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Last Updated: Friday, 15 September 2006, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Muted welcome for Microsoft Zune
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Microsoft Zune player, AP
Microsoft will spend millions marketing the Zune player
It has been a busy week for music, mobile devices and movies, and Microsoft has added to the furore with the launch of its Zune player.

The company intends to launch the gadget and its associated download service in the US in time for the all-important Christmas shopping season.

The launch of Zune pitches Microsoft into direct competition with Apple but few think that, initially, it will have the clout to upset the dominance of iTunes and the iPod.

Michael Gartenberg, analyst at Jupiter Research, said the makers of other MP3 players would likely suffer as a result of the Zune launch.

"It still looks like short term market share will come from other device vendors, not Apple," he said.

"Zune isn't an iPod killer but it does offer some compelling features that Apple currently lacks," he said.

Social sounds

At launch Microsoft will only be offering one Zune player - a 30GB model with a 7.6cm colour screen and FM radio that comes in black, white or brown. Also at launch the Zune service will only offer music and associated art. Movies and TV shows will come later.

Zune is long on ideas, but may be short on time
Stereogum blog

"They put a big screen designed for movies, but there are no movies for it," said analyst Rob Enderle. "That is a design mistake."

Built in to every Zune device is a wireless music sharing system. The short range data swapping system lets Zune owners beam tracks, playlists and images to other Zune players nearby.

Tracks shared in this way can be listened to three times or kept for three days before they disappear.

This ability to share is at the heart of Microsoft's ambitions for the player and the way it hopes to differentiate itself from what it dubs the "closed" world of Apple's iTunes.

With the sharing feature it hopes to tap into the community appeal that has made websites such as MySpace, Flickr and Facebook into huge successes.

It hopes that the tracks people share with friends will lead to extra sales via the associated Zune marketplace. Every user with a Zune account will have a special page on which are listed all the tracks they have shared or have been recommended by others.

Microsoft hopes that the flat-rate, all-you-can-eat pricing for Zune will encourage people to share, recommend and fill out their song libraries.

Early rumours suggested that Microsoft would replicate the iTunes library of anyone signing up to Zune. Microsoft has now said it will not do this.

Testing times

The software giant said it would commit millions of dollars to making Zune a success but acknowledged it could take a long time for that success to become apparent.

Ipod shuffle, Getty
The Zune could look bulky next to Apple's slimline gadgets
It said it thought it had a good chance of succeeding because analysis shows that the vast majority of music kept in iPods is ripped from CDs rather than being bought and downloaded from iTunes.

The Zune players will be able to store music ripped from CDs stored in iTunes.

As part of the Zune launch Microsoft flew some influential music bloggers to Seattle for a preview of the player and the service.

Stereogum posted a lengthy dissection of the player and service and pointed out that having only one device at launch was a bad move not least because Apple's iPod family is growing all the time.

It also acknowledged that, with Zune, Microsoft is trying to change the entire music downloading landscape.

The blog pointed out that Microsoft has managed to do this with the online community that goes along with the Xbox.

But, it said, it remained to be seen whether Microsoft could do the same with music downloads - not least because Apple was likely to react quickly to the Zune launch.

"Zune is long on ideas, but may be short on time," declared the bloggers.

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