Microsoft has released details of its upcoming Zune product, an iPod-like device that is squarely aimed at challenging Apple's dominance of the online music market. TechCrunch, Engadget and PaidContent have all the details, so I just want to focus on a couple of interesting Internet features of Zune.
1) Zune will have a social network (iPod/iTunes doesn't)
This is clearly going to wake Apple up, because a social networking aspect is the one glaring feature missing from its otherwise excellent iPod/iTunes online music combo. Zune's social networking will be based in Zune Marketplace, the equivalent of iTunes. Songs can also be shared via wireless technology on the Zune device.
It also seems that Zune will have as good a selection of music as iTunes, although details are sketchy at this stage.
2) Zune is centered on connectivity
This is what Microsoft truly believes is its advantage over Apple - ability to connect Zune across a network of devices. Zune will no doubt over time hook into the PC, Xbox, TV, etc. While Apple announced its own inter-connection plans with iTV this week, in this case Apple is the follower and not the leader.
Of course the big advantage Apple has is its brand and design, which a lot of people think is enough to continue its success. And given the early screenshots of Zune, with its brown(!?), black and white colors and its monolith-like shape - well, let's just say that Apple designers won't be feeling the heat any time soon!
Summary: Zune Experience
Microsoft's vision for this is summed up here: "Zune is Microsoft’s music and entertainment platform that provides an end-to-end solution for Connected Entertainment."
It's a social platform, as well as a music one. This currently differentiates it from Apple, so it's a good move by Microsoft. It also promises a very connected experience across devices, which plays to Microsoft's strengths. Whether all this is enough to challenge Apple, which has already won over the hearts of the mass market with the iPod and iTunes, will be interesting to see.