In May, word got out that Microsoft had developed a brand new device named Zune HD that would be released later this year. It is poised to go toe-to-toe with the iPod Touch and offers brand new features that should be of note to Apple. One aspect that may send a few existing iPod users to Zune is integration with the Xbox 360 and Xbox Live Marketplace. That’s something that Apple simply can’t contend with.
It’s not to say that Apple and its line of iPod Touch devices are suddenly obsolete. iPod Touches have an extensive library of free and paid applications in the iTunes Store for people to utilize. This has allowed the iPod Touch and iPhone to see commercial success with mobile applications. Let’s not forget that Apple has packed these devices with beefy hardware as well. iPod Touches come in three different touch-screen models in 8 GB, 16 GB, and 32 GB editions. The 8 GB version holds an estimated 1,750 songs, or 10 hours of video, and costs $229. The 16 GB version costs $299 and holds approximately 3,500 songs, or 20 hours of video. Finally, the 32 GB edition holds 7,000 songs, or 40 hours of video, and will set a buyer back $399.
Early reports from Engadget and CNet, which had hands-on experience with the new Zune HD, have been universally positive. The device was touted as a “portable media center” from the editors at CNet. The site also said that the Zune HD isn’t going to crush the iPod Touch in terms of mobile computing; however, it boasts “one of the richest music experiences on a portable device.”
The new Zune HD has a metal enclosure and angular design with a slightly thicker body than the iPod Touch. The front features a 3.3″ OLED touch-screen and a single home button below it. Along the top edge are a power button, a volume rocker, and a headphone jack with a Zune dock. The output specs of the new Zune HD support 720p video content, which will be available for purchase from the Zune Marketplace. Video content can be purchased or rented and transferred to the Zune HD. The only problem is that the 720p content can’t be displayed on the native unit’s screen at that resolution. The 720p video content is scaled down to 480×272, but still looks outstanding according to reports. There’s an optional HDMI dock for the Zune to connect to in order to watch HD movies on your monitor or television.
Some serious music integration has gone into the Zune HD, including band-specific information once the device starts playing music. Photographs, biographical sketches, and similar artist recommendations are all part of the music experience. The Zune HD includes the ability to connect to a Wi-Fi network and browse the web with its integrated software. Apparently, if you’ve done some web browsing on an iPod Touch or iPhone, the experience will be extremely familiar on the Zune HD.
In the rumor mill, the pricing for the Zune HD will be at $220 for the 16 GB model and $290 for the 32 GB edition. The rumors, however, have a bit of steam since Amazon recently posted pre-order pages for both models of the new Zune HD at those identical prices. The Zune HD AV Dock will be priced at $89.99 and the Sync Dock will cost $49.99.
In this scenario, we’re expecting people who want a mobile computing experience to stick with the iPod Touch. There’s no denying that the iTunes Store and its wide variety of applications make it a true computer. Those simply looking for a mobile entertainment center focusing on video and music content will probably favor the Zune HD.
However, we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves because the rumor mill is also saying that Apple has an ace up its sleeve. While rumors have pointed to a new Apple Tablet computer, there are also rumblings of a refresh to the iPod Touch line coming soon. This third-generation iPod Touch would be armed with a built-in camera. Further information about the new line of devices from Apple has been sketchy at best.
In the end, Mac users and Apple enthusiasts shouldn’t be worried about the new entry Microsoft has into the world of mobile entertainment devices. For those looking for music and videos, the Zune HD appears to be a viable alternative to the iPod. Nevertheless, there are no applications and games available (for now) for the Zune HD, while the iPod Touch has access to the iTunes Store. The scales might be tipped once we learn what Microsoft has in store with integration with the Xbox 360 and Live Marketplace. Until then, we anxiously await for fall for all of this drama to unfold.