Microsoft Intros Zune Social, New Zunes and Zune Devices, and More

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Corporate Vice President J Allard have unveiled the next generation of Zune portable media players, software and online store. Gates and Allard have also introduced Zune Social, a beta online community Web site built around and powered by people's passion for music. The two new models of Zune portable media players feature the new Zune Pad, an innovative touch-sensitive button for navigating on the device, as well as wireless sync, a feature that allows Zune devices to automatically sync over the device owner's home wireless network when it is connected to an AC adaptor, in a dock or speaker dock accessory. Existing Zune owners will automatically receive new software features, the redesigned PC and device software and access to the new Zune Marketplace when everything is released to the public in mid-November.

Microsoft has announced three new models of Zune portable digital media players: a sleek, black Zune 80GB hard-drive model, which has a bright 3.2-inch screen and comes with premium headphones; the ultraportable Zune 4GB; and Zune 8GB flash models, both available in pink, green, black and glossy red. The new Zune devices feature the Zune Pad navigation button, with its touch-sensitive surface. Consumers can flick their thumbs over the pad to fly through lists of songs or albums or to fast-forward through picture slide shows or videos. For those who need to pause, advance or adjust the volume on the device without looking, they can also navigate the Zune Pad using physical cues by pressing on the four sides or the center of the button to adjust the volume or choose the next track.

Together with the original Zune 30GB, the new devices round out the player family and lets users choose the size, color or price that suits them best. Every Zune device includes built-in wireless features and an FM tuner, and they all have a bright color display that is perfect for showing off album art, pictures, videos and podcasts. All devices have been given distinctive new menus, and it is easy to customize the background screen with a personal picture. Ensuring that existing Zune owners benefit from the advances in this release, all Zune 30GB devices will be automatically updated with all the new features as well as the new device software design this fall.

New features for fall include the following:
Wireless sync. Zune devices will automatically sync over consumers' home wireless networks with this helpful new feature, aimed at ensuring that Zune owners always have the latest podcasts and other content ready to go when they're leaving home. Syncing with the collection on their PC happens via a home wireless network and will start on its own when the device is placed in its dock or plugged in to charge. Alternatively, the sync can be started manually.
Extended wireless sharing.Share select full-length songs, albums, playlists, pictures and even audio podcasts from device to device. Consumers can now listen to any song received up to three times with no time restrictions, and they can now also pass along songs to other friends who have a Zune.
Recorded television content to go. The Zune software will now automatically import broadcast content recorded on Microsoft Windows Media Center for Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate, so consumers can sync them onto their Zune media player and watch them on the bus, in their car or wherever they want when they're out and about.

Launching first in beta, Zune Social, a beta online community Web site, gives people a place to share their music tastes, knowledge and experiences with others. Anyone can create a free, customizable Zune Card that automatically updates to reflect the music they are listening to on their Zune or with Zune software on their computer. The Zune Card shows most recently played tracks and highlights that person's all-time music favorites. Other members of Zune Social can play samples of the songs a user has been playing directly from a friend's Zune Card or link to Zune Marketplace, where they can buy or download the music. In a nod to the inherently social nature of music, Zune Social will eventually enable its members to place the Zune Card on today's most popular social networking sites, where it will continue to update automatically and show off what its owners are listening to.

In addition to creating a friends list, members of Zune Social can send song links and messages to each other, post comments on a friend's profile page or on their favorite artist pages. They can discover new music by seeing what their friends are listening to, receiving recommendations from others in the community or by seeing what the top fans of artists they're interested in are listening to. Each artist page will list the Zune Cards of the people who listen to that artist the most, making it easy for other Zune Social members to browse their recent playlists and discover new content they can sample, purchase or download with a Zune Pass.

The Zune Marketplace online store has been restocked and redesigned to make it even easier for people to find what they are looking for. The Zune software has also been completely redesigned with a new look and feel and lots of helpful new features. In addition to offering more than 3 million songs, the updated version of Zune Marketplace will launch with thousands of music videos for sale and over 1,000 of the top audio and video podcasts available for free. Consumers will also be able to choose from a selection of more than 1 million DRM-free MP3s, which can be played with Zune or any other digital media player. A new, streamlined and highly visual layout makes it fun and easy to browse through the store, and a new integrated search feature gives consumers one view across the music, music videos and podcasts categories. By typing in an artist's name or genre, users will see all relevant content that is either already in their collection or available in Zune Marketplace.

To let music fans try new music, Zune Marketplace continues to offer Zune Pass, which lets consumers download as much music as they want for a flat monthly rate of $14.99. To inspire Zune Pass subscribers, Zune Marketplace genre editors offer a range of playlists and promote new albums each week. Consumers can also choose to purchase music and music videos individually using Microsoft Points.

Zune will also be offering a new line of accessories to help consumers get the most from their Zune content wherever they are at home, in the car or on the go. To make it easy and affordable for existing Zune customers, original Zune accessories will work on new Zune devices and new accessories will also work with the Zune 30GB device. In addition to a selection of accessories from partners, eight new accessory options are available from Zune this fall:
Zune Home AV Pack. Home Dock with three faceplates to accommodate each Zune device, wireless remote, AC adaptor and composite AV output cable.
Zune Dock Pack. Home Dock with three faceplates to accommodate each Zune device and AC adapter.
Zune Car Pack. Redesigned FM transmitter/charger and dashboard grip pad.
Zune Cable Pack. Sync cable, composite AV output cable and audio cable.
Zune Premium Headphones.
Zune Leather Case.
Zune Sync Cable.
Zune AC Adapter.

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