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September 7, 2006

Can Microsoft put the cool into Zune?

Zune graphic

With a handful of weeks to go before launch, can Microsoft inject enough cool into its Zune media player?

That question is on the minds of many, as Microsoft readies Zune for production. Millions of earbud-wearers, accessory-makers, investment analysts, and bloggers await the rollout of Microsoft's battle plan to slay Apple's iconic line of iPod players.

Microsoft will need to build serious cachet into the Zune brand. For legions of Apple fans, Microsoft's attempts to unseat iPod as the king of Portable Player Cool is questionable - if not laugh-out-loud ridiculous.

There is cause, indeed, for skepticism. Great companies have tried and failed to topple iPod - with the demise of Dell's DJ Ditto the most recent of a long line of wanna-be's and tried-to-be's.

But Apple enthusiasts are wrong to take Zune lightly. Doubters ought to heed the following words like a warning flare:

Remember Xbox.

Analysts scoffed when Microsoft entered the high-end gaming world with Xbox. The market was dominated, and apparently saturated, by Sony and Nintendo. Those companies controlled both hardware and software on their closed, proprietary systems.

A huge user base was seemingly locked in to the established brands. Gamers were invested in extensive, costly libraries of games that worked only with their current systems.

Moreover, there was no public cry for gaming alternatives. Other than a small group of hardcore gamers and persnickety bloggers, users were generally satisfied with the existing products.

Despite these daunting obstacles, Microsoft's entry into the gaming world was innovative, well-funded, superbly-marketed, and relentless. Microsoft quickly got in tune with hard-core gamers as well as mainstream consumers. With the Xbox launch, Microsoft rocked the gaming world with the blockbuster Halo: Combat Evolved, which catapulted Xbox into the hearts and thumbs of much of the gaming world. And when Halo 2 was released in 2004, it crushed previous sales records with $125M in sales on its opening day.

But can Microsoft put that kind of cool into Zune? That remains to be seen. But before saying no, better check in with Sony or Nintendo.

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September 3, 2006

Will SpiralFrog make iTunes croak?

This week SpiralFrog announced its partnership with Universal Music Group, to provide free, legal music downloads beginning this December. Does this spell trouble for Apple's iTunes store, as well as Microsoft's upcoming Zune music store?

The service will enable music to be downloaded free from Universal's huge music repertoire. Users will be subjected to ads, and SpiralFrog will use ad revenue to reimburse Universal.

SpiralFrog claims that consumers are willing to pay for their content by watching "non-intrusive, contextually-relevant, targeted advertising."

Does this frog have legs? Let's just say we see some serious warts, if not fatal flaws, in SpiralFrog's business model. That model assumes:

  • High ad-viewing tolerance among its target audience.

    SpiralFrog may be overestimating the ad-viewing patience of music downloaders. Sure, it's offering a real product for no cost other than people's time. But we're guessing that, even for the music freeloaders of the world, time is a precious commodity.

    To attract and retain downloaders, SpiralFrog will need to keep the irritation quotient of its ads extremely low. Advertisers, on the other hand, are going to expect high visibility and intrusiveness for their advertising dollar. SpiralFrog has a serious challenge in finding the right balance, if it exists, between its advertisers and its downloading customers.

  • A target audience that is highly attractive for advertisers.

    SpiralFrog specifically targets a demographic that is willing to sit through ads in order to download free songs. This self-selects those people who will go out of their way to avoid paying money, even for a product they want.

    That doesn't sound like a desirable community for most advertisers.

    With those flaws, SpiralFrog may well look like a warty toad to both advertisers and music downloaders.

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    September 1, 2006

    Zune documentation library

    Zune graphic

    We've added a documentation library to the Zunerama site.

    We made it part of our forum, so that comments about the documentation can be submitted and viewed by our forum members.

    So far, we've stocked the library with:

  • User manual, submitted with Toshiba's Aug2006 FCC filing for Zune
  • Toshiba Gigabeat owner's manual
  • Spec sheet for the Toshiba Gigabeat Model MES30VW

    The Gigabeat owner's manual is the closest document available today that shows how Zune *might* be used. The MES30VW 30GB model appears to be the foundation for the first Zune device to be released this fall.

    As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome.


    August 31, 2006

    Drinking the Cupertino Kool-Aid?

    Zune graphic

    This week American Technology Research advised clients that the Zune media player is "underwhelming", and reiterated a Buy on Apple Stock. ATR's report, highly disparaging of Zune, has been widely circulated around the web on and many other sites.

    A close read of the analysis, though, ought to give serious pause to even the most ardent Apple enthusiast.

    ATR is an investment research firm that specializes in information technology and defense companies for institutional investors. Its website proclaims the company's "Independent, Unbiased Research".

    So let's put that claim to the test. Here are six of ATR analyst Shaw Wu's observations:

  • Wu: "We are frankly underwhelmed by the specs (technical and aesthetics/design) on the much-hyped Zune device, at least on a competitive basis versus Apple's market leading iPod+iTunes. Microsoft had hinted of an all-new design from the ground up, but from our analysis, it appears that the Zune is essentially a repackaged Toshiba Gigabeat that has seen limited success."

    Our analysis: Some validity here, but the analyst shows bias by taking his conclusions too far. If Wu is going by the images submitted by Toshiba in its recent FCC filing, the aesthetics do appear to leave something to be desired. The photos, however, are undated and may not actually represent production models of the Zune exterior.

  • Wu is correct that the Zune is very similar to the Toshiba Gigabeat model MES30VW, with its 30GB hard drive, built-in FM tuner, audio and video capabilities, and TV/Tivo/PC video connectivity. The Gigabeat model even has the same $299 price tag as the Zune. So Wu has some basis for casting Zune as a repackaged Gigabeat.

    And it's true that Gigabeat hasn't flown off the shelves.

    Still, Gigabeat is a pretty impressive package - - and will be on a completely different playing field with the addition of Wireless, a beefier music service, and Microsoft's marketing power.

    Incidentally, we have a copy of the Toshiba Gigabeat owner's manual in the Zunerama documentation library. It likely gives a good approximation of how Zune will operate, minus the new wireless features. It's worth a look for the curious.

  • Wu: "At this point, we believe this could end up being another classic case of over promising and under delivering by Microsoft."

    Our analysis: Reveals bias. Well, it's beyond that - he's frothing at the mouth from drinking the anti-Microsoft kool-aid. Sure, Microsoft is easy to despise for many; we like to poke fun at them too. They certainly don't always hit a home run each time they take a swing at a market.

  • But, if I were an Apple shareholder, I'm not sure I'd want my analyst waving aside so dismissively the technical know-how and sheer determination of the world's largest software company. Cut the hubris, and show respect where it's due. It is in the realm of credibility that Microsoft will crush Apple in this market, even if Apple has a superior product. Your clients deserve to know that.

  • Wu: Microsoft's decision to go after the high end of the portable music player market cuts out at least 75 percent of the potential market, too. By marketing a 30GB hard drive-based device that includes an FM tuner and Wi-Fi capabilities along with a US$300 price tag, it is missing out on the market segment that's dominated by the iPod nano, iPod shuffle, SanDisk, and Sony Walkman phones.
  • Our analysis: Incorrect information. Even casual observers know that Microsoft plans a whole suite of Zune products and services, competing at every level of portable audio player. This has been clear since Robbie Bach of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division spoke at Microsoft's annual financial meeting in July. What's more, Bach indicates that those devices may be released in early 2007. So we're not talking years out for those models to emerge, either.

  • Wu: Although an exciting feature, the Zune's Wi-Fi capabilities may do more harm than good for the music player. Thanks to Wi-Fi power requirements, the Zune will likely get 3-6 hours battery life. In comparison, a typical iPod runs for 10-14 hours.
  • Our analysis: Overstated claim. While there are definitely concerns about battery life, expressed in this blog as well as others, it has also become clear that Wi-Fi is a Zune feature that is optionally turned on when in use. The 3-6 hours figure is pure conjecture, based on unstated assumptions about how long Wireless is on.

    Certainly battery life will take a hit from the Wi-Fi, but how many minutes in an average day do you think a Zuner will have Wi-Fi turned on? It's a great feature, but not one that needs to be continuously on.

  • Wu: expects that Apple will introduce new and updated iPod models later in September or in October.
  • Our analysis: Exciting if true. Most likely, though, not true - in anywhere near that timeframe. Apple is famous for its secrecy, but odds are by now we would have heard something if a significant new model was that close to production.

  • Wu: American Technology Research is maintaining its "Buy" rating for Apple stock.
  • Our analysis: Hold. Hold. Hold. Apple shareholders, you'll know much more in two months. And during that time, you can find an analyst who hasn't drunk the Cupertino kool-aid.

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    August 30, 2006

    From the Zunerama Forums:

    Lame Zune marketing slogans

    Zunerama's forum community has been hard at work creating slogans for Microsoft's Zune marketing campaign. Judging from the results, it's clear that our forum community is more a population of gearheads than marketing-wizkids.

    Nevertheless, as a public service to you, Microsoft, we offer Zunerama's Top Lame Zune Marketing Slogans:

    6. "Get your Zune on."

    5. "Zune. Life turned up."

    4. "Prepare to Zune."

    3. "Zune. Because I'm worth it. And because I'm not quite worth an iPod."

    2. "Zuners wanted."

    And the number one Zune marketing slogan:

    1. "Think Differenter."

    You can see the runners up in the Lame Zunes Slogans thread.

    August 29, 2006

    "Hello from Seattle?"

    Zune graphic

    We've been digging into the FCC filing for Zune. The filing covers three models of Toshiba's HDD portable audio player, "pre-production".

    The three models differ only in color of their cases:

  • Model 1089 - Black
  • Model 1090 - White
  • Model 1091 - Brown
  • The filing shows the LCD unit (screen) as 3" (presumably diagonal measurement). This differs from the 3.75" that was misreported on some sites earlier.

    The filing confirms the 1.8-inch 30GB hard disk drive reported earlier.

    The FCC application was submitted on behalf of Toshiba by Japanese company Taiyo Yuden - a "world leader in materials and electronics technology" according to their website.

    The filing shows a current status of "grant issued". We've contacted Taiyo Yuden's manager for confirmation on the status of the filing; we'll post here any information we receive from that.

    The filing does not make mention of Microsoft. However, in the rear images of the label information diagram, you can see in small letters the words "Hello from Seattle".

    More to come.

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    August 28, 2006

    Apple: Why it's time to Think Different again

    Zune graphic

    Remember Apple's lauded "Think Different" ad campaign? That slogan summed up perfectly Apple's commitment to design innovation and engineering elegance.

    Many eyes are on Microsoft's Zune digital media player this week, as tantalizing details emerge from its recent FCC filing. But in this fight, the corner to watch is Apple's. Apple is poised to bury the competition in portable media players - but only if it can once again Think Different.

    Consider the opportunity within Apple's reach. It recently knocked the world's largest computer maker out of the ring, as Dell gave up on its effort to unseat the iPod. Dell threw in the towel this month, terminating its DJ and DJ Ditto line of portable music players.

    Now Apple has an opportunity to put the world's largest software maker up against the ropes. If it can lay Microsoft out for the count, who's left to challenge iPod?

    But to do this, Apple must go back to its creative roots.

    Apple needs to counter the Zune buzz with true innovation, and improve the aggravating defects in iPod/iTunes. Cut prices on iTunes. Allow for re-downloading of lost songs. Improve the iTunes experience with better recommendations and user personalization. Address the unsettling reports of 5% first-year failure rates in new iPods. And... stay with me here... open up iTunes to other music formats than the Apple proprietary format.

    Nobody's knocking iPod - it's a wonderfully-engineered, brilliantly-marketed product. It was innovative - for its time.

    But Apple, you're overdue in bringing a next generation of portable media players to the world. It's time, once more, to Think Different.

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    August 25, 2006

    The Look of Zune

    Zune graphic

    With the FCC filing today comes more photos of the first Zune player.

    Zune graphic Zune graphic

    And a revealing look inside:

    Zune graphic Zune graphic Zune graphic Zune graphic

    As the FCC filing indicated, it looks like Zune will be manufactured by Toshiba. And, to answer one of our forum questions, the hard drive will be Toshiba-branded. Stay tuned - more to come.

    August 25, 2006

    Zune User Manual - as submitted to FCC

    Zune graphic

    With Zune being a wireless device, Microsoft has to submit its specifications to the Federal Communications Commission. Today the FCC site contains a drafty-looking Zune user manual to the FCC. The manual uses the term "Zune" in some places, and Microsoft's earlier codewords Argo and Pyxis in others.

    Specifications from the manual:

  • 30GB hard drive
  • USB 2.0 interface
  • FM tuner
  • Wireless (IEEE 802.11g, 802.11b)
  • Lithium-Ion battery
  • The Wireless section of the manual indicates that, with wireless on, Zune users can send and receive photos, and "promotional copies of songs, albums, and playlists". This is done by clicking the center button and selecting the "send" option. A list of nearby Zune users appears. Select one, and that user will receive a notification allowing them to accept or reject the transfer.

    Another feature, not previously publicized, is the "DJ" feature. This allows you to stream music to up to 4 different nearby Zunes.

    You can view the complete manual here.


    August 25, 2006

    A brutal death at Dell

    Zune graphic

    Microsoft: are you watching?

    Dell just learned a painful lesson about trying to compete against Apple's iPod. The company has discretely pulled itself out of the portable music player market, according to a CNN story posted a few hours ago.

    Last year, Dell put enormous resources in its DJ Ditty music player, in an attempt to compete with the iPod Shuffle.

    On paper, Dell should have found some traction with Ditty:

  • Dell is the world's largest computer maker.
  • Dell had priced Ditty at $99, with 512MB of flash memory. This compared well with the slightly pricier Shuffle. (Apple has since dropped the 512MB shuffle to $69, and now offers a 1GB model for $99.)
  • Moreover, the Dell device sported an LCD display and FM radio receiver - neither of which is available on the Shuffle.
  • What held the DJ Ditty back? (Other than the silly name of course.)

    I'm sure Microsoft is looking hard at that very question. It's an ugly and brutal fight to try to unseat a category-killer like iPod.

    The DJ Ditty was preceded in death by Dell's DJ line of hard drive-based music players. No services are planned.

    Comments     Digg this!

    Editor's Postscript: Zunerama has been named a Top 10 Zune Site by Thanks, TopZune! - Zunerama Ed.

    August 24, 2006

    Woody's Round-Up

    Zune graphic

    Today we welcome guest contributor Woody, who has wrangled a collection of Zune videos for us. Thanks, Woody! - Zunerama Ed.

    Howdy, folks. Since the Zune announcement a month ago, a variety of Zune videos are surfacing on the web.

    Pickings are slim, but I'd put the three below at the top the list for now.

    They're representative of the three classic Zune video genres, namely: Zune video blog; Zune spoof; and Zune leaked-or-fake-promo's.

    Check'em out!

    Sam on Zune

    A Microsoft employee interviews his 15-year-old son, on what he thinks it will take for Zune to succeed, and why it might fail.

    President Bush on Zune

    With a little help from, the President welcomes Zune to America. Speechwriting credit goes to ZuneScene.

    Fake Ad?

    The source says his cousin works for Microsoft in Dubai, and saw this ad inside the Microsoft campus. Real or fake?

    Back to you, Ed.; I'm saddled up, and off in search of classic Zune cartoons.


    August 23, 2006

    These are not screenshots of Zune

    Zune graphic

    But they are artists' renditions of the Zune UI, supposedly given anonymously to iLounge.

    Zune graphic

    iLounge mocks up one of the screenshots to show a "skin" - basically wallpaper. The skin has an Albuquerque Police Department mug shot of a teenage Bill Gates.

    Zune graphic

    Sheesh. I smell a little bitterness in the Apple camp.


    August 23, 2006

    It was a spoof

    Yeah, I know you clued in, but apparently some viewers took yesterday's story a little too literally. It was a spoof - a flippant poke-in-the-ribs at Microsoft to reassure our worried minds about Zune battery life. Per our earlier story, the Zune's hefty 30GB hard drive and Wi-Fi functionality seem to add up to a daunting battery workload.

    The photo, of course, was pieced together by a decidedly amateur PhotoShop user (that would be me).

    Apparently some people thought it was the real McCoy.

    Er, thanks for the compliment. And my advice: Run, don't walk, to your nearest optometrist. :)

    Stay tuned for tomorrow's story, when guest contributor Woody gives us a round-up of Zune videos.


    August 22, 2006

    Zune sneak peek - the rest of the picture

    Zune graphic

    Last week, a leaked photo of Zune was revealed by a mole on Microsoft's Zune team. A grainy B&W; pic gave a waiting world its first glimpse of Microsoft's Zune portable media player.

    Today, exclusive to Zunerama, we divulge the rest of the photo. It includes an essential accessory: the Zune battery pack.

    So that's how Microsoft is dealing with Wireless and its battery life issues. :)


    August 21, 2006

    Mac '84 all over again?

    Zune graphic

    An interesting discussion tonight in our User Forums. Julius12 comments on how the Zune/iPod competition is reminiscent of the Windows/Mac operating system battle.

    Remember when Windows 95 was released with much fanfare by Microsoft... to the derision of Apple fans, who aptly compared Windows 95 to Mac '84...?

    As we speak, Microsoft prepares to ship Zune this fall, with similar fanfare. And, as with Windows 95, the Zune feature list is - to put it mildly - inspired by the high standards set by Apple.

    In the OS battles, Apple won the hearts and minds of many in the technical and user community. But Windows won the marketplace, and flattened Apple in the process.

    Will Microsoft pull it off again?


    August 20, 2006

    Battle of the UI's

    Zune graphic

    How does Zune's user interface stand up to iPod?

    The Zune UI should feel familiar to iPod users. The layout of the scroll wheel is identical to iPod, with up-down-left-right scrolling buttons - - albeit arranged in the Zune's faux-scroll-wheel 4-button configuration.

    A hold button appears at the top of the Zune, as in the iPod.

    According to iLounge, the Zune will sport white text on black screens. iPod's default is black on white.

    The screen can be customized with wallpaper. While songs are playing, the Zune displays album art at top of screen, and gives song details in an infobar at the bottom.

    Zune's music menus use an iPod-like hierarchy structure. In addition to the menus for music, Zune will have slideshow player that displays photos in folders, and of course the video player.

    A big deal that hasn't been talked about much, is tactile response. How the buttons feel, and the kind of audible and tactile feedback they give a user when activated is an important part of the user experience.

    Those are hardware features, and can't be changed easily once Zune hits shelves.


    August 18, 2006

    Zune - revealed!

    Zune graphic

    Ladies and gentlemen, meet Zune. This first look was released today by Gizmodo.

    Features include:

  • Magnetic headphones. They stick together to avoid tangling.
  • Fake scroll wheel. It's not a real wheel like iPod; it's four buttons arranged in a wheel pattern. Hmmm, doesn't sound as elegant as iPod's scroll wheel. We're curious how it feels.
  • Scrolling speed increases when you hold the buttons down longer.
  • Magnet on the back, for headsets to attach to.
  • Dock connector at the bottom of the unit (for chargers and other accessories such as the Zune keyboard reported earlier this week).
  • Case is plastic and semi-transparent.
  • FM tuner and FM transmitter. Reportedly the FM transmitter sends song/artist info so you can see what's playing on your car stereo.
  • Note: One of the ways that Microsoft is managing leaks is to assign a unique color scheme to every Zune prototype in existence. Reportedly there are now 150 prototypes in existence; this helps trace leaks back to a specific employee through the color of the prototype. So, the photo is in black and white to protect the employee who leaked the photo.


    August 18, 2006

    iPod to go wireless?

    Apple afficionados have been deriding Microsoft for its plans to have Wi-Fi in its Zune product line - - citing concerns about battery life. Now, is Apple itself planning to add Wi-Fi to the iPod?

    So claims Digitimes today, citing "market sources" as expecting Apple to launch a new iPod with wireless capabilities. The sources noted that Apple is sending staff to Asia to teach local sales personnel how to demonstrate the new products.

    Apple Taiwan denies the reports, according to The Unofficial Apple Weblog.


    August 17, 2006

    The Zune gets loaded

    More on Zune pre-loaded content from ZuneInsider: Zune players will ship with audio and video content from CSS, Hot Chip, 30 Seconds to Mars, and more yet-to-be-announced. Thanks to Insider for the link to the 30 Seconds to Mars video, below.

    Our expectations are a little higher for pre-loaded content. Heck, Microsoft, how about a perpetual subscription for Zune users to Top 40 indy? Or Top 40 commercial? That would seriously raise the bar and put iPod on notice that Microsoft is ready to take the field.


    August 16, 2006

    Here come the Zune Accessories

    Stand back, we're facing a tidal wave of Zune accessories - all set to hit shelves and shopping sites coincident with Zune's arrival on November 14th.

    Leading the leaks is the Razer Pro|Type Multimedia keyboard with integrated Zune dock.

    The keyboard features 32kb of memory (which doesn't sound like much these days but it's 32kb more than most keyboards).

    It also has a line-up of programmable hot keys, line-out ports for audio peripherals, and USB ports.

    Hats off to gizmodo for breaking the story. They caution that the information is "sketchy" and refer to the keyboard as the "alleged" Zune docking station.

    Expect more accessory leaks to follow quickly.

    August 14, 2006

    iPod's soft underbelly

    It's hard not to love and respect the iPod. The prototypical Apple product, iPod is clean, well-engineered, and hip. For every person who buys one because it's a great product, there are two more who choose it because... it's an iPod.

    How can Microsoft overtake iPod with Zune?

    Forget how many gigabytes the Zune hard drive is. Put aside the screen size and the button configuration. Dismiss, for heaven's sake, the three choices of body colors.

    Go for iPod's soft underbelly: lack of community. Despite its coolness factor, the iPod is inherently a lonely experience.

    Think about it: for iPod users today, "sharing" means checking out your frat-house buddy's playlist by plugging your earbuds into his iPod jack. Or better yet, offering your playlist as a ploy to meet that faintly European-looking econ major you see on the busride home after Wednesday labs.

    While the social aspect of that is enticing, it's just not collaborative technology.

    Microsoft has an opening - to build a community of Zuners that can wirelessly share music, video, games, playlists, and more. Zune's WiFi feature could be one step toward the creation of this community.

    Microsoft's challenge is to capitalize on iPod's weakness with an elegant Zune wireless solution this fall.

    The Zune-iPod battle - - and the near-term future of digital media players - - hinges on how well Microsoft executes collaboration. And on how long Apple drags its feet before filling the void with its own elegant wireless solution.

    August 13, 2006

    "It's not (just) about the iPod"

    It's not only Apple that's watching closely what Microsoft has brewing in its testing labs. Sony is monitoring Zune carefully as a potential challenger to its PlayStation Portable (PSP).

    Sony has been working to add non-gaming features to the PSP, such as music, movies, web browsing, digital camera photography, and Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities.

    Gaming is the core of the PSP, and is certainly what it does best. But Sony recognizes that consumers are looking for the convenience and cachet of convergence.

    The company has struggled to provide video and music features on the PSP, relying on awkward upload and conversion procedures, using special folders on its annoyingly proprietary Memory Stick.

    So far, it hasn't gotten much traction, although the digicam and GPS options are scheduled for release later this year.

    "...we are assuming that the Zune will eventually have game play. Strategically we are looking at that." says PSP senior marketing manager John Koller, as quoted by Scripps news service.

    "It's always a concern if it's Microsoft."

    A smart man. Microsoft didn't get to be a global dominating force by setting its sites low.

    "Today, iPod. Tomorrow, PSP and beyond!"

    August 12, 2006

    Zune - priced to sell at $299?

    Microsoft has price-pegged its first Zune device at $299, and is starting to reveal product details to selected retailers. One unit from the Zune product line will be released this fall, reports consumer electronics newsgroup TWICE.

    Retailers confirm that the Zune debutante will sport WiFi capabilities, as previously reported. WiFi may be limited to Zune-to-Zune sharing, with wired PC connectivity required for media purchases.

    What's more, the "sharing" is being defined as the ability to bookmark songs from other Zune devices. Users can later purchase those songs when they're connected to their PC.

    Zunerama's take:

  • The $299 price-point compares nicely with the 30GB iPod, especially if the Zune feature-set includes WiFi and FM-radio.
  • If the WiFi limitations are true, Zune will disappoint many potential buyers who have high expectations for WiFi capabilities.
  • WiFi was one of the earliest rumors about the Zune, and sparked notions of browser-like connectivity, and certainly the ability to buy-on-the-fly, as well as Zune-to-Zune sharing.

    Quickly, Microsoft needs to reset consumer expectations, and communicate just how Zune will improve one's qualify of life through a bookmarking capability.

    August 11, 2006

    Zune Battery-Life - Questions, Concerns

    Is Microsoft aiming too high in its bid to build a high-end, feature-packed digital music player?

    Concerns about Zune battery life are spreading. Two of Zune's rumored features - WiFi, and its 30GB hard drive - are notorious for sucking the life out of batteries.

    "Wi-Fi power requirements are still quite steep and so we are skeptical that battery life will be strong on these Microsoft portable media players," cautions American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu. Apple itself seems to have bypassed Wireless technology in iPod because of concerns about trading off either battery life or small-size convenience. It's just not Apple's esthetic to sell a digital music player that looks and smells like your Volvo's 12-Volt battery.

    Or as The Guardian puts it: Are Zune's teenage audience "really going to want to sit around plugged into power sockets so they can share their music?"

    Microsoft, we await your reassurance. Does the big dog have a new trick - - or has it bit off more than it can chew?

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