Zune as Part of Microsoft's "Broader Picture"

Lots of new details are emerging about Zune, Microsoft’s new music/video device and related service.

The news about Zune broke last week in a Billboard article where Chris Stephenson, Microsoft’s new GM of marketing for MSN Entertainment Business, said Zune will be an umbrella brand for what he says is “a family of hardware and software products” targeting various digital entertainment services. The somewhat creepy-yet-strangely-soothing “comingzune” site launched as well, with no real information whatsoever.

On July 25 Microsft CEO Steve Ballmer spoke about Zune at a Retail Vision Summit in Seattle:

it’s all about how do multiple groups of people, friends, interact together in various entertainment experiences, whether it’s watching the British Open, whether it’s enjoying movies, and music, and other video entertainment, whether it is involved in an interactive gaming session, a lot of the IQ we’re putting into is how you view community and entertainment together.

On July 27, Robbie Bach, President, Entertainment & Devices Division at Microsoft gave a presentation to financial analysts. He says:

And then the third secret I’ll say is looking at Zune as part of our broader picture. You know, in the case of Apple, they have certainly an iMac business, they have their iPod business, and they’ve sold a few things in the home that compete with Media Center, although the numbers there are actually quite small. Look at our business: We have a burgeoning IPTV business that we think is going to grow and be successful in the home. We have Media Center in over 14 million units and growing around the world. We have Xbox 360 in place and growing around the world. We have Xbox Live, MSN, and our Windows Live initiatives expanding. Put all of those things together, and then take Zune and put it in the context of that. It enables us to complete the picture. It enables us to have the full entertainment and connected entertainment experience that we want to have. And so that’s why Zune is important, and it is a way we’re going to differentiate ourselves, because the experience of having Zune in that connected environment is going to be a dramatically better experience than you get just from having a portable music player.

And today more news broke on Engadget, which release specs for the product and announced a launch date of November 14, 2006. Zune will include a 30 GB hard drive (I expect a 60 GB version as well), multiple color options, an FM tuner, lots of accessories and a 3.75 inch screen, which is 50% bigger than the iPod video.

There are also rumors that the device will have built-in wifi and possibly also phone capabilities.

The picture is becoming clearer – Zune looks to be an iPod-type device that will show the full spectrum of audio and video content, as well as social networking (which Microsoft is doing an excellent job of with XBOX Live). Microsoft is clearly messaging that they see this as an integral part of the Xbox/Media Center consumer offering. The fact that it has wifi means it will be an independent device from a core computer, able to download files, streaming content and other data directly.

If they do this right, it will be one hell of a cool product.

A lot of the best news on Zune is coming from ZuneInsider, a blog set up specifically to cover the product. Om Malik and Engadget are also covering it closely.