Last week, Microsoft announced the latest generation of their Zune media players. While the devices themselves are nothing to quickly write home about, one thing definitely was. One fact stood out above all the rest in the announcement of the new Zunes, and that was the fact that the original 30GB Zunes will get a software update that gives them all the new features of the newest generation. So the original Zunes will have podcasting support, as well as support for the updated video codecs.
You might be asking yourself, why was this such a big deal? Why did every gadget website I read last week mentioned this little tidbit of news? Well, there is a reason for it. You see Apple does not do this with its iPod products. Nope, in fact, Apple’s stance is simple, if you want to latest features then you need to purchase the latest device. Sure, Apple ports some of the newer model features into the older iPod generations. But if you are sitting one and half generations behind, you will find yourself completely out of luck and needing to upgrade. The fact that Microsoft listened to this one complaint that runs rampant on iPod forums, is extremely important. In fact it is almost key to their marketing of their device. If people know that they can always have the latest features regardless of generation (limited by hardware of course), that is something that will make people want to buy their product. The reason is because people like to have longevity out of their three hundred dollar devices. People are going to pick a product that they know they can get the best longevity out of.
However, because Apple and iPods are so synonymous with portable music, it is going to take a while for the concept of buying a non-iPod for portable media. However, if the new Zune interface can be as intuitive and easy to navigate as the iPod’s then there will be little issue in selling folks on getting a Zune. Especially since Apple has taken a sharp turn in how they are dealing with the customers of their iPod product line (including the iPhone). Apple is making it difficult for people to use the device the way they want to use it, at the same time they have been releasing products without proper quality controls in place. This is going to cost Apple dearly if the Zunes can prove themselves to be viable counter products.
I have already considered buying one of the new flash based Zunes to carry in my laptop bag rather than carrying my iPod with me everywhere and just leave it in the car hooked up to the Alpine. Mainly because I think that Microsoft has a really decent second generation product on their hands. I will hold off on buying a flash based player until the new Zunes are released and I can play with one in order to make the best purchasing decision. Microsoft has definitely caught my attention, and I will be watching these new Zunes carefully.