The Zune gets social in the crowded MP3 market

by Robert Estel

I’m sure you’ve noticed the somewhat subtle, yet colorful change from the standard MD player to MP3 player. When visiting any electronic store, you’re bound to notice how the music player line up runs the gamut from Toshiba to Panasonic to Sony MP3 players. Of course, they are all competing against one player, the iPod. That is about to change however, if Microsoft has anything to say about it.

Microsoft, the eternal enemy of Apple in the PC and software industries, is stepping into the MP3 player ring, taking on all contenders with their new player, the Zune. As zany as the name sounds, Microsoft is banking on this to take the market share back from Apple. Whether they get to take a bite out of the big one, however, remains to be seen. Microsoft has added the tagline “Welcome to the Social,” to signify that music on their player doesn’t have to be locked down to one computer, or even one player. The Zune comes not only with a 30-gigabyte hard drive, built in radio FM-tuner, and a three inch color screen, but also comes with wireless networking, or Wi-Fi—and the ability to share songs with other players around you.

The Zune also plays your videos and pictures, and connects to your Xbox 360 for music, video, and photo streaming. Playable formats at this point include MP3, aac, wma, wmv, avi, mpeg4, and jpg, with a battery playback time of roughly 14 hours. The initial colors include white, black, and brown. Not quite as colorful as the other players, but it gets the business done.

Sounds good, but what are the downsides? Well for starters, it’s from Microsoft, which is more than enough for some people. While designed well, Wi-Fi limits you to sharing a song with someone for a maximum of three plays, or three days, whichever comes first. Also, after sharing a song with someone, you can’t send it again. While this wouldn’t be too bad of a limitation if it were limited to songs from the Zune store (Microsoft’s answer to Apples Music Store), it is actually limited to anything you put on a Zune. Secondly, not all the features promoted are actually available out of the box, prompting users to wait for software or firmware updates. Lastly? There are currently no release plans for Japan. Those wanting to get social will have to find someone to ship it from home. For the time being, I think I’ll rock on with my sushi-shaped MP3 player.