October 8, 2006

Is it Zuner than later for the iPod?

Source : www.economictimes.com
Dated : 08/10/2006

(I am definitely waiting for the Microsoft ZUNE to hit the markets and to see how much would it affect the martket cap of the giant Apple IPOD.)

Microsoft recently declared that by this Christmas break it was going to come out with a new Zune+Tunes challenge for the present sleek and eye-catching long distance runner — Apple’s iPod and its software sister in iTunes.

So, what is Zune+Tunes? How is the “Zune effect” different from the iPod and iTunes and what is Microsoft’s “Zune challenge” all about in terms of competing with the present ring king in iPod? The present article on how technology changes life tries to capture the essence behind the challenge and provides an answer to the questions posed above.

What is Zune + Tunes?

Zune (as Microsoft calls it), is the name of a new MP3 player that the company plans to launch this winters which in many ways would be very similar to present ruling king i.e. the Apple’s iPod. With 30 Gigs of memory, close to a 3-inch screen, an FM tuner and in colors of white, black and brown, the Zune would be very close to the “look and feel” and accompanying functionality that is currently provided by the conventional big iPod (but which is still far in sleekness when compared with the iPod’s Nano version!).

Like Apple’s “iTunes” (which is a piece of software installed on the computers that make them speak to the hardware in the iPod), Microsoft’s Zune would also come out with its sister, free to download software for the windows PC and laptop computer users. I refer to this sister software, here in this article, as “+ Tunes”. The all-popular “Windows giant” has paired up with the Japanese brand in Toshiba, to manufacture Zune for its music fans.

How is IT different from the iPod and iTunes?

The Zune, as it appears, is going to be a “social machine” in the present Pod world of music for most of its fans. This does not mean that the soon-to-be-out Zune is going to be the first social music machine, as the iPod in its present form has already caused a social music revolution and today captures 75% of the MP3 music player industry in use and popularity.

When I call Zune a social machine, I am referring to the wireless music sharing feature that the new MP3 player promises to bring first time to the MP3 player market. The Zune’s wireless feature would enable a number of similar Zune devices to connect to each other using the wireless communication mode, where a person using a Zune would be able to listen to music and browse photos and videos stored on another distant Zunes, as if these were stored on his own.

To avoid the loud uproar this “widespread sharing of music” would bring from the music record companies, Microsoft plans to go for a “3-controlled sharing”of media. This means that the a Zune user would be able to listen to a piece of music (like a song) stored on other Zunes, only three times or for three days, which ever happens to be the first (and soon after the distant song, which the Zune user was listening to, automatically disappears from his Zune!).

But all this “wireless on Zune”, would mean more battery consumption (either making the Zune heavier with more batteries to support the wireless cause or the Zune providing a lesser battery run time, when compared to the iPod).

Most probably, the wireless would also come at a price and may not be the best means of sharing music for the cable familiar Indian music fans. The king Pod for many reasons at present, does not provide this wireless feature but still continues to holds a popularity among the avid music fans.

Another point to be noted in the Zune is that the 3-inch screen which would mostly cover 2/3rds of the front face area (which is definitely much bigger than what the present video iPod offers), not only makes Zune’s track-wheel much smaller but also make the device a costlier proposition when compared with the present iPod. Whether, Microsoft will be ready to sell a bigger screen at the same price as the iPod (and hence going in for an initial loss) is something to watch out for!

What is Zune’s challenge to the king Pod?

With similar features and size to the iPod and an additional wireless experience, what is in it for king Pod’s future popularity in the light of Zune’s winter release? Will Zune tunes turn iPod users from iTunes to Microsoft’s “+Tunes”? The questions reflect the interesting soon-to-happen challenge between the two competing companies in the IT industry today, where the competition, this time, is not between the Mac and the PC but in the music domain. Here Apple already holds a majority share with its iPod and Microsoft is going to be a new bee.

Although Indian music fans should themselves decide as to which would prove better for them, in my opinion Microsoft’s Zune would not be instantly popular device in the hands of present iPod users. The first users that the “Zune effect” is going to captures, for sure, would be the ones who still haven’t tasted the “iPod effect” and who continue to use non-iPod MP3 devices in the Pod world today!



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