Welcome to the Social

Zune, developed by the Microsoft group responsible for Xbox, relies on the same underlying principle as the successful video-game console – that entertainment should be based on a shared, connected experience. (Click for a high-resolution image.)

SEATTLE, Nov. 13, 2006 — The 20th century bore witness to a music revolution – from jazz to punk rock to hip hop. In a similar period of time, strides were made in the way that music was produced and shared, beginning in 1877 with Thomas Edison’s invention of the “word phonograph.” The ability to record sound made it possible for people to create and share music in rich new ways, certainly, but it also enabled them to communicate as never before. From it, a world of possibilities was born.

Zune – the new music and entertainment project from Microsoft that launches Tuesday in the U.S. – was created with that spirit of communication in mind. Zune, developed by the Microsoft group responsible for Xbox, relies on the same underlying principle as the successful video-game console – that entertainment should be based on a shared, connected experience. A social experience.

“This is what we call connected entertainment,” Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said today at a Zune preview event in Seattle, where emerging artist Secret Machines performed a concert to launch Zune festivities. “Zune is a big investment for us,” said Gates, “and it’s a vision that will carry us forward for years.”

Wireless Technology = Spontaneous Sharing

Unlike other digital music players on the market today, Zune features wireless technology that enables friends to spontaneously share full-length sample tracks of select songs, homemade recordings, playlists or pictures among their Zune devices. The full tracks of these songs can be listened to up to three times over three days, and, if the recipient enjoys the song she hears and wishes to buy it, she can flag it on her device and easily purchase it from the Zune Marketplace, which features over 2 million songs. A consumer has the choice between downloading individual songs and “Zune Pass” subscription plans. This is especially attractive for the MySpace generation, who frequently use the power of community to share common interests and promote social networking.

Additionally, Zune comes with an FM radio tuner, enabling a consumer to tune in to programming while at a local health club, for example. And depending on whether a particular radio station is broadcasting a Radio Broadcast Data Standards (RBDS) signal, advanced tuning capabilities on the Zune enable a user to see the name of the song currently playing.

“Music comes from social places,” Matt Jubelirer, Zune product manager, explained at today’s preview event. “But over the years, it started to become an isolated experience – people would listen with their headphones but not talk to the people around them. We wanted to add the social back into entertainment.”

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (L) receives a wirelessly transmitted song on a new Zune device from John Richards (R) of Seattle radio station KEXP at a Zune preview event featuring the band Secret Machines, Seattle, Nov. 13, 2006. Zune will be available Nov. 14 in U.S. stores. (Click for a high-resolution image.)

‘Future Proofed’

Jubelirer said that Zune, which has an estimated retail price of US$249.99, is the entry point of a multi-year experience, and that Microsoft is investing heavily in innovation. Jubelirer notes that it is the software that will make the difference in the digital entertainment age – and through updates to the Zune software, consumers will be able to enjoy new scenarios as they become available. This is what Microsoft calls “future proofing.”

“Future proofing ensures that the devices we sell tomorrow are prepared for the scenarios of the future,” Jubelirer said. “A person should be able to buy a device tomorrow, and with wireless technology, improve on that device through software in the future. We’ve made the investments in the device that we needed to make – so people can be prepared for what’s ahead. Without that, if there were a new scenario in the future, you’d have to buy a new device to get it.”

Playlists Made On-the-Go

In addition to its wireless and FM radio capabilities, Zune is a fully functional digital-media player with 30GB of storage space, meaning it can hold 7,500 songs, 25,000 pictures or 100 hours of video. Playlists can be made on the go. The device has a bright, 3-inch (7.6 centimeter) LCD screen that works in portrait or landscape mode, and displays not only music, pictures and video, but also enables the user to customize the experience with personal pictures or themes. Zune comes in a choice of three “base” colors: black, white, and brown – the latter color drawing inspiration from the fashion world with such fabrics as black flannel, white cotton and brown suede – with a durable, distinctive “double-shot” finish created by the overlay of one color on another. The device changes between portrait and landscape view automatically, depending on whether the user is listening to music, looking at pictures or watching a video. Zune is specially weighted to easily flip from side to side with one hand.

As for where the future is headed, Jubelirer says that that is in the hands of the Zune user. “This is a social experience, and we want people to be part of the development process,” he explained. “We will continue to innovate where and when it makes sense for our customers, so we can keep exciting them for years to come.”

The coming holiday season is a great time to showcase entertainment the way it was meant to be – shared with others.

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