Microsoft Corp took the wraps off its second-generation Zune digital music players on Tuesday, showing three models that bring the software maker's offerings more in line with Apple's market-leading iPod.
One model -- available in black -- has an 80-gigabyte (GB) hard drive and an 8cm screen. It is slimmer than last year's Zune, which had a 30 gigabyte hard drive and a smaller screen. Microsoft also will sell a smaller, flash memory-based Zune, similar in shape and size to the iPod Nano, in pink, green, black and red with either 4GB or 8GB of storage.
Like the original Zune, the new models include an FM radio tuner and the ability to wirelessly share songs with other Zune owners.
The latest generation sports a new navigation button Microsoft calls the Zune Pad, and uses Wi-Fi to sync music, movies and photos wirelessly and automatically with users' PCs.
The new Zunes are set to go on sale in mid-November. The 4GB Zune will cost US$149, the 8GB will sell for US$199 and the 80GB model will cost US$249. The prices match those of Apple's iPod lineup.
To get its first-generation Zunes to consumers quickly, Microsoft linked up with partners like Toshiba Corp and MusicNet for the design of the device and the underlying software.
This time, the company has bulked up its staff to include industrial designers, and rebuilt the software for the device and the computer from scratch.
Microsoft tweaked the look of the new Zunes' display and added the Zune Pad, a combination mouse-button and touch pad that lets users scroll down a long list of songs with a few flicks of the finger, then click the button to select tracks or change the volume.
Zune users can connect automatically to their home Wi-Fi network and sync music, podcasts and video while the devivces charge. Users can connect more than one Zune to a PC without having to separate the music libraries. The new Zunes can also sync with a folder of TV shows users record using Windows Media Center and store on their PCs.
First-generation Zunes will automatically get software updates to bring them in line with new Zunes this fall, the company said.
Microsoft will also launch redesigned versions of its Zune desktop software and Marketplace store in November, as well as a new social networking site that lets people add friends, trade music suggestions and learn what music other members of the community are listening to.
As of the end of the last fiscal quarter, Apple Inc had sold more than 100 million iPods, compared with the approximately 1.2 million Zunes Microsoft reported selling.
Unlike Apple, Microsoft hasn't launched a phone or a touch-screen version of the Zune.
Company executives have been denying plans for a "Zune phone" since the iPhone was introduced this summer.
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