Reportedly surprised by Apple's recent iPod price cuts, Microsoft this week announced that its upcoming Zune MP3 player will be priced at $249.99, the same price as the iPod model it most closely resembles. Microsoft also said it now plans to sell Zune in the United States on November 14.
"On November 14 we're delivering not only a device, but a shared, social experience that will be shaped by the collective imagination of consumers," said Chris Stephenson, general manager of global marketing for Zune. "We're infusing the spirit of discovery and sharing into everything we do--from the experience we crafted around the device and service to preloading music and videos on every device to expose people to something new."
Zune is an iPod-like device that features a 30GB hard disk, a 3-inch color screen that works in landscape and portrait modes, a built-in FM tuner, and unique sharing features. The first-generation Zune will include a selection of preloaded content, including songs, music videos, and short movies, and will be available in three colors: white, black, and brown.
Microsoft will be providing a new online service called Zune Marketplace that will let Zune users browse and purchase songs for about 99 cents each. Unlike Apple's iTunes service, however, Zune Marketplace will also offer a $14.99 monthly subscription called Zune Pass that will give subscribers access to all Zune Marketplace content.
A wide array of accessories will be available for Zune at launch. In addition to prepackaged sets of accessories (the Home A/V Pack, for integrating the device into a home theatre; the Zune Travel Pack; and the Zune Car Pack), numerous standalone accessories will be available, including an A/V Output Cable, AC Adapter, Sync Cable, Car Charger, Dock, Wireless Remote, Dual Connect Remote, FM Tuner with AutoSeek, and Premium Earphones.
This should all sound familiar to iPod users. The big differentiator is that Zune will include wireless capabilities that will let Zune users share music with each other. Microsoft has yet to describe this feature in detail but has said that Zune users will be able to actually transmit protected content to other users, at least for a temporary time period. "This is just the beginning," Stephenson said.
One problem that Microsoft is being open about is that the company will lose money on the first-generation Zune. Microsoft says the Zune is a "multiyear strategy," like the Xbox 360, and that the company is in this business for the long haul. Starting next year, we'll see several other portable devices that will be compatible with the Zune products.