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Conor Oberst

Attack Of The iPod Clone: Zune Gets Mixed Reviews


By: Spacelab Research Staff
In the runup to the November 14th release date, Microsoft's Zune media player is getting a lot of mixed reviews, most saying that it's lacking some things.

Namely, the sense of hipness that the iPod has conveyed effortlessly. It's Microsoft, right? They're not really known for many cool things, they're known for software and software engineers and business stuff, like Microsoft Office. I guess it's no surprise that they lowballed the Zune marketing campaign in favor of backroom geekspeak and functionality.

The functionality is perhaps the biggest yawn here... they should have started with at least one big item right off the bat... something (or things) that the iPod doesn't have. I know there's the wireless thing, that allows users to "share" songs temporarily for three days, but that seems like more of a tease than a solid feature. How about a wireless feature that connects to the Zune Marketplace (we'll deal with the name later) from any hotspot to buy music? THAT would have been a big thing to start out with. Instead, users will be allowed to play a shared song three times before it expires, so they can be encouraged to buy the song on their own. Outside of that, Zune doesn't really do much that the iPod doesn't already do. That leaves anyones who is tired of their iPod or iTunes or who hasn't bought a MP3 player yet as part of the crowd that could buy in on the Zune.

And the name... Zune Marketplace... is more than a little bland and sounds kind of Wall Streetish. I hate to hawk negativity, but the name is really bad. Microsoft has chosen the proprietary path, which may make sense to them, and it may put some squeeze on iTunes, but it suffers the same downfall as iTunes -- isolation. Rather than support portability among players, it makes users keep their Zune Marketplace purchases on a Zune, without easily using another store. Any player-store hybrid that wants to smash into the game could stick to options that allow you to use portable audio and video formats, not ones that confine your choice to a specific store.

Zune users will also have to deal with a building period, where Microsoft will have to add and add and add music to its store. Remember how long it took iTunes to get a full library? It was at least a year before they really started to be a full-on store that carried any band name you could throw at it.

The Zune will come preloaded with items from labels like Sub Pop, Astralwerks, Ninja Tune and V2, so you have something to geek out on when you pull it out of the box (see full list below).

Songs will be priced at 99 cents a song if you buy them one at a time. If you buy a subsciption for a Zune Pass, you'll get access to 2 million songs for $15 a month, as long you stay subscribed.

The Zune will be released on November 14th. They've also given us a price--$250--which will place it right alongside the iPod. Both 30 gig models (Zune and iPod) have that price, but are different in some of the features they offer. Outside of the retro brown color (in addition to white and black), this largely seems to follow an often used Microsoft strategy: for the first release, mirror the competition to get things going. Then work on expanding other options.

And that seems to be the general consensus right now... people aren't phased by Zune because there really doesn't seem to be anything to set it apart from the iPod. I guess we'll have to watch out next year and see what they add on. Maybe that's the real story here -- this is the beginning of real competition in the MP3 / media player game.

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Check out some of what's preloaded on Zune :
Audio Tracks
• Band of Horses, “Wicked Gil” (Sub Pop Records)
• Bitter:Sweet, “The Mating Game” (Quango Music Group)
• CSS, “Alala (Microsoft edit)” (Sub Pop Records)
• Darkel, “At The End of The Sky (edit)” (Astralwerks)
• Every Move a Picture, “Signs of Life” (V2)
• Small Sins, “Stay” (Astralwerks)
• The Adored, “Tell Me Tell Me” (V2)
• The Rakes, “Open Book” (V2)
• The Thermals, “A Pillar of Salt” (Sub Pop Records)

Music Video
• 30 Seconds to Mars, “The Kill” (Virgin Records)
• BT, “1.618” (DTS Entertainment)
• Chad VanGaalen, “Red Hot Drops” (Sub Pop Records)
• Coldcut featuring Roots Manuva, “True Skool” (Ninja Tune)
• CSS, “Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above” (Sub Pop Records)
• Fruit Bats, “Live: The Wind That Blew My Heart Away” (Sub Pop Records)
• Grandaddy, “Elevate Myself” (V2)
• Hot Chip, “Over and Over” (Astralwerks Records)
• Kraak & Smaak featuring Dez., “Keep Me Home” (Quango Music Group)
• Kinski, “Live: The Snowy Parts of Scandinavia” (Sub Pop Records)
• Paul Oakenfold, “Faster Kill Pussycat (Featuring Brittany Murphy)” (Maverick Records)
• Serena-Maneesh, “Drain Cosmetics” (Playlouderecordings)



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