Oh no. I’m pretty sure that I just saw the new Microsoft Zune HD and immediately thought “that’s a sexy PMP.”
It seems like everyone is trying to get their announcements in about their personal media players and smart phones before Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference. Palm will put their Pre smartphone on sale a few days before Apple’s WWDC and now, Microsoft has announced their next generation media player, the Zune HD.
First off, I haven’t read anything about any changes to the podcasting side of the Zune. Aside from supporting it, I’m not sure there’s anything left to do. The Zune has supported podcasts for a while now and the Zune HD will be no different. What will be cool about the Zune HD is the support for HD video, and the HDMI output on the optional (and at an extra cost) TV dock.
Microsoft is looking to bridge the gap between the personal and home media players. I like the idea of watching a TV show, movie or podcast on the subway, walking into my apartment and connecting the Zune HD to a dock that will play whatever I was just watching on my home theater in 720p. It’s something that I haven’t really seen mastered by any media devices. I’m not sure that Microsoft will get it right, but it’s awesome in theory. Speaking of HD, the Zune HD will include an HD radio receiver. While this a relatively trivial addition, I think it will go a long way to keep people using the Zune HD. If the Zune HD is your primary media player, then imagine a scenario of going from your house listening to HD radio, grabbing the Zune HD and popping it into the car to continue listening to the radio.
Microsoft has the potential to be the best handheld internet experience out there. I doubt it will happen, but a mobile version of IE specifically built for the device (that would include Flash and Silverlight) with a touchscreen could be just what the doctor ordered for the mobile web. Microsoft doesn’t have a great track record with the mobile web, but it’s a possibility.
The people upset about the Apple iPhone’s lack of a keyboard aren’t going to be pleased with the Zune either. It’s headed down the software keyboard path as well. The people who weren’t keen on the original iPhone design won’t like the Zune HD’s design either. It’s go the same aluminum style body with the (assumed) black plastic strip on the bottom to allow radio and wifi signals into the device. It’s a design element Apple left behind with the second generation of iPhone. This already makes the Zune look dated in my eyes. Microsoft is trying to keep up with the Joneses, and in this case Apple is the Jones family. They also announced that the screen will be an organic light emitting diode (OLED), which will give the Zune HD some potentially great battery life. Too bad the rumor is that Apple will announce the same thing with the new generation of iPhone. I haven’t heard anything about games or apps or an app store, but time will tell on that. It’s going to be running on a custom Windows CE OS, so I suppose it’s always a possibility.
One hurdle for me is a lack of access to the Zune software. Microsoft doesn’t make it available for the OS X operating system, which leaves me in the dark for the most part. It’s possible to sync a Zune with Songbird, but according to the page on Get Satisfaction the podcast support in Songbird isn’t the best. A way around the hurdle would be the ability to download music to the device straight from an XBox 360. Microsoft is changing the name of the XBox 360 Marketplace to the Zune Store. This adds movie and television downloads to what the Zune HD is capable of.
The Zune HD has the potential to be a pretty powerful device, but at the same time, Microsoft has a bad track record with the Zune so far. Time will tell.