December 11, 2006 7:53 AM PST

Desperately seeking Zune

SAN FRANCISCO--Welcome to the social.

That's the promise Microsoft makes with its new Zune. Unlike the solitary iPods, the digital music player lets you make new friends and discover new music. Using its built-in Wi-Fi, it can send a song to another Zune, and that song can be played up to three times before the recipient has to either buy it or lose it.

Well, it had been two weeks since the Zune had hit stores, and I was ready to sample a stranger's tunes. Equipped with a demonstration unit--courtesy of the folks in Redmond--I set out to try to find some fellow Zunes and their playlists.

San Francisco Zune hunt

I loaded up the device with my music tastes, which I sum up as "something that everyone will hate." With "Zunique" charged up and filled with everything from Juanes to Dixie Chicks to R.E.M. to Roxette, I headed from CNET's offices in downtown San Francisco up two blocks to Market Street, the main thoroughfare in the city.

Along the way, I popped into a Starbucks to see if there were any Zunes amid the Venti Macchiatos, or whatever it is that they serve these days. I quickly checked my player.

"Searching for Zune devices," it said, promisingly.

I waited, hopeful.

"No nearby Zune devices found, or nearby devices have wireless turned off," my device sadly informed me a few seconds later.

Sigh.

Onward
About a block away, there was a spot where all the bike messengers hang out. There were a few that were listening to music, but again, no Zunes.

I decided to check out a few places where I knew there would be some Zune action--the retail stores that sell the devices. My first stop was CompUSA.

"No nearby Zunes..." read the already familiar note on my player.

Zune found

There was a brown Zune on display, but it was attracting little attention.

"We haven't sold many," said a CompUSA worker, though he added he liked it better than Apple Computer's iPod.

And, while it was nice to see another Zune, the display models in stores appeared to have their wireless features disabled. Mine was still companionless.

Next on my list was the Virgin Megastore. Here were people thirsting for music, but again, no Zunes in the wild.

There was one guy by the Zune display grabbing a pile of Zune accessories, so I asked him if he already had the player. "I have three," he responded, though none of the devices appeared to be on him.

A little probing revealed that he worked for Microsoft in Zurich. Separately, two European youngsters also stopped by the Zune display in the 10 minutes or so I stuck around.

"I want to check out the Zune," said one.

"We have to buy one" said the other.

Assuming they were headed back to Europe, they face an even tougher time trying to find Zune friends. (The device is currently sold only in the U.S.)

I decided maybe downtown was not avant-garde enough. But, just to cover all the bases, I made one last stop at the Apple store right nearby. Sure, it would be heresy, and a bit foolhardy since the Zune doesn't sync with the Mac. As expected, no Zunes there either.

Oh, well. I should have known better.

I headed for a subway station to ride the local Bay Area Rapid Transit train to another neighborhood. Once underground, I was surrounded by iPod ads on billboards and pillars. Apple had essentially plastered ads to anything that wasn't moving. And many who were moving (my fellow passengers) were also advertising the iPod, because they had its iconic white earbuds plugged into their domes.

CONTINUED: Hip and hopping…
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Microsoft Zune, CompUSA Inc., Apple Computer, music player, San Francisco

 

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