Zune Swoon

zune23.jpgAs noted by MTV, the official announcement of Zune, Microsoft’s attempt to compete with the iPod, was made last week. Whatever hope I had for this device disappeared the moment I realized that Marketplace, the iTunes-like music store designed to feed the Zune, is yet another iteration of DRM, one that abandons the fledgling Plays For Sure standard:

Users can also share homemade recordings, playlists and pictures wirelessly with no restrictions, though Erickson said songs purchased from iTunes or other download stores that have digital rights-management protection will not play on the Zune.

This means that Rhapsody, AOL’s Music Now service, Napster, not to mention iTunes, are all left out in the cold with Zune. It had better be a damn good device, or Marketplace the be-all end-all store. Otherwise, Zune will end up a eCost closeout before next Christmas.

More bad news is that the rumored iTunes song buyback isn’t going to happen either, at least it wasn’t part of the announcement. Add to that the ridiculously overhyped wireless song sharing feature’s actual specifics, and it becomes clear that the only bit of foresight Microsoft had in creating this mess was offering one in brown.

Zune players connect to one another via Wi-Fi, and users can ship songs, playlists or photos to a friend’s device. Each song can be played three times before it will be disabled.

Reading between the lines, that means only Marketplace songs can be shared. Right, like real music fans are chomping at the bit to swap self-crippling content with their buddies.

It does have one intriguing feature, something I hope Apple or Creative Zen picks up when they roll out a Wi-Fi player:

At launch, Zune will include artist profiles, upcoming events, music suggestions and favorite play lists from musicians. Forums will be added later to encourage interaction between users…

I hope that means Wi-Fi streaming of concert announcements, early ticket sales and fan club only specials. Something like that could would be revolutionary.

Otherwise, most of what Zune promises is more clumsy me-too crap.

With Zune, Toshiba Triangulates

mp3players.jpgAn FCC filing announced Friday indicates that the Microsoft Zune is being built by Toshiba. It will feature a 30 GB drive and a wireless connection for song and photo swapping, although early reports indicate that the music-sharing component is, typically for Microsoft, ridiculously restrictive.

According to documents filed Thursday with the FCC, Zune has wireless networking abilities that once turned on, allow people to send and receive photos, as well as “promotional” copies of songs, albums and playlists. It sounds great, but the filing does not define “promotional copies”. I believe it is a term also known as “controlled sharing”, usually involving a few selected songs with a time limit of how long you can keep them.

Two interesting notes here. First, the iPod hard disk has long been built by Toshiba; how do they avoid non-compete problems? Second, the Gigabeat S, Toshiba’s own MP3 player recently beat the iPod in a CNET Prizefight, winning in all categories. So, really, it’s three-pronged dominance for the Japanese behemoth.