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ZuneHD Video on Engadget

The ZuneHD is seen in this video.  Note how the touchscreen makes the squircle look clumsy.  The processor looks responsive, and quite fluid as they navigate around.  The OLED screen also appears quite slick, although the quality of the video is not spectacular so we'll have to reserve final judgement on that for now.  If Microsoft can price this right, they could finally have the iTouch fighter to take the Zune platform to the next level.  Ok, without further delay, let's roll the video....

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New Zune Literature

Zune_gamebook As the Zune concept is getting redesigned, the emphasis is on transitioning the Zune from a physical media player, to a software concept.  As such, it can be then added as software into existing products.  Two likely targets include the Xbox line, and Windows Mobile phones.  After all, Microsoft is at its heart a software company, and the hardware will always be a secondary endeavor to them.

They are envisioning, or shoudl I say reenvisioing the Zune as both a device and a service.  With the Zune able to play games, apparently they wish to port this ability to other devices of the Microsoft pantheon as well.  This became apparent at a McGraw Hill book summit with the release of a new title: Zune Game Development Using XNA 3.0.  While this may all sound like an intriguing development, I have to point out that I'm not quite sure that Xbox owners are clamoring to play Zune games on that platform.  Music, maybe, but portable games, well, no.  At any rate, it's nice to see some further developments of integrating the Zune further into other core Microsoft products.

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When I think of the game bingo, I think of a room full of seniors with their cards, and those magic marker stamps.  After all it is a staple for the senior crowd.  The high stakes games are at the Indian Reservation where the serious players do more than one card at a time.  And for the kiddy crowd, the ever popular car bingo can pass the hours on a trip (when the Zune battery drains, of course).

However, there appears to be yet another version of this venerable game.  At the South By Southwest conference (SXSW), they decided to turn bingo into a picture game.  The cards had various targets of pictures, and the lower right hand one was "Someone using a Zune."  While the other categories included "Geek girl," "Techy Mom," and "Someone using a Kindle," I think that it's notable that the Zune ended up in the Gadgets column.  Should I point out that a certain player named after a popular fruit didn't make the cut for the card?

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Zune Kiosk


Seems like these kisoks are popping up everywhere.  You know, those "stores within a store" that highlight one product or product line from a manufacturer?  Looks like the latest marketing effort for the Zune involves them putting their products into a kiosk.  While this concept may appear at one of those new Microsoft stores, it also could easily fit in at the local big block retailer.  I think it does a good job of highlighting and displaying the Zune line.  Also note the laptops to show that the Zune can update wirelessly.

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No iPods at the Gates House


Among the younger set, most think that an iPod is synonymous with an mp3 player.  You know, like Kleenex is a tissue, and a Xerox is a copy.  Chalk one up to Apple's marketing machine for pulling off that feat for a product that has only been around for several years.  How bad has it gotten?  Bill Gates has forbidden his children from acquiring a iPod product:

In the latest issue of Vogue, Bill's wife, Melinda Gates, reveals that among the "very few things" on "the banned list in our household" are—you guessed it—iPods and iPhones.

Brutal, yes—especially for Bill and Melinda's three kids (two daughters and a son, aged 12, six, and nine, respectively), who'll just have to grin and bear it as their little pals make merry with the latest and greatest iPod.

And even Melinda herself admits to an occasional pang of Apple envy: "Every now and then I look at my friends and say, 'Ooh, I wouldn't mind having that iPhone.'"

Oh, this is brutal indeed.  Apparently the kiddies do have Zunes, so all is not lost.  However, maybe Bill Gates should realize that he shouldn't need to resort to banning the competition to get his children to use his companies product.  Perhaps he should let them have it, and he would see what would make the Zune even better, or the need for a Zune Phone.  Hey, just a thought, but then again, this is nothing that a decade of psychotherapy later on won't fix...

What do you think: Father Gates knows best, or just an unreasonable control freak.

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Microsoft is looking to increase the amount of content available for the Zune.  Not willing to just wait for home podcasters to get the job done, they hired some professional help on board to make it happen.

The pros involved are from MEAN magazine.  The series involves top actors reprising roles from classic films that they always wanted to play.  This whole short video comedy series will be called "Cinemash."  This content can be downloaded for free from the Zune Marketplace, with plans to have it available for the Xbox, and also on MSN, after the Zune gets a window of exclusivity.  The good part is that it will be free, and ad supported.

It sounds like a pretty good idea as there is a lot of amateur content out there, and the pros should be able to do it better.  Good thing my Zune 80 has such a nice screen for video!  Word is that this should start this spring.

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Zune Clone Hails From China


Think all is lost for the Zune from the news lately?  Fret not, I tell you, because the Zune must have something going for it because the folks in China, through the magic of reverse engineering have produced their own Zune clone.

Of course they've simplified things a wee bit, just in the name of getting the thing to market.  After all, not everyone likes the Zune software, or uses the wifi features anyway, right?

Officially known as the PMP, it sports flash memory, with capacities ranging from 128 megs (??!) on up to a slightly more realistic 4 gigs.  While the 2.4" LCD screen is probably believable, the "able to withstand 1,000 G's" sounds kinda realistic when these guys always use the cheapest plastic.

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Is a Microsoft Smartphone The New Center of Your Digital Universe?

Microsoft_dock_patent There's been more than enough drama this week with talk of cuts of the Zune team after missing holiday sales numbers.  Then there's the aspect of some type of major upgrade to the next version of the Zune.  Finally, there's a curious patent filed by the folks out at Redmond.

While the patent is not clearly for the Zune, it is certainly plausible that such a device could figure into the plans of the next version of the Zune (or maybe one or two beyond that at the rate that things go out there).  It comes down to the concept of what a PC is.  For many users, they only use a small percentage of what their computer can do in terms of processing power.  On top of that, the web has assumed greater importance as many tasks can be done relying more on bandwidth than on desktop computing power, such as image editing, and even video editing, not to mention web based document creation.  While I have two computers with dualcore processors, I get along fine on the road with a single core notebook (Athlon XP-M 2200+) so a powerful smartphone just might be able to get the job done for many users willing to trade portability for power.

Here's the concept based on the patent that Microsoft proposed.  It is based upon a "smart interface system," that consists of a docking station with ports for Ethernet, USB peripherals including an external hard drive and an external display.  The idea is that you could attach a keyboard and mouse to the portable device making it feel more like a full fledged computer.  I could certainly envision this working, and it could bridge the gap (assuming there is one that needs to be filled) from current cellphones to the step up to netbooks.  Think of it as the notebook docking station taken a step further, and allowing a smartphone to perform a wider set of tasks usually associated with a desktop computer.

Is this the concept of the next Zune?  Or will it be just " Zune like?"  Will surfing the net with a squircle be in the cards soon?  Could this be a device to take on the iTouch/iPhone?  It may be a l-o-n-g time before we get a clearer picture of this roadmap, but it is intriguing nonetheless.

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Microsoft Plans a Fix


With the dismal sales numbers from the holiday season, the Zune team is definitely having a big time huddle over the last several weeks.  While we can all blame a lukewarm economy heading South, there are also fundamental issues.  Take a look at this analysis, and head on back for some further discussion.

I think Microsoft made a good product in the Zune.  The hard drive based Zunes, 80 and 120 gigs strong, are very good products.  They are well made, easy to control, and have decent battery lives.  The LCD screens are wasted on just music as many of us use them for.  The Zune software is good enough that folks don't complain about it anymore.  I use it often and it's stable and capable.

The flash based Zunes are decent, but not spectacular in a crowded field.  They're pretty enough, but there's too much competition.  Here Apple gets the vote of the kids that buy into their ads marketing, and SanDisk gets the dollars from the spendthrifts seeking good value.  It would seem that Zune suffers from "me too" syndrome among this market segment, that it can't find its niche in.

However, Microsoft has made one serious mistake here.  They targeted the iPod Classic, which is yesteryear's iPod.  It also is not selling  spectacularly well.  It's pretty clear that if you want to dethrone the leader, you need to attack their best selling flagship product- the iPod Touch.  No point in going after second best, right?  Heck, I own a Zune 80, and I keep debating if I could use an iTouch as a PDA to replace my Palm T/X, and I don't even buy any Apple products!

If the Zune team wants to seriously get back into this race, they shoud all figure out the weaknesses of the iTouch be scouring the forums.  They also need to use it themsleves, and only then can they build a better Zune.  It's lousy to see the Zune, which pioneered wireless in a music player, get beat on their own turf.

While the zPhone is dead, will there be an iZune instead

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Zune Amidst all the news of Zune falling $100 million short of estimates, and concerns of Microsoft's continuing commitment to the Zune, it was good to find something, make that anything else, of a Zune nature.  What I stumbled across today was that a Zune Wiki, a Zunepedia if you will, was started recently.  Sure, you could just go to the Zune page of the Wikipedia, but it's also good to have the Zune have a wiki devoted all to it.

As a repository of knowledge, that everyone can add to and edit, you just can't beat a wiki for knowledge on a topic.  It was started by Zac Altman, a serious Zune fan.  So far there are pages for each of the models, and als pages for each of the features.  Some of the pages are just placeholders waiting for some knowledgable Zune owner to share this knowledge.  Isn't this what the "Get Into the Social" tagline is all about?

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