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Microsoft takes on Apple with Zune digital player

Microsoft takes on Apple with Zune digital player

Microsoft Corp. officials for the first time have confirmed that the software giant is readying a portable music player and integrated service, shedding new light on a topic that has fuelled rampant speculation in news reports and blog postings for weeks. In an exclusive first interview with Billboard, Chris Stephenson, Microsoft's new GM of marketing for MSN Entertainment Business, says the company will later this year launch Zune, an umbrella brand for what he says is "a family of hardware and software products" targeting various digital entertainment services. The first implementation of this will be the portable music player and digital music service, in what is the company's strongest effort yet to rein in Apple Computer's iTunes/iPod juggernaut, currently responsible for about 70% of the digital music market and 75% of the portable digital music player market. Additional Zune-branded devices will follow, including a portable video player and, potentially, a portable game device, although Stephenson would not comment on the videogame element of the initiative. Because the product lines have not yet been finalized, Microsoft would not discuss specifications. However, Stephenson did confirm that the initial music device will contain a hard drive and the much-discussed Wi-Fi connection for wireless Internet access. Exactly how Microsoft intends to utilize this wireless Internet capability remains unclear. Stephenson says the company is examining "seven or eight" different wireless scenarios. They range from allowing users to view and sample music from other Zune devices in the same hot spot, to accessing content stored in an online digital locker, to buying and downloading music directly to the device. Stephenson says that wireless Internet access is necessary for the portable devices to fit into Microsoft's grander plan. That scenario is to provide ubiquitous access to digital media from a wide range of Windows-powered devices in what ultimately aspires to be one part MySpace, one part iTunes and one part Xbox Live. Zune users will be able to view each other's playlists, recommend music and sample tracks in what Stephenson describes as a multifaceted music discovery experience. This capability will extend to the Xbox 360 game console, PCs running Windows Media Centre and mobile phones using the Windows Mobile operating system. For more on this story visit the Reuters website. UKFast is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

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