July 25, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Microsoft's Zune looks to cut the cord

With much about Microsoft's iPod rival still shrouded in secrecy, its wireless capability stands out as something novel to take on Apple Computer.

Microsoft confirmed Friday that it will launch its first Zune device this year, but the company offered few details other than confirming there will be a Wi-Fi connection.

The software giant hasn't even specified the purpose of the wireless connection in the Zune device. In an interview with Billboard magazine, Microsoft general manager Chris Stephenson said the company is still considering seven or eight "scenarios," including using the Wi-Fi connection for direct music downloads and sampling music from other nearby listeners.

news analysis
A swan song for
Microsoft partners?
It's unclear how much attention Microsoft will still put on its PlaysForSure program.

"They are being coy," said Gartner analyst Michael McGuire. Regardless of how Microsoft uses wireless abilities for the Zune, McGuire says the key will be how easy or difficult the gadget is for consumers to use. For example, designing an interface that enables downloading music from a catalog without using a keyboard is tricky.

"That's going to require a nuanced and very deep understanding of user interface," McGuire said.

Microsoft is not the first company to tout a wireless future for music players. Chipmaker PortalPlayer has talked about the potential of wireless features for some time, but executives said it would probably take until this year for such players to emerge. And MusicGremlin recently hit the market with a player that can download subscription music content wirelessly.

MusicGremlin co-CEO Robert Khedouri said the whole industry is headed in this direction.

"We just see it as the logical next step in where these devices are going," Khedouri said in a telephone interview. "In the future, the consumer is going to expect to have access to their media on a variety of devices and they are going to want a way to get their media without having to go back to their PC."

PlaysForSure devices

Microsoft could get a competitive advantage if it can be the first big-name company to offer a wireless device. An open question, though, is whether Apple is planning any sort of wireless iPod this year.

While adding wireless abilities could give the Zune a leg up on Apple, it also presents technological challenges. Rivals already struggle to compete with the simplicity of the iPod, analysts say.

"Will the technology work smoothly, without crashing?" asked IDC analyst Susan Kevorkian. "There are really serious usability concerns in this context that haven't fully been tested."

MusicGremlin's Khedouri said that companies tend to underestimate the challenges when it comes to adding wireless capabilities to portable players.

"It's very easy to create a wireless device," he said. "It's very difficult to make it work and connect in the way that a lot of people envision."

See more CNET content tagged:
Microsoft Zune, PlaysForSure, wireless device, Wi-Fi connection, Apple Computer

38 comments

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Stable is a better feature.
It's a another case of Microsoft throwing features at a product without having a clue why people use that type of product.

A swiss army knife is overkill when all I need is a fork.
Posted by lordstates (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What else can they do?
Think about it. The market doesn't need 'just another MP3 player'.

Basically, if the only virtue in media devices is simplicity, I'm sure that there really is no killing the iPod. If it has LESS features than the iPod, then it has to be competitively priced to compete. (Who wants to pay more for less in a lesser-known brand?) If it has MORE features than the iPod, it's too complicated. What the heck do people want? What way can MS go to make a media device people will want more than the iPod? (I'm wagering that more features that work better and are more useful is the clear route here).

Personally I like having a ton of features, and I find the hinting at possible uses of wifi to be attractive. One of the reasons I hate iPods is because they limit themselves to adding one feature per generation, it seems. Like they're too cool just to think of all the good features they could possibly fit into one device and release it all at once. No, the iPod will someday be its own swiss army knife, but Apple will have made boatloads of cash by that time by forcing people to upgrade to get that 'cool new feature' in each generation.

That'd be like Sony making a first gen PSP... with only game playing ability. Then, next year, they'd release the PSP PHOTO and after that, the PSP MOVIE and MP3 PLAYER... and after that... PSP WEB BROWSER and so forth. However, not being b------s like Apple, they simply release new FIRMWARE updates to add features as they see fit. It just seems like Apple could have included some of their features a long time before they have, technologically, without dramatically increasing the price. That is to say, it's going to be the slightly more expensive choice regardless..

Bleh. I just don't see a reason to have an iPod. I had a first-gen iPod but found that other devices can get the job done just as good with less proprietary crap to get in the way and at a lower cost.
Posted by DraconumPB (229 comments )
Link Flag
Wi-Fi EAT BATTERIES
What is the point of wireless if it lasts less time than watching a full length movie on my Video ipod. Unless the it runs on hope, it is out of sync (pun)
Posted by jaystring (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wi-Fi EAT BATTERIES
What is the point of wireless if it lasts less time than watching a full length movie on my Video ipod. Unless the it runs on hope, it is out of sync (pun)
Posted by jaystring (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not on all the time
What wireless devices do you use that don't let you disable wireless?

Sure, if it was constantly streaming, I could see there being an impact, but you're adding a feature which will come with it's own pros and cons... I'd imagine it would be optional. So, nothing lost there in all likelyhood.

(By the way, no MP3 player will have longer battery life than my Creative Zen Touch. I leave it running overnight on accident all the time, and going from a semi-full charge that only eats about 1/3 of the battery meter.)
Posted by DraconumPB (229 comments )
Link Flag
Zune + wifi =
For zune to compete, here are my thoughts..:

A. Have a built in web browser, just like a pda.
B. Have a built in Instant Messenger, with localized anonymous chatting. For example, you fire up your zune and it shows all the people on that same wireless router using a zune, and you have the option of anonymously chatting with them. This would lead to new friends and new music.
C. Have song downloads at 79 cents a pop.
D. Wirless must not eat up the battery.
E. Video sharing capabilities.
F. Games are a must
Posted by scrapple--2008 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
wireless connectivity = multiplayer games
wireless connectivity = multiplayer games...just emagine if ipods could verse other ipods in ipod games, the bus ride would rock. If microsoft could add a popular game like say GTA 2 and make it multiplayer then the zune would be a huge sucess!!!
Posted by Dustout (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Careful, it's sounding like a M$ portable gaming device there ;)
altho that wouldn't really be a bad thing perse. This article does state that M$ hasn't classified this new gadget in the making. However, unlike the GBA, DS, and PSP, if there isn't a big market to support all these "AAA" games, then it won't pan out. It just won't be worth the resources changing the code to work on the Zune when there won't be alot of ppl biting. Also, unless Zune is also slated for games, it would be unnecessary extra cost to put a graphics card on there (IIRC, GTA2 requires a modest 2d card).

Otherwise, the Zune wuld need to compete with the GBA, PSP, DS, and cellphones and that's gonna be a fierce war. Fortunately and unfortunately, PSP and DS seem to hold most of the portable WL gaming market out there. Maybe cell phones in a distant 3rd. GBA is immense for MP, but it's wired MP play. Even tho Pocket PCs and Palms were never designated as gaming devices, they trail quite alot in gaming.

I remember the Gizmondo was somewhat backed up by M$ since it uses winCE. It was supposed to have a mobile version of Halo on it, but it looks like that never was.
Posted by ackmondual (199 comments )
Link Flag
Zune is a 2nd Rate "watanabe"...
A "wireless" MP3 player has been desired since the dawn of time, Microsoft is breaking no new ground here. Steve Jobs knows it's not possible using 802.11 because of extreme battery drain, so it hasn't happened.

So Microsoft & the Press hinting of this feature is purely laughable! if Apple can't do it, Microsoft is exactly 3 years and 5 version away from the "Beta Version", which will be released 2 years late and to little fanfare.

MS has no demonstrable technical skills with hardware, WAKE UP PEOPLE, they are mainly a "LEGAL FIRM", not a "software OR hardware company" they can't program themselves out of a paper bag, (See Vista, Exchange Server, Office) so unless, miracles happen with nuclear fission in the next 6 months, and Apple doesn't hear about it, the Zune is DOOMED to "joke status" come Christmas.

Zune will be Microsoft's Ruin... you can BANK on it...

-
Posted by OS11 (844 comments )
Reply Link Flag
2nd Rate People
Make comments like John here because they have been embarrassed, humiliated, abandoned and left in the dark just long enough for Steve Jobs to bring apple (a blip) onto the HUGE map of Hardware and Software so that fanboys like John can spread FUD and dribble on us again and again. John, the XBOX 360 is more powerful than your little crApple iMac that took all your years to save up and buy. Who wants to use Apples crappy featureless little Mail Server, Database Server, iWork? Who would actually pay for iWork?

Theoretically Speaking, there is no way to actually "program" your way out of a paper bag, usually you would just step out of the bag. But hey, we all know how analytical you people are. Keep "thinking different".

Exchange Server is used by half (if not more) of the worlds major corporations  That Says something about the product.

SQL Server is also used by huge businesses

Vista  Better than OS X in my opinion (note: I use both heavily, they both have pros and cons) get over it..

Miracles do happen  Look at apple&

I and many others will most likely buy a Zune. Big deal. The iPod is Second rate in my mind. If Apple released a turn table in White Plastik, Im sure youd buy it&Saying that MS doesnt make good hardware is moronic. In my experiences, MS makes a better hardware product than most. Hell, I still have the 1st Optical they released..its in good shape

Lesson: You have your preference, and I have mine&Lets keep it that way..Oh and its wannabi, not watanabi..
Posted by SystemsJunky (409 comments )
Link Flag
Why make a comment even before product is on market
Why do people make a comment even before the product is out. You may be right about wireless about power consumption!!! But you never know!!!

Hey people are downloading music using their cell phones!!!! so whats the big deal.

Microsoft is not claiming that they will be leader right when they enter market. They are in for a long run and Apple can maintain market share purely by innovating!!

So far the innovations in IPOD are not phenominal

1) They reduced size!!!
2) They changed the colors!!!
3) They made it show pics
4) They made it show videos!!!

then what!!! what is the future innovation!!!
- I am not implying that they will not innovate, I meant to say they need to innovate further and I hope they do.

NOTE: I LOVE MY IPOD!!! - So far only solution that intergrates hardware and software nicely. I am willing to look at competition and the competition better be good.
Posted by Tanjore (322 comments )
Link Flag
add sonos-like features
use the player to control remote speaker systems around the house like the sonos remote - that would be nice
Posted by cypherism (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
the ipod already does that in spades...
there are over a dozen ways to do that via any regular iPod, apple even has a device to "legally" stream songs into your stereo... cool!

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.apple.com/airportexpress/" target="_newWindow">http://www.apple.com/airportexpress/</a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.apple.com/ipod/accessories.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.apple.com/ipod/accessories.html</a>
Posted by OS11 (844 comments )
Link Flag
That won't be neccessary; I've already got one!
Eee-yes, is very nice. Now go away, before I taunt you a second time-ah!

My tablet PC, coupled with a Napster subscription, can do everything this novelty device proposes to do. Sure, it's more expensive, but that's because it's a computer.

Chances are, you've probably already got one, too--it's probably a laptop, though not neccessarily a tablet. Microsoft themselves are big champions of UMPCs and tablets because of their conveniently portable form factors. A UMPC could do everything this newfangled doohickey could do, and using Napster, which is stable and has been available as a subscription service for at least two years. You wouldn't even need to upgrade to the "Napster to Go" for portables by this route, as you'd simply be using one of your alloted PCs.

Yes, a laptop or small form factor computer is pricier than a music gadget, but chances are, you already have one, need one, and do all kinds of other things with it.
Posted by Scott Gardener (220 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Zune as good as Origami?
Let's not forget the latest example of MS's consumer-oriented
thinking...

Forget about ORIGAMI already?

And keep in mind, if you're going to carry around a music
player, it should be small, sleek, and intuitive.

The Xbox 360 may look better than the original, but it's still
merely OK when it comes to case design.

And if MS just makes media player stew, they're screwed.
Bloatware might work with MS office, but not on an appliance.
Posted by mgreere (332 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Absolutely
Of course the gaming world has been taken by storm by the xbox.
Not!
Sony are still the bit cheese in the gaming market and both Sony and Nintendo are coming out strong with their next consoles.
There is no killer incentive to buy a 360 and MS have said that they won't lower the price at christmas!Insane!
Real forward thinking there, and as for the style the Wii is far smaller and sleeker (and the new way of playing games) and the PS3 is more powerfull, the 360 will be the one without a hook and another HALO will only get it so far.

As for origami that was almost as big a flop as the tablet PC I live in the UK and I have never seen either and from what I've heard they aren't common place across the pond either.
The Q1 is one step away from falling into the downright UGLY category, just check the reviews here on Cnet and bare in mind the original concept of a "device that will last all day" and cost less than 1000$.
Posted by grandmasterdibbler (78 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft Doesn't Get It
First, does anyone really think the wi-fi feature will work properly? Sure it'll charge your credit card instantly, but will it take 2 mins to download and then your song won't play or it just won't be there? More than likely! Second, can this really be considered a feature the public is demanding? Has there been a huge demand from the mp3 owners for wi-fi because buying music at home is just such a HUGE hassel? Nope. So there isn't any "real" demand for wi-fi and there is good reason to doubt it'd actually work properly for the first 1 or 2. Not off to a good start, but wait! There's more!

Microsoft is also pushing for what it calls "online music" communities that you can access via your mp3 player. Again, what's the value in this? Just because my mp3 player has a bunch of John Denver songs that enough for me to "want" or "desire" to spend hours texting with other John Denver fans? About what? And would it be easy or hard to text using an mp3? It would be hard and all you could type would be short sentences -- making an already boring conversation between two (or more) strangers who just happen to like the same artists even more boring because how much can you "discuss" in short three to four word sentences slowly typed out on a wi-fi enable mp3?

And yet some yahoo in Microsoft marketing makes $100,00 a year to come up with these reidiculous ill-concieved ideas. Give Mr. gates his money back for this lame idea.
Posted by verbalvoodoo (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
re:
Isn't it rumored that the next iPod will have Wi-Fi?

Well, whether it is true, ya'll will praise it like it's the best thing in the world, just like Jobs himself criticized having video playback and now it is praised in the latest iPod.
Posted by darrius3365 (98 comments )
Link Flag
 

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