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November 7, 2006

Zune accessories go wild

zune graphic

Accessories maker Belkin has introduced four Zune products, including an FM transmitter and a self-standing case - perfect for watching videos on your tray table during those long flights.

Zune accessories are launching rapidly, and we're ramping up to review accessories for you in this blog.

Our newly-opened Zune Accessories board is devoted to news about Zune accessories, pics, reviews, and commentary, from our readership, forum members, and moderators.

We'll also be announcing accessory giveaways and contests very soon. Stay tuned. And check out the boards for the latest Zune cases, stereos, docks, power adapters, and many more cool add-ons for your Zune.

Comments


November 6, 2006

Zunerama goes shopping

zune graphic

I've seen pix of Zune kiosks popping up like spring daisies around the country. Curious, I spent part of my Sunday surveying my local Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, Best Buy, and Office Depot.

I should preface this: I live in a small, seaside, college town in Washington State called Bellingham. It's about 100 miles north of Seattle, with a population of about 100,000, if you count all the Canadian shoppers here on any given day.

So I didn't really expect my local stores to be first in line to get kiosks.

First stop: Wal-Mart.

No Zune displays in sight. I asked a gal in the Photo / Electronics section about Microsoft Zune. "Zune?" She hadn't heard of it. What, she didn't see the Zune commercial last night during Adult Swim? Unbelievable!

She waved over another blue-vested fellow, who had also not heard of it. He didn't know if a kiosk was planned, indicating that the "bigger Wal-Marts get them first."

On to Radio Shack.

No Zune displays or info available. The sales guy I spoke with knew a little about Zune, but he kept steering the conversation back to iPods. Small wonder, half of one wall was filled with iPods and accessories.

A quick stop in Office Depot.

I knew this was a long shot, but I needed cardstock so had to stop anyway. This time, the sales clerk knew the name "Zune" unprompted, when I asked about Microsoft's new music player.

They have some MP3 players on display, but, not surprisingly, nothing about Zune. They don't do iPod either.

My final stop was Best Buy.

No Zune displays, but this store was by far the best informed. I spoke with two employees there: "Aisle Guy" and "Checkout Gal" (note: not their real names), who looked about 30 and 20 respectively.

Aisle Guy was well informed, he knew most of the Zune specifications: described it as a 30GB player, with wireless, 3" screen, $250 pricetag. He was unsure about the release date (Nov 7 or Nov 14, he thought). He incorrectly thought that wireless would connect to your network, although he indicated that he wasn't certain.

He said on opening day of Xbox 360, you had to start waiting outside no later than 8pm the night before. Zune had some cool features, but Zune opening day won't be like that. (No surprise!) He thought Microsoft would be challenged to find "market penetration" because of iPod's dominance.

I was pretty impressed with what Aisle Guy knew, and the analytical, and mostly accurate, way he communicated the distinctions between iPod and Zune.

Checkout Gal knew quite a bit about the Zune as well, including the November 14 release date. She didn't know the price tag.

I asked her if she thought Zune would do well. At this point she became quite animated and said "I hope so! Someone's gotta do something about iPod! I do *not* like iPod." By this time my transaction was ending, but I asked her why she didn't like iPod. She just said that she's really ready for a change.

I don't know how well Zune will do, or how the digital player market will look in the next 6 months, or two years. But... I'm pretty sure that change is coming.

Comments


November 6, 2006

Zune menu structure

We know it's been bothering you.

You've seen the teaser clips. You've seen the fast-moving video reviews of Zune. But you just want one place where you can conveniently view the whole list of Zune features, and maybe even get a sense of how one might navigate one's way through the Zune menu structure.

Well, what you want is not completely available, but you're one step closer today. Zunerama has compiled an at-a-glance view of the complete Zune menu hierarchy, showing all features and options of the player revealed to date.

We caution readers that this is a pre-release projection only. We prepared it after studying various Zune video reviews and demo clips, including those from CNET, enGadget, and Gizmodo. From those we were able to catalog how the menus and options are laid out in the Zune player.

Knowing the obsessive-compulsive nature of our viewership, we've prepared the quick-and-dirty graphic below, that lays out the Zune features revealed so far.

Aaaah. Now you can relax.

zune graphic

Comments


November 5, 2006

R U a Zune Master?

zune graphic

Microsoft's looking for college ambassadors to help spread the gospel of Zune in campuses across the country.

Through Microsoft's new ZuneMasters website, young men and women between 18 and 22 years of age can apply to be one of these elite emissaries.

Zune Masters will help with "campus promotions, online promotions and feedback. If you qualify to be a Zune Master, you'll be one of only 200-300 people in the country ushering in the age of handheld, wireless media sharing.

So do you have the right stuff? "Our requirements are pretty simple: you must be motivated, professional, highly social, creative and passionate about music."

Zune Masters will receive a Zune player, once they've proven their mettle, and get "insider info, access to special events and some cash for special projects."

I prefer the term ZuneMeister, but that's just me.

Comments


November 4, 2006

Minute-by-minute: the enGadget Zune video

zune graphic

Screen operations of the Zune player are a little clearer now, thanks to a video walk-through led by Ryan Block of enGadget.

It's an exhaustive but fast-moving display of pretty much every option and feature in the Zune player.

If you're curious about a specific Zune function, you'll get at least a glimpse of it in action, somewhere in the 13-minute video.

And we're here to help. Zunerama has a minute-by-minute walkthrough of the enGadget video. Just drag that video slider to exactly the feature that you want to see.

  • 00:00 - Introduction
  • 00:20 - Main screen
  • 00:27 - Music
  • 00:32 - Music - scroll through albums; select one
  • 00:43 - Music - select track
  • 00:55 - Music - song options (play, add to quick list, send)
  • 01:00 - Music - volume, song options
  • 01:42 - Music - add song to quick list
  • 02:05 - Music - playlists
  • 02:18 - Music - genres
  • 02:30 - Video
  • 02:47 - Video - select video
  • 03:13 - Video - play, pause, resume, view video info
  • 03:40 - Video - fast-forward, skip 30 seconds
  • 04:14 - Pictures
  • 04:34 - Pictures - play slideshow
  • 05:14 - Pictures - send
  • 05:43 - Radio
  • 05:50 - Radio - radio data system (RDS)
  • 06:14 - Radio - seek, pre-set stations
  • 06:33 - Community
  • 06:36 - Community - inbox
  • 06:38 - Community - me
  • 06:44 - Community - nearby
  • 07:11 - Settings
  • 07:15 - Settings - Wireless on/off
  • 07:23 - Settings - Music (shuffle, repeat, equalizer)
  • 07:36 - Settings - Pictures (transitions, shuffle)
  • 07:42 - Settings - Display (themes, backlight, brightness, tv-out, tv system)
  • 08:06 - Settings - Sounds (on/off)
  • 08:09 - Settings - Radio
  • 08:10 - Settings - Online status (detailed / basic)
  • 08:13 - Settings - About (Zune, storage, legal)
  • 08:58 - Demo of sharing tracks wirelessly (note: transfer of song took 12 seconds)
  • 10:33 - Demo of playing song received wirelessly
  • 11:13 - Demo showing the 3-plays-in-3-days
  • 11:40 - Demo of sharing pictures
  • 12:24 - Demo of setting picture as background
  • There now. With all the time you've just saved, you can get back to working on your dream Zune playlist.

    Comments


    November 4, 2006

    See Zune at Wal-Mart

    zune graphic

    Some of you have seen this in person, but here's the Zune display at Wal-Mart.

    That's a lot of counter space for the three little Zunes in the display case.

    Thanks to Gizmodo for the pic.

    We like the comment from Gizmodo's Jason Chen: "That little iPod man on the left actually looks like he's kicking the Zunes, shouting "yeeeow, get out of my space!!"

    Comments


    November 4, 2006

    And now for something completely... well, you know...

    zune graphic

    Different, that is.

    Let's lighten things up after our heavy reviews the past two days.

    I spend a lot of time following Zune news and commentary, and that includes surfing the many Zune web sites that are out there.

    Yesterday I stumbled upon a fresh site from 20-year-old artist and gamer Pink Sage. For a fresh look at Zune, check it out.

    P.S. That Zune shoe in the graphic... is one of her creations.

    Comments


    November 3, 2006

    Zune software: holding its own against iTunes

    zune graphic

    In Part 2 of our story on Gizmodo's Zune review, we learn the new features that Zune software introduces to the digital media player world.

    New concepts: "Inbox and flagging. The Inbox is an area separate from your library where pictures and songs come in from other Zunes. You play your received songs from here, and once you sync, the songs will be uploaded to the Inbox on your PC. Flagging is similar—whenever you flag a song, the song will show up flagged on your PC after syncing for later reference. What was the 5th song I heard in that big random shuffle I listened to on the train? Oh right, I flagged it. It's useful because you can't go on your Zune Marketplace after you sync your songs and see your "recently played" list like you can on iTunes."

    Guesting: "Another not-published or seldom-talked-about feature is guesting. A friend can take his Zune over to your computer, set up a "guest" relationship with your Zune Marketplace software (as opposed to a regular owner relationship), and you're free to drag songs and pictures from your library onto her device. These songs do not have the 3 play 3 day limit on them. Depending on whether you purchased or you're leasing these songs, you can do this with either 5 or 2 Zunes, respectively."

    zune graphic

    Rankings: "A cool feature that iTunes doesn't have is pre-rated, or community rankings. When you buy songs from the store, you'll notice that they already come pre-ranked on a scale of 5 blue stars. When you rank a song, it'll rank it in orange stars. What's the deal? Well, these blue stars are decided based on an algorithm combining other people's rankings, the song's popularity, and editorial rankings. If your library is bigger than the total space on the Zune, the Zune suite will auto-sync your library to your player based on these auto-rankings. Pretty great, because as much fun as it is to rank songs (one of my favorite things to do on iTunes for using them in smart playlists), most people don't have the time to go and rate 3,000 songs. Pre-ratings are great for this. Which is good, because there's no concept of "smart playlists" just yet. Bummer."

    Searching: "Searching is also pretty snappy, and they've provided a consistent interface on both your own library and on the store, which they called the community. If you're searching your library for an artist you don't have, it'll come back with a link to the marketplace for the correct artist/song. Another neat feature is the way albums/folders are displayed. There's this nice spiral/stack of CDs under each item so you can quickly gauge how many items are under it visually without having a number or something else."

    Xbox integration: "You can easily stream stuff to the Xbox 360 from the Zune software (there's even a setting in one of the options menus), or hook up your Zune to the 360 via USB."

    We'd call this a draw between iTunes and Zune software. It looks like Microsoft may have pulled off a rich, clean, and innovative software experience - comparable to iTunes, but with its own unique features.

    Comments


    November 3, 2006

    Gizmodo: Zune "pretty promising" and "very sexy"

    zune graphic

    Gizmodo just completed its first hands-on review of Zune, and has published quite a glowing review.

    I'll break their main points into a couple blogs, starting with their perceptions of the Zune player:

    Body: The outside is made out of a rubberized plastic, which goes through an interesting process where they paint the inside a different color than the case—this gives the Zune a two-toned look which both looks and feels great.

    Upgrade potential: The hardware paves the road for them to do various other "scenarios" with the Zune. In the future, via software update, the Zune should be able to possibly do stuff like share songs over the internet, wirelessly sync with the computer, stream music/video to other devices, and much more. The hardware is there, but it just needs to be activated by software. Microsoft's decided to focus (wisely) on making the Zune simple to use and intuitive for people to pick up. Something that we think they've achieved.

    User interface: The UI is snappy and has lots of zooming, sliding and various cool effects when you're navigating. Luckily, the eye candy doesn't get in the way of usability. The click-pad isn't too bad to use, but it's not touch sensitive like the iPod wheels.

    Screen: The Zune's screen was bright even outside, and had pretty much zero glare. Movies and pictures played back smoothly, and the display transitioned automatically to landscape mode when you start a slideshow/movie. Pictures are auto-cropped to display large on the screen, and will be auto-resized down from the original whenever you send them to your friends over WiFi. The Zune was easy to hold in both landscape and regular modes — no problems at all.

    Summary: Overall, this seems pretty promising. I can't find any mis-steps or anything where I have to ask "wait, this is dumb, why did you do this?" in both the player and the software. The Zune itself is very sexy, and feels nice to the touch—not too heavy. We can't wait to do another hands on as the launch date approaches. Oh, and I still can't decide which color is my favorite.

    We'll post more in a separate blog about Gizmodo's review of Zune's PC software.

    Comments


    November 3, 2006

    enGadget: this little player's got some fight in it

    zune graphic

    enGadget is preparing their first hands-on review of Zune and included, bless them, a first real look at the Zune PC software.

    "It may be a little early to give final impressions, but let's just say what we saw is a very decent start. The player was responsive and fast; all functions worked flawlessly and without delay. The software and storefront has a lot of new, unique features that make browsing and finding music a more engrossing, enjoyable experience. Obviously Apple is the game to beat -- and a tough game at that -- but something tells us this little player's got some fight in it."

    A detailed review will be up later today, but here's some early juice:

    "The rear, as you may know, has a small circular indentation exactly opposite the circular d-pad on the other side. Supposedly it's so your hand feels the symmetry and is more comfortable when it's in portrait mode.

    The matte finish is very good at reflecting fingerprints, and overall the body feels extremely solid. It's not a metal body, but it doesn't really need to be."

    Did they mean "rejecting fingerprints"?

    "So it was pretty obvious they had to do a stark white Zune, right? We're going to go out on a limb with the iPod lovers in the house and say we liked it more. Again, the body repelled fingerprints, and felt solid and scratch resistant. We were happy to learn the back and play/pause buttons to the left and right weren't touch-sensitive (ala the 3G iPod), but were actual buttons with tactility. Bullet dodged.

    The top of the unit is very minimalist: hold switch and headphone jack and that's it. Refreshing, considering the only thing we didn't like about the Gigabeat S was the bevy of buttons wrapped around every side and corner."

    zune graphic

    Then enGadget gives us a look at Zune software, and some of the first screenshots...

    "So we got a chance to play with the very media-heavy Zune software and Marketplace. At first blush it looks a lot like your usual PlaysForSure operation, but the devil's in the details. Outside the obvious differences (photo and movie manager, etc.), Microsoft's attempted to take the music store to the next step. We didn't get to the downloading-syncing-loading-listening part of the process, but what we did see we liked.

    You've got your highlighted content, top artist / album / song, etc., dynamic leads per genre, recommended music, the usual fare.

    Drilling down a little further, however, you can get some more interesting categorizations. Styles, year, playlists, and new releases are some of the methods one can use to get in good with the Zune store's content."

    In five days, we'll have our own hands-own review. Yes, we at your humble Zunerama site have been invited to play with a pre-release Zune next week. So stay tuned for our story, where we'll give the latest on our attempts to answer your forum questions.

    Comments


    November 3, 2006

    zune graphic

    MSN Music to shut down music download service, Nov 14

    With the release of Zune later this month, Microsoft will no longer sell music downloads from its MSN Music store. Instead, it will offer links to downloads from both Zune Marketplace and Real Rhapsody.

    In an email to MSN Music members, Microsoft advises that "You can choose to purchase new content from Zune or Real Rhapsody and enjoy that music on your PC or on portable music devices that support those services."

    An offer for discounted Zune accessories is also offered in the email:

    The new Zune digital media player and service is launching mid-November and, as a treat, the Zune team will be sending an offer to interested MSN Music customers for discounts on Zune accessories and shipping. Click here and sign up to learn more about Zune and get on the list for the launch offer.

    Meanwhile, on Microsoft's new help page for MSN-Zune, we found:

    MSN and Zune - More choices in digital music

    On November 14th, Microsoft will launch Zune, our exciting new digital media player. MSN will partner with the Zune team to make it simple for MSN Music users to find and download music from the new Zune Marketplace. The Zune Marketplace will enable you to purchase tracks individually or to buy a Zune Pass subscription to download as many songs as you want for a flat fee.

    Microsoft then gives a rather schizophrenic plug for both services:

    The Zune Marketplace is designed to work seamlessly with the new Zune digital media player and will enable you to purchase tracks individually or to buy a Zune Pass subscription to download as many songs as you want for a flat fee. A current Zune Pass is required to continue accessing downloaded music. Real Rhapsody is an award-winning digital music service that gives you unrestricted access to millions of songs from your desktop or Web browser.

    You can see more at MSN Music's Site Changes FAQ.

    You've got to wonder how long these strange bedfellows will coexist on the MSN Music site. I predict MSN Music will be shut down completely within 6 months. You heard it here first.

    Comments


    November 3, 2006

    zune graphic

    Site updates

    We've updated the Zune specifications page on Zunerama, to reflect the information made available today throughout Microsoft's newly-christened zune.net site.

    We've also updated our Zune vs iPod side-by-side comparison.

    Did you know? The Zunerama comparison was the first of its kind on the web (see the reference and subsequent comment stream on ZuneInsider). We've kept it regularly updated as new details have emerged.

    Check'em out if you haven't been there lately.

    Comments


    November 3, 2006

    Privacy settings for Zune wireless

    zune graphic

    Regular followers of Zune news won't find many surprises on Microsoft's slick new Zune site, but we're pleased to find some new details on how the players work.

    For example: Privacy options related to Zune wireless. Zune privacy settings allow you to control whether other Zunes can see yours, and whether other Zunes can see what you're listening to.

    You can block, and unblock, other nearby Zune devices from sending you songs or pictures.

    And, you can always just turn the wireless mode off, and "fly under the radar".

    The range for Zune-to-Zune wireless is about 30 feet, according to zune.net.

    Comments


    November 2, 2006

    1st Zune newsletter

    Way back in early August I signed up for Zune updates at Microsoft's comingzune.com site.

    Browsing Jason Dunn's excellent Zune Thoughts blog tonight, I saw that he had received an email newsletter from that very sign-up.

    Sure enough, I just found the following in my in-box:

    Subject: Zune: We're all friends here

    ****************************

    music is in the air

    ****************************

    Zune is almost here. So, thanks for registering to learn more. Hope you enjoyed what we have shown so far. We have a lot more going on.

    Zune.net went live today. Check it out to learn more.

    http://www.zune.net

    Plus, Coming Zune is evolving into Zune Arts. Go see it at

    http://www.zune-arts.net

    It's a place for creative expression around the idea of sharing from some of today's most progressive artists, animators and designers. Play around. The gallery is constantly growing.

    http://www.zune-arts.net

    And because you signed up early we want to give you an exclusive heads-up. Make sure you come back to Zune.net on November 10 for some exciting information about our launch plans.

    Pass it on. 11.14.06

    zune

    OK, marking my calendar for November 10th..!

    Comments


    November 2, 2006

    Does Zune like your type?

    zune graphic

    Your file type, that is. What audio and video formats will play nice with Zune?

    The newly-born Zune.net website lists technical specifications for Zune, including a list of Audio, Pictures, and Video formats.

    Important note from David Caulton of Zunester: these are the formats that the Zune players recognize natively.

    But for files in other formats, all is not lost. Zune software on your PC will recognize additional formats, and convert those automatically into one of the native formats that your Zune player recognizes.

    As David says, "Note that the codec list (wma, wmv, aac) is just the codecs that are natively on the device; other codecs (h.264, mpeg-4, Quicktime) can come onto the device through transcoding built into the client application."

    Native file formats are listed below.

    Audio:

  • Windows Media® Audio Standard (.wma): Up to 320 Kbps, CBR and VBR, up to 48-kHz sample rate
  • MP3 (.mp3): Up to 320 Kbps, CBR and VBR, up to 48-kHz sample rate
  • AAC (.mp4, .m4a, .m4b, .mov): Up to 320 Kbps, Low Complexity (LC), up to 48-kHz sample rate

    Pictures:

  • JPEG (.jpg): All resolutions (desktop software will automatically convert to 640x480 at sync time)
  • Video:

  • Windows Media Video (.wmv): Main Profile, CBR or VBR, up to 1.5 Mbps peak video bitrate, 320 x 240 pixels, 30 frames per sec., with Windows Media Audio up to 192 Kbps, 44.1 kHz, stereo audio; Simple Profile, CBR, up to 736 Kbps video bitrate, 320 x 240 pixels, 30 frames per sec., with Windows Media Audio up to 192 Kbps, 44.1 kHz, stereo audio.
  • Comments


    November 2, 2006

    Zune-arts.net - replaces comingzune.com

    zune graphic

    Today, if you link to Microsoft's strange and controversial comingzune site, you'll get redirected to zune-arts.net.

    Looks like more of the same.

    I think we'll be stopping by zune.net a lot more often than here.

    Although I do really like the flaming bird clip.

    Comments


    November 2, 2006

    Lion and Gazelle: Zune commercial

    Sit back and click, Zuners.

    Zune: Lion and Gazelle

    Comments


    November 2, 2006

    Zune.net is UP!

    zune graphic

    This hour, Microsoft flipped the switch on Zune.net, its official Zune site.

    At last, our corps of Zune maniacs can relieve their batch files that have been pinging the zune.net domain every few seconds, awaiting its unveiling. Nice work, people.

    And lpxxfaintxx wins our reward for being the first Zunerama member to see zune.net's birth. It's been a long gestation period.

    The site features four subdirectories: Meet Zune, Social, Artists, and Accessories.

    Stay tuned for a site review. In the meantime, check the site out!.

    Comments


    November 1, 2006

    Zune TV commercials revealed!

    They're here! Hooray!

    Five television ads for Zune - thanks to Cesar from ZuneInsider for posting them to YouTube.

    We like them! And they don't slam the competition - a touch of class that we appreciate.

    Click on 'em below to take a look!

    Zune: Picnic

    Zune: Battle

    Zune: Concert

    Zune: Dog Scratch

    Zune: Couple

    Tell us what you think in the comments below!

    Comments


    November 1, 2006

    Zunerama Exclusive: iPod-owner survey details

    zune graphic

    Surprising survey results were released this morning by ABI - indicating that 58% of iPod owners planning to purchase a new portable media player said they were "very likely" or "extremely likely" to switch to Zune. (See our previous blog entry.)

    We were curious about how the survey drew those responses, and followed up with ABI for additional details.

    In telephone and email communications with ABI, Zunerama has learned that the survey respondents were asked the following three questions:

  • (a) Which brand(s) of MP3/portable media player do you currently use?
  • (b) How likely are you to purchase a new MP3/portable media player in the next 12 months?
  • (c) When shopping for your next portable media player, how likely would you be to choose Zune over other competitors?
  • OK, so far so good. No leading questions there. (Although, it would be fascinating to know what the results would have been if "iPod" had been substituted for Zune in the survey question.)

    We wondered how many of the respondents replied "What's a Zune?" to question (c). ABI is checking and will get back to us.

    We asked about demographics, and ABI indicated that the male/female split was close to 50/50. Income of respondents broke down as follows: 64% between $25k and $100k; 6% didn't say; and the remainder were (you guessed it) either below $25k or above $100k.

    We'd also like a sex and location breakdown, and ABI will get that to us if it's available.

    This sheds a little light on the survey. As we learn more, we'll keep you posted.

    Comments


    November 1, 2006

    Over half of iPod owners would switch to Zune

    zune graphic

    Independent research conducted in October indicates that over half of iPod owners would likely switch to Zune when they buy a new player, according to Yahoo Biz.

    58% of iPod owners that are planning to buy a new player in the next year would be "somewhat likely" or "extremely likely" to choose a Zune over an iPod or any other player.

    ABI Research, an independent research firm, surveyed 1,725 teenage and adult US residents in this study.

    Interestingly, for owners of players other than iPod, the percentage was about the same: with 59% indicating that they would be somewhat likely or extremely likely to choose Zune over other choices.

    Only 15% of iPod owners said they were "not very likely" or "not at all likely" to choose Zune.

    "Our conclusion," says principal analyst Steve Wilson, "is that iPod users don't display the same passionate loyalty to iPods that Macintosh users have historically shown for their Apple products."

    I called ABI Research this morning, with questions about the survey. We'd like to know more about how survey respondents were selected, how Zune was described to the respondents, and demographic information.

    ABI also confirmed with Zunerama this morning that the research was independent, and not commissioned by any organization. ABI sells their research through subscriptions such as their Consumer Electronics research service.

    As we learn more details, we'll post updates here. But this is a very promising sign for Zune's prospects.

    Comments


    November 1, 2006

    Microsoft to offer free trial period for ZunePass

    zune graphic

    Microsoft's Zune.net site is not up yet, but this morning new details have emerged on Wal-Mart's site. (Another premature leak from Wal-Mart, perhaps?)

    This morning, Wal-Mart's listing for the Zune 30GB player indicates (emphasis added):

    "A Zune Pass subscription gives you all-you-can-eat access to discover and explore the Zune Marketplace. Knock yourself out. Go to www.zune.net to learn more and sign-up. Browse the huge selection of music in the Zune Marketplace designed to work flawlessly with your Zune."

    This is the first reference to zune.net that has appeared on the Wal-Mart site. Amazon and other sites remain silent about the use of zune.net.

    The Wal-Mart page then goes on to announce:

    "Receive a free 14 day trial of a Zune Pass subscription with the purchase of a Zune."

    "After 14 days purchase of Zune Pass is required to continue accessing songs you've downloaded during the trial. See trial card for offer details. www.zune.net. Valid in the 50 U.S., D.C., and Puerto Rico."

    The free trial is a great idea to get people to try out the subscription service.

    Comments


    November 1, 2006

    Zune.net: release imminent?

    zune graphic

    Zune launch in the U.S. is two weeks from today. We are getting very excited about getting our hands on a Zune player and giving it a road test of our own.

    This afternoon, Cesar of ZuneInsider posted a comment on his site, indicating that Microsoft will be "launching Zune.net very soon".

    Reading between the lines (hey, that's what bloggers do), I take that to mean prior to the November 14 launch date.

    I just checked the site seconds ago. (I know, I'm obsessing.) So far, not up.

    But I'm going to keep checking. Here's the link: www.zune.net. If you click it and find the site has come up, give us all a heads up!

    In fact, I'll reward you with a limited-edition rarely-found-outside-of-Redmond Zune sticker (part of my haiku booty), if you're the first person to alert us when zune.net comes to life.

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    October 31, 2006

    Zune release dates for U.K.: stand by!

    zune graphic

    Not so fast! The Zune release dates for the U.K. and beyond may not be as dire as we reported this past Saturday.

    We had indicated a likely date of early 2008 for Zune to hit U.K. shores, based on a story out of MCV UK. Microsoft media and entertainment alliance manager Dene Schonknecht was cited as indicating that "We haven’t yet selected a music store provider to build marketplace in the U.K., which means we’re way off launch.”

    Based on that, MVC hypothesized that the U.K. launch date was late 2007 at the earliest.

    But today, Cesar of ZuneInsider advised caution about how those comments have been interpreted:

    "...We’ve said all along that we are looking at expanding Zune to other countries, but we haven't made any official announcements about timing. Many of you have seen the recent statement re: U.K. availability. It was taken out of context, and it's not representative of the official Microsoft position."

    So we're standing by for better information on international release dates. Cesar commits to sharing additional details on release dates outside the U.S., as they become available.

    In the meantime, we've pinged Channel Checkers for any additional updates they may have on their supply chain research related to Zune.

    We'll keep monitoring this, and hoping for a speedy release timeline for our friends outside the U.S. When we know, you'll know.

    Comments


    October 31, 2006

    Little things mean a lot

    zune graphic

    Here's a glimpse of the Zune's user interface on your PC.

    When you connect your Zune to your PC, an icon appears on your desktop showing the Zune... including the specific color of Zune that you own.

    It's a minor nicety, but says something about the attention to detail from Microsoft's design team. And that they're learned from Apple's practice of sweating the small stuff.

    Some say the devil is in the details. Or, as a software designer friend of mine likes to say, "the magic is in the minutiae."

    Thanks to David Caulton of Zunester for the icons.

    Comments


    October 30, 2006

    Zune launch: 2 weeks from Tuesday. Where's the marketing campaign?

    zune graphic

    Two weeks from tomorrow, Zune will be released in the US. So where's the ad campaign from Microsoft?

    Zune is a hot enough topic in the blogosphere - igniting its share of strident exchanges and flame-throwing between Zune zealots and iPod lovers.

    But out there in the real world, Zune remains virtually unknown. From my informal surveys of university students, teenagers, retail clerks, friends, and relatives: most have simply not heard of Zune. Others have only the vaguest of inklings about what it is.

    These are the people who are working now on their holiday shopping lists. These consumers will make or break Zune, casting its destiny as either a fringe offering or a mainstream consumer product.

    When Microsoft announced Zune in its July 21 Billboard interview, the expectation was set for a “massive advertising and marketing campaign" which would be "heavily artist-centric, including several live performances nationwide.”

    We're certainly getting the artist-centric part of this. It's been fascinating to see Microsoft running this novel marketing approach, through a suite of undiscovered artists.

    But we envisioned this to be part of a much broader marketing push. By focusing its campaign on new content, Microsoft is targeting a narrow field: hard-core music lovers, who actively seek out new music, and others who respond well to bands, music, and settings that others might consider, well, unfamiliar... if not uncomfortably edgy.

    In the past few days, a few promising signs: a smattering of Zune billboards appeared in major cities. Some bus signs in New York. A Zune commercial appeared this past weekend in movie theatres. A few Zune banners have been sighted on geeky websites like Digg.

    But, so far, no TV commercials (I'm not counting the Ellen spot). No radio or print ads to speak of. No widespread Internet push.

    The campaign, so far, just doesn't cater to the majority of shoppers who are going to purchase music players this holiday season.

    ...and Christmas is coming.

    Comments


    October 28, 2006

    Blimey! Zune won't hit U.K. until 2008?

    zune graphic

    It looks like our U.K. chums may have to wait a while to get their hands on a Zune.

    Interactive entertainment magazine MCV reported yesterday that Zune is unlikely to hit U.K. retail shelves until at least the end of 2007, or even early 2008.

    MVC's Andrew Wooden reports that the delay may be because Microsoft has not named a leader for the U.K. or European launches, and has only recently appointed its head of Zune International - who will be building relationships in those areas.

    “They will be working on rolling out the Zune in the U.K. and Europe with its compatible Zune Marketplace,” said Dene Schonknecht, media and entertainment alliance manager at Microsoft. “We haven’t yet selected a music store provider to build marketplace in the U.K., which means we’re way off launch.”

    This is far later than earlier projections from Channel Checkers, who had estimated a U.K. release date of this January based on retailer interviews. We've asked Channel Checkers for a comment, but judging from the Microsoft quotes, we're a ways off for Zune in Europe.

    Comments


    October 27, 2006

    iPod/iTunes under attack!

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    Apple's iTunes/iPod is a closed business model, built on two essential premises. One is that songs bought from iTunes will only play on iPod players. The second premise is that songs purchased from other music download sites will not play on iPods.

    Now Apple's business model is under attack - by 26-year-old hacker Jon Johansen. Johansen, of Norway, has decoded iPod's Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryption, known as FairPlay, according to reputable sources.

    Johansen is making his hack available - for a licensing fee - to businesses seeking to sell hardware competing with iPod, and download sites competing with iTunes.

    Note that Johansen's hack does not remove DRM from downloaded songs. It actually adds DRM, to trick iPods into thinking that a given song has been purchased via iTunes.

    If this hack takes off, will the closed business model fall apart?

    Hardly. Johansen's decision to market his hack through licensing agreements means that your average teen music-lover is not suddenly going to find his music collection iPod-compatible. Instead, she will have more choices of legal music sites, to download songs that will be iPod-playable.

    The effect of this may be to lower the industry-standard pricetag of $.99 per song. Apple could face real competition from other sites that can now sell legal music to load into those insatiable iPod hard drives.

    Something to consider for we Zuners... if the hack was figured out for iPod, can a Zune hack be far behind?


    October 26, 2006

    Zune: 22 unanswered questions

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    Zune info has been coming forth in dribs and drabs the past few weeks. We've kept a running inventory of confirmed Zune features and specifications.

    And yet, we still have a few Zune mysteries, even as we approach Microsoft's November 14 launch date.

    We've listed below the questions that we believe are unanswered as of this hour.

    We plan to get these curiosities answered at a Zune pre-launch event coming up in the next few days.

    (Yes, we can't believe it either, but Zunerama got an invite to this exclusive hands-on Zune party. Someone in Redmond must have read this blog! Cool! Or maybe he mistyped ZuneScene in his browser..? We don't care, we're going anyway!)

    1. Is there an auto-off, or sleep mode?
    2. How many songs will be available through Marketplace at launch?
    3. How long does it take to transfer an audio file? We've seen all kinds of figures reported, and would like to test it out for ourselves using a variety of different-length tracks.
    4. How long does it take for a "typical" full album of songs to be transferred?
    5. What's the maximum range for wireless sharing between Zune players?
    6. DJ feature: in or out? (I believe it's pretty certain that this feature is out.)
    7. I have a ZunePass. You send me a track from your Zune, of a song you downloaded from Marketplace. Am I subjected to the 3 plays in 3 days restriction? Or at that point do I have it unrestricted, because of my ZunePass..?
    8. What are the results of the drop tests mentioned in the Scoble interview? How were the damage tests conducted?
    9. Will Zune act as a hard drive when plugged in? (Pretty sure the answer is "no", but unconfirmed at this point).
    10. Does the Zune FM tuner have a seek/scan feature? Presets for saved stations?
    11. Are the headphones that come with it, the same as the "premium headphones" available as an accessory?
    12. Does the Shuffle algorithm truly shuffle randomly each and every time, or is it "pseudo-random" and you end up getting the same sequence each time?
    13. How long does the Zune player take to start up?
    14. Does the slideshow have a transitions feature - like cross-fading or other effects?
    15. Does the Zune player have a setting to change the horizontal mode to a left handed configuration? In all pictures and videos we've seen so far, the player is held in such a way that the controls are on the right side.
    16. How much space do you really get with the 30GB Zune player? Is it somewhat less than 30GB, similar to the way formatted drives have some capacity unavailable due to file management overhead?
    17. How bright is the screen; is it usable for outdoor viewing?

    18. Future Plans
    19. Are there plans in the future to allow Zune players to wirelessly sync with PCs?
    20. ... and to browse the web wirelessly?
    21. ... and to buy songs wirelessly from Zune Marketplace?
    22. Can we expect to see games for the the first Zune player - i.e. post-launch?
    23. When will flash-memory models come out? Will they have wireless? FM?

    If you have additional questions we haven't covered, please post them here.

    And if you happen to have answers to any of these, by all means let us know, along with your source..!

    Otherwise, we'll get 'em answered at the pre-launch, if we're not too busy rubbing elbows with tech blogging titans like enGadget and Gizmodo, not to mention our fellow Zune bloggers. Whatever happens, we'll post it all here.

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