By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 6:24 pm
Back on April 10th, our own Ed Oswald reported that he’d confirmed that the rumored Zune HD was real and would ship in the fall. He spoke the truth–as Cnet’s Ina Fried is reporting, Microsoft confirmed today that it plans to release an iPod Touch-like Zune then. (The company has confirmed it’s called the Zune HD hasn’t yet said what the product’s name will be, or but hasn’t disclosed how much it will cost.)
The new Zune will have:
That’s an intriguing list of specs, and enough to make it clear that Microsoft is building an iPod Touch rival, not a wannabee: While the form factor shown in the art Microsoft released is extremely Touch-esque, no Apple handheld has an OLED screen, HD radio, or HD video output.
Microsoft pre-announced just enough detail about the device to whet the appetite, so I’m left with more questions than answers. Such as the seven I ask after the jump.
1. Does this mean Zune is here for good? Fairly or unfairly, the name is profoundly tarnished at this point–it’s practically a synonym for “Unsuccessful Microsoft attempt to compete with the iPod.” I had wondered whether the company might retire the moniker in favor of the much more successful Xbox. Looks like I was wrong–you gotta think that if Microsoft doesn’t take this opportunity to rid itself of Zune, it doesn’t plan to. In fact, Ina’s piece says that it’s planning to launch a Zune-branded video service for the Xbox.
2. Will OLED still be big news in the fall? If the new Zune were in stores today, it would likely be a major selling point; I’ve never seen an OLED display that wasn’t very-nice-to-outstanding. But the fall is a long time from now, and Apple will almost certainly release new iPod Touches by September. I’m still wrestling with the rumors that the next iPhone will have an OLED display, but it’s plausible, at least, that the Touch will get one.
3. Will anyone care about HD radio? the technology’s been around for years now, and it’s still not entirely clear whether it’s ever going to catch on. (It’s already lost much of the head start it had in gaining traction before almost all entertainment goes IP-based.) I’m guessing that Microsoft won’t have to compete with an iPod Touch with HD radio, though: Adding it at this point just doesn’t seem like an Apple-esque thing to do.
4. Hey, what about apps? All advertising for the iPod Touch rightly focuses on the fact that there are scads of entertaining and/or useful applications for it. The new Zune will run a variant of Windows CE; we can assume that Microsoft will build an app store and encourage developers to build wares for it. But will it be possible to build apps as impressive as those enabled by iPhone OS? And even if it is, how many developers will jump on what will be a much smaller bandwagon than iPhone/iPod Tocuh, even if it’s quite successful?
5. Hey, what about content? Microsoft already has a decent Zune music store in the form of the Zune Pass service, but it still hasn’t built a full-blown movie and TV download service for the Zune. A Zune focused around HD will have to have one, but people will inevitable compare it to the iTunes Store that Apple has spent years building. And will you be able to watch content you buy or rent on any device other than a Zune–like, for instance, an Xbox? Microsoft isn’t saying.
6. Why is Microsoft announcing the new Zune now? Well, it’s Microsoft–announcing stuff months (or years) before it’s ready is what Microsoft does. Presumably, it would prefer to acknowledge that the new Zune exists than to deal with further leaks over the next few months. And maybe it’s confident enough that the Zune will compare favorably to next-generation iPod Touches that might show up sooner that it thinks some folks will forego a Touch for a Zune-to-come.
7. Does this mean the end of the current Zune line? Actually, Microsoft did answer this one: It’ll retire the current iPod Nano-like flash Zune models, but keep the hard-drive based ones on the market. But presumably the old-style hard disk-based Zune’s days are numbered, just as the iPod Classic’s are–it wouldn’t startle me if both quietly go away within the next year.
Any other questions, or stabs at answers?