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October 25, 2006

Scoble takes on Zune

Tech blogger extraordinaire Robert Scoble conducted an extensive video interview with Zune product manager Matt Jubelirer this week.

An ex-Microsoftee, Scoble leads the interview with a deft hand, asking straightforward questions and pressing for specifics. He covers a satisfying arc of Zune topics - from Album covers to ZuneTags - in the 40-minute Q&A.;

While not much was unearthed that would be new to regular readers of this blog, Scoble did confirm a lot of Zune features and specifications.

We're admitted Scoble fans. (You look up "affable" in Wikipedia, and there's his picture.) The guy has charm and helps keep the dialogue interesting.

His poor interviewee has been widely panned in the blogosphere for not knowing the Zune screen resolution - which we would consider a pretty fundamental specification for his product. (Repeat after me: 320x240... 320x240... 320x240...) But c'mon, folks, try going on camera yourself sometime, and give the guy a break.

Thanks to Scoble, and to Jubelirer. The clip is a good primer for those new to Zune.

We're left with a few unanswered questions, which we're compiling for our next blog entry... along with our master plan to get them answered. Onward Zuners!

Click photo to see Scoble video

October 24, 2006

More release date rumors: Germany, France, United Kingdom

More news today from Channel Checkers on international release dates for Zune.

Most likely dates for Zune releases are:

  • United Kingdom: January 15
  • France: January 15
  • Italy: December 15
  • Germany: December 15
  • Channel Checkers surveys retailers worldwide to infer release dates for consumer products. Their research on Zune included London's PC World locations, PC City in Paris, Comet in U.K., Euronics in Italy, Atelco in Hamburg.

    Bizarrely, the gravevine is strangely silent on release dates for Canada. We're still wondering when we'll start to see "Zune with a zed" for our Canadian friends.


    October 22, 2006

    Zune battery life: comparing apples to iPods

    We've reported several stories dealing with concerns about Zune battery life, including our Zune battery accessory spoof from back in August, with our subsequent follow-up explanation for the humor-impaired.

    This week, Cesar at ZuneInsider released the first quantitative data from Microsoft about Zune battery life.

    Cesar describes Zune battery life as:

  • Up to 13 hours audio, with wireless turned on
  • Up to 14 hours audio, with wireless turned off
  • Up to 4 hours video or pictures, with wireless turned off
  • A far cry from the 6 to 7 hour estimates being flung about in recent weeks..!

    Cesar also discloses the testing conditions: the Zune 30GB player was tested playing "a single length average album of 128 kbps ripped WMA songs, played on repeat; with the EQ (equalizer) setting set to 'none'; the default volume setting (i.e. not turning volume up or down); the backlight timer set to 1 second; and with no other activity (like viewing pictures, navigating, etc.) going on."

    About fifteen seconds after Cesar's post, the web was aflame with iPod advocates and battery psuedo-experts decrying the contorted testing conditions.

    Sure, the conditions are not realistic. But let's be real. Does anyone actually think that Apple - or any other digital player manufacturer - uses less-than-optimal conditions when conducting battery life tests?

    Every manufacturer uses fresh batteries, fully charged, with controlled operational conditions, in optimal environments at ideal temperatures, when making battery life tests. Even Apple.

    We give Microsoft credit for openly disclosing the actual test conditions.

    And the results compare very well with Apple's 30GB iPod battery life. You can see our updated side-by-side comparison of Zune and iPod for details.

    Microsoft: for this relief, much thanks.


    October 18, 2006

    20 Wishes for Zune II

    Yes, yes, we know... the first Zune digital media player won't be released until November 14.

    But we figure it's not too early to share our wishlist for Zune II (or, if you prefer, the Son of Zune).

    Our wishes are organized into the categories of "Sane and Reasonable", "Stretch Goals", and "Shoot for the Moon". We hope this helps Microsoft as it prioritizes. :)

    "Sane and Reasonable":

  • 1. Wi-Fi connectivity and syncing between Zune and your PC
  • 2. Wireless connectivity and syncing with Xbox 360
  • 3. Wireless downloading of purchased music
  • 4. Wireless web browsing. C'mon, let's use that sweet 3" screen!
  • 5. Games! Again, let's use that 3" screen!
  • 6. Widescreen (14:9 aspect ratio)
  • 7. Higher resolution screen
  • 8. Greater capacity hard drives
  • 9. Use as an external hard drive for PC or Xbox 360
  • 10. More color choices!
  • 11. Smaller flash-memory models
  • 12. Broader support for codecs like ogg, flac, and divx
  • "Stretch Goals":

  • 13. PDA functionality (calendar, email, task organizer)
  • 14. Stopwatch feature
  • 15. GPS features
  • 16. Water resistant body
  • 17. Voice-recorder
  • "Shoot for the Moon":

  • 18. Built-in Bluetooth capability (e.g. for wireless headphones)
  • 19. Integrated cell phone technology
  • 20. Slide-out keyboard for web browsing
  • Of course, we'd like all this in the same size or smaller player.

    Hey, we can dream, can't we?


    October 16, 2006

    What will play - and won't play - on your Zune

    zune graphic

    There's a lot of misinformation on the web about what will and will not play on your Zune.

    Our forum member ryango119 summed up the confusion: "I am hoping you can answer a question for me. I have about 10 GB of music on my hard drive, over half of which I have purchased through music services such as MusicMatch and MSN. I really want to purchase a zune, but I am concerned this player won't play the music I have already purchased from reading some posts, blogs and news. Will it play my music I already have...or is all the music I have out the window? Please clear up this concern for me...I have not been able to find any answers anywhere......"

    Let's give a clear answer to that question. We'll be as definitive as we can be from the information available.

    In your collection, your music most likely comes from one of the four sources below. Here's what we know for each:

  • Music bought from iTunes Store...
  • ...cannot be played on Zune (or on any other digital player except for iPod). This is because Apple applies its "FairPlay" digital rights management restrictions on files purchased through iTunes Store.

  • Music bought from Zune Marketplace...
  • ...can play on your Zune (naturally). And, cannot be played on non-Zune players.

  • Music bought or otherwise acquired from sources that do not apply DRM or copy protection...
  • ...are playable on Zune. Examples: songs ripped from CDs; illegally downloaded songs.

  • Music bought from sources that apply DRM protection, but do not restrict the playing of songs to particular players (eg MSN Music and other online stores)...
  • ...does NOT appear to be playable on Zune.

    We found the last point hard to believe for a long time. But it now seems clear that Zune players are made to be compatible with Zune services (eg Marketplace) only, and not music purchased elsewhere.

    We draw this conclusion partly from enGadget's interview with J. Allard, and from our email interactions with Zune insiders and Microsoft bloggers. In the interview, Allard indicates that "you get a Zune device, you hook it up to the Zune service, and it just works", and his other statements indicate that music purchased through PlaysForSure sources won't play on Zune.

    In that regard, then, the Zune system is just as restrictive as iPod/iTunes is.

    What does this mean for you? Part of that answer depends on the make-up of your current music library.

    For people with large music collections of protected downloaded music, you're not going to be able to play that music on your Zune - at least without some awkward workarounds. This may affect your decision about whether to go Zune or not.

    For people who don't have large purchased collections, or who are comfortable with a ZunePass subscription, the decision to go Zune is easier.

    And for people who are against closed music systems in general... then neither Zune nor iPod is right for you. Stay on the sidelines and stick with PlaysForSure and other more open systems.

    For me, I'm going with a ZunePass subscription. For a monthly price of an album-and-a-half, I'll have my pick from millions of songs. I'll be swapping songs and albums in and out of my playlists without restriction.


    October 14, 2006

    Zune international release dates leaked

    zune graphic

    Release dates for Zune's launch in locations outside of the U.S. are finally starting to surface.

    December 15th is the likely Zune release date in Italy and probably other European locations. The leaks have come from retail channel tracking organizations, and seem reliable.

    This is the first scrap of info we've found for our forum members from Europe, Australia, Canada, and elsewhere - who have been patiently asking for Zune release info for their locations.

    No information has emerged on Australia and New Zealand launch dates. There is speculation about a Q1 2007 launch for the Zune in the South Pacific region.

    Still no release dates known for Canada - hang in there, we may know as soon as next week.

    The same retail channel sources say that the U.S. November 14th date seems well-prepared and that availability of Zunes looks good across the retail distribution channels.

    We'll continue to monitor and get you release information for Asia, Canada, Europe, and other locations as it emerges.

    (Zune will be released in the U.S. on November 14th. Zunerama will be part of a Microsoft-sponsored Zune pre-launch party in Los Angeles, early in November, and we will no doubt have more details on Zune from that gathering.)

    Thanks to our friends at Channel Checkers for the tip on this story.


    October 10, 2006

    Zune FAQ unveiled

    zune graphic

    Today we are pleased to unveil the Zune FAQ.

    Some of you have noticed us chipping away at it. We've loaded the FAQ with the most commonly-asked questions in our forums.

    We plan to operate this FAQ a little differently from most. It will be maintained by you (our Zunerama forum members), and moderated by Zunerama Ed.

    Any viewers can add new questions to the FAQ, or comment on existing answers.

    We've added a Zune FAQ page to our website. You can access it from any page through the left navigation bar.

    That FAQ page links to the corresponding answers in our Zune FAQ discussion board.

    We hope it's useful. As always, your comments are welcome.


    October 7, 2006

    Zune SDK: let a thousand flowers bloom

    zune graphic

    It is pretty clear that Microsoft won't be releasing a Zune Software Development Kit (SDK) at the time of first release.

    A Zune SDK would provide development tools to allow software engineers to create applications for the Zune platform. This would encourage a blooming of creativity by developers worldwide, creating applications that add to Zune's capabilities.

    Consider the area of games alone. Zune has a beefy processor, a beautiful 3" screen, great audio, and a control pad - a complete platform for some serious gaming.

    Please, Microsoft, don't make the same mistakes as Apple has. In creating its iPod games, Apple ignored its long-time Mac game developers, like Aspyr, Pangea, and DanLabGames - and in fact surprised those companies when it announced nine games for purchase through iTunes last month.

    Moreover, to date Apple has not released an SDK for iPod software development. This hinders the ability of independent software developers to create new applications for iPod.

    (For more reaction and stories of disappointment from Mac developers, see this MacWorld story.)

    This is an opportunity for Microsoft, and one we hope it capitalizes on. Specifically, we hope that Microsoft will:

  • Release - soon - an SDK for Zune.
  • Partner with the legions of game developers who are frustrated with Apple's closed iPod environment.
  • Help those developers sell their apps through Marketplace.
  • Create an environment of creativity and nurturing.
  • Let a thousand flowers bloom. And maybe, just maybe, one of those could be that killer app that turns the Zune-iPod world upside down.


    October 2, 2006

    Zune Marketplace: Microsoft Points explained

    zune graphic

    We've received several questions in our forums about Microsoft Points and how they may be used in the Zune Marketplace.

    Zune Marketplace, as you know, is Microsoft's upcoming music service that lets users browse and purchase songs in two ways: one-by-one, or through a Zune Pass subscription.

    Individual songs can be purchased using Microsoft Points for 79 points per track.

    And what are Microsoft Points? They're part of Microsoft's stored value system. You can purchase Points online from the Marketplace itself (using your credit card). Or you can pick up gift cards at participating retail locations and use the number on that card to buy your Points.

    Purchasing Points is like putting money into a special account that you can use on Marketplace. You can redeem Microsoft Points at Zune Marketplace, Xbox Live Marketplace, or at other participating online stores.

    Points allow for "micro-transactions", which means that Microsoft can more efficiently handle payments for small-value items without having to undergo the expense of credit card merchant fees for every transaction.

    Microsoft currently uses the Points system for Xbox, where Xbox gamers can use Points to purchase premium game content.

    In the future, Microsoft wants to enable Xbox Live users to buy and sell user-created content, which could prove to be the heart of the "micro-transaction" system. It makes sense that Microsoft also sees Points being used for user-created content for Zune - i.e. user-created music, audio files, and video content that users can buy and sell by exchanging Microsoft Points.

    You can see more details at our Zune Marketplace page.


    September 30, 2006

    Forget pre-loaded content - give pre-loaded Zune Marketplace credit!

    The first Zune player will come pre-loaded with content, including 9 audio tracks and 12 music videos.

    It's a first, and thumbs-up to Microsoft for finding a fresh selection of little-know (okay, unknown) bands to draw the material from.

    But we think Microsoft is missing an opportunity. The pre-loads will not appeal to everybody, and they do little to drive traffic to Zune MarketPlace - a critical need for Zune's success.

    Zunerama's forums have been buzzing with ideas on what would entice us, as consumers, to go Zune. One compelling feature would be pre-loaded credit for Zune Marketplace, on each new Zune player.

    This could be, say, $15 of credit (or the equivalent in Points) to purchase songs from Zune Marketplace. Or, one month of free ZunePass subscriptions for unlimited downloads.

    Consider the impact this could have:

  • It creates another incentive to buy Zune, and another differentiator between Zune and iPod
  • It drives new Zune buyers to Zune Marketplace - as opposed to illegal download sites, or even to ripping their own CD collections.
  • People who are skeptical about subscription services would have a trial period, which in many cases would "hook" them long-term
  • We think this model would help drive new Zune owners directly into the Marketplace experience. What do you think?

    Thanks to Zunerama forum members for sharing and discussing this strategy.

    September 28, 2006

    Zune accessories pricing

    zune graphic

    Microsoft revealed a few more details - and pricing - for its Zune accessories today. Three accessory bundles are available, as well as individually-priced accessories and parts.

    We've asked for pictures but none have been released as of this posting.

    Update: pics now available and posted below!

    Zune Accessories

    Accessory Description Price
    Zune Home A/V Pack AV Output Cable, Zune Dock, Zune Wireless Remote with Lithium Battery, Zune Sync Cable and Zune AC Adapter. Integrates Zune with your big-screen TV and speakers, and allows control through wireless remote. $99.99
    Zune Travel Pack Zune Dual Connect Remote, Zune Premium Earphones, Zune Gear Bag, Zune Sync Cable and Zune AC Adapter. $99.99
    Zune Car Pack FM tuner with AutoSeek, and Zune Car Charger. $79.99

    Zune A/V Pack

    Zune Car Pack

    Zune Travel Pack

    In addition to the above bundles, Microsoft will sell separately:

  • Zune AV Output Cable: $19.99
  • Zune AC Adapter: $29.99
  • Zune Sync Cable: $19.99 (Note: one is included with Zune player)
  • Zune Car charger: $24.99
  • Zune Zune dock: $39.99
  • Zune Wireless Remote: $29.99
  • Zune Dual Connect Remote (remote with dual headphone jacks): $29.99
  • Zune FM tuner with AutoSeek: $69.99
  • Zune Gear Bag: $29.99
  • Zune Premium Earphones: $39.99

  • September 28, 2006

    How Zune will (eventually) overtake Apple

    A Computerworld article by Mike Elgan spins some compelling logic about the threat Apple faces with Zune.

    Elgan enumerates five components of the Zune strategy:

  • 1. Microsoft is hatching a consumer media "perfect storm."
  • 2. The Zune is social and viral.
  • 3. Zune may have more programming.
  • 4. Zune's screen is better for movies.
  • 5. Zune is actually pretty cool.
  • This story is a worthy read for anyone looking to understand the mechanics of how Zune just might unseat iPod over time.

    Thanks to Mike, who also runs the Raw Feed blog, for sending in the tip on his story.

    September 28, 2006

    Official: Nov. 14 launch; $249.99 price

    zune graphic

    The Zune digital media player and online service will be launched November 14, according to a Microsoft press release issued today. The Zune player will carry a pricetag of $249.99.

    We were hoping Microsoft would undercut the pricing of Apple's 30GB iPod, which also retails for $249.99. Microsoft needs to sell prospective buyers on the value of its social networking concept - as well as the larger 3" screen, and FM tuner. Each of those features distinguishes the Zune player from Apple's video iPods - at a slight expense in compactness and in battery life.

    Microsoft also released its Marketplace prices:

  • $14.99/month for a Zune Pass all-you-can-eat subscription to its music services.
  • 79 Microsoft Points for a single song.
  • No subscriptions are available on Apple's iTunes, where songs sell for $.99 each, or $9.99 per album.

    See upcoming blog entry for description of Microsoft Points: how you get them, what they cost, and why Microsoft is going with the Points approach.

    Microsoft also released info on its accessories - more details, plus pics, to come shortly.

    September 28, 2006

    Who is that band anyway?

    zune graphic

    The graphic from Microsoft of the black Zune has been posted everywhere, with the band "BitterSweet" splashed on the screen.

    It's a Los Angeles-based Pop/Electronic act called Bitter:Sweet. Thanks to Phil N for sending in the tip.

    Their MySpace page talks about their participation and pre-loaded content on the first Zune player.

    Excerpt: "... As part of the the massive product launch scheduled for this holiday season, the device will be pre-loaded with a handful of songs and videos, with a heavy emphasis on, yes thats right, Bitter:Sweet. Check out the released images of the new device thus far-we think it looks pretty damn sexy."

    A big break for a little band.


    September 27, 2006

    New logo unleashed

    A toast to forum member DoR, whose red-and-black graphics creation was selected as the new Zunerama logo. Our forum members chose the new logo by voting in the Zunerama polls board.

    It was a nailbiter, with DoR edging ahead of lpxxfaintxx and lostsubs in a photo-finish. Thanks to everyone for the excellent logo submissions - we really appreciate the effort and creativity of our forum members!

    DoR, we've emailed you with instructions on how to collect your rarely-seen Zune sticker, which - along with our gratitude - is your bounty for being selected the winner. Thank you, and congratulations!


    September 25, 2006

    Zune song lyrics

    OK folks, it's been a slow Zune news week - well, slow being relative to the flurry of last week.

    And you know what Mama used to say about idle hands being the devil's workshop...

    So to keep our grey matter engaged, we're filling a much-needed void in the Zune blogospace: Zune song lyrics.

    Here's an example of our sorry attempts so far:

    Hey Zune
    Don't make it bad
    Take an iPod
    And make it better

    With Wi-Fi, you share a song with your kin
    Then you begin
    to make it better

    Hey Zune
    Don't D.R.M.
    Won't you play nice
    With all your partners?

    Remember, your friends who joined Plays4Sure
    Is there no cure
    to make it better?

    We hope you can do better. Send 'em in!

    (Thanks to Says-It for the 45 graphic.)

    September 25, 2006

    Zune launch party - spoof tickets

    Our friends at enGadget got taken last week, when a wag sent them a falsified ticket stub for a "Zune launch party".

    The spoof was found out, and enGadget hastily removed the "scoop" from their story archives.

    Not to be outdone, we've created our own launch party ticket. You can make your own at Says-It.


    September 25, 2006

    Site Updates

    As you may notice on our navigation bar, we've added some features to Zunerama. We hope the following updates are useful to people curious about Zune:

    First, we expanded our Documentation Library, to include all documents released by Microsoft last week in its pre-release press conferences. We also added a table of links in the Library, to provide a convenient jump-off point to, for example, Microsoft's Zune press room and other Zune resources.

    An updated list of Zune features and technical information are now maintained in our Zune Specifications page. As new details are leaked or confirmed, this page is designed to serve as a reliable reference point for Zune's feature set and technical details.

    Finally, we've added a Zune Buyer's Guide. The guide walks you through an introduction to Zune, an overview of Zune models, their features and spec's, and provides comparisons to other players such as iPod. It will soon describe Zune Marketplace and compare it with iTunes and other options. The guide will also provide links and recommendations on places to buy Zune, once the first players are released.


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