new models include an FM radio tuner and the ability to wirelessly share songs with other Zune owners.

The latest generation sports a shiny glass screen and a new touch pad navigation button. The gadgets use Wi-Fi to sync music, movies and photos wirelessly and automatically with users' PCs.

The new Zunes are to go on sale in mid-November. The 4 GB Zune will cost $149, the 8 GB one will sell for $199 and the 80 GB model for $249. The prices match those of Apple Inc.'s comparable iPod models.

Microsoft has yet to wow consumers or analysts the way Apple has done consistently. As of the end of the last fiscal quarter, Apple Inc. had sold more than 100 million iPods, while Microsoft had sold about 1.2 million Zunes.

"There's nothing earth-shattering there," said Van Baker, an analyst at the research group Gartner, in an interview about the new Zunes.

Baker said he expects the changes to help Microsoft keep its distant No. 2 spot in the digital media player market, but improving the software and adding a new model isn't going to radically change Microsoft's market share.

"Maybe next year they can make an aggressive push against Apple," he said.

To get its first-generation Zunes to consumers quickly last year, Microsoft relied heavily on partners, including Toshiba Corp. for the design of the device.

This time, the company bulked up its own staff to include industrial designers and rebuilt the software for the device and the linked computer and Web services from scratch.

Microsoft tweaked the look of the new Zunes' display and menus, and added the Zune Pad, a combination mouse-button and touch pad that lets users scroll down a long list of songs with a few flicks of the finger, then click the button to select tracks or change the volume.

Zune users can set up their devices to connect automatically to their home Wi-Fi network, and sync music, podcasts and video while the device charges. They can also sync the device with TV shows recorded using Windows Media Center on Windows Vista PCs.

First-generation Zunes will automatically get software updates this fall.

In November, Microsoft will also release redesigned Zune desktop software, revamp its Marketplace store and launch a social networking site called "Social."

The new Marketplace will carry about 3 million tracks, about 1 million of which will be sold as MP3s without copy protection, in line with the number of songs Apple offers without digital rights management.

Microsoft executives have denied plans for a "Zune phone" since the iPhone was introduced this summer. J Allard, a corporate vice president in Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, said designing a touch pad instead of a touch screen was a deliberate decision to let users skip tracks and change the volume without having to look at the screen.

Allard said that for this generation, Microsoft was focused on improving the hardware and software.

"Market share comes after," he said.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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