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Zunes not likely to get iPod fans to change their tunes

Microsoft isn't expected to gain on Apple because the players lack innovation, analysts say.

October 03, 2007|Joseph Menn | Times Staff Writer

Microsoft Corp., chasing the speeding iPod train, will introduce a lineup of its Zune hand-held music and video players next month.

Analysts said the new Zunes, which Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates unveiled to reporters in Redmond, Wash., on Tuesday, might help the company hold on to its sliver of the market and perhaps gain some ground against fledgling entrants. But Microsoft wasn't given much chance of taking customers from Apple Inc.

"They're not going to gain against Apple because there is nothing really innovative about what they're doing," said Van Baker, a vice president at Gartner Group.

The three new versions of the player will include smaller models with more colors as well as a bigger, $250 model with more than double the capacity of the Zune that went on sale nearly a year ago.

All Zunes will now have the ability to swap content wirelessly with a home computer.

Apple, meanwhile, has added phone service to its top-of-the-line iPod and sells television shows along with the majority of the country's legally purchased digital music.

The newest iPods also let users buy music wirelessly, unlike the Zune.

There are some features the Zune has that the iPod doesn't, such as FM radio reception and the ability to share songs with friends' players, as long as they are within wireless range. (Shared songs can be played only three times.)

Otherwise, what the Zune can and can't do is complicated.

It can play back television shows recorded at home, for example, but only if the shows were recorded with the aid of the fanciest versions of Microsoft's new Vista operating system for home computers.

Microsoft has its own electronic music store in answer to Apple's iTunes, and tracks purchased there can play on the Zune or on a PC.

But music bought elsewhere and restricted by either Apple's or Microsoft's copy controls can't be transferred to the mobile player.

Microsoft spokesman Chris Stephenson said the company was aiming for more than 10% of the part of the market where the smaller Zunes would compete, which is new territory for Microsoft.

Overall, he said, "our goal is to be the main No. 2."

Microsoft said it sold 1.2 million Zune players this year through June. Apple said in April that it had sold 100 million iPods in 5 1/2 years.

Entertainment as a whole remains a major focus for Microsoft, which has made great strides with its Xbox game console only to watch Apple come from nowhere with the iPod.

"It's fine to say you want to be a credible alternative to Apple," Jupiter Research Vice President Michael Gartenberg said. "But the market isn't looking for credible alternatives. People are looking for iPods."


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