Competing in the mobile music field inevitably means competing against Apple's wildly popular iPod in all of its various incarnations, but Microsoft is working to differentiate itself from the rest of the field with its Zune HD.
To challenge Apple's iPod for the mobile music device market crown, the Microsoft Zune HD is bringing back some of its favorite features from previous iterations while adding some important new functionality to entice new users.
High Definition Is King
High definition is an important enough differentiator that Microsoft put it in the name. Sure, the touch-screen device is a music player, but video on the go is becoming more and more important to consumers. And in the home, HD television and clear images are important. That's why Microsoft pulled out all the stops and put Nvidia's Tegra system-on-a-chip platform -- which the chip maker calls the "world's first HD mobile processor" -- in the Zune. The mobile device from Microsoft is built to show movies and television shows in 720p.
Microsoft is pairing an online content store with the Zune HD, something Xbox owners are already familiar with. While the offerings for the Microsoft Zune HD are still paltry compared to Apple's iTunes store, it is a crucial step for Redmond if they are serious about competing against the incumbent iPod. Another important feature for the Zune HD is its ability to translate content from one device to another. If a Zune user purchases a movie in HD, it will be available on the Xbox at home or even on a Windows Mobile device.
Unlimited Music Service
One thing that does differentiate Microsoft's Zune HD from Apple's line of iPods is the way users can consume music. Unlike the iTunes store, which requires paid downloads for seemingly everything, Microsoft users can pay a flat fee of $15 a month and have unlimited access to streaming music. The problem with the subscription model, of course, is that once you unsubscribe your music library is lost. At least, that was the case, until Microsoft decided to allow users to keep 10 songs a month as part of the streaming music deal. It's not a huge amount, but it is at least a start.
Microsoft will still have a built-in radio tuner that owners of previous versions of the Zune will recognize, but with a twist. In addition to getting the regular terrestrial channels that appear on the radio dial, the Zune HD is taking HD to the radio as well. That means there's more content available for customers to consume, all from the mobile device.
There Is A Browser -- Sort Of
Microsoft isn't unaware of the fact that mobile devices are continuing to converge as consumers become less interested in having cluttered pockets and are more interested in a single device that suits all their needs. To that end, Microsoft equipped the Zune HD with a Web browser which, from most reports, is basic and serviceable at best. The iPod and iPhone were released as mostly polished devices with functionality that is simple and intuitive. Microsoft's Zune HD isn't quite there -- yet. But the fact that the browser is included is encouraging and points to the potential of the mobile device.