By Richard Menta 5/27/09
If Microsoft was going to stay in the portable media player business it had to come up with something dramatic for its next Zune player. I have to say that the initial specs of the Zune HD player sound compelling. A touchscreen portable with an OLED display starts it out nicely as does the choice of 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, and 120GB capacities. But with the Apple juggenaught still gaining momentum despite tough times is it realistic to even think Zune still has a shot? There is more to this unit to make it more compelling.
The addition of an HD tuner to the new Zune definitely caught my attention. If Microsoft thinks this is the killer feature for the new Zune line all I can say is that it better have a damn good tuner in it. Most of the FM tuners on digital portables have poor sensitivity. Furthermore, our tests of the first generation HD radio desktops demonstrated that they couldn't pick up a signal if it were located in your back yard. Cheap tuners were the culprit there and Microsoft has to think of a solid solution to this problem if they want HD radio to pay off for them.
The big question is if this new Zune unit will also become Microsoft's first portable game player. Apple became a big contender in this market with the opening of the iTunes App store and the plethora of good $0.99 games. Significantly cheaper than the $30 titles available to Nintendo DS and PSP users (though simpler) and both cheaper and better than the crappy games cell phone makers still charge $7.99 for. While a Zune App store might just be a strategy to help insulate the much more lucrative X-Box platform, Mcrosoft has enough savvy in the gaming arena to make the Zune much more.The potential is for a Zune store to grow into the equal of the iTunes App store, something that has not even come close to happening.
But both Google and RIM are developing app stores for their smart phone lines, so the rush is already on to match iTunes' success with the App store. Unfortunately, developers don't exactly relish writing for too many platforms. Zune could already be too late to play catchup That depends how good the Zune HD is.
The Zune HD is expected to ship this fall. It will be interesting to see what features the new iPhones and iPod touches will have. Then we will know how ahead or behind the Zune player is.
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