Zune 3.0 Coming

Mmmm…Zune 3.0. I’ve just read Jason Dunn’s (of ThoughtMedia.com) report on a recent Microsoft meeting discussing the Zune 3.0 release. I am completely sold on the Zune platform and am greatly encouraged by the up-and-coming release. Perhaps the greatest boon of them all is that the Zune team will be including us Zune 30 owners in their next, big update. That means we can use the new software and get updated firmware for new functionality. Dunn writes, “this 3.0 release is underwhelming compared to the 2.0 release. Sexy new hardware excites people more than software and services do,” but I must disagree. While the visual changes are not as drastic as those we saw moving from the original product to 2.0, Zune 3.0 breathes new life into the mobile media device market. On the hardware side, Zune 3.0 does not include any new hardware with the exception of the much-anticipated Zune 120. However, it does include a firmware update which includes wireless Marketplace access, channels (a la Pandora), and buy from FM (where supported, you’ll be able to buy a song off the radio – presumably through the Marketplace). The wireless Internet access is a big win in and of itself. People complained about the lack of this ability since the Zune’s inception and now it’s here. Quit your bitchin’ and start praising the Zune team for delivering! Do I need to remind you that Zune 30 owners get this functionality too?!? We’re also going to see specific audio book support – another hot topic from days past. That means Audible.com support is here (and Overdrive – who is that?). From the examples Dunn delivered, I saw a really cool feature here that allows enabled audio books to display pictures from the book as it is read. I can see a real use here for books I get for Balthazar on the Zune.

The software sees improvements as well. There are some updated looks, an updated social system, and an improved search system among others. Channels in the Zune (software and hardware) look really great. I am a big fan of the Pandora project, so a Zune-similar feature is eagerly sought. The channels are updated automatically and based upon your ratings of music. It’s based on genres, which if yours are anything like mine, will need some cleaning to get narrowed down to a meaningful set. A new social feature allows you to find people in the Marketplace that listen to music like you. As Dunn comments, you can do this yourself now, but it takes quite a bit of time and clicking.

The one point that Dunn brings up as a downer to this feature-rich upgrade is that most of these concepts are designed around the use of a Zune Pass. For $15 per month, the Zune Pass allows you to download all the music you want for up to three people. They still haven’t worked out the issue of assigning different user profiles to this pass. Our pass is in my wife’s name, so I logon with her account to get subscription music. This will effect the way channels work (that is, averaging the music preferences between all users of the Zune Pass instead of offering an individual’s experience), but I know they’ll work this out in time. For now, I’ve learned to deal with the way the pass works and I can accept it. I doubt very seriously the Zune Pass will extend to such services as Audible (it doesn’t currently extend to the MarketPlace video services), so I’d have to look at another subscription price there. I’ve used Audible’s services before, and I did enjoy them very much. I’m a big fan of audio books, so I will likely pony-up at least a basic subscription.

The one thing I don’t know yet is when I can expect this update. Despite Dunn’s lack-luster summary of the 3.0 update, I am very much looking forward to it!

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