Zune and the new media revolution

The announcement of an iPod killer (a device that will take on the wildly popular Apple iPod family and beat it to a pulp in the marketplace) seems to be an almost daily occurence. Microsoft recently announced a new portable media device called the Zune which is rumoured to be Microsoft’s iPod killer. As with Microsoft’s last secretive project, Origami, the Zune has been shrouded in mystery and with all the hype, I wonder if it will live up to it, unlike its unfortunate brother/sister/cousin/distant relative, the Origami device.

TechCrunch has announced that Microsoft has invited members of the press to discuss the rollout of the Zune:

Microsoft is conducting invite only press conversations tomorrow to discuss the rollout of Zune, their new bundled device/music service. Look for updates on TechCrunch and CrunchGear tomorrow AM as the story starts to break.

On one hand I am looking forward to seeing what the Zune will actually be capable of, particularly in light of Apple’s recent announcements about the revamped iPod family and upgrades to the iTunes Store (formerly the iTunes Music Store) and to iTunes itself.

The introduction of the Zune and the upgrades to the iPod/iTunes combination represent a further shift in how we consume our media. This shift probably began back when portable mp3 players first started coming out and made it possible for us to carry large amounts of digital media around with us and use it in more flexible ways. With the ability to download movies and other media onto a device the size of a relatively large mobile phone, we are becoming less and less reliant on traditional media like TV, cinemas and video rental stores for our media. Sure the form factor is an issue – I certainly wouldn’t enjoy watching full length feature films solely on my iPod and its small screen (although the sound would be far better given that it would be pumped into my ears through my earphones).

Devices like the iPod open the market up to content providers. Consider people who commute to work each day and who can now watch a movie while they travel, or catch up on podcasts on a variety of topics or just listen to some of their music collection which they have ripped to iTunes/Windows Media Player/Insert Preferred Music Application Here with the ease of selecting the music and clicking ‘Play’. As consumers or users of these devices and this media, we are no longer constrained by how many CDs we can carry in our car or whether there is a DVD player at our destination so we can watch a movie.

For more information about the Zune, check out TechCrunch’s coverage.

TechCrunch has some fascinating details about the Zune. It looks like quite a cool device. The device mentioned is a 30GB device:

Just got off the phone with Microsoft about the new Zune and the magic therein. Its a 30GB player that comes in three colors – black, white, and brown – and plays back most major file formats. That much you can read over at CrunchGear so head over there if you want the specs.

What really appeals to me is the connectivity options which are sure to give the Zune an advantage over its competitors:

Of specific interest to TC readers, however, is the social sharing system. The Zune has 802.11 networking built in and you can send a song to your friend for three days or three plays, which ever comes first. The goal, obviously, is to sell music. However, we could also conceivably see this as a MySpace-like network of users who pop music to each other with giddy abandon and infect others with their musical stylings on the train (perhaps a sandwich board that says Ill Send My New HARDCORE RAP Single to Your Zune. Talk to me. Please??) Once you get back home you can connect to the Zune Marketplace – and presumably an artists home page – where you can learn more and buy music.

[Picture courtesy of Engadget]

The big thing with the Zune is how it changes the already dynamic portable media device market:

Clearly all the data isnt in yet, but this definitely pushes the MP3 player out of the pocket and into the realm of social networking. The question, obviously, is what is Apple going to do about this and, as a corrallary, how low Apple and Creative shares are selling as we speak? Perhaps MS could create a Zune Inside? logo for those guys? Or maybe fund a halfway house for underconnected MP3 players?

I hope that the next major upgrade of the iPod, a 6th generation iPod will incorporate wireless connectivity and perhaps even the ability to buy music from the iTunes Store where there is an Internet connection? We will have that sort of technology eventually. The big question for me is how much the Zune will erode the iPod’s market share?

(My apologies for the liberal quotes, I’m prepping for a Roman law course tomorrow morning and wanted to get this news out to you)

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