Microsoft on Tuesday launched its Zune 3.0 digital media platform, which consists of new PC software and device firmware, updated online services, and new device hardware. As with Apple's recent iTunes update, Microsoft's latest Zune platform focuses on music discovery, this time using new device, software, and services features.
"Digital music services really come alive when they help people find not only the music they know they like, but the music they didn't know they would love," says Microsoft general manager Chris Stephenson. "With the combination of subscription, wireless access to millions of tracks, and powerful discovery features like personal recommendations and the ability to buy music from FM radio, Zune is taking the digital music experience to the next level."
Unlike the Apple iPod, Microsoft's Zune devices have always included FM receivers, and the company enhances this functionality in Zune 3.0 with a new Buy from FM feature that allows users to tag songs they hear on the radio and then purchase them wirelessly from the device or later from the PC. New discoverability features like Picks and Collections allow Zune owners to get recommendations from music experts and other users in the Zune Social service. On the PC, new software features like Mix View and deeper integration with the Zune Social provides users with new ways to enjoy and discover music.
Microsoft has also begun expanding the capabilities of the Zune platform to new content types. Zune 3.0 comes with two free games, Texas Hold 'Em and Hexic, and the company promises more games down the road. The Zune is now compatible with audio books as well, supporting content from both Audible and OverDrive.
In related news, Microsoft has announced a partnership with high-speed Internet access provider Wayport to deliver free wireless Internet access to Zune users at almost 10,000 McDonalds restaurant locations in the US. The Zune can now connect to public Wi-Fi access points for the first time, and this integration allows the device to connect seamlessly to Wayport networks without any configuration steps.
Microsoft has also announced an expansion of its Zune Originals service, which lets new Zune customers customize their devices with laser-engraved art and text. The company is now offering 14 new designs from artists such as Rolito, Matt W. Moore, Ippei Gyoubu and Aya Kato at http://www.zuneoriginals.net
If you're interested in more information, I've published a wealth of information about the Zune 3.0 platform on the SuperSite for Windows and will review Zune 3.0 soon.